Category: Musings

Overthinking. Yeah, that’s me.

Overthinking. Yeah, that’s me.

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I’m frequently accused of overthinking things, and if I’m not, I should be. I don’t see it as a bad thing most of the time, although there are times when it does hold me back from making a decision or confronting something for maybe a little too long. But I think it’s important to continually question your own beliefs and motivations. If you don’t, if you assume that you’ve already arrived at the right conclusion without doing any work to get there, so how will you learn and grow?

And growth is important to me. I want to live the most honest and truthful life that I can, the best life that I can. All of the decisions I’ve ever made have brought me to the point I’m at now. Every time I’ve taken the easy path, it’s led to something that’s more difficult later on, so I need to consider things more deeply.

I didn’t come out of the box this way, however it might seem now. I’m closing in on 48 years old, and I’m still learning about myself, who I am, what I want, what I can and should or should not do.

I am openly, if not necessarily vocally, an atheist. Certain groups of folks will sneer at that, saying it means your life has no purpose because that’s what you believe, right? You may not be surprised to learn I think that’s the wrong way to look at things. Knowing that I have “no meaning, no purpose” forced on me by an external, supernatural force, I have to eventually come to the realization that any meaning or purpose there is to be in my life is something I have to discover and create on my own. If I coast through life, always taking the easy path, what meaning will life have? What purpose will I have created? I’m not interested in reaching the end of my life and looking back on a meaningless existence. Evolution has gifted me with consciousness, with self-awareness, and with an intellect. If I don’t use that, all of it, am I even fully sapient?

So yes, I question my beliefs, I question my motivations, I question my actions. I overthink things. And I look at things after-the-fact to see what I can learn from how they turned out. Am I having an impact on the people around me? On the pieces of society I touch? On the world?

What am I doing to make the world a better place? Will my actions, the story of my life, add up to having been a positive impact on the world, however small, considering I am one of billions? What can I do to make that tiny amount of good larger?

Am I setting a good example?

I want to, but I don’t know that I always am.

Something to work on. Something to think about.

Be well, everyone.

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Freedom of Expression

Freedom of Expression

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Image from the World Forum for Democracy.

The concept of freedom of speech, or freedom of expression as we say in Canada, seems to come out a lot in the news and the media and even online lately. It’s a concept that, in various phrasings, in various western societies, we are lucky to have. It’s a wonderful protection, but it doesn’t mean what many people seem to think it means.

Freedom of expression only means that the government can’t shut you up, can’t legally come and tell you to stop saying or writing or printing whatever you are saying or writing or printing. That’s all.

Because the beautiful and horrible thing about freedom of expression is that WE ALL HAVE IT.

What seems to be lost on many people is that freedom of expression doesn’t mean freedom from disagreement or criticism. It doesn’t mean that I have to let you say whatever you want because you have freedom of expression. Since I have that freedom too, it is perfectly okay for me to call you on being a douchebag, or an idiot, or just plain wrong.

Really.

No one has to respect your opinion. I have to respect that you have an opinion, but not what that opinion is. If I disagree with the opinion, I’m well within my own rights to tell you that, to tell you you’re wrong, to argue with you until one of us goes away.

You can, if you like, cry unfair or cry foul or just cry, but that doesn’t change my right to disagree. In fact, it doesn’t change anything. You have the right to possess whatever opinion, on anything, you want, however informed or uniformed it might be. But the right to having that opinion doesn’t automatically grant you the right to an audience for that opinion. If you find one, good for you, but that doesn’t abrogate anything else I’ve written here. However big your audience is, however much you enjoy your own echo chamber, it doesn’t matter. I can still disagree. I can still tell you you’re wrong. I can still argue against you.

The counterpoint is that you don’t have to argue back, you don’t have to listen, you don’t have to believe what I say. You have every right to ignore me completely, but then, I don’t have to let it go, either.

And I’m not infringing on your rights if I don’t. What so many people seem to miss is that there’s another path rather than whining about how your free speech is being violated when it isn’t. When someone argues against your opinion, you could engage with them, listen and study and understand and see if maybe their argument has some merit. You could try to have an open mind or you could try to open their mind. Or both.

