The world needs you: Remembering Tom Wolfe, and remembering to show up

I was talking to my friend Seth Horan about, among other things, the death this week of Tom Wolfe, the great journalist and author. [Aside: There will be a podcast with Mr. Horan; I just have some work to do on it. Patience, please.]

I asked if we, as creators, have a responsibility to live up to our heroes.

His short answer: no. Plenty of people are.

Which I guess leaves me to look in the mirror and wonder if maybe I'm not doing enough. It's possible, maybe probable. I could definitely do a lot more showing up, as Stephen King puts it:

Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.

Or, perhaps more aptly, as Wolfe's contemporary Gay Talese — who, along with Joan Didion, as among the last of the founders of "New Journalism — says, I might need to get off my ass a little more.

I'm not going to do much reminiscing on Wolfe. I'm a big fan. He made a huge difference in print journalism. But his death is more a wake-up call for me to do some work than, say, Jimmy Breslin's. He felt like one of the last of a dying breed of OGs.

Michael Lewis: How Tom Wolfe Became Tom Wolfe »

One of the things I think we miss when we remember Wolfe and Breslin and Hunter S. Thompson and we think of Talese and Didion is that they made something new when they were young. Their brand of "new journalism" is said to have started in the early 1960s and became mainstream by the early 1980s.

If my work was in a pile of others' work on their desks, would my heroes notice my work?

I think I'm getting better. I'm not sure. I do know I'm going to keep at it.

So, fortunately, are others.

Seth mentioned Matt Taibbi as a strong newer voice. He has a wonderful new serialized novel out. I mentioned Chuck Klosterman. I forget sometimes about Douglas Rushkoff and Chuck Palahniuk.

And of course Cal Fussman, who wrote for Esquire for 25 years and recently started a truly excellent podcast.

Be it resolved. Get off my ass. Show up every day. Don't ship every day, necessarily, but show up and get something done. Grow. You, too. The world needs us.

Are there simply too many of us? Or could we maybe just take care of each other a littler better?

While I was being prepped for my recent procedure, we started with some small talk. But you know, that escalates quickly. I know what the nurses do for work, but when they ask me what I do for work, well...

We got to talking very quickly about the fatal shooting at a Waffle House in Nashville, which was still very recent in the public consciousness.

"Why does this happen?" one of the nurses asked.

"There are just too many of us, I think," I replied.

I know. I was undergoing a procedure to help alleviate a fertility issue so I can actively pursue making more of us. The comment here would commonly be, "so shoot me," but don't. People seem to be taking that literally these days.

When I was doing my thought experiment a couple of months ago, rolling back 50 years at a time to see how much we've advanced, one thing I found was that just 200 years ago, the population of the United States was about the size of New York City today.

That's crazy talk. Yes. There were "only" 20 states in 1818. But still, the total population of those 20 states was the same as are crammed into a single city in the nation's northeast today.

I wonder if one of the reasons we see shootings like Nashville and Parkland and others is that we're just not meant to deal with so many people around us.

Have you ever waited in Home Depot to get keys made? I'm not talking about showing up on Tuesday at 7 a.m. and having to wait for someone to figure out who's in the store at that hour with keys to the machine. I mean waited on a Saturday at noon when seven people are in line at checkout and five people want to have keys made and there's no room to form a line so everyone just crowds around and you crank it up to eight figuring if just one of these people dares to say they were here before you, you might just lose it?

Now imagine that you have no self-control. And maybe you have a firearm. How many of those people are dead, just because there are too many people waiting for keys? Too many people around, too much traffic on your way to the store...there are a lot of us.

I'm not suggesting you go out and start eliminating people, thinning the crowd, as it were. I'm really looking for us all to take responsibility for each other. It's really hard when there are so many of us. It's a lot to be responsible for.

But we have to do it.

I was born in 1976. At that time the world's population was 4.1 billion. Today, it's 7.6 billion. That's an 85 percent increase in 42 years. The "good news" is, annual growth is slowing down. The bad news is that the earth might only be able to hold 10 billion of us (actually, that's the high end of the estimate) If we think the slowing population growth will plateau at about 1 percent annually (it was 1.7 and 1.8 percent through the second half of the 1970s and throughout the 1980s), we hit critical mass in less than 30 years.

Just about everybody who might read this can expect to live another 30 years, so that should scare the hell out of you. If you can't expect to live another 30 years, you for sure love someone who does expect to live another 30 years.

Holy. Shit.

This might not be a call to be better stewards of our environment, or think about what we're eating. I for sure need to spend some time looking in the mirror on these and other things. I don't have answers there, but this little bit of research that I just did will certainly spur some looking around and reflection.

But it is a call to say, hey, you're gonna have less elbow room. People are going to continue to want to stay alive. People are going to keep having sex. We're going to have to be nicer to each other.

Who is on your personal board of directors?

When I was thinking about this, I thought, wow, this sounds like a Tim Ferriss question. Sweet. Turns out, it's a Tim Ferriss question.

Nevertheless, I think it's worth exploring.

Companies have boards for a bunch of reasons, but two prominent reasons I can name are (1) the founders don't know everything and (2) founders can get tunnel vision.

And so it goes with our lives. We're all just making all of it up, right? We make up rules for ourselves based upon our experiences and desires and sometimes we don't even follow our own invented rules. Why not look to others for some assistance?

