Monday, October 14, 2019

Creativity is a skill to be cultivated

I need a break!

So 70 books into the project 100 Nonfiction Books I Recommend, I need a breather to recoup. But never fear, I am only taking a small break and shall return in exactly one week.

I will then do our sports, leadership and reader's recommendation categories and conclude the project on Thanksgiving. Yes, I'm thankful for my family, life, books and more!

So far, we have done the following seven categories:

Big time/deserving, parenting, personal growth, comedy, education, social conscience and grab bag.

In lieu of another category, I am posting my TEDx talk on creativity. Let's be clear here. This was a local Tedx talk at Whitney High School in Cerritos, Calif. This wasn't one of those talks where you pay $5,000 to attend.

Can you put a price on ideas, innovation and creativity? If so, maybe five grand is low. But I say that we live in such a money-driven, 21st-century capitalistic world that a lot kids, and adults, have to fight to find time for creativity. This is madness. We need to foster it.

Like practically anything else, creativity is a skill that we can develop. But for whatever reason, creativity often is treated like some sort of inspiration bestowed on the individual from the heavens. It doesn't work that way. We all have the capacity to be creativity, and our lives improve when we apply creativity to the lives we're actually living.

So many people fill their time with scrolling on their phone and looking at anything that comes their way that I fear actual time for creativity — something out of nothing — is being lost. Apple, Google, Amazon and all Big Tech, yeah, I think you're the new cigarette companies.

But here's the thing. The new cigarette companies are something that we all must breath. We can't survive without a little bit of Big Tech. Wow. That's power.

Personally, I'm balancing out. I'm still sticking with reading, writing, understanding facts and arguments. Being an actual teacher matters now more than ever. It turns out that kids, and adults, need more direction than ever to understand that, uh, nobody really cares about their iCloud.

Eh, this post begins a one-week break from 100 Nonfiction Books I Recommend. And here was my TEDx talk:

Saturday, October 12, 2019

We always must search for truth

"Grab bag" might sound like a pretty silly category.

But it fit 100 Nonfiction Books I Recommend because these books are all over the map. There's a memoir, one on trauma, social sciences, a new look on psychology, glamour, marketing and more. Yes, "grab bag" makes sense!

So 70 books into 100 Nonfiction Books I Recommend, we have the grab-bag category with the following:

1. Lost Connections (2018) by Johann Hari
2. Humans Are Underrated (2015) by Geoff Colvin
3. The Mask of Masculinity (2017) by Lewis Howes
4. This Is Marketing (2018) by Seth Godin
5. The Power of Glamour (2013) by Virginia Postrel
6. A Book of Mentors (2015) by Gillian Zoe Segal
7. The Rules Do Not Apply (2017) by Ariel Levy
8. The Souls of Yellow Folk (2018) by Wesley Yang
9. The Body Keeps the Score (2014) by Bessel Van Der Kolk
10. Lies My Teacher Told Me (1995, new edition 2018) by James Loewen

Truth be told, this was one of my favorite categories of this project but the hardest to write. An elephant in the room is curiosity. Too often in life, I think we get an idea about something and just go with it. It brings me back to one of my favorite quotes ever by Mark Twain: "It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so."

So I loved this category because I was so curious about these topics. History textbooks. Trauma. The Asian-American experience. Losing a baby from a strong woman. Billionaires. Glamour. Marketing. Masculinity. What it means to be human. Authentic connection and depression.

Yeah, I call this category grab bag, but it really shows how books provide such a better understanding of important subjects. And, y'know what, I have a crazy-long list of other books I'm curious about to read. But these brought it. They delivered, and I appreciate them and their authors.

Three categories left. But, man, I am toast. I need a break. So we'll do a special post on Monday and take a week off before we return to the 100 Nonfiction Books I Recommend on Monday Oct. 21. We're then going to hit up our final three categories — sports, leadership and what readers have recommended to me. Stay tuned!

Friday, October 11, 2019

American textbooks — absolutely embarrassing

As I have gotten older, I have learned not to take too much at face value. I question what I am told, look at motives and search for truth.

I wish I had that mindset earlier in my life because I, perhaps, was naive or too trusting. I had no clue how economics worked or how I fit into the system. Now, I have a bit of an education on it, and it's a shame that the basic economic and power truths of our country rarely are addressed in school textbooks.

