Writing

This post first appeared in Organic Coffee Haphazardly. You ought to stop by that site and meander on through the literate entries. 

 

writing

He answers the question each time he raises his pen to paper. The story came before the word. It is a rhythm, the storytelling. Each cluster of thoughts breeds opinions on where to go next. Choosing a path, he keeps the flow going. He follows his instinct not worrying about pretty. Just let it flow.

It is his addiction; stringing words together. He has been there many times feeding the craving that defies rules of prose and punctuation, yet appears from nowhere to take up residence on the page. Like a fine piece of art, this first draft is the sketch that defines the composition. It tells the rudimentary story. Countless edits later that story will be the painting he envisions. Not today. Today the story is a new idea. A colt trying to stand on spindly legs, falling but getting up again while gaining strength with each failure.

The coffee gets cold. A refill is not on the horizon for the words have control. No interruption. An element of backstory emerges as he maneuvers a character and wonders why she did that. The pen moves to the margin to jot a quick note and capture the fleeting thought, phrased in a shorthand he hopes he will remember in the weeks to come when he returns to this page. A memory causes a smile as he recalls wondering if this paper with such wide margins was going to be useful or a waste of space. He has created entire worlds in less than ten words in those margins. The depth of his characters lives there. It is a soup of partial memories and unformed plot lines that are the writer’s equivalent of biographical fiction.

Forward. The pen moves him where he needs to go. Ink flows from the nib to the paper providing a tactile feel for each letter with a sound that applauds progress. Pushed forward under his control the pen yields surprising turns. How often, when he feels he has a clear view of the story ahead, does the pen take him in a different direction? A line of site interrupted by an obstacle set there with cruel subconscious intention, reminding him that life is seldom a straight line. And the challenge of the obstacle lets him show his characters in a new light. They are as surprised as he, and that surprise finds its way into the syncopation of syllables, creating an energy of anticipation. ‘Yes,’ he thinks. That could happen, and the flow continues. Fresh and alive.

For a moment he wonders where the need to tell the story comes from. What ancient, prehistoric challenge had man faced that made storytelling a survival trait. It is nothing but constrained lies bundled together. Then he wonders if a simpleton, binary thinking computer, that is only as good as the fiction of the code that man has created for it, can be induced to create a new thought or even polish up an old one? Maybe some day they will rediscover the analog computer and find the secret to artificial intelligence. The secret of infusing a survival skill into a computer. All this in a mental flash that is more image than prose.

That is what he does. He is less a writer than a transcriber of the images that form in his mind. The stories don’t form in sentences and words. They form as high definition movies in his mind where he can rewind and fast forward instantaneously until he settles on the scene that will be transcribed. A change in dialog or location to suit his will. The will to tell a good story. It is magic and he doesn’t overthink it. He let’s the magic move him. Understanding it too deeply might ruin it for him, but that thought leads him to ponder more questions. The cycle continues and each turn of his mental crank reveals more of the story. His pen scratches more words on the page.

Writing is presentation of discovery.

New York City – What Cruz Doesn’t Get

I’m not a New Yorker. I worked in New York City for over ten years and commuted from my wooded domain in Connecticut via train into Grand Central. I often go into The City to…well, pretty much do anything. It is unlike any other city in the world. Not better or worse, just unique. As I writer I am a natural and trained observer. I may not be a New Yorker, but The City offers the best opportunities in the world for a writer to see diversity and people interacting.

I think it is interesting in the U.S. if you say you went to The City in a conversation most people will understand you mean NYC. I am surrounded by cities, but New York is The City. And for good reason. The City is a microcosm of the United States, just revved up to New York speed.

My attachment to The City goes back a couple of generations. My grandparents on my mother’s side came into this country from Italy through The City. NYC is the gateway to our wonderful country. And it has attained that status for several reasons that Ted Cruz truly doesn’t understand. So I want to set him straight.

I spent the weekend in The City with my wonderful wife. We like to go free form, so we don’t really plan much. The night we arrived our middle eastern cab driver took us to an authentic Japanese Sushi restaurant (Yasuda). Authentic to the point that the management makes note that the staff is compensated well and, in Japanese tradition, tipping is not done. The table to the left of us had four Scandinavian men conversing and laughing. The table to the right was a couple from France having a good conversation.

