Books vs. Movies Part III: Everybody Wins!

Bro, Do You Even Read?

 

I’ve now written about movies over books. It felt false; I had to work too hard to convince myself that movies were actually better than books. I’ve been telling my students for years that they should try arguing from the opposite side, as a way to gain depth to their perspective, to understand their opponent – and therefore defeat him more easily – but I guess I haven’t done it myself, not often enough. I’m not sure if that says something about our society, that we have trouble stepping out of our comfortable ruts and visiting ruts on the other side of the road (which is certainly true) or if it says something about me, about my arrogance, telling people what to do when I never do it myself. It’s probably the second one. I’d like it to be the first.

I wrote, as well, about why books are better than movies; or to be more precise, why people who watch movies but do not read books are destroying our society. It didn’t feel false: I believe that. I’ve read Fahrenheit 451, and I’ve seen how close Ray Bradbury got to what is actually happening in our world; people who don’t read at all, and thereby don’t gain the necessary skills that reading can give, are a genuine threat to us all. They lack imagination, and they lack empathy; but they don’t lack power, or influence, or a voice. And thus are they very dangerous.

But while that essay didn’t feel false, it did make me both angry and sad; and I’d rather not feel that way. So I find myself seeking a middle ground: something that will be true to what I really think, but will also be fair to the other side, and won’t make me feel like I’m pointing fingers at those I damn to perdition, sentencing them to burn at a stake, flames rising from burning books (Because zealots always destroy what they love, along with what they hate) to purify their corruption. Arguing for destruction is no way to accomplish anything but destruction; if I imagine my angry essay becoming influential, all it leads to is a witch hunt for the non-reader, and protestations of devout readerlihood. I would, for the first time, expect the Spanish Inquisition.

So the middle ground is this: I am currently reading a difficult book, Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man. And it’s fascinating, really; it challenges me to find hidden meaning, it makes me think things I’ve never thought before, it gives me insight and inspiration. But it’s hard. I can’t read it for long, especially not after a day of teaching and/or reading essays. So when I get home, in the late afternoon or early evening after I’ve relaxed post-work for an hour or two, I may read it, for an hour.

Then I watch TV. Or play mindless video games, things like Mah Jongg or Candy Crush or Guitar Hero. Then, when it’s time for bed, I read again (because screens disrupt our sleeping patterns) – but then I read Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. Because it’s relaxing.

I don’t watch very many movies, specifically, but it’s a fool’s game to try to build a distinction between movies and television; television breaks up a story into chapters, or it tells several related stories – a literary model followed by the best-selling novel of all time, Miguel de Cervantes’s Don Quixote. Right now my wife and I are watching Dexter, at a rate of about one episode per night; a single season, twelve episodes, is indistinguishable from a long movie – like, say, The Lord of the Rings, which is nearly twelve hours total in the extended editions, just like a dozen episodes about my favorite serial killer. My wife joins me for the TV show, and then she goes to her studio and draws and paints; she hasn’t read a book in months. She feels guilty about it, and I know that’s because of me and my ire about non-readers; but I don’t consider her a non-reader, just a person with a very difficult and trying job who prefers art as a means of relaxing at the end of the day. How can I criticize that? Is art any less valuable than reading? Of course not.

But how can I let people – specifically my students – think it’s okay to watch movies and TV? Just because I try to find the middle ground, enjoying both books and television, that doesn’t mean that my audience will join me there. I know how it works: when I tell students that the first draft doesn’t have to be complete or polished, you don’t give me something rough; you give me one paragraph that’s mostly typos. When I tell you the book report doesn’t have to cover the entire work, you give me something that only covers three chapters. When you realize I’m lax about deadlines, you simply stop turning things in until I actually give you zeroes and your grade drops. When I say once that grades do matter, everything else I ever say about grades not mattering is gone forever – I confirmed your preferences, your prejudices; now you’re done listening.

 

You really are good Americans.

