Saturday, January 21, 2012

What Dreams May Come

It's strange how life unfolds, sometimes bringing us back full circle to something we encountered ages ago. I'm speaking about something which might very well seem insignificant to an external observer, perhaps even childish. Yet it had a such a profound impact on us that it shaped our life in a significant way.

In my case, a series of events led down a path that brought back a childhood memory long since forgotten. A memory of something I cherished deeply during those wonderfully naive years of dreaming about the impossible. What am I babbling about? Let's find out. While this might not make sense to anyone other than myself and might seem childish, what I'm talking about was and is still is something important in my life regardless of what others see it as.

Moving back a month or two in time, somewhere across the globe, a butterfly flapped its wings. Shortly thereafter, a friend of mine feels the urge to gently prod me, er, ask me if I've taken active steps towards writing books for young adults. “There's a sizable market you could tap into for extra income,” she says. I'm paraphrasing, but it hits the mark close enough. Besides, I doubt my friend would worry if I misquote a word or two. Not to mention my memory is like that of a fish – anything past nine seconds and I seem to forget anything in the short term. But I digress. Slow to move, I'm like molasses, but I'm a juggernaut too. Once in motion, I churn along with a seemingly endless supply of energy as I move tirelessly towards my goal. My purchase of the book on authoring children's story is part of the slow but steady movement forward. Again I digress by presenting background material. I'll meander back on topic to keep from losing everyone.

Fast forwarding from the past to this afternoon, I'm roaming about in a used bookstore, I whittled away the Saturday afternoon in a useful manner. Seeking materials to help improve my writing style, I browsed through the shelves lined with books. Some how-to books, others fiction and fantasy oriented. While rooting bout in the how-to section, I stumbled across a tome dealing with writing stories for younger readers. My memory managed to function and I could hear my friend, “Hey, that book there... yeah that one! Pick it up.” Okay, I'm an agreeable fella so I pick up the book entitled, “How to Write a Children's Book and Get It Published”. I thumb through the pages. The style is agreeable as is the prose. Nothing stuffy or stilted. It's quite approachable and seems to have a series of good suggestions so I add it to my other how-to books. After a bit more browsing through the science fiction and fantasy books, I pay for my booty and set sail for home.

Upon arriving home, I grab a bite to eat then sit down to take a look at my books. I'm perusing through a chapter entitled “Turtles All the Way Down” when the author of this particular essay begins to speak about alliterations such as “One ring to rule them all”. Vague memories of childhood books began to surface. I recall reading “The Hobbit” and even far stranger works such as the likes of H.P. Lovecraft. I set aside my memories and return to reading. The author drifts along making interesting points about the voice employed by an author when they are painting their character to the reader. The subject of C.S. Lewis arises with how a child is placed into a role of an adult through such a voice. Down goes the book. Something interesting is rumbling in the mind but it hasn't surfaced. While I'm pondering the concept of how younger readers can be pulled into the excitement of reading a story, a tidal wave of thoughts about my youth take control. Stories I'd read come flooding back. I start to recall how wondrous those stories were. Then it hit me. One of those nagging thoughts where you have something you're trying to recall but it's just out of grasp. I recall a book, one that I read numerous times when I was in the dreamer stage some young boys go through. It was through this particular book that I imagined vicariously, the thrills of pulling off clever pranks filled with mystery. The title, what was the title of that book? Something about a scientific boys club. A bit of searching turned up an anime reference but that wasn't it. More browsing and searching. Then, with a bit of detective work, I hit pay dirt and found my author, Bertrand R. Brinley along with the title of his cleverly written “The Mad Scientists' Club”. I pulled up an Amazon page selling the book, and sure enough, there was the cover I had burned into my memory as a child. That oh see delicious set of stories filled with excitement of youthful endeavors.

Now one might say, “Yeah, so? It's a kids book. What's so important about that?” Well now, for me, this seemingly trivial book wasn't so trivial. As a child, I found myself reading and rereading this book numerous times. It was the hook that got me, the bait that pulled me into the world of reading. And from there, greater things were able to transpire.

