THE STORY GRID: A Five Part Video Series from Shawn Coyne.

What It Takes

What It Takes

The Next “Next”

By Callie Oettinger
Published: November 20, 2015

""When a true genius appears in the world, you may know him by this sign, that the dunces are all in confederacy against him." —Jonathan Swift

“”When a true genius appears in the world, you may know him by this sign, that the dunces are all in confederacy against him.” —Jonathan Swift

Wyck had a brilliant mind. Quick witted. Educated. Creative.

Depending on when you landed in his life, he was the next Jim Morrison, the next Mario Puzo, the next Casey Kasem, the next Babe Ruth.

During the next-Jim Morrison phase he was Molly’s first boyfriend. Unlike Luther, who was his replacement years later, he was a close friend of mine, too. We discussed books and music and dreams. We thought he’d “make it” and that inspired us to want to make it, too.

Looking back . . . He was the next Ignatius J. Reilly.

If his life was a movie, this would be an oft-repeated scene:

Wyck walks into his parent’s kitchen, where his mother and her friend are playing cards.

He walks in with “purpose,” making a point of clearing his throat once he stops to pose, so his presence isn’t in question. He’s wearing his best Jim Morrison uniform (black leather pants and a white, gauzy, poet’s shirt).

Wyck: I’m the Lizard King.

Wyck’s mother: That’s nice honey. Would you like a brownie?

His mother’s line is delivered as she places down another card, not breaking to look up at Wyck.

Wyck pauses. For a heartbeat the audience expects him to scowl like all the other misunderstood twenty-something’s embracing the emerging grunge movement.

Instead, he quick steps to the table, leans in, picks a brownie from the glass plate and then exits the kitchen, looking more Dennis the Menace than Lizard King, a child distracted by a treat.

I thought his parents didn’t “get him” — that they underestimated his potential.

The reality?

They’d lived through 20 years of him being the next x or y or z before I entered their story — and were used to being the test audience for the various incarnations of “I’m the Lizard King” lines that went with each “next.”

I thought about Wyck after reading Mark Manson’s article “Screw Finding Your Passion.”

Read Mark’s entire post. For now, here are two slices:

Today I received approximately the 11,504th email this year from a person telling me that they don’t know what to do with their life. And like all of the others, this person asked me if I had any ideas of what they could do, where they could start, where to “find their passion.”

And of course, I didn’t respond. Why? Because I have no fucking clue. If you don’t have any idea what to do with yourself, what makes you think some jackass with a website would? I’m a writer, not a fortune teller.


The problem is not a lack of passion for something. The problem is productivity. The problem is perception. The problem is acceptance.

The problem is the, “Oh, well that’s just not a realistic option,” or “Mom and Dad would kill me if I tried to do that, they say I should be a doctor” or “That’s crazy, you can’t buy a BMW with the money you make doing that.”

The problem isn’t passion. It’s never passion.

It’s priorities.

More >>

Posted in What It Takes


Additional Reading: Classical Greece

Ambition to Rule, The

by Forde, Steven

Brilliant scholarly dissertation on the mind-set of Alcibiades and the politics of imperialism in ancient Athens. You’ve gotta be a real aficionado to find this book (try your local college library) and get through it. But it will reward the serious reader. I borrowed all kinds of goodies from Forde for Tides of War.

Athenian Trireme, The

by Morrison, Coates, and Rankov

Triremes were the famous ancient warships with three banks of oars. The problem: no one of the past 1500 years knew how the old guys did it. All design and engineering has been lost. The authors of this book play detective, scouring ancient texts, coins, carvings, and using their own imaginations. They figure it out, then build a trireme of their own. It works! Fascinating.

Education of Cyrus (aka the Cyropaedia), The

by Xenophon (Loeb Library, two volumes, translated by Walter Miller)

Though this book purports to narrate the upbringing and conquests of the great Persian king, in truth the society Xenophon describes is that of Sparta (no outsider knew it better than he), complete with “peers,” good manners at the dinner table, and why a true warrior never urinates on campaign (he should have eliminated excess water entirely by sweating).