 

So if I say that movies are entertaining, and are important as a source of relaxing entertainment, how do I convince you that you also need to read, to do the work, to make your mind tired before you get to the relaxing part?

 

Here goes. Reading is like working out. If you’re really dedicated, if you truly love it or it suits your ambition, then you can do it every single day, for hours at a time – but then mentally you’re the equivalent of this guy:

And nobody wants that.

For most people, who just want to be healthy and happy, you should work out a few times a week, on a regular basis. Read something challenging. Of course it doesn’t have to be a book, specifically, and it doesn’t have to be fiction; it just has to be reading, and it has to be challenging. This is where you strain, and work until you fail; this is where you build strength. Then, on other days, do something like cardio or abs: read something easy, something you could keep reading for a while without hurting yourself. The key there is to keep at it, to not give up.

Once you have done your workout, then it’s time to relax: do something easy, something that doesn’t tax your brain at all; watch a movie, watch a TV show, play a video game (And please don’t tell me that video games are mentally challenging. I play them, too. They’re not. If figuring out how to finish that mission on Grand Theft Auto is mentally challenging, then your brain is out of shape, is a couch potato of the first order. You need to read more.), have a conversation, take a walk, take a nap. Take it easy.

But for the sake of your mind, don’t just skip straight to the nap. Americans already do that with exercise, which is why the nation is unhealthy and out of shape; our brains are moving that way, as well, as we spend more and more of our time taking it easy, and not enough of it working out. You also don’t want your brain to look like this guy:

Image result for homer simpsons flopped on couch

Moderation is the key. A little of this, a little of that; a little reading, then a little Netflix.

Now: as a student, you get a pass, like my wife does; you are involved in a mentally taxing endeavor, one that takes up all of your time and mental energy. So your free time should be spent relaxing and recovering. Until you reach the point where you aren’t having to work very hard mentally: summer time, or senior year, when you have two academic classes and nine TA/free periods. Then you need to work out. Then you need to read.

It’s important. It’s necessary. And because our society is based on information, which is still transmitted through the written word, then the mental exercise you must master, and then continually practice, is reading. Challenging reading. Depending on what else you want to do with your life, other mental exercises may be necessary for you, as well: math, science, art, engineering, music, what have you. Perhaps making movies will be your mental challenge, and if so, carry on: it is a difficult thing to do well, as shown by the number of people who do it badly. Movies are fun, but they aren’t necessary: except inasmuch as relaxation is necessary. As to the question of whether watching movies is a necessary means of relaxation in our culture, if you must watch certain movies or television shows in order to understand how our culture works and to participate in it, I leave that argument for another day.

Right now, my brain is too tired. What time are those sports games on?

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Books vs. Movies Part II: Books

Here is the second essay: here is the one I wrote because I felt  dirty after writing the first one. Because I don’t actually think movies are better than  books; not at all, not in any way. In fact, I think the preference for movies over books is extremely harmful to our society.

So I wrote this one. Please note: it is directed at my students, who are as I describe them here. I expect that people who read this blog are not the non-readers I describe. Though the ending call to action still applies, to all of us who haven’t given up hope.

Not sure if I have given up or not, yet. But this essay is pretty clearly on the side of despair.

Enjoy!

Everything Is Terrible And We’re All Going To Die

 

I’m not like you.

I’m sure that’s not a surprise.

Unlike most teachers, I think, and say, that grades don’t matter and test scores don’t matter. Because all that matters is learning, and grades and tests don’t measure that; they may test what you know, in terms so specific that they become useless, but that doesn’t say what you will do with that so-specific knowledge: will you forget it the minute the test is over, the grade is filed? Will you be inspired by that knowledge?  Affected by it, changed by it? Tests can never measure that, and grades can never rate that. That change, that inspiration, is the purpose and value of education. That’s what matters.

