Tag Archives: blogging

2015: A Year Off the Beaten Path

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys, cuddly little chimps that they are, prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 13,000 times in 2015. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 5 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Well, here we are all over again.  December 31st, a little less than 6 hours left in the year, and a man’s thoughts are entirely absent from the moment at hand, instead both reflecting and looking forward.  I wouldn’t say this was the greatest year of my life – it did have more than a generous share of challenges, and it departs largely unmourned and leaving much uncertainty in its wake as 2016 rolls up to take its place.  I don’t feel it’s necessary to elaborate more than that; I always think there should be a healthy distance between the words and the body that types them out, or rather, what I have to say is of more interest to the rest of you than what I or my family might be going through.  Anyway, nobody’s dying, nobody’s getting divorced, nobody’s shaving their body hair and moving to Nepal to join a monastery.  We row onward against the current, our boat no more or less special than anyone else’s.

So let’s look at the writing year that was 2015.  Not quite up to the productivity levels of years past.  That’s largely because I poured most of my efforts into Vintage, the little short serial that metamorphosed into a novel.  I was joking with my friend Joanne that it is symptomatic of my inability to get to the point.  It really did come as something of a surprise to me.  I wrote it without an outline or any plot of any sort, just a collection of scenes that turned out to have a fairly solid narrative spine underneath.  While I didn’t get to complete it this year as I had hoped, it should wrap up very shortly after January begins.  The question then is what to do with it.  I have thought of doing what Ksenia Anske does and leaving it here as a free download.  (There is a line in Live and Let Die where the villain opines that “when entering into a crowded marketplace it is advisable to give away free samples.”  Of course, he was talking about heroin, but given the oversaturation of material out there you do have to do whatever you can to get some notice.)  Anyway, we’ll see on that one.  It needs a decent cover first.  (My graphic design skills are crap.)  I know it probably hasn’t been to everyone’s taste, and it is kind of difficult to keep up with it as chapters are published on an irregular schedule, but I just wanted to thank everyone who has been reading it for the support.  If I’m a bit lackadaisical in responding to comments sometimes please know that I do appreciate every single person who takes the time.  I hope it’s been rewarding thus far, and I hope you like how it ends.  (If you are new to it and would like to catch up, you can read the whole thing start to finish by clicking the Wattpad icon to the right.)

A couple other points of note:  I was lucky enough to get the Freshly Pressed designation for the second time this year, for a post about Justin Trudeau’s majority government victory back in October.  (Given that my first Freshly Pressing was for a post about Justin Bieber, I should clearly be writing only columns about people named Justin from now on.  Look for pieces on Justin Timberlake and Justin Smoak coming soon.)  I was also fortunate to be asked by one of my favorite singers, Emilie-Claire Barlow, to review her latest album.  She sent me a wonderful note afterwards, the details of which I won’t share except to say that it was tremendously complimentary and meant a great deal to me.  One of the things that the Internet is great for is closing the distance between ourselves and those we admire in the public sphere, and as my most recent post about Carrie Fisher illustrates, I do wish that we could make greater use of the positive aspects of our digital closeness rather than always descending into the gutter to vent unnecessary spleen.

What lies ahead?  Well, I like to visualize my goals for the coming year by imagining what my Twitter biography will read.  “Author of XXXXX, rep’d by XXXXXX” would be a good start.  And call me a materialistic jackanape, but I’d love to actually get some sort of financial compensation for some of this work that I churn out.  I do have a few avenues in mind for that, so we’ll see how it plays out.  In the long form realm, I have a non-fiction book idea that I’ve spoken to my wife about collaborating on, a memoir about our journey to our adoption and our life since.  In the last few days I’ve been mulling over a YA love story about a girl who loves baseball and a boy who most definitely doesn’t.  I’d like to do more interviews with some of my online writer friends.  And I want to establish a more regular schedule of posting here and seeing what other sites out there besides HuffPost might deign to have me.  There’s no reason why I won’t be sitting here 365 days from now have accomplished all these things; it only requires dedication and commitment, and a stubborn belief in one’s own capacity for greatness given the right amount of hard work.

In the meantime, thank you as always for reading and subscribing, and following me wherever I choose to wander.  I hope that the new year brings you the things that you wish for and work for, and that next December finds our world in general in just a much nicer, happier place.

All the best.

Graham

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2014: The Year That Was and Will Never Be Again

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.  Witnesseth henceforth the spoils:

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 18,000 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 7 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report, if that floats your particular boat.

As many of us seem to live by the credo that an unexamined life is not worth living, December 31st offers us the perfect chance to cast our gazes backward upon feats both accomplished and fallen short.  Insofar as we limit our lens to this blog, it was a year of new roads taken with just as many varying degrees of success.  There are some posts here that I’m very proud of and others that inspire nothing but a shrug.  As always I’m disappointed that I don’t write more.  Sticking to a writing schedule becomes problematic when the priorities of life, work and family have a tendency to push it far down the list.

Still, there was some good work done here this past annum, and I had the honor of receiving the coveted Freshly Pressed award back in February, for a post about Justin Bieber, of all things.  What made it really special for me though was seeing some of the writer friends I’ve made receive the award themselves in due course:  Rachael, Drew, Debbie, Amira and Nillu.  I was incredibly proud of all of them, and one of the things that excites me most about 2015 is getting to continue to read their inspiring and divinely crafted words – along with many others whose Freshly Pressing is undoubtedly a mere matter of time.

I suppose two groups of posts really stand out for me, as concerns my own work.  The first was my participation in April’s A to Z blog challenge, which involved 26 posts in 30 days, and I chose, probably from a bout of temporary madness, to try and find an alphabetical list of songs that had some meaning for me throughout my life upon which I could expound at length.  In some ways it was one of the easiest writing assignments I’ve ever given myself, peeling back the layers to put a little more of my experiences out there for the world to peruse, rather than simply commenting on the course of events affecting others.  And I was delighted to be joined in the challenge by two terrific writers who provided plenty of encouragement along the way, both in their comments on my posts and the imagination showcased in their own:  the amazing Joanne and the irrepressible Gunmetal Geisha.  Thank you for so much.

