Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Moi? Boring? Part Two

A continuation from last week on being interested and interesting…

Be Interested in the World at Large. So you’ve got your own hobbies and they’re pretty fantastic. Why care about anything else? Welcome to the world of a ten year old. At least that’s what a therapist once told me when I suggested I could care less about the world. I still can’t believe a therapist would so blatantly suggest I was regressed to the age of ten. So I’m sharing the insult with you. Or rather passing it on. Does the insult motivate you? It did me, but I always want to be the golden child and maybe you don’t care that much. (I bet you do, though.)

Being curious about modern culture, politics, cage fighting, “Lost,” the Korean War, and most types of people engages you in the world and makes the world return your interest. Apathy and boredom are despair in disguise. Take some antidepressants and join the world. That’s what I did.

Now I move on from Being Interested to Being Interesting

Don’t Be Readable at a Glance. No one is truly a stereotype. Some people seem that way when you first meet them. Oh, you’re from Seattle? I guess you’re a liberal, coffee-drinking, hybrid-driving weekend hiker, right? And those things may be true of a person, but then you notice her right-to-life button and suddenly she’s a little harder to pigeonhole.
There is, however, a difference between not being predictable and being just plain strange. The weirdo geek is weird but he’s also predictable. You may heavily identify as a geek and may have found like-minded people that you feel at home with. This does not mean you have to be the stereotype. I’ve known many a geek who has felt compelled to engage in role playing games even though he never liked them because to quit meant losing his identity as a “true” geek (by whose standards I don’t know). You don’t need to feel compelled to defend all geek ways of life. You aren’t a stereotype. Let people see your depth, and notice the ways you are different from their preconceived notions of geekitude. They know you’re a geek. Let them see what makes you different from every other geek out there.

Exercise: Make a list right now of all the interests and personality traits you have that are not geek-like. Include the stuff that you would never want your physics buddies to know about. You’re a geek who loves 19th-century romances? Prefers “CSI: Miami” over “Battlestar Galactica”? Never won a math prize in high school but did get a poem published?

Now ask yourself: does your physical presentation of yourself reflect your depth of character? Or are you a stereotype? Are you a fat, ponytail-wearing, black-trench coat-sporting nerd? Can’t you be a little more original than that? Even just wearing a short trench in chocolate brown would be an improvement. (You probably don’t look good in black anyway.)

Friday, March 26, 2010

Moi? Boring?

You are already an interesting person. You have deep, dark secrets--which may not include having killed a man in Vegas just to watch him die--but not having learned to drive until last year (when you were thirty) is interesting. (Was it because of some hideous accident you were in as a child? Did you have a horror of a father who berated you when you were trying to learn?). And you have strange hobbies and off-beat beliefs (or off-beat reasons for those rather mainstream beliefs). And at thirty (or however old you are), you’ve done some things in your life that could at least make a good anecdote or two if not a whole book. After all, there have been whole movies made just about larping.

Of course, you could be more interesting than you are. (Or, at any rate, you could seem more interesting than you seem.)

What makes people interesting? I don’t mean being an interesting conversationalist, which I wrote about earlier. What makes you want to find out more about a person? First and foremost: to be interesting, you must be interested. Interested in other people. Interested in the world. Interested in learning new things.

Being Interested

Have Hobbies. Having hobbies gives you something upon which you can find common ground with others. And people are interested in talking with someone who has passion about activities--any activities--passion is infectious. So get out there and find some hobbies!

And, no, sitting around surfing the Web and making contributions to forums to correct people’s factual misstatements is not a hobby. Neither is watching episodes of Babylon 5 for the tenth time. Hobbies are not passive endeavors. This does not rule out watching a TV show as a hobby. If Babylon 5 is merely a passive activity, then all you can share about it will be rehashing plot details from episodes. A passive activity like watching TV becomes a hobby when you have something to say about it that goes beyond the literal retelling of a plot line. For example, can you express why you like it? Can you analyze the series’ plot arc that took multiple seasons to pay off, and how that relates to other (more popular and well-known) shows?

