On September 28, 2002 writer Joseph Epstein published an article in the New York Times entitled: “Think You Have a Book in You? Think Again.” In this article the author is critical of people that feel they have a book in them and want to write one. He argues that not only is writing a book very difficult, but that the majority of books written are not needed, wanted, or necessary, so why add to the “schlock pile?” He then writes that maybe people want to write a book so that in a certain way they can find significance and escape the oblivion that awaits us at the end of our lives. But he adds that the way most books die, writing a book will only make the oblivion more noticeable for would-be writers. The author also dismisses the notion that that we can all be good and creative when it comes to writing a book and that all of our stories or wisdom are interesting. He ends with a plea: “Save the typing, save the trees, save the high tax on your own vanity. Don't write that book, my advice is, don't even think about it. Keep it inside you, where it belongs.” Well, fast forward 10 years and what do we have? Now it is easier than ever to self-publish your own book. With POD services your book will only be printed every time someone orders it. If no one wants it, you will not have to stare at a pile of moldering books in your basement. And if you self-publish an e-book it can remain on the shelves forever. Your book will not have to die for lack of sales. You have the rest of your life to figure out how to sell it at your own pace. The only deadlines you will have to deal with are those that you impose on yourself. But apart from the technology I want to say the following. There are stories inside you waiting to be told. Even if we accept Mr. Epteins’s argument, which boils down to “most people are not good enough to write a book,” who cares? Yes, who cares if your book is only as good as the next? Do you always dine only in the best restaurants? Do you always wear only the most expensive clothes? Do you always watch only Oscar winning movies? Why should books be any different? What is wrong with average? You should write your book and then go out there and find your readers. And yes, it is almost certain that you won’t be the next J.K. Rowling or the next Stephenie Meyer. It is almost certain you won’t win a Pulitzer Prize. It is also almost certain that you won’t be able to quit your day job. But there are hundreds of millions of readers out there who can be reached through the internet. Therefore it is equally almost certain that there is someone somewhere who will be interested in your book. Your story is part of the legacy that you leave humanity, do not keep it inside you; put it “out there” where it belongs!
Few drinks have accompanied the creative activity of writers like coffee. How many great works of literature have been ushered into the world by the buzz created by this black brew? What does coffee do to writers? Honoré de Balzac, a French 19th century writer who drank up to 40 cups of coffee a day, described the effect of coffee on an empty stomach this way:
“… everything becomes agitated. Ideas quick-march into motion like battalions of a grand army to its legendary fighting ground, and the battle rages. Memories charge in, bright flags on high; the cavalry of metaphor deploys with a magnificent gallop, the artillery of logic rushes up with clattering wagons and cartridges; on imagination’s orders, sharpshooters sight and fire; forms and shapes and characters rear up; the paper is spread with ink – for the nightly labor begins and ends with torrents of this black water, as a battle opens and concludes with black powder.”
Other writers have been more succinct but no less eloquent. For example:
Coffee makes us severe, and grave, and philosophical. (Jonathan Swift)
I have measured out my life with coffee spoons. (T. S. Elliot)
The morning cup of coffee has an exhilaration about it which the cheering influence of the afternoon or evening cup of tea cannot be expected to reproduce. (Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr.)
