Monday, July 27, 2015

On Being a Writer and a Professional

Time to dump reality and politics for a week (at least) and talk about something more fun, entertainment.

The creative process, then sharing with and hopefully fascinating people in maybe perhaps hopefully making them happy, or in possibly making them sad, but doing it all in such a way that they forget their own reality and enter mine, is what it's all about. At very least to have them enter a story that I have weaved for them to experience so they can attempt to wrap their consciousness around it for at least the short time they lend me their attention.

If they might happen to later think of it again at a later date, say the next day or better still the next week, just adds icing to the creative cake.

It is my responsibility to keep their attention, at least until they want to let it go. If things go really, really well, then hopefully I will be done with their attention before they are done with lending it to me.

Hopefully, I will leave them in a state of mind where they will still want more from me. If not now, then at some future point in their entertainment universe.

Hook them, then make them want to come back for more. It's what it's all about. Attempting to be fascinating and addictive.

This all started for me in 10th grade I suppose, with my first short sci fi story after written after having just finished reading Dune, by Frank Herbert back in 1970. When I finished that book I couldn't believe I had only just gotten it from my sci fi book club when it had actually been released five years previous. I was to say the least, inspired.

Maybe in part because I had been into sci fi for years already and had started so young. Science Fiction back then wasn't really a part of American life as it is now. Maybe because I had read Asimov's Foundation Trilogy years before written in the early 1950s, though I didn't get to them till the mid to late 1960s. Still, I was properly prepped for a book such as Dune when I read it. Or maybe it was because Dune was just that good of a book.

That short story I wrote the day I finished reading Dune, was the last complete short story I produced until college. I knew I could never aspire to be such as a "Writer". Or even more difficult to achieve, an Author of a Book. My first university fiction writing class in my senior year showed me something different. In fact it was actually my professor in my earlier and first college composition class in my sophomore year who made it clear to me that I had a spark and a talent for writing.

He was a man of passion and energy and he begged me to consider being a writer. I was impressed. More so than I think he was impressed with me. He both scared me, and motivated me.

It's an odd feeling to live your entire life dreaming of an unachievable thing and then to have someone you respect, and who is paid to know what's up in that area, tell you that you have a talent for achieving that dream. Then later on to find others consistently backing up that contention to where finally it seems as if you will allow actually that possibility to seep in, to take you over. To allow for he possibility that you may indeed have something to work with.

As with most things however, there is more to it than just having the talent.

Just as there are brilliant chess masters out on the streets playing for a buck a game. Masters who no rated chess master anywhere could ever beat. And yet those virtuoso live and play and die on the streets where no one knows their names. Their fortunes are only in the awe of those who do know of them, or have been lucky enough to have gotten to play one of them. For a great story on this see Jerry Seinfeld's interview with Michael Richards.

To paraphrase as has been said, "Dying is easy, comedy is hard." I'm unsure who actually said that first. The point behind that statement however is that living is one thing, trying to entertain is another universe entirely. Where one might think they are the best, there may very well be another field or another section of a field where others are even better.

Art, is not something that should be easy to do. Otherwise everyone could do it and it would lose all meaning. Though there are a few special cases who may seem to be able to do it more easily than the rest of us, even they should strive to push their limits. Like loving ice cream and trying to eat five gallons at a sitting, the quality is not in the eating. It's in the creating and a well trained palate will always discern the difference between the tasty and the truly delicious.

All that being said, I've always been able to spin a good yarn. I used to love to practice telling a story, to see how long I could draw it out before I began to see the attention wan in someone's eyes. Then spin it up again to see if I could once again enrapture their attention.

How long could I tell a really boring story in yet a very entertaining way? It was amazing how long I could go at times, how long some people would let me go on. It was also good training that I didn't realize I was exhibiting in the long run, more for myself, than for others.

One day a guy listened to a story of mine for about twenty minutes. When I got done he realized that the substance of what I had just told him could have easily been told in a sentence or two and he commented on that.

"I can't believe you just took like twenty minutes to tell me all that. But don't get me wrong, it was very entertaining to listen to. Thanks."

High praise. It was around that time in starting college when I realized I could put pen to paper and do the same. That writing was simply an extension of my verbal storytelling. So I began to do the same too, on paper. How long could I spin a story out, say almost nothing but in such a way that is very entertaining to read?

I first noticed this with some of the old writers like Edgar Allen Poe. Years later with Clive Barker. I found I really didn't care where they were taking me, as long as they kept spinning those amazing words in the order they ordered them up in. Beautiful prose. Something that has gotten somewhat lost today as we want writings that we can read quite easily on a train, in a bus station, during a few free moments. Rather than devote an evening to reading a good book, we mostly now prefer to watch a show on TV. Or, the Internet.

I guess I've gotten somewhere along those lines as an author who reviewed my book, "Death of Heaven" (now in its second edition) had to say:

"[Death of Heaven] ... has a Books of Blood vibe [referring of course to Clive Barker's seminal horror books], which really works well. It's in these tales that the author's writing ability shines. He demonstrates a lovely turn of phrase and some of the writing is almost poetic in its beauty."
From Author & Reviewer Michael Brookes.

You can also get just the first full chapter of my book by itself in ebook or audiobook format as, "The Conqueror Worm". I tell anyone semi-jokingly, I dare you to read that first full chapter and then honestly say that you have no desire to go on to the next chapter of the book.

That's not bravado, it's an accurate observation. I simply did a very good job on that story and of all my writings it's the one story, when every time I read it and get to the ending I get emotional. It's almost impossible not to. It is as I said, a well written piece of horror.

Or as one first chapter contest write up put it:

"The story itself is very strong, lulling the reader into a false sense of security as two young boys hunt for treasure, before ultimately morphing into a violent and sometimes disturbing tale of horror. This is done with such swiftness that it takes the reader almost completely by surprise, which only enhances the effect." from WILDSound Writing Festival's First Chapter Contest

Please feel free to drop by my website sometime. There's much more available there. Don't let that web site freak you out either. It's just oddness there, is all. Hang out on there for a little while, you'll see what I mean.

Anyway....

I just finished reading Tough Love Screenwriting by John Jarrell, I very much enjoyed that smack in a screenwriter's face by someone who should know all about it. I'm also re-reading Syd Field's seminal Screenplay, The Foundations of Screenwriting. As well as Storyline, Finding Gold in Your Life Story by the charming and talented Jen Grisanti.

