As the new school year begins, seniors in high school and college are dreaming of wrapping up their experience at their current institutions, and even high school juniors are planning their next stage of life. Most people save their advice for the end of the year around graduation, but I’m going to hit you with it now when it might have a chance to do some good. Let me start with a story.
Many years ago, I studied acting. By all accounts I was talented – just how talented I couldn’t say, since nobody is an objective judge of themselves, but for the sake of argument let’s say I was talented enough to go far. That was the problem. I was used to get by on talent, and not used to having to rely on other things like skill, hard work, or even being a decent human being to the rest of the troupe.
Fast forward a few years. By the time I got to college I was surrounded by people who had talent, and most of them were at least as good as I was. I wasn’t just a little fish in a big pond at this point; I was swimming with sharks, and they were hungry. Now it wasn’t “aren’t you amazingly talented”, it was “what do you bring to the table”? Talent was a given, and for the folks who didn’t have it they kept in the running by being twice as skilled or three times as valuable in some other way. I’ll be honest: I didn’t last long.
That dose of humility was bruising, but it was just what I needed. If I had managed to get it much earlier, I might have stayed in acting a lot longer, because I would have taken the time to develop more of what I needed sooner. Fact is once you get out in the world, people will stop handing you things (and yes, believe me, whether you realize it or not people are handing you things right now). Once you are nothing but the next person in line, the question isn’t going to be “how well did you do on the test?” or “do you have a degree?” because the assumption is you passed the test, or you have a degree.
Here are the things you need to be thinking about moving forward: How well do you engage with other people? How much of a team player are you? Can you be a leader and a follower as the situation requires? What sets you apart from everyone else in your field, but in a good way? Why should an employer want you on their team?
What do you bring to the table?
As some of you may have noticed, music defines my life for me. Over at Running on Sober they took that concept to a whole new level with her “Life in 6 Songs” series, which is a little slice of awesome. I’m one of the featured guests over there this week, but I highly recommend checking out the whole series. You’ll get some great stories and some great music. Thanks for having me!
*Note to friends and family: this one gets a little raw. You have been warned.
The latest kerfuffle to hit the net seems to be about Avril Lavigne and her new video “Hello Kitty”, and I can totally understand why. I mean seriously, did you see that hair? It’s like she went from punk rock to pop rocks!
Wait, I’m getting some new information in. Looks like the problem has nothing to do with her hair (except for some snarky comments from people who have no substantive criticism to offer) but rather that the whole thing is blatantly, screamingly racist and Avril should be ashamed of herself.
What? I sat through the whole video (admittedly on mute – I’m not a strong man), and despite thinking that Rainbow Brite threw up on her I didn’t see anything to particularly take issue with. So what’s the deal?
Here’s the thing: Americans, and particularly white Americans, are very sensitive and determined to take offense, especially if they can do so on behalf of someone else (it’s the new white person’s burden). The irony of course is that those most likely to try to police others in their actions are, as always, the least likely to bother actually getting more than a superficial understanding of the people and cultures they are trying to “protect” and “stand up for” (see how this sort of language subtly diminishes and disempowers those other cultures? Nah, neither do I.) So if someone is actually paying tribute or homage to that other culture or, god forbid, accurately reflecting it but doesn’t match the preconceived notions these folks have of what someone of that culture should look like (particularly their skin color, gender, features, etc.) then they are being racist.
Did you catch that? If you don’t look how we say you are supposed to look and you aren’t doing what we expect you to do, you’re the one who is being racist. Interesting turnabout there. And all in the name of “protecting” people from… what exactly? Damaging the culture? How exactly is Avril Levine or Miley Cyrus (to name another famous singer recently accused of “appropriation”) damaging the culture by trying to partake of it? (Okay, I wouldn’t want to be associated with Miley either, but still.) It’s not like anyone believes they invented it, nor are they claiming to have done so.
To those who would suggest that these cultural artifacts “belong” to one group or another exclusively, I say with all the eloquence I can muster: horseshit. Culture is a human artifact to be shared, manipulated, adapted, adopted, and remixed by other humans so that we can all grow and benefit from it. What would happen if white people tried to say, “Hey, we invented golf, it’s part of our culture and you can’t have it”? Oh wait, they did, and two things happened. First they got sued, and second Tiger Woods came in and made them all look like idiots.