Being able to self-reflect as do the subjects in the documentary “Darcon” makes your hobby accessible and interesting to other people. Others can relate to your enjoyment of larping when you explain it as, for example, a place where your individual efforts make a difference in a way they do not in your day job.

In addition to making you more interesting, pursuing hobbies is a good way to meet new people and gives you fodder for conversation. If you’ve just learned how to snowboard, you won’t be stuck when someone asks you that paralyzing question “What’s new?”

Exercise: If you don’t have any hobbies or want to find a new one, try these exercises. Think back to elementary school. What did you want to be when you grew up? Write down all the careers you thought about having when you were in grade school. Now bring yourself up to the present. If you could pursue five other professions, which would you want to try? Forget whether you have the talent to be a cellist or the drive to be a Wall Street stock broker, write it down. Look at your lists. Did you want to be a senator in fourth grade? That’s a good place to start for finding a new hobby. Maybe there’s a political campaign you could work on. Or maybe there’s some social issue you are opinionated about. Find the group that works on that issue and volunteer.

Which is a nice segue into the topic for next Tuesday: Be Interested in the World at Large.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Dress Me Up, Dress Me Down, Part Two

Today I’m writing about a couple more styles of dress that you might want to emulate.

The Bohemian

Whom to Emulate: John Corbett

Instead of…
Long hair
Short hair

Instead of…
Tie-dye t-shirt
Open-neck Indian shirt in white or off-white

Instead of…
Balloon pants
Linen khakis

Instead of…
Tevas with socks
Birkenstocks with no socks

The Larper

Whom to Emulate: Christian Slater

Instead of…
Long, (often) dirty black trench coat
Pea coat, hip length (notice the slimming effect)

Instead of…
(Often) dirty, holey, long-sleeve t-shirt
V-neck cotton sweater

Instead of…
Long, (often) ratty ponytail
Groomed and shiny jaw-length hair

Instead of…
Grungy black backpack
Cargo bag

Instead of…
Black combat boots
Doc Martens or Converse hi-tops

Instead of…
Full beard
Van Dyke (goatee with moustache)

The Least You Can Do for Your Sense of Style

Select a style, find someone to imitate and buy a first date outfit that reflects your new style

Buy grooming aids you don’t currently have (teeth whitening strips, tea tree oil soap, etc.)

See the dentist

See a doctor for a complete physical

Get new glasses or contacts

Get a real haircut by a stylist

Buy decent underwear

Honor Student

Purge your closet of all the clothes that don’t fit in with your new style

Find replacement clothing

Get your back waxed

Up on Friday: I start a new section about how to get noticed by being interesting.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Dress Me Up, Dress Me Down

So you’ve got you’re grooming down, now what do you wear?

Underwear. Many women spend more money on their bras, panties and lingerie than on the clothes everyone sees. (Yes, that would be me.) Not that you should do that, but it does bespeak the importance that underwear holds for women. Most men: scary in tighty whiteys, especially ones with holes in them. What makes a man think he’s going to get laid again if he shows up in Homer Simpson underwear? Most men: served well by a boxer short or a boxer brief--and not ones in white.

Outerwear. Let’s start with the three dictums of style:

(1) Copy someone else's style (see more below).

(2) Wear things that fit. You‘ve heard of the profession called tailoring, right? Two common errors: pants that are too short (even if you think they're long enough, ask someone else), and shirts that are too baggy. Now if you've got a paunch, we understand the loose fit, but please have the shirt fit in the shoulders--seams should be at your shoulders, not hanging down below them.

(3) Find out what your best color(s) are and wear them! These colors are the ones you get compliments on. You don’t get any compliments? When you go to a department store, pull a bunch of sweaters in different colors and ask the salesperson which are best on you.

Whatever your style, which as you will see does include “dude who does not care,” there are better and worse (read: right and wrong) ways of dressing in that style.

Are you the Dude Who Does Not Care?

