Archive for November 2012

Tao of Anxiety: The Right Foot Forward

I have moved. Where I was living in Iowa was a very small community, very far from the world at large. The nearest town with a Wal-Mart was 30 minutes away (which shows just how small and rural the area was).

When overcoming an anxiety disorder, only so much can be done in that type of community, and I was doing it. All it amounted to was internal alchemy: studying anxiety, learning coping statements and activities, changing the way I viewed the world, and using affirmations to boost my self-esteem. But internal maintenance can take a person only so far. We still have to get out and live, and that is most true of phobics.

While in Iowa I managed to overcome my fear of panic attacks without ever leaving home, and with that, the control panic attacks held over me. But where social anxiety is concerned, the pinnacle of treatment is en vivo exposure therapy, and I just couldn't get the most out of exposure where I was.

There were some very simple, easy things I could do and had long-since mastered, but there were no intermediate activities. The spectrum jumped immediately from “easy” to “hard.” I was stuck doing either the simplest, easiest tasks, which I had maxed out my growth on months or even years before, or doing something I had no confidence for. I couldn't make that sort of leap without a bridge to carry me there.

I am now in Southern Louisiana, surrounded by about 15,000 people, and perhaps another 100,000 around that, with New Orleans just an hour or so away. A community of this size brings everything close to hand, but is not so big that I'm frozen in place. There are no freeways here, as there were in Northeast Florida where I lived from 2005 until 2007.

I couldn't function at all in Florida because of the sheer amount of people in the stores and vehicles on the roads. Such a simple detail as there not being any freeways may make all the difference for me. I'm Goldilocks and this is my porridge. Not too hot and not too cold, but just what I need.

So where I'm at now means that I still feel like I'm in a small community, yet opportunities arise frequently. This gives me the “bridge” of intermediate activities I lacked in Iowa. There are many small though sometimes painfully frightening activities to tackle, each one a boon to my confidence, carrying me to my eventual goal of succeeding as an adult.

I am living with my mother. Having someone to push and motivate me to succeed, where the first thing I want to do is hide away, can be as painful as it is rewarding. I've discussed before how in years past I have lost opportunities by pushing the ones most able to help me away, because of my fears. This time around I hope I can allow myself to have an ally in my mother, who is still very willing to help me.

I have started a journal to keep track of my progress. Every day I plan on doing at least one exposure therapy to help myself grow. This had been my plan in Iowa, but the train jumped the tracks when I ran out of things to do—things that interested me, or weren't an hour away, or weren't so beyond my ability that I was helplessly intimidated.

For someone with a social phobia, I feel incredibly lighthearted and interested in life around me. I feel confident and excited for each day. It's been a couple of years since I felt that way, but I'll stay like this so long as I remain open to life as I am at this moment. Anything can happen, and I'm looking forward to what does.

Further Reading:

Tao of Anxiety: Series

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Trusting Knowledge

The history of psychology is filled with various experts attempting to reinvent the wheel (the model of human behavior), and as a result there has been a sharp increase in theories, concepts, and definitions, over-complicating a subject that can be explained in far simpler and straightforward terms than the average psychologist or layperson can explain it.

In other words, psychology is complicated more because of the vast volume of competing and often impractical concepts than because human behavior  is complex.

This is not to say that human behavior is not complex, but that Occam's Razor is not being applied: Among competing hypothesis, the one that makes the fewest assumptions should be selected.

Personally, I believe the "why" is the easy part, but that the "how" requires much more study than we've done to this point. We may know why someone does something (he's been conditioned) but the how of it requires psychologists to look at genetics, society, mental conditions, and interpersonal relationships.

So psychology is both very simple, even elementary, and yet infinitely complex (as complex as nature itself, which all of science has yet to discover even a percentage of). What happens if people do not understand this? If they live completely on one end of the spectrum or the other, either believing that psychology is easy or that it is very hard?

I think then we end up with elitist academics who do not trust laypersons with the "complexities" of psychology, and laypersons who think they can master the human mind by reading a few pop-psychology books (coincidentally written by academics*), or by mimicking their doctors.

I don't know if either of these types are dangerous, or more dangerous than the other, but they're both fools studying only one color of a prism. Both become know-it-alls who refuse to believe the other has anything to add, and so dismiss each other.

Humans dismiss each other at their own peril!