I’ve “been” a lot of things in my life: preppy, nerd, punk, nerd, goth, nerd (seeing a theme here?), grunge kid, and Average White Guy™. Most all of those have been amalgamations of various different cultural influences, and none of them would exist if purists such as these had their way. Maybe instead of trying so hard to police the behavior of others, they should spend some time working on themselves.
Folks of a certain age or background will all be familiar with a certain phrase: “There are three ways to do things – the right way, the wrong way, and the Army way.” This reflects the fact that the armed forces have their own specific rules and regulations for every situation, and deviation is simply not allowed. This is intended to reinforce unity and cohesion, but is well known for creating localized situations that are the exact opposite (and gave birth to the also well known “snafu”; if you’re not familiar with that one look it up, I’ll wait).
The reason I bring this up is because of the Army’s new regulations on dress and appearance. According to a recent report on NPR, these regulations “clamp down on tattoos, mohawks, long fingernails, [and] dental ornamentation.”
The report also notes that “[t]he Army is also banning some hairstyles popular among African-American women. The stated goal here is professionalism, but some soldiers and even members of the Congressional Black Caucus are upset, and they are urging the Obama administration to take a second look at the rules.”
Before I go off on a rant about this, let’s take a look at each sides arguments as expressed in the report, and let me also note that I have done no deep investigation of this issue, simply listened to this one report and am offering a completely and (clearly) uninformed opinion. Also I am sure I will be receiving more than a few comments regarding a white man weighing in on matters of African American female hairstyles, so I would like to go on the record as stating that I will completely ignore any such racist and sexist attacks.
So what is the argument against these regulations? According to Lori Tharps, who teaches journalism at Temple University and co-wrote “”Hair Story: Untangling the Roots of Black Hair in America”, the issues are essentially that “the policy itself does not take into consideration the history and culture, as well as the simple, you know, biological makeup of black hair and what it requires. They have effectively deemed inappropriate some of the most effective and popular hairstyles that many of these women wear.”
Have to say, straight out the gate I’m less than impressed. Most of these arguments seem at best irrelevant and at worst hyperbolically pointless. To the best of my knowledge, the Army doesn’t take into account anyone’s history or culture, outside of the bare minimum for religious observation, when making regulations. That’s kind of the point. Everyone is supposed to be brutally equal, as close as possible, both for fairness and unit cohesion. I wouldn’t be surprised to find out they just stopped using the terms “mick” and “hymie” just last week. The issue of biological makeup is relevant and salient, and worth exploring in more depth, however.
Unfortunately(and this may be the fault of the restricted medium of the radio interview) it seems that the question of biology only comes in as a matter of convenience. For example, when discussing the new regulations regarding corn rows, Ms. Tharps states that:
I think the problem is it takes a little more technique and talent to produce really neat, tight corn rows as described here, whereas almost anybody could make the same kind of look with a two-strand twist. Most black women really understand what those subtle differences are.
I mean, some of the styles they’re suggesting aren’t efficient at all, for example, doing corn rows is very time consuming. Weaves and wigs are extremely expensive and this two-styles that they outright ban, dreadlocks and twists, are the most efficient and economical styles that a black woman with natural hair can wear. And again, we go back to that idea of uniformity. That is kind of both the burden and the blessing of black hair in the United States of America.
Aaaand again I take issue. I personally have very curly hair (see above. Now imagine that all over my head.) Other guys I know have very straight hair. Believe it or not, a high and tight looks like crap on me, but it’s regulation. A cue ball doesn’t look a lot better, but it’s regulation. I’m not suggesting I have the same issues as an African American woman might, but again, this isn’t about convenience, it’s about whether or not the regulations can be met without being an undue burden. Joining the Army comes at significant costs, and personal expression is one of them.
Finally there’s the issue of the words the Army has used to describe the banned hairstyles, specifically “words like unkempt [and] matted”. Ms. Tharps describes these as “culturally insensitive words” due to the “backstory of black people and their relationship with their hair in this country”. Having not read the regulations I don’t know if they only and specifically address the hairstyles most common to African Americans or if they are referring to my beloved mohawk as well, but again this seems a case of “the Army way”. Even Ms. Thaps admits “at the end of the day, you cannot say that they are racist”, and this seems to me a case of oversensitivity and taking offense where none is intended or justified. But honestly? If this were the entirety of the issue I’d say just change the wording and be done with it. It’s not important to the core issue for the Army, and it is important to the people it affects.
