And Now For Something Complete Different

David Ryan

David Ryan is a boat builder and USCG licensed master captain. He is the owner of Sailing Montauk and skipper of Montauk''s charter sailing catamaran MON TIKI You can follow him on Twitter @CaptDavidRyan

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34 Responses

  1. Burt Likko says:

    When you figure out how to overcome that sense of self and pride that hold you back from becoming who you could be in the future, let me know how you did it!

    Until then, break a leg!Report

    • David Ryan in reply to Burt Likko says:

      Burt, I can give you this one small clue:

      I have had, at various times, been told things by people I respected, that I did not want to hear, or felt like I was not ready to hear. The archetype of these moments for me was when, in a Belgrade coffee shop after a bad two week shoot, my friend and mentor Bob Wise told me that I should really consider trading up from video to film. When he told me this I felt very defensive, including a very particular set of physical reactions.

      I have come to recognize that these set of emotions and physical reactions is a “tell” of sorts, that if I feel that way, it probably means I should do the thing/take the advice that’s making me feel that way. My most recent experience with this feeling was when I was going over some of our safety provisions for Mon Tiki’s run to Norfolk with a person I respect and to whom I defer. He pointed out a couple of weaknesses in my thinking and I felt that familiar bite, and heard that familiar dissembling repost start to form in my head. Then I just did what he said I should do.

      When I took my place to make Drosselmeyer’s entrance at rehearsal last Saturday, the first time with all 50something kids doing their thing, I also felt that same physical sensation, and utterly absent anyone’s advice to me, felt a dissembling narrative start to form in my head. This caught me off guard, because I’m not accustomed to this feeling when what’s at stake isn’t a matter of professional success or physical safety. Report

  2. Kazzy says:

    “Sometimes things we’re very afraid of aren’t a threat to anything, except maybe our pride or self of self.”

    Great point. And I think what complicates this is our ability to rationalize our fears away. E.g., Why don’t I dance? Surely not fear of stepping outside my comfort zone; I’m just too busy. Now back to “Angry Birds”.Report

  3. Kazzy says:

    Hi David,

    As I thought more about this post, I wondered how privilege might be a factor in risk taking, such as described here.

    You mentioned that the dance teacher said you’d be “perfect” for the role, but presumably this was based on something other than your dance background, which I understand to be nonexistent (unless I missed something). Would she have responded similarly to a short black dude or a heavy-set Hispanic man? I mean, from what I’ve seen of you, you’re a good looking, in shape white guy. How much of that contributed to you seeming “perfect”?

    I ask because I am a pretty big risk taker in the terms described here, but have recently been thinking about how my privilege allows me to take such risks. Not only am I potentially more likely to be successful, but the risks might be lower. A story I often tell involved getting drunk and going into a busy urban intersection and directing traffic. I got a terse but friendly, “Move along now, son,” from the white police officer. And I noticed a few feet over, some similar-aged black guys — who appeared sober — were getting harassed by the cops for leaning up against a telephone pole eating pizza. Had they taken the risk that I did, there is a decent chance it would have turned out quite worse for them. I wasn’t immune from arrest, but certainly less likely to get arrested.

    Along these same lines, I encourage my students to take risks and make mistakes. But I once had a black parent tell me, “My boy can’t take the same risks. He only gets one shot, if that. He’s got to be damn near perfect to have a chance.”

    I’d be curious to hear your thoughts on this. None of this is to say you’re wrong — and I certainly have no intention to go down the “rich Buddha” road or whatever it was you were called way back when — but I do wonder how culturally specific your advice here might be.Report

    • David Ryan in reply to Kazzy says:


      In response I will simply say that I would never advise anyone, regardless of their race or socioeconomic background, to become inebriated and then play at being a traffic cop. In fact, I’d go even further and advise against playing at being a traffic cop, drunk or sober.

      Happy Thanksgiving!Report

      • Kazzy in reply to David Ryan says:

        Sure. But supposing your “perfection” for the role was in part based on race… Would you fault a black man for not approaching the ballet teacher only to fail again?Report

    • Brandon Berg in reply to Kazzy says:

      Along these same lines, I encourage my students to take risks and make mistakes. But I once had a black parent tell me, “My boy can’t take the same risks. He only gets one shot, if that. He’s got to be damn near perfect to have a chance.”

