Thursday, November 27, 2008

Saying Thanks

This Thanksgiving, reminds us that it's easy and free to send a thank you card to a soldier.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Dave Barry's Annual Gift Guide: 2008

Dave Barry helps you find that gift you'd have never thought of on your own.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Disney's New Design for California Adventure

Okay, full disclosure. I've never been to California Adventure.

But I haven't heard wonderful things about it. Some of the rides are apparently really good, but the park itself--well, people felt it was missing something. Roy Disney seemed really down on it, and that's enough for me.

So now, Disney has unveiled its plan for how to fix the park.

Here's their diagnosis and their treatment of the problem:

Basically, they feel the problem is that, when they go into the park, visitors don't feel "transported." It just kind of feels like any other theme park.

I can dig that. There really is a cool feeling you get when you walk through those little arcs under the train between the ticket takers and Main Street. You know the ones--they've got that plaque over them.

So their solution:

The sweeping overhaul will transport visitors to the California of the 1920s, when Walt Disney first arrived in Hollywood. In the same way that Disneyland's Main Street evokes Disney's hometown of Marceline, Mo., a refocused California Adventure will follow the young animator's journey to Los Angeles.

Makes sense to me. It has built in nostalgia and timelessness and a stronger Disney connection.

The price tag? $1 billion--the same price they paid to build the park in the first place.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

New Weird Al Song "Whatever You Like" on iTunes

Pretty much what the title said.

The new Weird Al Yankovic single is out on iTunes.

It's called "Whatever You Like," and it's a parody of a song called "Whatever You Like." by T.I.

Yeah, I've never heard of it either. Man, I'm getting old.

Anyways, the new song is on iTunes here: "Weird Al" Yankovic - Whatever You Like - Single - Whatever You Like

And if you're interested, the song he's doing the parody of is on iTunes here:T.I. - Paper Trail - Whatever You Like

(Like I said, haven't heard the song, but fair warning: The T.I. album's got an explicit lyrics warning on it.)

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Food From The Hood: Salad Dressing that Does Something

Back when I was going to school at Cal Poly Pomona for my degree in Business Management, one of my instructors introduced me to a little company he served as an advisor to.

Food From the Hood.

Food From the Hood was started back in 1992 when some teachers and students at Crenshaw High School ripped out some of the weeds on the campus and started planting a garden. The business and science teachers thought it would be a good educational project, and the students started selling their harvest at the farmer's market. Half the net was to go to scholarships for the participating students.

Soon, they expanded their business to salad dressing. They started with just the "Straight Out' the Garden" Creamy Italian Dressing, but have since expanded to several other varieties, including Ranch and Honey Mustard.

Even though they've expanded, they haven't lost their essence--a student-run company that provides business experience and scholarships for students.

From their website:

To date, Food From the 'Hood has awarded over $140,000 in college scholarships to the student-managers. 77 program graduates have attended two-year or four-year colleges or technical schools. Student Managers have been accepted to colleges and universities throughout the nation including Cal State L.A, University of the Pacific, Pitzer College, Concordia University, Babson College, Howard University, San Diego State, Tuskegee Institute, Morehouse, Stanford, University of California at Berkeley, Cal Poly Pomona, Clark-Atlanta, University of North California, USC, Chapman University, and much more. 20 program graduates receives their college degree in 2000, with 5 of them entering postgraduate programs.

You can get Food From the Hood at most major grocery stores, or order it in three packs, six packs, or twelve packs from amazon by clicking on the dohickey up there.

And incidentally, don't let the low ratings on Amazon fool you into thinking this stuff tastes bad. If you click over and read the reviews that led to those ratings, you'll see they range from service issues (one guy didn't get his order from Amazon, so he rated the product low) to political issues (one guy thinks it's racist that this product helps black kids).

Monday, August 25, 2008

Happy Birthday Ray Bradbury

Just a couple short weeks after 08-08-08, science fiction writer Ray Bradbury is turning 88. SF signal is celebrating by posting an old commercial featuring Bradbury.

Oh, to have lived in a world where TV would feature commercials with science fiction writers.

I can see it now. James Patrick Kelley for PetCo! Robin Hobb for Carnival Cruises! William Gibson for Ray-Bans!

Happy birthday, Ray.

Here are the other posts where I've mentioned him (including the story about the time I met him).

Friday, August 15, 2008

Orson Scott Card's Bootcamp -- The Rest Of The Week and Beyond.

I've had a couple people ask about the rest of Orson Scott Card's Boot Camp, as well as for my overall impressions of the experience.

We ended up doing my story the next morning, as I said in that last post. I now have blurbs for the cover of my next book. Stuff like this:

"I don't know if you know how to develop a character."
-- Orson Scott Card

Or maybe

"I'm not really sure if you know how to write a scene."
-- Orson Scott Card

Bestseller list, here I come!

No, seriously, it wasn't as bad as that makes it sound.

Let me kind of lay the scene out for you:

The way the workshop worked was this: We all sat around one big table. Once we knew whose story was next, the person sitting next to them would start, and we would go around the table, one person at a time. We weren't supposed to repeat anything anybody before us said, and Card didn't say anything until everybody was done.

Well, on mine, the young lady sitting next to me started, and this time, Card did interrupt her. (To the best of my recollection, he hadn't done that with anybody before. At least, not to the length that he did it with my story.)

And basically what he said was this: "Just to be clear, and so we don't have to dance around this, let me just say what all of you probably have written, in one form or another, in your own comments, but didn't quite nail down. What Erik wrote isn't a short story, it's the outline of a novel. And not just a regular novel--it's a big, sprawling, epic fantasy novel. That's the first book in a series."

So I ended up getting 16 wonderful critiques of how to turn my little hurried short story into a wonderful epic fantasy novel.

And one that I think would be a whole lot of fun to write.

So the above comments from Card were in that context--my story was rushed and hyper-condensed. But, as he correctly pointed out, at the time when I wrote the thing, I thought I was writing a short story, and the story as it stood showed little understanding of scene structure or character development. It felt more like a "told" story.

I did actually get a few compliments on the whole thing, my favorite being OSC's comment that I wrote smart people's dialogue pretty well. I believe his comment was that I was pretty good at "faking smart."

At the end, everybody gave me their marked-up copies of my story. So I now have a ton of working notes and an outline for a novel that could be really, really good.

Now let me tell you--that story was a huge source of stress for me for weeks before that camp began.

After I wrote my post about whether or not to go to boot camp, I started trying to write a story, just so that I could say I finished one before boot camp. Not having finished a story in a year and a half was like a huge anchor around my neck, and finishing a story before I went would have taken the added stress of that anchor away.

But I couldn't do it. The story sat unfinished, nothing but one scene and one flashback written before I left.

So I started writing that story on Wednesday with the anchor still firmly around my neck.

Add to that some personal issues that meant that I spent the whole of Wednesday morning on the phone with my wife and my work's corporate office trying to get some things taken care of--it was crazy.

But I did it. I finished the story and I got it in. I dug my way out from under the anchor.

Aside from getting the anchor off my back, boot camp did two other things for me.

The first was to stop putting so much faith in the text. As Card said in one way or another over and over throughout the week, the text is not the story. The text is completely expendable. If a draft isn't working, figure out why and then toss it. Write the first 10 pages ten times until you've found the way in that's working for you. Stop thinking that there's anything sacrosanct about the words you've written so far--if you toss them out and start over, your new words will be better. Both because you're a better writer now, as well as because writing that last draft helped you understand the story better.