For anyone who knows Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong by James Loewen, it is probably no surprise that it absolutely had to be on my list of 100 Nonfiction Books I Recommend.

History textbooks typically are sold by corporations who have to appeal to a ginormous audience of Americans. We were brought up with such a common, old-school, everything-America-does-is-right narrative that I never really doubted what was in my textbooks. However, when these books are examined, it is obvious that they are full of pro-American, pro-white rhetoric with a lot of stuff that didn't even happen.

History is a story. Notice "story" in hi-"story." And that's all it really is. It's not really fact, nor truth. However, many facts can be verified or denied.
Loewen does major research to explain myths in the American narrative. Early in the book, he focuses on Helen Keller, which blew my mind — figuratively. It turns out that Helen Keller was a huge proponent of the woman's right to vote and helped found the ACLU. That was what she was known for in her time.

Somehow, through some sort of Helen Keller mythology promoted by the film The Miracle Worker, most of us know Helen Keller as the most disabled person in the history of the disabled. And it was Anne Sullivan who made her function. ... Not even close.

Lies My Teacher Told Me (2018 edition, originally in 1995) goes into A LOT of commonly accepted American white truths, and it's easy to realize that the founding of our country was BRUTAL. Textbooks sweep that under the rug, as they also diminish the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japanese internment camps in the United States, how the U.S. addressed the Holocaust, slavery, Jim Crow laws, presidents who owned human slaves and much more here.

Look. The point here is that what we were taught in school was a power-based story that often was not factual. As we progress, it is important and accurate to realize that.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Trauma affects the entire person


This is not an easy subject for the layperson to tackle. However, Bessel van der Kolk helps us understand the actual truth of trauma and how to deal with it in The Body Keeps the Score.

Quite frankly, as I write this, I realize. I need a break!

When recommending 100 nonfiction books, I am announcing a one-week break from the project with this my 69th book. I think the problem is that in this "grab bag" category, we had some seriously heavy books. Lost Connections focuses on depression. The Rules Do Not Apply is emotionally taxing, and I'm only a human. We're taking a one-week break after this category in a couple days.

So, The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma (2014) dispels myths about trauma, and it also offers various actions needed to work through trauma. It is aligned with Lost Connections in the fact that it absolutely does not see pharmaceuticals as the answer. Rather, we need to focus on ways to help our mind and body.

Trauma changes our brains, and through Van der Kolk's life of research and treatment, he has discovered that a full body treatment, such as yoga, role play, mediation and dancing, is crucial for development post-trauma.
I must say that when it comes to war veterans, rape and incest survivors, that my trauma is not as obvious or perhaps as painful. However, I have been through some traumatic events, and I do not wish to diminish them or even get into them.

My concern is that we live in such an escapist culture that we never really develop the skills to deal with potential trauma. Just like the health-care system, we do things retroactively. While I give a major shout-out to The Body Keeps the Score, I am hoping that we develop holistically before a potential trauma occurs. That way, our bodies and lives could recover quicker than if we were not proactive.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Silent Asian-American truths revealed

Oh dang!

I must say that Wesley Yang should go down as one of the most important writers of the 21st century, and his stuff hits me at my core.

I'm a total white guy. True. However, my first wife was full-on Asian (Taiwanese), and so my daughters are Taiwanese Polacks. I have been teaching at a school that is about 65 percent Asian for 10 years, and so I have tried my best to understand my students and, to the best of my ability, their individual and cultural identities.

In Wesley Yang's The Soul of Yellow Folk: Essays (2018), he tackles the Asian life in America from various angles, and it's one of the best gosh darn books that's out there. See, you got to understand this. In many Asian cultures, it's the cultural norm to not express emotion or truth or what's real (at least that's what I gather), but Yang goes stone-cold honest, time and time again, and through eloquence and complexity, puts into words what I have seen as a second-hand white guy.

The diminished treatment of Asian-Americans from mainstream white people is ridiculous. Even to this day, many comedians feel it's OK to marginalize and demean Asians by stereotyping, and, honestly, these white guys have no clue what the Asian-American world entails. I've rolled my eyes at Bill Maher and Sarah Silverman, but, my bad, those two know it all — and they're just kidding.