The second was the little tale that has occupied this blog exclusively for the last four months:  Vintage.  It began with a dream of the image that, ironically, closes the most recent chapter:  a beautiful witch standing over a man she’s frozen in a lake.  From that single still has sprung a sprawling story that has given me a new opportunity to stretch and explore the power of words, and many thanks must go out to you readers who have stuck with me during this radical change of direction.  The new year will see me returning to my usual bailiwick, but Vintage will continue to unfold on a semi-regular basis and once it is finished it will be made available here as a complete PDF you can download and peruse to your heart’s content.

As I write this there are a little over six hours left in 2014, and my observations suggest that few of us will be sad to see it go.  The world really took it in the teeth this year, and the bad guys got away with way too much.  But turning the page on this calendar offers us a chance to regroup and reboot and come at our challenges armed with a fresh infusion of optimism – the world’s most renewable resource.  I’m not sure where I’ll be on December 31, 2015, or what will have transpired between now and then (I’m not very hopeful of the release of hoverboards at this point), but we’re only limited in the realization of dreams by choosing not to go after them at warp speed.  I’ll be turning 40 this coming year, and when you start to accept that there are fewer years ahead than there are behind, your perception shifts.  No one wants to look back on their life with the phrase I should have.

Happy New Year, everyone, and whatever you wish for 2015, may you find the courage to chase it, wisdom to understand it and above all else, joy in the accomplishment.

The Versatile Blogger Award!

versatile

Try to picture me now, six foot three inches of hangdog pout, twisting the toes of one foot back and forth on the floor in shame at having let something sit for far too long.  A month or so back I was nominated for the Versatile Blogger Award, and like a lazy farmer wondering why the crops aren’t doing anything when the seeds haven’t been planted yet, I let this sit, and sit, and recede into the shallows of memory, assuring myself that I would indeed get around to it.  Terrible.  Well, after a few other projects have been swept from the deck, here I am finally, getting around to said thing.  Despite my drag-assedness, I’m deeply grateful to the four stellar talents who were kind enough to nominate this tiny corner of the Internets:  Michelle Gordon, Jessica West, Nillu Stelter and Debbie Vega.  Thank you so very much ladies!  Keep being awesome, and more to the point, keep writing awesomely.  And sorry I’ve taken so long to accept your generous nomination!

The rules for this particular honor are:  thank the person(s) who nominated you (check!), disclose seven interesting factoids about yourself, and nominate fifteen more deserving winners.  As regards the seven interesting facts about myself, well… I’m not really that interesting a person.  I can string words together pretty well on paper and I’m okay at parties until my material runs out, but you’d probably brush past me on the street and not even realize I was there.  I suppose I write fiction to make up for the tame trappings of an average, middle-class upbringing and ongoing life.  But if you’re looking to be regaled by recollections of jaunts through the African savanna or the backstreet jazz clubs of New Orleans or rubbing elbows with the famous and the powerful, you’ve clicked on the wrong link.  It’s why I have to try to captivate you with my words; the rest of me won’t do it.  Regardless, here goes with a few things you might not otherwise know about me.

1.  As noted above, I am six-foot-three, shuffling along in a world designed for the five-foot-six.  This means a chronic case of slouching and a neck somewhat out of alignment from leaning forward to look down.  It also means, for whatever reason, strangers predisposed to think you are athletic.  I am incredibly not.  I marvel at shorter folks who can run marathons – I’m wrecked after a half-walked 5K.  At the risk of sounding a bit Dangerfield-esque about it, I was such a lousy athlete as a child that even the teachers picked me last.  Can’t throw, can’t hit, can’t kick, can’t field.  And to think that a childhood dream (swiftly extinguished by reality) was pitching in major league baseball.  Nope – closest I’ll get is field level seats, and you know what?  I’m totally okay with that.

2.  When I was a teenager, I drew comic books.  This is similar to #1 in that I cannot really draw, either.  My character was an anthropomorphised simian version of James Bond (for the simple reason that monkeys were easier to draw than humans) and I did seven books with him, only four of which were finished.  The last one, that part of me regrets not completing, was a James Bond-Star Trek: The Next Generation crossover, in which Bond fell for Dr. Crusher.  And because I couldn’t draw, the story was a lot of dialogue and character development as opposed to splash pages of pencil-crayoned ass kicking.  Doing these books did teach me a great deal about how to create character beats and arcs, how to plot, and how to sharpen the storytelling edge to finish within the number of pages left in the purloined school exercise book.

3.  I usually wear at least one piece of Disney-related clothing on any given day.  It started a few years ago with one solitary T-shirt; now the wardrobe has expanded considerably through ties, boxers and other apparel, and I’m writing this with a grinning Mickey Mouse displayed proudly on the left breast of my black golf shirt.  We’ve added Olaf to our growing empire of stuffed animals; he’s on a shelf in our living room, enjoying the summer and peering down at the mischievous kittens who are plotting to knock him from his lofty perch.

4.  Speaking of kittens, after we said goodbye to our beloved Muffins, we acquired two new furry friends to carry on her legacy:  siblings Dudley and Daila.  Dudley is an orange tabby while Daila is a tortoiseshell, and while they are both very sweet, Dudley is a master thief!  He has stolen articles of clothing, stress balls, batteries and keys, but his favorite target is pieces of fruit, specifically, bananas.  We have to hide any bananas we buy in the microwave, otherwise we’ll wake up in the morning with a banana in our bed.  Last weekend Dudley figured out how to open the desk drawer in our kitchen, and pilfered a ball of string.  Even though we were proud (and a tad terrified) of his ingenuity, we were somewhat disappointed at his descent into cliche.  It’s all right, he’s young, he’ll grow up and be quoting Proust before you know it.  (A la recherche du souris perdu, anyone?)