And speaking of the Army, let’s take a look at their reply. According to Renee Montagne, “We reached an Army spokeswoman for comment. She pointed out the regulations apply to all female soldiers regardless of race.” Well la-de-da. That’s the moral equivalent of saying they’ve established a regulation tampon for use by all soldiers, regardless of gender. I wanted to take the Army’s side, if for no other reason than because I saw little to no merit in the opposition’s case, but this? This is a case of being your own worst enemy. Which is, after all, the Army way.
I made a bologna and mayo sandwich for lunch today.
This isn’t really significant in itself, except for a few things. First, I rarely take my lunch to work. I’m more of a “get out of the office” kind of guy, even though working in Arlington makes that an expensive proposition. Second, even when I do take my lunch to work, I’m usually too lazy to actually prepare a lunch; I’ll just grab some leftovers or a frozen meal. Finally, I greatly prefer a hot meal to a cold one, so whether eating out or dining in having a cold sandwich really isn’t my style.
So why this sandwich, and why today? I didn’t really give it much thought, other than that I was craving bologna and mayo. Then as I was making lunch this morning it hit me all at once: Dad would have been 68 today.
It’s a small thing, nothing really, and yet everything. Dad was a great cook; he could make everything from chili to French onion soup to a complete turkey dinner with all the trimmings. He was a master at the grill or the stove, and yet he never lost his love for something as simple as a bologna and mayo sandwich. It’s the first kind of sandwich I ever learned to love, and I even put it on a hoagie roll, because that’s the kind Dad would have liked.
I don’t think about Dad every day any more, which is as it should be I suppose, although I think about him more days than not. I still miss him, and I always will, but I have to get on with my life. I’m just grateful to realize that he’s always going to be with me in all sorts of little ways, ways I won’t even realize. My love of music, my love for animals, my fierce loyalty to my family, even my temper…
And bologna and mayo sandwiches.
You’re not going to believe this, but Setsu of Katana Pen nominated me for a Liebster Award. Which only goes to show there’s no accounting for taste. But I am honored, even if I don’t deserve it.
1. Each nominee must link back the person who nominated them. (Done)
2. Answer the 10 questions which are given to you by the nominator. (See below)
3. Nominate 10 other bloggers for this award who have less than 200 followers. (Would that I could, but I don’t really follow that many bloggers, and most of the ones I follow have a lot of followers already. But I have nominated some that I consider excellent and worth your time, and I would nominate Setsu as well if I thought tag backs were in the spirit of the thing. So instead I will at least tell you why I think each of these notables is worth your time. See below.)
4. Create 10 questions for your nominees to answer. (down further below)
5. Let the nominees know that they have been nominated by going to their blog and notifying them. (Message delivered)
Up first: The Questions I have Been Tasked To Answer!
1. What’s the harshest piece of criticism you’ve grown from?
It wasn’t criticism per se, but that’s only because it was couched in terms of loving advice. I was in my late teens and being a typical dumbass teenage boy, when my Uncle Ray gave me the best advice I’ve ever heard: “you don’t bet the farm on a pair of twos.” Basically I was going all-in all the time, regardless of whether there was any chance I would win or even if I was right, and I was risking my relationships with my family, my friends, and everyone around me as a part of that. It took me a while to fully grasp the enormity of what he meant by it, but I’ve tried to remember ever since then that while you may not win big if you don’t risk big, it doesn’t necessarily follow that you will always win big just because you risked big, or that you even stand a chance to.
2. If you had to be without one of your five senses, which would it be and why?
I’d give up my sense of smell, mostly because I treasure the others far more. I love to read, to watch movies, to see everything, which is slightly ironic since I need to wear glasses. I love to listen to music, to hear My Not So Humble Wife’s voice, to talk with friends. I love the feel of soft skin, hard marble, warm stoves and cold ice cream. I love the taste of food, even if I am a picky eater. I would miss smelling so many things, but I would miss the rest more.
3. What material is hard for you to write, and how do you tackle it (emotional rawness, erotica, gore, etc)?
I find it difficult to write emotionally honest characters. I don’t ever do erotica, but that’s part and parcel of emotional honesty for me. If you can’t be emotionally honest in that moment, it falls flat and becomes hollow; it rings horribly false. The same is true with love scenes, or speeches of eternal hatred, or any other truly emotional moment. The rest is easy; it’s just dialogue and description.
