On Courage & Faith

Courage & Faith Podcast Cover

Some years ago I wrote a book, called Man Up. In it I detailed 10 essential elements for men wanting to live a satisfying life.

Since then I’ve had lots of requests to write a sequel — this time with less detail and more punch.

I hesitated. Like you, I’m busy. In my case, writing a novel, penning speeches, and helping create a new community-based social enterprise in the small, isolated alpine village I call home.

It took a BBC reportage I came across the other day, on a group of astonishingly brave journalists who risk their lives every day to report on Islamic State savagery in the northern Syrian city of Raqqa, to convince me it’s not only time for a new volume — it’s badly needed.

The world continues to take body blow after body blow at the hands of men who apparently don’t understand concepts like truth, compassion, and happiness. So, in a burst of motivation, I’ve returned to the keyboard — and microphone.

I’m calling this new project, Be Prepared — 10 Manly Tips for Surviving the 21st Century.

It strikes me that each of the book’s subjects is important enough to easily stand on its own. None more so these days than the intertwined topics of courage & faith. Have a listen to this podcast (just click on the white arrow in the red circle below), and let me know what you think (randy@netidea.com). By all means pass it on to family, friends, and colleagues. We need as many truly courageous men out there as possible.

And keep your eyes peeled for the ebook version — it will be available soon.

 

Farewell Britannica (and good riddance!)

[Edit]

After 244 years in print, the Britannica says farewell

The Britannica‘s gone. And I say, “good riddance!”

If ever there was a poster child for the changes being wrought by the web specifically, and digital technologies generally, the Britannica was it. Its final edition, published in 2010, includes 32 volumes and sells for around $1,400. It will of course, never, ever be updated — although it must be said, it always took a long, long time for any of the previous editions to be updated, so never doesn’t seem much of a stretch.

Meanwhile it took only a couple of hours after the announcement was made at Britannica‘s Chicago HQ for word of the antiquated info-porkster’s demise to be reported and duly documented on Wikipedia. If the shoe had been on the other technological/editorial foot, we would have learned about the free, web-based “universal encyclopedia”‘s end in the pages of Britannica by, oh, say around 2020.

Some things cease to exist simply because they’re, well, stupid!

There have already been plenty of commentaries on the end of this venerable publication. The hippest amongst them point out (rightly, I think) that the Britannica‘s model — that of providing one voice (often, but certainly not always considered a leading expert) explaining The Truth, just doesn’t cut it. Knowledge, fed by research, vetted by peer review and the merciless crucible of the Real World, constantly changes. Making the approach taken by Wikipedia far better suited to keeping those who simply must know, properly up to speed at all time.

I would add another angle. For me, Britannica always represented a sort of upper middle class snootiness — if you didn’t have a set, it said something not very flattering about you and your family’s socio-economic position.

The company’s business model was ruthless, a classic example of aggressive, guilt-inducing, bottom-feeding capitalism of the worst kind.  I’m old enough to remember waves of merciless door-to-door encyclopedia salesmen sweeping regularly through our neighborhood, barging in and shaming countless working class families into shelling out what was for them a not-so-small fortune (“no problem, simply avail yourselves of our easy, monthly payment plan!”), desperate that their children have every chance to carve out a better life for themselves.

Of course, for most of us whose families did manage to acquire this Holy Grail of home reference works, once obtained, we scarcely cracked a cover, outside the occasional furtive search for articles on heady topics like Sexual Intercourse, the Kinsey Report, and Hitler’s Bunker.

In a world where it costs almost as much to send a book to someone as the book’s cover price, it’s little surprise the Britannica has gone where cowboys who smoke went before.

Adios, Marlboro Man. Vaya con Dios, Britannica

But let’s remember amidst all the inevitable nostalgia for “a simpler, less troubled time” (tell that to folks still alive who lived through Auschwitz or Pol Pot, or get on the ol’ sat phone and have a quick chat between mortar shell bursts and machine gun fire with anyone still alive in Homs), that Britannica never actually democratized knowledge. It merely provided those who owned it with the facade, the appearance they knew something those who didn’t have it didn’t know. It was a smug, dust-gathering reminder on the sagging bookshelf of one’s inherent superiority, a several-hundred-pound trophy that said to all who gazed upon its long row of gold-embossed spines, “these people have got it.” Literally.