My first three

My first three in are admittedly all white men. The reason for this is that I understand that part of their experience; I don't have to understand where they came from to understand where they got to.

They are Benjamin Franklin, Buckminster Fuller and Richard Feynman.

All three were creatives who synthesized ideas, followed their curiosities and created lasting work.

My next two

This is where I start to bring in some diversity; getting people of different backgrounds is important, I think. Ada Lovelace was an independently thinking woman in a time when that was hugely discouraged. She was involved in an industry — mathematics and computing — that is still, over 150 years later, still largely dominated by men. Not only was she fiercely independent, she was both brave and bold, as well as an autodidact.

George Washington Carver was born into slavery but grew up free. He was discouraged at every turn from even really being part of society, but became a scientist and inventor anyway. He was creative and courageous, and had to fight many uphill battles.

Who would you want offering you direction on how to steer your life toward more greatness?

Prove your can’t

A couple of days after I conceived of the title of this post, Rob Jones was on an episode of Jocko Willink's podcast titled I can't vs. I won't, so of course the whole thought process for the post changed.

And then I listened to David Goggins on Joe Rogan's podcast and got more inspiration.

And then I heard Li'l Misty Diaz on Cal Fussman's podcast. So it changed again.

Let's meet these people.

Goggins' dad was a sex trafficker, moving prostitutes across the border from Canada to Buffalo. He didn't believe in sending his kids to school — instead, they worked at a roller rink at night, then slept while their mom worked a bar until 3 a.m. Dad beat the kids and mom, and mom finally left when Goggins was 8, moving the kids to a small town in Indiana where racism was rampant.

He wanted to be an Air Force special operations agent. He failed the test twice, but got a tutor and managed to pass it the third time. He was also afraid of the water and after six weeks of toughing out a training program, the military tested him for sickle cell and found he had a trait for it, so they sat him out for a week.

Goggins had quit everything he'd ever done, so until he was sidelined, he wanted to prove he had changed. After he sat out his week, he figured he could push through the final three weeks, but his commanding officer (CO) told him he had to start the training from the beginning. He couldn't imagine going back through that, so he told his CO the sickle cell discovery scared him and he got a medical excuse out of the special ops unit.

He had quit again.

He went on to do a job that didn't require any work in the water, and put on 120 pounds, then left the Air Force and went to work for an exterminator. Eventually he saw a show on Discovery Channel that struck a chord with him and he decided he wanted to be a Navy SEAL.

He finally found a recruiter who would sign him up for the path. His prior stint in the Air Force helped him, but at 6'1" and 297 pounds, he had 90 days to lose 106 pounds to meet the weight requirement for the SEAL teams.

The next night he went back to work at the exterminator, and decided that wasn't going to be his life. He walked off the job and, as he puts it, became "a guy who didn't exist." He went hard. He sought discomfort. He lost the weight, got into the class and went through 3 SEAL hell weeks in a year. He didn't make it through the first, but he did through the other two.

After his service, he became an endurance runner and motivator.

Yes, these two photos are the same person.

Just wake the fuck up! I get asked all the time how do I do it- how do I find the motivation to workout everyday? Well, that so-called motivation died out 30k running miles ago. I'm sorry, there is no secret. Some people write books, articles, etc., on ways for you to find motivation to workout. Most of it is BS. I speak from experience. You don't become 300lbs twice in your life because you love running! Yes, some people love working out, well Merry Christmas to you. Personally I hate the shit! Every morning putting on those fucking running shoes and then stepping outside in the cold, hot, rain, snow, etc. You get my point. I’m just keeping it real! Yes, attitude is everything but shit still sucks! This is why in 2014 the obesity rates were 34.3% in men and 38.3% in women. The shit sucks...period! On your bad days, when you feel like a tortured soul, that is when you can really win the battle against yourself! If, on your worst days you can pull off your best performances, that's when your mind truly starts to shift! Win that battle and it will move the mental needle! It's easy to win when life's your best friend but when it's choking you out is when you truly grow. Sometimes there is no light at the end of the fucking tunnel but you still have to go in!!!! There may be no light at the end but, there is a better you! Start conditioning your mind to walk in the darkness. Trust me, the more you walk in it the better your eyes will adjust to it!

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Rob Jones joined the Marine Corps Reserve during his junior year in college as a combat engineer. He and his team would be responsible for using explosives and detecting buried IEDs. After graduation, he would be deployed to Iraq in 2008 and later Afghanistan in 2010.

After a landmine exploded near him in Afghanistan, he had both legs amputated just above the knee.

It took over a year for him to heal, and eventually he left the Marines with an honorable discharge.

What's a wounded Marine with no legs to do?

Row his way into the Paralympics and win a bronze medal, of course. And then cycle across the US. And then run 31 marathons in 31 days.

You can read in more detail on his website.


Misty Diaz is called Li'l Misty because she is about 4'4" and weighs 78 pounds. No, she's not 9 years old. She's an adult with Myelomeningocele, the most serious form of spina bifida, a condition described as "a birth defect in which the backbone and spinal canal do not close before birth." She walks with the aid of two pink crutches, or sometimes a walker.

Diaz' bio says she started entering races when she was 7, but in talking to Fussman, she says at one point she found herself broke, divorced and wondering what to do, so she signed up for a 5K and started off walking to the mailbox and back so that she'd be able to complete it (which she did, in around an hour).

