just call me raegen


Month: January, 2013

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It’s Hard Being Smart in a Stupid World

No sooner had I put down the issue of I3 (It Is Innovation) I recently snagged from the Consumer Electronics Show, which featured Alexis Ohanian (one of Reddit’s co-founders), than I heard that Aaron Swartz (former co-owner of Reddit) had committed suicide.

And after months of being inundated with CES-related press releases detailing the legendary advances made in 2012 alone in the technology arena, this sad news recalled a truth I’ve held dear for some time:

It is hard being smart in a stupid world.

English: Muppets at the Museum of American His...

For the record, that IS actually what I mean when I say, “It ain’t easy being green.” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And it’s painfully obvious how really, really, supremely, insanely stupid that world is when you think about how few people actually have the smarts to be able to develop technology. Some people can’t even figure out how to turn on their TVs.

Granted, plenty of stupid people kill themselves too, so it’s not like the phenomenon is exclusive to the brilliant. And certainly, a history of mental illness and fear of criminal conviction played their roles in this aforementioned case.

Nor is genius limited strictly to one area of study. For some reason, Swartz’s suicide made me think of the suicide of David Foster Wallace, whom most of my fellow creative writing colleagues know for his literary virtuosity (although here are some more unusual facts about him).

This subsequently reminded me of the time I saw him and Peter Rock read their work at the University of Arizona. This was back in 2002. I made the trek from L.A. back to Tucson to my alma mater specifically for it, and I was not disappointed, although Wallace actually did not finish the essay he was reading (which I thought was unusual at the time, but might’ve actually been a really great sales tactic).

2002-07-22 - Drunk thigh exercise.JPG

And if you order now, we’ll give you this used jock strap for free! (Photo credit: chrisrockshard)

Anyway, the thing I remember most distinctly about this event was a completely moronic question that came from the audience after the authors were finished. Actually, I don’t remember the question; I just remember it being that stupid — and yes, there are stupid questions, no matter what your politically correct teacher told you. If you’ve ever been to even one reading of literary fiction, nonfiction, or poetry, you will know the question type of which I speak. It’s usually along the lines of the following:

  1. Where did you get the idea for this story/essay/poem?                                   This question is dumb because who the heck really knows where ideas come from? Seriously. Similarly, who the heck really knows how the idea turned into the finished piece, or how far departed the finished piece might be from the original idea? But even if you did know, would you really divulge this part of your creative process? Come on, now!
  2. What are your writing habits?                                                                              I write only in the nude because I don’t want my clothes to smell like the feces I’m flinging around with the chimps I just had an orgy with. Aren’t you sorry you asked? Or do you foolishly expect that if you do the same, you’ll be equally successful?
  3. How did you become such a great writer?                                                     Um, probably by writing a lot. But aren’t you really asking how you can become a great — and by “great,” you probably mean “successful/accomplished/paid/worshiped/doable” — writer? In which case, how should the person you’re asking know?

Back off, fanboy. (Photo credit: Cayusa)

Whatever that question was, I remember how Wallace reacted, though his actual verbal response escapes me. He glanced over at Rock as if to ocularly communicate, “Fellow writer of significance, is this pathetic mortal serious?” then gave a response that was completely snarky but equally over the asker’s head, so that by the end, the dolt was actually thanking Wallace for his response.

I’m not sure if that gratitude was edifying or horrifying for Wallace; my guess is it was a little of both. As one of the people who picked up on the undertones, I found myself internally applauding him (because it seemed like some shiz I would want to pull, as I hate stupid), but I also know if I’d done something like that, I’d feel like a jerk — mostly because that behavior actually defines people as jerks — so I found myself slightly repulsed by him as well.

clemente's deep fried twinkie

Too much? Then why can’t I turn away? (Photo credit: goodiesfirst)

Torn by conflicting sentiments about this act, I had to contemplate what was at the heart of my emotional dilemma, and at the end of the day, it is this: Stupidity should be something we hold others (and ourselves) accountable for, but there may simply be no good way to do so.