Then Emulate: any of the contestants touted as “rockers” on American Idol

Instead of…
Tapered leg
Straight leg

Instead of...
Light-wash jeans
Medium-dark wash jeans

Instead of...
Bad glasses (e.g., circular John Lennon lenses--only Johnny Depp can get away with that, lenses that stand more than half an inch away from your face, frames that extend to your cheekbones)
Stylish glasses (check out the current styles being offered by major designers for ideas, e.g., Dolce and Gabbana)

Instead of...
Oversized t-shirt (e.g., shoulder seams aren’t on your shoulders)
T-shirt that fits, short sleeve t-shirt layered over long-sleeve t-shirt

Instead of...
Black athletic shoes
Black Converse

Instead of...
Full beard
Clean shaven

Do you prefer a Traditional look?

Emulate: Clinton Kelly from “What Not to Wear” or Hugh Grant

Instead of…
Pleated khakis
Flat-front dress slacks

Instead of...
Blue oxford (Does this guy work at Blockbuster?)
Stylish button-down with sleeves left unbuttoned (example: Brad Pitt in “Ocean’s Eleven”)

Instead of...
Slip-on Cole Haans

Instead of...
Bad glasses (see above)

Instead of...
Plastered-down hair
Tousled hair

On Tuesday: The Bohemian and the Larper

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Grooming, Part Two

Fingernails. I’m trusting that you clean your fingernails. I’m also assuming if you have long fingernails (nothing disgusts me more but you don’t want to date me) that nothing I say will deter you from this. However, I do want to mention a beautiful thing called a nail file. I personally prefer the metal sandpapery ones to the emery boards and the cross-hatched metal nail files. They seem more effective at getting a smooth nail. Let me put in a few words for the women who enjoy manual stimulation. A nail that’s been torn, chewed or even clipped without having been filed is rough/pointy/scratchy. And a long fingernail ain’t getting anywhere near my--okay, you know what I mean.

Skin. If you have oily skin, use a tea tree oil soap twice daily to wash your face, chest and back. This kind of soap is available at most grocery stores-- Trader Joe’s carries a cheap two-pack. For an occasional facial mask, use one that has bentonite green clay in it, such as Tellurian brand. Use weekly or monthly as needed.

For dry skin, use a moisturizer daily on your face, neck, elbows, heels and hands. Cetaphil is dermatologist recommended and widely available.

Glasses. These can be complicated to select. There are so many styles, colors, shapes, sizes. Get contacts and avoid the whole situation. But if you must, take someone with you whose taste you like (preferably a woman) and have her select the glasses. And trust her. The glasses may seem weird at first but you’ll get used to them.

Other Grooming Details. Because it’s yourself there may be things you don’t notice that others will. Like ear wax. Like bad breath. Like stinky feet. Like dandruff. Assume you have these things because you do. Everyone does. Do something about it. Clean your ears every day. See a dentist regularly and use mouthwash. Cut your toenails--they trap dirt and toejams. Use a dandruff shampoo.

Use a tooth whitener once a year, such as Crest Whitestrips. And get your teeth fixed if they are crooked or you’re missing teeth.

If you have shoes you’ve owned for more than a year, throw the shoes out. They are smelly beyond redemption. Side note on clothes: if you have a coat that you haven’t washed in more than a year, even if you can’t detect it, it smells bad.

On Friday: Dress Me Up, Dress Me Down

Friday, March 12, 2010

Grooming, Part One

Extraneous Hair. Let’s start with the stuff we can agree on. Extraneous hair is just that. Extraneous. Get rid of it. First, of course, you have to notice it. Check yourself out in the mirror. Nose hairs that stick out, hair growing out of your ear or moles, hair on the top of your nose and long hairs creeping out of your eyebrows like alien feelers: these all need to go. And no unibrows, please. Plucking, cutting, shaving and electrolysis are all viable options.

With the exception of getting rid of your back hair, this will add about 60 seconds to your day (and maybe not even every day).

Facial Hair. You may be very attached to having a full beard and, if that’s your thing, so be it. And there are plenty of women out there who prefer a man with a beard. Most of them are my mother’s age. However, an un-groomed beard is not attractive to any woman. To what do I refer? Case in point: the neck beard. Your beard hairs should not be sprouting anywhere past the underside of your chin. And if the underside of your chin is not parallel to the floor (i.e, you’re getting a double chin), your beard should not grow past your jawbone. And no facial hair on your cheekbones. Nor should you be able to suck on your mustache hairs. Even writing that makes me nauseous. And I would encourage you to try, just as an experiment, not having a beard or mustache and see if you like it. You can always grow it back.