5.  My wife and I are part of the Big Brothers/Big Sisters program, and we mentor a young boy we’ve known since he was nine.  It was a year and a half after we met him that we were introduced to the then-11-year-old who would become our adopted son.  So you don’t have to be a major in anything to connect those dots and realize that the experience of mentoring made us realize that we could parent an older child.  A project still lingering on the backburner is a detailed article about being a mentor which I’m hoping to get finished in the next couple of weeks, so watch this space for updates on that.

6.  The infamous novel to which I have alluded from time to time is still working its way through the query trenches, now numbering 11 rejections all told.  I refuse to accept that this is a trend, and I soldier on.  One rather disappointing (yet interesting) tale from this process is having a Twitter pitch for it favorited by one particular agent after she had already rejected the query and sample chapters, which were sent to her because she favorited the same pitch in a prior Twitter contest.  (She was great about it though.)  With that sort of thing, you just have to laugh and keep going.  There was another form rejection I received that was so apologetic I almost felt I should have responded, assuring the agent that I didn’t take it personally and that I wasn’t going to go fledermaus-scheise on her.  Probably a result of too many wannabes doing just that.  As an aside to any literary agent out there who might be reading this, I promise promise PROMISE that I won’t be a jerkwad if you say no to me.  I’m taking a stand against that crap.  I may even develop a variation of the Serenity Prayer for rejected writers, or something more basic, like “I will not break, I will not bend, I will not turn into a raging douche-a-holic.”

7.  And lastly, I have struggled with my hair since as long as I can remember.  The avatar I use for all my social media profiles is one of the rare few pictures in which I find it looks somewhat respectable, instead of like a wildebeest flayed by a helicopter rotor.

Ok then!  Onwards to the third part of this here deal.  Versatility to me suggests, at least by its dictionary definition, individuals with a wide range of skills.  Applied to blogging it would therefore seem to mean people who write well about a lot of different subjects.  This runs contrary to most blogging advice, which posits that in order to build an audience you should focus on one topic you know really well and then just write the bejeezus out of that, rather than trying to be good for all time zones.  I suppose that when you become established as a “voice” that others seek out, you are then freer to weigh in on whatever you want, as opposed to trying to build a niche audience from nothing.  Some blogs I follow are informative writing resources, others are pop culture treasure troves, others still are founts of creativity expressed through wildly imaginative fiction.  What they share, however, are voices I look forward to hearing, and find myself missing when absent.

You’ve been bearing with me for this long, and I want to shake it up and end on something of a twist, so here it is:  rather than list fifteen names and links you won’t click on, I’m going to do Q&A’s with each person I nominate.  I enjoyed hosting Emmie Mears in June and it’s given me the itch to do some more of that there stuff.  I just think you’ll get more of a sense of why I admire these writers, and it’ll give them a chance to talk about what drives them, what scares them, what they’re after and what they want their legacy to be.  None of this fill-in-the-blank, true-or-false quick answer claptrap, we’re going to dive deep down, tug at the heart and probe the soul.  I’m gonna be the Brian Linehan of the blogging world if it kills me.  (I am aware that Brian Linehan is dead, so that could be taken the wrong way.  I meant in the sense of his detailed interviewing style.)  And each will of course be asked for their favorite swear word.

This might take a while so don’t expect all fifteen to show up in the next week, or even the next couple of months – it’ll be an ongoing feature here and I’ll categorize them so they’re easy for you to find.  To my unwitting subjects:  watch your Twitter DM’s and your email inboxes, like so many arrows loosed by an intrepid archer, or darts flung at a perforated cork board by a drunken punter round the pub, my questions will be coming for you.  Mwa ha ha.

The Advice Guy Is In!

Wikimedia Commons.
Wikimedia Commons.

Anyone who blogs is familiar with search engine spam:  the nigh-incomprehensible, often hilarious terms that somewhere, someone is typing into Google and finding themselves directed to your site with.  Since I’m a conscientious writer who likes to ensure that no fan is left behind, I’m taking this opportunity to address some of the possibly legitimate questions that have gone unanswered.  Let us have at it then, and continue doing our part to bring light to the world’s mysteries.  I should note that according to the WordPress calculamatron, every single one of these searches has been entered more than once, which means somewhere someone waits in vain for a response.  Wait no more, say I!  Behold:

“how to sick solar panel to car bonnet”

Firstly, you should check the solar panel’s temperature to determine whether or not it has as a fever.  If it does, make sure it stays warm and feed it plenty of broth.  Flat ginger ale is always a good option as well, but be sure it’s completely flat because you do not want to have to burp a solar panel.  Once the panel is feeling better you may then go ahead and attach it to the car bonnet.  I recommend a good strong length of rope and a bowline hitch.  Do not drive faster than 20 mph or in southeasterly wind conditions.

“where can I buy graham crackers in london”

Round the shops, guv.

“el final de Breaking Dawn: Part II”

Mucho gusto!  El final is caliente with mucho, mucho vampiros emos attacking el chupacabras with nada shirts on.  Es muy bueno!

“face Stockholm French martini”

This is actually one of my favorite drinks.  To make it, shake equal measures Lillet and Bollinger over ice and pour into a chilled martini glass.  Garnish with an Allen key and then smash your face into it.

“have I displeased you”

Yes.  And you know why.

“what does being forged through fire mean”

I had to check Google Translate on this one but the closest definition I can find is that apparently it involves taking an item, placing it in a fire and hammering it until it’s the right shape.  It is strongly recommended that said item is not any part of the body.