They say, "write what you know" but people take that wrong. Most do, perhaps.

You need to know what you know and write from that perspective. Taking those diamonds of experience, you then need to be able to recognize them from you life and spread them around in your writing or storytelling for others to experience in such a way that it fits your purpose.

You can also then use them over and over if you just use them properly to your advantage. Twist them around until they are unrecognizable and remember, these are yours to use.

I'll give you an example. I used my son's CD of music from high school that he wrote, played and produced in my video book trailers. But you can only use so much of a limited amount. Eventually I started using pieces I had used before and by using some music editing software (Audacity) I twisted them, running them backward and playing with them until even my son didn't recognize his own music. In this music, only we have license to it (as he gave his permission) and I don't have to use music I need to pay for, or even make my own to use

Interesting story there. To keep it short, for years (since the 80s) I've kept a few cassette tapes labeled "practice tape #x" with music from when I was playing guitar alone, practice and simply enjoying myself.

Recently I pulled them out to possibly use on my videos, but none of that music survived for some reason. Ruined, lost or recorded over either on purpose or inadvertently, or perhaps an ex did it as I'd experienced that kind of passive \ aggressive thing before.

I was truly unhappy about the loss of those tapes because I remember really liking some melodies I came up with. I had planned to keep them in case I wanted to use them later or to finish out a song or two. But now sadly they are lost forever.

In that train of thought, that reminds me of another truism in writing: "kill your children" or "kill your darlings." Meaning that when you have some writing in a story that takes the reader out of the story and they see or realize they are reading the author, then you need to cut those pieces. Do not slow down the reader just to enjoy your brilliance. It should flow seamlessly. So either be brilliant always, or avoid hills and valleys whenever possible.

Yet also do not throw away your brilliance. Ever. Print them out or store them in a digital file, but don't delete them, that would just be showing your mind disrespect for the effort and intelligence it has shown and you should reward that whenever possible.

You can always use them in another story later. I've actually looked these tiny gems up and built entire stories around them. Freebies if you will. The work put into those gems came from my brain originally and eventually the processes leading up to the creation of that gem were stored in long term storage. So in using them later you access entire passages of your mind that you don't even know exist now. Time savers, really and truly.

Here are some of screenwriter John August's comments on writing. Among films he's written are, Big Fish, Frankenweenie, Dark Shadows, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Charlie's Angels, and Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle and more. It's just always nice to hear another writer's perspective on writing, on life, on the effort it takes, and the payoffs it can give you.

All I have said here has only one thing tying it all together. That is, why did I write all this today? To sell my wares? To make you think I'm "somebody" (I'm not)? Or that I'm wonderful (I am)? Or that I'm some kind of genius? I'm not, I assure you, otherwise my life would be way better than it is now.

No. The common thread in all the above is this:

Entertaining people is a wonderful thing to do. You too can do it. If you really want to.

That's it. That's all I had to say in this blog for this week. Though I did try to add something more in case you were interested in writing yourself, or like once I was, thought you could never write anything worthy of others reading, thinking it was quite beyond you.

The mechanics of writing was what stopped me for decades until that first professor I told you about said, "Hey, don't think about the mechanics. That's what editor are for, after all." Thus giving me license to relax and simply tell my stories.

That's true and everything about editors but honestly in the end, we want to be our own editors as much as possible. It only enhances your writing and saves time. Sure get one, but make their job as easy as possible and learn from their work on your writings. If for no other reason it's cheaper for you that way. Not to mention they will brag about you to others which is just free marketing and publicity.

So how does one write a fiction story?

Pen to paper, really. Fingers to keyboard. Mouth to microphone. Just get the story out because in the end, writing is really rewriting. More rewriting for some than others surely. But to write fiction you have to write.

Find your idea, think of a kernel of a thought. Stabilize it on audio recording, or analog with pencil or pen or, digitize it with a keyboard. Whatever it takes for you to get your brilliance down where others can examine or enjoy it.

Give it a middle, as you have to start somewhere. Or give it a beginning or an end. Then write forward from that or backward, out outward. Then, read it back in it's entirety. Missing a good beginning or end? Write backward to the start, or forward to the finish. Play with it. The biggest obstacle I've seen is options.

Beginning writers (and experienced ones too) simply see too many options in what to write, what direction to take. But that gets narrower with experience, so relax. The more you write the easier it gets.

For myself I don't worry too much about an ending. For me in the beginning, for many years, that was my killer. A fear of endings. My friends told me years ago that they loved my writings but they told me, with love, "Give it a damn ending!" But I was terrified of endings. An ending meant you had put your stamp on it and if others didn't think it was brilliant, you were an idiot. It wasn't until I had to turn in many non-fiction papers in college that I started to feel the confidence to generate decent endings.

Once you have the elements in place, a fun story (fun in funny, or fun in sadness, but entertaining, scary, intriguing, etc., whatever). Then read it and fix any issues that bug you, that stop you, that slow you down. You need to do what I used to say as a tech writer was "massaging" the text. Smoothing it out, perfecting it. Read it as if it's not yours. Wait a day or a week and read it. Then as you read it once through keep in mind the stuff that bugs you, slows you, speeds you up, gets your blood racing or kills your mood. Keep notes if need be.

Then read it again and fix it. 

Read it again then and if you find now (after two, or twenty rewrites or re-edits) that it flows smoothly to a conclusion, but there are some really good parts that stop you dead, even if they are brilliant, that's when you kill your children, slaughter your darlings. Cut them. Save them. Move on.

Once you are past a first draft, get someone to read it. Someone you trust not to damage you over it, who can give you some advice ("I don't like this character, or this part", or "I love this part but...."). I had to do this on my own because for many years no one would read me. Certainly not family, not girlfriends, not wives. They couldn't seem to be less interested and that seems to be a common thread.

"No one listens to the prophet in his own village." There is a reason for that, so don't feel bad if no one is all that interested in your writings. 

Mostly, I got here by myself. It just takes practice, perseverance.

