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Wednesday, February 20, 2019


He looks like he's in distress, and that's funny.
Will Smith.

Chris Pratt.

Bob Ross.

The Oatmeal.

Jonathan Ames.

Charlie Brown's Christmas tree.



What do all of these people have in common? Their charm is totally off the charts. (Especially Shrek.)

But charm doesn't limit itself to people. Everything from stories, to places, to animals, to songs, to ideas can have charm. Not everything is charming but anything can be charming.

But of course, if everything can be charming, how come they aren't? Honestly, I don't know.

I know lots of those life coach guru-types will tell you that every little thing in life is this beautiful little thing to be cherished, but nope. I'm good. Maybe they're right, and everything has some merit or charm to it, but who's to say there isn't a hierarchy?  Maybe everything has some charm in it, but some things are more charming than others.

I actually value this, because if everything was wonderful and charming all the time we'd have no way to know it. We'd be too stupid to know the difference without something to compare it to. So it's a good thing we have things that aren't so charming so that we can appreciate the things that are. Where would Will Smith be without people like Kim Kardashian? How would we ever appreciate talk show hosts like Jimmy Fallon and Steve Harvey if not for guys like Jimmy Kimmel?

Once everyone is charming... No one will be!
A stark contrast between the bland and the delightful is exactly what makes them delightful in the first place. Do these people still have fans? Of course. Kim Kardashian and Jimmy Kimmel both have millions of followers, as does every other bland and uninteresting figurehead. But likeability is definitely a factor here.

Sure, someone could argue that likeability and charm are subjective, and therefore we can't distinguish between the good and the bad, but I call bullshit.

I agree that to every aspect of opinion there is at least some subjectivity, but to say that they can never be accurately distinguished is bologna.

In fact if anything it's more of a "You can't define it, but you know it when you see it" basis.

But even that might not always be true. There are at least some solid examples of things that have shown time and time again to be either charming or terrible.

Of course, it's possible for both to coexist to an extent, but the terrible almost always wins. And this is the case because a few bad things can ruin the entire thing, even if the rest is great. You could craft the most elegant looking cake in the world, but if you forgot the eggs, the whole thing is rubbish.

And this applies to people and art as well. One really bad thing can taint the rest of it.
Pictures You Can Hear, Vol. 1

With art it's a bit better, because something can be terribly flawed but still be lovable anyway. But with people we tend to be a little less forgiving.

Honestly that's what I hate most about Facebook. You think you like someone, then you see them posting stuff like this.

What makes charm an interesting topic to me is it's something that everyone enjoys but no one really talks about. This is especially true for men since so many guys are obsessed with their self-image. But I think that part of what makes someone charming is how little they take themselves seriously.

This is my problem with all those dating gurus that pop up on YouTube. A little while back I came across this one guy who popped up in my recommendation feed (you think YouTube might be trying to tell me something?) and after seeing how full of shit he was, I decided to take a look and see if all of the dating gurus were saying the same things (spoiler alert: they were). They all emphasize trying really, really hard to act sexy. But there's nothing charming about that, if anything it just comes across as disingenuous and a little sad, because we know whenever guys pull this kind of stuff it reeks of insecurity. I'm not disparaging sexiness or anything like that, I'm only pointing out that trying way too hard to look sexy is the exact opposite of attractive. Just trying too hard to appear like anything looks bad. I don't know any of these guys personally, but I doubt that Chris Pratt and Will Smith wake up in the morning fixated on making sure everyone knows how sexy and charming they are. Odds are they're just regular people who developed personality over time and stopped worrying about how others perceive them.

But of course, that's another part of the problem. Trying too hard to act like you don't care. When guys (and girls too, but it's safe to say it's probably mostly guys) go out of their way to try to make it look like they don't care, of course they care. No one is being fooled here. When someone generally doesn't care they won't go out of their way to make sure that you know just how much they don't care. It's really just asinine how so many guys think being an asshole or trying to assert dominance is going to get them tail or whatever.

I present to you Dylan's Immutable Laws of Charm™.

Part A: Things that are not charming.

Before we can understand what charm is, let's try to understand what isn't charm. Because all the personality in the world is all for nought if you make people cringe.

1. Trying too hard to appear a certain way. This can be anything from trying to be edgy or emo, to trying to look like an AlphaMale™ to trying to be the tough guy or the male feminist. If you have to be something you're not, and coo to yourself at night that you are that Alpha Male / Edge Lord etc., then it's not true. Sorry.