Those who didn’t, or those who sported cheaper, less prestigious alternatives (mine was, sad to say, a World Book household), didn’t. Losers.

So after almost two-and-a-half centuries, no more print edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica. Good riddance. The Britannica is dead. Love live Wikipedia!

We’re all in this together…

A fascinating thing has happened since I sent out some early review copies (books and ebooks) of Man Up In Ten Lessons. Actually, several fascinating things have emerged since then, but the most fascinating thing has been the feedback I’ve received from women. It seems as though more women than men think about — and are often worried about… men. Few of them seem concerned that a man might dare talk about subjects such as male courage and compassion, or even style and sex — they simply seem relieved that someone is talking about this stuff from a male point of view, and more than one woman has told me she intends to ensure a significant man in her life reads the book. Or else.

So I’ve made a momentous decision (well, perhaps momentous is a bit much, but a decision nonetheless): I’ve decided that, from here on in, most of my commentary on the state of being a man in the 21st century is going to be aimed at women. I’ll do my modest best to make up for all those tight-lipped, reticent, uncommunicative men in your life, the ones who never talk about their feelings, their hopes and fears, the guys who never chat with you about what makes them tick, the men whose behavior makes you wonder why you even bother.

Please don’t expect science here (but maybe a bit of pseudo science from time to time, just for the sheer fun of it). I’m simply going to draw upon my own considerable experience of being alive and male for several decades on several continents, and share my experiences, insights, and opinions with you, with as much wit, humor, and honesty as I’m able to muster. I know I don’t have to urge you to let me know how I’m doing. Or invite you to suggest topics of particular interest from time to time (as in, “why are men utterly unable to focus on more than one thing at a time?” or “what’s up with NASCAR?”). But consider yourself urged and invited anyway.

OK, so here’s my first salvo: men can be romantic. It just doesn’t come naturally to most of us, at least not as naturally as things such as watching sports on television or constantly checking our zippers even when we know they’re up. We just need to be nudged in the right direction. You know, like after listening to a Jack Johnson ballad, turn to your significant other and say something like “I’ll bet you a six-pack of Sam Adams you can’t write a love song like that for me!”

Here is an actual example of what may happen when you do this. And remember, it’s the thought that counts…

RANDY MORSE – Janet

May the Force be with you…

If you’re closing in on 30 (or 40) and still have Luke Skywalker posters on your bedroom wall, it may well be time to Man Up

I’ve gotten some interesting feedback lately. Specifically from a guy who feels I’m a self-important, self-absorbed egoist for having the temerity to make pronouncements on what constitutes a “real man”these days.

In fairness to all concerned, this fellow hasn’t actually read my book yet (that’d be Man Up in Ten Lessons), or, as far as I know, read a blog I’ve written or a video I’ve produced. So he can’t know that my goal is to simply suggest a few ways men can go about becoming more comfortable in their own skins. Just being a man, period, would do nicely for most guys. He simply assumes, from the book’s title and cover,  that I’m a pompous windbag, embarrassingly full of myself, etc.etc. — you get the picture.

Now I may well be a pompous windbag (God, I hope not) — but to assume there isn’t something going on with men these days, something not-so-good, to assume all’s well on the man front, is to run the risk of being laughed out of the room.

Neal Gabler, writing in the Los Angeles Times (“Day of the Lout“), worries that the primary role model for young American men today is The Lout:

The lout is not exactly a reversion to the old macho stereotype. He isn’t tough, muscular, steely, monosyllabic, able to build a car engine or a house single-handedly or sail around the world solo. He’s not a sophisticate either, a Dos Equis most-interesting-man-the-world type. He doesn’t dress to the nines or know his wines or drive a Porsche, and he isn’t able to make witty cocktail party repartee. A lout is someone who is proudly stuck in a kind of adolescent parody of manhood that conflates insensitivity and machismo.

