Archive for February 2012

Delayed Gratification and Marketing

I've been reading how certain writers aren't getting a boost in sales from media, from interviews and appearances in newspapers, on radio, or on TV, but get a more immediate boost from appearing on popular blogs on the internet.

Some have suggested it's a waste of time to go on television or radio. I don't think that's enough cause to throw these resources to the side if they're available to us. There may be other reasons, but I don't trust the logic that they won't help us.

There very well may be something similar to “delayed gratification” at work here. Readers who see a writer on TV may not today want to rush out to buy their book, but will file that author's name away for a later date. People are busy, they're broke, they're already reading something—in short, they may not be able to drop what they're doing to read what they saw on TV or in the New York Times.

But this doesn't mean readers won't remember.

Name recognition is important when selling books. Stephen King has an enormous advantage over someone like J. R. Nova (whoever that is), for the simple fact that more people know the name “Stephen King”, and know his reputation as a writer.

Every interview we do, every TV appearance we make, every radio show we go on, every story we publish, all of these things add value to our writing by putting our name out there. They may not be worth it at the time, because there is not an instantaneous uptick in sales, but there is a cumulative effect.

Name recognition doesn't translate into today's sales, but weeks or months later, when a reader is in a bookstore or shopping around Amazon and wondering what to buy. On the shelf or the screen is your book with your name on it and in the back of the reader's mind she thinks “I've heard that name before,” and takes a chance on something she's never read, if only because the name is familiar.

It's not as simple as that (your name, no matter how familiar, must still compete with other familiar names), and this may not even be a generality, but just because we do something that doesn't have an immediate payoff, doesn't mean it won't help later on.

Every little bit helps.

Relationships have love banks, and writing has a marketing bank. It's a karmic effect. The more positive we do, the more positive we get.

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Everything Is a Remix!

We copy everything. Sometimes we don't realize it. Sometimes we do. In “Everything Is a Remix” we see how prominent this phenomenon of copying is, and why it's not a negative habit of our species. Even Nature does it!

This is a great four-part series (it's only about 40 minutes), going through the most famous remixes in music and movies, and showing how we've copied everything. The first three videos detail copying in media. The fourth video discusses copyright law and how extreme copyright enforcement has gotten (and how little sense it makes to have gone so far).

It's one thing to copy a theme or reuse an idea, and it's another to steal someone's creation, using it as your own when it's not, and never will be, yours. The advice this little series gives at the very beginning is that there's a difference between copying/remixing and out-right theft. We humans copy, yes, but when we do we infuse enough of our own personality and essence into what we copy to make it our own, to make it better, or at least different.

There's nothing “original” in this world. No human being ever “invented” fire, but tamed an already active force of nature. The wheel and the space shuttle are the same. Darwin discovered Evolution, and Einstein discovered Relativity. They did not invent an original idea. It was there already for anyone to see, and others had seen it, or had come close to seeing it before or at the same time.

In literature there are no “original” stories. Frankenstein was not an original idea. Not the occult theme of galvanism, nor the way the story was written (it's structure), not to mention the many stereotypes within. Mary Shelley took all she had already known and spun it in a new pattern.

There are new patterns  in art and media. Harry Potter, Star Wars, Star Trek, and Dune are all new patterns, but none of them contain original ideas in and of themselves. All of them are great, but their parts have been seen countless times before. They use the same few colored threads to get a slightly different design, which we enjoy.

Every human copies. We give each other a hard time for being brainwashed sheeple, but the truth is, even the most original people are carbons of others; it's just that these people copy stranger patterns and forms than the average man or woman.

It could be said that people who deride others for being average, especially in terms of art (think of all those who dump on “Twilight”), are the biggest ripoffs of all. They're angry that today's generation can't create anything original, so these elitists  do something completely, wholly unoriginal: they attack people for it.

Likewise, there's nothing new and original about feeling misunderstood. Or about being compassionate. Or about having a new idea.

I've stopped trying to be original. I'm more interested in remixing what has already been done. Forming a new pattern from those same few colored threads. Putting my personal stamp on life.

