Thursday, April 28, 2011

Our Mental Tornadoes and Positive Thinking

For several hours this morning my county was hit with a rolling collection of severe storms, each of which had pretty good potential to produce a tornado. (And a few of them did.) That means we were under a "tornado warning" (one is imminent or been spotted) from 4:30AM until about 10:00AM. Nothing as bad as the one that hit Alabama over the last few days, but nonetheless we were all encouraged to seek shelter, or to at least be ready to do so on a moment's notice if we were in the path of this seemingly endless line of storms.

Meteorologists can at best predict when conditions will be favorable for tornadoes, but unless a funnel has actually touched down, they cannot ever be sure one will exist. And even once there is a funnel, there is little predictability to what the hell it is going to do. I hate the unpredictability of such storms.

It got me thinking that I hate unpredictability in obstacles in general. Nothing I go through mentally is as dangerous as people having to face a tornado of course, but the whole thing brought to mind something I have felt for a while. And that is how often career or personal success advice tends to ignore, or dismiss the unpredictable and the unstoppable.

When there is a tornado warning in your area, the first thing the authorities advise you to do is to take shelter. Do not drive, do not try to out run it, and do not stop to take picture or video of a fully formed funnel. Get to a basement or ditch or something and hit the dirt. In essence, the advice is to keep still, and wait (hope) for it to pass you by. And though you won't hear the people on the Weather Channel put it in this fashion, what they are all basically saying is, "You can't do a damn thing about it, so don't be a fool and act like you can."

We have tornado watches and tornado warnings mentally as well. Things that we know are on the horizon, or fear may be destructive, that we are powerless to stop, out run, or in some cases even define. We just know that the conditions in our lives are right for a specific problem. Or that the problem, like a night tornado, is out there somewhere, unseen, but tearing its way towards us. We can do nothing about it. Yet many people try to act as though we can.

Over selling the notion of "positive thinking", optimism, getting up in the morning ready to "tackle any problem" has long frustrated or even angered many a pessimist or realist. Because while the notion of being more upbeat and viewing our situations in a more positive light is certainly appealing and productive, we can't help but heed the tornado warning. Many positive thinking gurus out there tend to think that being optimistic entails defying the storm. In reality, in some cases optimism is simply being able and willing to jump into a ditch and hang on until it's all over. The potential risk is not worth the possible reward for the realist.

I don't doubt many out there will object to my conflation of weather to mental or spiritual obstacles. Yet why? If the issue is an unpredictable and virtually non-trackable obstacle that stands in our way of success, one that moves and pivots seemingly at random and cuts in front of us no matter what we do, is a tornado not a fair metaphor? We is it so hard to believe that we can be trapped, paralyzed, or otherwise cornered by unpredictable and wily intangibles just as much as by a funnel cloud?

There are, in other words, things that we cannot explain, nor control that hold us back. And sometimes they hold us back so much that the best we can do is remain still. Sure a few foolish "heroes" will go out with their camera and their pick up trucks, follow the twister, and nearly get killed or maimed snapping the next shot that will feature on television. But in the end you have to wonder if such people are doing it in order to make themselves or people around them safer, or just so they can say, "hey tornado, I lived, so fuck you," and wait for the applause.

Pessimists are not the way they are because they think it is funny. They have their reasons. Yes it can be over done, and if you are jumping into a ditch in the middle of a sunny day, you probably need to chill. But the reasons for being a pessimist are usually valid on some level. Maybe they are not your reasons, and maybe you, as an eternal optimist have no storm activity you need to worry about with your clear skies and light breezes, but that doesn't mean there are not indications of funnel cloud activity in the lives of others.

But maybe, just maybe you are actually standing out at midnight in the middle of a field totally oblivious to any tornado warnings that have been issued, because you woke up this morning convinced that you can conquer anything. Maybe you need a realist to wake you up and say, "You dumb ass, go find a basement before you get killed."

My positive thinking has never stopped a storm beyond my control. Has yours? Photo courtesy of the NSSL.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Cross Post from Always Off BookL Happy Birthday Shakespeare

This is a first for me, but I am cross posting, or at least cross referencing my latest Always Off Book post here on Too XYZ. I am doing so because I am excited to be a part of a week long blogosphere celebration of William Shakespeare's birthday. I am quite proud of this post, and I hope those of you that frequent this blog but have not check out Always Off Book will take a chance to go there now.

