Archive for December, 2011

top 10 books of 2011

12/22/2011

Since July I’ve been knee deep in books. Literally. My roommates will tell you – I have books lying all around the house in varying states of disarray. If I have less than 20 books lying in piles around my room, I consider that poor form and rush to the bookstore. Wish I was kidding. “When I get a little money, I buy books. If any is left, I buy food and clothes.” – Erasmus

So because I’ve read more books in the past six months than I normally do in three years (one of many benefits to quitting the j-o-b), and because I know people like lists, I decided to make a Top 10 list that probably nobody will care about.

Here’s my Top 10 Books of 2011:

10. Anthill – E.O. Wilson

anthill cover image, e.o. wilsonGenre: Fiction

Favorite line: “It was his island in a meaningless sea.”

Who would have thought ants could be so interesting? This is the story of Raff Cody, a southern boy battling the insanity of the world in all its complexity. Cody is a very rounded out protagonist: subtle but complex, passionate but not overzealous, and he fights throughout the novel to save a small tract of uninhabited land in Alabama. This protagonist had a distinct penchant for compromise. Most protagonists in our favorite stories are uncompromising men and women, and people view this as a heroic attribute. Rightly so, but sometimes it’s a man’s ability to compromise that makes him heroic, his ability to find the middle ground in a very tactful, albeit straightforward manner. Raff Cody does just that. Overall, this book was extremely well written and hosted a bevy of literary tools I can only hope to emulate in my own writing.

The climax could have used a bit of work, I thought, but who am I to criticize a Pulitzer Prize winner?

9. City of Thieves – David Benioff

city of thieves, david benioffGenre: Fiction

Favorite line: “The loneliest sound in the world is other people making love.”

A recent read, what struck me about City of Thieves was not the storyline so much, nor the characters (even though Kolya is an amazingly formulated one at that!), but rather the writing style. Framing his novel in the epically destitute and dreary setting of the siege of Leningrad during World War II, David Benioff paints a visual of Russian culture not many people have seen from an American writer. And he does this with a plot that revolves around two men of completely opposite natures searching far and wide for, quite simply, a dozen eggs. Easier said than done during a siege.

It’s easy to picture what Benioff puts down in words, describing only the necessary details, not delving too deep, and allowing the reader to toy with the setting and appearance of the characters, altering them to their heart’s content without losing the soul of the story. And with one hell of a climax, plus a neat final sentence (relates directly to one line in the first chapter), this book  has a very deserving spot in this top 10 list.

8. The Orc King – R.A. Salvatore

the orc king, r.a. salvatoreGenre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy

Favorite line: “…if dominance is attained and then maintained through strength of arm alone, then it is no victory, and it cannot be a permanent ordering.”

The title of this novel just screams “nerd.” R.A. Salvatore is an action-based, character-driven writer I discovered right out of college. I had always noticed his novels on Borders’ shelves, but when I finally picked up the first book in the very extended linear series of Drizzt Do’Urden, I was hooked. I read his first 10 books in two months and only tore myself away because I hadn’t read anything else in that time.

The Orc King is the continuation of Salvatore’s brilliance in his uncanny ability to discuss real-world issues via a fictional world filled with fictional characters and fictional plot lines. Whether it’s our inborn fear of death, of change, of discrimination, or of being alone, Salvatore captures it relentlessly in every novel. Racism and prejudice, fomented over millenia between two races, are the dominant themes in The Orc King. The reader identifies this trend while being sucked inexorably into the fast-moving, battle-filled storyline, and I think everyone who has read this hoped the dwarven king, Bruenor Battlehammer, would be able to look past his lifelong prejudices and realize that maybe his people could live in harmony with orcs.

But did he? You’ll just have to read it . . . along with the 16 books that precede it.

7. A Game of Thrones (reread) – George R.R. Martin

a game of thrones, george r.r. martinGenre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy

Favorite line: “‘Remember this boy. All dwarfs may be bastards, yet not all bastards need to be dwarfs.’ And with that he turned and sauntered back into the feast, whistling a tune. When he opened the door, the light from within threw his shadow clear across the yard, and for just a moment Tyrion Lannister stood as tall as a king.”

