Saturday, March 8, 2014

The Sound Of Life

A room full of people is making sound. Even without talking, and even without the sound of walking around, just being alive produces sound. Hearts beating, blood pulsing, air breathing in and out - though they may be quiet, they produce sound; no room with life inside it is truly silent. 

I find this an interesting concept to explore because so many people wish to find "peace and quiet" and try to do so by escaping from society. But though it may be tranquil, it is not truly quiet; people tend to just surround themselves with different sounds. 

People who claim they want silence either are sick of hearing the same things over and over again, or they are overstimulated from the barrage of inputs in modern life. Though these people may seek silence, they usually they just want different stimuli. They need a new setting to refresh and recharge them.

This all leads into a larger principle, which is that people rarely know what they actually want. But if you explore what their problems actually are, and what their proposed solutions would give them, you may be able to extrapolate the truth. 

Saturday, March 1, 2014

The Power Of Public Shame

In the digital era, it has become very common knowledge that people act very differently when they are behind a screen compared to when they are face to face. The power of anonymity and the safety of distance can allow a person to become the lowest version of themselves. 

 Evil people love privacy. It allows them to commit their atrocities in secret, and to keep a sparkling public image. That image is paramount for them. As long as people look good, they don't have to do anything. In fact, the only thing that can guarantee them to leap into action is threatening their image. And here we have the power of public shame. 

By highlighting in a public forum the evil things that people do, you smear that image. And from here, some will definitely happen. It could be positive (forcing them to fix their problems), or it could be negative, (forcing them to smear your reputation and then crush you like an ant). That largely comes down to their power levels, knowledge, and confidence. 

Regardless, public shame is a powerful tool. As with all powerful tools, it can be used either to create or to destroy, but it is guaranteed to change things. 

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Lost Significance

I periodically record little thoughts - phrases, sentences, bite-sized ideas - because they were particularly compelling and profound to me. By recording the inspiring words/imagery, I have captured that which sparked my mind into having these thoughts. 

The problem is that those bite-sized  ideas lose their potency over time. After a while, so many other thoughts have come and captured your attention that you can't really remember all the fine details that were there originally. From there, your little note has lost the significance it once had. 

If something is worth recording, record it thoroughly. That means to take enough notes that you can understand the idea even after you haven't thought of it for five years. 

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

A Second Viewing

There is literally more content in the world than there is time to consume it. In 2013, there were more books published than there are hours to read them. Because of this, we tend to read/watch things once. We've experienced a thing, learned the shocking twist or whatever identifying thing it has, and then move on to the next thing. 

This method is quite a shame. We miss out on so much by not taking a second viewing. That supplemental experience allows you to see deeper, make more connections, and reflect upon more of your life experiences. 

The nice thing about introducing somebody to your favorite movies and such is getting to justify those second viewings. For them, it is a new experience. And for you, it is still new, just because you've never viewed it for the second time before. Live those experiences up, and love getting to share wonderful stories with those who can appreciate them. 

Monday, February 24, 2014

Gone, But Not Forgotten

I have been pretty lousy at keeping up with my post per day schedule here at Cheff Salad. The simple fact is that life has taken up a lot of my energy. Between working a day job, starting a non profit organization, and the hustle and bustle of daily life, I pretty much am up until I crash. It's not even that I don't have the time; it only takes so long to write up a post. It's simply that my mind is spent by the end of the day. 

This post is here as a way of starting back up again. I have not forgotten about Cheff Salad and I am not ready to let it go yet. I intend to catch up and stay regular with it. Just know that when I do fall behind, it is for a good reason, and it will only be temporary. 

Sunday, February 16, 2014

People Are People

I think that one of the more surprising events in my life was the first time that somebody told me I had game. Apparently, I was remarkably excellent at talking to women and making them laugh and so forth. I thought it was hilarious because I wasn't even trying. I was just being an irreverent dork, like I am with men and women alike. The only difference is that being a goofball in front of dudes made me cool and doing it in front of women made me suave. 

Ultimately, people are people. We all want to be happy. We want to be safe and comfortable. Silly people make us laugh and assholes make us angry. All the minor differences between people are just that: minor. By and large, we're all the same, and the best policy is to treat people in the same way. 

You may be surprised to find out how rarely this happens. After all, treating a woman the same way I treat a man was all it took to have game. 

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Overnight Success

I heard a quote attributed to Robert De Niro: "It took me 20 years to become an overnight success."

This really struck me, because it is so true. Nobody notices you until you got your "big break". And because of that, your history shows one singular success which launched you into celebrity. And what nobody sees or cares about is all the work that went into it. 

How much did you have to do to get that big break? How much work did you put in to be good enough to be offered that big break? 

As a writer, it is all the same deal. It takes a tremendous amount of study and practice to get good enough for editors or agents to look at your work with interest, and it takes a lot of shopping around and a lot of rejection to get something that is good to be published. 

Once you do get traction, it starts to cascade. And once you hit the tipping point, it becomes a whole new world. Just remember that it may take you 20 years to become an overnight success. 

Monday, February 10, 2014

Idea Laundering

Consider this idea: the government forces you to pay taxes at the end of a gun. 

It may seem ludicrous to you. The IRS does not use guns. Nobody has ever stuck a gun to you and told you to pay taxes. But most people also never refuse to pay them. We accept them as a requirement, so we don't really contemplate what would happen if we didn't pay. I challenge you to try to do just that though. 

