Athos Porthos Aramis  

Wednesday, June 27 : 8:40 PM : 0 comments :

If you have any experience with AD&D, there was always one trait that seemed out of place: Charisma. Defined in AD&D terms as "An ability score representing a character's persuasiveness, personal magnetism, and
ability to lead." Doesn't seem that useful right? Wouldn't you rather have some crazy strength, amazing constitution, or outstanding intelligence? Charisma was the least useful attribute to have. Or so I thought.

Switch over to the real world -- and out of geekville. Charisma is just about the most important trait to have in life. Contrary to many of our every day encounters, it's hard to be an asshole in life. I mean, people who have no charisma have a rough go of it finding friends, dating, and heck, securing jobs. Okay, none of that is true. You can be totally charisma-less and do just fine in life.

However, if you do have excess amounts of charisma, you can certainly ascend to heights higher and faster than if you were left to your own paltry devices.

If people like you they'll be more likely to do, well, everything for you. Isn't that right? One of the main benefits of having charisma in the D&D world is to be able to generate extra "followers." This means that people like you so much they'll go the extra step and put their necks on the line for you. In roleplaying terms, it's a literal neck, since following somebody around means fighting alongside them, with a high chance of getting maimed or destroyed.

All the recent medieval guy movies like Braveheart, Gladiator, Troy, and 300 have that one moment when the hero steps in front of his men and gives them a rousing speech. People cheer, the enemy gets slaughtered, the movie gets panned. It's fabulous -- and highly memorable.

Now, for those of us without William Wallace-like presence, it helps to be able to persuade people through other means. Manipulating as it were. Men of action do; men of no-action, talk. Here's Aristotle's three ways to persuade people through the use of spoken (or written) language:
  1. Ethos is an appeal to authority. It is how well the speaker convinces the audience that he or she is qualified to speak on the particular subject.
  2. Pathos is an appeal to the audience's emotions. It can be in the form of metaphor, simile, a passionate delivery, or even a simple claim that a matter is unjust.
  3. Logos is logical appeal. It is normally used to describe facts and figures that support the speaker's topic. Since data is difficult to manipulate, especially if from a trusted source, logos may sway cynical listeners.
All three, used to complement each other, can be destructive in wearing down people's inhibitions or disbelief. Take, for example, Al Gore's recent Hollywood hit "An Inconvenient Truth." Gore has the charisma of a rock. Yet, there is no doubting that he's passionate and knowlegeable about global warming. Adding an extra bit of pathos in the form of cute polar bears running out of real estate was also pretty effective.

So, once you've established your authority, your knowledge, and your passion about something, people tend to listen. Add in a touch of charm and people will line up to tune in. (Isn't that sort of like blogging?) That's how all the great leaders/orators of our time have convinced people to follow them -- Hitler and Co. down the line. Whether you use this persuasion power for good or evil is up to you, but Aristotle told us twenty-four hundred years ago how to do it. What will you use your words for?

Lightning Strikes (Twice)  

Friday, June 22 : 11:25 PM : 0 comments :

I'm going to try not to jinx myself here but it looks like I have another book to write. I've been working on a new book proposal for the last few weeks (maybe months) and it's been a lot of back and forth but this week, we accepted a final offer from the publisher. I'm deathly excited and I feel like a real writer now. One book could be a stroke of blind luck -- which, in my case, it most likely was. Two books? I must be doing something okay, right?

Aside from feeling like the luckiest guy alive and having a literary agency that's turned two (thin) proposals into two book deals, I feel like this whole writing thing could work out for me. In fact, Full Circle Literary is so good at their job that they got me a two book deal. Yeah, two. So if things go well, I'll be writing two books for this publisher.

What's this book about? It's a fiction book for teen girls. You heard correctly. That's right, I'll be leveraging my years of being an effeminate guy into writing a book for girls. I have to thank George here for opening my eyes to the addiction that is Babysitter's Club, Little House on the Prairie, Sweet Valley High, Anne of Green Gables, etc. It turns out I'm a chick-lit writer at heart.

I'm excited for this amazing opportunity because now I can have some literary (street) cred. Writing a non-fiction reference book was amazing but being able to branch out into fiction should make me that much more well-rounded. And, as I'm finding out, it's much easier to write fiction because it's all from your imagination. Your characters can do whatever you want them to do, the story is any story you wish to put to paper. It makes the writing more exciting and more personal.

If possible, I'll be name dropping friends and their unique personality/habit quirks (as inspiration of course) into the book. Should be fun. So if you didn't read the blogging book, you better read this one!

We haven't quite signed the contract yet so the whole thing's not exactly signed, sealed, and delivered but from what I'm told, the contract is on its way to passing go and we're collecting $200.

