Thursday, October 31, 2019

Are you a cleaner, closer or cooler?

In the middle of a year-long leadership program I attended, our leader suggested the book Relentless by Tim Grover. I had gobbled up the other books in the program, so I couldn't wait for this one.

Grover is the former trainer of Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade and many more superstars, and his book focuses on what elite athletes do that others don't.

Cleaners. That is Grover's terminology for the elite of the elites. A cleaner is someone who has the mentality to win at all costs. A cleaner has a definite dark side. A cleaner is more than just a clutch player. He is a strong-willed leader who is never satisfied with his accomplishments.

The other types of elite athletes are coolers, who are followers and hesitant to take initiative. Another is a closer, who often needs to be congratulated after accomplishing something.

When I read this book, I was like, "Hey, yo, I'm a cleaner!"
Funny, the person I met who recommended the book struck me as one of the most relentless people I've ever met. Intense! And, maybe, to be elite in certain arenas, a relentless mindset is a prerequisite.

I was drawn to Relentless because I sometimes have lacked a killer's instinct in sports. I can have a big lead, then led up and let the opponent back in the game. I used to overthink key moments, and I'd like to close out games like Kobe.

But y'know what struck me most about Grover's book is his personal stories? If I remember correctly, his father was a pathologist who performed autopsies, and at an extremely young age, Grover saw these bodies and even helped his father in that setting. Egads.

It made me wonder about what spurs people to even want to be "cleaners." Are cleaners overdoing it? Maybe I'm old-fashioned, but I'm a big fan of work-life balance and put love of self and others above being a cleaner. What drives cleaners? On one hand, I respect the focus, discipline and work ethic, but on the other hand, I wonder: What are you truly missing?

So I do recommend Relentless. But at what cost? Humanity supersedes being "the best" at something. However, in an ultra-competitive situation, I respond to some of the lessons in Grover's book, and I just win, baby.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Let's spend a xu for a qat

Man, I used to be an avid Scrabble player. It wasn't competitive Scrabble against strangers, but it was among friends and family. I think I'm a pretty good player.

So back in 2001, when Word Freak by Stefan Fatsis came out, I was all over it. It's about the bizarre world of competitive Scrabble, and then in 2004, the documentary Word Wars came out.

I hardly play Scrabble nowadays, and I blame the phone. At first, I was mesmerized by Words with Friends, played hundreds of games, but then was like, "Uh, why am I wasting my life with this phone and this game?"

So Word Freak follows the world's best Scrabble players, and we quickly realize, "Oh, wow, this is another level."

These elite Scrabble players have lists and lists of words memorized, and they get bingos (playing all seven letters) constantly. The book takes us inside of their worlds and minds, and it got me to rearrange the letters in words when I saw them to form other words. Sometimes, I still do that.
Because I read it so long ago, a lot of the details escape me. I do recall it following a few key figures and seeing how obsessive they were against the game. Oh, and if you're wondering, how is this a sports book? Well, Fatsis is a sports writer, and, hey, I say it works!

I did learn a couple key tips from the book that helped my Scrabble playing, and they are: 1) If you don't know all the two-letter words, you might as well play something else, 2) Of course, you got to know all the Q words without U after it, and the words that begin with X, and 3) The best rack management is to have all different letters. Why in the world would you have three I's in your rack?!?

Eh, thinking about Word Freak wants me to play some Scrabble. And, Dad, stop looking at the dictionary!

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

A celebration of life!

For seven years, I covered the Los Angeles Clippers and NBA for the Long Beach Press-Telegram and a chain called the Los Angeles Newspaper Group. During that time, I'm not sure I ran across a more colorful dude than Bill Walton.

Bill did color commentary for the Clippers in my first year on the beat, and he took the time to know me a bit. It wasn't like we were best friends, but our exchanges were real. He knew me, treated me like a human being, and I liked his vibe.

So I recommend Back from the Dead (2016) by Bill Walton, who has lived an outside-of-the-box life and has incredible stories about growing up, John Wooden and his horrific injuries.

One thing that first struck me about Bill was how he was such an individual, not afraid to be "out there" and entertaining. He typically arrived to Clipper games in a track suit, then dressed with the players into his commentating suit, then changed back after the game.

