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Hello LA Progressive readers! If you’re new to the Dear Pierre column, I’ll quote myself about why I’m here amongst these usually political pages offering unsolicited advice.

We all need advice. And some of us – maybe too many of us – are quick to offer advice even when it’s not requested. I am one of those gadflies. Just like many LA Progressive writers and readers, I am eager, as Socrates defined the role of the gadfly, “…to sting people and whip them into a fury, all in the service of truth.” But beyond such lofty goals, I am quick to offer advice about most anything (advice that may well be worth, of course, what you pay for it).

So let’s get right to your questions.

Dear Pierre,

How can I find the time each day to do all the things I need to do, let alone all the things I want to do?

Thanks for this column.


Overworked student

Dear Overworked,

Oh, I can relate to your woes. Back when I was a student at UC Berkeley the fees – as I recall they weren’t called “tuition” – totaled a few hundred dollars a quarter. Now I watch my University of Oregon students struggle with skyrocketing tuition. Many of them must juggle their studies with demanding jobs. Not long ago a student – a particularly good student – came into the classroom and slumped into her chair, bleary eyed. I asked her why she appeared to be so tired. Turns out she works a 3 pm to 10 pm shift at the local Lowe’s. And the night before, just as the store was closing at 10, the manager determined that someone was still in the store. Hiding.

The sales staff was kept at work, assigned to find the guy who liked Lowe’s so much he didn’t want to go home. It was 11:30 by the time he was located and ushered out into the parking lot. No wonder my star student was dragging.

So now to the specifics of your spot-on question.

The first step to a cure, I suggest, is to accept the fact that you cannot do all the things you think you need to do each day and hence you probably cannot do all the things you want to do.

Well, that’s certainly a depressing conclusion.

Maybe not.

I suggest most of us think we need to do more things each day then we really need to do. There’s the old trick of making a list that prioritizes that which we consider crucial to accomplish.

But there’s a lot to be said for just crossing some stuff off that list or pushing it to various future days. Procrastination can be a handy tool.

We all need to find a balance between those things we need to do and those things we want to do because the “want” list may be more important than the “need” list.

Of course we must remember that there are some tough “need” things that must be factored into each day.

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But as trite it may sound, we need to do some things on the “want” list. Just before I started writing this column today a hummingbird began flitting around in the petunias in the backyard. I forced myself to look away from the screen, to stop pounding the keyboard, and just spend a minute or so watching this glorious show. It may have been just routine work for the hummingbird – just another day at his Lowe’s job – but for me it was an invigorating reminder of the magic that surrounds us.

And this Lowe’s coda from the classroom. Just before we were finished for the day, I showed the trailer for the 1941 Marx Brothers film “The Big Store.” Dear Overworked, I heartily recommend you watch the film. Tonight!

peter laufer banner 2001


Dear Pierre,

Why are you using the pompous nom de plume “Pierre”? Don’t you know this is America and English is our default language?


True Blue American

Dear True Blue,

I was in Walgreen’s yesterday picking up a prescription and the two customers in front of me spoke Spanish with the clerk. Interesting how we all tend – not necessarily always inappropriately – to make assumptions based on appearance.

When I got up to her counter she smiled at me and said, “May I help you?”

I said, “Creo que es necesario hablar en español en su tienda.”

She smiled, laughed and we proceeded to conduct our business in a hearty Spanglish – maybe my favorite language.

English ain’t our default language. Just as we can’t keep ain’t out of our American lexicon (and who would want to?), so does reality preclude us from even considering English as our lingua franca. And what a blessing it is to be surrounded by speech other than our mother tongue(s). I, for one, love living where English is not the dominant language. It makes every foray into language – from the most mundane to the consequential – an adventure.

Your letter (very much appreciated) reminds me of how John Kerry, when he served as secretary of state, was ridiculed by some (were you one of them, True Blue?) because he is fluent in French. Do you know the old joke, True Blue?

What do you call someone who speaks three languages? Tri-lingual.

What do you call someone who speaks two languages? Bi-lingual.

What do you call someone who speaks one language? [Dramatic pause] American.

Which brings us back to using my French name: Pierre! I shall quote from the column in which I announced the nom de plume.

When you write to me, please address me by my Francophone moniker, Pierre. I think it adds some Continental elegance to our Wild West reality (and perhaps a suggestion of Old World gravitas). I like how it looks on the page. So please do write with your queries (and advice) to Dear Pierre. And I, Pierre(!), will do my best to offer appropriate advice and to take your counsel.

Send your queries to me at