If you don't pay your taxes, you may get a letter telling you to do so. If you ignore the letter, they'll send more. Future letters may also include increased fines. Ignoring them will lead to debt collectors harassing you to pay. Ignoring the debt collectors will eventually lead to some authority being called. By not paying your taxes, the police will eventually take you to jail, and if you refuse that, a gun will be drawn and targeted at you. And finally, you are forced to pay taxes at the end of a gun. 

Look how incredibly long it takes though. There are so many layers and so many months or years involved. The average person simply cannot see through all of these layers. 

This process works very similarly to money laundering. If you take an amount of money and use it to buy and sell and trade over and over again, eventually you will create so many layers that people just can't care enough to see it all. 

I think of this as idea laundering. It is a particularly effective means of obfuscating the truth, and one that rhetoricians should be well aware of. 


Subtlety is when you make a point without announcing that you've made a point.

I recently watched the movie Network. It's a movie from the 1970s that was prophetic in its depiction of TV news changing from journalistic integrity to a three-ring circus. The movie has a famous scene where a news anchor who is "tired of the bullshit" and is ranting on air about the sorry state of the world commands the people to go to their windows, stick their heads out, and shout, "I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it anymore." The call to action was monumental in its scope and its effectiveness. The TV network turned the anchor into a celebrity, giving him his own show that was an absolute spectacle. At the beginning, the studio audience shouted that same line, "I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it anymore," but there was no conviction in them. They had blank stares and hollow power. They shouted it the same way a studio audience shouts out, "wheel of fortune."

And never once in this movie did they mention it. The whole story was about the network, about the corruption of minds and brainwashing of the people, and the characters did talk about it, but never once did they bash you over the head and demand that you acknowledge their symbolism. What they did was subtle, and I appreciated it. 

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Functional States

The word "functional" has two meanings. The first is that it works the way it is supposed to (i.e. being not broken). The second is that something operates in the se way is a completely different thing. 

If you go out to the farm and see a big red tractor that turns on and can pull a trailer around the field, then it is a functional tractor (in the first definition). If you go to a farm and you see a station wagon pulling a hitched-up trailer around the field, then it's a function tractor (in that it isn't actually a tractor, but it functions in all the same ways that a tractor does). 

This second definition I find endlessly fascinating. It's like saying "if it walks like a duck and talks like a duck, then it is functionally a duck." It doesn't matter if it's a duck or a man in a duck suit or a fox in a zebra suit; when it covers all the factors that are relevant to determining duckness, then it doesn't matter what things make it not a duck; for all intents and putposes, it's a duck.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

You Can't Skateboard Safely

Tiny Hawk is happy to show people all the scars he had and broken bones he's acquired over his life. He will also show you all the sweet moves he can do on a skateboard. What is important to remember though is that he would not have the skateboard moves without those scars and bone breaks. 

There is no way to skateboard safely. No matter how much you watch and study and do anything else, at some point, you have to get on a board and move. You are basically guaranteed to fall down, over and over, in fact. But that's ok. When you don't have any actual experience and don't know how things are going to go, you're going to fail a lot. You just have to accept it and keep pushing forward. Learn from your failures and don't make the same mistake twice. 

The same holds true in writing, of course. No amount of prep will prevent you from failing a lot. You just have to take the bumps and don't give up. That's how you win. 

Fear Itself

Franklin Roosevelt famously said that "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself." This saying was so famous that it was inescapable. Growing up, it would show up in tv shows and other media. But the problem is that it was lost on me as a child. 

Children are fearless. They do whatever they want. They climb over roadblocks and they rattle every cage. They may scream and cry when they don't get their way, but they aren't ever afraid to try. 

Adults are full of fear. Somehow, as we raise our children, we make them afraid of everything. Adults spend so much time thinking about everything that could go wrong that they end up convincing themselves not to do anything. People have anxiety and panic attacks about imagined circumstances. 

As an adult myself, FDR's wisdom comes through much more. I understand that we waste hours, even days being afraid. But ultimately, fear is unproductive. If you are afraid something bad will happen, do something to prevent it. If it's unavoidable, then deal with the situation in the least damaging way possible.

Fear doesn't accomplish anything; it only makes situations worse. When you get over your fear and accept the situation at hand, it is about a hundredth as bad as you thought it was going to be. With that in mind, the most terrifying thing truly is fear. 

Friday, February 7, 2014

Animal Intelligence

By all means, animals assuredly have a level of wisdom under which they operate. They eat when they're hungry and they sleep when they're tired. If it's too hot, they find shade. 

With that said, there is a definite line of intelligence that animals don't have. Fish can't speak. Birds don't make telescopes. Dogs can't do your taxes. 

Animals have, well, animal instincts. It's that simple mind that, when it wants something, it goes and gets it. When a dog is curious, it sniffs things. When it's horny, it humps your leg. The whole idea of social constructs and things being inappropriate is simply incomprehensible because a dog is simply not smart enough to understand it. In fact, babies and small children (and sometime full-grown adults) have this same condition. But where a human's intelligence generally grows tremendously to be able to learn all this stuff, an animal's maximum capacity isn't that high. 

Animal intelligence is an interesting concept to play with. How do we treat the same level intelligence differently? A 12-year-old dog and a 3-year-old child have roughly the same intelligence, but do we treat them the same way? If a 30-year-old has a traumatic brain injury that gives him the mental age of a child, do we treat him the same way that we treat a child of that actual age? And again, why?

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Animal Wisdom

When I was in college, I had a conversation with a member of the Blackfeet tribe. He told me that for his people, they believed that the animals came before humans, so they are like the older brothers of the family. Because of that, people observed the animals and learned from them. By seeing what a bear eats in the wild, you can figure out which foods are poisonous and which are fine. You can see which plants have medicinal values. You can find ways to make shelter.