A final word on facial hair. Some men do look better with facial hair--because they have a baby face, a weak chin, or it happens to be the style at the time and everyone has been brainwashed into thinking a goatee looks cool (which, okay, it does on some men). But let me put a word in for the women who enjoy oral sex. And that word would be “shave.”

The Hair on Your Head. On the long hair: mostly, NO. At least try cutting it. Like facial hair, it will grow back. Professional hair stylists really do know what they’re doing, so quit arguing and let them do what they suggest. Go to a salon and not the five-dollar barber you drive twenty miles out of your way to go to because he’s cheap.

On Tuesday: Grooming, Part Two

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Geeks Guide to Looking Good, Intro

There may be some of you who don’t need posts on looking good--you‘ve already got that part down. Kudos to you for not being that guy who lets his eyebrows grow antennae and wears a trench coat that looks like it stays balled up on the floor when he’s not wearing it and smells like he hasn’t washed it--ever.

Then there are some of you who do care about looking good but don’t have a clue. Kudos to you for realizing the value of a first impression.

And then there are those who don’t have a clue and don’t care. To those who don’t care: you should. And here’s why.

Making a good first impression is not a shallow endeavor reserved for superficial people who have nothing to offer the world other than their good looks and charming smiles. And a good first impression is not about being generic or about not being yourself. It’s precisely the opposite of all that. No one will remember the guy who is dressed like everyone else in the room. And no one will be interested in talking to the slovenly weirdo. You want people (women) to remember you, don’t you? And you want them to want to talk to you, don’t you? The vocabulary you use, the topics you choose to talk about, what you do for a living all tell a little something about who you are. Likewise how you look and how you dress represent who you are.

You might argue: people should love and accept you for who you are as you are. Actually, no. You wear deodorant, don’t you? Don’t you? Besides, most people aren’t lovable just the way they are. That’s why (most) people don’t reveal 95% of what they think about. You’ve thought about it before: if given a choice would you want the superpower of mind reading? Sounds intriguing at first. And maybe it would be for a short while. But reflect on your own day-to-day thoughts. All of them. Do they make you a lovable person? Reality check: you would grow to hate, fear, be suspicious of and/or repulsed by every human being on earth if you could read all their thoughts. Okay, so I can’t prove the non-existence of something that isn’t in and of itself a logical contradiction--still I maintain that actually lovable people are rare--if they exist at all.

Just as you censor out some of what you think, you need to censor out some of the things your body naturally does. You can take a few more minutes to do a couple more grooming tasks without violating your pride in your humility and lack of vanity.

Up on Friday: Grooming

Friday, March 5, 2010

Finances, Part Two

Part of being "date-able" is having your "stuff" together. And that includes your finances. Today is the second of two parts about Finances.

Have an Emergency Savings Fund. This is not a fund for fixing the refrigerator when it breaks down. You should have a house fund for that. Nor is your emergency fund for going to Vegas. You should have a vacation fund for that. An emergency fund is for actual emergencies--like being laid off or being out of work due to an illness. If you’re self-employed, you should have six months of expenses saved. Otherwise three months of savings will suffice. Keep this money liquid. Don’t tie it up in the stock market. Keep it in a high-yield money market or a CD--preferably one that pays enough to keep your fund ahead of inflation.

Get Out of Debt. Pay off your highest-interest credit cards first. Always pay more than the minimum payment. Don’t use your credit cards anymore until you are able to pay off your credit each month. Pay cash for everything (or use a debit card).

Budget. Know where your money is going. Track your expenditures for a month. Then assess: is this how you want to be spending your money? If you’re bad with money, withdraw the week’s spending money from the bank and pay for everything with cash. When the cash is gone, you’re done.