On one terrible Clipper night, the team gave away a huge lead, and players fought among themselves. It was not far from the time when a player referred to playing for the Clippers as being in jail. Among an ugly post-game scene, I asked Bill, why he still commentated and put up with the constant losing.

"Joe, you have to remember that basketball is a ballet, poetry in motion," he said. "These are the greatest athletes in the world. Every night is a celebration of life."
In his book, Bill details his terrible injuries, and I found his insights on John Wooden to be captivating. He repeatedly points out that Wooden called him the slowest learner of all-time. But, you know what, at least he did learn.

It's hard to be an individual in the sports world nowadays. I think a lot of times individual becomes synonymous with selfish, but those are two entirely different words. We have a lot of selfish people, but not necessarily individuals.

So Bill Walton was indeed an individual, and the next time you happen to watch a sporting event, remember that above anything else, it is a "celebration of life."

Monday, October 28, 2019

The best Cleveland sports book

I argue that the Cleveland sports narrative is more captivating than any sports tale out there. Of course, I am biased being a native Clevelander and a maniacal Cleveland sports junkie.

This stuff runs personal, and to me, all good stories go personal — crazy personal. So out of the myriad books on Cleveland sports, I recommend The Whore of Akron: One Man's Search for the Soul of LeBron James (2011) by Scott Raab as hitting at our city's collective feelings more than any other book.

Shoot, man, Cleveland is America. I feel in my bones that there isn't a more American city than Cleveland and maybe no American state than Ohio. Y'know, the presidential election has gone with whom Ohio has picked every time but once (JFK) since 1944. Talk about political diversity!

Cleveland's economy has been through the ringer and back. We were a huge steel town, only to see that industry die, and then we slowly pieced together a livable city and economy.

Through it all, our sports teams have been our salvation. The teams are pastimes that unite our city and bring us together. No need to go through our painful sports history, so go ahead and watch Believeland from ESPN if you either got the urge to relive it or know it.

So The Whore of Akron was written at a low point in Cleveland sports lore, when LeBron James announced that he would take his talents to South Beach. What?!? Our city was up in arms, and we were burning LeBron jerseys in effigy.
Venomous, crude, unforgiving and honest — that's the best way I can describe the book. Even with the knowledge of LeBron returning and miraculously bestowing Cleveland's first championship to the city since 1964, I still recommend the book.

Did we forgive LeBron? Why, yes we did. Did he have to come back to the city and get us a championship? Yes. ... Deal. LeBron, you are now the champion of Cleveland or the basketball Jesus of Cleveland. But you used to be, for lack of a better word, a whore.

What a story! Any sportswriter worth his salt understands that the better story typically comes in the losing team's locker room. Had LeBron not left to stupid-ass Miami, Cleveland would not have the extra layer of its championship story. Honestly, looking back on what happened, our story could happen no other way.

Of course, the Cavs would have to knock off the team with the most regular-season wins in NBA history with Golden State going 73-9 that year. Of course, we would have to come back from a 3-1 deficit and win the championship on Golden State's home court.

Yeah, it's Cleveland, baby. It's the only city I know where a whore can become king.

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Tiger, Tiger is not right

When Tiger Woods won the Masters last year at age 43, I was rooting for him. I loved that he won, and it was an awesome story and in the conversation of "the greatest comeback in sports history."

The next day, though, I lost those loving feelings. I was thinking back to Hank Haney's 2012 book The Big Miss, and I was thinking his life of over-the-top cheating. To me, character matters in sports, and I guess I'm supposed to forgive Tiger. But let's get real. A lot of his off-the-course life has been less than admirable.

Of course, we need to give Tiger his just due when it comes to his golf career, his 81 PGA wins, his 15 majors and for being the most dominant player in history. His stretch from 1999 to 2009 is just ridiculously amazing.

It was Thanksgiving 2009, when his personal life and golf career took its dramatic tumble. We're talking a decade ago.

So Haney used to be Tiger's coach, and he is famous in his own right, even having his own show on the Golf Channel called The Haney Project at one point. I could not put down his tell-all about Tiger and the madness of what made Tiger tick.