So what is it about this brew and its delicate strands of vapor that enhance the sense and inspire the mind? There are several active ingredients in coffee but the most widely recognized is caffeine, which now ranks as the most widely used psychoactive stimulant in the world. Caffeine has effects on brain chemistry. It promotes arousal, increases alertness, and decreases fatigue. This it does by indirectly activating pathways in the brain that release excitatory neurotransmitters like dopamine or glutamate and by potentiating the action of the hormone adrenalin (epinephrine). As a result of this caffeine has enhancing effects on perception, learning, and memory. So no wonder writers gravitate to coffee to enhance the realm of the mind and to keep them going into the late hours of the night. And, as if this were not enough, there are even some health benefits from drinking moderate amounts of coffee. But there is a catch. Caffeine in large amounts can have detrimental effects on the very processes it stimulates at moderate amounts. Also the body adapts over time, and you may need to drink more and more to get the same buzz you used to get. On top of this, caffeine is addictive. Put the above together and you can see it is very easy for a coffee drinker to consume ever increasing amounts coffee. If you factor in that other items in our diets such as energy drinks, soft drinks, chocolate, etc. also have caffeine, you can easily see how a person can end up taking in large doses of the stuff Some writers (like yours truly) have had the need to quit all caffeinated beverages, and it is hard. When you try to quit, the cravings to drink more set in, and even if you succeed in resisting them there can be withdrawal symptoms. Heavy coffee drinkers who try to quit the brew may experience headaches, anxiety, fatigue, irritability, and depression. This, of course, comes as no surprise. Caffeine and other chemicals in coffee are drugs. That is, when you take them they change the chemistry of your brain, which adapts to function with the high levels of these chemicals. If you then try to quit (i.e. cut the supply) the brain malfunctions leading to these symptoms, and it takes some time for it to adapt to working without them again. But many writers would argue that the creative benefits they derive from coffee are worth any risks. Let me end this post with a quote from Gertrude Stein about the wonders of coffee:
“Coffee is real good when you drink it. It gives you time to think. It's a lot more than just a drink; it's something happening. Not as in hip, but like an event, a place to be, but not like a location, but like somewhere within yourself. It gives you time, but not actual hours or minutes, but a chance to be, like be yourself, and have a second cup.”
But notice how the quote ends: “…and have a second cup.”
So what is your opinion about coffee? Does it help or hinder your writing? Do you feel it is hurting your health? Have you tried to quit? Please leave a comment and let us know of your experience. ***If you like this blog you can have links to each week's posts delivered to your e-mail address. Please click here.
A nice rant by one of the all-time great writers: Harlan Ellison!
In season 2, episode 5 (The Euclid Alternative) of that great show “The Big Bang Theory,” Penny asks Sheldon why he didn’t get his driving license when he was 16 years old like anybody else. Sheldon, a theoretical physicist with 2 PhDs, replies that it was because he was busy “examining perturbative amplitudes in n=4 supersymmetric theories leading to a re-examination of the ultraviolet properties of multi-loop n=8 supergravity using modern twistor theory.” Of course the Big Bang Theory is just a sitcom, but the science depicted in the program is often quite accurate and also as cryptic as real science is too. Check for example actual tittles of research published recently in academic journals: -Vortex dynamics in two-dimensional Josephson junction arrays with asymmetrically bimodulated potential -Dopaminergic Polymorphisms Associated with Time-on-Task Declines and Fatigue in the Psychomotor Vigilance Test. - Heavy cluster knockout reaction (16)O((12)C,2(12)C)(4)He and the nature of the (12)C-(12)C interaction potential. -Countertransference feelings in one year of individual therapy: An evaluation of the factor structure in the Feeling Word Checklist-58 Regular folk are often bewildered by the apparent mumbo jumbo spoken by academics. Like in the Calvin and Hobbes cartoon depicted above some may even wonder if all those big words are nothing more than gobbledygook employed by people who just pretend to know what they are talking about and hide behind an “intimidating and impenetrable fog of writing.” To address this issue consider the following thought experiment. Imagine that your language is restricted to that employed by a tribe in a remote jungle that has had no contact with civilization. Now imagine trying to survive in our modern society using only this language. How are you going to express yourself and be understood when you deal with computers, microwave ovens, the internet, television, CDs, DVDs, cell phones, cars, airplanes, trains, robots, atomic bombs, or genes? Our degree of technological advance has led to the production or discovery of many entities that are just not part of the immediate reality that this tribal language describes. If you incorporated these words into the tribal language and used them in front of the members of the tribe they would think you are talking nonsense. That is the same situation with academics. This is not to say that some individual academics may not attempt to hide their ignorance behind a wall of jargon. But by and large all researchers in different fields eventually encounter entities that cannot be described by words existing in our regular language. This is why new words are created. In some areas these words eventually filter into the day to day reality of the common folk, but in other areas they make sense only to those who study the field. So no, it’s not mumbo jumbo, and some of these words may end up being part of the vocabulary of your children or your children’s children in the future. ***If you like this blog you can have links to each week's posts delivered to your e-mail address. Please click here.
