Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Marking the Days

The thing about retirement is you start to lose track of what day it is. We get up in the morning and it's the same as it was yesterday and the day before...and the day before. Kind of like Ground Hog day.

Perhaps that is why people started choosing certain days or seasons to mark time. Of course, to keep accurate records (even if they were just marks on a stick or stone) there needed to be a particular person responsible. In ancient cultures, that person might be designated a wise person or a shaman or a priest. It was an important responsibility.

Now we have computers and atomic clocks and other such mechanical devices to mark time. Every television station includes the announcement of the summer solstice in their weather coverage. It's the turning of the season. For modern first world cultures, it doesn't mean much. Folks nod their heads, shrug and move on to more important things like which team won the ball game or which contestant won on a television show.

In the general scheme of things, a small group of people mark days like the summer solstice with more formal recognition. Generally, the Judeo-Christians sneer at such groups as pagan or other pejoratives. What they don't remember is the times when all people relied on the turn of the seasons. Life itself was dependent on the knowledge. Crops were planted and harvested according to these specific seasonal changes. Long before we had months and weeks, we had the first clock.

You might say the Creator gave us the first measures of time--day and night, the lunar cycle, the solar cycle. With those three cycles, man was able to plant, harvest, plan for the coming year, and know exactly how long it would be before it was time to plant again. The marking of the solstices, the equinoxes, the lunar cycles had meaning and significance we've almost forgotten.

In our arrogant reliance on modern technology, we ignore the enduring importance of the first time keepers. Ancient wisdom isn't something to shove aside in our modern ignorance. There is great value in observing the old ways. The more modern medicine investigates, they more they prove the loss of health and well-being when we ignore the old time keepers. Now we work all night--and all day. We suffer from sleep deprivation because we no longer depend on the sun for light. We go, go, go, racing from one chore to the next, never resting, even on Sunday, the day Christians believe is marked in the Bible.

Maybe it's time to start marking the days. Time to really stop and observe the passing of the seasons. Time to truly understand the celestial clock and what a wonderful gift we've been given.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Shouting into the Wind

It's taken me a while to understand the popularity of Facebook and Twitter, but I finally believe I have it. I know why folks are so drawn to these and other social media sites.

It is our modern version of shouting into the wind.

Likely, there will be quite a few readers who have no idea what I'm talking about. Basically, it means no one is listening. On a more personal level, I remember many occasions when I went out to a deserted place and just yelled and screamed until I got all my anger and frustration out of my system. For the moment.

Posting on social media is the equivalent of shouting our deepest feelings into the void. I daresay most folks don't expect a reply. If you observe carefully, for most posts, there are five or six comments. Max. Now think about how many people are on Facebook on any given hour. Or twitter. And calculate what tiny percentage four or five people is of that number. Shouting into the wind.

You know ahead of time no one is really paying attention. That's probably why folks feel comfortable posting any old thing...including me. Yes, I'm guilty of posting odd stuff like what I'm cooking for dinner, or what the weather is where I live. Occasionally I post pictures of my socks or old photos of my family. The people who respond are generally people who find socks or old photos interesting. The average stranger doesn't notice my little post and think, "Wow! Look at that sock!"

I know this. Everyone knows this. But frustration sets in when our unrealistic expectations aren't met. Despite the reality of social media, we still (on some level) expect a response. I find it interesting that people mostly respond to tragedy. Second on the list is the rare 'good news' post. And after that I suppose the controversial/political post would drag in third place. Shallow waters out there on social media.

Heh. The post that attract the widest field of respondents are cute dogs and cats and other animals. Strange that they touch a responsive chord in so many. Perhaps, that's the ultimate message. Forget social media. If you're frustrated just go pet an animal. You'll feel better. And save time.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Have You Ever?

Recently a new post that asked personal questions floated around social media pages. I've never figured out why anyone would answer the questions on a public forum, but that's another blog. This is about the quality of the questions. Mostly, they were stupid stuff like...have you ever smoked marijuana or...how many people have you had sex with?

Again. Why would anyone answer them? Don't they know employers (both prospective and current) look at people's pages?

Anyway, I've been thinking about this questionnaire. I think it's kinda wimpy. If you're gonna answer personal questions, then it should be more revealing.

How many people have you killed?

Do you prefer a machete or an ax?

When you bury the body, is three feet deep enough? Or do you really like to bury them deeper?

Do you think four participants is enough for an orgy? Or should there be more?

How much alcohol is too much? Two drinks? Six? Twelve?

How many times have you driven a vehicle while under the influence? Did anyone die?

How many times have you driven a vehicle while using your cell phone? Texting?