Ever since then, I’ve been intrigued by animal wisdom. Our culture generally regards animals as lesser creatures because they can’t use words or build things with tools. There is a great deal of high-function processing that animals are simply incapable of. But in a certain sense, that doesn’t make us better than them.

Sparrows may not have the luxury of antibiotics to cure infections, but they also don’t get ulcers from stress. They don’t worry about whether or not the sparrow next door likes them. They don’t have to fight one another for jobs at Sparrow Inc. They eat when they’re hungry and sleep when they’re tired. They avoid trouble as best as they can, and when trouble finds them, they get out of the way.

So many of people’s problems just don’t happen in the animal world. And there is definitely wisdom in not getting wrapped up in people’s pettiness.

Writing Is But One Skill

What frustrates me most about the modern day is that people are expected to have a wide variety of skills, to the point that it's basically impossible to be particularly good at them all. It's like, if you spent all your time and energy learning how to be the best baker ever, it by no means qualifies you to operate a bakery. There is so much involved in running a bakery, such as advertising, accounting, managing the building, etc. The point at which you are actually baking eventually becomes the minority of what you are doing.

This happens in all walks of life. We can’t seem to respect somebody who isn’t a Renaissance man. It’s like, if you can’t run the entire operation by yourself, you aren’t allowed to be part of it at all. The real problem I have with this is that it completely disregards actual skill level. We have more respect for a person who can do a dozen things passably than for a person who can do one thing exceptionally.

This culture needs to change. Being a good writer doesn’t make you a good editor, nor does it make you a good designer, good printer, or good publisher. You shouldn’t have to be expected to do it all just to even appear on people’s radars.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Fill The Role You Love

When I was in college, the most annoying thing that I heard was my classmates saying, "I like to write, but I'm not a writer." First of all, a writer is literally one who writes, so it's just not worth sweating. More importantly, though, is that it highlighted an underlying concept: these people believed that they were not supposed to be professional creative writers. 

This is not uncommon. Society brainwashes and conditions us to believe that we have to work jobs that are miserable; we have to suffer to succeed. As part of that, when we do see the rare individual who makes a life doing the thing we dream of, we convince ourselves that they're different, special, better than us. And because they're better than us, they deserve to have a fun life while we toil. 

I call bullshit on the entire concept. Suffering does not make people better. (There are just as many scumbags in The Hills as there are in The Hood.) more importantly, we are not born to slave away at miserable tasks. There are things that make us happy, and those are the things that we should be doing every day. If you want to be a writer, then write. Trust that the best writers you've ever heard of had fear all the time. Even after being successfully published, it doesn't go away. They just kept hammering away at it. 

Admittedly, most people have the problem of wanting to be a writer (or whatever job) but not feeling deserving of it. The opposite can also happen: sometimes people feel pressured to do a job that they don't want because it's "a good job" or they're "so good at it." None of that matters. If you're a good writer, but you have no desire to be a professional writer, then don't do it. 

It's not a bad or shameful thing to not want to have a job that society admires. What is shameful is trying to occupy a role you don't want because you think you have to or ought to. Fill the role you love. Some people may want to create legislation and others may want to sweep floors. But as long as you're happy and enjoy your life, you're doing the right thing. 

Monday, February 3, 2014

Rites Of Passage

I find rites of passage interesting, mostly because some are incredibly stupid, and others are perfectly legitimate, but most people see them equally. 

Most people think of a rite of passage as marking a change in a person, often from being a child into being an adult, but those are the ones that tend to be more useless. Most people can't define what an adult is, what it means to be one, or how a given rite of passage makes somebody into an adult. 

I see a rite of passage in a more natural sense. What it really means is that you have gone from having never done something before to having done it. Doing new things changes you. It gives you the knowledge of experience, which is absolutely impossible to have without actually doing the thing. Whether it be shaving or building a birdhouse or cooking a meal (or absolutely any other activity), there is something special about having done it for the first time. I don't think it necessarily makes you a better person or more of an afult, but it gives you a perspective on the world that you didn't have before. 

When somebody tells you how they want to be a writer because it's the easiest job in the world, you can't help but laugh at them. They simply don't know. They can't know. They haven't been through it yet. Take them through the process give them the rite of passage into authorship. Show them what is involved in the process, and then let them reconsider how easy it seems. 

A rite of passage allows you to have the knowing smile. And sometimes that is reward enough. 

Friday, January 31, 2014

Stop Dreaming Small

I'm in the process of starting a non-profit organization and it has been a remarkably enlightening experience already. There has been a tremendous amount of positive response; everybody wants my program to exist and help the community members who need it most. There also has been this bizarre resistance to scale everything back. 

It always comes in a positive manner, like being told, "I really love what you're trying to do and I wish you the best, but I think you should start small and work your way up." Ultimately, though, they think I'm dreaming too big; they want me to dream smaller. 

I'm trying to purchase a building and equipment to teach physical arts as a way to teach about health, wellness, and stimulate thought. People tell us that we should run our program in existing buildings like churches and gyms first, and then grow up from there. And on the outside, it may sound reasonable, but there are two problems with it. First of all, it produces a level of complacency. The small victory of working in one location with some success may actually make it harder to move on to the next bigger step; taking one large step right up front can force the effort to work harder. 

