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Archive for November, 2012

Black Friday Stampede or Zombie Apocalypse?

In my last post the subject was gratitude and the holiday of Thanksgiving. Today, it’s the other side of that coin. In our world of duality, I guess that should come as no surprise to anyone.

Word is going around about this tweet which now has over 2000 forwards. It reads: “Black Friday: Only in America do people trample each other for sales exactly one day after being thankful for what they already have.”

Welcome to the other side of the coin.

From gratitude straight to greed. Now, I understand that being a world stamped with a dual nature everyone has the potential for both gratitude and greed within them. It’s just the rapidity with which the coin is flipped that leaves one a bit breathless. Really? In just one day? Yup – apparently so. Maybe it’s a sign of the times that such extremes can be bridged with such speed, a sign perhaps that psychosis has become more the norm than stability or sanity.

It’s true that not everyone, everywhere acts this way. But it does seem to be a behavior somewhat unique to my country. Sure, in Africa people may trample each other for food – people that are already starving. But in America people trample others to death for flat screen TVs and cellphones. It’s behavior that’s really hard to suss.

Part of the blame resides squarely on the retailers that have adopted this day as their biggest sale of the year. In that I can see more than a little malevolence and mockery. It’s not like the dichotomy has never occurred to them. That kind of proximity doesn’t happen by chance. It happens by intent. And the effects of that intent become manifest in stories like this. Do they get a devilish pleasure in seeing the ignorant, ego-driven masses fight over baubles?  Instead of aiding to raise people up, they contrive to bring them low. Disgusting. Wake up Americans – you’re being degraded. Publicly. Wake up and locate your integrity, then cease partaking in this spectacle. I can dream, can’t I?

Perhaps it’s not a dream, not entirely. Mindfulness can be cultivated with care and persistence over time, and it can also strike suddenly. It’s my bet that more than one person shopping on that day woke up due to the base behavior transpiring around them. They woke up, felt instant revulsion, and ran away never to return to another Black Friday sale.

And why do you think they call it “Black” Friday? Because there is no light in it.

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According to the Online Dictionary of Etymology (http://www.etymonline.com), the word “gratitude” comes from the Latin “gratus,” which means “thankful, pleasing.”

In my novel The Translation of Daniel (available soon), the main character has an awakening after his life totally falls apart. As he begins to understand and embrace the change that has happened to him, at one point he says “That is the posture I wish to assume regarding my life, an ‘attitude of gratitude.’ Create some soil that will not tolerate the weeds of fear and loathing.” He says this upon waking up after sleeping in the park, finding that children have blanketed his body with picked dandelions. He is homeless, and could find many reasons not to be thankful, but he chooses to focus on the gift of those flowers. He focuses on what he is grateful for in that moment.

That, I think, is the key. Our thoughts are “things.” They become manifest. Or, as  Wayne Dyer has said, what is inside comes out – squeeze a lemon, and you get lemon juice. Squeeze a thankless person, and you get a heaping dose of ingratitude, because that is what is inside them, and also, of course, because you just squeezed them. No one would like that, but you get my point. Wayne Dyer has said many wise things – I think I need to dedicate a post to some of his quotes soon.

So then, we cultivate gratitude by – Tadaaaa! – practicing gratitude!! Simple, right? Oh, if only it were so simple.

Actually, the process is that simple, but that’s not to say it’s easy. I know that, perhaps more than many out there. There was a time in my life when I was so consumed by all the things I hated, all the things that were wrong in the world, that I had no ground in my mind left for one grateful thought. Again, it’s about focus. I was focused solely on the negative. Why? That’s a good question, and perhaps best left for a subsequent post. But for now, the simple and quick answer is ego. Unchecked ego. It thrives on the negative, because it thinks it has control and can improve the world to suit itself. Tisk tisk. Silly ego.

So why not do what serves us best? Why not do what makes us better, happier people? The choice is clear, but the way is rocky. And we are forgetful creatures. It never ceases to amaze me how, moment by moment, we can so easily get lost in the machine of mind – the endless thoughts and worries – worries first, then thoughts that attempt to solve the problems that cause the worries in the first place. Kill that machine. Stop the thinking. Stop the worrying.

