Monday, 28 April 2014

7 Habits, Well 6 Actually, That WIll Make You More Successful

I came across this while browsing Business Insider, which I do much less now than I used to. It's from a US Navy SEAL officer (Q: How do you know someone was a Navy SEAL? A: Give them five minutes and they will mention it) and I found myself agreeing with much of it. So here we are...

1. Be loyal. Team loyalty in the corporate environment seems to be a dying philosophy. Loyalty to the team starts at the top. If it's lacking at the senior executive level, how can anyone else in the organization embrace it? Loyalty is about leading by example, providing your team unconditional support, and never throwing a team member under the bus.

2. Put others before yourself. Get up every day and ask yourself what you will do to add value to your team, such as simply offering your assistance with a project. The challenge is overcoming the fear that your team member might say: "Yes, I really need your help with this project…tonight."

3. Be reflective. Reflective people often spend too much time analyzing their actions. But imagine if you could harness this talent into something highly valuable? Reflecting on your mistakes, such as mine in Iraq, ensures you never repeat them.

4. Be obsessively organized. Some of us innately have this ability, often to a fault, and some have to work at it a bit more. You have to find a process that works for you. I've known people who will put something on their to-do list after they did it and then cross it off to feel a greater sense of accomplishment! Whatever your system is, make it work for you.

5. Assume you don't know enough. Because you don't. Any effective team member understands that training is never complete. It's true in the SEAL teams, and it's true in any elite team. Those who assume they know everything should be eliminated. Those who spend time inside and outside of the workplace developing their knowledge and skills will provide the momentum for their team's forward progress.

6. Be detail-oriented. Attention to detail is one of our company's values. Do we get it right all the time? Of course not. Imagine, though, if all members of a team are obsessed with detail in their delivery? My lack of attention to detail in the incident in Iraq could have had catastrophic results. Don't ask yourself what you are going to do today to be successful; ask how you are going to do it.

7. Never get comfortable. Always push yourself outside of your comfort zone. If you do this continually with every task you take on, that boundary will continue to widen. This process will ensure that you are continually maximizing your potential, which will positively impact your team.

You may be wondering how you could ever have a relaxed life if you maintain all of these habits. But that's the beauty of it. If you enjoy what you do and form good habits, it all becomes second nature. Maintain these habits, and encourage your team members to do the same

. ... and we're back. Notice that 1) is prescriptive for managers. That's how they should behave and how you should if you make it to management. The good ones behave like that and the mediocre ones are just, well, what they were hired to be. Be one of the good guys.

The only one I disagree with is 2). There's nothing wrong with asking the rest of the team if you can help out, if you've done all your work, and you're pretty sure no-one is going to take advantage of you. The deal with adding value is that you add what they pay you plus some profit. After that, they have to add value to you as well. This very rarely happens in a large company, which, let it be remembered, hired you for the skills you already had, not because you were a smart guy who could pick up their stuff real quick.

I'm going with the others because they are about humility, growth and self-respect, important values all. And you thought the SEALs just blew shit up?

Thursday, 24 April 2014

Feeling Functional Can Be a Little Dysfunctional

I was reading James Davies’ Cracked: Why Psychiatry is Doing More Harm Than Good recently. The descriptions of how SSRI’s and other happy pills felt familiar:

“Most participants described a general reduction in the intensity of all the emotions they experienced, using words like ‘dulled', ‘numbed', ‘flattened', or completely ‘blocked’, to describe how they felt...A few participants…reported their emotional experience had become more ‘cognitive’ or ’intellectual’...Most participants also described feeling emotionally detached or disconnected from their surroundings… a detachment extending to other people… reduced sympathy and empathy, and felt detached during social interactions…Most participants described a general feeling of indifference to things in life that used to matter to them...All participants experienced a reduction of intensity or frequency of negative emotions… Although this reduction was usually at some stage a relief, many participants also reported it impaired their quality of life."

Which is kinda how I feel, but probably (I hope) not to the same extent as the participants. I noticed a while ago that music played at home just didn’t have the same effect as it used to: sometimes an entire CD can go by and I realise I’ve missed it. (Spanish Sahara on the iPhone while commuting can still send me.)

