Saturday, May 24, 2008

A nugget of truth

"Recently all I ever write is crap. Maybe I'm just not cut out for this."

Sometimes you just need to slog through the muck to find the gold. Keep writing. Wasn't it Ray Bradbury who said he went to work every day and wrote... thousands and thousands of words and sooner or later, something good may emerge from that nice big stinking pile.

To expect everything you write is gold is pure delusion. To work through it regardless is the true testament of a writer.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Ignorance

I just ran into two most ignorant people at the gym. Gosh. Here's the conversation they had:

"Holy shit, do you know Sulu just came out?"
"Came out of what?"
"He's gay. He said he's gay. And he is going to marry his lover of 20 years."
"Who is Sulu?"
"You know the oriental guy on Star Trek? The one always stands there," he proceeded to squint his eyes and bow, "saying, 'yes, Captain Kirk. Yes, Captain Kirk.' He looked gay on the show."
"You mean he's a homosexual?"
"That's what I said. A homo. The oriental homo. You know those gun thing they have, what do you call them? Taser?"
"Laser."
"Yeah, laser. You know what Sulu is saying to Kirk, 'yeah, zap me, zap me.' He's gay."

All that while an, eh, "Oriental" guy was working out next to them.

It was kind of amusing for a while these two idiots talked about the "oriental homo." But it didn't last long. I got sick to my stomach and had to leave.

Things You Shouldn't Say To Asians

I find this very interesting. Gosh, I get 1-5 all the time. Even after all these years in leadership positions, I still get questions like "so, you're a programmer?" or "You speak very good English."

Excuse me while I relinquish my Asian-membership card.




7 things to NEVER say to Asians in an office

Here are seven questions and comments Asian-American executives have frequently fielded from coworkers and why you should not repeat them:

1. "You must be the IT person."

Linda Akutegawa, who is Japanese American and vice president of resource and business development for Leadership Education for Asian Pacifics (LEAP), says that too often it is assumed that Asian-American executives are not leaders but support staff. Read about the business case for immigration in September 2007 issue of DiversityInc magazine.

"Implicit in that statement is that you're good at numbers and technology so you're good behind the scenes but not good at leadership," explains Allan Mark, who is Chinese American and the America's director, diversity strategy and development for Ernst & Young, No. 43 on The 2007 DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity list.

For Asian-American executives who recently immigrated to the United States, the problem is two-fold. Not only are they stereotyped as not leadership material, but their cultural norms are interpreted by U.S.-born executives as proving the stereotype.

"In America, the leadership skill is defined by how confrontational, direct and aggressive you are," says Sameer Samudra, Six Sigma black belt at Cummins, No. 20 on the Top 50 list.

Samudra, who was born in India and came to the United States as a student in 1998, remembers a boss questioning his commitment to work because he was reserved during meetings. "We respect authority and come from a hierarchical culture," says Samudra. "Our leadership style considers how well the team members get along, so there's an emphasis on team building and learning in the process."


2. "You aren't like them" or "You don't act very Asian."

There are many variations to this comment. Akutegawa has an Asian-American friend who for a significant amount of time had organized a regular tennis outing with a group of white executives. One day, one of the executives turned to her friend and said, "I didn't know people like you play tennis."

"He was shocked," Akutegawa remembers her friend saying.

"Many times you feel caught in the middle," says Mark. "You feel like you're in no man's land where you're not part of the mainstream Caucasian culture, while at same time you're not part of the group that recently immigrated."


3. "Asian Americans are not risk takers."

"My response to that comment is 'Why do you think we all gave up our old country and came to this country?' We walked away from our families and a comfortable life and came to this country. That's a huge risk," says S.K. Gupta, vice president of operations, Lockheed Martin Space Systems.



4. "Where are you from? No, where are you really from?" or "When are you going to go home?" Or "How often do you go home?"

These questions assume that all Asian Americans are recent immigrants. "We call that the double-sum question," says Akutegawa, who points out that especially among Chinese and Japanese Americans, there are families who have lived in the United States for at least six generations. "They ask you the first time and you say 'California,' but that's not what they're looking for. When you're asked the second question, it's truly frustrating."

"I was born in the [San Francisco] Bay area. I can drive home in a few hours" is how Requiro answers questions implying she is a foreigner.



5. "Oh, you speak English good!" Or "Do you speak your language?"

"Don't tell me I speak English good," says Requiro. "I should because I was born here and it's my first language." And often, parents who are immigrants do not teach their children their native tongue in order to ensure their children assimilate into American culture. Requiro's parents did not teach her Tagalog, the Philippines' native language.

"I'm Filipino-American, of course I speak English," says Requiro.

"The implication is that we're all foreigners and saying 'good' reveals their own ignorance of English," says Akutegawa.

Also, inherent in being surprised that an Asian American speaks English well is the assumption that an Asian American, who speaks with an accent, has difficulty communicating. Gupta's boss, early in his career, gave him a low score on a performance review because he said Gupta was difficult to understand when he got excited. Gupta took the criticism in stride. He enrolled in an accent-reduction class, but after a few classes, the teacher kicked him out. The teacher said he didn't have a problem communicating or being understood. His boss couldn't hear the words coming out of Gupta's mouth because he only heard his accent.