“did john lennon appear in on her majesty’s secret service”

This is a little known piece of movie trivia, but in fact, he did.  About thirty minutes in, he can be spotted hiding behind George Lazenby’s left eyebrow.  The predicament of Lazenby as the only James Bond to ever appear in only one movie inspired Lennon’s later solo unreleased demo, “You Cooked Yer Golden Goose You Naff Git,” which was rerecorded by the surviving three Beatles in 1995 but lost after the master tape was eaten by a passing walrus, goo goo g’joob.

“professor splash sexy picture”

Borat, is that you?

“life lessons learned from Mario”

  1.  Eat every mushroom you can find
  2. Stars are a plentiful source of invincibility
  3. Avoid bananas on the rainbow road
  4. The princess is in another castle
  5. Keep leaping because there’s always another barrel coming

“my little pony dude”

Now that’s a name nopony would self-apply where I come from.

“google coldplay”

Google them yourself.  I’m not your damn keyboardist.  Well, I was, for a time, in the hazy progressive rock band days I don’t like to talk about, where we would eat mushrooms (see above) and spend hours contemplating the collected works of Frank Herbert before attempting to translate them into song form.  Sadly, “Be My Shi-Hulud” never really burned up the charts the way we hoped it would – though it did result in a surprising number of restraining orders.

“snack crackers shape”

Trapezoidal, because five-sided crackers are for posers.

“sequence of events to become president”

Witness:

  1. Make a lot of money
  2. Join a political party (suggested method:  coin flip, depending on weather)
  3. Find someone else who is richer than you to back your campaign
  4. Run for office and don’t say too many stupid things
  5. ??????
  6. PRESIDENCY!

Alternatively, use the Frank Underwood House of Cards method:

  1. Be evil
  2. Convince everyone between you and the presidency to resign
  3. PRESIDENCY!

“conjuring demons through music katy perry”

It’s relieving to know that I’m not the only person out there who thinks “Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)” is an invocation of the evil power of Our Dark Lord Satan.  I mean really, when she sings about dancing on tabletops, that would be enough to get you burned at the stake in Inquisition-era Spain.  I know, you probably weren’t expecting the Spanish Inquisition.  *loud, ominous note*  NO ONE EXPECTS THE SPANISH INQUISITION!  Our chief weapons are fear, surprise and Katy Perry.

“sean bean 2012”

I totes would have backed that ticket.  Oh well, there’s always 2016.  As long as he can pledge not to be beheaded/impaled/blown up/shot/drowned/stabbed before the end of the term, I think he’s in like Flynn.

“argument for god the devil and the perfect pizza”

I’m for it unless it will make me unpopular, then I’m against it to my dying breath.

“I just wanna spend my life with you lyrics”

You know, some men will search their entire lives to find a really beautiful, deeply understanding and heartfelt set of lyrics they can pledge themselves to until death does them part.  I mean, I’ve had a desperate crush on “Subterranean Homesick Blues” since puberty, when lyrics stopped seeming so icky, but she’s never had any time for me.  Seriously, once you’ve heard that “Johnny’s in the basement, mixing up the medicine/I’m on the pavement, thinkin’ bout the government” couplet, how can your heart ever belong to another?  Though I’ve found as I’ve aged my tastes too have leaned toward older lyrics and now I find myself very curious about “Use your mentality, wake up to reality” from “I’ve Got You Under My Skin.”

“tolkien rips off harry potter a lot”

Please, do the world a favor and just go away.  There are some lovely caves in Canada’s north that you might find appealing.  Unless bitumen is located beneath them, then it might be a bit noisy with all the drilling and fracking equipment moseying about.

“things people do not know about graham crackers”

If you eat 100 of them in a single sitting you will attain superhuman strength.  (Editor’s note:  DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME, IN A CAR, AT WORK OR REALLY, ANYWHERE YOU MAY FIND YOURSELF WITH OCCASION TO TRY EATING 100 GRAHAM CRACKERS AT ONCE.  THE MANAGEMENT BEARS NO RESPONSIBILITY FOR YOUR INABILITY TO DISTINGUISH SATIRE FROM ACTUAL THINGS THAT ARE REAL.)

“the parent trap the end”

The twins realize life is a meaningless existential hell and tragically accept a teaching post in Australia.

“youtube videos of sweet honeys tied and gagged in inexorable bondage”

I don’t… I can’t even… heavens, where to even begin.  I’m not sure what’s more perplexing, that such a query would lead to my site, or that the person searching for said videos was literate enough to include the word “inexorable” in their search string.  Admittedly, it is possible that each one of those words has appeared in a different context somewhere back in the archives of my 262 posts, but that the mysterious forces of the algorithm should see fit to mesh them into a giant arrow that points here is, honestly, an argument for the existence of the fickle finger of fate, or at least, the conclusion drawn by the twins at the end of The Parent Trap.

This post is humbly dedicated to all those who have ever penned a “sarcastic advice” piece, because Zeus knows I didn’t come up with the idea.  And to all those who continue to fuel our biting wit with their comical inability to use the Internet properly.  We salute you.

Coming attractions

preview

Short post today, just more of a heads-up as to what’s in store as March winds its way towards the departure gate and April clears customs and ambles to the baggage carousel.  If you haven’t already checked out Rachael’s two beautiful entries about songs that have affected her profoundly, well, first of all, go do that now, and secondly, you’ll note that she issues a challenge to her fellow scribes to do the same.  This then is my formal announcement that most unlike William Tecumseh Sherman, if nominated I shall run, and if elected I shall serve.  I was debating about how exactly to structure it when I saw Gunmetal Geisha’s post about her blogging plans for April, and the rusty gears started to grind together.  Could I?  Would that work?  As I was compiling my list of songs I did notice that quite a few of them fell neatly into an approximation of alphabetical order.  And since music is such a visceral trigger for me and I’ve been shuffling along on this planet for a fair number of decades, there is no shortage of material to draw from to fit the list as well.

