Saturday, July 11, 2020

Manipulation

I have had a real change of heart about the idea of being manipulated. That will probably not come as any great surprise for the people who know me. I am a manipulative bastard. Part of my ability to manipulate comes from my naturally charming and persuasive personality. Please don't take charming as a point of arrogance. I have often thought about this ability as slimy or weasel-like. I do have a tendency to try to win people over and befriend them. 

Another part of my manipulative tendencies come from being a trained salesman. I found that I liked the game of getting people to say yes to what I offered them. It was a sort of high level mental play that I used to get from computer programming and exploration. People are much more intriguing puzzles than most anything that you can find virtually. 

Being a student of philosophy, strategy, and psychology, all of which deal heavily in manipulation of one type or another, may also play a part in why I am the way I am. Until very recently, as in the last few weeks, I have always thought of my ability to manipulate as an unfortunate but sometimes necessary part of life. I thought of it as one of a few of my super powers and I know I haven't always used it for the betterment of mankind. 

There is a stigma to being manipulated or "played." It has connotations of having the wool pulled over your eyes or having someone get one over on you. The asshole persona of me is an unapologetic manipulator who works to get what he wants in a very forward and assertive type of way. That in and of itself is a manipulation because 90% of that is facade or flat out fictitious bullshit. I overthink every choice and more often than not am too mild-mannered to make the selfish move. Still, I prefer people to see me as an asshole rather than weak or incapable. It is much the same thing as it being better to be controversial than it is to appear boring or unworthy of attention. 

While reading a book after some training at work I started reconsidering my opinion on the virtues not only of being a proficient manipulator but also on being manipulated. You may have to stick with me on this one. I am probably going to go through some weird examples. 

First of all, I firmly believe that humans will always act in their own self interest and for their own internal pursuits which can never really be known fully by another person. I am writing this post because it pleases me to do so. I am getting more from the writing than I am from the sleep I could be getting or potentially even the sex I could be having. Am I sharing this idea out of the goodness of my heart for the aforementioned betterment of mankind? Not hardly. 

I am sharing my thoughts because I want other people to read them and either admire my thoughts or at bare minimum talk to me about them. I want an audience. I also want audience participation. I haven't completely grown past the desire for the approval of others. In my way I am writing to people I know who I want to connect this with this message. I am subtly revealing truths about myself. I often use my blog for vulnerability that I have to work very hard to have in other situations. 

If we are all out for our own ends then manipulation should be described as the science of getting your way from other people. Some manipulations are bad. If you are going to destroy someone else's relationship with their spouse because you want to get a married person into bad that is a negative manipulation. If you want to inspire a friend to pursue a better paying job that might be a positive manipulation. It might also be awful. It really depends on how the friend feels about it. 

What I have learned is that I want people in my life who are adept in manipulating me in the right way. The best way to do this was taught to us by Pavlov and his faithful hounds. (It feels kind of appropriate that I am talking about Pavlov's dogs since I mentioned Schrodinger's Cat in my last post. Hopefully that is a manipulation on my part to produce a Google search about these topics if you aren't familiar or at least read my last post about my 4-year-old pilfering notes for a story I am writing) Anyway, Pavlov modified the behavior of dogs to understand that when he rang a bell the dog would get food. There is more to it than that, but I prefer you learn as much as you want about Pavlov on your own time. For now, I hope to hold your attention a bit further. 

Bell Rings. Dog gets food. Positive reinforcement is achieved. The message in the dogs brain is that the reward for responding to the bell is a full stomach. This is all the model you need for how to manipulate most humans. Find out what motivates them and then leverage it against the behavior you want them to perform. This is powerful knowledge. Use it only for good. No. I am totally kidding. Lot's of other people already understand this and are using it against you for their own ends. Use it how you need to.

I suggest you use it to fix those frustrating little pieces of your life that you don't know how to fix. Got a husband that you want to take the trash out regularly? Positively reinforce the act of taking out the trash. I strongly suggest sexual pleasure. I have to say I would get excited to take the trash out if every time I did I got to see and/or touch boobs. Elevate and extrapolate my example to whatever is effective. 

