Random Thoughts – September 2006

Who Moved My Rice? by Michael LaRoccaA bit of advice to any teachers reading this. Throw eggs at your students. It’s great fun watching them leap out of the way. Oh, and my second bit of advice is, boil them first. The eggs, not the students.

Here’s a Chinese game that’s harder than it sounds. Stand with your back to the wall. Imagine that, on the wall, is the face of a clock. Your hands are the clock hands. Have people shout times to you and see how fast you can indicate them. It won’t help you write better, but it might make you feel like an idiot.

If you listen to the radio in mainland China, you may hear the old song “Everybody Was Kung Fu Fighting.” I heard it on a bus.

I recently saw a little hole-in-the-wall type restaurant called MOUTH BE HAPPY. It’s not close to HOMELY FARE or to SOMETHING TO EAT.

If you have a cat and you don’t have any Bach, you need to go buy a CD right now. Picasso leaps onto the computer desk to cuddle me when the music plays, which is great fun when I’m writing or editing. If you don’t have a cat, get some Bach anyway. Trust me on this.

“Ni ga” is something the Chinese say all the time. “Ni ga ni ga ni ga.” I heard it for three years and wondered what it meant. Finally, Yao Ming explained it to me in his book. It’s just something the Chinese say when they’re trying to remember something or looking for a word. Like we say “um, um, um.” They say “ni ga ni ga ni ga.”

So Yao Ming was in the US, talking to his translator in Chinese, and he said “ni ga ni ga ni ga.” His teammates thought he was calling them “nigger nigger nigger.” Oops!

I love telling this story in class. It’s a great intro to cultural misunderstandings, plus mentioning the NBA and Yao Ming establishes me as a major suck-up.

I bought some conditioner. Salon Selectives by Helene Curtis. Thanks to our lovely translations, I was able to choose between Perfectly Normal or Full Of It. If it was for me, of course it would be Full Of It. But Jan is Perfectly Normal, aside from her choice of a husband.


This is an excerpt from Who Moved My Rice?

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Make A Difference – From Being Successful to Being Significant – My Favorite Quotations

Make A Difference: From Being Successful to Being SignificantHere are a few of my favorite quotations from MAKE A DIFFERENCE: From Being Successful to Being Significant by Ron Finklestein and Michael LaRocca:

But while you’re obviously doing a fine job of being selfish in the narrow sense, narrow self-interest isn’t enlightened self-interest. It’s not self-interest at all, actually.

You talk about methods and processes being able to scale up and down, but don’t you see that your goals are doing the same thing? They’ll just keep scaling up.

You know it on the surface, Bob, but you’re not feeling it deep down. Look below the surface. If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten. That, too, sounds like fortune cookie wisdom, but it’s because you’re only looking at the surface. Feel it in your gut.

“I need a personal vision to live by,” Bob realizes. “Everybody does, actually. Otherwise it’s just doing stuff, maybe a little bit of stuff and maybe a lot of stuff, but just some random stuff. Not always the right stuff. Not always the wrong stuff either. Just random stuff.”

I’m not sure if that’s a Zen koan or a tweet from a lunatic.

Keep an open mind, Bob. Why are you doing what you’re doing now? You know, living the way you are, trying to get ahead the same way that everybody else is. Because you’re just doing what everybody else does, that’s why. You’re not owning your life. And even if you do win at this game you’re playing, you won’t be happy.

Simply put, you must own the whole of your circumstances. This means you are 100% responsible for everything that happens in your life, even if you cannot explain it. Ownership does not mean things will suddenly get easier. It simply means you can do something about the situation.

People who never fail are the ones hiding in the corner doing nothing at all because they’re afraid to fail.

Fail forward. Failure is feedback. You can always learn from feedback. People who never fail are the ones hiding in the corner doing nothing at all because they’re afraid to fail. Plus, they’re lying. We all fail. So when you fail, so what? You failed. Own the problem and act on it.

Whenever I asked my friend why she was meeting with a specific person, she answered, ‘Isn’t that what networking is all about?’ I asked her what outcome she wanted. She didn’t know. I asked her why she was meeting with him. Again, she didn’t know. So I asked her, ‘If you’re meeting people without a clear objective of what you want from each meeting, how effective can you be?’

