Wednesday, September 29, 2010

i still hate losing

For a while, I thought that I had conquered the lingering irritation and negative outlook that tends to come when you lose something that you feel like you should win.

Realistically, the moment the game is over, if you're successfully living in the present, then the game and its outcome is in the past, and the outcome of a past event should no longer affect you.
Yes you lost, and yes, you could have played better, but being upset about it changes nothing.
You either decide to work harder and practice (future action steps), or you decide to let it go.

I've certainly succeeded in not being downright angry anymore - I used to hate losing more than anything. But today, after losing a meaningless basketball game, I find myself still irritated, and still carrying a negative outlook with me after the game.

The strongest feeling of course comes from your own assessment of how you (yourself) played.
If you played great and the team still lost, you feel somehow less annoyed (perhaps you're annoyed at the others on the team). But the worst is when you played like crap and the team lost - nothing stays with you like that.

This is of course a powerful affect of the ego - ultimately, you're drawing self value from comparing your own skill to the skill of others. Losing decreases your self value, and winning increases it. The key here is of course to abandon winning and losing as a source of self-value overall (thereby remembering that our true self value is within us, and infinite).

What's interesting is that...I don't want to turn off the positive feeling I get from winning!
It's like a drug - it puts me on top of the world! Again, of course, this is an ego reaction, but I think what I'd ideally like to do is let my losses go, but wear my wins on my sleeve - all the upside, without the downside.

Think its possible?

Monday, September 27, 2010

moving and shaking: memos from a rookie entrepreneur

I entered this column contest, and lost spectacularly.
Actually, I don't know how spectacularly, but I lost nonetheless.
Luckily, I have my own soapbox, so here's my McSweeney's Entry:
It's long (because it was meant to be a column).

- - - -


- - - -

NYC entrepreneur, aspiring writer, and querulous optimist that believes he can indeed have his cake and eat it too – and yours to go, if you’re not going to finish that – Nihal Parthasarathi has surrendered his corporate expense account for the greener pastures of startup poverty. Please find his website, buy his product and tell all of your friends to tell all of their friends to do the same.

- - - -




- - - -

“He’s never going to be able to work for anyone.”

That’s perhaps the finest compliment I’ve ever received, stated unabashedly to my best friend by his father, a successful hotel chain owner to whom I’ve pitched every single idea I’ve ever had – everything from finding a way to help kids get noticed by colleges to creating free standing bike rack rentals in every major city and most major suburbs. The fact that the above ideas have become competitive industries is one that I use as proof that all my ideas have merit. The observant reader will notice that I’m using it right now to sell you on the merit of my ideas. An aside: I’m learning how to sell right now, and Google says that examples and repetition work wonders - my ideas have merit, by the way.

I didn’t always want to start a business – I actually only went to an undergraduate business school because I didn’t get in to any of my top choice colleges, none of which were business schools. I also experienced a mid-freshman year crisis in which I expressed a deep desire to transfer out of the business program and become a writing / English major. My father, ever the manipulative Indian and dutifully concerned about one day relieving himself of the extraordinary financial burden that I represented, promptly pointed out that if I really wanted to abandon my finance and marketing majors for creative writing then I should prove it, by writing. A novel concept, I thought, and like a fool I agreed to prove my passion by writing in my spare time, which of course was instead funneled directly into the alternating bouts of wanton merrymaking and idle lazing that a college student first experiencing total freedom discovers to be his life’s true aspiration.

It’s not hard to imagine me blissfully floating along in B+ mediocrity – authoring ambitions abandoned – just smart enough to slack off for most of the semester and then study like hell at the last second, pulling off the final presentation with gusto and banking on the curve to gently settle my grades at a respectable, parental lecture avoiding B+. Successful slacking of this sort takes pride in itself, and I often felt a reassuring spike in my ego when I saw the flocks of other students laden with books and activities scurrying around and expending so much effort to so little end. Those fools. My long term plan was to just get a corporate job like the rest of the crowd I was in, and cruise my way up the ladder.

Then I read the Fountainhead.