Rawr XD im so random!11!!1!
Rule numero 2. Any type of malice. While there will always be those who agree with you, displaying any type of malice against anyone is generally not charming. The thing is that you could be completely justified in complaining about that lousy coworker or that douche on the road, but it still makes you look bad. I know that sometimes we all need to vent, but complaining about people just seems wrong. It's not something that people like listening to, unless executed in a lighthearted way. We all know someone who complains nonstop or holds grudges against X people, but it seems so toxic and unproductive that it's hardly tolerable let alone likable. This goes for bashing people too. Even if the majority of people agree with you, bashing people isn't charming. We see this in all forms, big and small. Everything from a group of coworkers all bashing the same person behind their back to celebrities bashing Trump to stay cool with Hollywood (this works both ways, bashing Obama to stay cool with conservative friends isn't any better than what these celebrities are doing)*. Which leads me to my next point...

*That's not to say that you can't be angry about what political figures are doing or that you can never talk about it, but when it becomes obvious someone is only doing it to stay in the circle it loses its authenticity, and complaining about people in almost any context is turn off, including presidents and political figures like Trump and Clinton.

3. Gossip. Think of the person you know who gossips the most, and ask yourself if they're charming or likable. Gossip is ugly and inherently vapid. Who cares if Kim Kardashian got a new haircut? Or that Britney and Brad broke up? Honestly what effect does it have on me? Gossip and superficial tendencies come across as empty and void of anything valuable. And even if everyone else is doing it, they won't respect you any more for participating. In fact if everyone in a group is gossiping about someone and you're the only one who doesn't participate, on some level you might be perceived better. We generally don't trust people who gossip a lot, because we know to some extent that if they're gossiping to us about someone, odds are they're gossiping about us too.

If you've noticed a theme, it's basically that being inauthentic or showing any malevolent intention whatsoever is the definition of anticharm.

On the other hand, these things are charming.

1. Benevolence. When someone has completely innocent and relatable intentions and problems, we automatically like them more. I don't consider myself super charming or anything, but this is the one thing I think I have nailed down since I'm basically a man-child. All I want is to write, watch cartoons and get a new high score in Devil Daggers. I remember this one exercise with my church group where we were supposed to come out and say what our dream life would be like. And to say my wildest fantasy is a bit underwhelming would be an understatement. Maybe a lot of people would want to win the lottery and become famous or something, I just want a nice house with a family and lots of books under my belt. That's pretty much it. Maybe in my fantasy world I have a bunch of dogs and have a house in the woods or hills where the neighbors and us mind our own business and don't bother each other. Also in my fantasy world I'm married to Galatea, which I think is a pretty benign thing to daydream about since she's basically the aggregate of all the good in the world.

(Side note: if anyone from her YouTube channel stumbles upon this, I won't ask you to, but hypothetically if you wanted to bombard her comment sections telling her to marry me, I won't object.)

2. Self-deprecation. Nothing speaks volumes more about your attitude than how seriously you take yourself. I mean, life is too short to pretend you're important. If you can't laugh at yourself or your outrageous life, what's the point? And if you don't think your life is outrageous I'd wager that either it totally is and you've ignored it, or you're Kim Kardashian or Jimmy Kimmel, but how either of you famous figures found this blog is beyond me. Also I'm pretty sure Kim can't read. But that's okay, because I can't write.

(Side-side note: Casually Explained is the personification of flawless self-deprecation)

3. The third and final thing: whimsy. You know, that thing that kinda exists but no one can really define it. The dictionary defines whimsy as:

   playfully quaint or fanciful behavior or humor.

   "the film is an awkward blend of whimsy and moralizing"

But dictionaries are lame so here's my definition:

Whimsy: Behavior or ideas that are so childish, irreverent and imaginative that it demands complete and total adoration.

Anything that makes you do this:

Think BMO from Adventure Time.

This is where fiction comes into play.

Whereas things like avoiding gossip and having benevolent desires are character traits that apply specifically either to you in real life or to your characters in whatever it is you're writing, whimsy is so universal that it can permeate any person, place or thing. Where nouns are involved, whimsy can dwell. Worlds and stories can be whimsical by telling stories in a hilariously flippant way.

