Monday, April 30, 2012

Where Would We Be Without Important People in the Shadows?

We are constantly in-the-know about famous musical performers. We see their shows. We hear the gossip. We keep them in their furs and Rolls Royces as we buy their offerings. Yet, behind those acclaimed artists, stand important people who had a major hand in that fame - people whose influence you rarely hear about. Sadly, most of us care about these shadowy names only when playing Trivial Pursuit. Sort of like enjoying the rich, creamy taste of well-made ice cream, but not knowing or caring that you're getting it from Ben and Jerry's or Tom and Jerry's.

Let's take a couple of popular musicians: Peter Frampton and Carl Perkins. Great guitar players from different eras and with completely different styles and music. Yet, to build their musical reputation, both used innovative g-l guitars. Of course, unless you're a student of the electric string box, you probably don't know that g-l (or more properly, G&L) refer to George Fullerton and Leo Fender - two men who humbly shaped over a half century of music with cleverly designed electric guitars.

Does this matter to you aside from the fact you now have more material for your next game of trivia? No? Well, just remember: there are more people in the influential shadows of fame than there are people in fame's lime light. You don't have to be the one on stage to leave a musical mark (although I'll bet it pays better).

Saturday, April 28, 2012

You ARE a Writer! So start acting like one!

Six months ago while I was on vacation, family and friends encouraged me to take some of my blog posts and my writings and put them into a book. It is amazing how little encouragement it takes to get you to consider the craziest of ideas. In fact, the amount of encouragement seems to vary inversely to the amount of alcohol that you have in your system. At the time, we had been celebrating rather passionately; so all I needed was a thimbleful of encouragement. When someone began saying "You know, these aren't too bad. Why don't you put them ...?", my life suddenly exploded from realization of tremendous possibilities ... and from striking my head against the door frame as I tripped. Either way, I knew that my life had a new, very exciting calling.

While my head felt fine that next morning, I still felt that giddiness of excitement. And into the next day. And into the next week. And into the next month.

Unfortunately, excitement is a poor substitute for knowledge. For the past six months, I've tried to put a decent book together. "Trying" being the operative word. I mean I enjoy placing words in various sequences and then watching the joy that comes to my readers' faces. Afterwards, I awake and think how wonderful it would be to do just that outside of dreams. Yet, if I were a punctuation mark, you would probably consider me as a semi-colon based on my half-assed attempts to create a book. You would definitely not consider me as an author, let alone a writer.

Oh sure, I've written a few papers, published a few blog posts, even earned a shekel or two in the process. Still, I have never thought of myself worthy of the title "writer". So what to do?

As rush of time threw me into this April, I contemplated two options: take on the task of becoming a skilled writer in a do-or-die effort, or have a pity party. Obviously, who wants to go to a party where the beer is warm and full of tears. So, I stopped acting as a semi-colon and dedicated myself to an ongoing process of developing my craft and my skill.

This means practicing as much as possible – no excuses. It also means slavishly reading and listening and learning from the great masters of the field. In fact, one of the reasons that I am writing this post is because of an inspirational book I read this week called "You are a Writer (so start acting like one)” by Jeff Goins. This is one of those books that someone should have given to me six months ago – upside my head – with kind words of "Read this, you lazy dolt, so you can get a better understanding of what you're about to undertake!"

To say that Mr. Goins’s book is inspirational is an understatement. Not only does he persuasively encourage (all without a drop of alcohol), he also goes that extra step with practical advice, such as the 3 tools that every writer needs. He even gives step-by-step instructions in getting started and in moving your publishing enterprise along.

After reading Mr. Goins’s book, my excitement about writing and publishing is now enhanced with knowledge. I had no doubts that becoming a successful author will take lots of hard work. I also have no doubt now that I can do this. In fact, the book's key phrase has become my mantra through brief moments of discouragement and frustration: I am a writer! I just need to write!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

war on, women.

My wonderful daughter sent me an e-mail asking, "What are some good reliable news sites? My friend brought up this whole "war on women" thing and I wanted to do some digging on it. I'm looking into some of the craziness already but I figured you would know what sites would be more trustworthy than others."

This is a difficult question to answer. I mean, the "war on women" is such a broad issue (no pun intended; well, maybe a little one). No surprise that this topic is just in time for the upcoming election. I suspect "war on women" will be like the "war on drugs" and the "war on poverty" - lots of needless money spent, lots of needless struggles, lots of political hot air, and lots of unhappy people. So, here we are, in the middle of yet another slippery election issue - one where everyone will define it to match their agenda.

You can tell the phrase "war on women" is just a way to bait people into silly arguments. Is anyone is really up to fighting women? How about just their female relatives? "All right, Grandma, it's you verses me! Pick your weapon! And, this time, no biting or gumming allowed!"

Of course, maybe someone just got lazy with a comma. Maybe the phrase is supposed to be "War on, Women!" in the spirit of women's liberation; or, in support of women's jello wrestling competitions. What do I know.

Which brings us to finding unbiased news sites. That falls in the imaginary realm of finding honest politicians, jumbo shrimp, and checks in the mail. You and I will have to read materials from several perspectives, mull it over a beer or three, and watch that no one tries restricting our freedoms or takes (as opposed to earns or asks for) our hard-won money.

Anyway, my loving daughter has asked an excellent question. So let me look for objective sources of information on this issue - if such creatures exist. I'll see what I can find for us and let you know.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

If only my words made a difference.

April 17th is National Hemophilia Day. Maybe a few countries will follow suit and celebrate with bloodless coups.

Yes, North Korea, we're looking at you. Have you not hemorrhaged enough innocent lives?