Unlike most of America, and presumably the rest of the world, I don’t like money. I like a few of the things it can buy me, like a comfortable home, food, electricity, pirate outfits, Converse, books, coffee; but money itself is a trap. It leads us down a very specific path, a path that we must not deviate from, or else we don’t get the money; the problem is, that once we reach the end of that path, we find that the money isn’t what we want. What we want is freedom from the money, or more precisely, from the need to continue procuring the money. But the more money we make, the more stuff we buy, and the longer we have to keep getting money to pay for the new stuff. It’s a trap. I don’t like it. That’s the rest of the reason why I don’t believe in the value of grades: because every argument for grades comes back to money.

 

I’ve already lost you, haven’t I? Sure: you don’t care about me, or about what I believe; if what I have to say has some interest or benefit for you, you’ll read it – but if not, then you won’t. And me preaching at you doesn’t interest you or benefit you: it doesn’t entertain you, doesn’t dispel the cloud of melancholy that darkens most of your days, and which you are constantly seeking to escape through whatever momentary distraction you can find; and it doesn’t earn you money. Why would you read this, just for the sake of reading? Please.

Because unlike me, you don’t read.

 

DISCLAIMER: Yes, I know there are exceptions. I know there are people reading this who are readers. But I also know there aren’t very many. (Let’s be clear: “reading” Facebook or Twitter or Reddit is not reading. Reading here means books. E-books count, but memes and BuzzFeed and the captions on YouTube videos do not.) Most people read when they are forced to, by English teachers like me; most people will read something if there is “buzz” about it. (Meaning: if it is exciting.) But most people would rather wait for the movie. Even with assigned reading, the majority of people don’t read the whole book; they read enough to know they don’t want to read any more, and then they look at the SparkNotes, or they get their friend who is a reader to tell them about the rest of it, or they just fake it on the test – because the reading doesn’t matter, what matters is the grade, which gets you into the college, which gets you the job, which gets you the money.

Allow me to quote from a book that most of you haven’t read, or if you have, you didn’t pay enough attention to.

“Picture it. Nineteenth-century man with his horses, dogs, carts, slow motion. Then, in the twentieth century, speed up your camera. Books cut shorter. Condensations, Digests. Tabloids. Everything boils down to the gag, the snap ending…Classics cut to fit fifteen-minute radio shows, then cut again to fill a two-minute book column, winding up at last as a ten- or twelve-line dictionary resume. I exaggerate, of course. The dictionaries were for reference. But many were those whose sole knowledge of Hamlet (you know the title certainly, Montag; it is probably only a faint rumour of a title to you, Mrs. Montag) whose sole knowledge, as I say, of Hamlet was a one-page digest in a book that claimed: ‘Now at last you can read all the classics; keep up with your neighbours.’ Do you see? Out of the nursery into the college and back to the nursery; there’s your intellectual pattern for the past five centuries or more.

“Speed up the film, Montag, quick…Digest-digests, digest-digest-digests. Politics? One column, two sentences, a headline! Then, in mid-air, all vanishes! Whirl man’s mind around about so fast under the pumping hands of publishers, exploiters, broadcasters, that the centrifuge flings off all unnecessary, time-wasting thought!

“School is shortened, discipline relaxed, philosophies, histories, languages dropped, English and spelling gradually gradually neglected, finally almost completely ignored. Life is immediate, the job counts, pleasure lies all about after work. Why learn anything save pressing buttons, pulling switches, fitting nuts and bolts?”

 

That is from Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury.

And it’s you. You only read to get to the ending; once you know the ending, you stop reading –  and for the same reason, you never re-read. If you know enough to answer questions about a book – or about anything, really – you don’t see any need to keep learning about it; you can already answer the questions. You don’t see the need to learn anything other than what you will need to earn money, hopefully lots of money; and the purpose of earning that money is – pleasure.