Isn’t that what Thanksgiving is really about, after all? That’s why it’s a holiday – a break from responsibilities, a chance to pause, to become mindful, to bring our focus back to gratitude. Happy Thanksgiving everyone.

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Recently I bought myself a brand-spanking-new Android phone – a Samsung i9300.

When I say “myself,” I mean my wife, and when I say “Samsung,” I mean clone.

Not that I could tell the difference, as I’ve never owned an Android phone before.

It really is a beautiful device. The screen is brilliant and crisp. The touch-sensitivity is a marvel. The shape of it is sexy, elegant, and it’s clear that care was taken in it’s design so that it forms to the human hand like hot wax to a mold.

The problem I quickly encountered was this: I had no understanding of how to use it. The touch-screen platform is unique from the keyboard input of a computer, of course, and transitioning to it was not as seamless as I had hoped. Sure, I could sweep icons around on the screen, and open files by tapping them, but when I would try to make changes in how things were arranged, or change settings, I quickly found that I was dealing with an entirely different beast than my laptop computer.

Then there are these new terms. What the hell is an app? Yes, I quickly discovered that it means “application,” but why not call it what it was called before? Is the term “software” too yesterday? “Program” is too old school? And what about installing and uninstalling these “apps”? Ho-boy, that’s where the real fun begins.

I know, I know. “Serves you right for buying a clone,” you say.  But in my defense, I didn’t want to start my learning curve with the highest priced phone – I didn’t even know if I would enjoy using it or not.

Actually, the real reason I bought this phone was so I could check how my novel looks on this platform after it’s published, and tweak it’s format if necessary. No, wait. The real reason I bought this phone was for my wife. She’s never had an Android phone either, and she took to it like a fly to flypaper.

Speaking of learning curve – I remember well when I used my first computer. It was long after they became popular – same story as with the Android phone (I’ve never been on the “cutting edge” of technology, in fact, I’ve never been able to locate even the handle of the cutter!).  The long hours of reading the manual, then testing out what I had read. It was both exciting, and extremely frustrating. But perseverance paid off, and now I’m none too bad on it. I have no problem installing and uninstalling programs, organizing files, cleaning up the hard disk, etc. Routine maintenance, and beyond that, I’ve even reinstalled the OS after reformatting the drive. So I’m not entirely a troglodyte, here. At least I haven’t felt like one until this beautiful phone came along.

It’s humbling, no doubt about it.  And this time, there’s no manual (yep, clone phone). Grrr. Well, live and learn I guess. This time I’ll have to resort to professional help – something I never had to do in the past with computers, even when faced with the “blue screen of death.” But this phone is a new and fearsome beast, and right now, I’m not at all sure if it can be tamed. Time and tech support will tell…

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Where I find my self is not new, only new for me.

There are countless others who have stood in this same spot, looking over the edge into the abyss of the unknown.  I wonder about how they might have faced this moment. With fear and trepidation? Or with courageous (or reckless) abandon? I think I would prefer the latter – sounds more heroic. I might try to fake that one if I could only stop my knees from knocking…

Where is this precipice? The point of self-publication. The point at which, after the decision is made, after that final leap, there’s no turning back. The point at which all the demons of self-doubt start to pry their rotting fingers into your mind and squeeze it like a cocktail lime. Hmmm,… wish I had some Jose Cuervo right now. Some “liquid courage.”

It’s not that I’m doubting the route of self-publication – I’m not. I like that option. No doubts there. The doubts are about this novel, whether or not it’s ready, whether or not I should find another beta-reader, or 10. And so it goes… from there into doubts about whether I should continue to write at all, or whether I’m even worthy to hold a pen or pencil in my worthless non-writer’s hands!