As I was gushing over The Soul of Yellow Folk, I tweeted Yang, and we had a couple exchanges. I must give him props for responding. Nice! But what I gather is this: Guys like me, and even The New York Times, want him so badly to be the voice of the Asian-American, the champion to let white middle America know what's up. But in reality, he's just a guy, a great writer, most likely with his own personal issues that he is tackling.
So once I release what I want Yang to be and accept who he is, I still love his book. Yeah, it's just a compilation, and I so desperately want him to put together his masterpiece. But nobody else has been writing essays like this, anyway.

In his opening essay, he writes about Seung-Hui Cho, who was responsible for 33 deaths in the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting. While we, of course, accept the basic truth that mass shootings are absolutely, horrifically wrong, Yang vaguely connects to Cho through appearance. But there's more, he gets into the subtle conversations that white people have with the nerdy Asian kid, and I see and feel the depth of pain from constantly being dismissed, not being taken seriously and not even in the conversation of getting the girl.

I should probably look up the quote to get it exactly right, but I remember reading a line in Yang's book that stopped me in my tracks. It was something to the effect of "How would you feel if you always were looked at as the quiet, agreeable ally of the white man but never truly inhabited his world or got the benefits of bing white?"

OK, I ratioinalize my laziness to get that exact quote with Yang's inability to give us the masterpiece he can do. However, maybe he is just cool who he is. It's an American fetish to want a celebrity. We haven't done it with many Asian-Americans, but only a crazy select few.

Maybe Yang would say that those so-called Asian-American celebrities are now just Americans. He's Asian-American, and maybe that is a better experience than just being American.

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Do we subscribe to unnecessary rules?

I got chills and think I may have actually cried when I read Ariel Levy's short story "Thanksgiving in Mongolia" in The New Yorker. The story, honestly and painfully, recounts her losing a baby 19 weeks into a pregnancy while in Mongolia on assignment.

If you're not familiar with this story or her memoir The Rules Do Not Apply, I wonder if you might be making assumptions of how the miscarriage may have affected her.

The depth of what Levy experienced brought into question her search for meaning, her intellectualism and her entire existence, ultimately. She's unique, an unabashed individual, and the title The Rules Do Not Apply fits her life before and after the miscarriage.

Levy married her girlfriend, Lucy, and did not live a mainstream middle-America lifestyle. After losing the baby, her world unraveled as she also lost her spouse, her house and was disoriented and depressed.
Truth be told, this is a difficult write-up for two reasons. No. 1: It is such an unconventional, moving story. It's certainly an anti-cliche memoir. But No. 2: I found "Thanksgiving in Mongolia" absolutely a masterpiece and the book simply "good."

I still am recommending it. But perhaps part of my reservations is that I am not a huge fan of the memoir genre. I like twists on memoirs or partial memoirs, but full-on memoir is tough for me. The writing has to be absolutely superb for me to dig it.

So I guess I'm giving Levy a huge compliment that her memoir made my list, even though I hardly read memoirs. This one deserves recognition and to be read.

Monday, October 7, 2019

'Getting there' takes mentors — and capital

"You can't go at it alone."

I have learned that the idea of the "self-made man" or "self-made millionaire" is a myth. The United States perpetuates this mythology that champions the individual, but we need so much help and rearing along the way, that it's safe to point out this is indeed a myth.

So I responded well to Gillian Zoe Segal's Getting There: A Book of Mentors because the idea of mentors is huge with growth. Segal interviews 30 powerful people from various industries, and I found many insights in the book. The most memorable interviews (and I did read this book about three or four years ago) were from Warren Buffett, Sara Blakely and Anderson Cooper, although practically every interview had something useful.

I've had a couple full-fledged mentors, but most of those came when I was a student. In the workplace, I quickly learned that mentors really didn't happen. At least, that was my experience. I had some "people in my corner," and that meant something. However, I feel that I've done most of my key learning on my own and fight to be further educated and grow.

