Thursday, August 29, 2013

Susan Cain On Introverts

Susan Cain’s nonfiction book Quiet provides a wonderful dose of self-esteem for introverts. Writing from a business perspective, she points out how introverts often make better leaders and CEO’s. And the range of her analysis goes much wider, into the realms of childhood, happiness and so much more. Steeped in psychological research, her arguments reveal a lot about the human brain and behavior, leading to all kinds of acute philosophical questions.

I think the most important, and controversial, point you can derive from Cain’s book is this: our culture has a major ethical problem due to its bias in favor of silver-tongued, magnetic social butterflies. Cain strongly argues this polemical claim. She writes that the most efficient and healthiest system gives parity to both personality types:

The most effective teams are composed of a healthy mix of introverts and extroverts, studies show, and so are many leadership structures (p.93)

Why the ethical problem with extrovert favoritism? For one thing, extroverts have high “reward sensitivity,” which means money or status can heavily drive them. They are more likely to focus on ends and ignore the means. This is established at the level of brain chemistry. Some people are wired for a task-oriented dopamine ride.

Cain links reward sensitivity to economic cataclysms, like stock market crashes:

Reward sensitivity on overdrive gets people into all kinds of trouble. We can get so excited about the prospect of juicy prizes, like winning big in the stock market, that we take outsized risks and ignore obvious warning signals. (p.157)

She spotlights the 2008 crash explicitly. The cause? Hyper-extroverts took over the reins, squeezing out needed caution. She presents the view of Boykin Curry that “forceful extroverts ... caused the global financial crash”:

"People with certain personality types got control of capital and institutions and power," Curry told me. "And people who are congenitally more cautious and introverted and statistical in their thinking became discredited and pushed aside.” (p.164).

Introverts, who are careful, deliberate thinkers, actually shine in the investment world: “[A] study of sixty-four traders at an investment bank found that the highest-performing traders tended to be emotionally stable introverts” (p.163)

Urgent ethical questions permeate the economic and leadership decisions in our country. Such questions require careful reflection to answer with proper diligence. Extroverts who let their reward sensitivity run free are not very likely to engage in the necessary careful reflection. The danger of this tendency is exacerbated by our consumerist society’s worship of reward sensitivity. It is considered the modus vivendi of the materialistic lifestyle.

Introverts are less prone to focus on the goal and more likely to evaluate the hidden (ethical) effects of the means. Introvert and and extrovert brains actually operate differently:

Introverts’ reflectiveness uses up a lot of cognitive capacity, according to Joseph Newman [psychologist, University of Wisconsin]. On any given task, he says, “if we have 100 percent cognitive capacity, an introvert may have only 75 percent on task, whereas an extrovert may have 90 percent on task.” ... Extroverts appear to allocate most of their cognitive capacity to the goal at hand, while introverts use up capacity by monitoring how the task is going.” (p.168)

Metaphorically speaking, if low-quality planks are being laid in the foundation of project, introverts will take notice. Extroverts will tend to ignore this factor and focus on snatching the trophy. As long as they rise high enough to snatch that trophy, it doesn’t matter if the whole thing collapses afterward.

Another factor: Cain finds association between introverts and “high sensitivity.” People with this trait:

tend to be keen observers who look before they leap ... they process information about their environments--both physical and emotional--unusually deeply. They tend to notice subtleties that others miss--another person’s shift in mood, say, or a light bulb burning a touch too brightly. (p.136)

They also are sometimes highly empathic. “It’s as if they have thinner boundaries separating them from other people’s emotions and from the tragedies and cruelties of the world. They tend to have unusually strong consciences.” (p.136-7)

Do we want empathic people with strong consciences in charge, or those who are less so? Those who instead focus on attaining the glowing numbers that stock markets idealize?

Note that "college students today are 40 percent less empathetic than they were thirty years ago" and "the study’s authors "speculate that the decline in empathy is related to the prevalence of social media, reality TV, and “hyper-competitiveness." (p.141)

Hyper-competitiveness. Right. That would mean focusing on money while ignoring whether your tactics are ethical or not.

Cain makes it clear, over and over, that a materialistic society, one that aggrandizes extroversion, is going to dig a lot of moral ditches. And a lot of skeletons are going to be buried in those ditches.

