Jake LaCaze

writings about writing and other stuff too

Sketch of a kid playing alone at a playground #essays #covid19 #parenting

Adolescents drifted from city to torn city, sloughing off both he past and the future as snakes shed their skins, children who were never taught and would never now learn the games that had held the society together.

The spirit of that quote from the opening paragraph of Joan Didion's essay “Slouching Towards Bethlehem” has stuck with me since my first reading. The essay has made me consider in particular all the games we play and all the scenarios in which we play them. We play games in the office, in the realms of dating and relationships, in the checkout line at the grocery store when we talk to strangers to pass the time. All these separate interactions are games with their own pieces and rules. And it's crucial to learn what rules and pieces apply to each game.

I saw these points played out recently when I took my kids to a local park. A group of girls came along and started screaming and telling each other to shut up in a manner that used certain four-letter words. I considered saying something to the girls but then decided it was better to ignore them. Either they had never learned the rules of this specific game or they had made a conscious effort to ignore the rules. Whatever the situation, I didn't get the feeling they were in the mood for redirection, so I instead redirected my daughter to the other side of the playground.

How many other kids will over time be discouraged from playing with these girls? And what other adults will decline invitations to play with them over the next few decades?

I think about my parental responsibility in regard to these games. Am I doing my part to teach my children the rules that will integrate them with society? And, perhaps more importantly, am I teaching them how to identify the rules I'm prone to overlook?

I can think of a few games I had to learn on my own as I grew out of an awkward childhood and into an awkward adulthood: the games of eye contact and firm handshakes and speaking clearly and confidently. I remember getting laid off thirteen months into a new career, when I learned my parents' advice to keep my head down and work hard was one of the rules of a vintage version of the employment game. The modern version has different rules dictating that you should never get too comfortable in one place and that, as the labor market continues to evolve, you may be better off as a generalist, as opposed to putting all your eggs in one basket as a specialist. For my generation and all who follow, adaptability may well be our best skill, not only in the workplace but also in the broader landscape.

Sometimes the rules of the game suck and should be changed, but I worry about any new rules that seem to have been created and distributed by a handful of armchair philosophers on Twitter. Change is inevitable and in some ways necessary, but it should be thought out, for even the best-meaning rule change has unintended consequences. This is the never-ending struggle between progressives and conservatives.

Lately, when I think about the games we all must play, I think about them in the context of Scott Galloway's Great Dispersion, the concern that the novel coronavirus has accelerated the demise of some meeting places which once brought people together—such as shopping malls and movie theaters—and that as we become more comfortable using technology to do more at home, we will miss out on opportunities to mingle with people from different backgrounds and classes. Will we further lose connection and empathy as a result?

I'm already worried about the side effects children will suffer after nearly two years of strained interactions courtesy of the global pandemic. And how will adults be similarly affected?

There are certain games, such as professional networking, that I haven't played in nearly two years. Will I again—or to what extent?

How many games have we forgotten to play? Do we care to learn them again? And which should we not feel bad if we never play again?

On Racket, Jayme asked: “What’s one thing someone told you that changed your perspective?”

So I took the opportunity to talk about the greatest pain in the world.

#racket #grief

I created a jack-o'-lantern under Lil Bit's guidance.

A jack-o'-lantern made under Lil Bit's guidance #photojournal

Actually not too bad for a toddler

Spooky Season has arrived.

I'm on a one-week break until I start the Usability and User-Centered Design for my technical writing certification. This is the class I'm most excited about because anything we write is for other humans. We have to keep the user and audience in mind.

I imagine this class will be similar to an advertising class I took for my marketing degree, in which I was often surprised to see what resonated with customers and what fell flat.

#technicalwriting

Marcus Aurelius called out social media nearly 2000 years ago.

October 22 entry of The Daily Stoic October 22 entry of The Daily Stoic

Micro-review of The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty:

I don't know if I've ever been so underwhelmed by the beginning of a book yet so satisfied at the end. The beginning portion, centered around the MacNeils (Reagan, the possessed, and Chris, the mother), feels silly at times, primarily with the dialogue which feels unnatural and out of place. But as the story centers more on Father Karras, the tone darkens and the story comes into its own.

The book, compared to the movie, is more obviously about Father Karras’s struggle with his faith. The demon plays more on Karras's guilt for abandoning his mother for the priesthood; those moments hit the hardest.

Excellent Halloween read

#books

A markup of errors in a job posting #errorsinthewild

I recently applied for a writer position and was excited to include this markup in my cover letter, only to discover that I couldn't upload my own file and had to write a plain text cover letter in their own system.

But I didn't give up. I mentioned that I had found errors in their own posting that I would be happy to share even if they passed on me. Because I'm a giver like that.

My daughter pulling her wagon through the park #essays #platitudes

LaCazes never give up.

I cringed when I heard my son once mutter those words. Some people would have you believe that I should have poked my chest out with pride and then yelled out Hell yeah! and head butted him in my excitement. Instead I told him that quitting can be a great option. He raised an eyebrow at my crazy talk, but I was sincere.