If only ... one of the 30 power brokers in Getting There became my mentor or influencer, that would be nice. It certainly wouldn't hurt if Frank Gehry or Jeff Koons or Michael Bloomberg took me under his wing. Is it ever too late to try to be an architect or artist or try to defeat Big Gulps?
One thing that helped me was Buffett's point to pursue something you love in your "circle of competence." That resonated me. At the time, I was pursuing a potential career in school administration. I even got the credential to do that, and I want to keep that door open.

However, when I eventually got teamed up with other potential administrators, I discovered that they could do the job, too. I realized that I probably would be no "messiah principal," and that idea is a myth, too, because systems trump individuals. I got on a path to read more and write books. I have put in well more than 10,000 hours into both reading and writing. Writing books indeed is in my "circle of competence."

Segal herself mentions Buffett's points as one of her top takeaways in this interview with Forbes. A funny thing in that interview is that she says she had no mentor, and that's why she created this book. True. It's hard to find good mentors because most don't realize that it is a two-way street. The mentor benefits from the relationship as well.

The interview with Blakely, the billionaire founder of Spanx, stood out to me, too, because I found her to be genuine. The idea of Spanx spawned because nothing like it existed in the marketplace, and she faced constant obstacles and rejections until she fought to make the company what it is today.

However, Blakely's main personal narrative is how she struggled, sold fax machines for a while and created and trademarked Spanx. Eventually, the product got into every main department store, and Oprah even featured it. Man, she was off and running, and others did indeed help her get there. I just find it disingenuous when billionaires talk about struggle. I'd like to see them grow up in some of the neighborhoods I've been.

If I read Getting There today, based on my newer understanding of wealth distribution and billionaires, I might have a different reaction. Why are Americans so fascinated with billionaires, these capitalistic wizards?

I notice that there recently is some sort of Bill Gates propaganda show on Netflix now, and Oprah has ruled her empire for decades. I believe these billionaires need to focus on others and wealth distribution, not constantly growing their net worth and promoting their narratives. But Americans are so out of it, they'll probably believe anything they see or hear. They elected a billionaire to the presidency and probably will do so again.

Saturday, October 5, 2019

Behold the power of glamour

Oh snap, we live in such an image-heavy world nowadays that the idea of glamour needed to be explored by this Polack. So I heard about Virginia Postrel's The Power of Glamour and figured it could help educate me. ... It did!

So much advertising, and so many images of glamour, bombard the average person daily that I feel I understand the components of glamour better from Postrel's book. A major takeaway is how mystery is a necessary part of glamour, and that it involves falsification, transfiguration and transcending the everyday.

Maybe this sounds a little pretentious, but I experience elements glamour in my everyday life. Of course, I am a down-to-earth Midwestern boy who lives in L.A. and used to live in NYC. But I realize that my wife brought a mountain of glamour to my life.

With our home, we have a mid-century modern aesthetic, and Dina is prone to stylish handbags, shoes and clothes. I am thoughtful with how I look, and I think we have some things about us that embrace glamour. I guess anybody can say that, actually. Some of the biggest corporations — Starbucks and Apple, come to mind — play with glamour, and those are a part of the masses' everyday life.

So I like a glamorous life, but am not that interested in scrolling through Instagram for modern-day glamour shots or going gaga over certain cars, clothes or images that display the elements of glamour.
Why do certain people embody glamour? Why do certain landscapes have a glamorous element? I might argue that we can be dulled to analyzing glamour because it has overtaken the Interwebs.

So one thing I truly respect The Power of Glamour (2013) is that it got me to take a step back, ponder and see where there is glamour and where there isn't. A lot of glamour creates the "if only" feeling. If only I had that... If only I were there...

As a man who's been around the block a bit, I get that a lot of glamour is a visual lie. Have you ever gotten something that you so desired, only to feel like it was not worth it?

In the era of the image, it is possible that glamour, in many ways, has replaced reality. In a way, glamour has become the norm. At least that's how I assess constant picture-perfect posts on Instagram and Facebook, and it's cute to see what the everyman envisions as his own glamour.

John F. Kennedy. Jackie O. Marilyn Monroe. Obama. We've had a long run of glamour in politics, and I find it funny that we rarely consider Melanie Trump or Ivanka Trump or even Trump's branding as potential reasons to explain his election.

