Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Art of Manliness: Finding Your Calling Part V

Cover of "The Art of Manliness: Classic S...
Cover via Amazon
In Parts I and II of our series on vocation we talked about what a vocation is.
In Part III we put forth an argument for why every man should pursue his vocation.
In Part IV we discussed how to find your vocation.
In this final installment in the series, we will discuss the obstacles men face in going after and embracing their true vocation.
Thank you, Brett and Kate McKay, for writing my recap for me. I took a few liberties with your links.

So, as the McKays said above, today is:

Part V: Obstacles to Embracing Your Vocation

We've discussed obstacles before, and some of them are pretty heavy. I'm not just talking about the standard, oh-it's-silly, I-don't-believe-in-myself, what-would-people-say kind of obstacles, although those are real and can be scary.

I'm talking about, "To make that a reality, I'd need to devote 80 hours a week to it, and the only way I can even begin to do that is to quit my job, but I do kind of need, you know, money and insurance and all that good stuff."

The McKays cite psychologist Abraham Maslow as they make a list of the fears that keep us from succeeding:
  • The fear of the unfamiliar. Yeah, OK, I'll  give you that one. Self-explanatory.
  • The fear of change and sudden pain. Sounds like the same thing, to me, but sure. 
  • The fear of losing control and identity. Still sounds pretty much the same, just a bit more specific. Chillingly more specific, if I think about it too long. Hell, I overthink getting my hair cut. Identity is kind of a thing. Well, you've been reading along, you know how it is.
  • The fear of being set apart from others. I'm not as sure about this one, but I see the point. I never have felt quite like I fit into any given group (introversion doesn't help), but the prospect of not fitting in going forward is more a cause for despair, not fear. Your mileage may vary, of course.
  • The fear of being ridiculed. Definitely, although given that we're discussing a blog about manliness, it brings to mind a quote from Gavin de Becker's The Gift of Fear: “At core, men are afraid women will laugh at them, while at core, women are afraid men will kill them.” So, you know, there's that.
  • The fear of responsibility.  Yep, and pretty much leads to:
  • The fear of failure. Oh, that's a big one for me. I'm having flashbacks to high school, worrying to myself, "Everyone wants the person who's best at something. Nobody wants the person who's second-best at everything." I wasn't even an athlete and I had somehow absorbed the disgusting "Second place is just the first loser" mentality, so I was terrified of coming in second. And I'd guess it still ripples to this day.
  • The fear of our own greatness.  I know this is a thing.  I just don't understand it. I'm sure I even have it; it's common enough. But I just don't get it, at least not in any way I can articulate
The McKays then give us a list of all the things we do to keep from facing these fears. I don't know about you, but if I'm doing them, I'd rather figure out how to stop than learn how else I might do the same thing I'm trying not to do.  Assuming that last sentence makes as much sense on your screen as it did in my head, anyway. Crap, now I'm feeling self-conscious.  Thanks, McKays.

So! Solutions!


There aren't any! Make a five-year plan and hope you don't fall into any of your old traps!

Terrifying.  Happy Halloween, folks.
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Wednesday, October 30, 2013


Note: There will be some adult language and pg-rated hints at adult content in this post. Use your discretion if reading at work or with kids.

I don't particularly like Halloween.

Jack-o-lantern (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Oh, sure, there are things I like about Halloween. But pumpkin doughnuts are available most of the fall (note to self: obtain pumpkin doughnuts). Ghost tours peak around this time of year, but can be found any time. Garfield and the Great Pumpkin are available to stream on Amazon Prime. And the internet is chock-full of pictures of small children and pets in costumes.

I'm a grown-ass adult, so if I want candy, I can just buy some. If I want liquor, I can just buy some. If I want to embrace my inner sexy-whatever, I have a husband and a lingerie drawer, and that's really all the information you need about that.

Costume parties, like any situation where you're expected to wear the "right" thing and somehow instinctively know what that is, are way more stressful than fun for me, and that's a lot of money and effort to spend just to feel self-conscious and awkward all night, and for what? The aforementioned candy, liquor, and doughnuts?

Let me tell you about one of my favorite memories of Halloween. When I was in college, I went with some friends to a haunted house. One of the guys had a particularly obnoxious crush on me, and kept using the scenario as an excuse to touch me. Finally, I'd had enough, so I turned around and told him to fuck off, already.

