Bohemian Like You

I couldn’t resist the allusion to the Dandy Warhols in the title. I came across Jonathan Rauch’s “Caring for your Introvert” (Atlantic Monthly) through Brian’s entry on this article, so “Bohemian Like You” only seems appropriate.

Hi, I’m Shin and I’m an introvert. While I’m not aggressively antisocial, I find people best at small doses, whether they’re family, friends, lovers, or acquaintances.

It’s nice to know that introversion is an orientation, but this culture is run by extroverts who don’t understand people like me at all. People like me, however, have had plenty of time to observe them.

Given a choice between living with others or by myself, I will live alone. I am willing to pay a little more for this whenever possible. On the surface level with roommates, there’s a lot of bullshit I’d rather not deal with: messiness, personal tastes, sharing things, and bathrooms to name a few things. The bottom line, however, is that I can find other people intrusive in my home, especially if they are the type who thrive on company. I want to be left alone so I can read, write, watch my TV shows, or surf the net. Then, there are all the things I would rather do when no one is around, like have a footbath and give myself a pedicure.

I’m fond of daydreaming and conceiving characters, milieus, and stories in my mind. I’m happiest when I can get lost in my imagination and write or draw pictures. I wish I had more time to do this.

I find it interesting that Rauch says, “We tend to think before talking, whereas extroverts tend to think by talking, which is why their meetings never last less than six hours.” I typically think before saying something. I often feel like I’m editing my sentences in my head so I can coherently say something, and the delivery can be awkward at times. Though I have my moments of quick, witty remarks, I am often not good with the quick response. Answering people and participating in small talk are things that feel laborious to me. As an introvert, I have had the opportunity to observe extroverts, and they often talk about nothing most of the time. Often, when I’ve had conversations with people (especially an assertive extrovert), I find their responses lacking. In other words, I don’t think they’re listening, despite that they may be quicker and more confident in what they say. When someone listens, I’m truly impressed.

There’s nowhere where this becomes apparent more than parties. As much as I enjoy going to parties, participating in banter can be awkward. Some people “hold court” while people like me try to figure out how to get a word in edgewise. I guess I haven’t mastered the extrovert’s ability to detect the pause in conversation and quickly jump in.

Of course, parties are events where I don’t like to stay for long. Long enough to make an appearance, but short enough to limit my interactions with people. The issue is similar to what I encounter in teaching.

I often feel being an introvert is an occupational hazard. Teaching is an activity where I must interact with a group of people, and I find it tiresome. Even though I may spend one hour (minimum) per session with a group of students, I feel I need to unwind afterwards. Late afternoon and evening courses work the best for me, as I can go home and easily unwind in several different ways – TV, Internet, reading, music, or a nightcap. In my ideal schedule, I can easily take care of prep work and grading in the daytime, teach at night, and have my dose of solitude and unwinding after class. However, I often take classes I can get, so I teach some courses in the morning and the afternoon, which ruins me for the entire day.

Yes, teaching can make me feel like a whore. I could easily point to how I’d rather write or do art, but any job is whoredom in that case. Even though I am one of the nicest people in the world and am capable of friendliness, I really am not a people person. I am not fond of being emotionally or psychologically promiscuous. I prefer to interact with a few people than many. Given that, I don’t hate teaching. I enjoy it, especially when I have those teaching moments (those unexpected lessons that come up).

Overall, it is a matter of caring for my introvert. Part of it is managing my time so I can unwind from lessons and even to set aside time where I can sit down and prepare (and feel good about it). Another part is being able to say no to friends like Mr. Pushy, who thrives on dragging me along to adventures in crowded places. I’ll probably post more about being in introvert in the future, but thanks for tuning in.

The Clutter Is Gone!

This weekend, I got rid of much of my clutter. I’ve been trying to clear my clutter for a long time, but a lot of it is gone. I’m not a 100% neat freak now (I don’t think I could ever be), but I can breathe a sigh of relief that I’m not holding on to items I wouldn’t miss if a fire burned down my home. I’ve been getting rid of items here and there: I don’t have my CD’s anymore (I donated those a month ago to Goodwill), and I donated 60% of my book inventory to another charity.

