What I (Haven’t) Learned About “Fun Fiction”

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I really miss writing fan fiction.

When I was a kid, I absolutely loved… I was going to say comics, but let’s keep it real – I loved all of the “male power fantasy” genres. I loved comics, but I also loved action movies. Pro wrestling. Both heavy metal and gangsta rap music at various points. Video and role-playing games. First run syndicated adventure TV shows and the network kind. If it was the kind of thing your typical teenage boy was into, I would be all about it because no matter how complex or intellectual or “deep” I think I am, I am at heart your typical red blooded straight American male. I may be beta more than alpha, I may have gotten into sports later in life than most (if you can call my teenage years “later”), but at the end of the day, I loved cars and pretty girls and violence just like every other straight kid my age.

I just consumed it differently.

Not too differently mind you, because while not every kid my age isn’t into comics like I was (more on this shortly), they’re usually into something. Like I said, some kids get into sports and actually go on to play (real or fantasy) or coach. Some draw. Some build things with their hands. Whatever it is, every kid has something, and for me, it just happened to be comic books more than anything else. How we express our fandom may different though, and since writing was one of the things I was good at, I wrote. I liked writing new stories about the comic book characters I loved. And I miss it.

Now to be clear, I did it a LOT. Like once comics surpassed pro wrestling (which I basically just grew out of) as my primary entertainment whenever I had free time, I wrote pages and pages of fan fiction on reams and reams of paper. It began purely by accident. For some reason, it seems that not only did I like to write in terms of thinking of stories and putting them down on paper, I liked the act of writing period. At one point, I got Michael L. Fleischer’s Encyclopedia of Comic Book Heroes and enlisted my sister’s aid in writing down all of the characters, summarizing them, and putting them into categories. Why? I don’t know. I also used to make little index cards for every comic book in my collection too, and put them into file boxes. Why? I don’t know. But after doing stuff like this for a while,  I started playing role playing games with my friends and using my favorite comic book characters too. Me being me however, I would do it up. I would pretend like what we were verbally playing was going into fictional comic book titles based on those characters. Since RPG adventures are typically called “quests” for example, I imagined we were creating a comic book called Beetlequest, which ostensibly all of our quests with the Blue Beetle would go into. From there, I started making “checklists,” like Marvel Comics used to do to advertise all of their titles, that often had a one or two sentence summary of what would happen in that comic. I started writing those, only not just for the quests we were doing, but for imaginary titles using secondary characters that I would spin-off from the quests. Why? Again, I don’t know. But the more I did that, the longer the summaries got. And before you knew it, I was writing fan fiction with all of my favorite comic book characters.

And I loved it.

Now you may be thinking that this is the height of nerd activity, and while I wouldn’t argue against that, keep in mind that I believe doing this is what eventually broke me into comics. Once I started doing this I started getting letters published in comics on a regular basis, and by the time I was in college I had sold my first (and to date only, *sigh*) comic book story, that was published. The letter writing skill may have helped with that, and it helped me even more when I started freelance writing other stuff on a semi-regular basis, making actual (meaning significant amounts of) money. So while it may have illustrated why I didn’t lose my virginity until I was into my later twenties, it also gave me the ability to get my passion and talent to pay off.

And I really miss that.

Now is it the money I miss? Well, not exactly. What I really miss is something I’ve decided to call “fun fiction.” See, when I was writing all that fan fiction for all of my favorite comic book characters, I didn’t get blocked or have days where I wasn’t in the mood to write. I didn’t self-criticize or revise or worry about anything. Whatever I felt I just wrote, each idea feeding on the other, until I would come up with stuff that was ugly, but still halfway decent. It has been my belief for some time now that if I combined fun writing with my newfound ability to outline and revise, I could get back into writing the way I really want to, and perhaps do something I really enjoy, and I think should be doing. But I can’t seem to get it back, and for the life of me, I don’t know why.

I mean, when you think about it, it’s not logical. I could write about anything! I still watch the same kinds of shows. I could write fan fiction for those. Or if that didn’t appeal to me, I could do it for the same comic book characters I did in the olden days. I could do it for Star Trek, like everybody else does(I was late to that party too). James Bond. I could turn myself and all of my friends into characters and fan fiction out action adventure movies or TV shows. Or comics. Or whatever the Hell else I wanted to! But for some reason, while I can fantasize myself to sleep the way I always have, ever since I was a child, I can’t seem to just fire up the computer or pick up pen and paper and just write for the fun of it. And I don’t really know why.