Now she does 15-mile Spartan races. You know, the ones with the obstacles in them. She also holds some weightlifting records in her weight class.

#MedalMonday 🏅 #TeamWork - Aside from the @goliathgauntlet #OCR race being amazing 🙌🏼 - LETS CHAT ABOUT TEAMWORK ... - I can do things you cannot, you can do things I cannot. Together we can do great things! - There’s no way I could have gone this far in life without team work. 1. Starts with being a good leader (be the leader you would need in life) 2. Having clear communication. When I have a team I tell them what medial issues I might have and what leg is stronger then the other. 3. Define responsibility (in this video I looked at who had a stronger base..Jayme did. I needed a strong base in order to create a foundation) each one of my TurtleElites teammates had a big role in building this ladder. 4. Be positive and never give up! Is the perfect mix for an amazing team! - What I love about working with a team is we accomplish so much and learn from one another no matter what speed we always reach our end goal, we cheer for one another and hold one another accountable. - Keep working on those goals and create that team! Don’t be afraid to ask for help. #NeverGiveUp #LiveLife100 #Strong @peopleareawesome @medaladdict @bbigivingback

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How are you feeling about "can't" right now?

I conceived this post while I was in the midst of what was then my longest-distance run and still remains my longest-duration run. A few weeks after this run, I went a mile farther, but did it about six minutes faster.

When you think you can’t, take another step. Then another. And another. #running #pr

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I've got nothing on Diaz, Jones or Goggins.

But let's talk about me for a bit, and about Goggins, specifically, because most of us are not ever going to have to deal with losing both our legs above the knee, nor are we likely to suddenly find ourselves with a birth defect we weren't born with.

There are three basic body types: ectomorphic, mesomorphic and endomorphic. Ectomorphs are long and lean. They tend to have problems putting on muscle or fat. Think Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Mesomorphs tend to put on muscle very easily, and are often rectangular and lean. Think Dwayne Johnson. Endomorphs tend to put on both muscle and fat easily, and are often pear-shaped. Think Danny DeVito.

Elite distance runners tend to be ectomorphs; elite sprinters more often are mesomorphs. Endomorphs? We're likely to be elite post-run beer drinkers.

Yep, me and Mr. DeVito both, though to be honest, I don't know anything about Danny DeVito's drinking habits. Or his running habits, as far as that goes.

What I'm getting at is that running doesn't come naturally to me. It's actually very difficult. I don't start enjoying a run until I've been going for 45 minutes or so. At that point, I can finally zone out and not think about how awful it feels.

Of course, in order to run two or three hours at a time, you have to take a few 30- and 40-minute runs a week. [As I prepare for my first full marathon in November, I hope to just make my "shorter" runs over an hour and mostly cut out the annoying ones.] That means I enjoy one or two of my five or six runs a week.

Really, I do it because I'd probably weigh close to 250 pounds if I didn't. Not exactly an ideal weight for someone who is 5'2".

I got started because when I was going to get married, my future sister-in-law (my wife's brother's wife) said we should do a 5K every month until the wedding. We signed up for the Chilly Chili 5K, a mid-January run in Cazenovia, New York. It was 12 degrees at race time.

That was the last one she ran with me.

I did a couple of others, and when we moved to Savannah at the end of the year, I needed a new challenge, so I signed up for a half marathon and trained hard for it.

It wasn't easy. Easy would be sitting on the couch.

When I signed up for the race, if you had told me I had to run it the next day, I would have said, "i can't." I'm no Bert Kreischer, who barely trained for the LA Marathon.

But the fact is, I could have. Running is just one foot in front of the other until you're at the finish line.

Goggins found this out, as well. He could go in the water. He could go through SEAL hell week three times. He could run a 205-mile race, even though the first time he ran he weighed 297 pounds and only eked out a quarter mile.


What are you telling yourself you can't do? Have you proven you can't do it? Have you tried? I mean, really tried? "It's too hard" is not the same as "can't." You (most likely) can't flap your arms fast enough to fly. You (most likely) can't pick up a tractor-trailer and carry it to the nearest port.

You (most likely) can do basically anything you can conceive. Thomas Edison famously took thousands of tries to come up with a filament for the light bulb. When asked about all those failures, he is quoted as saying, "I have not failed. I have just found 10,000 ways that didn't work."

If you're going to say you can't do something. You'd better be able to prove it. Think about Edison. And Rob Jones. And Misty Diaz. And David Goggins. And then try harder.

Jones sums it up best in in a blog post:

I suggest removing the phrase, “I can’t,” from your lexicon and replacing it with, “I can’t YET.” Do this, so that you don’t risk being on your death bed saying, “I didn’t.”

Oh, and in case you need more proof that you can, meet Kyle Maynard, a congenital quad amputee (that means he was born without arms or legs) who went on to become a high school wrestling champion and a mountain climber.

“Books are where they keep the secrets:” Steven Kotler on Unmistakable Creative

Srini Rao recently re-posted his conversation with Steven Kotler, and there were enough reminders in there that I went back through and took some notes to keep my brain on task; maybe it will help you, as well.

