ALWAYS BECOMING

It used to be a standing joke when we were in college. How we were all “searching for ourselves” and then we would laugh uproariously because it sounded so pretentious.

Many long decades have passed since then. It turns out, life is a process of defining identity. We are all permanently searching for ourselves, then redefining what we find. Over and over again, we refine our self-definitions — our identity — as we experience the stuff life throws at us.

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I am not the person I started out to be. Nor am I the person I was when I was young, then older, then older still.

I am always becoming. My identity will never be finished or fully defined. Yet I am who I am and no one could mistake me for anyone other than me. We are each a unique riddle wrapped in a mystery. We are laughter, tears, joy, sorrow, fear and hope. A bundle of contradictions.

Whatever identity we have, it’s a moving target with lots of labels. All of which are true and none of which are complete.

IDENTITY – THE DAILY POST

WITSEC FOR WRITERS

DISCOVER CHALLENGE: WITNESS

I am appalled by the idea of anyone watching me as I write. Yikes. I’d never get anything done.

Marilyn birthday portrait writer

Writing has always been my most private activity. The deeper I am into the process, the more reclusive I am. While writing my book, I was effectively missing for a year. Even working as technical writer, I needed to be alone to do my thing. No interruption. No chit-chat. Writing is solitary … but never lonely.

Sometimes, while writing, I’m so far gone that anyone trying to talk to me will cause me to jump out of my seat. I am oblivious to the world around me until I surface for a bite to eat, or some sleep.

If someone creates “WITSEC for Writers,” sign me up!

GONE. ALMOST FORGOTTEN

INCOMPLETE

Not so long ago, I thought maybe I could make a whole book out of the unfinished stories and books I’ve started and abandoned. I had probably a dozen or more first chapters. Great ideas that ran out of steam in about 25 pages.

A pale dawn in March

A pale dawn in March

These are not short stories, merely incomplete, unfinished bits and pieces.

So, I thought I’d name the book “incomplete.” I could use all that material which otherwise was cluttering up my hard drive, patiently waiting for its day to come.

I would have used it here on Serendipity. Except, a few years ago, in a fit of virtual cleanliness, I transferred all of it to a backup drive. And shortly thereafter discovered the backup was encrypted in some weird format no computer could read.

I don’t use encrypted backups anymore. I back up data as what it is. Pictures are jpg. Writing is doc, odt, or plain text. So far, so good. All these formats are ubiquitous. Every computer, from Kindle to desktop, can read them. For now. Too late for the bits and pieces which are gone with the cyber wind.

“Incomplete” is now “completely missing.” Oh well.

PROFESSIONAL RETIREMENT

I am professionally retired, which means whatever I do — like write or take pictures — is (by definition) a hobby.

“Professional” has a specific meaning. To be a professional anything, you have to earn money at it. The only thing I get paid for these days is not working, which means my profession is retirement.

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Professional equals paycheck. This isn’t a judgment on the quality of anyone’s work, talent, or dedication. No matter how hard or well you labor, if you don’t get paid, you are not a professional.  I’ve had people argue with me about this, but I don’t care. There is a definition for professional. It isn’t a matter of opinion.

A professional is someone who gets paid to do that thing. Even if it’s only a little bit of money, if you never get paid anything, you can’t claim “professional” as your title. Mind you, there’s nothing demeaning about not being a professional. Especially in the arts, the finest creative work is often done by people who can’t earn a living at it. I’m pretty sure Van Gogh never sold a painting.

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Creativity and professionalism are often at odds. I worked my whole life as a professional (commercial) writer. If I had not worked my whole life as a technical writer, I might have written something else. Like a novel or two. Would it have been great art?

Maybe. Maybe not. How would I know? It never happened.

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You can’t write for a living and have anything left at the end of the day to create great works of fiction. You have to choose what you want to be … and be prepared to sacrifice to achieve your goal. I have a passion for writing, but I have a greater passion for a roof over my head and food on the table.

In the past, I got paid to be a writer. Now, writing is a favorite pastime or activity. A hobby. My standards are no less professional than ever. Just — no one pays me for my efforts. Pity. I could use the money.