You are already doing this, whether you're a creative artist or not, whether you realize it or not. You do it on a biological level, a psychological level, a personal level. From having your parents' mannerisms to dressing like your friends. We imitate from our earliest movements, consciously and unconsciously.

But we're supposed to be original, right? Wrong! No wholly original idea has ever been successful. Not a one. In fact, nearly everything that has ever contained a hint of originality has either failed by its own faults, or has been pushed out of the way by more familiar contraptions. What has succeeded has contained enough of the familiar to be acceptable, and to work.

Life is a slow burn of evolution, not a sudden and random time travel.

Life is a mash-up of a bunch of copies, and that's cool, because within the familiar there are a million ways to see the old in a new light.

I don't think this is cynical. I think it's important not to waste time reinventing the wheel, but to improve the wheel we already have. Make it faster, make it stronger, make it more durable, make it more beautiful.

How can we invent colors we've never seen before?

Isn't it better to blend the colors we have?

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Three Roads to Choose

This was quite a week for me!

After a month and getting only 4 chapters of my novel, Rising, edited (I have 23 altogether), I turned up the gas and finished three in two days. I had planned on keeping this torrid pace until I finished the remaining 13 chapters, but I underestimated how often I could read the same passages.

I'm at a crossroads. In one direction is peaceful feelings and easy goings. In the other direction is hard work and a desperate need to have my novel finished and published.

Perfectionism versus a sloth.

It's hard to see, for the two roads are well traveled, but there is another path between these two, with brambles and trees grown upon it. If the first path leads away from the mountain, the second climbs its face, and this third meanders slowly, but surely, around the mountain's base.

It's the road the tortoise would take. Slow and steady wins the race.

Though the sign has fallen, it has not rotted away. I can still lift it from the ground and read what it says.

“Make Haste Slowly.”

On this path one must watch for low branches and tall burs. Part of the road is washed away, and where the ancient stones remain they are slick with moss. It is not level, but gradually climbs upwards, and then down again. It is not straight, but twists and turns wildly, as if teetering.

The first road merely bends around to the beginning, for you to stare at the choices again, to take it easy, to take it hard, or to take the secretive path. The second road ends at utter exhaustion, for the mountain is forever and the only way down is to fall.

Along the Middle Way you will find fulfillment. You will have traveled carefully enough to appreciate the view, hard enough to build an inner strength, and slow enough to conserve some of your natural vitality.

It's not always easy to know what the right amount of work is. I've continued to be productive this month, yet I've wandered twice now from the Middle Way. Once to the easy path, and when coming back around, making the mistake of climbing the mountain.

It's not that there isn't something on the mountain, or away from it, but I seek something specific far around the bend of stone, hugging close to the cliffs yet not ascending them.

It could be balance, or it could be the path itself.

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Appreciating Adversity

Life is full of ups and downs. And sometimes it's everything at once.

This weekend I fasted for 43 hours. It wasn't until the fortieth hour that I actually enjoyed it, experiencing the often associated “fasting high.” I used those few remaining and joyous hours to reshape my goals for the coming weeks, as well as my exercise routine.

Yet things kept going wrong for me this weekend, especially on Saturday. A stopwatch I had just bought quit working and I had to order a battery for it. I was stretching in the morning and pulled a muscle in my neck, which still hurts today. It was cold outside, the coldest day of the year I think, so I didn't dare go walking.

Despite this I battled through, and I meditated on “adversity.” We all face it, but how we deal with it seems to separate us from each other. Adversity can destroy us, but it can also strengthen us, and not just by making us bitter or giving us a “stiff upper lip.” In fact, if adversity has caused us to swallow our feelings, haven't we lost?

But there's always hope to continue, unless we die. This brings me to Whitney Houston, whose life was cut short at the age of forty-eight. She has zero opportunities to right the ship that took on water with her sordid marriage to Bobby Brown. No more opportunities to love someone.

