17 October 2012

Psych 101 at Uniontown High School.

This morning a student asked me to help him with an assignment for psych class. It was easy, so I agreed. Every time he rang a bell, he'd give me a treat...

I'd love to see other people post their answers to the same set of questions. It was a great exercise and the questions were much different than the other types of questions I've been getting lately. If you decide to answer the questions, please post a link where I can read them. 

Here are his interview questions, followed by my answers. (--Thanks, Dakota!)

1) Hardest part of life?

Growing up, without a doubt. And I don’t mean ‘growing up’ in the sense that you just get older, I mean ‘growing up’ in the sense that your responsibilities change.Things that shouldn’t matter suddenly do-—bills, how your wife is feeling, saving money instead of eating out. I think the challenge-—as an adult—-is to hang on to the things that you love and not be defined by your job.

Ironically, I know that the wisdom I’ve gained by ‘growing up’ is what makes me appreciate the fact that I can pursue my passion, and makes me realize that I no longer have to try to ‘grow up.’

2) Earliest memories?

Memory is tied to language, I believe that without a doubt. So my first memories come from around the time I was able to speak my first words—-right around the time I turned three. My brother was born a week before my 3rd birthday in 1977, and I remember going to the hospital with my dad and grandma to pick him and my mom up.

Also, STAR WARS was released for the first time in May 1977, and I have pretty strong memories of that.

3) Biggest regret in life?

This is a tough one, because I know now that if I had done things differently I wouldn’t be on the path I’m on today—-which I love. For example, my wife was in a really bad car accident when we lived in Florida. She had just dropped me off at work, and was headed home when a guy ran a red light and smashed into her. It was a horrible time for us. We used all of our savings to cover rent and bills. She was in a lot of pain and we didn’t have insurance. But we had a typewriter and she had it on the kitchen table because she wanted to write. I’d never had any desire to write up to the point, but something changed right after the accident. And now writing is the biggest part of my life.

4) When did you know you were financially stable enough to raise children?

Well, we are childless by choice. I want to go back to Prague, want to see London and Perth and Everest Base Camp and Patagonia. I want to be able to get a new guitar every two years, or a new mountain bike. As much as I hate to admit it, I like to buy clothes and I like to eat out. So, if there ever comes a time when I feel like I’m financially stable enough to raise kids, I’ll let you know.

5) Choose any age to be?

I’d be the age I am now. The older I get the more control I feel I have over my life. I know that control is an illusion, but every year the illusion gets bigger.

Would I want to go back to high school? Never. I hated it the first time around. College? No way.

6) Biggest influence?

My wife has been a pretty good one. She got me into writing, got me onto a plane and across the ocean. She was the reason I finished college.

Even now, it’d be easy for me to become complacent with my career, with the way that I engage people professionally as a writer, and she has a subtle, maybe even indirect way of inspiring me to reach just a little further or put in just one more hour of work.

7) How hard is it to become an independent adult?

To some extent, I think independence is an illusion. We rely on other people to get us through life. Imagine a world without a best friend. What kind of place would that be?

Having said that, becoming independent is the greatest challenge I’d ever faced. So it’s probably one of the accomplishments I am most proud of. THAT’S how difficult it was.

8) Did your life turn out the way you expected?

No. Not at all. I thought my life would be worse.

I sat out a semester of college on academic probation. I didn’t think I’d ever go back. My motivation to get a degree and get a real job was very low. So I had very low expectations for myself. In that way, I know I’m fairly lucky to be where I am today. Anybody who tells you luck isn’t a factor is straight-up lying.

9) Happiest moment in life?

It’s very a long moment that started with my wedding day. There have been low points since then, of course, but it is the moment that represents the happiness I feel even today.

10) As you get older, why is it harder to make friends?

Jeff Tweedy, lead singer and songwriter for the group Wilco, says people like the first albums better because they’ve been around longer. Nobody ever says the newest album is their favorite because they don’t have the wealth of memories built into that particular set of songs. It’s the same with friends.

School is traumatic. Bullies. Nasty teachers. Break-ups. Meaningless assignments. Waking up at the crack of dark. Parents making up new rules every day. You share those memories with your friends at the time. Anybody I’d meet today wouldn’t know about the time I got sucker-punched in the locker room after gym class in 8th grade. You simply can’t share the same type of experiences with new people. It’s impossible. There will never be another time in your life when you will spend nearly 180 consecutive days with the same group of people for 13 consecutive years.

Having said that, I met an awesome group of people just last year. We’re headed out to D.C. to see them in a few days. So making new friends is more difficult, but certainly not impossible.


  1. With regard to #7 and life, I believe John Lennon said it best: "Life is what happens when you're busy making other plans."

    1. It's strange, because I'd answered these questions before--a few years ago at least. But this year is the first time I've had seniors since 2009, maybe? So it's been at least two or three years since I'd answered these and I'm blown away by how much has changed since then. Otherwise I wouldn't have posted.

      Sometimes I still see myself as having a twentysomething mindset, and realize that it's probably NOT a twentysomething mindset. Having security has allowed me to settle into doing what I really love to and has skewed my perception of the past, or has AT LEAST filtered my past through dewy layers of sweet, golden nostalgia.

  2. This is excellent. It puts life into perspective a little bit for me in my senior year of college. About every three days somebody asks me what I'm going to do with my life next year. As if it's essential to have a 5-year (or heck, even a 10-year) plan when I'm 21 years old. I'm glad there are people like you with the presence of mind to acknowledge that life isn't necessarily something you can control. Every soon-to-be-college grad should probably read this.

    And I agree with you on #5. Good old awful Uniontown. Although I appreciate all the teachers and friends I made there, I've never felt nostalgic for high school. College is definitely an improvement, but I don't love spending tens of thousands of dollars a year.

    1. See, even the fact that you're talking about a senior year blows my mind! Was it really that long ago?

      Do you recognize these questions? I guess they're from Mr. Jeffries' Psych class? These were so different from all of the other questions I'd been getting in interviews lately and decided to give them an honest go.

      I guess, upon rereading, one of the things that I should've mentioned was perspective, which goes hand in hand with illusion--which you can't control. Perspective, on the other hand, is a factor you can manipulate with practice. Like Qui-Gon said in THE PHANTOM MENCACE, "Your focus determines your reality."

      And I do honestly believe that, because I am consciously shaping my reality. Or trying to. As are you. By heading to the other side of the world to experience life (and penguins) you've made a very firm statement about how you want to live. In a way, I suppose that's what I did--becoming a teacher to have as much of my time as possible. And I was a raft guide back then, which meant I NEEDED summers off. But choosing time over money, while not always easy, has made me a much happier person. Time is something you can never buy back.

      I wonder if the student who asked me these has any idea how awesome this little interview has been?