I am a polymath’s roommate.

Leonardo_da_Vinci_-_Self-Portrait_-_WGA12798Today is Leonardo da Vinci’s birthday. If he were alive today, he would have 561 candles on his birthday cake, but he’d probably be too decrepit to eat it. After all, 561 is pretty old.

Da Vinci was a polymath. If that sounds like something terrible, you (like me) probably don’t care for mathematics, but being a polymath has little relation to addition or subtraction. Rather, to be a polymath is to be gifted at a number of things. Leonardo da Vinci was a painter, an inventor, a musician, a sculptor, an architect, and a ton of other things. He was a thinker and a tinker.

He reminds me of one of my roommates from college, Adam Haroff. Adam is a thinker and a tinker as well. He’s a musician, a painter, a woodworker, a computer programmer, a sound technician, and more. But most important to me, he is a friend.

Though it has been years since we shared a room, we’ve stayed close. In college, our friendship was epic. We enjoyed similar things and spurred each other on to achieve great things.

Well, Adam did the achieving part. I like to think that I helped inspire him. But the truth is that I am not a polymath. I am a basic guy with basic interests and rudimentary skills in a few specific areas. And that’s okay.

Probably the best thing that I learned from being roommates to a gifted thinker and tinker was that I can still be great, even if I am not the best.

An author that I like once said that one of the biggest shames of globalization was that people who were good at something stopped doing it because they were not the best. And so, I’ve learned to love my singing even though I am not Elvis or the Beatles. I have learned to love my writing even though I am not Kurt Vonnegut or J. R. R. Tolkien.

Being constantly around someone who is better than you in astonishing ways can either cause you to give up, or challenge you to become better. Which will you do?

I am very careful with razors… now.

Eating out is easier than cooking.

It was the week following the first (and second to last) Baker Book House Battle of the Bands. My old roommate, Adam, had come up for the show from his home in Ohio. Since putting on a concert with multiple acts without any prior experience is a difficult thing, my wife and I decided that I could do with some time off and away from work. So after the concert was done, I packed up a bag and rode home with Adam for the week.

I was pretty excited to get away and be able to focus on writing and creative collaborations. I was just getting into writing my Thom and Tom series at the time and I had this dream that Adam would be my illustrator and I would be the writer and together we would become rich and famous by our creative abilities. Back in college, we were constantly doing projects together, so I was really looking forward to getting back into the creative swing of things.

So while Adam worked during the day, I worked on new stories for my lead squirrel (Thom) and his invisible roommate (Tom). When I wasn’t actively working on new stories I was refilling my creative well with books, movies, television, and napping (napping counts, right?). It was a very relaxing week.

That is, it was a very relaxing week until the afternoon when I was getting ready for a nice dinner out with Adam. The dinners before this night had consisted primarily of bachelor food (pizza, cold pizza, fast food, and chips), but on this night, Adam wanted to take me somewhere nice. This being the case, I decided that it was time for a shower and shave.

Now, I shave my head. I have for a very long time. It isn’t because I have early onset male pattern baldness and decided to admit an early defeat on the fight for hair. Mostly, it is because I had a pretty short hair style before I entered my bald years and keeping up on the maintenance of haircuts (every two weeks) and hair styling products (shampoo, conditioner, hairspray) adds up. I shave my head because I have a nicely shaped head and I am cheap.

If anyone out there is now thinking about the convenient life of a shaved head, take a moment and feel that noggin of yours. Is it lumpy in places? Do you have a lot of moles or head acne? Remember that I said that I shave my head because, in addition to being cheap, I have a nicely shaped head.

Image by Horst.Burkhardt

Okay, so anyway, there are a few different tools to use when shaving your head. There is the barber’s straight razor, which is a decapitation waiting to happen. There is the traditional handheld razor, which most men use on their face (and most women use on their legs). There is the electric razor (which doesn’t really work for a close shave). And there is the Head Blade, a razor specifically designed for head shavers like me that is made to be held close to the palm of the hand and used in the shower. When I was getting ready for that evening’s dinner, I was using the Head Blade.

The normal razor.

I had purchased the Head Blade a few weeks before and was very happy with its performance. Every couple of days, I would shave my head, and it worked like a charm. Once I waited three days before shaving, and it was a little uncomfortable, but I didn’t think much of it and went back to shaving my head every couple of days.

