Thursday, December 20, 2012

Dare to fail

I don't keep up a great deal with pop culture. I know the basics, but all of these overexposed memes, songs, dance moves, etc. are not things I'm too aware of. Though I guess I use the term overexposed rather loosely; it's hard to get sick of something when you rarely see it. So I don't have the problem of getting tired of things that I once loved or that were once extremely popular.
But then there are the pop culture phenomenons you can't get away from. The ones that you will inevitably see 8 million times and become intimately familiar with unless you stop watching TV and getting on the internet altogether.

And then you'd have to move here. (source)

One of those phenomenons was the video for Call Me Maybe. The song is by a Canadian singer named Carly Rae Jepsen (I won't lie, I did have to google her name to make sure I spelled it right). It's basically about her going after a guy and giving him her number, rather than letting him pursue her like she usually does. It's cute and catchy, and with a little help from her fellow Canadian Justin Bieber, the song became one of the most popular of the year.
But what really made this song stand out is the video. After a good three minutes of watching this muscular shirtless dude mowing his lawn and envisioning their faces together on the cover of a romance novel, she lures him over by washing her car in a skimpy outfit and playing a song for him. After the song, he proceeds to hit on her male guitar player. Yep, this chick just spent an entire song throwing herself at this guy who will never, ever, ever be interested in her. Like, ever.

Five years from now, nobody will get that joke. (source)

But a lot of us do that, don't we? Even if you've never accidentally hit on a gay guy, we've all attempted to do something and failed, and we've probably all attempted to do things we were inevitably going to fail at, no matter what. Like trying to propose marriage to Justin Bieber via twitter or not listening to Call Me Maybe or trying to get through an entire episode of Jersey Shore without losing faith in humanity.
My dad and I laughed for a good five minutes after watching Carly Rae fail miserably at getting the guy, but you've got to give the girl props for trying. If you try something difficult or that you're afraid of failing at, you might fail. But if you don't try, you'll definitely fail. See, aren't the odds much better when you try?

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

What The Hobbit taught me about success

You can succeed in cramming 13 people into a photo.

Like other nerds all over the country, I went to see The Hobbit yesterday. I didn't really like the book, but I'm a huge fan of Lord of the Rings and, consequently, Peter Jackson. Plus I was excited that he was fleshing the story out to include more Middle Earth background and mythology. But I digress.

I had to read the book twice, once in 8th grade and once in 10th. The first time I read it, I remember thinking after the first chapter about how much I would detest Gandalf if I were Bilbo. If you were sitting around in your own home, minding your own business, you probably wouldn't like it much either if some dude you'd never met came barging into your house and invited 13 more people you didn't know to come in and eat all your food.

Though in defense of the dwarves, they did wash the dishes afterwards. (source)

Needless to say, Bilbo wasn't too happy either, and initially wanted nothing to do with Gandalf or the dwarves. But he eventually came around. 

If you're not familiar with the story, here's what you need to know: Bilbo, who was also in Lord of the Rings, is the central character in this story, which takes place 60 years earlier. Gandalf wants Bilbo to accompany 13 dwarves on a quest to reclaim their homeland, which was taken from them by the dragon Smaug years earlier. Smaug now lives in the Lonely Mountain and guards the treasure that was rightfully the dwarves'. Gandalf chooses Bilbo as the 14th member of the company because he is stealthy and light on his feet, and because he is a hobbit, and a dragon might not recognize a hobbit as easily as a dwarf.

As one point in the movie, Thorin (the dwarf prince leading the quest) expresses his doubt of Bilbo. Bilbo, like most hobbits, gets homesick easily, and desperately misses his warm bed, food, and his garden. But Bilbo insists that he's not going anywhere. Sure, he misses his home -- but he's not going back. Why? Because he has a home. The dwarves don't have a home to go back to, and he is going to help them get theirs back. touching! (source)

Other than the heartfelt humanitarian message, The Hobbit has an important message about living your life. Bilbo could have sat in the comfort of his own home and been rather happy, but instead chose to do something hobbits rarely do and ventured outside his comfort zone. And if he had never gone on this unexpected adventure, he never would have told such amazing stories to Frodo and other hobbit children. And if Frodo had never heard these stories, he might not have been as willing to go on a quest of his own. And Frodo's quest went far beyond helping strangers -- the fate of his entire world rested on his success.

