‘The Least of These’ Are Our True Teachers

The first step to healing our broken world is to find the teachers who will lead us. For too long, we have looked to the blessed to teach the unfortunate. It is the other way around.  The holders of privilege may be partners in this struggle if they choose. But they are not our teachers.

If we want to learn, we must turn to those who have something to say.

We must turn to the landless, the dispossessed. Those who have learned, over the course of generations, to weave the ties of their culture through song and story, rather than through land…

They are our teachers now.

We must turn to the sick, the powerless, and the weak — those who have always had to find their own success and happiness through means other than brute force…

They are our teachers now.

We must turn to the insane and the mentally ill — all those those who cherish as a gift any day in one’s right mind. All those who know first hand the truth; that there is no Heaven or Hell, but what the mind makes of it…

They are our teachers now.

We must turn to the women of the world, downtrodden for countless generations, yet still the first to give love, kindness, and compassion.

They are our teachers now.

We must turn to the children of the world, who see with clear eyes what is right, before the world teaches them to doubt…

They are our teachers now.

We must turn to the elders of the world, who can help us embrace the best of the new, while holding tight to the best of tradition…

They are our teachers now.

We must turn to the sensitive, those who have a damaged response to a damaged world. Like the canaries in the coal mine, they offer a warning that is important for us all, if we wish to survive…

They are our teachers now.

We must turn to the castoffs of the world – the throwaways – all who have been made to feel it would have been better if they had never been born. They know better than anyone the value of kindness and inclusion…

They are our teachers now.

For years, those with money and privilege have turned to the poor and said, Learn from us. But I say to the wealthy, humble yourselves before the poor, and learn from those whom you would cast aside. Let those who have gone before you in suffering help lead the way to the end of suffering. Let us all learn from those who, in the face of hardship, have somehow managed to keep their own small flames alive.

How to Be a Grownup: Miss Manners on Saying “No”

I’ve always loved Miss Manners, ever since college, when my friend Joel Derfner declared himself a fan.

“Really, Miss Manners?” I asked.

“No, you don’t understand,” he said. “She’s really quite witty, and she has excellent advice. For example, she says that if someone points out some flaw, like a hideous mole on your face, you should say, How very kind of you to notice. And if someone totally overshares with you, then you should say, How nice for you. Isn’t that great?!” 

I wasn’t sure about these methods, until a few weeks later when a classmate came up breathless to me in the dining hall:

“Guess What? I’M ON THE PILL!!” she announced — and very loudly, I might add.

Although flabbergasted by this announcement, I was still able to stammer out a response:

“How nice for you.”

Then I saw Miss Manners’ genius.

One of my absolute favorite pieces of Miss Manners’ writing is when she explains how to say “no.”

Here’s the text, excerpted from Miss Manners’ Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior:

The ability to say no politely is an essential social skill. All that is really needed is the ability to repeat “No, thank you,” interspersed with such small politenesses as “I’m so sorry” and “You’re kind to ask” and “I wish you luck.”

Elaborating is what gets people into trouble. Excuses that are false are traps one sets for oneself, but even true excuses encourage the audacious to argue: “Can’t you do that another night?” “One little piece of cake isn’t going to kill you.” “But this helps more people.”

Yet most people can’t help blabbing on to soften  the “no,” which is apt to be so softened as to give way. So here is a small sample of supplementary sentences:

“I’m afraid I’m not taking on anything else right now.”

“Sorry, I never discuss my finances.”

“I’m sure it’s wonderful, but I’m not going to have any.”

“We never go to balls, but we’d love to see you privately.”

“I’m so sorry, but that’s not something I can help you with.”

“If you care to send me written material, I’ll get in touch if I find it interests me.”

“I didn’t realize what this involved, and I think I’d better bow out.”

And the ultimately correct, no-excuses refusal:

Dr. Peony Wilson

regrets that she is unable to accept

the exceedingly kind invitation of

Mr. and Mrs. Popinjay

for Saturday, the first of June

Dark Matter: Tips for Musicians

If any of y’all play guitar and are interested in learning to play Dark Matter, here are some tips.

The fun thing about playing this song is that while the guitar part sounds hard, it’s not! (Hooray for lazy musicians!)

Actually the hardest part is retuning the guitar to this funky tuning:

C# C# C# C# G# C#

Note: This tuning is never going to be 100% in tune, so just give it your best shot. The strings stay in tune better after about half an hour at this tension.

The first chord you hear on the song is open, in other words:

C# C# C# C# G# C#  == 0 0 0 0 0 0

Then I slide two fingers up and down the neck, so for example:

0 0 0 9 0 9 –> 0 0 0 10 0 10

0 0 0 9 0 9 –> 0 0 0 10 0 10

0 0 0 9 0 9 –> 0 0 0 10 0 10

0 0 0 9 0 9 –> 0 0 0 10 0 10

0 0 0 9 0 9 –> 0 0 0 10 0 10 –> 0 0 0 12 0 12

etc. on down the neck

Hope this gives you the tools to start!