We spent the next day looking at an art exhibit of Picasso’s sculpture, eating at a Greek restaurant, talking with a Jamaican cabby, having a drink in an Irish pub and finding a Starbucks. Yes, that is a joke. Duane Read and Starbucks are in competition for number of locations in The City.

The City is the great attractor. Every work day the population swells to 11 million. It absorbs the equivalent of a Los Angeles every day and then sends everyone home through the busiest train stations and roadways in the world. It hosts conventions, marathons, the US Navy, sports, music, art, The Beatles, the wealthy, the destitute, the brilliant, the foolish, and me on a regular basis.

The list can go on, but here’s the deal. What makes NYC so great is that it accepts anyone as long as that anyone does not have malicious intent. Don’t get me wrong. It is not Kumbaya and flowers. To be a successful New Yorker you have to have intention. And that means you have to believe in yourself and your ideas. New Yorkers are a contentious lot. Opinions are held strong and long. Just walking down the street this morning I heard a man berating his union (my assumption) for not supporting him on an issue. His use of invectives was colorful and passionate. And easy to misinterpret.

That is what Cruz doesn’t get.

New Yorkers hold their personal beliefs and values strongly, but accept that others have similar conviction. Cruz seems to think that New Yorkers are divided when what they have are strong opinions. It is quintessential America. People contest each other’s opinions, but are still united. The fact that Cruz doesn’t understand how fundamental that premise is to the success of America is alarming. I shouldn’t be alarmed since he comes from a state that regularly rises up to secede from the union.

As diverse as the population of The City is, there has never and will never be a desire to leave this great union of ours. New York, like Connecticut, was one of the original states. Our country’s history and the men who crafted the Constitution, so often misquoted by Cruz, all had strong ties to New York.

Yes, New Yorkers can be arrogant and self-centered. Learning to live in The City is like learning a craft and you take pride in accomplishing that craft. Don’t mistake that pride. New Yorker’s are giving people. I have seen it so many times in so many ways. It is far from perfect. There is corruption, condescension, prejudice and some really bad professional sports teams. Isn’t that what our country is all about? We are imperfectly fantastic. We celebrate diversity and in so doing, we encourage all the bad behaviors that go along with the good. But try to fuck with us and you get a unified response. Cruz, the Koch Brothers (sounds like a cough drop or a boy band), and ISIS can’t fathom how America continues to succeed with such diversity.

They should come to The City for a week and work here unfiltered and without the minions. Walk the streets. Observe. Listen. After a few days they will discover America and what makes this country so great. The ability to have strong opinions while accepting someone else’s right to a different and just as strong a point of view. To recognize that greatness comes when those opinions build tension that energizes creativity.

It is all right here on display in The City.

Run Free. Run Easy

Same Sex Marriage and Information Technology

An odd combination for a blog topic, but not really.

In the world of IT the pendulum of control has found a logical resting place. For the majority of enterprises those services within the enterprise that are considered common are under the  management of a central IT department. Services like email, data center servers and storage, shared network, remote access, security, and local connectivity are examples of services that fall into that category.

Before the pervasive use of IT, each line of business was best served by doing their own thing and focusing on their own bottom line. As technology became pervasive and the enterprise recognized that information was foundational, the recognized the need to share and interconnect systems. Barriers were quickly seen in technical, process and financial areas and acceptance of common standards developed to resolve those differences and make information readily available so the lines of business could focus on generating revenue.

handshake

You see, most enterprise leadership recognizes that IT is too complex and having each line of business do their own thing is not only inefficient, it leads to high risk from a security and financial perspective. Consistent delivery of connectivity, server, storage and desktop services provide benefit to the enterprise. Even for applications that are specific to a business process, there are still basic guidelines that are followed – not using static IP addresses in code, as an example. It is all for the common good.