All the feelings that tug at me are the tired old co-dependent cliches: self-pity, rescuing and the like. Useless, dysfunctional, like smoking. Those are, however, the feelings that I know how to have. If I dial those down, I’m really not feeling very much, and it’s like I’m happy-pilling myself.

Like Carole King says “I’ve been alone so long, that I just don’t know, what to do”.

I couldn’t take the hormone hit of actually having someone touch me, or touch them, with sexual intent. I can air-kiss and tent-hug no problem, but that letting go and sinking in to the kiss and the embrace? Jesus. I would have to trust that it wasn’t going to end then and there, because I would be left with a revved-up metabolism and an awful, awful come-down. I’m staying away from “intimacy” (aka "sex and cuddles”) because I just don’t want the hangover.

I’m being functional. I’m avoiding doing things that will make it harder for me to follow the work-eat-sleep-work cycle, or to need to put up with the many indignities and bullshit that the world inflicts on us. Functional is flat, sober, numb, ‘cognitive’, (emotionally) disconnected. Dysfunctional is highs and lows, drunk and ecstatic, sensational, emotional and connected. All those make you take days off, and argue with people, and have hangovers, and sleepless nights, and grudges, and all those other good things that are, apparently, what living is about.

Just as I would rather be sober, I would rather be functional, even of now and again it means a passage in a book can set me off on a self-pity jag like this one.

Monday, 21 April 2014

19 Things To Do

The ever-interesting Christian McQueen had an article recently on the equally ever-interesting Return of Kings, 19 Tips On How To Get Over Your Ex-Girlfriend. Not that I have a recent ex-girlfriend but it struck a chord with me. It’s about getting over a case of one-itis, which it should be a balm to all wounded male souls that even McQueen could get. Adapting it to my circumstances, I get the following actions: The first six actions are about removing the traces and momentii of ex-gf from your life. In my case, for “ex-gf” read “co-dependency”. In practice, this means I stop looking for a relationship: that’s not what I need, and I can’t do them. Didn’t have the training and I will choose the wrong girls. Hence, ignore any attractions to the kind of girl I would have found attractive. I’m looking for sex. not cuddles. What I’m looking for is a woman who wants to get laid, and whatever else her Hamster tells her she wants is no concern of mine.

The next two say: book a trip. By a co-incidence, I had just booked a flight to see a friend in the Netherlands for a weekend.

The next says: work out. See my six times a week for six weeks.

Number eleven says to re-connect with my guy friends that I lost because of the relationship. At my age, I barely have any friends left. I lost quite a few when I got sober. However, this doesn’t mean I shouldn’t try reaching out. Not sure who to, but I can try.

Then there’s a couple about gaming and having sex with ten women. That could only have been suggested by a nightclub promoter, since even at a Krauser’s lay rate of 2.5%, that means finding four hundred women to approach. However, the real point is getting some bodily contact and sex.

Number sixteen is about reviewing my personal style, haircut and grooming and getting it done before the trip. I’m always up for some style revision.

The next one says: go on the trip and let loose. This is the interesting one for me. What the heck is “letting loose” for a sober alcoholic who has to watch what he eats and needs to get his beauty sleep? First thoughts are a lot of sex, sleeping late, a couple of good meals and a night club or a comedy club. Actually, maybe forty-eight hours where I didn’t have to think about what I was doing next. It would be good to work out the answers that I can go on a holiday-away again.

Next up is taking up one of the "goals, dreams or passions I may have laid to the side”. Like any wage slave, I’ve laid aside most of my life so I can make a living and pay my bills like a mensch. My “ex-gf” is the need for approval and validation, from women, audiences and men, in that order. What did I set aside to please her? I wanted to be accepted in academe, but I never really wanted to be accepted in business, until I spent some time unemployed. Now I am accepted, as much as I ever will be. Tick that box. I do have a dream (no details), and realising it will cost money, and to do so will mean I have to not give a damn about being accepted by the industry. If I do it, it won’t get me a new home, or any new friends, or a new chapter, or any damn thing.