On one hand, I give props to anyone who has the amazing dedication to be an elite athlete, musician, artist or business mogul. To be at the top of one's game in a competitive sport or discipline is highly difficult, and we cannot underscore the life that is given for that pursuit.

However, a lot of unhealthiness can come the way of the driven elitist, and it's hard not to fall into a lot of the unhealthy traps. Tiger fell into a myriad of them.
Tiger's dad was a military man, and he became obsessed with Navy Seals and training with them. He repeatedly trained with them, frequently hurting his body, building up muscles that were irrelevant to golf and most likely tearing his ACL with them. Say wha'?

Tiger really didn't have anyone close to him. He also was so self-centered that if he were eating with others, he would walk away when he was finished, regardless if the others were still eating. He also is cheap and a notoriously terrible tipper, and somehow he finds that funny. At least, this is all from Haney's book, and it sounds like truth to me.

So Haney got a first-hand look at Tiger, but we all have been watching Tiger on TV for decades. I have seen him up close a few times and did a story on him once when he did a p.r. thing with the City of Long Beach.

But what I know about Tiger is what I believe is the truth. Insecure. Driven. Cold. Why is it that our world lauds ideas of "the best" for something like golf, but we don't really look at the actual person? Eh, The Big Miss made me do that, and it's going to be hard for me to laud Tiger again.

Friday, October 25, 2019

Zen on the course

I used to be a basket case on the golf course, and sometimes I revert to that madness. I would overthink a zillion things, get in my own way and be my own biggest hazard on the course. Something had to give.

Finally, I took a different approach, to get out of my head, and Zen Golf by Joseph Parent helped a lot.

Golf can be a game of inches, a game of details and a game of thought. While golfers need to keep their head in the game in terms of course management, what types of shots to take and strategy, I find that the head often gets in the way of being loose, having fun and actually playing better.

I used to have a lot of ideas about golf truisms that turned out to not even be true. First off, nobody gives a shoot about your score. We care because we have been conditioned to think it matters, but does it? Nobody really cares.

Second off, I don't really care about my score. Of course, I want to improve and shave off strokes, and I brag about the one time I broke 80. But score is a manmade interpretation. It's much more important to play golf than golf score.

Some of my best rounds have had average scores. How do we judge a good round of golf?

I judge it by feeling good out there, enjoying it, not feeling any bit of pressure, not trying so darn hard and by stringing together some good shots. If the score is worse than my average, I no longer care as long as I felt it was worth the hours I was out there.
One of the chapters in Zen Golf is titled "How to Enjoy a Bad Round of Golf," and honestly, I wish all amateurs enjoyed their junky rounds, too. Sadly, because I see that most amateurs believe they're better than they actually are, they tend to not enjoy their rounds. They live in a delusion that their best round is their normal round.

Zen Golf (2002) opened the door to a slew of golf psychology books that I devoured. Anyone who plays the game realizes that negative thoughts creep in, and we must accept that on the golf course but let those come through and pass. Too often, we seize on the negative thoughts, make them bigger than just a notion, and then bad things happen.

Golfers also understand that we need total commitment to the shots we take. If we ever doubt a club selection or decision, those will come back to haunt us. And what exactly are we ever afraid of on the golf course? ... We're playing freakin' golf.

The adage of "golf does not build character; it reveals character" may be true. But I must give the game some credit for helping me develop grit, get my head on straighter, understand myself better and learn how to be more Zen.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Golf can be ... simple

Why do intelligent, reasonable people golf?

Mark Twain's famous quote of "a good walk wasted" comes to mind, and nowadays, golfers are amidst a swirl of golf-ball technology, golf-club technology, talking about swing plains and so much hullaballoo, that the average golfer's mind can be cloudy.

Thank God for Harvey Penick's Little Red Book with Bud Shrake. It came out in 1992, three years before Penick passed away, and is a big seller with a 20th anniversary edition in 2012.

Penick is one of the most famous golf instructors ever. He was based in Austin and coached at the University of Texas from 1931 to 1963. Some huge names studied under him, including Tom Kite and Ben Crenshaw.

What is so refreshing about the Little Red Book is that it simplifies the game with truths that many amateurs just don't get — or don't practice.

