The Travails of the Internet

Some time back in 2000 or so, I started my first website in my efforts at being a writer. It was created on a free hosting site, similar to WordPress, but quickly discarded. I figured that it would have been deleted over time, but apparently it never was. It is still there. Mostly. Here is the link: http://www.writer.theshoppe.com/ 

How funny and my, how things have changed. . . .Image

 

Hate in the Technology Revolution

Available at Amazon.com
Available at Amazon.com

It never ceases to amaze me how our technological advancements are often used to express our pain of existence. I guess since we cannot catch up on a biological scale we have to use it to communicate it. Technology now gives us an outlet for our passive aggressive tendencies. As someone who uses social media, it is not a surprise to see or even experience the cruelty that lurks behind a computer screen. As a writer, it is not something that is unexpected. Still, it is sometimes difficult to wrap your head around when it happens.

“Why don’t you nut up and just give money to cancer research and shut up about using a worthy cause to get people to buy your crap!”

I received this message from one of my ‘admirers’ in response to my postings on various venues about my new novel. Of course, my initial reaction was . . . well . . . rather less cordial, but, after thinking about it for a while, I realized there might be something more about this comment since I have learned over the course of my life that there is more to things than what we see. And, since I have a problem with corporations using non-profits to polish their images, I can understand a reaction of this sort.

However, I thought this might be a good way to give someone a peek into my life as a writer. First of all . . . I hate promoting. Anything. For those who know me, I have an extremely difficult time asking for help, let alone advertising the ‘good’ parts of who I am or what I have to offer. I simply hate it. But that puts me into a very difficult position where much of our society relies on self-promotion just to get through a day. I have never asked for a raise or a promotion. I don’t like ‘padding’ my resume, etc.

Now I find myself in a position where I have to do the things I hate in order to live the way I want. Especially now, at this writing, being laid up with a back injury that keeps me from working. I am promoting my book. Not because I want to, but because I have to if I want to see some success. The comment implies that I already have the money necessary to donate to a worthy cause as well as insinuating that my purpose here is to foster an inferior product on an unsuspecting public just to get more of that.

Well, believe what you must, but, first, I do not believe that I have fostered an ‘inferior product’ on the public. I have spent the majority of my life honing my craft of writing and it took nearly twenty years to produce this piece of work and I believe that it is a good story and good writing. Secondly, even though it is published, it doesn’t mean that I suddenly ‘have money’. On the contrary. That is why it needs promotion. In order for me to make money, the public has to not only buy the book, but also enjoy it enough to recommend it to others. I think this is one of the biggest problems with the ‘consumer’ and offers up the great paradox that explains my doing something that I hate. The consumer wrongly believes that because I have a book published that it will automatically be bought by others. While there is some truth to that, it is not something that happens automatically, nor is it sustainable. First, the consumer must be made aware of my book, then, the consumer must decide that it is worth ‘sustainability’. In order to be made aware of it, it has to travel through a great morass of input the consumer already receives from every direction possible. And then, it has to stand out. Today’s technologies make it incredibly easy to add to that tidal wave of information. I think there are probably more ‘writers’ now than there was when I was a kid, because, now, everyone who wants to be a writer simply has to start a blog, and can even publish a book, without working at the skill of it.

So, here I am. I’ve published a book and now have to promote it if I want it to be successful. The book’s success is connected directly to my successful living. Not in order to be ‘rich’, but just in order to live in a society that demands a certain level of monetary gain to maintain a lifestyle that exceeds homelessness.

Donating to cancer research is one way to help me do something I already hate to do. I have had friends die of cancer and I have had friends that have survived cancer, much like many other people in this day and age. Donating, however, is not something that I can regularly do. Now, I have something that can work in tandem with a need to write and a need to contribute to something greater than myself. When I sell a book, I get to contribute. If someone buys my book because of that, I have 1) sold a book, 2) contributed to cancer research, 3) put what I consider a ‘good story’ into someone else’s hand, and 4) allowed them to contribute to cancer research. I think that is a pretty cool system.