I also hope you will check out the many other entries from bloggers around the world who are also this week posting their thoughts on the Bard.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

A Time For Change? I Ask My Readers

I have been thinking about a few things related to this blog and my social media/internet presence in general. And as you probably gathered from my last post, I have not always been happy with what I see.

Not that I never am. I have met some people, and far more of them have turned out to be nice, than have turned out to be asses. I have gotten some advice from some of the good ones as well. And some of the good ones have written comments here.

Just today I met someone over on Brazen Careerist who complimented me on this blog, and the things I say in it. That is always good to hear.

That being said, it is probably what I say, far more than where I say it that is most important. Being able to easily share my ideas as well as my  talent to as many people as possible as fast as possible is the primary concern of my online activity. And to that end, I have been kicking around the idea of changing the nature of my online presence. This blog doesn't seem to be accomplishing all of the goals I had for it when I created it, and I have pondered if trying things a bit differently would increase my chances of accomplishing more of my personal online goals.

To me, I see five several options.

1) Tighten the focus of this blog even further.

I could make the content even more specific to some aspect of myself, what I do, or what I want. Examples include converting this to a strictly introvert oriented blog. (Which in a sense it is now.) Or perhaps to a blog that is only about my writing adventures, much like Always Off Book is dedicated to my theatre adventures. Or, instead of "Too XYZ" being a general beacon of content, I could revamp every post from now on to very specifically mention the concept. Make every post an exact exploration of a particular way in which I am in fact Too XYZ.

2) Fold this, as well as Always Off Book and other endeavors into a new Ty Unglebower supersite.

This is the more complicated and more expensive approach, but one I have given more consideration to in the last two months than I have previously over the years. Everything I do would be consolidated into one central location. The archives for both of my blogs would survive and be accessible from the supersite, but future posts on a blog would then be posted to the site itself, possibly with tags or separate pages pertaining to each category. (All acting posts together in one place, all Too XYZ type posts in a another.)

I have talked this over with a few people online, and the basic idea seems possible, and as with many things there are about a dozen ways in which the same goal could be accomplished. None of which I totally understand yet. But I have a vision in my head as to how it would work. With one go-to online identity that included pictures, writing samples, a resume, and of course the always evolving blog content, I would feel more free to promote me and all that comes with me as opposed to trying to niche down everything that comes to mind. Pointing to "me" would be easier than directing different people to different places.

I have my online business card for this purpose in theory. But the company has been slow to correct some major bugs in their software, and it has never quite done what it was supposed to do. And even if it did, a supersite may still be in order.

The downside is, I feel that if I combine all aspects of my personal media into one place, each component loses a bit of something. (And in the case of Always Off Book, a project I have been working on for almost six years.) Plus I run the risk of being seen as some kind of Jack of all trades/master of none.

3) Terminate Too XYZ.

Not an easy thing to consider. But I sometimes wonder based on my numbers lately if I am continuing to reach an audience at all. I know I reach specific individuals, because they tell me so. But given how much time I put into writing a post, storing ideas for posts, publishing them, marketing them via BC and Twitter over and over, and getting in most cases little to no feedback on the ideas or posts, I am beginning to wander how much of an impact this blog is really having.

Always Off Book has been my blogging labor of love for as I said six years. I have known for a while few people read that, and it too did not accomplish what I set out for it to accomplish. (Seeing a pattern?) But That is a part of my theatre life now. I won't be getting rid of that totally anytime soon. (Except in a way, with Number 2 above.) So I know how to persist and write for a blog because it is important to me. I just don't know if it is worth the time to do that for two blogs that are not having the impact I had hoped for.

I have to wonder if the overall mission for Too XYZ has been accomplished.

4) Move Too XYZ to WordPress

Despite the fact that I have considered it, this still seems like one of the sillier options. I do not understand the hype about WordPress. I don't understand why people take a blog more seriously by default of it is WordPress than they do if it is Blogger. I find what experimentation I have done with the WordPress template to be quite confusing and counter intuitive. I am a WYSIWYG sort of publisher, and WordPress is far from that.