Sample budget:
Rent or mortgage, taxes, house/renters insurance, 33-40%
Utilities, 5%
Gas/car repairs/registration, 4.5%
House repairs, 5-6%
Retirement, 10-12%
Emergency savings, 5-6% (until you have 3-6 months of savings and then 0%)
Spending money, 7%
Clothes, 1-2%
Charity, 4-10%
Gifts, 1-2%
Vacation, 4-6%
Phone, 1-2%
Groceries, 5%
Dream fund, 1-6%--depending on what you can afford and how big the dream is. The fund can be for a new car, expensive vacation, new computer, going back to school, down payment on a house, etc. Whatever your dream is.

The percentages give you an idea of how much of your take-home pay should be going to the different categories. If you have debt or a car payment, you’ll need to budget that in as well. One word about loans: you should only be going into debt for items that have a financial payoff--like school or a house. Car loans should be avoided if possible.

Bach, David. The Automatic Millionaire: A Powerful One-Step Plan to Live and Finish Rich. Broadway Books, 2005.
Meany, Terry. Build Your Financial Future The Lazy Way. Macmillan Publishing, 1999.

The Wrapup on Creating Your Campaign Setting:
The Least You Can Do to Become a Domestician
Stock your kitchen with the basics
Select an interior design style
Rearrange your furniture, replace all non-furniture items that you’re using as furniture, Paint your walls, get some artwork
Get long-term disability insurance
Open a 401k or IRA if you don’t already have one
Start a dream fund
Get out of debt
Start saving for an emergency fund

Now that you’ve got your home in order, take a look in the mirror. Next Tuesday: Dress Me Up, Dress Me Down, A Geeks Guide to Looking Good

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Finances, Part One

Whether you have money or not, no one wants to hear about it. Americans in general are uncomfortable discussing money. If you have money problems, keep it to yourself. If someone suggests going somewhere that you can’t afford, don’t say you can’t afford it. That’s your business, not theirs, and, frankly, it’s like saying you have diarrhea. It may be true, but no one wants to hear about it.

There are plenty of good books out there on finances (a few will be suggested in the next post), so I’ll be brief.

Have a will. And a living will, to express your wishes in case you are incapacitated physically. You will also want to designate someone financial durable power of attorney to make financial decisions for you in case of incapacitation as well as designating someone health care power of attorney for making health care decisions in case of your incapacitation.

Get Long-Term Disability Insurance. One in eight people end up needing it. It can be devastating financially if you are not prepared for this.

Life Insurance. You probably don’t need it if you have no dependents. If you feel so compelled, carry a small policy ($15,000-25,000) to pay for your funeral.

Have Health Insurance. If full coverage is too expensive and you never go to the doctor, you still want to consider catastrophic health insurance. Check over the policy to make sure it would really give you enough coverage in case of a major illness (cancer) or accident (serious car accident).

Invest in Retirement Funds. If your employer offers a 401k, invest at least the highest amount that your employer will match. In your twenties, you should be saving 10% of your income for retirement. In your thirties, increase this to 12%. Take advantage of your full IRA deduction if you are in a high tax bracket. If you’re in a low tax bracket, put your IRA money into a Roth IRA. Buy funds that are no-load and have low management fees (under 1%) and no custodial fees. Funds that are not actively managed tend to be lower in fees such as index funds. Diversify: own foreign stocks, small or medium cap stocks, large cap stocks, bonds, real estate, etc. Be sure you’re invested in value (blue chip, reliable stocks that may show slower but steadier growth than growth funds) as well as growth funds. Know your tolerance for risk and invest accordingly. The younger you are, the more you should have in stocks and less in bonds. Re-assess your investments once a year. If one of your funds hasn’t done as well as the average fund in its class, think about investing that money elsewhere. (You can find this information on the Morningstar.com Web site.) If your portfolio is unbalanced, move your money around to put it back in balance. For example, say you want 15% of your retirement funds to be in foreign stocks, so you invested 15% of your retirement money over the last year in foreign stocks. Over the course of the year foreign stocks did really well and your foreign stock fund now comprises 25% of your portfolio. If you still want foreign stocks to only be 15% of your portfolio, you’ll want to move some of the money invested in those stocks into the other funds that didn’t do so well over the past year. The stock market is volatile but you are investing for the long term, so there is no need to follow the stock market every day (unless you really like doing it and it doesn’t make you anxious).

Up On Friday: Finances, Part Two