Is this going to take me closer to my enlightened self-interest? If not, why am I doing it?

If others don’t believe in what we’re doing, in what motivates us, in our vision, do you know what happens? At best we get their compliance but not their commitment.

Helping others is what it’s all about. The most successful people are those who genuinely want to help others. It’s easy to forget that in the rush, and it’s always a big mistake.

Focus on having others do what they’re good at. There’s a reason we often celebrate Joe Montana throwing to Jerry Rice but never Jerry Rice throwing to Joe Montana.

Treat others as they want to be treated. We all have different styles, preferences, skills, personality types. Some are more introspective, some more outgoing. Some visual, some aural, some kinesthetic. Don’t assume everybody’s like you. Hear them, know them, mesh with their styles and needs.

Nobody likes being sold to. Nobody. But what they do want is for us to teach them how to buy. If I’ve got a service that will genuinely help you, it would be remiss of me not to tell you. And no, I’m not just splitting hairs. I mean this.

Persuasion does not mean manipulation. Sales is not reaching into a bag of tricks. It’s honesty. Selling is helping a person do what they actually want or need to do.

Failure is feedback. That could be a bumper sticker. Or at least a tweet.

I’m going to stop staying busy just for the sake of being busy or to keep the boredom at bay. Motion isn’t always action.

You’re an IT guy. You know that running a computer at 100% capacity all the time will eventually lead to a system failure. Why would you expect a human being to be any different?


MAKE A DIFFERENCE: From Being Successful to Being Significant by Ron Finklestein and Michael LaRocca is available in both paperback and Kindle formats.

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An Honest Q&A Session About Writing and Editing

Q: Why did you start writing?
A: Why not?

Q: How many years do you have to write before you can quit your “day job”?
A: 42.

Q: Who’s your agent?
A: Huh?

Q: Who’s your publicist?
A: Huh?

Q: Who’s your editor?
A: Huh?

Q: How long does it take to write a book?
A: That depends on how good you make it.

Q: What’s the hardest thing about catching an editor’s eye?
A: Getting someone to throw it to you.

Q: How can I stop people from stealing my ideas?
A: Don’t worry, nobody wants them. Ideas are the easy part. You can do that in a day. Writing takes months. Maybe years. There are no new ideas.

Q: What do you call an author without a girlfriend?
A: Homeless.

Q: Where do you get your ideas from?
A: I steal them. Got a book for me to edit?

Q: What’s the difference between a PhD in English and a large pizza?
A: The pizza can feed a family of four.

Q: How much do you have to pay to get published?
A: Please, please, please don’t pay to get published. Readers pay publishers and publishers pay authors. Don’t believe anyone who tells you different.

Q: What’s the difference between an editor and God?
A: God doesn’t think he’s an editor.

Q: How do editors travel from place to place?
A: Behold The Editarod!


Behold the Editarod

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When Does Life Begin?

Why Is My Life So Boring?
Why Is My Life So Boring?

Why Is My Life So Boring?

Chapter Two
When Does Life Begin?

For a long time it seemed to me that life was about to begin – real life. But there was always some obstacle in the way, something to be gotten through first, some unfinished business, time to still be served, a debt to be paid. Then life would begin. At last it dawned on me that these obstacles were my life….

So stop waiting; until you finish school, until you go back to school, until you lose ten pounds, until you gain ten pounds, until you have kids, until your kids leave the house, until you start work, until you retire, until you get married, until you get divorced, until Friday night, until Sunday morning, until you get a new car or home, until your car or home is paid off, until spring, until summer, until fall, until winter, until you are off welfare, until the first or fifteenth, until your song comes on, until you’ve had a drink, until you’ve sobered up, until you die, until you are born again to decide that there is no better time than right now to be happy. Happiness is a journey, not a destination.

