NOTES FROM THE HOLODECK

For a long time, I followed writing prompts. I liked the challenge of finding something to say about a random topic. And I was interested to see the commonalities and differences between my thoughts and everyone else’s.

REUTERS/Noah Berger

REUTERS/Noah Berger

Lately, though, I want to write about other stuff. The crazy political stuff. The insanity of our failure to make any changes to our gun laws. The wild weather.

Talk about crazy. Insect plagues (not just here … all over the country) … and temperatures so high they turn forests to tinder. Flooding down the middle. Drought out west. Tornadoes threatening Chicago. Chicago? Mother Nature, like Howard Beale in “Network” screaming “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!”

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Network is a 1976 American satirical film written by the great Paddy Chayefsky. Directed by Sidney Lumet, it’s the story of a fictional television network willing to do anything and everything — including assassinating one of its own anchors on live television — to get better ratings. When the movie came out, it was almost science fiction. Now, except for not yet assassinating a reporter or anchor live during prime time, the rest seems tame compared to what’s truly going on.

Sometimes, I wonder if maybe Donald Trump was invented by TV network executives to get higher ratings for the news. It worked around this house. We hadn’t watched news on television — except for sports and weather — since Garry stopped being part of it.

Now, we watch the news every day just to see what new madness is in progress. “The Daily Show” seems more attuned to the surreal nature of current events than any of the standard stations.

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Not all that long ago, I had no trouble figuring out what was real and what was not. Now? There’s such a massive crossover between reality and “art,” I feel as if I’m living in the holodeck. In case you don’t remember (or never knew), the holodeck was a virtual reality facility on the Enterprise (especially on “Next Generation”). It was used to recreate environments — real and fictional — via “hard light” (solid and touchable) holograms.

holodeck

In our world, no such technology exists. Yet. So they tell us. Except that I’m beginning to wonder. Maybe this entire year is a creative exercise by some mad computer genius designing a world that could never be. Except … it does. Exist. And we are all living in it.

Or … maybe … we’ve slipped into an alternate dimension. Because this world cannot be real.

WHY I WRITE WHILE YOU PLAY GOLF

A friend asked me why I do this, why I blog. So I asked her why she plays golf.

We do what we do because we love it, need to do it, or both. For me, writing is like breathing. If I don’t write, I strangle on words never used. My friend needs to compete, to be active. To play golf or she will suffocate.

I can’t begin to count the number of people who have told me they want to be writers, but don’t know how. They want me to tell them how. That they asked the question makes me reasonably sure they aren’t writers.

If you are a writer, you write. You will write and will keep writing because it is not what you do, it is what you are. It is as much a part of you as your nose or stomach.

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I started writing as soon as I learned to read, which was about 45 minutes after someone handed me a reading primer. It was as if a switch had been thrown in my brain. Words felt like home.

Writing was (is) exactly the same as speaking, but takes longer. I have never minded spending the extra time. I love crafting sentences until they are just right. I love that I can go back and fix written words, that unlike words you say, you can take them back.

Raison d’être? I write because I’m a writer. Writing is how I express myself, how I interact with the world. It’s my window, my doorway, my handshake, my dreams.

If you are going to be a writer, you probably already know it. Practice will make you a better writer, can help you understand the techniques you need to build a plot and create books that publishers will buy — but writing itself is a gift. If you have it, you know it — and most of us know it pretty young.

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Writers have words. They collect in your mind, waiting to be written. We have heads full of words, sentences, pronouns, adjectives, and dependent clauses.

My advice to everyone who aspires to be a writer is to write. Don’t talk about it. Do it. Whatever medium works for you. Blogging, novels, short stories, poetry. Whatever. I’d also advise you to not talk about your work until you’ve done a significant amount of writing. I can’t count the number of great ideas left on barroom floors, talked away until there was nothing left but a vague memory and a lot of empty wine glasses. Save your words to a better purpose.

Write a lot even if it’s mostly not very good. Sooner or later, you’ll find your thing. If you don’t write, it is your personal loss, but maybe it’s the world’s loss, too.

You will never know how good you can be if you don’t try.

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.

teepee book shelf

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.

teepee book back

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.