Y'know, in New York City, Trump Tower is next door to Tiffany and is on a stretch that includes Gucci, Coach, Van Cleef & Arpels and other high-end shops. In a world in which image "trumps" substance, he must have looked glamorous to his voters.

Friday, October 4, 2019

So what is marketing?

"Help! I need help!"

This is my feeling when it comes to marketing. I've been writing this blog for 10 years, and I've never really considered marketing it. With a book and potential series on their way, I feel it's time to see if I could find someone to help get out the message and aesthetic of this Polack.

At least I read Seth Godin's This Is Marketing to try to get a sense of what marketing entails. One of the takeaways was that it is best to focus on the smallest, dedicated audience. I also realized that I have no interest in any "hit and run" type of product or book. My goal is to create content that is relevant today but is not just digestible and to be forgotten.

That is one problem I find with a lot of the products and marketing out there nowadays. A lot exists solely for a quick hit, something that will peak quickly and be forgotten. I guess I'm thinking of fidget spinners, slime and rainbow loom. Well, that was stuff I saw in a high-school classroom, only to be long gone before we knew it.

Godin has been around for a while and has 18 books. His name kept coming up when I was thinking about marketing, and I went with This Is Marketing: You Can't Be Seen Until You Learn to See (2018) because it is relatively new. He cleared up several misconceptions I had about marketing, and I appreciate him for helping out this layman.
One misconception I had is that marketers are "out to make a fast one" or there to "manipulate." Godin explained how marketing involves a relationship and is for people, and companies, who offer needed goods and services. Marketing does not create the marketplace.

While it is true that we are bombarded with approximately 5,000 ads per day, effective marketing identifies a real problem, offers a solution and actually does care about the customer, and not just the customer's dollar. This approach is music to my ears because I've always hated lame salespeople who just want my dollar or marketing that is too heavy handed.

The power of marketing is something that I haven't focused on as much as I should. In his Ted talk, Godin talks about how sliced bread wasn't popular until it was marketed by Wonder Bread. I sense that there is so much out there that needs more marketing, but there is so much that is "over-marketed."

Yes, I am certainly a layman when it comes to marketing, but I have respect for those who are in this business. I especially respect those who wholeheartedly believe in what they market.

Thursday, October 3, 2019

Boys: Afraid to talk masculinity

Growing up in Cleveland, I don't ever remember talking about masculinity. Heck, I hardly remember talking about it at all until the last few years, and this a crucial subject that needs more attention. At least, that's what I see with boys in the classroom.

Lewis Howes' 2017 book The Mask of Masculinity breaks down the most popular roles that men mimic in a response to their gender. Some popular masks are the Aggressor Mask, the Athlete Mask, the Joker Mask and the Know-it-All Mask. I read this book earlier this year and already wrote about it here, so feel to check out a more in depth review.

My cause is to help our boys, but it is not easy to do that because what I'm talking about is a cultural shift. I have two daughters, ages 14 and 12, and I believe that they are much more mature emotionally than boys of their age. My fear is that the boys will never catch up. If my daughters choose to marry (and they certainly don't have to do that), they will be looking at a pool of immature boys.
So I have written my own book Advice to My Future Son-in-Law: Understanding Men and Improving Relationships in the 21st Century. Masculinity, and boys' understanding of it, is part of the equation. Are boys being genuinely who they are, or are they subscribing to the toxic expectations of society?

The connection that I make to men's problems is not difficult to see, but rarely approached the way I'm doin git. At about the age of 8 or so, boys frequently are told to "not cry and be a man." This stifles a child's emotional health. The child then succumbs to that mantra and is stunted emotionally.

By the time the boy becomes a dating age, many of his "interactions" come from online sources (yes, hint), and he can have major difficulties dealing with actual human beings. It is a difficult recipe that hurts men and their relationships, but I want to keep hope alive.

I believe there is hope if we, first, understand the culture and not feed into it. We also should embrace conversations on masculinity and get this on the radar of our boys. If human skills will indeed be a premium in the marketplace and life in the future, this conversation is crucial.

Our frequent simplistic views on masculinity need to improve, and I commend Howes for getting The Mask of Masculinity into the world.

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Humans are worth more than Apple

I have gone full circle on Google.

