Category Archives: Life

Uh-oh.

I was in the parking lot of my local BCAA, hoping to buy some car insurance. It was November 8th, 2016. My Birthday. Election Day. I was fumbling with last year’s insurance papers when I furrowed my brow for a fateful last time. Pop! The bridge of my glasses snapped in two. Both halves fell into my lap. As I futilely struggled to tape the two halves together in front of the insurance agent, I wondered, “Is this an omen? This can’t be an omen. It would be really stupid if this was an omen.”

I managed to get home and put in some contact lenses. I went to the Costco where I bought my glasses only to find out that the frames were discontinued and had to be special ordered. I tried not to wonder how the day could get any worse. That would call down an even funnier mishap, in accordance with the universal laws of comedy.

Just then, my phone rang. It was a recruiter offering me a remote work contract. I accepted right on the spot. It was the first job I had landed entirely by phone. Later that night, my parents and in-laws treated me to a pizza party and a Star Wars ice cream cake. My wife got me that multimeter I had wanted. It was a great 37th birthday.

Even so, Trump was still elected that day. In the months to follow, he would take that grand double-trailer semi-truck better known as the US government and do a few doughnuts in the parking lot. I transitioned from that remote contract to a full-time job just 20 minutes from my house. I know that day was just a bunch of coincidences, but my brain can’t help but try and arrange them into some kind of life lesson. It’s a kind of defence mechanism against insanity. The lesson here is that while some omens are true, you can’t let them distract you from what’s good in your life. Even if you don’t have the luxury of ignoring the current political climate, you’ll need the help of your friends, your family, or whatever else you have going for you to get you through the day.

I hate anti-cell phone memes.

cellphones

I want to draw your attention to this photo art exhibit. Photographer Eric Pickersgill took pictures of people looking at their smartphones and then photoshopped out the all smartphones. The effect is kind of eerie. It’s everything you want modern art exhibit to be. Even so, I really don’t like the way it’s being used. It’s being passed around on Facebook to show off our horrible addiction to cellphones and that is a reminder to get us off our horrible addiction to cell phones. I swear, the word horrible must have been used at least 3 times in the share I saw.

This is not only screed I see on Facebook (and ironically, through my phone) that you need to get off your phone. I absolutely agree that smartphones should only be looked at with consideration to those around you. Still, I feel like these blanket statements to just get off your phone, get outside, get interacting with people, they ask the wrong questions. Nobody seems to ask why are you on your cell phone? What are we looking at? What if we started talking about what was on our phones? Is it because we’d rather be somewhere else? Or we don’t get to see our friends enough? Would your opinion change if we photoshopped books into people’s hands instead? Better yet, why do we want to disturb people who are clearly enjoying themselves?

I understand the impulse to give the stink-eye to people on their phones. No one likes being ignored, and when you see a lot of people on their phones it can feel like they’re all shunning you, like you’re in some sort of fundamentalist sect. We should still be asking the right questions about this. Maybe we should be using our phones as conversation starters. All I know is that simply ringing an apocalypse bell and demanding an end to the mobile internet is not going to move the conversation forward.

Thoughts on Pokemon Go

Image used with permssion from Kimidori

Image courtesy of Kimidori

When I see the huge age range of all the people playing Pokémon Go, I’m reminded of just how huge of a cultural impact this franchise made back in the late 90’s. Pro-tip: If you get the chance, play this game with the young child. I played this game with my son in parks and hotels while on vacation, and the experience of shared wonder is nothing short of magical.

The original Pokémon video game and anime series came out when I was a teenager. I was too busy with more “adult” shows like Evangelion or Macross Plus to pay attention to this new show that was essentially for kids. I didn’t realize that for a lot of people this was their first exposure to anime. That meant seeing a cartoon that could have long and sprawling story arcs, and there were some episodes that were more about emotional relationships than hunting down the latest Pokémon. When you come from a cartoon landscape that resets the storyline every episode, you start to build a relationship with these characters and stories that lasts a lifetime, or at least until you’re tramping through a park trying to catch a poliwag on your phone.

Another thing that I love about Pokémon Go is that it is such a classically Nintendo product, even if the game was created by a separate company. It takes off-the-shelf technology, and packages it in such a way that makes the technology so much more effective than it was before. I call this technology off-the-shelf because it uses a game engine called Unity, a technology that I’ve worked with before. The closest I ever got created my own Pokémon go was causing a cube to appear in front of an iPhone 3GS’ camera and having the game blast out Europe’s The Final Countdown. This was all for an augmented reality venture that never went anywhere.

With Pokémon Go, you see a brand stretching back 20 years combining with extremely refined technical know-how to create a product that is almost changing society. The app launched in the middle of terrifying stories of mass shootings, and in parks across America, Pokemon Go players were holding an impromptu “Take back the night” vigil.

At this point in my life, I only have the time and inclination to stand on the shores of that ocean that is Pokémon, but wherever the ocean leads, I like where it’s going.

