Wisdom from “We Learn Nothing”

I”m warning you in advance that this is, sort of, a book review.  Technically, a book review would require far more thought than what I’m about to say, so let’s call this a strong book recommendation.  What has possessed me to write my first book recommendation ever?  I’ve written over 340 articles for this blog and at about article #10, I started running out of ideas.  This nagging feeling of having nothing to write about continues to this day so, I’m going to recommend a book by Tim Kreider entitled “We Learn Nothing”.

I read this book months ago, so the details here are bit sketchy, sort of like I remember Obi One getting killed in the first Star Wars (makes me cry every time), but I don’t remember much else (well, I also remember Vader chocking some Death Star board member using the force, but that’s about it).   Anyway, I couldn’t put this book down.  I’m the type of person that reads, like, ten books at a time, and I blame Kindle for enabling this attention disorder.  Kreider’s book has so much wit and wisdom, it made me feel inadequate, and I soon realized I will never be able to write a book this good.  “We Learn Nothing” is a collection of true stories, most of which begin with drinking shenanigans, but end up revealing some eternal truth.  The heart of this book is great storytelling, and great storytelling can get you anywhere in life; you can write great songs, get elected to office, win over juries at the local courthouse, get funding for your tech-startup.  Anything.

Let me tell you how I came upon this book.    I was listening to Tim Farriss’  podcast, when he departed from his usual two hour life hacking interview, and instead gave a 15 minute nugget of wisdom from Tim Kreider entitled “Lazy, a Manifesto”.  You can find the audio here, and it is a must listen.  Seriously.

Without further ado, here’s some thoughts from Mr. Kreider’s “We Learn Nothing”traffic, in no particular order (compliments of my Kindle’s ability to save notes):

[on near death experiences] “At my cabin on the Chesapeake Bay I’ll see bald eagles swoop up from the water with wriggling little fish in their talons, and whenever they accidentally drop their catch, I like to imagine that fish trying to tell his friends about his own near-death experience, a perspective so unprecedented there are no words in the fish language to describe it: for a short time he was outside the world, he could see forever, there’s so much more than they knew, but he’s glad to be back. . . Apparently I can only ever attain that God’s-eye view in the grip of the talons.”

[on emotions] “I don’t know why we take our worst moods so much more seriously than our best, crediting depression with more clarity than euphoria . . . We dismiss peak moments and passionate love affairs as an ephemeral chemical buzz, just endorphins or hormones, but accept those 3 A.M. bouts of despair as unsentimental insights into the truth about our lives.”

[on passion] “I recently met a very difficult but beautiful ex-girlfriend for coffee, and as we were talking I had two epiphanies: 1) I do not even like this person and yet 2) I would sneak off to the bathroom with her right now.  With some people, it’s all a foregone conclusion once you get close enough to inhale the scent of their hair”.

[on drinking] “It’s the illicit savor of time stolen, time knowingly and joyfully squandered.  There’s more than one reason we call it being ‘wasted’ . . . Of course time doesn’t stop for anyone; alcohol just keeps you from feeling it, the way it’ll keep a man cozy while he freezes to death.”

“Drinking was, among other things, an excellent excuse to devote eight or ten consecutive hours to sitting idly around having hilarious conversations with friends, than which I’m still not convinced there is any better possible use of our time on earth”.

[on mental life] “If you’re anything like me, you spend about 87 percent of your mental life winning imaginary arguments that are never actually going to take place.”

[on friendship] “Laughter is one of those intimacies, like orgasm or tears or just getting completely snockered with someone, that bares our most helpless, undignified selves.  It’s what’s bound and consecrated all of my friendships, the way that sex consummates a love affair.”

[on hospitals] “I notice that no one who works in a hospital, whose responsibilities are matters of life and death, ever seems hurried or frantic, in contrast to interns at magazines I’ve known who weren’t even allowed to leave for lunch lest they be urgently needed.”

“Eventually you look at your watch and realize visiting hours are almost over, and feel relieved, and then guilty.”

“Hospital stays are one of the few times in adulthood when we have an excuse to drop all the busywork that normally preoccupies us and go to be with the people we love.”

[how to write a book] “The way you write a book is to cultivate friendships with people who are smarter, funnier, saner, and wiser than you, and then steal everything they say.”