Which, again, is why it’s hard being smart in a stupid world. And when you’re that smart — like, Wallace smart, Swartz smart, Turing smart, Plath smart, Van Gogh smart, Gilman smart, Tchaikovsky smart, Sexton smart, Woolf smart — stupidity multiplies exponentially in the face of your aptitude.

The Grand Challenge Equations: San Diego Super...

And the answer is…you suck! (Photo credit: dullhunk)

Now, I am certainly not under the delusion that I’m on this level, but even within the level at which I reside, I find a majority of people really hard to deal with. And I look around at my intelligent friends — most of whom are still single — and I feel like I understand why, especially if they’re women. You simply can’t hold a relationship down if you’re talking quantum physics and your partner’s talking basic arithmetic.

Well, unless you’re John McAfee, but that dude’s just clinical with a capital C.

McAfee at CeBIT 2008.

Those towers do look mighty symbolic, if you know what I mean… (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Actually, many people in the list above struggled with mental illness, addiction, or something of that sort. Perhaps a function of the thing that makes you that bloody brilliant is that it will also make you psychotic — just the other side of the same coin you hold, I guess.

Or maybe it’s just plain hard to be human. But that’s a far less amusing blog title.

George-W-Bush edit

Plus, he looks pretty dang happy. Ignorance DOES equal bliss! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Writing — for Love or Money? (My Takeaways From NMX 2013)

Last Sunday, I made my way over to the Rio for New Media Expo (NMX) 2013. While most of the time, I attend trade shows for my job, I did this of my own volition — on a weekend, even. So yes, I do want a cookie.

English: Plateful of Christmas Cookies

Not that that’s different from any other time. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Unable to afford a trip to Boston in March for AWP, this was the closest (and most inexpensive) way to get my personal educational conference fix, and I was not disappointed. Perhaps because this whole “new media” thing is so, well, new to me (from a business perspective, anyway), I feel like I learned a lot.

Two sessions in particular, though, really got me thinking, probably because they were contradictory, at least in their in spiritual tone. I’ll start with David Risley’s session about how to monetize blogs, which had tons of great information that has already been summed up by others (such as this blogger here) if you’d like to know more about that.

For me, the following part was the most interesting tidbit of all he said (and I recorded) during his NMX session:

“Most bloggers do not treat their blog as a business whatsoever. … In the regular world, you don’t think about going and setting up an office somewhere, then try to figure out what to do with it. … A lot of people, they don’t put a lot of thought into whether it (their blog) really is considered to be exchangeable or valuable to other people; they just kind of do it because they think it’s interesting. This is where the ‘blogging about your passion’ thing often misguides people, because they don’t really verify if it’s valuable or exchangeable.”

English: Image of a pet rock

Flaw in that logic, as evidenced by Pet Rock. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have to admit, my immediate response to this was to cringe on the inside. It’s the poet in me who’s doing so — the one who knows very much how, when it comes to creative writing, that’s actually exactly what you do to create a product (be it fiction, nonfiction, poetry, whatever) you will eventually, with any luck, publish and sell: You set up an office somewhere (aka start writing), then figure out what to do with it (aka find the vision, the project, or simply what point you’re trying to make through the act of writing, more writing, examination, and revision of what you’d created). Sometimes you have a general idea — “I want to write about Ireland” — but you don’t know what that really means or how it will flesh itself out until you write a bunch.

The Brady Bunch opening grid, season one

What cringing on the inside looks like. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Then there’s the theme of “passion doesn’t count” that I will argue against until my big yappin’ mouth has been silenced by the Grim Reaper himself. If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times, albeit mostly in workshops: Passionless writing is dead writing. And yes, it probably is the majority of what gets published anywhere — even in lit mags (and I hope I’m not speaking for my work that’s been picked up by such publications) — but it still sucks. Writing without passion, without risk, is simply a waste of words.

That being said, I will admit that there is a certain amount of passion and creativity that usually must be squelched in the service of being informative, and this is the kind of writing most publications require of their staff writers, journalists, and editors like myself. I still try to keep it engaging, of course, but there’s a reality to it, and devices can’t be distracting. I do this kind of writing (that is, professional) too, but only because I get paid to. It wouldn’t be sustainable otherwise, because I’m simply not passionate about certain subjects.

