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 Emoji Literature

This may seem a trivial post, but I don’t believe it is. My vehicle has a Bluetooth operation that allows it to read my texts. I find it verbalizes emojis. An example is if someone texts me with a sentence like “Thank You (smiley face emoji).” I hear an emotionless woman’s voice say: “Thank you, Smiley Face” .

Recently Facebook took a new step in evaluating posts. Where it used to be a thumbs-up or thumbs-down they have now added emojis to the evaluation key. So what does this have to do with literature? I’m not sure yet, but something tells me it will have an effect. Internet chat started, and texts facilitated the odd means of communication that we have now including TU, CU, OMG, LOL, IMHO, LMAHO, TTYL,TMI, SLAP, B3, IDC, BFF, and more than I can count, but now we also have the emoji configured every way imaginable.

Even as an old guy I can accept this, but when my emotionless voice message interpreter in my vehicle says to me “I’m at *$, LOL, Where U, **// 459 4EAE,” it still throws me off. Now that we have an emoji every couple words I’m more confused because the emotionless female voice in my vehicle says things like “I’m at *$, happy face where U frown face, **// 459 blush face 4EAE”.  Then I ask myself why I can’t understand this simple English language.

I recently read that a 12 year old girl faces charges for posting gun, bomb, and knife emojis on Instagram. As text acronyms and emojis filter into our everyday language it will be interesting to see where and how they land in our literature over the next ten or fifteen years.  Perhaps there will be a crime novel such as “The Emoji Killer”.

Confession of a writer

Last year I began attending a writers’ group.  We read what we write and criticize each other.  It’s a healthy experience, but it seems people don’t like to beat up on their peers.  They’re too nice.   I love it when someone beats my writing up.  Not because I’m a masochist, but because that’s the only way I really learn.  Kick my butt, I say, and they say my writing’s pretty good.  No, I say, lay it on me.  But they don’t.  That’s not my confession though.

Here it is:  I attend a writers’ group because when I criticize someone’s writing, it causes me to look much deeper into my own.   There’s nothing more humbling then telling someone they shouldn’t use too many adverbs, or whatever, (in front of a group) then realizing that I’ve made the same errors and my writing is up next.  

As corny as it sounds, the real benefit, for me at least, of attending the writer’s group is that it makes me a better self-editor.  It took me a few years of writing before I started this because I tend to be a loner and prefer to live in a cocoon and write in a corner somewhere.  Not to mention, there’s always someone cocky in these groups who believes he or she is God’s gift to the literary world just waiting to be discovered.

I’m wondering if anyone else out there attends writing groups and whether or not they find any benefit.  If so, let me know.

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.

Zen and the Skunk Muse

Just for Fun.

It was about a year ago springtime… Around 5:30 AM; the sun was not quite above the horizon and the clouds were an orange tint of red to the east.  The scent struck me as I was hitting my eight minute mile pace about fourteen minutes into my morning run.  The smell of a skunk was nothing new to me.  It brought back memories of early spring mornings on my way to cut asparagus before school, and late nights coming home after working in the bowling alley.  I knew a skunk had been struck by a car somewhere ahead the night before.

It lay on a bridge that went over an irrigation canal.  The canal was full and the orchards were budding nearby.  On the left side of the bridge was an eighteen inch wide sidewalk that was raised about eight inches.  To the right, it was about two inches to the white stripe and there was no real shoulder.  Its innards were out and its head was turned sideways, exposing most of one side of its teeth.  When I come across a dead skunk in a car it seems the only notable presence is the bushy tail and the unique odor.  Today, I was more drawn to its face—perhaps because I was on foot.

Pondering trivial issues is often a part of my run as well, and the skunk brought to the forefront the finiteness we all face but tend to deny.  I’m often inclined to think about the here and now more than the ever-after.  I guess the relevant question is whether we really have anything more than the here and now.  This seems to be a question that has thrown many a physicist and philosopher into the throes of thought for weeks, months, and years on end.

I think nobody can deny, in fact, that we live only in this instance.  Not to say past events haven’t happened, or that future events won’t happen, but we live in one event, the one that is happening right now.  The rest is just a memory, a plan, or a surprise.  That gives me a sense of urgency for the here and now.  An interesting experiment is to try to move back a little to the previous instance in time, or perhaps forward a little into the next one.  It seems the only reality we have as humans is the present one.  That makes me wonder how long an instance of time is.  This is not a simple question, and another one that philosophers and physicists have pondered to great depths with no clear answer.

