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Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Fell off cliff; still no bottom

Listening to NPR this morning, Steve Inskeep welcomed Michele Norris on Morning Edition. Ms. Norris used to co-host the opposite show - All Things Considered - in the afternoon. Lately she has been working on something called the Race Card project.

During the program segment, Ms. Norris highlighted how writer Ernest Hemingway is famously reported to have challenged some colleagues to write a short story using only six words. So the story goes, Hemingway urged his fellow writers to pony up $10, stating that if his assertion was true - if he could actually write a complete short story using only six words - he would take the pot. If he failed, he would match it.

Hemingway's story is purported to read:

Baby shoes for sale. never worn.

Although the veracity of the legend has never been fully confirmed, the exercise can certainly make for a challenging writing exercise. As Hemingway did, can you write a story with a beginning, middle and end using only six words?

My blogs are usually much longer than six words as I try to adequately articulate the points I'm trying to raise and explore.

To all my writer friends, and anyone else for that matter, please respond with your six words. Then we can all ponder the depth of each story...


Saturday, March 2, 2013

I am important...

I seem to start so many blogs with an apology for not writing more. Not being independently wealthy is a terrible crutch that keeps me from walking the earth as a full-time writer. My dream is to spend my days hard at work, creating novels, short stories and the like; writing incisive and occasionally pithy blogs that are read by hundreds, nee, thousands!

Then I wake up to the shrill tones of a Blackberry and the steamy breath of our canine alarm clock...

Two nostrils of hot, waking breath...

For what it's worth, I am sorry I'm not more prolific. I know that there are people who, if not read, at least visit this blog. I have the statistics to prove it! I try to use labels that will resonate with the search engines; I post links on Facebook and Twitter. It seems to work to some extent.

But then I stop to wonder, "Why would anyone want to read my random words?"

As a writer - I can say that because I've actually been paid for writing things - this question goes to the heart of why writers write. I've heard many writers who say they care not one shilling if anyone reads any of their material - ever. I don't believe that. It goes against human nature. We all ask questions of ourselves from time to time.

"Why would anyone want to read my words?"

"Why would someone want to hear me speak?"

"Why does anyone care about what I do?"

In much the same way that the ocean will reclaim a sand castle, we assume that our environment will wash away anything that we do. I suppose there are some who believe that they will live forever or that theirs will be a lasting legacy on earth. But the majority of us get by on the somewhat self-deluded notion that each one of us is individually important for whatever brief time we rent space on this planet.

Collectivists might argue that if you put one finger in the ocean and pull it out no one would ever know that you had made an impression on the water. It takes a massive effort to (semi) permanently hold back the inexorable tides. To some extent they are right. That's not what I'm talking about today.

For example, back in April of 2012 I wrote a blog entitled Why can't I be famous? Everyone else is...

I've been peeking at my paltry Blogger page view statistics lately and I have to say, they're pretty depressing. Not totally unexpected since I haven't posted a new blog since February 2nd. However, looking at my monthly stats this morning I saw that I had 11 page views this month for the Why can't I be famous entry. Either I'm getting really good at picking labels that drive web traffic to my blog or there were 11 people in the last month that were searching for something to do with 'famous' and were lucky enough to land at my blog.

In that April 2012 blog I noted that I had surpassed 10,000 lifetime page views. That seemed like a pretty impressive number since I'm nowhere near famous. This morning, ten months on, I have over 28,000 page views!. To put that in perspective, in the first two and a half years of my blogging career, I amassed 10,000 page views. In the ten months since, I've added another 18,000.

Does that make me famous? Does that make me important?

Not even a little bit.

Page view statistics are like blogger crack. I don't care who you are. If you write a blog and no one ever reads it, you will eventually stop writing. Human nature being what it is, the fact that I've nearly tripled my lifetime page view stats in the last ten months should motivate me to write even more.

Perhaps. Even crack wears off eventually.

That's why there are drug addicts. There is no way I am going to cop to doing anything illegal in the public domain. Suffice it to say that somewhere in my murky past - in places I'm not proud of - are experiences that qualify me to speak on the subject.

Drugs make us feel good. The effects wear off after a time, depending on the drug, and that causes a yearning for more of the drug. In short order, life begins to revolve around that cycle. The purpose - the goal - of life is to get the drug and feel good. Everything else you do in some way affects the amount if time it takes for you to regain that feeling.

Being important is much like a drug. Being important makes us feel good. Even if it's just doing something nice for someone and having someone be grateful, it makes us feel important - like we matter. The dark side of liking that feeling is when being important inflates to the point where we must be important all the time. At home we must be the center of the universe; at work we need to be the boss, or, if not the boss at least someone who is looked up to by the largest number of plebes possible. We want to be the quarterback, the captain of the team - we want to score!

I believe I can fly...

I've read several articles lately about retired sports stars. This article in ESPN - The Magazine about Michael Jordan is especially illustrative of what I'm trying to articulate. I don't care if you never heard of basketball - you know who Michael Jordan is. If you take time to read the article it's interesting to note that Michael Jordan knows he is addicted to the important crack. I cannot image how hard it is to go from being the most famous man on the planet to...not. Don't get me wrong, Jordan is still famous but he is not famous now like he was famous then.

Just like any addiction, being important is not sustainable.

This morning, I was reading about Korah, a descendant of Levi. Korah and his folks were given the amazingly honorable job of caring for the most sacred objects in the Tabernacle when the Israelites hit the road. Not just anyone could transport the Ark of the Covenant. It was a tremendous honor that God had given Korah. But that wasn't good enough. Korah determined that he still wasn't important enough and he busted up on Moses and Aaron about it.

All through history we see examples of people who were very important but who wanted more. Out of the six hundred thousand or so males of serving age, Korah was ranked in the top one hundred or so. He wasn't in charge but he was important. He had an amazing responsibility.

What did Korah get for his hubris? You can read about it here...

This is a subject that could go on forever; I could write a blog every day for the next year and still not  explore all of the facets of how the need to feel important - to matter - affects our individual and collective psyches. I would prefer to enter into a dialog with those few who do happen to stop by and who do me the great and undeserved honor of reading my blog entries. So comment away, and thank you from the bottom of my inkwell for stopping by.