An engaging storyline filled with lords and peasants, kings and knights, princes and whores, A Game of Thrones has reached such a success threshold in part, I think, in that it caters directly to our classical view of the Middle Ages. Chock-full of knights in shining armor, mercenaries searching for a thrill and some coin, rulers passing ridiculous edicts and hanging criminals, and classy brothels where the word AIDS doesn’t exist, this first novel in an incredible fantasy saga is the best of all five thus far published.

Complete with boundless political intrigue, dark plots and tongue-curdling betrayals, this novel represents everything a fantasy novel should be. However, I wouldn’t have minded more descriptive fight scenes. But that’s just me!

6. Tao Te Ching – Lao Tsu

tao te ching, lao tzuGenre: Religion / Spiritual / Philosophy

Favorite line: “Accept disgrace willingly; Accept misfortune as the human condition.” AND “Yield and overcome; Bend and be straight; Empty and be full; Wear out and be new; Have little and gain; Have much and be confused.”

The Tao Te Ching (pronounced more like dow day ying) is the central spiritual text upon which Taoism is based. This book, like the Christian Bible or the Muslim Qur’an, forms the basis upon which the entire belief system was founded. While many of the passages are slightly ambiguous, especially for those not familiar with eastern philosophy, the book provides an incredibly on-point doctrine in regard to how we should live our lives simply and peacefully and “become as a little child once more.” (you Christians hearing anything familiar here?) It discusses how we should avoid extremes and excesses while never becoming complacent. Minimalists will find a common resting ground in this short book, as well: “He who is attached to things will suffer much.”

I strongly – STRONGLY – recommend that everyone read this book. You don’t have to understand everything (I didn’t), but some key messages may strike home in one of the 81 short passages. And don’t say you don’t have time. You could legitimately read the Tao Te Ching in an hour.

And lastly, probably one of my favorite quotes and one from which we can all learn: “Keep your mouth shut, guard the senses, and life is ever full.” Einstein had a similar philosophy when he said: “If A equals success, then the formula is A equals X plus Y and Z, with X being work, Y play, and Z keeping your mouth shut.”

5. The Book of Lost Things – John Connolly

the book of lost things, john connollyGenre: Fiction

Favorite line: “He always touched the faucets in the bathroom and the handles of the doors a certain number of times: odd numbers were bad, but even numbers were fine, with two, four, and eight being particularly favorable, although he didn’t care for six because six was twice three and three was the second part of thirteen, and thirteen was very bad indeed.”

This was a book I distinctly remember picking up in Borders this past summer. The cover artwork grabbed me immediately and I read most of the first chapter before I realized I’d been standing in someone’s way for quite a bit of time. Effectively parodying the classical fairytale, going so far as to open the book with “Once upon a time – for that is how all stories should begin,” The Book of Lost Things follows the tale of a boy named David who journeys to a fantastical neverland filled with wonders and strange creatures beyond count. Throughout his adventure, he encounters things that remind us (purposefully so) of our favorite stories of old, including Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, Sleeping Beauty and The Three Bears. Except Connolly puts a comic, and sometimes grotesque, spin on them. For example, the seven dwarves aren’t your typical hard-working, whistle-while-we-work kind of dwarves. They’re communists. And they’re hysterical. With mutterings of “rights,” “liberties,” and “the Great Struggle,” they clamor against capitalism and call one another comrade.

And it only gets better. No matter your favorite style of book, this one is masterfully written and will appeal to everyone. Then again, I thought that about Ordinary People. . .

4. The 50th Law – 50 Cent and Robert Greene

the 50th law, 50 cent and robert greeneGenre: Business / Self-Help

Favorite line: “Events in life are not negative or positive. They are completely neutral. The universe does not care about your fate; it is indifferent to the violence that may hit you or to death itself. Things merely happen to you. It is your mind that chooses to interpret them as negative or positive. And because you have layers of fear that dwell deep within you, your natural tendency is to interpret temporary obstacles in your path as something larger – setbacks or crises.”