Read a lot, and read everything. Read a variety of opinions, sure, but also read about subjects you don't think you're interested in. Just read. Be curious.
Books are where they keep the secrets. Before we had the internet, anyone who knew about things wrote books about it. A lot of people are still writing books.
Know your values. If you're not sure where to start, try "work hard" and "don't lie."
Be fascinated. Kotler says he was fascinated with people turning science fiction into science fact, and the parallel within the art world.
Be ferocious. Sure, you can be playful and have a good time, but be ferocious toward your goal.
Find your thing. You wake up in the morning, says Kotler, and you have to do this thing. Everything else is hogwash.
There are three fail points for creatives. The first is during the first few years, when you're just not making much money and the poverty is too much for you. The second is about 10 years in when you get a chance to play with the big boys, but you're not so well-known that you get to do your own thing — you have to play within their boxes. A third fail point is when creatives forget that their job is to please editors, not themselves. Your book has to be acceptable to the editor, not yourself.
Creative desperation will lead to a high-flow life. When you need to eat, you'll find your groove.
Flow triggers. In the presentation above, you'll see Kotler had, for his book The Rise of Superman, identified 17 flow triggers. For Stealing Fire, he and co-author Jamie Wheal identified several more. None of the flow triggers is particularly difficult. Among common flow triggers:
      — Flow follows focus, so get focused on your task.
      — Intentional practice.
      — Passion and purpose.
      — Risk (doesn't have to be physical).
      — Novelty and unpredictability.
      — Clear goals; understand the next steps.
      — Be able to shut out the rest of the world for a period of focused work.
      — Stretch your comfort level by four percent.
Tools. Don't be afraid to use some tools. They mention a few.
      — Meditation
      — Exercise
      — Focus@Will
      — Electronic music

Other posts about Kotler:

Lessons in exponential growth from Bold by Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler
Crazy, coffee and conundrums: Lessons from Abundance by Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler
As the brain spins: It takes incremental growth to build toward monumental growth
Kotler on Joe Rogan's podcast

JRE #873 - Steven Kotler from JoeRogan on Vimeo.

Thought experiment: A 50-year rollback

I'm 41 years old. I can see 50 pretty clearly. I know lots of people who are older than 50. You probably do, too. I'm not sure exactly what put 50 in my head a couple weeks ago, but we're coming up on the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., so that's as good a place as anywhere to start, I guess.

My point in doing this thought experiment is for us to recognize three things:

(1) 50 years isn't very long in terms of human consciousness. Our brains and bodies take centuries — maybe millennia — to adapt biologically.

(2) So much happens in 50 years that it's amazing people who live 50 years don't short-circuit.

(3) Because of 1 and 2, have some patience with people who need a minute to wrap their heads around something newish.

Now: 2018

Since someone might read this in the future, let's take a look at where we are in 2018. The most recent estimated US census was 2016; the population is 323 million. The population of the world is estimated at 7.63 billion people. The market cap of the Disney Corp. is somewhere around $157 billion and its stock price is over $105; Amazon's market cap is around $750 billion and Apple is fast-approaching $1 trillion.

SpaceX recently launched a rocket into space then released a car on a trajectory toward Mars, just to see if they could do it. The launchers and the rocket both returned to Earth, landing on pads.

Most of the US has hand-sized computers/telephones/cameras/video cameras/music players/video machines in our pockets. About half the world has access to high-speed Internet.

Gas averages $2.57 per gallon across the US.

A black man served as president of the United States for two full terms, with no known assassination attempts made public. Gay people can get married. Our current president is in talks to meet with the dictator of North Korea.


1x50: 1968

Now, let's roll back one set of fifty years. The US population was just under 201 million (less than 2/3 of what it is today). The population of the world was 3.53 billion (less than half what it is today). Disney stock was at 44 cents; adjusted for inflation, it was 30 cents a share. The guy who started Amazon, Jeff Bezos, was 4 years old. Apple wouldn't be launched for another eight years.

We hadn't yet gone to the moon.

Telephones were, by-and-large, on the wall. Some people did have mobile phones in their cars, but the handheld mobile phone wouldn't be introduced for five more years. Personal computers were still seven years off.

Gas was 34 cents per gallon in the US.

The Civil Rights movement was in transition from . Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy were shot. Richard Nixon was elected president. "2001: A Space Odyssey" was the top grossing film. Arthur Hailey's Airport spent 30 weeks on top of the New York Times Bestseller list. There had been no openly gay people elected to any public office in the US.

2x50: 1918

The US population was 103 million, less than a third of what it is today. The population of the world was 1.8 billion, a billion of whom were incapacitated thanks to a flu epidemic that killed 20 million people.

The top five US companies the prior year were US Steel, American Telephone & Telegraph, Standard Oil of New Jersey, Bethlehem Steel and Armour & Co. US Steel is now #279 on the Fortune 500 list. American Telephone & Telegraph was broken up into the regional Bell Companies, and has since reformed as a more diverse communications company (AT&T). Standard Oil was broken up, also; the biggest remaining company is ExxonMobil. Bethlehem Steel stopped operating in 2003; Armour, a former meatpacking giant has been bought and sold a few times and is now a frozen foods brand.

We didn't have an average gasoline price across the country; the earliest measure we have doesn't come until 1929, when it cost 21 cents per gallon.

World War I ended late in the year. The first scheduled passenger flight had only been four years prior, and the Post Office launched the first airmail service. Federal offices were racially segregated (and so were many businesses) and interracial marriage was illegal in many places. There were race riots. In 1916, the US Military introduced "blue discharges," which were neither honorable nor dishonorable and were often used to discharge homosexuals from the military.


