On Reinventing Yourself

If you keep doing what you always do, how are you supposed to get better?

Fear holds us where we are. Fear of change and the unknown, fear of failure.

The comfort of the familiar ties us down like a Lilliputian army. A million tiny threads, little voices and thoughts inside our heads that belittle us and tangle us up in our self doubt.

If you really want to be better, you have to be willing to do something extreme to send yourself a clear message. You need to redefine some parameters and set some new standards.

So make things different

Make ubtle changes to your day-to-day routine, your consciousness, the sensory input that you are so used to. For example:

  • change your cologne
  • change what you eat
  • change your environment
  • change your body

To send myself an unmistakable message about who I want to be, I am undertaking a physical challenge: to transform my body over the next month or so to the maximum possible extent.

You’ve done it too: you’ve watched a movie and imagined that you were as “whatever” as the characters portrayed. You think about having the same skill, the same physical prowess, the same financial success. But you never did the work, or allowed yourself to consciously grasp what it would really cost to have what you idealized.

So here’s what I am doing: I am challenging myself at the highest possible level.

Join me on the personal revolution. Challenge yourself to make a tremendously aggressive attempt at achieving a short- to medium-term goal. It could be fitness, financial, personal — anything you want.

Set yourself a challenge, and don’t play around. Treat this as though your life depends on it.

Prove to yourself that if this small challenge is possible to achieve … well, who knows what you might prove to yourself.

Join me on my personal revolution.

what a strange holiday

One’s experiences tend to appear in subtle or obvious ways in one’s writing. To some extent this is inevitable. I have had quite a weird life, so I guess this may explain some of what goes on when I place my fingers on the keyboard. I’m not sure if it’s a good or a bad thing for my writing. I’d like to think good.

Perhaps we’ve all had normal lives, but they appear weird only to us. Draw your own conclusions after reading one of my books. Would a normal person write that masterpiece?

So now let me tell you about my strange holiday. The problem is that I am very conscious of protecting people’s identities. For this reason, names will be changed and many details omitted.

I spent this Christmas and New Year with one of my oldest, dearest friends, my girlfriend and a deranged slut. My boardshorts were stolen by a midnight intruder and I was attacked by an angry old man.

Having my boardshorts stolen wasn’t so bad. I saw the intruder (in fact I awoke to see him climbing in through my bedroom window) and I scared him away with a mighty war-cry. (did I mention writers are hardcore?) The boardshorts were old and, if I have to rationalize it, reminded me of a difficult time in my life (although I did buy them to wear on a yacht in the South of France). The boardshorts weren’t such a big deal, really, and I felt like I had defended myself well, so we can put that event aside.

Being attacked by the angry old man wasn’t so bad either. I was once attacked by an insane homeless woman and that was far worse. She hit me. This time, I wasn’t in direct physical contact with the old man — he merely threw a stone at the car I was driving and only grazed the passenger door. The best part was that it wasn’t my car. In fact it was Archibald’s car, which he had recently modified for entertainment purposes. It was quite entertaining, though perhaps the old man hadn’t found the sound of the engine quite as pleasantly stimulating as we did. What a stick in the mud.

Far more grueling than either of these events was the encounter with the deranged whore. Now be careful about who you tell about this.

To keep things safe, I’m going to change my friend’s name to Archibald. The deranged whore will be referred to as Slutty van der Whore or something similar.

People will do a lot of things in the name of insecurity. I’m sure we can all relate to having encountered somebody whose behaviour was a little bit inappropriate. That girl who eats a banana with too much enthusiasm, that guy who greets female co-workers with an open palm to the bumcheek. Sometimes it’s entertaining.. Usually it’s most fun when you’re a hormone-crazed teenager. As a civilized adult, it can sometimes be quite uncomfortable.

This case was excruciating. The girl was demented. I have never experienced anything like this. You could not glance in her direction without a boob being flung into the open or some bedroom eyes being fixed unblinkingly upon you. No wholesome pursuit was safe. Try to read a book, she’d lean over your shoulder and stuff a boob in your face.