Highly reactive introverts are less likely to get away with lying, because they tend to sweat. However, “low-reactive extroverts sweat less” and are less susceptible to various social or physical stimuli in general. To get the “buzz” they like, they need to rev things up, which could mean something harmless like a noisy party or, conversely, it could mean reckless thrill-seeking, with potential negative consequences for many people.

Extroverts can prevaricate with relative ease. And “sociopaths lie at the extreme end of this coolness barometer, with extremely low levels of arousal, skin conductance, and anxiety.” (p.142)

Finally, the extrovert style, which is taught at Harvard Business School, embraces deceit as a fundamental axiom of managerial strategy. Some of the tips given to students:

“Speak with conviction. Even if you believe something only fifty-five percent, say it as if you believe it a hundred percent.”

“If you’re preparing alone for class, then you’re doing it wrong. Nothing at HBS is intended to be done alone.”

“Don’t think about the perfect answer. It’s better to get out there and say something than to never get your voice in.” (p.47)

In conclusion, the way of the extrovert, which is pushed by our profit-hungry society, rests on the idea of excellence in deceit. It puts speed above prudence, charisma above research, and it prioritizes short-term goals while neglecting the bigger picture.

The introvert way, on the other hand, is cautious and thoughtful. It is empathic and sensitive. Cain points to research demonstrating that introverts make better leaders in situations where workers are allowed to be “pro-active,” that is, where they are allowed to think for themselves. If you just want workers to keep their heads down and obey, extroverts are good at the necessary skills of manipulation:

Cain cites studies showing that introverts are better at leading proactive employees because they listen to and let them run with their ideas, while extroverts are better at leading passive employees because they have a knack for motivation and inspiration.

Indeed, if you can make people conform, you can alter their brain chemistry to change the way they perceive reality. For instance, people can be made to believe that a drawn line is much smaller than it actually is (p.91), all because of group pressure.

If we want freedom of thought, not social manipulation and deceit, the introvert way is essential. Unfortunately, our society has a long way to go. At least introversion gets some much-needed stroking from Cain’s best-selling book.


Monday, August 26, 2013

Acceptance: The Gap Toothed Madness

I have decided to focus heavily on my novel-in-progress, which is sapping my time for anything else. There is, therefore, a mighty weight of guilt on my shoulders regarding The Gap-Toothed Madness. I want to say so much about this mind-shocking, soul-edifying journal. And yet whatever I pen here will be meager. I suggest simply checking out the site. You'll see how audacious, ambitious, and wonderfully unusual this outlier is:

Dive Into the Gap

From the home page:

The Gap-Toothed Madness is an independent lit mag out of Sacramento, CA.We want to publish a magazine of the best literature and art we can get our hands on.We want to do it without all of the pretension and attitude that seems to be so pervasive in the literary world. We want you to be a part of it.

The poems accepted are “Drifts” and “Tied Up," slated for the December issue. Editor Richard Barnhart is a self-described “passionate procrastinator,” so submit work soon for eventual perusal. Actually Ed. Barnhart seems pretty fast-working to me. Maybe that has something to do with Managing Editor Brittany Wright. Among her other duties, she is “charged with the unenviable task of keeping Richard off both his lazy ass and his high horse.”

Pretty awesome!

I want to ramble on and fawn over this journal. Alas, I can’t. But even when I was writing the cover letter, I felt a special energy from GTM, and swerved off my generic-ish format. I guess I’ll include that cover letter here (see below).

Seriously, this is a fantastic zine, unique in its semi-grotesque charm. Help it to zoom.


PS: Here is the cover letter I wrote with my submission


Dear Editors Barnhart and Wright,

Please find a five-poem submission attached.

I much enjoyed the incredible poems of Fred Pollack, especially “Scarpia” and “Mister Natural and Edgewood,” but all of them really. I thought there might be a little bit of Crumb in your appealing grotesque aesthetic, and Pollack’s work gave me another clue.

Anyway, I don’t have any illusions of acceptance, but please know the enclosed have been worked on very seriously, to honor your time and misson. By “worked on” I don’t necessarily mean “polished.” I just wanted to ride the chimera truthfully, if that makes sense.

Thank you for bursting onto the scence in an original outstanding way. I’m honored that you would consider my work.