      What kinds of risks are you talking about? I can’t imagine that you’d actually advise your students to do things that could get them into real trouble, regardless of race.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Brandon Berg says:

        It’s not the risks themselves, but the idea of taking risks. Throw caution to the wind? Easier for a white dude than a black dude. So should I encourage that in my black boys?Report

      • Roger in reply to Brandon Berg says:

        My kids and grand kids are an eclectic bunch. One white male. One Hispanic female. One black Hispanic male.

        I don’t treat any of them any differently in regards to risk taking. Nor do I perceive any systemic advantage or disadvantage for one vs the other.

        Black, white or Hispanic mean virtually nothing for their expected outcomes in life. What does matter is personality, intellect, drive and so on, and these have nothing to do with race or gender.

        Black and non black is not the issue. Any black kid you or I raised would have the same basic opportunity and chance at success as a white kid we raised. The key is how they are raised, how they are socialized. Raising kids not to take risks is just one minor case in point.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Brandon Berg says:


        Even if George Zimmerman or the NYPD is following them?Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Brandon Berg says:

        To be less glib, my concern is not the child himself, but society’s response. I see it in schools… The active white boy is adventerous while the activr black boy is a behavior issue.

        Not how it should be, but how it is.Report

      • Roger in reply to Brandon Berg says:

        The exact sets of pros and cons that my daughter faces are different than my son. Overall, they are pretty much irrelevant compared to personality, aptitude and drive. Yes my daughter was occasionally the victim of racism, while my son wasn’t. Big picture is it made no difference.

        The same thing goes if extend from my immediate family to my extended family. If I sort by race, gender or sexual orientation I see no predictive power on outcomes and success in life. None. When I sort by personality, intelligence, upbringing and drive I see pretty much perfect correlation.Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to Brandon Berg says:

        Even if George Zimmerman or the NYPD is following them?

        Then they definitely only get one shot.Report

      • Brandon Berg in reply to Brandon Berg says:

        The NYPD has been known to give multiple shots.Report

      • Stillwater in reply to Brandon Berg says:

        The NYPD has been known to give multiple shots.

        My increasingly poor memory recalls a case where the NYPD fired off 71 one shots at a single individual, of which 41 were direct hits.Report

      • Stillwater in reply to Brandon Berg says:

        Yeah, bad memory. 41 shots, 19 hits.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Brandon Berg says:

        With all due respect, @roger , does your daughter feel that the racism she faced made no difference in how she lived her life? And does that necessarily mean we can extrapolate that to all people of color? I know a number of people if color who’ve told me, “I can’t do the things you do in the way that you do them because it will be perceived differently because of my race.” Are these people lying? If we accept your daughter’s experience as one data point, must we not weigh it against these other data points that indicate otherwise?Report

      • Roger in reply to Brandon Berg says:

        You’ve fundamentally changed the nature of my argument. My argument is that race, gender and sexual orientation is insignificant compared to personality, drive and intelligence when it comes to meaning, satisfaction and outcomes of life for kids raised in similar ways.

        In other words, if we (you and I) adopted ten infants each, we could predict success and life outcomes by their personality, drive and intelligence. Race gender and sexual orientation would not be strongly predictive of how well the kids did.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Brandon Berg says:

        I disagree with that because success does not happen in a vacuum. I regularly interact with groups of children far larger than 10. I see children who are of similar aptitude, intelligence, and personality. Yet they often yield different results because of how the world perceives them, a perception which is in part informed by their race, gender, and sexual orientation.

        When a black child is cited for being a trouble maker and receives discipline and a white child is cited as being a risk taker engaged in healthy limit testing — despite exhibiting the exact same behavior — their aptitude, intelligence, and personality only carry them so far.

        Do you think the rates of ADHD diagnosis in boys far, far outpace those for girls because physiologically boys are more likely to harbor the disorder? Or do you think it has more to do with the fact that the exact same behavior is labeled “spirited” in a girl but “troublesome” in a boy?

        These are all trends that I have seen firsthand but are also borne out via research.

        We can imagine an ideal world where this is not the case. But, right now, it is just that: an ideal world. Not the world we live in.

        There is ample research on this topic. Even names matter. Jamal’s resume gets fewer callbacks than William’s does, even if they are the exact same resume. What is driving that? Disparities in intelligence, aptitude, or personality? Or perceptions of race? That doesn’t mean that Jamal can’t achieve the same success as William, but probably means he needs to take a different — and more difficult — path to it.Report

      • Kim in reply to Brandon Berg says:

        “If I sort by race, gender or sexual orientation I see no predictive power on outcomes and success in life. None. When I sort by personality, intelligence, upbringing and drive I see pretty much perfect correlation.”