It’s weird how people telling you to deal with clutter can have no effect. There is shame, as friends and family could make you ashamed of your clutter, but that’s not enough to inspire action. A year ago, when my mother stopped by my apartment to drop some things off, she had to go to the bathroom. Normally, she wouldn’t even step inside since the place was often a nightmare, but she urgently had to go to bathroom and went in. I was mortified, but that didn’t prompt any change. Over the years, she has gotten on my case about my messiness, and still no effect. Until now.

This time, my mother shoved a book into my hands. This is not her style, but she read a book on the clutter issue in Japanese, and found the English edition for me. So here is where I plug the book: Clear Your Clutter With Feng Shui by Karen Kingston.

I’ve never gotten into Feng Shui, but a lot of what she says about the clutter issue is spot on. In fact, much of what she says about messiness and accumulating things is common sense and it almost begs the question of if the book is really necessary. However, what I learned isn’t so much new as it is motivation and insight. I’m still not into Feng Shui, but at least the book helped me get rid of much of the stuff I’ve been holding on to for too long.

If only I took care of this sooner than later. How many times have I turned friends away because my place was a disaster? I’ve lost a friendship over clutter, but I now know the clutter wasn’t the true cause of the falling out, but other unresolved issues. The physical clutter only exacerbated the emotional in this case.

I know I’m not the only one clearing out the clutter. Joshua Minton has been clearing out stuff he, his wife, and son have accumulated over the years, and he has a picture of the dumpster to prove it. In his case, interestingly, the stuff wasn’t willing to let him go as much as he was. Read and see how freaky that is! Josh, I hope you inspire others to get rid of their crap!

I don’t have pictures of a dumpster, but I will show you one casualty of my clutter: my favorite shirt. My clutter problem has not been limited to my living space and car, but also my pockets. I would often leave pens in my trouser pockets and forget about them, resulting in some ink stained clothes emerging from the laundry. Some have been easier to rehabilitate than others. The last load where this happened was absolutely hopeless, so I threw them out, including this shirt.
This is just one of several ink stains that made made the shirt unwearable. I’ve had the shirt for a few years, and I loved the pattern, but the pen getting uncapped in the wash forced the issue of it going bye bye. Plus, fall season is around the corner and the sales will be a perfect opportunity to find fabulous replacements.

I also got rid of some trousers I’ve been holding on to as “skinny pants.” A few years ago, I lost some weight, went down a few pant sizes, and bought pants that fit and looked great. Unfortunately, I’ve gained that weight back, so these remained in my closet as my “skinny pants” for when I drop the pounds. Kingston’s book reinforced the idea it isn’t good to hold on to tight clothes, and the best way to deal with it is to get pants that fit when I lose the weight.

For the past year, I’ve been holding on to five DVD’s in my Netflix subscription. I checked them out last August, and I’ve only watched only one of them. I can’t believe I’ve spent all that money to hold on to those DVD’s when I could have bought them, plus some. I only had one return envelope, so I mailed two of them back to Netflix, cleared out my queue from 300+ to only forty movies I really want to watch. Now, I get to see Strangers with Candy (the movie) and some Kids in the Hall Episodes. As for the Floating Weeds? Let them float, far, far away from me.

I feel much better now. I’ve been less motivated to turn the boob tube on (unless it’s Eureka or Monday night Enterprise re-runs). I spent more hours watching TV before because it was a distraction from the clutter. Now things are off the floor, not taking up too much space in my closet or my life. I still have a good number of books that need reading, some DVD’s and VHS tapes should be watched, and a few items to return to people. With less clutter in my life, I can focus on important things such as lesson plans, teaching, and writing.

It’s A Wrap!

The summer school session at the community college is over (for me, anways)! The course load was concentrated, but so are the paychecks. There were so many early mornings where the students and I were so not awake, but we made it.

Most of my students did well. I had those few students who wrote well at the freshman level and who intelligently chimed in to the class discussions. It was nice to see one student in particular get excited about the material covered in class.

However, I am concerned about a few, especially their future as college students. All one student did was go to sleep in the back of the classroom. I don’t think he ever participated in class or showed any embarrassment when I had to wake him up in an attempt to involve him in the class discussion. Interestingly enough, he was worried about his grade towards the end. I have yet to receive a term paper from another student, despite her promise to send it to me ASAP.