4. What did you have in mind when you started blogging, and how did your blog deviate from your original idea?
I really only intended to write about whatever interested me, to have fun and keep it going. It deviated in that for a while it took over my life and became a grind; I stopped doing it because I loved it and started doing it because I had deadlines to hit, and my writing started to suffer for it. I also didn’t have time for anything else in my life. I don’t blog as often (or very much at all) now, but when I do it’s meaningful for me.
5. What’s the strangest compliment you’ve ever received?
This might be a bit TMI, but that’s why I’m giving fair warning. Feel free to skip to the next question. Mom and other relations, THIS MEANS YOU. Many years ago (long before I met My Not So Humble Wife) I dated a girl and we had a bad breakup. On a scale of 1-10 it was “nuclear warfare”. Needless to say she had nothing but bad things to say about me from what I heard second hand (we didn’t speak to each other for at least six months, but then I wasn’t exactly a prize back then either, so I’m not pointing fingers; just bear with me). Anyway, at the end of one particular description of the entire litany of my flaws (which in retrospect was fairly accurate) she finished by saying “he wasn’t half-bad in bed.”
I’m still not sure if that was a compliment or an insult, but given the circumstances I choose to take it as a compliment.
6. What question do you wish people would ask you, and how would you answer?
Question: “How can I get one of those sweet Bobapalooza shirts?”
Answer: “I’m so glad you asked! There’s actually an entire store full of Bobapalooza merch, including t-shirts, coffee mugs, water bottles, and more!”
I’m such a whore.
7. How do you deal with an unhealthy obsession (if you don’t have obsessions, I suspect you’re fibbing — but go ahead and give advice for ‘your friend’ who does)?
Usually I ignore them. When someone points them out to me, I attempt to justify them. “Eat right, exercise daily, quit smoking, die anyway.” Or else I joke about them to deflect: “Cigarettes: chock full of Vitamin R!” Eventually I may find the willpower to give them up, like smoking. Yes, I’m fixated. I only quit (again) a couple months ago. Give me time.
8. What’s one thing you’ve always wanted to do, and what would be the first step toward accomplishing that goal?
I’ve always wanted to publish a book. The next step would be to finish polishing up the file and getting it on the Kindle store. Given that it’s taken me six months to get to this point, don’t expect it anytime soon.
9. What makes you a great friend?
Loyalty. There’s three kinds of friends in this world: the kind that ask why you have a body in your trunk, the kind that ask why you need help burying the body in your trunk, and the kind who don’t ask stupid questions until after they helped you bury the body in your trunk. I’m the third kind.
10. What does your personal paradise look, sound, and smell like?
Warm, salty breezes. The sun shines most days, but there’s just enough rain to remind you how good you have it. There’s miles of white, powdery sand. The waves crash on the shore at high and low tide, and it can get pretty high and fierce, but you can swim out a little further and the water is calm once you get past about six or seven feet deep. At night you can hear the steel drum bands playing up the way, and you can always find a bar open somewhere to serve you a cold beer or a hot steak. Parents keep their kids down to one end of the beach, and surfers stay down at the other end. There’s plenty of fun activities to be had up and down the strip, from mini golf to theme parks, and lots of clubs for the young folks. There’s even an old-fashioned boardwalk to stroll on if you get in the mood.
Just a couple miles inland it’s a bit quieter, but still lovely. As the land slopes up from the beach pastures start to take over from the sand, and eventually gentle rolling hills come in. There’s horseback riding to be had out this way, as well as petting zoos and other farm activities. There’s a few golf courses tucked away here and there, and a spa or two for folks who want to get away from it all. It’s only a short drive from the beach, but it feels like a completely different world.
And now… my nominees!
First, Gabriel Garbow. Gabriel is an artist who shares his work online for the rest of us to enjoy. You know that old saying, “I don’t know if it’s art, but I like it”? well screw that. I do know that it’s art, and I do like it. Gabriel’s work moves me in a way that few art pieces do; I can’t say exactly why, except that maybe there’s an honesty and a vulnerability in all of his work that draws me in.
Next up we have The Frazzled Slacker. What I love most about her is that I can’t define her. She writes great DIY posts that, despite the fact I have no interest whatsoever in crafty-type things, make me feel like I’m having a fun conversation over coffee with that cool lady down the street. She also has the occasional rant were she lights the world on fire with a take-no-prisoners attitude (and even took me to task once). Then there’s the posts where she just has something cool or awesome or just fun to share. Oh, and she’s my cousin, which just adds 10% to her coolness factor.