The second point is so important that it needs it's own paragraph. No matter how small you dream, people will tell you to dream smaller. If I said that I wanted to run my own program out of a gym, these people would tell me "it's too much effort to make your own organization; just be a trainer at the gym, and you can still teach people your way. At the same time, if I told them that I wanted to operate fifty facilities across the country, they would tell me to just start with one. Again, no matter how small your dream is, people will tell you to dream smaller. 

At this point, I will say remind you (and myself) that this is technically a blog about writing. And from there, I will say that there is a direct, 1:1 correlation here. As a writer, people always tell you to dream smaller. Don't get a novel published, first get printed in literary magazines. But don't start with national ones; do local ones first. And before you do that, take workshops and join the writer's society and do anything other than try to get your novel published. 

Stop dreaming smaller. Write your novel. That is step one. Learn the process of getting novels published; the information is out there. However much time and energy you spend on rewriting, revising and being rejected, it is still a far better use of your time than working your way up a ladder where you can't even find the first rung.  

To "Realize"

I find the word "realize" a frustrating one at times. It has two accepted definitions, but one of them is used about a thousand times more often than the other. And what tops it off is that context isn't always helpful in clearing up which definition is intended. 

To "realize" is to understand. Where previously you didn't get something, now it is clear.

To "realize" is also to make real. Where previously it only existed in one's imagination, it now exists in the physical world. 

The first definition is the common one, but the second one is used just enough to avoid being archaic, but is so rare as to almost always be momentarily confounding - as though your brain has to back up and then remember that "realize" has the uncommon alternative definition. 

This is especially true when there is a similarity in sentences. For example, "I realized my desire" could perfectly use both definitions. "I realized my efforts" leans more on the archaic definition, but could very easily be the common one if there is more after that phrase. "I realized where my computer came from" is guaranteed to be the common definition unless they managed to create China.

I don't know if the older version of "realize" will be relegated to archaic definitions; it's not my choice alone. But for as long as I can use it and be understood, I shall. 

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Love Is Not Possession

The subject of love has come up in conversation lately, and I’ve been considering a new idea that was brought to the table – love is not possession.

If you look at almost any modern concept of love, there is an ownership involved. Your wife/husband/girlfriend/boyfriend/etc. is yours. And because they are yours, there are certain things they are no longer allowed to do.

A guy may not be allowed to start conversations with random women. A woman may not be allowed to wear certain clothes in public anymore. A guy may not be allowed to go out to certain bars or clubs anymore. A woman may not be allowed to go outside unescorted. None of those things sound like love. They sound like hoarders and slavemasters.

Love is altruistic. When you love somebody, you will do anything for that person to be happy and healthy. Wanting to control and dominate another is the exact opposite of love.

The Period Of A Year

The year is an odd period of time. On the one hand, it is incomprehensibly long; you cannot understand how long a year is any better than you can imagine a million people. On the other hand, time can fly by so quickly that it astounds you that things happened only one year ago.

Admittedly, this more speaks to the relative nature of experiencing time, but it also speaks to the cultural understanding of a year. It is right in the sweet spot where it feels like a long time (because seriously try to think how many things have happened since January 2013), but it also feels like the blink of an eye (because even though I've moved to a new state, started a new job, and had dozens of other life-changing experiences, it feels like a hell of a lot longer than a year since I lived in Buffalo and had my old jobs [which makes getting my W2's a bizarre and confusing experience]).

When you write about time, especially the passage of time, be conscientious of it. Should a year ago feel long or short? How do you create that ambiance and make the audience feel the proper flow of time? Master this step, and you will have an invaluable skill for all of your writing. 

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Teachable Moments

Our culture has a nasty habit of shaming the ignorant. When somebody doesn’t know what we know, we say, “Really? How do you not know that? It’s so obvious!” When somebody makes a claim which is incorrect (or rather, which we think is incorrect), we say, “Wow. That’s completely wrong. You’re an idiot!”

There are some people who let that slide off their back; they want to learn and understand so much that petty insults are too insignificant to spend energy on. Of course, those people are the minority. Intelligence and self-worth have been intrinsically connected, so those who have less knowledge are lesser people. And once you have been cast into the lot of the ignorant, you are thus hopelessly ignorant. “Oh. I’m an idiot. In that case, I will stop asking questions so nobody will ever find out how much I don’t know.”

In fact, our culture is so deeply immersed in this cycle that anybody who deviates from it gets the special title of teacher. A teacher is that bizarre individual who enlightens the ignorant instead of shaming them.

When somebody is ignorant or incorrect, these are not opportunities to dominate, but are instead “teachable moments”. If one’s view of reality is skewed, show them real reality; explain to them the fundamental flaw that arises in their view, usually because it contradicts how the world works. Equally important, though, is to not simply tell them that they’re wrong, but show them what is right. Explain to them how things operate and encourage them to do things in a new and more effective way.

What makes teachable moments so special is that they are relatively rare. The same forces in our culture that make us judge each other on how much we have memorized also make us close our minds to new information. Only during special circumstances does the average person allow themselves to be receptive to teaching. And if you are one of those rare teacher-types, then take advantage of every teachable moment you come across.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Different People Work Differently

There are several  ways that a person can learn new things. Some people learn by hearing people explain. Some need to see a process done. Some need to read instructions. Others need a diagram. Some need to write things down. Some need to physically do the thing. And the list goes on and on. 

With so many different methods just to learn new things, understand that there are similarly many ways to actually do basically anything. If you have listened to writers talk about their writing process, there is a world of variety. People write in the morning or right before bed. Some people have a specific start time and others roll. Some have a strict end time and others go until they run out of steam. Some are in nature and others indoors. Some have background noise which also comes in a number of varieties) and others are in silence. 