So, person of scorn, your comment suggests several things to me that may or may not be true, but what I would propose is: Buy my book. Read my book. If you think it is ‘crap’, great. That is your choice. Whether you like it or not, know that you have contributed to not only my success as a writer, but to the saving of lives through cancer research. However, I do hope you like it.

A Dream Come True Can Mean More Dreams to Do

Today, I have seen the culmination of one of the major goals that I wanted in life. It was almost 20 years in the making, but I finally get to see the published effort that started so long ago. Threads of Chaos: Book of the South is now on sale through Amazon.com, the first of several distribution points. Sometime in 1996 I began putting the ideas together on paper . . . well digital paper anyway. Back then, I was newly married, just bought a ramshackle house in the poor area of town because of the birth of my second son. We both were working full time, but I was also going to school part time as well as teaching martial arts on a regular basis. It wasn’t a happy time.

With all the things that life has in store for us, all the obstacles, challenges, and such, it took about five years for me to finish the first draft, which, by the way was over 280,000 words (A novel typically begins around 40 to 60 thousand words). In fact, it seemed doomed from the start. I lost the first couple of chapters right away due to a power outage. Back then, I didn’t have an autosave feature on my computer, but I started over, this time obsessively saving my work to the hard drive in addition to one or two floppy discs.

By the time I was finished with the rough, I had it on several discs and at least two computers plus a laptop that I got from a friend which was the final ‘writing utensil’. I didn’t immediately try to get the book published. There were a number of excuses why. I had an idealism thing back then about selling my work, but that was just a cover. Most of my other writings had already been rejected numerous times, several stories and even my first book, summarily dismissed for whatever reasons. Mostly, it just boiled down to a couple of things: belief and fear.  Fear is the easy one. Like most people, I didn’t want to be rejected . . . again. Especially something that I had spent significant amounts of time working on. Belief is a more complex problem. I was raised to believe that creative endeavors were only something I should do in my spare time. That they could never amount to anything. I was raised to believe that going to school and getting a ‘good’ job (whatever that means) is the right thing to do.

For many years I told myself that wasn’t true, but deep inside me, in my unconscious drives, I believed it. Deeply. Still do. Though I am aware of the belief now. So, I struggled with finding a ‘good’ job. I even went back to school. First for my Bachelor’s degree, then for my Master’s. But I digress . . . .

At some point, I overcame my fears of rejection and started shopping my manuscript around. By then, I had all but given up on writing. By then, my daughter was born and I was heavily into trying to be a responsible bread winner, even though it was mostly an effort at keeping the house of cards from collapsing due to a stray gust. As anticipated, I was rejected over and over, but I got a lucky strike. I found a small publisher that accepted my manuscript. It was a boutique operation run by a handful of people. A few weeks later, the owner of the business had a stroke, or a heart attack, I don’t remember which, and all operations ground to a halt. It was some time before she recovered enough to go back to work with very little of the staff that was helping before. She sent my manuscript back, rejecting it after ‘further review’. I put the manuscript away. Went back to school to get an education and a better job.

Belief had won the day.

I suppose the point here is, I never gave up. Even when I thought I had. As I wrote in the beginning of the book, I would take it out every now and then and work on it. Rewrites, edits, and organization of ideas. I did this periodically throughout the latter part of my life.

I am now 43 years old. I have four wonderful children who are struggling towards their own goals in life, but am no longer married. In fact, my whole house of cards finally did crumble. I’ve never found that ‘good’ job that my father consistently tells me to get. The education was great. One of my passions is learning new things, but am I using that education? Nope. Currently, I am not even working in the field that I am educated in. Because, like so many things in life, education is only a piece.