This was the most difficult book from which to choose a favorite line. Filled with a bevy of wisdom revolving around the central concept of fearlessness, this book was a major catalyst in propelling me to quit my white-collar job and pursue my passion. Strangely enough, I discovered it on my then-boss’s bookshelf 🙂

The favorite line above essentially sums up the book for me, personally. There is no good. There is no bad. There just is what is. This philosophy teaches us to adapt, to roll with the bunches (to be cliche). We don’t say “Oh shit!” when something “bad” happens, but rather we see an opportunity, we see an obstacle that will only challenge us and make us better.

The book has ten concepts defining this central theme of fearlessness:

  1. See Things for What They Are (Intense Realism)
  2. Make Everything Your Own (Self-Reliance)
  3. Turn Shit Into Sugar (Opportunism)
  4. Keep Moving (Calculated Momentum)
  5. Know When to be Bad (Aggression)
  6. Lead From the Front (Authority)
  7. Know Your Environment from the Inside Out (Connection)
  8. Respect the Process (Mastery)
  9. Push Beyond Your Limits (Self-Belief)
  10. Confront Your Mortality (The Sublime)

The viewpoint on opportunity was a major high point here. “According to conventional wisdom, an opportunity is something that exists out there in the world; if it comes our way and we seize it, it brings us money and power . . . This concept is extremely limited in scope. It makes us dependent on outside forces.” In essence, 50 and Greene preach that we should generate our own opportunities, not wait for them to come along. Those who are familiar with the New Thought movement, and books like The Secret, will be able to relate to that concept.

While I disagree at some points with 50 Cent and Robert Greene’s philosophy (I disagree with most of the chapter on Aggression, actually), 95% of this book is pure gold. Need some motivation to make a change in your life? Read this book.

3. The Art of Racing in the Rain – Garth Stein

the art of racing in the rain, garth steinGenre: Fiction

Favorite line: The entire 54th chapter. But, to get more specific: “It is better to drive within oneself and finish the race behind the others than it is to drive too hard and crash.”

If you don’t cry when you read this book, you don’t have a soul. This is the story of a family, discussed in continual analogies to race car driving, as seen from a dog’s perspective. Hooked yet?

It was fascinating, the things Garth Stein was able to effectively relay via a dog’s POV. The things many of us don’t even think about in our daily lives, the dog serves to enlighten us upon. Wiser than the vast majority of humans I know, Enzo puts forth the theory very early in the book that monkeys are not man’s closest relative, but rather that dogs are, and that, according to a Mongolian legend, a dog who is prepared will be reincarnated into a human. For scientific evidence to his claim, read the book.

Simultaneously humorous and heart-wrenching, tear-jerking and resigned-smile-inducing, The Art of Racing in the Rain will make you laugh and cry within seconds of each other time and again – no exaggeration. The best straight-up fiction novel I’ve read in a long time.

2. The Hero of Ages – Brandon Sanderson

the hero of ages, brandon sandersonGenre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy

Favorite line: “‘I ask of you your lives,’ Elend said, voice echoing, ‘and your courage. I ask of you your faith, and your honor–your strength, and your compassion. For today, I lead you to die. I will not ask you to welcome this event. I will not insult you by calling it well, or just, or even glorious. But I will say this. Each moment you fight is a gift to those in this cavern. Each second we fight is a second longer that thousands of people can draw breath. Each stroke of the sword, each monster felled, each breath earned is a victory! It is a person protected for a moment longer, a life extended, an enemy frustrated!’ There was a brief pause. ‘In the end, they will kill us,’ Elend said, voice loud, ringing in the cavern. ‘But first, they shall fear us!'”

My sincerest apologies for such a long favorite line, but I can’t help but get chills when I think of that scene. The refugees, cowering in dark caverns, awaiting an inevitable slaughter. Their benevolent ruler, giving one of the most amazing Braveheart-esque speeches in modern literature. Sigh . . . ya just can’t beat it.