I'm kind of an odd writer (some might say that all writers are odd, but I see lots of writers who share the same oddities, so out of writers who are odd I am odd, or maybe I'm just trying too hard to be special and should just shut up before I make myself look worse) in that I don't have a genre of choice. While both A.S.H., or the abbreviation for A Spurious Hanging, an abbreviation that took more time to explain than to just say directly, and Desolation's Reach, or DR for short, because this is how you keep your sentences short and concise, are both of the thriller persuasion, they're executed extremely differently. One is a murder mystery and the other is an epic fantasy gore fest. D.R. is the incestuous love-child of Dark Souls and Agony.

And the story idea I've been obsessing about lately as I wrap up Desolation's Reach is a ridiculous and slightly sad comedy that I call The Pen Pal, which is about a married couple in 1994 who breaks up and decides to get a divorce on the second day of their two-week cruise, and lines are quickly drawn and alliances formed. Their strategic social battles will be the greatest spectacle on the battlefield since World War II, perhaps ever. Basically they both make friends with everyone else on board and everything goes to hell since they're trapped on the cruise ship for 12 more days, hating each other and themselves more and more as any trace of love they had in their youth deteriorates around them and they turn to substance abuse, sex and constant reassurance from their temporary cruise mates that they're doing the right thing when in reality they're both equally intolerable.

(I'm okay announcing my next story idea publicly because I'm already done outlining and I've already gotten some of the chapters as well as the synopsis done and timestamped digitally in my Google drive, so prepare to be sued by a very cheap lawyer with a mediocre success rate if you try to steal my idea!)

What does any of this have to do with whimsy? Nothing, I just wanted a captive audience to read about my ideas and think, "Wow, The Pen Pal sounds amazing, I can't wait to give Dylan my money so I can read it."

Man, you must feel like such a fool now!

(My actual point was that The Pen Pal is a prime example of whimsy, but my point wouldn't actually make any sense since the book is yet to be written and therefore no one has read it yet and would ever understand the reference, but by the time I realized what I was doing it was too late and I was already committed, so yeah. It made more sense in my head, like everything else I've ever said.)

I think an excellent example of a whimsical world (that isn't Adventure Time, because I'm pretty sure you guys are getting sick of me using AT as the standard for everything) is Don Quixote. It somehow manages to be completely outrageous in every way without ever doing anything that's too far a stretch from reality. Everything that happens feels ridiculous and hilarious but, somehow, entirely possible. As whimsical and hilarious as Don Quixote is, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court by Mark Twain is probably even more whimsical, if such a thing was even possible.

By the way, can we take a moment to talk about how underrated that book is? Huck Finn gets all the attention (and it is a pretty great book) but A.C.Y.I.K.A.C is way better.

For those who haven't read it, A.C.Y.I.K.A.C was one of the first time travel stories ever written. It might have been the first, but I'm not completely sure. I'm no expert on the history of time travel books, but if I'm in one I'll go back in time and find out when the first one was written.

It's about a man from Connecticut (good God it took me like three tries to spell that correctly, I thought it was Connecticuit with an "I" like "circuit," because in my mind the state was "Connect-Circuit," because that totally makes sense) who wakes up in a grassy English field in the 500s, during the time the stories of King Arthur supposedly took place. And to his surprise, all the characters from the lore are real, except they're all frauds. Lancelot was just a random asshole who went around lying about his feats and bolstering his ego, Merlin was a con artist who used slight of hand and petty Criss-Angel-tier BS tricks to make people think he was a god, and King Arthur was the gullible moron who believed every word of it and proclaimed the virtue and feats of these charlatans to everybody. At one point the man is supposed to be put to death for blasphemy (when he points out that Merlin using vague horoscopes to predict peoples' futures isn't real magic), when he realizes that a solar eclipse is starting and tells them that he's the one blocking out the sun, and that he won't give it back to them until they set him free. They call him a liar and hurl a whole bunch of things at his person, until the solar eclipse starts and they panic, releasing him in a frenzy and demanding that he put the sun back.

If that doesn't sound whimsical then I don't know what does.

This post turned out way, way more rambly and directionless than I intended, but here we are. We made it, and you're alive. So I guess it's probably a good idea to end this thing before it gets too out of hand, huh?

I guess all I wanted to say was that charm comes in many shapes and forms, and even if we can't pin it down exactly, there are lots of things that are irresistibly charming. Why it took me  2,822 words to make that basic point is beyond me, but I hope you got some value out of this, to the equivalent of one US penny or greater. (I just know that some psychopath out there has to know if it's actually 2,822 words or not, and at least one of these people will check or attempt to count it, and that makes me very happy for some reason.)

As always,

may all your cups of tea be your cup of tea,

and I'll see you in the next post.

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