Friday, April 24, 2009

Blooming thoughts

Since life is fleeting, its important where you put your focus. I've learned that life reflects your mindset. Spring is in full force and I hear so many people sneezing, complaining about allergies, etc. Where I live, pollen rules. In fact, the area I live in is considered the allergy capital of the world. I've been victim to the sneezing, etc. I noticed my car was covered in the dusty pollen. Instead of fretting over this, I've decide to change my focus. I looked up from my car to see my azalea bushes blooming in beautiful pink and white flowers. Instead of sneezing, I was in awe. I felt grateful for the magnificent floral display. Conversely, I work with a woman who sees life on the dark side. She cannot see the flowers because the pollen would have consumed her. It doesn't matter what the subject is, she only sees the dark implications from it. As a result, she is sick quite often. She suffers from depression more often than not and is generally unhappy. She tends to have way more bad luck than I do. I don't believe any of this is coincidence. I used to be like that. When I walked on the dark side, I suffered more illness than I care to relate. When I say dark side, I don't mean the love of scary movies or spooky stories. I mean the love of seeing every glass as half empty. The love of listening and telling all the negative gossip you can find. When you put yourself into a negative mindset, you tend to set yourself up for a fall. The negative coworker just found out that she has an ulcer. When you suffer chronic illnesses, many times its your body giving you a wake up call. Even Edgar Allen Poe, who used the dark recesses of his mind, suffered from depression and persistent health issues. Is it possible to create such dark creative prose without a dark mindset? I think so. If you do your best to find the laughter and lightness of life, it fuels the creative juices. I've enjoyed writing dark humor over the years. At the same time, I love the lighter side of creativity too. There's no denying that a dark mind can produce intense dark literature. However, if a writer wants to channel that part of himself, it would do him good to shake it off after he's completed his work. Go to the theater, watch a comedy or just take a walk in a beautiful garden. Your body, mind and soul will greatly appreciate it.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Today is a gift

My 40 yr old niece had heart failure and is now in a coma. Yesterday she was taken off life support. She is now breathing on her own and we wait. She became a widow three years ago when her husband fell asleep at the wheel, driving home from work. The stress from all of that didn't help her. Her heart failure really came as a surprise to us. Also, her young adult daughter, who was married last year, is three months pregnant. The daughter has to make life and death decisions concerning her mother. My sister has to watch her daughter in a coma. I am really appreciating my family each day.
I know how fragile life is. I've lost both of my parents to heart disease. I do everything in my power to make good life choices so I'll be around a long time for my children. I think this not only includes diet and exercise, but also meditation or some sort of stress release. Life is meant to be fun. Laughter has been proven to be very healing. Music is also food for the soul. I try to limit myself from focusing on all the bad news, etc. As it is, stress sometimes throws itself at you whether you like it or not. The key is how you deal with it. My sister was telling us how she wanted to donate her skeleton to a med school. I added that it might be interesting to do the same but before that I wanted my skeleton to be tied up to strings like a marionette's puppet and danced around. Sure that's crazy talk but it did lighten the moment for my great-niece who has been suffering for a week now since her mother has been in a coma.
Situations like this really bring home the fact that life is a gift. I see life as a string of pearls. It is one long string of beautiful shiny todays.