Allow me be more specific, when an author such Bertrand Brinley writes a series of stories that wrestles a kid's attention away from watching TV, would you not consider that a feat well worth praise? From that seemingly trivial book, I found myself reading stories from well known authors, some of the stories being deep in nature such as “Animal Farm”. Yep, I found a whole series of classic books on my oldest brother's bookshelf including numerous other wonders such as “I, Robot” and “Lord of the Flies”. Some books were too deep for me to understand at the time, at least their symbolism, yet the exposure was good in my opinion. And through all the reading, I was able to survive against my own laziness in school. Not motivated (interested) in typical school studies, I was able to retain some level of intelligent edge through reading. But when it's all said and done, books such as the one I mentioned are the ones that draw in a child with such intensity that it has a profound impact upon their life. Influence, it comes from unexpected places at times.

Friday, January 20, 2012

An iForce to be Reckoned With

Opening the news yesterday, a barrage of captions vied for my attention. One of the easier to overlook stories vanishes behind headlines touting tales of cowardly captains or questionable US behaviors about SOPA/PIPA failure-inspired retaliatory strikes by governmental agency against websites of equally questionable behavior. Hidden amongst all the other brouhaha, would-be author's will find something of potential interest. Apple intends to make a big splash with its iBooks Author publishing software. It [Apple] aims to revolutionize the digital text book publishing industry by offering easy to use tools for publishing aimed at a large target market of iDevices that uses standardized hardware the books can be displayed upon. Sweet! What more could an author ask for?

Cue sinister music along with a dark shadowy figure.

But not all is sunshine and smiles it seems. Taking a deeper look, one might see something more troublesome. The oft repeated phrase J.R.R. Tolkien coined, “One ring to rule them all” should be pulsing in an author's chest, reminding them of the corruptible power of the ring which represents the double edged sword a monopoly uses to control/subdue a market. What am I speaking of specifically? The buried EULA which states all published works can only be sold in the Apple iBookStore. Further qualifying, this applies to books sold for profit and does not include books given away for free.

To be more direct, as an aspiring author, I find Apple's buried-EULA restriction unacceptable. I'm confident more than a few Apple supporters would be quick to say, “You don't have to use Apple software. Nobody is forcing you. Apple doesn't want you (but they do want my money), we don't want you so go @#&^ off! Feel free to fill in your own colorful term but how @#&^. I prefer to use the term kiss off! Has a nice feel to it doesn't it?

But in my opinion, people claiming the “no one is forcing you” angle are missing the point. When a company such as [insert your favorite evil empire name here] has sufficient clout over a market that it resembles a monopoly, any pretense of a free market dies. Innovation builds on the ability to be flexible. If I can only sell my works to the old western store front facade in the form of an iStore, how can I reach my own Android phone? Oh, well, you can use a handy converter app and pay Apple a royalty if the Apple decides to permit it... wait a cotton picking minute. Sound familiar?

Heavy handed EULAs are not something Apple invented. They've been around for ages, but we shouldn't allow an entity to force a mandate down our throats when it comes to how we, as authors, are allowed to distribute our material unless there is room for negotiation on both sides of the table.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Buddy, can you spare a "Change"?

Seems my own personal snake in the grass decided it was time to bite me, serving as a reminder of my flaws.

It's the second time in the last week where I've encountered an issue I need to confront within myself. Allow me to qualify.

Keep in mind, there are times when the things I write are not flattering commentary about myself. I'm not here to impress people. I'm here to make my life have value when it's all said and done. In other words, I'm a human who is brimming not only with quirks and flaws, but also possess a redeeming plethora of good qualities too. With that said, let's dive into the muck.

Okay, so there I was, writing a blog entry using my trusty ol' PC. An email appears in my in-box. Drat, it's from a local dating site I'd registered with eons ago. Noise, nothing but in-box noise I tells ya! Since I'm in a take charge and change things type of mood, I decide it's time to put an end to this particular source of clutter in my in-box.

So off I went to the site, hell bent on deleting my account. I logged in to find the necessary page that will allow me to play Terminator – minus the “I'll be back” phrase. Just as I'm about to hammer down the “delete profile” button, an intriguing photo of a woman in the “recent activity” list catches my eye. Rrrrrt, the finger comes to a screeching halt. Yeah, yeah, I know. I can already hear the ladies saying, “You guys are all the same, you shouldn't use your eyes to decide whether or not to look at a woman's dating site profile.” Well, I'm a guy so we all know what I did. Rather than click delete, I clicked browse. Little did I realize it would mean I must confront the need to start a trek down a very painful road to further enlightenment.

Hmm, she definitely looks attractive and has the ethnic origin I strongly prefer (as if anyone couldn't guess, I prefer women of Asian descent). But what about her age? Time to browse further. Okay, so she's my age. Alright then, how about her background and interests in regard to the type of partner she's after? Certainly that has to be the final nail in my coffin lid ay? Surprisingly, no evident problems there.