The millennium transition (remember Y2K?) and a need for constant security readiness have taught most enterprises that they need to accept and enforce the right level of common infrastructure and standards. Times have changed and business has adapted.

global IT

Now, think about our national infrastructure. What would it be like if Eisenhower and Congress had thought to let each state make it’s own highway decisions? We’d have varying gauges a roads and different numbers for the same streets. Yes, there is a lot of local influence and investment in the national highway system but the foundational structure and rules of operation are mandated by the central authority.

US interstate

The examples of “common good” mandates can go on for quite a while. In almost all cases there is a transition point where local authorities or lines of business are given control, but they have to play within the standards that promote the common good.

When it comes to the rights of individuals, the common good in the United States is synopsized by the first 10 amendments of our Constitution, known as the Bill of Rights.

It was primarily penned by James Madison and is one of the most eloquent and simple statements of human liberty ever made into law. My favorite of those amendments is the first one, which guarantees freedom of the press, speech and religion all in one simple sentence.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

That is the entire amendment. It means that people have the freedom to practice religion in their own way without government interference. The counter is also true. The government can not force a religion onto its people (no law respecting an establishment…). This is a fundamental difference between what is civil action as expressed in law and what is moral action as expressed in individual religious belief.

Constitution and gavel

Kind of a simple construct. You may legislate civil actions but you may not legislate morality. Morality, expressed through religion, the press, and speech is an open forum, within the tolerances of civil action. Civil action is all about guardrails. Killing someone in a premeditated manner is murder and, as a society, we have decided that it is wrong. There are religions that concur with that fundamental, but it is not because of those religions that we hold it true that murder is wrong. As a society we have made that compact. Clearly, we do not agree on the consequences for murder, but we do agree that murder is wrong.

Marriage is both civil and social. We have wrapped legal fabric around an action that is a social construct so that there are basic rules that we follow in terms of licenses and dissolution. Even then, there are nuances in every state when it comes to how marriage is created or dissolved.

If the only reason for stating that gay marriage is not allowable is because of a religious cannon, then that is not defensible from a constitutional framework. The first amendment does not allow the government to make a law “respecting an establishment of religion.”

We the People

If your religion mandates that gay people can not marry, then do not allow that, but do not force your beliefs on the rest of the country. When it comes to the law of the land, you are totally allowed to follow your beliefs, but a) you must accept that other beliefs are just as valid under the law and b) you can’t ask the government to make your religious cannon into law.

I’ve tried to write a better ending to this post than the paragraph above, and anything I say beyond that seems trite or argumentative.

I often end my blogs with the wish that you run free. That, to me, is the purest expression of freedom. The freedom to move under the power of my own body and enjoy the world around me. Today I exhort you all to celebrate freedom. It can be difficult to hear what other people say, but at the end of the day, we should all be grateful that we have the freedom to say what we think.

Be Free

Three Problems With Being Funny

The original version of this post appeared in Organic Coffee, Haphazardly, a forum for creative use of words and interesting minds.  Many thanks to Allie Burke and the staff at OCH for extending the platform and hospitality to me. Please, drop on over, read some  interesting work and let them know I sent you. I get bonus miles on Merriam-Webster for each referral.

Three Problems With Being Funny

In fifth grade a classmate ratted on me to our teacher, Mrs. Bashore. It was near the end of the year and we were called out of the room for some special thing I can’t remember. Probably a health lecture. When we came back to the room Mrs. Bashore asked if all was well. That’s when I got turned in.

“Jerry talked out loud,” the squealer squealed.

There was a silence. Mrs. Bashore looked at me and said, “Well, he’ll be someone else’s problem next year.”

1) Being funny is disruptive

Problem?

I was in fifth grade just being my expressive self. As a 10-year-old boy, I didn’t quite have the self-control to not say whatever popped into my mind. In today’s world I’d be diagnosed with ADHD and given happy pills. Or, actually, mild speed. We didn’t even know about sugar or gluten and it was well ahead of GMO.