        Hah. Intelligence (IQ) is correlated reasonably strongly with race in America. If you’re seeing predictive power with one and not the other, well, that’s your biases coming out.
        [I am not Brandon, I understand the hidden variable behind this, because it’s fucking obvious.]

        Gender is somewhat correlated with “drive and initiative” (Please note: for this discussion, gender is not being treated like a binary variable, as hormones vary on a spectrum). If you’re seeing predictive power with one and not the other, that’s your biases coming out.

        Sexual orientation is somewhat correlated to personality (well, certain aspects, at any rate). If you’re seeing predictive power with one and not the other, that’s your biases coming out.

        You’re allowed to point to hidden variables, you’re allowed to have biases (I certainly have enough myself!).

        But don’t expect me not to call you on obvious bullshit, which your current argument is.Report

      • Kim in reply to Brandon Berg says:

        Race is a strong, strong predictor of familial wealth, and wealth is an extremely strong predictor of outcomes in our current society.Report

      • Brandon Berg in reply to Brandon Berg says:

        It’s not the risks themselves, but the idea of taking risks. Throw caution to the wind? Easier for a white dude than a black dude. So should I encourage that in my black boys?

        When I hear “take risks” offered as actual advice, I understand it to mean “Take productive risks,” not “do stupid, dangerous, and/or illegal things just because.”Report

      • Roger in reply to Brandon Berg says:

        I do not like the tone of this argument. Good bye.Report

      • Will H. in reply to Brandon Berg says:

        I see Roger’s point here; and though I have no intent (or time) of acting as stand-in for his argument, there are two primary fallacies at issue here. One is an identity fallacy (Kazzy), and the other a causal fallacy (Kim).

        Causal fallacy:
        Ok, so persons of such-and-such race are doomed to failure. Suppose we take it upon ourselves to alleviate their suffering, and take measures to terminate their existence in an expedient manner– after all, it’s the only humane thing to do.
        So, after all of such-and-such race are completely wiped out, what then?
        Will there be no more poverty, or will poverty then be measured by a different baseline?

        Identity fallacy*:
        Persons within my industry tend to be roaring A-holes.
        I associate extensively with persons in my industry.
        Therefore, the world is made up almost exclusively of roaring A-holes.

        Perhaps the data really shows that those most inclined to teach are those least suited for it.
        Should that possibility be overlooked?

        Just sayin’.

        * I used to think this same thing of libertarians. My older brother was a libertarian and a roaring A-hole, so I assumed it was this libertarianism that caused persons to be A-holes.
        Nope. Just that my brother was an A-hole. If not libertarianism, he would have found some other means to express it.
        It was interaction with the libertarians at this site that taught me to think differently, and I’ve had a few e-mail exchanges with Jaybird (one of the coolest libertarians ever) about it.
        Sometimes I am quite happy to change my views.Report

      • greginak in reply to Brandon Berg says:

        Will- I’ve seen the first argument/fallacy talked about before. Of course poverty is something we define, just about all words and concepts are like that. The entire point seems to avoid talking about poverty ( as a thing) at all. So if the assertion that there is no such thing at all as poverty, then just say that, but of course that is a hard argument to make. If poverty is some sort of actual thing, then it is going to be defined and discussed by people. If we gave everybody a guaranteed basic income of poverty line + 1000 then there would be far less poverty. There would still be poor people and rich people and people who will complain about every darn thing no matter what.Report

    • krogerfoot in reply to Kazzy says:

      Imagine this question as “You say your wife fell in love with you and agreed to marry you. Would she have done so if you were a short black dude, or a heavyset Hispanic man?” This version is more obnoxious, but not a whole lot more, unless you know something about the people in David’s story that other readers don’t. Not to presume to speak for David, but can you see how this question could cause offense?Report

    • krogerfoot in reply to Kazzy says:

      I don’t mean to condescend, though my tone made it sound like I did. I know you have a larger point, but it rests on an unwarranted, and ungracious, assumption about the people in the anecdote.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to krogerfoot says:


        That’s a fair objection, which is why I tried to frame my response as a question instead of an accusation. I fault David in no way foe doing what he did. But I do wonder about a straight, cis, white male — and an intelligent, good looking one at that — offering advice that may not be as easy to implement for folks of other stripes and the applicability of that advice. There is nothing wrong with David living his life that way or even advocating that others do, but it is possible that what he considers sound life advice might be seem by others as privilege reasserting itself. Which is why I asked. I don’t know the context — David does — and instead if responding to flesh it out he opted to respond to probably the least important part of my question. But as you note, context matters. Part of context includes race and gender.