I bring this up to remind writers that nobody can tell you what will definitely work best for you. When people give advice, they are usually just telling you what works for them. But different people work differently. Consider their advice as a technique to try out, but by no means a universally true method. 

And remember that this is just as true for what you write about and how you write it as it is for where and when you do it. 

Saturday, January 25, 2014

The Grand Vizier

In talking about supporters, it reminded me of the stereotypical "grand vizier" character. This is basically the king's most trusted advisor on all matters. Generally speaking, absolutely all grand viziers are evil; they are biding their time and executing a slow-moving plan to depose the king and usurp the throne. A classic example is Jafar from the movie Aladdin. 

This is a corruption of the supporter role. It's somebody who is helping you out, but doesn't have your best interests at heart. It's somebody who is keeping you going, but has you going in the wrong direction. 

It's such a stereotype now, that if you actually played that role straight in a story, you would probably throw a lot of people off. 

The Value of Being A Supporter

I'm an ok leader, but I'm hardly the best. However, I am a tremendous supporter. If somebody else wants to take the lead but needs help, I can talk them through the steps they need, and provide the mental and emotional support to stay strong during difficult times. 

Everybody remembers leaders, but they wouldn't even be memorable without the supporters that kept them focused and driven. In kind, supporters go along for the ride. They get to live high on the hog and see things they never would have on their own. 

Truly amazing stories can be told of supporters. The saying that "behind every great man is a great woman" encapsulates this thought. But I challenge you to find more variety and more complexity to tell the most compelling stories you can. 

Friday, January 24, 2014

Your Brain Is Smarter Than You

The human brain is the most amazing processor out there. It has the power to operate the human body (which you know is difficult by seeing how slow the progress on humanoid robots has been) and navigate complex social structures, often at the same time. What makes this even more remarkable is that your brain is doing all of those things without consciously thinking about it. All that stuff is basically automatic.

Despite being automatic, most of the decisions we make are thought-out. The brain is always thinking, always processing. It is weighing all the options it sees and deciding, what decisions to make next. Your conscious mind allows you to critique the thoughts you have, but very often, by the time you have a thought, it has been well thought-out.

There is a lot of folk wisdom to this effect: Trust your gut/instincts. When given a multiple choice question, we're  told to check all the choices, but if still unsure, go for the one that leaps out at us. 

I have noticed that when I look back at my own life and some of the rash decisions I've made in my life, they ended up being the best possible choice I could have made. I thank my brain for that, for being smarter than I think. 

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

“Should” Doesn’t Matter

The world is unfair and unjust. (At least, depending on how you look at things.) It is not only heartbreaking, but also mindbreaking how the world can be so dysfunctional. In a certain sense, though, that doesn’t matter. Regardless of how much we think about the way things should work, they don’t work that way.

If you don’t like that stupid things are popular, that doesn’t change the fact that they are. And if you ignore the fact that stupid things are popular, it can only hurt you. The same thing applies for not liking the way people use (or misuse) words, or any other bitter truth.

With all that said, it is an oversimplification to say that “should” doesn’t matter at all. The world can change; it’s happened many times before and will happen for years to come. However, if you don’t know how things ought to be working, then you can’t figure out how to properly create the changes needed to realize it.

In simple terms, “should” is idealistic. Idealism is great, but realism is always more immediately important.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Calculated Risk

Betting that a person wearing a watch has it on the left wrist is a pretty safe bet. Most people are right-handed, and most people wear a watch on their non-dominant hand. With that said, the bet is not a guaranteed victory; it's a calculated risk.

If you wanted to guarantee that you didn't lose money, you would simply not bet in the first place. But since the odds significantly favor one side, then the risk is worth taking because, on average, it will yield profit.

Humans really suck at risk. Our brains are programmed to think of everything as a sure thing. Whatever we are presented with is either guaranteed to succeed or guaranteed to fail. Something with an 80% success rate is guaranteed to succeed. Something with a 20% success rate is guaranteed to fail. You may be telling me how incredibly wrong I am with those sentences, but it's really how most people's brains look at that situation in real life. Very few people would bet money on something with a 20% success rate; at that point, it is functionally a 0% success rate in the mind.

The essence of a true calculated risk is recognizing that there is a very real chance of failure, and having a plan to deal with that possibility. Otherwise, you're really just assuming a sure thing.

Being A Sponge Is Good

I always found it strange that people would call each other sponges to insult them. Sponges never really seemed that bad. I mean, I do understand that our culture loathes being soft and literally spineless, but with all things considered, sponges have some of the most important qualities to being a good person. 

A sponge can absorb absolutely anything. It has the ability both to retain what it soaks up and to release it. Sponges are flexible and pliable. A sponge can hold on to other things and never stops being itself.

If you ever get called a sponge, take it as a compliment. Whether the speaker knows it or not, they are saying that you have the qualities needed to be a great person. 

Bitter Truths

Sometimes I will see a person walking around and all I can think is, "you ain't got no friends. If you had friends, they wouldn't let you go out dressed like that."

And yet, that person probably does have friends. Those friends are probably too polite to say that nobody should ever go out in public wearing a shirt that is cheetah, jaguar, zebra, and giraffe print, all at once, and in pink. But what that really means is that those people are not real friends. 

Friends have your best interest at heart, and that means telling you bitter truths. Yes, the truth, no matter how much we praise and adore it, is not always pleasant. The truth is sometimes heartbreaking and ego-deflating. The truth keeps you in reality, and reality sometimes sucks. 

