ON PRIDE

Have you ever had a friend tell you they are proud of you, or tell you that you should be proud of yourself or your accomplishments?  On the few occasions it’s occurred with me it always throws me off.  It seems like something a parent should say to a child, or something you should say to someone that you feel may have low self-esteem.  Tell them you’re proud of them―make them feel good.

This happened to me recently and I really had to think about what they were saying because my first response was something like this.  “What the hell do you mean you’re proud of me?  You think I need a compliment or something?”

Sometimes I have to point my finger at myself and realize it’s me that has the problem.  Why should I be the only one that’s proud of my accomplishments?  It may go much deeper.  I think being proud, or having pride is an odd concept that gets intermingled with self-esteem.  Often those who appear the proudest of themselves are using it as a cover for their own low self-esteem.

So how does one find healthy pride?  Not being an expert on this I have concluded that healthy pride has more to do with self-honesty than anything else.  Few of us are capable of carrying out a self-assessment in an honest manner.  Not because we don’t want to, but because we can only use the tools we have and those include all the self-protective mechanisms we’ve spent years working on.

Perhaps, pride is a humble acceptance of those talents that others have identified in us, and that we personally know come from our true selves and not some manufactured identity or mask we create so that others will believe something about us that is not true.

Unfortunately, that narrows the field of those with true pride.  We live in a world of people who strive to emulate identities they have found on the internet, or in movies, or perhaps their favorite rock band―A world where many people define their own happiness on whether a team of professional athletes on a sports team wins or loses―a world where few have identified who they personally are, but strive to be something they are not.  Are these people being honest with themselves—about who they are?  Or are they hiding their true selves by pretending to be something they are not?

I realize this is an uncomfortable thought but the reason I’m bringing it up is because I believe in order to create literature, art, or music, beyond simply crafting it, 100% self-honesty is required.  True art will be the result of self-honesty, and pride will be a non-evasive by-product of knowing that one has produced that art, regardless of whether anyone recognizes it or not.  The ultimate compliment comes when someone is proud of being associated with what your self-honesty has produced.  You too will know when that compliment is an honest one, or simply someone blowing smoke because they feel they have something to gain from you.

I suggest looking deep into your upbringing, all the good, the bad, the dysfunction, the pain, and the happiness and find that true self.  I know this is not easy for me, but it is something I’ve committed to strive for.  Forget about someone else’s successes, failures, and experiences and find your own. Then you will produce your best work and be proud of it.  So will those around you.

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You and I

As we follow the arrow of time, you and I share something.  We write, not only to touch the world with our thoughts, but to feel the spirit of those who read our words.  While Jung called it the Collective Unconscious, some call it Quantum Consciousness; some see it as a spiritual gift.  Regardless of the term, our souls are interconnected.

For you who read my blogs, my curiosity as to your creations motivates me to read your stories.  And the beauty of these stories, and photos, and thoughts, stimulate memories, and emotions, such that I feel I’ve known you before.  In some cases, I have been close to you, though unknowingly at the time, and in other cases, I was near your energy before you were born.  Nonetheless, I sense the verve of your soul as we trade our written word, art, and emotions. 

Yes, it’s true we are not being profiled by Enquirer magazine; we are not on the red carpet, but then, that’s not why we write.   You and I only know about each other; we are the soul seekers. We seek to know the passions of another, we seek to share our depths, and out of our collective unconscious we create new souls in our fiction and express them in our art, and share them in our literature.  We live in a transcendent plane that few understand, and we do not understand why they cannot share our visions as they rush through their lives.

As technology evolves and the internet allows global thought sharing, we become one in the world.  Today I stopped by one of my fellow blogger’s site, Alex Markovich.  I perused his stories, took in his art, and my mind was taken back forty years when I was a high school exchange student in Sweden.  This was the time of the “Cold War”, and The Soviet Union was behind the “Iron Curtain.”  I went on a two week student tour through Finland into what we called “Russia.”  We forfeited our passports at the border and were told not to go outside the city limits of the two cities we visited, Moscow, and St Petersburg, or Leningrad as it was then. 

In those two weeks, at 18 years old, I learned that the people, the smiles, the artists, and the salt of the earth are the same everywhere and it changed my future.  It’s no secret in today’s world that you and I have this curiosity about other cultures, lives, hopes, and dreams, but forty years ago our access to one another was limited.  Today, we blog, we publish, and we share globally.   It’s a beautiful journey, and I am thankful to each of you who share your journey; I am thankful when you take a moment and allow me to share mine. 

In a fiercely political world with upheaval, fighting, and global power plays we must continue to seek one another, and promote the higher plane of existence that the human experience deserves.  It’s we who share the beauty that surrounds us who must fill and spill our cups of energy onto the world to draw the human collective unconscious to our appreciation of this gift of life.  And you and I will share the peace we create.

