January 1, 2010

Instruction Manual – Life – 2010

By In Photography, Stories

Sarah cutting wood

I don’t know about you, but I sometimes feel shortchanged by the instruction manual I received when I was born.  Oh wait, there isn’t an instruction manual for Life.  What the heck?!  There are instruction manuals for everything, even chopsticks.  The first time I saw those three Chinese pictures on the side of the wrapper, I thought it was a funny cool little cartoon, like the kind you used to get with that rock hard bubblegum.  But once I realized they were instructions, I suddenly felt sorry for the person who had to draw those up.  They were probably thinking, “I went to college for illustration, and now I’m drawing instructions for dumb people.” 

I can see it now.  A customer pays for his Chinese delivery and sits down in front of the TV to watch Idol.  He pulls out those two little sticks locked in their last embrace.  “What do I do now?!”  The panic attack ensues and he eventually curls up into the fetal position while being silently mocked by the little white boxes surrounding him.  If only there had been some kind of instructions!

I submit that if there can be instructions for chopsticks, why can’t there be instructions for Life?  I mean, I know if you compare an Indian oil field worker in Dubai to say a Canadian bush pilot, they have very different lives.  But there have to be some common problems that could easily be solved with a few simple instructions, right?  Of course, now some of you are thinking, “What about the ______ (insert religious/cult text here)” ?!  And you’re right.  Sure, those books are helpful for a lot of situations.  But I haven’t seen anything in any of them that tells you how to talk to a girl that you like.  And I’ve never seen instructions in them that cover what you are supposed to do when you are trying to hang a picture, and all you have is a nail, a wall and a picture.  And where are the instructions on how to tackle running out of toilet paper?  Hello?!  That has to be universal, right?

So that’s what I’d like to give to the world.  I’m not married yet and I don’t have any kids.  So maybe I should get off my butt and start writing an instruction manual for the future generation.  I could make a chapter for each year of life.  The first three chapters would be just pictures.  Actually, the first chapter would consist of just a hand being held up with the word underneath that says, “WAIT”.  (I figure for the first year, your life really isn’t up to you.  So you don’t need instructions other than just, “wait.”  The second chapter would have to describe in some way, “Be cute and you shall receive rewards.”  So maybe a circle + adult = milk.  And a jagged star + adult = :(.

Chapter three would be one of the most complex chapters because three year olds have the most to learn of any age.  They are right at that point where the choices they make start to affect what happens to them.  Before that, a parent or guardian will treat them however they are going to treat them, nearly regardless of the child’s behavior.  But once three years old hits, you had better start workin’ it.  So three is critical.  Four through ten, you are building upon a three year old’s knowledge.

Hopefully a manual like this would have useful tips for boys and girls alike.  At 35 I’m still finding things that I assumed my older sisters already knew that I think I just picked up because I’m a boy.  And I know there is a lot I never learned specifically because I’m a boy.  For instance, I know that you have to purchase, at the very least, an 18.8 Volt cordless screwdriver or the purchase is a waste of money.  Really, 18.8 is even too low because those batteries are crap, and the 9 volts are a joke.  But money might be an issue so there are the 18’s.  You just have to be careful with the batteries.  Anyway, to me that’s useful knowledge!  I don’t blame my sister for not knowing that.  She knows how to pick out fresh fruit correctly.  I have no idea how to do that.

Let’s write this stuff down!  And the next time you see someone riding their bike down the busiest street in town, while 10 cars back up behind him, you can scream out your window, “Did you even read your instruction manual?!”

Sarah cutting wood 02

Written by Jon Hillenbrand

Jon Hillenbrand is a Chicago-based artist working in photography and filmmaking. He has over 15 years of professional award-winning experience working both locally and nationally in television, print and web advertising. He currently calls Evanston, IL home.
  1. Chris Hayes January 1, 2010

    You obviously missed “Life’s Little Instruction Manual” which came out sometime around 1991 because I remember my best friend from highschool’s parents thought it was really neat. I mostly remember it was a collection of one-liners much like “Jack Handy” from Saturday Night Live of approximately the same era, with more than a few religious verses thrown in. Also, your assessment of 3 year olds is a little off… It starts earlier. Hope you get to see sometime.


    • Jon Hillenbrand January 2, 2010

      When I was half way through this post, I thought, “Someone has probably already written something like this.” Haha. Thanks Chris.

  2. erik January 1, 2010

    Compliments of the season, Jon.
    This is a little like an instruction manual that I’m struggling to figure out. I enjoyed looking at your images after reading your advice on making photo frames in PS. When I follow your basic steps to create a frame (before using the marquee tool) I get a “drop down shadow” on the right and bottom. I have searched high and low and can’t find a way of turning this off. Any advice please?
    Thank you,
    Erik du Toit

    • Jon Hillenbrand January 2, 2010

      Thank you. Happy New Year.

      Are you talking about this article:

      I wrote that so long ago that I don’t even remember anything about it. But I believe the problem you are experiencing is not related to this article. It’s related to the new interface of PS CS4.

      If you create a new document in Photoshop, a small one, say 400 pixels x 400 pixels, white, do you still have that “drop shadow” around the new document? If so, then what you are seeing is just a nice and pretty drop shadow to make your day happier, courtesy of Adobe. It’s a part of the interface. This drop shadow does not appear inside the document, it is just a drop shadow on the document itself inside of Photoshop CS4. It’s meant to be a way of having the document stand out on similar backgrounds.

      To remove: Go to Edit > Preferences > Interface. There, at the top of the page, you will see the Border options. Just change it to “line” or “nothing”. There’s no right or wrong choice. Just whatever you prefer.

      Let me know if this works for you.

  3. erik January 2, 2010

    Thanks for answering—it is late there.

    I tried the preferences route, but it didn’t work. After reading your message, I tried opening a new file. No “drop shadow!” I’ve decided to keep it simple and use a white inner border and black one outside. That way, you don’t see the unwanted frame.

    Thanks again.

  4. Jon Hillenbrand January 2, 2010

    Check the layer properties for all of your layers and make sure there isn’t a drop shadow on any of them. Or flatten the image before you start to make the frames (remember to save a non-flattened version of the file first so you can always go back!). It’s difficult to tell the exact problem you are having without seeing the file. If you upload it to a file sharing website, I can download it and take a look at it to see if I can figure out what’s happening.