It was only in the past few years that I found some good readers and an editor to whom I'm forever grateful. In doing it myself all these years, it was not unlike playing chess by myself. Reading my own writings as if I'd never seen them before (usually waiting a week allows for that),

I have gained a lot in having had to do it all by myself. But then in getting an editor I learned that little bit more I just couldn't have done alone. Also, watching massive amounts of videos and documentaries about writers, reading their (only the good ones) good books on writing, I continued to educate myself

And then.... read your writing again. In the beginning of becoming a writer there are many rewrites. But as you do this over and over you do get better and better. The rewrites become fewer and fewer. Read it again. Edit it until it flows as well as you want it to.

In my beginning years I would say that I did this process until I wanted to throw up and could no longer look at a story, then I knew it was done; because I couldn't look at it anymore. Some would ask me back then, "how do you know when to quit writing and editing?"

I would tell them I would know because I simply couldn't read it anymore. So it had to be done. That was when I needed an editor however. I sent those stories out to sell to magazines and I did that for a long time until one day, someone actually bought one.

I'd finally gotten there and on my own.

Anymore? I just know when I'm done writing a story now. I have tied up all the loose ends. The beginning is intriguing enough to draw a reader on, the ending is entertaining and satiating enough that a reader may want to try reading something else I've written.

After a while you get to where you just know. My editor has said that I quickly caught on from her edits, my writing has gotten better, and she has to edit less and less. Considering that my writing was already good enough to sell to the market, it was good to hear that I have gotten even better.

Sometimes, a second pair of eyes are just golden. 

In summation if you want to write, if you have a passion for it, write. If you don't have a passion for it, then don't bother. But if you do bother, then do it right. Learn, but don't waste. Don't spend money where it's useless but at some point, you may have to put your wallet where you desires are. Just don't do it too soon because so much can be achieved in spending so little money. So many writers simply throw their money at and away (those who have it anyway and some who sadly, don't) and yet they never really learn a thing from it, or never get anywhere for all that money and wasted effort. 

There are multitudes of people out there wanting to take your money for your writings. I learned long ago that if I were to sell my writings, people would have to pay me. I wasn't going to pay them. 

Now I'm not talking about contests. That's entirely another cup of tea. But just as dangerous. Learn to verify, validate, check and double check. Never spend money on your writing unless you are absolutely sure you are getting value for it.

Track down who says what contest is good and which are the ones to avoid. The information is out there. Use it. Look before you leap. Validate before you spend. And only send something when you think it really has a chance, otherwise, keep working on it and yes, it can seem to take forever.

In the end if you want to be a writer you will.

Nothing will stop you. No one will hold you back. It's something that just has to come out, and it will. But how soon, how wisely and how effectively will you be at the post creative process, the marketing, selling, spreading around the word of your brand, your name?

It seldom happens overnight. For some it does. Luck does have something to do with it, sometimes even nepotism. But the skill has to be there to begin with. You have to be in the right place, have the (right) material available if someone asks. Make sure it's golden and don't fear success. The fear of success is a big killer of so many talented people. Just as they are making it they sabotage themselves, fearful of failure or in not knowing how to handle success when it happens, usually unexpectedly.

A famous author once said he wallpapered his home office with rejection slips until a wall was full. Then he filled another and another and then started on another room. I took that to heart only I kept a scrapbook of them until finally one day I got accepted and realized I was sad that I didn't get a rejection slip in order to see what theirs would have looked like.

I had to convince myself this sale was good. This after all was what I had been shooting for, for years. After a few days I did start to feel good about it. 100% good. You have to steel yourself to the reality of the pain of the business, the let downs, the lack of returned calls or emails, the rejections. Everyone is hustling and they forget you quickly if you're not right in front of them.

Talk about an industry with ADHD! The entertainment industry is brutal. You're only as good as your last work. You only exist if someone already wants you. To get a job you have to have had the job before. So on and on. 

But when it works, when you make a sale, when someone says how good you are or you see or read or hear someone compliment your works, it's really pretty amazing. But you have to get that going in a steady and continuous stream in order to make it all worth it. Otherwise, what you have is just a hobby. 

Make up your mind. Is this going to be a hobby or a business? Because if it's a business then you have to be professional. You have to do the work. It's hard work, just like any job. Don't just love the romance of being a writer, because so many do that and then fail or give up. Learn to love the hard, lonely hours spent producing words on a page. Love the process. Love the journey. The destination then will come but if you only love the romance or the destination, you may find yourself sorely lost.

So many marriages fail because people don't get that it can work and should be work because anything you really and truly love and want, takes effort to achieve and hang onto. Otherwise it's gone on the next tide. And that tide is relentless. So you have to be too. 

Success comes to those who wait it out, who work harder than they need to, who always expand their horizons so they will be ready for whatever comes their way. Inevitably when opportunity knocks on your door, you won't be ready or in the mood or it will be wearing a disguise just begging you to say no, to turn away or to give up. 

Remember that one all important thing if you want success.

Well okay, I don't really know what that is and it can be different for everybody. You have to find what that is, for you.

Just know that when it shows up, you'd better be ready for it because it will come at you full bore and from an oblique angle. You won't see it, you won't be ready for it and you may not even notice it when it zips by.

But if you do notice it, grab hold, hang on and the final key is...don't let go. Because then is when things get really interesting.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Bridge to American Citizens

I recently watched the film of Billy Joel's first trip to play in Russia in 1987: "Billy Joel: A Matter of Trust - The Bridge to Russia".

A very moving film.

I've been a fan of Vladimir Vysotsky for decades, around the time perhaps that Billy first learned of him while in Russia. In the film he said that he saw a line of people waiting to leave flowers on Vysotsky's grave, and that he was surprised to find that it was much longer than the one for Lenin's.


Vysotsky was a national hero who sung what he couldn't say aloud in public.

So at the next concert for the Russians, Billy dedicated a song to him, his song, "Honesty". It was so very touching and the Russians, those that understood, really appreciated it. It gave the song so much more depth, meaning, emotion.

That made me think of how the Russians felt and how they wanted honesty from their government. Which made me think of our own government and all the shenanigans going here in our expensively "free" country.

If only our own government would treat us overall like their own constituents, not just those of their Party. Because especially now a days being voted into office needs more concern about the country as a whole.

There has for some time been an issue in America between we the citizens and those we empower to run things for us.

Allow me to repeat that.

We empower YOU politicians, to run things for... US.

So why is that so hard for them to understand? Can they simply not hear reality over the roar of their egos and the flopping of checks from special interests flooding their inboxes?

