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”.

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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.

Imminence

 

In the name of life I must discuss death as the news I wish to deny arrives.  This is not something new; it is something natural, something all around us, something we all experience within ourselves at some point, yet we clutch onto life, beg for life, and wonder why we are such cowards near death.  It’s been overwritten, over studied, and over discussed.  Yet, I discuss it.

It can never be the same for one lover to lose a lover as compared to another.  The loss of a father, a sister, a brother, or a friend is as unique an experience to each of us as our own fingerprints that reflect who we are.  When death draws near we deny, we run, we avoid, we pretend and we pray.

The medical world builds an army of vaccines and medicines and chemotherapies and radiations and sends them into battle, but when the battle is lost we cry, we beg, and turn to the charlatan for a new bottle of snake oil.  And so it is, today, as my younger brother who together with his family fights and prays and kicks and screams and denies the cancer that reminds us our consciousness is no more than a guest in a body that allows us to see the whims of the universe for a moment in time on this planet, a spot in the galaxy somewhere in a space that we cannot understand.

And he steps into that dimension where we shall all one day join those who’ve come and gone, yet we do not understand what it means regardless of whether we know that it’s true, or whether we have faith, or have nothing.  He fights that battle with honor and courage, and for his children and wife he fights as he reaches that ultimate resignation that this universe sends.  A reality we all continue to deny, but one that reminds us that we must tell our stories, write our novels, and complete that which we have to offer this universe before it’s too late.

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.

 

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.