I’ve spent a lot of time in the writer self-help aisle. I have a few books about the art sitting on or near my desk – tomes detailing organization techniques, brainstorming methods, ways to unleash your inner artist, and just about everything else. Now, it isn’t that those things aren’t important, it’s just that they take a long time to get to the same damned message:
The only way to start writing is to start writing.
At the end of October I briefly considered entering into NaNoWriMo just to see if I could do it. Of course, as is often the case, November came and I had mostly forgotten about the contest, much like every other year. Besides, it wasn’t like I had any ideas in mind, right? I was empty. And there was school, too. And work writing! I have so much of that to do! I don’t have time for this, man. I’m busy. Stack of work. Oh, and that test I have to study for…
I then saw a post on Facebook by an old professor of mine – something about a writing contest. Neat! I clicked on over, read through the rules, and then immediately signed up, apparently without consulting myself.
While not quite NaNoWriMo, it was 40,000 words in one month.
Once it sunk in, I consciously decided that I had to go through with it. There really wasn’t an option. That silly Facebook post was a promise to myself. After all, do I fancy myself a writer or just someone who likes to occasionally write?
I had no story, no characters, no ideas whatsoever. But hell, I couldn’t just back out. And so, with absolutely no direction I opened up word and stared at a blank page for about thirty minutes, with zero inspiration hitting me. As is standard procrastination procedure, I fired up WinAmp, hit shuffle, then slammed “next” a few dozen times.
I ended up landing on this.
Thoughts rushed to my head. A mercenary. A bad one. Has to be a tough woman. Has to want some progress in her life. Other characters – two names immediately sprung to mind. A few thousand words later, I had my hook. I read it over once (the only time I re-read anything during the whole experience, hilariously enough), and then went on my way.
Thirty days later, here I am with 40k words and change. As a man of the short story, it is by far the longest thing I’ve ever written – and it isn’t even done yet. Sure, I hit the milestone that I needed to win the contest, but that’s hardly the point. The contest was just a seed, the tiny kick in the ass that I needed to begin the long, painstaking process of tossing myself against the page.
After a short break, my goal is to finish the first draft of this novel by the end of this month. After that, I’ll re-read it and begin the editing process. Then maybe I’ll even let someone read it. Or a few people.
Or… well, this road goes to some scary places, doesn’t it?
I never intended this blog to be a place for me to go off on issues I thought were important. My goal was simply to start a place for me to post anything I felt like sharing with the world, however it’s pretty easy to see that the large majority of my posts have been about social issues that bother me. While the main goal of this blog is to still share my writing with the world I also feel like posting about these issues is important. Of course, with posting all of these things I’ve gotten mixed feelings from friends — often ending in “Well, what’s the point?”
After all, what voice do I have? I’m just one guy in a sea of millions of other writers — I certainly don’t have a very large readership either. While it has been growing since I started the website, my 50 – 60 daily viewers is nothing to the “big guys” who pull in literally a thousand times that (or more). So then, what point is there? Who am I influencing? Who am I informing?
In short: You.
I took a history class a few semesters ago and after the professor had told us something particularly interesting (and shocking) about our history, he informed us that as educated people it was our duty to bring those around us up to our level or to move past them. He pointed out that it is never someone’s fault for not knowing something and that many people harbor feelings of hatred or intolerance simply because they don’t know any better. They’ve been lied to and deceived all of their lives — and unless they’ve had that guiding light to point them in a new direction how could they be blamed?
Most people don’t have epiphanies about these things. They hear something that suddenly gets them thinking and then they go off and do their own research, coming to realize that they haven’t been thinking clearly or that they’ve been lied to. From that point on their world view starts to change and they often become tolerant of things they didn’t previously understand.
Though if that spark never happens then they never start to think and they become entrenched in their beliefs.
In my personal experience (and from looking back at history) I’ve noticed something pretty important: “Change” often doesn’t happen because of giant movements of people suddenly agreeing with each other, it happens because the little guy decides that he won’t tolerate whatever he sees the problem as anymore. When everyday people start to stand up and say “I don’t agree with this” then it just doesn’t become viable for it to be pressed on them without a significant struggle. When we as a people stand up to intolerance or hate the group spreading the hatred is alienated and pushed out of society. This isn’t something that happens overnight — quite the opposite. It usually requires years of constant struggle against whatever the problem is, however ignorance eventually falls when confronted with an educated mass.
While my voice might only be heard by a few people I have a chance to impact how those people see the world around them. Now, most of the people who read this blog already have a pretty open mind (at least I hope!), but we all know certain individuals who could probably be positively influenced by one or two of the articles here. Essentially, if just a few of you send an article to a friend and it has a solid impact then haven’t we made the world a better place? Sure, we aren’t moving mountains here, but like I said before — change happens in little steps. Every little bit counts.