Louts luxuriate in their lack of sophistication. Louts travel in packs or just hang out with one another. Louts dress in T-shirts and jeans and eschew fashion. Louts guzzle beer rather than sip wine, and they are most likely to be spotted in bars or lounging on living room couches watching football. Louts don’t talk feelings; they talk sports and beer. Louts have few needs and no shackles. Above all, louts may ogle women and snicker about them, but women are pointedly never their top priority. At most, women are objects, just like in the old days. That’s the revenge part. Louts don’t have to make any concessions to women. Louts barely need women. Just give a lout a Bud and his buds and he’s happy.

Meanwhile, Kay Hymowitz, author of Manning Up: How the Rise of Women Has Turned Men Into Boys, describes great swaths of young North American men as “pre-adult” males, like actors in a play who only know the lines they are not to say:

[The pre-adult male] has to compete in a fierce job market, but he can’t act too bossy or self-confident. He should be sensitive but not paternalistic, smart but not cocky. To deepen his predicament, because he is single, his advisers and confidants are generally undomesticated guys just like him.

Single men have never been civilization’s most responsible actors; they continue to be more troubled and less successful than men who deliberately choose to become husbands and fathers. So we can be disgusted if some of them continue to live in rooms decorated with “Star Wars” posters and crushed beer cans and to treat women like disposable estrogen toys, but we shouldn’t be surprised.

Relatively affluent, free of family responsibilities, and entertained by an array of media devoted to his every pleasure, the single young man can live in pig heaven—and often does. Women put up with him for a while, but then in fear and disgust either give up on any idea of a husband and kids or just go to a sperm bank and get the DNA without the troublesome man. But these rational choices on the part of women only serve to legitimize men’s attachment to the sand box. Why should they grow up? No one needs them anyway. There’s nothing they have to do.

They might as well just have another beer.

Then there’s Tamara Shayne, who muses that tens of millions of North American men have become lazy, and have lost any compelling reason to demonstrate courage in their daily lives:

Lastly, the reason this generation of foolish lazy men has become an epidemic has to do with bravery. Women, going back for centuries, have been drawn to courageous men. The problem is that up until very recently, that used to mean something. Bravery used to mean being brave in a situation that called for it – fighting the draft, fighting for our country, standing up to other men in fights, risking your neck at your job in dangerous working conditions. But now, no one has to be brave anymore. We’ve created a world that has eliminated all risk and when there’s no risk, why would you ever need to face fear? So how can men show they are brave now? By going on Jackass! Technically I mean the show, but really if you’re just willing to act like one, that’s good enough for us. Get kicked out of a club, bully the weak, talk like Beavis and Butthead, imitate Jim Carey, revel in being fat, steal Stop signs. Flouting social conventions is one of the few ways left for a man to demonstrate courage. Which basically means, the stupider you act, the more your buddies will high five you, and the more women will buy into this notion that you are doing something manly. It seems so outrageous but I’ve seen it with my own eyes so many times; guys act stupid and girls mistake this for machismo and encourage the behavior. If you think this isn’t true, take a trip to any frat house in this country.

Clearly, I’m not making this stuff up. And as for the “who the hell do you think you are?” critique, my answer is simply this: I’m a guy who’s lived more than six decades, and therefor have some observations to dole out and some tales to tell. And as far as I can tell, there are a whole lot of men out there (and a lot of women, too) who are looking for a bit of guidance in these oh-so confusing, troubled times.

So there.

Lighten up, boys

Who said Mormons can’t be fun?

After an exhaustive survey among North American women on what to write about men today (conducted over early morning coffee with my wife, Janet), I’m happy to report today’s topic is: stop being so deadly serious all the time, guys!