The movie-vs.-book argument is built on a flawed foundation, the same flawed foundation that the dystopian society in Bradbury’s novel is based on: the idea of happiness.  Captain Beatty, the same evil clown who explains to the protagonist Montag how our society turned into theirs, also says this: “Ask yourself, What do we want in this country, above all? People want to be happy, isn’t that right? Haven’t you heard it all your life? I want to be happy, people say. Well, aren’t they? Don’t we keep them moving, don’t we give them fun? That’s all we live for, isn’t it? For pleasure, for titillation? And you must admit our culture provides plenty of these.”

When we try to decide whether movies or books are better based on the idea of which is more entertaining, the argument is immediately flawed: not only is entertainment transitory and essentially meaningless, but it is also too subjective to offer any coherent judgment: this fellow says he likes books more because they are more entertaining; this chap says he likes movies more for the same reason; and neither can be wrong, and neither can be right. We must turn to Bradbury – a novelist, of course – for a reasonable determination of value. If we believe that human society is valuable and worth preserving, then books offer a better opportunity for the continuation of the species than do movies. If, on the other hand, human culture is nothing more than what Beatty describes – something that exists only to provide its constituents with pleasure, with titillation –  then it doesn’t matter whether books or movies are better; at that point, humanity doesn’t matter, because something that exists only to please itself is too insular, short-sighted and pathetic to survive.

In that case, movies can be better. You can just keep watching Netflix until the ice caps melt and the water supply vanishes and the food supply follows; maybe you can watch The Road to get some pointers on what comes next. I’d tell you to read the novel by Cormac McCarthy, but – well. Don’t worry: the movie has Viggo Mortensen.

Bradbury shows in his book – and any observant student of humanity can confirm –  that books stimulate thought, and that novels promote empathy. Books of any stripe can provide evidence, rational argument, and conclusions about any subject; following the path of reason improves one’s ability to do the same. Novels create characters, who then give the reader a glimpse into their lives and psyches; understanding those people, assuming one can suspend disbelief enough to see the characters in a novel as people, at least potential people, improves our ability to understand actual people. Movies do neither of those things. Bradbury, who loved movies and television, has his Wise Old Man character offer the possibility that movies and television could offer the same thing that books do  – the same argument I’ve been hearing for years from my students when they try to explain to me why they don’t need to read, not really – but in my opinion, Bradbury was wrong about that. I don’t think movies and television can help, not at all.

The key, I think, is imagination. Imagination is the survival skill that enabled humanity to rise to the top of the food chain; because we could imagine what would happen when the mammoth came by, or when the saber-toothed cat jumped out of those bushes, we were able to plan for the possibility; that advance preparation made up for our total lack of physical prowess compared to other species. Imagination gave us the chance to survive long enough to build a civilization; imagination, in the form of ambition and aspirations, gave us a reason to build a civilization and allowed us to build civilization into what it is today; imagination would allow us to solve the problems we face that threaten our survival in the future.

If we still had imagination, that is. But you see, imagination requires a human intellect to create: to fill in blanks, to build images and scenes based only on hints. The kinds of things we do when we read, where even the best authors can only tell, never show. The kinds of things we never do when we watch movies or television, because they show: the images are created for us, the characters are presented to us, a fait accompli, without any need for our participation, for our imagination. The most we can do with a movie is decide if we like the image as presented to us; decide if it is entertaining or not.

Now, someone with imagination can watch a movie or a television show and have a new idea; they can think of what could have happened if the characters had encountered a different situation, or had different traits, or different resources; a person with an imagination could think of how a situation they watched on Netflix could parallel one in real life, and how the Netflix situation could lead to a real-life solution.

But you don’t get imagination from watching movies. You get it from reading books.