Ayn Rand gets a lot of flak for her part in the financial meltdown and her extreme capitalist utopia, but no one has yet written a better portrait of a man who desperately loves what he does – not for money, and not because anyone tells him he should or tells him it’s good. Even now I read passages about Mr. Howard Roark, and it sparks a fiery determination to drop everything and begin doing the things that I love, without apology or regret. I suddenly wanted in work what we all want in love – the kind of passion that moves mountains in order to further itself.

Unfortunately, a few early attempts at starting my own business proved but one thing – I may have wanted to do my own thing in my own way, but I had to learn how to do something in some way first.

Therefore, I did what any unqualified person wishing to exert unearned influence over key decision makers would do – I became a consultant. To my great surprise, consulting was actually superior in some ways to entrepreneurship – not only did I get to tell other people what to do, I was also in no way responsible for what they did. Imagine for yourself a few PowerPoint slides that smugly explain the following in a flowchart:
- If you didn’t listen to me, and things went wrong – you should have listened, and now you need more of me to fix the mistakes you made
- If you didn’t listen to me and things went right – you got lucky, and things would have been even better if you had just listened to me
- If you listened to me, and things went right – see the linked contract for a rate increase
- If you listened to me, and things went wrong – you must not have the right people to execute my recommendations and better hire my Human Resources consulting team ASAP

To be fair, I did learn many things that have served me well since I’ve left, other than the best frequent flier and hotel reward programs. But above all I had one revelation that gave me the confidence to leap from my comfortable Westin heavenly bed and into the Ramen for breakfast, lunch, and dinner throes of entrepreneurship. Here it is:

Every single person is making it up as they go.
And that means you can too.


This kind of statement actually makes the most sense to many parents, because no one ever tells a parent how to be a good one. Your kids are just born, and you have to fumble around and figure it out. There may be a right and a wrong, but it’s always in retrospect – you have to accept your charge and move forward in the now, and largely you move forward by making it up as you go.

The same is true in business.
The moment you abandon your perception that someone else knows better than you do, you earn the power to be a decision maker, and thus the power to make it up as you go. Caution: side effects may include arrogance and dissatisfaction with being told what to do by anyone.

You, like many, might find yourself asking indignantly, “What about people with experience? Certainly they’re not making it up as they go?”

I assure you, they are.
Just like you, they’re looking at the information they’ve been given, and are making the best possible decision based on what they know. They may know more in a given situation, but that’s where you can quickly begin to draw even – read on to find out more!

There are three easy steps to making it up as you go.
I know, because I just made up these three steps, and we both know that my ideas have merit.
Let’s call them Action Steps because that makes them sound less like I just made them up.

Be resourceful.
(Don’t you love ‘action’ steps that are actually just inherent qualities you may or may not possess?) Allow me to elaborate! The key to being resourceful is to have a computer with internet. Just Google the thing you feel you lack experience in and you will quickly learn a lot from other people’s experiences – enough to continue making it up as you go.

You might be saying to yourself – ‘That’s not making it up, that’s looking it up!’, but the truth is that Google is the biggest consultant of all. You still have to decide which recommendation to take, and therein lies the make-uppery (yes, I made that word up, and you can buy it for $4.95 on Amazon).

You actually have to do something. Anything. Surprising, I know.
I’m actually rather put off to discover that Nike’s corporate slogan makes up the entirety of Action Step Two in my plan. I’m also concerned that it may be grounds for a lawsuit. Allow me a moment to Google “how to avoid copyright infringement”. Ok, all clear.

Once you can Google stuff, and once you’ve accepted that to do anything you must Just Do It, there’s only one thing left to remember. I was reminded of this high school lesson after Googling the surprisingly fruitful query, “How to do anything”.

In the inspiring words of one particularly laissez faire soccer coach of mine: “If you can learn shit and learn from shit then there’s no shitter you can’t shit on.” I can’t honestly tell if by ‘shitter’ he was referring to the actual bathroom device that one shits on or to the proverbial ‘one who shits’ with an additional allusion to the post-dunk street-ball trash talk form of ‘have been shat on’. Still, somehow I pieced together enough fecal matter in this statement to take something from it.

