Monday, May 30, 2011

Working Hard or Hardly Working: Do We Care?

"So what do you do for a living?"

I hate this question. Not just when I am asked. I hate the deeply embedded need we have in this country to begin conversations in this manner. The reason I hate it is that the question is indicative of a certain hypocrisy. 

Let's keep in mind the difference between working hard and making a living. Let's also remember its twin distinction: the difference between being lazy and not making a living.

There are plenty of people out there who work hard at something. And for whatever reason are unable to make a living directly through that hard work. Or they make less of a living than they need. Sometimes this is because their job doesn't pay enough. Sometimes it is because that despite of all of their hard work, they cannot get hired at all no matter what they do.

And at what do people work hard if they are not making a living? It depends of course. Some work hard at trying to find employment. Driving and walking around until they are exhausted trying to scrape something together. Others who are not making a living work hard each day at domestic chores. Cleaning, cooking. Sometimes child rearing. Some unemployed expel a great deal of energy volunteering. In many cases, volunteering to take on some rather labor intensive projects which  in a just world, they would be paid to do.

Let's not forget those who create. Artists. Musicians. Writers. If they are serious about their craft, they are working hard at the act of creation each day, whether or not they have found a way to make a living off of it.

Then there are those that are "making a living" who wouldn't choose to break a sweat in fear of staining their shirt or hurting themselves. Some of the laziest people I have ever met are those lucky enough to find a job.

Let's look at two people.

The first guy makes no money and lives in the proverbial "mother's basement", but spends all morning mowing her lawn, tending her garden and cleaning her house before driving 30 minutes to the local shelter where he spends the next four hours in a hot soup kitchen serving meals to the hungry and homeless. (Those also not making a living, but not lucky enough to have family with whom to live.) In the evening he blogs of his experience at the soup kitchen as he does each night, meticulously editing his content before publishing. Before bed he spends an hour with his guitar, both to unwind, and to stay in practice for the band with whom he sometimes gets to perform for peanuts at local dives. These are his days.

The second guy loves to talk. He's got some funny jokes and stories, and doesn't mind sharing them with anyone. One such time of story telling was with an older gentleman at Starbucks. The subject? The internet. This lands him a job with the stranger's company as a community manager. A job which gives him a desk, an office, and a secretary. A job which is safe for him so long as he appears busy because the company is so far behind on social media practices they will believe whatever he says.

Once an hour or so he'll send an official company Tweet out to Twitter with some half-assed question he got from someone else. Between hours long sessions of World of Warcraft on company time he will put together a few emails and send them out, and cut and paste blog content from his own abandoned personal blog, and edit them just enough to put on the company blog. Anytime he hears of an after hours meeting that somebody needs to have with him, he finds a way to be "out on call" that day, and leaves the office an hour early. For this, he pulls down 60K a year.

Now answer this question honestly: On which of these people does society tend to place more value? The hardworking jobless man contributing to the world, or the clod with the office?

It's the clod, and we all know it.

In our society we pay a lot of lip service to the idea of rewarding hard work, and looking up to those who put in a day's worth of labor. We claim to abhor laziness and group think. Yet in many cases as a collective we don't actually seem to be admiring the level of labor and creativity a person displays. What we are in reality admiring is the amount of money they have found a way to be given, and what material possessions they can obtain with same.

My question is, if we value people who work hard and try their best to be creative and solve problems and move and influence for the better, what's it to us what they are paid, or even if they are paid? Why should we care if that guy lives in his mother's basement? Isn't that between him and his mother? We know the effort he puts into service to others and into creating things.  Why is he less deserving of admiration, or friendship, or a woman's love?

Can't we all just respect hard work and concentrated effort when we see it? Whether that's in a corner office, a McDonald's kitchen, or a mother's basement. If hard work were the positive character attribute we claim it is in this country, far more people would earn respect and admiration, (and perhaps even a job) than currently do.

What is hard work to you? Do you value anyone who works hard at something positive, or do you value those who make a living only?

Thursday, May 26, 2011

And Ty Unglebower, as Himself

In my 11 years as a stage actor, I have played many roles. I have even played myself. Or, as the director of the production at the time put it, "an enhanced, stereotyped version of yourself." So in one play I was, "Ty Unglebower".

But that was a play. A unique play under unique circumstances. Yet at times I, like many people, can get caught up in playing "Ty Unglebower" in everyday life off stage as well.

It is a natural and sometimes unfortunate tendency in our society to categorize. Create labels for people. Place them in easily accessible slots. And I don't just mean with strangers. We do it with our friends as well. Perhaps even more so with our friends than with those we do not know.

Here is an example. Think of your "gang." The ones that you will probably be with on a free Saturday night once a month or something. Now be honest with yourself when I ask this; Does that group contain "The Dumb One"? Is "The Horny One" in there somewhere? And I bet there is "The Quiet One". If not these three there has to be "The XYZ One" in your group. See what I mean?

These labels may have had some slight basis on truth in the beginning. "The Quiet One" really isn't worried about working the room. "The Dumb One" probably talks before she thinks more often than others. Yet without anyone truly intending it, consider that those labels have gone from wide descriptions to expectations. That after a few years of adventures and tribulations together as a group, the label has begun to define the person, and not the other way around.

