We all need a party-trick – or the fun of cultivating obscure, semi-useless natural talents

Talent is the natural aptitude or skill one has in any given action.  If one is really fortunate, one is able to combine their given talent with their livelihood.  If you have a calling, as the saying goes, you will never “work” a day in your life.  What I’m talking about is something that comes easier to you than it seemingly does to others although one must work hard to refine this talent.  Most of us, if we’ve lived at least semi-full lives, have discovered a number of things we are terrible at,  a smaller collections of things we are middle of the road average at and a very small list of things that, for one reason or another, we kick-ass in.  This post is a celebration of the cultivation of those weird, random talents.

When I was 11 I begged my mother for months to let me take martial arts classes.  It’s not that she didn’t want me to, it’s just that we didn’t have that much money at the time.  Finally, she relented, and we found a suitable dojo/boxing gym.  This place was open 7 nights a week – the first 2 hours for boxing, the 2nd two hours for Shotokan Karate.  I usually went a minimum of 5 days a week and attended both training sessions.  After 10 or 11 months of this the following things became apparent.  I was shitty boxer and at best I was able to attain a level that didn’t provoke outright embarassment in onlookers.  On the other hand, I was better in Karate…and what really distinguished me was my flexibity, speed and kicking ability.  My kicks were well above average, and my hands, even in Karate were, well, meh.  For those of you who are new to martial arts, Shotokan is a Japanese style that is not generally known for flashy kicks.  I , however, lived for such, so this being the early 80s I ordered books (yes, kiddies, no Youtube tutorials) written by well-known Korean Taekwondo practitioners that gave detailed technique breakdowns of many jump-spinning kicks, double jump spinning kicks and the like.  Soon  I started to do tournament sparring and it turns out I was relatively succesful.  I was painfuly shy at this point in my life so nobody at school had the slightest idea what I was doing with my spare time until my tournament results got some very localized media attention.  But perhaps even funnier, of the “party trick” variety, was the reception I got at first in the actual tournaments.  I remember once I destroyed this kid, a black belt, 3 points to 0 with rapid fire high kicks.  As we finished the head judge said “Hey, outstanding job for a yellow belt, you do Taekwondo?”  When I replied “No, Shotokan”, he did a doubletake and laughed.  The thing is, I trained 10 to 14 hours a week on this really obscure (especially at the time) skill that was really only applicable in this very specific setting.  I have never been a skilled fighter, I don’t have the instincts.  What I was very good at, however, was this very specific form of “tag” that is tournament karate sparring.

Another very, nay, extremely unlikely skill that I possess is the benchpress.  If you told me at 18 that one day I’d be that dude in the gym who benchpresses more than everyone else, I’d have laughed my ass off.  Until my mid-40s, I had a slimmer atheletic build.  I’ve always had fairly broad shoulders but otherwise I wasn’t big-boned, hairy chested or, at the time, overly burdened with muscle.  I was, and in some ways remain, the original metrosexual.  Benchpressing was for Neanderthals.  I was much more focused in my 20s and 30s on my 10K times than powerlifting.  Fast forward 2 decades in time and almost 8 years of Powerlifting training.  My deadlift is pathetic by almost any standard, my squat is respectable when I’m not injured but my bench is another matter.  On any given day in a commercial gym I can probably outbench anyone in the gym, even the heavier guys.  I might not out-bench everybody in a powerlifting gym, but I’ll at least make a good showing for myself.  I don’t grind out my benchpresses, they go up easily, even when I’m very close to my 1RM…until I’m over that limit and it doesn’t move.  I never train to failure and I only fail lifts a couple of times a year.  As my coach asked me the other day, “So what’s it like having this one weird thing you’re really good at?  I bet it doesn’t come up much in cocktail party chat”…

Finally, the last thing I’m weirdly good at is Trivial Pursuit or Jeapordy type games.  My cousin actually had a week long winning streak on Jeapordy program (RIP Alex Trebek) in the 90s so perhaps it’s in the genes.  So much so that I immediatey vibed with with the move Slumdog Millionaire when it came out.  I just happen to know a lot of weird, random facts for a number of weird, random reasons.  I clean up in pub quizzes, as long as it’s general interest and not too (which can happen where I live) UK specific.  I’m always getting the “WTF, how do you know that?!?!” reaction.  What can I say, I guess rampant boredom and no TV growing up had something to do with it…

We all need these party tricks, these obscure skills that maybe don’t garner much public glory but make us feel good about ourselves.  Firstly, because skills or talents are only discovered and developed because you’ve gone out there and tried many things until, lo and behold, here’s this crazy thing that you’re better at than most people.  Secondly, you need to work hard take the skill in question to the next level.  All of the skills I mentioned above were examples applying many hours of hard work to a specific apptitude.