There is some good news. Our technology already exists, as does our science; and the lucky thing is, one person with imagination can keep a hundred engineers working, a thousand, more –  just ask Elon Musk. Or Nikola Tesla. So as long as there are a few readers, a few thinkers, those people may be able to keep us afloat, in terms of problem-solving and innovation, for a few generations more; but that’s where we hit the empathy snag. You see, the notable problem in the society of Fahrenheit 451 (By the way: are you tired of me talking about a fictional society instead of the real world? Yeah. Check your phone: maybe there’s something more interesting to watch on YouTube. People falling down, or something. “Life becomes one big pratfall, Montag; everything bang, boff, and wow!” What am I saying? You’re not still reading this.) isn’t a lack of technology; their technology is more advanced than ours. The problem is that they don’t care about each other, and thus they don’t care about themselves. They run each other down in cars for fun. They commit suicide at an absurd rate – and they don’t care. They go to war, and nobody really pays any attention until the bombs actually drop on their heads: and even then, they only notice when the television screen goes blank, in the split second before it all turns to ash and dust and nothing.

You’re heading that way, now. People don’t care about each other the way they used to. Oh, some still do; most still care to a certain extent – but a lesser extent than in the past.  I can tell because look at your politics: not that you elected Mr. Trump, but the reason why you did – because you got tired of caring about other people’s problems. You don’t want to worry about refugees, or about problems in other nations, or the reasons why people do things we don’t understand, like carry out terrorist attacks in the name of an ideal; you don’t want to think about long-term issues like climate change, and you don’t want to pay taxes that don’t help you directly – don’t want to pay for other people who can’t find jobs, or who get hooked on drugs. You want to keep your money for yourself, not spend it on other people. Just like you don’t want to learn things that don’t directly increase your chances of finding a job that will earn you more money. Those other things don’t matter. Those other people don’t matter.

 

In Fahrenheit 451, when Montag goes looking for a way to solve the problem – he can’t possibly think of a solution himself, never having used his imagination and barely his intellect in his bookless life – he finds an old English professor, a man named Faber. He asks Faber what they can do, and Faber doesn’t give Montag much hope.

“The whole culture’s shot through. The skeleton needs melting and re-shaping. Good God, it isn’t as simple as just picking up a book you laid down half a century ago. Remember, the firemen are rarely necessary. The public itself stopped reading of its own accord. You firemen [In the novel, the firemen burn banned books, and the houses where they are hidden. And sometimes the people who hid them.] provide a circus now and then at which buildings are set off and crowds gather for the pretty blaze, but it’s a small sideshow indeed, and hardly necessary to keep things in line. So few want to be rebels any more. And out of those few, most, like myself, scare easily. Can you dance faster than the White Clown, shout louder than `Mr. Gimmick’ and the [television]`families’? If you can, you’ll win your way, Montag. In any event, you’re a fool. People are having fun.”

“Committing suicide! Murdering!”

A bomber flight had been moving east all the time they talked, and only now did the two men stop and listen, feeling the great jet sound tremble inside themselves.

“Patience, Montag. Let the war turn off the families. Our civilization is flinging itself to pieces. Stand back from the centrifuge.”

“There has to be someone ready when it blows up.”

“What? Men quoting Milton? Saying, I remember Sophocles? Reminding the survivors that man has his good side, too? They will only gather up their stones to hurl at each other. Montag, go home. Go to bed. Why waste your final hours racing about your cage denying you’re a squirrel?”

“Then you don’t care any more?”

“I care so much I’m sick.”

“And you won’t help me?”

“Good night, good night.”

 

On the off-chance that you don’t like what I’ve said here, and you care enough to do something about it, the solution is simple: read. Read for real, read for your mind and your imagination; read for your future. It doesn’t matter what you read: it only matters how, and how much. Read with your mind, and read as much as you can. If you ever have younger people you can influence, as a teacher or a parent or a mentor of any kind, try to get them to read, too. It doesn’t take everyone: it just takes some. More than a few, if we can.

I hope for your sake that you do. As for me, I’ll be dead by the time the world falls apart. I’d like to think that the books I write will outlive me.

But I doubt it.

Good night, good night.