You could have a discussion. Find a place where your freedom and theirs meet. It may be that neither one of you convinces the other, and that’s okay, because, when all is said and done, you have the freedom to hold whatever opinion you like.

So do I.

And neither one of us has to agree with the other.

Be well, everyone.

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Lessons from Social Media

Lessons from Social Media

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So I left off yesterday with the idea that social media teaches you things.

In particular, it teaches you things about your friends. There’s a lot of stupid/ridiculous/crazy stuff being posted on Facebook. In fairness, it’s on every other social network as well, but Facebook, and Twitter to a lesser extent, is where I see the most because that’s where I’m hanging out.

For example, I love cats. In particular, I love my cat. I post a very small handful of pictures of my cat to Facebook and/or Twitter on an annual basis. I think a lot of people are in the same boat. Pets are part of our lives, part of our families.

But there’s a small group of people for whom their pets are their lives, and that’s fine, too, but you can over share your pet just like some people over share their children. To me, it’s great that you love your cat, and I’m thrilled that you have him/her/them in your life, but I’m not really interested in you filling my timeline with pictures of the little/big fur ball. Unless s/he’s doing something spectacularly entertaining, s/he looks more or less the same sitting on the couch, and the chair, line the floor, stretched out on the porch, or even sitting on top of your refrigerator. The same goes for your dog. Your goldfish. Your guinea pig. Your parakeet. Your giant boa constrictor.

And really, I’ll say the same for your kids. Post big things, exciting things, fun things. Everyone has problems with their homework sometimes, and sometimes as a parent we can’t help as much as we’d like to. Basics math was a long time ago. Don’t stress about it, and don’t post about it every night.

Far worse are all of the ridiculous recirculated hoaxes, scams, prayers, conspiracy theories, etc on cluttering up my time stream. Really, enough. Social media teaches you things about some of your friends that you’d rather you didn’t know.

But sometimes these things are very important.

For example, it teaches you which of your friends might actually be just a little bit crazy.

You know who I’m talking about: the folks who take at face value, or embrace wholeheartedly, every ridiculous statement or idea to come along. These are frequently the same people who believe that there are a large number of things that “they” don’t want you to know. They believe in chem trails and homeopathy and the power of marijuana to cure any disease ever known to man. They wish that the rest of us would just wake up and see the world as it really is instead of how society tells to see it. An awful lot of them also seem to believe in astrology, but that’s a little more widespread among otherwise rational people too.

Social media teaches you that some people don’t understand what the phrase “highlight reel” really means. Breakfast (and lunch, and dinner) updates. The colour of their shoes, socks, and pants. What they bought at the grocery store. The TV channel they can’t be bothered to change. That they just stubbed their toe on the ironing board.

It teaches you which of your friends not to be trapped alone with in a social situation so you can minimize the risk of them placing a hand on your forehead and starting to pray out loud. I am happy if you want me in your thoughts and prayers, because if I’m going through some tough $hi7 I’ll take whatever positive energy anyone cares to send my way, and it’s nice to know you prefer me on this side of the grass. Knowing that is bound to help help my mood, straighten my spine, and help me believe things can better.

But please understand that I am an atheist and humanist. You can believe whatever you want, however crazy it is, and I don’t really care. But I’m not obligated to sit still for it. I’ll be pleasant, and I’ll be polite, but I’ll be firm. With that in mind, it might not surprise you to learn that if the majority of your posts are connected to your religion, and the love you have in the relationship you share God, Jesus, Allah, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster, I’ve probably already tuned down your impact on my timeline. Sorry about that.

Social media teaches you how to write clearly, or at least more clearly. I mean, it should teach you that. Politeness and clarity cost nothing. It should reinforce some grammatical rules, because without emotional or tonal content to a message, it’s not enough for your words to be vaguely understood. If I don’t get what you’re trying to say, that might partly be the mental space I’m coming from, but there’s a much better chance that you’ve chosen the wrong words, the wrong phrasing, the wrong short forms, or the wrong butchered spelling and grammar. If I don’t receive the meaning you’re trying to communicate because you didn’t communicate it clearly, that’s not my fault, it’s yours.

