Tag Archives: Answer Man

From the Desk of Answer Man: Fickle Favorites

Dear Answer Man:

I am in fourth grade, which sucks. The other kids at school are always asking me about my favorite food, favorite color, or favorite brand of sneaker. The problem is that I can never make up my mind. Sometimes I want to eat tacos all day, other days I can’t live without pizza. Some days I like blue and other days red. And once I went to school with a Nike on one foot and a Converse on the other – by accident! I’m in big trouble. Who am I anyway?

~ Tommy Thomas, Age 9

Dear Tommy,

I’m convinced that if Socrates were alive today he would spend all his time at the mall. That’s what it means to live the examined life anymore: to be obsessed with your own consumer choices. So, my fickle young philosopher, you do have a problem, but it’s not that you can’t make up your mind. It’s that your inability to make up your mind bothers you so much. Three thoughts to buck you up:

Fickleness is a hedge against tedium. How boring would it be if you were forced to make a once-and-for-all choice between Mexican and Italian food? Not even Mexicans and Italians want Mexican and Italian for dinner every blessed night.

Fickleness is proof that you’re not dead. Trust me, the day will come when you’ll feel like proof is necessary. But cheer up, consistency is the last thing you should expect from yourself. And I mean that literally: it is the very last thing. Only the dead are consistent.

Fickleness is infinite power. It’s the power of self-definition, first of all. It was Feuerbach or Brillat-Savarin who said it first: ‘you are what you consume.’ There you have the answer to the existential yelp at the end of your letter: Today you are a boy who likes tacos and red and Nikes. Tomorrow you will be a boy who likes pizza and blue and Converse. You can be a different person each day. When you’re a little older and get a job you’ll find that all these various selves are required to share a single bank account, which gets a little crowded, but that’s why credit was invented. Because fickleness is economic power too. As an adult, marketing executives that earn more in a year than you will in ten are going to line up to lick your boots for a buck. Really. Whole industries will rise and fall by your sovereign dime. If it weren’t for your philosophical compulsion to constantly redefine yourself in consumer terms, Tom-Tom, the world economy would collapse – we’d all be dressed in rat skins, eating boiled grass and mashed acorns, and licking salt from the walls of slug-infested caves.

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From the Desk of Answer Man: New Year’s Resolutions

Dear Answer Man,

All my friends are making New Year’s resolutions. Where did this custom come from? Have you made any resolutions for the new year?

Sincerely, Maura Less

Miss Less,

Contrary to vulgar belief, New Year’s resolutions were invented (by a royal of Denmark, I think) to provide you and me with a convenient excuse NOT to do something – or, as the case may be, not to not do something, which in practice means to do something that you wanted to do all along. Think about it. If you’re only held to account once a year, it’s easy enough to blow it in the first few days. You’ve resolved to eat no chocolate this year? Oops, it’s the sixth of January and you just ate a delicious chocolate chip cookie which you baked by accident. Don’t worry, there’s always next year. It’s only 359 days away.

See how that works?

Well, that’s one way of answering your question. Here’s another: New Year’s resolutions were invented to guarantee us the pleasure of failure at least once per annum. Because, really, failure is a species of pleasure, quite different from success, and more acute and satisfying the more our failure is total. This explains why it’s a good idea to set yourself a high goal when crafting a New Year’s resolution. Make it, in fact, a stratospherically lofty goal.

Which brings us to your second question, about my own resolutions. As I informed my wife on New Year’s Eve (after a couple gins), my original New Year’s resolution for 2011 was: ‘To have sex with all my favorite Hollywood stars.’

She laughed at this.

It occurred to me while shaving next morning that she probably thought I was making it too hard on myself. I considered myself in the mirror for several minutes. Yes, I decided, she’s right: I am a handsome devil. I wasn’t setting myself an ambitious enough goal for the year. I was far too likely to succeed and would inevitably find myself at year’s end without the toe curling pleasure of the failure I desired. What a thoughtful, supportive wife.

‘Darling,’ I said over a late brunch of eggs and coffee, ‘you were right to laugh at my resolution last night. To sleep with all of my favorite Hollywood stars! What was I thinking? But I’ve thought better now and made a revision. Here it is. Over the course of the next twelve months, I hereby resolve (inshallah) to politely – but firmly – decline sexual overtures from all my favorite Hollywood stars.’

I tell you, Miss Less, I’m already in ecstasies over my certain failure this year.


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