I believe this weekend taught me a lot about myself. I learned to respect and appreciate adversity. Those times when the Cosmos reminds me to enjoy life. Life won't always be.

I hope I can appreciate and respect even more those quiet times when everything goes right, and not fear the inevitable ups and downs.

The Cosmos will remind us of our fragility, but so that we do not take for granted and fail to appreciate our strengths.

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A Healthful Betrayal

I have a small audience as far as blogs go, but even if one of you reads the following and can relate or feel a passion about Steve Cooksey's story, this will have been worth sharing.

Steve is a diabetic. His doctors and nurses told him to continue eating many of the same foods that had given him diabetes in the first place, and he bucked their advice in order to eat a new way. He has since all but cured his diabetes. He takes no insulin and no medication. He eats a low-carb diet. Pass the meat, hold the potatoes.

At first, I was skeptical of Steve's diet, but as I got to know him I realized his diet works for him. It has even changed my approach to food, and now I don't feel guilty about the occasional hamburger.

Despite our very different approaches to the dinner table (he is a carnivore, and I am a flexitarian) I feel like we both live a healthier lifestyle than the norm. Meat and fruit aside, you won't find any Lays chips in our cupboards. We eat a minimum of processed foods, we fast on a near-daily basis, and we exercise a lot.

Now Steve has a blog, with a disclaimer that he's not a health professional. He discusses diet with diabetics and others, and he hands out common-sense advice.

And now the Big Bad Government is investigating him.

[Below is a video on his investigation, and three articles for further reading.]

There's a lot of information here on Steve and diabetes.

I found this extremely unsettling. I understand the sentiment behind the government protecting citizens from fly-by-night-drug-cocktail-pushers (not to be confused with pharmacists, apparently), but how can the government shut down the free speech of someone with proven results? How can anyone stop anyone else from sharing what works?

Steve has opened my eyes to a pressing matter, how ill-informed diabetics and others are about diabetes. This isn't by accident. There is a lot of government corruption in our nation, and believe it or not, most of that corruption comes from the food industry, in all its forms. Whether it's Monsanto, Coca-Cola, McDonald's, Pfizer, the meat and dairy industry (Steve may disagree with me on that), and others, the companies pouring the most money into Washington D.C. are those companies putting food on our tables.

These companies aren't just in government either, but are even manipulating scientific research and charities.

Does it make sense that the fast food and soft drink industries help to fund cancer and diabetes research? To me it does. And it's no surprise to me that in fifty years we still don't have a medical cure for cancer or diabetes, though there is most definitely a dietary cure. Both types of diseases have even been passed off as “genetical” by many in the health field, as if nothing we can do will prevent or cure our ills.

The dietary cure/prevention isn't going to come from a foil package or a wrapper with a big “M” stamped on the front of it. That's basically what Steve is telling people, and for his compassion he's getting a shakedown with people who jingle when they walk, and get a buttache when they sit down to eat.

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Taking Care of the Little Things

I suffered through school. It scarred me, and I hated it. Teachers have let bureaucracy grip the classroom. Gaining tenure and benefits has too often trumped helping children find success. There are great teachers in our school systems, but how many of them have their talents placed in a position of irrelevance?

I'm sure this point of view will anger some, and will even be read as an insult by a few, but a dozen years in the system didn't do me a lot of good, and though there are few things in life I look upon cynically, school is one of them.

But five of my teachers were pivotal in making me who I am today. I owe them for my success as a person, and my success as an intelligent and thoughtful human being. They made school bearable, and gave learning purpose.

One of these teachers was my high school guidance councilor, who sacrificed a lot of her own time for me.

I met her at Wal-Mart today, in the bread aisle. I said hello, and twenty minutes later I felt I had connected with another person in a way I hadn't connected with anyone in quite a while. She's retired now, and though there's a forty+ year gap in our ages, I found that we still had a lot in common.

Maybe this common ground was what drew us together when I was younger, over ten years ago. I think so. I think she understood me.