Now Gupta says, "I use my accent as an ice breaker. I make speeches and presentations all the time and I often start by saying, 'If some of you detect an accent, please remember that I didn't have one until I came to this country.'"



6. "You're not a minority because all Asians are rich and successful."

This comment reveals the damage stereotypes cause. Gupta remembers a time 20 years ago when he was told that Asian-American executives should be last to receive a raise because they don't need money.

Mark says that while it's true that a high percentage of Asian Americans graduate with college degrees, the number of Asian-American senior leaders, CEOs and corporate board members remains woefully low. "If you look at executive levels and more senior management levels, you don't see many Asians and obviously not at the board level," says Mark.

Asian Americans currently occupy 1.5 percent of corporate board seats among Fortune 500 companies, up from 1.2 percent in 2005, according to the 2007 Corporate Board Report Card by the Committee of 100, an Asian-American corporate-advocacy organization.



7. "You're not Asian, you're from India."

For the record "Asian American" is a general term for Asians and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) living in the United States. According to U.S. Race and Ethnic Standards for Federal Statistics and Administrative Reporting, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders refer to people who can trace their original background to the Far East, Southeast Asia, the Indian subcontinent, or the Pacific Islands, including Native Hawaiians.

Gupta adds that the Asian-American community needs to come together under its common cultural traits. "We Asian Americans need to figure out how to substitute the individual configurations for the overall Asian-American culture," says Gupta.

Why? Because many believe that Asian Americans are too disparate as a group for marketing efforts.

"At IBM, I attended an Asian industry conference about two years ago. A senior leader said it's too hard to do anything with Asian Americans because they're not one homogenous culture," Gupta recalls hearing. "My response was that our culture may not be one but our values are the same, so let's focus on the community's values rather than the different cultures."

Give to a good cause with every e-mail. Join the i’m Initiative from Microsoft.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Embarrassing yet Curiously Funny...

Early in the morning, I was at the business center at the hotel I was staying at, trying to check in my flight and print out the boarding pass. I had my MacBook with me so I figured I'd see if I could connect to the printer in the business center instead of using their PCs. 

There it is. So I connected to the printer and, to do a test print, I went to my website and printed the home page. I went to the printer and, to my dismay, realized the printer I'd sent my printout to was actually a printer in the manager's office. The one that was connected to the PCs wasn't networked. Oh well, so I ended up having to log on to one of those stupid Windows machines anyway.

I forgot about the whole thing.  Later in the evening, I got a voicemail. It was the manager. She asked me to call to confirm my check-out the following day. So I did, and when she answered, she said:

"Were you in the business center this morning?"
"Yes."
"Did you print something to our office printer?"
"Um, yeah, I was trying to network to your printer and print out my boarding pass."
"Oh, that's okay. I was just curious because I recognized your picture on that website."
"Um, sorry about that."
"It looks very impressive. I may have to order your book and read it."
"Um, that's so kind of you. Again, I'm really sorry."
"Don't worry. I just thought it was very interesting."

Ugh. I was so embarrassed I could crawl under the bed. She must have thought I was such a self-promoting jerk. And did she call my room just to tell me that?  I started to think I never ever got a call from the manager asking me to confirm my checkout. Good thing I didn't print anything that would incriminate me even worse.  I was just mortified.
 

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

18 Questions about yourself

And here are my answers:

1.Describe yourself briefly.

Tall, dark, and handsome. Sometimes delusional.

2.How do you feel about your work? How do you feel about your hobbies or special interests?

Work? Life is a hobby, dude.

3.What is your opinion of today’s youth?

I don't have any.

4.What changes have taken place in society since the time you were a teenager?

I got old.


5.Do you have any special philosophy that guides your life?

Hey dude... 420 is a good number.


6.What are your immediate goals? What are your long-range goals?

See #5.

7.What were you doing 5 years ago? Have you attained some of the goals that you set for yourself since that time?

I'll get back to you in five years.

8.In what ways are you a different person than you were in your early 20’s?

I'm old.

9.Have you had a mentor in your adult life?

See #5.

10.If you had your life to live over again, what would you do differently?

I'd quit my job before I even started.

11.What do you look forward to most in the future?

Getting older.


12.How do you feel about marriage? How do you feel about sex?

No. YES.

13.How do you feel about children? (Whether a parent or not.)

I like other people's children. When they're quiet and invisible.


14.How do you feel about grandchildren? (Whether a grandparent or not.)

I may be old, but I'm not that old.

15.Do you think children should be raised in a permissive, authoritarian, or authoritative manner? (Whether a parent or not.)

They should live in Limbo.

16.How do your friendships today compare to those during your teens? Do you have the same friends?

Friends?

17.How do you feel about old age?

I'm there already.

18.What else do you think is relevant to your personality and development as an adult?

I took this fucking quiz, didn't I?


Of course, I'm just joking.  You really think I'll tell you anything about myself? You must be naive.