I used to think it was a magnificent company, better for humanity. Information was just a click away, and it could help me find my way in a car, answer trivia questions and connect me to any idea that popped in my head.

Unfortunately, with the law of unintended consequences, I no longer trust most of my searches, especially when it comes to news, politics and feelings. I am not so sure one big Internet search company helps humanity, and, perhaps ironically from what the Internet used to be, it may not encourage truth or a variety of thought.

During the 2010s, the United States has gone bonkers with its love of Google, Apple, Facebook and Big Tech, and I finally think the tide is turning, where a lot of us are asking, "What the heck were we thinking?"

On some level, I was mesmerized by technology, only to thaw out and realize, "Wait a second. My life is better without Siri, social media on my phone and keeping my phone off for most of the day." Yes, the phone and tech do a zillion things that are worthwhile, but I'm not so sure they help us be better humans or live fuller lives.

We live in such an odd time that Geoff Covin's Humans are Underrated is a much-needed book that examines the importance of human skills. His argument makes perfect sense. If many jobs are, or will be, automated, then where does that leave the human? We're underrated!
Human skills, such as empathy, collaboration and self-knowledge, will be more at a premium in life and the work place. Colvin takes an economic approach to his thesis, and it jives with my approach to life in general.

I was going to include Colvin's 2008 book Talent is Overrated on this list and didn't realize Humans Are Underrated existed. When I picked it up, I went with the Humans book in 100 Nonfiction Books I Recommend, although I highly recommend both.

Colvin uses three heavy-hitting examples of organizations that benefited from focusing on human skills — the Cleveland Clinic, U.S. Army and Stanford Business School. All three adapted to the current landscape of overvaluing technology and undervaluing humanity and have meaningful stories of a shift of overvaluing tech.

It is no coincidence that a lot of folks in Silicon Valley have been sending their kids to schools that value nature and that most have figured out that the schooling we are doing today has only a vague connection to the current opportunities in jobs.

The gap between schooling and the workplace arguably is bigger now than ever because of the advent of technology, and I agree with Colvin, that it is utterly a fact that human skills will be valued more than ever in the future. It would be nice if that happened now, too.

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

We must seek genuine connection

Say "Amen!"

That was my reaction to Johann Hari's Lost Connections. In a world of health-insurance companies, Big Pharma and connection gone wild, Lost Connections emerged to point out that depression isn't all in our heads and to be remedied by pills.

The book came out last year, and I responded to it spectacularly and blogged about it on Easter 2018. The main point of Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression — and the Unexpected Solutions is that the real causes of depression are more cultural and external than with the conventional thinking with an individual's chemical imbalance.

The lost connections that lead to depression are a disconnection from 1) meaningful work, 2) other people, 3) meaningful values, 4) childhood trauma, 5) status and respect, 6) nature and 7) a hopeful and secure future.

Living a well-rounded life is a work in progress. Since I read Lost Connections, I have tried to improve these seven connections. For me, the surprising one that I didn't realize I needed help was nature. As a self-pronounced city boy, y'know kind of like Thurston Moore from Sonic Youth, I have connected with nature more, and that does actually help me feel better.

One thing I love about Lost Connections is that it offers ideas and solutions and is not just an indictment of Big Pharma, which needs to be indicted — literally, although we can just do that to specific companies. I see the new tobacco companies are now Big Pharma, Big Tech and politics. The three are serving up fear, anxiety, sickness and death of the body, soul or brain. Sadly, this is not hyperbole.
So Hari examined this landscape, looked at his own past prescriptions and put together a tour de force of what is actually happening. I have found that way too many Americans take pills for low-level anxiety or what I call natural depression. I believe it's OK to feel anxiety and depression, to a degree. The average person does not need Big Pharma to work out low-level anxiety and depression.

This is where I get upset about what I have seen with a few friends who have gone down the rabbit hole of meds, even though it was borderline if they should have been prescribed any in the first place. Once the meds start, it can be extremely difficult to stop.

The United States has become a fantasyland of sorts with many "connected" through artificial means, like the phone, as opposed to actually being connected. A lot of what we perceive as connections are not connections. I am inspired by Hari to seek genuine connections in my life, and when those happen, I feel more alive and human.