I mentioned five teachers who were pivotal in my growth. Each of these teachers have two things in common. They were the only teachers who I feel understood who I was, what I dealt with emotionally, and who took the time out of their schedule to see me through, to give me even five minutes of one-on-one time, and who motivated me with love.

They were passionate about what they did, and that passion wore off on me.

Today my former teacher and I talked about some of these things, discussing how school fits some students, while others are left alienated and alone, surviving in a setting they find wholly uncomfortable, as I did. She admitted that she felt the same way, even as a teacher.

The role of guidance councilor fit her perfectly, as it left her to herself and allowed her to reach students one on one or in very small groups. Their guards let down, she was able to communicate with them in a way only a very rare teacher or parent can manage to communicate.

This was how we spoke to one another today, completely openly, honestly, genuinely.

So why, later, did I feel so vulnerable and scared?

While I spoke to her I was glued to that moment, giving not a care about anything other than what we were discussing. It was fun, and even more importantly, it was enlightening. I learned a lot in that short period of time—too short. I learned people still care, that I'm not alone, that there are others like me who feel the same way about the world, a little cynical and under pressure by a society who doesn't treat well its introverts, yet still fascinated by life.

When we said goodbye and walked away, my heart dropped. I had lost the confidence I had just gained, and felt demoralized and even a bit depressed.

I was keenly aware of life's impermanence. I was fourteen years old when I first met her. Ten years had traveled swiftly by, and we were both much older now.

But more so than anything else, I felt empty. I had opened my soul to another person, and though it was worth it, later I had no way to immediately close myself up again. I was leaking soul-matter all over Wal-Mart.

Is this why more people don't open up on a deeper level, connecting with each other how many people like myself wish they would? I'm a sharer. I have no trouble at all getting down to the nitty-gritty details of life. My closest friends know this, as I've shared things with them that are uncomfortable for both sharer and listener. Yet each time I open myself up I feel two things. I feel it is worth it, and later I feel guilty.

How can it be both? How can something so wonderful—connecting with someone—be so painful?

All I can say now that I've gotten hold of my emotions and have gradually found the good in what has happened today is that I want to make her proud of me. I want to make the other four teachers proud of me as well, even if I haven't spoken to some of them in nearly 20 years.

I want to do for others what they have done for me. I can do this through my writing, I know, since books provide such a rich learning experience for readers, and on that level I will be teaching, or at least sharing knowledge, but I want to go deeper than that.

I feel that I can repay their kindness by being, myself, a good person.

Patient, passionate, compassionate, confident. As they were.

If these five teachers have taught me anything, it's that we can change another person's life by doing something as simple as caring. A smile, a kind word, a minute of attention. Sometimes the smallest things make the most lasting gifts.

One teacher taught me to read and write, and another taught me to enjoy reading and writing. One teacher taught me to never doubt my talents, and another encouraged me to use them.

And my high school guidance councilor, she showed me that I never have to go through life alone.

Today she reinforced that lesson.

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Super Bowl XLVI

If you're a football fan like me then you likely watched the Super Bowl last night, unless work or some serious emergency kept you busy.

Highlights are streaming, the news is still talking, and I'm sure Patriot fans are Monday Morning Quarterbacking.

Since everyone else is discussing the game today, I don't have to, nor will I (much). Instead, I want to talk about other people who talked about the game.

I didn't want to watch the Super Bowl. I admit I was disgruntled that Baltimore lost, and my favorite NFL player—Ricky Williams—missed perhaps his last opportunity to go to the biggest game of his career.

Why did I? Because it seemed everyone else was. My Facebook page blew up with posts about the NFL, and it's hallmark game, Super Bowl XLVI, or in layman's terms Super Bowl 46, or Super Bowl 2012.

Records were broken last night. Apparently during the final 3 minutes of the game there were an average of 10,000 tweets a second. A lot of very excited people.

Yet not all posts were football friendly. Some of what I saw was negative. Some people were annoyed that their Facebook pages were being taken over by fanatics. I feel for them. I did my best not to post anything football related last night, and did a good job except for a few quotes I heard on TV.