What does it all mean?  Well, starting April 1st you’ll see a new post here each day (barring Sundays) about a song that has a particular meaning for me.  Regular favorites, denizens of long lost playlists; some won’t even be songs that I necessarily happen to like.  What is important above all else is the piece of life that they symbolize and score.  The 1st will be an “A” song, the 2nd will be a “B” song, so on and so forth until we find ourselves at the end of the labyrinth on the 30th with the song starting with “Z.”  And maybe by the end of things some of the rest of what you see here might make a little more sense.  Or not; at the very least it should be a fun, musical ride.

Son of a preacher man

apostle

I’m fighting through a fog today; one of those insidious, creeping mists that slithers through your ears into your brain and blurs the connections between the synapses with shrouded fingers.  Maybe it’s choosing to give the nervous system a day off from the habitual double espresso poured into a concoction of milk and caramel.  Maybe it’s the gray sky choking out all the blue, and the persistent drizzle draping the morning in damp.  Whatever the reason, my gaze turns inward and I find myself unsatisfied with what I’m looking at.  I’m feeling like one of those old-timey salesmen drifting from town to town in a creaky covered wagon pushing miracle cures.  Like a prettily painted canvas being eaten by moths on the other side.  It’s the bottom of the ninth, bases loaded, two out, and I don’t have a bat.  Yet that doesn’t stop me from telling you how everything should be, how you should do this and that and why these things should be more like these other things, and if we would all only do more of this the world would be so much better.  The saying goes, a cynic is a man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing; I’m claiming in my arrogance that I know the value of everything, and I’m damn well gonna tell you about it.

I’m a preacher reading from a Bible of empty verse.  And this morning we’ve hit a point of critical mass where the contradictions are crushing me, smelling like that unfortunately familiar odor of hypocrisy.  Who the hell do I think I am, and where do I get off?  I have no business telling you how to write a novel, I’ve never published one.  I have no business telling you how to make a movie, I’ve never directed one.  I have no business telling you how to run a country, I’ve never stood for office.  Robert McKee, the well-known screenwriting teacher who has never had a screenplay produced, is fond of remarking that the world is full of people who teach things they themselves cannot do, but I find it difficult to stand comfortably in those ranks.  I’m much more inclined towards the ones who merely prove they can do the work without crowing about it or trying to pass the divine secret onto a host of others.  People who lead by example and not by lecture.  Because when you stand up to the microphone and start your diatribe, there is every possibility that someone in the audience is going to yell back, “Fraud!” – and be bang on.

There are as many opinions as there are stars in the universe, and the democratization of media through blogs and the Internet has ensured that every single one will have its day, regardless of weight, validity or even coherence.  The op-ed, once the realm of what might loosely be termed “learned elders,” is now ubiquitous and available to all comers.  The result?  A veritable cacophony of voices in self-constructed pulpits telling you how things should be, how you’re living your life wrong, that if only these ten specific events would occur then all would be milk and honey, and you’re all idiots for not doing exactly what I say you should have started doing fifteen years ago.  It is not even to suggest that such opinions are always offered from a place of malice or spite – in fact, a great majority are genuine and selfless offers of help.  But there is a line when we cross over from teacher to preacher.  It’s porous, foggy, and easy to miss, and I’m worried that too much of my work falls on the wrong side of the DMZ.  And that my pulpit is a balsa wood facade, and it’s crumbling under the weight of empty words.

In the 1970’s, after the split-up of the Beatles, John Lennon wrote a song called “How Do You Sleep?”, which was a thinly-veiled attack on Paul McCartney, featuring such accusatory lyrics as “the only thing you done was ‘Yesterday'” and “those freaks was right when they said you was dead.”  At the time it was thought to be in response to some like-minded sentiments found in Paul’s solo work directed at his former bandmate.  Yet in years following, Lennon had a change of heart as to who his song was really about.  He offered:

It’s not about Paul, it’s about me. I’m really attacking myself. But I regret the association, well, what’s to regret? He lived through it. The only thing that matters is how he and I feel about these things and not what the writer or commentator thinks about it. Him and me are okay.

I found the first part of the mea culpa intriguing, particularly as dovetailed with one’s perception of John as a contradictory man full of anger who preached peace.  Beatle-weary wags might suggest that it was a half-hearted chickening out in the face of bad press, that if you watch the profanity-laced performance of the song in the movie Imagine you can see for yourself how pissed at Paul John really was.  As I’ve often been reminded, however, the criticisms that sting the most are those we know are about genuine failings within ourselves.  Perhaps John took Paul’s songs personally because he knew on some level that Paul was correct.  And that the wrath flung back towards the man he once stood beside on stage and in the studio was indeed meant to be directed inward.  “You must have learned something in all those years.”

When we’re preaching, ultimately it’s for a congregation of one.  The only person we’re trying to convince, cajole, persuade, motivate, shake out of their complacency or even knock off their immaculate marble Doric-columned pedestal is ourselves.  Even the most rage-filled screed against the unfair world is us picking away at our own flaws, burning off the fat, tearing away veneers of falsehood to get at the kernels of truth hiding in the innermost layers of our soul.  So we can be okay with occasionally having no real ground to stand on; we don’t have to feel like complete phonies.  Posting about how a story should or shouldn’t be written is my own inner Robert McKee giving myself a stern lecture, because I’m the person who needs to work harder at his craft.  Musing about how the world should operate is a challenge to myself to do something about it instead of just voting and complaining.  If someone else happens to agree, wonderful – but I’m the one who is meant to benefit, if, naturally, I choose to get off my duff and take my own advice.  I can be okay with sermonizing from time to time because I can shoulder the responsibility of calling myself out if I think I’m full of it.  That doesn’t make me a hypocrite, or a fraud – just a soldier in the cause of trying to figure out the big mystery with the limited tools at my disposal.  As expected, mistakes are inevitable and necessary, but hell, man, every stumble is still forward motion.  The exercise is a lifelong endeavor that ends only when the lungs breathe their last.