Listen, I am only trying to make a point, not garner sympathy. Well, not much. I had problems. We all do. I was the shortest kid in class and an introvert who talked out loud. I didn’t want attention (which is what some must have thought). I wanted to say the funny thing in my head.

if-thought-bubbles-appeared-above-my-head-id-be-screwed-92b5b

I am well trained in quippery. That is the art of quipping and a word I made it up. Quipping is the act of taking any comment, turning and twisting its context until humor is rendered from its linguistic bones. That twisting, when spoken out loud, interjects itself into the stream of thought of those listening. It provides an alternate take on something just cognized, acting, therefore, as a disruptive influence.

Not every comment can easily be augmented with a quip, but there are enough opportunities everyday that I guess you could be considered disruptive if you took advantage of enough of them. Which I did. I think. It might be that my affliction with quipping is a kind of Tourette syndrome for humor.

I came by quippery honestly. My family did it all the time, especially at dinner. The ability to make a funny comment was laughed at, encouraging even more funny comments. What wasn’t understood was that I lacked that cluster of grey matter and nerve endings that gave some form of control.

I still interrupt people a lot. Which annoys the shit out of my wife. It’s not on purpose. The thought jumps in and I say it.

2) Funny Doesn’t Mean Clown

I was never the class clown. Clowns need attention, like a Kardashian. I have been an introvert as long as I can remember. My outbursts were not calls for attention. For me it was about the alternate way you could say something to shift the context and create a humorous meaning. I am not well polished at telling jokes, but I can slip a quip with ease and grace.

I guess the force of my creativity found the path of least resistance – my mouth. My satisfaction was found in expressing the alternate view of things more than it was in getting laughs.

Being a comedian is hard. I don’t tell jokes well, although I do have some practiced funny ones that I can pull out as needed. Comedians write and practice jokes all the time. They are like musicians working on timing and changing words and phrasing to make the joke hit home. For them it is a performance. They get on stage, all eyes on them and they give their humor in a way that makes it feel like a conversation even though they have done it a thousand times before.

george carlin

I am funny because I am quick to see an opening into a different reality. I jump in and take advantage of the moment and watch the recognition of “funny” blossom in other people’s eyes. A quip is short lived. It can be repeated in a different context, but once it happens it is gone like breath on a mirror.

You can’t quip without sexual innuendo. Maybe you can, but if you avoid sexual innuendo, you are missing an entire category of quips. I loved the people I worked with in my first real job out of college. We were part of a sales organization and my kind of sexually laden quip was well accepted. One of the women I worked with had a waiver from sexual harassment thumbtacked above her desk. It was all good natured fun. It is way to serious today, so the workplace is off limits.

That leads me to the final challenge in being funny.

3) Being on the Watch

There is a constant vigilance that comes with being a compulsive quipper. After years of practice, it becomes second nature. It’s all about context.

Two things make quips funny. First, a quip works in a moment with a short decay, as mentioned. If you miss the cycle of conversation when the quippable comment is made, than you’ve lost the opportunity. You can’t rewind and throw it out. That isn’t funny. The best you can do is log that funny comment for some future use and have it at the ready. You have to identify the trigger that would make it usable and wait for it to happen.

Second, quips are all about context. Context has multiple meanings and shadings. It is why quipping takes practice. And the willingness to deal with failure.

context clues

I was in a fraternity in college. We would invite a sorority over for a nice dinner once in a while. During one such dinner I made a couple of my typical comments and was put up for auction at the end of the dinner. Auction meant that I would have to do the winning brother’s house chores for a week. At the start of the auction the house president noted my dual offense by saying, “Gentry’s up twice.”

My immediate response was, “That’s what she said.”

Once the laughter subsided, I was absolved of any obligation to do chores. Several of the sorority sisters sought me out to say hello later. When your mind works like mine it is always a crap shoot. It could have easily turned the opposite way, but I read the endorphin rating of the room correctly and felt free to take the chance.

Had we had parents at that dinner, I would not have made any comments to be put on auction. By college the cerebral cortex or whatever part of my brain is engaged in making quips had matured enough to give me some sense of control. I would have understood the context and kept my funny thoughts to myself.

On the other hand, when we did have our first parent dinner of the year I did manage one comment. I was sitting with my dad at the corner table. After dinner we were asked to introduce ourselves and I was the first. I said my name and where I was from while seated. The president instructed me, “Please, stand up.”

