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I don't want to trash this essay but I found it disappointing. I think the reason why is that the author had a great theme -- flip common advice around backwards -- but then let it take over his argument to the degree that the substance was really poor. Very unusual for somebody who is a litigator. It is an example of style over logic.

Life is not fair and you should do something you love. Birds also sing, mom is a pretty good person, and be sure to wear clean underwear. This missing piece here is that life is about how you choose to interact with it. It does not exist without your perception of it. Instead of wondering whether life is fair or not, you are the entity that should be fair. Instead of wondering how something might or might not feel to you, realize that you are the entity responsible for your feelings. You should be able to learn to love things you might not initially. If this were not true we'd all be stuck playing video games or taking drugs. The feeling that something initially gives you is not a very good indicator of how much you might or might not deeply love it over time. Learn to take orders and follow directions and you can be exposed to more things that you might like. Don't do that and you'll never know what you've missed.

This entire line of thought the speaker espouses is like that: half-formed and glossy. You should do something that is meaningful and other people might not like, but don't use their hatred as any kind of indicator of the worth of what you're doing. That's backwards. Sounds good, but it's backwards. It also skips over the most important part -- how to know if what you're doing is meaningful and important. Using other people's hatred is not going to work.

What's worse is that after a while all these commencement speeches just run together. All the same pablum about not having to follow rules, make life a game, follow your heart, stick it to the man, and so on. Enough already.

It's not that these things are not true, it's that they are watered down, feel-good bullshit phrases that really don't give you much chance of actually doing anything useful from what you've learned from the speaker.

I can understand why people like this essay. If it were the only one of it's kind I'd like it too. Hell, if there were only a hundred like this I'd still like it. But at some point I feel that we're doing a great disservice to college graduates by telling them a bunch of stuff that they would be inclined to believe anyway, just in a more clever format. Sometimes, maybe only once in a decade, somebody should tell these kids something that's a bit more practical.

I'm not sure I fully understood your second paragraph, but I found David Foster Wallace's commencement speech to hit the practical advice nail on the head. The story about shopping after work? Pretty brutal.


Thanks for this article. I think it's much better than the original, though I suppose it is to be expected that a novelist would write a better commencement speech than a lawyer. I have to wonder about taking life lessons from someone committed suicide, but since what he wrote felt true despite challenging some of my own preconceptions (while reinforcing others -- clever!) I suppose it might approximate something like wisdom. I recognized myself particularly in this passage:

Worship your intellect, being seen as smart -- you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out.

Thanks for that, that was a great read.

Certainly conveys some sense of 'day in, day out'. I've dithered about reading a Wallace book, mainly because of the length of them.

PS: Do you not have corner shops in the US?

In parts, but they're more expensive than supermarkets and don't carry much more than junk food and beer.

Over here (UK) the corner shop often has some fresh fruit, veg, milk and bread. They are of course more expensive, but in my opinion, the extra cost is not huge for one or two meals worth of food, especially laid against the angst and ennui of a heavy traffic supermarket!

Yeah, you're lucky to find any produce at all in an American convenience store, though you're likely to find milk and probably bread in the better ones. On the other hand, there's all the beer, soda, "potato chips" (crisps to you), and chocolate bars you could ever want; sometimes a better selection than the supermarket!

Also, because Americans drive everywhere and walking is impossible in most places, most of our convenience stores are attached to gas stations (petrol stations to you).

Large US cities have plenty of neighborhood markets / corner stores with fresh fruit and vegetables and meat. I live next to 3 of them in West LA, within walking distance. SF has even more. NY has countless. And yes, they are much more preferable and expensive than supermarkets. The markets in California usually have world class wine and produce, since our state grows millions of tons of the stuff.

But yeah, most American suburbs don't have any of that, which is what you're describing.

"Consider the Lobster" and "A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again" are collections of his essays. They're still fairly long, but they're generally superb, and you can read them in smaller chunks than his novels.

I think perhaps you got caught up in the theme (as you see it) and didn't notice the intensely irreverent humour in the writing. I found it to be highly amusing and original. Especially the part about arguments in the home between a litigator and a magazine editor - the wife always wins.

I dont know if you're married but i find the love part very practical. I dont feel he's saying "stick it to the man" as much as "don't expect life to happen to you", "dont feel entitled to things and experiences"... you need to work for it and make it happen.

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