So shine on, crazy preacher man.  Those freaks was right about you.

The WordPress (Non-Dysfunctional) Family Award

family

Happy 2014 everyone!  And what better way to start it off than being recognized by an incredibly talented peer?  The lovely Nillu Stelter nominated me for the WordPress Family Award.  So many people to thank:  my agent, my lawyer, my manager, my agent’s lawyer, my lawyer’s agent, my manager’s lawyer, my lawyer’s manager, the incredible electrical crews and the guy who gets me my blueberry danish every morning.  Free Tibet!  Okay, on a serious note, I am deeply grateful, and it reinforces the truth that when you put goodwill out into the world, it comes rushing back to you in a wave.  I admire Nillu’s talent for being able to pack a novel’s worth of emotion and imagery into her short pieces, and you should absolutely check them out instead of wasting your time here listening to me pontificate on whatever bee crawled into my bonnet this morning.

Accepting the award mandates that you nominate six other bloggers you feel are deserving of the honor – people who have been welcoming and encouraging in your blogging efforts.  Ironically, Nillu herself nominated several of the folks that I would have included on my list.  Rather than re-nominating them, I’ll bestow upon them honorable mentions instead:  Rachael Spellman, Drew Chial, Jessica West and Amira Makansi, and defer to Nillu’s excellent encapsulations.  I also want to give shoutouts to two bloggers whose work and whose virtual friendships I treasure but who aren’t on WordPress so they technically don’t qualify:  Ksenia Anske and Heather Archuletta.  Heather’s site is a bit different from the rest as she writes about all things NASA and space exploration, and about her experiences as a “pillownaut,” i.e. a participant in NASA’s bed rest studies, which simulate the effects of low gravity on the human body over long periods of time.  It’s a whole area of space science I knew nothing about until I met her on Twitter, and it’s quite fascinating.  And she’s a fan of all things Star Trek as well, so, well worth your while.  Ksenia you probably know about already, so no sense retreading the obvious, other than letting you know that she just began writing her literary novel Irkadura two days ago and banged out an incredible four and a half chapters in a single sitting.  Something to think about the next time you’re lacking motivation.

Introductions out of the way, let’s move on to my list:

East Bay Writer – EBW merits a special place as she was the first WordPress blogger I really “connected” with when I started doing this back in 2011.  Absent the magical “Freshly Pressed” designation that points a massive spotlight on you out of the gate, you really do have to do the work and crawl your way out of the anonymous cellar in what is essentially complete darkness, fumbling for a grip and swinging wildly until you catch hold.  I’ll always be grateful to EBW for extending her hand and letting me know someone out there in the wilderness gave a damn.

Tania Monaco – tania2atee – I first met Tania in 1999 when we both enrolled in the “Crafting a Novel” class taught by the next person down on my list, and we were part of a critique group that grew out of that class and continued for several years.  Her feedback helped to shape the novel I tinkered with for way too long before finally growing the spine needed to submit it to agents (ongoing as we type), and I’ll never forget one comment in particular she made that was manna for a man trying to write a book from a woman’s perspective:  “How do you know what we’re thinking?”  Tania blogs about parenting her two young children and her posts about favorite songs are always a treat.

Lynda Simmons – I Love a Parade – My first creative writing teacher (at least, the first who wasn’t also trying to teach me to write essays about long-dead English novelists), a family friend from way back, and a by turns witty and poignant novelist whose book Island Girl is a rending story about a woman struggling to put her family back together before the ravages of Alzheimer’s Disease claim her memory and indeed her very soul.  The woman who told me to my chagrin to ditch the 400,000-words-and-counting pile of rambles that wasn’t going anywhere and start something fresh and new.  Everything that followed is essentially her fault, so address your angry comments to the address in the link.  Just kidding.  Thank you Lynda, for so much.

Andrea Montgomery – My Simple Desires – Andrea doesn’t blog nearly enough, so my ulterior motive in nominating her is to try and give her a little nudge of inspiration.  She again is someone I have the fortune to know personally, and to envy from time to time since writing is her day job, as a communications professional.  There is a joyful touch to her blog posts which I’m finding myself missing, so, here’s hoping she gets back to it soon.

Tele Aadsen – Hooked – One woman at sea, trolling for truth, and what a beautiful journey it is.  Like EBW, Tele was one of my first “blog friends” on WordPress and it has been a privilege to read this amazing woman’s words these past years.  Taking a sabbatical from her career in fishing off the Alaskan coast, she is currently in a writer’s residency at the North Cascades Institute in Washington and working on her memoir, also entitled Hooked, to be published by Riverhead Books.  Cannot wait to hold a signed copy of that in my hands.  Reading Tele’s posts or seeing her comments on my own site are like a chat with an old friend, the kind with whom you can pick up like it’s only been a day even though months and months have passed.

And finally, the sixth blog on my list:  yours.  Yes, yours.  You, reading this right now – not the person next to you, you there.  Maybe I’ve stopped by yours in the past, maybe I haven’t.  But the fact that you’re doing it makes you a part of a family you may not even know you had.  You’re part of a tradition dating back to the first scratches on cave walls and extending far beyond the limits of our mortal shells.  We’re the reason our species has a history to remember, and dreams of the future to pursue.  We are writers, and whether we are read by millions or only a select few, we are each leaving our imprint upon a complex universe that is often difficult to understand.  Each book, each article, each post, even each thoughtful Twitter musing is a small step towards solving the greatest puzzle of all.  What does it mean to be us?  Choosing to enter into that conversation earns you a place at the table.  Welcome, friend; pull up a chair, pour yourself a drink and tell me a story.  Tell me what you think of mine.  And let’s create a new one together – as a family.

O Privacy, Where Art Thou?