Sally is the "Dumb One". But if you are not careful, her opinions will be dismissed out of hand when the topic is complex. Or they will be skipped over. Or she won't be able to finish her thought. Why? Because she's "The Dumb One". Her role is to be cute and bubbly in the group, not deep. And so if thought is involved, you pat Sally on the head and move on. At least that's how it starts.

But then something even worse happens. At some point Sally doesn't offer anything to the discussion. She accepts that she is the "Dumb One" and starts to believe it. When the group goes out she says dumber and sillier things as time goes on, and never pays attention to the serious side of things, knowing that she should not be taken seriously at such times. Sally has become her label. The group's expectations based on that label have become Sally's own. Sally now plays the role of "The Dumb One" in the play that is your life, instead of being Sally as a whole person. After all, the group won't accept or love her anymore if she starts acting like something other than "The Dumb One".  She is now "Sally".

Have you seen this happen? Have you been a part of creating a role for someone you know? Or have you yourself become the victim of your own role? I have.

"Ty Unglebower" stands up near a corner of the room, observing those who are dumber than he is. He wears jeans and golf shirts. He doesn't like to be touched by anyone ever because warmth and affection disgust him. He remains silent until something in the room reminds him of a topic by which he is annoyed or confused, at which point he will lash out loudly in an enthusiastic rant of high vocabulary, much to the uproarious laughter of those nearby. The world pisses him off. People piss him off. And he wants everyone to know just how damn clever he can be in expressing that sentiment.

Ty Unglebower is an introvert who sometimes feels crowded in a small room. He likes to be near the wall sometimes because it is easier to see where everyone and everything is. Jeans and golf-shirts are not only comfortable to him, but fit in with 90% of occasions, thus eliminating the need to have a fashion sense.

He respects the boundaries of other people, and thinks it is only fair that others who do not yet know him respect his.

He doesn't need to be the center of attention very often, preferring to engage one on one with the people in the room that matter. But when he is the center of attention of the whole room, usually as a result of someone asking him to be, he is damn sure not going to sanitize his answers to a question. As a writer he considers language to be an important tool, and hence puts in extra effort to use it well, in all circumstances. He is pleased when his friends are entertained by this, but speaks the same way at home to his mother. He is world-weary and has a shortage of close, personal friends, and that has in some ways forged his viewpoints, though he tries to alter them as time goes on. If he is clever it is because he has been exposed to many things in his life, and has made the specific effort, on the lifelong advice of his mother, to always pay attention. (Another reason he likes the corner.)

Ty Unglebower can become "Ty Unglebower" at the drop of a hat. It doesn't happen as often as it used to, I have to say. But the urge to rant because I am "The Ranter", or the sense of expectation that I won't introduce myself to anyone new because I am the "Aloof One" can be pretty large at times, even today.

You don't have to succumb to your role. I have a right to dance any given night I feel I want to. Sally has every right and ability to express her views on the complex subjects that come up. "The Horny One" should certainly expect to be left alone if she is in no mood for interaction tonight. It all starts with the choice to not play ourselves. It all starts with writing own own scene, and not taking all of our cues from the audience.

What role do you play in the production of your life? What is your label? Do you know anybody who has one of these labels I mentioned, and do you ever think if that label is fair?

Monday, May 23, 2011

Down with Inertia. Sometimes.

I hope to be out of this tiny, ancient apartment by Christmas this year.

I have been here more than two and a half years. Most people stay in this ancient building no more than six months to a year. It is sort of an in-between situations type of building, so I have been here longer than most tenants.

I moved in here as a sort of last minute solution to a problem. My brother lived here before me, and he worked it out with the landlord; if I moved in right away, the rent would stay the same for me as it was for my brother. I wasn't quite ready, but I accepted, thinking that in a year or so, my finances would improve enough to afford something better.

My finances didn't improve, sadly, and still have not. Neither has the apartment. If anything, some of the difficulties are even worse now than they used to be. I won't bore you with the particulars in that regard, but suffice to say if I listed the problems here, you'd wonder why I didn't move out long ago.

The answer to that legitimate question is what makes this topic worthy of this blog. I have not moved out yet because like with many things, I have been Too XYZ to do so.

I have had it in my head that I have not earned the right to move out. I hate the idea of being labeled a flibbertigibbet who runs around living in 12 places a year, so a large part of me has figured that if this place has a roof to keep the rain out, and a heater to keep me warm in the winter, with running water to wash in, I have no right to live anywhere else until I am rich enough to live anywhere. I know it seems weird, but that is how my head works. And since my finances did not improve, I felt obligated to stay here. Even if I could find a place that is the exact same financial burden, I felt I had to stay here until I could make more money. That wasting the time and energy I have been given on moving out, when staying here is still safe, was somehow a sin.

Put more simply, inertia is keeping me in place.

But in recent months, not only have certain things about living here gotten worse, things in my mind have changed as well. I have begUn to believe, or at least force myself to believe, that sometimes change for the sake of change is good, when it comes to venues.

We need not treat venues like people.  They have no feelings. We don't have to treat them with particular consideration. They don't care if you stay in them, or leave. They don't care if you are good or bad. They are buildings. It is I that have the feelings, and if mine are not operating at optimum levels because of where I live, I deserve to try something else. Shifting around doesn't require a special invitation or permission. It just requires it being possible, and it is possible, if I don't try to live outside of my humble means in my next apartment.