The week that I spent at Adam’s, I had largely neglected my daily hygiene rituals, so it had been almost five days since I had last shaved my head. That should have been a warning sign. The thing about the Head Blade that I should have picked up on from prior experience was that when hair is too long, it doesn’t behave correctly. So when I tried to shave my head that day, mere hours before heading to a nice restaurant, I ended up with a half-shaved head and a healthy gash of missing skin atop my glorious dome.

The Head Blade – for Blading Heads

When it first happened, I was in a bit of shock. I mean, who isn’t phased by seeing soap bubbles one minute and red water the next? When the bleeding didn’t stop right away, I decided to get out of the shower before I fainted (how embarrassing that would be!). But I didn’t want to get blood all over everything as I got out of the shower and being in a strange apartment, I didn’t know where Adam’s over-sized bandages were. So I took one of his towels and wrapped it around my head, forever after making it look like something found in a slasher film’s laundry.

As I was getting dressed, my cell phone rang. It was my wife. I learned a new thing not to say to the woman you love who is many hundreds of miles away.

“Hello?” I said.

“Hey Handsome, what are you doing?”

It was something like this. Only not fake.

“I’m just trying to stop the bleeding,” I said.

Then, after about five minutes of trying to calm my wife down, we continued our conversation normally. I told her about the week thus far, that I was getting some good writing done, and that I missed her terribly.

After a while, I unwound the bandage and assessed the damage. It was pretty gross, not just because of the part where the skin was missing, but also because of the parts around that that were still covered in hair. I did my best to shave the remaining bits without getting too near the open wound. The result was better, but not enough to make me look like anything other than a brave survivor of some terrible tragedy.

When Adam got back from work, I showed him the towel, apologized profusely, learned that he didn’t have a bandage for me anyway and donned a hat for dinner.

When I got home from my trip to Ohio, I threw the Head Blade away, and let my hair grow out while my head healed.

I use a normal handheld razor now, and very carefully.

How to See Old Friends and Not Have It Be Awkward

So, this past weekend, I went down to Kalamazoo to visit some of my old friends from college. I regularly see my friend Andy every few months, but Andy and I were meeting up with our other friend, Adam, who I don’t get to see very often at all since he lives in the far-too-far wastes of Ohio.

Fun fact – I can’t see what Adam’s shirt says. I am colorblind.

Adam and I used to be roommates and much of our experience and relationship has seeped into my roommate flash fiction series, Thom and Tom. Anyway, we were all getting together to celebrate Adam’s birthday.

It had been over two years since Adam and I last hung out. In that time, my wife and I have had two daughters, my writing career is more serious than ever, and my job has morphed to include all kinds of fun new responsibilities. From his side, Adam has made a major career adjustment and has started and maintained a serious romantic relationship. A lot has changed for both of us.

But nothing has really changed between our old roommate relationship and our current living-in-different-cities relationship. We can fall back into our old friendship as easily as an experienced musician can remember the feel of an instrument, and the tunes are still as sweet.

This isn’t always the case with seeing old friends. Too many times, once a person moves on with their life, it becomes difficult to maintain the friendship or to fall back into the old routines. Too much has changed. This, I would hazard, is the norm for most relationships. And even though conversation flowed as easily as the Dr Pepper at BD’s Mongolian Barbacue where we celebrated Adam’s birthday, I noticed that we were employing some communication skills that I learned back in college in order to make things more comfortable. I think we did this naturally, but a skilled communicator can do it intentionally and achieve the same level of comfort.

The main thing that I noticed was our use of “carriers”. I learned about carriers first from Dr. Paul Yelsma in my Small Group Problem Solving class at Western Michigan University. While I was in his class, there was no one in the world that I hated more than Dr. Yelsma. His teaching style was designed to make people cry, and from some of the reviews that I’ve read on Ratemyprofessors.com, many other’s agree with my assessment. Of course, if you read the rest of the reviews for Dr. Yelsma, you’ll learn, as I did, that though he was not a likeable professor, he was a brilliant educator and his material has stuck with me far more than most of my other classes.

But I digress… A carrier is a subject of interest that a person can talk about for while. Once you discover a person’s carriers, you just ask them one related question and they open right up. The fact that you know something they like and that you would care enough to ask them about it makes that person feel knowledgeable and important. It is a great way to help along a new relationship as well as rekindle an old one.

Without even thinking about this concept, Adam and Andy and I were volleying carriers back and forth for a while, catching each other up on what we were doing, genuinely listening to each other, and feeling loved and respected the whole time. It was a great experience.

If you want to make someone feel special, find out their carriers. Ask about them. Then listen. It works great for old friends, new friends, even romantic relationships.