…about those resolutions we just made

6 January 2012

Okay, by a show of hands, how many of us have already blown one or more of our New Year’s resolutions? Come on – don’t be shy. My hand is up too. What is it that compels us to swear by the names of such folk heroes as Johnnie Walker, Sam Adams or Jack Daniel, to do something grand and life changing? More importantly, why do we allow those plans crash to the floor so easily?

Cocktail by candle light 1: "With some of...

Some would declare, perhaps a tad self-righteously, that it is just an arbitrary date and that resolutions are just as valid at any time. They are right, but it is that kind of killjoy behaviour that can really kill the party.

An interesting theory is that this long-standing tradition is timed to coincide with the New Moon being in Capricorn. Apparently, this is a time highly suited to making inner, personal changes. If astrology is not your thing, this theory won’t float your boat.

Then there is the hybrid of these two camps. This group would say that the New Year is symbolic. Like freshly fallen snow, it is pure, unspoiled, and not yet christened by the neighbour’s dog.

Regardless of how we got there, a huge percentage of us make titanic resolutions that get crushed by the glacial harshness of day-to-day living. The sources I’ve read seem to agree that only one in five of us will actually keep them. Frankly, that’s a pretty crappy average. So what goes wrong?

The biggest problem, so the experts say, is that our resolutions are too vague. Saying “I resolve to be nicer,” sounds okay, but what does that actually look like? How will I know if I’m succeeding? There’s no measurable outcome and no real definition of the goal. From a project management perspective, it’s a big boat heading for a nasty chunk of ice.

Not far behind being vague is being ridiculously optimistic. Pie-in-the-sky dreams with no thought given to the steps to make them happen are ships that sink in dry-dock. I can resolve to earn a million dollars in the year ahead but without a plan of action, I probably won’t.

So how do we make resolutions we can keep? One thought is to “aim low,” so that it is nearly impossible to fail. Yeah, that’s not a very good option, but it would improve the chances of success.

A better option is to really think about what it is that you want to do in the coming year. Start with a realistic outcome, and work out how to make it happen. Success won’t come from the big things as often as it will come from persevering – putting one foot in front of the other.

Celebrate the little successes. It is easy to expect perfection in an instant, and then flog ourselves when we trip over our own humanity. That makes about as much sense as deciding to go to the store, and then quitting in a self-deprecating huff when we aren’t there in our first step out the front door.

I remember being told, “happy is the one who dreams dreams and is willing to pay the price to make them a reality.” Have an amazing 2012 everyone! Dream big! Then do the work to make those dreams happen.


…about the future of imagination

27 December 2011

Maybe I’m just old, but I remember when a certain Danish toy company’s prime offering was a generic box of interconnecting blocks. I would take those blocks and make whatever my imagination could assemble. Sure, some of the things I made bore only a vague resemblance to what I declared them to be. To me though, that was no different from the pictures I gave my grandmother to put on her fridge. I knew the members of my family weren’t stick people. They were representations, not portraits.
4-year-old boy painting Revell model

The same was true of my plastic-block racing cars and airplanes. They were representations, real-world hooks I used to make connections between my dreams and my reality. My imagination was just the free-flowing pipeline that brought dreams and reality together in that wonderful land called Play.

I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with kits that include specialized pieces to model scenes from movies and television programs. I had those too; only they were plastic models that were made more for display than for play. They taught me some very important life skills, like RTFM*, or “if you don’t open a window first you’ll get a bitch of a headache from the glue and paint fumes.”

My concern is for the future of imagination. Learning how to read and follow instructions is good. Still, someone had to imagine the project being built. Even the “fine manual” had to be imagined before it could be written.

If we’ve only learned how to read and follow, who will dream and invent? “In the Valley of the Blind, the one-eyed man is king.” Is that where were headed, toward shortsighted inventions and half-seen plans? Or are we already there?

*RTFM = “read the fine manual,” or something like that…

…about creativity

10 November 2011

Creativity is a puzzling creature. Or perhaps, I just make it more puzzling than it needs to be.

jigsaw puzzle piecesA few days ago, I did dangerously close to nothing all day. Yet from 5pm onward, I wrote, researched, and wrote some more. It was almost midnight when I finally toddled off to bed. I had posted a blog, written a chapter for my NaNoWriMo novel, and other up some interesting and important research that will enhance my novel’s credibility.

