Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Bad News, Bad Weather, and Media

I don't normally listen to the 'news' on the networks. Actually...I rarely switch on the news from any source. That doesn't mean I'm uninformed. I do my own research about the topics that interest me. Otherwise, I get on with life.

Frankly, I just can't stand the gushing excitement displayed by the news guys and gals as they report new examples of humanity's capacity for violence and increasing lack of compassion. The weather guys are just as bad.

Ebola! Murder! Bombing! Rain! Wind!

After a while, it takes more, MORE to get the public's attention. Have you noticed?

It used to be we were horrified if someone was murdered. But with the spread of more and more information bites, we found that unexciting. Ho-hum. So what? Really, how many murders can you report before folks tune 'em out? Crazy people who were looking for attention discovered they were going to have to up the game if they wanted national coverage. It wasn't enough to shoot/stab/poison a couple people. Nope. Multiple victims were required. Lots of bodies.

We're fickle. Pretty soon even mass murders couldn't keep our attention. The crazies had to find some new, more horrifying way to attract our attention. Slowly, but surely, they graduated to executions, beheadings, and who know what will be next. I sincerely believe the escalation in violence is directly related to HOW such things are reported--and the duration of the coverage.

The weather folks have learned this lesson, much to their cost. Every little rain storm, every high, every low was so over-reported, the public just turned it off. The inflated excitement was akin to the boy crying 'Wolf!' After a while, people yawned and found something else to watch.

If the news media reported murders in a matter-of-fact fashion that listed the bare facts and moved on, I believe the shock value would drop like a stone. No extra coverage. No forty-seven reporters standing in front of schools, factories, court houses, scenes of devastation, repeating the same three or four facts over and over and over. No cameras flashing from scene to scene as cops try to track down bombers.

Surely there are positive events to report. If not, then why turn on the news at all? It strikes me as sad when the news can only scrape up one positive story a week. Are we really that lost?

Friday, October 17, 2014

Fear

Every person on earth, whether they are willing to admit it or not, has experienced fear. Some face their fears, owning them, analyzing them, and finally banishing them. Others run, hide, deny or blame their fear on someone else.

Every time I think of fear, I remember a scene in an old movie, Remo Williams. Remo is standing on the precipice of a tall building, frozen by his fear of heights. His mentor points out that fear is just a feeling. "We feel cold, we feel hot, we feel happy, we feel fear. Fear cannot kill you."

What we do with that fear, that adrenaline CAN affect us. Fear is an atavistic signal that something is wrong, something is not quite right. Fear protects us if we remember it is a feeling and take the necessary moments to assess the source, then decide how to deal with that source. Perhaps the best step is to run! On the other hand, me just might need to squish it!

If we allow fear to paralyze us, we give it power over us. How can we make a decision or solve the problem if we let it have that power? Acknowledge it. Look at it head-on. Decide how to deal with the source. Set it aside. 

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Chicken Little Syndrome

Henny Penny, more commonly known as Chicken Little and sometimes as Chicken Licken, is a folk tale with a moral in the form of a cumulative tale about a chicken who believes the world is coming to an end. The phrase "The sky is falling!" features prominently in the story, and has passed into the English language as a common idiom indicating a hysterical or mistaken belief that disaster is imminent. Versions of the story go back more than 25 centuries and it continues to be referenced in a variety of media.~~Wikipedia

An acorn falls from a tree, plunking Chicken Little on the head. Convinced the sky is falling--and therefore the world is coming to an end--she sets off to see the king to demand a solution. On the way, she encounters several other animals, shares her story (always declaring the sky is falling) and each animal joins her in her quest. None of the animals question her conclusion. Finally they meet a fox who pretends sympathy for their quest and offers his assistance. Instead he takes advantage of their fear to lead them back to his den where he kills and eats them.

My friends, we are in the days of Chicken Little and his friends!

Ebola! Ebola! It's coming!

Enterovirus! Enterovirus!

Plague! Plague!

War! War!

Something bad happens everyday--somewhere. Once in a while, it happens to us. None of us is isolated. All of us are vulnerable. But running around yelling, "The sky is falling!" is not helpful.

Instead, folks should determine what they can do on a personal level to minimize their chances of being affected by whatever the problem is. What preparations are appropriate? What actions should be taken? What changes in our daily lives should be made?