There was a large sign at the end of the bridge near the skunk.  One necessarily had to jump off the eight inch sidewalk, over the skunk, and onto the highway to avoid the sign.  This played havoc with my mind in the face of oncoming traffic.  With this much uproar thrown into my morning run, the only choice was to deal with it or move the skunk.  Moving a skunk with guts all over is not my idea of fun.  I remembered turning dead dogs over when I was a kid on a bicycle and finding large writhing maggot colonies under them.

I’m not sure why, but to me, disturbing the skunk seemed somewhat disrespectful to the maggots, the driver who had struck the skunk, and nature in general.  I decided to let this skunk decompose with no human interference.  Long runs do strange things to a body and mind, and as time went on, observing the decomposition of the skunk became an integral part of my run.

In between runs, I re-read Einstein’s theory of relativity and my sense of the here and now was even more thrown out of whack.  The idea that every time I speed up, my clock slows down compared to someone not moving threw me off, but I think it was the idea that  a moving car is actually shorter than a car at rest that convinced me that my human perceptions of space and time have little bearing on any reality other than my own.  I can understand that time stops on a light-wave.  If I consider a star that’s 10,000 light years away, I understand that it took 10,000 years for the light to arrive at earth and I am thus seeing what happened 10,000 years ago.  I can see that if I rode the light-­­­­­­­­­wave from the star to here I would be carrying a message that was froz­­­­­­­­­­­­­­en in time.  For example if I rode the lightwave that reflected off a clock that said 11:00 am it would still say 11:00 am when it arrived at earth 10,000 years later.  It’s true that scientists have proved that when astronauts travel in space, their clocks move at a slower speed and they age slower than the rest of us.  Does that mean your reality is different than mine?  Possibly.

What does this really mean?  I don’t know.  Recently a Quantum Physicist, Amit Goswami published a book titled “God is Not Dead”.  In this book he suggested that Quantum Physics offers proof of the existence of God.  The argument further suggests that quantum physics provides a very accurate description of reality and agrees for the most part with Einstein’s relativity.  In Quantum theory “reality” is defined as a world of probability functions known as wave function, not actual events.  An observer is required to constitute an event, and an observation of reality actually changes it.  Goswami goes further and suggests that consciousness is required to collapse a universe of probabilities into an observable physical event.  The implications of this notion are enormous and experiments seem to confirm it.   He further­ suggests that to believe there is consciousness without physical reality or vice versa creates a paradox that can never be explained in physics­­­.  In essence, consciousness, or the sense of self we all have, albeit unexplained, is the confirmation of GOD’s existence.  Goswami’s ideas and proofs cannot be summed up in a paragraph, but are quite compelling to the curious mind.

After a winter of running on my treadmill spring is here again and that darn skunk isn’t giving up.  He’s still there, on the bridge.  The fur is evident as is the tail, and I noticed in particular that the feet have been well preserved.  One can still differentiate each paw, and the nails.   I’ve never given this creature a close inspection, as I feel what I can take in as I jog by is sufficient.  At this point though, he is my friend.

Something else Einstein came up with is bothering me.  We all think of the world as round, but in Einstein’s world, space is curved, and time only seems constant because of our limited senses.  I guess the earth appears round because our consciousness only allows us to view it in short bursts in this instance.  We can’t see it over a time span.  Every view we get is a snapshot of an instance and that’s a distortion.  The same holds true for space.  Given our perceptive limitations, I go back to the importance of appreciating this particular instance of time in our lives.  We really don’t have anything else.  Quantum physics suggest many dimensions, and while we nod our heads when we hear the notion, it’s very difficult to perceive what this means with respect to our potential.

A few weeks into spring and my friend the skunk has had a sad ending.  The road crews decided to re-tar and gravel the road.  After nearly a year of studying his decomposition for brief instances of time, one pass of a road sweeper made him disappear from my reality.  Funny that I would be sad; I had hoped to watch him go until even his feet were gone.  I was a bit thrown off for the rest of the day, but knew I’d recuperate.  I think the loss of a friend and one enjoyable routine in a chaotic life reminded me that nothing lasts forever.