No country for middle-aged Goth dudes.

The country I live in is small by any standards and the capital city is more of a largish small town.  It reminds me of when I was living on an island in that you constantly bump into the same people.  It’s the sort of place that when you are in a public place and wish to gossip about somebody, you look over both shoulders as there is a very good chance the person may be close by.  In such an environment, those of us who march to a different drummer, who let their freak flag fly, stand out just a bit more than they would in a normal urban environment.  Human nature being what it is, you can’t help but notice them, to be visually drawn to them.  God bless ’em  for following their path, it can’t be easy to live under the microscope.

One such person is a gentleman my kids and I call “Middle-Aged Goth Dude”.  Now, we don’t know anything about him, not even his name, but we’ve been crossing paths with him for years.  My kids have grown up with him and I even I remember him from when I first got here 23 years ago, when neither of us were middle-aged.  He was just a Goth dude back then, not THE Goth dude, as those of his ilk were more numerous back in the day.

Middle-aged Goth Dude is always, invariably dressed, styled and coiffed the same way no matter the season,  vagaries of weather  or of vulgar, pedestrian fashion.  He’s relatively tall, roughly 1m85, clad head to toe in black (need you even ask) and his jet black hair (dyed, for sure) is left in a kind of long haired Mohawk.  In other words, the sides of his head are completely shaved and the hair in the middle of his head is held down with gel and is about shoulder length.  These days I’ve notice a growing bald spot on the top of our protagonist’s head, so it’s a good call he’s tall and it’s not something readily apparent.

His Gothiform consists of black jeans, a black longsleeves shirt, a long black wool coat (the heyday of which was some time in the mid-80s) and a pair of pretty cool black leather engineer boots.  The de rigeur black eyeliner and black lip outliner (or whatever you call that stuff) is present, of course, but relatively discrete and used to good effect.  One wonders if age has imparted wisdom and craft to our protagonist’s maquillage technique.  The deathly pale pallor is, it seems, in no way enhanced.  It’s just a byproduct of living la vida gotica.  You won’t catch Middle-aged Goth Dude pool-side in Ibiza any time soon.

Normally, one runs into Middle-aged Goth Dude either on the bus, or on the street where he is invariably whizzing by on a black (naturally) electric scooter.  In 23 years, I’ve only seen him during the day, never at night and therefore never, interestingly, at concerts or nightclubs.  Not even once.  Nor have I ever bumped into him a in a working (like a said, this is a small town) capacity, not in a shop, restuarant or bar.  I don’t remember ever having seen him with somebody else.  This gentleman seems well adjusted, polite in social circumstances and is well-groomed.  But, otherwise, he’s a complete mystery.

What does Middle-aged Goth Dude do for a living?  Is he independently wealthy?  Why does he seemingly never go out at night? Is he happy?  Depressed?  Vegan?  Carnivore?  What inspired him to adopt “Goth” as a longterm lifestyle?  What’s he think of Robert Smith (of The Cure fame) since he became nutjob fascist?  So many questions…

Last year I saw Fun-loving Criminals in concert, a band I last saw in concert in the late 90s.  I did a doubletake when I entered the concert hall – hey, what are all these fat-ass oldsters doing at this concert.  Then the band came on and they too were old..and not exactly svelte.  Oh.  As I ordered a drink at the bar, I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror.  Oh…yeah….me too.  Aging is a bitch, and nobody is immune to it’s effects. So, yes, middle-aged Goth dude is aging.  He’s gained a some kilos, his hair is thinning and his face is getting puffy, his eyes sort of watery and bloodshot.  Middle-age is a time a when one’s bad habits come back to roost with a vengeance.  I can’t help but wonder if drink is part of the equation or if that’s just me projecting.

Goth is, essentially, a movement that is best left to young people.  It’s all about morosity, decrepitude and navel-gazing narcissim, which as a look and way of life can really only be pulled off successfully, if at all,  by those in the flower of youth.  Youth, as the cliche goes, is wasted on the young.  Goth’s natural home was London and NYC (with St Mark’s Place being the US epicenter) and as a movement it crested in the late 80s.  And yet here were are in 2020, in a smallish city in continental Europe and Middle-aged Goth Dude just keeps on keeping on.  Damn the torpedoes and full speed ahead.  Here’s to you, MGD.