Brandon Sanderson is a relatively new author to the genre of Sci-Fi/Fantasy, but I have literally no doubt that he will be known as one of the best. This book, The Hero of Ages, served as the climax to the best series of books I’ve ever read in my life. Hands down. Even if you don’t like this genre of fiction, you have to appreciate the absolute genius that is Sanderson’s Mistborn trilogy.

Peppered with enough loss to make the happy ending realistic, The Hero of Ages does not fall short in the realms of suspense, plot, mystery, climax and catharsis. It follows the story of a young man and woman, the former a ruler of a nation, the latter a one-time street rat raised to prestige after she liberated that nation from a tyrannical ruler, as they do their best to solve the riddles put forth by archaic text, settle the political intrigue abound in their nation, and, of course, save the world.

1. Letters to a Young Poet – Rainer Maria Rilke

letters to a young poet, rainer maria rilkeGenre: Non-fiction

Favorite line: “This above all–ask yourself in the stillest hour of the night: must I write?” AND “. . . that something is difficult must be a reason the more for us to do it.”

I read this book in a single sitting just a few weeks ago. I’ve re-read it already. I knew a quarter of the way through that it would take first place on this “Top 10” list. No book has ever had such an immediate profound impact on me as this one. Not even #4 on this list.

Touching upon life themes in a broad range, from love to solitude, sex to irony, loss to art, Letters to a Young Poet is a compilation of 10 letters written between 1903 – 1908 by Rainer Maria Rilke to a young man entering the military, though he would rather write poetry. He starts off asking for criticism from Rilke in regard to poems he sent him. Rilke’s response in the first paragraph of the first letter is this: “I cannot go into the nature of your verses; for all critical intention is too far from me. With nothing can one approach a work of art so little as with critical words: they always come down to more or less happy misunderstandings.”

The letters go on for five years, and while Franz Kappus, the young poet, still sends Rilke some poems, he seems to be more interested in simply interacting with the man than with his criticism. Rilke’s emphasis on criticism is that only you can aptly judge your own works of art, the concept itself being so personal so as that no outward eye can ever truly perceive it how you intended.

I honestly don’t know how best to paraphrase this book as I’ve done with the others. There is no plot. There is no climax. There is no suspense, no thriller, no zombies or murderers, nor damsels or fever pitches. The only way I can truly relay the message of this book to you is through the book itself. So thank you for reading my “Top 10 Books of 2011,” and I’ll leave you with the ineffable wisdom of Rainer Maria Rilke:

“Leave to your opinions their own quiet undisturbed development, which, like all progress, must come from deep within and cannot be pressed or hurried by anything. Everything is gestation and then bringing forth. To let each impression and each germ of a feeling come to completion wholly in itself, in the dark, in the inexpressible, the unconscious, beyond the reach of one’s own intelligence, and await with deep humility and patience the birth-hour of a new clarity: that alone is living the artist’s life: in understanding as in creating.”

“Do not observe yourself too much. Do not draw too hasty conclusions from what happens to you; let it simply happen to you.”

“To love is good, too: love being difficult. For one human being to love another: that is perhaps the most difficult of all our tasks, the ultimate, the last test and proof, the work for which all other work is but preparation.”

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves . . .”

“It is true that many young people who love wrongly, that is, simply with abandon and unsolitarily (the average will of course always go on doing so), feel the oppressiveness of a failure and want to make the situation in which they have landed viable and fruitful in their own personal way . . .”
(next page)
“But if we nevertheless hold out and take this love upon us as burden and apprenticeship, instead of losing ourselves in all the light and frivolous play, behind which people have hidden from the most earnest earnestness of their existence–then a little progress and an alleviation will perhaps be perceptible to those who come long after us; that would be much.”

“Women, in whom life lingers and dwells more immediately, more fruitfully and more confidently, must surely have become fundamentally riper people, more human people, than easygoing man, who is not pulled down below the surface of life by the weight of any fruit of his body, and who, presumptuous and hasty, undervalues what he thinks he loves.”

“. . . that which we call destiny goes forth from within people, not from without into them.”

