by Max Sirak
(Scroll down for the audio version.)
What are your five favorite things?
No. Seriously. I'm asking.
Can you – lovely reader you are, patron of this fine site, gracing us with your most precious of resources (attention and time), answer my question?
What are your five favorite things?
No one's here to judge you. Hell, unless you speak them loudly and in public, no one will even know your particular quintet. And it's not like there's a wrong answer.
It's just an exercise in self-knowledge. An excuse for each of us to take a moment, reflect, and become consciously aware of things in our lives which we love. No more. No less.
Here, I'll show you. I'll go first.
For about as long as I can remember, I've always felt my most authentic self when I'm in the middle of a conversation. I'm not talking about small talk. Trivial banter about unimportant matters with acquaintances doesn't count. I mean an honest-to-goodness conversation about life and ideas.
I remember being in Whole Foods a number of years ago and seeing a rack of magnets being sold near the checkout. You know how it is, little knickknacks conveniently placed near the cash registers in hopes of inspiring impulse buys. Well, I can't say I'm much of an emotional spender, but I remember that magnet to this day.
It was a riff on something attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt. "Small people talk about people. Average people talk about events. Great people talk about ideas." While I'm not trying to feign greatness here (despite the fact, that is what my name actually means…), I do think the magnet's wisdom holds, at least for me.
People? Meh. Gossiping about what someone is or isn't doing is pretty boring. Events? The stuff that happens in the world is a little more interesting, I guess. Ideas? Yes. This is the stuff of great conversation.
Good conversation also presupposes good company. It's nearly impossible to have interesting conversations with uninteresting people. Conversation is dynamic, like a dance. It's give and take. If your partners aren't interested engaging in both of those things, then it's like trying to tango with a statue.
Lastly, I can't tell you how many moments of clarity I've experienced through using words to relate to others. Often it's only through expressing myself in the moment, I even begin to know the things I know, feel, or believe.
It's been called the best medicine. Often we hear it's music to our soul. But there's actually a quote I like more about the power of laughter. It comes from an unlikely source, The Guide To Getting It On, a book about sex by Paul Joannides.
"Laughter is the sexual lubricant of the soul."
When I think back, most of my favorite moments in life involve busting a gut. Usually to the point of tears or being doubled over with stomach cramps and an inability to even produce words. These are the best.
A good laugh is also a baseline requirement for my friendship. This isn't so much an intentional thing as just how it is. It's not like when I meet a new person and assess their potential role in my life I think, "I don't know…they're cool but they don't have a good enough laugh."
It's more that the people I spend time with are risible. And, the best of them have laughs which are so contagious I can't help but start to chuckle.
Bonus points for those of us who have absolutely no qualms about making ourselves laugh. Preferably out loud with no trace of self-consciousness. Whether alone, or surrounded by throngs, cracking jokes for no one but ourselves – these are my people.
Laughter may be maintenance and upkeep for my soul, but what good is reducing friction and enhancing flexibility for something stationary?
Enter music. Music not only has a direct line to speak to the core of my being, but also possesses the power to affect it. Music moves my well-oiled soul.
I wrote this first draft while listening to Hector Berlioz on Pandora. I wrote my second draft to Estas Tonne Radio. From a 19th century Romantic composer to a contemporary Flamenco madman who plays in front of banks during the middle of the workday in crowded cities and looks like Antonio Bandaras in Desperado, music is one of my favorite things.
Usually, first thing in the morning, before the coffee's made, before my phone's checked, I put on music. I've got 161 gigs on my desktop. According to Itunes, it would take from the day you read this until November, 19th for the 22,612 songs to play.
From experimental jazz to underground hip hop to kitschy Canadian improv-comedy-rock to French robot-hooded DJs to African freedom fighters – I've got it. Small label 60s R&B and soul? Yep. Up and comers from Columbus, OH? Check out some Fields and Planes. Good ol' rock and roll? You know it.
I've had more spiritual experiences as part of a crowd at a concert than in any codified congregational context. Give me Red Rocks or Dicks Den over a synagogue, church, temple or mosque any day (or night) of the week.
In fact, I'm actually going to take a break and enjoy some right now.
Ah, all better.
This is my go-to breakfast. It might not look like much but don't be deceived. Home-made granola over yogurt with blueberries and flax seed is my breakfast of champions.
I haven't always been an adventurous, or even equal-opportunity, eater. Actually for a good deal of my life it was quite the opposite. I was a racist eater.
When I was a kid, I only ate white food. Seriously. Plain white rice. Salt. Sugar. White bread and butter. I even went as far as to scrape all the sauce, cheese, and toppings off any pizza I ate. Pepper was about as daring as I got.
But it wasn't just color. It was texture too. My uncle (who is responsible for turning me on to 3qd in the first) tells a story about a particular Thanksgiving when I was young.
My grandmother had spent days slaving away in her kitchen cooking up a feast for the family. Home-made mashed potatoes were on the menu. Up until this point, I guess I had only ever eaten the instant variety. Because Little-Max took one bite of actual mashed potatoes and flipped out. Evidently I didn't like lumps.
There were tears. There was screaming. And God bless my Grandma Betty. That women loved me enough (or wanted to shut me up enough, a case could be made for either…) to make me my own special batch of instant mashed potatoes.
Now, thanks to years of working with chefs, I'll try at least a bite of just about anything.
Carl Jung wrote an entire book about timing. He called it Synchronicity – An Acasual Connecting Principle. It's all about those uncanny occurrences when random events seem to harmonize with our subjective states in a way that transcends coincidence.
Regardless of your thoughts on synchronicity, its meaning, causes, etc. I feel as though we can all agree with author John Maxwell. Here's a passage from his book The 21 Irrefutable Laws Of Leadership.
Great leaders recognize that when to lead is as important as what to do and where to go. Every time a leader makes a move, there are really only four outcomes that can result: The wrong action at the wrong time leads to disaster. The right action at the wrong time brings resistance. It's one thing to figure out what needs to be done; it's another to understand when to make a move. The wrong action at the right time is a mistake.The right action at the right time results in success.
Think about it.
– How often have you picked up a book, started it, and then put it down because it didn't really grab you, only to come back to it at a later time, and love it?
– What's one thing all funny jokes share?
– How good does it feel when you hit all green lights on your way to or from somewhere?
– Or, on the opposite side of the spectrum, have you ever met the man or woman of your dreams, only to never got a chance to be with them because one, or both of you, were already involved?
Everything comes down to timing. It's the most unmentioned, oft-overlooked aspect of our lives influencing everything. When it's right, when the stars align, when the dice drop, or the cards fall, and it works – it feels like magic.
I Invite You All
Now that you know my five favorite things, take some time and come up with your own. The question itself "What are your five favorite things?" can be a really good ice breaker/conversation starter in the right crowd. You'll be amazed at some of the answers you get.
Chances are you'll hear all sorts of things which would never make your list. To date, some of my favorites from other people have been "naps" and "furry animals." Not that I have anything against day-sleeping or mammals, I just happen to like "music" and "laughing" more. And that's fine.
It's also been interesting to see how my own list has evolved over the years. In fact, "timing" is a recent addition. "Sex" used to be on my list. But, I was out drinking with a group of friends this past May in San Francisco and as the question made it's way around the booth and back to me, I just blurted out "timing" instead (See #1 above).
Don't worry, "conversation" still made my list.