For a change of pace check out Vanessa Katsoolis at One Thousand Single Days. If you’re not sure what her blog is about, read the title again, it’s all right there on the wrapper. Vanessa’s story is inspiring, challenging, and beautiful. She presents the world in a way that I would never consider looking at it, and she has a reservoir of optimism and strength that is absolutely wonderful to behold. There is no simple naiveté here; she clearly has seen life, she has simply chosen to do and be better.
And now for something completely different… Erik over at A Very Strange Place is a special sort. When I say “special”, I mean like “early Robin Williams” special. As in “when Robin Williams was on cocaine” special. Throw in some Eddie Murphy from “Raw” levels of offensiveness and you’re getting close. What I’m trying to say is he’s not just NSFW, he’s NSFAAA (Not Safe For Anyone, Anytime, Anywhere), but if you have the stomach for raunchy humor, he’s your go-to guy, and he writes with the prolificness of a squirrel on speed.
And changing gears once more, we have Rian at Truth and Cake. Rian is another blogger that I love to read for her inspirational approach to life. She is caring, warm, and open, encouraging without ever delving into the sort of Pollyanna attitude that can come so easily when you try to remain positive in the face of everything the world can throw at you. When I read her blog I feel as if she represents a standard to live up to without ever expecting me to live up to any standard other than “be yourself”.
Flowing from the message “be yourself”, I bring you Aussa Lorens of Hacker. Ninja. Hooker. Spy. Aussa’s blog embodies the phrase “sometimes the truth is stranger than fiction”. I don’t want to give anything away, but if you read just a little you’ll want to read it all. I’ve laughed, I’ve cried, I’ve wanted to punch someone (and I’m sure you’ll feel the same way), and in the end I’ve wanted to reach out and shake her hand for just being resoundingly triumphant.
For something a little more down to earth (and in the sky), I highly recommend visiting Keri and Jeanne over at Heels First. The truth is I’m about as interested in travel as a turtle is interested in being soup, but these ladies understand the value of a good story. They make things fun, engaging, and personal. Reading their posts is like sitting down with a good friend to hear all about the great things they’ve been doing lately. Which is good for me, because they are good friends of mine.
And finally, I have to recommend Setsu of KatanaPen. Yes, I know, I said it was probably against the rules, but I’m already breaking the rules so screw it. Sestu’s blog is incredibly inspiring to me as an author and a martial artist (yes, I have done Liechtenauer style fencing, although it’s been a couple years). She is constantly giving me reasons to push myself further in my work as well as the belief that I can succeed in doing so. And she never said no tag backs.
Oh, and no tag backs.
AND NOW… THE QUESTIONS FOR THE NOMINEES!
- What would you consider to be your core value?
- Under what circumstances would you violate that core value? (If you say “none” that’s fine, I just won’t believe you. Everyone has their price.)
- What is your ultimate indulgence, whether you can afford it or not?
- Who do you miss the most?
- What sensation reminds you of them? (A song, a scent, a food, etc.)
- If you could live a boring life without having made any mistakes or live an exciting life with plenty of regrets, which would you choose?
- If you had to live in any decade of the 20th century, which would you choose and why?
- What is the stupidest joke you’ve ever laughed at?
- Could you kill someone in self-defense?
- What would your perfect date be like?
I don’t know why this set me off, maybe because I have too much time on my hands, but I recently noticed a few folks talking about their future plans for “zombie survival bunkers”.
First, setting aside the complete lack of imagination this requires, let’s assume that we are talking about the typical movie zombie. Fast or slow, they have one thing in common: they can’t climb stairs very well. What this means is they can fall down stairs just fine. So go ahead and have your underground bunker straight out of Cold War paranoia (which is really what most zombie movies are still rooted in anyway). When you become a buried MRE for a zombie hoard don’t blame me.
So what would I recommend? So glad you asked. I’m thinking treehouse.
Let’s consider what you really need for defensibility. Inaccessibility is the first requirement. From zombies that means up, not down. Stairs work fine for this in most instances, although ladders are better. I especially like the idea of a rope pulley backup system. This serves the dual purpose of allowing you to haul up heavy supplies as well as getting yourself up in case of injury. If you’re too injured to make it up with a pulley system, I’m sorry to say your odds aren’t very good regardless, so don’t blame the treehouse.
