The Three Rules Of Insanity

image - Flickr / Kelsi Barr
image – Flickr / Kelsi Barr

My daughter is reading my favorite book. “I’m on page 112,” she says, “of The Choose Yourself Stories.”

This is my collection of more personal stories about my life. I never marketed it. Just put it out there. But she found it.

Now she has a lot of questions like, “Why did you always want to kill yourself? It seems like you always wanted to die. Why?”

And I said, “well, I felt really sad and scared and sometimes a person can’t see anyway out. But ultimately I did see a way out and now we’re here.”

“But it’s mean,” she said, and I think about what she says. It is mean. Not mean to me. Because I would be dead.

But she’s saying it would be mean to her.

“He has you in the book,” she says to her older sister.

“Where,” the older sister, a teenager, comes out of her teenage daze for a second. She doesn’t quite say “Where”. She says “whe”.

“He writes an imaginary letter from you to him. When you were 14 and I was 11. It says, “You always have to be waiting for me even though I’m always late.” ” She quotes the chapter word for word. They both laugh because it’s still true.

Then she asks me, “Why did that girl not like you? The one who picked you up when you were hitchhiking. The girl with the red hair.” Mollie has red hair.

And I tell her the FIRST RULE OF INSANITY: If something doesn’t work the first time, don’t try the exact thing again. You have to modify it a little bit.

“What do you mean?”

“Well, I called her the day after our first date and she didn’t pick up. So I figured five minutes later, ‘maybe she wasn’t home’ and so I called her again and hung up after a few rings. And then about ten minutes later I said to myself, ‘Maybe she’s home now” and I called again and hung up after a few rings. And I kept doing that.”

Mollie started laughing, “why did you keep doing that?”

Because kids don’t do stupid things like that but adults do. Adults call over and over and over like an iron is sizzling the insides of their brain and it can only be smoothed out once someone picks up.

“Because I was crazy.”

“And then finally around midnight the woman with red hair picks up and says, “Was that you calling all of those times.” And then she hangs up and I never talk to her again so that’s why she didn’t like me.”

While I’m describing this to my younger daughter I’m thinking to myself. Yes, that was clearly insane.

But what was that girl doing all of those times I was calling?

Why didn’t she pick up? Now I think she was having sex with someone all night right after my first date with her. And who has sex for six straight hours? I’m picturing it right now.

23 years later, I’m angry and jealous and, of course, this is the second rule of insanity.

SECOND RULE OF INSANITY: don’t be angry and jealous 23 years after something that was meaningless.

When I dropped my daughter off I went back to the book to see what happens after page 112.


“Imagine you are a 10 Year Old Girl”. I wrote a story from her perspective on the day she turned ten years old. The story made my cry. What’s it going to make her do?

And then I wrote a story, “Why I want my Daughters to be Lesbians“.

I wish my dad had written a book about his life. He never talked about his younger life. His first marriage. The way he was torn apart by jealousy and rage and unemployment and poverty.

But I did find a short story written by my mom when she was younger. It was hidden in a bunch of papers in my basement.

My mom’s short story was about a shy girl who invites a guy over from work. They are sitting and talking about nothing because both are shy. They eat dinner, they drink wine, they don’t talk.

Finally she walks into the other room, comes back naked, and they have sex. End of story.

Maybe that’s how my parents first date went. I hid the story in my room so I could re-read it whenever I wanted to. Still, one story from my mother and it was shocking to me.

Now my daughter’s got a whole book of stories from me.

Ooops, here’s another story, “Why I Want My Daughters to be Drug Addicts.”

Well, nothing I can do about it. I want to teach my kids by example. I want them to love a lot of people. I want them to live a gentle life and I never want them to worry and be scared as much as I have.

All volatility in life causes a story. Just like the big bang that created our universe created a trillion stories. A story is a solar flare from the brain.

THIRD RULE OF INSANITY: not accepting both the good and the bad in life with the same level of calmness.

What goes on in her little brain when she reads these things? What is she wondering about me? About herself? Does she get scared? I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know.

What does she think when she wakes at three in the morning and watches the ceiling fan flicker the light of the moon across her ceiling?

One day she’ll grow up and remember every word, just like I remember all the clues about adulthood my parents left on the scavenger hunt of childhood for me.

And I hope when she does, she’ll realize that every single thing I wrote in this book is a love letter for her. Thought Catalog Logo Mark

James Altucher is the author of the bestselling book Choose Yourself, editor at The Altucher Report and host of the popular podcast, The James Altucher Show, which takes you beyond business and entrepreneurship by exploring what it means to be human and achieve well-being in a world that is increasingly complicated.

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