These were obviously not football fans. And it is very interesting to me that there can be so much love and enjoyment for a certain thing, and yet so much distaste.

It's amazing to see just how many varied opinions there were last night.

Why does something like this matter? I think what I saw last night is echoed in many other areas of life. In writing, for instance, or in life in general. We can never expect every last person to like us, or like the stories we write, or like the music we play, or enjoy our paintings or religion or politics.

Yet we shouldn't expect no one to like us or our work, either, if we are genuine and passionate about what we do. I mean, there are still neo-Nazis running around and people actually watch and “enjoy” the NBA, so you can get at least one person to like just about anything.

When people get together to discuss something, not everyone will agree. Some of the best comments I read last night weren't in favor of the Super Bowl, but were in favor of everyone shutting up about it. These contrary opinions (a few anyway) were well thought out.

They of course got me thinking. We live in a world where Twilight was a best seller, and yet seems to be one of the most made fun of creations in years. How can so many people like and hate something at once? How can something like a book, a story, meant to offend no one and really containing no morally offensive material at all, be so polarizing?

Is it successful because it's polarizing?

Maybe...I watched last night's game to see the Patriots lose. I'm sure others watched to see the Giants win, or to lose, or the Patriots to win. Some watched for the commercials, and some watched for the half time show, and some watched just because it was football. Others watched not at all, but had something to say about the game anyway.

Everyone involved had an opinion, either a yes or no, an up or down. Is that what we want? It's like the saying “Any publicity is good publicity.” If you tell a person not to do something, they'll do it just to find out if you were right, or to prove you wrong.

It's an interesting world we live in. We communicate with each other in strange ways, and bond together in even strangers ways. I have no doubt that today there are a few more Patriot and Giants fans in the world. I'm sure many friendships were kindled online or in a bar over beers. Perhaps even a few friendships were lost, as were more than a few bets.

And every one of us has an opinion. Every one of us has a point of view. There are more ways to look at the world than there are ways for Eli Manning to win a Super Bowl. That's two, if you haven't been counting at home.

And in my opinion, both were exciting.

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Refocusing in February

February is going to be a successful month for me. Why? Because I am willing it. Sheer mind over matter is going on my way.

I've got goals! But more importantly, I'm on the top side of my usual wave-pattern. I have bad months and I have good months. Now, my bad months aren't really bad, but more “down”, not necessarily in a negative sense. I'm just not as energetic or accomplished. January was a down month. That must mean February will be a home run, right?

I'm not going to sit here and take it for granted. I'm in a stretch of 29 days, and each day will ooze work ethic. I'll worry about March when March gets here. The past will stay dead. I'm living for now. And work!

Work is play, and play means writing, working out, meditating. I've begun to wake up early (at 7) to meditate for an hour before I even start my day. I've done a lot more Yoga, and have even begun to go outside to skip a little rope. Maybe my “voluntary” presence out of doors will key springtime.

I've been far more creative already in just the first few days of the month. I've started what I hope will be a stand alone novel, and though I've gotten off to a slow start editing my novel “Rising”, all I need is to kick the rust off a bit.


Now for a curiosity.

My last blog post had just 24 views in two days. That's down considerably from the 60+ views I had been getting, and the 100+ views one post received.

Maybe no one likes Yoga? Or I'm getting tired of posting my links all over the place, spamming the net.

You know, when you put too much in a net, the net will break!

24 views may throw someone else for a loop, but not me. It makes me not even care anymore, trying to win the prize, getting 100,000 page views. I'm going to refocus my attention, breaking away from selling my blog to the internet in order to worry about myself. I may be posting more frequently, and hey, maybe my posts will be of a lesser quality, but I'm not going to try to write what everyone will like, which I may have been doing with all the writing posts I've written in January.

I'm plain sick of writing about writing. There's more to life than that, right? Sure, I'll let a writing post slide through now and again, and I may even fill the net up with it, but not too frequently.

Why is this?