When writing about truth, especially when extolling its virtues, be realistic about it. The truth is that it can be a bitter pill to swallow, but that it is far less unpleasant than the results of lying. 

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Intelligence Is Not Facts

Most people completely misunderstand what intelligence is. We often believe that it's a measure of how much information we have. This is understandable since schools drill in us memorization of facts, and the stereotypical nerd is somebody who knows a tremendous amount within a particular field. 

In reality, though, intelligence is not facts; it's what you do with the facts you have. What connections can you see? How are things related? What makes things similar? In what ways can you influence a system?

A book is full of information, but is by no means intelligent. Similarly, any person that can tell you the hundredth digit of pi, but doesn't know how to use pi to solve a problem is about as useful as a book. 

Truly intelligent characters are those like Sherlock Holmes and MacGuyver. They are able to solve puzzles with a minimum of information. They can see things that others cannot.

When you are creating a smart character, make sure not to confuse knowing lots of facts for being intelligent. 

Friday, January 17, 2014

Transferrable Genius

Smart people are awesome. More than that, they're astounding. When you see a genius's mind at work, it seems almost impossible. They know more than you; they can figure out things that confound you; they can see connections that you have never realized were there all along. In that regard, the genius very easily looks like the master of all knowledge.

In reality, a genius is usually good at one field. It could be sound or physics or flavor or color. In reality, though, the things that a genius knows about color really don't have any bearing on sound. So, if you have somebody who understands colors at a genius level, she could coordinate outfits, decorate homes, critique visual arts, help you with the presentation of meals. However, her set of skills would never encompass keeping a musical instrument in tune, or setting up the PA system at a stadium, or teaching somebody how to sing in tune.

In stories, though, geniuses are equally genius at everything. It's a common misconception, and an easy one to make, but by showing where a genius is weak, as well as where they are strong, you will present a far more believable character.

Nothing Is As Scary As Your Own Fear

I always hated the saying "you have nothing to fear but fear itself." It was the kind of thing I heard as a child, and back then it was stupid. I had SO many things to fear. I feared dying (and as a child, you are told that basically everything will kill you). I feared getting in trouble, getting punished, generally being yelled at or picked on or beaten up.

As a child, I thought that "fear itself" meant some imaginary creature like the boogie man. So my kid brain thought that we were told to not be afraid of real things, but to instead fear the things that can't hurt you. 

As an adult, I finally get it. No matter how bad things get, the human mind can adjust to it. The person you love most could spurn you. You could lose your job. You could lose your leg. And in any (or all) of these cases, you don't die. You wake up the next day, still alive, and still with more of your story to be written. 

The number one thing that stops us from enjoying ourselves is our own fear. Not people with guns, not rabid gorillas, merely the fear of social discomfort. And the reality is that when somebody strongarms you into doing something you're afraid of, no matter if it ended up good, bad, or indifferent, it was not nearly as bad as you thought it was going to be. 

And now we have the title: nothing is as scary as your own fear. However nasty it is, it's never going to be as bad as our imagination can come up with. Use that knowledge to get over it. 

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Chase Discomfort

I think that a lot of writers, especially amateur/hobbyist writers, are naturally withdrawn. Writing lends itself to that kind of personality; it is a solitary, introspective, contemplative activity. Writing is a perfect way to withdraw from the world, especially when it feels particularly overwhelming. 

What I have discovered, though, is that whenever I have experiences that force me out of my comfort zone, I am better for it. It gives me new experiences to think about, more stories to tell, more connections to make. It also goes to show me that however much feat I had about the activity, it wasn't that bad. 

In fact, my new move is to chase discomfort. That is my compass. If I find myself resisting something, or otherwise feeling disconcerted about it, I take it as a sign that I'm heading in the right direction.

I challenge you to chase your discomfort. I guarantee that you will discover many amazing things about yourself and the world around you (one of them being that nothing is as scary as your own fear).

Two Disciples (A Short Story)

I sat on the floor at my mentor's feet for many months. As his disciple, I had a lifetime's worth of lessons to learn. My mentor taught me to be aggressive in both my dreams and my determination to realize them. I was taught to not cower or create excuses.

Through great personal and internal struggle, I had begun to truly learn. The first revelation was that I had very strongly believed so many things that were wrong. The world did not work the way I had thought, and my mentor knew that and worked to open my eyes to that fact.

After many months of training and studying, my mentor took on a new disciple. I still remained his disciple as well, but I had reached a level where I could identify and teach lessons to others that had not yet had their eyes opened.

I was excited at the new disciple's first lesson. It was going to be such an amazing experience to witness these lessons external to them. I would be neither the teacher nor the student, but the witness. Certainly I was welcome to chime in, and I admittedly was excited to show off that I knew all these lessons.

When the new disciple began the first lesson, the mentor taught him to calm down, take his time, and think his plans through before acting on them. This left me perplexed. Why was my mentor teaching completely opposite lessons to this other disciple?

After some time listening and pondering, I understood that he was teaching the same lesson, but using different techniques. He wants both of us to find the middle path, where we take the time to measure all of our options, and also take the action to make things happen. However, because his two disciples were such different people, he had to lead us through different paths to reach the same endpoint.

I came to my mentor as one who spent much time thinking, but was too afraid to act. The other disciple came to the mentor confident and brazen, but lacking focus and planning. We had to learn very different instruction, but we ultimately learned the same lessons.

Monday, January 13, 2014

You're Always Moving Forward

Have you ever had a moment where you wished you could return to a previous time in your life? You could move back to where you used to live, take up your old activities, reconnect with your old friends. The problem is that you aren't going back in time; you're always moving forward.

