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.