3x50: 1868

We're only three sets of fifty years back now, and we're largely in the dark.

The 1870 Census put the US population at about 38 million people, only a little over a third of what it would be 50 years later. Estimates put the world population around 1.2 billion.

Tabasco first hit the market; MetLife and Pacific Life were both founded.

We didn't yet have a telephone or a light bulb.

Andrew Johnson became the first president to be impeached (like Bill Clinton, the only other president to be impeached to date, the Senate would acquit Johnson). We were very much rebuilding from the Civil War.

4x50: 1818

The US population, according to the 1820 Census, was a little over 9 million people. That's roughly the population of New York City today. The world population is estimated to have been between 950 million and a billion — less than the population of India or China today.

There were 20 US states, and the current design of the US Flag (though with 20 stars) was made the official flag of the nation. The steam engine hadn't quite made its way to the US from Britain.

We were still 11 years away from the first indoor plumbing.

The First Seminole War ended. Brooks Brothers, the men's clothier, opened its first store. Frankenstein was published.


5x50: 1768

Here we are, just five 50-year segments ago, we weren't the US yet. Estimates of the world population are around 800 million. The first modern circus is held in London. The Royal Academy is founded.

10x50: 1518

Just 10 50-year jumps ago, you might not recognize the world, which only had about 500 million people in it. Leonardo da Vinci was far and away the brightest technological mind, living in the Vatican during his waning years (he died the following year). Magellan went off to the Spice Islands. Thomas More's "Epigrammata" was published. Shakespeare wasn't yet born. There was actually a dancing plague — in Strasbourg, people just felt the urge to boogie, and many of them died of stroke, heart attack or exhaustion.


20x50: 1018

If you know someone who is 50 years old, and when they were a kid they knew someone 50 years old, you only have to go back 20 of those people to a world with fewer people than are in the US today. It would be another 48 years before the Normans would invade England, so the English language sounded very much like German.

There was no printing press. There was no Genghis Khan. We have a few written records about battles no one remembers.

50x50: 482 BCE

Socrates would be born in a dozen years. The earliest Kabbalists are starting to chase Ezekiel's vision of God on the chariot. The Buddha died the year before.

100x50: 2982 BCE

OK, here's the big one. Only 100 groups of 50 years, and we're basically on a different planet. The earth's population was nearing 100 million people. The Egyptian Empire is 100 years old and hasn't started building pyramids yet. The oldest city we've found in the Americas, Caral, isn't settled for another 300 years.


It's amazing how much happens in just 50 years. I don't even want to predict what our world is going to look like in 50 years, but hopefully I'm here to see it!

Parsing Parkland: Practical thoughts on guns, mental health and movements

Note: We're going to talk about guns, gun rights and gun control; mental health, health care and privacy; and political movements and political parties. Before you get outraged, fucking read it. This is researched, thought-out and edited. I'm happy to listen to differing opinions based in fact — I might even change my mind (I've certainly evolved on some of the issues here) — but this is not a platform for your instant outrage. This is my website. I spew my own damn bullshit. If you want to spew yours, get your own damn website. If you need help doing so, get in touch and we'll talk.

In brief, what happened

Here is full coverage from the local paper, but in case you missed it, on Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018, Nikolas Cruz (allegedly) walked into Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, from which he had been previously expelled, pulled a fire alarm and fatally shot 17 people and injured a dozen others with an AR-15.

Cruz had been an outcast who had a history of police visits to his home. Children and Family Services paid him a visit after he cut himself on Snapchat and said he wanted to buy a gun. The FBI didn't act on a tip that he might be dangerous.

There were warnings, then, despite the fact that the couple he was living with following his mother's death said there were no warning signs he might do something like that. But we'll talk about privacy and such.


Some gun and gun law basics, and what we need to do

Let's start off with some definitions, particularly of the type of weapon used. We in the media have been terrible about this, so a brief explainer is definitely necessary for many of us. I'm gathering most of this information from this more in-depth summary and this look at automatic weapons laws.

You can also read this non-gun owners guide to guns.

First, the media often mention "assault weapons" or "assault-style weapons." We're not going to use that term here, since an assault weapon has the ability to switch between automatic and semiautomatic settings. The AR-15 used in Parkland and in other high-profile mass shootings does not have this feature.

If you're yelling about gun control — particularly if you're talking about banning certain weapons — you should also learn the difference between automatic and semiautomatic weapons. Very few people are licensed to own (never mind carry) automatic weapons. Lots of people are licensed to own and carry semiautomatic weapons.

An automatic weapon discharges multiple rounds (bullets) with a single trigger pull (so, you pull the trigger, the weapon starts to fire, and it stops when you release the trigger).

A semiautomatic weapon discharges one round with a single trigger pull, and then, assuming there is more ammunition available, chambers the next round. This covers most weapons on the market, from the AR-15 (allegedly) used by Cruz to an everyday pistol, the kind most of us not-gun-types typically see used on television.

Then there are manual weapons, which you have to either reload after each shot (think old-style rifles you see in Civil War movies), or you have to manually chamber the next round (think six-shooters you see in old Westerns).

There is hardware available to make some semiautomatic weapons behave like automatic weapons. It's either illegal or on its way there in most states. Stephen Paddock used what's commonly called a "bump stock" to do this when he managed to discharge over 1,100 rounds from his hotel room in Las Vegas, killing 58 people and wounding some 850 others.