Yet for some as yet unexplained reason, people seem to think that a WordPress blog, as much of a pain in the ass as it is, is a better blog. Such people make style more important than substance in my view, and I have always choked on the very idea of making my content less important than the box it is in. Yet if there is any chance to beef up my readership somewhat by migrating, it may be worth it.

5) Change Nothing. Continue to promote and build an audience for a while longer.


The whole point of this recent brainstorming is to correct what I have perceived to be some of the weaknesses with my online presence as of late. There are a huge number of suggested hoops out there through which I will never be able to jump. The vast majority of the promotion and image advice I find out there, even from my decent, well meaning allies is simply not for me. That is not going to change. Yet if there are some smaller hoops out there that I can simply step through slowly which will be of assistance to my online reputation, without forcing me to alter my precepts, I am willing to take a few such steps.

The point of being online afterall is to share ideas. My ideas. The ideas will not change. The direction will not change. But the ideas have to be visible if they are to impact anyone for the better. And lately I am not sure they are getting out there. That is the impetus for these considerations.

So what does everyone think? Which of the five make most sense to you? Or would you advice something totally different? Please let me know, if we have not already talked about it privately. You can leave comments here, or email me if you prefer that.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Still Too XYZ After All These Years

This post is angry. With reason. Yet, if you are one of those who feel anger is not an acceptable emotion, do me a favor and simply opt not to read this. For today I am angry. Tomorrow I won't be. Today I am weary. I one day will not be. My life is complicated, and if yours is not, or if you feel mine need not be, read no further. And certainly click away now if you judge an entire person by the days, weeks, or sometimes months of unhappiness with which they must sometimes deal as they try to find meaning in anything.

Too XYZ continues to be a very apt name for this blog, as the concept continues to very much apply to me in just about everything I do. There are very specific elements to my psyche that prevent me from doing specific things. Like the color blind attempting to interior decorate, or the tone deaf opting to offer singing lessons, there are things which no matter how valuable, I cannot do.

And I cannot do them because I am either missing something, or something is damaged, or atrophied within my being. Now former friends and supporters of my work have often climbed upon the highest of horses and declared from their lofty position that unless I suffer from a disease that is documented somewhere in the annals of either psychology or medicine, I have no right to claim occasional crippling difficulties with my life. That in the absence of such a diagnosis, any problems, difficulties, or obstacles I have faced as I try ferociously to succeed in a contrary world are 100% my own making. And hence unless I can prove otherwise, I can and must fix everything all by myself.

It is as though they were the principal in the school of life demanding from me a note from my doctor proving to them that I cannot come into school that day (a rather condescending requirement if you ask me).

Yet in some ways, Too XYZ  has been my attempt at such a letter. Addressed not to the individual, but to the world, and ideally, those who share my view of same. Those with the same issues, whether or not there is a Latin term out there to describe them.

This blog is a place for me to be frank about my obstacles, internal and external.  A place to express perceptions, plans, strategies and simple observations. A place to seek advice, and gain perspective.

Yet, as I have oft written about in previous posts, I usually just get the same perspective over and over again. And that perspective can be summed up in one tidy sentence.

Change what you are and what you do, because it currently isn't good enough.

The type of blog this is. My content. The way I market. The questions I ask. The help I seek, and the people from which I seek it. The problems I face and the solutions I offer. Even down to the font of my business cards, the nature of my profile picture, and the articles on which I choose to comment. No matter what I share with people, or no matter what of other people's advice I observe passively (by going to their blog, or reading their articles), it can just about all be summed up by that italicized sentence I posted above.

I guess if I had a response it would be "Easy for you to say."

Because to tell you the truth, whether it be the big gurus like Godin, or the CopyBlogger guy, or some of the people I have encountered personally in my social media travels over the last two years, I have noticed a pattern; basically none of them had to start what they are doing from Absolute Zero. I don't mean the lowest temperature in the universe, but having zero resources, zero friends, zero experience and zero money when they set off. That is the place I am coming from, and still struggling to get out of. I have not yet succeeded. That isn't to say I won't. Just that I haven't, and that I still don't know how. 