Now one might say, “Fantastic, you've found a local girl who you'd like to get to know. You sent her message right?” Ah, um, well, er, ya see... no.

So some of you might say, “If you don't even try, you can't move forward. You've dated in the past so why not now? What da #($* is wrong with you?” I could make more excuses like saying the last time I dated I had time to establish a connection in a paced manner, easing the social stresses involved. Ah, but she made the first move so I guess I can't use that excuse. Rats, I'm cornered and must cop to the truth.

I realize that even when things look like a reasonable match from my side, I falter. Just take a look at my list of “but this won't work because...” checklist items I ran through beforehand. When all is said and done, what was my justification, er excuse, for not messaging her? My dumpy vehicle.

Stripping away one layer of obfuscation, I won't argue that driving a crappy vehicle clearly communicates I have some quirkiness within me. Whether or not that particular issue is a serious problem in itself is debatable. But very few people drive non-reliable vehicles out of choice. Still, it may or may not be a nail in my coffin lid for getting to know someone. To some extent, it depends not only upon how the other person views life around them, but how I present myself. Ah but then there's the second issue besides finances. Deeply intertwined with my choice to drive a crummy vehicle exists another issue revolving around self-image. The concept of self-esteem surfaces and now requires attention on my part. Sigh.

While the first issue of financial stability does raise its ugly head in my life at times, it's not the key issue here. And to my credit, I have been actively taking steps to stabilize my financial “state of being”. Clearly, the most dangerous culprit is the the issue of self-image, self-value, or self-esteem. I can make excuses about where these issues source from, but in the end, I bear full responsibility.

It's odd how our problems rise up like a snake in the grass, waiting to bite us venomously as a reminder, “Hey pal, I'm still here. Your attempts at self-improvement hasn't eradicated me.” Looks like I have far more work to do this year than I anticipated.

Like the Hands of Time, Always Move Forward

In the past, I've talked about setting goals along with planning steps to achieve those aspirations. More specifically, I'm not talking about day to day activities, but about the grand scale of what one does with their life. For me, I'd boiled it down to four fundamental dreams I sought to achieve: writing stories, becoming involved with shooting films, creating an award-winning garden and last but not least, establishing a healthy relationship.

Looking back not quite a year after establishing my initial plans, it's time for an assessment. Are these still my major interests? Has anything changed such that directions need to be adjusted? How far have I progressed? While to some, this may feel like a rehash of the tired old topic, it's a bit more as I'll talk about changes in priorities. For those who are brave enough to tread down this path again, let's dive in shall we? As Mario of Super Mario Bros fame would say, “Here we go!”

In regards to major interests, flux is afoot. While I still have desires to be involved with my big-4, I find there has been some changes in levels of interest. First off, I'm focused on writing more than film making or creating a garden which is the eighth wonder of the world.

While the idea of shooting a film still seems intriguing, I've expended little effort in the arena. Even with having access to an HD “consumer” grade camera, I have not been expending effort on editing, composing shots, or anything else along that lines. A wise person realizes when the desire is not strong enough, resources shouldn't be diverted for such endeavors. It doesn't mean I won't tackle a small project here or there, but it does mean I understand it's a secondary priority and is simply about fun or relaxation. So, scratch one dream from the list, but not in a bad way as it allows me to focus my energies on more important matters.

Yet there are more major interest changes. What about the garden dream you ask? Well, my interests haven't subsided but I do realize it takes substantial financial resources and/or time. While I love the garden, trying to focus on creating an “award winning” scenario is not in my best interest. Adding the necessary features such as stone work or gazebo-like structures adds up fast when it comes to both time and money required. More importantly, what I like and what others find aesthetically pleasing (in terms of award-winning) are two totally different beasts as I've learned. For example, last summer after speaking with a very opinionated Comcast “pusher” who delved deeper into the topic of the neighborhood gardens more than selling a product, people don't always find beauty in the same things. What I see as interesting, they may see as disorganized, unkempt, or sometimes downright slum-like in nature. With that in mind, I'll once again restructure my list of dreams to move this to a secondary position. The garden now becomes my leisurely pursuit. What I create, add, or change in the garden is done for myself alone (or a partner). Damn the torpedoes when it comes to opinions from others. So scratch one more "primary" dream, reducing the list to a far more manageable set of two major goals – writing and a relationship.