I can tell you right off the bat that huddling together and feeding each others fears is not going to help. There are things folks can do. Every year doctors urge folks to wash their hands. Yet, when researchers study this one behavior, they find few people actually wash their hands often enough. The simple act of washing our hands would dramatically cut the spread of all sorts of diseases. It's a simple, effective solution, but we fail to change this one behavior.

Another thing we can do is sharpen our awareness when we're in public. Avoid crowding into space with a lot of people. Most stores offer disinfectant wipes near their carts so you can wipe down the handles. And again, few people take advantage of them.

Pay attention to all the items you touch every day. Door knobs, exit bars, light switches, mail, money, keys, items in stores...The list is endless. Wash your hands!

How often do you touch some part of your body? Face, arms, mouth, feet. All are covered by germs. That's reality. Wash your hands!

Immunity and disease resistance needs a bit of help. Eat nutritious food. Chuck the junk.

Make sure you get enough sleep. Instead of staying up all night, playing on the computer, go to bed.

Drink water. Yeah, yeah, yeah. I know water isn't terribly sexy, but it's good for the body and helps flush out all the nasty stuff. Drink it!

Go for a walk, even it it's just around the parking lot. This one is a two-fer. You get fresh air and exercise AND you get all the Vitamin D you need in 15 minutes. Important stuff!

Think positive thoughts. This sounds kind of silly, but the truth is, we generate most of our anxiety ourselves. We wallow in 'what ifs' instead of being grateful for what we have. We are responsible for making ourselves ill!

I'm not advocating we ignore the dangers around us, but we need to jump off Chicken Little's bandwagon. That thing is going nowhere good.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Pig in a Poke

A few days ago, I located a specific particular set of knitting needles on the internet and ordered them. Stores don't carry them, though some knitting shops will special order them. They are metal with a square shaft instead of a round one.

I didn't just take a notion to buy them. I purchased a circular needle in a shop (two needles connected by a cable) made from the same type of needles and tried them out. I've already tried out wooden 'cubic' needles--as has the hunk--but the tiny sizes are fragile and I was looking for something in the same style, but sturdier.

I'm generally willing to try something that interests me--at least once. Most times, I'm pleased with my purchase. A few times...not so much. For instance, the hunk purchased a set of needles by the same company that made his favorite crochet hooks. There's absolutely nothing WRONG with them, but he was disappointed with them after working with the cubics. Such is life. Sometimes things just don't quite fit right. I don't return them, if that's the case. After all, it's not the fault of the store or maker. I consider it a lesson learned and move on.

A friend of mine doesn't quite understand my philosophy. Isn't that a waste of money? Well, no. I learned something and the money spent was the price of the lesson. If I send it back, I'm less likely to take note of what I learned. What will we do with the needles? Probably somewhere down the road, we'll give them to someone who loves them and will treasure them.

I suppose you're wondering where I'm going with my meandering post. Well, it's this. Unless the purchased article or service is defective, I'm against returning it. Don't you think all the 'return-no-questions-asked' has led to a lot of folks snapping things up with the mentality of if I don't like it, I'll return it?

I believe folks are pretty careless when they purchase things. Just ask any author who's dealt with returns. Some of the reasons for returns:

I didn't like the book. Fair enough. Don't buy any more of my books.

The book was too short. Book length was stated in the description. Did you expect it to grow longer during download?

The book had too much sex. Please refer to the description where it says 'erotic'.

I don't like westerns. What part of Cowboy at Dead Gulch was unclear?

I didn't like the ending. See #1. Don't buy any more of my books.

In effect, buying a book, then returning it, is the same as borrowing it. The purchaser received something for nothing. It's the same as buying an article of clothing, wearing it to a party, then returning it because it's not quite what you were looking for.

Some authors don't agree with me. They say they'll get more readers by taking the hit in the pocketbook. I don't think so. I think if more folks had to keep what they bought, they'd purchase more carefully--whatever the item. What ever happened to Buyer Beware?

Monday, September 29, 2014

Rainy Days and Mondays

When I was a youngster, I enjoyed rainy days. Those were days I was allowed to stay 'inside' and actively urged to read. Unlike many of my peers, our family didn't have a television. We had books. Lots of books. When I was around eight or so, my parents bought a sixteen volume set of children's books. Each thick red-bound book had a different theme...mysteries, sci-fi, poetry, stories for young readers, sports, unusual fairy tales and legends, stories for teens. I still have the books. I still read them.