So after I got home, I tried it. I thought of an old story of mine, and I wrote a half dozen openings for it, just for fun. And sure enough, I loved about half of them.

Seriously, I've learned for myself that it's true: The text doesn't matter. Don't be afraid to write, because if it doesn't work, you can just start over.

As for the second thing: By reading a bazillion short stories written by people who had been both as passionate and as rushed in writing their stories as I was, I learned a ton about how to read a short story looking for how to make it better. And I feel secure I can do the same thing with my own stories far more easily than I used to be able to.

The mistake I used to make was that I thought I could fix my story, make it more saleable, by grabbing my copy of Self Editing For Fiction Writers, and judiciously hacking away at adverbs and passive sentences.

But the truth is, the real facts about what makes us love stories aren't about any of that. They're about getting to know characters we care about, and about fine stories plainly told. The depth of a tale, the seriousness with which the reader takes your story, is not be created in fiddling around with the minutia of a draft. It's in fully mining the depth of a character, the depth of an idea, in the creation phase of the story. Of finding the interesting and exciting and fun and fascinating possibilities of who the person is and what is happening to them. And in science fiction and fantasy, where it's happening.

And it's so obvious, in retrospect. Seriously, I never ran to my friends and said, "You've got to read this latest James Patrick Kelly story. He is so good at not using adverbs." Loving a story came from somewhere else.

It's in the people, it's in the places, it's in the story.

I'm really glad I went to this. I'm glad for the perspective I got. I'm glad for the friends I made. I'm glad for the stories I got to read. I'm glad for the insights I got.

And seriously, I'm really glad for the group I was with. They were a really fine bunch of people, and I wouldn't have given up a one of them. I fully expect to see a bunch these people making it to the next level, and I look forward to struggling to keep up with them.

So the next step--the surprising next step--is that from here it's not so much about writing as it's about story creation. Really spending enough time coming up with the people, places, and conflicts, that when I get to the story, I'm ready, able, and excited to write it. And then, in the writing of it, finding even more exciting things along the way.

Gonna be a fun ride.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Boot Camp Day 4

Last night, when I was talking to my wife, I couldn't believe that it had only been one day of reading stories.

The stories I read yesterday morning feel like an eternity ago.

And the critiques have been amazing. Not just from Orson Scott Card, but from everybody.

I hadn't expected everything everybody said to be useful. But as we went around the room, I felt like everything everybody had to say about everybody's story was exactly right.

For those who don't know, OSC's workshop doesn't work like most. The other participants don't offer advice, they don't say stuff like "cut out all this description here."

Instead, they just report on their experience reading the story. "I was really intersted in this character." "I didn't like this guy, but I felt like you wanted me to like him." "I couldn't understand why this girl did X." That kind of thing.

Instead of telling you what you should do, they tell you what you've done.

And that can't be argued with. What, are you going to accuse them of lying about what they felt?

That doesn't mean it's easy to take. I'm about to find out, at any rate--my story is up first this morning.

But I think I'm excited. I'm so glad I didn't go first yesterday. Now that I've heard them all discuss other stories, I know I can absolutely trust these people. I've seen that they're not mean-spirited, they're not out to make anybody look bad. They're just honest. And so no matter what I might feel, I know whatever they tell me about my story will be true.

The variety of the stories they wrote and the insights they give into stories is great. I'm really lucky to have this group.

And of course, Scott Card is amazingly insightful and does offer suggestions, so this is going to be invaluable.

Wish me luck.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Boot Camp -- Day 3

Well, yesterday was the first day that I actually thought I was going to die.

But that was because it was the day that I spent all alone in a hotel room trying to write an entire story.

It's finished now. It feels like a good story weakly told.

But part of the point is that it's worthless to go in and edit for language when somebody may say something about an event on page 4 that would make everything after that worthless. So you don't "polish" the story when you're still getting straight the "story" part of it, the who did what and why.

And in this story, with the exception of a couple of weak spots, I kind of like my who did what and why.

But I'm really excited about how much better than this it will get when people smarter than me get the story in their hands.

I'll tell you--getting it down was sure hard. Wow.

Since that's the first story I've finished since "Fifteen Minutes," I actually feel like a huge monkey has been shaken off my back. I woke up this morning feeling more relaxed than I have in months.

So, onwards and upwards. Time for the critiques to start. I have to be ready to discuss the first two stories by 10am.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Boot Camp Day 2

Well, day 2 of Boot Camp with Orson Scott Card was also great.

Today we DID do the story openings, and he DID get to mine and I DID make the same mistakes as everybody else.

The main mistake comes down to this:

As fast as you can in your story opening, have something happening, and have it be clear what is happening.

Don't do anything coy, like not name a character (calling him "he" or "she") or doing some weird thing with no explanation of why people are doing the wierd thing.

The example he used was a car chase--imagine a car chase at the start of a movie. Two cars chasing each other around for 5 minutes. It would be boring.

It's only in the middle of the movie, when you know who is in the cars, that the car chase is interesting. The suspense does not come from asking, "Who is in those cars?" The suspense comes from wondering, "Will the car chase come out the way I want it to?" Do I want the guy in front to get away? Do I want the guy in back to catch the guy?

If you don't understand, you don't care.

So no vauge openings where you see a strange scene the reader doesn't understand, be it a place or an event or an act--the less clear it is what is happpening, the less engaged the reader will be.

Nearly every manuscript opening had some variation of this problem.

Then we reviewed the cards we all wrote for homework last night with complete story ideas. It was amazing. The process he was trying to teach us--the idea that we need to be open to the fact that there are a billion ways to write each story, and how to spot the holes in a story--was so easy with other people's ideas that it seems bizzare how hard it is with your own ideas. But doing it with other people's stuff is great practice and great fun. I honestly now want to write some version of every story my group talked about today (not saying I will . . .).

We also did another 1000 ideas an hour session on the price of magic. And the implications of the price of your magic. And how to find a character with that. And how to make that into a story.

Now is dinner, and then the Q & A on the business of writing. Then--

Well, then I have to write a story. By 10:00 am on Thursday morning. Done, ready to be photocopied by 10:00am Thursday morning.


Wish me luck.

You may not hear from me for a while.

Monday, July 28, 2008


Wow. I'd forgotten how much I love to research.

Did you know that the huge effort to get all the troops home after World Ward II had a code name? It was called "Operation Magic Carpet." That is such a great name.

Did you know that Canada had a code name for the project to get all the European war brides to their Canadian husbands? They called it "Operation Daddy."

Getting war brides over to the US and Canada from Europe was a huge deal, and Britan even comissioned the Queen Mary for it in 1946--salons and such on the giant cruise ship were changed into impromptu nurseries and materity wards for the trips.

In fact, the fastest ever crossing of the Atlantic the Queen Mary ever accomplished was when it was filled with moms to be, moms who had just delivered, and babies.

Read into that speed record what you will.

Day One Of Orson Scott Card's Boot Camp

Well, Day one is down.

We didn't get to the story intros, or to the other part I've been really looking forward to--the "1000 ideas an hour" session on the rules for magic. That would have helped with tonight's story assignment: Write 5 complete outlines for stories in about 300 words. (Each has to fit on the front and back of an index card.)

