My Shittiest Blog Post Yet

In the 5 or so months I’ve been writing this blog in earnest, I’ve churned out some pretty shitty stuff.  My first posts were definitely the worst—long, meandering, pointless or multi-pointed.  There’s this one called “Advanced Fonzametrics”—so bad.  I tried to cram 20 years of life-lessons into one 2K+ word post.  There have also been some not-so-long-ago posts that seem to equally stink.  I think my mom was the only person who read yesterday’s post.

I was pondering my ineptitude while reading the blogs of the luminaries in my chosen genre (personal development, I guess) last night.  Many of their posts felt like they were going through the motions.  I could see the author staring blankly at his or her computer, thinking, “What the hell am I going to write today?  I guess I’ll write about that thing my kid does.”  It got me thinking that there might not be such a wide gulf between those who are making it and those who are struggling to do so.

It’s tough for those of us who haven’t gotten into a positive feedback loop to believe that what we’re doing is worthwhile.  No one is asking us to do what we’re doing.  We put ourselves out there—whether we’re writers, painters, singers, entrepreneurs, activists, whatever—unsure if anyone beyond our family and friends gives a shit (and we suspect we might soon exhaust their enthusiasm).

We wonder how we can be more like “successful” people.  How do we crack the code?

Sometimes there is a code.  There is such a thing as skill.  For example, I’ve written posts that resonate with readers more than others; I can try to figure out what qualities people respond to and imbue future writing with similar attributes.  But I would never learn these things if I hadn’t put out some pretty crappy stuff first.  In other words, the “code” might just be a willingness to put ourselves out into the world consistently.

It makes me think of Adam Sandler.  There were a few years when you couldn’t take a piss without seeing his movies.  Yet I never thought he was very funny.  Happy Gilmore, The Waterboy, Little Nicky—Sandler was an inanity machine.  But the guy put himself out there.  He wasn’t deterred by my criticism.  If I didn’t like his movies, I didn’t have to watch them.

So in the spirit of Adam Sandler, I’m going to keep writing shitty blog-posts. I might even make a shitty video or two.  I’m going to promote myself in ways that might be disproportionate to my talents.

It’s not my intention to churn out shitty writing or related media products.  I have no desire to waste my time or yours.  I want inner peace to flow from my words to your heart.  Seriously.  But in the process, I might miss the mark.  My apologies in advance.  I  genuinely appreciate your support and hope you enjoy what I write.

The World is Your Dutch Oven

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BI23U7U2aUY

Have you ever been sitting alone in a public space letting off stinky farts?  On the one hand, we might feel comforted by the fact that we are alone.  Somehow smelling our own farts doesn’t bother us as much as smelling other peoples.  Personally, I am strangely curious about my farts’ particular flavor profiles.  Sometimes they’re highly sulfuric, sometimes they have a rotting vegetable thing going on.  They have a certain compelling dissonance, like Schoenberg or a Michael Haneke film—you want to cover your ears or look away, but something draws you in.

On the other hand, our solitary comfort is an uneasy one.  Since it’s a public space, we don’t want anyone to enter our orbit until the smell goes away.  We do quick, dog-like sniffs, monitoring the rate of dissipation, hoping that when someone does inevitably come by, the fart’s intensity will have mellowed.  But what if they come at the peak of its intensity?  We fear what people will think of us, when they know we are capable of such odoriferous atrocities.  We fear being scorned.  Maybe they’ll walk away and avoid us in the future, affixing a scarlet F to our blousons.  Maybe no one will like us when they know our acrid insides.

Self-expression can be a bit like farting in a public space.  We feel compelled to emit something, to share our unique funk, but we are afraid of what will happen when other people are exposed to it.  What will they think of us when they smell, see, hear, touch or taste the things that lurk inside of us?

Here are some questions to ponder today:

  1. What is the fart you are trying to conceal from the world? What are you holding back, hoping no one knows about you?
  2. Are you content to worry in isolation about your fart being smelled?
  3. Or are you willing to invite people into your Dutch Oven? Are you willing to be known inside and out, giving people the opportunity to appreciate your particular funk? 

Failure Is Always an Option

I think this might be my new logo.

I’ve been thinking about marketing a lot lately.  Good marketing is what will compel readers to read what I’m writing.  When that happens I will maximize my contribution to the world and make a bit of dough along the way.  That’s my working definition of success.