I know all of these blog postings thus far have come to some logical point or conclusion but sorry kids, I don’t have one for this, as that’s kind of what this is about. The messy way this blog posting looks (with the exception of the fact that I’m still going to reread and revise it because as I said, that’s just how I roll these days) is exactly what I wish I could do, but not about life in general. I want to tell stories. With characters. And using my imagination. Then take the best ones, polish them up, and do something with them. We live in an era where I could save all that stuff (the original fan fiction was written on like discarded pieces of paper I just grabbed and started writing on, that’s long since been lost and likely deteriorated), fix it up, make it shiny, and let the world see the real me, in all of my nerdly, witty, fun glory.

I just don’t know how to anymore.

 

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What I Learned About Letting it Marinate

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I’ve had an itch to get back to writing regularly, and these last few blog postings have been an attempt to do that, only better than I ever have before.

Not just writing blogs mind you, but writing, period. The weekend before last I went to a baby shower for an old friend of mine, and while I was there I fell into my old strength of being able to strike up conversations with strangers and get them to connect with me. This was particularly easy, because we weren’t exactly strangers – being at the same baby shower, we either knew the mother or the father in some way, so that was a way to begin every conversation. In doing so, one of the guests revealed that she had a friend who worked at a designer mattress company and of course, my last paid writing gig was blogging for one of their rivals. Converting this one should be cake…

…assuming I time it just right. (Or “write,” in this case. Sorry, couldn’t resist. Onward…)

I haven’t approached them yet, not because I don’t think I can do it, but because these past few weeks have also taught me the value of waiting, or “letting it marinate,” as the iconic rapper Nas once put it. When I was younger I was quick to pull the trigger on anything – writing, emailing; conversations I wasn’t a part of  – no thought, just action. Worse, I would jump into any verbal battle, online or otherwise, at the drop of a hat. Fueled by my pure combination of steroids (to treat my chronic illness) and emotion, I would throw down whenever I felt challenged, which was most of the time for me as a youngster. I knew that I had intelligence, writing ability, a good memory, and the logical acumen that made me such a good student. I thought I was pretty badass, and I reveled in it like like a pig in slop.

What I didn’t have however, was the wisdom to step back and think about what I was doing. As a result, even when what I wrote was on point or “correct” as far as my reasoning went, it would also often be too long (still working on that one), riddled with spelling and grammar errors, and more often than not either put the object of my ire on the defensive or hurt the feelings of my friends when I disagreed with them. That latter situation was particularly bad, because I was also a Black & white thinker. So when friends would express disapproval with the way I came at them, I would assume they must now hate me and withdraw. Not a healthy way to be.

So what’s different about me now? Well as I mentioned before, these past few weeks I haven’t just fired off the first blog idea I’ve thought of, though I’ve had plenty. I may have pre-written whatever was on my mind, but I would put it aside when I ran out of words, and come back to it later. I never used to do that before. Ernest Hemingway once said that the only kind of writing is rewriting, which I confess I didn’t fully embrace either until I was in my thirties. I find rewriting particularly useful these days, because I’m now aware that my writing ability can run hot and cold. The blog entry from two weeks ago for example came together after I wrote a first draft that was so terrible that I just put it away after writing it. I really wasn’t “feeling it” that day, I just had an idea and rambled about it. When I picked it up again later though, I was in a better mood, started cleaning it up, and came up with something that proved to me that I was a writer once again.

More than that, I’ve realized that the nice thing about waiting is that it works outside of writing too. If you’ve ever had the phenomenon of wracking your brain about a problem, given up, and then suddenly realized the answer later, you know exactly what I’m talking about. If you’ve ever had a fight with somebody, cooled down and then apologized you know it too. I know I have. I’ve had seemingly impossible problems whose solutions just “came to me” after I rested or exercised or ate. I’ve had no ideas at all only to stumble into many over time, or ideas that I thought were money until I took immediate action on them and then realized their flaws minutes after wading in. I’ve been wrong in the past, only to realize mistakes, make adjustments, and been right later. It’s clear to me that whoever said “time heals all wounds” was more prophetic than s/he knew.

So as much as I want to write the way I used to, I’m slowing my roll a bit and letting it come to me. I make it a point to write a little every week but I prefer drafting to publishing now, and I don’t push it. I reread, I revise, and a lot of times I just rewrite. Life may be short but my writing never has been, and that always seems to have worked for me. So why rush it?