Nor do I have to justify myself to others. Two and a half years in a less than ideal place should inoculate me from being seen as flippant with my life. Yet even if they do see me as a flibbertigibbet, I shouldn't let that matter. If I can legally, and safely, and responsibly change my venue, I should. Simple as that. Sometimes being somewhere just wears out its usefulness in our lives. Though I am Too XYZ to always feel justified in making a change to benefit my comfort, the place someone lives and spends the lion's share of their time should not be a place of misery. It may not be perfect, and I may not be able to afford luxury, but the law of averages indicates I should be able to at least find something better for me. And in so doing maybe somebody who would find this place perfect for their needs could move in.

Comfort and peace matter, even if it requires a bit of an extra pain in the ass to obtain them.

Have you ever let illogical inertia keep you from doing something, no matter how minor, that would make you feel more at ease with life?

Thursday, May 19, 2011

A Prelude to Confession.

The core values, motivations and traits of a person tend to stay constant throughout a lifetime. Yet through the course of a life the manner by which people either protect or project their deepest, most authentic selves may change in a dramatic fashion.

In terms relevant to this blog, we can sometimes become either more or less XYZ than we used to be. Sometimes we can even name the change, instead of having to use XYZ. And the irony of this post is that I, author of Too XYZ, have detected a shift within me that I can actually describe with actual words, and not my trademark Too XYZ.

What is this shift?

I need to interact with more accessible people about more of my issues.

Note that I said "interact" and not simply "share". Because sharing could be this blog post. Or a Facebook update. Or an email. I do that sometimes, with mixed limited results. But to interact with people about my sometime internal horrors would provide me with a ritual cleansing of sorts when the periodic fogs of spiritual and emotional warfare once again descend upon my heart. The notion of interaction in all of this is crucial, because I know a few people who care about me, but have no idea what to say, or even clam up when approached with negative topics. So their love is appreciated but I need those willing to engage with me as well.

I'm not totally silent. There may be a cryptic Facebook status here and there, or a weird tweet that gives some indication of the battle within. I get pissed and write about it here. But those are vague reflexive observances of my internal ordeal. They are almost side effects of the turmoil. That hint of steam emmerging from the pressure cooker as it does its work. Not a concerted effort to lay out in detail what I am grappling with at any given time.

For most of my life I have been okay with that. After all if I am going at it alone and not revealing the weird nature of my intangible plague of spirit, the solutions are all under my control. The attack plan is mine. The PR is mine. There are no questions. No judgment. But when there are no questions, I get to nowhere new. I don't see anything from more than one set of tired eyes. I don't form a new plan of attack. I detect the next enemy charge, dig in, and fire as many rounds as I can. When I am out of ammo, I duck and wait for it to pass, knowing that in the end, if nothing else, I will become too tired to fight against the unseen and will collapse, get looted and be left alone until I rebuild. Afterward I will dust myself off and head to rehearsal for my latest play, or type a chapter up in the novel and nobody knows the difference. Ty, as he always was.

I'm not okay with that anymore. I am still in many ways a private person, and I will always be an introvert. However, this business of polishing my persona to a show room shine before stepping out to be amongst people so they can't see what is happening has run its course in my life. I'm done with shining up the bronze statue of me people walk passed everyday. No matter how bizarre, stupid, or crazy people are going to find my fears and "demons", the time has come to be more frank about them.

The problem is, that will probably mean a mass exodus of some sort. I could be wrong of course, but it seems that over the years people have built up this idea of me. "Ty Unglebower", a character in the play of life, as opposed to Ty, the human being that is over at our house for dinner tonight. (It happens once in a while.) For many years that was easy. I'd go somewhere, be "Ty" for a while, and feel okay about it. Then I'd come back home, feel the fog descend, and fight my way out of it myself. In so doing, not only could everyone keep their idea of "Ty" alive, but I came away with a sense of empowered self-satisfaction. I had fought off the invisible attackers on my own. 50 against 1 victory was mine.

If you will recall in my bold print statement above, I called for accessible people as well. I emphasize I have some people who care. But interaction with the few of the most important ones can be difficult because of distance. There is always the phone or Facebook, yes, but when you are in the bunker, surrounded, and need ammo and reinforcements, nothing really beats having a physical presence there with you to talk out a few things. Yes, getting support from others via social media is better than nothing, but it makes it easy for others to be dismissive of my plight. Even if I share more than I have been, I get met with the atrocious silence, or with the flippant. I mentioned I felt as though I was in serious trouble the other day in my status. One response was "Good luck with that." Thanks a lot...

Yet despite the obvious risk, I think it is time. Time to be more open, more detailed, more frank about my struggles and pains. It won't be easy, to leave that bronze statue behind for a while. But the end result, hopefully, will be not only a greater understanding of me by people near and far, but also fewer solitary battles in the future. I pray that with this new candor, I will find my current people more willing to be there, and perhaps attract new, understanding people into my life that were not there before. Maybe even a few that have already beaten the same enemies I am fighting now.

The fog will lift. It would just be nice to hear friendly voices in it when it descends. Even if I can't see the faces.