Being up that late wouldn’t be a problem, except that I like to go for a walk in the early morning. If I nap during the day, I find that it saps me of my energy rather than giving me more energy. I debated the idea of going all “creature of the night.” I’ve always preferred the feeling of the middle-of-the-night to the middle-of-the-day. I began to speculate on why this might be.

Perhaps, I thought, with fewer people conscious during the sunless hours, there is less localized psychic clutter that seems to pervade the day. Granted, on a planetary scale, there are more people awake at the actual time I call “night” here in Toronto. My “night” is “day” for a good chunk of Europe Asia and Africa. Oh, and Australia too – let’s not forget the awesome Aussies! Of course, it might just be that I groove to the beat of their energies more than I do to the American ones. I mean, as far as I understand it, distance in the physical sense has no impact at the psychic levels.

I’m probably looking way too far out-of-the-box on this one. The difference between my levels of creativity in the day and in the night may simply be a matter of distraction. Human beings are diurnal (yes, that is my “new word of the day” and put simply, it is the opposite of “nocturnal”). So, I’m more creative when I’m less distracted. I’m less distracted when there are fewer distractions. There you go! I just need to be active when most people aren’t!

Okay, maybe this doesn’t solve my personal creativity issues, but it does give me a cool idea for supernatural thriller that I could write! So maybe that’s the key to creativity: rambling mindlessly until something catches on the switch and turns that EUREKA! light bulb on! I’ve heard stranger explanations…

…about writing the next great novel

3 November 2011

Here we are in November again. Outside my window, the trees are losing their leaves, the temperature is dropping, and the squirrels are stocking up their pantries (and themselves). As the weather encourages me indoors, my thoughts turn to… …NaNoWriMo!

NaNoWriMo Participant BadgeOkay, a few of you nodded knowingly, while the rest did a collective “huh?” NaNoWriMo is the crunched-down form of National Novel Writing Month, held every November for the past thirteen years. I’ve heard some writers call participation in this event a rite of passage, or would that be a WRITE of passage? Sorry, had to be done.

So what is the objective? Why, only to write a novel in a month. Okay, not quite. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to write 50,000 words of first-draft material for a novel. Depending on whom you ask, novels are usually in the area of 80,000-120,000 words, seriously edited from that embryonic first-draft state. Still, the journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step, to get philosophical about it.  And heck, there are some good novels that have really come out of this process. Real, in-your-bookstore novels! No kidding!

This isn’t my first attempt at NaNoWriMo stardom. In fact, this will be my third attempt in four years. Ask me how many times I’ve hit the target, and I will suddenly notice something very interesting on the ceiling overhead. Yes, I am zero-for-two. Not so good.

So, what has taken me down? Let me introduce you to a little gremlin called my Inner Editor.

Inner Editor can be a very useful guy when proofreading material, sifting through research, or critiquing a piece of writing. He’s that little voice in my head that looks over an article and says, “That’s crap!” He loves the red ink of correction. Often, he is rather cynical. He never edits himself, though, speaking his mind far more clearly than I’d prefer. And I really don’t know what back alley he learned his vocabulary in, but it is crazy inappropriate for those under the age of about a hundred.

Like I said, though, Inner Editor, or “I.E.” as I sometimes call him, can be very useful when he’s kept in his place. And there’s the trick – keeping him in his place. There are places he has no business being. He’s lousy in a brainstorming session. He’s even worse in Brainstorming Phase 2, called Writing the First Draft. Which brings us back to NaNoWriMo.

With a little help from my friends, I realized that I.E. does his best work by getting me to look ahead, or to look behind. He’ll tell me that I won’t get anywhere with this or that. He’ll slag me for the past and gleefully tell me that I’m just stuck in a loop. The one thing he’ll never talk about is what I am doing right now. Now is real, and he can’t work with that. Past is in my memory, and future is in my imagination. They aren’t real, so he can screw around with them all he likes, taking my concentration along for the ride.

So how will I face down this snarky little gremlin?  There’s no point in yelling at him. Get into it with him, and my train of thought will leave the station without me. He wins, and I’m back to sinking baskets with wadded-up sheets of paper. No, the key is in being in the present moment.  This present moment is all I can really control. Stay in that place, and I.E. can’t touch me. He’s crafty, and he’ll keep trying to coax me back into his world. I can’t let him.

As a writer, I had to decide whose fiction I wanted, his or mine. If I wanted to have any sort of a first draft to edit, he had to sit quietly in a corner and let me write. Will some of my first draft be crap? Actually, I expect that most of it will crap, but it will have the nugget of way-freakin’-cool inside. That’s where I.E. comes in. That phase is called the Second Draft, and I’ll deal with that in December.