The question I’ve been asking myself is, “How should I market myself?  What market demand might I fill?”

In answering these questions, I’ve surveyed successful contemporary spiritual and self-help writers (the market I see myself occupying).  I looked at their brands and asked how their approaches might be incorporated into my marketing and brand strategy.  Here are some examples:

  1. Eckhart Tolle.  Author of “The Power of Now,” he provides his readers a glimpse of reality from an enlightened perspective.  I like what Tolle says, but I can’t claim the enlightened qualification he does.  Unlike the finely-tuned Tolle, the exhaust note of truth I make sputters more than purrs.
  2. Deepak Chopra.  Author of such books as “Perfect Health” and “7 Spiritual Laws of Success,” this doctor provides a fusion of Vedic wisdom and pop science, applied to things like emotional and physical health.  My highest degree is a BA in English, so I’m of dubious academic authority.  And Chopra draws from the deep well of his Indian cultural wisdom.  I’m from the suburbs, where wisdom flows in inverse proportion to the amount of time spent in front of the TV (i.e. all the time).  My emulation of Chopra would surely flop.
  3. Pema Chodron.  Author of “When Things Fall Apart,” she delivers a Buddhist nun’s perspective to everyday problems.  In contrast to the ascetic nun, I live a pretty decadent life.  I’m sexually active, overuse Netflix and love Trader Joe’s tater tots bathed in salt.  Her angle is a no-go too. Continue reading “Failure Is Always an Option”

The 168 Hour Work Week and the Case for Irony

You too can flex in the mirror. Image via NY Times.

Here is a passage from the NY Times book review of Timothy Ferriss’s new book “The 4 Hour Body”:

He can use without irony…lines like: “I was enjoying French food and a bottle of Bordeaux with a 25-year-old female yoga instructor new to San Francisco, fresh from the Midwest.” This poor woman lets slip that she’s unable to have an orgasm. Mr. Ferriss, as any humanitarian would, makes it a point to fix this problem for her. “I was able to facilitate orgasms,” he writes, “in every woman who acted as a test subject.”

I started writing a diatribe about Ferris’s passage, but I stopped myself.  After all, I haven’t read the book.  Despite what I might think about this passage, I wish him and his readers the hardest bodies.  May his words heal the masses.

But I think the Times reviewer nails it.  It wasn’t so much what Ferriss wrote, but the way he wrote it, i.e. “without irony.”  As Oscar Wilde put it, “A little sincerity is a dangerous thing, and a great deal of it is absolutely fatal.”

The world is bloated with sincerity.  Look through most newspapers and all you see is sincerity and its evil cousin, seriousness.  We read headlines about Wikileaks and oil-spills and crazed gunmen and we absolutely know the world is screwed.

But what if the answer to all the world’s woes isn’t more sincerity, more seriousness, more knowledge?  Knowledge dooms.  Knowledge is a record of what has been, and what likely will be.  We know we are screwed because we have been.  Knowledge seldom permits what could be, because what could be cannot be known.  It hasn’t happened yet.

What if instead of more sincerity, seriousness and knowledge, the world needed more irony?  The Greek root of irony is “eirōneia,” meaning simulated or feigned ignorance.  What if even the small act of pretending to not know has the power to loosen our grip on the doomed nature of reality?  What if irony was the key to transformation?

Let me explain what I mean in a very sincere fashion. Continue reading “The 168 Hour Work Week and the Case for Irony”

Are You an Idea Junkie?

[Read below for my limited time offer of unaccredited idea-coaching!  Supply is limited (supply is one actually)]

Ideas I’ve bailed on:

  1. Bike racing
  2. High school debate team
  3. Biking around the world
  4. Become a chef
  5. Modeling
  6. Dramatic acting
  7. Comedic acting
  8. Stand-up comedy
  9. Personal training
  10. Starting an ecologically-minded catering company
  11. Several girlfriends
  12. Mortgage sales (this was a quick one)
  13. Blog journalism (despite the money!)

I was thinking about these ideas a few weeks ago as I watched a talk by Scott Belsky at an event I help run.  Belsky wrote a book called, “Making Ideas Happen.”  In it, he outlines the difference between ideas that come into being and those that don’t.

