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Vlog the Inhaler, or The Occasional Video Blog Musings of Jim Thornton

Lowering your standards

Rating: 9 votes, 4.44 average.
In graduate school at the University of Iowa Writers Workshop, a poet named Marvin Bell came up with a piece of advice that quickly spread like pink eye through the ranks of prone-to-writer's-block neurotic students like me.

When you are having trouble writing, he suggested, lower your standards.

I think this somewhat paradoxical maxim deserves a lot of serious consideration, especially by those of us prone to judging ourselves harshly. And I don't mean just in our literary endeavors, though god knows this has been one area where I have had to endlessly apply the motto.

Swimming, it seems to me, is an excellent place to use the notion of lowering ones standards. Other candidates: the pursuit of a good night's sleep; the apparent musculature of your abdominal regions; life's overall sense of happiness; health; the SAT scores of your children; and the cleanliness of your underwear.

Really, I ask you, where, in any of these areas, are you likely to go wrong by simply lowering, perhaps even abandoning altogether, your standards?

A couple before and after statements might show how helpful this cognitive restructuring can be:

Before: I must beat my swimming nemesis X by Y number of seconds in Z event, and furthermore, I must do a Personal Record best time in addition to this beat down of X.

After: X can lap me--of what concern is this of mine?

Before: I must get 8 hours of wholesome, refreshing sleep

After: Thrashing fitfully throughout the night, slipping occasionally into spells of sleep apnea so deep that I stop breathing for four minutes at a time will allow me to train hypoxically while X is sloughing off and coddling his brain with oxygen and rest.

Before: Underwear in its immaculate cleanliness should be as blindingly white as the beard of God, and, furthermore, it must be changed every five to ten minutes

After: There is nothing wrong with earth tones for garments that no one but you will ever see. Lighten up!

Before: I must be loved!

After: There is nothing wrong with spending vast amounts of time annoying people, followed by even vaster amounts of time when it is almost as if you have become invisible to the human race, as if you don't matter at all, and never will! It is just a different part of the spectrum from being loved. A little shift over.
At one time in my younger youth, I was convinced that the "lowering your standards" motto applied to those whose standards were so unattainably high in the first place that they were constantly setting themselves up to fail. In such individuals, I believed, getting rid of the most ludicrous of ambitions would free them up to accomplish more, not less, because they would no longer be strive-cringing in the shadow of their own self-flagellation cat-o-nine-tails poised to swipe.

I was less inclined to think it applied to writers like this poet I met once on a bus, who informed me he had written 1000 poems, all of the very good, "but only about half of them extraordinarily good, and of these, only another half exquisite" and so forth, till he wearily acknowledged with his artist's weltzshmerzy soul that only a dozen of his poems ranked among the top the world has ever seen.

And some of these, he admitted, didn't even rhyme!

The self-satisfied, the smug, the lazy, the entitled, the deluded, the silver-spoon-mouth-plugged: surely lowering their standards would do such fellows no good at all, only make them that much more prone to self-congratulation for less-than-zero accomplishments.

I am not sure when I realized that I was a member of this latter category. There was no moment of eureka or epiphany, just a slow dawning upon me (like when you realize the borderline enjoyable jazz music you turned on the radio 45 minutes ago has somehow transformed into cacophonous fusion that has been annoying, in a low grade way, the bejesus out of you for a good while now) that I have always been more or less smugly satisfied with my accomplishments, or at least lately I have been, even though there is no ostensible reason for such satisfaction!

And this is when I did actually have an actual eureka moment.

We can all benefit from lowering our standards, even those of us who don't really have very high ones to begin with.

Sure, try to get better at swimming. Try to be a nicer person, get stronger, do good things, eat more exotic fruits and recovery potions, etc. ad nauseam.

But realize that everything becomes easier, and your chances of true improvement almost always increase, if you take that little priestly superego guy, your internal editor, your homonculus that looks like you but sports a halo, or the soul of a kindly grandparent that comes to guide you in moments of trouble, or whatever other entity within you that says: you can do better!--if you simply take this well-meaning entity, place your hands around his or her strangely wrinkled neck, and choke it till even you can recognize the petechial hemorrhaging in the whites of its damnably judgmental eyes!

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  1. billwhite's Avatar
    Thankfully Jim has not only not lowered his entertainment value as of late, he has actually increased it. We thank you Jim for putting our needs before yours!
  2. jim thornton's Avatar
    Bill, it is ironic that you should post this paradoxically complimentary condemnatory riposte, for it is your superb meet performance this very day--
    100 Free 49.2, 50 Free 22.5 --

    whilst I was at home taking not one but two naps on the couch, the only exercise I got was restraining my hands from itching a new crop of...but I cannot go into that for I have abandoned that topic--anyhow, realizing that I will never be Bill made me realize I must forever stop aspiring to be Bill...

    It is enough that I might one day throw myself prostrate at your feet and earn a disciple's impossible reward, the opportunity to lick your brogans.