Friday, April 17, 2009

The world of big business

The Amazon controversy continues for some. This author says that she's been censored by Amazon and isn't happy. Anytime a company is massive, like Amazon or Walmart, they have dominance. Naturally, they will use their size as a powerful marketing tool. They are able to buy in bulk and pass the savings along to the consumer. They are able to have the upper hand in negotiating with their suppliers. If a supplier wants to have their product available to millions, they are forced to play by their rules. Sometimes a few toes are stepped on in the process. For example, Walmart has strict cost guidelines which force many manufactures to cut corners with their products in order to stay within the Walmart pricing strategy. Sometimes this isn't always good for the consumer when a product isn't up to its usual standards or packaged in a smaller size. As far as Amazon is concerned, they are able to manipulate what they sell as well. They will favor the big publishers because that's where the money is. In the process, sometimes the smaller guys are shuffled around in a way that may not be fair. That is the way business is conducted, it isn't always fair. However, when Facebook decided to make some very unpopular changes, their users raised a protest. As a result, they decided to lean in favor of their users. They know where their numbers come from and how competetive internet business is. Amazon has listened to their customers to some extent. Amazon knows how to create a profitable business, which isn't easy in times like these. Nevertheless, they don't always play fair. It would be naive to think that big business is always on the up and up with its consumers. They wouldn't be on top of the heap if they didn't know how to play the game. Its up to each individual to decide what they want to do. Do they want to fight for the rights of a few? Its important to keep an eye on situations like this in case it starts to snowball into something big. Nothing big ever started out that way. It always starts out one step at a time. Walmart started with just one store. Amazon was a start up internet business once upon a time. That is why there are government and business watch dog groups, to keep the massive powers in check. Its the Democratic way.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Amazon does it again

Amazon has been in several controversial marketing ploys and apparently they aren't going to change any time soon. Previously, Amazon had decided to quit carrying POD (print on demand) books on their site. After sorting through all the reasons behind the decision, one remained clear, they wanted to create a market for their own CreateSpace POD publishing sector. They figured that they would be cutting into their own POD sales by selling competing POD books. They loosely categorized many publishers into the POD category, even if they weren't strictly POD books. This raised an uproar in the publishing community. Now that time has passed, Amazon has started allowing select books, which they previously restricted, back into their warehouse. I'm not sure if they are using sales rank as an indicator or not.
This brings us to their new decision. They have decided to remove the sales rankings from all books which contain homosexual or adult content. The result of this decision would mean that these books would not come up on their search engine, since it uses sales ranks as part of its process. The literary community has been in an uproar over this latest decision by Amazon. It also seems that romance books are being selectively included in this removal. If a book has adult content, then label it as such, but don't remove it. Amazon's filtering is also removing books without adult content.
Now they are responding that this was a glitch.
Of course, they won't fix this overnight but at least there is progress. Never doubt what a large group of individuals can do when banded together for a common cause.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Mental Blocks

What do you do when you've reached a creativity block? It doesn't matter if you're an artist, writer or just about any career that requires creativity. Slumps happen! So, what do you do? First off, don't fight it. Just continue to breath, move, watch, listen and live. Sometimes inspiration can come in the least expected ways. Relax and follow other creative people. More than likely, they had their own slumps.
My son had a notebook. It was blank and we were traveling in the car. My husband was driving. I decided to have a writing game. My mother used to do similar games when I was a kid. I wrote the beginning of a story and handed it to him. He was to write a few paragraphs and hand it back to me. I added to that. We went back and forth until we felt it was time to end it. We wrote off the top of our heads with no particular idea in mind. We ended up coming up with some very funny and creative stories. My mother did a similar game except it was a group participation story. About four+ people sat at a table and wrote the opening lines to a story. Then they folded the paper over, covering what they wrote except for the ending line or ending words. It was the job of the next person to finish the sentence or thought and continue with their own story lines. The papers went around the table until the paper was filled up. At that point, whatever paper you had in front of you, you concluded. The results were very funny and insightful short stories. These are a few ways to get your creative juices flowing.
The bottom line is to follow your passion. Do what strikes your fancy and see where it leads. Behind it all, know what you want. Its good to occasionally make a list of what you want. It gives you something to focus on. Your list will change as you do. Remember if you stare too much at the closed door, you won't see the open one. Live each day with purpose. Its OK to stop and smell the flowers. All work and no play makes for a very unhappy individual. Find what makes you happy and enjoy it. Eventually, creativity will follow. Don't spend too much time on the "hows". If you know what you want and do what makes you happy, things will fall into place. I've asked "successful" people (writers, actors, etc) how they did it. Generally they tell me that they never gave up and just did what they loved. They said that when they worried or stressed over it, they stalled. It was when they stopped all that they started to succeed. The author Neil Gaiman once said that when it starts to become "work" and stops being fun, he'll stop. Until then, he said he'll write as inspiration dictates.
Don't restrict yourself either. If you're a writer, its OK to write within different genres. You don't have to stick within your chosen field if you don't want to. You're the creator of your life. You can take advice or leave it. Its entirely up to you. Here's to your dreams, may they all come true!