He gave us specific assignments for how to get the ideas--some had to be from observation, just from walking around, some had to be from research, and one had to be from an interview with a stranger.

We were paired up for safety's sake, and my partner and I interviewed a man with some fascinating stories, and a man with a fascinating personality, so that went well. I'll probably end up using ideas from both interviews somewhere in the five stories.

Oh! Almost forgot. After lunch we came back and read the stuff we wrote during break, and he called me up first. I ended up getting complimented on handling point of view flawlessly, which made me feel pretty good, but then every single person he called on handled point of view flawlessly, and it was like every person's sample just got better and better. I'm in a really smart class of people, looks like, which is fun.

From there, we talked about story structure until 5, when he turned us loose to go do our homework and have dinner.

I still have to do the research portion of the homework assignment, grab some dinner, and then figure out five whole stories so I think that's it for tonight. Hopefully I'll sneak over and blog some more tomorrow.

PS Hey Marci, thanks for the comment. You're a sweetheart. For those who don't know, Marci and the girls went to a ton of trouble to make this week special for me, including wrapping a present, complete with a separate card, for me to open each day of the six days I'm here.

I have the greatest wife and kids in the world.

Marci, I love you. Seriously.

Mia and Emma--I love both of you, too.


Well, on lunch break now, with homework, but I finished it early.

Session started out with us creating a character (a 60 year old woman) and then creating story possibilities by asking lots of "why" "how" and "what result" questions about things.

This led into a discussion about "causality" and how to create, craft, and revise stories based on who did what, why, and what it made happen.

After that, lots of talk about viewpoint and character.

Homework was two parts, one part being to write a little anecdote in 3rd person limited veiwpoint, and the other being to read the story samples of all the bootcampers (including my own), thinking about what we expect the rest of the story to be like.

More to come . . .

T Minus 90 Minutes to Boot Camp

Well, 90 minutes from now, I'll be starting Orson Scott Card's Writers Class and Literary Boot Camp.

I have no idea whether I'll be able to drop in little notes like this every day--we'll see how it goes.

In the meantime, you can be sure that I'm having a good time.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Obscure Movie Review of the Day: King Of Kong: A Fistful Of Quarters

What if I told you my favorite movie I saw this year was a documentary?

What if I told you it was about people playing video games?

What if I told you that it had just as many plot twists, just as much intrigue, just as much deception and mysteries as your typical Hollywood blockbuster, if not more?

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters.

As you can see from the trailer, King of Kong is about two Donkey Kong players. One has always been a star. Billy set the Donkey Kong record while at a Time Magazine photo shoot for video gamers--he was there for beating a different game, but beat the Donkey Kong score during a break between picture sessions.

Steve is a schoolteacher who plays Donkey Kong in his spare time in a desperate attempt to finally become the best at something. He's had nothing but bad breaks. As a high school pitcher, he lost "the big game." That sort of thing. He plays Donkey Kong in his garage every night after the kids go to bed.

Like all documentaries, the facts of this one have been disputed by lots of the parties involved since its release, but after seeing this video that won't surprise you, in part because of the emotions and egos involved, and in part because this truly is a near-perfect story.

I get almost giddy when I describe this movie to people. It's that good.

Do yourself a favor. Forget about whatever I Still Know What You Did Four Summers Ago Last August movie you were going to rent, and get this. See if you don't care about video games.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Go To Bootcamp?

Once upon a time, I was a science fiction writer.

Okay, maybe that's a bit of an exaggeration. I wrote science fiction. I was even published. Here's a link to the Locus Magazine Index of Science Fiction entry for me. I even won an honorable mention in the Writers of the Future contest.

And then, my sweet, dear, kind wife gave up a bunch of money so I could go to a writing class with New York Times bestselling author Dave Wolverton. You might know him as David Farland, author of The Runelords series. It was a great workshop, very educational, and very magnanimous of my wife to get me there. There are times when, in my self-deception and near-sighted frustration at the fact my writing never really took me anywhere that I want to blame my wife for being unsupportive. Such is near-sighted and unappreciative. She's been patient and amazing.

So I went to this great workshop with Wolverton, who worked together with me on an outline for a story, helping me flesh out a fully realized world, and a fully realized story. It was everything a guy could ask for. It was an amazing thing I'd been handed.

And I blew it. I choked. I never finished the story. In fact, I never, ever finished another story after that. I haven't even tried to write fiction since.

The first time I remember genuinely getting a reaction from an audience to one of my stories was in fifth grade. I wrote a series of stories featuring kids in my class, and when I read them aloud, the other kids loved them. I loved that they loved it.

I kept writing in sixth grade. To say it was derivative would be an understatement--I literally wrote only using existing characters. Sledge Hammer, Thundercats--I was basically writing fan fiction and turning it in for credit.

The big transition came in Junior High, where I actually wrote a story using an original character. It was a hybrid of a bunch of stuff I read in comic books--my love of Snake-Eyes and the Joker were apparent in my main character of a psychotic ninja who roamed around the country breaking in and out of asylums as the mood struck him. I don't know if it was characterization or my copy-cat roots that made me decide to have him quote movie lines as much as possible--that was the way I talked, so I certainly thought it made for interesting dialogue, and couldn't possibly be a creative crutch.

By the time I was in high school, I was already collecting rejection letters from Sci-fi magazines. First Analog, then Asimov's--but the stories were slowly becoming more and more mine.

One of my favorites was about two guys who were receiving government funding to study alien abductions. In order to maintain their funding, they fake abductions using rubber masks with voice boxes and a helicopter souped up with lights and spaceship sounds. One of them decides they can get more attention if they give somebody symptoms of a disease that's becoming wide-spread, and then make it look like the aliens cure them.

Except the biologist they let in on their little charade double-crosses them. It turns out she thinks she may have found a cure for the disease, but she needs somebody to test it on, since she's no longer licensed to do human trials. She decides these two guys who are lying about their alien cover-up are the perfect patsies. She gives them the real virus and her "cure."

One of the guys--the one who's not as keen on the plan--decides to test it out on himself before he gives it to some innocent person. He takes way too much of the virus, and realizes by morning that the symptoms aren't fake--he knows he's got the disease, and he pretty quickly realizes the "antidote" doesn't help.

In a scene I still love, he puts on one of the fake alien masks and drives in his convertible to the campus they work at to confront him about the whole scam, about what hypocrites they are. They got into this field to prove aliens really existed, and in their zealosy to further their work, they had turned into the very types of frauds they had despised for discrediting the field back when they'd been young and idealistic, full of innocence and nobility of purpose.

That scene resonated with me as I wrote it, and it still resonates with me now.

Don't get me wrong--the story was terrible. In my youthful ignorance, I actually had the guy "preparing" what would turn out to be a virus in a pot on his gas stove at home, as directed by the biologist. I guess I figured that was the closest thing he would have to the bunson burners I "knew" real scientists used.

But the story itself came from everything about who I was at the time--my love for James Randi and debunking fakes and conspiracies, my love for science fiction, and my own youthful belief in idealism and doing what you knew was right, even if it meant self-sacrifice.

And that alien mask on that guy while he argued about what hypocrites they'd become--that was powerful to me.

By the time I'm in college, my writing is coming along, and I get that story published I link to above. I first share it in a science fiction writing class, and the reaction of my classmates is much the same as the reaction I received all those years ago in that fifth grade class room. The story is published, and I feel like things have come full circle. My career is about to begin.