The second thing you need is food and water. Fresh water is much easier to collect from rain when you’re, I dunno, in a tree than when you’re underground. As for food, assuming you live in the right kind of tree, you’ll have edibles close to hand, and if not, you’re no worse off than in your underground bunker. The difference is you don’t need to compromise the integrity of your defenses to build a greenhouse for growing food.
Speaking of things you don’t need to compromise your defenses to get access to, while everyone enjoys sunshine, there’s something else they enjoy even more, and that’s air! Yes, my treehouse fortress has just slightly easier access to fresh air than a sealed underground bunker. Sure, you could create air shafts, but like I said, that compromises your defenses, and it’s also a lot of work. If I feel like I need more air, all I have to do is drill a hole.
How about clear sight lines? You have to come out of that bunker sometime, and when you do those zombies might very well be waiting for you. Even if they aren’t this time, they could follow you back, and then what? You’re trapped in there. I can swing from tree to tree in a pinch, or better yet I can take shots at those zombies all day long.
Now sure, you can make arguments poking holes in the value of my plan. High winds, tornadoes, fires, and other natural disasters can all undermine the value of a tree fortress, but many of those can be planned for, and there are plenty of natural disasters that would be a total pooch screw for a bunker as well. Earthquakes, rockslides, and fires are problems your bunker won’t necessarily protect you from, and might even make worse. The difference is I can jump out of my tree and run.
It’s cool, though. Keep your bunkers. Just do me a favor and make sure they’re well stocked. I’m going to need somewhere to scavenge from.
I got to wondering this morning just what does an artist owe to his audience? What I mean is, does an artist (writer, musician, whatever) have an obligation of artistic integrity to his audience, or can he just go ahead and put out whatever he feels like whenever, regardless of how he might personally feel about it, in the hopes that it will sell (or especially because it will sell)?
As a particular example of this, I’m going to pick on poor Piers Anthony (yes, me and every critic in existence). I used to read pretty much everything he wrote, and my gateway drug was his Xanth series. I read the first twenty or so, which I think allows me at least a bit of leeway in my criticism. Additionally, unless I completely misremember (always possible) Mr. Anthony himself has stated on more than one occasion that he basically keeps the series going because it’s easy to write and it keeps him paid (although perhaps not so crudely). Considering he pumps them out at a rate of approximately one a year, that’s hardly surprising.
So here’s the question: does he (or any author) owe it to his fan base to stop writing a series that he’s not personally invested in? As long as people keep buying the books, clearly they see some value in them. Nobody is forcing anyone to buy the books, after all. This feels rather like a distasteful answer to me, but on the other hand we don’t expect factory workers to love the products they create every day (or I hope we don’t anyway). Is there anything wrong with simply being a craftsman, banging out a product that people enjoy even if you personally don’t care about it, and collecting a check? Do we hold artists to a higher standard?
Another point to consider (staying with Mr. Anthony for reference) is that not every work is one that an artist is doing just for the money. After all, I started on Xanth, but I went on to read Battle Circle, Incarnations of Immortality, Bio of a Space Tyrant, and many more works by Mr. Anthony. Xanth was my gateway drug as I said, but it led me into so very much more. If creating schlock is what allows an artist to keep body and soul and family together while working on “true art”, is that a sufficient and worthy price to pay?
And finally, let me point out that all art is, much like beauty, in the eye of the beholder. There was a time when I actually defended the Xanth series as great literature, and there are some books in the series that I still consider to be pretty good fantasy. Regardless, it’s all just one man’s opinion. Does that make it any more or less “art”? I’m going to go with “no”. It’s neither more nor less, no matter what any one person’s opinion is, including the creator’s. Art is just too subjective to be defined by one person, or even a group of people, for anyone else.
Or maybe I just like knowing those books are still out there, waiting to entice some young kid and become his gateway drug. Everyone has theirs; that first creative work that pulled them in to a favorite field or genre, no matter how disdained it might be by critics or friends or even an older and wiser self. And as long as it brings us pleasure, and brings us to pleasure, I think that’s a high enough calling for creation.
Have you ever noticed how misery has become a contest? It seems like no matter where you go, every time you try to tell a tale of woe, someone else has their own tale to tell, and of course it tops yours. Have a rash? They have a burn. Have a cut? They lost a limb. Got dumped? They got divorced and lost the house in the bargain. There’s always something.