Sunday, May 4, 2008

Decorums

I love it when a person appears to be genuine -- they are whoever they say they are. But let's face it, most people put up a public image or decorum, either online or in real life, either out of necessity or personal preference. For example, the public Robin Williams is very different than the private one. It's not to say he's not a genuinely good person, but there's a strong difference. And that's not reserved for celebrities only.

I was working on a song which talked about building up walls in our lives. I certainly have my own walls, my own defense system. I'm pretty much the same guy you see on here, but in meatspace I'm a little more quiet, more shy, and less argumentative.

As writers, we also seem to have to project a certain outward image as well. I have to constantly remind myself that I have to appear professional, well-spoken, and try not to be too outrageous, for example. I have a public identity here. People may have read my work. Agents and publishers may be visiting these sites. And I sometimes wonder if I've revealed too much about myself. I remember when I first approached my now-publisher, she said: "So, you're the infamous so-and-so on such-and-such website." I was mortified (don't worry, everything turned out fine).

There are times, though, when I'm really tired of being on guard, or trying to project a certain image, at least professionally. I know it's necessary, but then again, why can't we let our hair down more often? It's not to say we all pretend to be someone we're not, but still, we can't put up a guard and then complain, "No one understands me." It's indeed a contradiction.

What do you think? Do you put up a different public image than your private one? What are you feelings about that? Do you think it's necessary since we have to socialize with others and a civilized society requires judgment and decorums? Or do you think people should be true to themselves at all times?

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Writing, Music

I've been working on some original songs and music in the past few months, after shelving off that part of myself for almost a decade. It's been wonderful, both spritually and creatively. But it also got me thinking: writing and music really are very similar. Of course, all art forms are related, but I think there's a lot of parallels between music and writing.

What makes a song great and memorable? Is it the guitar solo? The chord progressions? The melodies? The lyrics? The performance? I'd have to say: It's all of the above. Take a classic song, You're So Vain, for example. I just heard it on the radio and caught myself saying, "Damn! That's such a great song." And not because I know the song, but because it really is very good. If I had heard it for the first time, I would have said the same thing. Damn, it's such a great song.

So why is it such a great song? Certainly the lyrics are just spectacular, especially the hook. "You're so vain, you think this song is about you. Don't you? Don't you?" How can we not love it? The message is simply awesome and so relatable. And it tells a story. -- the greatest songs in the world all tell stories. Then there's the melody, the ups and downs, twists and turns, and highs and lows just work together so well together to make up an extremely catchy melody and chorus. Then there's the production, musician arrangement, etc. They all work together so well. Not to mention Carly Simon's voice is just PERFECT for the song.

That's what makes a song GREAT.

So, what makes a great book? I'm thinking, it's the same thing. Let's see:

- Structure: All great music has structure, from symphonies to pop song. A great story also needs a great structure. People are structural animals, and structures make it easy for people to absorb and relate to the story. The classical Three Acts structure is there for a reason.

- Theme: Even if we don't think of themes when we write, eventually important, prevalent themes should emerge. Themes are what tie the whole thing together, to make it relevant to the readers on the high level. What is the story about? Good vs. evil? Redemption? Absolution? Themes not only make it easy to summarize the story, but they make the story so much more memorable.

- Tone and voice: Like a great song, the tone and voice of the instruments, arrangements and performances affect the song immensely. Who can ever forget Carly Simon's rendition? She's unique and memorable.

- Plot and pacing: like the best melodies, the ups and downs, twists and turns and progressions make the song exciting or pleasing. People listen to music for the tune, not random or flat, dull notes. Think on the best songs in the world -- they all have very hummable, catchy melodies. There is no original plot anymore, but it's all about making it unique and different than the ones others have done before. Pacing relates the movement of melody or plot -- they have to move. Up, down, sideways... movement excites people. It all builds to an incredible climax (then trail off for a satisfying denouement).

- Character: One may think lyrics are like plot. But I don't agree. I think lyrics is the characters and they make the whole story worthwhile. What is your message? Why do we care about these people? What are you telling us? Memorable lyrics don't just thrill, but they tell us a unique story, whether it's philosophical or personal. They tell us why we should care. Together with plot/melody, a great song or a story etch itself into our soul permanently.

- Hook: A great song needs a great hook. Again, who can ever forget "you're so vain, you think this song is a about you." A great book needs a great hook as well, and it's not just the first sentence. A good hook needs repeating. Like themes, the hook should resonate as often as necessary. Well placed repetitions are good in this case. So the world is coming to an end? Keep reminding us. Keep the tension high. Remind us.

- The whole shebang: Yes, somehow, you still have to put the whole thing together and they need to fit like gloves on hands. That's production. How do we pull all the chapters together to make it into a coherent, memorable read? It's also a cumulative experience. No song would thrill on one note or stanza alone. But together, it draws the audiences in and keeps them there. A good producer (music) or editor (book) can make a basic song or story shine like gems.

The fact is, not every songwriter can do everything and everything well. And not every writer can do everywhere well either. Some writers are great in plotting, while others are extraordinary in characters. Some have great style and are exquisite with words, while others are incredible with ideas. The trick is to find out what one does the best and focus on it.

Next, I'll talk about the writing process vs. that of songwriting. Again, I think there's a great deal of parallels in the two.