The books were my first exposure to the best-of-the-best in literature. It was in these books I read my first O. Henry, my first Edgar Allen Poe, my first stories about the old west, outer space, and Shakespeare. They opened infinite new worlds for me. In their pages I met a young Michelangelo, Paul Bunyan, Mollie Pitcher, other intrepid young colonial and pioneer girls, and learned there were all sorts of possibilities for me.

For much of my pre-adult life, I lived in small, insular towns where women's roles were sharply, narrowly defined. Television in the fifties and sixties wasn't much better. But in this set of books I found a place where girls and women lived a wider role in society. Girls had adventures. They had dreams. They had desires that had nothing to do with sticking to the traditional roles of society at that time.

That set of volumes was the foundation for my life-long love of books. To this day, I associate rainy days with snuggling under a warm cover with a thick book. Reading--the best way to spend a rainy day.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Simple Living

The photo above is one of my family's homes. The fellow second from the right is my grandfather. The house was still occupied until I was in my thirties. It consisted of four rooms with no running water or indoor plumbing. There was a well (off to the right of the house). The rooms to the left and the right had separate entrances. By the time I visited as a girl, it had electricity.

The summer I was fourteen our family went to visit for a week. At the time, I thought it was a great adventure. My Uncle Bill had sheep and a horse and a water tank where we went swimming. We didn't have air conditioning at home so I didn't think it was a big deal that Uncle Bill didn't either. But let me tell you, creeping out to the outhouse in the middle of the night, flashlight and hoe in hand was a different issue. It was enough to make you reconsider the necessity. For those of you wondering about the hoe--that was for the snakes.

This place was also the first place I drove. Uncle Bill had an old pick-up with a long stickshift on the floor. No markings for 1st, 2nd, reverse. You just had to do that by feel. Fortunately, there wasn't much out there to run in to...except the cattle guards. All gravel road and dry brush.

I'm sure life wasn't nearly as much fun when a person lived there all the time. Laundry was done with a washboard and tub and hung on a line to dry. Water was heated on the stove. Baths were taken in the wash tub or out of a bowl with a wash cloth.

But something about the simple life was obviously better. All the folks in that generation of my family--and most of the next generation--lived well into their eighties and nineties. Maybe it was the constant exercise and work. And no doubt it was also the home grown food. But I also think it was just stressing less about things in the outer world and not worrying about keeping up with the Jones or the Smiths.

Best of all, no one really cared what the celebrity of the week was up to. No one cared.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Inner Circle

Life is a series of circles. Most of us spend our entire lives out on the edges of life's circles, perfectly happy with our place in space and time. Oh, we might want to nudge to one side or the other, but when it gets down to it, we're content. That doesn't mean we don't have goals and destinations in mind. Without those, we grow stagnant.

A few folks elbow and pummel their way to the inner circle. "This is where it's all happening!" they cry. The real truth is that's where they're hemmed in, prevented from change and growth by the walls surrounding them. The walls might be expectations. Or responsibilities. Rules. It doesn't really matter what hems them in. The end result is the same. The closer to the inner circle, the less freedom.

I've been part of an inner circle only once in my life. It was the most miserable, stressful time of my life. Responsibility nearly drowned me. Anxiety and stress destroyed my health. And until I walked away, I didn't realize how much I hated it. Months passed before I finally settled in the outer circle--a totally different circle--and learned to breathe again.

The funny part is we strive from early childhood to be one of the inner circle, one of the elite, one of the popular crowd. Until we reach adulthood we don't realize how very empty the inner circle is. Some men and women don't learn how hollow the center is until they've destroyed their lives through drugs or alcohol or some other vice. They're dancing so fast to keep up, they never have time to calculate the true cost of their place.

Occupants in the inner circle delude themselves, believing they're important, they wield authority, they're in the know. Not so. Their power is an illusion, bolstered by the folks in the outer circle. When those on the outside withdraw their admiration, support, or interest, the inner circle collapses in on itself. If their belief in their invincibility leads to corruption and greed, the collapse is usually spectacularly public.

After my brief stint in an inner circle, I contemplated my folly for a while. Then I made a deliberate decision to roam the outer circle, seeking new experiences, relishing the freedom to try new things, and savoring the peace and tranquility of contentment.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Never-Ending Restarts

I haven't written in a while. This last week, I decided to work on a 'sword and sorcery' fantasy I started a couple years ago. Immediately, I ran into a problem. I couldn't locate the file.

I've changed computers since I began work on the story...and I could have sworn I moved all the files. But evidently not. I fired up the older computer and started running search patterns for various key words. Nothing. Nothing. No files.