Doubts like these are common to writers, I think, being such a lonely pursuit. It takes mental fortitude to pursue this vocation, perhaps even a “warrior” mindset. I’m not kidding. Okay, Okay… it is a humorous image to conjure; a warrior band of nerdy authors, with spectacles and pencils and pocket dictionaries at the ready. But the fierceness is on the inside, a refusal to cave to doubt and fear, a solid rooting in the conviction of self worth. That’s OK if the work is ready and you know it, and that’s the part that I have yet to know.

When does an author say “It’s Done!”? When they do, I guess. When it’s really done, they say it, and that’s how they know. It’s one of those things you can’t know beforehand, I think. You have to experience it, the conviction, the absolute certainty that this work is done, and to mess with it anymore would be to start to detract from it.

It’s near – I can feel it. Now, if I could only find that bottle and lime…

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I wanted to share this with whomever hasn’t seen it yet (not many I think – the view count on this Youtube video is 46 million +).  But I hadn’t seen it until a few days ago, and now I can’t get this damn song out of my head!

That’s because it’s so good, and so unbelievably funny.

This filmmaking group consists of 3 young brothers (Michael, Andrew, and Evan Gregory),  plus Sarah Fullen Gregory, Evan’s wife. According to Wikipedia, these four formed a musical group in 2007 simply called “The Gregory Brothers,” but they are most widely known for their spoof viral videos on Youtube (under the username “Schmoyoho”). These guys (and gal) are super talented. Not only do they create and record the music for these videos, but they also handle filming, splicing, and a host of other film and audio effects. And they do it all incredibly well – oh yeah, their sense of humor is top notch also, so I guess that makes them comedians as well.

The video below uses one of their favorite effects, the “auto-tuner.” This allows them to take normal speech (say, from news or interviews) and apply pitch to it, making it into a song of their choosing. Charlie Sheen has never sounded so good.

What I love most about this video is that it’s a testament to human spirit and creativity, to take something as sad and disappointing as Sheen’s PR disaster (we all remember the interviews… man, where was that guy’s agent??), to take something like that and turn it into art, art that makes you laugh out loud. You gotta love it – that’s “Epic Winning!”  Enjoy the video…

 

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If you’re anything like me, you may have found yourself writing deep into a scene, going strong, when suddenly you stop, set your pen down, and think, I have no idea what I’m talking about!

That’s when you reach for the laptop. It’s right there on your desk, plugged in, online, waiting for you to tickle it’s keys. It opens a window to the world and it’s vast information. Even today I’m amazed at what one can learn online. When is earth capitalized? – it’s on there. Do commas go before or after quotes? – on there. What’s the proper use of hyphens – it’s there too. And that’s just grammar. What about online dictionaries and thesauruses (or, for that matter, how to spell thesauruses – oh yeah, it’s there, I looked it up)? Wikipedia? Google Maps??

I remember the time before internet very well. Back then, if I knew I was going to be writing a story or scene that presented tricky challenges about technology, or geography, or some other specialized area of knowledge, I would pack up my writing tools (pens, notepad, paperback dictionary and thesaurus) and head off for a day of writing at the local library. Usually, ahead of time, I would try to anticipate what types of reference material I would be needing and get that gathered together first. But inevitably, due to the mysterious process of the story writing itself, other questions would crop up I hadn’t anticipated, and off I’d go down the lonely carpeted corridors between bookshelves, searching out the data my story demanded. *Sigh*….the good old days.

But I would never trade my internet connection for a truckload of backpacks, dictionaries and pens, or even for the best library in the world (be cool – I’m not dissing libraries). As far as I’m concerned, my writing has become much better due to the information that’s become readily available through the internet, and I’m also a less lazy writer than before. Yeah, that’s right! I said less lazy. Let’s not get crazy here.

Think about it – say you were working on a scene, at night, back in the days before internet. You get to a point that demands accuracy about whatever-it-might-be, something like “what year was the Constitution ratified?” I mean, you have to know that in order to continue, because based on that info, other things will be affected. It’s a road block that you can’t clear without knowing the facts first. What are you going to do? The library is closed. Will you stop writing and wait until you can go research the facts tomorrow, or will you do what I would’ve done (did do) – just change the story so that you can skip the need for further research altogether?