If you want a breakdown of gun laws by state, Wikipedia has you covered.

Most states have separate rules for purchasing guns and carrying guns, and also have separate rules for long guns (like a hunting rifle) and handguns. You might not need a license to buy a weapon (though you might need to submit to a criminal background check and a waiting period), but you probably need a license to carry a weapon with you in public, and of course states differ widely on whether you need to demonstrate proficiency, take a safety course or register your individual weapons.

Some states also have "red flag laws," which allow some people — teachers or family members, for example — to report to authorities that maybe you're dangerous and you shouldn't be allowed to buy a weapon.

Florida does not have a red flag law, though one is currently hung up in the legislature.

***

What qualifies as a mass shooting varies by definition and can be really confusing if we don't pick a definition to agree upon.

If you saw the piece about a school shooting every 2.5 days this year, you were probably shocked. That's because it takes a very wide definition of school shootings, some which even the most slanted among us must admit are not school shootings — things like accidental discharge of a firearm in the parking lot of a school that had been closed for seven months.

Let's go forth with this explanation from Politifact, shall we? The current federal definition of a mass shooting is three or more shooting victims (excluding the shooter) in one or more locations in a single event. And can we agree that a school shooting is a shooting that takes place on or about school grounds when students and/or teachers are present? ["On or about" because if someone trying to escape crosses the property line and is then shot, it's still a school shooting.]

***

Now that we have some facts behind us, here's what I think.

First, stop whining. I don't want all your guns. By all means, if you are a demonstrably safe gun owner — i.e., you have no violent crime in your past, you take a safety course, you show some proficiency, you don't carry while intoxicated and you get your vision checked every time your carry permit renews (like a drivers license) — own weapons for protection and hunting.

If you have kids, I want you to be willing to submit to random home visits from Children & Family Services to make sure you're storing the weapons safely; we have way too many accidental shootings involving toddlers finding weapons.

You should also receive, during the permitting process, a psychological evaluation. It doesn't have to be invasive. If you're on medication (that you could go off of whenever you felt like it — or stopped being able to afford it) that's probably stopping you from killing yourself or someone else, sorry, you probably shouldn't have access to a firearm. It's not that you're definitely going to kill someone eventually, it's just that the probability is too high to risk.

Go read this piece by a veteran who enjoyed shooting an M-4 while in the Army and enjoys shooting an AR-15 as a civilian. She says, look, they're fun. But Formula One cars are fun to drive and you can't take those for a 150-mph joyride on the highway.

The AR-15 is modeled on military weapons that are designed to kill people. They have no other purpose. It's the weapon that legally obtained and used in Parkland and in Newtown at Sandy Hook Elementary and in Las Vegas (though the shooter modified his to fully automatic using a "bump stock" there).

If you are of the opinion that we need AR-15s and similar weapons for protection in case the government ever turns the US military loose on its people, we can keep them locked up in a civilian armory — hey, how about at private gun ranges? But let me point out that you can't go out and buy a working tank or a lot of other items the military has. Civilians are not equipped to fight against the US military. We never will be. And we never should be.


Some thoughts on school safety

People have offered up some ideas for keeping schools more secure; I have yet to hear one that won't detract further from education (and we could go on for long time how public education has been suffering from high-pressure standardized tests and fewer resources over the past couple of decades, but we won't).

More armed officers in schools. Parkland had an armed officer, but of course most schools have large enough campuses that if an officer is in one place and an active shooter is in another, it could be four or five minutes before an the officer can reach the same area. An AR-15 is limited in the number of rounds it can discharge by two factors: the number of rounds available and the ability of the shooter to pull the trigger. If you've ever performed a repetitive motion for several minutes, you know fatigue can set in, but let's assume a 19-year-old male with lots of adrenaline flowing can average somewhere around a shot per second for five minutes; that's around 300 shots fired if it takes an officer five minutes to get across campus.

So, what if there were more officers in the school? Well, now we're running into a resource problem, right? Teachers are already buying materials for their classes (and they're not paid for the time they put in outside of school hours, creating lesson plans, correcting papers, submitting grades, etc.), textbooks are outdated, some classrooms have upwards of 30 or more students, and budgets are dropping. Adding two more officers might mean cutting three or four more teachers. And how many officers can you station in a school before students feel like they're in a prison?

Arm teachers. It's hard enough to find good teachers. Are we going to make it a job requirement that teachers be proficient enough with a weapon to fire it accurately in a small room full of students with an active shooter? Or are we just going to give teachers basic firearms training and then ask them to act in a high-pressure situation with a high likelihood of accidentally shooting students who are not the shooter?

Neither of those sounds like a good idea to me. I don't have a great solution, but it seems taking care of this on the weapons side (see above) is the best way to go.


What we need to do on the health care and privacy side

Two personal stories about health care, to start. Congress and the president touted its tax reform as a big give-back to the middle class, and gutted funding for the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as Obamacare, also known as Romneycare (oh, you mean you forgot this is the same plan that Massachusetts' Republican governor instituted?). It's also the plan that Congress and the president have. When they largely gutted the program, they wrote themselves an exception. That tells you that Romneycare/Obamacare/ACA is so good the people who don't want to pay for it for us commoners want it for themselves.