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Photography is and always has been, a hobby. I’ve been taking pictures nearly as long as I’ve been writing. Except for a very brief stab at wedding photography, it’s been a labor of love. Which translates to “unpaid.”

My foray into professional photography lasted exactly long enough to reinforce my belief that baby pictures and weddings were not my career path. But photography has proven to be the perfect hobby.

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You never outgrow it. You are never too to take pictures. It’s never boring. You can spend a lot of money … or a little bit.

Rumors to the contrary notwithstanding, the best equipment in the world will not guarantee excellent pictures, but a good eye will yield great photographs using minimal equipment.

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Meanwhile, used and refurbished equipment offers a viable route to owning quality cameras and lenses on a tight budget.

So in retirement, my previous professional occupation — writing — has become a fun hobby. And my previous fun hobby — photography — is still a fun hobby.

I merely wish professional retirement paid better.

TAX TIME WITH ROYALTIES

I am a professional author. I know this because I collect royalties from a book I wrote. Today, I got two 1099 forms from Amazon. One is for the Kindle version of my book, the other for the paperback (trade) version.

The total for 2015 was … are you ready? $6.89 for the year.

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I don’t know how I spent all that money. It leaves me breathless. The good news is I’m pretty sure 2016 has already proved more lucrative than all of last year . It’s only the beginning of February, but I’ve breached the $10 bottom line and may hit the heights of greater than $25 — the amount at which the I.R.S. wants to know about you.

This is probably the only time that having the I.R.S. notice you feels good.

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It turns out that giving my book away for free (or almost free) does not generate royalties. I remember one month where the total royalty was 5 cents and many months of royalties direct deposited to my account which were much less than a dollar.

That being said, I’d rather you read it and find it worth the time, than have it molder unread — the fate of most books of this type.

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To all of you who “read me” this year and were kind enough to tell me you enjoyed my book, thank you. Very much. Though “The 12-Foot Teepee” may not generate a lot of money, your enjoyment makes me feels rich.

Wealth is more than a number.

ON BEING A QUITTER

Originally written for The Happy Quitter, March 7, 2015.

ON BEING A QUITTER


In my long and checkered professional career, I had many bosses. One of them had, in a former life, been addicted to heroin. It wasn’t a secret. We all knew because he told us. I had the feeling he was proud of having kicked drugs and was now the owner of a software development company. I asked him how he did it, how he got free of his addiction.

“You know,” he said, “It really wasn’t as hard as you might think. Mostly, I had to get away from the people, from other junkies, and the whole world of drugs. After I stopped hanging out with those people, getting off drugs was pretty easy. It’s the culture that pulls you in, not so much the drugs.”

“I wish,” he continued, a touch of wistfulness in his voice, “It was as easy to kick cigarettes. When you hang out with junkies, you know it’s illegal. You sneak around. You are careful. But cigarettes? No problem. They’re legal. Grab a buddy and go for a smoke. It’s a social thing.

“You don’t hear heroin addicts saying to each other ‘Hey, anyone want to go out and shoot up?’ but you can stop by another smoker’s desk and say … ‘Hey, want to go have a butt?’

“I’ve had a much harder time quitting smoking than I had quitting heroin. Much harder,” he said, and reached for the pack of cigarettes in his pocket.

I was a smoker myself, then. I had been trying to quit off and on for years. I’d quit, then I’d be somewhere – usually an office – where other smokers worked. I’d get sucked into it. It wasn’t the physical addiction which lured me back to a habit I understood was harmful to my health, disastrous to my budget (and getting more costly each day). And made my clothing and hair stink of stale smoke. It was the social connection that got me. Hanging out with other smokers. The rhythm of smoking. I’d write, then take a break, grab a smoke. It was part of my process.

I was never as heavy a smoker other people I knew. I lit many more cigarettes, than I smoked. But I enjoyed smoking. I liked the smell of fresh tobacco. I liked standing outside on a crisp night, watching my smoke curl up and away into the sky.

I did a lot of my thinking on cigarette breaks. When I was writing, if I was stuck, I’d have a smoke. By the time I was halfway through it, I’d know what I was going to do and how I would do it.