Thank you Stefanie and Lilly, thank you!

The Golden Compass  

Thursday, June 21 : 5:40 PM : 0 comments :

"I find out what I really want by seeing what I do. That's what we all do, if we're honest about it. We have our feelings, we make our decisions, but in the end we look back on our lives and see how sometimes we ignored our feelings, while most of our decisions were actually rationalizations because we had already decided in our secret hearts before we ever recognized it consciously."
-Children of the Mind, Orson Scott Card-
Here's the thing I've gathered from my own recent experiences and numerous talks with friends on both coasts. People are starting to find themselves, people are starting to, as cliche as it sounds, "Follow their heart." Most people I know pride themselves on being very rational beings. Decisions are made based on "What's right for me and what makes the most sense." That's how I approached things anyway. I mean, Rand says "Be rational," so I've tried to be. But being rational has turned into "rational(ize) everything."

Lately, the pendulum is definitely swinging the other way. We know what we want to do, we know what our "secret heart" tells us to do, and we're finally doing it -- or at least I'm trying to do it. I used to question why I'm attracted to one activity over another, one type of movie/book over another, one type of person versus another. I've been trying to figure out good reasons for why I like things. I tried to rationalize it all out. Sadly, it doesn't quite work that way. In the end, I like it because I like it; no (logical) reasons have to exist.

This insight goes against everything I previously thought. I mean, to a certain extent, I've been very aware that I always end up only doing what I want to do -- Rand also says "Be selfish." But I've often done these things under the guise of helping others, of doing it in the interests of other people. But keep it real, I do things because I want to do them. As Joey proved to Phoebe (paraphrased), "You can't help anyone without helping yourself."

This is all fine. We're old enough to not live under the delusion that there are entirely selfless acts. It may sound cynical and world-weary but every action -- given the proper context and a broad enough viewpoint -- is selfish and that's how it should be. On that point I'm still fully on-board with Rand.

What I'm done doing is rationalizing. I want to remain rational but stop using excuses to make it seem like I'm doing something other than what I'm doing. I think I've always known what I was doing while I'm doing it; what I haven't always done is communicate to people (or fully admit to myself) exactly why I do something. I mean, once you start doing that, you open up ugly sides of yourself right? Oh well, live and let live.

In a way, I feel like I'm regressing. I read once about how our brains are really human brains layered over animal brains. Animals are programmed to react naturally. The advantage humans have is that we can choose logic over instinct. We are able to choose courses of action that don't coincide with what we feel. Everyone has natural emotions and reflexes that are bred into us over millions of years but humans can override that because... well, we're humans. Mind over matter as it were.

Well, now I'm all about heart over mind. I'm not sure if this is the best way to go, to attempt to swing from one extreme to the other, but so far, it's working out nicely -- with a few bumps here and there. It's only been a test phase but I feel good about following my instincts and not bothering to rationalize things out. I'll keep you posted when disaster (inevitably) strikes.

A League of His Own  

Monday, June 18 : 8:52 AM : 0 comments :

While visiting New York, I met this incredible guy, a friend and semi co-worker of Leslie's -- her foundation, Echoing Green, provides support for young social entrepreneurs. Andrew's dedicated himself to helping farmers in Kenya raise more profitable foodstuffs. Okay, that's a terrible way to explain it. Here's what the organization he started is doing (in a good explanation):
"Andrew Youn works with farm families living in permanent hunger conditions in Kenya. Recognizing that 80% of the extreme poor in Africa are farmers, he is demonstrating a model that increases food production for these farmers by 4x immediately, and brings them within reach of high value export markets.

His organization, One Acre Fund, provides small holding farmers with a complete solution, starting from 1) organizing producer groups, 2) providing appropriate capital and technology, 3) extension services, and 4) harvest consolidation and sale. The target social impact is 300% growth in farm income, and 50% reduction in child mortality rates.

Importantly, Andrew also hopes to show that this can be done at a profit, by recapturing a portion of the farmers' harvest. This creates (a) sustainability (non-reliance on donor funds), and (b) scalability (potential for private sector replication)."
Now, lots of people go to Africa or other countries on humanitarian missions, religious missions, non-profit work, looking for adoptable babies, etc, but Andrew is there making a huge difference in people's lives almost by sheer willpower, dedication, and drive. I was fortunate enough to catch him during one of his trips stateside when he was giving talks and acquiring additional funding.

I'm hardly a humanitarian at heart, I'm not inclined to look too far outside my own selfish needs but meeting Andrew, who is my age and doing so much, was immensely inspirational and awe-inspiring. You know how you're always glad that there are people out there doing good work (even if you're not)? Well, here's a person doing good works. Like a real person doing good works. He saw a need, had an idea, and now he's over in Kenya.