Well, years go by. I get married. I start a family. Things happen, and eventually I have responsibilities that drain me, leave me too tired to write most of the time.

I still write, here and there. And I get encouraging letters, here and there. I send out stories, but get back encouraging rejections. I join writers groups, and get back strong praise in them as well, but I can't seem to close the gap.

It's encouraging and discouraging all at once. Rather than writing new stories, I start spending way too much time going back and revising and rewriting old ones. My output slows as I try to punch up the old stories--add new plots, trim away excess words.

This is when my wife makes the way for me to go to Dave Wolverton's writing workshop.

He does a fantastic job, and lays it all out. In a way I've never understood before, I see writing as the wonderful mix of art and technique and originality and interaction and wonder and mystery and openness and plainness that it is.

I choke. In the middle of all of it, I choke. And somewhere along the line, I decide I'm going to give up writing. "For a while," I tell myself. "Until I get everything else sorted out."

I don't write anything for years. I barely even think about writing.

And then Scott Card decides to have his annual literary Boot Camp in San Diego this year. Just a hop, skip, and a jump away.

And then the President decides to send me a check that makes paying for boot camp not seem like such a leap.

Back when I was writing, I wanted to go to the Boot Camp every year. But for the last few years, it hasn't even been an issue. I haven't given it much beyond a second thought.

But this year it was different. This year, I couldn't help but feel like I should go.

Why? Was it just the close proximity? Was it the money? I hadn't written in ages. What made it different?

At one point, I had decided that nothing was different. I had decided not to go.

But three things changed my mind.

The first was a talk that J.J. Abrams gave at TED. My father introduced me to TED, and sends me links to good talks every once in a while. After checking out a They Might Be Giants show he emailed me about, I saw a link to a J.J. Abrams bit, and decided to check it out. Here it is: (Strong Language Advisory)

In the video, he talks about a mystery box that he got at a magic store when he was a kid, and that he has never opened. The mystery box, to him, represents infinite possibility. So long as it remains unopened, it could be anything in there. He talks about his love for the mystery box.

I completely understand. This guy's speaking my language. His explanation of how cool the unopened mystery box is completely resonates with me.

But I have this other epiphany that probably only me and my wife can really appreciate--that I'm treating my life like he's treating that mystery box.

I'm a big fan of choices. My wife knows that I like to leave as many options open as possible for as long as possible, because I don't like the idea that when the time comes that one particular option becomes clearly preferable, or when a new and altogether better option presents itself, I haven't blown it by selecting a lesser option and sealing off passage to all others.

I've done this with my life. I've left my potential sitting unopened because I'm so enamored of what might be inside and don't want to spoil the picture of what it could be.

But the problem is, life doesn't sit patiently waiting the way the box does. Every morning, a new day gets opened up, and what's inside is not a factor of wishing or dreaming or hoping. It's a matter of doing, and if you spend every day just "getting by," comforting yourself with the hope that tomorrow's mystery box holds something exciting, chances are your days will begin to become remarkably similar to one another.

So his speech simultaneously intrigues me, with its discussion of infinite creative possibilities, as well as chastises me, as I realize that while leaving boxes of magic tricks unopened is a fun and intriguing game, leaving your own life unrealized is a tragedy.

The second thing that changes my mind is a talk by Michal Ballam called "The Creativity Factor. You can listen to it in Real Audio or Windows Media online, although the quality isn't great.

But the talk is about the importance of creativity in the lives of the young, and creativity in the lives of all of us. He talks about how one group of students from one class was encouraged in their creativity by a teacher who wanted to develop the potential in each of them, to let them be true to who they were, instead of focusing on what they couldn't do. And the miraculous way that, as the students developed the talents they were good at, the combination of confidence and trust they built in themselves made other things seem to come easier.

The final thing was not something I read or saw recently, but rather something that's occurred to me as I've pondered why I got so frustrated with writing and why I stopped.

I've blogged before about the book Bonds That Make Us Free.

In that book, C Terry Warner talks about being true to who we really are.

He talks about when he was studying the arts.

One evening when I was nineteen, I was walking along upper Broadway in Manhattan with Suzanne Miller, talking and looking in store windows. I had met Suzanne in one of Stella Adler's acting classes at Stella's studio, which at that time was located on Central Park West. Suzanne had a fierce integrity and a vigilance against humbug in herself that impressed me from the first moments I knew her. These qualities had already exercised a strong influence upon me. Nevertheless, she caught me completely by surprise that night by asking me: "Do you love yourself in the theater or the theater in yourself?"

The question stopped me in midstep. I knew I couldn't answer it the way I wanted to be able to answer it. I didn't have to search my memory to discover that I couldn't; I knew it immediately--or possibly I should say, I knew it already, even before she asked. Indeed, I knew that this had been the question for me all my life, though I had refused to acknowledge it before. It wasn't a question about the theater only, but about my motivations for everything I had ever done. Did I love what I was doing, or did I love myself in doing it?

In that moment a choice lay clearly before me. I could spend my life assembling, feeding, and protecting the egotistical, ravenous, and addictive fiction I called my self--or I could refuse it every sort of nurture and let it die an unregretted death. I knew that unless I somehow could leave off my project of promoting and protecting myself and instead open myself to life, I would be doomed to a lifetime of self-involvement.

The question she asked is based on a quote by Russian playwright Constantin Stanislavski: "Love the art in yourself, not yourself in the art."

So caught up was I in the situation he describes, that it took me several readings of the book to realize even so much as what he was saying. It took me even longer to realize that it applied to me.

At some point, I had lost sight of the fact that writing was once something I simply loved to do. Writing had become my salvation, my doorway out of my dead-end job, my path to money and recognition and salvation. When it denied me all of those things, I hated it for it. I gave up on it.

I even remember the exact rejection letter that tipped the scales.

In my age I had become the man I'd written about in high school, stripped of idealism and writing stories he hoped people would buy instead of writing stories he desperately needed to tell. I had the mask on, the voice box, changing who I was, because I was trying harder to be marketable than I was to be honest.

That's not to say a story I needed to tell didn't slip out here or there--one of the last stories I ever wrote, "His Full Fifteen Minutes," is also one of the most honest and heartfelt.

But the question I had to ask myself, and the one that made me decide that I do want to go to boot camp, that I do want to start writing again, is this one: Do I love writing enough that I would do it even if nobody ever paid me a dime for it?

That's the question that tells me whether I should start writing again. That's the question that tells me whether I should pay for boot camp. That's the question that tells me whether I should take time that could be going to homework or my wife or my kids or cleaning or exercise and spend them alone. Typing.

And that's what art should be. That's what art has to be.

When it's all said and done, I still might not get into boot camp. There is an audition process. If that's the case, I'll still go to the writing class, and I'll save myself a bunch of money.

But either way, I'm still going to start writing again.

It's what I do.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Props 98 and 99: Which one is really about eminent domain?

California voters are being subjected to a very confusing set of ads about Propositions 98 and 99.

A couple years ago, Jarrod and I did a pro and con on a fictional proposition making fun of tactics used in election ads.

I swear our parodies aren't that far from the actual tactics used in these ads. If you vote yes on one and no on the other, you're going to be ripping children from their homes. But if you vote no one one and yes on the other, you're going to be the direct cause of landlords only renting homes to rich people.