I think I finally understand a bit of what it can be like for ladies who get harrassed at work. What a vile nuisance! What a filthy insult!

First my girlfriend and I held battle council. I openly admitted that I had no idea what to do. Any kind of attempt at communication was turned into something dirty, sticky and whore-of-Babylonian. I was flashed or overtly signalled perhaps fifteen times per day. This is how it went:

“look at my tan line” (flash)

“Brrr, it’s cold” (squeeze boobs towards face)

“Hahaha, how funny!” (bedroom eyes)

We quickly agreed that the situation was unplayable because the girl was clearly demented and the only sensible approach was for me to avoid and ignore her wherever possible.

It was hell. She even poked my nipple on new year’s eve, but that is towards the end of the story.

At first I thought it might work if I persuaded Archibald to get frisky with her. Maybe it would calm her down, satisfy the demented need for attention. I politely suggested that he do a civic duty and give her some male attention. Archibald goes to the gym a lot and has had some plastic surgery, so I thought it might work.

Oh lord, it worked far to well. Archibald and Slutty van der Whore start getting frisky, but she still can’t stop flashing everybody. She keeps dropping her sarong to flash her asscheeks, she keeps “adjusting” her bikini. She’s like some kind of sick cartoon, worse even than these.

It gets worse by the minute. They’re getting all lovey-dovey. Next thing, Archibald and her are making guacamole. No metaphor, the real deal. To this day they are still involved. I feel like the world doesn’t make any sense.

Maybe it’s not the world — just human beings.

The holiday gave me a glimpse of a very scary world that I try to avoid. It made me rethink gender roles. I have had so many deep thoughts about this, I think I might drown.

I’m not sure if I should publish this post — I think I’ll save it as a draft for a bit and decide whether to publish it at a later stage.

Guess what? I decided to publish it. And great news, Archibald finally got rid of Slutty van Skankwurst.

I kneel down and thank god every day, because I think I would rather die than be the best man at my dear friend’s wedding, only to have to again defend myself against inapproprate advances from his bride.

I would like to mention that I am working on a couple of projects at the moment, one of which has been largely inspired by Archibald. More about that in the near future.

-N

Hardcore

Today I am going to play the iconoclast.

Writers are getting a bum rap, yo. We are seen as these sniveling little Woody Allen types hunched over keyboards. We’re so touchy when people don’t get us that we drown our sorrows in fine wine.

You think I’m that runny-nosed, bespectacled ninny? You see me wearing vintage cardigans in a ramshackle apartment full of meaningful eclectic curios?

I’ve got news for you, bro. I’m hardcore. Now let me tell you why.

Everybody wants to be a writer

Easy measure of hardcore: how many wannabes are there out there? Count the aspiring writers. Count the number of guys who want to write a book. This kind of imitation has to be worth some street cred.

Without writers there are no stories

We are responsible for masterpieces and disasters. An idea is the most powerful thing in the world, so the guy that writes down that idea is wielding a truly remarkable weapon. People go to war due to ideological disputes. Millions die. A movie or book can plant the idea that starts the next revolution.

Stop kicking us out, Mr Jones. Your daughter is doing well to hook up with somebody who wields these kind of weapons. Find me an accountant (barring the Parmalat and Enron guys) who has the potential to make this kind of impact.

Writers eat rejection for breakfast

Now we’re getting to the serious hardcore. Nobody likes rejection. Writers get it in their breakfast bowl on a daily basis.  No milk and sugar on this one, son. This breakfast tastes like despair. We pour heart and soul into a project. We don’t let a stupid thing like reality hold us back. We’re more persistent than telesalesmen. Sadly, most of the time that ends in disaster. Most of us only ever meet with disappointment. This should put me off, but it just encourages me more. Why? Because I’m hardcore.

In fact, right now I’m inviting you to buy my work and insult me. Tear it to pieces, come on here and make a fool of me. (is this an obvious ploy? I hope not)

Also, because writers are generally such sensitive folk, we feel things deeply. Being rejected isn’t such a big deal if you don’t care much about what you’re doing. This is seldom the case with writers. When you write something, it’s like your little ridiculous child. Imagine seeing your ridiculous little fat child being rejected when he tries out for the softball team. Dealing with that is hardcore.