I thought back to early 2009 when I was selling cars (or at least trying to) in Ruston, Louisiana. I was a horrible fit for the job. I was too anxious and insecure when dealing with people. I don't get excited about cars; I see them more as expensive depreciating tools rather than something to get excited about. I don't know the difference between a 5.4L engine and a 2.7L engine; hell, I don't even know if those are actual engines.

Throw in the fact that I was selling cars in the height of the Great Recession when automotive financing was hard to come by, and it's not hard to see why I was eating a lot of ramen and chicken nuggets during those days.

I could have stuck with it. I could have gritted my teeth and plowed through until I figured it out and became the car selling king of Ruston, then Louisiana, then THE WORLD. Or I could go another path, when someone offered me a job in oil and gas abstracting, which is what I did. In this scenario, quitting was the right option.

Some people gravitate to absolutist statements like the quote opening this blog post because such quotes are simple. They don't require much thought once you've memorized the words and have gotten the rhythm down. They seemingly clarify the world and all its challenges.

If only life could be so simple as to navigate via a handful of sayings...

Perhaps this obsession is greatest on LinkedIn (or at least within my network), where I am bombarded with posts assuring me that attitude is everything and hard work always pays off. Sure, there's some truth to these statements, but I have problems with their absolutist nature.

And then there's my crown jewel of a pet peeve: the advice to never give up.

Barf. How short-sighted.

As I've already stated, quitting can be a great option, a point Seth Godin makes in his book The Dip: A Little Book That Teaches You When to Quit (and When to Stick). Godin says sometimes we have to grit our teeth to get through the dip, that lull we may find ourselves in before we climb our way out to greater success. But sometimes we may find ourselves in a perpetual dip because we're dedicating our time and effort to the wrong thing, such as getting our VCR repair business off the ground.

So often we hear stories of entrepreneurs who stuck with it despite the odds, but we forget that many of them quit other projects before their successes. They did not stick with the losing projects. Instead, they carried the lessons from their failures to new adventures. In Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World, David Epstein argues that variety of experience can be a great asset, and sometimes that variety is acquired through quitting and moving on to new projects.

On his various podcasts and blogs, Scott Galloway has repeated the point it's better to fail early than late. The sooner you fail, the more time is on your side, giving you more chance to recover and find success elsewhere.

This line of thinking isn't anything new. People knew this centuries ago, as pointed in the September 19th entry of The Daily Stoic (See below.)

The September 19 entry of The Daily Stoic September 19 entry of The Daily Stoic

Flexibility and adaptability are just as valuable as grit and determination.

The point of this post is not to argue that we should quit at the first sign of difficulty. I do not seek to counter an absolutist statement with another absolutist statement. Only a Sith deals in absolutes, as Obi-Wan Kenobi tells us in his own absolutist words.

The point is that quitting can be a great option. But how do we know when it is a great option and when it's not? Welcome to the fun of being human, an exercise in navigating through endless uncertainty.

Nothing exists in a vacuum, and specialization is a great way to stay ignorant to the way everything interconnects.

A great post from Matt Baer's microblog arguing against specialization and for having seemingly unproductive interests

Joe Aillet Stadium, home of the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs football team #essays #selfimprovement

If, before the 2021 college football season started, you had told me that my Louisiana Tech Bulldogs would start the season 1-2, with a grand total of three points keeping them from a 3-0 start, I would probably have said that wasn't too bad.

But my perspective would sour if you had told me my alma mater would lose by one point to Mississippi State despite entering the fourth quarter with a 20-point lead. My perspective would further sour if you told me the Dawgs would lose to SMU two weeks later after a go-ahead Hail Mary touchdown with less than a minute to play.

The differences in these reactions are a reminder that the final score doesn't paint the complete picture. There's always a story beyond the scoreboard.

Once we've established who won, we then likely ask: How did the victor come out on top?

Did a consistent ground game control the clock? Did a relentless aerial assault overwhelm the opposition? Did a dominant defense stop plays before they could start?

These days I often find myself more interested in the story of the game than the game itself. And as I've focused more on story, I've been thinking about the story of the game of my own life.

In the past, I've had a habit of telling a negative story about myself. I told a story focused on failures and lack of accomplishment and all the ways in which I was unremarkable. We often have no problem identifying the ways in which we fall short, so finding such material was easy.

But what if we tell ourselves better stories about ourselves? What if we focus instead on our accomplishments—both in the past and those to come?

How often do we tell stories about ourselves? What is a job interview, if not telling the story of your past professional successes and the bigger successes to follow? What about first dates?

It's not enough for us to recall the play-by-play for certain events. It's not enough to repeat the final scores. We need to slide a story in there somewhere. This doesn't apply only when we win. It also applies to the losses.

Sometimes putting a proper story behind a loss can be more important. Where did things go wrong? Where were your blind spots? What could you have done differently? These are some of the questions our stories can answer.

I've always had a self-deprecating sense of humor, and I expect that to remain true to some degree. You can't take yourself too seriously, after all.

But I noticed recently that I haven't been as harsh on myself and I have been telling a better story. And I'm pretty sure it all began by first telling that better story to myself.

Enter your email to subscribe to updates.