I’m not sure if this is supposed to be commiseration or one-upmanship, but either way I’d like to say “you’re doing it wrong.” Commiseration should be something simple, serious, and heartfelt. An acknowledgement of our common humanity, perhaps coupled with words of comfort. “Dude, that sucks. I’m really sorry to hear that.”
While I would prefer not to encourage one-upmanship (I consider it a distasteful habit, like picking your nose in public or voting), if one is going to engage in it should be done properly as well. Save it for when people are discussing something of value, like a house, a car, or a job. The only proper application of such one-upmanship is when someone is being a particular douchebag, for example talking about their new house, car, and job all at once. In such cases a limited amount of one-upmanship can actually be a public service if applied immediately and without mercy.
In order to curb this outbreak of “misery contestants”, I would like to share an idea my wife and I came up with some years ago. It’s a simple little thing that can be done by anyone but, I think, might just help. Just carry around a roll of nickels with you wherever you go. Whenever someone starts in with the misery contest, hear them out. Let them get it all out there. If you’re feeling particularly pernicious, you can even egg them on a little. When they’re done, simply hand them a nickel and say, “Wow, you’re right. Your life is way worse than mine. Here, have a nickel.” Then walk away.
This simple gesture of faux sincerity and honest scorn will hopefully be the antidote to their sincere display of faux commiseration and honest self-aggrandizement.
Recently I was reminded of a great article by David Wong on (of all places) Cracked about “6 Harsh Truths That Will Make You a Better Person” (h/t to Patrick Hoolahan). If you haven’t seen it yet you should check it out; great advice and possibly life changing. The part that really got to me the most was “#5. The Hippies Were Wrong”. Wong makes a lengthy point about the well-known and oft-reviled speech delivered by Alec Baldwin in Glegarry Glenross. For the three of you who haven’t seen it, I’ll include it here (also for the rest of you, because it is awesome):
Wong makes the point that “half of the people who watch it think that the point of the scene is ‘Wow, what must it be like to have such an asshole boss?’ and the other half think, ‘Fuck yes, let’s go out and sell some goddamned real estate!’” I have to admit, I used to be in the former camp. I’ve heard just about every version of this: “What have you done for me lately?” “Have you earned your seat on the bus today?” “What have you done to add value recently?” And on and on, ad nauseum. I used to hate it, because it all seemed like they were picking on me and not valuing me for what I was bringing to the table. I was a hard worker, with experience and loyalty to the company, and I had big ideas about how to make things better if they would just listen. Sure, sometimes things weren’t perfect, but everybody makes mistakes.
Then I started managing employees of my own.
At first I was the exact opposite of “that boss”. I was the boss I always wanted to have: I was a good guy, friendly, warm, open and nice. If there was something that didn’t get done, didn’t get done right, or didn’t get done on time, as long as there was a reason, I was willing to hear it and give the benefit of the doubt, even if it was insufficient on the face of it or, worse, was completely irrelevant. I finally started to understand that when I thought I was being a good guy, when I was being “nice” to my employees, what was actually happening was they were seeing Uncle Sympathy, The Clown Who Gives a Damn. I wasn’t doing them any favors, because what I was teaching them was the wrong lesson: as long as they had an excuse, they would be excused. I had to cowboy up and start teaching the lesson nobody wants to hear:
Fuck you, close.
You want the promotion, the raise, the bigger office and the better title? Guess what, so does the guy standing behind you. The difference between the two of you is that one of you is going to be the guy who talks to me about what he did for me last month, and the other one is going to be the guy who tells me about the five accounts he brought in this morning and his action plan to bring in five more tomorrow.
Fuck you, close.
I’m not saying experience and loyalty don’t count, I’m saying that they aren’t magic talismans you get to just wave around and expect they matter for no reason other than existing. Understand why and how they’re important, and be able to elucidate that in a clear and concise manner.
Fuck you, close.
If you have personal problems, I empathize, but the truth is I don’t care, because I can’t afford to care. After work, when we have accomplished everything we need to do to get the job done I’ll buy you a beer and we can talk it out if you want, but for right now we have a job to do, and neither of us is getting paid to not get it done.
FUCK YOU, CLOSE.
That’s my new mantra. It’s not pretty, but it works. And the first guy I say it to every morning is me.