Writers face fear

I’ve saved the best till last. Somebody who tells you they’re never afraid is either lying, deluded or insane. Fear is a natural thing. It’s being able to face fear that makes a person courageous.

Writers have several fears that hound them on a daily basis. Fear of a blank page, fear of rejection, fear of failure. Sometimes your introspection gets so convoluted that you start to wonder if anything makes sense. You doubt your own reason, especially when 50 Shades of Grey and David Ike are making McDonalds numbers (as Ludacris said, yo) and nobody seems to like your great literary masterpiece. It becomes hard to decide whether something really is any good after all.

But we’re like the terminator. We just don’t stop.

You will have to kill me to stop me writing. My severed fingers will continue to tap the keyboard.

Look into my red eyes. (Admittedly it’s from staring at a computer screen, but the similarity is not purely co-incidental) I am a writer. Now tell me I’m not hardcore.

Artistic Aspirations

So you woke up this morning dissatisfied. Your day-to-day life is somehow insufficient. It might not be extreme discomfort, but there is a lack of fulfilment. You wonder if what you are doing really matters. You start to have one of those existential crises.

I have those too. Almost every day. I am a writer; this sort of omphaloskepsis is what keeps me going.

So deep into your existential crises, you pop online and start questioning the modern equivalent of the Oracle of Delphi. Yes, Google. You hammer out some search phrases in the hope that some existentially-adept individual will come to your rescue.

If that was how you found this post, Google failed you. I am just as confused as you are.

There was a time when life was simple. You’d run away from predators, eat, fall asleep under a tree and thank your lucky stars you weren’t chewed to pieces. Your life was pretty pointless … or was it? I don’t know what I would have done back then. I would have been too busy trying to find something to eat to spend much time or energy on things like this blog. I don’t think cavemen were big on blogging.

Today, we are even more confused than the poor cavemen trying to decide what to do next, naked in the forest. Now we’re clothed with an illusion of certainty that tells us we are supposed to know what we are doing.

But we are still naked in the forest.

Isn’t it strange that as the dominant species on this planet, we are basically enslaved by work? And the majority of work is painfully boring and repetitive. Surely we could have made things a bit more fun for ourselves by now!

You are supposed to follow your passion, but good luck finding it. Mark Cuban wrote a nice post about this vaunted ideal. You won’t have a chance to really explore the world because we have to get you specialised and schooled and ready for corporate life as quickly a possible. There is no time to lose worrying about a meaningful life. These silly things pale in comparison to the importance of a reliable income.

And good luck if you want to be a writer, a musician, an artist. You are screwed. Everybody tells you that you must follow your dream, but looks down on you for doing so. The struggling musician is seen as a ne’er do well. People either encourage him unconditionally or condemn his aspirations as unrealistic. Often both. The passionate writer is doomed to eventually give in and write the next 50 Shades of Despair. Of course you should follow your passion, provided that passion is commercially viable. Otherwise don’t think you’ll be marrying my daughter, Mr-Passionate. Take your guitar and your delusions elsewhere. Go get a real job.

Without those guys who take chances and follow their passion, there would be no writers, musicians or artists. We would have a pretty grim world to live in. But nobody is supposed to do it unless it is commercially viable. But it won’t be commercially viable when you start, but you must follow your passion, no matter what. But you’re a failure if you don’t earn enough money. You’re a freak and a mess if you don’t have an orderly life.

So make up a passion that works and follow it. Be yourself provided you’re just like me.

I’ll be proud of myself if I can face that gaping uncertainty. To say that I didn’t know if anybody would like my work. To give up my starry-eyed illusions of certain success and trade them for the courage and fortitude to accept the possibility of failure … and to keep writing anyway.

Last night I had dreams of disaster. I felt the devil’s hot breath on the nape of my neck. My responsibilities, the pressure of running a functional life, the infinite amount of energy that has to be expended to be Nicholas Cross, writer.