Do you believe rape is the same thing as consensual sex?

See...If you're gonna share personal information on the Internet...then, hey, let it all hang out. At least then the cops will have a starting place when they investigate.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

The Wizard's Tower

Once in a while a story or video will show up on my FaceBook feed demonstrating the way some individual has repurposed an item in an interesting fashion. Folks ooh and ah over the creativity and say they wished they were that clever. I don't think it's so much about cleverness as clarity. Do we see the possibilities? Or can we only see the decay?

A lot of my writing is repurposing the main story. I suspect there's only one stripped down, simple story in the world. The details we use while telling the story is what differentiates our version from everyone else's. Take the building in the picture. I saved it to my 'writing ideas' folder because I see it as a Wizard's Tower. It's not a tower from the past, but a tower in the future, a time when humanity is starting over because they were so bone-headed they nearly destroyed themselves and the Earth.

Most of the survivors are everyday people, working hard for their small isolated communities. But there are a few, very few men and women who have extra talents--abilities that allow them to forecast the weather or predict conflict or heal the sick. They are the wizards.

Now any sensible person knows such a wizard would need a special place to live. This wizard's tower is ideal. It's tall so the wizard has a clear view of the surrounding countryside. From the perspective of the communities around it, the high building allows them to know exactly where the wizard is. It's a beacon of hope and consolation. It's a central gathering place in times of conflict and disaster.

It's the face of the future and the past.

A Wizard's Tower.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

The END!

Welp. The sock is finished. Right? Not so fast, pardner. The sock is finished, but it's not ready to wear. See all those strings hanging around? The knitter has to do something about them. Every single strand has to be woven in so it doesn't show--or come unraveled when they're worn or washed.

The more elaborate the pattern, the more strands to weave in. A simple, no frills sock will only have two strings when the knitter finishes--one at the edge of the cuff, one at the toe. But for every change of color, every mix of patterns, there will be extra strings. And those leave more finishing work at the end.

It's the same when we write. The more elaborate the story, the more strands to 'tidy' up at the end. There are always spelling errors, homophones, grammatical potholes to deal with. And then there are the lost characters, the story lines that disappear in the underbrush, the mysteries that are never solved.

Just as you wouldn't give away a sock full of strings, you don't want to give away a book with jumbled strands and knots. Clean it up. Make it as beautiful as you can...because how well you do that will determine how long that story hangs around for more readers to enjoy.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Investment

More than once, I've written about my personal library. Some folks consider ownership of half a dozen books to be too many. Others--like me--will never have too many. But it might surprise you if I tell you I'm quite picky about how I invest my book dollars. I buy some books for research purposes. Most books I purchase for entertainment.

How do I choose?

Frankly, that is up to the authors. Yep. Whether or not I purchase a book is entirely dependent on how invested the author was in their story. By that I don't mean how much money they spent on book covers or publicity or conferences. I'm talking about how invested they are in their characters. Do they care about them at all?

There is a certain series of books I've loved in the past. I really enjoyed them and re-read them frequently. I was quite excited when the latest was released a few weeks ago. So far, I haven't made it past page three. The first few pages are obviously a set-up for the rest of the story, but I don't care what happens to the characters. I don't care!

I'm pretty sure the author doesn't either. Now, I know he's a more than competent writer. But this book? It's...cardboard. He's not invested in these characters. I get it that they're the bad guys, but that doesn't matter because a truly bad guy requires investment in the character. We have to care enough to want him vanquished. Think about Darth Vader from the Star Wars movies. He was the guy we loved to hate. We were invested in his demise.

A lot of authors wonder why their books aren't selling. They moan and groan over their non-existent royalties, even though they have fifty or sixty books published. Perhaps, just perhaps it's because they're not invested in their characters.

I buy mostly series. I freely admit I like following the characters, watching them grow and change as they face different challenges. I specifically like series that center around a group of characters that interact. If a romance is involved, that's okay, but the interaction of the group, the relationships revealed is what draws me to the series. Consider the television series most people invest their time and interest in. Is it the romance? Not likely. Mostly, it's the continuing cast of characters that keep people involved.

The writers and producers for a series are involved and invested in their cast. When they introduce abrupt departures and introductions of new characters, we get all riled up and annoyed. It's the same for a book, series or standalone. We invest our time and interest in the characters. When the author doesn't, it seriously annoys the readers.

What happens then?

We spend our book dollars somewhere else. I invest in several series that might not be prize-winning writing, but I am absolutely certain the author is well and truly invested in their stories. They care about their characters. Because they do, I do.

Investment.