ALL THE MATH YOU'LL EVER NEED

Much stink has been made about Albert Einstein's celebrated equation, E equals MC squared. An entire theory was built upon it, and also a few atom bombs. Indeed special relativity proves that mass and energy are the same and interchangeable. Who knew? The owner of the fancy microscope knows, under which you can view the constituents of solid particles behaving as anything but.

But to really understand the brain-bending equation you need at least some basic knowledge of physics, and I have none. Instead of taking science my Senior year of high school I enrolled in Studio Art, because that's where the chicks were. I got really good at stenciling self-portraits. Nothing came of this skill. I'm sure there exist pretty physicists too, and I'd really like to meet one, because scientists are sexy, if you go for book worms. But you are likely not a scientist, since scientists only read research material. So for all the non-science persons, I offer you another basic equation. My equation requires no knowledge of thermodynamics and only simple math. My equation is all about common sense, which unlike scientific know-how, we're all born with.

So without further ado, let me introduce my formula to you. It is, simply, C + T = D. Or CTD for short.

The American writer Mark Twain, who bears a striking similarity to the German scientist - possibly because they both lived in the 19th century, when big hair and even bigger mustaches were in -  traces the origin of his literary career to an attack of measles when he was twelve. The disease almost killed him. This led his mother to pull him out of school and apprentice him to the local printer, which exposed Twain to fine literature, and from then to trips abroad, and to lectures, and finally a contract to write his book Innocents Abroad, which paved the way for world-wide fame.

Twain describes in an autobiographical essay that circumstances (C) conspired with his temperament (T) to produce his destiny (D). Though he didn't give this formula. The formula is mine, so don't you try to steal it. Without the apprenticeship he'd never have acquired the requisite writing skill, but without his particular personality as an upstart wishing to make it in the world at all costs, he'd never have taken advantage of the opportunity that circumstances presented.

And so it is with life. Put two different people in the same situations, and the outcome will differ as markedly as do their basic natures. Put two similar personalities in vastly different circumstances and you will also get very different results. Witness twins separated at birth who grow up to practice different occupations, like our scientist and satirist from above. Or they each open up their own fitness gym, proving that temperament may be a greater determiner of your destiny than circumstance, although both definitely play central parts.

So how to change your life? You can't change your temperament, which you're born with and stuck with at least till you die. I say at least because spiritualists believe that the soul's basic nature never changes, while other specialists opine that temperament is what results when a particular soul unites with a particular body. But that's speculation, and for the moment we are concerned with the practical application of my theory, which can improve your own life immensely.

See, knowing who you are at heart can help you to gain greater acceptance of yourself. And to choose circumstances that bring out the strengths in your character and also develop weaknesses. This should ideally start in early childhood. For starters, determine your temperament. There are many personality tests. I follow the KISS rule and lean to those tests with the fewest options which can be filled out in the minimum amount of time, and are also free. This is not Myers-Briggs, which eats up 15 minutes and thrice as many dollars. I like the temperaments developed in ancient Greece. These are sanguine, choleric, melancholic and phlegmatic. This theory guided medical treatment for over 2,000 years, and did not result in one single explosion, while Einstein's brainchild is only a century old and almost led to world destruction. Read a bit about the temperaments and take your test here and here. It's not an exact science, so you stand forewarned.

Once you know your temperament, you can go about selecting experiences most suited to your individual type. Ideally this should begin in childhood. For me it began today, and I'm almost at the half-century mark, so it's never too late. The sanguine child should be exposed to an elder whom he greatly admires, a choleric to someone whose competence he trusts, the melancholic to an adult who has suffered greatly in life, and the phlegmatic to a lot of other children, for the phlegmatic has few innate interests but develops those whose light he sees reflected in the minds and joys of his peers.

If you did not have such conscientious parents well-versed in the ancient humours, or as modern society might call them, hippies hoodwinked by pseudo-science, and although role models have gone the way of the rotary phone, you can nevertheless act as your own elder and place yourself in circumstances that bode well for your future by emboldening who you are today.

To illustrate. The sanguine temperament has a short attention span. So he is best served by the multi-tasking approach that allows him to work simultaneously on a variety of things. I have sanguine leanings, and I find this strategy to be eminently suitable for me. For example, I like to lift weights, but to do nothing but hoist iron for 30 minutes is boring to me. So I often occupy myself with household chores in between sets. I'll steam broccoli, or empty the trash, or even cut my hair. This "killing two birds" (or three or four) approach fulfills my multiple personalities and saves time, while also allowing me to catch my breath.