I woke up this morning dissatisfied, just like you. I faced the blank page. I wrote this blog post and now I’m inviting you to condemn my artistic aspirations.

We writers are crazy, aren’t we?

50 Shades of Frustration

I’ll bet you’re expecting me to go on a nice rant about the decay of modern civilization and how the scale of 50 Shades of Grey’s success supports the Mayan prediction of a fast-approaching apocalypse.

In fact, I have rather mixed feelings about the whole thing.

First of all, as a writer, I am undeniably jealous. Of course I assume that my work is much better (though there’s always the chance that I’m delusional) and therefore deserves much greater commercial success. I naturally think of the great starving writer/artist archetype. Some poor frustrated genius who cuts off his ear in distress and flings it in the face of his critic, bellowing “You just wouldn’t LISTEN to my symbolism”.

Vincent van Gogh: Self portrait with bandaged ear

Look at what you made me do, philistine!

Secondly, as a human being I feel a kind of pretentious need to revile bad writing. It doesn’t really matter whether I’ve read the book or not — I have an idea of what constitutes good literature and I feel quite sure that my recognition of the inferiority of this popular book somehow makes me intellectually superior to “the herd”.

But despite these points, I really don’t think it’s such a bad thing that 50 Shades of Grey has taken the world by storm. In order to share my perspective with you, I’d like to pose some questions:

Is popular really so bad?

I like popular stuff. I enjoy rap music and hamburgers and superhero movies. I despise artsy movies, even though I am a writer and enjoy weaving tapestries of symbolism and so forth. I really don’t feel good about Finnegan’s Wake, either, despite much critical acclaim. Maybe what’s brilliant is not all that clear cut after all, and maybe there’s something to be said for satisfying material. A cheeseburger is satisfying in a different way to a fillet bearnaise, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have a right to exist (or to outsell the fillet bearnaise).

There is no way to predict what will be popular and what will drive people’s taste. From some perspectives, almost anything can appear brilliant (James Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake for example). Maybe this uncertainty is part of what bothers us, while we all clamour to recreate 50 Shades of Good Luck, despairing that we just can’t win that lottery by betting on the same numbers that won last time.

Are we being consistent?

Let’s do a thought experiment. A completely average guy, a bad writer, a poor worker and a generally unremarkable person buys a lottery ticket and wins.

I can’t say I deserve this, but nor can you!

Sure, you might feel a bit envious, but you can’t really say the money wasn’t “deserved”. He bought his ticket, faced the same odds as the rest of us and got lucky.

So now let’s take a completely unremarkable writer who writes a book, persuades a publisher to promote it and lucks out, earning a fantastic return. As much as I’d like to feel this is somehow unfair, it strikes me as more fair than the guy winning the lottery.

After all, no matter how bad a book may be, it takes work and perseverance to write it, and more work and perseverance to get it published. Happening to run a lucky trend is just that: good luck.

The silly thing is that we now all assume that the only literature that is commercially successful is rubbish. We then go further and assume that only crap will be successful. Do you really believe that?

Isn’t it nice that any work has the potential to succeed?

Imagine if the only successful novels were works of poetic genius. Good luck making a living, bucko. Maybe it’s a good thing if popular fiction can be created easily. Doesn’t it excite you that you could create the next world phenomenon? Perhaps a simple fantasy or a story you would like to tell your child could capture the imagination of millions and make you rich beyond your wildest dreams. Is it really so bad for that possibility to exist?

So what are you waiting for, pretentious writer?

This is a call to action. Get off your high horse. Believe in your work enough to stop complaining about the fairness or unfairness of a random process. Create something glorious and put it out there. Accept that you are writing for somebody other than yourself. If the work gains popular appeal, you can make money. If it doesn’t, have enough self-esteem to know that creating something great is a reward in itself and you do not need to be validating by a mass market of lunatics.

Create the best thing you can and who knows, it might be the next world phenomenon.

And hey, will it really kill you to write something that somebody might actually enjoy reading?

(Speaking of that, you should buy my books. A couple of hundred thousand sales would really add authenticity to this post.)

