To Be An Expert

I recently read that in order to become an expert in a particular field or subject one must practice/engage/hone a specific skill for a minimum of 10,000 hours (the equivalent of 1,250 8-hour work days)–which brings me to a subject that seems to become increasingly more important as I get older–that of expertise.

I think a necessary aspect of humanity is that of drive, which is nothing more than the abstract representation of a desire for expertise.

We all long to be the best. Be it an athlete, mathematician, writer, scientist, competitive eater, no matter what the field our passion to be the greatest is the very essence that gets us up in the morning. It’s that which keeps us in the gym after work and the lights on well-past quitting time.

Personally, I aspire to be a writer. This isn’t a secret, nor is it something I hide from my friends, family, fiancé. They all know it, and encourage, and I’m thankful for their encouragement. With that said, based on the above it’ll be a staggering number of years before I’m ever able to consider myself an “expert” in writing. I can teach the craft to high-school students until my lips turn blue, and for some reason that edge toward expertise will never be reached–the carrot perpetually dangled but never fully grasped.

Philosophically, I wonder if anyone ever truly considers themselves “experts” in their field. The examples of humility from the greats are too many to count. Haruki Murakami didn’t start writing until his early 40’s and yet, despite global success as an author, he still exhibits the puerile sense of language that borders on the jejune. He’s an adolescent trapped in an elderly man’s body that consistently turns out some of the most intriguing prose today.

Take sushi chef Jiro Ono who has literally devoted his entire life to making the world’s best sushi (see Jiro Dreams of Sushi). Here’s a man who slaves over literally every intricacy of his food, his craft, his livlihood in order to make it supremely “perfect.” Expert? Absolutely. Although, I would wager to bet that were Jiro Ono asked about his own expertise, he’d claim he’s still learning. He’s still growing. He’s still honing his skills to somehow, someway, get better.

But such dedication is necessary toward pursuing that which makes us whole, and growth is always at the forefront of experience. I just wonder if expertise is the intangible equivalent of finance–the idea that there’s never enough money in the bank to satiate our limitless desires.

Expertise itself seems to be the spawn of what makes Buddhism such a universally satisfying ideology in that it professes relinquishment of the very thing that drives us–it professes the need to rid ourselves of want, of desire, of hunger itself.

But the point still stands. We all have an innate sense of thirst or hunger for the need to be an expert.

What’s your expertise?

Blind Positivity: On Making It Through

With summer drawing to a close it’s a reluctant adios to my blissfully sedentary days of reading and writing for god-only-knows how long. It’s a sad change, yet leisure time, albeit well-spent leisure time still leads to a slush of days in which my gut seems to expand with every page I take down.

As most of you know (see about) I’m a teacher. I love my job. It’s satisfying like nothing else could be. Regardless, there’s always a sadness and a relative anxiety about going back to school, working with hundreds of children, pushing classics I love, and instructing them on how to write a proper paper.

Let’s just put it this way, I’m not exactly happy about returning back to school, but it’s a living, and at the end of the day, I can smile my way through anything. Sometimes the only way to get through the tough times is to remind yourself that life, deep down is good, and things are never as dark as they seem.

I’m not trying to be take on some woe-is-me mentality and really my job is fantastic. I love working where I do, but after a two month break from anything returning back any job would be difficult. And thus I recommend my own personal coping strategy. Be positive: no. matter. what.

Minor fender bender? Don’t sweat it. Tick off the boss? Exhale out the bad and breathe in the good. Forget your lunch? Go find a granola bar and get over it. And after it all, when someone asks you that unbelievably vacuous question: “How are you?” you smile and respond with an equally nauseating: “So great!”

You’ll find that however synthetically sugary-sweet the response, it’s met laughter. The artifice of responding with such positivity is the point. It leads to genuine laughter and smiling, which’ll never fail in bringing out the best in people.

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Maniacally deranged? Forced? Completely artificial? You bet! And that’s the point.

Sometimes all that’s required to turn the horror of yet another work day into something tolerable, something maybe even fun, is the simple reminder that the little snags and strifes that life tosses your way are not as significant as they seem.