English: Shoes in a shop

As Shania Twain would say, “That don’t impress me much.” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Which brings me to this blog, Just Call Me Raegen. I don’t make money with it yet, and I may never; that was never my goal, though it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world that could ever happen. But this blog sustains itself because I write about things I’m passionate about (and when others care about those topics too, it’s very much appreciated, of course). If I was writing about something I could give two s***s about, it wouldn’t last very long, and this is why I think most blogs fail; it’s generally accepted as fact that a blog has to grow and carry on in order for it to start and continue to make money. Now, maybe that’s just me — perhaps others can write about inane things they care nothing for without the promise of money first — but if I’m writing something I’m not getting paid for upfront, it’s because I care about it, and for no other reason.

But Risley’s talking about making money off a personal blog, and perhaps I’m talking about something else. Perhaps.

Let me tell you about the other presenter of note: Bill Belew. Very different perspective coming from Mr. Bill (I just wanted to say that; he doesn’t actually go by that moniker). His points are covered more in depth at the link I posted above as well (looks like me and Eleanor Prior have a lot in common as far as what we think is relevant), but here’s the summation of what he had to say about how to get a million visitors to a blog:

  1. Write a lot (quantity)
  2. Write good stuff (quality)
  3. Be consistent
  4. Write frequently
Kenny vs. Mr. Bill (109/365)

Oh, no! (Photo credit: JD Hancock)

It’s pretty simple. And while Mr. Bill’s subject wasn’t monetizing blogging, I think it’s important to note that Mr. Bill does in fact financially support himself and his family entirely off his blogs.

And again, while the main points of his session were good, the more interesting message to me was the following, which I also recorded:

“Do not let people tell you what you cannot do. Don’t go there. The bumblebee doesn’t know what he can’t do, and he does it. … If you think you can do it, do it. It works if you work it. It’s that simple. … Write until your idea catches on. … The No. 1 reason for failure is … because people give up.”

Mr. Bill was all about passion. Hard work, yes — his eight different blogs have more than a thousand posts on them total — but passion too. He later gave an example of another successful blogger who followed his passion as well: “The guy writes about Chinese idioms. Who cares?” Mr. Bill said. Yet he went on to say that this blogger eventually found his audience and became a hit.


Ah, who could forget this one? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The blogging world — just like any other — is competitive. Perhaps if one is looking for instant money, one should ignore passion and pursue whatever it is one believes will sell or win a contest. But Mr. Bill’s story is proof that anything will sell, if given the proper amount of time, effort, and attention. And perhaps I’m simply inferring it from everything he said, but I believe I agree with him that there’s room for everyone and every passion in this space (and many others).

I suppose in an ideal world, every writer would be paid to write about the subjects he or she is passionate about, because everyone is passionate about something (which I do think is key to maintaining long-term interest in writing about that subject) and there is an audience for every subject — at least one more person out there in the world who finds wonder in those topics the writer is fascinated by.

And what of Just Call Me Raegen? If I can say anything about this blog — which I deliberately began nearly a year ago without a set subject, fully intending to write my way toward finding it — it’s that my personal passions are very much present in it. If Judge Judy wrote a blog, it would probably look a lot like this, because she doesn’t have time for nonsense, and she loves justice. I also hate stupid, and I too love justice — especially poetic justice, because it’s poetic, of course.

2Pac & Janet Jackson

But not the movie, because that really sucked. (Photo credit: AndreLucian)

I find myself examining life, exploring my opinions (no matter how many words it takes), arguing (mostly in my head), and trying to help others who are or one day might be in my shoes with a little advice to get through the dark times. If it doesn’t “sell,” so be it. Herein, what’s left of my humanity — of infinite value — resides.

What to Do When You Hate Your Job

Ah, the office — the workplace of modernity.

Cubicles in a now-defunct co-working space in ...