This is an issue in both major parties but mostly exemplified and most easily exposed in the Republican party. The party of business and big money.
I would argue this is even more true for 2016
Someone recently said that they believe there is no longer a republican party at all, just a conglomeration of individual interests under the same now defunct party name. I had said myself a few years ago that the republican party was self destructing and that we would soon see it implode. Has it?

I had also then said that it looked like it was dissolving at that time and finally perhaps now it is after all dead though it's bloated, lumbering zombie-like corpse is still wandering around the national political scene, abusing us all and, itself.

As a zombie it may never "die", as it continues to make money for the rich, steal that money for the not rich in a kind of zombie "Trickle UP" economy, where all the money we make goes to the top few.

As Bernie Sanders said last week, we need a political revolution.

We need the rich to begin to see themselves as our saviors and not just as our masters, not just as a bank machine for their pleasures.

To those rich ones (like the rather slimy Koch brothers) who try so hard to be a political cancer in America, to those trying to abscond with our government and money, we say this:

Just be honest with us, as best you can be, because your partisanship is just not important to us as a nation. You need to consider if you are a minority voice, speaking only for themselves and then remember that they are not the entire country; that you and those in your pocket... government people... American servants, need to consider that in depth; to weigh that against the whole of the country; against what is best not just for you and your purchased constituents, but for the entire country; and as it also relates to the entire world.

This is no longer and has no longer been the case for decades now where one can concern themself only about themselves and theirs. We are all on the same lifeboat called Earth. If only you could get that through your leaded skull into your thickly calcified brain, then you could convince all your friends of the truth and depth of that concept.

Because you sir or lady (not that you deserve such a highly vaulted title), are not an island unto this world. Nor are your positions, your constituents, or your Party entities separate from all others who walk upon us.

Stop the stupidity of so many of your foolish beliefs, your disingenuous rantings, many of which you obviously do not even truly believe yourself. Otherwise, you would show yourself to be a fool, if not just a charlatan.

Denying climate change, putting down women, restricting their State given rights as well as the rights of voters? Trying to damage the office of the president and the President, apparently at all costs?

Sure many people claim these are "just my opinion". Really? Opinion, based on what? As John Oliver recently put it on his excellent HBO show:Last Week Tonight, referencing a Gallup poll showing one in four Americans believe climate change isn’t real:

"Who gives a shit? You don’t need people’s opinion on a fact. You might as well have a poll asking: “Which number is bigger, 15 or 5?” or “Do owls exist?” or “Are there hats?”"

I got that from an excellent article by Jeff Rouner on Houston Press, No, It’s Not Your Opinion. You’re Just Wrong. Check it out.

Anyway, how about trying instead to be supportive of our national government, even though your striving to support your own constituents and party. Try it. Raise them up. Enlighten them,. Enlighten yourselves. Force yourself out of your stodgy conservative ways, your self-serving, self aggrandizing bubbles and realize that we need action, but action in the right directions.

We can no longer afford to be concerned only about our own selves, our tiny minded group, our own desires. We have to consider what is best for our nation and the world and you my friend, are never going to get there in the way you are traveling now. You are outdated. You will suffer for this in the long run. The tide seems to be changing in part becuase of all the instant media and internet which you've abused, and which is now coming back around to eye you, hungrily, just as you have eyed us.

Above all else we need honesty from our government and officials so as not to be just another fascist regime like the old Soviet. The likes of which produced such voices of dissent as Vysotsky, when all others were fearful to speak out against those abusing the nation at the top.

We need a wave of progress in our government. More Bernie Sanders types.

We need from our leaders, a bridge to the American citizen. To all of us, not just to a select few. We need voting to start working correctly, big money to stop deciding our leaders. Real people to really lead.

We also need to have them start sharing with us as a part of them, not as their enemies, separate from them, such as we are, their employers.

In what business does it work to have those in charge so unaware of those beneath them doing all the work? Only in those businesses that fail, surely. Look around. We've been failing, though we are now pulling ourselves up off the bottom of the barrel thought still our infrastructures are deteriorated. Our digital bandwidth is suffering and 2nd class, our capitalism is defective and has taken over.

Those of power and wealth need to treat us not as their minions but as those in their charge to care for, protect, in an honest effort to serve America the ideal and the country, the citizens and the legacy, to prepare for our future and not just our present for only a few. Propping us up, props them up. Not propping them up, props us up as in their laughable "trickle down economy" shell switch con game.

They need not to just pummel us with their own not infrequently ludicrous beliefs while they push only for their own self-protective, self-serving self-interests. They need to share the wealth. I know, something hard for the greedy to understand. And....

Yes, I know, I know....boring. Right?

But it's all true and someone has to say it.

Don't we all? Don't we all need to say it? Over and over, over and over again, and again, until change finally is inevitable?

Hope springs eternal they say. But hope requires action.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Prepping for the Apocalypse - Sci Fi, or just Life?

I love a good science fiction, horror film or apocalypse book or film. But those are fiction. Reality can be far different. Though there are many good and well thought out ides used in many of those stories.

However some people get easily carried away with this prepping thing, cuz, you know, the apocalypse is right around the corner. Right? Okay, probably not realistically speaking.

That's really what it's all about. What's real and what's perceived or feared. Fear, is the mind killer, someone said.

“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”
― "Litany Against Fear" Frank Herbert, Dune

All of this kind of stuff is just risk analysis. It requires a study in the dynamics of that kind of thing. If you live in the wrong place in the Middle East right now, having prepped for bad times is probably a good thing. Except, someone more powerful will probably come along and take it, and possibly kill you first. But if you live in the UK or America, just how important is it to be so ready at the drop of a hat, to deal with no infrastructure, no food, no water no security?

Let's say you prep full out, you have your guns, maybe even a truck loaded with everything you'll need to "bug out" and hit the trails, running for the high ground, or some secluded areas you know about where you would expect to find very few in the case of a national degeneration of the government.

What if then, as you're "heading for the hills" as fast as you ccan, someone simply takes it all from you?

After all in having all that stuff, to anyone else who has no qualms about taking from others if they had a mortal need for what other have and they don't, you'd then simply be turned into a target. All your work over all that time, possibly years of acquiring things, all the money you would have spent, all of that labor and financial expense would simply turn out to have just been a hobby.