Fortunately, Timothy Sandefur, the man who quite literally wrote the book (and several articles) on eminent domain, has finally posted clearing up how you should vote on props 98 and 99.

If there's one man I trust on this issue in the state of California, it's this man. I've been waiting for him to weigh in on this one before I fill out my ballot--that's how much his opinion on this matters to me, and how much it should matter to you.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Random Musings: Thoughts On The Serenity Prayer

In the title of this blog, I kind of promise musings. I haven't posted a good musing in a while so here goes.

This is very, very random. I don't consider it to be all that insightful. In fact, I don't quite know what I'm going to say about this yet. But I saw something today, and I decided I wanted to work out how I felt about it.

What I saw wasn't anything particularly insightful or new. It was a very, very old homily that you've probably read dozens of times. I certainly have.

It was etched in blue glass held up by a wooden rack. It said this:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

A little bit of research reveals this little gem is known as the Serenity Prayer. It's a plea to God for a balanced view of life.

What struck me on this reading is one tiny little thing that I'd never really noticed before. The poem is actually making a second statement, besides the obvious one.

See if you can guess what it is. Go ahead and re-read the poem, and aside from the actual message of the poem, what other philospohy is it teaching about the way the world works?

The Wikepedia entry for this little verse includes the following poem, which I like better and contains none of the message of the Serenity Prayer that bothers me:

For every ailment under the sun
There is a remedy, or there is none;
If there be one, try to find it;
If there be none, never mind it.

So what's the difference? What is in the first verse that's not in the second poem?

Okay, here's my answer: The first verse suggests that the way we interact with the world is by trying to change it.

The inherent message is we should see the world in terms of changeability. The world is a place that's full of stuff that needs changing, and if it can't be changed then we are safe to sit back and accept it, but if it can change, we need to be courageous and change it.

My problem with this is the inherent need this suggests to people that their best course of action is to go around changing things, only leaving the unchangeable things untouched among the altered objects.

I don't think that's the best way to see the world. Seriously.

Notice I don't have any problem with the poem. I don't have any problem with the idea that people should actively try to find solutions to their problems. I'm all in favor of people taking initiative.

But the Serenity Prayer implies that solving your problem and making something change are the same thing. That trying to change the world around us is inherently virtuous. Specifically, it's courageous.

I disagree, for a few reasons.

The first one is that, most of the time, what people most want to see changed is people. People think that the key to solving a problem is to get other people to stop being the way they are. If the atheists would just accept God, or if the Christians would just stop believing, or if my girlfriend would just stop spending so much money, or if my Mother-in-law would just stop trying to control the way my kids are raised--if these folks would just change, things would be great and I could be happy.

The same thing that applies to people can also apply to circumstances.

If you feel like the only reason you haven't got a job is because the job market just isn't open to left-handed Delewarians with mullet haircuts, you can make a "courageous" change in the world by getting legislation passed that forces employers to treat you fairly.

If you feel like your neighborhood would be a better place if "that one" family wasn't around, and after talking to a bunch of other people in the neighborhood, you find out you're not the only one of that opinion, you might discover that you can make a "courageous" change in the world by getting together with some other folks and driving the undesirables out of your neighborhood.

Do you see my point? The problem with treating the world like it's our living room and we're the interior designer is that to do it, too often you're having to try to change stuff in other people's lives--or even other people themselves--in ways that they don't need or want. To me, the definition of violence is the attempt to impose your will upon another with no regards for their rights, needs, or desires.

Now I'm not saying that change isn't often necessary. Even violence is sometimes necessary.

What I am saying is that I don't believe that changing the world as we want it to be is inherently moral. In fact, trying to change either individuals or the world into being what I, as an individual, want it to be, runs a very good chance of being immoral.

For that to be obvious, just imagine the guy on the other end of whatever spectrum matters to you imposing his will on you. Does that make the immorality of it more apparent? Can you see what you were wanting to do to them?

Besides being immoral, it's also ineffective. The surest way to meet resistance is to start pushing things around when other people may want them pushed back. The surest way to make the rebellious teenager settle further into his bizarre new identity is to start subtly trying to manipulate him into changing. He'll see your attempts to change him as judgemental rejection and dig even deeper into his identity as he tells himself all the reasons why you're wrong and he's doing great.

Trying to get people to change for your sake is the sure path to them throwing down their own gauntlet of self-justification and them trying to get you to change, as you reinforce the idea in their minds that the two of you cannot coexist as you are. And then their efforts to change you will reinforce your beliefs that they must change, lest you suffer.

In reality, the biggest problem in your relationship is both of you trying to get each other to change.

So if I were to adjust the homily, I think I would say it like this:

God grant me the humility to stop expecting the world to change for me, and the sense of responsibility to deal with my own problems.

I'll be getting that printed up on blue glass soon.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Arthur C Clarke Dies at Age 90

If you were to ask somebody for the A, B, C's of science fiction, chances are the three names you'd most likely get would be Asimov, Bradbury, and Clarke.

Asimov passed away in 1992, and now another of the big three has passed, as we have lost Arthur C Clarke.

The world would probably best know him as the author of the film 2001: A Space Odyssey, a film that probably perplexed most of them as much as it perplexed me the first time I saw it as a junior in high school--reading the book a dozen or so years later, it made infinitely more sense.

Among science fiction readers, he's probably best known for his short stories--particularly, "The Star," and "The Nine Billion Names of God." My mother teaches American Literature to college students who aren't native English speakers. When I ask people for suggestions for good science fiction stories to use in class, those two inevitably get mentioned, which would be great if Clarke hadn't been British (Perhaps she'll have to wait for her semesters at Cambridge).

More details and links at Locus Online.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Dan Harlan's Official Statement

Since I posted about Dan Harlan being arrested, I felt obligated to post his official statement regarding the incident, which I thought was candid and insightful.

Although I try to keep my personal life separate from my public life, that is no longer possible. In a way, that's good. I am going through a frightening and challenging time and I know I can't face it alone. Regarding the incident in question, I have no memory of it. I began that evening drinking at a local bar and I ended that evening in jail. The last thing I remember was singing karaoke, doing a little magic and everybody buying drinks for me... then I woke up being rolled into the hospital, bloody, handcuffed to the gurney, surrounded by doctors, nurses, and the police. Then I passed out again. Imagine yourself in my position. I doubt you can... but if you can, perhaps you'll understand why I've decided to seek help for my alcoholism.

I have officially bottomed-out. I know I have a problem, because this is what it took for me to admit it. I have a lifetime filled with loss and regret. I started drinking when I was 9 years old. I drank heavily throughout Middle and High School, and constantly my first, and only, semester in college. I've nearly killed myself numerous times, I've ruined all my relationships, and I've lost everything good I've ever had. But I never asked for help. Fortunately for everyone I've known, I'm not violent, just stupid. However, I never thought I was capable of something as ridiculous as what happened that night. It frightens me to think of what might happen if I continue to drink myself blind. I'm thankful that no one, except me, was physically injured. I am in the process of recovery and attempting to "put things right."

I have not had any alcohol since then, and I plan to abstain in the future. My lawyer has spoken with the bar owner who is "heartbroken" over the incident and sympathetic. I never intended to cause any harm, but I know that I acted irresponsibly. The court date has not yet been set, and I have no idea what penalty may be imposed. In Ohio, voluntary intoxication is not a defense. I'm sorry it had to come to this before I was able to admit that I have a problem, and that I need help. I know that I have the love, understanding and support of my family and friends.