Fun Music Nerd Facts: 

This is the tuning used on Joni Mitchell’s “Carey” — which is where I learned it —  and CSN’s “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes,” among others.

Apparently, Dark Matter is in Dorian mode. Who knew? I only figured that out last night, years after writing the song. (Actually, it’s in C# Dorian – which is slightly perverse but there it is).

Also, if you’re not a music nerd, don’t worry if you don’t know about things like modes. Reading music, knowing music theory and all that stuff is helpful for some, completely irrelevant for others. This guy only recently learned how to read music, and he’s . . . oh . . . just the best guitarist in the world.

An Even Higher Level of Nerdvana

I am honored to say that my song “Dark Matter” has been featured on another episode of Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s Star Talk Radio. My geek cred has just gone up exponentially.**

The new episode is Cosmic Queries: Dark Matter and Dark Energy. Full of all sorts of geeky goodness, including Dr. Who references, and Neil explaining why Dark Matter should really be called “Fred.”


** So exponentially, I want to write a function for the increasing slope of my geek cred.

Web Hyperbole Conversion Chart

Lately, I’ve noticed that every outlet on the web has resorted to Crazy! Amazing! Magnificent! titles to get readers’ attention. Every single link I see on Facebook is “The Most Amazing Thing You’ll Ever See!” and it’s, like, a panda farting or something.

If we use the word “amazing!” to mean “just ok,” then how do we know something really is “mind-blowing,” “world-changing,” etc.? What we have here is Awesomeness Inflation. So maybe a sort of conversion system to regular currency of human interest would help:

“Most Amazing News!”……………………………. common knowledge to anyone not living under a rock

“Incredibly Mind-Blowing!”………………………slightly more interesting than watching paint dry

“Shocking News about Your Health!!”…………………..apparently, fruits and vegetables are good for you

“This Will Change the World!”………………..some rich guy made a video about poor people, but didn’t give any money to them

“So This Happened.”……………..incredible; will blow your mind


Props to Wil Barbour for funny contributions.

By Sofia Echegaray Posted in Funny

Disappearing Packaging

A while ago, I posted about my pet peeve: excess packaging and waste.

Here’s a man after my own heart. For his senior thesis at Pratt, he re-imagined products with better packaging. Not only are the designs creative and fun, but they would also save the companies money if implemented.

Here’s the link.

How to Be a Grownup with Money

Every once in a while, I read a book that enhances my “grown-up” skills. There are some skills I had down pat by the time I reached adulthood — for example, I was an excellent student — but there were many that were frankly mysterious to me, the lack of which caused me much pain during my 20’s. So, over the years, I’ve taken my “good student” skills and applied them to creating my own course, called How to Be a Grownup. (Of course, like every real course of study, the task is life-long…)

If you are familiar with my music or my writing, you’ll know that I have a strong interest in poverty, debt traps, and self-education around issues of money. So, the first title on my How to be a Grownup syllabus is the quirky and wonderful The Complete Tightwad Gazette, by Amy Dacyczyn. This book is part of what allowed me to pursue music for several years in Austin, living on a very-part-time income. It’s also part of what helped me to stay afloat as much as I did during the first two years I was struggling with Lyme Disease.

On the surface, this book is a household budgeting book, but it also has a number of fabulous essays on what I would call Tightwad Theory — the process and thinking behind how to make good decisions which are A) creative B) economical and C) fit into a long-range goal. Not only do I think everyone who runs a household should read this, I think everyone who runs a business should read it too.

One of the most useful concepts I learned from this book was calculating the “hourly rate” of tasks. We’re all familiar with an hourly wage for work done outside the home…this takes a similar concept and applies it to “unpaid” labor that saves you money.

For instance, if you live in an apartment building where it costs $2 to dry a load of laundry, every time you line-dry it instead, you will save $2. If line-drying one load of laundry takes 15 minutes, then you could do four loads in an hour — for an “hourly rate” of $8, tax-free.

By using this quick calculation, combined with other factors such as your enjoyment of certain tasks, you can decide if a certain frugal activity such as packing a lunch, rinsing out a ziploc bag, or changing your own oil is “worth it” according to your budget.

Once you are able to see tasks with this framework, you can apply it to many other areas of your life, including business. For example, if you’re planning a meeting, calculate the approximate hourly wage of all the meeting participants. If employees at your company are paid an average of $35 an hour including benefits, a meeting with 10 employees “costs” the company $350, so the meeting should be providing $350 of benefit to the company.

There are lots of other great recommendations, such as keeping a “price book” to track which items are cheapest at each of your local stores, and using her methods to calculate the true net value for a second income.

She also talks about the fundamental overlap between being ecologically responsible, and being frugal. In her words, “Economy and ecology are like two circles that overlap about 90%. The remaining 10% is the area where doing the right thing by the environment costs more.” She also gives great advice on skills such as goal-setting, long-range planning, childrearing, and being part of a couple that works well as a team.

Overall, this is a great book for anyone and everyone.