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be a ‘yes man’

12/16/2011

All too often in life we encounter people who try to crush our dreams. All too often in life we inadvertently crush our own dreams. We do this because we’re afraid. Of failure. Of change. Of embarrassment. Of someone telling us we’re not good enough.

But there comes a time, there comes a place, when this simply will not do. When confronted with a time and a place such as this, it’s time to say “screw it” and start being a ‘Yes Man.’

be contentious

Simply put: there are too many people in the world who don’t follow their dreams. Innumerable excuses exist as to why:

  • It’s too hard – I can’t do it
  • It will take too much time – time that I don’t have
  • There’s too much risk involved – what if I fail?
  • I don’t have the money – it costs too much
  • I make a lot of money – why would I want to leave?
  • I have a family – I have to focus on them
  • I don’t want to fail – people will laugh at me
  • I’m too old – I can’t change now
  • More bullshit
  • Even more bullshit

All of these excuses (because that’s what they are) resonate with the same complacency we see every day. Vacant stares. Going through the motions. Minds everywhere but here.

And yes, people probably will laugh at you when you fail. Not “if” you fail, but “when.” Because understand: You. Will. Fail. Now move on. Because when they laugh at you, when they sling their silent barbs and their mockery, when they tell all their friends you’re no good and everyone wonders why you even tried, you can laugh right back and tell them, “I’m not done. This is but a stepping stone. You are but a stepping stone. And you will watch as I crawl, tooth and nail, above and beyond you, accomplishing my dreams in the face of adversity, in the face of fear, in the face of all those who tell me ‘No’.” (you probably shouldn’t literally say this to them . . . might sound weird)

Embrace this battle. Embrace this discontent. And whatever you do, do not submit. “When you submit in spirit to aggressors or to an unjust and impossible situation, you do not buy yourself any real peace.” (from The 50th Law). Defy them in your own way and you will overcome.

Be contentious about issues like this that matter, issues that concern your dreams and ambitions. And sometimes, for the fun of it, be contentious about issues that don’t matter, simply to stir up some cognitive dissonance within others. Do something because someone says it can’t be done. If they’re smart, maybe you’ll shake them out of their own apathy.

If you don’t believe me, listen to some dead guy: “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

Stephen King was denied publication for his novels 29 times. James Joyce 33. But they fought. They said, “Yes, my work is good.” And they won.

However, in the light of all of the above, please avoid the whirlpool of idiocy this can sometimes generate:

  • Don’t say yes to projects that, in your gut, you know you don’t want to or shouldn’t do
  • If what makes you come alive is chopping down trees, killing puppies, or driving a Hummer that gets 9 miles to the gallon, you may want to rethink what makes you come alive. Others, and the environment, cannot be ignored
  • Don’t do something simply to get a rise out of someone. Have a reason. An excess of heated emotion does not a good compatriot make

be content

Throughout all this, we must feel the discontent brewing within us. Feel the dissatisfaction with the status quo, with the relative comfort in which we find ourselves when we work jobs we hate for that biweekly paycheck so we can buy shit we don’t need. “People who cannot suffer can never grow up, can never discover who they are. . .” (again, The 50th Law)

And through all this, be content.

Feel the emotions rock and roil, embrace the anger at the crusher of dreams, feel your adrenaline pump, the creativity arise, the fluidity flow, and channel that into positive energy. Channel that energy into your passion, into your daily life.

And through all this, be content.

Understand, though, that we can’t win all the time. Someone’s “no” will overpower our “yes.” We will question others so completely that we will get lost in the argument with little hope of resurfacing.

And through all this, be content.

so the next time

The next time a boss or coworker tells you that you can’t do something, say “Yes I can.”

The next time someone tells you that you aren’t capable of following your dreams, say “Yes I am.”

So fight the dream crushers. Fight the sardonic. Fight those too afraid to pursue their dreams so they make it their mission to squash yours under their hypocritical heel. They will say no. And you will look them in the eye, contentment pasted upon your brow, and say yes.