The Novel and the thirty second ad

I recently read that a one hour program in the United States contains typically 15-16 minutes of advertisements per hour.  We’ve accepted that 25% of our hour with our favorite show will be advertisements, but the interesting part is how the ads are changing and what it might be doing to our psyche.   The trend seems to be towards 15 second ads, based of course on the notion that Americans’ attention span is shrinking.  Right now nearly half the ads are thirty seconds and the other half are fifteen seconds.  If we watch a program with sixteen minutes of advertising we can see sixty-four thirty second ads, or 128 fifteen second ads in an hour.  Of course, we see a repeat of the same fifteen second ad over and over so by the time we go to bed we’re seeing images of some Insurance guy as our best friend.

The point you ask?  A fifteen second ad must be very focused and waste no time, just like writing a story in today’s market.  The upshot is this.  The average adult in the US watches 5 hours of television a day.  Hmmm… That’s 640  fifteen second ads/day or 4480 ads/week, or 232930 ads/year.  What?  A quarter million?  Ok, in reality some half of those ads are thirty second ads so you can cut that in half.  That’s only 115,000 ads a year, or so.  I neglected to ad in the YouTube ads we run into, or the pop-ups, or the focused Facebook ads.

There’s good news though.  Children 2-11 years old only watch about twenty-four hours of TV a week so they’re only getting about two thirds as many ads.  Whew, under 80,000 ads a year. 

So what does this have to do with writing a Novel?  It’s not news that structuring a novel has changed since Moby Dick.  We want an audience, but we have to pull them away from the Internet, or the TV.  We have to write short scenes, tight scenes, and gripping scenes.  Considering that a thirty minute program has to tell a complete story in about twenty minutes of thirty second scenes, the challenge is evident.

Now, here’s my kicker.  A prediction based on what I see on YouTube who appears to be the king of forcing thirty second ads and five second choices.  I predict that as Amazon keeps growing the market for electronically formatted books, the time will come when after ten pages, an ad will pop-up before one can continue reading.  Hey, nobody’s watching TV anymore, everybody’s online and the advertisers need to reach us somehow so we can know what we want.

My conclusion:  Keep trimming those scenes, keep them short, keep the suspense high and always drop in a teaser for the next scene.  You can buck the system but you can’t fight the evolution of the machine.

The Maladjusted Writer

I never ever thought of myself as a rebel, but others have called me that.  I was also told that I wasn’t well adjusted by a Corporate Human Relations manager.  I remember telling him that the problem wasn’t me; it was that my boss was an idiot, and I couldn’t allow myself to follow stupid rules.  This seemed to come as a surprise to the HR department.  I guess they figured anyone who graduated Magna Cum Laude in Engineering would be sufficiently institutionalized to carry out the corporate duty of generating revenues for the company so the CEO could get his thirty million a year or whatever.

Bottom line,  F— that.  Does that mean I’m a rebel?  You decide.  I kept quitting jobs with my middle finger in the air until one day I realized they were right; I wasn’t well adjusted, at least to a world of idiotic rules.

At some point, I quit changing jobs, and changed careers.  I decided the only way to have independence is to be independent.  I opened my own business, followed my own path, and held true to my own convictions of right and wrong.  I grew my business, and sold it for enough money that I don’t have to work again unless I want to.

What’s this have to do with writing?  I will tell you.  I don’t write according to commercial guidelines because I don’t write with the goal of earning money.  I write for the same reason I read.  I love reading great stories.  I want to write a great story.  That may never happen, but one thing I’m sure of:  It will damn sure never happen if I follow commercial guidelines.  The great books I’ve read were not written as commercial projects.  Few were successful at the time of their writing, and they were written by someone who didn’t really care if they were a commercial success.  They were written by some lonely writer living in his own little world sharing his unique interpretation of the world.  Often it was an interpretation that nobody else had come across, and sometimes one that the world wasn’t yet ready to accept as truth.

My conclusion:  Trying to write to a commercial script is for someone whose goal of publication and commercial success outweighs his or her desire to write a great story.  Thus, before I really started writing, I spent a good portion of my life attaining a position where I could write whatever the hell I wanted and not give one rip shit what anyone thinks about it. 

Of course that’s easy to do in a blog, but in a novel?  Yes, I think that’s how a novel should be written and that’s how I wrote mine.  It’s not published as of yet, but the few who’ve read it believe it will be.  I’m currently writing a sequel.  I write to make people think, to challenge their belief systems and morals to the point of discomfort.  Discomfort works well in fantasy because it’s easy to return to the real world.  When discomfort pushes its way into the reality we live in, it’s not as palatable. 

That’s the type of story I enjoy reading and writing.  I don’t think it means I’m a rebel any more than the fact that following bullshit rules in some corporation seems like a waste of my time and energy.  ­­­­­­I hope you’ll do the same when you write your novel or short story, or whatever.  Write it without caring about commercial formulas, current market conditions, or success.  Dig deep, find your interpretation of the world, and write the story you have to tell from your heart.  By the way, I don’t suggest quitting your job or flipping anybody off.  Being rebellious doesn’t really lead anywhere; being maladjusted might.

The Prompt

I constantly peruse the blogs and internet sites for various writing exercises.  Writing prompts haven’t helped me much in the past.  After all,  I can look around my room and find plenty of prompts, from the Nutcrackers on my mantle to the college graduation gift my ex-wife gave me before we were married.