If anyone is interested in learning more about Andrew's work, looking to take some time off from the corporate world to help him out, or to make a donation, email me and I'd love to get you guys connected. Andrew's not only patient, nice, cool, and friendly but also potentially really good at Squabble; isn't that reason enough to befriend someone?

Brothers in A(lar)ms  

Wednesday, June 13 : 8:09 AM : 0 comments :

Leslie forwarded me an email from a friend of hers who just went through a similar life event much like I did a few weeks ago. Since then, I've been running around the country trying to put out forest fires, explain to people what happened, and trying to make sense of it all. Here's the thing: this guy, Frank, wrote in his email, "A True Confession," almost exactly what I would write. I mean, his experiences sound exactly like mine. Finding a true purpose, seeing his friends and family, feeling like he's on top of the world.

I mean, listen to this line from his writing: "Some of you here in NYC and other places are aware that this experience has involved my inability to function in a normal manner in terms of eating and sleeping." I'm not sure how his friends and family reacted but hopefully I'll be in email contact enough with Frank to find out.

What does it mean that there's an actual medical term for this? And that someone (relatively) close has experienced the same thing recently? What it means to me, for right now, is that it's definitely not an event unique to me. In fact, it's probably very common. Does that mean it's a medical condition? A reaction to stress? An aberration? I'm not sure. But it's nice to know that I'll have someone to compare notes with. Along those lines, it also makes me really wary of any discoveries and assumptions I've made before. It's like finding a lucky penny, treasuring it, but then seeing a whole sidewalk full of lucky pennies in front of you. What's your penny worth now?

Here's some excerpts from his email, an email that I could have written, and probably should have.
"Here are some of you who have been around in the past 6 days to witness what was for me the most intense, agonizing, joyous, painful, cathartic, anxious, desperate experience I've ever had. The medical term for this is a mixed state. I guess my neuropsychologist was right, as he had predicted such an event many years ago. Some of you who witnessed it were probably rightfully disturbed by certain aspects. I was too, although I knew it would happen even before it did, because I've been living with this for a very long time.

Despite feeling almost out of mind at times, I would never trade that experience for anything because through it I have found out the most important things one can ever discover about themselves. Who I Am, and Why I Am Here. Who I Am is a Guardian, and Why I Am Here is to help my family.

My Family
From now on I will not be making any distinction between family and friends. Anyone who I love and who loves me is my family. Period. Genetics don't, and really never did, matter.

My raison d'etre is to love/serve my family. I've always known this was the most important thing to me, but maybe you didn't because I didn't tell you, so I'm telling you all now. The accumulated pain of my family rejecting my assistance is what lead to my breakdown. If you won't allow me to help you I literally can't live. I know because I've tried. So, please, allow me to love/serve you. That's what makes me happy. Helping you be happy makes me want to live.

There are perhaps 40 people on this list and it is sure to grow, but most of you have never met. Most of you can't see what I see which is that I have a family of the most amazing, talented, brilliant people-scattered all around the world. And I mean each of you. That's what I've seen in you, and have always seen in you. I need for you all to believe in me and trust me like I believe and trust in you. I can say that if you know my family you know I cannot fail, because they won't let me.

Je t'aime
I realize now that although there are so many of you that I love more than myself but I never said those words to you. We'll, now you'll hear me say those words often, and I mean them every time. If you allow me to love/serve you I know we can all come up -- we can all be happy.

I want to assure you all that the manic state is over, I am more calm and clear than I've been in a long time, because now I'm happy."

Voulez Vous  

Monday, June 11 : 1:29 AM : 0 comments :

Tony Parker, as a younger player, was tasked with leading a championship contender and his doubters said that he couldn't do it. Not because he didn't have the skills but because he just couldn't...yet.

Have you seen him play recently? He's amazing. Tear drops, off-speed dribbles, crossovers, through the leg passes, open jumpers, crisp passes, the tear drops! He's annihilating the competition and proving to be unstoppable as a mature player. All the talk of trading him for Jason Kidd a few years ago? Well, who would you rather have now? An aging (but still great) Jason Kidd? Or a still up-and-coming Tony Parker, three time -- soon to be four -- world champion?

The promise of potential demands patience.

I think that when people look at anyone a half-generation (or more) younger than them, they see their raw skills but they also see the roadblocks of inexperience and immaturity. You can't force someone to learn things. You can't force someone to take your word as bond. Fathers try to do it with their sons but it's rarely possible to force feed the young with the wisdom of the old. People grow at their own pace and the only thing to do is to give them room, and a safe place, to do it in.