See: “Be a No Man”

be a ‘no man’

12/14/2011

All too often in life we encounter people who ride the wave of popular opinion. All too often in life we ourselves ride that wave. We do this because we don’t want to shake things up. We don’t want to piss someone off. We are comfortable with the status quo and aren’t in the mood for challenging ourselves or others.

But there comes a time, there comes a place, when this simply will not do. When confronted with a time and a place such as this, it’s time to say “screw it” and start being a ‘No Man.’

be contentious

I have few friends who agree with me on many things. In that same light I refuse to date a girl who won’t test me. And I prefer it that way. If all my friends agreed with me on everything, life would pose no challenge. Debate would hold no merit, as it would be nonexistent. Now that’s not to say they can’t be brought around to my point of view, or I to theirs (we should all be open-minded enough to allow our opinions to be swayed time and again), but sometimes we must argue simply for the sake of arguing. Here’s why:

We cannot advance ourselves without discontent. Without dissatisfaction. Without confrontation. Many people shy away from confrontation because it scares them, but it should be wholeheartedly embraced. The disillusioned hold the key to societal progression. Oscar Wilde said, “The world belongs to the discontented.” I agree with the intent of that saying, and I admire the concept of the Occupy movement for this reason alone. They are flipping the metaphorical, and sometimes physical, finger to the establishment. It takes balls (and some free time) to be able to do that.

Be contentious about issues like this that matter. And sometimes, for the fun of it, be contentious about issues that don’t, simply to stir up some cognitive dissonance within yourself. You may find that you question things more than you originally thought you did, an unwitting gift in the form of confusion. This is not a curse, but a blessing. If you don’t believe me, listen to some dead guy: “The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser people so full of doubts.”

However, in light of all of the above, please avoid the whirlpool of idiocy this can oft-times generate:

  • Don’t argue about things you know nothing about
  • Understand that things you know something about via personal experience, you may have no knowledge of in abstract form, or vice versa (i.e. I feel better when I don’t eat carbs means carbs are bad for me)
  • If the other person is getting too heated, sometimes it’s better to just drop the issue. An excess of emotion does not a good argument make

Now if only my sober self could tell this to my 10-beer-deep self.

be content

Throughout all this, we must feel the discontentment brewing within us. We must feel the defiance, and the freedom that this brings. Stop saying yes all the time, stop agreeing with everyone, stop riding the wave of popular opinion. Stop being a paper sailboat drifting along in the gutter until the only thing that awaits you is the gaping darkness of the storm drain. Stop being a fucking pussy.

And through all this, be content.

We will lose arguments. Our reasoning will not prove sound. Our level of knowledge will not be sufficient. Someone’s “yes” will overpower our “no.” We will question ourselves so completely that we will get lost in the argument with little of hope of resurfacing.

And through all this, be content.

Life is mysterious. Life is nebulous. Life is immeasurable. Understand this. And when intellectual understanding is attained, realize it. Internalize it. It’s not all rainbows and kittens, but it’s also not all blood, sweat and tears. Life is imperfect at best. And in this imperfection, it is perfect.

so the next time

The next time a boss or coworker tells you to do something you disagree with, say no.

The next time someone says something so ridiculous you want to punch them right in the suckhole, say no.

The next time someone does something you deem immoral, say no.

And through everything, be content.

motivational mondays – word choice

12/05/2011

“What do you want to be when you grow up?” is a good question for a child. We all have wants, we all have desires, and as children there is a myriad of desirable professions and occupations that run through our heads. Personally, I wanted to be a police officer, an architect, a history teacher, and play second base for the Cleveland Indians.

As a child, what was your answer to this question? Did you want to be the first astronaut to Mars? A special education teacher? An Olympic swimmer? Once you’ve remembered what your answer to that question was, answer this one:

“What will you be when you grow up?”

Does the answer change? If so, why? If your answer doesn’t change, stop reading this post.

the power of word choice

Back in June, I quit my 9-5 white-collar job to pursue a career as a full-time writer. Five months later, I’m writing literally thousands of words each day with the intent of publishing soon and it’s more thrilling than I ever believed possible. Back in May . . . hell, since the seventh grade, I would tell people “I want to be a writer.”