People who are successful have made it happen on their own; very rarely do they just fall into it without any action. But getting yourself out there and taking action can help more than just you. It can benefit everyone.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

What does it take to get noticed?

Ever heard of Angry Birds? So have I, but I didn't know until yesterday what it actually was. Yeah, I'm a little behind, I know.

I've seen the merchandise -- the t-shirts and pez dispensers and whatnot that we sell at work. I assumed it was some sort of new cartoon or something, but I was informed tonight at a Christmas party that it's actually a game. The objective is to launch a bird via a slingshot onto pigs and knock the pigs over. Because apparently, pigs are bad.

Well, not all bad. (source)

This game was made by a software company that had several other games out at the time. None of them had made much money, but this one, for some reason, took off.

Funny how that works, isn't it? People spend hour after sweat-inducing hour perfecting their arts, crafting the Great American Novel or a beautiful painting, and it goes largely unnoticed. A software company creates a game that lets you throw birds at pigs, and they rake in the millions.

I recently ran across a review of Hush, Hush, a book I read a few months ago. The book is the first in a series of four (the last of which I haven't read yet), and is little more than a rehashing of Twilight using fallen angels instead of vampires. Our heroine, Nora, falls for Patch, a mysterious new boy in her biology class whose behavior is so stalkerish he actually makes Edward Cullen look sane. The book uses adverbs like they're going out of style, the action is simultaneously predictable and nonsensical, and the romance is so syrupy sweet, I could practically feel my blood sugar spiking as I read.

So I stopped reading after the first book, right? Nope. I snatched them up like wildfire and could not put them down. Meanwhile, my dad's copy of Crime and Punishment is still sitting on my bookshelf, untouched for several months, with a bookmark still stuck at the beginning of chapter 3.

It doesn't take a lot to interest people these days. YouTube videos of people doing stupid, crazy stunts, ranting about something they don't like, or even covering popular songs can all rack up hundreds of thousands of views. But the downside to this is that hundreds of thousands of people are now posting these videos, leaving the internet saturated with zillions of teens strumming guitars or bitching about the latest episode of The Walking Dead.

I mean, did you see those zombies at the end? They weren't even decaying! (source)

So what can people do to stand out from the crowd? If I knew the answer to that question, I would probably be writing full time by now. But I'll still take a stab at it.

First and foremost, you have to love what you do. You can't have a hidden agenda, or try too hard to get your name out there. You have to try, of course, and hard. But not too hard. And if you don't have a genuine passion for what you're writing/singing/bitching about, people will see right through it.

But the second thing you have to do is to work hard. Work hard, but don't try hard. Got it?

The third element -- and this is a pretty huge part of it -- is luck. Luck is something out of your control, so you can't really worry about it.

The fourth and perhaps most important thing for making a name for yourself is persistence. Remember those Angry Birds creators who kept creating games until one got popular? You have to keep on keeping on. Study your craft, learn from others (both what to do and what not to do) and keep on climbing. If you really want to do something, you'll keep going at it until you get there.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

When does a joke go too far?

I've mentioned before that my dad and I like to watch sitcoms together. One I've recently started watching with him (and some on my own) is Wings, which follows employees of a small airport in Nantucket. Not necessarily the Nantucket of the famous R rated limerick, but Nantucket nonetheless.

Don't ask me about that limerick. Just don't. Please. (source)

In the episode I watched today, one of the major characters, a guy named Joe, gets a visit from Sandy Cooper, a woman who had a crush on him in high school. Joe is afraid of Sandy, because he claims while they were still in school, she locked him up and forced him to reenact a prom date with her. Years later, when they see each other again, Sandy claims that the whole thing was a joke. And everybody believes her -- including Joe. For awhile, anyway. Later in the episode, it becomes clear that Sandy wasn't joking when she once again kidnaps Joe, now engaged to someone else, and forces him to act out a wedding to her. But still, nobody believes Joe when he claims that she is nuts. She's just joking, they insist. And can't Joe take a joke?

Obviously this is a pretty extreme (and comedic) example. But in our modern world of text messaging and internet forums, it's pretty easy for a joke to get out of hand. Sarcasm is much more difficult to understand via text, when you don't have things like facial expressions and body language to help people along. I've seen numerous internet discussions get way out of hand because someone made a joke that someone else took out of context. The people who make the joke, of course, always blame the other person, saying that they were "just joking" and how on earth could anyone possibly miss that? Yet plenty of intelligent adults miss jokes all the time.