The same lack of emotional context shift has mated with the ease of non-face-to-face communication offered by the internet to make some of us forget a few things. Like common courtesy. Like how not to be a jerk. Like to actually consider what you’re going to say, and not assume that your first impulse is the best one.

But I digress.

There are also things social media should teach us.

It should teach us that if we’re not paying for the service then we’re not the consumers. We are the audience, the produce, the generators of data for the real users. And the real users are the services themselves. They use the data we generate to sell advertising and generate revenue to keep themselves in business. That’s not cynicism. It’s economics. You’ll notice I haven’t abandoned Facebook or Twitter over a few ads, especially since the algorithms are getting better at showing me things there’s some chance I might be interested in.

Social media should teach us to not automatically believe everything we see. Just because it’s on the internet doesn’t make it so. A corollary: just because someone is wrong on the internet, doesn’t make it important. Demand evidence and think critically. Pick your battles.

It should teach us to understand we only need to worry about the stupidity of other people and other groups when they are actively putting the rest of us in danger. Yes, anti-vaccination movement, I am specifically talking to you here. And others.

Social media has unfortunately helped mainstream media teach us that there’s far more evil in the world that we want to believe. But it should also be teaching us the flipside: there’s far more good stuff to be found in the universe than any of us ever thought. But, while I don’t believe that “evil will always triumph because good is dumb,” it’s a fact of life that good is often lazy, which lets some people get away with far more than they should be able to in most situations.

So, to recap: narcissists, religious nuts, crazy people, lessons learned and lessons we should have learned. What else?

Oh, how about “native advertising”, i.e. ads disguised as news joining the opinions disguised as news that have been around for a long time. It’s disturbing to me that even trusted news sources are basically taking press releases from whoever sends them one and treating it as news. Then we get excited/upset and share it with everyone we know.

And there are cats. Lots and lots of cats.

Oh, and memes. Funny photos. No-funny photos. Infographics.

And entertainment. There’s lots and lots of bread and circuses to choose from.

Like most things, social media is neither good nor bad, and moderation is probably a good idea. It is what we make of it, and your experience will be different than mine or anyone else’s. I suggest trying to maximize the value you take from it, but that value is up to you to determine.

If you want to catch me on Facebook or Twitter, please feel free. I don’t have unlimited time, but I’m more than willing to interact. Religious nuts and crazy people need not apply. Narcissism I have a slightly higher tolerance for because it’s easier to skim past when I need to. Entertainment is nice, stupidity is not, and libel should expect to be treated with relaxed disdain and facts.

What do I post? Big, exciting, and fun events in my life and my family’s. I’ll toss up the occasional meme or photo that’s meant to entertain, share the occasional article that’s meant to make you think, promote the occasional thing a friend is working on, and once in a while post a picture of my cat. Like this.

IMG_2826 cropped

Be well, everyone.

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Issues With Social Media

Issues With Social Media

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dreamstimefree_206298So I’m not sure when exactly I started to have issues with social media.

I don’t mean I’m tired of Twitter, because right now I’m not. I’ve taken several long breaks from twitter in the last few years, one just trying to deal with things, and the others just because I get tired of all the work of having to filter for the few people who are actually interactive on the service. Social networking shouldn’t be work.

The problem with Twitter is not Twitter, but how I used to treat it, and how most people still do. It’s not a numbers game. Do I need tens of thousands of followers or people following me just so I follow them back to boost their numbers? The answer is no, by the way.

Back when I first started seriously considering the author route, I spent too much time with twitter, particularly focused on the number of followers I was building, because it was all about building the platform, right? If someone did a follow Friday while I was online, I did a quick investigation of every person in the list and if they appeared to be human being, instantly followed them. Most of them followed back. I still do that a little, but mostly only when someone includes me in that list, and I’m a little more judicious with my own “hey, follow these people” lists.

Prior to that. I’d been doing Twitter the personal way: following people I knew, following interesting chats and conversations (and following people involved in those), and following a small handful of celebrities and famous authors I thought might have something interesting to say. I went from well under 500 followers more than 1500 in a relatively short period of time, and which point I realized I was devoting way too much time to the process and not nearly enough to the conversation, please my time stream had turned into a series of links, quotes, and “look at me”.