Already, I have been asked “Why this book? Why not a self-help book or something like that?” As a longtime coach it would seem a natural thing to do. It is also a big marketing recommendation to do something related to coaching. I have indeed started a few books based on what I coach about, but it mostly boils down to this: I enjoy writing fiction.

But why Fantasy? Because! The first book I ever read was a novel by Piers Anthony, called Castle Roogna, which hooked me on reading. Fantasy, then, became the first genre I devoured on a regular basis. From there, I moved to others: science fiction, horror, contemporary, and then onto non-fiction. Naturally, when I began writing back in elementary school, it was based largely in what I knew best. Fantasy.

However, while the setting is fantasy based, the characters are people, struggling with overwhelming odds, including deep seated beliefs and problems. In fact, much of what I coach about is embedded in the text and those that know me and what I talk about will see it woven throughout the story. So, it is not as far off as it may at first appear. In fact, I tend to not want to label the story based on genres, because to me, it is a story and limiting it to a specific genre means that people will automatically disregard it based on the label, because that is what we do. But, in a sense, it is still a self-help book. It just may take some work on the part of the reader to notice it.

Besides, the book itself is a testament to the coaching process, too. It is something that I started years ago and it is something that I finally saw through. Is it finished? No, not at all. But it is a goal that has been met. And it has led to a set of more goals to work on.

Of all the struggles we have in life, it is most important that we strive for the things that we want.

The 4th of July in Seattle

It was the 4th of July yesterday, and, for me, a unique experience. Living in Arizona for most of my life, and in a more rural area to boot, the Fourth was more of a simple affair compared to Seattle. Now, I’m not talking about the evening fireworks show, either. I’m talking about the build up and behavior that goes into the mix. It started a little over a week ago when we had a black out in the are in which I live. As we set about calling the electric company and lighting the candles, a very loud ‘CRACK!’ went off followed by a ‘SIZZLE!’. Then another one. I thought it was transformers blowing around the area. Then, I heard the staccato popping. For a moment, I thought, “What the hell! Looters?” I was about to grab my gun from my safe when I was told it was fireworks. Since it appeared there was not the Zombie Apocalypse occurring, I settled back down in my chair and drank some soda. . . .

Now, up until a year or so ago, Arizona’s laws prohibited private fireworks. Not here in Seattle. Every night since, a few went off, like the build up in the typical fireworks show, when a couple go up at a time. Okay. No problem there. Once I adjusted to the fact that people were able to set off fireworks, it simply became an occasional ‘notice’.

But that was nothing compared to last night. Being brought up military, I am used to living in areas where soldiers performed maneuvers and gunfire and even tank and howitzer firing draped the background noise for a few hours. But, Seattle seemed like a war zone for most of the night. ‘Pops!’, ‘Crackles!’, ‘Sizzles!’ of varying decibels, distance, and beats punctuated the dark from every direction for hours on end. At least one Winnebago went up in flames nearby and, as I understand it, several boats and at least one structure also burned in the revelry.

It was truly an interesting experience, but, alas, still no Zombie Apocalypse. . . though, to be fair, there were quite a few zombies shambling around when I went to work . . . .

Death of Two Horses

I watched two horses die today.

Euthenized by the vet because they were old and infirm.

I knew both of them, though only had spent time on the back of the male, Gotch. It was quick and surreal. The vet called it, “Blue juice”, concentrated (phenobarbital) that stops the heart within “three breaths” delivered in two doses. The first is an anesthetic, the second, the heart  stopper.

Reba, the female, was calm as she was lead to her resting place, a giant hole gouged out of the ground by a backhoe. She seemed to know peace was at hand; the promise of no more pain. She flinched only slightly when the needle went in and her ears twitched. As the blue cocktail was administered, she raised her head and ‘grinned’. The vet barely stepped away before her hindquarters began to falter, then collapse. I watched the life go out of her eyes before she hit the ground. A part of me cried, another part marveled at how fast she went, and another … business as usual. Gotch was a little different. He seemed unaware even though seeing his fallen companion was inevitable as he was lead to his killing ground. As the needle entered his vein, his eyes widened and he stepped to the side, though only slightly, and he became the picture of alertness.