Turns out it wasn't him, but rather a guy who works in the haunted house, trying to scare me. Well, good. I didn't sign a release saying that I gave strange men permission to grab me.  He was welcome to fuck right off, too. Probably not the worst thing he heard all night.

I've had bad experiences with men grabbing me, one of which was even associated with Halloween. I wasn't fond of Halloween before that happened, don't get me wrong. But a situation where women are expected to dress like slutty-whatevers, and then masked men are given permission -- hell, in the case of the haunted house guy, paid -- to grab women without their permission? Might as well call it Rape Culture Day. And that's without the annual rants about little girls' costumes.

Look, if you enjoy Halloween, good for you.  Go, have fun, give M&Ms to toddlers dressed as Iron Man and pet wiener dogs dressed as giraffes. Dress up as a crayon, or a slutty crayon, or whatever.

But if you feel the urge to touch someone, and there's any doubt, even the tiniest bit, as to whether that person wants you to? Shove your hands in your pockets and fuck the fuck off.

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Tuesday, October 29, 2013

What makes you happy? #31

Sometimes several things I like converge.
My new art.
Photo copyright me.
Art copyright ?????

Chris and I went to Boston over the weekend. I enjoy Boston.

As we were wandering around, we passed a street vendor selling prints of his watercolors. I do not know the man's name -- the prints are signed and dated, but the signature is indecipherable.

But the art was lovely -- Impressionism style, which I like a lot.

Make Way for Ducklings in the Boston Public Ga...
Make Way for Ducklings
in the Boston Public Garden,
Boston, Massachusetts.
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
There were several different seasonal scenes of the Make Way for Ducklings statues.

I love the Make Way for Ducklings statues.

I loved Make Way for Ducklings the book when I was little.
Cover of "Make Way for Ducklings (Viking ...
Cover via Amazon

I was thinking about buying one of the prints, when I saw it.

Three of the scenes, Spring, Fall, and Winter, all matted and framed.

It's hanging in my living room now.

I love it.

I wish I could find the artist online (Google's reverse image search didn't help). I'd love to show you more of his stuff.

The mystery artist's signature.
Photo copyright me.
And if you recognize the art or the signature, please let me know so I can credit him!

But in any event, it makes me happy.
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Monday, October 28, 2013

No Plot? No Problem! Chapter 4

Cover of "No Plot? No Problem!: A Low-Str...
Cover via Amazon

No Plot? No Problem!

By Chris Baty

Chapter 4: Cruising for Characters, Panning for Plots, and the First Exciting Glimpses of the Book Within

It may be counterintuitive, but when it comes to novel writing, more preparation does not necessarily produce a better book. In fact, too much preparation has a way of stopping novel writing altogether.

That having been said, Baty reassures us, some planning is good. So long as you limit yourself to one week of doing so.

Hey, it's the 28th.  Let's call it three days.

Seven days, according to Baty, lets you get a nice goundwork ready, but prevents us from overplanning. You don't want to paralyze yourself with a brilliant concept that your writing can't possibly live up to, you don't want planning to turn into a form of procrastination, and you don't want to suck the elements of fun and surprise out of the actual writing process.

Instead, ask yourself what makes a good novel. I'll start:
  • A plot with momentum
  • Characters I care about
  • Female character who are as developed as the male ones (see also: of color, QUILTBAG, disabled, etc, but since I'm a straight, white, able-bodied, cisgendered woman, "female" is first one I notice and therefore the most likely to be a deal-breaker.  Sorry.)
  • A good flow of language
  • Variety of perspectives, whether that's in narration or just well-developed dialogue
  • Aha! moments
  • Reasonable romance: neither fairytale nor melodrama
  • Setting as character
  • An ending that makes me want a sequel, but is not an obvious setup for a sequel
  • Reference to religion, faith, or spirituality (Can be unconventional)
This is my Magna Carta, according to Baty. It lists the things I value as a reader, the things I look for and gravitate to, so in theory they should be the things I'm good at writing (I'll let my workshop buddies comment on that, if any are reading).

How about you?

Now, we make a second list, of things we hate in novels. Be brutal and honest -- if you hate female protagonists, well, I probably won't want to read your book, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't write it!