Why some blog posts work and others don’t: an analysis

 

As a blogger, have you ever taken to the time to examine your readership statistics to discern what seems to garner the most attention…and what doesn’t?  I’ve been blogging for a year now and have published dozens of posts.  During that time, I’ve had some spectacular failures as well as a few relative successes.  Using the data available I will attempt to identify what worked, what didn’t  and pass an honest judgement as to why.  In the second part of this assessment I’ll identify what, as a reader, draws my interest to a blog post.

First, let’s set the parameters.  I feel that a “view” is the most important data point.  You can “like” a post and even “follow” the blog but only the “view” reliably indicates that you drew the reader’s interest.  “Follow” statistics are somewhat useful, especially if you see a spike after a blog that garnered a decent number of views.  This indicates that some people a) read your post and b) decided to follow your blog as a result.  Of course, you can follow a blog or like a post without reading it and this seems to happen to some extent.  “Likes” are therefore nice to have, but not a reliable indicator as to the “market value” of the post.

A quick analysis of my posts:  As a blogger my stated interests, as laid out in my “about” page are varied but include strength training, literature, travel and sundry other topics.  Below, in descending order, are blog topics that generated the most interest:

  • Writing/blogging  – This had a comfortable, but not overwhelming lead, over other topics.  Not surprising, really, as we’re all blogging because we love to write so it’s a shared interest in the broadest sense.
  • Literature – Books are my lifeline, as they probably are for you so it’s not surprising that in the blogosphere there is a widespread appreciation for reading/literature.
  • Travel/Living in other countries – Well, again, not surprising, it’s part of the title of this blog.  Other cultures, and by extension travelling are also a universal interest.
  • Strength training:  A slight majority of my posts are about strength training, powerlifting or gym going in general.  You’ll notice it’s 4th on the list. Primarily, strength training, and especially powerlifting, is a niche activity.   If you factor in how many readers in the blogosphere would be interested in those activities, it’s probably not surprising those posts are not my most read.  That being said, they are some of the most loyal readers.
  • Cooking/Cuisine/Recipes: I’ve done a just a few of these posts.  They were unique, I feel, and garnered some interest but were no doubt handicapped by poor “marketing’.
  • Life Lessons/Motivation:  Dead last.  A few views but really no interest.  I think there were a number of reasons why this happened (bad titles, dense prose, etc) but basically I wouldn’t read this sort of post from somebody I didn’t know either.  It’s that simple.

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What helped success – and what caused failure:

  • Clear, concise titles:  The biggest take-away from this analysis is that cryptic titles for your post just don’t work.  It can be brilliantly written and categorized/tagged correctly, but it’ll never work  you can’t tell in 2 seconds what the post is about.  I wouldn’t read such post, so why I expected my readers to is an embarrassing mystery.
  • Good layout/well written:  How many times have you, against your better judgment, clicked on a poorly titled blog post (hoping against hope that the title was not indicative of the writing quality) and immediately regretted your decision?  Exactly.  You don’t like reading somebody’s BS “This is what I did today, guys!” post so don’t inflict that on your readers.  Stream of consciousness, laundry list types of posts are boring and you’ll lose credibility.
  • Add value:  We all have a unique voice and viewpoint that, if correctly targeted, can generate interest.  The first step is to find your voice and identify the areas where you truly add value.  Blogging is part of this first step for many of us.  The “market” will decide where it thinks you add the most value and, in some cases,  it might not be what you suspect.

What works for me as a reader:  At it’s best, reading blogs exposes me to a myriad different viewpoints.  It’s a direct line to access some quality writing from bloggers around the world.  There is quite a bit of cra*, though.  If you filter out all the commercial blogs, there remains quite a bit a poorly written, poorly conceived dreck. Hey, I’ve written some of those and chances are you might have as well.  The posts that resonate the most with me are those who have clear title, have a strong sense of what it is they want to communicate and are well written.  What this means is different for every writer and subject.  For example, I follow one young writer who writes seemingly stream of consciousness “slice of life” stories that, on the surface, shouldn’t be worth the time.  Still, she has a strong, unique voice and an innate sense for storytelling that make all of her posts quite worth reading.  And, yes, in her own inimitable way, the title of her posts always gives you an indication of what you are in for.

As a blogger, what were your most widely read posts?  Were they the posts you expected or did you have surprises?  Please comment below.