The other day, my mom sent me an e-mail full of pictures. Each picture represented something else, and you had to guess the word that it meant. For example, a picture of an alligator standing over a gurney was supposed to represent the word "gatorade." As in "gator" and "aid." Yet I never would have gotten that. Why? Because when I see a gurney, the word "aid" is not even in my brain. I'm thinking about the word "gurney."

There's an old saying that if you get 5 people in the room and ask them about a painting, you'll get 5 different opinions. Why? Because people are all different. We all associate different people, things, and events with different thoughts. And if one person gets a joke and another doesn't, it doesn't mean that there's anything wrong with either of them. It means they're interpreting things differently due to different life experiences. So before you say something or react to something negatively, think about the people you're speaking to. Are they really stupid or ignorant, or are you just seeing things in a different way than they are?

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Cheesecake Factory and unfulfilled dreams

For the past few weeks, I've been having this strange reoccurring dream. It always starts out with me driving, somewhere close to my house but not right by it. I end up on this little road in the middle of nowhere, and at the end of the road is a Cheesecake Factory. Every now and then, I'll end up on foot and wandering through a forest filled with abandoned tree houses. But most of the time, I end up inside The Cheesecake Factory, ordering cheesecake to go.

Okay, so it's really not that bizarre. It actually makes perfect sense in my mind; I've had a slight obsession with The Cheesecake Factory since visiting one for the first time two years ago (where I took the above photo). But when I relayed the dream to my dad a few nights ago, he gave me another interpretation.

My parents and I love watching The Big Bang Theory. I've blogged about it a couple of times in the past, and my NaNo novel even had a character named Penny. On the show, Penny is the beautiful blonde girl who lives across the hall from two of the major characters, Sheldon and Leonard. They work at CalTech and are, like, you know, really really really smart.

Penny (Big Bang Penny, not NaNo Penny) moved to Pasadena from Nebraska in hopes of becoming an actress. In the five years since arriving there, Penny has done a play above a bowling alley, a hemorrhoid cream commercial, and...well, that's about it. Her acting career hasn't quite gotten underway yet, so she supports herself by working as a waitress at The Cheesecake Factory.

Perhaps, my dad suggests, I'm subconsciously thinking of Penny...and how she is constantly chasing an unfulfilled dream. Does The Cheesecake Factory represent what my life is really like, as opposed to what I want it to be? Will I be like Penny, constantly chasing a dream only to find out I've been running in place all along?

Gosh, that was depressing. Now I'm going to have to go root through my pictures for another Adam Levine shot...

There we go. Much, much better.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Slow and steady wins the race

This guy knows what he's doing. (source)

Back in July, I decided that I would participate in National Novel Writing Month for the first time. I had never had much interest in NaNo before, mostly because I didn't think I could or would write 50,000 words in just 30 days. But I had this great story idea and just enough time to plan it before November. So I figured I'd give it a shot. And it's been a great experience -- I've met some really cool people, learned a lot about myself, and hopefully improved my writing skills a bit.

I'd like to share one of the most important life lessons I learned during November: Pace yourself. Slow and steady really is the way to go.

Most people start out a big challenge/adventure with a mix of excitement and apprehension. I went into NaNo with that standard mix, but the excitement definitely outweighed the apprehension. One thing I was nervous about, though, was timing. When you work in retail, November is one of the busiest months, and it gets twice as busy during Thanksgiving weekend. Would I have the time or energy to actually finish what I started, even before the holidays really got underway? As it turns out, I had plenty of time -- and I spent a lot of it watching TV, sleeping, and goofing off.

And I didn't spend a single second if it watching The Walking Dead. Nope, not at all. (source)

So how did I manage to pull together 50,000 words and still find time to keep up with the cast of Teen Mom 2? It was pretty simple, actually. I set realistic goals for myself and put aside time to regenerate.

In his bestselling book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen R. Covey talks about "sharpening the saw". A logger can spend hours trying to chop down a tree with a dull blade, but he won't get very far. If he takes time to sharpen his saw, however, he'll end up saving time in the long run, because chopping down that tree with a fresh blade won't take nearly as long as hacking away with the dull one.

We're always in such a rush to get things done. Whether it's ringing up a customer at work or finishing a final paper for a class, people have this idea that you have to go at everything with all your strength. Not so. Do a little work, then take a break. You might not want to do what I did and take five hour long breaks to ogle pictures of Josh Hutcherson watch YouTube videos...but hey, whatever works.