Most Sincerely,



Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Poem: Remembrancer

My 50th birthday has ambled under the lens of the steady clock, coming fully into focus--today!

I'd like to share a poem that is one of my 'prayers', which means it is a celebration of life more than anything else. I believe one essential reason we have been put on Earth is to enjoy the experience of being alive. If you were the Creators, wouldn't you want your creations to enjoy? To be in awe? To fascinate on the nature of it all coming together?

Isn't it strange, for instance, that we have these things called hands? How remarkable that the world around us is so trustworthy and yet capable of overwhelming permutations of beauty! Even a single pebble could take a lifetime to describe in words. Once you were done describing it, you'd realize you had described everything else as well.

Let us remember to be grateful. What a strange, fantastical journey we are all on, as individuals and together.




little we consider the gift:
those years that filled our senses,
made us drunk on the elixir of life.
how breeze on our topless backs
both massaged and aroused.
and the sun warmed us
because we are, still, its dream.

we have felt so much,
tapestries of memories, playful as liquid silk.
parades of brave thoughts, lucky hopes,
and flocks of sensation,
color the mind’s evolving sky.

if we die tomorrow, it only magnifies
the rich, luscious trail.
that all-ness of what we have seen,
through prisms of storm and winter,
roses and parapets.

such musics, aromas, and fantasias of touch.
our souls overflowed, once, to revel,
and overflowed again.
it happens even now,
more than we recognize:
joys and laughters echoing,
dancing outside of harnessed time.
more than we struggle to remember,
more than we dare to know.


Monday, August 19, 2013

Acceptance: Samizdat

Visit Samizdat

I am extremely thrilled to have two poems forthcoming in this incredible venue, which masterfully presents art, fiction, poetry, creative non-fiction, and interviews. The zine’s name is brilliant. From the site:

According to Wikipedia, samizdat was a key form of dissident activity across the Soviet bloc in which individuals reproduced censored publications by hand and passed the documents from reader to reader, thus building a foundation for the successful resistance of the 1980s. This grassroots practice to evade officially-imposed censorship was fraught with danger as harsh punishments were meted out to people caught possessing or copying censored materials.

Happily the power of the work lives up to this subversive theme, though in many cases the authority circumvented is broadly construed: anything that inhibits the creative crucible of the mind. There are indictments, for sure, of various kinds. You'll find trenchant poetry that champions passion over the monotony of the norm. This includes the malaise of denial that keeps people from thinking in rich, multi-levelled ways suitable to the depths of their cerebral folds. One of my favorite pieces on the site, in all categories, is the art/poem by Robin Lysne, "Visual Deer"

One of my favorite poems is "No Thru Traffic" by Eric Noonan (audio is also available for poems at SZD!):

Jeff Von Ward is the chief architect of this cathartic liberation zone. In addition to the great work, you will find awesome aesthetics, professional yet not typical, right down to the choice of fonts.

An absolutely daring thought-venture.

Rare editors like this give the sphere of poetry its essential patina of virtuosity.


Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Poem: Bug's Life

This poem originally appeared in the latest issue of WHL Review ( Read it there, if you wish, along with two others.

Fly Well In the Dark,



Bug’s Life

light exposes our wrinkles
for what they are:
nooks gouged by skin mites

who cringe
on a razorback of knuckle
in a land of mountainous teats.

little Scyllas

fixated in their drama,
spurred by goals of sex and gut.


who chew corpse
and exploit the inert,
who earn space

and battle hurdles,
swill to wallow,
rituals of desire and dread.


champion their wants,
not knowing the want’s why.
belittle what they crush, not sensing

the crushed pleas.

and when we look down,
‘they who tear flesh with numb mouths’
stare back,

precise as a mirror,

feasting at the trough
as if working tobacco.


Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Acceptance: Danse Macabre Magazine, No.72 Oubliette


That maestro of the mysterium; impresario of the illusive and surreal; acute anatomist of sortilege; and honeyeater in the gardens of the subconscious, none other than Adam Henry Carriére, editor extreme, has introduced another issue of his fantastical pharmacopeia of dark literature, that audacious amygdala-teaser, Danse Macabre Magazine. The number of the issue being 72, entitled “Oubliette.”