I'd also like to make one more thing perfectly clear. We have many young magicians just getting into magic due to its current popularity and I don't want any of them to think that my drinking has helped my creativity and success. It has not. In fact, it has kept me from achieving the personal and professional success I had always hoped to have. I have done all of my best work sober. I wish I had been able to enjoy it and build upon it, but I foolishly threw it all away. I'm hoping it's not too late for me to create a personal life which can serve as a good example for everyone.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Dan Harlan Arrested

So the headline is, "Man Loses Pants During Bar Heist." It's complete with a photo of how his mug ended up after his wardrobe malfunction led to a face-plant.

What the headline doesn't make clear, is that the "Man" in the quote is Dan Harlan, the magician.

Now nobody's ever going to say Dan Harlan is their favorite magician, and he's probably as famous for his haircuts as he is for his magic, but he's most famous for is inventing a trick involving a deck of cards with a little flip book on the back of it called "Card-toon." You can see video of it here.

Nearly every magician who was practicing magic around the time this thing came out bought one of these, and it's probably among the most recognizable trick decks on the planet.

Seriously, I feel bad for the guy. He sounds like he's in a tough place in his life right now, and I don't wish that on anybody.

But I think the take home lesson--and one that I particularly needed today--is that even if your ship has come in, it doesn't mean your ship has come in. Sometimes life is way more about how you're living it than it is about what you think you've acheived.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Quote of the Day

Saw this E M Forster quote in the new issue of Analog:

The only books that influence us are those for which we are ready, and which have gone a little farther down our particular path than we have yet gone ourselves.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Real Stories of Malpractice

So, you may or may not have heard about Max Cannon, the Utah County doctor who was recently arrested for trading perscriptions for sex.

Well, neither had I. Until my Dad told me it was the same guy who'd done surgery on my grandfather less than a month ago.

Now that would be an interesting story if it ended there, but it doesn't.

Middle of last week, my grandfather goes back into the hospital because he's been feeling sharp stomach pains and vomiting. They run a bunch of tests, do an X-Ray.

Somebody goes, "Hey, is that a hemostat?"

But it can't be, right? They decide it must have been lying on the table when they did the X-Ray. They do another X-Ray, this time standing up. And it's a hemostat.

Now I've since been told this doesn't really have anything to do with the doctor. They tell me it's the nurses' job to count everything that goes into the body and everything that comes out of the body, right down to the number of gauze pads.

So of course, the hospital is being very accomodating. Free meals, free room at the Ronald McDonald house, and so on. "You won't believe how nice they're being to us," my grandmother said.

We assured her we could believe it.

But what's interesting is that that's actually the same hospital that finally got my wife's diagnosis right after she was misdiagnosed for a year and a half (Hooray for Dr. Keith Hooker!). The same hospital that got my wife's life back on track is the same place that's had to put my Grandfather under the knife twice in under 30 days because of a stupid mistake.

So yes, we are consulting with a malpractice attorney. But no, you're not going to get a crazy rant from me about how it's a hospital full of incompetent psychos.

It's just a bad situation.

Update: Actually, now that I think about it, it was also the hospital I was born in. Whether that's good or bad for the hospital is entirely a matter of opinion.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

New Kid's Album: Here Come The 123s

New kid's CD/DVD combo from They Might Be Giants, Here Come The 123s.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Obscure Movie Review Of The Day: Cloverfield

So when I heard Cloverfield was going to be filmed as if it were all via video camera, I was worried.

See, I don't usually get nauseous for things. I love roller coasters, I can usually read when I'm in a car, and I'm the guy who gets recruited to clean up gross messes around the house.

But two things get me. Facing backwards in a car, and watching jerky home movies.

So I was worried.

Back around the time Blair Witch came out in the theatres, I remember seeing warnings in ticket booths that the movie was giving people really bad motion sickness.

When I went to see Cloverfield, there was no such warning. So I was a little hopeful. After all, this wasn't just a bunch of kids improving with video cameras. This was the guys at Bad Robot. They could give the impression of it being handheld, without having it be so hurkey-jurkey as to actually be unpleasant.

Sort of how movie dialogue is sort of designed to give the impression of how real people talk, without actually being how real people talk.

However, when I entered the actual theatre, there was a puddle of vomit on the floor just inside the door.

I guess that was as good a warning sign for motion sickness as any.

That's the only bad thing I have to say about this movie.

If "Everything about this movie is great, except that it might make you sick," is a good review, than this is a good review.

And I hope that's a good review, because I thought it was a terrific movie.

As far as movies go, this is way more of a short story than a novel, in terms of both length (it's only like 85 minutes long) and character development. And like short stories are the polished gems of the fiction world, this movie got just about everything right.

That's not to say it's a feel-good film, because it's not. If I had to give a film professor a one sentence "Theme" for this one, I'd probably say something like, "Doing what you think you should do is sometimes more important than how it all comes out."

So if you're still talking to friends to decide whether to see it or not, count me as a yes vote, as long as nothing in the above turns you off too much.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Obscure Movie Review Of The Day: Pirates Of The Caribbean: At World's End

I wanted to come up with something positive to say about this movie. I came up with one.

It wasn't predictable.

More On The Future Of Lost

This post is in response to the comments made on my last post. I know, I could just comment on my own post like I normally do, but this would go on too long.

First, to theFrog:

I watched that old WB show Roswell all the way to the end pretty much only because they filmed it around the corner from my house. All the scenes that took place in downtown "Roswell" really took place in downtown Covina. Sometimes I used to go watch them film after work. So I know what you mean about the kick you get out of seeing local stuff on the TV.

As for watching it on TV . . . I have to admit I've never done it. And I plan to this season, but I'm a little afraid to.

See, my favorite show used to be 24. Like Lost, I would wait until the DVDs came out and then rent the whole season through Netflix or something. But I just got to liking the show so much that I had to start watching it live.

And you can guess which season I started doing that, because that was the season that 24 started heading a little south.

So now I'm scared to start watching Lost as it airs, for fear that the problem is me.

They are fixing the main problem that kept me from watching it live before--they're showing the episodes straight, in order, in consecutive weeks.

But I completely understand where you're coming from. When you wait for the DVDs, it puts you in complete control. You only have to go through the frustration of having to wait on someone else's schedule once.

The only drawback is that the one time lasts all year.

Second, to Anonymous (May I call you Annie?):

Annie, I get where you're coming from.

A lot of the scenes on Lost depend on suspense to create the "flavor" and part of the suspense comes from being afraid of what might happen. Being afraid of what might happen comes from not knowing either:

A) The motives of some of the people in the scene.
B) Why things are happening the way they are.

Since answering the mysteries would mean answering those two questions, there goes suspense.

But that's part of the challenge the writers are facing--they're having to write the show in such a way that past scenes change, but are still meaningful, after mysteries are answered.

So far, they're doing a really, really good job at this. So much so, that they felt justified in actually showing some old scenes again, just so we could see how those scenes felt different now.

After all--a lot of the suspense will be gone on repeat viewings simply because we know what's going to happen next.