On top of that there is the impact those people might have on their friends and so on — we can essentially form a little ripple that turns into a wave, eventually touching a lot more people than ever expected. This is something that I’m pretty excited to say is already happening! A few weeks ago I noticed a trackback on one of my articles on a blog that I hadn’t seen before. Someone who was a friend of a friend of a friend happened to see an article and decided to share it with the world. It’s pretty cool to see your words have an impact on people like that.
So then — there’s you again, the reader. The guy or girl who has been sitting here reading this blog for a month or so now, coming every day or every other day looking for an update. What can you do to help out?
Simple: Keep reading and spread the word!
If you ever read an article and you truly are touched by it (or just think “hey, this is pretty good”) then please send it to your friends! Post it up on Facebook or use one of the sharing buttons under the posts to get the word out. Together maybe we can actually positively influence some people and make the world a better place. After all, the worst you’re going to do is make someone waste a few minutes of their life reading something!
September 25th to October 2nd is banned books week — a campaign that primarily celebrates banned books in America.
I’m sure such things seem silly to a lot of people. Why celebrate banned books?
Well, because the censorship of information is something that despite our jingoistic cries of freedom, we still live with. Every year a list is compiled of the top 10 most contested books in America — and while many more are challenged, the top of the pack gives us a cross-section of what we (as a culture) refuse to accept. Unsurprisingly, homosexuality and sexuality in general are at the top of this list.
Of course, this topic also has local ties as this past year a book was contested (and banned) in a local school system as well as the county library chain. The book in contention? Revolutionary Voices, by Amy Sonnie — an award winning anthology of stories focusing on gay, bisexual and transgendered youth. While the book had been in the system for a number of years, it was banned after complaints were filed against it by members of Glenn Beck’s 9.12 project, a conservative-leaning activist group.
The book was apparently targeted for being “pornographic” and “pervasively vulgar, obscene, and inappropriate” by members of the group, and thus they wanted it to be removed from Rancocas Valley’s High School library. This eventually chained into the book being complained about (and subsequently removed) from the Burlington County library system.
While this all happened a few months ago, I feel like it deserves to be pulled back into the light, given the “celebratory” week.
First off, my support of the book (or of any books being censored) is not just to be controversial. We live in a country that praises freedom (or at least claims to) and thus no book should ever be banned in my view, for any reason. Great works of literature and culture have been attempted to be censured in the past often because a vocal minority cannot accept the content with the book. Lolita, Huckleberry Finn, Lord of the Rings, Catcher in the Rye — and we aren’t even going back very far in our history.
In the case of Revolutionary Voices, the book was censured for a very obvious reason — because it depicted homosexuality. Sexuality in general is a firecracker in America because of how incredibly uncomfortable we are with the subject. Add in any “different” sort of sexual or gender issue and people panic and run to the streets. A woman was quoted as (I’m really not making this up, seriously) saying “We did it for the children.” Yes, these people wanted to ban this book to protect the children. Your children.
I want you to remember something. Glenn Beck — the leader of the 9.12 group — describes himself as a libertarian.
Someone who wants the government out of your life, someone who thinks everyone needs to mind their own business and that we should adhere to a strict interpretation of the constitution.
From the 9.12 project’s very website: “My spouse and I are the ultimate authority, not the government.”
So they apparently want to make you — the parents — the ultimate authority in your child’s life, but they want to do it by choosing what books your child will and will not read in the public classroom.
This isn’t a blog based around comedy, but that has to be one of the most humorous things I’ve seen in the past year.
Coming back to my original point however, it is clear that some Americans are not comfortable with the idea of sexuality in their child’s books — and while I don’t think that is very productive, that is perfectly okay. That is their choice — not the government’s and it also should not be the choice of a public library, especially when they are under the influence of a group that can’t even figure out its own principles.
You see, the problem with banning a book like this isn’t just that it violates someones personal liberties — but it also violates their psychological health, in my personal opinion. When a child who is struggling with gender or sexuality issues sees a book that was created for them banned due to “questionable” content, how do you think they will feel about their internal struggles? When the content is called “pornographic,” how do you think they will feel? Warm and fuzzy that some grandmother decided they don’t deserve the same shelf-space that the other kids do?
Of course, that issue was never even brought up or considered. For now, Revolutionary Voices is banned and it most likely will remain that way. Perhaps one day we will look back on it much like the other books we cherish today and realize how silly we were as a country.