 

What I Learned About Not Saying Anything At All

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So anybody that knows me well knows that I love Twitter. I love tweeting live; I love commenting on everything I watch or hear, and I love when my comments are “hearted” or retweeted. False modesty aside, I feel like I’ve always been good at making insightful observations and well-timed jokes. When I was an honor student growing up, people always knew me for having the most thought-provoking observations or the well played zinger. I’ve also been fairly good at making logical arguments and on Twitter, you can take apart people’s poorly thought-out assertions pretty easily, presenting them with facts that disprove or pointing out holes in the reasons behind stated beliefs. It gets me retweeted, followed; “hearted” – all that stuff people believe you should aspire for if you’re doing Twitter at all.

You know what I’m really proud of though? Knowing when not to say anything.

As I often point out to people, the way I am on Twitter and the way I am in real life are not different at all. Indeed, I use a fake name for my most honest Twitter account because my candor has gotten me in big trouble in real life more times than I can count. My old life coach Nina Rubin used to praise my candor while at the same time urging me to save it for people like her or close friends rather than the world at large. When you have low self-esteem and view every interaction with the world as a chance to prove your worth it’s tough to stop seeking that validation, but I’m getting much better at it, and I now get why in my case, it’s usually the best way to go too.

See here’s the thing: what I have found is that most people you encounter in life already have their minds made up. While the political parties endlessly search for the elusive “swing voter,” those people have become few and far between these days. The majority of the people I encounter both in life and online think they have a “wisdom” that works for them, and if you challenge that wisdom, it brings out their natural defenses. I feel like these days, people want to believe they know something, because everything else in life seems so uncertain. We feel like the world has become more dangerous and that people like us are precious, because the majority of the world is people who are different. I don’t personally believe that’s true at all of course, and I feel like it’s part of the reason we’re in so much trouble – though we can communicate better and faster than we ever could before with people we’ve never even met, we’ve somehow concluded that those people are bad, unless or until we find people who are like us. Once we find those people we cling to them like crazy, and once we form ideas, we cling to them even more strongly.

As I said before, most ideas are pretty easy to take apart, and when I was younger I used to do it all the time, particularly when online communication was new. I loved showing the world that I was clever and witty, like I did in school growing up, always coming up with the keen observation or well-timed joke that didn’t make me less of a nerd, but at least convinced people that I was interesting. And I do still do that online, but nowadays I pick my battles, and more often than not, I don’t say anything at all. When somebody says something I disagree with, but I know it’s not really doing any harm and that there’s no chance my comment will change their mind, I leave it alone. When I tell a story, I stick to the facts as much as I can, but if the minutiae of those facts is making the story too confusing, I omit it. And when somebody talks about something they really like and I don’t, I don’t express my contrary and often negative opinion. It’s just not worth it.

As I said, on Twitter I get “hearted” and retweeted a lot, but that happens most often when I validate somebody else’s positive feeling rather than when I attack someone. Even popular negative views don’t get as many hearts and RTs than positive ones I’ve found and again, if it isn’t going to change anything or worse, will cause that person to knuckle up and defend their views more stridently, I prefer to let it go. I find that fighting with anybody causes stress regardless of whether I think I’m right, online or in person. And I really don’t need the extra stress. Discretion really is the better part of valor I’ve learned, and when I feel the urge to clap back or criticize these days, I don’t. Saying the right thing may make me feel good for a second, but not saying anything and just letting people be takes so much less effort and I think in the long run, makes everybody feel better overall.

 

 

 

What I Learned About My Writing

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Okay it’s time for a confession: I haven’t liked my writing for a while now.

I realize the irony in that, as I believe my only two real talents are my writing and public speaking abilities (and my penchant for make friends, but I don’t know if that’s an actual “talent”). The truth though, is that I’ve been disappointed in my writing ability for some time now, going back well over a decade. But I think it’s time to exorcise that demon now.

My disillusionment with my writing started when I realized that I can be so verbose at times that I lose people. I realize now that most people’s attention span is pretty short, hence the popularity of texts and tweets, I’m guessing. This was the reason I lost a lot of interest in emailing, which was once something I did a lot, and really enjoyed. I used to love emailing so much that I would often send someone an email, but CC others in it, hoping they’d read and be moved to comment by what I said, thus starting a discussion. Instead it put a lot of people off, so over time I stopped doing that.

