Punishing Success?

I’ve been seeing a phenomenon in recent years that bothers and confuses me and I hope you all can help me rationalize it.

When did being Broke and Shiftless become something to be admired? By the same token, when did doing well for yourself become something to be shamed and denigrated?

Time was when someone aspired to Greatness. To be more than your circumstances, to fight to overcome your adversities and show the world that you were more than mere external perceptions. Damn it, it’s not noble to be poor.

We’ve all seen the rise of the Occupy Movements. Yes, the oppressive [sarcastic hiccup] 1% is keeping the rest of us down by making us pay for goods and services that we rightfully [another sarcastic hiccup] deserve. I don’t know who’s going around spreading this load of manure, but they really need to stop because as the old saying goes: “There are no Free Lunches.”

I’m not saying that bad things don’t happen. Of course they do and it would be the height of naivety to presume otherwise. But to teach an entire generation to put on the Victim Suit and demand that which they have not earned by blaming a collection of nameless faceless individuals, (there are never specific examples. Believe me, I’ve checked), is the height of Folly.

Look past the big house and nice car. See the work that they put into getting to where they are. Some of these well-to-do people put in triple digit work weeks because they are often on schedules where they are on-call 24/7, don’t get Overtime, and are responsible for entire companies that range from regional chains to multinational corporations. Working on that level is a lot more than simply showing up and punching a time clock.

To those who bring up Trust Funders, I will simply say “So what?” Yes, there are those who squander the gifts that they inherited in outrageous ways. But it’s theirs to squander, not ours to worry about.

Success is nothing to punish. It’s not a bad thing. In fact, striving to improve ourselves should be a primary motivation in our thoughts and deeds. Anything else, in my opinion, is self-destructive and self-defeating. Don’t go down without a fight.

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Send Your Name to Mars

I thought it was a cool thing to be a part of. Time’s apparently running out so if you want to participate, you have to do it before the end of the day on 9/8/2015.
Here’s the link to sign up:

http://mars.nasa.gov/participate/send-your-name/insight/

At least something of me is going into Space.

At least something of me is going into Space.

It’s Monday Again…

Let’s face it, Mondays get bad reps….

Yep, it’s going to be one of THOSE articles. Those articles where I ruminate over how hard it is to get things moving when you’re switching gears from Weekend Mode.

I’m usually pretty good about getting started on Writing Projects but on Mondays, the motivation tends to drag its feet. I love to write, but there are also times when I adore to kick back, relax, and do my world famous (hehe) impression of a bump on a log.

Then I look at my calendar and realize that I’m on a deadline. Granted, it’s a self-imposed deadline and I can modify the timing to my choosing, but still a deadline none the less.

Yes, it all ties back to procrastination and despite my better angels, I am a Pro at it. I’m also a Pro at recognizing why I procrastinate and how to fight it.

From an early age, we are bombarded by life concepts that range from factual (work hard) to mythical (imagine and it will be yours) to the borderline outrageous (Luck can strike at any time). There are others, but you don’t need to hear the ones about how some abstract element of Society is supposedly keeping you down and robbing you of opportunities.

I believe in a concept called “Make it Happen”. In short, it states that unless you fight off the self-doubt, the insecurity, the moments where your internal critic tells you it can’t be done, you won’t achieve the results you want. Courage isn’t rushing headlong into Folly; it’s about moving forward even with the possibility that you might fail. Let face it, Failure isn’t something to be afraid of anyway because even in Failure, there is learning.

So, grab your coffee and steel your resolve. Monday is just another day closer to the success that is inevitable. You just have to make it happen.

Parallax Update #10

The Parallax Train moves steadily onward. This is the latest excerpt from Chapter 18, which closes out this part of the story. It isn’t the end of the book, but it completes a good portion of the Hero’s transition from what he was to what he is to become. Enjoy. 🙂

Pratt stopped pounding on the door and heard the footsteps fade away on the other side. The room reminded him of Koren’s Training Room back on the ship, but this was different in a way that he couldn’t put his finger on. He shivered against the darkness as he searched for some perspective on the room’s size. No matter how far he searched, no matter in what direction he reached in, his hands never met a wall. However, his efforts always led him back to the same door he originally entered from. How is this possible? He thought as he threw up his hands several times in frustration. There has to be a trick to this place.

*Perhaps I can help?*

“Oh no.” Pratt thrust his hands into his pockets, searching for his injector. He remembered keeping it close by, but it was missing. “What the Hell?”

*They took it from you.* Pinchot appeared beside him, her smile as bright and annoying as ever. *I’m starting to like these walking hand bags.*

“You know, Pinchot was many things.” Pratt said, trying to adjust his eyes to the lack of light that was only pieced by what peeked from under the doorway. “But she was one of the least xenophobic people I ever knew.”

*That’s easy when you only know two of other kids on the Block, Jack. How do you know that she wasn’t a raging humanist under all her so-called military discipline?*

“You’re not using that word correctly.” Pratt turned his attention back to exploring the darkness. “Hell, you’re not even real. I should have given myself a double dose before leaving the crawler. I’m such an idiot.”