Monday, April 6, 2009

Confusing Words

Confusing words in the English language have always been a pet peeve for those who strive to promote good grammar, correct spelling and all around great prose. There is a nice site which offers assistance to those who need help with confusing words.
Everyone needs help now and then. There are other sites intended to help with confusing words.
Good English is based on meanings, pronunciations, and spelling of words. The study of Semantics is important in order to write an intelligent discourse and have it understood correctly. Knowing the meanings and/or multiple meanings of words can greatly improve your writing. It is so easy to be misunderstood by a genre of readers who may see a word in one way when you meant it in another way. Avoiding a double entendre, which is French for "double meaning" can be invaluable. A double entedre usually implies a slip of the word which could have embarrassing implications.
The English language has evolved many times over the centuries. Today, there is UK English and American English. Even so, with the internet and movies, the language is blending more and more everyday. Nonetheless, there are pioneers in the development of language. None greater than those who write the guidebooks on language. The dictionary is the word bible for writers and speakers. In the United States, the great pioneer in making dictionaries was Noah Webster. His first work, which was published in 1806, advocated spelling head as hed and thumb as thum; but his efforts at spelling reform were generally rejected by the public. In other respects, however, his work was widely accepted; and in 1828, his well-known An American Dictionary of the English language began to exert its lasting influence on English in this country. Lexicographers since Webster have been somewhat more reliable than he is reporting actual usage but they, too, have had to report spelling as it is found in printed sources. Thus, spelling has become fixed and largely unchangeable, although it frequently does not represent actual pronunciation and often departs from common sense.
Here's to the evolution of language. Every writer has a part in this process. For example, Shakespeare wrote at a time when English was not a standard being taught to the general populace. As a result, he invented new words and grammar rules which were later followed. Shakespeare's plays became popular in the late seventeenth and eighteenth century and they helped contribute to the standardization of the English language

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Disclaimers for books

In this day and age everything has a disclaimer. As every lawyer knows, disclaimers do not protect you from lawsuits. However ,we use them in order to discourage the protesters. I found this group of book disclaimers quite interesting and humorous. There is a collection of real textbook disclaimers as well humorous ones to protest the original disclaimers. This site is geared toward science textbooks.
Some of the population is at odds with science when they feel it contradicts their stance on creationism. The groups who take the bible literally are actively fighting against evolution being taught to young impressionable minds, among other things. You can see their institute here. You decide for yourself. I believe in many things you cannot see, but I also believe in science too. I don't see why the two should be at odds with each other. Their latest discourse on flight evolution was especially, uh, interesting, yeah that's it. I'm a firm believer that you shouldn't rant against or for something if you haven't read both sides of the argument. I did my research and I feel my opinion is based on intelligent research, facts, etc.
In order to look at the other side to this coin, check out The Bad Astronomy Blog Phil Plait's blog from Discover, rants on this very subject, among other things. There are always shades of gray in any subject. No one group should force their opinion onto others, no matter how good they think it is. We were created with thinking minds, use them, don't limit them.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Write your Congressman

Remember the controversy about old children's books being destroyed due to a misinterpretation of a new law? Well, here is a link about it. The Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008 was intended to protect children from children's products that contain lead. Older books, do contain minute traces of lead. I grew up reading these books as did my parents and their parents. We suffered no ill effects from reading these books. I understand the intention behind this law. It makes sense in what it is trying to do. However, there must be some guidelines and exceptions. It is sad to see the old Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew books being destroyed for future generations to enjoy. Sure, these titles can be bought in newer versions, but some titles can't. I still have some of my old favorites and passed them down to my children.
U.S. Representative Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.) recently introduced legislation to amend the CPSIA to exempt ordinary books from the lead limits within the bill. This legislation specifically exempts books and would ensure that children continue to have access to safe, educational and entertaining reading materials. You need to write your congressman in order to let them know that this legislation needs to pass.
Here is a link to the text of the amendment proposed.