Then I sat back and thought about the various bits that would set it apart from other stories and began a new series of searches. In the end, I found five files--each with a different story--but the same beginning. With a deep sigh, I created a new folder and stashed them all together.

And then I began to read them. One by one. It was like reading a 'choose your adventure' book. All of them started out with the same three chapters. Then they diverged wildly. All had parts in the later sections I would like to include in the final book.

I don't work well doing rewrites electronically. Back when I started writing, most writers did that first draft by hand and I find I work best that way still. On the other hand, if I print out all five files, I'll end up with a stack of paper like the one in picture.

I foresee a week of winnowing. Mark the bits I want to keep and print them out. Then cut and paste. And finally...see what I can make of it. Those on the outside of the writer's world think it's a linear process. For me...not so much. My brain tends to leap around from one scene to another. Then I have to arrange them like a jigsaw puzzle, making all the pieces work. If I succeed, that's a miracle.

I bet you didn't know I'm a miracle worker, did you?

Monday, September 15, 2014

Summer Gone

This year was the year of the wet, cool summer in Baltimore. Oh, there was a day here and there when the temps were uncomfortable, but mainly it was a cool summer. Last winter was cold and bitter--and if we believe the Farmer's Almanac--it will be cold and bitter this coming winter.

Right now, though, it's cool, sunny and fallish. Here and there the leaves are starting to turn. In some parts of our country, it's not cool or sunny or wet. Some places are suffering from drought. Some are facing another round of floods from Hurricane Odile in the southwest. The country is pretty much in weather flux.

For all the influence the weather has on our lives, I find it odd how little attention we pay to it. Every time there's a disaster, folks say things like, "I didn't realize it would be this bad." Or, "Wow! I didn't know it was supposed to rain (snow, spawn tornadoes, hail, or climb into the triple digits)." We have the greatest collection of scientific weather tools we've ever had. Why are we failing to take advantage of them?

Well. Summer's rolling out. Fall will whiz by with all the colored leaves and pumpkins and Halloween. Then bam!  Winter will be here. So before that happens, enjoy the sunny days. Get out there and breathe. Let the sun kiss your face. Walk beneath the trees while they still have leaves. Listen to the birds before they all fly south. Summer's going, going, almost gone...

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Common Core

Back in the 'olden' days, I learned how to count with dried pinto beans, or buttons, or used match sticks. Then some idjet came along and decided that beans, buttons, and match sticks were dangerous objects in the hands of first graders so they substituted paper strips. The strips were harder for small hands to manipulate and weren't nearly as hardy, but there ya go. It was still low tech learning.

We learned how to read by a combination of phonics and sounding out words. If you knew the phonics code, you could put together the various letter blocks together to make word. Pick + lock = picklock. Cat + nap = catnap. And so on. In the same way, you could deconstruct a word to sound it out.

Then the REAL idiots came along and decided that wasn't complicated enough. Phonics was baaaaad. Counting with paper strips was baaaaad. And lo, some nudjit with power in the school systems decreed that would no longer be the way kids learned.

Sight reading and New Math were introduced. Now we have a nation of adults who can't read OR add or subtract. So someone had a bright idea. We'll go back to the OLD way. Everyone got on the bandwagon. Educators saw the light! Most children learned.

As all things work, a new cycle rolled around and someone decided they had a better way. Because some children had difficulty learning. Instead of focusing on WHY they didn't learn--instead of giving them personal help--someone decided EVERYONE should learn at the same level. And our government made it a law, totally ignoring reality. NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND.

The truth is some children will NEVER learn more than basic skills. Some will be fortunate to learn to dress themselves and feed themselves. And some children are so advanced they can do high school work in second grade. The vast majority are in the middle. Every child should be challenged to the best of his ability. But we can't do that by treating them as cookie cutter kids. And we can't do it by inventing gibberish ways to teach them.

Now we have something called Common Core. The math problem above is an example. I foresee a new generation of kids who can't add or subtract. But that's okay! They'll have electronic devices to think for them. Of course, no one is considering what will happen when all our devices fail. Folks who have graduated in the last forty years have far fewer skills than those before that. Every generation depends more on technology and less on personal knowledge and skill. Whenever that happens, a small core of individuals ends up with all the political power. That's what we see happening now.

Common Core. 

Monday, September 8, 2014

Wolf! Wolf! Wolf!

A fake weather forecast from Empire News is making its way around the Internet. It forecasts unimaginable snowfall and incredibly cold temps. It was well written and fooled a lot of folks. That doesn't particularly bother me. People need to read with discrimination. Really.