I think that part of the failure of relationships come when partners stop manipulating one another. That first date is basically a pack of lies wrapped neatly in best case scenarios, what-ifs, and being on your best behavior. In case you didn't know it first dates are like job interviews. If the other person shows up in green gym shorts and velcro fasten sneakers topped off with a stained wife beater then you can bet you are never going to rate his Sunday best or worse still that is his Sunday best. If things escalate to a place that you find out that he didn't wash his balls for you and you perform any type of sexual interaction then come to expect man funk as a part of your regular life. You can come to expect what you accept. 

Manipulation is a part of caring. I want someone to care enough to figure out my psychology and how to manipulate me efficiently and effectively. It takes a ton of effort to know what pisses me off and what makes me happy. To work me over well you are going to have to know how I am motivated and what my goals are. That is tricky because there are the goals that people say they have and then there are the goals that they are actually working toward. I mean I say I want to be a writer, but then I leave my story notes laying about where any cute child of mine might make them disappear. 

I can say that it would be a huge benefit to have someone subtly maneuver me to diet and exercise more effectively. I have said for years all it would take for me to become a marathon runner would be a woman with an attractive backside to run in front of me daily. For this to be effective she also needs to be able to run slightly faster than me and have greater endurance. The second part would be the harder part. I don't go fast, but I can go forever. 

I think it would be a benefit to have someone to use manipulation to write more. I am not saying that I want a blow job every time I post something to my blog or each time I add a few note cards to my project story, but if I were getting that sort of motivation there would certainly be more productive. Nothing that invasive is required. I have a cellphone that can receive nudes anytime. Seems easy to me. 

Being well manipulated to me is a sign of having a healthy partner in life. I am constantly running experiments on the people around me to learn about them. I learn what works and what doesn't. I figure out what encourages and what discourages. It isn't an exact science and it requires a fair amount of trial and error. I care enough to figure out the puzzle. 

If it is a big job figuring out how someone works, I suspect this is a key sign that they are not the person for you. It should be a joy to put together experiments of making the other person happy. It should also be a blast to maneuver them to make you happy. This is much easier if the person you are working with is already inclined in the direction you want them to go. That is another line between positive and negative manipulation. When the other person thanks you for the result you are on the right path. If they are confused, hurt, angry, or hate you afterward you probably shouldn't have attempted that manipulation. 

The more you accept manipulation is an acceptable part of life the easier it is to see how people manipulate you. Trust me it is happening on the regular. The people you work with manipulate you constantly. Customer Service is its own brand of manipulation. Every relationship is a give and take of accepted manipulations. The more effort you put into your manipulation skills the more socially adept you become. There is not option to not play the game. That is the dream of the high-brow sophisticate and is both folly and fantasy. 

Get in the game. Play it well. The best people will enjoy it and thank you for it. 

A Fatal Flaw in Process

I think every writer develops processes and routines that work best for them. For this blog it is normally a simple thing. If I get struck with an idea and cannot immediately put my fingers on the keys I pull out my phone and type in a quick reminder. Typically this is just a title or a one sentence description of the post. At most it might be a paragraph, but that is extremely rare. 

My fiction work is a bit more organized. I believe strongly in the outlining process. The problem with outlining is that it is a process. Characters and themes are living things. I can find myself writing scenes out of order. Any given scene might add something to the character that I didn't know about them before. 

As an example, I have been working on a script that involves vampires attacking a writer and her boy toy during a writing retreat. In the initial story concept the boy toy is a throw away character involved mostly as a framing device. He is killed early on. The writer goes on to serve as a plot driver. A scene occurred to me where the writer is saved by the protagonist of the story. As a part of the resolve of the scene it is important to have a familiar element to normalize the strange details. Adding the boy toy into the scene makes it more genuine. The problem then is that the character cannot die in the opening scenes of the story. He also cannot continue to be only physically appealing to the writer. There needs to be a more genuine emotional bond between the two. 

For this reason I don't type out my outline in Word until I have developed it thoroughly and allowed my imagination to chew on a story for a good period of time. I frequently compose scenes in my mind while I am riding on a motorcycle, driving, working, or in the shower. Once a scene hits my head I have a profound need to get it recorded quickly.  

A handy tool for this process is something I learned from Save the Cat by Blake Snyder. I typically carry a small stack of 3 x 5 index cards. I always have a writing utensil on my person. I make myself distill the essence of the scene into a few sentences that fit on the card. Sometimes I know how they fit in the story. Sometimes I do not. 