Monday, May 16, 2011

The Too XYZ Road Show

This weekend was a fun, rewarding, and in many ways an Un-Ty sort of weekend. Perhaps it was exciting because it was so Un-Ty like, and rewarding because it may have in some ways changed what it is to be "Ty-Like."

I am not an advocate of making specific efforts to "get out of your comfort zone". In fact the concept is so oversold online these days that I don't even like to use the term "get outside your comfort zone", but I use it for the sake of making a point.

And that point is you shouldn't be uncomfortable for the sake of being uncomfortable. While many people think doing so is the key to personal evolution, I say it's a mild form of martyrdom complex unless the discomfort is in service to a greater good. In my case, spending time with a friend and showing support for her on her birthday were the good things that far outweighed some of my discomforts.And in so doing, I became comfortable with more things. Hence, a legitimate "outside of your comfort zone" approach.

Here are some examples from this weekend of my being "Un-Ty" like in pursuit of something good.

Being a house guest.

I think I am a bit Too XYZ to be a house guest sometimes. During my stay at someone's house I always feel the need to help clean, or make food, or add a deck to the back of the house. Anything that makes me a full fledged and functional part of whatever household I am in at the time. Most hosts insist I don't worry about any of those things, and my friend was no exception. (Though she did let me squeeze the limes for lime juice she needed for something she was making.) I always feel I need to "earn" the right to be taking up space and consuming food in somebody's home if I am going to be there for more than a few hours. Yet once I just relaxed and reminded myself I was there to celebrate a person, and not be Mr. Belvedere, I was able to feel a little better.

Being a house guest II

I will usually opt to go home late into the night from someone's house instead of sleeping there unless 1) the weather becomes atrocious for driving (frequent around here), 2) I have had too much to drink (rare), or 3) I feel like an honorary member of the family whose home I find myself in. (Has yet to occur.)

This is not to say I have never spent the night in other people's homes of course, because I have, and did this weekend. There is just something in my brain, no matter how nice the accommodations are that says, at least for a while, This is not your home. Your radio is not tuned to this radio station, and sleep is impossible. Ergo, I sleep poorly. I'm okay in hotels, but other people's homes...I don't know. It's a subconscious thing. Even if I know them well.

I got over it this weekend, though. In fact I actually slept pretty good some of the time. Just had to remember I was there by invitation and that I was part of everything, not an invasion upon it. (Though getting up at on Friday at 6:00AM and going to bed at 6:00AM my second night probably helped me crash a bit too.)

Knowing the "Plan"

I am not a control freak. I don't need to control everything that happens around me. But I am sometimes a "knowledge freak". By that I mean that if I am not careful I can get caught up in having to know where I am going, at what time, and for how long. Yet this weekend there was very little of that. I decided I would go with whatever flow my friend created. This was her hometown, her birthday, her deal. And she had to go through enough hoops just to get my sorry ass there and home again because I don't drive long distances. (That much has not changed.) So I felt she was entitled to just go, and I would follow. And that is exactly what I did. I put aside any temptation I had understand everything, and just went with it.

I just did what she did. If she took this flight of steps that seemed to descend into the ancient catacombs, I would be right behind her. (Or try to be, I almost lost her in the shuffle a few times.) I didn't try to reason out the patterns and systems of streets and trains and tracks and so on. Just went.

That got easy after about three seconds. Just going. Abandoning a need to decipher the why and how came faster than I would have thought. Probably because everything moves so fast in situations like that. Plus I learned that if you just trust friends, they can lead you where you need to go. And you get to see and experience a lot on the way. I finally got to see some Non-Postcard New York, which I had never been to before, as well as the more real parts of Jersey City, and Hoboken.


And I mean party. No joke, it was the second biggest private party I ever attended. And the first place big party was full of friends. I knew exactly one person this weekend, so in a way it was bigger after all.

As I told my friend, I am usually a small informal soiree type, or an outdoor barbecue type. I have many friends in West Virginia who have such events many times throughout the year. A few people, beer, food, talking. Thrown together in a week. There you go. This weekend, I would say this party peaked at 50 people in an average sized apartment. A lot of drink, a lot of food. Not to mention a lot of work on the part of my hostess to put it all together. (Except for the limes. I did that part.) Music, dancing. Lots of shoulder to shoulder super party "epicness" as the kids say these days.

I had a good time, but in this case I was still Too XYZ to fully engage as most of the locals were doing. I am not the most introverted person I know, but I am indisputably on the spectrum. Which meant I spent much of the evening as an observer, in a chair at the food table. (This served two obvious purposes.) Several of the people I met that night wanted to know why I didn't move about, or dance more instead of sitting there watching.

It can be tricky to explain to people I don't know why I need to do this. In fact people who have known me for years still don't quite grasp it. But as an introvert I need to let certain experiences filter into my consciousness in a gradual fashion. There is just too much humanity in a party of that magnitude for someone like me to jump in headlong. Many people are electrified by that, which is great. For me however, exposure to it can be draining under the best of conditions.

It is for the same reason I had to step outside to be alone periodically. Not because I wasn't enjoying myself. Not because the extroverts and seasoned party goers offended me. I just needed to step away sometimes to recalibrate. And even though my friend was going about enjoying herself as she should have been on her birthday, and I didn't see much of her directly during the party portion of my trip, my presence was a way to honor her and thank her for being a friend of mine. Even when I had to get away for a while.