Fellow writers out there (or anyone else), let’s hear what you think.

UPDATE:

I am amazed. I discovered the following quote from 50 Shades of Grey in a post by Danzo over here:

“His finger circled my puckered love cave. 
“Are you ready?” He mewled
smirking at me like a mother hamster
about to eat her three legged young”
I went through a rollercoaster of amusement, astonishment, shock, horror.
I had heard that the books were bad. I had naturally assumed that I knew what that meant. Clearly I was mistaken.
This is like a religious moment for me. Or maybe something more like what a young soldier feels in Vietnam when he witnesses his first atrocity. My mind is now blown open like the stomach of a putrefying corpse.
I had thought 50 Shades unremarkable, but maybe I was wrong. Perhaps it is bad enough to be remarkable.
Is this a recurring theme in popular culture? Remarkably good or bad are in some sense the same — either will succeed.
I’m afraid to consider the possibility that remarkably good is losing its place…

Are you a people pleaser?

I had an idea that I couldn’t forget.

What if you were meant to be very special, but you found a way to suppress it. Maybe you were sensitive and you saw your greatness  as something that made other people uncomfortable and that made you afraid to express yourself.

You could have been king Leonidas, but instead, you decided to quietly do what was expected. You went to school, you studied, you progressed along a mediocre path, fuelled by approval. You lived a life that was prescribed by Life As We Know It, never realizing that there is so much more out there for you and that other people’s approval (especially from authority figures) is tragically overrated.

Look at King Leonidas

Others’ approval is overrated. This could be you.

Now I pose the big questions: Are you a people-pleaser? Are you living for yourself or for somebody else?

Nobody says that you should go so far as to do a Tucker Max, but there is a lesson you can learn from his success. Being yourself is a uniquely empowering experience.

I wanted to share this idea, so I wrote about a man called Martin Short. Martin is repressed in the way that I’ve described, but he thinks that he’s happy. There is a trigger event, however, that sets him off and provokes change.

I wonder if you’ll experience an event like that. Maybe reading my book could be such an event. It may even help me one day outsell Tucker Max.

Maybe allegory doesn’t float your boat. Either way, I urge you to justify your major life decisions. The ones that seem to make the most sense are the ones that you should examine the most closely.

An unexamined life is not likely to be great. Go out and discover some different ways in which you could live before you fall into that traditional career or default lifestyle pattern. Here are three tips:

1. Open yourself up to new experiences

Other people live differently. Travelling and observing a different way of life can teach you a lot about what is possible. Eating different cuisine, using different soap. Small things will show you worlds you didn’t know existed.

2. Observe yourself thinking and deliberately disrupt your patterns

Ask yourself why you feel a certain way. When you normally do something defensive (like curl up and eat ice cream), force yourself to go out and do something else. This might surprise you.

3. Read some weird books/blogs/articles and expose yourself to new ideas

Could this be self-promotion? I’d better not say anything more.

-Nick

Shameless self promotion

Look at me on my soapbox

Like Frankenstein’s monster, my blog takes its first breaths.

It may be a characteristic of many writers, but I think of myself as a bit of an iconoclast. I like turning ideas upside down and inside out. My life hasn’t followed a conventional path thus far, so by necessity I have convinced myself that this somehow makes me special.

What do I mean by conventional? Probably being an accountant. If you’re an accountant, please drop me a comment so my readers can laugh at my attempts to demean you and your attempts to defend yourself.

Truth is, I’m a desperate man. I have to write. My thoughts are like wild animals, exotic specimens. Gorillas with beaks and dolphins with goat balls. I am reaching critical mass, so I am expressing myself forcibly through novels.

This blog might help a bit as well.

Oh yes, speaking of novels, I’ve written one called Timebomb for you to try out. I wrote it especially for you. That’s right, you. Don’t believe me? Read the novel and prove me wrong.

On this blog, in addition to shamelessly promoting my novels, I will air my thoughts about writing, life and whatever else I feel compelled to share.

Did I mention my book Timebomb? I’ll tell you more about it in one of my next posts.

-Nick