Histories, The

by Herodotus (translated by Aubrey de Selincourt)

This is the book “The English Patient” was carrying. Funny, personal, and very entertaining, this book recounts the history of the clashes between Greeks and Persians, out of which arose the modern world. The battle of Thermopylae is in here—and Marathon, Salamis, and Plataea—plus dozens of zany, fascinating flashes into ancient life.

History of the Peloponnesian War

by Thucydides (translated by Rex Warner)

Tough sledding because of the dense but absolutely brilliant prose. May be the greatest book on war and human nature ever written. Timeless.

Indispensable Spartan Website, The

by Houston, Paul

My friend Paul Houston, in England, put together Sparta World, a work-in-progress website for Spartaphiles and aficionados of all things Spartans. The site is interesting in and of itself (and constantly evolving) and also a great jumping-off point and clearinghouse for re-enactor groups, hoplite fighters, artists, writers, and all other contemporary upholders of the Lakedaemonian tradition and ethos—and just for the fun of it. Paul invites all interested groups and individuals to contact him, link to the site, and network with their “peers.”

Landmark Thucydides, The

by Thucydides (edited by Robert B. Strassler)

A different but also excellent translation—but this one comes with maps, dozens and dozens, down to postage-stamp sizes, on almost every page. They help.

Last Days of Socrates, The

by Plato (translated by Hugh Tredennick)

Okay, okay . . . Two works by Plato . . . Translated by Hugh Tredennick, The Last Days compiles four dialogues into an organic whole narrating the trial, conviction, and death by hemlock of Socrates. Deep stuff on the subject of dying.

On Sparta

by Plutarch (translated by Richard J.A. Talbert)

The best one-book introduction to Sparta and Spartan thought. Several of Plutarch’s Lives of famous Spartans, plus Sayings of the Spartans and Sayings of the Spartan Women. Start here.

Persian Expedition, The

by Xenophon (translated by Rex Warner)

Ten thousand Greek mercenaries follow Cyrus the Younger’s three months’ march into the wilds of Persia, then lose the battle they came to fight. Xenophon was there as a young officer. His tale of the Greeks’ long and harrowing retreat against the hordes determined to obliterate them is justifiably immortal. Hollywood’s The Warriors, about a street gang from Brooklyn, was cleverly knocked off from this.

Plutarch’s Lives

by Plutarch

Easiest to read of all “the sources.” Short bios, packed with anecdotes and wisdom, of every great man of the Classical era. Plutarch wrote them in pairs, juxtaposing Caesar to Alexander, Alcibiades to Coriolanus, that sort of thing. My faves: Lycurgus, Solon, Themistocles, Alcibiades, Alexander.

Rise and Fall of Athens, The

by Plutarch

This Penquin paperback assembles the lives of all the major players in Athens’ rise and fall—Theseus, Solon, Themistocles, Cimon, Pericles, Nicias, Alcibiades, and Lysander. A brilliant editorial concept, The Last Days can be pretty scary when you read-in the parallels to the contemporary United States.

Spartan Army, The

by Lazenby, J.F.

Another hard-to-track-down work (try the Reference Librarian) that may lack the readable touch, but is crammed with great esoteric stuff like what the Spartans called a platoon leader [an enomotarch.] Only for true Sparta fanatics.

Spartans, The

by Cartledge, Paul

Chairman of the Classics faculty at Cambridge, Cartledge is the expert, from whom I have also borrowed major tonnage. Here he’s not writing an exhaustive, all-inclusive tome, but hitting the high spots with great depth, if you know what I mean.

Symposium, The

by Plato (translated by Walter Hamilton)

Hard to pick only one work from this great writer, thinker, and wrestler (Plato was his nickname, meaning “broad-shouldered”) and protégé of Socrates, but this is it. A night of gentlemen’s conversation, drunk and sober, at Athens in its glory days, highlighted by soliloquies “in praise of Love” by Aristophanes, Alcibiades, Agathon, and Socrates. Truman Capote wishes he threw a party like this.

Trials from Classical Athens

by Carey, Christopher

Still extant are the actual lawyer’s arguments from a number of famous ancient cases. Trust me, Johnny Cochrane had nothing on these slick Athenian legal eagles.

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