Until then, check out Banned Books Week here and celebrate by cracking open your favorite censured novel.
I’ve always found Pascal’s wager to be very interesting.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with it, Pascal’s wager is an argument for the belief in a higher power (or technically, a belief in a religion). If you break it down to its most basic levels it says that it’s in your best interest to believe in a higher power because the reward (heaven) far outweighs the risk (nothing).
By sticking in the faith and “work” toward a specific religion, you are rewarded with paradise. Pascal argues that this “reward” greatly outweighs the risk. After all, if you die and it turns out there is nothing, you probably won’t care too much — however if it turns out there is a God then your life of sin and treachery will stick you in an unpleasant place. Using this logic, it is clearly in someones best interest to have belief in a higher power.
Of course, there are a few strong pieces of criticism against this argument.
The first is simply that their are more religions in the world than one, so you have to account for that too. What if you put your eggs in the wrong basket? It is impossible to know which religion is “right” so this adds another unpredictable variable to the equation which throws off the solution. Likewise the concept of “faith” is considered a large part of many religious beliefs, so if your faith is contrived and not genuine then perhaps you aren’t better off at all.
Pascal’s wager never seems like it was designed to account for such things. Instead, it seems like it was designed to defend faith in a world where two states exist — with religion and without. In this sort of vacuum, it does work — but in the “real” world it simply does not seem to work, at least not in the realm of philosophy.
I like to look at it a different way, though. I don’t see it as a good defense for religion — but I do think it works for spirituality. In order to explain exactly why, let me differentiate between religion and spirituality.
When someone follows a religion they belong to a group of people who have spiritual beliefs that line up with whoever determines the ideals of the religion. Their beliefs are defined by the religion rather than the individual. While many within the group have slight differences of belief, most of them are extremely minute and kept personal — after all, deviation from the norm within a religious group often gets you cast out.
In contrast, spirituality (or someone who describes themselves as “spiritual” for the sake of this article) is a very personal thing. While a religion controls the principles of religious belief, spirituality is controlled by the individual. Two individuals can be spiritual and not have a single thing in common yet they can both describe themselves in the same exact way. The “purpose” of being spiritual is finding the same inner peace that religion is supposed to bring you but essentially without the strings. Another person describing themselves as spiritual cannot declare your beliefs to be false nor would doing so have any advantageous impact on either set of beliefs.
Religion also often serves as a way for people to explain the unexplained in their lives. While spirituality can serve this purpose, its true goal is to allow the adherent to achieve a sort of inner peace. When there is trauma in someone’s life it is their spirituality that soothes them and brings them back to where they need to be. In this way spirituality doesn’t even have to have any mysticism at all. Someone can be spiritual simply by looking outside and seeing the seasons shape the landscape, the constant cycle of the Earth calming them from whatever sort of struggle they are facing.
Likewise, someone who is “religious” can be spiritual — but I would argue that it is not their church or place of worship that soothes them, but their personal link with whatever higher power they put their faith in.
If we apply Pascal’s wager to spirituality instead of religion the “prize” of belief is not necessarily heaven, but instead a sort of peace gained from inner faith. While someone who is religious has something to lose if he or she picks the wrong religion, someone who is spiritual loses nothing at all because at the end of the day it does not matter if they are right or wrong in what they choose. What matters is that they are personally satisfied with the result.
Essentially, it is the discovery and the process that matters. It is waking up and breathing in the air and having that sense of calm that specifically comes from belief that matters, not the actual belief itself. As long as it is worthwhile to the person who practices it then it is sound.
The internet has been a pretty great thing for most of us. Information is everywhere. It has never been easier to educate yourself in the history of mankind. The libraries of the world are at your fingertips — scientific theories and classic literature are just a Google search away. Not only that, but on the “non serious” side we have social networks, video games, connectivity — all great things that enrich our daily lives.
Regardless of work or play, we all use the internet daily — and it’s such a secondary thought now-a-days that we don’t realize one major thing:
We are leaving our fingerprints everywhere.
Years ago this was only a slight problem for those of us who posted on community forums or commented on content somewhere on the internet. There was always a chance that someone could find out your alias and backtrack your opinion using a search engine of their choice, finding out more than anyone cared to share about their personal lives.
It was easy to get around this though — you just wouldn’t have your alias anywhere near where your personal information was. This way someone searching your name wouldn’t be able to connect the dots. Even then, outside of the occasionally crazy internet troll there really wasn’t much of a threat. What, some random guy in Nebraska is going to find out your dogs name? Big deal, right?