I can do all of that.

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Self-Respect Before Notches

Watch this…. see you the other side.

Hi again.

Jabba gets it. It’s just not acceptable for a man to put up with a hundred laps of girl nonsense to get one lap of sex. That’s one difference between the old-school PUA and the more recent version: old-school PUA’s seem to put up with practically anything for the notch, which made the girl the judge of their skills and worth. Then someone stirred in a little MGTOW, just enough to change sex and girls from being the prize to being a pastime, a source of pleasure. Masculine dignity requires nothing less. It’s a difficult attitude for a mid-twenties man with raging hormones and a hole in his soul, who thinks that a woman will fix it all: it’s easier for a man my age, with reduced hormones, to say “if that’s all I can get, thank you, I’ll go without”. Women, and one’s ability to get laid at will, are not the mark of a Man. Not now. Strangely enough, this has come from the younger guys (I’m so old that Jabba, at 38, is “younger”). The older ones, mostly, are still wedded to the idea that somehow, a man without a woman is like an engine without a car.

Whereas the truth is that a man without a woman is like a leopard without a yacht. Which is a much larger subject.

Monday, 14 April 2014

Why Five Years Off Was The Right Thing To Do

As I have said ad nauseam, I would’t mind some grown-up sex.


But I haven’t got the energy left to play the games and deal with “feelings” and “emotions” that come from the air and vanish there. I really, really do not want to get involved with women's insecurities, whimsy, random and nonsense any more. Any more, frankly, than I want to get drunk again. It’s exactly the same. I don’t want those sick co-dependent feelings and so I can’t have anything to do with those women to whom my co-dependent conditioning would attract me.

Until a few days ago, I thought that meant a life of abstinence, as it does for the alcoholic. I might wind up actually living like that, heck, I have for over five years now, but I’m not going to do it deliberately. I thought that the kind of woman I needed to find would be a grown-up, practical and not noticeably affectionate. Exactly the kind of women I find a bit scary and daunting. Who have to be approached with confidence and the air of a man who knows what he wants and can't be shamed for it.

Which shows that I really wasn’t getting the point. There are no “grown-up women”, though there are many who are practical and lack any capacity for affection. Underneath whatever outward shows of competence and adulthood they have, they are all full of insecurities, random and nonsense. Even the real tough chicks. Now I know it’s nothing to do with me, and nothing that I need to be concerned about. I don’t cause that stuff, it’s how she chooses to react to whatever phantoms are hooting in her solipsism. It’s her stuff to handle, not mine to fix.

So those five years and months I’ve stayed away from “relationships” and sex? I was behaving smarter than I was thinking and feeling. I wasn’t ready and I would have slipped right back into my old co-dependent ways. Somewhere along my spinal column - because it sure as heck wasn’t my brain - I realised I had had enough of that and did the right thing.

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Smart, Pretty People Don't Get Married

Ever wondered why all the married people you know aren’t the prettiest people in the room? I mean, aside from the fact that pretty people are shallow and vain and can’t commit and all those other shamings? You think that it’s because for a pretty person, there’s always another girl/boy/whatever round the corner. You thought that pretty people don’t have to settle for Ms/Mr Okay-I-Guess.

Well, actually, that’s what we do all the time. By definition. Think about it: Eights know their market worth and tend to be very goal-directed: they are looking for an alpha provider just like the Daddy who raised them. Alpha providers are usually chunky guys with public school voices and minor injuries from recreational weekend rugby. Not pretty people. Female Nines and Tens are rare as hen’s teeth. The mass of available, acceptable women are Sixes and Sevens, and so that’s who pretty guys go out with. That's fine for short- and medium-term relationships, but, for the rest of my life? When I know that at some stage the genetic bomb is going to drop? No. You’ll excuse me if I pass. As I did.