So the next time you experience one of the inexplicably difficult days, tilt your chin up, pull those shoulders back, breathe, and know that things really are so great. At least, eventually, they will be.

Moonlight and Cadillacs: Our First Guest Post Winner!

Book Guy Reviews welcomes its first ever guest post contest winner, Sara O’Brien!

Sara OBrien is a poet located somewhere mid-Atlantic, living in both London and Massachusetts. She writes between homes and lives, finding inspiration in this murky middle ground. Currently finishing her undergraduate degree in English Literature with Creative Writing at the University of Greenwich in London, she hopes to continue to extend her pen with the years to come.

You can find her work at saraintheclouds.wordpress.com. Enjoy!

Untitled (Moon Poem)  
By: Sara O’Brien

It has been a while since we have spoken,
the moon and I.
Her personality stitched into craters
separate from flags and footprints
of nineteen-sixty-nine.
I chased her as a child
in the backseat of our
used grey Cadillac.

DreamWorks brought her to the screen
fishing for human beings
netted by planets, and detonated suns.
My fingertips pressed against skies
mirrored on car windows trace her
behind an urban nightlight
a reimagined performance.
I spoke as her wardrobe waxed and waned

She orbits clarity with hourly tolls,
a conductor to an orchestra of clocks,
rises and rests shaped in braided time
snoozing patrons of anonymous country plains
and coastal ridged hotels, folded and beaten back
as tidal pulls wave on breezes, scratch shore and air.

She is the same moon who ran to the tuts
of the old grey Cadillac in its pushes up our street
before our last left turn she’d nestle
behind the derelict maroon house
plotted along the wooden rim,
neighboured in a town only of lights
with no other spoken tenancy
you couldn’t see its church,
I knew she supplied the morning chime.

We aged.
The Cadillac’s left with split seams
on worn leather seats
and she has checked into the sky
without vacancy, sunk to level horizon.
Busted to the brim with widened ears
I listen to the pulsation of her devoted craters
and see-sawing tide lapping numb toes
coiled on the beach.

I speak gravity
she opens herself up to tidal almanacs
and harvest wishes, prayers and chants
worthy of a wide staff margin.
Moon rocks made of cheese
and one eye and thumb to the sky
made lunar clipped fingernails,
conceit in childhood colour.

Book Guy Reviews cannot thank her enough for the wonderful submission!

The Unexpected Perks of Homeownership

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I’m a relatively recent homeowner. I moved into my four-bedroom suburban ranch-layout a little under two years ago, and the surprises never cease.

There’ve been random leaks and minor repairs. There was the incident where the storm drain clogged and water came up through the floor. Apparently the shower drain in the basement is directly connected to the storm drain so when I had my kitchen sink snaked for a clog at move in, black sludge welled up in the shower. It looked like some sort of demonic bile that I cleaned up with a towel wrapped around my head because of the smell. Not great.

So yeah, owning a house is something that takes getting used to. But it’s not all problematic, and it’s certainly not all bad.

I have a warren of rabbits beneath my back porch. At any given moment there are two-three rabbits happily munching grass or flopping around doing whatever it is that rabbits do. I’m still not sure, though watching them is certainly entertaining.

I don’t have a garden, so it’s not a problem. That, and due to my own laziness my lawn is more of a country meadow than anything else, and I’m pretty sure the rabbits like it. There are weeds and patches of wildflowers. There is clover and dandelions that grow at will. I’m fenced in on three sides, but I’ve still got my own patch of natural heaven. The disorder and lushness of long-grass and greenery is comforting.

I’m reminded of T.C. Boyle’s A Friend of the Earth, which is a sort of cautionary parable about environmental destruction. It’s a fantastic book, but the piece I’m referring to is when the novel’s protagonist Tyrone O’Shaughnessy Tierwater (right?) moves into a new home and takes to “landscaping” his yard, which is nothing more than restoring it to its naturally pristine state of what most consider discombobulation.

Animals thrive, and he’s happy. What was once a suburban oasis was turned into an organic ecosphere in which animals reigned free. His neighbors were furious at the state of his yard and the seeming disorder surrounding his house, but he doesn’t care. He’s happy knowing that his house has no ecological footprint due to landscape maintenance.