A couple of times each day I will pull out my cards and read through them. I try and organize them. I also try to put in some work on adding scenes. There comes a place where the story has enough beats (again thank you Mr. Snyder) to put it into one narrative. I sit down with my note cards and I type out a fairly detailed outline. I check that outline and make adjustments to make sure I have good plot structure and that the story itself makes some sort of sense. 

New cards will happen quickly at this point. In the outlining process the original cards get a number order so that I can carry a quick easy story in my pocket if I want. (Ok, so it is in my backpack most of the time, but the idea remains the same) These new scenes find a place in their numbered sequence. The story grows. Between the outline and the cards I can flesh out a story fairly quickly. The actual writing takes me less time than the process of building the outline typically. 

I have been fairly distraught since Thursday. I left my organizer and a stack of about a dozen cards for a story I was developing sitting out on my desk. Teagan found them sitting neatly at my desk. While I was out mowing and either Ashley or Taila was hanging out with her the cards went missing. *poof* Now the cute little drawings throughout my organizer strongly indicate that Teagan is the culprit. She pulled out several of my sticky notes (no harm) and made doodles randomly throughout the book.  In a way this makes this my favorite moleskine organizer. I have used these for the last twenty one years. This is the first one Teagan personalized. 

I was a little shaken to find notes pulled out of pages. Luckily, she didn't pull out anything that mattered. In fact, I ended up tossing everything she did pull out. Some 4-year-old instinct told her what was of value among the sticky notes. I was amazingly impressed that my schedule for next week was completely intact. Perhaps she liked the light blue notes better than the pink and the green ones she did pull out. 

Once I realized that my story notes were missing I went to talk to the kid. She is 4 years old. I was stupid to leave the book or the cards down where she could reach them. It was even more foolish to leave them next to writing utensils. I normally keep pens, pencils, and markers tucked away out of easy reach. I was excited at the idea of getting in some serious steps push mowing our front yard. We normally cut it with a tractor for good reason. The property is a couple of acres. Push Mowing in 90 degree heat for a few miles worth of steps just had to be good exercise. That is a good thing to be excited about, right?

It didn't feel that way with several weeks worth of story plotting gone. Still, Teagan could remove my actual heart and I would probably be ok with it. When we sat down for a chat she told me that the cards just disappeared. It is one of the cutest words she says. Off the top of my head the only thing that tops it is her saying Captain America. When I explained that the cards were really important to me she whined a little bit and said," I am sorry Daddy. They disappeared. The witch took them." The witch apparently does a lot of things around my house. There is probably a story idea in that. Kids do understand a world in a way that our skeptical adult minds discount. Completely freaking spooky that idea.

After a few hugs, some juice, and a declined bribe of a cupcake I am no closer to finding these cards. We have searched fairly thoroughly. I admit I spent most of my Friday completely bummed out. I took a few naps. The sense of loss is completely disproportionate to the actual loss. I am still in the story development phase of this idea. I won't be able to recapture all of the ideas I had put down. I do still have the general arc of the story in my head. 

I am not upset with anyone except myself. I don't typically make sloppy mistakes unintentionally. (Yes, I often intentionally make what appear to be sloppy mistakes on purpose. This is a very masterful strategy.) I guess it is a mark of my excitement about diet and exercise that I was so unfocused that I didn't secure my stuff. 

I don't think I am ready to abandon my writing process. It has served me well. I keep reassuring myself that losing those cards is a good thing. It is a reminder to protect my work. It also is driving me to work harder on the story. The faithful part of me thinks that there were ideas in those cards that just weren't meant to be a part of the story. Still, I find myself almost obsessively continuing to look for the cards. 

Just before bedtime tonight the kid suggested that she dropped the cards in my Dad's room while she was in there watching her tablet. I haven't extended the search that far. My suspicion is that Teagan drew all over the cards, realized she did something naughty, and like her father in his younger days promptly destroyed the evidence. I suspect the cards went into a trash bag. Naturally, we took the trash off to the dump before I realized the cards were missing. 

I am having a real Schrodinger's Cat type of moments. The cards both are and are not lost forever. At this juncture I am not sure which I hope for more. It gave me something to blog about.