Recently, I began working with a book called “Fast Fiction, Creating Fiction in Five Minutes” by Roberta Allen.  This short book taught me that when employed properly the prompt can allow one to reach deeper into the sub-conscious.  The theory, and it seems to work, is that if given a prompt and five minutes to write a complete short, there is no time to consciously think of a story.  Thus, it flows from within.

In this book, it’s recommended to carry out six five minute prompts in a row.  After 30 minutes, you have six shorts.  With thirty minutes a day you could theoretically have forty-two first draft shorts in a week.  Granted, many or most of them may not be stories that one wants to expand on.  Eventually though, one of the stories strikes a chord and connects and you want to finish it.

This cute little book also gives a lot of tips on writing a good short story so when you do revise your story you have plenty of tools to work with.  The key is to not revise while writing the five minute story.  Just let the nonsense, misspellings, bad grammar, and whatever else shows up flow for five minutes.

It has an interesting way of uncovering personal hang ups that may prevent you from reaching your full potential for creativity in writing.  At least, it did for me.  Try it and you’re sure to learn something about yourself.  I’d love to hear what you think about the exercises.

Belief Systems and Literature

I recently wrote a story that required presenting an unbiased view from several different perspectives.  My primary goal was to write a story that would not appear to favor either viewpoint.  This is what I learned.  It is very difficult to present a point of view that you disagree with without somehow belittling it.  The reason is because you see it as inferior and the only arguments you have are inferior arguments.  It will be biased.  Often, we believe we are representing a viewpoint that we don’t necessarily agree with in our writing but it is highly unlikely that we are.

As I read back on my writing I realized that for the most part, I was presenting weak arguments for the perspective that I disagreed with, probably because that was my mindset.  That wasn’t my goal and it required re-educating myself in order to write the story the way I wanted.  That is no small challenge.  In fact, in order to do it, I not only had to come to an understanding of the opposite view, I had to come to an appreciation of it.  It had to make sense to me.  I had to no longer view it as an inferior viewpoint.

The beauty of this was that it turned out to be a very mind expanding opportunity.  Often, we think we understand another’s viewpoint but we remain sure that ours is right.  I suggest that until you are no longer sure your own is view is superior to another, you cannot write a truly engaging story.

The reason is that if you are presenting a story to an audience with multiple viewpoints, it is a very fine art to make people question their own beliefs.  Unless you see the true merits of differing views and have questioned your own beliefs, it is highly unlikely that you will be able to present an argument that will cause others to question their own beliefs.

That being said, I believe that beyond having a command of the written word, the greatest authors tend to be neutral, non-judgmental observers of the world.  If you’ve ever read a book that caused you to question your own belief systems you know what I mean.  In my humble opinion, some of the greatest literature makes readers of several opposing belief systems scratch their heads and question their own beliefs.

I’m not talking about politics, or religion, or any such major issues in particular, though that would be a major coup.  Something as simple as making me wonder why I like the antagonist serial criminal and don’t want to see him go to prison is sufficient for me. If you can offer such a mind expanding opportunity, I want to read your story.

The Mountain and the Novel

I love to climb mountains and I love to write. Writing a novel is so much like climbing a big mountain that the only just way to compare them is to lay out some quotes from both mountain climbers and writers. If one replaces the word mountain climbing with novel or writing or vice versa, it all makes sense.

Writers Quotes found at: http://pasikarppanen.net/quotes/q-writ.htm#Writing is hell

Writing is not a genteel profession. It’s quite nasty and tough and kind of dirty. Rosemary Mahoney

Writing is the flip side of sex – it’s good only when it’s over. Hunter S. Thompson

Writing is so difficult that I feel that writers, having had their hell on earth, will escape all punishment hereafter. Jessamyn West

If writing seems hard, it’s because it is hard. It’s one of the hardest things people do. William Zinsser

Writing is the hardest work in the world. I have been a bricklayer and a truck driver, and I tell you – as if you haven’t been told a million times already – that writing is harder.  Lonelier. And nobler and more enriching. Harlan Ellison

Mountain Climbing Quotes found at: http://winterclimb.com/articles/item/1-climbing-quotes

Nothing substitutes a large apprenticeship, a heap of experiences which converts into the base of intuition. Doug Scott

It’s always further than it looks. It’s always taller than it looks. And it’s always harder than it looks. – The 3 rules of mountaineering

Just a reminder – a guidebook is no substitute for skill, experience, judgement and lots of tension. Charlie Fowler

If we ever have children and they become climbers I’ll tell them, “Stay away from expeditions. They’ll make you poor and neurotic. Greg Child

I don’t want to write about climbing; I don’t want talk about it; I don’t want to photograph it; I don’t want to think about it; all I want to do is do it.” Chuck Pratt

If you’ve climbed the first 140 meters it doesn’t mean that you’ve succeeded; you are going to succeed by climbing the last 10 meters. Alain Robert

I’ve tried many sports, but climbing is the best. The beauty of this sport is that no matter how good you get, you can always find a way to challenge yourself. Randy Leavitt