News flash: Calling them “cubes” doesn’t make them any less horrifying. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Whoever invented it should’ve been shot.

That’s not to say people outside an office don’t equally hate their jobs. Let’s be fair.

But seriously, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that, unless you’re cleaning up bodily secretions, it’s rarely the actual job any of us hate. No, my friends, as Jean-Paul Sartre once said, “Hell is other people.” Especially when you don’t get to choose them yourself. But even sometimes when you do.


Best frienemies forever! (Photo credit: prc1333)

I’d venture to guess that 99.9 percent of problems in the workplace boil down to people. Not challenged at your job? Someone created that job description and is keeping you in that position, right? That’s a people problem. Conversely, do you have too much to do? A person made that decision as well. Can’t move up in the company? That’s another people problem. Company losing money? Either the leadership can’t manage money properly, or it can’t resonate with customers. Not getting paid enough? Who’s writing your paycheck?

Simply put, there is no shortage of poorly run companies or people who run them that way.

Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum

Look familiar? (Photo credit: nhanusek)

While mobility will likely continue to raise the number of remote workers — and potentially, people’s sanity along with it — the overwhelming majority of today’s jobs force people perhaps created for the sole purpose of loathing each other together in cramped, stinking spaces to fulfill that despicable destiny.

Are you one of them?

I was. I’m not ashamed to say it. On two occasions, I found myself acutely aware that if I possessed the mad skills of setting people on fire through telekinesis a la Carrie, I would use them.

Why do I always come back to Stephen King? It's a mystery!

Why do I always come back to Stephen King? It’s a mystery!

I’m not an evil person. I’m not even a rebel. Heck, I still feel guilty for hitting my sister when I was five. (Sorry, K.)

But this is what a terrible workplace will have any reasonably sane person fantasizing about in his or her spare time. (And yes, I am reasonably sane; I’ve had workplaces that I loved, so it isn’t some personal mental issue or beef I eventually end up having at every job I hold, although perhaps my tolerance for BS is lower than the average person’s.)

Here are the signs that you’re in a work environment that’s unhealthy for you (admitting you have a problem is the first step, as they say):

1. You feel mentally ill. “Has the world gone mad? How can anyone work in a place like this? What’s wrong with these people? Why isn’t everyone else freaking out the way I am? Are they? They can’t be, or else they wouldn’t still be here. Why are they still here? Is it me? Is there something wrong with me that I can’t stand to be here, and they can?” Or perhaps you simply just can’t stop thinking about work – ever.

Obsession. Insert your name.

Obsession. Insert your name.

I remember what it was like, brooding every day at work, dreading the next piece of turd that would hit the fan, knowing it was coming, knowing there was no amount of guessing that could predict what would actually come or when, brooding anyway. I remember the chaos, the lying, the harassment, the degradation, the downright illegal activities, even the false accusations. I remember driving home, not remembering how I even got there, that’s how consumed with brooding I became. In my apartment, I would sit, and my eyes would pass over words on pages, but I wasn’t reading. I’d turn on the TV and stare at the screen, but I wasn’t really watching. I wasn’t present at all, actually; I was still brooding about one insane thing or another that happened at work. I’d go to bed still thinking about it; I’d have nightmares — all about work, of course, which, lucky me, I’d remember upon waking. Then I’d fear those nightmares would come true for the entire duration of the drive to the office.

2. You feel physically ill. As if you’ve been possessed by a demonic spirit, the thought of being at work sends chunks of recently consumed food items back up your gullet for an encore. It really doesn’t get clearer than this, folks. Suze Orman said so, and she knows her shiz. Even if you can mentally deny how profoundly your workplace is affecting you, your body will always tell the truth.

Lejos del civo

I have exorcised the demon! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When things got really bad at some of my former workplaces, I’d wake up every morning — even Sunday mornings — knowing I’d have to return to hell soon, and I’d immediately feel my stomach acid start a-churnin’. I popped Pepto pills just to get through the infinite, infinitely painful days. Thinking of what I put my body through to endure things I never should’ve had to makes me almost as sick as some of my former workplaces did. It also reminds me of a little story this old friend of mine who, upon breaking up with his most recent ex, confided in me: Toward the end of the relationship, he had to start taking antidepressants just to be able to be around her. That’s scary stuff. If you’re taking meds of any kind just to go to work, something is very, very wrong.