"When I tell you to take an aspirin, don't take the whole bottle. In a golf swing, a tiny change can make a huge difference. The natural inclination is to begin to overdo the tiny change that has brought success. So you exaggerate in an effort to improve even more, and soon you are lost and confused again."
"If the average golfer hits the 3-wood off the tee, the shots on the whole will be more successful. What you will miss is maybe that one good driver shot in a round, and it's not worth it."

I must say that not hitting the driver off the tee has helped my game immensely. No more guessing. No more erratic shots. No more random duffs. I actually play with some guys who consistently smoke their drivers. But most players aren't like that.

I believe that golf is a game that connects us with nature and ourselves. Back in Ohio, so many of the courses are absolutely beautiful. They were carved out of existing trees and greenery, and they receive a lot of rainfall. Fresh air. Sun. It's good to get outside.

Perhaps golf is "an old man's sport." It's the only sport I know that I can actually get better at my age, and that doesn't entail me hitting the ball farther. Working with my unique, goofy golf skillset, I have learned how to maximize what I got, and I am proud of my course management.

I have learned that most golfers think they are better than they are. It takes humility to understand that, yeah, I shouldn't be playing the blue tees. Or, y'know what, I did indeed get an "8" on that hole. People lie to themselves on golf courses, as they do in real life, but I don't care. I'm there for the nature and to connect to "Joe the Golfer."

"For two weeks, devote 90 percent of your practice time chipping and putting, and only 10 percent to the full swing. If you do this, your 95 will turn into a 90."

"Play games on the putting green. The more time you spend there, the better golf scores you will turn in."

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Literary icon at the baseline

Tennis, anyone?

It might be a little sneaky for me to get David Foster Wallace into the project 100 Nonfiction Books I Recommend. The literary icon is known more for his fiction and Infinite Jest. But his essays on tennis belong on this list because String Theory is indeed the best book I've ever read on tennis.

Wallace died at 46 from suicide in 2008, and String Theory was published in 2016. There are only five essays in the collection, and so it's a bit short yet worthwhile, insightful and meaningful. He was a relatively successful junior player in Illinois, and in his first essay, he writes about how he sees the angles and geometry of tennis.

A lot of his writing is OCD on display and from a mind that speeds fast. Some have labeled Wallace "a genius." Maybe. But to me, the real geniuses are the ones who can balance life and art and have their minds actually work for them. I'm not sure he had that part of the genius equation. However, I am naive when it comes to mental illness, and perhaps the point I'm making is simply it's a shame we lost David Foster Wallace.

Because he was a tennis player, he boasts a ridiculous abundance of knowledge on the game, and I find it impossible to not want to go hit some balls after reading String Theory. Of the five essays, I found the one on obscure player Michael Joyce as the most meaningful.
I'm a casual tennis fan, and I know that Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic have dominated the men's game for more than a decade. But what about everybody else?

Wallace follows Joyce at the Canadian Open in 1995, and for me, as a former sportswriter, I loved that Wallace went to the side courts to focus on a player in the margins to analyze and report on what was happening there. I learned real fast as a newspaper journalist, covering pro sports and the NBA for god's sakes, that I had to find killer stories within the context of what the readers and editors wanted.

Wallace already was on the path to literary icon when the story on Joyce dropped in Esquire. It looks like he had carte blanche with his story on Joyce, so we can see what it's like to be the 79th ranked player in the world.

Think of how elite that is — 79th in the freaking world! But a player like that typically lives a life of obscurity, qualifiers to get into tournaments and dedication and practice that is out of this world. In the world of sports journalism, we often focus on the last-second shot, the superstars, the glamour.

It turns out for most of anyone pursuing sports, it's not nearly as glamorous as the fans think. Wallace's story on Joyce offers truth that we don't often notice, and those types of truths can be mighty powerful.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Baseball matters more now than ever

It's an absolute pleasure for me that my daughter, Sophie, actually likes baseball. We watched Game 1 of the National League Championship Series, riveted by a close game and no hitter that moved to the eighth inning.

Baseball is a game of subtlety. It is utterly American, and I love watching and listening to it more than any sport. However, the average viewer of a baseball game is 53, and 50 percent of the audience is 55 and older.