When we make it about someone else and not ourselves we can do all kinds of things we would not normally find ourselves doing, as I said before. It won't change our stripes, as evidenced by my reluctance to dance, or my choice to stop drinking after 1:00 that morning. Those are things about me that remain. But other people make it worth it. True, it's not like I could go home even if I decided to, since I hadn't driven there. But that is not at all the point. The point is I chose of my own free will to attend a party that was larger than I am used to because it wasn't about me. That made even the very Un-Ty atmosphere enjoyable for the most part.


Flying totally into the face of what I just mentioned in the previous section, I did dance a bit. I have good rhythm, and back in school I used to dance at the dances a lot. So I am no stranger to it. But there is no way in hell I was going to be able to compete with either the stamina or abandon of some of the party guests. Yes, I realize that dancing at a party is about getting out there, and not about style or form or anything. But that is just the point. Being "out there" is not my strongest suit, and dancing is one of the most "out there" things a person can do in a room full of strangers. A room full of friends would be one thing, maybe, but I didn't know these people, so I was usually disinclined to dance.

But I did a little. It was easier to do when it was just about me dancing for a moment with a single other person who asked me to dance, as opposed to dancing all over the place as the others were. Also easier when I wanted to make sure people knew I didn't consider myself better than them in some way. That was important. You have to sometimes do as the Romans do, as the saying goes. Nothing wrong with that, even for someone that is Too XYZ. But I did sit more than I danced, and had to decline a few times later in the night. But I felt okay about it, because I had let myself wade in the pool, as it were.

Sharing Opinions

Is there anything more insufferable than someone you don't know walking up to you and offering their world perspective or opinions on what you have been discussing? No, "hello" or "My name is Jack." Just walking up to a group at a party and saying something like,

"Actually I find his movies to be so pretentious. He tries to be derivative of Fellini without being obvious about it, which makes it worse."

Okay, thanks for your input. And you are?

But in actual fact, this is more about me being Too XYZ, because I have found in many cases people welcome this. It blows me away sometimes how free people are with their opinions with strangers. More than once this weekend I observed the conversations that were going on around me, but didn't jump in with my own ideas. You see, except around my closest friends, I am built to hold my opinions until asked for them. Even then, I proceed with caution, because when I am the "new guy" as I was this weekend, I think it is my duty to pay attention and know what the conversation is, but not derail or or alter it in anyway. As a guest I feel I should be as unobtrusive on a pre-existing group of people as possible. So I rarely offer anything.

Yet several times this weekend I was asked by people I didn't know for my opinion on something. And I gave it. I still felt a bit like I was trying on somebody else's shoes, but I did it. And I realized that I need to be willing to do that, and in fact probably should have done more of it this weekend. So caught up in experiencing and observing and trying to not be obtrusive was I that I may have painted myself at times into a corner of nothingness to those around me.

My older friends know that I am seldom unaware or uninvolved in what is happening around me, even if I seem totally detached. They know that my ear is to the ground. But I should have remembered that not everyone is going to realize that at first, and that I run the risk of appearing bored, unconcerned or "holier-than thou" by not offering my thoughts on some things. At least minor ones. So I all too late learned that lesson from this weekend. But I did learn it. Or I should say, I was reminded of it, because I have had to learn this lesson more than once. Time for it to stick, I think. But that may be a Too XYZ thing as well. Time will reveal the answer to that one.

In all of these ways, and more, my being Too XYZ showed up this weekend. Sometimes it remained firmly in place, and I wasn't able to change something about myself, regardless. (Stepping outside during the party.) Sometimes I was surprised at how easy it was for me to set aside my more natural tendencies. (Not needing to understand everything that was about to happen.) Most of the time it was an equal blend. Knowing that I am not by default built a certain way, but being willing, for the sake of the people involved, to put in an effort to see and experience things differently than I am used to.

That in the end is the key to it all, isn't it? To know what your boundaries are, and accept what you cannot change about yourself, but at the same time showing a willingness to adapt, change and expand those aspects of you that are not embedded into your very DNA. Not "just because". Not for the sake of change. Not to jump out of your comfort zone because that is what the gurus tell you to do. But in pursuit of getting more out of life in a specific setting. In pursuit of a deeper, richer experience. In pursuit of a greater understanding of not just other people and the world around you, but of yourself. Nobody should be Too XYZ for that, and thanks to my friend, her friends, and a weekend in New Jersey I was reminded of that important truth. And it will stick with me.

And I tried falafel for the first time while I was there. It was good.

Do you go outside of your norms just for the sake of it, or with a purpose in mind? What sort of conditions make it worth it to step outside of your comfort zone? What is a recent example of you doing so for a greater good? How were you affected?

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Moderated Anonymity

If you have ever left a comment here on this blog or over on Always Off Book, you are aware of two things. The first being that I moderate comments, and the second is that I allow anonymous comments. Neither concept is popular throughout the blogosphere. Some even prefer a blog that allows no comments to a blog that allows anonymous but moderated comments. Let's take these two unpopular concepts one at a time.