Both of these are complicated enough individually, let alone as a combined focus of life. I'm gonna be a busy boy trying to figure a way to juggle the daily grind, trying to establish a relationship along with penning out a novel. But that's why they're major goals. They require intense amounts of dedication, commitment and energy. Sometimes they even cost blood, sweat and tears, but that's how you achieve greatness in your pursuits. For me, leaving a publicly recognized legacy in the form of books I've authored has become crucial. In ways, it gives meaning to my life much like religion or other beliefs provides motivation for many.

On to the subject of change. Ah, everything changes, or at least should. And many a change has come about in my life. Some have happened in the recent past, others are happening in the present, and some changes are still approaching on the horizon. Changes in the past included a big push to finish remodeling about the house such that the environment would be more conducive of creativity. Not having large heaps of tools here and there definitely helps in that manner. In the present, well, that includes such activities refinancing to reduce the mortgage interest rate. Or increasing my level of reading various materials. Taking in a multitude of new concepts is always a good thing. Be it from the reading the daily news, visiting a part of town I never went to before, or simply sitting down to enjoy reading a chapter from a SF book, it helps expand the mind. And then we have the ever-changing future. While it's impossible to perfectly predict what's on its way, one can see trends or potentials that are likely and I'm making adaptions in anticipation. This year will likely be just as filled with change as last year, perhaps even more so.

Progress? Well now, I'd say it's not a good as I hoped but I suspect it's been far more profound than I realize. When one is right in the middle of it, progress is hard to see. Yet, the house is moderately airy and open. I have a PC setup well for writing which includes two rotatable monitors to allow easier access to material in a ergonomic manner. One monitor serves to have research materials open for reading while the other monitor contains a portrait oriented document file where I can compose my thoughts. A simple thing that makes a surprisingly helpful difference. And let's not forget the glasses. Even though it was a painful fiasco that brought up some anger, I did finally manage to obtain a compromise that is workable. After a discussion with the office manager, they agreed to provide what they termed as computer lenses. I am finally able read fine-print without the tilting my head back so far that I feel like a Pez dispenser. Net result, I can read books again. Hello old “Analog Science Fiction and Facts” magazines!

I'm also investing time in writing a little more often but that's still under the level it needs to be. It's hard to kick start the creativity so I think more reading is in order.

And what about a relationship? Well, that's a difficult objective for me. I'm certainly putting forth effort to talk with the girls, but I've been talking to girls for as long as I can remember. Overall, I'd say it's still a “Steady as she goes Captain,” meaning there is no status change. But the year is young and so am I – at least at heart. Focusing, refocusing, and moving forward energetically with plans even when failures abound, that's what it's all about. So novels and the idea of a relationship move from being the dark horses in the race to the front runners.

How about you? Has anyone else been busy with laying groundwork and setting plans into motion? If so, how about sharing details about your progress?

Monday, January 2, 2012

Making Difficult Choices

There are times when I wish I could have an “Aha!” moment where the difficult becomes simple. A moment in which a realization about how one is over-complicating a matter reveals itself and the simple choice discovered feels completely appropriate. But that's not always the case. While a simple solution frequently exists, it might not make you feel good to make the choice. Sometimes taking care of your own state of well-being becomes the priority.

Common sense dictates that before we can help others, we must take care of ourselves first. We must maintain our health, our emotional state of mind and keep our resources sufficiently balanced so that we can function properly. Otherwise we risk the possibility of not only doing detrimental damage to our self, but inadvertently taking down others with us in the process if we experience catastrophic failure in some aspect of our life.

Making the choice to take care of oneself isn't always easy. I know this from experience as I frequently struggle with trying to regulate a personality trait centered around this type of issue. I do understand there is a balance between self care and being too selfish. But knowing the appropriate times to say “no” is one thing while not feeling guilty about saying “no” is another.

It doesn't have to be that way. But it isn't easy. Sometimes people will become emotionally displeased because the rules are changing. When we establish a precedent through our past actions, people come to expect consistency. And introducing change won't always be accepted as being a wise choice by others. Understandable, but change is also something everyone needs to accept as a natural part of life.

In the grand scheme of things, approval is not something one should seek externally. Having people upset with us for some of our choices is an inevitable part of life. While hard choices are on the surface of this discussion, the underlying principle is about not looking externally for approval. Being able to say, “I understand your feelings and do have compassion for the scenario, but I must take care of myself first,” is an acceptable answer.