When Why Baseball Matters by Susan Jacoby came out last year, I was all over it. I like to think of baseball as a unifying American pastime. Does it matter if we have different political views or different backgrounds? I like to think we can unite with baseball.

One unexpected point that I respond to in Why Baseball Matters is how generations don't intermingle as much as they used to. Jacoby spent time growing up in her grandfather's bar south of Chicago. I conjecture that she learned more about life and relationships there more than she would have in school. So often, families find themselves on different devices and looking at different entertainment. I find it refreshing when we all are looking at the same thing.

Baseball is a backdrop. It is meant to have pauses and dead time. It's OK to converse during the game. With our image-driven world now, baseball has become a throwback. Jacoby argues that it is more important than ever now because the lowest-common denominator of American culture of disruption, distraction and interruption is prevailing.
In many ways, major-league baseball is lost. Smart phones punctuate the stands, and huge scoreboards entertain throughout "down time." I see a countdown clock at games in between innings and batters. Do we really need that?

No matter what ESPN does, I don't believe baseball is made for highlights. Yes, we can see diving catches and home runs or even walk-off mobs at home plate. But the drama of the game lies in scenarios like the 2-2 count. After four consecutive sliders, here comes the fastball.

The drama is in the details — grounding out to second base and advancing the runner to third or getting to a ball quickly in the outfield to prevent the runner from going to third or blocking a pitch in the dirt with a runner on third. The irony of modern day living is that somehow baseball is the most American pastimes but, strangely, it has become un-American because of its slower pace and subtlety.

Baseball certainly matters to me. It looks like it matters to my daughter, too. We get the game, and we love it. We love each other, too, and baseball reminds us of that.

Monday, October 21, 2019

The actual psychology of pitching

It had to start with Roger Angell.

As 100 Nonfiction Books I Recommend moves to the sports category, I feel that the longtime New Yorker writer deserves the accolades he receives. I was a sports writer at Newsday and the Long Beach Press-Telegram from 1996 to 2008, and I typically found sportswriting completely not literary, often cliche and to be gobbled or discarded.

The adage that "journalism is unreadable and literature is not read" comes to mind. As an idealistic sportswriter, I did my best to bridge that gap, and perhaps no one does this better than Angell.

It was not a huge book, but I am recommending A Pitcher's Story: Innings with David Cone (2002). Baseball is such an utterly psychological game that Angell's discussions with Cone delved into that better than any other book I know. Angell typically wrote essays, and the full-length book with Cone delivers.

I've been out of New York for two decades, but I was not surprised when I learned that Cone has been a color commentator in New York since he retired in 2001. He even came out with another book this year with Jack Curry. In a few games I covered at Yankee Stadium, Cone held court and was a journalist's dream when he was there 1995 to 2000. I remember him breaking down games in an intelligent, witty manner on days he didn't even pitch.

Angell followed Cone for the 2000 season, when Cone was 37. It probably was Cone's worst season, and he was in the twilight of his career. He had overcome an aneurysm and was back on the mound. All of this added up to insights, perspective and the wisdom from an accomplished pitcher.
My lord, so much has been written on baseball, and so many movies are out there. Bull Durham, The Natural, Field of Dreams, Major League — OK, look, I can go on forever, and I find baseball to be the most American of pastimes. It might be even more American than online shopping!

Sports can be crazily extreme. We can go from the worst possible loss to the best win and back to the worst loss in a matter of moments. A Pitcher's Story starts with Cone's perfect game in June 1999, only to follow him struggling ridiculously the next season. That was only the 16th perfect game in major-league history.

The book explores Cone's upbringing in Kansas City, where his dad was a night-shift mechanic. The parents scraped together enough money to send Cone to a Jesuit high school, and I can relate to that because I, too, attended a Jesuit high school — St. Ignatius in Cleveland.

But the thing that is so superb about A Pitcher's Story is that neither Angell, nor Cone, fall into baseball cliches. They tell the gospel truth of how it actually is to go through glory and defeat and aging in the sport, and life.

Of course, baseball can be life. It can be painful, unfair, quirky, change by chance. It can be jubilant, gut-wrenching, gleeful. It is quite rare, practically impossible, for it ever to be perfect.

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.