Oh I know. Each of the people I am thinking of, whether familiar or famous, (and I am sick to realize that some of the people with which I am familiar are becoming famous by being great at being fake) will quickly point out just how hard it was when they started out. They had to have a big scary cry over quitting their 80K a year job when they started freelancing. "Could this work? What was I doing? Am I crazy?" But their 100K a year spouse reminded them to believe in themselves, and they pressed on. And they will tell you the horror stories of just how dumb they were at first. How they didn't know code, but learned it quickly because they had to. Or hated the idea of marketing but learned to love it. How they were introverted once, but became extroverted, and now can work the room with the best of them and make their fucking millions.

I have called it before, and I will again. Bullshit.

In each of the cases I am thinking of, the "rock star" in question, (whose ass everyone on the internet is happy to kiss in hopes of the magic rubbing off on their lips) had some kind of lucky break, or some kind of helping hand. And I don't mean advice, or a referral.

I am talking about, nobody surviving was based on their need to freelance. They were not in the poor house when they started up their business. They didn't deal with people who viewed them as unpleasant, cold, mean, or not worth the investment at every turn. They didn't have difficulty making people interested in them. Something within them or something about their situation over which they had no control put them ahead.

Now they don't like to think about it that way, because that means god forbid that perhaps they are not ninjas after all. That their own powers might not have brought the world to its knees before them. That they may not be quite as charming or "epic" as they need to believe they are to get through the day.

No, they may not say it, because they may not believe it on the inside, but they had some form of luck or circumstances to help them along. And for good measure they'll throw in an officially diagnosed eating disorder as the grand Deschapelles Coup of their own magnificence.

It is why I have all but stopped reading the blogs I used to read when I first entered the social media landscape on a regular basis. I was at one time subscribed to about 15 blog feeds or so, each of them it seems packed with advice for the freelance writer, the self improvement minded, the spiritually bent and the artistic. I have since canceled all of these feeds. Not just because they became boring (they did), but because I finally realized that despite the language used, such sites really are rather elitist in nature. They are for the most part not worried about helping you, so much as they are interested in making sure people succeed in the same way that they did. (Or at least the version of the way they did that they entertain in their own heads.)

In short, if you don't think you can do it their way, the advice is, "You have to. That's the world, bub."

And when you try to learn from them by asking them how you can be more like what they are, without changing what you are? When you get any response at all, (which I usually do not, regardless of how humble my approach), you get bitchy emails back that mock they very audacity you have shown in even suggesting that you are coming anywhere near their own level of commitment. Arrogant, bile ridden correspondence which made it clear that after reading the first three questions you asked them, they had no desire to even read the rest of your email until you "grow up and learn the ways of the world".

That's networking, to me, folks. Happens all the time. And the previous example is culled from my actual life, not hyperbole. It really happened in much the way I describe. And this wasn't even one of the gurus. Not yet anyway. This ass was a "friend" of mine. But like so many before her in this social media misadventure of mine, she was high on talk and low on action when it came to helping people. Very much willing to bend over backward to take what I had to offer her, but was too busy making her millions and rubbing elbows with the other internet elite to take a moment to offer me something of which I was in desperate need when I came to her.

Typical one-sided "what have you done for me lately" networking hypocrisy. And all because, as far as I can tell, I couldn't do what she had done. Or he. Or they. Or perhaps you? Because to tell you the truth, I shy away from advice these days. Even when I seek it, it is almost out of reflex. Because there is only so much of that sort of "tough love" a person like me can take. And if people only really want to reach out and help those that can in some way help them, that isn't help. That's bartering services.

Whether it be marketing, social media, freelance writing, contracts, fiction, networking, I can't do what everyone says I must. Why? Because I don't have the resources, the knowledge, or the resources to obtain the knowledge. So I seek to do it my own way. That is the message I have gotten from all the big wigs and self help types, and positive thinkers and creative visualizers, and the friendly extroverts. That I just don't have enough of whatever it takes to become whatever it is they say I need to become. And since there is only one narrow way they can think of that can bring about success, (their own), they just don't bother to reply to my questions in a prompt fashion, as they would for people who do it their way. Or they throw up their hands and say, "Don't know what to tell you. You are on your own." You're damn right I am.