I do moderate comments. I have heard all of the reasons not to do so. That it makes me seem paranoid. Tyrannical. Unwilling to accept criticism of my ideas. Expresses a need for control that people find off putting. And many others. None of them apply of course. But I fail to see the purpose of allowing just any kind of incoherent, rambling, rude or threatening comment to grace the pages of my blog. How does letting the comment, "fuck you and your liberal whining" increase the value of my blog, or enhance my ever so important (tongue in cheek) "personal brand"? It doesn't. Just as I avoid belligerent people in real life when I see them yelling and screaming on the street, I avoid them online. And just as I would not allow them into my home, I am not going to allow them on my blog. My blog is not community property. It is public, but it is still mine.

I don't edit comments for content. I don't filter out comments that express respectful disagreement with the point I am raising. Many have said, "but unless you turn off moderation, we, the readers have no way of knowing you are telling us the truth about who you censor and who you do not!" In response I ask, who is paranoid now?

Anonymous posting is not skewered quite so often as moderated/approved comments, but is still frowned upon in my experience. This one is a little more confusing to me, but the argument goes something like this: If I don't require people to somehow identify themselves I am not only freeing them of the responsibility of their comments, but I am defeating the entire purpose of a blog which is to network with those who have other ideas.

If someone doesn't want to use their name when they write a comment, fine. That is their business. I am not here to hold them up to some sort of standard of accountability. Personally I would rather have ten well written anonymous comments on a post then one half-assed comment with a name and link attached to it. Some people just won't comment if they have to a) identify themselves or b) register with some service. If something I wrote inspires such people to reply, they shouldn't be held back from doing so.

I comment as "Anonymous" sometimes. I do it because on any given thread I want it to be about the idea I am presenting more so than about who I am. Yes, I want to meet people, and I want people to read my blog, but counter to most personalities in the current generation, I don't feel I have to always be self promoting. Sometimes I really do just want to say something without attaching my name to it. And no, it doesn't mean I have something to hide. It just means that I want to explore an idea with someone, not an identity. I give others the same privilege.

As to networking being the entire purpose of a blog, I can't buy into that wholesale. Blogging is one good way to network. But networking to me is more organic than it is for most. It comes about by engaging with people that have mutual interests or similar thoughts. My blog is about ideas and questions. Sharing. It is not about networking just because networking often results. So I want people to feel free to reflect on what I say and share their thoughts on it. Help me learn something just as they learned something. If that means I make a connection great, but if not, at least I have spurred an ongoing conversation. And that is why I blog.

One of the first blog posts I ever wrote over five and a half years ago remains one of the most commented upon in my collection. It still gets comments to this day, and half of them end up being anonymous. I wish more of my posts got that much attention, but even so, I'm happy to have it.

So it isn't about a power trip, revisionism, abdicating responsibility or fear of commitment or any such thing. I just believe that we have so little control over the coming and goings in this life that when we own a piece of cyberspace, we might as well make it easy to use, free of spam and vitriol, and hope that it speaks to others.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Introvert Initiative

We often hear that a phone call is much better than email in making an impression. But to make a real impression, we need to find a way to meet with someone face to face. Even if it means researching their favorite restaurant and requesting a booth next to their own for their daily lunch. That's real initiative! (I didn't event that idea, either. I have talked to those who have employed this creepy tactic to meet CEOs.)

This spectrum of least personal to most personal is particularly popular within the world of networking advice.

"Nothing beats putting a name to a face. Not to mention it shows initiative and motivation to show up somewhere a person is, and introduce yourself with a nice firm handshake."

Okay. That is one way of doing it, I suppose. It is not my way of doing it 90% of the time because I am Too XYZ to be comfortable with such encounters merely for networking or information gathering, (or lord forbid, self marketing) purposes. And I am a firm believer in being comfortable when you are doing any of the above.

Think about it. Would you rather be totally at ease when interacting for the first few times with someone that holds potential value in your eyes? Whether that value be to your career, you craft, or just your social presence, does it do you any good to engage them in a manner that is totally unnatural to you? Can you possibly be putting your best foot forward when you are rerouting 50% of your total brain power towards not allowing your palms sweat before a handshake? Can someone give a good first impression, no matter how cool they are on the outside when in their head they are screaming to themselves: "EYE CONTACT! EYE CONTACT! EYE CONTACT! EYE CONTACT! EYE CONTACT!"

My answer to all of these is, no, you cannot. And should not. At least at first.

Now I have heard the bogus argument before that extroverts run the world, and in order to be a part of it, introverts must essentially become extroverts or get left behind. If you have read this blog at least twice you know by now I don't buy into that. Introverts can and have been major players in all aspects of life and history even before the digital era.

The key is to be open and honest about our comfort zones. Yes, yes, I can hear many extrovert gurus out there slaughtering their unblemished cyber-lambs at the High Altar of Leaving Your Comfort Zone. The whole notion to such people is not unlike narcotics, and they want to peddle it to anyone and everyone on the street. And as with every approach to life and success, there is some merit to the concept of not being comfortable. Success may require you to be outside of some proverbial comfort zone at some point. But I have yet to hear a solid argument in favor of indiscriminately jumping out of one's comfort zone just for the sake of being uncomfortable. Oh people do it, and even declare it is necessary, but nobody ever explains why to my satisfaction.

So I offer a different approach to introverts, and others out there that are Too XYZ but want to show initiative in connecting with others:

Tell the new contact the truth about how uncomfortable you are about certain things.