3. You feel spiritually ill. You don’t have to be religious to experience this — though if you are, I probably don’t have to explain any further. Plots of vengeance and homicide flood your otherwise Golden-Ruled brain. You think of negative things that make you feel like your worst, basest self instead of the kind, good-natured spirit you actually are. You had dreams once. What were they again?

Jailbird Lindsay Lohan

A broken spirit looks like this. (Photo credit: AZRainman)

Like I was telling a colleague of mine who finds himself in a really bad work environment right now, there’s something about a terrible job that just strips you down to your bare bones. It can rob you of everything good in your life and even in your self. Drained of energy and will, how could I even think of cooking dinner, let alone strive to achieve my personal goals, after so many days in hell? I started looking at others differently, negatively — even if they weren’t my coworkers. I started looking at myself differently. “Good people don’t have dark thoughts like mine, right? Smart people would’ve been able to get a new job already, right? Anyone worth a crap could just snap themselves out of it and go on their merry way, right?”

When your spirit gets crushed to this degree, you’re at your most vulnerable, your most pliable, your most assimilatable. This is how the people you work with who’ve been in hell for so long — aka “the lifers” — still find it in themselves to show up there every day. They’ve been brainwashed. They’ve settled. Their souls are dead. Very likely, they now perpetrate the very behavior that crushed their dreams, because dream-crushing is all that brings them any sort of joy now. (The other ones are probably much like you — looking for an escape route.)

English: Escape Route (signs) Deutsch: Fluchtw...

I’m thinking this translates to, “Hey, you, dude in the picture up here, RUN!” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

However, when your spirit gets crushed to this degree, you’re also at your most willing to make an absolutely necessary change in your life. A very smart man once told me, “Until the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of changing, people stay the same.” Your darkest hour is actually the one in which you’re most willing to fight for your soul.

So how do you do that?

1. Look for a new job. Start yesterday. I know the market’s tough. I know the odds might seem like they’re against you. But eventually, something will pan out. It always does. In the meantime, the very act will empower you.

You may have to consider opportunities or wages that you might not have be willing to before, but don’t worry. Even this next job you land doesn’t have to be your final destination. You just need sanctuary from hell right now. Just be sure you don’t land yourself in a hellier hell. (Good news is, you know what to look for now to avoid this.)

Dante And Virgil In Hell by William-Adolphe Bo...

In your versions, people will have their clothes on, though, of course. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

2. Do anything else that empowers you. Go to the gym. Take a class. Volunteer at a local charity. Read this book. Make a playlist (mine included “Walk On” by U2, “Control” by Poe, “This Is the Day” by The The, “Float On” by Modest Mouse, ‘The Remedy” by Jason Mraz, “Move Along” by The All-American Rejects, and even “Eye of the Tiger” by Survivor). Whatever. But do something that reminds you of the amazing person you truly are and have always been.

3. Distract yourself. Anytime you are not at work — and even sometimes when you are — do whatever you need to do to take your mind off brooding about work. My mind’s pretty active, so I required overstimulation (heh-heh). Talking on the phone while shopping, because if I was quiet, I started thinking, and the first thing I thought about was hell. Cleaning with familiar music blasting that I would force myself to sing to, because singing made me think of the words instead of hell. But you may be the meditative type — in which case, go sit cross-legged somewhere or grab a yoga mat.

English: Downward-Facing-Dog Български: Адхо М...

Just make sure you don’t stand right behind this lady, if you know what I mean. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

No matter what, no matter how long it seems like it’s been or how long it seems like it might be before you’re finally free, keep the faith. This too shall pass. And when it does — maybe not right away, but a month, year, or even decade later — I hope that, like me, you’ll smile, grateful that your tour in Hades is over, thankful for all you really did learn from the experience.