Admittedly, my yard isn’t quite as naturalistically liberated as Tyrone’s. My neighbor’s suburban paradises on all three sides are undoubtedly gorgeous. But, I’m happy in my own home. The rabbits are happy too. They have a home that is as relatively safe as they’ll get in such a developed part of the world.

But more than anything it deals with cohabitation and coexistence. I like my little rabbit warren beneath my deck. I like the flocks of birds that seem to favor something about my “meadow” for food. I like how alive everything is. It serves as a constant reminder that we are not the sole species of the planet.

Masters of the universe though we may be, there’s still another world out there that we must respect and care for. Because if not by us, then whom?

Joyland: King Takes on the Whodunnit

When I heard King was taking on the dime-store mystery game I was excited. Really I “heard” about it as in I walked into a book store and, lo and behold, King had come out with yet another book (one of his seemingly 4 yearly). Thus, Joyland.

The book is about twenty-one year old Devin Jones as he takes a job in a North Carolinian amusement park. What follows is a fast-paced murder mystery that winds and turns down the aisles and lanes of small town theme parks long-since overshadowed by the monolithic Six Flags or Universal Studios.

Through Devin we meet carnies talking The Talk, Rubes (patrons) taking in the sights, and witness what it’s like to become a part of a family about as atypical of “family” as we’ll ever get.

And underlying it all is the mysterious murder of Linda Gray, the lone beauty killed in Joyland’s very own Horror House. In Joyland we meet the characteristically masculine and overtly confident protagonist, witness telepathy, and the underlying creepiness that made books like It and The Stand the hallmarks of storytelling that they are. Thus King is comfortable within his wheelhouse of phycosomatic trauma and internal strife.

Although it’s not all a smashing success.

The only relative downfall of this book (which is rather large) is the vapidity of the narrator. Although dime-store novels are grounded in inauthenticity and melodrama, Devin’s voice and overall attitude is neither young nor old. He’s supposed to be a college kid, but demonstrates the sure-footedness and gumption of a seasoned adult. He’s supposed to be the lovelorn twenty-something still lamenting the loss of his girlfriend, and yet is more than capable of dialing up his social aplomb and rubbing elbows with attractive widows and their kids. For this alone, I’m knocking the book down a few pegs.

Regardless, Joyland is definitely worth a read. Part whodunnit, part bildungsroman, part nostalgic romp into 70’s Carnival culture, it’s the perfect book to kick off those glorious summer months of free-reading. It’s pure fun.

Stars = 3/5

Occupational Fulfillment

I’m a teacher.

56_1I work a busier-than-thou schedule from August to June, leaving June and July open for reading, writing, relaxation, and travel. Most teachers elect for the vocational job during the summer months to help make ends meet–me, though, I’ll take the time off, thank you.

Now that I’m twenty-seven and moving from the quarter-life crisis of my collegiate context to that of real adulthood it’s dawning on me that I still relish in the yearly calendrical practices of a child. My occupation merits that I have the luxury of ending a year in June and beginning a new year in August, thus, I look forward to the end of the school year with the glee and jubilation of a ten year old.

My heart goes out to those who have succumbed to the tediums of the working world–who have forgotten what it’s like to wake up that first week of summer, and smile at the fact that there is sunshine, warmth, greenery, and oodles and oodles of time to pursue whatever comes to mind.

I don’t write this to flaunt, but I do find it fascinating that occupational calendars correlate to mind-set. There’s just something about teaching that guarantees a sort of childish-assimilation with youth. But speaking broadly, it’s fascinating how we revolve around our occupations like tiny planets around a larger host of livelihood. Our schedules dictate not only our physical place in time, but our mental one as well.

From a yearly observational standpoint my brain is done right now. I’m tying up the loose ends of another school year and tenuously prepping for next year. I’m “Summerizing.”

And like clockwork, in two months I’ll be gearing up for another year of molding minds into brain-like shapes (hopefully). The point is that both periods are essential for my own state of being–I’ve grown accustomed to each state that they’re now a requirement for my own happiness.