Later, I began to notice a sameness in my writing style which had basically become a cliche. I’d make a long series of comments about something, then punctuate it with some broad, conclusive statement in one line.

Like this.

And then I’d move on and keep writing about whatever. The problem was that it became common over time. If I did it once, fine. When I would do it over and over again though, to the point that my writing just became a repetitive pattern, I felt that it was more an affectation than a real statement of anything. It felt like I was performing in written form rather than getting my ideas across, and that’s really what matters to me, and I think, should matter to any writer most – the communication of one’s ideas or feelings. Otherwise, what are we really doing here besides just being self-indulgent?

And that’s really what bothered me most of all. I began to feel like I was just writing for writing’s sake, something I’m okay with in a journal on paper that only I am ever likely to read, but not so much online or anywhere else that people tend to read a lot of writing nowadays. I had a brief respite from my self-doubt when I went to paralegal school, and my writing got praised again and won me a scholarship, but that set me up for another writing disappointment later on down the road. I realized later that my writing style, which really came to be when I took a class in high school that set me up to ace the Advanced Placement Exam for English, was great for legal or academic writing (because duh, I was an English major, who graduated with high distinction), but not really great for communicating with anybody else. I learned that lesson when I got hired as a paid professional blogger, and discovered that in some ways, I really wasn’t as good a writer as I thought I was at all.

For one thing, it seems that I have a tendency to begin sentences with connective words, like “and” or “but.” While that might make my writing more conversational, what I learned in my blogging position was that this isn’t the kind of writing they like in that world. Professional bloggers have to sound like perfect professional writers to the layperson, even though they’re not. Though the language has to be emotive, it also can’t contain things that amateur writers do – sentences beginning with connective words or sentence fragments. Regardless of whatever emotional impact my pieces might create, it had to look like it was grammatically perfect, and not emotive at all. On the other hand, it also couldn’t be wordy, like actual academic or legal writing. My use of long sentences is great for writing college essays and made me an A student who won a scholarship for legal writing. In the world of marketing however, I learned that the target audience is often people who do not have a college education. Words and sentences have to be simple, yet sound sophisticated, and my writing often seemed to fall into one category or the other, when it needed to be both.

I did learn how to do it of course, and that blogging job was one of the favorites I’ve ever had. But the combination of that feedback and my prior experience of people not liking my wordy emails really made me doubt myself completely. And when I myself noticed how often I would use the dramatic standalone sentence technique, I really began to believe that I wasn’t as good a writer as I’d always assumed myself to be.

But so what?

Last Thursday I was laid up in the hospital after having the latest iteration of my ongoing health issues publicly. It happened at work, and has put my budding new career into a bit of doubt. I felt awful, scared, and alone, though the latter emotion I dealt with by gaining a newfound appreciation for the cell phone. As is always the case when I have time to kill, I decided to spend it writing. Even though I was strapped to a bunch of wires to monitor my vitals and in an awkward position in the exam room, I maneuvered my way to my bag, and found whatever piece of paper and writing material I could use. You see, I still carry pen and paper around with me wherever I go, and I rarely throw pieces of paper away – I will recycle where and when I can, but generally speaking, I only do that when the paper is impossible to write on any further. No matter how I feel about my writing at any given moment, what it does for me or what it doesn’t, I’m always going to write when I need to. I write when I’m bored. I write when I’m happy. I write when I’m scared. I write when I’m lonely and when I meet someone I like, I write about them. No matter what happens to me in life, good, bad, or indifferent, I ultimately find myself writing about it. To paraphrase a now tarnished man, we’ve been together for such a long time, my writing and me. I realize it’s not a question of how good or bad a writer I am anymore, it’s just who I am. Like it or not, I will always write. I may not write as much as I should, but as the blogging position taught me, who’s to say how and when I “should” write anyway? I can adjust if it will get me in trouble to write a certain way, or if I get paid based on how I write (Hell, what is screenwriting after all, anyway?). But for me, the writing never stops. Fragment, legible, long, short, it doesn’t matter. I am a writer. That’s just who I am.

It sure would be nice to get paid for it more, though. Oh well, something to write about in the future.

 

What I Learned About Blogging

What I learned most about blogging is that I may not have been entirely qualified to do it.