I don’t mean to pick on the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, the last grim men standing, those wild & crazy candidates for the Republican presidential nomination, but I mean, there they are. After 20 debates (I know spouses who haven’t had that many conversations after 20 years of marriage), their usually sour mugs are everywhere, all the time, they’re utterly unavoidable, their constant scowls and furrowed brows a depressing reminder of something many women get and few men do — it’s OK to be vulnerable; it’s human to laugh and cry occasionally; it’s not such a bad thing to admit you’re not The Master of the Universe.’Cause guess what? The rest of the world knows you’re not.

Faith. Family. Freedom. Funky? Not so much.

I mean, do I have to remind everyone that every single man alive today — including these bundles of male seriousness — was once a boy. There seem to be only two ways most men decide to react to this alarming fact.

The first is to pretend we’re still precocious kids, the kinds of characters featured in the Hangover movies. Grown men with Star Wars posters hanging in their homes, accountants and insurance salesmen pounding back brewskies in the evenings while playing video games and exchanging fart jokes with their equally juvenile buddies — you know who I’m talking about.

Then there’s the other, equally alarming type of man — the type I’m featuring today — who has decided the only way his family, friends, colleagues (and in some cases, the nation, indeed the entire world) will ever take him seriously is to… wait for it… be serious! Not just occasionally, like when his kid drops out of high school to join a commune in Eastern Oregon, but virtually all the time.

If you’re not serious, no one will take you seriously. I’m serious.

This, unfortunately, turns the offending men into caricatures of “normalcy.” You see, the problem is there’s more to life than, well, problems. There’s actually some love and joy and happiness out there too. These things creep up on all of us — even these dudes — from time to time. When that happens, The Serious Man simply doesn’t know how to behave. Honestly, tell me the truth now, is there anything more sadly hilarious than watching Serious Politicians like these guys attempting to come across as Regular Guys? Rolling up their crisply ironed sleeves to bowl a line with the unemployed guys and gals at the Ten Pin Alley in Allentown, having a Sloppy Joe and a Coke with the lunchtime crowd at a diner in Hutchinson, Kansas. To suggest they look supremely uncomfortable in their own skins doesn’t even begin to describe how horribly, shockingly stiff and otherworldly they appear. I mean, who buys this stuff? How stupid, how superficial do they and their handlers think we are?

Candidate Paul may be dull but this supporter knows how to lighten up.

To conclude, I just had to include this last photo. I apologize to all you Ron Paul supporters out there for not featuring a shot of your candidate looking just as seriously serious as the other three. But this isn’t a campaign blog. It’s intended as a gentle reminder: men who’ve moved beyond adolescence don’t have to be so freaking uptight all the time. Amazingly enough, men who find it in themselves to lighten up now and then, to not take themselves so seriously all the time, are precisely the men who others do take seriously.

That may be a bit too zen for some guys, but I’m serious.

Seriously.

Share this with a man you know who’s trying just a bit too hard to be taken… well, you know. Encourage him to lighten up — assure him the world won’t think less of him for it.  And be sure to let me know how it goes. I take this sort of thing quite, well… again, you know…

NASCAR — good clean fun, or the end of civilization as we know it?

Fancy hats are featured at Ascot & the Kentucky Derby. NASCAR race attendees typically display a bit more “imagination” (and remember: this man is someone’s son).

Reader Eliza Frye poses the question, “What is up with NASCAR, Randy?” Excellent question, Eliza, what with the NASCAR season opening this Sunday at Daytona and all.

First some basics. NASCAR stands for the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing. Founded by Bill France Sr. in 1947-1948 (either Bill made his initial move on December 31st, or he was a slow mover), today NASCAR is a family-owned and operated business venture that sanctions and governs multiple auto racing events across the USA and in a handful of other countries. Like European royalty and Massachusetts Democrats, NASCAR’s leadership has stayed firmly in the family fold — its present CEO, Brian France, is Bill Sr.’s grandson.

