John Y’s Musings from the Middle: My advice to young people entering the workforce

jyb_musingsMy advice to young people entering the workforce.

Don’t be intimidated. The competition is long on resume and first impression but short on practical usefulness and follow through.

If you can write and speak in complete sentences, respond to emails and phone calls within 24 hours, be courteous and appropriate, show up for work on time and don’t leave until you are supposed to and do all these things for three consecutive weeks and then keep doing them daily after that, you will be in the 98th% percentile and have a long and promising future in the work world.

Be patient with yourself –and with your colleagues. You have what it takes. Just do what is in front of you consistently and conscientiously and you’ll be fine. In fact, you will be extraordinary.

John Y’s Musings from the Middle: A Call to Non-Lameness

jyb_musingsA call to action. A call to non-lameness. 

Is it really possible that there are a few people still out there who find it downright giggle-worthy to send other people on Facebook a private message pretending to be someone else –someone who is younger and of the opposite sex— in order to fake a romantic interest to see what the person on Facebook will say? 

It was funny the first 3 or 4 times. The next dozen or so times seemed to be when this prank seemed to crest in raw hilarity and start to slowly decline so that by the 70th or 80th time it has been tried on you, you don’t even get annoyed any more at these pranking individuals but have instead started to worry for their mental health and comedic IQ.

Look, when I was younger my generation had some super lame pranks we repeated long after we should have been embarrassed for ourselves. There was the prank call asking “Is your refrigerator running” and after an affirmative answer we would suggest our victim be careful not to let it “run” out the door. Get it? Run as in operating and run as in motion. And there was the prank call to a bowling alley asking the weight of the bowling balls as a set up for a painfully lame and sophomoric genital joke.

And these jokes got repeated so often and for so many years that I worried that if a superior life form existed in our solar system and got wind of this repeated prank, they would write off our entire planet forever as a worthless species.
These jokes were terrible. Just really awful and But, hey, all we had for entertainment was Pong so it isn’t surprising that our wit was running at about the same speed.

But the younger generation, who I am assuming is responsible for these faux Facebook flirt messages, my God. I mean, c’mon! I know you are supposed to be the first generation in American history who had a lesser standard of living than your parents. But that doesn’t mean you have to be the first with a lesser sense of humor. There is no excuse for that and you are going to have to dig down and ask more of yourselves when trying to make a funny.

Geez. Look at me. I’m an old man writing long ridiculous Facebook posts for laughs and I have been doing it for 3 years now. I admit it is a lame use of time but can you imagine how much lamer it would have been if I had spent all that time sending fake private messages to some stranger on Facebook who may not realize i I’m really not a 21 year old ingenue?

You have to do better young wisecrackers and comedic miscreants! And I know you can do it. Stretch yourselves! Get out of your comfort zone. Look at the two old jokes from my generation and study them as building blocks for new lame jokes that won’t be so humiliating to your generation as these fake Facebook flirts. You can do it. You have what it takes. The time is now. And I am real —not a fake teenage girl. And even if I were pretending to be a young breathless girl right now flirting with a stranger on Facebook, that not even you—if you were honest with yourself–would think it was funny.

Let’s commit to coming up with a new Facebook prank–that isn’t inexplicably lame. Together we will make sure that your generation, material measurements notwithstanding, will never be lamer than your parent’s generation. I am that generation. And trust me, we are pretty darned lame.

John Y’s Musings from the Middle: Smiling for Pictures

jyb_musingsSmiling for pictures. A confession. 

My new family Facebook photo got me to thinking about something that has always been a little understood pet peeve of mine: Smiling for pictures. 

The kind waiter at the restaurant offered to take a picture of us tonight and we stood together and posed along the street behind us. His fist shot caused him to hesitate and give me a look that said, “C’mon guy. What’s wrong? Smile for goodness sake.” So I tried harder for his second attempt and only modestly succeeded, as you can see. It’s not really a smile but more of a pose that tries to appear as a candid shot yet could be honestly mistaken by others for a smile. Like when you aren’t sure of a person’s name and when introducing them you slur what you think is their first and last name into an almost indecipherable gibberish name that you hope sounds close enough to fool everyone involved.

And that is about the best I ever seem able to do in photos. (Note; the other profile pic of me with just my wife is an exception and I believe I was honestly laughing about something when it was taken…so it really wasn’t a successful “posed smile.”)

And the “posed smile” is the problem for me. I don’t remember when it started but as far back as I can remember I never liked posing for pictures. As a boy it was because I was–like most all boys–too restless to stand still for 6 to 7 consecutive seconds. And to be expected to smile on top of this inconvenience was simply asking too much.

Later on as a young man, I still disliked standing still but mostly didn’t smile fully because I was, in my own petty way, rebelling against whoever was demanding the picture. Sure, on the surface I may be posing for the picture. But I wanted to be clear I wasn’t anyone’s monkey and the childish rebel in me was getting a subtle satisfaction by not smiling fully for the requested picture.