If they can make it worth our while to watch repeatedly because of all the hidden crossovers between the characters and more modified meanings that happen after you know more--in other words, giving answers that add to the past scenes rather than deflate them--that's the challenge the producers face, and the one that will drive their DVD sales the most.

Ultimately, it's because the show is a mystery that they can't leave the questions unanswered. Any mystery story, whether it's a short story or novel, TV show or movie, starts when you pose a question and ends when the question has been answered.

This isn't Gilligan's Island. The goal of the show isn't just to get everyone off the island. In fact, that was the real message of the big twist at the end of last season--getting off the island won't resolve a thing.

Nothing is going to feel resolves, and viewers aren't going to feel satisfied, until they get answers. As many as is humanly possible.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Thoughts On The New Season Of Lost

Apple iTunesI think Lost is a great show.

Now I'm not going to be so stupid as to say, "Go! Watch it! Right now!"

Because I know it's not a show for everybody.

Take my wife, for example. She wouldn't even watch season 3 with me. After some of the repetition in season 2, where we saw some of the same things we'd already seen, but from a slightly different point of view, well, that was it for her. She's got better things to do with her time than watch the same show twice--if she wanted to see that other episode again, she'd have just put that DVD in again.

But for me--

This show has a "flavor." I know most people call the feel of a show the "vibe" or the "Feel." Writer types call it the "style" or the "voice."

But for me, for this show, it's more like a flavor. And just like I can order my favorite dish at a local restaurant over and over even though I've tasted it before, I like the flavor of this show enough that I could watch the same episodes over and over. So the repetition doesn't bug me.

And the repetition all but stopped in season 3. Around the time they announced a date for their last season, this show took off like a rocket.

And, this season, they're having the good sense to air the remaining episodes back-to-back-to-back, the way 24 does, to eliminate the confusion and gaps that turned so many viewers off the show. Granted, the season will be cut short because of the writer's strike, but it should be a lot easier to stay tuned in to than past seasons have been.

Now I recognize that some people just won't dig Lost. They won't like flavor.

But I guess what I'm trying to do with this post is reassure those of you who ever liked Lost, who did dig the flavor, but gave up on it because the pace was slow or thought they'd never answer the mysteries or you got confused by ABC's random scheduling or whatever--I just want to reassure you the show has got it, ABC has got it, and at this point it looks like it's full steam ahead.

I encourage you to go buy or rent the DVDs and catch up. I think you'll have a good time. Chances are, if you take option 2, you're going to wish you had gone this way when you see all the cool stuff that went on last season.

But if you don't have time for that, they've got a recap episode on iTunes, and some previews for this new season, which looks like it's going to be intense.

Okay, now that's the spoiler-free stuff.

From here on out, spoilers abound!

I warned you!

The producers have already said that the twist at the end of last season is the direction they're going to be going with the whole future of the show. They're going to be playing fast and lose with the story, sometimes doing flash backs, and sometimes doing flash-forwards. It's going to make the whole show read feel like a Vonnegut novel.

I think that's perfect, and exactly fitting with the tone of the show.

And I think it's also going to contribute to a shift towards explaining more mystery.

But it's also going to add to the show's sophistication.

The flashbacks have sometimes served to explain character's actions as much as they've served to explain stuff. Take Hurley, for example. Remember when he tried to blow up the supplies, because he was afraid people would fight over them? That would have been insane, insane, to try without the flashbacks. We would have thought Hurley was out of his curly-haired gourd. It was only by juxtaposing what happened with the money he won in the same episode that his desire to blow up the hatch made even a tiny bit of sense. Otherwise, not only would the decision have seemed stupid, but it would have seemed completely out of character for Hurley to handle the dynamite. As it was, it just made the fact that he had handled the dynamite all the more believable and added depth to Hurley.

I could probably go on like that about things in all kinds of episodes.

It shows a sophistication of writing that you just don't see on TV.

And now, they've raised the bar for themselves. Because things are going to have to get even more sophisticated. The flash-forwards have to tie in with the regular show, in ways that matter to each individual episode. And they have to do it in ways that don't detract from the suspense of the show (they're not going to get any mileage from making us think that Jack or Kate might die on the island now, for example). And they have to do it in ways that don't seem hokey or contrived--eg by hiding information from the audience that people in the scene should know or be talking about.

I've got high hopes for this show. I think there is definitely the potential here to create a near-perfect show that is infinitely rewatchable. I think there's also the chance to crash and burn here in a spectacularly awful splatter of misshapen goo. This is not a show that can end with any mystery unsolved. I can think of few mysteries to this show that are so incidental that they'd be able to end the show in a way that there was room for speculation. There need to be answers.

But I think there will be.

I think there will be a flashback episode with Locke's Dad, explaining how he got on the island.

I think there will be a flashback episode with Rousseau, telling the story of her group of islanders.

The biggest problem the show has right now is Walt. We know from the vision Locke had of him that the actor playing him is growing up, fast. Walt is supposed to be 10, but Malcolm David Kelley was born in 1992, which means he'll be turning 16 this year. 16 playing 10?

The only way to pull it off will be to only reintroduce the character of Walt in the flash-forwards.

We can still get some answers on him--Juliet knows why Michael is special, even though she hasn't said yet--but to have him disappear altogether wouldn't work.

The biggest one of all? The numbers.

The numbers made the show the first season, and the media hype surrounding the number of people who played them in the lottery put the spotlight directly on them. With as big a deal as has been made of the numbers, they need to answer that one, and the answer has got to be good. As in, one of the best answers they've ever come up with on the show.

Anyways, you get the idea.

They've set a high bar for themselves, and I'll be watching anxiously to see if they can clear it.

Fingers crossed.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Book Review: The Anatomy Of Peace

This book is changing my life.

Actually, it's a group of three books.

One is Bonds That Make Us Free, which I reviewed earlier in a review I still think needs updated.

The second is Leadership and Self Deception. Leadership and Self Deception is a business book. The Arbinger Institute originally did business consulting, teaching certain principles to businesses about interpersonal relationships and leadership. But as time went on, the implications of their philosophies for families and other groups became obvious, and that led to the writing of the third book.

The Anatomy of Peace: Resolving the Heart of Conflict is in some ways the perfect blend of the other two books.

Bonds That Make Us Free is written by a philosopher. It's sophisticated and heavy. It's my favorite of the three, especially because it includes a lot of case studies and real stories, but I realize it's not for everyone.

Leadership and Self Deception, on the other hand, is extremely simply written. Some people see it as being repetitive to the point of frustration, but I've found it to be the perfect book to give to people who've never read a leadership book before.

Sitting right in the middle is The Anatomy of Peace. It's written in the simpler style of Leadership, but it is a little more sophisticated in its approach to the material.

So what is it that all these books are teaching?

It's hard to sum up (hence why I've never been happy with my Bonds review), but I'll do my best.

A lot of the pain that we experience in our life, the frustrations that we have, even when those frustrations seem to come from other people, is really about us.

It's about the division that exists between who we feel like we're supposed to be, and who we really are. The feelings that we create in ourselves when we don't do things we feel like we should.

Let me use the classic example from the books: A father, lying in bed. He hears the baby crying in the next room. He feels like he should get up and help with the baby.

But he doesn't want to.

So he starts thinking about all the reasons why his wife should do it. About the meeting he has the next day. About how he's the one who got up with the baby the night before. About how she got to get a nap in after he got home.

So he starts creating intellectual justifications for not getting up.

