Kierkegaard – On Madness

It is quite curious: naturally the life of a little insignificant thing is viewed with contempt, and is overlooked by all intelligent people; in return, the little insignificant thing sometimes takes revenge, for when a man goes mad it is almost always over some little insignificant thing.”


I should have been a Viking

This was originally published in Issue #2 of my weekly email newsletter. Subscribe here.

I am a big fan of the TV series Vikings on the History Channel. It’s basically about how the Vikings raided and plundered the UK and the rest of Europe in the 9th century.

Something occurred to me while watching the scenes of the first Vikings invading Northern England. There must have been an intense feeling of awe and wonder as they explored the culture, dress, weapons, religions, and architecture of this new world. Great stories were told about far away lands during the Middle Ages but you were never really sure of their truth until you experienced it first hand.

That level of awe is probably lost on modern man. No matter where we go or what we do, someone has been there, explored it, written books, taken photos, and written reviews. You will consume lots of that information before you ever go there. You’ve probably seen a lot of it even if you never intend to go there. You have a sense for what most of modern Earth looks like and acts like. You even know it’s spherical.

Several years ago I went to the Grand Canyon with my family. While the sense of scale is lost in pictures, I remember standing at the edge disappointed at the level of “awe” I was feeling. It was certainly an inspiring sight but I didn’t have the sense of wonder I expected. Perhaps my expectations were the problem but I think technology and the internet are numbing our ability to be awestruck.

As I watched Ragnar Lothbrok standing on the beaches of Northumbria with his ragged band of Viking warriors I imagined how he might have felt if he showed up and there were thousands of other foreigners with selfie sticks and funny clothes already there cluttering up the landscape. He probably would have just killed them with his battle ax. He wouldn’t have known any better. He didn’t get the newsletter.


Thomas Merton – On Humility and Authenticity

“We cannot achieve greatness unless we lose all interest in being great … It is, therefore, a very great thing to be little, which is to say, to be ourselves. And when we are truly ourselves we lose most of the futile self-consciousness that keeps us constantly comparing ourselves with others in order to see how big we are.”

~Thomas Merton

Putt the Damn Ball

I’m going to give you a little advice. There’s a force in the universe that makes things happen. And all you have to do is get in touch with it, stop thinking, let things happen, and be the ball.

-Ty Webb, Caddyshack

I’ve told this story in one form or another for years. I enjoy playing golf. I’ve been playing since I was about 6 years old. As far back as I can remember I have been a pretty decent putter (at least until recently). I’ve discovered something about putting that is counter-intuitive and makes no sense to most people who ask me about it. You don’t need to think about the putt too much, if at all.

When you watch professional golfers read a putt they will walk around the putt, look at it from all angles, squat down and cup their hands over their eyes to remove shadows, ask their caddy to give an opinion, and use any other number of methods to get an accurate read. That might be okay in pro golf where every stroke could mean hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars. They may be able to even read it accurately and actually hit the ball on the intended line with the intended speed. The problem is, most of us amateurs don’t have those skills.

No amount of reading the green is going to help you if you have the yips or an inconsistent stroke that couldn’t hit it online anyways. Furthermore, if you are holding up the pace of play so that you can be absolutely sure you have the read down only to hit a putt 10 feet short and 5 feet offline – well your playing partners and the people behind you secretly hate you and you are detracting from everyone’s enjoyment of the game.

Take a deep breath. Look at the putt from one angle. Trust your body to read the green and make the appropriate stroke. Then just putt the damn ball! If you learn to stop over-thinking the putt the likelihood of you relaxing and hitting a better one will be higher. You’ll be amazed when the quality of your putting improves with less time spent thinking about it. Trust your instincts. Your body knows what to do.

Just be the ball, be the ball, be the ball. You’re not being the ball Danny.

The Golden Rule says “Do” unto others

DO unto others as you would have them DO unto you.

It really doesn’t get much simpler than that. It doesn’t say “think” about others the way you would want them to “think” about you. If it did we’d all be in a world of hurt (all you sicko pervs out there take note). It matters not what you think, it matters how you act.

I realize the golden rule is written about 1000 different ways depending upon the culture, religion, or language being used but the essence is always the same: the ethic of reciprocity is such that you should treat others as you would wish to be treated yourself.

Actions speak louder than thoughts.

Thinking about Thinking vs. Thinking about Doing

If only I could follow my own advice…I sometimes wax philosophical about thinking less. How is that even possible? I mean, don’t you have to think in order to do? Yes.

It is okay to think about doing. If you are going to clean out the glove box of your car it is okay to “think” about bringing a trash can with you, “think” about the type of cleaner and paper towels you will need to complete the job, and “think” about anything else related to the doing of that task. Thinking as it relates to the physical realm and the act of doing is perfectly acceptable.

It is not okay to think about the thinking. You cannot think about whether or not the task is meaningful. You cannot think about your existential crisis and how your search for meaning is set back by completing the task. You cannot think about whether or not you’re capable of doing the task up to some mythical public standard. In short, you cannot let your thoughts beget other thoughts about thoughts. You have to get out of your head. If your thought is not about something that can be seen, touched, smelled, heard, or tasted then you are thinking about thinking. Stop.