But at what point does our occupation become that singular source of fulfillment? Those that are happiest seem to find purpose in some healthy symbiosis with occupation and free-time, whereas others seem to live more in the moments when they’re out of work. Those moments when they’ve punched out and gone home to pursue that which they deem truly valuable for their own fulfillment.

I find that work fulfills pieces of my life that my down-time does not. But by the same token, my downtime is fulfilling in ways work is not. I need to be able to immerse myself in both to truly be happy. One without the other is a sort of unfavorable tip of the scale that leads to discontent.

Be that as it may, calendrically speaking, I’m still entering the phase of my year where I possibility feels limitless and I have that welcome moment to breathe. To sit and relish in an open day and bask in the glory of possibility–and it feels good. In fact, it feels great.

The Follies of Finding the Self

As a high school teacher I have the opportunity to reflect on my own journey into adulthood far more than most. The very fact that I’m immersed in the life and times of adolescent/pre-adults and the trials and tribulations that go alongside budding maturity is not lost on me. I’m guess I’m just that lucky.

163_1Somewhere around the middle of my senior year I glimpsed into the metaphorical mirror and decided to lose the tie-dye, hemp necklace, and mop top. Something about the accoutrements and mainstays of my high-school life no longer matched the persona I longed for despite my still being in high school.

It’s a small example of shift. Despite whatever developmental or materialistic phase I might have participated in, there was always something inside that was quintessentially me. No one could relate. There are thoughts, emotions, basic inner workings at play within the individual that are unique and singular. Try as we might to tap into these feelings in others, it’ll never happen. We are all islands unto ourselves to bastardize Donne’s brilliance.

Slowly, we create ourselves out of the bits and pieces of cultural ephemera we deem personally comforting, fitting, meaningful. Those pieces then amalgamate into the self we wish to become. We’re all in the process of creating our dream selves, so to speak–thus it’s natural to take a few steps in exploratory directions along the way.

Though the question begs to be asked: where do we find our authentic selves amidst personal transience and perpetual flux? At what point do we cease to change, cease to morph into that which we aspire or dream to be?

I surmise never. We change until death, and those we believe to have stopped changing are on their way out. There is simply courage. We must have the audacity and boldness to step into the black and become the individuals we believe to be accurate, the members of humanity we aspire and dream to be. The best part is if we’re wrong, we can always try again. Our possibilities are limitless.

I don’t look back on the Deadhead with regret, nor the skater punk with malaise, nor those few weeks I decided to wear a fedora out of some ridiculous impulse to look like whatever a man who still wears a fedora aspires to look like.  My transformation of persona is nothing more than the only constant I know today–change.

The follies of finding ourselves are not stumbles nor are they missteps, they are the most correct moves we will ever make.

A Fraction of the Whole

Steve Toltz’ 2008 Man Booker Prize finalist A Fraction of the Whole is quite possibly one of the most entertaining and over-looked novels of the past decade. Part familial chronicle, part historical saga–the book is nothing short of astounding, and you’ll laugh through it all.

In Fraction we follow the Dean family through their misadventures as cultural heroes, villians, and everything in between. The story centers around Jaspar Dean, the illegitimate son of philosophical agoraphobe Martin Dean and brother to Australia’s simultaneously most hated and beloved, and by far famous criminal Terry Dean.

In between we get everything from zany societal discourse, trans-continental love affairs, literary/publishing debacles that would make Melville (victimized by publishing houses until death) cringe, and the global conundrums of drug-kingpins. It’s an absolute pleasure to read.

For those interested in a laugh-riot a la Garcia-Marquez style saga, look no further. Fraction of the Whole is it.

Whitman, Keats, and Allergies: Is Truth Truly Beauty?

I went running in a nearby park over the weekend resulting in a monumental allergy attack. My face swelled to balloon-like proportions, I was crying though not sad, and sneezing like I’d snorted a fistful of black pepper. I have allergies that have their own allergies. The attack was so severe I opted out of dinner plans and laid on the couch in a self-induced Benadryl coma covered by a blanket of self-pity, and detest for the unfairness of the world.

10_1The next day, mid-recovery, eyes puffy, still sneezing, I fell into my usual pattern of self-loathing. Why me? Why am I the unlucky one allergic to the natural world? Languishing in self-pity is anything but productive. Laying there, I shifted my gaze to the bay window in my living room that opens up onto the street. I watched as a mother and son rode bikes. They were laughing and the mother was showing her son how to ride with no hands.