But it doesn't stop there. As he thinks about all the reasons why his wife should get up instead of him, he doesn't just think it, he starts to feel it. He might get frustrated that she doesn't understand all these things, or even angry with her for not thinking of his situation.

In other words, he starts creating emotional justifications for not getting up.

And from there, he'll start painting pictures of himself and his wife in his mind. It could be that he sees himself as the good dad who works hard (didn't he watch the baby earlier so his wife could nap?) and his wife as the lazy, bad mom (doesn't she hear the baby?), or he might portray himself as the victim and her as his oppressor (is she going to to make me do this again?).

Now, he's even making moral justifications for what he wants to do.

The important part is that all of his feelings--his frustration, his anger, his desire to make someone else evil and himself good or a victim--none of that started until he started trying to create reasons to justify what he was going to do. He never would have felt any of that if he hadn't felt the need to justify himself.

But it goes on from there. Because at this point, no matter what he does, his behavior is going to affect his wife.

Chances are, he's not going to get up. He's going to wake his wife up, and make her get up and get the baby.

And he's going to do it in such a way that his attitude shows. He might make overtures of trying to be sweet about it, but the general vibe is going to be a defensive one, trying to make her see why it makes more sense for her to do it.

But the fact is, at this point, he could even get up and help with the baby, and it would do the same thing. He's still going to do it in such a way that his attitude shows. He's going to make some comment or sigh in a certain way or just do something so she understands the injustice of what he's doing.

And even though the reason he'd let his attitude show would be so she'd either forgive him or appreciate him, the actual result would be the opposite.

His defensiveness as he made her get up would come across, to her, like an accusation. At best a mild accusation, but she'd be far more likely to think about what his line of thinking said about her than about what it said about him.

Same thing if he got up--his attempts to make her see how hard it was would be far more likely to make her feel he resents her than make her feel he loves her. Rather than feeling gratitude, she's going to begin to feel defensive feelings about herself similar to the ones the husband felt as he tried to justify not getting up. She's going to start thinking of all the ways that she's good, and he's bad, or that he's an oppressor and she's a victim.

Her defensiveness, as she begins to show it, would then be interpreted aggressively by her husband, who would react again--and so the cycle goes, and so the relationship degenerates. Both people think they're only acting in their own defense, but in reality both attacking the other with accusations they feel are somehow necessary for their own defense.

Who's right? Both of them, sort of. And neither of them, sort of.

In reality, neither of them is either the hero or the monster that they feel the need to paint each other as. They're both fallible people with strengths and weaknesses.

But it is no more necessary that the wife be a monster in order for the husband to be a "good guy" than the husband has to be negligent in order for the mother to be loving.

In other words, sometimes the two biggest enemies to our happiness are justification and blame.

But that's a tough way to convince you to read this book. Because if you think about it, the people who need this book the most would be the people who absolutely didn't think they needed it from reading that description.

"Oh, I don't have a problem with justification," they would say. But they could only believe that if they were so heavy into self-justifying that their problem had become invisible to them.

Or they might say, "I have a bit of a problem with self-justification, but my real problem is in ______, and self-justification doesn't have anything to do with that."

The blank might be a relationship with a co-worker, or self-esteem issues, or marriage, or money issues, or some other thing.

But all of those things are deeply rooted in self-deception.

Sometimes, in the interest of justifying ourselves, we allow ourselves to hold on to anger or depression or frustration or heartache that we don't need, because we think we need it to justify ourselves.

A woman might not be able to let go of anger towards her ex husband, because she thinks she needs her anger to justify leaving someone alone who was in as much trouble with drugs as he was.

A man might hold on to depression, because he needs to believe that his life is hard to justify why he's never been able to do better for himself.

As crazy as it sounds, sometimes we do things that go against things we want, because what we want more is to feel like we're okay, right now. We want to believe (or want other people to believe) we're good or smart or deserve something or even just believe that we're really, really struggling.

This book is about the way this can affect our relationships. It's about conflict--whether the conflict is with a co-worker, or with a family member. It compares these with the conflicts between religions, between nations, between races.

It's told in the story of two men, one Jewish and one Muslim, who come together to form a camp for troubled teens. The viewpoint character is a dad whose son has had to come to the camp following a drug arrest, and the ideas are introduced to us as the Father is introduced to them. As they talk about conflicts in the world and in the homes of the parents, the ideas are taught, with the parents voicing the questions the reader might have.

It's a great book--I said Bonds was my favorite; Anatomy of Peace is my wife's.

If you're just going to read one of these books, make it this one.

And I can't say enough--read one of these books.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Dave Barry's 2007 Year In Review

It's here.

Some highlights:

Speaking of time: Americans attempt to adjust to a new Daylight Saving Time law, which Congress passed because it apparently felt that the old law was not annoying and confusing enough. The new law produces immediate economic benefits in the form of an estimated $175 billion paid by corporations and individuals to fix the computers, PDAs, phone systems, etc., that were screwed up by the time change. Of course none of this affects Congress, which has exempted itself from the new law and continues to operate by sundial.

Abroad, French transit workers attempt to end a strike, only to discover that they have forgotten how to operate the trains. Everybody enjoys a hearty laugh and returns to the café.

On the Republican side, Mitt Romney seeks to defuse the religion issue by making a major speech in which -- echoing the words of John F. Kennedy -- he declares that he is a Catholic. But the big story on the GOP side is former senator or governor of some state Mike (or possibly Bob) Huckabee, who surges ahead in the polls because (a) nobody knows anything about him, and (b) it's fun to say ''Huckabee.'' Huckabee Huckabee Huckabee.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

If You Can't Beat Them, Outlive Them - Ferd Tihista

So the highlight of my holidays was probably my visit up north for the birthday party of Ferd Tihista.

I won't say how old he is, but by the looks of it, this page about Ferd is about four years old.

Ferd has been like a grandfather to me since I was young--those of you who were at my wedding may remember him.

He's always been a powerful man, physically, as this photo from 1945 can attest. When I first met him, I thought I was meeting the Kingpin from the Spider-man comics.

And he continues to be the world senior judo champion, generally winning uncontested every year (The title of this post is his take on his record for consecutive world championships in the senior division.

He's also an accomplished artist. This page has the only copies of his drawings that I can find online, and while his work is valued in the Judo community, it's his drawings of animals, insects, and other critters that I think is the most impressive. To see the amount of detail and delicate work put in by someone it would be easy to think of as a muscle bound behemoth is not only stereotype shattering, but just plain fun to think about.

He's also a fantastic guy. The cliche of the helpful martial arts instructor seems a little corny, but it's not corny at all when you're keeping real kids on track and helping real kids stay straight. It's moving, and it's something a lot of our public school teachers long ago gave up dreaming they could do.

As people kept getting up to talk about the influence he'd had on their lives, I couldn't help but be jealous of my cousins who got to live in the same town as him, take judo lessons from him, and be that close to him. For me, living on the other end of the tallest state in the union made him a fun guy to visit with, but not someone I ever got to know as well as I wished I could have.

But I know him well enough to say I'm grateful to have him in my life and grateful for his influence on my family up there. And here's to him continuing to live long enough to be an influence on my kids.

New They Might Be Giants Family Podcast.

In anticipation of their new kids' album/DVD, Here Come The 123s, They Might Be Giants are cranking out kids videos.

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