Louis C.K. – On Authenticity

“When you thwart what’s real about you in order to keep creating content for financial need, you’re just not gonna make it. You’re not gonna keep going. You have your number. It’s very dangerous to be liked by more people than should like you. It’s bad for them, and it’s bad for you. There’s gonna be a shock down the road for them, or you’re gonna dilute yourself and take yourself to a place where you can’t live with who you are. I think that you make an honest account of who you are and you live with the results. The results will be appropriate to who you are… If you’re saying things just to piss people off, then I don’t know why do it. If you’re saying things just to please people, that’s a short-lived victory. But if you just say the things you believe, and the things you like to say, and that mean something to you — if you stay close to the gut — then everything will work itself out.”
~Louis C.K.

Now Serving – Slices of Jeff

As I reflect further on my past blogging experiences I realize that my hesitance has never been about a lack of creativity or something to say. My hesitance has always been about which part of me I want or need to share. For all the uses of the internet, the dimensionless compression of people into tiny slices of themselves makes it extremely difficult to connect on more than a single plane at a time.

If you’re like me, then most of your internet consumption involves searching for a topic, hashtag, or genre to read. You find interesting people saying interesting things and while many of them sprinkle bits and pieces of their personality into their writing much of who they are gets lost in translation. When you communicate with someone face to face you may be discussing sports or science or psychology but there are unsaid things garnering equally as much (and in some cases more) attention. The way you dress, your body language, the rhythm and cadence of your voice, the slang you use, and the place you happen to be all create an experience that has many more inputs than simply reading a blog post or tweet or even seeing a picture. That adds depth to almost any real life communication. That depth is usually hard to find online.

There are certainly elements of someone’s internet communication style that shed light on who they might be as a person but those elements are much easier to manipulate. While I can lie to you in person, if you are intuitive you will see right through me. Intuition plays a role on the internet but its much more difficult to measure and connect with people without the personal space filter.

I know that lots of people blog because they want to get their thoughts down. It’s a way to clear their mind. It is in some way cathartic. I never really had that desire. My inner life and thoughts are very rich, always weaving a new web as new information comes in. I never felt a need to write for the sake of writing. No, I write really for two reasons. One, because I am afraid I will forget some of the more important thoughts I’ve had or intellectual connections I’ve made. Second, because in some way I’d like to think I can connect with real people. I struggle with how to do that when I am limited to a medium and method that constrains me to basically one topic area per post. I want to find people with whom I have things in common but I don’t want that commonality to be the only thread holding a relationship together, however limited that might be online.

As a financial advisor by trade I consume lots of information about investing, personal finance, etc. day in and day out. But I have a vast set of interests. Sure, investing is interesting, but I love to discuss psychology, physics, philosophy, biology, sports, outdoors, humor, family and many other things that strike my fancy. I am the person who will read about quantum mechanics one day and the mating habits of ticks the next. I love to learn.

I have no idea what I will write about today or tomorrow or the next but I know I will write about something at some point. If you find something interesting then I hope you will stick around to read more, leave a comment, or ask a question. Connections are always welcome.

Update: earlier this year I decided to start publishing a weekly email newsletter. It’s usually a very short read, only taking a couple of minutes. It contains a plethora of different things; quotes, quips, jokes, philosophical questions, books, links, and observations of mine. At least in this way each touch can contain more flavors. Check it out: jeffhowardz | facts of my existence newsletter.

Why are there No Fat Zombies?


My friend Jeff Glover, Zombie extra on The Walking Dead

When I watch a TV show or movie I have a tendency to analyze all of the scientific aspects of the show for plausibility and validity. I can certainly suspend my disbelief when warranted. After all, science fiction would not be science fiction if everything adhered to the current laws of nature as we know them. There are, however, subtler aspects of many shows that intrigue me and cause me to put my pinky to my lip and go “hmmmmmmmmmmmm” Dr. Evil style.


One of those particular moments came to me while watching The Walking Dead. I’ll first start by saying I am NOT engaged in the Zombie sub-culture as much as a lot of people. I couldn’t tell you the first thing about zombie myths and legends or comic books. I became fascinated with The Walking Dead because it is filmed here in Atlanta. In fact, the CDC shown in the show is the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre, a venue within sight of my office window. One day during filming they had the road closed off and it was full of tanks, military equipment, and lots of freakishly gray looking people. I was hooked.

As I began watching the show I noticed something rather peculiar. The more I focused on it, the more it began to bother me. There were NO FAT ZOMBIES. I began to go over the possible storytelling reasons for this in my head. I did a little online search to see if there was something I was missing about zombies that meant none of them were fat. For the life of me I could not find a plausible explanation.

My thought process went something like this:

  • In the show, when people are bitten they become zombies. The transformation time varies from person to person. It can be quick or it can take hours.
  • I realize that zombies wandering around all day, losing limbs, and mindlessly meandering would probably lose lots of weight if they started fat but…
  • With the shear number of zombies on the show, one would think that there would be at least a few recently zombified fat folks who were in the precursor stages to losing all that weight, i.e….
  • There should be some fat zombies.

There was one guy they dragged out of a well that was a bit portly but that could have been because he was waterlogged or something. No matter, the question remains. Why are there no fat zombies?

Robert Kirkman, Executive Producer of the show, had this to say in a letter column:

There are tons of fat zombies in the comic… less so in the show, as, frankly, it’s hard to ADD to big people to make them look like zombies. Keep in mind, to make those walkers look real, you have to build stuff, on top of real people… you start adding to people my size, and well… we start to look a bit too padded, if that makes sense.

So there you have it. I spent countless hours obsessing over a stupid nuance of a TV show only to find out that the reason had nothing to do with the story or the sci-fi world and everything to do with saving makeup money. Fat people require too much makeup. And my contemplative nature sends me down another rabbit hole.