Perhaps I’m being too simplistic. While it is true that I’ve enjoyed doing this blog so far, my ultimate goal when I started was to find a way to make this blog “pay” for me to write it, either in money or in audience appreciation. On that basis, I’ve succeeded: I recently got hired to write a blog for a company. Exciting, right? I finally get a chance to prove that my writing skills are good enough for somebody to pay for them. Or to be clear, I get to prove I can still do that, and on a regular basis, because I’ve been paid for my writing several times in the past, hence my desire for a blog that helped me do that again. This blog didn’t get me the gig though. Networking did, and now that I am getting paid to write a blog, I’ve discovered that I may have been going about this all wrong from the beginning.

Here’s what I’ve learned about the world of paid blogging, or blogging with a purpose:

1 – You have to know what your purpose is.  I find that if you’re blogging for a company, you have to know what product or service you’re selling for them. If you’re blogging for yourself, you have to have a “personal brand,” meaning some identity for yourself and your blog, so that your target audience is clearly identifiable. With a company it’s easy – if you sell widgets, your target audience is people who are looking to buy widgets, or people who have a problem that widgets can solve. With a personal blog like mine though, it’s more difficult to find that target unless your blog has a clearly defined purpose.

Suppose this blog was all about California tourism. My target would be obvious: people looking to visit California. Or if my purpose was how to relocate to California, my target would be people looking to move there. If it was the tourists, I would talk about all the cool stuff in California – Hollywood; the beaches, the attractions like Disneyland or Universal Studios. Writing it would be easy, as it would be if it was people looking to move there: I’d talk about moving companies, affordable places to live, California laws to be aware of, etc. My blog thus far however hasn’t really been about California at all, it’s about me. And this is why I think a personal brand is so important.

If I’m a defined person that everybody knows, like a celebrity, the fact that I’m many things – a nerd, a Muslim, a straight man, a writer, a single guy, a picky eater – is fine, because people will read it regardless because they know me and want to know more. If not, I believe I need to pick one of those labels because it makes the blog writing, and thus audience building, easier. I think I would just need to find what interests others who fit whatever label I decide the blog fits, and write about those interests. In my case however, I’m a relatively unknown individual that fits a bunch of different labels like I listed, giving us a blog that’s all over the place. I think writing a blog that’s scattershot like that without any defined personal brand to attract people to it has little to no purpose. It’s just me thinking about stuff, and unless I have that great personal brand, and there are thus a ton of people out there already interested in me and my thoughts, it’s difficult to write a blog about me. My purpose is dubious at best. That’s why I’ve learned that the blog’s purpose needs to be the blogger’s first consideration if s/he wants to monetize it or find an audience.

2 – You have to determine what your target audience is interested in. As I believe I already mentioned, once you know who your target audience is, you have to figure out what they want to read about. What you’re reading now is a product of the training I did for my new blogging job, and what I realized from it is that if you don’t know – not assume, not speculate, know – what your target audience wants to read about, it’s very difficult to build that audience. If you’re selling a product or service, I think not knowing what your audience wants is a big problem: If you’re not writing to your audience’s interests, how and why would they ever encounter you or your product or service? If they’re unaware of what your blog has to do with them, there’s no real reason to find it.

A good professional blogger, I learned, writes to what their target audience is interested in, and a shortcut I learned in determining that is to figure out what others who are into that same thing – oftentimes your competition – are blogging about. As my new employer taught me, if I read the most popular blogs about my product, I will discover what my audience is interested in, and if I can add to that discourse in a new and / or interesting way, I can get more readers for my blog. This is particularly true if those same leading bloggers share things that I wrote. According to my new bosses, getting redistributed by others is what makes something popular – this is what “going viral” is. So if I wanted to build audience for this blog, once I’d determined my purpose or personal brand I’d have to find out what the leading bloggers that cater to that audience write about, and write about the same things, only as good or better. I’d know I’d succeeded if those same leading bloggers started sharing my stuff too.

3 – You have to post regularly. This one I stuck to fairly faithfully in the past with this blog, but have not done so lately. Why? See #1.

As I said, I believe this blog is not very popular because all it’s about is me, and almost nobody knows me beyond those who have met me personally. I have no personal brand,  I’m just a real person, with all of the contradictions and complexities that entails. I can’t point to a target audience because I’m into a lot of different things, hence my blog is too. As a result, it can’t do much for me beyond allowing me to vent and clarify my own thinking for myself.

And I’ve discovered that doing all of these steps is really hard work.