That word choice is no longer acceptable. Six months since May, I now tell people “I will be a writer.”

A powerful difference there.

The profundity of a single simple word should not go unnoticed or under-appreciated. Think of the best speeches you’ve ever heard. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s I Have a Dream speech. The simplicity of Steve Jobs’ Stanford Commencement Speech.  One meant for 21-year-old college grads, the loftier one for a discordant nation. Both knew their audience. Both chose their words based on that audience. Both are brilliant.

lofty to mundane

Speeches are easy to refer to in regard to word choice, but what about our daily interactions? Conversations we have every single day that we brush off as inconsequential.

They’re not.

Think about something as simple as a coworker asking you how your weekend was. Do you just say, “Good, how was yours?” Think about the difference when compared to this: “It was actually a really fun weekend!” Nothing groundbreaking, but a marked improvement. The latter depicts sincerity, like you’ve lent thought to the response and aren’t a blasted robot. That something this weekend was different. People recognize sincerity in conversation. They appreciate it. And they want to know more.

Straight up, when I worked in an office my response to that weekly question was nearly always “Good, how was yours?” I wanted to be noncommittal. I’m not very comfortable talking about myself to coworkers unless I’m good friends with them. But when looking back on it, think of how much I missed out on, how many positive relationships didn’t burgeon because of my lackluster? Even if it’s someone you don’t necessarily care to buddy up with, you never know how you can help each other out or what you may have in common. The least likely people, I’ve found, can push your life in a whole new direction you never thought possible.

honne vs. tatemae

Recognizing your choice of words is a mindset, an adjustment of your mental attitude. To elucidate, let’s refer to the Japanese.

A central theme to Japanese culture is the concept of honne vs. tatemae. Honne represents our deepest desires, those things we keep hidden except from our closest family and friends, and maybe even from them. Tatemae literally translates to facade, and refers to how you act in public in accordance with society.

This cuts to the core of how people change. Japanese culture leans toward the belief that to change, to truly change, you must first alter your actions (tatemae) and then your honne will change as a result (your inner feelings, desires, motivations, etc.). Western culture tends to believe exactly the opposite, with degrees of variation based on personal beliefs.

But this concept of word choice I’m discussing caters directly to the Japanese version of social constructs. In July, instead of saying “if I get published” I started saying “when I get published.” Instead of saying “I hope I can get a couple chapters done this weekend” I say “I’m gonna get shit DONE this weekend!” It’s vocal, it’s seen and it’s heard, and it’s motivating. And the best part? Now I do it.

moving forward

One of the rules of writing and speaking is this: to depict absolute truth, render it in the shortest possible sentence.

Use this mentality to improve yourself, either as a professional, within relationships, or simply as a human being. It’s time for us to think critically about how we present ourselves through our careful choice of words. It’s a conscious effort and it’s not easy – I can tell you that from personal and observed experiences – but it is very worth it. Simply the sense of confidence it lends is astounding, both with just evaluating the words you use to describe yourself or your actions and the motivating factor of saying something akin to: “I will be a writer.”

And better yet: “I am a writer.”

the nicaraguan chronicles – part 9

12/01/2011

I sit here writing this in the wind tunnel that is our hostel’s common area, listening to the seemingly endless pattering of rain drops sound their reveille in the courtyard. At peace, content with the time I’ve spent in this country and ready for the next step.

Because in 48 hours I’ll be back in a restaurant kitchen, listening not to the sounds of Nicaraguan rain but rather to the sounds of ticket orders printing, microwaves beeping, chicken sizzling on the grill and my boss telling me what he thinks I forgot to do.

So, in light of all I have to look forward to, I’m soaking up what I can now, making each second last a lifetime and each minute an eternity.

the nicaraguan chronicles – part 9
the final day

We stayed in Leon for a couple hours, taking care of last-minute items, closing our tabs and grabbing breakfast. Storing things in my pack proved interesting this time around because now I had three two-and-a-half-foot-long machetes to pack (read: “hide”).