I am not inspired by the success of other people, and I am baffled by those who are. This sharing in the joy song and dance is a front. My life is not improved because someone who started blogging a year after I started is already making 5,000 dollars a month blogging, when I make zero. I am not happy when "friends" become famous, because I know what it is they had to do in order to become so. Deep inside, I can't replicate it. Not because I am afraid. But because I simply am not built that way. I was, am, and shall remain, Too XYZ forthat narrow definition of "going after your dream."

I don't know how to do what all of you do. And I was fine with not knowing. And fine with learning what I could learn, and adapting to the rest. But that gets very lonely, and who wants to do everything alone? And if people can't advise those that are Too XYZ, must they spend their energy criticizing us too? Don't take out your obvious frustrations on not knowing the answers to any of my unique questions by scolding me for asking them in the first place. Stop assuming that my obstacles and handicaps make me less of a person, less deserving of success, simply because I don't have a note from the doctor.

I am trying to start this from nothing people. And I am probably not the only one. Take a minute out of your hardworking, successful, Seth Godin reading, friend cheering, article tweeting, extroverted networking, walking on sunshine sort of lives and remember that. We, the ones in the storm need help too. And if you can't provide it, at least have the decency to get the hell out of the way while we try to outrun the lightening.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Deaths of Flip, and the Consumer Spectrum

The Flip Camcorder is dead. Cisco, the parent company that bought Flip a few years ago is shutting it down and stopping all production. Not selling it off. Not trying to improve it. Killing it. Period.

As a Flip owner, I am quite pissed. It's one thing when you happen to use a product that goes out of style or becomes unpopular. But this is not what happened to Flip. I am not a market analyst, but all numbers indicate it was still the number one selling medium quality camcorder out there. Popular with bloggers, YouTubers and any number of other middle of the road, casual, home movie loving, budget restrained videographers out there. So easy to use, my mother took home movies with mine without a single problem. (And she by her own admission is not a tech person.) In fact a lot of non-tech people used the Flip. Could that be why it was so popular???

In other words, it was perfect for people like me who are into simplicity. Or people like mom who do not understand a lot of technology. And it would seem that millions of people over the last four years since the Flip was introduced would agree.

And now it is killed off, and many people are wondering why. There may be many other business or money oriented reasons, but already the speculation among those in the know, and consumers alike is that the smartphone is to blame. They are only half right, if you ask me. For it is an attitude behind the dominance of the smartphone that is truly to blame.

Smartphones, (you know, those absurdly priced time wasters in need of bi-weekly updates to function properly) can now contain everything. From that stupid bird game, to your stock portfolio, in real time. They have consolidated about 90% of what human beings do on some kind of computer onto the best smartphones, and the other 10% that is not on a phone now is on its way to one soon.

"There's on app for that!" I get it.

The smartphone has been cited as the reason to get rid of mp3 players, GPS devices in your car, snapshot cameras, laptops, and yes, now, the Flip, and other camcorders.

"Why would you buy a camera or an mp3 player, or a GPS, or a wristwatch, or an alarm clock and have something else to deal with, when you can just lay down the few extra hundred and buy an iPhone or a Droid that has all of that and more? It's common sense."

And that ladies and gentleman, is what is wrong with popular consumer culture today, and the corporate numbskulls that cater to it. The statement above is a perfect example of why technology and software industries are so irksome to me. Consider what this attitude illuminates.

1.) That simplicity and laziness are the same thing.

People don't want to have to actually reach into their back pocket, which is so far away, to pick up a ringing phone while they are shooting the footage of the dog sex they stumbled across in the park. Why waste 3 seconds? With a smart phone you can answer the phone while still taking the video. That is plain lazy.

Having a phone that rings when you call me, and makes your phone ring when I call you, with the ability to text if I prefer. Or a camera that takes video by pressing one button, and puts it on your computer by plugging it directly into one jack with no wires. That is simplicity.(Is there a freaking app for THAT?)

2) It assumes that everyone everywhere can afford, or even wants, the highest end product out there.