        Advising a woman to be more assertive in the workplace demonstrated unidentified privilege because research shows that assertive women are seen more negatively than assertive men. I’m curious if David — who is typically incredibly reflective and thoughtful — considered whether his own advice here indicated any unexamined privilege. It is still unclear to me if that is the case.Report

      • krogerfoot in reply to krogerfoot says:

        . . . he opted to respond to probably the least important part of my question.

        This is actually a good technique for disengaging peacefully from a boor, which is the way you’re coming off here. As you say, you don’t know the context, but you expect David to comment on whether this episode, which he describes as something exhilarating and affirming, actually reflects poorly on him and on the teacher he admires.

        His response gave you an escape hatch, but you’re not taking it. If I’m reading the post correctly, the performance for which David has been practicing is tonight, but you’re buttonholing him on the way out the door with this hostile and tangential interpretation of his anecdote.

        I guess I’ve got two reasons for being moved to complain. One, I remember some time ago you posted about a father’s embarrassing attack of gay panic when his very young son kissed another boy. Some of the commenters in that thread demanded that you report the father to the authorities as a potential child abuser, and kept at it even after you reminded them that you were the only one here with a firsthand view, and you were confident that the man was a loving and upstanding father. You defended the man against character assassination, though he had treated you disrespectfully and held beliefs that were repugnant to you. I thought that was admirably fair-minded of you. I’m not seeing that fair-mindedness here.

        Second, when an Italian gymnast ludicrously asserted that the judges gave an American the win because she was black, it was obvious that the Italian woman was just a sore loser and a shitty person. What you’re doing with David’s story is not much different.

        The research you cite is all well and good, but you’re hanging it all on a very slim hook. David volunteered to play a part in one of three annual performances in his daughters’ ballet school, and was gratefully accepted. There are a lot of ways of looking at the episode, but you chose the most uncharitable one possible—and again, without knowing any more than I do about the people involved—and demanded that your point be taken seriously. You’ve implied that the dance teacher, who sounds like she would have been overjoyed if anyone had offered to take the vacant role, might have rejected someone who wasn’t white and yada yada yada. This assumption is based on absolutely nothing in the post. You shoehorned it in, and it’s presumptuous to insist that it be given a hearing here.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to krogerfoot says:


        As I said, I framed my query as just that: a question. I’m wondering how his advice might be different when he accounts for race. Maybe it wouldn’t be at all. And shouldn’t be. I can’t say with certainty. I’m looking to engage a conversation. If that is boorish, so be it.

        I’m mindful of how our community here might come across as boorish to others. I could imagine people of color reading David’s post and possibly — possibly! — thinking, “More privileged white folks who don’t realize it.” And then disregarding out site. My understanding is that we’d like to avoid that reputation and I think open and honest conversations when that might be occurring are the way to avoid it. Again, if that is boorish… well, I don’t know what I can do about that.

        If you note in my first comment, I shared my appreciation for what David offered here. It was upon further consideration that I wondered — wondered! — if this post risked coming off as privileged. Follow up comments in response to others might have more firmly staked out this concern.

        In a nutshell, it is responses like yours that concern me about this space. David possibly exemplifying unexplored privilege are not an issue, but questioning him about the potential for having done so are. Let’s not upset the apple cart. The status quo is working so why question it. Etc. Sorry, but that ain’t me.Report

      • krogerfoot in reply to krogerfoot says:

        @kazzy : It was presumptuous of me to lecture a higher-up about civility, and I guess David can take care of himself.

        My contempt for your line of argument in this thread made me lose my composure. I often end up picking fights with people close to me on the political spectrum, under the concern that self-righteousness and snobbery among liberals might be fun online, but it makes being a lefty that much harder for those of us in Mobile, Alabama. I recognize that being the Bill Cosby geezer scolding you youngsters for making us all look bad is, in the end, a kind of don’t-upset-the-apple-cart timidity.

        But let’s take a look at the open and honest conversation you’re proposing. The moral of the original post is here:

        Sometimes things we’re very afraid of aren’t a threat to anything, except maybe our pride or sense of self. I’ve probably missed some opportunities because of that (actually I know I have). I’m trying to be less prideful and more open-minded now.