On my Yoga post I got some feedback from a few of the people who saw it, and it was really positive, so positive that I realized what I had decided before was ultimate truth, but had somehow forgotten through January as my hits went through the roof.

If even one person reads my blog and gets something productive/positive/inspiring out of it, or if I write even one thing that someone disagrees with, resulting in my learning from their point of view, I win.

And so does that one person.

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The Two Yogas

There are two parts because I felt the need to tell this in two ways. The first is a little silly, and the second I thought was a bit more rigid. The first wiggles, and the second prickles. 
Having two parts to this is a fitting analogy for perspective. There are at least two ways to see the world. For me, Yoga provides multiple perspectives by clearing away the things that would block multiple perspectives. In this way Yoga can be a purely mental practice. 
Yoga also cures my sciatica, and can be a purely physical practice. I dig both ways.

Part I

There are two Yogas in our world! Two totally, completely, wholly different Yogas. They are not mutually exclusive or incompatible, but nor are they identical, or even similar.

The first is the Old Yoga. It's the Yoga of Patanjali's Yoga Sutras. This Yoga realizes unity with the Cosmos. Can you dig it? All for is one, one for is all.

Patanjali's Yoga rids the mind of its numerous thought patterns (preconceived notions), allowing the practitioner (me!) to see the world as it is, and not as the mind would have it. Old Yoga is meditation. It's clear perception, cutting away the thicket to see the meadow.

Clear perception is not for everyone.

It seems Americans don't really dig this Eastern mumbo jumbo. They want what's physically practical. Forget that metaphysical stuff.

So there is another Yoga. This Yoga is like a beautiful woman who came to the West and was stripped down. We have taken her red dress off, looking under the hood if you will, to see her bare flesh.

Stripping this beautiful woman down to her skin, we get rid of personality, the entangling fabric, and we commune with her physically.

It's not a stretch to think of Yoga this way, and then again, it is.

Stretching. There's nothing very spiritual or metaphysical or philosophical about that, right? This Yoga, call it New Yoga (though there's nothing new about it, except the way we practice it here in the West, without its philosophical trimmings) is more or less naked. 

Yoga as stretching, and only stretching. Some breathing, too, but mostly just stretching. It doesn't require meditation or an Eastern bent, so it's safe for Western consumption.

Now, Patanjali's Yoga is great. It can unlock the Universe's secrets and let us live with a chill perspective on life. But that doesn't cure a backache, increase flexibility, prevent injury, tone muscle, burn calories, or bond us in a large sweaty group.

They're different, for sure, but one Yoga is not more important or less viable and valid than the other.

With its dressings off, Yoga is still really amazing. It's so amazing, even dogs and cats, cows and cranes, snakes and trees practice it.

But what happens when the two types of Yoga are put together? What happens if, in the middle of a pose, I suddenly wonder what it would be like if I and everything else were the same, as if everything I do effects everyone else, and every other one and every other thing effects me?


Part II

Americans have made the very ancient art of Yoga into something that suits our culture, our needs. Our Yoga is no longer the Yoga of India, but something else entirely.

This isn't the only change we've made to the old world. We've turned martial arts into Tae Bo and have given up monasteries altogether. Not that people don't still practice martial arts or live in monasteries in the West, or practice Indian Yoga for that matter, but these aren't what you'll likely find when you look for them.

No, we have ten-year-old black belts and Yoga classes are filled with middle-aged housewives, and few gurus. We also decorate our tabletops with plastic fruit.

We have, generally speaking, a different purpose for living than did the ancients. For better or worse, our culture isn't suited for doing anything slowly, with care, for the purpose of the act. We are always asking what we'll receive in return. We run not so much for pleasure as to outrun future heart attacks.

So we practice Yoga, not for its spiritual benefits (which can only be had in the moment of the act) or for sheer enjoyment, but for what other needs it can help fulfill. We have little need for the spiritual aspects of Yoga, so we've quietly gotten rid of them. Yoga and Yoga products are marketed and sold like fast food and soft drinks. Not that this is a bad thing. It's just different.

But it's not what I'm after.

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