There may have been a simpler time in the past when it comes to many things. A time where something was either black or white, not shades of grey. But alas, it is doubtful that this was ever the case for the subject matter of this book: love. In this book Sunny Lockwood presents to us six stories of individuals seeking or reexamining love. The characters of the stories are engaging and the author imbues them with considerable depth. Some of the characters are mired in relationships with contradictions and/or conflicts. Others are seeking that special someone who hasn’t arrived. There are all shades of love here: love for mates, for spouses, for parents, and for family. At times dramatic and at times funny, Sunny’s book is an in depth exploration of this most exalted of emotions within the human condition. In the story “Something Special” a daughter struggles to come to terms with the particular style of her mother’s love towards her. In “Hilda’s Secret” a woman holding a terrible secret reexamines her life and her marriage. “My Worst First” is an autobiographical account of a first date that goes terribly wrong, while “Longing for Love” is the story of a lonely woman who seeks to fulfill her right to be loved, but first has to deal with the handicap of her disability. In “The Door” a daughter and a father struggle to accept each other. My personal favorite is “Love’s Echo” where a man staunchly opposes any intrusion of his past into his present. The book is well written, has a functional table of contents, and a “Preview” section both at the beginning of the book and at the end of each story that presents a synopsis of the stories with a link to each one. If you want a short enjoyable romantic read that is not “black and white,” then Shades of Love is the book for you.
OK all you femmes out there. It’s official! Here is at last rock-solid scientific evidence you cannot dispute! If males don’t get enough sex they take up booze. Deny them access to your affection and they will turn into alcoholics. And nobody wants that, right? That is, if you are a fruit fly. Researchers from the University of California and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute have published a paper in the journal Science where they found that male fruit flies that were denied sex increased their alcohol consumption. The authors took two groups of male fruit flies. They exposed one group to sexually receptive virgin females while the other group was exposed to sexually non-receptive females that rejected their advances. The two groups of males were then given access to two sources of sweet fluids one of which contained 15% alcohol. They found that males that were rejected, and thus didn’t get any sex, drank more of the fluid that contained alcohol. While any drunk in any bar in America could have told them that, the researchers found something else. They found that the males that were denied sex had 50% lower levels in their brain of a chemical called NPF (neuropeptide F). The authors proceeded to manipulate the levels of NPF by other means than sex, increasing them in the rejected males and decreasing them in the males that had mated, and they were able to reverse the behavior of the flies. Thus the sequences of events seems to be less sex > less NPF > more alcohol, more sex > more NPF > less alcohol. But don’t you ladies think for a moment that this is a curiosity only limited to fruit flies. There is a protein in the brains of mammals that is similar to NPF, it is called neuropeptide Y (NPY). Lower levels of NPY in the brain of rats leads to higher alcohol and drug consumption. People with depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (conditions that make them prone to alcoholism) have lower levels of NPY in their brains, and certain variants of the receptor for the NPY are associated with greater alcohol and drug dependence. So there you have it. If you ladies want to keep us away from the bottle please, oh please, pleeeeeease grant us access to your lovely charms (especially when we resort to pathetic whining). Let’s work together to keep those NPY levels in our brains elevated! ; ^ ) ***If you like this blog you can have links to each week's posts delivered to your e-mail address. Please click here.
What this woman does with sand is breathtaking! Her name is Kseniya Simonova. In this video she uses uses "sand painting" to interpret Germany's invasion and occupation of Ukraine during the second world war.