Alfred D’Souza


When you decide you need to do something, you want to do something, it’s time to do something, and then you don’t do it…

In Stop Saying You’re Fine, Mel Robbins compares this to hitting the snooze button. You are going to do it, but not right this minute…

I don’t think it’s always a crime to hit the snooze button. Just be aware that, if you do hit the snooze button, it means you’re not doing what you need to do to be where you want to be.

Own that.

Feelings are a guide. Listen to them. If you’re constantly hitting the snooze button, never starting on that new thing, maybe you don’t want to do that new thing.

Or maybe you’re just lazy.

Deciding what you want can be harder than obtaining it, and you are allowed to change your goals at any time. But if you don’t have any goals, you won’t achieve your goals. Logical, innit?

The key is to know when to listen to your feelings and when to overcome them and act anyway. The only way to get where you want to get is through action. To say otherwise is just clinging to a victim mentality that is not truthful.

In order to change things, to improve things, to just figure out where you are and where you want to be and what the heck’s going on, you need feedback. You need information. Why would you want that information to be anything but accurate?

Being authentic is easier than being any other way, and it’s also more satisfying. Lying to others is usually immoral, but lying to yourself is just plain stupid.

If you don’t like where you are, get over your internal resistance and be somewhere else. Quit snoozing, quit coasting, quit letting your internal wimpiness hold you back. As Mr. Spock noted, there are always options. If you choose not to take them, I’m going to quote my Chronicles again.

…it takes no strength of will to resist temptation. It merely proves that the desire to resist is the strongest temptation.

Know what you really want, not what you think you want or you kinda sorta think it might be nice to have. Then take the action you need to take to get it.

And by that, I’m not talking about new cars and houses and stuff. Let the “law of attraction” snake oil peddlers help you with that. I’m talking about changing who you are and how you live. That’s all that matters.

It is never too late to become what you might have been.

George Eliot


Available in paperback or Kindle, and now as a free PDF and an audiobook.

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Who Can I Blame?

Why Is My Life So Boring?
Why Is My Life So Boring?

Why Is My Life So Boring?

Chapter One
Who Can I Blame?

You can blame anybody you want to, actually, but you’re probably lying.

Are you shaped by nature or by nurture? It doesn’t matter, because you control neither of them. However, you can choose how to react to them. That’s how you get past fatalistic victim thinking and start living in earnest. Inertia may be (or seem) easier, but it’s never as satisfying.

Whatever it is, own it. If you don’t own it, you can’t change it.

Here’s something from The Chronicles of a Lost Soul, which I wrote over 30 years ago:

All that we are is the result of what we have thought. Excuses such as religion, race, heredity and upbringing are exactly that – excuses. What we are comes from what we think. So we should learn how to think. The wise man will neither swallow everything blindly nor rebel for the mere sake of rebellion. He will strive to discriminate, to separate the wheat from the chaff, to decide for himself. Obviously, there is a shortage of wise men.

As a novelist, I’ve written more than one book around the subject of free will versus biochemical determinism. We want so much to believe in free will, but science finds more evidence every day that our feelings and our actions are just the result of our brain’s chemicals reacting to the physical environment. Damn convincing evidence, too. But if free will is naught but an illusion, damn if it ain’t a convincing one.

I’m going to conclude that both are right. If light can be both a wave and a particle, we can be both free and predetermined. Act like you’re free, don’t use any sort of determinism as an excuse to keep making the same old mistakes, and go on about your business.

In other words, quit blaming. Blaming yourself, your family, your biology, or your deity isn’t getting the job done. It isn’t changing anything.

Whatever’s wrong with you is not your fault. However, it is your problem.

It doesn’t matter how you got where you are now. Fix it.

A Chinese proverb states that it’s easier to light a candle than to curse the darkness. Even if you don’t always agree with “easier,” I guarantee you the candle’s more effective.

And wow, I skipped a lot of emotions to string those fortune cookies together.

I never said that it’s easy, but it is necessary.


Available in paperback or Kindle, and now as a free PDF and an audiobook.

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Dude, You’re Wearing Some Classy Underwear

So there I was, two years ago, freshly returned to the USA, driving from one place to another place, and I saw a young man walking along the sidewalk with his baggie pants so low that I could see his underwear. Boxers, not briefs. Hmm. Then he reached down below the underwear, to the baggie pants, and I thought he was going to pull them up. I was relieved. Nope, just scratching an itch or something. Faked me out.