There was a time when the development and availability of products was dictated by the great middle. What the average person needed and wanted, and of course, could afford. But now, styles, models, packages, and bundles go on and off of the market based on the highest end consumer. The Flip was popular. Very popular, because it was fast, easy, and the vast majority of average people, not worried about buying SuperPhone could use it, and create basic quality videos to be enjoyed.

But the market, in many products, not just the smartphone, is now being dictated by those who want and need everything, here and now in one device, and can afford to lay down 500 dollars for the privilege. (Or who are willing to go into debt in order to buy the device on credit to keep up with the Jones.) Those that insist that they would rather have no footage of their child's first birthday, if they cannot film it with the same resolution in which Inception was filmed.

What's worse, people like me are actually looked down upon as rubes because we don't need our phone to cook our breakfast for us, and we want our cameras to just be our cameras. As though owners of smartphones simply cannot comprehend why a civilized human being would ever want anything else.

Obviously this is all about more than a phone or a camera to me. It is about how good ideas, that work just fine for the satisfied middle, or even the occasionally splurging poor, are shoved aside and dismantled, not when they have proven unmarketable or undesirable, but when they are merely proven less sexy. And not by the masses, but by the elite consumer. There is no spectrum or needs or desires or prices for the average buy like me anymore.

No company should keep selling a product nobody wants. But when it comes to items like the Flip, or the average NON-smart phone, an obvious  specific need to the average consumer is still being met. But because the big spenders and the lazy prefer the "all in one 2,000 dollar mega-device, those of us who are more easily satisfied are left with two options. Go into debt to get the big stuff, or have nothing.

That isn't a choice.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Embracing the Mess

A mess, even a big one, is not a tragedy. Even if something is so screwed up it has long reaching consequences that get worse with each day they are not addressed, they are still just messes, so long as they are not life threatening to someone.

It's not easy to separate messes and screw ups from tragedies and dangers. I speak from personal experience. When I find myself in a mess, especially one that I contributed to myself, my first reaction to run hither and yon and pound on every door, ask every question, research every aspect of it, in order to clean up the mess 100% as soon as possible. My default position is, "No messes. No trouble. Ever."

The problem with that, as I have learned, is that you can whip yourself into a frenzy. Which causes you to miss things. Makes you more anxious about your problem. Which makes the problem seem worse, which increases your need to fix it right away, which leads to more frenzy and so on. Being constantly worried about how to get out of a mess is not productive. It has taken me years to realize this, and I still don't put it into practice as often as I should. But I am working on it.

Without going into detail, I have had, and continue to have, a larger than normal mess in regards to my student loans. Mistakes. Financial difficulty. Misunderstandings. All of these things led me to be in quite a state in regards to my student loans. And the worry, fear, confusion, and lack of progress in fixing these unusual difficulties was beginning to affect other aspects of my life. So obsessed was I with solving each and every single solitary issue with my loans, right away, that I couldn't seem to get a perspective on any of it, or even on things that were outside of the loan situation. I became convinced that if I did not get everything 100% right, and do so yesterday, I was going to be unable to move forward with anything in my life at all.

How far do you think that got me? If you are inclined to think it was like having a car stuck in the mud, and flooring the gas in order to get out, you are very perceptive. That is exactly what it was like. The more I pushed, and the faster I tried to get out of the mess, the deeper I dug myself into the mud. And the more mud I caused to fly all over anything that was near by.

Finally, at one point, I basically said, "fuck it", and embraced the mess I was in. I did not ignore the mess. But I embraced it. I took several steps back, and admitted to myself, "I'm in one hell of a fix with all of these student loan errors. It's a huge screw up, and my own ignorance is partly to blame.So are circumstances beyond my control. It's a mess."

Sound obvious? Surely I already knew that from the start of the troubles. And of course I did. But the difference is, I was trying to run as fast as I could to catch up with a snowballing problem. I was going bat shit crazy trying to make it all go away. But I had never really just accepted that I had a problem. I just wanted it gone, but in my zeal to get it gone, I neglected to just own the problem itself.