Every single thing in life is a trial, and most of it is error. Given this, there are two types of people that succeed in the long run: people that just tried so many damn times that eventually they succeeded, and people who are astonishingly good at identifying, learning from and correcting their errors. For the sake of brevity, Action Step Three recommends being the latter, though the former does get you where you’re going and makes for some great stories at dinnertime.

And that’s it - just three steps – be resourceful, do shit, and learn from the shit that you do. I understand that I’m preaching lessons for success as a person who hasn’t yet officially done shit. But hell, if I fail, I figure I’ll at least have enough experience to go get myself a real job. After all, everyone wants to hire a former consultant whose ideas have merit.

is true love incapable of infidelity?

Let me warn you in advance - this is going to meander esoterically a bit without really concluding...if you choose to read it, you're not allowed to judge me for it.

I read this line the other day: 'True love is incapable of infidelity'.
(might have been in a Kundera book)
It's quite a bold statement, as I'm sure it's intended to be.

While of course he might be saying that 'people truly in love don't cheat on one another', I doubt it - I think what he's saying (especially knowing Kundera), is that when two people are connected by the a 'true' love, no action they might take, including sleeping with other people, can be considered betrayal, for though their bodies might be compromised, their minds, their souls are still turned towards one another.

I automatically think of my favorite idea in Orwell's 1984 - the idea that to truly betray someone you love, you must intentionally place yourself before them - willfully sacrifice them in order to save yourself. After all, what is love if not the valuing of someone above yourself?
And how else can this power be betrayed?

My next thought then is that perhaps Kundera is wrong, as powerfully illustrated by Orwell - that even true love can be broken by terrifying force and fear. But even outside this example, I return to the traditional thought of infidelity - sleeping with someone else - and wonder whether Kundera can be right - in what context might sleeping with someone else not be considered infidelity?

In my mind, cheating on a loved one is analogous, though perhaps not quite at the same magnitude, with Orwell's depiction of placing yourself before them. In cheating, you place your immediate sexual desire, or desire for conquest, or desire to be desired above the concern for the one that you love. This then is infidelity - intentionally causing pain to the one you love for the sake of yourself. Or at its best, you're ignoring the impact upon your loved one for the sake of yourself. Or maybe you just got blackout drunk that one time and mistook the other girl for your girlfriend?

Of course there might be a context in which you can sleep with others without causing pain to your loved one - perhaps this is what Kundera was arguing for - the idea that love is not possessive, that true love is fearless and unconcerned with the actions of the loved one. Yet again I feel like the fearlessness created by true love emanates from the character of the one we love - we are fearless precisely because we know them and trust them well enough to know that we have nothing to fear.

This then means that the only scenario empty of infidelity is one in which the love itself is empty - in which neither party is afraid of any plausible actions of the other. It makes me wonder whether this kind of relationship can even be called love.
Sounds a lot like indifference, doesn't it?

great ads, weak product

Though I know how unrelated they are, it's always sad to me when great marketing does not sell a great product (unless you believe that great marketing IS having a great product). I wrote once about how companies should put their advertising budget into their product, but still, it's far more comforting to think that the things we want to buy are precisely the things we should buy. And yet it's so rarely true.

Cue my latest product experience:
As a result of Walgreen's pathetic attempt to keep shoplifters from stealing deodorant (I assume they have their reasons, though I hesitate to suggest that anyone should be prevented from procuring a product them protects those around them from themselves), I was unable to buy mine, especially after the employee I asked to unlock the shelf containing my deodorant disappeared and never came back - great way to sell product, guys. This is actually Degree's fault (they make my deodorant) - they need to lean on Walgreens to let people buy their product.

Anyway, since I couldn't get mine, I opted for Old Spice, since I've so enjoyed their recent ad campaigns. These campaigns have been heralded around the internet for their wit, humor and effectiveness - in addition to the astounding responsiveness of the campaign to online comments and messages. So I thought, 'OK - I'll be persuaded this one time.'