An hour later, at home, a guy parked beside me and got out of his car. Despite baggy pants hanging down low and showing me his underwear, he moved faster than me and bolted up the stairs. I don’t know how that’s even possible.

Sharp underwear. Forest green boxers with a broad white band. Probably a bit pricier than the baggie pants that could be from Goodwill. Perhaps underwear under the underwear. Probably not hiding a gun under the baggies, which is how the fashion started a lifetime ago.

Only guys do this, by the way. The girls of their generation don’t wear underwear.

But really, do I know too much about the guy’s underwear? We haven’t been properly introduced. I don’t even know his name.

Call me old-fashioned, but I have never walked down the street with my underwear showing.

Is my age showing? I don’t know. Submitted for your approval:

1) A man walks into an examination room, baggies hanging down and underwear showing, and says, “Good afternoon. I’m the doctor. Now according to your chart…”

You’re out of the room, aren’t you?

2) I take my lovely Australian bride out for a romantic dinner at the Outback Steakhouse. A dude comes over to our table with his underwear showing. “G’day mate, m’name’s Bruce and I’ll be your server this evening.”

Dude, there better not be any bloomin’ pubes in my jackaroo chops.

3) Presidential debate, one candidate comes strolling out with his pants way down low so you can see his underwear and says “I’m Mitt Romney and I’m down with the 47%.”

I don’t think he’s got my vote.

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What I Learned From Reading, Proofreading and Editing

Screams are always blood-curdling.

Deaths are always tragic or untimely.

“That” night is always fateful.

All the world’s women are looking at my bottom.

No matter how tough a lady is, what she really wants is for some handsome wavy-haired guy to be her night in shining (or shinning) armor.

Some people have a heart of gold.

Some people are intimately acquainted with the details of the back of their hand.

Some women bat their lashes when they talk.

Somebody notices this.

People turn “blood red” or “red as a Washington apple” when they involuntarily emote.

Americans love pizza.

Americans love popcorn.

Americans love peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

No woman can resist flowers.

No woman can resist chocolate.

No woman can resist a big stuffed teddy bear.

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Where Does Bad Writing Come From? by Ebenezer Grinch

Teach Yourself Creative Writing
Teach Yourself Creative Writing
I don’t know, but that never stopped me from opining before, now did it?


You’ve probably been subjected to dozens of times this year and every year, but I never turn my TV on except during NFL football games. So I win already.

First we have a snowman. He comes to life because of some magic hat. The hat belonged to some loser who spent all his life doing fake magic because he didn’t know he had real magic.

Credibility has already been stretched. How old is this guy? How long has he had this hat? I was six years old when I first saw this. And I thought, what a moron. The rabbit has more sense.

Rule #1 – Don’t lie to your reader. With the important corollary, don’t insult him either. Regardless of age.

Then we have this little girl who loves Frosty so so so very very much that she has to get him to the North Pole so he’ll never ever melt. Never ever. We’re all pulling for the kid. Maybe Frosty isn’t the most likeable protagonist. That voice, that look, just that wimpiness. And he sings too much. Kids hate singing. What kind of drugs were those writers taking? A whole lotta nog and almost no egg.

But it’s okay. We like the girl, badly drawn though she is. Her dialogue is unrealistic, but it’s okay. Everybody’s dialogue stinks. Let’s forgive her and like her, okay? And then, when the film’s almost over, Frosty dies. Poor kid’s heartbroken. But wait, here comes Santa in the last reel to explain Frosty’s made of special Christmas snow that won’t even melt in the Chiang Mai summer. Except that it did, but only long enough to create some fake tension. Talk about your deus ex machina. Horrible writing.


You want me to believe an animal, any animal, could be born with a red nose? I’ve got a real problem willingly suspending my disbelief on that one.

Rudolph is the ultimate wimp. Frosty could clean his clock. Bullied kids are having painful flashbacks while bullies are encouraged to keep doing what they’re doing. I hate this movie.