I have until next Thursday to turn in grades, most of which I already have done.

I learned a few lessons this summer, much of it reinforcement from previous lessons:

  1. Never get behind. Grade those papers the day I get them. In fact, I should grade them after class or when I get home from work that day. Also, be on point with the lessons and not play catch up on lesson plans.
  2. Don’t accept late work. I am not doing this to be a meanie, but it is a nightmare to backtrack, try to look at an assignment when the class and I have moved on to something else.
  3. Take care of myself. If I manage my time right, I get my work done, get some exercise, take care of what life asks of me, and get the rest I need in order to function for all of the above.
  4. Remember that it’s only a job. I should do it well (most excellently), but no job is worth taking over my life.

Next week, I go back to the language school for a couple of weeks. I am substituting for an instructor’s advanced level course and I got to meet the students this morning. They seem like a nice bunch of students, but the instructor told me it’s difficult to get them to do homework. Each group is different. They are mine next Monday.

I also got to see some familiar faces, such as Julius (Joo Seung AKA Ju Ju) and a few others. Perhaps once again, there’ll be a picture of me diagramming sentences.

Bad Bosses

One of Chris‘s posts a few days ago got me thinking on this topic.

This is definitely one where I have to bite my tongue (or in this case, my fingers as I type). God knows I’ve had my share of bad bosses. I’ll try to be as vague as possible to protect myself and the guilty. If a member of the press asked my opinion of any of them, mentioning them by name, I would just smile and say something blandly positive.

The question is, where do these people come from? Bad bosses, like good bosses, come from all sorts of places. They may have worked their way out of the rank and file, gone to management school, come into a job with a degree, come into their respective positions with a sparkling resume, or even received an election or an appointment to lord over you. Given that, the Peter Principle is in effect.

Or, the Peter Principle doesn’t apply. They didn’t get plucked out of the crowd of laborers and they got into their job because they were highly qualified. They looked great on paper. However, they turned out to be psychopaths.

“Do as I say, not as I do” is their maxim. They can be grossly incompetent, but heaven forbid you following their lead. One boss I had never read the reports I gave her, but misinformed the accountant about being caught up (when my report showed evidence to the contrary). Also, she seemed incapable of hiring someone properly qualified to do my job, as several previous people proved to be unsatisfactory. I wonder if this has changed at all, but I’m no longer there to lose sleep over it or her for that matter.

Bad bosses are often verbally abusive. Another boss (years ago) was high strung and yelled at everyone. One time, I did not meet the dress code and I was upbraided not just once, but twice. He screamed at me about how unprofessional I was. Needless to say, when he got a heart attack, no one was sorry it happened. He came back, not changed by the experience and continued in his assholiness.

An employee’s personal boundaries are often ignored by bad bosses. While this boss may have been the most highly educated than the other examples, he proved to be just as charming. He called me at home at 10:30pm to get on my case about how I did not do a task according to procedure. After having him rant and holler in my ear, I hung up. The phone rang again, but I didn’t answer it. When I left that job, I was inspired to get caller ID for my landline.*

The lesson learned from of having my worklife punctuated by bad bosses? Definitely know what my rights are concerning them. Perhaps the most fitting way to deal with them is to walk away, leaving them mired in unfinished projects. However, that’s bad karma for the employee. Talk to their bosses, talk to HR, hold a tape recorder in front of them during meetings, or get an attorney. Maybe all of the above are necessary actions. I know I never have to put with it again.

*Before I had a mobile phone. In an era of mobile phones, I wonder about the wisdom of giving your boss your number. Better to call them than to have them call you.


How Not To Conduct Business

I caught an episode of Property Ladder (The Not So Talented Mr. Remodel) where this guy attempts to flip a house on a budget of $20k, only to have it escalate higher and higher and delaying the finish date for open house.

His problem? A great deal of it may be setting unrealistic goals, as the house painter turned house flipper initially had contractors working on the house, but decided to take on the renovations himself. Well, the contractor’s renovations kept revealing more costs, though him taking on the house on his own really didn’t cut any costs.