But it does bring up the question of whether anyone would pay attention if the warning was serious. Our government--and others--frequently make the excuse of possible wide-spread panic for failing to warn their populations about various catastrophic possibilities. I believe so few people would pay attention that it wouldn't matter if they announced aliens were going to land tomorrow. Most folks would A) shrug and go on about their business, or B) be so busy reading about the latest celebrity scandal they'd never know about it. (Until the aliens were rounding them up to ship them off to some distant planet. Then they'd think it was a movie stunt.)

Is it a case of the authorities crying "Wolf!" too often? I don't think so. I suspect it's more a case of people who are too oblivious to their surroundings to care. Perhaps there's also a lack of perception or insight about what is important as opposed to what is entertainment. People don't want to be anxious about everyday living.

The hunk and I have been watching a mystery series set during World War II. There is a considerable bit of the show that portrays what the general populace endures in their day to day existence. Blackouts, shortages, rationing, air raids. And always, there are those individuals who refuse to accept reality, who deny that any of it is necessary--because the enemy can't be 'that bad'. Why should they be deprived just because the government wants to instill panic?

We see a similar attitude every time we're warned about hurricanes or blizzards. People don't want to accept the inconvenience of preparation. Then, there's a huge disaster like Katrina or Sandy and all those folks who didn't prepare for the worst, for the unimaginable, are busy pointing fingers at the authorities. "You should have warned us," they cry.

I want to know, were you listening? Probably not. Did you pay attention to the warnings and take responsibility for your own welfare? No. Every year we hear the same refrain after major disasters--where it the government? Why aren't they here, helping us, rescuing us? These are the same people who ignored the warnings.

When did we become so weak as a country that we can't figure out how to prepare for our family's safety? Are we really that hopeless? What if there was no prospect of help? Think about all the pictures we see on the news of refugees fleeing from war, or flood, or earthquakes.

Now. Picture what our country would be without our various agencies. Yes, yes, yes, I know you think they don't move fast enough. But what if they weren't there at all? Are you ready? Are you aware of possible catastrophe? Are you listening? Or do you think they're just crying, "Wolf?"

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

On Strike

A good friend and fellow author wrote about burnout. She had some excellent things to say. Check our her post HERE. Burnout is often brushed to the side or pooh-poohed by folks as unimportant or imaginary. Last year I confessed to another writer that I just wasn't interested in writing and he fired back a pithy suggestion to get with the program.

Well, that's not always possible. 

I would point out that writing--as any creative endeavor--is not something you just sit down and do like counting matchsticks or doing sit-ups. There's an element requiring thought and imagination. And sometimes, sadly, our imagination and thought processes go on strike. Unfortunately, those around us, our significant others, our peers, and our friends can't see the picket signs waving inside our brains. 

When we see striking workers on the street, we generally have an idea about what they want. Their demands are right there on the picket signs. More money. Shorter hours. Benefits.

But when a writer goes on strike, it's difficult to make out what the problem might be. I suspect for a lot of writers the number one demand is Feed Me. Not the junk food and coffee writers seem to inhale by the barrel as they write, but real food--a balanced diet-- and water. We can't write well on shoddy fuel.

Second on the list is probably Go Outside. Walk around. Take pictures. Talk to people other than your family. Observe the world around you. Writing is a solitary occupation. You can't do it without mental input. With the best of intentions you can't get that input by reading, watching television, or texting. It requires interaction with others.

Third would definitely be Exercise. Jogging is not required. Movement is. For the most part, writing, researching, planning are all sedentary. Our bodies are not designed to be sedentary. If there's a great issue our descendants will pay for, it's the sedentary life technology has fostered. Turn on the radio and dance. Sing while you vacuum. Park at the far end of the parking lot. Go swimming. There are real mental benefits in movement. Sitting leads to sluggishness. That's why we get so many good ideas in the shower.

Finally, the last demand might be Visit Your Doctor. As much as we want to deny it, we're aging every single day. And with aging (no matter what your current age is) things change. Particularly with the sedentary life, there are a zillion things that can happen. High blood pressure. Thyroid changes. Diabetes. High cholesterol. The first symptom of many of these conditions is...fuzzy thinking. That's the signal. Go. Talk to your doc about how you're really feeling. The truth. The WHOLE truth.

Pay attention to those strike pickets. Changes just might make them go away. And then we can all get back to what we love best. Writing.