Let's say you prep your home for disaster and then finally one day, it strikes. Someone bursts into your home. They don't harm you but they take all your goods. Then all that money, effort, scrimping and storing would all go for naught.

Or let's say you do not do any prep. Maybe you die first. Or maybe someone takes you in and makes you a part of their family and you survive just fine. Maybe you are head of a family and you are responsible for others, especially children. So then you'd want to be more prepared than if you lived alone or didn't have any dependents. What then?

I look at all this like a fire drill.

What really makes sense? Well, it makes sense to know a way out of a burning building and to talk to your kids about it, to do a run through with them Because it's been proven that practicing something decreases fear and mistakes during an actual crisis. Even POWs have shown to handle their situation in captivity if they first have had POW training and experienced a mock up of what it would or could be like and have some examples of how to handle things under those conditions.

That gets down to experience and skillsets. Is it better to give someone food, or teach them to fish, as they say? Food lasts until it is gone. But knowing how to get more can sustain you for good.

That's how I look at all this.

If all the grocery stores are out of food, if the power grid goes down for a month along with the water system, what happens to you? What would you have available, both in your home and without? Nearby. Far away. What are your resources? Sometimes remote is better than nearby. These are the questions you need to answer, before tragedy strikes because once it does, it's too late.

We all tend to have some back stock in our home. But how much and how well do you rotate your back stock?

For myself I really don't need to go to a Costco type store more than every couple of weeks, or longer sometimes. Once in a while I will stretch it out longer just to use up what I have and clear out any older stuff and then rebuild. Though I do go in between locally for some minor things as unforeseen issues crop up.

What therefore would be MY concerns? I should probably address and have on hand at least a modicum of back stock or knowledge of where I can replenish supplies. But I also need to know where it's guaranteed to be if I need it. Otherwise, I need it to exist within my home.

We need to at least think over all this and consider it ahead of time.

And maybe do something about it. Whatever it is you would need to do. Watch survival movies. Horror movies are also actually good to watch in order to put you in a mind set for this kind of thing. They are not all good for this kind of thing but some are and some are better than others.

Because if the worst happens, you may find you have no idea what you will need, or what you might end up going through, or what preparation could or should have been done ahead of time.

Just don't go nuts over it. But give it some pre-consideration and do take some steps toward being self sufficient. The government suggests to have a couple of weeks of goods stored up should some disaster strike. In the US we have the National Guard and FEMA to help during your basic national disaster situation but as we've seen in the past in hurricane and earthquake disasters with flooding and roads being washed out, assistance doesn't always get to you in a timely fashion.

You may need at least for a while to be able to protect you and yours, to supply your family with sustenance in order to survive until help arrives or if they never do, so that you can become self sufficient in a new way. One without stores, without money, without supplies or a supply chain. You may have to deal with others trying to take from you what is yours. You may find you are taking care of others you had never foreseen you might have to take care of.

These are all things you have to think about before it is too late.

You may know how to get out of your house should it catch on fire at 2AM, but do you know how to get away from your house, your neighborhood, your city, should you ever need to? Do you know where safe zones would be to get away from the public?

If you try to get out of town do you know the fastest route? The fastest route when all the roads are gridlocked, or damaged? The ways out of town on foot if need be? Places to hole up during the journey either on foot or in a vehicle?

Perhaps waiting till the roads free up would be best way to go. Perhaps the longer you take getting out of town, the more dangerous the urban areas get as there become fewer and fewer people around.Do you leave town for open or closed areas? High altitude or low areas, near or far from large bodies of water?

Know your territory. Know your options, so that you have options.

In many cases seeking out the public would actually be the way to go as those are where the National Guard and others will seek to locate and supply. But if things were to go horribly wrong, you may need to avoid those areas say in the event of severe contagion and a lack of inoculations or medical care.

The point of all this is, disaster is not just a sci fi show on TV, or a horror film. Things do happen. But they do not happen all the time and so to live expecting it is questionable. As they say, plan for the worst hope for the best and live accordingly.

Learn a few skills that require no electricity, like how to live off the land. A weapon is handy be it a gun, a bow and arrows (and practice using them), a sword even or just a sharp stick. There are always weapons at hand with a little alteration.

Have at least a few of the right books and not an ipad with ebooks on it as no electricity can mean no ebooks. Books on basic medical procedures in the field, on survival, hunting, how to pick food in a forest. During a disaster where you may have to hide from other people, know your accessible forests, caves, and so on.

Places that are good for hiding in. The more viable supplies, potable (drinkable) water is good but it's not going to last that long anyway and really is, as many don't realize, just there to get you through till your government arrives or if they never do, aides you through that transition period of going from a monied economy to a barter, or self sufficient one.

In the end, should something ever happen, DON'T PANIC! Act.

What's the best way to avoid panic? It's to have considered whatever can happen before hand. Forewarned is forearmed, after all.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Finally, the War on the War on Drugs is Here

We are beginning to see the war on the War on Drugs.

That is to say, a war against the war on American citizens which has been going on even decades before the so called "War on Drugs" was officially begun in 1971, but goes back to an effort from as far back as 1914. Our more modern war on drugs is based in some very old and unfounded scientifically, beliefs.

Before I get into this, how does what I'm going to say benefit you, what does it do for you?

Here's the thing, no matter where you are living, you have to see what is best for yourself, your country and the world. Conservatives seem to see what is best for them, then justify what is best for everyone else through that filter. But what is best for all is best for the one because the one, needs to live  in that world of the all. Kind of counter-intuitive (not really) which is why many conservatives have issue with it.

We need to push for what is best and not just what our governments and people have been misled toward believing is best for them, when in reality it is best for a few and a few who control things, who have power, money and influence. The masses however are the people, not the few people. It's not just quantity over quality but it's quality overall of the quantity.

So don't let people put you down, speak out, say what needs to be said. Vote accordingly and think forward. Be proactive when possible or at least, reasonable. Progressiveness should be about progressing and we have as a world been regressing now for far too long. Look at all the wondrous things going on around us, breakthroughs in science and in advances in society.

Legalizing cannabis (pot), legalizing gay marriage, cracking down on money in elections, squarely facing the responsibility humans have for advancing climate change, on and on down the line. People are starting to wake up and realize they are suffering only to prop up corporations and government, rather than government and corporations propping up human beings.