If you haven’t figured it out already, I am writing this as a final blog posting for the foreseeable future, at least in this blog. I have an even more personal, but less well-maintained one that I just use as the mood strikes me. I’ve discovered that ironically, my ending this blog shows that I had already succeeded in fulfilling what I saw as its original purpose long before I began it. My goal in writing this blog really was to validate me, and I did that when my friend who referred me for the new blogging gig became my friend in the first place. He knew the part of my brand that would sell to his company: “A great writer and a reliable guy.” He knew that from personal experience. He knew the target – his company, that just lost their blogger – was looking for somebody to take over their blog. He introduced me; they liked what they saw in my writing (not from this blog no less, from elsewhere), and hired me. Since they know what their competitors blog about (which is what their audience is interested in), they know what to tell me to write, and that’s all I need. My writing won out, as I hoped it would.

So why can’t I do their blog and this one too?

4 – Blogging is hard work. Part of the reason I feel it’s important to have a purpose is because I think doing anything well is hard work. I feel that if you’re good at it, it can be even harder, because (as is the case with me) your perfectionism will kick in and force you to get every part of your blog posting exactly right, which takes effort. Writing well is not quick or easy, so without some tangible “payment” – be it monetary or in the form of some level of self-satisfaction, the whole thing can take a lot out of you. Again, I wanted to prove that I could write well enough to be compensated for my writing on a regular basis. I did that, which is satisfaction enough for me. If I feel the urge to write just to scratch an itch in the future, I can do it as needed, without worrying about adhere to #3. If I want to write for some other purpose, keeping this blog will only take time away from it. It’s run its course.

When I began this blog, I thought it would be a good way to reflect on what I learned in my 17 years in Southern California. What I learned in California more than anything else was to value what I like about myself, and to value myself generally. I had many teachers in California that got me here, and I’m not my perfect me just yet, but I’m good enough to know that I don’t need to keep doing this blog to prove myself. I am a living demonstration of what I learned in California, and if that’s good enough, it will get me back there again, regardless of whether I write about it.

If I do write about it however, you know it’ll be good. Don’t believe me? Just go back and read this blog.

 

 

 

What I Learned About “Manhood”

I had originally thought to entitle this blog posting “What I Learned About Women,” but I don’t know that you can “learn” a whole gender, any more than you can learn all members of a racial or religious group.

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Truth be known, what I want to write about has very little to do with women anyway.

Last week a relative of mine needed to change two shower curtains in her big, multi-story house, and if she’d needed that help prior to my going to California, I probably would have crouched down really low and hoped she wouldn’t see me.  If she did and asked me to help, I would likely have hemmed and hawed, or worse thrown a fit and complained throughout the entire activity.  The tougher the going got the more I would hope she’d see how much I was struggling and tell me to get going, and in most cases where I’d been in that situation, that’d lead to her either sending me away in anger or disgust, thus letting my immature ass off the hook.  Why?

Because for most of my life, I think I’ve been a little boy.

I feel that’s started to shift in recent years though.  When I first got to California, my first friend was this girl I had the biggest crush on, and who was kind of into me as well, I later learned.  So although I didn’t add much to her life at that time, I was a diversion she gladly tolerated.  You see, she’d recently moved back to California after ending a long-term and serious relationship, and I think that to some extent, I gave her hope that there was something better out there for her.  Unfortunately it wasn’t me though, because I was too much, I later learned, like the relationship she got out of, as I’ve found many young men in relationships all-too-often are.

As my friend used to describe it to me, what she was looking for was something along the lines of what her parents had.  According to my friend, the reason why her mother chose her father was because her mother “never had to know the process whenever they wanted to do something.”  That is to say, when my friend and her ex wanted to go somewhere for instance, he’d tell her about how hard it was going to be, and even ask her to make some calls to do some research into logistically what all they needed to do it.  Instead of being some fun, spontaneous little thing, it would become a hassle for my friend, and all of the fun of doing that activity was drained out of it.  Put another way, she wanted the guy who, when asked, would just change the damn shower curtain, not make a big deal about how hard it was going to be for him to do it.