*Don’t beat yourself up* She told him. *After all, you have a four lane parking lot in your head and five cars are trying to park at the same time. Something’s bound to fall through the cracks.*

“Stop trying to help.” Pratt said. “There’s a reason why the High Master stuck me in here. It has to be a puzzle, but what’s the solution? There’s always a solution.” He looked into the darkness. “Perhaps, the puzzle is the solution.” He sat down on the stone floor and closed his eyes. “When I tried to fight for a way out, I got nowhere. I must try something else. So, shut up while I’m thinking.”

He closed his eyes and fought to clear his mind. For all her annoyance, his personal demon was right about one thing: he had allowed way too much to burden his mind. So, how does one go against their own nature? He always thought of himself as a Guardian, a Protector from way back. How does one change the habits of a lifetime?

He sensed light outside his closed eyelids. When he opened them, he found himself standing in a large courtyard that reminded him of a hacienda museum he had once visited in California, back on Earth. The row of brightly colored flowers that bordered the stone and wood overhangs were exactly as he remembered. But why here of all places?

He felt an old memory stirred in the back of his mind and slowly migrate to the front of his consciousness. As the memory coalesced, the scene before him changed. He watched a group of young boys, dressed in familiar school uniforms that he struggled to recognize, holding down a smaller boy while throwing punches and kicks. A red and yellow shoulder patch bearing a book and shield emblem caught his eye and made his breath catch in his throat.

“Oh no.” He groaned inward. “Not this. Not again.” He took a step forward and stopped. Why was he stopping? I should stop this, he thought, these kids are bullies and bullies are never to be tolerated. What did I do last time?
He felt disconnected as he watched younger versions of his parents rush past him, dressed in crisp white naval uniforms to break up the fight. The bullies were shooed away and the victim lifted, battered, bruised and bloodied, to his feet. Pratt cringed inward as shame filled him from head to toe. Soon, members of the museum staff came over with a first aid kit and tended to the boy’s injuries. He opened his mouth to speak, but no words would come out.

His father saw him and came over, crouching in front of him with small flecks of blood adorning the bottom of his jacket. “Jack, do you know what you did wrong?”

Pratt shook his head. “No, Sir, I wasn’t involved.”

John Jacob Pratt nodded and gestured toward the fight’s aftermath. “Precisely. You weren’t involved and someone got hurt. Jack, you must never allow an unfair fight to continue. We live in a world where the Strong prey on the Weak and it is up to us to defend those who can’t defend themselves. Do you understand?”

“But why me? Why do I have to put myself in danger for someone I don’t know?”

Pratt’s father sighed. “Because you are a Leader and that is what Leaders do. Your mother and I didn’t raise you to turn a blind eye to situations like this because it didn’t involve you. That boy was lucky that we saw him when we did. Never, ever, turn your back on someone in need. Am I clear, Mister?”

“Yes, Sir.”

A shroud of darkness descended over him once again like a curtain separating the acts of a theater play. His eyes could sense the change in light, but after the experience on Planet Chaos, he wasn’t sure if it were real or just in his mind. He felt awake and aware, but how could he be sure?

“I know you’re watching me.” He yelled into the darkness. “I don’t know why you’re doing this, but I’ll find a way out of this cage.” The lack of an echo disturbed him greatly as he struggled to find some light to get his bearings from. Even the door he originally came in was gone. “A little light would be helpful, you know?”

He felt something slide across the stone floor and stop against his left foot. Reaching down, he grasped a small cylinder and picked it up. The cylinder was light, flexible and pointed at both ends as he twirled it between his fingers. He raised it to his left ear and shook it, feeling the smallest amount of liquid move around inside. A light stick? He became bored with the cylinder and began playing with it until he flexed it too far and he heard a crack and then a bright blue light.

“Well, I’ll be damned.” He smiled. “It was a light stick.”

The light stick’s glow did little to push back the darkness, but at least he could get some perspective on his situation. After several attempts at exploring the room, he found his way back to the center, where his thoughts went back to the vision he had experienced. Not acting to stop the fight always weighed heavily on his mind. He could have stopped it. He was bigger and stronger than the other boys, but his lack of investment in others hampered his ability to empathize with the plight of others. It wasn’t a question of being mean; it was simple preoccupation with his own affairs.

“Those who come here, come to learn.” The High Master’s voice startled him from his reverie. “What have you come here to learn?”

Pratt couldn’t see him, but the Locknar’s presence was undeniable and close. “I didn’t come here to do anything but accompany Koren in his ritual. There’s nothing for me to learn here.”

“Are you so sure?” A light appeared on the other side of the room, prompting Pratt to move toward it. The light became an open doorway, adorned with circuitry that hummed and blinked in time with some unseen rhythm. “You are preparing for a path which you have not set out upon yet.”

“God, I hate riddles.” Pratt stopped short of entering the doorway and threw his hands up in the air. “That’s it. I quit. I didn’t ask for all the stuff that’s come down on me. All I wanted was to finish my service and go back to Earth. I didn’t ask to be the Galaxy’s Soldier of Fortune.”