Smoking-Burning-CigaretteIt took me years of quitting, backsliding, and quitting again before it finally “stuck.” Years before the smell of tobacco brought back memories without triggering an unbearable desire to smoke.

I am sure today, after eight? nine? years? If I were to smoke one cigarette, I’d be a smoker again. Instantly. It’s not because I’m physically addicted. After all these years of not smoking, I’m obviously not addicted to nicotine, if I ever was. Yet on some level, I will always be addicted to cigarettes.

It’s not that I don’t want a cigarette. I just don’t smoke.

STATISTICALLY – SERENDIPITY’S TOP TEN*

This is the TOP TEN for four (all) blogging years. Ten out of more than 4000 posts. Do these represent the best of my writing or my favorite pieces? No. These are the statistical winners. The people have spoken!

NOTE: * I omitted reblogs and “about” pages for Serendipity’s authors. The “about” pages are far and away the biggest “hit” producers.

top-10 LOGOSo, other than having been written by me or some other officially designated author for this site, what are my criteria? Quality? Relevance?

Nah. Just hits. How many people came by to take a look. I don’t even know if they actually read it or just came and clicked “like.”

  1. The FBI can’t do a simple Google search? July 23, 2013 – With a 10,149 hits for the original piece and probably another 5,000 for subsequent reruns, this minor piece about the 2013 season opener for “Criminal Minds” has retained an enthusiastic following. I have no idea why. Really. I don’t.
  2. DON’T DRINK THE KOOL AID – THE JONESTOWN MASSACRE – I have revised this piece several time and republished it annually. The total hits on this story of hell on earth has topped 9,000. One of the truly horrific episodes of American history.
  3. WHERE DO THE SWANS GO? It’s mostly pictures of the swans and my mental meandering about swans surviving the terrible winters. For all those who wondered, many swans and other water fowl don’t survive. They die of starvation and cold. Just under 2,000 hits on this one.
  4. GAZING THROUGH TO THE OTHER SIDE: HOLLYWOOD & MORAL CHARACTER – A followup post to the FBI post that’s number 1. Just short of 2,000 hits on this one. I guess “Criminal Minds” has a lot of fans.
  5. ANGEL COMES OUT by Rich Paschall – A fine post that got 1800 hits its first day and which continued to be read many times since.
  6. FLYPAPER (2011): A PLEASANT SURPRISE – Published several times, this is a review of a movie that almost no one went to see. It opened on only two screens for a couple of days and earned just over $1100 in its “onscreen” run. But Garry and I liked it. So I reviewed it. More than 1,200 views, probably more but I’ve been deleting earlier versions of the same piece so their statistics vanish with them.
  7. WHAT EMPOWERS YOU? – Originally in response to a WordPress Daily Prompt. Not a bad little piece of spontaneous writing. Apparently it resonated with quite a few people. 1051 views that I can find (earlier versions were deleted).
  8. How many states were trying to secede after the 2012 election? – November 2012. Everyone was on about all the American states that were trying to secede from the U.S. Real answer? None. 1,000 hits and still dribbling in after all these years.
  9. REMEMBERING DAD ON HIS 100th BIRTHDAY by Garry Armstrong was a nostalgic and loving tribute to Garry’s dad. 940 hits, give or take a couple of dozen.
  10. MEET FELIX CASTOR, EXORCIST BY MIKE CAREY — A review of the Felix Castor series by the elusive Mike Carey. Felix Castor is an exorcist with a conscience at a time when ghosts, demons, and zombies are becoming part of the human population’s mainstream. It is beautifully written, containing some of the most elegant language I’ve ever read. The 5-book series deserves more readers. If only Mike Carey, whoever he really is, would write one more. 700 hits.

This is the “all-time” list. I’ve made a 2015 list too which will be published New Year’s Eve when no one will be reading blogs.

I omitted, as I said I would, reblogged posts. I also left out my “Freshly Pressed” post which I don’t like. This is “the people’s choice” list. I’m not sure whether or not any of these would be on a list of my personal favorites.

I’m also not sure what my personal favorites really are.