How To Be Happier: Teenager Edition

This is an example essay I wrote for my AP Language class when they were assigned a Process Analysis. If it’s a little on the nose, well — it’s for teenagers.

 

How To Be Happier

Are you dissatisfied with your life?

You’re teenagers. Of course you are.

But that’s the bad news. (Okay, it’s probably not news. But how would you know? When was the last time you actually watched the news? I’m not even going to ask about reading it.) The good news is that you can fix this. You can change your daily routines, in simple, manageable ways, and the result will be improved satisfaction with your life. In fact, even more than that: your life will get clearly, demonstrably better. I guarantee it.

Let me tell you how. Step by step, so you don’t get lost. Pay attention.

 

Step One: Waking Up

You’re probably still tired. School does come early, doesn’t it? I don’t really have a solution, because even when researchers say school should start later, their suggestion is between 8am and 8:30, so it’s as good as it’s going to get; but I will say that often, catching just a few more minutes of sleep can make you feel a bit more – well, not happy, certainly, but resigned, at least; accepting, maybe – of your day’s new start and the requirement that you must now move, and act, and interact with someone other than your pillow. So the key to that is to minimize your time preparing for school (or work, on the weekends) in the morning. Here’s what you do.

First, put your phone down. Checking the Twitters, or your Insta-Face GramBook, or your text messages or what have you probably doesn’t take a lot of your time, considering that your thumbs can move at skittering-cockroach speeds over the screen; but it does take your attention, and that slows you down. Brushing your teeth while looking at a screen is slower than brushing your teeth while looking at your teeth. Sure, brushing your teeth isn’t nearly as interesting as social media, but the goal here is a few more minutes of sleep: so stare into that bathroom mirror, pretend you’re a rabid wolf foaming at the mouth (Peppermint-flavored rabies is the best kind of rabies!), and get it done quickly. Same with depilation, if that is part of your morning routine: every minute you shave off of your shaving is a minute more unconscious. And that’s always the goal.

Do as many tasks as possible before you go to bed in the evening. Set out your clothes for the next day; floss at night instead of in the morning (If you floss both times, you’re either obsessive, or you snack too much in your sleep. Seriously, who has food in their teeth before breakfast? Do it at night like a regular person.). If you can shower at night without your hair doing alien levitation tricks the next day, go for it. Get your backpack/binder/whatever ready the night before, so you can just grab it and go.

Don’t skip breakfast, though. That’s important. Speaking of which…

 

Step Two: Breakfast

First, put your phone down. If you are one of those incredibly fortunate people with a loved one who actually makes you breakfast, show your gratitude by speaking to them. Try to be pleasant, though don’t demand a miracle from yourself; if this person is actually willing to get up in the morning and cook for someone else, they are almost certainly willing to carry the conversation, and would be happy with the chance to share their overly-chipper-insanity-babbles with you. Ask them what their plans are for the day, and then just try to nod without actually falling asleep on top of your waffles on the way down.

If you, like me, are on your own for breakfast, then it’s toast or cereal that you are looking for. If you’re a toaster: try buttering both sides. For the more cereal person, I highly recommend Mom’s Cereal. It is delicious, and it seems local, organic, and environmentally conscious; actually, it’s a Post brand with a good marketing scheme. It just pretends to be more aware.

Like you.

If you are eating cereal, then the only thing you are permitted to look at is the cereal box. Yes, I know it isn’t interesting; but that’s how cereal must be eaten. It’s a tradition. Try comparing the nutrition facts on the box to anything else you have available with a recommended daily allowance. Like the bottle of bleach under the sink! Pop quiz: which one’s healthier, bleach or Lucky Charms?

(Hint: it’s bleach. It’s also delicious on the cereal!)

All right, all fueled up and ready to hit the road? Then let’s go!