Then MySpace sprouted up on the heels of Friendster — primarily aimed at a younger, less tech-savvy audience. Suddenly everyone had a giant social beacon that listed all of their personal information. Here was a database of pictures, friends, hobbies and sometimes even the dormant remains of relationships gone sour. It was like a blog, but with even tackier graphics.
Here was everything for the world to see.
Many students (most underage) ended up posting pictures of their daily activities on the internet. Some of these activities included things that were less than legal, but who cares, right? Only your friends looked at this stuff anyway.
While it was an option to make your page private, most people didn’t. After all, that would hamper how many friends you had — a virtual social symbol that was important to many. So pages were left wide open for the world to see.
Then Facebook slid into the fray. Initially a more “mature” type of social network aimed at college students, the first iteration of the site required you to enter in a college e-mail before it would let you register an account. This rule was abolished after awhile and so was the shroud of privacy over most accounts. Suddenly, everyone’s pages were at least partially visible. Just like MySpace, the world had an invitation to anything you’d posted.
Still, most didn’t see either of these things as a threat. After all, who cares what anyone does in their spare time? It was just a social page for friends to look at — or for new friends to get an idea of your personality.
Alas, the false sense of security quickly faded as teens realized that the visitors to their pages weren’t always interested in becoming their friend. Stalkers, malicious predators — even police — all used the social networking sites to find out all kinds of information that their “prey” would otherwise probably not want them to know. Recently (or at least it is now becoming public knowledge) employers have started to use these social networking sites to find out information about prospective employees.
This has caused many to go into “lock down” mode. Many professors, law-enforcement agents and others employed in various fields are shutting down their pages or otherwise locking them up as tight as possible, afraid that their job might be in danger. After all, everyone tends to vent online a little bit — and no one wants their boss to see that. Not only that, but young professionals suddenly realized that they were at risk at becoming unemployable by basis of their outside activities.
Just locking down your personal page isn’t enough, either. Pages that were once public could’ve been cached somewhere — and friends who are often less tech savvy are eager to “tag” photos of you, linking you to other pages you have no control over. Not to mention these social pages often listen our interests and personal goals, so even if you aren’t the teenager posting pictures of yourself completely wasted on the internet for everyone to see you are still putting yourself at risk.
However, our fingerprints are not just left on these social networking sites. They are found everywhere we go on the internet, little tidbits that can easily be traced back to us. If you have a name that isn’t very common then you are even more likely to be judged by your search listings — and while this isn’t anything new, the advent of MySpace, Facebook and other social networking sites has made it incredibly easy to dig up information on anyone. Not to mention other “people searches” such as Pipl that make it incredibly easy to find out personal details on anyone — and they even list your known favorite activities as cached by Facebook or other common sites. Knowing that our hobbies are out there for employers to see, should we hide them?
After all, what is a “good” activity or interest to an employer?
Without a doubt some seemingly harmless activities are virtual kryptonite to a career. Gamers are typically aware of the stereotype of stoner/slacker that plagues their hobby — specifically MMO gamers, such as ones that play World of Warcraft. Could the time they invest into games outside of their job harm their chances of getting a job? Could an employer see a favorite game listed on a page and suddenly slash off a candidate for a job because of it?
Such topics seem silly, but recently within the World of Warcraft community there was a large stir about the “Real ID” system. Blizzard, the company behind World of Warcraft, was preparing to launch an update to their forums that would require posters to share their real name when they posted. The community went into uproar, one of the chief concerns being that they didn’t want their real names linked with their online activities. Many in the fields of higher education expressed great concern — how easy would it be to Google their names and find out that they played the game?
What about high-risk hobbies? Is an employer likely to hire a sky-diver or someone who enjoys track days on the weekend? While both of these might be “safe” they have a sort of negative shroud around them. Do you want to hire someone that you believe might be a liability to your health policy?
I’m sure some will look at the above argument and shrug. After all, hiding that you have a certain hobby is easy, right?
Well, what about having a disease or ailment?
A personal fear for me is that an employer will find out I have Crohn’s disease thanks to a quick Google search on my name. They could easily see that I had the disease and that I struggled with it. Would they want to hire me?
Sure, discriminating based on disease isn’t exactly a textbook legal thing — but how would I know? How would anyone?
They could simply say someone else was more qualified or that I just didn’t make it through some sort of test. My dream is to become a college professor and the market is extremely tough. Job postings typically get upwards of 500 applications. Wouldn’t my disease be a detriment? Doesn’t that put me at a disadvantage off the bat?
Right now an employer has the right to search what you do in your free time before and after you are hired. Is being in control of what you do off the clock a breach of privacy? Where do we draw the line? Is there a line anywhere?
I’m curious. What do you think?