We eventually headed to the cab that took us to the bus stop that took us to Managua, where we grabbed another cab that took us to the Peace Corps HQ for Nicaragua. Suddenly having access to a computer for each of us individually, we did the first thing any 20-something would do after being disconnected for so long: we logged onto Facebook.

back to civilization

For the first time in nine days, we checked in at a hotel instead of a hostel. We reeked of must and mold, and me, A and C wanted nothing more than a hot shower and to feel clean for the first time in the trip. And OH, t’was a glorious shower! I cannot emphasize to you enough how amazing it felt to feel the hot water, the steam, cleansing me of my nastiness. I cleaned off with a dry towel then went to put on my clothes . . . my clothes that still stubbornly maintained the lingering scent of mold. But, they were the cleanest ones I had, so I threw them on with vigor and went to lay down in my bed for a quick nap before dinner.

One thing you should know about me: I hate television. I believe it to be a tool of the devil to lull us into mindlessness and turn our brains to mush. We’re not challenged when we watch TV. We’re rarely stimulated. And we just sit . . . for hours. Wheel of Fortune, then Jeopardy, then Survivor, then Glee, then Real Housewives of Orange County (that last one which, by the way, makes me hate people), then whatever other crap show we watch. I prefer Family Guy :). When I lived with one other person we had no cable, and it was amazing. It’s so much easier to communicate without disassociated voices and a constant buzz in the background.

So after the shower when I laid down to catch some z’s and re-energize, I failed to do either, attributed to the fact that we had a TV in the room and one of the greatest shows of all time was on: Dawson’s Creek.

I honestly debated shooting myself in the face.

We spent our last night in Nicaragua experiencing a very different part of the country. Shopping malls, hotels, a food court and a movie theater – it felt like a totally different country. To pass the time we watched a movie in said theater called Friends with Benefits. If you haven’t seen it, just so you’re prepared, you get a lot of butt-shots, side-boob shots of Mila Kunis and angled views of Justin Timberlake’s six-pack. I couldn’t help but laugh at the reactions of the Nicaraguan crowd around us. They laughed without reservation, and literally ooo’d and ahhh’d when they got one of the above-mentioned shots. Picture a laugh track on a sitcom where the protagonist challenges someone else, using an incredibly cheesy one-liner, and the laugh track goes “ohhhhhhhHHHHHHH” in a rising crescendo. This happened without the assistance of that laugh track. Hy-sterical. That was one of the coolest experiences, only because it was unbridled reaction without concern for judgment or opinion. I always worry when I go to a movie on a first date and I laugh WAY more than my date does, so I felt very at home here!

(Aside: This movie was actually really funny. An appearance by Woody Harrelson as a gay co-worker and JT’s fear of heights pretty much made the movie.)

After a final round of euchre back at the hotel to decide the week’s champion team (A and M won . . . bastards), we called it a night and set our alarms to catch our 7:15 flight the next morning. Our experience was over and it was time to go back to our respective lives in the States. A and C went back to New York and I ventured back to Cleveland. After 20 hours of travel time that included cab > plane > layover > plane > train > train > car, I walked into my house at 5 a.m. and set my alarm for 10, ready to head back to work at 11 and settle back down to my life.

conclusion to the nicaraguan chronicles

I hope you all enjoyed The Nicaraguan Chronicles! I had so much fun writing these, and they were definitely a challenge at times, but one I welcomed with arms wider than the Alton Giant.

I apologize if you were hoping for more excitement or drama or a climactic conclusion where I vanquished evil and stood upon its corpse in a Captain Morgan pose. Unfortunately I found no evil to vanquish, no damsels in distress to defend, and no bad guys to exchange one-liners with when I killed them. If I had, I probably would have said something like, “Let off some steam, Roberto,” after I threw a pipe through his chest . . . a chest that for some reason is covered in chain mail. Who wears chain mail in this day and age?! Honestly!

I had someone ask me the other day, “Where’s the fights? Where’s the drama? Where’s the sex?” And to that I simply say, “My parents read this blog.”