        The “risks” that the writer is talking about are decidedly small-bore—what to wear, how to shave, whether one should dance in public. Kareem-Abdul Jabbar has, even more beautifully, written something similar.

        The example in your response involved drunkenly directing traffic on a public street. Is this remotely comparable to the “risks” described in the OP? You weren’t challenging your sense of self or rising above the fear of failure and humiliation. Calling this “risk-taking” in the sense that the OP describes is too cute by half. It’s a straw-man argument; nothing in the OP advocated trying to get yourself arrested or run over.

        You’re proposing that David’s advice (and is he giving advice? Is he faulting those of us who are too timid to shave daringly or take ballet lessons? I missed those parts) might not apply to others because of their race, appearance, sexuality, etc. Is Kareem-Abdul Jabbar exemplifying unexamined privilege? How should he respond to your suggestion? How would you put it into play? “Kids, don’t be afraid to try new things. Follow your dreams! Except for you, Kareem, and you, Cheryl. Better play it safe.”

        To turn into Bill Cosby again, there are people out there who love to fly the Liberals Are The Real Racists flag. To them, progressivism is a cute term for condescending “we know better than you” paternalism. The arguments you’ve made (and @kim — hi, Kim) on this thread give those people a hard-on.

        You cite something a black parent told you to push back against the OP. Fair and good. Then @roger, who’s raised a black kid of his own, chimes in, and you can barely disguise your impatience. @brandon-berg gently points out that the risk-taking in the OP is not about physical bravado or facing actual danger, and you jump from taking a ballet class to having your kid murdered by vigilantes and cops. I’m hardly defending Brandon and Roger out of tribal loyalty—they agree with me on, I think, very little, and I’m sorry to say I’ve been less than gentlemanly toward them. They can certainly dismantle your arguments without my help, and your posturing is hardly going to hurt their feelings. But really, where do you get off bringing up George Zimmerman in response to Roger’s point? Do you really think it’s never crossed his mind? Is it brave to remind the parents of black children that their kids face greater danger in this society?

        And finally, you think what I’m saying is “the status quo is working so why question it”? I’m saying the status quo in in this particular neighborhood is you, Kazzy, telling people that their particular experiences, for which they and not you were there, exemplify an underlying moral failing that only you are enlightened enough to see. You seem to think I’m saying some issues are off limits for discussion. I’m saying that the way you’re insisting that your pet issue be treated with especial respect is off-putting, and your rationale of doing so in order to prevent visitors of color from being frightened away reads like a parody of leftiness. If I’m crazy for sensing notes of hostility and confrontation-seeking in your comments that aren’t there, then I owe you an apology.Report

    • Kim in reply to Kazzy says:

      I think, far more than race, the judgement of physical fitness is probably the one that’s most likely to come to the fore here. (well, that and cultural attitudes. Men doing ballet is not considered “acceptable” outside of professional football. One nearly expects folks to have to do the “not gay not gay” act afterwards. So I’d see it as more of a self-selection bias).

      People are likely to conclude “Mr. Fatty” doesn’t have much physical strength and isn’t going to actually be serious about developing it.Report

  4. Jib says:

    Well done, sir. Being on the other side of 50 at 52, my wife and I have been having a lot of the “how do you want to spend your 50’s” conversations. Physically able to do most of what we have ever been able to do and with enough time (God willing) to actually take on another career if we so desire (and much more financially secure than we were the last time we had these kind of talks in our 20’s), we have choices to make and we need to make them wisely. Your 50’s are critical to how you will spend the rest of your life, it is important to not let entropy rule this decade. You are setting an excellent example on how to do this.Report

  5. JG New says:

    Good for you! I’m also doing a “Nutcracker” this season, but from down in the orchestra pit, where I play cello with our community symphony. In general, I’m a big fan of community-based arts; in a society that I see as increasingly fragmented, if not atomized, I think it’s well worthwhile for neighbors to gather to do something that, if not literally constructive, is done for the sole purpose of pursuing art.

    That said, I won’t be able to see a damned thing, because I will be (a) down in the pit (it’s deep!) and (b) I’ll be watching the conductor and my part (it’s not an easy piece of music)

    BTW, there are a number of young African-American girls/women in the ballet and they don’t look the least bit odd or out of place. Especially considering that there are dancing/fighting mice, casual musical racism from around the world, and a dancing nutcracker.Report