“I am,” was my response. Laughter and light heartedness resulted and I felt good. I stood and waved. My dad laughed because I caught that sense of humor from him.

And that leads me to the governing principle of good quipping. The result of my family inspired and coached quipping was learning intelligent humor. Well, the comments are stupid, but intelligent because they do not belittle other people in order to be funny. They are funnier because they require some thought.

I am glad I grew up in a conversational household. With social media you can’t always tell a quip from abuse. Not without an emoticon.

I have a friend who is a paranoid schizophrenic and sometimes hears voices. After a recent post siting the book being read, my first thought was to post a comment asking what the other people in their head were reading. I didn’t.

My friend is confident enough that I would have gotten a chuckle and a friendly “fuck off.” I was worried about the people I didn’t know who might not have understood my compulsive humor or that I was, indeed, joking. The main exception to the principle of not belittling other people is being able to gently poke at people you know. Never with malice. Always with respect.

Here’s what I do know. The mental athletics that my life as a quipper have put me through have made me very creative in a disciplined way. That creativity bleeds through to all aspects of my life. As the CEO of a consulting firm I used to work for commented, “You sit quietly and listen and observe, then you come up with a flash of brilliant insight..”

You see, I can be quiet. It just took me a few decades.

DilbertContext

The Lost Art of Picking Up Women

This was one of those mornings where my blog subject is a gift of circumstance. Talking with a friend this morning who was out for a night with her girlfriends. While enjoying their company in the bar she was subjected to the latest style in men picking women. It is called a bump, followed by an “Excuse, me.”

My first thought was, “Hey, it worked in grade school, why not in adulthood?”

I filed that tidbit of information in my back pocket. I’m not in the market, but if the need ever asserted itself, at least I was armed with the latest hipster move. I felt happy as I commuted to work. At least with this approach all I had to work on was my aim. I figured the bump had to be direct enough to get their attention, but not so direct that it would knock them over.

The-Continuing-Evolution-of-Man

Stopping for coffee at McD’s I took a seat within earshot of a coed group of septuagenarians and older. There was a nice banter going on and at one point a woman made mention of having heart palpitations. The man sitting next to her rejoined that he would be happy to give her mouth-to-mouth. My day was made. I guess a really cliche line works in every generation because the subject woman giggled like a school girl and I expect added days, if not months, to her life from the pure joy of flirtation.

Photo Jan 21, 9 19 53 AM

Then, the writer in me took over. You know, that part of the brain that starts to think about these events and tries to figure out what sinister plot lies beneath. As a story teller I am geared to make up continuity between scenes I witness that have no relevance to each other. That is why I can’t walk and chew gum at the same time.

Stick with me here. If you have read any of my previous blogs you know that if I drop right into the evolution of man you won’t be surprised. Here’s the deal. Three million years ago we didn’t have language. We had gestures and noises and, well, that was about it. In those days, if a man wanted a woman he bumped her. Sound familiar?

As we started to wander out from the rainforest into the ever expanding savannah (don’t you just love that word?) we developed language for two reasons.

  1. Complex verbalization, or language, was needed to be able to hunt prey or keep from being prey while we walked and ran out in the open.
  2. Language was needed to pick up woman.

Beyond those two survival skills, any other use of language is, arguably, just showing off. That is until we became civilized. When we gathered in communities and cities people would often bump into each other just because of proximity. Clearly, the ritual of picking up women had to change because bumping was now a generalized activity. In response, men turned to words as their means of access to the feminine favor. Let’s be honest. I say men you and I both know women had to coax and cajole us into becoming literate and finding ways to craft words into rhythms that made their pulses race and skin glisten. For the next millennia all things invented by men; art, literature, science, football; were invented with the sole purpose of picking up women. The pickup line dates back to the earliest of pre-Roman civilization when a man would look at his sleeping mate with amorous thoughts, lightly slap her on the arm (a modified bump) and ask, “Hey, you awake.” That line is the first instance of foreplay that has been documented. We’ve come a long way since.