You learn that the founder of a successful local company about which you would love to know more is appearing at a local festival, let's say. (Maybe she likes organic tomatoes, what do I know?) Many would suggest you go to the festival, introduce yourself with your damned elevator pitch and set up a meeting to learn more. What an extroverted, motivated thing to do!  But if person to person contact with new people, and especially those whom you admire makes you nervous, you shouldn't try to approach this CEO at the festival. Even if the festival is right across the street from your house. Even if a million and one people say you will make a bigger impression if you so do. Even if the blogosphere is flooded with post after post of how someone got their dream job by bugging the piss out of some important CEO at a convention until they relented. For it is better to make five more subtle, gradual authentic impressions from a zone of comfort, then one awkward, uncomfortable and not very productive impression right away.

So do your research and send this CEO a brief email explaining that you admire their work and their company, and would like to know more, but are not comfortable with meeting face to face. You tell them among other things that you tend to lose your train of thought out in public sometimes, or in crowded spaces, or wherever. But that if they are willing you have a few questions and ideas that you would like to share with them via a longer email which they can read at their leisure.

If the CEO is willing and understanding of your particular concern as well as interested in your ideas, they should be more than willing to correspond in that way. If they ignore your email, or are otherwise dismissive, saying "I only discuss business in my office before work on Monday mornings. I have a life and can't take any time for fan mail," then you probably have not lost anything by not connecting with such a person.

People are people, even if they try to act otherwise. All have positives and negatives as measured against the metric of "social expectations". But when we allow ourselves to become so myopic as to think there is one precise, effective, proper way to introduce ourselves to others, (or for them to introduce themselves to us) we begin to diminish not only them, but ourselves. Our discomforts, weaknesses, quirks and flaws make us who we are just as much as our strengths and abilities do.

Of course we need to be sure we are not suffering from some crippling mental disorder, and that we are not violating someone's privacy or safety when we approach them in our own fashion. Yet we can go a long way in truly promoting ourselves to the movers and shakers if we just accept, and ask them to accept, what we can and cannot do. It may take some extra creativity and time, but being Too XYZ should not isolate you from the power brokers and influentials.

Have you ever tried to share an idea or introduce yourself to someone in a way that made you uncomfortable just because you were told it would be "more effective"? How did it turn out?

Thursday, May 5, 2011

No, I'm Not Happy for Jane.

I am Too XYZ to be inspired by the success of my peers.

The easy explanation would be jealousy. I want what they have. I cannot deny some of that may be at work. To some being jealous of other people is a sin. To others it is a motivation. To me, however, it is neither. It just sits there, in whatever quantity it decides to show up in for any given person or situation. It has zero effect on what I am capable of doing, one way or the other. It neither holds me back nor spurs me forward. My movement is my movement.

Which to me the bigger part of it is frustration and/or confusion. I see people who started blogging after I did, who are now making money doing so. People are are getting noticed and becoming quasi-famous. The social expectation is that I rejoice.

"Jane, I am so happy for you! You started off, worked hard, paid your dues, and now you are finally being rewarded for it!"

And sometimes I really do feel that happy for someone getting somewhere. Especially if it is somewhere I am not trying to go. But as often as not, I silently shake my head and say, "Here we go again."

Here we go again with someone else I know making good with a formula I busted my ass over to no avail. Here we go with the endless congratulatory tweets flooding our mutual Twitter feed. Here come the guest posts, the notoriety, the money. And worse of them all, the "you can do it too!" affirmations and the "aren't you so happy for Jane?" gushings that come from our mutual connections.

No, I am not happy for Jane. Why should I be happy for Jane, exactly? Her success does not bring me any success. Nothing I did was in any way related to her attaining her success. And frankly, if my history over the last two years in social media is any indication, Jane will very quickly find little time to speak to me, or return my emails anymore because she has gotten really busy with all of the phone calls and new work that has just flooded in her direction since her blog was mentioned on BigImportant.Com. In other words, a cost/benefit analysis of me has dropped my value in Jane's eyes significantly because I am still sitting here struggling with Too XYX on Blogger (how dare I?) and an average of 30 views per post. (On a good day.) I sometimes express doubt and fear on top of that. I am therefore not a positive energy flow for her, and should be avoided.

Or perhaps I am not kissing her ass enough, I don't know. It may amount to the same thing.

No, I don't especially feel happy for Jane. Nor am I in the mood to be told that I should. That her success doesn't mean I cannot also succeed if I do what she did.

That's part of the problem. I don't want to do what Jane did. I am not built to do it Jane's way, or your way. And though Jane and a lot of other people would rather cut their own throats on a live web-feed than admit this, they are lucky. At least at some point in time they got flat out stupid lucky, and nothing you say will ever convince me otherwise. And no matter how XYZ you are, you cannot replicate somebody elses luck.

I'm a student of history, so I am 23 steps ahead of all of you readers who are about to quote Thomas Jefferson's view of luck to me. The fact is, I do work at things. Hard. And I think it is the impression the Jane worked hard, and I do not which really makes it most difficult for me to celebrate along with the whole world as Jane sails. The impression that her advancement is due to work and positive thinking, so my stagnation must be due to me negativitiy and laziness. I have few trophies, so there is little reason for Twitter to be all aglow about how much work I have done to keep my head above water, or do the things with which I am uncomfortable.