 

Step Three: Driving

This is a bit tougher, because there are two areas for improvement in driving: driving safer, and avoiding boredom while driving. The two can seem mutually exclusive, because things you do to entertain yourself can detract from your safety. But there are ways to accomplish both goals, which is where my suggestions will aim; anything you can substitute for entertainment is up to you. Here’s my idea.

First, put your phone down. Distracted driving is rapidly becoming the largest cause of accidents. According to the Almighty Google, 431,000 people were injured in accidents involving distracted drivers in 2014, and by far the largest population of drivers using phones while they drive is teenagers. You. Putting your phone down is the easiest thing you can do to make yourself safer – and believe me, you do not want to start your day with a car crash. Or end it that way. Or have one in the middle.

In terms of entertainment, try singing along, at maximum volume, to whatever is on the radio. It’s best when you’re listening to opera or Spanish music. When you have no idea what the words are, you get to make them up. And the tune, too! Try it with your windows down – entertain the other drivers! See, it feels good to make other people happy!

Before you know it, you’ll arrive. (Even faster if other people are chasing you.) Time for…

 

Step Four: School

Once again, there are many aspects, some of which can pull you in opposite directions. If you do well in class, does that make you a nerd, and therefore persona non grata among the interesting sex? (If you are interested in women, then no: they tend not to be that shallow. If you are interested in men, then no: they are way too shallow to care about intelligence.) But in any case, I will try to help you out in as many aspects as I can. Here we go.

 

Classes: If you really can get more sleep, that will make the biggest difference. Along with eating breakfast. Nobody can learn while they are asleep. Other than getting more sleep, the next best thing you can do is this: first, put your phone down. Pay attention. I know it can be difficult, but it’s a positive feedback loop: the more you pay attention, the more sense it makes, and that makes it easier to pay attention and also more useful at the same time; at some point, you will be able to get distracted by the ideas in the class, and still pay attention at the same time.

Trust me. That is a very fun way to learn something. Give it a shot; your current method of ignoring the very idea of work, and then hoping that something, somehow, will make sense when the test is placed in front of you, is probably not working real well.

 

Using the bathroom: First, put your phone down. Carefully: you don’t want to drop it here. And talking to someone else while you are on the toilet makes you worse than Stalin. No exaggeration. But it is fun to have a fake one-way conversation while someone is in the next stall. Ask the air how their hemorrhoids are doing. Or if they plan to torture that last one they caught, or just kill it and dump the body. Or try talking to the person in the next stall, demanding a response, and then when they respond, say disgustedly, “I wasn’t talking to you!”

Please note: if you are using the men’s room, don’t talk to people while you’re using urinals. Don’t do it. Ever. Worse than Stalin. Really.

 

Dealing with teachers and assorted “authority” figures: First, put your phone down. The people who think they are in charge of the school are old-fashioned; to them, eye contact is respectful, and looking down and away – say, at a phone screen subtly palmed in one hand (Or both hands, if you have an iPhone 6) –  is disrespectful. I know, I know, it makes no sense – you don’t respect them whether you look at them or not – but you will find that things are much easier when you give people what they want, particularly with “authorities,” when it doesn’t actually cost you anything to give it to them. It bothers my pride, too, to just give people something they didn’t earn (Like passing grades or an answer to their ridiculous questions); but then, in exchange, they don’t give me something I didn’t earn: a Walmart-sized ration of crap. So look them in the eye when they are talking to you. Unless they are angry: then look down at the ground. At the ground, mind you – not at a phone. Teachers hate it when you look at phones while they are talking to you. I think it’s because they don’t actually use their phones. They never have friends. And even if they do, nobody texts a teacher: they correct your grammar. Ain’t nobody got time for that.

A secondary note: teachers never want to see your phone. Never. They don’t want to look at that video, they don’t want to read that webcomic, they don’t want to scroll through those memes or screencapped text conversations. If they look when you bring it to them, they are only being polite, and praying that you will go away soon. If you think you have something so funny or interesting that a teacher has to see it, send them an email. If it’s not worth you putting out that much effort, then it isn’t worth them looking at your cracked screen, trying to make out the tiny letters.