NASCAR’s origins are rooted in the bootlegging that took place in the Appalachian region during Prohibition. Distributors of moonshine favored small, fast, often heavily modified cars, capable of leaving the local cops in their dust as they raced through the hills and ‘hollers’ with their illicit merchandise. Dukes of Hazard was, it turns out, a PBS documentary.

Prohibition eventually ended, but the taste many Southerners had developed for souped-up cars and fast driving, with a chaser of moonshine, hadn’t. The seeds for NASCAR were sown.

Today NASCAR, according to, well, NASCAR, is the next most popular spectator sport in America, second only to NFL football (Republican primary debates would actually rank first, but apparently mumbling, lying, and engaging in petty bickering on national television is not considered a “sport” — at least not yet). According to France (that’s Brian, not the scum-suckin,’ snail-eatin,’ lilly-livered so-called country), fully 30% of Americans proudly proclaim themselves to be NASCAR fans.That’s a lot of people, most of them men.

While clearly a national and, marginally, an international phenomenon — there are NASCAR branch offices in Toronto and Mexico City) — NASCAR is a decidedly Southern deal — kind of like Kentucky Fried Chicken, or the increasing propensity of Americans from Seattle to Syracuse to say “y’all.” The company’s headquarters are located in Daytona, Florida, with major offices in Charlotte, Mooresville, Concord, and Conover. And yes, each of those cities shares two things in common: they all have NASCAR offices, and they’re all in North Carolina. In fact, all but a handful of NASCAR’s racing teams are also based in the Tar Heel State — you know, tar heel, as in that cheerful old Confederate Civil War description of troops from North Carolina — “they stuck to their ranks like they had tar on their heels.”

NASCAR over the years has become synonymous with what some refer to as “the dumbing down of America.” As the international stature of the U.S. has slid, graduation rates among American men have fallen, and numbers of men crowding into American prisons steadily increased, NASCAR has prospered, these cynics point out.

Hey, it could be worse — they could be in jail.

Hardcore NASCAR fans (and according to Mr. France there are roughly 75 million of them) may not recall their children’s birthdays, but have memorized every NASCAR driver and their car numbers. They may not be able to read The Richard Petty Story (Petty is a fabled NASCAR driver with a troubling mustache and an unfortunate taste in headgear ), but they sure do like the pictures.

And that, Eliza, hints I think at why NASCAR is so popular among so many men out there today (and, to be fair, more than a handful of women — there’s even a female NASCAR driver this year, Dana Patrick, leaving many NASCAR men torn — on the one hand, Patrick is a woman, for God’s sake; on the other, well, see for yourself)…

Dana Patrick, and a car.

The point is that, in the end, NASCAR racing is simple. Scarey, stupid-fast, but simple. You point your car, mash your foot down on the accelerator pedal, and give ‘er. Around and around in a big circle. It’s kind of like being at home — if “home” includes the smells of gasoline, burning rubber, BBQ, and lots of spilled beer — with the added attractions of (a) the very real possibility of mayhem (mayhem of the best sort, that is, mayhem visited on others, chiefly the unfortunate drivers who have been killed or maimed over the years in NASCAR events — as far as I know, no NASCAR fan has ever bitten the Big One at a race, although things can get a little chippy among the RVs in the infield after 200 laps and too many Buds), and (b) camaraderie — as in the Randy Newman line from the song Rednecks — a place where “everyone looks just like me.”And when you look like the gentleman in the photo at the top of this article, that’s extremely comforting.

I could go on, Eliza, but I think this provides you with at least the beginnings of an answer to your excellent question. I hope it heightens your enjoyment as you tuck into that bag of Doritos, pop a cool one, flip on the ol’ tube, settle down on that couch in the garage, and watch this Sunday’s Daytona 500.

“It is with books as it is with men…”

Voltaire

French philosopher and all-around smartypants Voltaire had a great deal to say about a lot of things. Including men and books. One of my favorite all-time t-shirts, given to me by a drunken Swedish publisher at the Gothenburg International Book Fair years ago, sported the following quote from M. Voltaire: “It is with books as it is with men; a few good ones make all the difference.”