And I made a mistake - whereas with Degree I never had cause for complaint, I find that Old Spice neither substantially defends against odor (yes, you might have noticed me smelling like BO recently - sorry), nor against wetness (I took to wearing undershirts in summer/fall for one of the first times in my life, though I now should state for the record that I'm actually a fan of them!). Also, to round things out, the deodorant irritates my skin - I suspect this may be user specific, but I'm happy to blame them for it anyway.

Unfortunate that the entertainment provided by the commercials cannot compensate for the actual product's shortcomings.

john updike - perfection wasted

Perfection Wasted

And another regrettable thing about death
is the ceasing of your own brand of magic,
which too a whole life to develop and market –
the quips, the witticisms, the slant
adjusted to a few, those loved ones nearest
the lip of the stage, their soft faces blanched
in the footlight glow, their laughter close to tears,
their tears confused with their diamond earrings,
their warm pooled breath in and out with your heartbeat,
their response and your performance twinned.
The jokes over the phone. The memories packed
in the rapid-access file. The whole act.
Who will do it again? That’s it: no one;
imitators and descendants aren’t the same.

- John Updike

Thursday, September 23, 2010

astounded that I exist

A friend caught me looking at myself in the mirror the other day and made a wisecrack about vanity that I found myself quickly overanalyzing, with Kundera's help.

In The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Kundera writes of his character Tereza:

"Tereza tried to see herself through her body...she often stood in front of the mirror, even as a girl. She looked in the mirror to see her own "I". [S]he thought she saw her soul shining through the features of her face."

(I'm not sure that this is exactly the relevant bit, but I've loaned my copy to a friend and thus had to parse this together from snippets on the web)

This passage reminded me of a thought I'd often had about what it is that makes one's own image so irresistible. Of course there is the self conscious component of 'making sure we look good', which of course creates a crowd of non-lookers who are convinced they never will look good (the crowd of people who never look in mirrors).

But setting aside the vanity/lack thereof argument, I think there's something more here.
I have often experienced the same wonder that Tereza does.
To be slightly more melodramatic:

Every single time I see myself, I am astounded that I exist.

I spend so much time experiencing life from within my frame, and within my own mind, that I forget that I exist in a physical form.
To then see that form after such a volume of experience without it is almost unbelievable.
It is the only incontrovertible visual proof that there is a being experiencing all of this.

And then to compare the magnitude within us to the reflection presented by a restaurant mirror, to examine the simple spiral-bound cover to an anthology of thought, experience, emotion, history, and then to consider everything it took to place us here, at this time and place within this absurdly specific reality -
is it any wonder that we can't help but look?

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

guilt vs. inspiration

My last post about being guilted made me want to bring up something else.

For those of us that use guilt as a motivator, i.e. a way to make someone else do something, I think it's worth considering the picture of a person doing something out of guilt vs. a person doing something out of inspiration.

If you're guilted into something, it means you're coming unwillingly, you probably harbor resentment about it, and heaven knows that you're not going to try your best, act your best, etc. - whatever the task may call for.

Imagine instead if you were inspired to do something - either because of the actions of another that created the urge within you to follow suit, or even because of the rational argument of another person calling you to arms. Whereas with guilt you harbor resentment, now you feel excitement. Whereas with guilt you give a half-hearted effort, now you give it your all.

Interestingly, both are an appeal to the best that is within us.
Yet one twists the best within us to its own purpose, while the other feeds the best within us, and offers it room to become even better.

your guilt is yours

Guilt, by definition, is when a person feels bad about something they did (or didn't do).
Why do they feel bad? Primarily because their own set of beliefs and morals suggests to them that their actions were in some way reprehensible.

Notice what's missing here - everyone else.

It doesn't make sense to me that others should have the power to 'guilt' you, if you don't recognize the validity of their complaint. If someone is trying to guilt you into doing something you neither wish to do, nor believe you aught to do, then how can you feel guilty about it?

Often, the attempted guilt comes in the form of suffering on behalf of the person who's attempting to guilt you. They tell you how dismal their lives will be if you don't do what they wish.
Ultimately, they're attempting to use your own sense of morality against you.
It's like the friend who knows they can litter because you'll pick it up out of disgust.