And then there was the period between being a young adult and a full adult when I was in college and law school where I did pose for pictures when requested but refused to smile easily because I wanted to look smart and serious and deep (I was for a while a philosophy major and wanted to look the part) —and also not be a poser who would lower himself to manufacturing an emotion to create a fake image for others to see. In other words, I feared being a phony, maaan!

But then as an adult, no longer as restless and seeing the benefit of taking photographs with family and friends, I tried to smile but couldn’t pull it off. I don’t know if it was that I never learned when I was younger how to just smile and “say cheese” when someone was taking a picture or if there is just something in me that can’t beam happiness on cue.

Maybe there is just this odd combination of restlessness, rebellion and philosophical determination “not to give in to ‘the man’” by smiling naturally for photos. Or maybe you can’t teach an old dog a new trick. But whatever the reason, there is a “smile deficit” I suffer from in most photographs I am in. I typically look to be the least happy person in the photo. Not because I really am. I like to think my happiness is at least in the 50th percentile of people with whom I am photographed. I’m just not very good at expressing “photograph happiness.”

And my hope is that “photograph happiness” is a lot like other kinds of happiness. It’s not something that is easily seen from the outside as it is something you feel on the inside. So if you see a picture of me that I post and I appear to be in mid-scowl, just try to overlook the clueless non-pose and just know I’m probably smiling –or trying to smile–on the inside.

John Y’s Musings from the Middle: Foreign Languages

jyb_musingsWhy learning foreign languages is important. 

Just now I was emailing a friend and colleague back home who knows I am in the Netherlands and I wanted to say “Thank you very much” at the end of the email and be clever about it by saying it in Dutch. But I don’t know how to say “Thank you very much” in Dutch. Or German (which is close to Dutch). I only know how to say “You’re welcome” in German. 

So I did the only thing that made sense to me at the moment and added at the end of the email “Muchos gracios!” I explained that Spanish was the only foreign language I had ever studied and was determined to say “Thank you very much” in some foreign language since I was traveling overseas now.

Of course, after my first email I had to write back and correct my spelling and note it is “gracias” not “gracios.” (I Googled it).

I also Googled the phrase again just now and realized I was supposed to use “Muchas” not “Muchos” But I already explained in the prior email that I had to take Spanish I twice in high school and, besides, a third email correcting my hip use of a foreign language phrase would start to undermine the cleverness of the effect I was going for.

John Y’s Musings from the Middle: Desiderada

jyb_musingsMany years ago I was visiting my uncle who was a voracious reader and I was perusing his library of classic books. I picked up a collection of works by Ralph Waldo Emerson, cracked the book open near the middle, and began reading. 

As I read I became enthralled by the sense that this writer was tapped into something almost divine. I recalled learning that holy books were written by individuals who were inspired by God — that they were in some sense just moving the pen. I wasn’t necessarily thinking Emerson’s writing was inspired by God, but as I read I did feel he had a channel into something beyond himself and his words were an inspiration from this divine source.

This morning I stumbled across Desiderata. I have read it many times and always felt the very same thing about its author. That the words he wrote were in some way delievered to, rather than formulated by, the author, who served primarily as a channel to a source of wisdom beyond his own.

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John Y’s Musings from the Middle: Facebook, marketing and meaning

jyb_musingsFacebook does a lot of things like allowing us to network, connect, communicate, share and stay abreast of our world and circle of friends and do all of these things in real time 24/7. 

But behind all these useful activities there is something more basic that is happening while we post,follow, peruse and comment. We are, in a very real sense, marketing ourseleves on a poweful new medium. We create the image of ourselves we hope others will adopt of us. It is like a virtual version of high school except the audience is more discerning and sophisticated and harder to penetrate.

So we try different methods until we find one that seems to work best. It is usually the method that is most authentic and revealing in ways that resonate with others. And yes, it is usually the method that accrues the most “likes” from others.

The liking mechanism of Facebook reminds me of training a dog to do tricks by providing treats when the dog successfully performs. On the surface of Facebook it appears the Facebook audience is training individuals by how their posts and pictures are receieved. But really, at a closer look, it is each of us training ourseleves. We try out a new trick and if we are rewarded with likes we perform similar tricks and build our repertoire around related posts and images. And for those posts and images that don’t work, we modify or scrap until we have our image honed.

Our final product, so to speak (whch continues in process), is a reflection of what in ourseleves resonates most favorably with others. Again, not all that different from high school.

But is that who we really are? No, of course not. But as we are marketing ourselves and honing our public image are there any other reasons we continue playing on Facebook? I think so. And I think it is because of something much deeper at play in the human psyche.

At our most basic level we need to know that we are affirmed. Or liked. The pre-Facebook internet allowed for communication and engagement but was more, at the human level, like shouting into a giant cave and, after a pause, hearing our own echo. A response of some sort that validated that we exist in this vast digital world.

Facebook took it to the next level on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Now when we shout into the vast internet black space –but do so through the virtual megaphone of Facebook and shout it in a certain manner and in a certain tone and with a certain purpose in mind — and pause, we not only hear our own echo but are affirmed. “Liked,” quite literally.

And that is a profound advantage that Facebook can boast over other all other internet mediums. And an advance that has far more to do with filling a basic human need than providing a new and cool technological advance.