 

Social Life: First, put your phone down. Seriously. Counterintuitive, I know, but listen: people who want to hang out with you will want to hang out with you. Not your phone. There is no meme you can show them that they haven’t already seen. And if you make memes, nobody will want to hang out with you. Ever. Nobody. I mean it. Stop making memes. And when you meet someone that doesn’t immediately make you want to puke with boredom or nap with rage, then try talking to them. Of course you can talk about your phones, but you’re either going to make them feel bad when your phone is better than theirs, or feel bad when their phone is better than yours. Better to just forget about the phones and, I don’t know, talk about music. Or movies, maybe. Or which teachers suck least. Or how individual existence is only an illusion and we’re all connected aspects of one divine godhead. Once you get to know a person, you could sit together for hours staring at your phones together; but it’s better if you don’t. If you want to watch something, get a bigger screen; otherwise you’re breathing their damp, half-used exhaled air, and they’re stealing bites of your Twinkies and sometimes catching your fingers instead, and it’s weird. If you don’t have access to a bigger screen, try going out and doing something together. Take a walk. Go to a dog park or the shelter and pet puppies for free. Go to the mall and race the old people – it’s up to you if it’s more fun when they know you’re racing, or if it’s more fun when they don’t; I recommend both. You always get better stories when you make them than when you see them online.

 

Homework: First, put your phone down. You are fooling nobody when you cheat. Seriously. Fooling nobody, and gaining nothing but disdain and a sense of your own hopelessness. Feel free to not do the homework, of course – who really cares? I mean, teachers, but who cares that matters? Nobody, that’s who. Your parents may think they care, but there’s an easy way out: pretend you’re gay, if you’re not; or pretend you’re not, if you are and your parents know it. Then when they’ve forgotten entirely about that missing math assignment, just tell them it was a phase. It never fails. More advanced options include convincing them that you have fallen in love with, say, a toaster. Everybody knows about teenaged hormones: you can sell it, if you work hard enough at it. Just like pregnant women can convince people that they want to eat literally anything, and usually get the person to provide it. I almost wish I could be a pregnant woman: I’d tell everyone that I was suffering an unbearable craving for human flesh; then I’d stare at them silently, hungrily, and wait to see who was really my friend.

 

All right, that’s the end of your school day. For the drive home, treat it the same way as the drive to school: sing your way home. Pretend your car is powered by music. See if you can get it to fly on the wings of song. As for dinner, treat it like breakfast: if you are provided dinner, show your gratitude by talking to the person about their day, but this time, try to add something about yours. It doesn’t matter what, as long as it isn’t on your phone. If you make your own dinner, read the cereal box. Oh: let me add one thing here that could be scattered throughout your day.


Step In-Between: Waiting in line/in traffic/for your turn

Go ahead and get your phone out. This is what phones are actually good for, other than talking to Grandma. Unless you’re driving: if you’re driving, now’s your chance to really wow your audience in the nearby cars, because they’re waiting with you. Here’s a challenge: get them to listen to you when their windows are rolled up. Try adding pantomime to your singing.

 

Once you finally get through the day, it’s time for . . .

 

Step Five: Evening entertainment

I don’t want to tell you what to do with your free time. I mean, how invasive  and controlling and arrogant, to tell somebody how to live their life. You do you.

 

Step Six: Bedtime

At last, time to get some sleep! After you shower, floss, shave, pack your bags and set your clothes out for tomorrow, that is. Your pillow has been waiting for you all day! Oh, how you’ve missed it! You’ve got your narwhal pajamas on, your six fans directed at you, three of them blowing over heater vents and three over buckets of ice; the alarm is set, the clock is turned away so you don’t obsess over how much time you have until you have to get up; you’re all set. And how do you make your sleep deeper, more restful, more rejuvenating for the next day?

First: put your phone down.