-= C =-

…about cell phone etiquette

29 October 2011

There’s nothing like a cell phone to make a self-absorbed person behave as if it really is all about him (or her, as the case may be).

Cell phone beside cup of coffeeThe guy in the coffee shop this morning was a walking illustration for self-image-defeating stereotypes. First off, he was rather short, which is always a struggle for men. For whatever reason, height equals power in the minds of most people, but especially in the minds of men who perceive themselves as short.

Add to this that, in spite of his use of the shaved-head approach to denying a receding hairline, said hairline’s notable retreat was obvious. Baldness seems to be an emasculating condition for men as well, although I’ve never understood why. I mean, my argument is that apes have lots of hair, Neanderthals have less hair, most people have even less hair (I do know some exceptions), and I have less hair than most people. Sounds like evolution to me! But I digress…

The guy received a phone call while he was in the line for his double-double, and his phone manner was so loud and brash that he drew the attention of nearly everyone in the shop. I would propose that this is exactly what he wanted to do, to convince us that he was a big shot. From a glance around the room, I’d say that my fellow patrons and I shared roughly the same thought: “Who is this loudmouth and what will it take for him to go away?”

Seriously, I don’t know why guys feel the need to posture in a room full of strangers. He had a female companion, so perhaps he was just showing-off for her benefit. I have to ask: ladies, does that shit really work on you? For her part, she just looked relieved when she was able to get him outside, away from the Looks of Death coming from not-quite-awake caffeine consumers.

I will grant that the cell phone may be no more than an accomplice in this guy’s criminal lack of good manners. It just seems to me that this little device has the ability to bring out some very undesirable behaviour. It isn’t difficult when traveling on public transit, for instance, to hear people talking about matters for which they should be seeing a therapist. The TV soap operas are suffering because we don’t need them to live vicariously through others – we can do that in a grocery store line-up.

I feel that my worst offense is that I let my cell phone manage my time and focus. I’m not talking about the cool apps that tell me when I have meetings. No, it has gone way beyond that level of control. If my cell phone rings or receives a text message, I reach for it. If my phone is on, I give it some of my attention because it might ring. If it is off, I secretly wonder if I am missing important calls. Please tell me I’m not the only one doing this!

We need to communicate. It’s the way we’re wired. As with so many other things, the tricky bits are the “when” and the “how.”

…about working from home

26 October 2011

It sounds like a dream, doesn’t it? Get up, pour a coffee, and plunk down in front of the computer. That’s the morning commute to work. Tough, huh?

Like the teaser for a movie, that’s the good bit. The not-so-good bit comes when you actually try to get something done. For some reason, people assume that working from home means not really working, so you are free to be interrupted for any reason whatsoever.

For some people, this may be okay. For me, not so much. I need time to get into my groove. Once I’m there, I can surprise even myself with how much I can accomplish. But it takes so little for my train of thought to be derailed.  Once it is off the tracks, I’m done for the afternoon.

This used to frustrate me to no end. Why couldn’t I get back with the task at hand, and just pick up where I left off? I got the beginnings of my answer from a podcast that Joanna Penn did with Livia Blackburne. Hopefully I’m not overextending her meaning when I say that creative thinking is something that, unlike logical thinking, can’t be forced. I can’t MAKE myself think creatively, but I can back off and let myself think creatively.

Is that the Muse that writers talk about? It seems plausible to me. Connecting with our Muse may be nothing more than telling our logical minds to shut the hell up. The dreaded Writer’s Block (insert dramatic music here) may simply be that we are trying to force a creative solution, and it just doesn’t work that way.

If anyone knows a quick and easy way to regroup oneself after an interruption, I’d love to hear it. I fear that no such method exists and, that as a writer interrupted, one must coax our Muse gently in order to regain her hand.

In the meantime, I will lock myself away in my spare bedroom/home office, and do my best to not emotionally scar those who derail my train of thought. Wish me luck!

-= C =-

…about this blogging thing

17 October 2011

A boy and his laptopFor someone who loves and lives by his writing, blogging shouldn’t be that hard, should it? Yeah, and so dies another myth! Still, I hope to provide some meaningful and thought provoking mental meanderings very soon. Don’t be strangers – let me know what you think. I may be opinionated, but I’m not inflexible!

Talk to you soon!

-= C =-

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