  • "If only"s
  • Two-dimensional main characters
  • Endings that are ads for the sequel
  • Being expected to root for the jackass
  • Mate as reward, or otherwise primary goal in life
  • Convoluted language designed to weed out the "stupid" people (I'm looking at you, James Joyce)
  • Slurs coming from supposedly sympathetic characters. Learning an Important Lesson doesn't make it OK.
  • Cringeworthy moments used for humor
  • Boogers
  • Hopelessness
  • Present tense narration
  • Explicit porn for no real reason
This is my Marga Carta II. These are things I need to avoid, no matter how much the urge may strike to add them because I'm "supposed to."  Eff that.
If you won't enjoy reading it, you won't enjoy writing it.

Next, we start looking at the elements of the books we're writing this year, starting with characters. Looking at my Magna Carta I, I should seriously consider multiple female characters with varied perspectives, at least one of which has a nuanced-if-unconventional spirituality. Hmm, maybe the brother character I was considering ought to be a sister instead. The important thing is that I (and in your case, you) look forward to getting to know these "people". Even the characters you hate, you should love to hate them, because you're going to be dealing with them for a while.

Yeah, I really need to work on my villains.

So, here are a handful of questions you can ask yourself about your varied characters. I'll take a look at my potential protagonist:
  • How old are they? Roughly my age, maybe a few years younger based on the setting. Same life stage, anyway.
  • What is their gender? Female. Oddly, I usually go male for my protagonists, but this year, I'm passing the Bechdel Test.
  • What do they do for work? Seems to me that in a setting where movable type is standard, someone who can review proofs before the sale copies are printed is vital. 
  • Who are their friends, family, and love interests? Haven't figured out friends yet, but she has a recently widowed mother, a slightly paranoid brother (or sister? see above), a loving husband, and very proper, traditional in-laws who don't always know what to do with her.
  • What is their living space like? Well... take mine and remove the modern technology, really.
  • What are their hobbies? At the moment, solving her father's murder.  Otherwise, embroidery.
  • What were they doing a year ago? Five years ago? A year ago, life was probably pretty much like it was immediately before her father's death. Five years ago, it was wedding planning and in-law wrangling.
  • What are their values and politics? Well, I need to get a better sense of the political structure of the setting before I can tie down her specific politics. Values are going to have a lot to do with family and faith. That's how the sibling is going to convince her to investigate the death -- Dad's soul won't rest if we don't, after all!
Now you do one!

OK, moving on to the plot. Wait, the title of this book is No Plot? No Problem! So we're good, right?

Welllllll... mostly. Characters will do things, other things will happen, and that makes plot. So just integrate the story-oriented items from your Magna Carta I list.  For me, that means keeping things moving, possibly jumping points of view, a good reveal around the climax, and the marriage being a touchstone more than a point of conflict.

Don't worry if the plot that works itself out seems cliched. There aren't any new stories, just new takes on the same old stories.

Now we look at setting.  Since I said above that setting ought to be a character, this is kind of important to me. However, I need to model my setting on real-world versions of my setting.

...I mentioned the setting is Steampunk Imperial Rome, right? Maybe I didn't. All right.

Well, I've been to Rome, and seen both the modern city and the ancient ruins. I saw the ruins at Pompeii. I've lived in major cities my whole life, and New York for almost four years. I took a course in sexuality and gender in the ancient world, which primarily focused on the classical world, and I still have my textbook on women's lives in Greece and Rome.

I think I can fake this convincingly.

If you're writing something modern-day, consider setting it where you live now. If you're creating your world from the whole cloth, consider drawing a rough map. In any event, don't let the minutiae of your setting slow you down; you can research properly in December.

Finally (!!!), this chapter discusses point of view. That is to say, are you writing your story in first person (I did this), second person (you did this), or third person (they did this). Second is pretty rare and hard to do. I'm leaning towards first, myself. This means I won't get to flesh my villains out perfectly... but then, that also means I don't have to.  There are pros and cons, you see.

Baty forbids us, in this book, from using second person.  But if you really want to, I won't tell him.


In the first sidebar of chapter 4, Baty explains The Five-Click Google. Need to research something? Google it.  Click on five promising-looking links.  Trust them.  Then stop researching.

The second sidebar gathers anecdotes from past NaNoWriMo winners on their methods of story research.  The takeaway? Your Mileage May Vary.

The third sidebar talks about finding inspiration in strange places. This is another round of participant anecdotes, which reference nail salons, textbooks, spam email, dog-walkers, and dating profiles.