*Studying a subject presents a great risk to any student: a false sense of security. The phrase "A little knowledge is a dangerous thing" comes to mind. If people do not maintain a mindset that they do _not_ know everything, and so that they must tread with caution, what knowledge they have gained, whether by book or course, can naively be used in the wrong way: a well-meaning friend trying to help a potential suicide through depression, or a doctor who misdiagnoses a patient for failing to be thorough in his approach.

Often what we think we know is a blinder to what is real.

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Penguin-Random House Fusion

Independent authors are successful because they sell an inexpensive product in a creative way (using technology to circumvent the established publishing industry). People are simply more willing to take a risk on a $2.99 book than they are on a $14.99 book. That is the self-publishing advantage. That advantage is not dooming the publishing industry, but major book publishers must face two realities: A) their product is overpriced and B) their industry is inefficient and uncreative.

Perhaps because of this, or in spite of this, Penguin and Random House are merging.

They claim authors will benefit from this merger—that they'll get “better service.”

Can one 4-billion dollar corporation take care of authors better than two 2-billion dollar corporations can? Can the one do what the two couldn't?

This merger will take years. It won't be approved (if it is approved) until next year, and even then it'll take a while for everything to get sorted out, so what can we expect in the meantime?


As the articles suggest, this could be the first of two or more consolidations in the publishing industry. Several other large publishers could merge, especially if the new Penguin-Random House is immediately successful—they'll want to capture that lightning in a bottle, and continue to compete.

If having a “Big Six” was bad, having a “Big Three” or “Big Two” will be worse. The problems Penguin and Random House had with authors will grow worse after the merger. Royalties will go down, not up, and publishers will be even less willing to take on fresh talent. The bigger these companies get, the more they'll have to stick to old business practices, doing what worked for them before, which means selling the same bylines to the reading public.


As with any merger, they will cut where they can.

Employees (people to you and I) are going to lose their jobs in the background mechanics of either company. Penguin and Random House benefit financially by cutting salaries in places the companies overlap, and I'm sure a major publishing company, when properly motivated, can find a lot of unnecessary jetsom.

Efficiency demands this happen, but I do not imagine the extra savings will be thrown at authors. Instead of using the larger revenue and market share to take chances on unknown authors, it'll be used instead as an advantage in negotiations.


Amazon keeps things cheap, benefiting readers, by basically ripping off publishers—at least from a publisher's point of view. Self-published authors have a way around this, because they don't have the overhead of a publishing house (paying all those employees), and so can afford to give Amazon a 30% cut. 30% for a giant corporation is a bitter pill to swallow. But now, with 40% market share, this new Penguin-Random House behemoth can have a little room to work.

Amazon still has the advantage, of course, especially as they begin to soak up more self-published authors (they're practically their own publishing house). No matter how big any one publisher gets, Amazon is still the leading distributor in the world. Amazon will be hurt less by losing a publisher's business, than a publisher will be hurt by losing Amazon's.


Penguin-Random House will find more success bargaining with authors. They can force authors to take a lower royalty in exchange for a broader audience. The logic is that authors will have higher sales, and thus more money, but let's be honest: it's hard selling books, and any promise of this nature is wishful thinking.

Unlike Amazon, individual authors and agents won't have a choice in the matter. They'll have to take the lower royalty or walk away to another, smaller publisher, less able to market the same book; or self-publish with Amazon, and lose the glam that comes with a major imprint.


What publishers need is more freedom to take risks, but size won't help them do this if they're unwilling to change their culture. More money doesn't mean greater flexibility, it means more pressure to succeed.

And so Penguin-Random House will squeeze a little more money out of the system now, but at the risk of sacrificing future market share to Amazon and self-published authors.

Are Penguin and Random House merging because they don't think they can continue on as things stand—that they must unite to do battle against the self-publishing industry and Amazon? That's open for debate. They could just see an opportunity to make more money while they can make it, or they're hedging their bets. Whether this is a tactic of war, borne of necessity, or an act of convenience, it means a big change for authors expecting to get a slice of the published pie, and even for authors who choose to go it their own way.

We've seen a lot of change in the publishing industry in the last few years, and now we're seeing the first inklings of the changes to come. The largest publishers in New York are finally reacting. It's their move now, and they're starting to make it.

When the dust clears, self-publishers and Amazon (as well as Smashwords and other e-publishers) will have their turn again, but don't count on them waiting to make their move. The smartest ones will already be jockeying for positions in this new world order.

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