But for now I'm only focusing on the end of the nightmare that has been, the war on drugs.

I won't go into a history lesson on this, but when Nixon called for a commission on drugs and they returned to him a recommendation that we legalize them, he lost control, ignored the recommendation and took his current paranoia at the time which we all know about now, which eventually led to "Watergate" and the bled over and into the eventual and official War on Drugs.

Whenever a government starts to see its own citizens as the enemy, it has to be seen that something has gone very wrong right from right and at the top as well in this case, deep in the past.

I've been pushing for the legalization of pot for decades. Literally since I was a kid, since I was in my mid teens, anyway. We've spent over a trillion dollars on the war on drugs in this country, something that should never have been instituted. But okay, it was.

What have we learned? We have incarcerated over 37 million people and it's not yet gotten a handle on the issue while in other countries, they have. They have in ways we would never before have considered, considering.

"We've been walking into the future, backwards for too long." Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom said on Real Time With Bill Maher..

If we have a troubled child and punish them but they don't get it together, they don't figure things out through their being mistreated, then what do we usually do? We punish harder. Where does that stop, though? When do WE wake up and realize that what we are doing is only adding to the problem? We are then at some point making things worse.

We do become the bad guy at some point.

We have to wake up to see if maybe our charge, our child, needs something we aren't offering them. Maybe it is our lifestyle that is abusing that child. Maybe it is us who needs to change.

On a side note, this is especially true of ADD and ADHD kids who go through hell because their school and family wants them to adhere to what is considered normal.

Offering borders on behavior is good, but punishment at an early stage tends to be counter-productive because it is a counter-intuitive situation. Much like our war on drugs which requires those in charge to have intelligence, to observe and update their own behaviors. Not to keep saying we have to hit them harder. Because as some point, they have become the abusers. They, have become the addicts. Social addicts, addicted to a social behavior that is failing.

Regarding the arguments about children and pot, that really isn't the argument, so stop diluting the topic.

Adults are who we are talking about using pot.

As for kids they can get it now with no legal issues stopping them, as they are going to underground dealers. If we take the market from them, well? Just as today, where it's illegal for children to buy alcohol, they will still be able to get pot, just as they can now get alcohol. But we require alcohol to be regulated and it is legal. Why would we treat pot any different? Especially when it is an entirely different animal that is far less harmful that alcohol and actually has some benefits.

To alcohol if nothing else and there isn't nothing else. It is being shown time and again that there are benefits to pot. That being said, no, of course children shouldn't be using pot and it would be best as I've read, not to use it until around twenty-five years of age. Same as with alcohol. But that's just not going to happen. So let's make the best of the situation and consider the whole and not just the most delicate of our species.

But that has absolutely nothing to do with legalizing it for adults state by state as is not happening now, or nationwide as is surely soon to come once we hit that tipping point. Hopefully our leaders and legislators won't sadly wait till all states have legalized it before they pass national legalization.

With all the new forms of pot available we need to hold adults who have it legally, to be held legally responsible for it's access, in the case of children accessing it. If you have a lollipop pot confection, you have to know to lock it up.

Only an idiot leaves it around for a kid to use it. People need to be educated. Just as if alcohol were dropped into a society when they were ignorant of it before. As humanity has done to isolated communities all through history in missionaries and sailors having discovered island societies and suddenly brought them up to the world's most modern times and technologies.

If the recriminations are made well known for children accidentally taking pot, it will get around and it will settle down. How many people do you know now who don't lock up their alcohol? Except they don't leave around a mixed sweet drink that would entice a child. It's an educational situation and we will work it out. It takes being proactive, something Americans as a nation seem to be allergic to.

That doesn't mean we should continue a war on American citizens.

It means, we need to grow up and wake up and move forward into the future. Because as we're seeing in so many other things, as in the middle east, oil and gas drilling and fraking, climate change and so on, the future is rapidly passing us by.

We can either get on the train and deal with the ride, or stand before the train and be run over.

Choose your path. Choose it now, before it's too late. Because the rest of us, are going to move on without you, if you don't.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Know Thyself

There's a saying, "A good man knows his limitations." This isn't about being macho, Not about age, gender, education, religion, relationships, position in society.

Sometimes I have a feeling that people have no clue what that means. Especially, politicians, religious and political pundits and... did I say politicians?

Anyway, know how far you can go with something. With anything.

Yes, it means that. Many think that is all it means, or at least, they act that way. But really you know, it means so much more.

You also need to know if and how far you can and should try to push yourself beyond those limitations because that is when great things happen, when great people are exhibited to themselves and to the world.

I say "themselves" because we are a conglomeration of individuals, a multiplicity of selves we that call, "self", just to simplify things.

It is good to be aware of that, because it can be important in knowing one's limitations.

Be aware of where YOUR limitations lie.

We can and should supersede those limitations, but knowing where they end and when we are running on fumes, and luck, are all important things to be keenly aware of. Because it can get you killed. Or at least, it can ruin your connections to others.

Know when your limitations are not someone else's. Don't push them to the breaking point when sometimes, most times probably, that is up to them. Though sometimes, we should push them.

Those two things are important in relationships and in helping others. They are also important elements in ruining relationships, in harming others and in certain situations, getting them killed.

Also know when your limitations are not someone else's, in the other direction. Like when their limitations outdistance yours, or far outdistance them for that matter.

Give them their due respect.

Respecting others who deserve it, admitting when you are fallow in their shadow, really doesn't diminish you. In fact, it elevates you.

I see this a lot among those who have less training in something than they need and yet refuse to show proper respect in the audience of greatness.

Even slight greatness more than yours, in showing respect, makes you seem more than you are, not less.

I know, it's counter-intuitive, something that conservatives have a great deal of trouble with, as well as the less well formally educated, in my experience. I have no trouble showing respect to someone who deserves it, regardless of how or where they were trained or educated.

Though sometimes that alone really is worthy of respect and can be a separator issue from what they actually know or can do and again, that does confuse some.

Err on the side of caution during those times.

Few things irritate me more than someone trying to be what they are not, with inflated self-importance.

Look. I'm the first to offer respect when someone deserves it, even if they outshine myself. If you are the first to not do that, then you are a sad individual indeed. Because you are exhibiting poor self-esteem and worse you are exhibiting poor judgement.

Of others, of yourself,. Then, you are a detriment to all involved.