There was a stigma attached to having a financial problem. People would find out. I would look stupid. I would never be taken seriously as a writer, as an artist, or even as an adult, if I had student loan issues. People would find out, and I would have no value or worth in their eyes. The only way to ever be worth a damn in any facet of my life was to instantly fix every single mistake I had made in regards to the student loans. Worse yet, I even tied my self worth into the notion of my student loan screw ups. And I began to hate myself.

Things began to not only feel better, but actually get a little better the day I finally said, "Yep. Big mess. All kinds of issues need to be ironed out here. I made a mistake or two or seven. I have no idea how to fix any of it at all. But there it is."

The simple act of admitting there was a mess in front of me, and especially the acknowledgment for the moment I had no damn clue what to do about it freed me up to first accept my predicament. Accept my ignorance. And extricate the loan debacle from my self worth as a human being. To define it for what it was. An unfortunate set of financial issues that had acted, and would continue to act as a set back in certain parts of my life. But did not have to dominate the other parts. Not long after that, I was able to find the correct paper work I needed to begin addressing the problem. And though it is still a mess, I now see the nature of the mess, and what has to happen next to begin the next stage of clean up.

So, I say, embrace the messes in your life. If someone's life, health, or safety is not at stake, you need to just calm down for a few days. When something is so big or so sloppy that you can't fix it with a step or two, it's probably big enough for you to step back from, and let the giant snow ball stop rolling before you approach it again. Yes, the mess may grow a bit before it shrinks. But if you are going to have to deal with a mess anyway, it might as well be a stationary one, instead of a nebulous moving blob.

How do you effectively deal with the large messes that crop up?

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Extreme Moderation and How to Avoid It

One of my good friends had a birthday this week. The following day on her Facebook status, she mentioned that there were so many baked goods laying around the house from the celebration, and that she was very tempted to have many of them. Her status ended with, "Moderation!"

I responded by saying that moderation was relative, and that if she considered the span of her entire life on Earth, and how the vast majority of that time she would not be eating cake, she could make the argument that having several today would not counteract her desire to be moderate.

This response received several "likes" from people, including the birthday girl herself. (Whether or not she actually had more of the baked goods that day, I don't know. I didn't ask.)

My response was a joke, but only partially. Because I have come to determine a very interesting, and perhaps mind-bending irony; everything should be pursued in moderation, including moderation itself.

What the hell am I talking about? It's not quite as bizarre as it sounds.

The entire point of adopting a moderate lifestyle, whether it be the "Nothing in Excess" model of the ancient Greeks, or The Middle Way of the Buddhists, is to avoid extremes. In thought, word, and deed.

But suppose one becomes ultra-committed to moderation? So preoccupied with the idea of falling right in the middle of every spectrum, that they obsess over it? Every drink they grab, every party they attend, every item they purchase, every lover they take, their first thought is, "is this extreme?" They are in a constant state of examining every thing they say, think, do, or own, to make sure it does not fall into any of the extremes of life. And should they feel tempted to, or heaven forbid actually engage in one of the extremes? Well, hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, but a good second place is how obsessive moderates treat themselves when they go off the wagon of something.

Doesn't all of that sound a bit, well, extreme?

So, as crazy as it sounds, we have to moderate our moderation, just as much as we moderate everything else.

If we moderate our alcohol intake, we don't get drunk and puke every time it is served. If we moderate our eating habits, we do not eat only kale 24/7. And if we moderate our moderation, what does that mean? It means that moderation is a standard we apply over the course of an entire lifetime, and not to every moment of every day.

To be "middle of the road moderates", we need to splurge. Sometimes. Break our diets. Get a little tipsy. Laugh too loud at the restaurant. By letting ourselves be somewhat extreme in any given circumstance, we maintain the value of moderation as a way of life in general.

Maintaining the balance is still a tricky endeavor for us. Both because it can be tempting to just say "to hell with it" and go nuts, but also because the middle of any spectrum isn't often easy to identify. But we get a step closer to clarity on such things, when we take a step away and don't crucify ourselves for our innocent moments of extremity.

Do you allow yourself to be extreme sometimes?

Monday, April 4, 2011

Charlie Sheen in Detroit: Did He Bomb, or Did We?