The choleric temperament, who can be irascible, should consciously place himself in situations where if he lost his temper he would look utterly ridiculous. Let's say you hate being in the sun. You attend an outdoor party. There are seats available both in the shade and in the sunlight. It is uncomfortably warm and your friends are gravitating to the covered areas. Choosing the hot seat, so to speak, allows you to test and titillate your temper, and to laugh at yourself when you find you're on the verge of boiling over (in more ways than one). Such a seating arrangement also allows you to be a gracious guest by putting the preferences of others before your own, since it's not fun to sweat. But it can be funny. A sense of humor is life's greatest asset, especially when directed at oneself. Let me hear you sing it now, "Let's trip in the sun...."

Melancholics, who are often caught up in their own anguish (both mental and physical), should place themselves in care-giving careers, at least as volunteers. In so doing they distract themselves from their own bodily ailments while redirecting their concern in the form of compassion for the sufferings of the unfortunate.

The phlegmatic temperament, who is passive and lacking diverse interests, should seek out as many boring, tedious tasks as possible. This approach, which shrinks call "flooding," allows this personality once and for all to be thoroughly and completely bored out of his mind. In such a way we are cured of our ennui and can finally know what to do with our lives, anything but such boredom! This is probably why I, who possess many phlegmatic traits, make myself run so many miles in the same goddamn neighborhood and gather so many leaves in the garden. And also do those chores I was talking about. I flood myself with monotony until I can no longer take it and come inside to sit down to write something that provides an escape. I hope you enjoyed the ride. Maybe I will take my theory on the road, because Tony Robbins is getting old. It's either that or hire a gardener.

Until then, remember: C + T = D. To have a happy life, that's all the math you'll ever need. I wonder if I should grow a mustache.

GRAY MATTERS

I was watching the TV show Naked and Afraid last night as I sometimes do. The show teams together two strangers, a man and a woman, who attempt to survive on their own for a period of 21 days in some remote and isolated region. Some of the locales featured include the Australian Outback, the Amazonian rainforest and the African Savanna. The man may have a military background, or be an adventurist or deep sea fisherman. Sometimes he's an ordinary dude who lives with mom. The woman is a park ranger or extreme fitness enthusiast or "just a mom" herself. Sometimes the couple quarrel, sometimes one or both "tap out" (quit) in a fit of anger or illness. It is satisfying to see them actually make it through the challenge and reach their extraction point. The victors are usually exhausted, emaciated, begrimed and bare ass naked.

Even more satisfying, at least for me, is the occasional ass shot, snuck in at strategic intervals to boost viewership, of course. It's co…

ON MIND-STUFF

I hereby proclaim that June is meditation month. And July and August and some of September too. For me at least. During the hundred days that comprise summer, give or take, I have taken it upon myself to "assume the position" for approximately one hour each day, usually divided into two 30-minute sessions. During this time I sit in front of a candle flame, let my breathing subside, and with it my mental activity, and literally count the seconds.

The reductive tendency that is emblematic of science has penetrated schools of meditation, and there are many, each of which advertises its particular breed as, if not being the best, at least boasting novel or specific benefits not found in other forms of meditation.

For example, there is mindfulness, which is the monitoring of thoughts. There is concentration or focus, as on an object or the breath. There is transcendental meditation, which uses the inward repetition of a phrase, or mantra, to "allow your active mind to easily …

S.O.S

To be spontaneous or systematic, that's the question. Or SOS, as the Police sing. Within me these two opposing characteristics are ever at war. I suppose we're all born more of the former. What child is not up for a trip to the candy store on a whim? But our educational system drums in the systematic approach to problem solving. You must progress from number 1 to 10 on your test. Each class is 50 minutes long. Etc. And indeed having a schedule and being methodical can lead to greater material success. If you only do what you feel like you may never study math, or organize your closet. But enslaving yourself to a ritual can suck all the fun out of life. To reconcile the two approaches we've evolved the weekend, which is basically a short vacation from the rigid workday, a time to play in an unstructured way. The athlete has his rest days, a time away from play. The family has the trip to the Bahamas. There are semester breaks in school, though having an entire summer off is…