It's really pretty simple, and complicated. But it's even more easily defined as this really:

"Know thyself."

Monday, June 22, 2015

Today's Gender Roles - Marriage Equality now SCOTUS Supported

I am a phenomenologist. Truly. I have a degree in psychology and I studied phenomenology. I am here not to make judgement as much as I am to observe and describe what I see.

I was just talking with my daughter and her friends about transgender issues and modern gender issues in general. I'm pretty open minded, transcendental. But I am human and was born in a time where a certain paradigm was prominent even though I was usually ahead of change due to my love of science fiction since the early 1960s.

We had talked about Bruce Jenner, my daughter and her friends, and individuals we've all known, personally. We were talking about how one relates to a transgender person. How is that defined?

My daughter said it's all about how the individual wants to be defined. But I think there is more to it than that.

As I see it there are three versions of gender. How a person defines themselves. How the person's gender is defined legally (what's on your birth certificate). And how you are defined by your physicality.

It used to be easy. There was an order to that, it wasn't a concern or consideration. No one thought about it because there was nothing to think about. Or so it seemed.

You're born either male or female, you're male or female, respectively. Surely a small percentage are born without a physical and prominent distinction. One in 1,500 babies from one report. So more than one might think, or have thought at one time.

Then things like gender reassignment came up. We were defined by our physicality but eventually we were defined by the individual's beliefs more than their physicality.

So Bruce Jenner takes hormones, comes out to the world as a woman. He's a woman? But he said he will not go the full course and lose his penis so physically he will be a man with breasts and a feminine appearance. What's his gender then? Female? Male\female? Male? What's the defining factor?

My daughter said if someone dyes their hair from blond to green, isn't it green or will you say, "No, you're still a blond."

I said that wasn't how I saw it at all. It was more like they were blond, dyed their hair green and said it's red. If that is the case, do we accept then that it's red? Or is it blond. Or green? How do we define their hair color?

Still there would be the three ways to define that. Legal, physical, personal. But in this case the hair would physically be green, though called red, and fundamentally blond.

It occurred to me that part of the issue here is in those gender reassigned or partially reassigned individuals over-complicating the issue.

See, it's really a fairly simple issue.

But individuals need to feel, well, what they feel. In the old days, they'd have gotten therapy. Basically, that is what they do need IS therapy. But the therapy has gone from mental, to physical and therein lay the confusion. For everyone.

I've always been told I was over complicated. But as I saw it, I was merely able to see the complexity in things that most people couldn't see. In this issue it seems to me that these people are overcompensating things for their therapy. They are over complicating their gender issues (yes, gender issues are complicated, I'm not denying that, just bare with me), so they will feel normal.

Now look. I don't have a problem with people trying to feel normal. Up to a point. We all have limits, right?

I mean, if you're a serial murderer, or a pedophile, you need to kill or molest to feel normal. Well, I don't want you to feel normal in that case, I want you not to feel normal. However for most people I do want them to be able to feel normal. I don't have a problem with THAT. Not if it doesn't affect others (as in death I mean).

But there is more to life than a person simply needing to feel normal.

As I'd said you can call yourself a rocket ship even, if you like, but you are still going to have to be designated on legal documents as something discrete, a compartmentalized unit. Such as male, female, or even, let's call it, trans. I don't think we need legal definitions to go to the lengths of Facebook and allow fifty-six gender titles. We just need a general idea of what we all can agree that you are.

I mean, really Facebook, do we really need 56 genders? Well it's social networking so, sure why not? I do think that's going a bit far, though. Okay, perhaps not for social media, but certainly for legalities. Three should be enough, or six, but let's not get carried away.

Here's in part my point. Some will over complicate their gender or title because they need to in order to feel either special, or that is, normal. I'm more concerned about the special, but the normal can also be an issue.

When you over complicate your gender to the group, you are also asking them for something for you. Understanding, if nothing else. I mean you can call yourself anything in the privacy of your home but when you go out and expect others to relate to you in non normal (general, average, etc.) ways, you are entering a different realm. You are then asking the group to help you make you feel normal. That simplifies things for you but complicates them for the group. Whether or not they see it that way really doesn't matter, because it simply does what it does. And that's fine. To a point.

But it is more complicated than that, too. If I were to point that out then those who are over complicating the issue will rebel and say that I am over complicating their issue. So they are saying they want things to be simpler and I'm the one over complicating things on their agenda.

You can't have it both ways. It's either complicated, or simple.

Obviously we can just relate to someone as they wish to be related. But should we, really? If they aren't based in some form of reality? And what is reality but a definition of what is? What is which, physical, emotional, legit, intellectual? What? Where is the definition? What or which is more important? The individual? The group?

Basically the individual is expecting the group to take on part of their therapy. And that too is okay, up to a point. We all do that and the individuals who do it too much are labeled as troublesome, possibly to be avoided and at some point they are usually locked up.

Thankfully we don't do that anywhere as much as we used to. There are people walking around free today who at one point in time would have been locked up in a prison, or an asylum. Of course there are those in prison now who should be in a mental institution for help and are instead being brutalized in prison because we are too cheap as a country to pay for the proper care in the proper environment.

So someone gets gender reassignment and doesn't change their genitals. Male or female? Is it only their decision? Well, for the most part outside of legalities, sure, why not. However, when it gets into things like pronouns, how much can they require before it gets out of hand?

What if it carries over to their pets? Do you call their dog a "he", a "she", a "their"? Or some other form. When it gets to the point that when someone meets your pet for the first time and they have to ask, "Oh, what pronoun does "she" ("he?") like to be called?" Isn't that kind of over complicating things?

At what point does it become over complicated to the point that it is too complicated and unacceptable, or should be unacceptable?

Here's part of the consideration. It's easy to just be accepting and say, "Whatever an individual wants to be referred to as, is what I will refer to them as." It sounds pretty, it's feelgood. but when you consider a group of all non standard gender types, the consideration becomes something else; as I was indicating above about the hair dye.

Sure, on an individual basis you can refer to someone as however they prefer to be referred to. At some level, it's just good manners. We should try to be considerate and cater to our fellow human's identity of who they see themselves to be.

But you can also reach a point where it simply isn't reasonable, or where it isn't even good for the individual making the claims in calling for their desired designation.

For the most part I think, just refer to someone as they choose.