John Y’s Musings from the Middle: Musings from Amsterdam

Something not to do when in Amsterdam. (Unless you are intro dressing up like a cheesy underworld figure from a bad video game.) 

Last year on our big family vacation I mentioned that my wife likes very structured and planned activities and I didn’t. I even said, sarcastically, that sometimes our trips feel less like a vacation and more like a program for continuing education credits.

But after it is all over I usually am glad for all the planning my wife does. Without it, I might just stay in the room and watch TV (if I can find an English speaking TV station). But that is not to say that all of her planned activities are winners. Last night we moved into record territory for worst planned family activity ever.

Rebecca did a wonderful job of finding fun and interesting activities for us during the day but last night she purchased four tickets at 10 Euros a piece to something called an “Ice Bar.” Granted, on the surface, it sounded like a promising activity. It seemed like it would be a tour of some sort of underground ice cave and we would see, we imagined, ice carvings or some creative use of ice that is common in the Netherlands.

Instead we arrived and were told to put on giant blue ponchos and gloves that were provided for each patron and to enter the “Ice Bar.” We did and found ourselves, literally, in a small ice covered alcove that was, well, a bar. With music and alcohol. And about a dozen silly looking people who, like us, had each paid 10 Euro to stand in sub-zero temperatures in a bar for an hour. We got a very good laugh out of it all and made the most of it by staying as long as we could keep laughing. And then calling it quits. About 53 minutes early.

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jyb_musingsMornings in Amsterdam

I was never an R.A. (Resident Advisor) in college. They always seemed like overly responsible, non-partying, uncool types who weren’t fun to hamg out with but who I would readily ask for class notes if i missed a class. And despite being slightly amnoying apple polishers they really did have it much more together than other students on the dorm floor.

Mornings in Amsterdam are solemn and sobering. The sun is coming up but the sky is overcast and there is a heaviness in the air like a bad hangover. As you walk the morning streets you smell coffee and baked goods and try to dodge places on the street spattered with vomit from last night’s excesses. It is peaceful and pleasant but the kind of peaceful and pleasant you feel if you live next to a fraternity house and it is Saturday morning and everyone in the fraternity is still asleep or achy and quiet.

10599340_10154534198235515_4941364976135923487_nAnd for the first time in your life you feel like at R.A. And you realize that R.A.’s on Saturday mornings probably surveyed their dorm floor and were reminded why they were willing to give up to be an R.A. type and were proud of their decision. And this morning, walking the streets of Amsterdam stone cold sober and sitting at a cafe drinking my coffee, which sits next to a Heineken beer bottle someone left from the night before, I feel proud to be an R.A.

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At various times today, my son and I discussed Burkean Conservatism, immigration policy, polling trends for the national Democratic and Republican parties and different dipping sauces that went well with french fries.

Here we are discussing the pros and cons of mayonnaise, ketchup, chipotle, and truffle dipping sauce, and the need for a spicier option for the American demographic.

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Being in Amsterdam makes you ponder all sorts of philosophical and personal questions that have never occurred to you before. 

Questions like, If you got a sex change and decided it wasn’t a good choice and then decided to get another sex change to reverse the previous sex change would others see you the way they had in the past (before the first sex change) or would both sexes look at you with suspicion about your current choice of gender —and at the very least consider you a person prone to being indecisive? And if all of this happened in Amsterdam, where marijuana is legal and pervasively used, would anyone even notice?

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John Y’s Musings from the Middle: My Revenge with AT&T’s Text Warnings

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John Y’s Musings from the Middle: My Favorite Things

jyb_musingsRemember Julie Andrews memorable song, “These are a few of my favorite things” where she taught us….


“When the dog bites
When the bee stings
When I’m feeling sad
I simply remember my favorite things
And then I don’t feel so bad”

But what if the “Favorite things” in the song, don’t really do it for you?
I mean, remember? The favorite things are things like
“Cream colored ponies” and “whiskers on kittens,”
“Bright copper kettles” and “Brown paper packages tied up with strings”
I never told anyone but none of those were on my “favorite things list.” Not one.

Now that I am older I think there must have been a little more going on with Julie Andrews back then that was lifting her mood than just thinking about cream colored ponies. After all, the song came out in the mid 1960s.

Regardless of the lyrics, I do love the Al Jarreau version of this song. And listening to it is one of my favorite things. And still works.

John Y’s Musings from the Middle: The Matrix

jyb_musingsI watched the Matrix for the first time last night.

I told my son I had trouble following what….what was happening….and uh…um….what it was about …and meant. But otherwise liked the movie.

He said, although it was complicated, he understood most of it. But suggested I “Google it” for an explanation instead of him explaining it to me.

I didn’t tell him but I already had “Googled it” and still didn’t understand it.

My main take away is that Keanu Reeves must really know Kung -Fu to have played the part. And that I would not have found the movie so confusing if there had been more Kung-Fu scenes.

And the final scene, where Reeves character stops the bullets, was cool –whatever it meant. And now I get the reference spoofing that scene in Zoolander.

 

John Y.’s Video Flashback (1995):

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