Even if you did move back and get your old job, you're now older than you were. You have new experiences and new knowledge. You are not the same person you once were, so it is an delusion at best.

People cannot unlearn their knowledge or unlive their lives. People trying to return to their past are seeking a safety in their memories, but ultimately, they don't live in their memories; they live in the now.

Peace Comes Out Of Chaos

If you lived a stress-free life all the time, that would be awesome. However, you would not think of it as being peaceful. You wouldn't even think of it at all. It would simply be the way things are. Without any hardships to compare things to, living stress-free is simply living another day.

Peace comes out of chaos. Or more accurately, the idea of something being peaceful can only exist by knowing what chaos is like and not experiencing it.

This ends up being a sort of twisted facet of humanity: the harder a life somebody has, the more deeply they appreciate simply not being in the muck and mire.


Pressure causes people to act. If nothing in our lives is compelling us to change, we generally won't. We would do whatever we wanted when we felt like it, and things would be fine. However, there are many pressures placed on people, coming from nature, society, and other individuals.

Colder weather pressures us to find shelter, stay inside longer, and wear thicker clothing. Societal pressure forces us to get jobs to pay for things like food and shelter. And individuals can pressure us to go to places or try activities that we otherwise wouldn't have done.

People often think of pressure as a bad thing. Pressure causes stress and anxiety. People are forced to do things they don't want by "peer pressure". But in reality, pressure is simply a force. It is neither good nor bad; it simply does what it does. People only ever notice when the pressure ends up hurting them.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Knowing Enough To Get In Trouble

I love language and languages. There is something immensely fun about being able to use different languages to express myself. It can also be used to  build a connection with somebody. Going to a Chinese restaurant and telling the server, "Nihao. Jintian zenme yang?" is a way of telling them that you know Chinese and are inviting a conversation. So if that happens to be the limit of your conversational ability, you will very quickly realize that you dug yourself into a sizable hole. 

This is called knowing enough to get you into trouble. It is a narrow threshold of knowledge in which you very clearly can do more than the average novice (anyone can learn to say "hello", but few people know how to say "how's the day going"), and yet your actual knowledge of/ability in a subject is functionally minimal. 

Too many errors of comedy or 90s sitcoms were based on a character pretending to be knowledgeable or skilled at something and them knowing just enough to get into trouble. 

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Pick The Elephant

In an old episode of The Simpsons, young Bart wins a radio call-in contest. As the winner, he had the choice of receiving $10,000 or a full-grown African elephant. Clearly, he chose the elephant. Also clearly, it was an ordeal from start to finish. And yet, they didn't regret the experience. In fact, they loved Stampy and greatly enjoyed the experience. 

Today, I rented a 12-passenger van. 

My car was in the shop being repaired. I had stuff to do, so my friend and I went to the rental place to get a car. The woman behind the desk gave me two or three options of what cars were available, and I asked if there was anything else. She told me, "not unless you want a twelve-passenger van."  I looked at my friend and we both kind of smirked, and so I decided to get the van. 

This van was my elephant from the very beginning. The look on the woman's face was priceless. Listening to her actually trying to comprehend that one guy with no luggage and one friend was renting a giant van made me chuckle.

But you know what? That van drove like a boat on clear waters. It was large and cushy and smooth. The turning was different, and I couldn't really use my eyes to judge how far it was from objects, but I actually loved it. This was a new experience for me. It was done on a lark, and definitely gave me some stress and trepidation, but by 8 pm, my car was fixed, I returned the van to the agency without a problem, and I felt absolutely amazing for having had this experience. 

Sometimes, the better choice is the gag prize. Try picking the elephant, and see where that leads your life (or your characters).

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Cold, Hard Facts

No one cares that the sky is blue; it just is. It's not even that they don't get upset or don't get happy; it's not even that they're ambivalent; there is no reaction at all. People don't think about the sky being blue; it's a cold, hard fact.

Admittedly, the sky being blue hardly affects us. It's not the same as finding out that you're low on milk (or whatever banal drink you enjoy). You know that you will need to pick some up at the store soon, but it doesn't provoke an emotional response. 

However, we don't treat all facts so emotionlessly. When you find out that your coworker has been speaking ill of you behind your back, it incites a vengeful ire that nothing short of blood can satisfy. 

Cold, hard facts should all be the same, yet humans treat them all differently. Go and explore how the simple learning of new facts can affect (or fail to affect) people. 

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

The Lesser Of Two Evils Is Still Evil

There is an adage that says that when given a choice between two evil options, we should pick "the lesser of two evils." This phrase addresses some interesting concepts. The first is that there are degrees of evil. Stealing candy from a baby is evil. Stealing babies is more evil. 

The second thing is that it teaches us the concept of pragmatism. In any given situation, it's nice to believe that there is a perfect answer that will make everything work out ideally, but the reality is that such an option rarely exists. Because of that, we have to make the best decision possible. And if no available decision is good, then we must make the least bad decision. 

The problem with the adage is that it totally neglects the obvious conclusion that the lesser of two evils is still evil. Choose to not vote. Break beyond the dichotomy. If you are given two evil options, pick neither of them. 

Monday, January 6, 2014

Elephant Tied To A Stake - The Context Of History

As I pondered the story of the elephant tied to a stake, I realized that there was more that this story had to teach. The man who walked up to the scene saw a full grown elephant that was choosing not to escape its feeble prison. But the man who owned the circus saw an elephant that he had subjugated and mentally dominated years ago. The difference between the two is that the first man had no context of history. 