Belsky explained that when an idea is new, progress is swift because everything is novel, learning curves are steep and we have nothing to prove.  We are willing to work long and hard.  We are unencumbered by pride as there is no shame in screwing up.  We’re beginners and that’s what beginners do.

But then something happens?  We develop some competency and the honeymoon ends.  We are no longer just dating our ideas—we’re married to them.  That’s where the work starts and where most people bail.  Unfortunately, most of us bail before our ideas even have an opportunity to fail (or succeed of course).  Continue reading “Are You an Idea Junkie?”

This Post Will Make You Happy

Panelists at PSFK's Good Ideas on Happiness Salon (L to R: Hill, Forbes, Dean and Rubin). Image via PSFK.

Growing up, no one sat me down and said, “David, this is what I’ve learned about living a happy life.”  The closest thing I got was a warning from my father:  “If it looks too good to be true, sounds too good to be true, it probably is too good to be true”—a sage tactic for avoiding unhappy situations, but not necessarily a strategy to get into good ones.

Without clear guidance, I tried to figure it out myself.  I looked around the house, but like I said they weren’t saying much.  Mom was boozing.  Dad was an every-other-week presence who dealt with depression much of his life.  Grandparents were pretty checked out.

I looked around the neighborhood, but the whole suburban, early-eighties, broken-home, lives of quiet desperation thing was all the rage, so that didn’t help much either.

That just left TV.  People on TV had problems like me, but they were, unlike my problems, settled in twenty-two minutes (unless it was one of those annoying “to be continued” episodes).  Happiness was the default setting for TV characters.  They started the show happy, faced conflict, overcame conflict, returned to a happy state of being.  The sitcom happiness arc was punctuated with commercials that brimmed with things to buy that assured happiness.

Out of this alloy of environmental inferences and TV-based philosophy, I had no clue how to live a happy life.  I spent my first eighteen years in near continuous depression.

I attended an event the other day by the organization PSFK.  The topic was happiness.   It was like an overdue version of the talk I never received as a child. Continue reading “This Post Will Make You Happy”

Checking Out for the Holidays

A TV and child's reunion is only a motion away.

I call Chicago home because it’s the region where I was born and I identify with the midwestern, salt-of-the-earth character.  Midwesterners are like their terrain, earthy, solid and level.  They are less frenetic than the tirelessly ambitious east coasters, yet more resilient than the sunny-day-chasing west coasters.

The downside of this is earthiness is that midwesterners tend be fans of inactive activities:  watching sports, watching TV, sitting long periods, drinking, eating.  This inert disposition has many culprits.  The weather sucks most of the time—frigid in the winter, blazing in the summer, with a perpetually grey, gauzy sky all four seasons.  In Chicago, there are few compelling outdoor diversions aside from a lake that is swimmable for two weeks in August.  You have to drive to get anywhere interesting as the city is huge and public transportation stinks.  In the winter, when I typically go there, driving sucks too; you eyeball the heat gauge, waiting for the needle to go up so you can blast the heat; you then drive a half-hour to get to your destination, spend another fifteen minutes looking for parking, brave the cold again, only to do it all over again on the return ride home.  Oftentimes, the effort doesn’t seem worth it.  You figure you might as well stay home and watch Romancing the Stone for the umpteenth time. Continue reading “Checking Out for the Holidays”

Judgment Day

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yrd-3R2Hc94&feature=related]

A Swiss-born artist named Clarina Bezzola has a performance piece called “Judgment Day.”  In a video of the performance, she wears large mitts that look like fingers, and strolls through Manhattan, pointing at things with the fingers, proclaiming her judgments of all she sees.
Bezzola begins her journey enthusiastically.  She states the good (farmers market, dog run, outdoor cafe) and the bad (a big Ralph Lauren ad, Fresh Direct, church).  But as her negative judgments turn into a frenzy, she loses steam.  She judges, but without verve.  Her pointing fingers drag.  Judgment, the viewer can surmise, is hard work.
Bezzola’s performance is suggestive of the Hamletian maxim that “nothing is either good or bad, but thinking [or judging] makes is so.”
Her’s is not a novel concept (Hamlet was published around the turn of the 17th century and I think a few others have stated similar conceits).  But it’s a nice illustration of how most of us go through the world:  creating collages of positive and negative judgments.  We like ice cream, social justice and Ira Glass.  We don’t like Wonder Bread, the industrial military complex and Glenn Beck. Continue reading “Judgment Day”