    Almost time for Curb Your Enthusiasm.
  3. rodent's Avatar
    That article was up to your usual high standards. Very humorous with a grain of truth! Two thumbs up!
  4. billwhite's Avatar
    Curb was good Jimby. "Officer Krupke...Krup you!"
  5. jim thornton's Avatar
    My name is Larry David, and I am comfortable wearing women's underwear.
  6. billwhite's Avatar
    ...maybe women's underwear would be more comfortable for the "lesion".
  7. jim thornton's Avatar
    Bill, I may need to start wearing a thong to get my mystery detractor to stop rating my vlog as "terrible". Once again, I find that the only mathematical possibility for my current 3 star rating can be defined by algebra.

    We know the following:

    overall rating: 3 stars
    number of ratings: 2
    one "given" rating: my own, at 5 stars

    The variable is the mystery rater's number of stars, which I will assign the letter D for, well, let's just say this person is a D.

    The equation:

    5* + D*
    _____ = 3 *


    5* + D* = 2(3*)

    5* +D* = 6*

    D* = 6* - 5*

    D* = 1*, or a rating of "Terrible"

    Q.E.D. D = a dick.

  8. billwhite's Avatar
    Jim - let's start a poll on who everyone thinks the detractor. I nominate Fort as the detractor because I think she is laughing hysterically at you being baffled by a one star rating (and is doing it all in good fun - well maybe not so much for you).
  9. jim thornton's Avatar
    Possibly, but I doubt it. For one thing, her name doesn't show up on the list of recent vlog visitors.

    For another thing, she just acknowledged that her daughter, Ali, thinks I "owned" Leslie in our recently published-in-Swimmer-magazine pro and con weightlifting for swimmers debate.

    I secretly believe Leslie really enjoys being dominated by a strong man like me with the firepower to wrap her in swaddling cloth and put her in her place, intellectually speaking.

    Thus I can't imagine Leslie would give me 1 star....
  10. RustyScupperton's Avatar
    The jazz aficianado slowly realizing that the gentle music has transmogofied, over time, into something abrasively discordant and displeasing, so to the proverbial frog in a pan of water brought ever so slowly to boil, well, this was the stuff of genius. Can Vlogs be nominated for National Magazine Awards? If so, you are a shoo-in for this brilliant piece!
  11. jim thornton's Avatar
    Thanks, Rusty.

    I am working on the opening to my Lost in the Wilderness story today, and as has become sadly the case with most of my non-vlog writing of late, it is proving to be the equivalent of pulling rotten but not yet completely necrotized teeth:

    extremely painful, extremely arduous, and I don't think I have the arm strength to get the job done, and thus am succeeding only in stirring up even more pain and pressurized gasses of putrescence.

    So I just caught myself criticizing myself for failure to lower my standards, the exact prescription my vlog last night had advocated in such a situation (perhaps preparing myself even then for today's miserable eventuality!)

    But when you find yourself making yourself sick with your failure to lower your standards, that is when the meta-ephiphany must be applied:

    Lower your standards even at lowering your standards!

    No matter what rung on the existential ladder you find yourself lacking, the answer is always the same:

    Give up your death grip. If you must hold on, let it be rigor mortis that supplies the hold--not you volitionally!

    Back to being lost...
  12. Kurt Dickson's Avatar
    Interesting dilemma. To go on living or put 2 to the head and one to the chest. Unless your name is Lance Armstrong, Michael Phelps, or Jesus Christ, whatever you do, may or may not have a lot of meaning, depending on your perspective; this is probably why I sit around in my urine-stained shorts and scratch myself in some sort of flinstone-induced trance wondering how to proceed.
  13. jim thornton's Avatar
    Kurt, if I only could put two in my head and one to the chest, I think I might make medical history!

    With the exception of 50 cents and Rasputin, very few men can take that many bullets and keep on firing.

    My friend Bill, who has a remarkable capacity for human judgment, pointed out recently that you are a remarkably smart and witty fellow.

    I don't tend to notice this kind of thing, so I went back and reviewed your past posts.

    Bill was right.

    I would like to join you in that trance. The flintstones that you reference--do you mean the children's vitamins or the TV show?

    The bubo is sprouting a new hydra head, and I need to go to a happy place where I can't feel the itch.
  14. Kurt Dickson's Avatar
    find that elusive happy place...yabba dabba doo my friend
  15. jim thornton's Avatar
    The happy place does not seem to be revealing itself even with the addition of Concerta and Provigil to coax it out of its groggy hiding place.

    I will continue to search even as the maddening itch screams from the nether regions!
  16. Chicken of the Sea's Avatar
    This blog doesn't even rhyme. I'm going to rate it 4 stars for achieving a reasonably low standard. I would have rated it 5 stars but I can't find any spelling mistakes.
  17. billwhite's Avatar
    If you are looking for spelling mistakes your standards are too high COTS! Lower! Lower!
  18. jim thornton's Avatar
    Mch lawer! Incradibly mch lewer! Gramer to!