 

Charisma: It’s not just a dump stat

Social skills have always posed a puzzle for me. While I’m not exactly a shut-in, a lot of setbacks in my life, or so I’m told, can be traced back to my lack of social skills. Whether it’s a job interview that didn’t go well, or a sale that failed to happened, I’m often left asking why, and people tell me that I just need the gift of gab or the ability to sell ice to eskimos, or whatever that means. Even the smallest social situations I’ve always been envious of people who could hold a room with their stories or who never have to deal with those awkward moments of dead air. Thanks to what I’ve learned in Olivia Fox Cabane’s The Charisma Myth, I don’t have to.

We think Charisma is a natural gift because when someone does it well, we experience the results in our unconscious emotional mind. It turns out that charisma, the ability to read people and react appropriately, can be learned just like programming or playing the guitar.

Developing your charisma involves training your brain to control your body language. We have known for a long time that social skills depend on body language, but only recently have we found that all those ticks and micro-expressions on our outside depends a lot on how we treat our insides. There’s a lot of talk in the book about mindfulness and meditation. Naturally, these practices will increase your confidence, but this is different from a lot of confidence techniques that I’ve heard of in the past.

Instead of just focusing on your strengths and good qualities, the mindful approach to charisma requires that you take into account all aspects of your being, even ones that you don’t like. The way I have interpreted this is that while you may not be the best in the world at anything, maybe the best person in the room to do many other things. This especially works for me if I’m the only person in the room.

A technique I was able to use immediately was a habit of waiting two seconds before responding to anybody. If you are in a conversation and someone is talking to you, just say mississippi in your head twice before giving a response. Another technique I liked was diving into sensation. If you focus on the sensations in your extremities, you can take your focus away from your current anxieties and back to reading the current social situation.

Doing was like opening up a third eye for me. Through most of my life, I have been so focused on crafting the right response to whatever I was listening to that I was just not listening at all. For instance, if I was in one of my old tech support jobs, I might try and act contrite if the customer was mad at me. According to the charisma myth, this is not only detrimental to the control of your body language, but It can even escalate things by telegraphing to your conversation partner that they are hurting you and that they are wrong. If you have a negative expression crawl across your face at any point, people don’t think it’s you, they think it’s them.

Reading this book has made me much more comfortable in my own skin. I am much better at small talk. Even though I don’t have a script for most social situations, I at least have a stance I can take so I can observe the situation and not make a fool of myself. I still wouldn’t call myself an expert. I don’t have a daily meditation ritual, and my ability can be limited by my mood and how much sleep I’ve had. At least now I have a direction to go if I want to improve.

It sounds like magic, but it’s not. The Charisma Myth debunked a lot of ideas that I had about active listening and positive thinking. If you go the book’s website there are a few exercises you can try out. You can get better results from the actual book, but try it out and tell me know how things work out.

Dear Internet,


So how am I doing?

I wish there was more to tell you, but things are still going rather well. The day job is still there, the house is still amazing, and my three-year-old has discovered Star Wars. And as it turns out, he is a Jedi like his father before him. Even though I’m living the whole adult lifestyle, with all the responsibilities that it entails, things are pretty quiet. I haven’t had quite a routine like this since I left high school almost 20 years ago. Before, if I wasn’t worried about withering job prospects, I was worrying whether I could save enough money to buy a house, or sell the condo I already owned, or how I could keep my son alive and reasonably well-behaved.

It was only in the last year that all these questions were answered with a resounding yes. Over the past few months, I have had the chance to feel bored for the first time in years. And it feels great!

Still, because life is just fundamentally unfair, I feel like I miss that sense of struggle. I’ve lived with it for so long that I get a little sense of loss as well as a sense of relief. Of course, some other crisis could blunder around the corner and I’d feel like me again, but it just doesn’t feel right to wait for something like that.

I need to strive for something outside of my daily routine. It will help me figure out my own limits, or at the very least keep me sane. I think I can do that through my writing.

I’m not exactly happy with it, and that’s great thing about it. There’s room for improvement. I haven’t done it as much I would like, but that’s because I put most of my efforts into finding and keeping a career. Now that I’m more experienced, I don’t have to busy myself learning every technology, I just have to refine my skills with the tools that will help me with my job. That leaves me time to focus on my other competencies.

So, as of this writing, I have almost completed the first draft of a novel I started a couple of years ago. I’ve been able to finish it by dictating portions onto my phone and having it transcribed by voice recognition software. I decided to keep the writing habit going by recording an audio journal. Most of it is dull and unpublishable, but I found the more I did it, the more I had to say. So, I have two hours a day, to and from work, to write anything I want from the comfort of my car without inconveniencing me, my job, or my family. Of course, I don’t talk while I’m navigating bad traffic, but for the calm spots of my commute, I can write a little bit, every day, without too much interference.

If the material comes out regularly, I can focus on other aspects of my craft. Like if my tone is far too intellectual, or whether I need to start writing fiction, or if there’s an opportunity to get paid for my writing. Money is not the reason I love to write, but if I want a good metric of success, it’ll fit the bill. I can start off by updating this blog once a week, and I’ll look for other places to post my work. To date, I only have one rejection letter from the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. That was 15 years ago. For me, the undiscovered country is my writing career, and it’s time for me to start exploring.