Last week I talked about the actress Krista Allen, who has a podcast I really like called “I’m Fine,” where she reads and discusses self-help books.  The thing Allen’s podcast and her history have taught me about her is that to me she’s a lot like this same relative of mine in that she keeps trying to “save” men, only to be disappointed when they gladly accept the help but never step up the plate to save themselves or anybody else, least of all her.  I feel that this has been my relative’s relationship pattern too, and I believe that it’s part of both my friction with her in the past and the failure of my own relationships.  It seems to me that women are naturally more empathetic than men, so when put into a situation where somebody they care about needs help, many women’s natural inclination is to jump in and do it.  Because it comes so naturally to these women, I feel they naturally expect that these men will do the same for them.  When these men get comfortable with getting helped however, they don’t give reciprocal care, and I feel that it completely grinds these self-sacrificing women down, both emotionally and physically.  As my old life coach Nina Rubin advised me, if I see my relative or any other woman doing dishes for example, I will succeed more in winning her over if I just jump in and start helping – not asking if she needs the help and definitely not letting her just do the work.  Sure enough, I found that when I tried to help my relative with the shower curtains instead of complaining, she appreciated it, we got along better, and she even did something for me in return, without my even asking.  When I expect my relative to do for me or excessively ask her for help, it creates conflict, and likewise Allen has stated that she believes her past relationships have failed because she ultimately just became the helper or the enabler, never the one who was helped.  When I pull my weight however, it keeps my relative happy, and makes her life function that much better too.

What I’ve come to believe is that being a man is doint one’s part in creating a harmonious unit, be it a family, a relationship, a team, a business or anything else.  At the end of the day, I believe that because everybody benefits from the success of every unit they’re part of, it’s implied that everybody should strive to make that unit successful.  The thing is, I feel like most women sort of know this intuitively, so when they’re a part of something, they jump in and make it go without even thinking about it.  Though many men do this as well, I find that many boys do not, and when a woman finds herself in a relationship of any kind where she is, in essence, mothering an unappreciative and dependent boy, it wears on her, eating away at her peace of mind.  To me, you can’t call yourself a “man” if you’re not doing your part to help everybody else in your unit, especially its often overworked women.  To my amazement, success often isn’t even a factor in evaluating a man’s worth to most women – a man’s attempt, without being asked and without complaint – seems to reflect maturity I think, and we men can often be appreciated just for that.

Speaking of appreciation, I also feel like many women feel unappreciated for doing so much, though how a successful man expresses that appreciation differs based on the relationship.  In a familial relationship, I feel that expressing thanks to one’s mother, sister, aunt, etc. goes a long way, particularly if it’s done in the form of taking an action, not just or even primarily words.  I feel this is so not because they are women mind you, but because as women, their contributions have historically been overlooked, while men’s achievements have historically and routinely been celebrated.

In a Romantic relationship by contrast, I believe that showing physical or Romantic affection as a form of appreciation is welcomed, assuming the level of attraction in the relationship is mutual.  California made me into a pseudo-feminist, and as a result, I am big on the idea of consent.  I think that when men get physical with women who don’t want it, or at that moment are not feeling the same level of attraction, these men are ignoring a lack of consent.  I have found that we as men have to be careful.  When the Romantic relationship is working however, I feel that physical affection along with verbal compliments and Romantic gestures are what make the unit – in this case, the couple – work.  To me, part of being a man is being able to engage in this kind of mutually beneficial relationship where both sides express an appreciation that’s desired and in my opinion necessary to maintain the unit.

Long story short, to me “manhood” is all about doing what’s necessary for your unit when required to and expressing appreciation, however is appropriate, to the members of that unit.  To me it’s not about muscles, beating people up, defending honor, watching football, being handy around the house, unemotional, or any of that crap.  Just as film critic Roger Ebert‘s definition of a hero is “ordinary people who are faced with a need and rise to the occasion, a man is an adult who anticipates, and always rises to the occasion before he’s asked.

(…and with a penis, or course.  face-with-stuck-out-tongue-and-winking-eye

 

What I Learned About Judging a Book By Its Cover

If you’d told me a week ago that I’d dedicate a whole blog posting to the actress Krista Allen, I’d’ve told you that you were crazy…

I’ll confess: I first learned of Krista Allen from a softcore adult film role she did early in her career.

Just as she isn’t perfect neither am I, and that’s kind of why I like her.  In the past week or so, her podcast has become a favorite of mine, one in which she reviews – or more appropriately, discusses and analyzes – a different self-help book every week, as reading self-help books is kind of her hobby.  As it turns out, Krista Allen and I have three very big things in common: 1) we both dabbled in adult entertainment, 2) we both moved around a lot as children, and 3) we both have struggled with low self-esteem.  This is why Krista Allen reads so many self-help books, and in listening to her discuss them on her podcast, she’s reminded me of a key lesson I learned in my first relationship that I’d like to write about today: that I believe people are enriched by dealing with people who are different from them.