His bigger problem was that that he kept people around him in the dark, especially his investor. He would keep all the problems (especially the rising costs) from his “silent partner” until it was too late (and got less than he needed when he finally approached him), used credit card advances to keep him and his family afloat without telling them, and he couldn’t even give Kirsten Kemp, the show’s host, any straight answers when she asked him pointed questions about his progress and why he was taking on the project himself. He had the same problem while discussing what he needed from his investor. He may have tried to avoid incriminating himself, but he only made himself look like a moron and a pushover in the process.

It was absolutely painful to watch him try to take on the whole house himself, especially when the sod arrived for the front and back yards. Some of the sod was already brown and dead. Instead of calling the company and insisting on fresher product, he used it and hoped for the best.

Most of the time, these home flip shows demonstrate the ups and downs of trying to rehabilitate a depressed house, but this one was a total downer. This guy sinking lower and lower because of his communication problems and his unrealistic goals and budgeting served as a cautionary tale of how not to go about doing business and life. Hopefully, this guy learned how to communicate after the show (along with staying on task and admitting he needs to get professional help when he needs it).

I can’t imagine anyone wanting to hire him after the episode aired. I’m surprised some of these people go on reality tv, but they exist to provide train wrecks for the rest of us.

The Best Way To Not Read A Book Is To Buy It

My friend Sharon said that the best way to not read a book is to buy it.

Oh God, I think she is right. Over the years, I have developed the classic problem that creative writing students, English majors, classicists, writers, and book lovers in general have—I have accumulated too many books. As an English major and an MFA creative writing student, I have kept many of the books purchased for coursework. I have gone to Barnes & Noble and Borders, perused their shelves, and given them my money. I have also scoured used and abused bookstores with an agenda or have left things to chance and found that perfect book way too many times. Library books sales have yielded interesting choices. Some friends would occasionally give me books as gifts, and others leaving town have bequeathed me theirs. This left me with a constant bookshelf and space problem.

If clutter is a sign of unfulfilled potential, then the overflow in the bookshelves represented it in my life as a writer and a reader. I was very catholic in my interests, and there were always recommendations and ideas of novels that would help me model my own writing or books that seemed fun to read. Work, studies, and a personal life all have their demands, and as the books piled up, so did the procrastination. With every book, the collection became a daunting to-do list.

It was too easy to look at the shelves and feel overwhelmed. I hadn’t read this book nor this one, and I felt like it never was going to happen. Plus, I was crowded out by the things I once loved. The bookshelves took up too much room, and there was not enough space for all my books.

I needed to get rid of them. Taking them to used book sellers would be a full-time job because they can be picky. As someone who has worked in a used bookstore, I can say they won’t take any book. They have to know they can sell it. I could have gone the Amazon.Com route, but I didn’t want to deal running books to the post office. So, I simply donated them.

Eliminating them was easy. Deciding what to keep was hard. One rule was that they have to be able to fit on one shelf. Books on writing (such as John Gardner’s The Art of Fiction), grammar, and the Norton Anthologies on British literature remained, though I bid farewell to both Janet Burroway’s staidly conventional book* and Lance Olsen’s crazy one on creative writing. Ursula K. le Guin, Jonathan Lethem, and Neil Gaiman and a few other novelists are still here, but I said goodbye to much of my C.S. Lewis and Toni Morrison. There were tons of books I can’t even remember; however, I am pleased that I kept Walt Whitman, Frank O’Hara, American Splendor, and Tom Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles. I did happily get rid of Hardy’s Jude. I’ll probably mention other items in the remaining inventory sometime later.

Instead of building up a library, I’ll simply use the library. I can check out books, read them, and return them. It’s simple logic any child can understand. I read some books for free and I won’t have them to weigh me down. If I buy a book, I should put it back in circulation after I’m done reading it. I could either donate it (library, thrift shop, etc) or take it to a used bookstore to see if I could get some change for some coffee and a scone. The main idea is to get what I need from the book.

Here’s to reading and not having an attachment to books!

*This is one of those books that constantly appears in a new edition almost every year, though the first edition is absolutely fine. Unlike my response to John Gardner’s The Art of Fiction, I was not in a hurry to seek out the wonderful literary accomplishments of Ms. Burroway. I get the idea she’s now a one note writer who does creative writing books, especially revisions to the one that sells so well.