My hard work may not be your hard work, but for the resources I have, it is just as hard if not harder, because the fruits of my labor are much smaller. Yet my hard work is easily dismissed by the vast majority of Janes out there, along with her cyber-sycophants. They refuse to believe that a person can be Too XYZ for cocktail parties and blog conventions and business card exchanges. They are literally under the impression that with a few select tough love stances they can reverse within me an entire lifetime worth of introversion and poor luck. They feel they can make me a superstar just by telling me to get out there, read a million books (all of which are the same), and start living. And yes, the first step is being happy for Jane when she makes it by doing half as much as I have done. To do otherwise is to be bitter, and bitter people never succeed.

What I am doing is my best at writing good content, marketing that content, meeting as many new people as I can in the manner that I am capable, asking people for help, offering mine, being persistent, and...getting absolutely nowhere in the process.

And then, when Jane and all of the others like her have exhausted all of their advice (assuming they bother to give me any), they eventually do one of two things. They tell me, "well, you are just going to have to change. I don't know what to tell you." Or they flat out dismiss me as some sort of log thrown in the way of their happy road to stardom which they think will taint their new road to success if approached. Fuck you too, Jane.

Let Jane continue to win by doing all of the ass kissing, story telling, cookie cutting life style choices she wants to make. That's all marketing, and that it works as often as it does is a testament to how dull and pointless much of the online world is. Where originality is punished and caution is seen as weakness. Where bad luck is a heresy and being in poverty is impossible. Let her and others like her soar to the heights that so many others "friends" of mine have soard before due to knowing the right person, or being a pain in the ass long enough to get a guest post somewhere or just otherwise whoring themselves up online. If they can live with themselves, so can I. But I will be damned if I am going to go out of my way and pretend that I am happy for them, just so that I can attract the allegedly helpful people out there who respond most to "hard working, positive thinkers."

Do I not believe that honest, hard working people, who do not sell themselves in the way I have described can get ahead? I do think it happens sometimes. If I am permitted to believe in a lucky break then yes, sometimes very agreeable, honest, and most of all authentic people do get to where they want to get, and beyond. I do believe their hard work can bring them some of those breaks. However if I must dismiss dumb luck from the equation 100%, then no, I don't believe such success stories exist, even for people I like.

But in the end, whether it be luck, or skill, good people or bad ones, authentic folks or media whores, my reaction is the same; their stories do not inspire me. They do not make me think that I can do it, and they do not give me a better view of the world simply because someone who deserved it got someplace they wanted to be. Maybe it is because I am spinning my wheels. Maybe it is because the nature of such people's lives and personalities are so far removed from my own that I simply cannot relate. But the moral of the story is that it can get really difficult hearing all of these success stories on all of these blogs and in all of these Twitter feeds. They serve as a discouragement to me, not an encouragement. And they are everywhere.

Do you in your heart and soul truly feel that happy for colleagues and friends when they succeed while you struggle? Or are your congratulations just the lip service you feel society and the internet expect you to pay in order to make you more apt to receive a bone of your own some day? If you can't answer that here, take some time and answer the question for yourself. Will the answer be what you think it is?

Monday, May 2, 2011

The Death of Bin Laden and Our Reactions to Reactions

Last night was a big night for America in many ways. At least a big night for many Americans, and indeed those throughout the world. Osama Bin Laden, mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, was killed by American special forces Pakistan. Crowds gathered outside the White House, at Ground Zero, and several other places to celebrate this fact. (Though from the footage it seems most of the crowd started to deteriorate into drunken debauchery after an hour or so in most locations.)

I, like I imagine everyone else, am still processing this. I don't know exactly how I feel now, and I may never. But I know for certainty that not everyone is celebrating this. And I don't refer to Al-Qaeda.

Yes, there are many reasons that good people have for not being happy about last night's celebrations of news that the most wanted man on Earth had been shot through the head and killed. I don't yet know if I share any of those concerns or not, but the point is that is we are not careful, we can lose sight of the truth about people. That they are very complex creatures.

Between the chants of "USA!" at baseball stadiums, spontaneous performances of The Star Spangled Banner in Times Square, and the eerie solemnity of the echoed voice of the President of the United States in an empty East Room that announced this death to the world, we must remember that the exuberance is not universal among decent people.

In the coming weeks much will be said about those who were quiet in the bars. Those who didn't post anything on Facebook, or more "dangerously", posted thoughts of sadness and mercy. Thoughts and emotions unfairly deemed by the masses as almost seditious. We must remain vigilant against this just as much as we must remain vigilant against a retaliatory strike against us.

My point does not apply only to the Bin Laden news, however. But the story serves as a stark reminder that each of us must not judge anyone by the nature of their visible reactions to something. No matter how universal a particular sentiment may seem, we cannot allow ourselves to forget, as we go about our day and our lives that each person deserves to be evaluated by their individual, inward motivations and moral compass, and not necessarily by their outward expressions and projections. Evil people exist. But do we dare make that determination based on a few moments observing their outward behavior?

The majority, and even the vast majority of sentiments about an event does not determine de facto appropriateness anymore than the rarity of a response determines de facto inappropriateness. Look deep into people when you can, and if you cannot, don't assign motivations to them. You're a better person than that.