Sunday, April 15, 2012

food businesses can be so cruel

I know you shouldn't believe everything you read. Still, there has to be some level of trust between businesses and their customers. While I don't want to accuse anyone of false labeling, I have to report that my diet of Wheat Thins and Thin Mints isn’t working as expected. I even rolled them up into several hundred capsule-sized bites. Apparently - and I can only speak as a guy - these aren't the best diet pills for men, especially when taken in quantities of, say, handfuls. Tasty, yes! Convenient, oh yes! But I have discovered that there is nothing thin in my body after consuming these delectable treats.

My next experiment: light beer and thin pretzels. This combination can't fail. Right?

writing is so discouraging at times.

The more I try to write funny material, the more frustrated and incompetent I feel. At this point, I'm certain you won't see me working as a stage comedian. I can't imagine having jokes clever enough to "have 'em rolling in a aisle" - unless, of course, they're in a wheelchair. Or they're having a seizure. Or both.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

What makes you read?

I've undertaken the challenge of becoming a writer - not some hack "throw a few words together and hope for the best" - but, rather, a true wordsmith that earns admiring readers. Since there is no purpose to doing something halfway acceptable, I am diligently researching what the top-notch writers know. Lucky for me, no one is hiding their trade secrets. Without exception, the top money winners all recommend reading as much as possible – the good works along with bad. On the downside: I will have to change my reading habits.

Ever since I learned how to open a book and enjoy its contents, a wealth of literary material has always surrounded me. To get through all of these exciting books, I trained myself to read as fast as possible while still absorbing as much as possible. This has not been without its dangers. On more than one occasion, I crashed into an unexpected period. Fortunately, I wasn't wearing a seat-belt at the time so I was thrown clear of the book. In any case, now, instead of reading for pure knowledge, I will have to slow my speed to a crawl and read for pure style.

Great! I get to reread the "Marked" and the "Twilight" series. Slowly. I first read these books to keep up with what was popular with my children. During that time, several passages made me cringed in horror - not from the storyline but from the way the authors slapped the words together. I didn't stop to figure out why their fingernails-on-chalkboard style jarred me. I just needed to get through the sparkly vampires, impossible villains, and whiny teenagers. Now, my all-consuming mission is to suffer through these famed works again; learn why those words needed a massive stake through the heart; and learn how to not create the same mind-numbing horrors.

My counsel of great writers also recommend against rapid publishing, which means a radical change in my posting routine. Instead of writing a few paragraphs, followed by a few edits, then hitting the [publish] key - all within hours of the initial idea - I now work to write, edit, put the post aside for a day or two, reedit, and then MAYBE hit the [publish] key if the piece is concise and (hopefully) enticing. Well, for the most part. Hitting the [publish] button is often the most exciting part of writing.

Still, please help me with your comments. Or, at least, just put a stake through my ignorant heart before my words become the sparkly undead of the Internet.

Monday, April 09, 2012

How to prevail in the end.

This was one of those trip-over-the-dog, why-am-I-doing-this, WTF days of utter frustration. Then I read about the "Stockdale Paradox". To paraphrase:

You must retain faith that you will prevail in the end, regardless of the difficulties.

AND at the same time…

You must confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.

Never doubt that you can achieve your goals, no matter how lofty they may be and no matter how many critics and naysayers you may have. But at the same time, always take honest stock of your current situation. Don’t lie to yourself for fear of short-term embarrassment or discomfort, because such deception will only come back to defeat you in the end.

Ok, whiny time is over. On to the big stuff!

Saturday, April 07, 2012

How did they get my credit card?.

"Hello, this is your bank. Please return our call as soon as possible. This is not a solicitation call, but in regards to your credit card with us. Please call us as soon as possible."

So started my day as I awoke to find this message on my answering machine. My initial thought wondered how valid the call was. Have you ever had the phone company or the cable company ring you up for a friendly chat on what you think of their product, and, oh by the way, "would you like to add a few extra services to your bill?" It wouldn't be the first time some sleazy salesperson with corrupt definition of "not a solicitation call" had me call them back.

Yet, the bank representative did have an air of urgency in her voice. Reluctantly, I dialed the number left in the message. Maybe in their little, black, banking hearts, guilt had made they give up the evils of charging me interest. But no. Turns out that, somehow, somewhere, someone got hold of my credit card's number and made several large purchases.

This amazed me. How did the thief know my credit card number? I had not bought anything in a several months. Besides, there, in my sweating hand, was my compromised card. Are we dealing with psychic criminals now? No, the bank rep speculated that someone may have hack into a merchant's site, or simply had access to a business's old records. He said they would be investigating and not to worry.

So, with new plastic money on the way, I'm cutting up my now-cancelled card. And, just to be safe, I'm also wrapping my head in tin foil. We can't risk someone trying to read my mind for account numbers now, can we.

Thursday, April 05, 2012

This Sunday's activities.

After the kids work up an appetite while hunting for Easter eggs, do you think a lunch of rabbit stew and beer would be a good idea?

Yeah, you're right. Serving beer would be a bit insensitive.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

didn't see it coming.

My brave, blind friend broke up with his seeing-eye dog. Actually, his dog broke up with him saying, "I think we should start seeing for other people. Ok, yes, it's me, not you."

Since the terrible day, we've been finding my friend beside himself with grief - then we'll pick up his cat, grief, and lead my friend to his apartment. There's a good reason why seeing-eye cats are not major help-mates among the blind community.

But you know how it is after a break up - that rebound partner is always the strangest. And "once you go cat, you'll never go back" ... because you are lost!

Sadly, my good, brave, blind friend didn't see this coming. Obviously.