This is actually true, of course, of many things, from wine to women, politicians to pontiffs. It’s also true of films, including really short, animated ones… about books.

I want to share two with you here. The first (and shorter of the two) is called The Joy of Books. Sean Ohlenkamp, of Toronto, and his wife spent, and I quote, “many sleepless nights moving, stacking, and animating books” at Toronto’s Type bookstore. It’s fun, and makes you want to run down to hang out in your local independent bookstore (if you’re lucky enough to have one in your ‘hood — they’re disappearing faster than the Ross Ice Shelf).

I’m proud to say I had the good taste to post the second film on my Facebook page several days ago. Because I really, really love it. Then, lo and behold, it won best animated short at last night’s Oscars. I’m referring to the utterly charming The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore, by author William Joyce, an accomplished illustrator and animator who’s published New Yorker covers, won a bunch of Emmys, created character designs for some of Pixar’s first animated classics, and worked on many others for Dreamworks and Disney. Joyce created this gem, as an interactive ebook as well as an animated film with his cohorts at Moonbot Studios. This is perhaps the most eloquent ode to the importance of sharing our ideas, hopes, dreams, fears, and occasional embarrassing anecdotes through the twin miracles of writing and reading I’ve ever come across. And is also, in the process, a sort of animated love song, a bittersweetly nostalgic one at that, to the book. You can either find it at my Facebook site (http://www.facebook.com/randygmorse) or on YouTube (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Adzywe9xeIU). I plopped my notoriously hard-to-please five-year-old granddaughter, Naya, on my lap the other day in front of the ol’ MacBook Pro screen and watched it with her. She was absolutely enthralled, and has subsequently shown it to others.

So what does all this have to do with men? Well, men played pivotal roles in making both these charming films. In the process displaying creativity, playfulness, whimsy, and more than a little passion.

See ladies? All is not lost.


Paul Mitchell Mans Up!

Paul Mitchell gets on the Man Up bandwagon

Style.

In a world that sometimes seems to have rejected the notion that a man can look good (whatever that may mean) without being superficial, it’s nice to see that a company like Paul Mitchell disagrees (I know, I know — if not an outfit like Paul Mitchell, then who?).

Their new line takes the position that it’s possible to be both manly and stylish, urging men to Man Up with Mitch. I happen to agree that it is, in fact, possible to be a good guy and stylish at the same time (which is why Chapter Ten of my forthcoming book, Man Up in Ten Lessons is called Style).

I’m not saying that good hair makes for a good man. But surely it can’t hurt.

Anyway, for those of you out there who might feel you’re overdue for a decent haircut — or know someone who is badly in need of a little neck-up style help — here’s Paul Mitchell’s Man Up link: http://mitchtheman.com/index.html

Readers first, please

Deepak Chopra knows who his readers are

Most authors working today still labor under the misplaced assumption that nothing’s changed in the publishing world.

Big mistake.

In fact the the old publishing model — author comes up with an idea, writes a manuscript based on this idea, finds a publisher who edits and designs the manuscript, then prints and binds it, turning it into a book, after which it  scrambles around hoping to build an audience for the book — is on life support.

It’s time to pull the plug.

Most successful authors today — particularly those who are penning non-fiction works — already know who their readers are. That not only means they are writing works intended to appeal to those readers, it also means they want to work with publishers who are prepared to use every tool (new as well as old) available to help them reach their audience.

The relative lack of such publishers is one reason so many authors are deciding they’re better off,  as Annie Lennox once put it so succinctly, “doin’ it for themselves.”

The good news is that since many of the new tools go beyond merely plugging the book, new avenues of potential outreach lead to new ways of monetizing the initial work — i.e. the good ol’ book.

In the new scheme of things, authors (and publishers) that take seriously the importance of building links with specific audiences, will succeed. Authors (and publishers) who behave as if they understand the book may be the center of their universe, but there are plenty of other intellectual property planets that orbit around it — and that some of them support life — are going to do well.

It’s going be increasingly tough sledding for everyone else.