Okay – I have to admit, that’s the beauty of writing fiction – the option of doing that. Let’s all give props to the non-fiction authors. But really, good fiction demands good research also, despite some evidence to the contrary –  we all know the ones who seem to be able to make up any-damn-thing, no matter how ridiculous, implausible, or unsubstantiated, and they still make bank. But I digress.

I’m talking about us mere mortals: me, and I assume you if you’re reading this humble blog. I know that internet access has made my writing better, more accurate not only in grammatical ways, but more accurate in conveying setting, moving plot forward, not to mention creating believability by understanding concepts better. Most valuable, above all, is that because it’s right there, at your fingertips, it need not even break the flow of your writing. I’ve accessed crucial data and got right back to writing before in under 30 seconds. And that, my friends, is the power of the internet.

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I thought it might be useful to any other authors out there – who happen to stumble across this blog – if I wrote a bit about how I found an editor.

Initially, I did some general word searches through Google. That took me directly to the personal websites of editors – but the rates most of them were charging were a bit shocking to me and my wallet (my wallet actually shriveled a bit when I read their rates – I added a couple more dollars to it to calm it back down).  That’s not to say their services are not worth what they charge – I’m just saying that for authors like me who don’t have a trust fund at their disposal, price is an unavoidable factor to consider.  I had hundreds to spend, not thousands.

I eventually hit upon the idea of searching those contracting sites like Guru and Elance for editors. I didn’t know why it hadn’t occurred to me before – seemed like the perfect platform, because not only can you set your own price for the job before posting it, you can also search for similar completed jobs and see the price range that is typically paid. Another convenience is that you can take time to survey the skill sets, experience, and feedback of any contractors who respond to your posting.

Eventually I chose to go with Odesk.com, because I liked the readability of their site – not confusing like some of their competitor’s sites. I also liked that they allow you to contact directly any contractors you want to hire with a job offer, without having to post it publicly.

Because of how I’m made, it took me two tries to eventually follow-through with contracting an editor on Odesk (follow-through has not always been my biggest strength). I found an editor I liked (his name is Eric Benevides – and I highly recommend his services), but things came up, I got distracted, and 6 months went by before it occurred to me that I really needed to get this book edited! Like right now!

When I went back to Odesk 6 months later, I realized I hadn’t book-marked Eric’s profile page. I tried searching for his name, but he never came up in the search (I later found out that I had misspelled his name – like I said, I really needed an editor!). But that actually turned out to be a good thing, because in the interim I was able to do what I really recommend that other authors do if they use a freelance service – test your editor with a one-to-two chapter sample edit.

Because I was starting from scratch in my search, I read through some editor profiles, found the ones that accepted fixed-price jobs (some only accept hourly billing) and whose skills I was interested in, then selected two and hired them for a sample edit. This was great because it’s inexpensive ($15 to $20 tops), and you get to see the style of the editor and whether or not you are compatible with them (for me it was immediately obvious once I received their edits whether I could work with the editor or not).

Later I actually hired Eric for a test edit as well (after I found him again), and he passed with flying colors. Then it was a simple matter to draw up a job offer for the whole shebang, send it to him for approval, then send off the file and relax! Congratulations! You’ve just hired an editor! A round for everyone!!

For me, that’s the amazing thing about this field – it conforms so seamlessly with the digital world, and location doesn’t matter. Especially if, like me, you intend to self publish to the ebook formats only. Your work can be available for sale worldwide, 24/7, and you can hire an editor from anywhere in the world, send the work off to them in an instant and for free via email, receive the edit back in the same way, and dispense payment all without getting up from your writing chair (or hammock, or barcalounger, or wherever your lazy ass likes to drop itself).

In two weeks I had the novel back, edited in Word with the original text preserved, the edits in red. Then the next job starts for you, the writer, as you go through the edits and either accept them or reject them. What I found was that I was surprised with a lot of the recommended edits at first, but after inspection, realized that the editor was dead on in his corrections 99% of the time. I learned a lot about writing by going through Eric’s edits, and I thought I knew how to write already – it was humbling, but so worth it.

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