I think that even if we ultimately give in to keep a relationship intact, we should at the very least recognize and be aware of the game that they're playing, so that we're aware of our own participation in it, and can decide actively if one day we wish to end it.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

jamie sabines - you have what I look for

You Have What I Look For

You have what I look for, what I long for, what I love,
you have it.
The fist of my heart is beating, calling.
I thank the stories for you,
I thank your mother and father
and death who has not seen you.
I thank the air for you.
You are elegant as wheat,
delicate as the outline of your body.
I have never loved a slender woman
but you have made my hands fall in love,
you moored my desire,
you caught my eyes like two fish.
And for this I am at your door, waiting.

- Jamie Sabines

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Sunday, September 12, 2010

caps bold and italics

I've changed something.
Most people who have ever chatted with me online have noted my tendency to use CAPS to emphasize things. It's effective in that I'm well known amongst my friends for my ability to make people hear my voice as they read my words.
I should point out that I have been on the whole smugly pleased with this.

Anyone who's read my blog over the last two years might have noticed a similar tendency within my posts - frequent use of caps, bolding and italics to accentuate particular words in my writing.

I've decided to abandon this, at least in blog posts.
One of the things I've accepted is that good writers naturally construct sentences in a way that places emphasis on certain words in certain places. Caps, bold, and italics are then crude crutches for writers that are unable to successfully emphasize using the tools offered by the English language itself. As I progress as a writer, I think it's time to abandon these crutches.

Perhaps it will also have the added benefit of making my posts sound less like I'm YELLING CERTAIN WORDS AT YOU FROM AFAR. (last time, I hope to promise)

ted kooser - the early bird

The Early Bird

Still dark, and raining hard
on a cold May morning

and yet the early bird
is out there chirping,

chirping its sweet-sour
wooden-pulley notes,

pleased, it would seem,
to be given work,

hauling the heavy bucket of dawn

up from the darkness,
note over note,

and letting us drink.

- Ted Kooser

Friday, September 10, 2010

this writing is awesome.

Read this, by Brian Phillips.

It may be because I'm a tennis and soccer and David Foster Wallace fan, but this article is the damned best thing I've read in a very long time, and I'd love for you to share my enthusiasm about it.

There is a line in there that after the build up and after the scene he paints so meticulously is a line that I will likely never forget:

Then it happens, and it’s impossible even though it’s happening, but it’s happening even though it’s impossible.

This man's writing makes me want to be a writer.
I intend to read and revel in everything he's written.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

i no longer have a TV

TV has represented one of the single biggest challenges that I've had since quitting to work on my own company. It's a constant, available, easy distraction that drains hours of what could be productive time. And by productive, I don't even mean 'working' productive, I mean time that could be spent reading, going out into the city, learning something - doing any of the million things that I consider better than just watching TV.

After a long battle, I've surrendered, and played the get-out-of-jail-free card.
When my roommate moved out and took his giant TV, I decided not to get a new one.

Aside from the financial benefits of not paying for a new TV (easily overcome, as I had a friend offering me his for a low price) and not paying for cable (a small monthly cost when considered against all others), the main reason was that I couldn't go on letting it distract me from the rest of my life.

I rearranged the common room to make it more spacious, make more room for books, and ultimately to turn it from a TV centric space to a community centric space - the focus is now the dining room / working table.

It's been two weeks, and the results have been staggering.
I've not only spent a lot more time working, reading, and out in the city, I've also actively found my mind to be more...on, and more of the time.
One thing that I hadn't counted on - when you watch a lot of TV, your mind occupies a significant portion of its idle time thinking about the characters on screen. Then when you stop, that space opens up caverns of chatter-less peace in which I'm not pondering the latest antics of JD on the Scrubs episodes that I'd DVR'd. I've been a bit taken aback by this new mental peace.

Last thing - TV as a metaphor for distraction, for turning off - it hasn't changed.
I still need time where I'm not actually absurdly mentally involved, and not feeling like I'm accomplishing something.
For me, this has been spent in two ways - rereading old books that I know I love, and browsing the consortium of websites that I trust for news / other information.
I also notice that I sleep more (no more latenight TV!).