Maybe realization came too late, or perhaps it was just his male need to fight. His body began to collapse even before the vet was finished injecting the blue liquid, but there was resistance, not a panicked sense of desperation, just a refusal to go without a fight. Gotch hit the ground hard, a loud ‘wuff’ of air exiting his lungs. For only a moment, all was still, then he blinked a half blink and began twitching. Over then span of about a minute, he huffed out three more spasmodic breaths before his life fled completely and his body relaxed into the dust.

There really is no adequate way to describe how fast it happened or how temporally displaced both deaths seemed. Nor are there words to explain the sensation, and lack of, of watching two creatures go from alert living beings to empty vessels. The closest analogy that I can come to is the scene from “The Matrix” where the betrayer begins unplugging the characters from their chairs while in the construct, their avatars go flat in the face while slumping to the floor.

And like that, it was over and time to return to work.

Christmas?? Already??

Turkey Stress Ball? For Whom?

So, it’s that time of the year again. Almost like a ride at an amusement park, we are heading into the holiday season like a roller coaster just about to top that first clackety-clack ascent. A moment to take in a breath as the panorama of the park opens up below us, just before the cars plunge down that very first, often scary steep drop, up and down, around and around, until the culmination of the ride at New Year’s.

Some of us absolutely love this part of the year, throwing ourselves into the spirit of it with reckless abandon. Yet, for many, there is an almost overwhelming pressure; an underlying drive to perform, to put on airs, to not be lonely. In a word:

Stress.

Which has become a cultural imperative.

I say that because the three or so months marking the holiday season (I include the appearance of Halloween items in September, sometimes Christmas stuff as well, as the beginning of the season.) has become an American cultural period with four distinct time anchors that are driven by our marketing ‘friends’ collectively known as Madison Avenue.

Let’s consider the psychology of it, if you will, starting with the opening of the season towards the middle or end of September.
Halloween is the opener. Once, just a night of candy gathering by children, it is becoming more and more an adult ‘night of fun’, especially for those of us that really enjoyed it as kids. As adults, we are encouraged to begin engaging in a bit of fantasy, or dissociation from our everyday lives as we begin decorating our domiciles and workplaces with spooky schemes. It is a throwback to our childhood, when we were more carefree and limited only by our imaginations. I say it is an ‘opener’ because, on the holiday scale, it generally doesn’t rank very high among the larger population (Yes, there are those for whom this is their favorite ‘holiday’). The décor blends nicely into the first of the two ‘major’ holidays. Marketing is geared towards costumes, decorations, and food (SWEETS).

Thanksgiving. Yes, family get togethers, lots of food, some decorations, and (relatively new) football. This holiday in particular is a high pressure situation as we are sometimes socially guilted into family togetherness that requires a particular, and socially driven, pomp. It’s time to bring out the good ‘china’, cook the perfect turkey or ham, invite the relatives, even the ones we don’t associate with, and engage in a modern feast. Unlike, Halloween, there is a serious undertone at work which is generally directed towards the female gender bias . . . showcasing cooking, entertaining, and decorating skills while the males of the species engage in less . . . cough . . . important activities. This is also where we see the drive to ‘help the poor’ begin its yearly course, as if being indigent was a seasonal thing as well. I tend to believe this is an unconscious need to allay guilt at such shows of prosperity (even if we really aren’t that ‘prosperous’). Primarily, the marketing drive is food, but the resultant social pressure is perfection. Hmmm . . . .

And then there’s Christmas. Yes, that extravaganza of all things ‘Holiday’, touted as a full scale, religiously and spiritually driven ideal of the best nature of man and many, many gifts to mark your importance to others day. This one combines the fantasy of Halloween with the seriousness of Thanksgiving and is, by far, the most important holiday of our culture. The pressure here is tremendous. Is it any wonder that some stores are getting a jump on it in September? And is it any wonder that many Americans go into serious debt during this time of year? Christmas is the marketers dream and the importance of Christmas has always been driven by said marketing industry.