Charlie Sheen's opening stop for his "Torpedo of Truth" tour in Detroit on Saturday has been almost universally declared a disaster. Late start time, terrible opening act. Incoherent meanderings, pointless video clips. Booing, walk-outs, demands for refunds.

He even reminded the increasingly hostile audience at one point that they had agreed to pay money for tickets to a show before they knew anything about it. Indeed they had. I'll get into that point in a moment.

In response, during the the second stop on the tour in Chicago the following night, the "show" was revamped completely. The entire show was now Sheen being interviewed by a DJ. And so, it would seem, the audience, (some of whom showed up with the hopes of seeing a Detroit style train wreck) was far more accepting. Though it seems Sheen himself was a bit unhappy with the change of format at times.

I don't know what Sheen's deal is. Drugs. Mental illness. Or a genius for marketing by use of a grand hoax ala Joaquin Phoenix. I think there is ample evidence for any of the above options, frankly. But based on the nature of the Detroit show at least, I don't consider the evidence for lunacy to be overwhelming yet. Frankly, I don't even think, as many seem to, that Detroit proves he has no idea how to put on a show. We can easily read about what happened and throw what we consider some truth right back at the "Torpedo of Truth", assured in our knowledge that what he did was bound to fail. But was it?

I think the whole thing really is an excellent field study on the entertainment consumption habits of our society.

To begin with, I think Sheen, in whatever state of mental health he is in, honestly had every right to assume that people who paid all that money to see "Torpedo" would love what he was doing. Even if it was half-assed and thrown together at last minute. It was after all basically the same sort of thing he has been doing since this alleged meltdown began. Weird rambling monologues. Women making out. YouTube videos. It seems that the stage show was in fact a visual, live reproduction of the frantic stream of consciousness of Sheen's mind that caused so many people to watch his internet streams, and follow him on Twitter. The very same sort of thing that led people to buy a ticket to "Torpedo" in the first place. Why shouldn't people have loved it? If Sheen is asking this question now, I can't say as I blame him much.

Let's face it; people enjoy paying money for some weird and lame, and even hostile garbage. Andy Kaufman made a career of pulling antagonistic, at times rambling and certainly nonsensical stunts on stage and people booed and yet loved him for it. Snooki's book is a best seller. There are the inexplicable cult followings of trash like The Adventures of Buckaroo Bonzai Across the 8th Dimension, a movie so obviously inept, unprofessional and void of story, purpose, theme, structure, coherence, and at times even proper lighting, that it does not in the strictest definition even qualify as a movie.

So I think the line between Charlie Sheen's opening of "Torpedo" in Detroit, which was vilified, and the examples I give above which are lauded by considerable numbers of people, is a very thin one. Obviously "Torpedo" was torpedoed. Yet I have to think that in an alternate universe not too far from our own, (as in perhaps just one universe over) Sheen's opening in Detroit would have been a smash hit. If he hadn't been late, they might have loved it. If he had opened in say, Austin instead of Detroit, they may have loved it. If any one single random thing had been different, the entire affair may have caught the very same invisible wave of mass audience adoration that carries people like Dane Cook into inexplicable stardom.

In other words, it is easy to say the show was absurd, now that it has failed. But we, the American public have foisted similar or even worse fare into our collective greatest hits album. And just when we think we can define what is and is not likely to be a blockbuster, something comes along and changes the game again. Either because it failed, or because it succeeded.

The truth is, we really have no idea why the media/arts/entertainment consuming masses propel one book, act, scandal, celebrity or stage show into oblivion, and another into immortality. We haven't the slightest clue what we want. At times I think the best anyone can do is watch what people follow, and then either follow the pack, or run fast enough to get to the head of same. And even once there, you may get trampled.

I am no fan of the crap Charlie Sheen has been doing the last few months, whatever its cause. I wouldn't have paid money for his live show. I wouldn't have enjoyed it. However I am withholding the tiniest amount of judgment about the show's flopping, because society has proven over and over again that there was every reason to believe the show could have worked without the slightest alteration.

Sheen is reported to have yelled back at a heckler in Detroit,

"I've already got your money, dude!"

That may be the most significant and telling observation of the entire thing.