As the 21st Century began the art of the pickup line had reached a peak. There were books and movies and personal trainers, an entire cottage industry, around how to pick up women. Then hipsterism hit and the bump began.

In defense of hipsters, they are the unknowing subjects of the new lord of technology. They have been smart phoned and twitterated into reverting to our Paleolithic roots. Most days are spent walking while looking at a 4×2 inch rectangle of illuminated glass. And literacy has been suppressed to 140 characters at a time. The punctuation which gives the spoken word the ebb and flow of conversation has been suborned by emoticons. Men still have a need to pick up women and given there is no more practice in the art of verbalization, the primal instincts have moved to the surface.

My goal here is to see if I can turn that tide and help my fellow men address the fair sex in a manner that women deserve. To get to that point, there are a few prerequisites for men who are interested in having women open their flowers for them.

Before taking that first verbal step, read a book. NO. Read three books, two fiction and one non-fiction. The two fiction should consist of a modern classic (like To Kill a Mockingbird (chicks love that book)) and a current edition. The current can not be something like Diary of a Wimpy Kid or Fifty Shades of Grey. It doesn’t have to be heady, it just has to be fairly decent, like a good murder mystery. The non-fiction has to be something other than campy prose (no psycho-babble or self-help). It can be about sports medicine, the history of anything or political/technical revelations. No, books by anyone who works at Fox News do not count. These should be real books, not ebooks. Nothing against ebooks, but to do this right you need to feel the weight of the words you are reading. Reading gives you a baseline for actually having a conversation. Trust me on this.

By reading you’ve stimulated the latent intellect that has been stilted by social media. Doesn’t it strike you as funny that social media has led to the current pandemic of lack of social skills? Go figure. That is a hole different blog that I might take a shot at.

As you move into the real world and muster the courage to take that first act to talk to a woman you have never met, there are some basic rules.

  • Please, use complete sentences. Do not talk in the syntax of Twitter. It is okay and often admirable to take more than 140 characters to make a point.
  • Be yourself, not your avatar. The only place in the world where you can be an avatar and have it work is Las Vegas. Everyone is being someone else there, so go with it.
  • The easiest way to talk to a woman is to shut the fuck up and listen. Really. It seems like some kind of inversion principle, but it works.
  • Keep the conversation going by…asking questions. It is fine to pepper the dialog with a bit about you or answer a question from her, but listen and ask relevant questions. Don’t be patronizing with the questions because…
  • Women are smarter than men. Period. Just deal with it. Sure some of us may know more science, but that isn’t what smart is. Smart is knowing how to read other people and be good at social interaction.
  • Most important, put the phone away. Period. Your attention should be on her.

Now that you have mustered the courage and know the rules, let’s talk about pickup lines. There are a massive number of pickup lines, but I have the one that works. When I was single I experimented with many lines and finally honed it down to this one line that achieves the open door to conversation almost every time. I’ll save you the all the learning and let you skip right to the gold mine. Here it is”

” Hi, I’m (insert your name here).”

The most effective way to augment this opener is to tag on a complimentary observation like “That nail polish is great. What color is that?” or “You’ve got a great smile and I just had to come and talk to you.” or “When you walked by, I noticed that scent you are wearing and I just have to find out what it is.”

It goes on.

Okay. I have to confess. I didn’t really discover this line by extensive trial and error. In my single days at the bar in Houlihan’s in Phoenix I saw an attractive woman having a drink with friends. I thought I would be clever and went up to her and said, “What would be a good line for a man to use to start a conversation with you?” My expectation was that she would throw out one of those cliches. I was wrong. She looked my in the eye, smiled and said. “Hi,” usually works with me.

The sound of enlightenment could have been heard all over the bar. The DJ stopped the turntable wondering what had just happened. I ignored it all and started a good conversation. So, as you can expect, I got the best direction on how to approach a woman from a woman. Not being too stupid, I have relied on that advise for just about any social situation.

As you have that conversation she might giggle or laugh, just like the woman I heard in McD’s. When that happens you have gifted her with an extension of her life. She’ll now that and be grateful.

And there it is. The most effective social mechanism is not acting like you do on social media. It is acting like yourself.