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Friday, October 25, 2013

Friday Review #35

This week has been very, very busy, and yet I somehow don't have a ton to tell.

Friday night, Chris and I had a date night.  You may have seen the pictures of the lobster mashed
potatoes (see also the picture below), which shall live on a bit longer as lobster stock.

Saturday I spent a good deal of the day on the train, because I had a bridesmaid dress fitting outside Philadelphia.

The rest of the week was pretty unremarkable, just trying to get stuff done before this weekend coming up, which of course I'll tell you about next week.

Thanks to my train rides, I read most of House of Suns.  I also made progress in Women's Life in Greece and Rome, and picked a bit at Demon Princes.

I'm mostly done the ornament I knit; I just need to get the Styrofoam ball to fill it.  And I made really good progress on my very first pair of socks.

What have you been up to?

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Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Art of Manliness: Finding Your Calling Part IV

We've talked about what a vocation is  -- and what it isn't -- and why bother trying to find ours. Today?

The Art of Manliness
The Art of Manliness (Photo credit: Chandra Marsono)

Part IV: Discovering Your Vocation

We start with a formula that sure looks simple at first glance:
Your True Vocation=Your Gifts+Your Passion
Right. Super-simple.

So, first we have to find our gifts. Because that's been so successful in the past.

One tip the McKays give is to try to separate the signal from the noise. What do you do for you, as opposed to what you do because you're "supposed to"?

Consider the following questions the McKays pose:
  • As a boy, what did you love to do? Write? Read? Sports? Working on models? Playing with a chemistry set? Spending time outdoors? Pretending to be a solider or a spy?
  • During school group projects, what job did other students assign to you, or did you volunteer for?
  • What aspects of your current job do you love, which do you loathe?
  • What kinds of projects and jobs at work and at home do you get excited about? What kinds do you dread?
  • Have you ever talked to a friend about a topic, a dream, or an aspiration and everything just clicked inside of you, and you felt a surge of excitement throughout your body?
  • What things do you see other people doing that make you ache with jealousy because you wish you were doing them?
  • What issues get you really fired up?
  • What dream has nagged at you for as long as you can remember, the thing that always pops into your mind no matter how many times you dismiss it?
  • What fills your thoughts in the quiet moments when you’re riding the train or lying in bed? What do you think about incessantly, what captures your imagination? Politics? Spirituality? Relationships?
  • If time, money, education and any other obstacle was a non-issue, what kind of work would you choose to do?
  • What were you doing the last time you totally lost track of time?
I'm not sure that last question is as valid as they think it is -- the emphasis is theirs.  After all, how many of us have "totally lost track of time" messing around on Pinterest, or playing Solitaire, or watching reality TV?  But the rest of those questions are actually pretty interesting.  I might even consider hitting some of them up as essays.

What gifts do you have? How did you discover them?

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Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Signal Boost: Missing Boy

You may have seen this in the news -- if you live in the New York area, you definitely have.

If you have, then you might think it's old news.

On October 4, Avonte Oquendo left his school. He hasn't been seen since.

Avonte is 14, autistic, and mute.

And if we've learned anything from the many tales of pretty white girls who go missing and then get found, it's that one of the keys to finding someone is to keep his or her image in the public eye at all times.

The people of New York have done a great job of this; posters mark every street corner, every subway stop, and countless storefronts.

I'm a pessimist by nature, but now's not the time for that.

So I'm boosting the signal. Maybe he got on Amtrak -- his family says he loves trains -- and is in Boston or DC by now.

I'm pretty sure most of you reading this are in the New York area anyway, but for those of you who aren't: keep an eye out anyway.  You never know.
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Tuesday, October 22, 2013

What makes you happy? #30

I went to the food store today to grab some vegetables for my dinner.

It's fall, which means it's apple season. 21:54, 9 March 2008 (UTC) Differe... 21:54, 9 March 2008 (UTC)
Different kinds of Apples in a supermarket.
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My local food store tends to display the produce that is on special outside, in front of the store. I've never noticed any shoplifters, but I have noticed good deals.

This time of year, when you approach, or even just pass, the food store, the air just smells like fresh apples.

Not all of them are types of apple I even especially like, but they all just smell so good. I kind of want to go right home and make a pie.  I won't, of course, but the temptation is there.

Odor affects mood, supposedly. Today, I believe it.

What scents make you happy?

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