Life is the way it is now because of how things used to be. Every person has a history. So does every relationship, every building, every metaphysical concept. You cannot simply look at a given scene or person and understand what is going on or what people are thinking unless you know all of their contexts. Otherwise, you can make incredibly logical, yet utterly wrong assumptions. 

As a writer, this is why it is crucial to give your audience the proper context of a situation before you elaborate on it. Otherwise, you will leave people scratching their heads the whole while through. 

Elephant Tied To A Stake - The Illusion Of Control

There is a story about an elephant in a circus. The owner didn't keep the elephant in a cage, but instead put a shackle on one of its legs and chained it to a stake in the ground. Anybody who would look at this scene would be baffled. A full grown elephant could easily rip that stake out of the ground if it wanted to, so why does it obediently stay in place? The answer is that the elephant had been chained to that stake since it was a baby, back when it was too weak to fight it. Over the years it had given up trying; the stake is indomitable. So even though the elephant had grown up, the mind had already accepted the stake and never bothered resisting anymore. 

As a person, it is easy to see when other people change, but it is hard to see when we change. It is a cultural norm that "the definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results." And to some degree, it's true. But if you are unaware of when circumstances change, then by not trying the same thing, you can miss out on viable options. 

This story greatly explains the illusion of control. We easily forget how much power we really have. More often than not, a person's problems are ones they allow themselves to have. People get caught up in some illusory power they think controls them, and they don't let themselves pick the easiest ways to solve their problems. [I would say that the #1 reason people don't choose the easy answer is the fear/risk of personal embarrassment.]

When you find yourself (or your characters) stuck on something, seriously ask yourself what is stopping you? Like, in the most literal sense, what is physically stopping you from doing what you want? It may be something very real, like the risk of police tackling you to the ground with guns pointed at your head. But it may be the kind of thing that the only resistance would be somebody getting chaffed and barking at you. In that case, though, they aren't physically stopping you; you are choosing to not do something because of a mental hangup. Do not let the illusion of control own you. 

Sunday, January 5, 2014

"I Sat Here One Day For Seven Days"

A friend of mine started a story by saying, "I sat here one day for seven days." It really struck me as an interesting turn of phrase. At its face, it's a contradiction; you cannot fit seven days into a day. But as I pondered it, I saw how it challenged our notions and definitions of time. 

What is a day? Most people would tell you it's the 24-hour period from midnight to midnight. But we also think of it as any 24-hour period; if you were awake from 10 AM one day until 10 AM the next, then you would tell people that you were awake for a whole day. 

More than that, many people who stay up past midnight do not consider it to be the next day until they go to sleep and wake up. And this is where we return to the introduction.

If you don't consider a day to have ended until you went to sleep, but you also consider the day to be a 24-hour period of time, then you can, in fact, sit down one day for seven days. 

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Resoultions Don't Need The New Year

When the new year rolls around, everybody wants to talk about resolutions. What are you going to do different this year? How are you going to make things better? My question is: why do you wait until the calendar rolls over to change your life?

I understand that it is a convenient impetus, but if you want to make a serious change, then just do it as soon as you have that thought. Instead of spending the month of August saying "I wish I would make the time to write more", simply say, "I resolve to make the time to write more." Then, you don't have to wait five months to actually start doing it.

I think that the key word I said above was "serious". New Year's resolutions always seem semi-serious to me. They're more like a dare. "Hey, I dare you to talk to a stranger every day." Either that, or maybe they come off as people trying to set a record. Most consecutive days not screaming at traffic. They always sound to me like people take their resolutions half seriously. They do it for the same reason they make a wish before blowing out their birthday candles.

If you're going to go to the effort of making a resolution, make a sincere one. Honestly work toward making a real and permanent change. They are hard, but the key to success is developing a habit. When it stops being an extra effort and simply becomes a part of your day like getting dressed and bathing, then it has truly succeeded.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

The Commonness Of Profanity Empowers Language

Traditionally, profane words were ones that everybody knew, but nobody said. People were too polite to say such awful words, and as a result, they held tremendous power. Those who would dare to use a "4-letter word" created shock and awe amongst those that heard it. 

Nowadays, profanity is about as common as the word "the". Every day, you can hear people saying "I'm fucking hungry" and "I have assloads of shit to do." They are used as generic intensifiers and common placeholders. They have become amongst the tamest insults you can sling. 

The power of words is in their scarcity. The less common a word is, the more powerful it is. [The catch is that the listener needs to know what the word means, and the word has to be used correctly.] Because of this, language now favors colorful, descriptive terms to convey power.

The commonness of profanity empowers language. When people say "I'm fucking hungry" every single day, then it is more powerful to say "I'm famished." We live in a time where power doesn't come from seven words we're not supposed to say, but instead comes from the plethora of words aside from those seven, which also convey better meaning than simple profanities ever could (and that is awesome).

Wednesday, January 1, 2014


On the day of the new year, I think about anniversaries. January 1st is the beginning of the year, but it is the anniversary of relatively little. It's not the birthday of anyone I know (and statistically no more than 2 of my regular readers are), not the day that I started any activity, not when I won any award. Absolutely nothing happened on January 1st except for the year changing.

Much as New Year's Day is a time of reflection and anticipation, anniversaries encourage us to think of what has happened since the last anniversary (or the original event), and to consider what will happen until the next one. A year is a long period of time; a lot can be done in such a span of time. 

What are your anniversaries, and what will you have accomplished by then?