As many of you know PayPal recently shocked the world of publishing by requiring Smashwords to remove books of erotic fiction that contained rape, incest, and bestiality. Smashwords quickly scrambled to comply in order to not lose the service provided by PayPal that allows readers to pay for books they buy online. After modifying the terms of service, Mark Coker, the founder of Smashwords, issued a detailed directive to authors of these books to remove them from the website. He even clarified that animal shape shifters, popular in paranormal fiction, could be depicted as having sex as long as they were “getting it” in their human form.All around the web cries of “censorship” arose. An author even published a book detailing what happens when a couple has sex “the wrong way” and ends up being busted by the “Private Authoritarian Yellow-alert Pervert Adjudication League” (P.A.Y.P.A.L.).
I have the following to say about this issue.
I think that moral absolutes do exist in our society. Their boundaries may be fuzzy and ever changing, but they are there. The proof is that companies are anxious about being associated with products that cross these boundaries. They don’t want to be on the wrong side of the line if there is a negative consumer reaction. PayPal’s main concern is making money. If PayPal thought our society was OK with rape, incest, and bestiality, I am sure that this wouldn’t have been an issue for them. PayPal’s request to Smashwords was merely the exercise of their right to not be associated with some books that Smashwords was selling. That is not censorship.
Now, you may argue that even if this was not a censorship issue the end result is the same. Authors of works of erotic fiction with rape, incest, and bestiality cannot publish on Smashwords anymore.
I believe that what we have here is the clash of two rights. One is the freedom to express yourself, and the other is the right of others to aid you in expressing yourself. No one is saying that writers CANNOT write books with the above topics. No one is saying that if they do, they should go to jail. If that were the case I would consider that censorship. However, granting you access to sites to publish your work is another issue. If these sites consider your work objectionable it is their right not let you publish. That, for me, is not censorship. *****
Update: PayPal backtracked on its policy and has clarified that: The policy will prohibit use of PayPal for the sale of e-books that contain child pornography, or e-books with text and obscene images of rape, bestiality or incest (as defined by the U.S. legal standard for obscenity: material that appeals to the prurient interest, depicts sexual conduct in a patently offensive way, and lacks serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value).As I said above, I believe PayPal has the right to do business with whom it pleases. But the least I would expect from them is to do some thinking before putting out these kind of policies. This retraction indicates there was someone asleep at the wheel.
I wrote a short post where I mentioned the paradox that what is considered oppression, paternalism, and sexism in one country may be viewed as virtues in another. In that post I wondered how we could ever reach a common ground with these societies whose values are so different from our own to work together in solving the problems that plague the world. This is because any change we suggest in the traditional makeup of these societies would be perceived by many as an attack on their values. And I understand this response. If anybody told me that MY values are the cause of the problem, my knee-jerk reaction would be to get mad and oppose any changes. However, a recent experience with a poverty fighting program in Bangladesh has provided the evidence needed to break these types of impasses. CARE (Cooperative for Assistance and Relief Everywhere) is an organization that fights against poverty on a global scale. This organization along with the USAID and the government of Bangladesh initiated a program in 2004 called SHOUHARDO to reduce malnutrition in the poorest communities. The results shocked the world. In four years the level of stunting of children due to malnutrition was reduced by 28%, which is double the rate achieved by a typical USAID program. Why was this program so successful even during a time that the economy in Bangladesh deteriorated? In a nutshell the program was successful because it empowered women. In these poor conservative communities women’s freedom was greatly restricted. If they went out to the streets without a male escort they would experience harassment. They were subjected to early marriage, violence, and abuse. The women did not have a voice in the community and lacked education. The CARE program encouraged women to band together in groups where they would safely discuss their problems and figure out strategies to solve them. When women acted together they were able to change their status in these communities and increase their decision-making power. This had a transforming effect on the finances of the family and the well-being of their children. But the crucial fact here is that these changes were not anecdotes. They were all measured scientifically an analyzed statistically. Here for the first time is a very clear demonstration for the entire world to see that empowering women benefits the family and the society. This is not an “opinion” or a “belief” upon which reasonable people from different cultures may disagree. The cold hard data makes it clear that those social systems that do not empower women cause severe economical and health hardships for their people. ***If you like this blog you can have links to each week's posts delivered to your e-mail address. Please click here.