Oh, and what about the elf who wants to be a dentist? That was funny for five or 10 seconds, but the movie is 30 minutes long. It seems even longer.

And that dude in the box whose name wasn’t Jack. Who cares? When I was a kid, I never got an anything in the box. Wouldn’t it be cool to have one who talked? Who cares what his name is? What’s in a name? A rose by any other name would smell as sweet. And a skunk named flower would still bloody well stink.

Plus, if you must know, I was a misfit toy. I don’t need to see this crap on a happy holiday. I’m trying to forget. Who moved my egg nog?

Finally, here’s Rudolph with a girl and he can’t even talk. Oh man, that hurts. My life, right there.

Deus ex machina again. Something about a snowstorm so bad that Santa and the venison – er, reindeer – can’t see. Ever heard of a flashlight? A headlight? Something electric? Nope, gotta put Rudolph glow-nose in charge. Being a freak can make you a hero. No kid in the world should buy what they’re selling.

If I was one of those reindeer behind Rudolph, I’d be kicking him in the butt. Got hard hooves, you know, being a reindeer and all. Then, when Rudolph plummeted down to earth, screaming all the way like the pussy he is before he died a horrible death – haha! – I’d strap on one of those miner’s caps with the light on the top and be a hero because I had something everyone else lacked, which we call intelligence.

No, I don’t have children. What about it?

Now, let’s look at some great literature. Not enough of that in the world, is there?


Nice kids can watch Grinch, voice by Boris Karloff, and cringe because he’s just so bad. Naughty kids can watch Grinch and think “Yeah!” I was a good kid. Really, I was. I wanted to be bad, but I was so afraid of getting in trouble. So I could only be naughty vicariously, by cheering for Grinch. Something for everybody, just like Shakespeare. Great writing.

Grinch, the original Dr. Seuss Grinch, also had the greatest dog in the world. Funny, overworked, pitiful little guy. At age 30 I found a dog just like him. And trying to put antlers on him. That’s hilarious. Something for everyone again.

Whoville. All the goodie two shoes love Whoville. Meanwhile, I’m hanging with my cousin, the naughtiest boy in history, yelling, “Go Grinch, get ‘em Grinch!” There can’t be a kid in the world, from six to 106, who isn’t taking sides. Good vs evil, like Star Wars but far more intelligent. Take those presents, take those trees. Go Grinch!

Okay, last scene. You know the one. Grinch stole everything. Presents, trees, lights, tooth-rotting junk food, everything. On one tiny sled with that poor little dog sliding up and down the mountains. Can one dog do that? Probably not. But we don’t care. We can willingly suspend our disbelief for this classic timeless story. Whoville’s got nothing. Looks like Baghdad. Grinch won!

But wait. Those little Whoville Whos are singing anyway. Huh? Yeah, they really are. It’s Christmas Day, and they don’t care if they have no material goods. Maybe in the 21st Century that seems unrealistic, but back then it worked. Maybe I wish it still did. And then, old Grinch breaks down and gives it all back.

So that might be where bad writing comes from. Too much Frosty and Rudolph, not enough Grinch. I don’t know.

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Have Clipboard Will Travel

Cat on ClipboardI never leave home without it. It’s got reading, it’s got editing, and sometimes it’s even got writing. Yeah, I could use my laptop or an iPad or something, but I’m old school.

I went to see The Dark Knight Rises, and I was a little early as usual. No worries. It was dark in the theater, of course, so I hung out in the hall near the lobby, just reading and scribbling on my clipboard. An usher assumed I was with the movie company.

I was waiting in line for Obama tickets, with clipboard in hand, scribbling away some notes for my novel. A volunteer walked past the multi-hour line counting people. When she was gone, a guy behind me asked me if I was also counting for the campaign.

I went to Subway because, guess what, I was hungry. I was carrying my clipboard because I like to read while I eat. While I was in line, waiting to be served, I had a few ideas and scribbled them down before they got away. The guys behind the counter, I could tell, thought I was evaluating them. Michael from the corporate office, in jeans and t-shirt, teeth optional. Good disguise, innit?

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