Then the smart bit. I’m using the wrong word, but I get a punchy phrase by doing so. There are a gazillion people who can trounce me at chess, crosswords, and solving riddles. That’s not what I do. I was an insecure, un-confident, self-conscious boy from a slightly odd family in a south-east London suburb and I really had no freaking clue how all the other kids lived and what the hell they did with their lives. My friends were the other kids who didn’t have friends. I read science fiction, mathematics and philosophy and listened to every kind of music from avant-garde jazz to Monteverdi masses. I spent a lot of time escaping in culture, and as a result, my fear is being bored - which is the fear of the extrovert, not the introvert. Except my company isn’t people, it’s ideas, opinions, facts, figures, images and sounds. To paraphrase Naomi Wolf, real people are just bad ideas, and real life is just bad art.

I get used to being able to dis-engage from something when my attention span runs out. I can turn off the radio, stop looking at pictures and leave the gallery, vague out during the boring bits of Wagner, put the book aside, and sometimes just sit doing nothing. Can’t do that with people.

But in the end, we get tired of compromising. Takes a good few years - I was going around with twenty-five year olds when I was forty. Pretty people don’t hit The Wall, but we do Lose It - a certain masculinity goes from a man’s face, as the femininity goes from a woman’s face. We still look way better than the rest of you, but we’ve lost that sexual edge. Sure we grow old and single, but that’s nothing to be scared of.

Monday, 7 April 2014

Lars von Trier's Nymphomaniac

It’s taken a while to process this movie. It’s not an art-house version of Thanks For Sharing, and neither, thank God, is it a art-house version of the execrable Shame. It’s not a study of sex addiction or nymphomania, and actually is not about sex at all. If you want to see a movie about sex, download something from Kink. You will never see a film about sex in the mainstream cinema. There are penises (erect and flaccid) and vaginas, and what looks like people having sex, but a lot of that is digital compositing. I’m also assuming that the bit where Jamie Bell’s K hits Charlotte Gainsbourg’s Joe with a glove stuffed with coins is not real, otherwise it would have had to have been one take and Gainsbourg would have been un-filmable for a week while the bruises went down. Nah. Likewise the whipping sequence: that’s either a body-double or a prop.

So what is it about? It’s about someone who behaves in some unconventional ways because she chooses to. We should twig that the whole thing is some kind of half-metaphor when Joe explains that, in her early twenties, she was having sex with ten men a night. Do the math. That many plates can’t be kept spinning. And yet again, she has a recurrent case of one-itis for Shia La Boeuf, as would be understandable in a healthy young woman. One-itis and plate spinning don’t go together. It’s also a satire on men’s need to rationalise women’s sexual behaviour.

Right at the start Joe insists to Stellan SkarsgÄrd's Seligman, that she is a bad person.


Now, let us remember the rules. Women are never bad people, and if they do something that if a man did it would be a bad thing, it’s okay because, you know, patriarchy. Seligman therefore refuses to believe her, and throughout the film attempts to rationalise every bit of her behaviour, even, for heaven’s sake, in terms of Walton’s The Compleat Angler. There’s even a you-go-girl speech towards the end about how she was “exploring” and “demanding her rights”. The bit where Seligman, having heard how the guy who took her virginity by three strokes from the front and five up the rear, after turning her over like a sack of potatoes, explains that 3 and 5 are Fibonnaci numbers, is so truly silly that we must assume that von Trier did it deliberately: “look at how silly this guy has to be to understand what happens to her”. (Either that, or von Trier is truly weird.)

In return for all this listening and attempted understanding, Joe kills Seligman, as right at the end, he attempts a half-hearted rape. In most cases a simple “What the frack do you think you’re doing”, followed by a hefty dose of shaming, would do. Seligman is an old man, and he’s not holding her down. The last time I looked, it wasn’t yet legal or even morally acceptable, even in Denmark, for women to kill men who were attempting to rape them. (Kick them in the nuts, sure, but the legal principle is that the force used in self-defence must be proportionate to the force used by the attacker.) However, I suspect it’s a device to end the movie, which has no other real reason for stopping.