And, last but not least, is New Year’s Eve. This cleverly packaged holiday is the aspirin to the headaches of the previous few months. Not only is it the release of tension through alcohol imbued revelry, but it is both the closure and the opener to the new year, a year of new possibilities and . . . another cough . . . resolution. (Sounds like the alcoholic’s mantra, “Ugh . . . I’ll never do that again. . . .”)

Okay, so it does sound like I’m coming completely down on the whole holiday thing.

And I am a bit.

But look at the pattern. (And I already know you know the pressure and stress of the season.)

Halloween acts as a ‘let loose, just a little’ phase which prepares you for the family value focus, which, incidentally helps loosen those purse strings, of Thanksgiving. The true marketing focus of this funnel is Christmas, where the pressure to deliver is equal to the warm glow effect of ‘giving’. New Years is the justification of the spending over the holidays, the medication of the stress, and the ‘reset’ button for the discipline that (should) drives us through the first several months of the year. It restarts the cycle of behavior for us.

Now, what do you do with all this information?

Stop celebrating the holidays?

That’s one way. (By the way, it is the way I discovered how stressful the holidays actually were. Several years ago, and for various reasons, my wife and l decided we were tired of the hassle and scaled down on our Usual Holiday Routine, extensive as it was. No Halloween, a small, informal Thanksgiving, Christmas minus decorations and other accoutrements with onlly a few gifts for the kids, and no New Years. It was the most relaxed and inexpensive season ever. We still do it.)

Other ways to reduce the stress of the holidays is through planning, discipline, and reducing the investiture of emotional content in these time anchors.

One of the largest stressors of the holidays is: “Lastminuteitus”. Successful planning is the first part of not suffering Lastminuteitus. One of the key issues with this stress is that feeling of urgency (sometimes panic) that comes with this time of year. It always seems like there is no time to do it all, so our time traveling minds try to get it all done in one fell swoop. Planning a little ahead of time can and will help alleviate some of this nonsense.

Of course, unless you have the discipline to follow through, you aren’t going to get anything but more stress, since you will not only be fully into Lastminuteitus, but also be kicking yourself for not following through with your planning. (Take a look at the A.R.C.A. method I talk about in other places in the site.) Discipline means Action. If you plan to buy Christmas presents every month starting in July, then do it. Don’t get into justifying why it’s no big deal if you start in August . . . and then September . . . and then . . . .

The biggest help here, in my opinion, is divesting yourself of the emotional strength of the time anchor. This can also be one of the most difficult, because, like personal growth in general, it is a ‘Cross grain’ behavior, meaning other people are not going to understand it and, sometimes, outright disagree with it. Take Christmas, for example. This holiday has huge social, cultural, and financial conventions attached to it that will cause brows to furrow and invitations to trickle off (among other things) if you suddenly stop doing what you have done in the past, especially, if you are like I was, a ‘Christmas Nut’. If you don’t think it is hard, just try getting away with not sending cards out to your family and friends. (This is, of course, assuming that you engage in this custom. If you don’t, then don’t do something you normally do.) You will probably experience external pressure, like, say from your wife or husband, but also internal pressure from guilt and even avarice. (I.e. “If I don’t send Aunt Gertrud a card, she will stop sending that nice, cash enclosed one she does every year”. Now, now, don’t tell me you would never think that.)

Time anchors, like Christmas, not only have emotional content, but translatable behaviors to express those emotions, even if it is just politeness that drives them.

Alright, alright, I’m done bashing on the holiday season. You may call me Grinch if you like. But in actuality, I still enjoy the holiday season, though not as feverishly as Madison Avenue would like me to.

Now, the real question is: What will you do?

Writing my Story!

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