Not what I wanted, and it still isn’t. I keep trying to get back to the Twitter I used to have, the interactive conversation/party I fell in love with in the early days. Some days, it’s there and some days it isn’t. But the important thing is that I still have friends there.

Facebook is a different matter.

Disregarding the couple of things that constantly irritate me about it (if I set my timeline to most recent, it really needs to stay there) Facebook has the potential to be more attractive to me, and on a deeper level, than Twitter. It has more ways to share and interact and a lot of potential to use those ways to have fun and meet/stay in touch with friends, or have an audience.

It’s also more narcissistic.

Paraphrasing Steven Furtick, never compare someone else’s highlight reel to your everyday life. This is especially good advice when you’re on Facebook. Most people are more likely to post only the good things about themselves, their lives, and the things they enjoy. Keeping things positive is good, and it’s nice to be able to keep up with the important events in your friends’ lives, and especially to have something to talk about when you see the ones who are part of your real world as well.

The problem I’m finding lately, and it may in part be due to circumstances in my own real world, but I don’t think so, is that the highlight reels a lot of people are presenting actually don’t compare to my everyday life.

To be clear, I am not saying that my life is particularly interesting or exciting. It is my life, though, and if I don’t like something about it, I should make an effort to change that thing. Aside from the changes that are always in progress because life isn’t static.

But for myself, I post major events. I don’t believe anyone particularly cares that for the 17,342nd morning in a row I had toast for breakfast. (Actually, whenever you read this, I probably did have toast for breakfast because that’s what I have those almost every morning. I love toast.) I also have my doubts that anyone cares what I’m wearing shoes to work (the black ones), or that I’m tired after a long day (isn’t everyone?), or that for my entire vacation to Las Vegas I spent 12 hours a day in front of the slot machines and here are the 400 pictures to prove it (never been to Vegas, but if I ever go, it won’t be to gamble).

I post fun things, exciting things, big things. Pictures from our trip to a major science fiction convention. Publication of a story. Major events in my children’s lives. The fact that all three of my kids are willing to sit at a table with their parents and learn how to play Dungeons & Dragons. Stuff like that.

And I try to interact with my friends as much as I kind. The “Like” button is addictive, but comments work better.

I get that I’m not alone. I also get that we’re not a majority.

But I also get that there’s more to social media. It teaches things, too, but I think that’s an issue for another post as this one is already going long.

Be well, everyone.

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Silver Surfer Pickles

Silver Surfer Pickles

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It’s very unusual for me to remember my dreams, or even that I had dreams at all, which is partly why I feel the need to share this one.

I wander into a hotel that happens to be hosting a Science Fiction convention. Signage identifies it as Philcon (where I’ve never been but hear good things) and the colour scheme of the walls, carpet, and furniture is a variety of dark reds.

It’s very early in the con and many things are still being set up, but there are people lining up for panels and a large amphitheatre type room starting to fill for a special presentation of some kind. As I wander down one aisle, I come across a booth labelled Silver Surfer Pickles, where Stan Lee is sitting having lunch by himself. No one seems to have noticed. There are also no pickles present.

But since it’s Stan Lee, and he’s by himself, I walk up to the booth and say hello. He’s quite friendly and we spend several minutes talking until I look down at his lunch to see that it consists entirely of sliced red pickles.

Of course I asked, and Mr. Lee explained that these were from an earlier trial batch. They tasted great, but came out the wrong colour. The process is down now and the silver ones would be arriving at any moment. Either way, I thought they were an interesting idea and mentioned that my wife (who has a fondness for all kinds of pickled things) would probably love them.

He suspiciously looked around then hunched over an empty jar with a black marker. When he straightened up again, he’d signed (and personalized) the label, slipping it into a small box which he then pressed it into my hands. A forklift came stuttering down the aisle with a skid of shrink wrapped pickle jars and Mr. Lee told me to make sure I came back to try the real thing.

We shook hands and I wandered off down the aisle to the sound of breaking glass, clutching my treasure.