My first serious girlfriend and I were more different than we were alike.  She honestly had more in common with Krista Allen than she did with me.  She came from poverty; my father was an engineer and my mother was a doctor.  She was a pretty and popular girl in high school; I was the king of the geeks.  Most importantly, while we both shared a love of film, my ex wasn’t a nerd about it.  She didn’t know or care what a director was before she met me, and would get annoyed by the trivial “fun facts,” as she called them, that I would often share with her.  While I am so willing to share every detail about myself that I had to force myself to be anonymous in this blog, my ex didn’t even like having our curtains open because others could then peer in and see how we lived.  Yet despite our differences, I probably learned more about life, both directly from and just by being with her than I ever did in my decades of school and growing up in seven different places before I finally moved out and was on my own.  While I don’t miss her personally, I miss the astounding number of things I learned from being with her, and that’s kind of what I get from Krista Allen’s podcast too.

Allen has shared that she’s from Texas, the red state I call “California’s evil twin.”  It’s big, it’s rich, it has a huge undocumented population but it’s not friendly to them like California is, which I attribute to people like Krista Allen and her family: poor Caucasians, the Trump supporter stereotype.  Like me, Krista Allen was essentially raised by a single parent, but in that “country” way that I have typically find repellent.  She’s not super educated, and growing up these attractive redneck-type women never gave me the time of day.  Yet when I listen to her podcast I realize she’s sweet!  And funny!  And easygoing!  Open-minded!  And honest, like I said.  Like my ex, she strikes me as generally a pleasant person to be around, and although that relationship went south for me, I believe that had more to do with our youth and inexperience than any personal defect on my ex’s part.  Unlike my ex, Allen is inquisitive and interested in learning, but again, I’d never know any of that from looking at her or if I judged her by the roles she’s played.  Krista Allen strikes me as a person who’s made the best of what life has given her, both in terms of her appearance and her background, keeping her from being a cynic.  She stumbled into entertainment after a disastrous ending to her first marriage, and “Forrest Gumped” her way into a career as a working actress, one that got her on “Friends” and “Frasier,” and in movies like Liar Liar (Tom Shadyac, 1997) and Anger Management (Peter Segal, 2003).  Were they great, major roles?  Not usually.  Were they bimbo roles?  At first, yes.   But does she still work to this day, and without having to go back to doing nudity?  Absolutely yes, and as most actresses in Hollywood will tell you, “bimbo” or otherwise, that is not easy to do.  Regardless of her work not being my cup of tea, I have found that meeting and knowing people like her allows me to be more open-minded myself, and look at the world from new and unfamiliar perspectives.  That has made me better at making friends, coming up with new ideas, and surviving in a world so different from mine.

I also like Krista Allen because I feel that she’s a survivor and not a quitter.  Again, her career is indirectly the result of a failed marriage, and I’ve never heard her hold her success up as proof that she’s exceptional or better than anybody else.  Like me she’s very candid about her failures, and that authenticity is something I value in everybody.  In fact, I personally believe that an inability to be authentic is the reason so many human relationships fail and conflicts develop.  Moreover, despite her failed relationships, Krista Allen continues to get into them – she doesn’t become cynical and give up on the idea of love and companionship despite thus far failing to really achieve either.  As I’ve said in the past, like me she rolls with it and keeps going, and though this hasn’t brought her ultimate success in relationships as yet, I believe it’s why she’s continues to succeed professionally, thus buying herself time and money to ultimately achieve her goals.  I admire all of these qualities, and I believe that they are a big part of what draws people to her.  Many of her podcasts are co-hosted by her friends, and many women have taught me that women are generally a lot meaner to other women than they are to men, a sad reality that Allen herself has shared.  I think the fact that she has so many friends of both genders is why she succeeds, and speaks highly of her character.

Bottom line, if you’d told me a week ago that I’d dedicate a whole blog posting to my fandom of Krista Allen, I’d’ve told you that you were crazy.  I’m a film geek with a minor in cinema studies!  I consider myself an intellectual, and I’ve only had one girlfriend (who I didn’t usually get along with) that looked anywhere near as pretty as her!  What could I possibly get from engaging with a person like that?

They say you should never judge a book by its cover, and Krista Allen’s podcast proved that to me.  And besides, it saves me a lot of money on books…