This is your life.  Credit Vassilis Michalopoulos / Flickr Creative Commons
This is your life. Credit Vassilis Michalopoulos / Flickr Creative Commons

On Twitter today, Joyce Carol Oates shares a quote from yesterday’s New Yorker about privacy, in which artist Heather Dewey-Hagborg opines, “we are probably the last generation that will realize what we’re losing.”  You can’t help thinking that she’s right.  An entire generation is growing up with their lives chronicled meticulously for the world’s perusal through Facebook, Instagram, blogs, what have you, either by proud parents or by themselves, seeking connection in the digital space.  For the vast majority of the population, these connections will be benign, the consequences minor or nonexistent.  Traditional media is certainly keen to hype up the instances of social media gone wrong, and certainly the latest revelations about the National Security Agency are cause for justifiable alarm at what is being collected and by whom for what purposes.  To me, it seems that privacy has become a malleable concept.  People are okay with sharing to a certain degree, but there is usually a line they won’t cross, and that line differs from person to person.  Yet everyone is happy to abdicate at least some of what is uniquely theirs to the great unknown masses; the absolute recluse is soooo last century.  (Even Thomas Pynchon lent his voice to The Simpsons a couple of times.)  Is Joni Mitchell right, though?  Will we not know what we had until it is gone?  Or is the march to a completely open community inevitable and privacy a willing sacrifice?

The flexible line intrigues me.  A while back, I read a post (I don’t remember where, sorry, or I would provide the link) in which the writer suggested that the level of detail provided in certain “mommy blog” posts about children encroached on the territory of potential libel litigation once the child reached maturity – tired moms calling their kids “little shits” online, and so forth.  As a blogger and a new adoptive parent, I too had a choice to make about how much or how little detail I would include about my son in this space.  Mindful of my own rule that you should never put anything online that you wouldn’t carve in concrete on your front porch, and not wanting to burden my son with a digital legacy not of his own making, I chose to be quite spare in the amount of information I reveal about him.  Where I do post about parenting it’s about my thoughts and feelings – which I can control – and my son is more of a relatively anonymous factor influencing me.  You may have noticed I haven’t mentioned his name, and if someone who knows me personally accidentally drops it in the comments, I delete it post-haste.  (I have not mentioned my wife’s name here either, for the same reasons, though if you really want to find it, it’s not that difficult.)  The siren song of the Internet is calling to him with increasing volume, and he’ll have plenty of time to forge his own footprint his own way, when he’s ready (you know, in about 30 years or so).  He doesn’t need me blazing an embarrassing trail with catty remarks about cranky moods or off-color remarks spoken in innocence that will come back to haunt him in his first job interview.

Even if you are cautious about sensible things – not posting your address or phone number, or photos of your house or of you blistering drunk in a pair of your mother’s underpants and so on – you are still giving up an aspect of your privacy when you share your thoughts, whether they be in short bursts of anger at the latest dumb thing done by right wing politicians or long, carefully-reasoned pieces like this one.  If someone was a diligent reader of the preceding 200-odd posts here they’d have me at a considerable disadvantage were I to meet them in real life.  (Honestly, at any given time I don’t remember half of what I’ve written here.)  You don’t know where I live or where I am this very second, but one could argue you know a much more intimate detail about me.  You know how I think.  That is, assuming you trust that I’ve been truthful and I haven’t been pulling your leg for almost two years with the old unreliable narrator gimmick.  And that raises another interesting question.  Given the absolute tabula rasa of the digital space for the creation of an online identity, why the presumption that the majority of folks who use it are being absolutely honest about who they are and what they think?  I could have created a completely opposite alter ego just for fun and gone to town.  But I wanted to be me.  And I wanted the digital me to be consistent with the real me, otherwise Lucy would have a lot of ‘splaining to do at dinner parties.  So I have in fact given up an integral component of my privacy.  I’ve opened my mind to you.  There’s an implicit contract then that you are not evil incarnate and you’re not going to find some way to use it against me in a future I have not yet conceived.  And even if you do there’s not hellish much I can do about it.  I’ve handed over the mallet willingly and it’s your choice whether or not you want to bludgeon me with it.

When you think about it in that context, sharing online is an enormous gesture of trust, and an encouraging one, for it speaks to a deep-rooted optimism that our fellow human beings are good people who can be relied upon to be responsible caretakers of the information we’re providing them.  Is it possible that the desire for community, connection and having our voices heard outweighs the wish to protect privacy?  For it seems that today, you cannot have both.  Certainly, those who shun the digital space wind up missing out on a heck of a lot.  There are terrific people I’ve met through blogging and through Twitter that I never would have known about had I chosen to retract my head into my little turtle shell and keep my own counsel.  My life, then, has been enhanced by forfeiting aspects of my privacy.  In her TED talk, Brene Brown talks about how the people who are the most willing to be vulnerable are those who experience the richest love in return.  Yet there’s that catch – being vulnerable.  Putting it out there.  Extending your hand knowing there is a possibility (however remote) that it might be bitten off.  What is worrisome to many, as Heather Dewey-Hagborg suggests with her quote, is that in the future, there simply may be no choice anymore.  We need to know if we’re okay with that.  The reward of a closer-knit human race is a tempting carrot indeed, but the trouble is, no one knows what it will feel like to be hit with the stick.

Fishing for the little pellets of love

water

Some depressing Graham’s Crackers statistics to start off with.  Total posts, March 2012:  26.  Total posts, March 2013:  2 (including this one, 3 if you include the piece I did for HuffPo about International Women’s Day).  And the frogurt is also cursed.

Yes, I know, oh mighty gurus of blog, you’re not supposed to post about how you haven’t posted in a while.  But this is my sandbox and my rules and prithee, I shall beg indulgence while I raise a kerchief to my brow and lament in plaintive tone the lack of productivity shown these past fortnights.  It isn’t as though there’s nothing to write about, after all.  Nay, verily, my literary cup runneth somewhat over.  I do admire though, those who can juggle the heavy spheres of work and family and simply keeping up with the pace of life and still churn out a few thousand words each day.  Something one should aspire to as well, if one were not such a piss poor scheduler of one’s time (guilty, Your Honors).