“Oubliette” has long been one of my favorite words, and the provocative cover and content season my penchant nicely. This might be AHC’s most raw collection yet, a test for the tensile strength of the boundaries of the plausible. But he continues to lace his madness with genius, never becoming blandly pornographic or over-kitschified. True, he loves the genres of the Hitchcock era, and the original Frankenstein-movie era, and even going back into the celluloid archaeum, when cinema made its first foray into things vampire: Nosferatu (1922). But none of this dominates or obviates the lush originality of Oubliette.

Let me add a twist. Another of AHC’s various personalities adores a fetch of the gothic and the baroque. He infuses this, too, with a Poe-ity of the Romantic. However, the subthemes somehow cohere, latch in mutual fever, to birth a mutating body of art, one with a recognizable core and yet also worthy of the tumults of Ovid. Carriére plays wild and heart-nude in the fast-paced free market of online lit. Part of this is being immensely prolific. In addition to DM’s continuous churn, he helms Hammer & Anvil books, plus affiliated blogs, and webs of social sites, and all that.

There are hints that AHC’s siren-search might be approaching a climax. For instance, he has just released what he claims is “probably” the last anthology of DM work. The last one! Rumors fly. Is DM to pass? Is Carriére paying the price for seizing the throttle as if he possessed immortal vitality? Any mind is a fragile cask, even the most cauldron-tough, when attempting to harbor sublime daemons.

I highly suggest you visit No.72. See three of my pieces in the Poetry section. They are under “Drei durch Drei,” sandwiched between the impeccable Chad Anderson and scintillant Kathyrn A. Kopple. The former has led a slam team to the national semi-finals, only to see them, apparently with pride, voluntarily withdraw. He is also magnificent with publications. The latter is an NYU PhD in Latin American Literature, and has been in journals that have rejected me umptillion times, and will continue to do so. Dr. Kopple also has plenty of other phoenix-quality quills in the fire of achievement. You've got to read it to see, I mean--

Wow, what amazing people wait for you in the blah-shattering underworld of the Oubliette!

(My three poems are: “Basin,” “Uprising,” and “Sprezzatura.” Some of “Basin” is below to entice).

These ramblings offer just the tip of 72's iceberg of absinthe. I dare you to visit. Once you are inside, you might hear an immortal song-phrase seep from the nether regions of your soul:

“It's astounding. Time is fleeting. Madness. Takes its toll.”

Fare You Well,


PS: First three stanzas of "Basin"...


where sand pulls shawls over shoes,
and the moon brags louder than the blued sun.
you can kick up anything, brute sorrow or hate.

logic scrabbles
in the weird oblong of the rocks.
where birds are gourmands scrounging for glazed eyes.

it all looks like water because there is none.
heat plays oracle in armored shine.
where scorpions are courtiers ...

(four stanzas more...)


Saturday, August 3, 2013

Poem: Drop of Water

This poem was recently published in Chicago Literati and is one of my favorties among those I've written. In the process of editing it, a plot line developed and the poem took over and wrote itself. The "drop of water" is much more. This is one of those rare times when my subconscious found the freedom I try so hard to give it (perhaps I fail, often, because I try so hard).

Best to All,


PS: the other poems in Chicago Literati are especially powerful, too. One concerns my childhood so is extra intense for me.



Drop of Water

it wasn’t as simple as she wanted,
ripe with transparent creatures,
each more cunning than the guile of the smallest itch.
it couldn’t be cut in half
though it could be parsed, and yet then you got
segments of competitors:
a rank glossy sphere of doom,
tragedy all over again.
it wasn’t like a pinch of sun
or a cc of dopamine.
it was a seed, all right, but cursed,
could eke out life in dunes
or a poisoned quagmire.
she wanted to drop it in the well
of her watery eyes, offer up
its furtive cyphers at
the altar of needy thoughts.
she was eager to, as a priest might fling
some terrible clue off a bridge.
she was underneath, looking up,
awed by its cold flood-birthed hang.
it wasn’t going to baptize her
or even sympathize. this
codex of battling threads.
this eon-strong message
housed in relentless pulp.
it would die and come back
after impregnating a cloud.
after being lost beyond hope
in brackish froth. it didn’t care
and never would. it looked down at her
through a prism of late day,
surrounded by the lives and homes
its armies had destroyed.