Lessons Learned At Warp 10

Going with the Star Trek metaphor in “Set A Course For Earth,” the ride at Warp 10 hasn’t been a fun one. I’ve wondered if there would be enough plasma in the warp drive and if the dilithium would last for the duration of the trip. I’ve had my dealings with life’s Romulans and Borg. Now it feels like I’m within a few parsecs of Earth, but not quite there yet. Between 40 Eridani and Procyon is where I am now.

Of course, the real life details are much more mundane and less fun. Here are some lessons I’ve learned in the past few months.

Communication is something I’ve been learning. Ironically, for someone who majored in English and Creative Writing, my ability to communicate was nil. I could conveniently blame this on a bad childhood or being an introvert, but my childhood’s long been over and social skills, though it may take more work for some, can be developed. My mother certainly tried to teach me that I shouldn’t just let people come to me if I wanted to articulate something, but that I should go to them. If someone takes the time to ask the questions, great; however, I should speak up for myself and make my needs known.

In approaching the various community colleges in San Diego County for courses in the fall, I had to approach the English department chairs or the professor in charge of hiring. No one is going to search through the list of people who possess English MA’s or PhD’s and ask them if they want to work for their schools. One is crazy to think that a school may hand a full time job to them as an entitlement for earning a post-baccalaureate degree. I’ve had to communicate with these people and keep in touch with them so I get assignments when they are available. My silence would certainly lower my prospects and would definitely not serve me well in the long run, especially when I want to apply to a full-time position.

If I had better communication skills when I ran the labor union’s mailroom, I would still have the job. I didn’t know what was expected of me because I didn’t ask, and I got the axe in the end. At times I felt bullied by some people (the accountant, my boss, and a couple of organizers), and this would not have happened if I stood up for myself. Speaking up for myself when I feel like I’ve been unfairly treated is a form of communication I’ll use in the future. Getting walked on is a failure to communicate (and the memory of it is enough for me not to let it happen in the future).

I’ve also been learning to listen in the past few months. I’ve never really been a good listener, and it’s amazing that I have even achieved mastery in the English language along with learning French and Spanish. Perhaps this is the reason why I don’t speak Japanese very well. It is a language where one needs to listen to the context and respond in kind. This is very important when something isn’t stated directly. However, when things are stated directly in any language, it is important to listen.

The ability to listen to criticism and grow from it is an important one. As a writer, I’ve learned how to handle criticism, especially when it seems like the critic ripped my work to shreds. A manuscript’s draft, especially in the early stages, is far from perfect and an outside evaluation is helpful. I may or may not agree with what someone said about my text, but if that person took the time to read the work and give their observations, then it would serve me well to listen to what they have to say. The same goes for hearing what someone says to me about me.

I could take someone’s observations about me as an attack on me or grow from it. In the past, I would have taken it as a tear down and feel like there wasn’t much I could do to change it (or that the person was mean when the comment wasn’t cruel at all). Yesterday, my class at the language center was off to a less than perfect start, and the director had a talk with me about the student’s comments about me. I listened to what he had to say, took it as an opportunity to address my weaknesses that day, and made my lessons this morning a better experience for my students. I took it as an opportunity to grow, not as an indictment of failure.

In a situation where someone does or says something that is unfair, I should still take the time to listen to what this person says or does. My response (speaking or standing up for myself) will demonstrate that I have heard what they have to say and that it is not the right way to go about what they really need to say.

This will sound redundant, but I have been learning to learn. As someone who has spent too much time in college and graduate school, it has been easy to portray myself as a man of learning, but real learning doesn’t always get you an A or a degree. Instead, it comes from communicating, listening, and taking action. In communicating with others, I send forth my statements and questions, and in turn I receive responses and further questions. One can communicate all they want, but listening is a key component. In order to synthesize information or experience, taking time to observe is necessary. Ultimately, the risk of doing is necessary to learn. By communicating and listening, I am learning how to do these things. In the past, I may taught my students that learning isn’t passive, but it’s certainly taken me a while to learn that myself. It is an active and ongoing process.

Now, Alpha Centauri doesn’t seem so far away. And then it’s a parsec or so en route to Earth.