Not to say that I'm wiser or more mature than any of my peers (far from it), but in a way, I've wanted people to grow, to get on that level. This recent trip to New York, I saw so many friends in a new light. A more beautiful light, as people are starting to grow into themselves, to fulfill their personal potential, and to actively and naturally change their auras. It's like in re-connecting with everyone, I feel like what I'm re-connecting with is an "evolved" version of them. That's age isn't it? You go away for three years and people have grown.

Life has happened since the last time I visited Manhattan, changes are bound to occur. In the case of the people I know there, it's been all positive, all of it.

Hell, for myself, I feel like I'm finally growing (up), by leaps and bounds, definitely a little bit late, but I'm finally doing it. I'm starting to get comfortable with the idea of myself. I always was to an extent but that was a false sense of security. Like being comfortable at the little kid table but unable and unwilling to step up to the adult table. Well, I'd like to move up in weight class now, I want to play with the big boys.

I want to earn the respect of others -- not just to get it. I want to have The Big Fundamental look upon me as an equal, as someone he/she can really count on and appreciate. I'm indescribably, and perhaps undeservedly, happy because I went to New York to unburden myself and instead I found that there was no burden but rather people who had already lifted the weight off my shoulders. And in turn, I hope to be able to support them. To support everybody really. And if that's not the most megalomaniac thing I could say right now, I don't know what is.

Men = Appendix ?  

Wednesday, June 6 : 2:17 AM : 0 comments :

The current month's reading for the book club (no longer "my" book club since I haven't attended in quite awhile) was the provocatively titled "Are Men Necessary?" The title alone warranted my attendance at the discussion. While the discussion was interesting and quite inconclusive -- just like the book -- one thing really caught my attention. For a brief moment, we pondered the question of whether or not males would have a problem with their (female) partners making more money or being more successful than them.

In our enlightened world view, this would seem to be no problem. Even though most of my friends have fathers who make more than their mothers, I would assume that most of us would have no problem with a female dominanting the financial income department. Oh how wrong I was/am. Never underestimate the power of the male inferiority complex.

A few years ago, we went around the room (with about a dozen friends) and I was surprised to hear that about 80% of the males wanted to make more money than their spouses. Furthermore, they thought it would be a slight issue if they didn't.

My personal stance on this, of course, is that I'd love to marry rich. I'm not a gold digger; I'm just lazy and opportunistic. If I could be a stay-at-home dad (without kids), I'd feel like an accomplished Tony Danza, no problem. Then again, I'm facing a future of financial insecurity so if I get married, someone had better pay the bills and if not me, then my wife; I'm fine with that.

The question I have is this: Suppose the wife does make (significantly) more money but the husband would like to publicly have the pretense that he takes care of the family -- for whatever reason. Would it be okay for him to still seem like he makes enough to support the family? As in pay for things in front of other people with his credit card, have the wife demure to him about financial purchases, not have her bring up that she supports the fam, that kind of thing? I know this question is very relative but the point is that if the who making the money is no object, would it then be an issue if the person who doesn't make the money still wants to seem like they're the one in charge of (or made) it?

Or would there be a hissy fit and a storm of "WTFs" about a guy trying to pretend like he's in charge of money that he didn't earn? I first reaction would be "he/she who makes the money gets to choose how they spend/represent it." But the second thought is that right now, in a traditional patriarchal family, the man makes the money, the woman is in charge of distributing it, and the husband gets the satisfaction that he's the bread winner. Would it be different if these two financial and social positions were gender-reversed?

For the record, I would have argued that men really aren't that necessary; but then brought the conversation around to "wait, if we're not necessary, why the hell is every woman I know concerned/devoted/frustrated with getting one instead of just getting to a sperm bank and leaving men out of the picture entirely."

I also have a bone to pick with women who want sensitive men but then keep on dating/keeping the alpha thug types. But that's another story for another day.

Men: Totally unnecessary but still a nice gratuitous accessory.

A Mild Mannered Girl...  

: 2:11 AM : 0 comments :

"I found my super powers.
I control the magnificent forces
Of the rainbow, the new Princess of Power.
My bionic strength is enough
To let me bend pipes or bars
And reality. I am sure a Wonder
Of a Woman, flying high, proud, unhindered
by my arch nemesis, my pantyhose.
I am invi-nsible. I am well developed;
my mental energies that is - reading
minds, moving minds, mind reading, mind
Moving outta my way? I am woman X in secret
Identity: a girl with glistening, radiant, white
Smile for all to see - My hideout - I break out
of the cave to fly by Superman, save the world,
and then Master the Universe. And I do it all
Without a side-kick."

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