Strange that I woke up just then. I wonder what I planned to do with the jar.

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How to Turn a 3k Short Story into an 11k Novelette in 3 Easy Steps

How to Turn a 3k Short Story into an 11k Novelette in 3 Easy Steps

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It’s not as hard as it sounds, especially when you’re writing short stories in a big universe that you’ve already got three short novels set in with literally dozens of neat little things you could pick up. And some of them aren’t so little. So…

1. Start with a clear idea for a short story

Most of the short stories I plan to write this year fall into the Warforge universe. I’d like to have about 20 to go along with the three short novels in the first triad (not trilogy as I’m still debating whether to weave them back together into a single story or not). “Closing Time” was originally about the shutting down and locking up of a secret lab that serves as a pivotal location for an important plot point. The scientists involved in that lab had to get out in advance of an invasion and the military wanted to make sure nothing cool was left lying around. But the scientists aren’t part of the original story, so I thought it might be fun.

2. Love the POV character

Janis immediately started speaking inside my head. She’s a junior military intelligence operative (not a spoiler—this is fairly clear by the end of page 2) with a science background. In theory the junior member of the science team, she’s also the core of their security, but they don’t really know that. She’s also, smart, tough, and good at following orders. There was more of her story to tell than I’d initially planned.

3. Decide there are other things you’d like to resolve

And what helped there being more to tell was that I quickly thought it would be neat to tie in  a couple of other things that come up in the main narrative, but that I won’t give away here. And I decided to refine the invasion timeline and early progression a little more.

So what started out as a short story about a small group of scientists sealing their secret lab and fleeing the planet a few minutes before the Ogres arrived, turned into a short saga about the things they had to go through while trying to get away.

Original projected length = 3,000 words.

Actual first draft = 10,811 words.

Projected final draft (based on previous experience) = 12,500 words.

I’m starting to wonder if I can write a short story anymore.

Be well, everyone.

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Not a Zombie Parody Song

Not a Zombie Parody Song

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So I know I said I’d post a zombie parody song today.  It runs to the tune of “Bad Side of the Moon” by April Wine, replacing “Bad” with “Dead” and rewriting most of the rest of the song in not so subtle ways.  In fact, it’s not all that subtle at all, but it is kind of funny, but maybe only if you’re both an April Wine fan and entertained by the idea of taking down a few of the walking dead.

This is not it.

I opened up the file with the full intention of copying and pasting it into the very space I’m typing over right now and then I didn’t.  And I’m not going to.  Not only that, I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around why that is.  Am I getting sqeamish in the long run up to my 40th birthday?  Maybe, on some very basic, instinctive level I believe it completely sucks.  Either or, maybe.  It’s not that horrific and I’d really say it falls under comedic horror, anyway.

So why don’t I want to post it?

It’s not something I’d normally write, which isn’t bad in and of itself, and it was a neat little experiment.  I keeps the tone and the rhythm of the original song very well, if I do say so myself.  I’m not adverse to zombies: I’ve written a handful of zombie short stories and flash pieces plus several poems featuring zombies.  I posted something that might qualify as zombie erotica on my live journal page back in November.  At the time, I debated posting the story over some misguided impression that my kids might read my blog, eventually concluding I was probably deluding myself that would happen.  Someday, maybe, but not just yet.

What do I want them to think when they do start reading my blog and skim back through the archives?  Is that it?  I don’t want them to think I do things for shock value, I don’t want them to think I back away from things because I’m worried about other people or my own fears, and I don’t want them to think I’m some stupid old goofball with a zombie fixation.  None of these things are true.  All I really want them to think is that they can make their own informed decisions about what to think.

Bringing us back to what is my problem about posting this silly little zombie parody song?  I don’t know.  There’s nothing wrong with indecision in an information vacuum.  The reasoning will bubble up to conscious levels or it won’t.  If it does, I’ll make the decision then.  In the meantime, I don’t mean to tease, and just in case you really need something zombie related to complete your day, I will post here the one and only zombie sonnet I’ve ever written: “And Yet In Death”.

{And Yet In Death removed due to submission for potential publication.  In the event of rejection, I’ll put it back up.}

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