I have insurance through my company; it covers my wife and I, and my employer pays most of it. I made a $14/month change to health care options this year, but my biweekly paycheck is down $74, which means almost $2,000 out of my pocket this year. If you're doing the math on my health care change, I paid $1,924 for $168 of increased benefits.

My sister is not so lucky. When she moved, she had to work a part-time job before finding a temp-to-hire job that. The company decided to buy her out early, which means she's a full-time employee after 2 months of temping instead of 3 months, but they still have a 90-day probationary period before they have to offer her health care. She has a two-year-old daughter, who, oddly enough, is not working full time.

In order to get her daughter health care, my sister joined the ACA exchange, which is partially funded by Medicaid. Funding for the exchanges has been gutted by the administration, and no one's required to take it.

So it seems very few do.

One day recently, my sister called me to say her daughter had a tick on her head and she needed to be picked up from preschool. I went to pick up my niece while my sister called the exchange to find out which urgent care facilities near me would take the insurance. She found one, and after I arrived and filled out paperwork, when the insurance card arrived via email, they said, "oh, we don't take the Medicaid version of this."

They referred us to another urgent care center 20 minutes away.

I'm no fool, so I called ahead. No, they didn't take it, but another center 30 minutes away did. I called them, and they also didn't take the Medicaid version of the exchange.

We're lucky enough that we could just come out of pocket for both insurance (which apparently doesn't cover much) and getting a tick removed from my niece's head. We're also lucky that we don't have a lot of Lyme disease here, so that's the end of it.

And yes, you can remove a tick at home by yourself. But good luck if your kid gets an infection on her scalp. At best you're talking about staying home for work for a while until they let her back at school. At worst you're talking about brain damage or death.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: health care may not be a right, but we're certainly better when as many people as possible can get help.

What does this have to do with what's going on?

The same way it's very difficult to find someone to take a tick out of my niece's head and check her out to see if she might need some antibiotics, even if she's covered by insurance, it's very difficult to find mental health care, affordable or not.

It's also hard for some who needs mental health care to recognize that they need mental health care, and it's even harder to compel them to get it — they have to be a proven risk to themselves or others. Even then, someone has to care enough to get them to help and check them in.

Nikolas Cruz had some mental health treatment a while back. He checked himself out, because he's allowed to.

Health care providers are not allowed to talk to anyone without a patient's permission. I have to sign forms if I want my doctor to be able to talk to my wife.

So when Cruz was investigated briefly after cutting himself and talking about guns on Snapchat, no one was allowed to tell law enforcement that he had undergone mental health treatment, so he wasn't on a list of people who couldn't have guns for mental health reasons.

That's why I want a basic mental health evaluation when you register for your permit. And your mental health history is absolutely relevant when purchasing a firearm.


Voices of Parkland

This is what students and faculty from the school are staying. Again, a plea against your outrage: Many of these voices are those of minors who have just lost 17 of their friends way before their time. If you're reading this, statistically speaking you're probably an adult who wasn't directly affected by the event. It's up to you, but if you're going on the attack, you're attacking teenagers. Pick your lane.


Movements, parties and American politics

Over the past several years, we've started to see more of what we'd call movements in the US.

The Civil Rights and antiwar movements of the 1960s were really the last time we had mass movements in this country. Growing up in the 1980s and '90s I saw the Million Man March, AIDS awareness, and the revival of the yellow ribbon campaign during the first Iraq War, but these were small in comparison.

Now we have Black Lives Matter, #MeToo, the Women's March, and now, as you'll see in the Twitter names of some of the students quoted above, we have #NeverAgain.

There is plenty of splintering within some of these movements. There is no overall organization, though some pockets are organizing and we may see national NGOs start to pop up.

Anyway.

Movements are not parties, but sometimes they become parties.

We have two main political parties in the US: Republicans and Democrats. Right now, they wear their respective jerseys and, by and large, follow other people with the same jersey. I'm not convinced the majority of jersey-wearers elected to national office are concerned with thinking for themselves. Each party agrees among its members upon some talking points, and members who don't stick to the party line are set aside as pariahs, unworthy of funding.

Every time we try to take money out of national politics, we write in loopholes, which are easily exploited because the people who need them wrote them in.

We're basically living in a Kurt Vonnegut novel. Or maybe Vonnegut wrote how he wrote because he had two eyes and a brain.

Ho hum, as it were.

Presidents have term limits, but senators and congressmen do not. It's time to set those. Five or six terms for members of Congress and two terms for senators — that will guarantee that anyone serving out the maximum number of terms works alongside at least two presidents.


What's next?

Here's where I hit you with a shocker: we wait six months, and we do this all again. Because our system doesn't want change; only those of us governed by the system do, and believe it or not, we don't have that kind of power.

Sometimes I think I should run for office, or volunteer for someone I agree with. Most of the time, though, I'm too cynical to think it matters.

Creating from the middle

Some people claim they can only create when they hit a bottom.

Some people claim they can only create when they hit a top.

No doubt a lot of creativity can come from extremes. But what happens the rest of the time?

We can't all be Hunter S. Thompson, whose daily routine would kill most people on the first day.

But we can all be Stephen King, about whom I wrote recently. His advice is to show up, and keep showing up.

Steven Pressfield offers the same advice.