If these are the new ways that I'm distracting myself, or powering down - I'm all for it - in my mind it's better than TV.

Plus, I can always sneak over to a friend's place to catch the latest DVR'd episode of my favorite shows ;)

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

on buying a bicycle

I bought a bike today.

Even now, I'm feeling rather silly about it - we'll get to that later.

With most of the things I buy, I go through a rather specific (one might say, neurotic) process.
I talk to people first, then check three things out online:
1. Reviews - do people like it?
2. Reviews - can it do what I specifically need it to do?
3. Prices - are there online coupons? Seasonal sales ever?

Then, I go into the store.
Even as advanced as online product buying can be, it can't quite simulate holding the object in your hand, smelling it, or riding it, in the case of a bike.

Once in the store, I compare everything I know to the actual product and make a few decisions:
- Do I buy this product here, now?
- Do I like it, and intend to buy it later, online?
- Do I need to abandon this product and go back online to find another?

Typically, if I like the product and it's close to the online price, I buy it in person right there.
This is a luxury, honestly - I could wait and buy cheaper online, but I choose not to.

So then the bicycle - I researched it reasonably well online, and decided that although I could probably get one cheaper if I bought off Craigslist, I wanted a store that I could return to if something went wrong, and didn't want to order online and be forced to assemble the bicycle myself.

Still, my goal was to go to the store, find the actual bike I wanted, and then research it thoroughly online, potentially visiting other stores as well.

All my research suggested that a Road bike is best for city riding, so I tried one out.
I haven't ridden a bike in perhaps ten years, and it was much too wobbly, with the brake handles in unfamiliar places for me to be riding along side cars securely.
Definitely had a few close calls with cars in the 10 minutes I was riding it.

Somewhat rattled, I returned to the store, and asked him to give me another bike.
After a spiel about how it's not easy to find bikes for tall riders, he gave me another one, a hybrid I believe. I took this one out and loved it.

Now for the difficult part.
He originally quoted me the price at $200 when I took it out (the other bike was $150).
My goal was to knock the price down about $25 - if I could do that, I was sold, here and now.
I thought I might try to bundle in a lock with a bike for $200, since I had to buy a lock anyway, and I figured there might be one around $30.

I got back to the store, said I liked it, and asked how much.
He said $250. I immediately replied that he had told me $200, surrendering my ability to bargain it down from there.
I tried to then propose my lock bundle, but he said no.
At this point, I should have walked out, researched the bike, and checked a few other stores.

Instead, I gave in and bought it.
Worse, since I was buying the bike and in NYC there's no use in having a bike without a lock unless you want to keep it in your apartment, I bought a lock as well (and definitely overpaid for it - $50).

Another mistake I made was my attitude at the end - once I had decided to buy, I should have become best friends with the guy - how else can I expect him to help me out if something goes wrong with the bike? Instead, I acted like I was unhappy with the amount I was paying (which I was), and left with my head hanging low.

Then I took my bike for a ride - about an hour long.
It was freaking awesome, and I'm really happy about it (of course).
What's more, I'm certain that it's perfect, because that's how my life tends to work out!

Still, the following things occur to me:
- I shouldn't really be spending that much on a bike right now, as I'm trying SAVE money to work on my company
- Even if buying, I should have waited longer and paid less
- I CERTAINLY should have waited to buy a lock, and just kept the bike in my room for a week

Last thing - all of this regret is ridiculous.
I've bought the bike, I love it, and at this moment, all the pricing, and decision making is behind me.
Sure, maybe I made a mistake, but unless I'm prepared to do something about it, the guilt or post-purchase dissonance makes no sense!

I think this is the type of thing we must learn to learn from, and then leave behind us.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

christine bernardo - skin to skin messaging

skin to skin messaging

please let it always end this way:
staying up late,
both of us soft and warm,
writing words on each other’s backs
with our fingers
like a lazy southern drawl.
and me with puckered brow,
trying hard to concentrate
on semantics
and failing miserably each time,
because you with small grin
obliterate everything else
with each tiny delicate stroke.

- Christine Bernardo