To that end I am raising a metaphorical glass to my friend Tele Aadsen of Hooked for her much-deserved accomplishment of landing a publisher for her memoir.  Now, Tele and I have never met or spoken to one another and our interaction has been entirely in reading each other’s writing and exchanging comments and tweets.  But ours, I think, is a kinship of letters, of recognizing and appreciating the power of the written word and how we can use it to connect across otherwise impassable chasms of time and distance.  Would I, a dude of a somewhat insular urban upbringing in the Greater Toronto Area, have ever assumed that I would have the slightest thing in common with an Alaskan fisher poet?  Yet I do, and I’m grateful, and my life is the better for it.  Anyway, there was a Twitter hashtag that was trending a few days about people you’d most like to meet, and predictably, the most common answers were celebrity names (Bieber again?  REALLY?)  Tele’s at the top of my list.  Someday soon, I hope – that is, if I haven’t now come off sounding like Creepy Stalker Guy™.  If for nothing else than just the chance to say thank you.  And get a personalized, autographed copy.  It’s not for me, it’s for my friend of the same name.

Onwards and upwards then.  Amongst my pursuits I am occasionally fortunate enough to attend digital media conferences.  Toronto held its second annual Digital Media Summit last week, gathering a roster of experts and thought leaders from across the industry of ye olde cyberspace – names like Don Tapscott, Erik Qualman, Cindy Gallop, Amber Mac and Neil Shankman among dozens of other luminaries delivering informative addresses to hundreds of lanyard-wearing, smartphone-tapping digital worker bees.  I was there on behalf of my employer, of course, but I still view things through the filter of writing and how what they were all saying could be used to further a writer’s reach (who are we kidding – my reach) in this rapidly advancing age.  You know, sometimes one can get a bit cynical as one carefully strings his words together and hits “publish” and… nothing much happens.  Admit it; on the surface, we’re all happy for the blogger who rejoices “I got Freshly Pressed on my very first post!” while inside we seethe that our own 189 pearls of literate wisdom usually go unnoticed by all but a select (if wonderful) few.  If you can take your ego out of the equation, it’s not difficult to understand.  Time is precious, an individual’s time is even more precious, and in order for them to grant you even a few seconds of theirs in between bathing the dog and walking the baby, you have to touch them with something that inspires real passion.  There was an interesting statistic revealed at DMS that on Facebook, even posts by the most famous, highly-liked brands only reach about 15% of their followers.  (That’s why, even though in between Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, G+ or whatever else you’re linking your blog posts to you may have a thousand connections, hits on your latest and greatest might not top a hundred.  At least, that’s how it works for me.)  And just because you get them, it doesn’t mean you’ll keep them.  I’ve received a couple of (relatively) huge traffic spikes that have come from famous people tweeting links to my blog.  But they don’t last – after a few days the hits drop to their usual, more stable level.  Maybe you retain one or two, but the vast majority treat you like a cheap motel along I-75, moving on once the new day has dawned and the open road beckons.  And that’s cool.  I mean, how many blogs have I looked at once because they posted something I wanted to learn more about only to forget about them thirty seconds after hitting the red X?  It’s life, and if you want to be loved, adopt a golden retriever.

Those moments when you do tap into something and really connect with people, well, I suspect there are few varieties of crack cocaine that can measure to the high.  Someone at the DMS called them “little pellets of love”; you know, the tiny charge that you get when you open your Facebook and see the little red number in your notification section.  “People are interested in me!  Yay!”  Same goes on Twitter when we get a retweet, or a new follow, or a reply from a celebrity we really admire, or on WordPress when we get the notification that somebody liked, commented or shared our work.  When one finally does cross that fabled Rubicon from giving it away for free to receiving the first cheque for something we penned, does that vindication truly compare to the spiritual fulfillment of knowing that someone, even a stranger, really digs us?  I suppose in those cases by contrast when we’ve written something that really pisses people off, the money compensates for the death threats.

What then, is the lesson for today?  It’s karma, sports fans.  Ya gotta put it out to get it back.  And as my learned better half is wont to tell me when I sink into the occasional bout of self-pity, you need to write to touch people, not to prove how smart you are about things no one cares about.  You’ll see, I’m sure, when Hooked is released, how Tele does it.  Hopefully as I continue along here I’ll get better at it.  And we’ll see where the ocean takes us.

Around the world in 80 clicks

50 Shades of Orange and Red.
50 Shades of Orange and Red.

The “views by country” application on WordPress holds endless fascination for me.  As I’ve said before it’s a reminder of how small the world has become in the digital age and how one does not need a multi-million-dollar book deal or internationally syndicated column to have a reach that spans the globe.  Since my last update, we’ve now filled in the entire north coast of Africa, all of South America save Guyana and French Guinea, Belarus finally got on board to complete the Eastern European bloc and the U.S. has regained the all-time lead from Canada following last June’s spike (thanks neighborinos!)

I wonder about some of the countries where the total number of views is in the low single digits.  What were they looking for, did they find me by happenstance, and did they at least enjoy what they stumbled upon?  I wonder about those nations where the Internet is guarded tightly by the government and who seem to be, at least for now, the Holy Grail in terms of getting a blog hit – places like China, Iran, Cuba, North Korea.  (Don’t know what Greenland’s excuse is.)  We know that in those countries, a privileged few do indeed enjoy unrestricted Internet access so the possibility exists.  There was an interesting article released last week about Jimmy Dushku, a 25-year-old American who for whatever reason is one of three accounts being followed by North Korea’s official Twitter account.  Though considering what goes on in that despotic mess of a country, I can’t say I’m that eager to fill my map in.

What’s the scoop, fellow WordPressers – anybody out there get a hit from somewhere completely unexpected?