But when you start talking about it in the abstract as we are here and now, and as I was with my daughter and friends, it really grows into a bigger and more inclusive issue than just the consideration of a single individual as you initially wish it to. It quickly grows into a societal issue and not just a personal or subgroup issue.

That is where some of this can quickly become very emotional to discuss. Because you can get one person talking about it at an individual level, even though they are or may also be discussing it on a much larger scale. Many times debates run into that issue. It's why you see so many heated discussions or arguments on topics like this, not even going into the potential pathology of someone arguing about their own identity.

Bottom line I think is, just treat someone kindly and compassionately. Outside of that and in the larger sense, just give it a little more thought than you might normally have done. Life isn't simple anymore. We  have masses amounts of information to deal with, ways to behave are more sophisticated, people can more easily be hurt by way of inattention or ignorance, or a fear of the different.

Don't be one of those people. Be thoughtful and kind and try to understand. If you find yourself reacting negatively, then try to find a more productive way to deal with it. You may find that many times what you fear or hate, find distasteful or disgusting, is out of ignorance, or unfamiliarity. Consider if it's based in elements of what you have grown to see as reality and where any of that  might wrong, or if you are right but you can still treat others strange to you with compassion if not at least, common good manners.

To each their own. And maybe we can tall talk and get to know one another, regardless of how annoying they may be, or we may be, to them.

Speaking of which, SCOTUS, the Supreme Court of the United States has just declared same sex marriage legal in all fifty states. It's nice to see sanity rule the day for a change. From them today on this..


Monday, June 15, 2015

Religion in a Post Modern Multicultural World

Religion was mostly designed during a time of ego- and geocentricity. As a front against affronts by outside forces. As a buffer to live, a way to form cohesion among those of your own kind and, to help enforce reasonable laws of living for the benefit of all.

At some point it got out of hand, however. It always does.

Sure there are newer religions and the younger they are today the more ridiculous they seem to be.

From the older Indian religions, indigenous religions and the more notorious desert regions, the religions of Judaism, Catholicism, and Islam, to the babies of Mormonism and Scientology (a lie of a "religion" if ever there was one) and a "religion" who bullied US government officials into giving them tax free and religious status. Something by the way, that needs to be addressed and rectified ASAP.

Religion was all fine and dandy thousands of years ago. Though not really. Constantine in Rome and the Christian leaders lead to the Council of Nicaea, rebuilding things in that image so that an empire didn't fall.

Well, it seemed reasonable at the time, to be sure.

But now a days it has become dysfunctional in this multi-cultural world where religions and cultures rub up against one another. Where ego- and geocentrisms holds very little weight in the overall scheme of things. Where transportation of people and information have lost the barriers once paramount in maintaining the stranglehold of religion.

Knowledge is the bane of religion and it is now everywhere, we are thankfully awash in it. We are also sadly awash in the ignorance of incorrect information that people believe to be knowledge and is one of the greatest dangers we face today. That and thinking emotional beliefs circumvent or replace actual knowledge.

Knowledge is not power, wisdom is.
Knowledge can be wrong.
Wisdom by its definition, cannot be.
It is your choice which you wish to strive for.

Of course the comeback from the modern theist to that statement is:

"Well, it's a personal thing and so of course it still works."

The problem with that is no, it's not and if you really look, it doesn't..

It has become more than a personal thing and in some as in the American Christian movement, it has become politicized, polarized and even exported to Africa. As it has in Uganda where rather slimy US evangelicals have talked locals into a mindset that has led to the killing of gay males and the open raping of gay women.

So it is still dysfunctional.

The religious (mostly Christians and Muslims, and no not all of them but those involved) need to pull it back, to make it merely personal once again where it belongs so all may live in peace. Then, we're good again.

Christians too frequently confuse old and new testaments of the bible. Some Muslims today are confusing fundamentalism with literalism.

People really need to come first.

Something that Jesus was pointing out and that so many of his modern followers now forget when they go back to the old testament... whenever it makes them feel good and more secure.

But Jesus didn't teach secure. He taught to love thy neighbor.

He hung with the outcasts. How is that security?

It's standing up against the authorities to take care of others and yet, what do we see now a days? Much turning of backs on the needy in Christianity down to the point even of murder, dismemberment in Islam.

Look. If you are going to become belligerent and political, you also have to stand up for what is wrong in your religion or in what others are doing in your religion. You don't get a free ride for spouting ignorance, hate and stupidity. The world is becoming too small for that anymore. The religious now need to grow up as a whole.

Politicizing your religion doesn't just mean you get to speak out for your beliefs. It also means you have to speak out when it makes you uncomfortable, to stand against injustices both outside and IN side of your religion.

Especially, INside your religion. Because that my friend is YOUR responsibility. Not mine, not ours, yours and yours.

Why is it, why should it be that so often those outside of religion are the ones who have to fight the good fight for religion?

If you want your religion, fight for it. But fight sanely. Police yourselves and allow others to help. But don't put the burden on them when it's your arena.

It occurs to me that up until recent times, "God" was such a part of people's lives that it wasn't necessary to do things like put it on money, or write it into laws, something our Founding Fathers didn't want to begin with.

They didn't want it because they were smart, educated, and knew how badly legislating things like religion can be (please see Middle East today). "God" used to be so inherent in daily life it was a nuance to conservation. But also people died over those considerations, something we general believe today is ridiculous, if not criminal.

We've been hearing about this topic more and more over the years since "In God We Trust" was first put on money back in 1952 sadly replacing "E pluribus unum", One out of many, which had summed up our nation's orientation to be inclusive of all (if not in practice, surely in theory, intent and desire).

As the concern and consideration of "God" has decreased over time those who are so close to it have felt a need to bring it more and more into our attention but doing things like putting it on money. Or more recently and insanely, trying to alter our politics, our citizen's rights hard fought for and legislate it into laws (not seeing the irony in their also hating and legislating against things like Islamic Sharia law).

People can have their religion, but forcing it into the national attention over and over is only in the long term going to cause a societal irritation that will eventually backfire. Throwing in another religion (Islam) which has literally been killing masses of people (as opposed to the self proclaimed typically racist and unbalanced Christians who are killing one's at a time), just makes it all the worse overall.

Think about it. That means that the concept of "God" has been decreasing overall for a very long time.

Legislating it will only speed that process.