The son, no more than six or seven, tried to mimic the demonstration only to fall and scrape his knees (I, of course, laughing uproariously through swollen eyelids). There was a moment where he was shaken, but eventually, he stood, brushed himself off, and continued to ride.

There’s a line in Whitman’s Song of Myself about how “all truths wait in all things,” and sitting there witnessing another’s triumph over suffering while I labored away in my snot-covered decrepitude, nothing had ever seemed truer.

Who was I to let something as menial and base as allergies get me down? The very reason I was hiding inside was out of fear of showing my purplish face in public, but more than anything it was out of fear of appearing different; fear of hiding the truth that I’m one of the unlucky ones who has to fight through the spring-time pollen storms. But really, fear that others would deem me as somehow lesser of a man because of something entirely out of my control.

Fear is ridiculous. I am who I am, purplish-swollen eyes and all.

photo-1425009294879-3f15dd0b4ed5There’s truth in action; truth behind the simplicity of falling, shaking off, and moving on. Conceptually, we see truth as something akin to the tooth fairy. Maybe we’ll catch a glimpse when we’re little, but otherwise, it’s nonexistent. When in actuality, truth is the undercurrent of life. It is pervasive and ubiquitous like energy or light.

What Whitman nailed so wonderfully is the fact that truth isn’t always pleasing, nor is it entirely beautiful–it is all-encompassing. Keats, God love him, missed the mark in writing that the two are one in the same. The truth can oftentimes be as ugly and purple as my face when I inhale pollen.

Real beauty, however resides is wearing one’s imperfections on their sleeve, no matter what the flaw.

Into the Blue: A Field Guide to Getting Lost

The social perception of loss is denotatively and connotatively negative. It’s a word we associate with the agonies of death, the frustrations of deprivation, and the erosion of what was into what is not.

To lose is to succumb to the fate that awaits us all–the diminutive sense of depletion and reduction. Solnit, though, disagrees. In her stunning collection of essays that make up A Field Guide to Getting Lost, for Solnit, loss is a transformative force, rather than a negative one–a powerful impetus for change that moves into the world of the liminal–the spaces between moments rather than the spaces that constitute moments.

Relying on notable figures ranging in discipline and trade from Henry Thoreau, Conquistador Cabeza de Vaca, and Parisian performance artist and judo extraordinaire Yves Klein to pull her through from a state of solidity to that of the fluid, that of the blue itself–Solnit walks us through landscapes and worlds that are altogether foreign and exotic, to strangely convey the most familiar landscape of all–change.

Solnit alternates between the constant imagery of the solid, the grounded, the ideas that allow us to plant ourselves in the constant–only to transition into that of the “blue”–that of the ethereal and atmospheric, that of the liminal. Every other essay is titled: “The Blue of Distance” allowing for discussion of the philosophical means of the color blue as an aesthetic principle and metaphor of fluidity–the intent of which is to bring us into the space between relinquishment and acquisition–giving and taking.

More than a simple collection of essays, where Solnit succeeds is in the connection to the personal. We create ourselves through our association with others, picking and choosing tidbits of cultural ephemera we deem appropriate to absorb into our own lives–to make our own–making Solnit’s viewpoint wholly relatable. She almost takes the form of overt autobiography. Association with Solnit’s points becomes inherent.

Although, the collection seems sporadic at times–the essays jump and move and transition like a child hopping from puddle to puddle mid-rain storm–hence the exploratory milieu, making the readability erratic. A singular essay can cover topics ranging in breadth from her own home life, the world of the Conquistador and pre-colonial United States, to the diminishing microbes of our environment, and the death of the desert tortoise. It’s fascinating and intriguing, but at times comes across disjointed.

Nevertheless, A Field Guide to Getting Lost is a philosophical treatise on the idea of flux–the essence of the middle, and the spaces between places in which our bodies and psyches transition to worlds and climes that are foreign and beautiful. The book is a success in that it reminds us, yet again, that the only constant in life is change.

Stars = 4/5