You can certainly do some things to make it easy to maintain some continuity in your creativity. Earnest Hemingway used to stop writing mid-sentence so that he'd have a starting point for the next day. Pablo Picasso, on the other hand, disagreed. He said you can stop if you're willing to leave the work as complete should you die before you get back to it.

Ritual is important to creating. So are habits. And routines.

Nothing's foolproof, of course. Even the greatest slip up sometimes.

But if you keep showing up, your chances of success get much better.

Losing our shame and making more connections

We were at a wedding recently, and another guest asked me about dancing. "How do we learn dance moves?" he asked.

Aside: Let's assume this conversation is paraphrased. Hypothetically speaking, he and I would not have been having this conversation if we hadn't been enjoying ourselves. To wit:

#weddings

A post shared by Josh Shear (@joshuanshear) on

"We're born with them," I said, "and we have to learn how to un-forget them."

As we get older, we start to gain more of a sense of shame. And by "get older," I mean as we age out of toddlerhood. Because really, we start getting ridiculed for nonconformity pretty early in our school careers.

By the time we're teenagers, many people are afraid to stand out, and when they do something to "stand out," usually they do it in groups. The success of Hot Topic points to this. It's a place where nonconformists can go to conform to each other.

There are, of course, social benefits of conformity. We gain a sense of community. We feel accepted, perhaps even loved. If we conform really well, we get to be very popular. You can sell stuff. If you're a true nonconformist, your creative output is too, well, weird for everyone else.

You can be different and pretty far out there — Kevin Kelley asserts that if you have 1,000 true fans who will buy whatever you do, you're free to explore various avenues that will appeal to vastly different groups — but you still have to really resonate for 1,000 people.

I'll bet if I handed you a pad of paper and a pen (and took your phone away), it would take you at least an hour to write down the names of 1,000 people you either know or have heard of (you're unlikely to actually know 1,000 people, even if you can count that many people in your network).

Back to shame, and my wedding conversation.

"You look like you've got some moves," he said.

"Nah," I countered. "I just don't care if anybody thinks I look silly." Like this lady.

It's true. I'm a goofball.

It's not that I don't care at all, just that I pick a few things about which I deeply care when it comes to people's perceptions of me, and the rest of the time, I just want to have some fun. It's the kind of thing that allows me to come up with creative solutions to some problems but not be able to see outside the box for others.

Brene Brown is a shame and vulnerability researcher. She finds that people who are willing to show vulnerability have empathy and form deeper connections with others.

That's an oversimplification of her work, but if you want the 20-minute version, she does it much better than I do, so just watch her TED talk:

If you want more, listen to her discussion with Tim Ferriss or Chase Jarvis or Lewis Howes.

If you're feeling blocked, or alone, or generally bad about yourself, go be silly. Or go cry. Find some vulnerability. Do it in public. That's where we make our connections.

Culture vs. Politics: What do you want from your leaders?

In one of his shows last week (watch/listen above), level-headed conservative commentator Ben Shapiro took on President Trump for retweeting a gif of himself hitting a golf ball that ultimately hits and knocks over Hillary Clinton.

I'm not going to dignify the tweet with a link or an embed; you know where the president's account is.

Anyway, Shapiro pointed out that the tweet's fine if you're a fan wearing a Republican jersey. But when you're the President of the United States, you need to have a higher standard for yourself.

A week later, the president was battling NBA and NFL players. On Twitter. Because he's got that kind of time and energy, but not the sort required to help write legislation.

It's the same medium he used to hand the North Korean dictator a schoolyard nickname. A Korean diplomat says there's no way Kim Jong Un laughs it off. He's going to attack the US because the president can't shut his twap (see what I did there?).

To be totally honest, I had this post written it what I thought was its entirety and scheduled and then the weekend in Trump vs. NFL happened.

It's really a continuation of the rest of the post. Is it an interesting cultural phenomenon? Perhaps. If NFL owners fired everyone who knelt or sat and went to find replacements, maybe some people would be happy, but to be frank, the quality of play would drop drastically.

If you're Walmart and you need 200 new greeters, it won't be hard to find. Finding 200 NFL-quality players who aren't already in the League (and you have to leave out the ones who would kneel or sit, I suppose), the product becomes more like a second-tier league.

If you're an NFL fan who doesn't watch the CFL or AFL, you're not going to watch an NFL full of players who didn't make the cut the first time (or second or third time) out. You certainly won't pay current ticket prices or buy subscription packages.

The league would lose more money in diminished quality than it is from people who are willing to vote with their dollars. We're too lazy as a nation to do much more than complain. When it comes to actual action, we're pretty lax. If your habit has been pizza, beer and buds on Sunday, you're not getting together to watch Netflix and chill.

I write about discourse a lot here.

Apart from that, it's simply not something that should be on the president's radar, never mind the focus of his ire. Puerto Rico is in huge trouble. Southern states are still recovering from Harvey and Irma, requiring federal intervention (I just got an email from my Congressman this evening about people available to help apply for assistance). He could be working on health care or tax reform or figuring out how to handle North Korea diplomatically instead of having a slap-your-dick-on-the-table contest with Kim Jong Un.

Donald Trump is a cultural icon, no doubt, but he's not a leader. If your boss said to you a lot of the stuff the president says to everyone, you'd be filing complaints with HR and probably taking your company to court.

Disagreement is one thing, belittling is another.

We need leaders who can lead, not who can yell. Being louder doesn't make you correct, it just makes you louder.