Oh yeah, she’s a bad girl. Prima facie, the scene in the SAA meeting is a little unconvincing: from Joe’s denouncements of the other women in the group, we get the idea that sex addicts are rather pathetic women driven to use sex to fill an emptiness in their lives. This is to set up the contrast with Joe, who likes her desires and urges. As a way of making Joe’s acceptance of her own agency clear, it does the job. She’s the drunk who decides they would rather be drunk than sober and leaves an AA after-meeting coffee session with a little speech to that effect.

I’m not suggesting that von Trier is making any Red Pill points. But he’s a provocateur, and so it’s not surprising that he takes a dissenting view on the morality of his character. He's clearly not speaking about all nymphomaniacs, as Steve McQueen was doing about "all" sex addicts, and that's why von Trier's film is a flawed art movie, whereas McQueen's is propaganda disguised as seriousness.

As a film? Von Trier is a film-maker first and foremost. The stories and characters come afterwards. Of course the plot is silly, just as silly as the idea that a planet would whoosh past Earth and then turn round within three or four days and collide with it.I think it’s better than his last two, especially as he keeps the scissors out of Gainsbourg’s hands (yep, you just winced at that, didn't you?), even if this time he gives her a gun. You don’t read late-period Henry James to find out if the girl gets the guy, and you don’t watch a von Trier for a cracking yarn. Some things don’t have to make sense, they just have to work their magic on you.

It will be on Curzon Online for a long while yet. Go watch.

Thursday, 3 April 2014

March 2014 Review

Back in the autumn of 2009 I got a new manager, call him X. Under whom, despite a slightly shaky start, I flourished. X recognised what I’m good at, and what I’m not so good at, and once hit me on the arm when I was a little less than tactful with a help desk guy who was being especially obtuse. The fact that I remember it tells you that it was the right thing to do and spoke a lot about our relationship. I enjoyed working with X, as I enjoy working with any manager strong enough to recognise their weaknesses and hire people with those things as strengths.

Now X has gone over to Another Bank. They are looking for a New Guy, and until then, I am reporting to the Director. Which speaks volumes about how I’ve developed, because two years ago, I would have been hidden from the Director by at least one, if not two, layers of intermediaries.

I took a week off after X left. Not the best weather. I only really started to unwind the Thursday and Friday. I stayed at home and went into town for the gym. It was then I decided, for no reason except Why Not, to do six days in the gym for six weeks. Week one was last week: Sunday, chest; Monday, shoulders; Tuesday, weights and spin; Wednesday, chest; Thursday, yoga; Friday, swimming. After the weights bit, there is always a 1km jog on the treadmill, pull-ups + other back, and abs. No all I need is to get the diet bit exactly right.

I saw Sara Baras, Gala Flamenco and Farraquito at Sadlers Wells; Non-Stop and Captain America at the local Cineworld; Under The Skin, The Grand Budapest Hotel, and Nymphomaniac I and II at the Curzon Soho; the British Masters series on You Tube; and Mister John and 8 Weeks Idle via Curzon Online. DVDs included Californication S4 and Burn Notice S5, and I finally saw Godard’s British Sounds, Lotte in Italia and Pravda.

I slogged my way through Celine’s Journey to the End of the Night; read Jan Sokol’s Thinking About Ordinary Things; finished Maldoror; read Pedro Ferraria’s history of General Relativity, The Perfect Theory; Mary-Jane Rubenstein’s Worlds Without End; Imogen Edward_Jones’ Hospital Babylon, and an Aerofilms book, A History of Britain From The Air, which is excellent if you have no sense of what this country used to look like even eighty years ago.

The back garden got a spring-clean one Sunday. I had a visit from the kitchen fitters, who measured up and found the plans were 100mm out, so I had a another visit from the planners. All while I was on holiday. Sis and I had supper at Picture - fast becoming my favourite restaurant - for her birthday, and I ate at the bar at Hix, and had lunch at Jamies Italian Trattoria in Richmond (the pizzas are really good).

And I had a minor revelation about complex one-forms, the real meaning of Cauchy’s formula, and why closed curves are more fundamental in complex analysis than points are.

Oh. And prunes. Every day. I say no more.