“We are not always given a choice as to our destiny.” The High Master’s voice echoed around him. “Yours is a journey that seeks its own end. To that end, you must prepare yourself for what is to come.”

“I’m just a man.”

“A man, yes, but a man with a purpose. Embrace your role and live the life that you were always meant to live. Enter the Doorway to find the answers you seek.”

“I really hate riddles, but being stuck in a dark room without a way out is no picnic either.” Pratt stepped through the doorway.

And found himself standing back in a room that was oddly familiar, yet out of place on a Locknar planet. Rows of broken wooden benches with what looked like silhouettes burned into their backs, rested on either side of him while an elaborate altar lay behind him as he turned to study his surroundings.

“What the Hell is this?” He said. “Where am I? More damned riddles.”

He walked to the rear of the room, past stained glass windows until he reached a door that led to a smaller room with one double door exit and two large windows on either side, their glass panes painting everything in reflected kaleidoscopes. He walked up to a window and looked out.

Pratt’s breath caught in his throat as he looked out on a world filled with devastation and destruction as far as the eye could see. Piles of rubble that used to be buildings and homes cluttered broken and cratered streets in all directions. Overhead, Signiferian ships moved in slow battle lines, their weapons firing in bursts at unseen ground targets, the explosive fireballs rising high into the atmosphere. Questions filled his mind as he went to the exit and pressed in the panic bars. The double doors opened without protest.

His nostrils were assailed by the sickly smell of burnt flesh as he stepped outside and descended a set of large concrete steps to the street level. His senses told him that he wasn’t on Mitalum, or anywhere close to the M42 Nebula. The sky was too blue, the ground too brown, the buildings too…human. Wait a minute, he thought as he turned around and stared up at the resolute remains of an old catholic church, its Neo-Gothic architecture and rooftop crosses presiding over the chaos below.

He reclimbed the steps to find a tarnished dedication plate set into one of the church’s cornerstones. “St. Matthew’s Church.” He read. “Established 4/16/2015. Blessed are The Meek.” He straightened up. “I’m back on Earth, but how? And when?”

The world slowed to a crawl as missiles appeared on the horizon and detonated on top of the enemy ships, each explosion a mushroom of death and destruction that bathed the planet in a wave of light and heat. A shock wave shook the ground, then another, and then still another until Earth itself convulsed in a death rattle that brought everything left standing down in a shifting pile of debris that rained down around him. Eventually, cracks appeared in the ground and Pratt realized that he was watching his home die. Mercifully, darkness fell around him before the scene completed.

“You chose to reject your destiny.” The High Master appeared beside him. “As a result, Koren failed in his bid to expose those in the Hegemony, our peoples exhausted themselves with years more of fighting while The Signiferians gathered both their forces and strengths, and eventually no one was strong enough to resist them when they came in force.”

“The Signiferians said I had the keys to something that kept them away until now.” Pratt said. “How could they get around that?” He didn’t wait for an answer as the realization struck him between the eyes. “I quit. I quit and went back to my old life. Somehow they got me back in their custody and found what they were looking for. Is that what you’re getting at?”

The High Master remained silent for a long time, not answering the question. He placed a clawed hand on Pratt’s forehead while chanting. Pratt felt warmth spread across his head before the hand was removed. “I have managed to remove the disguise that your tracking device employs. It is possible that your body’s immune system could attack and destroy the device successfully, but I would not expect such results with optimism. In the meantime, the device will not transmit with any degree of reliability. It will not last forever and I have left a suggestion in your mind to let you know when your time is running out.”

“In other words, no one’s holding my leash right now.” Pratt nodded. “What about your healers?”

“If there was time, I would gladly recommend it.”

“I understand.” Pratt said. “About a lot of things. Now that I’ve committed fully to this destiny of mine. May I ask you for a small favor?”

“Anything.”

“How about turning on the damn lights?”

Fighting Procrastination and Writer’s Block

In honor of my 100th Article, I thought I’d touch on an old favorite. Enjoy:

I’m going to start this one by saying that I tend to suffer from Procrastination. Yes, I freely admit it and it is a constant companion as I take each writing project from Beginning to End.

Procrastination is one of those motivation-sapping things that isn’t limited to creative people. Everyone deals with it in one form or another and combating it can often be as intense as whatever task has been set before you. Procrastination also tends to be the first step toward Full-On Writer’s Block, which I’ll try to address here.

The Bad News is that if you are a chronic Procrastinator, you will probably be dealing with Procrastination forever.

However, The Good News is that Procrastination (and Writer’s Block) can be managed through a number of helpful techniques that have fairly high success rates at keeping the beast at bay for a while. Here are a few of them that I use:

1) Outlines:

Outlines are one of those things that people either love to death or hate with the passion of a hundred suns. There are some who believe that plotting out a story kills the spontaneity of creating and takes the fun out of the process. I’m not one of those people. When you have an Outline, you essentially have a road map of where you want the story to go. Outlines effectively answer the question of “What Happens Next?” and are very useful in moving your story forward. Granted, there are also times where you will have an idea that goes off the Outline. Don’t fret, because this is a good thing. You can always follow your inspiration and steer the story back in line with your outline. I call this situation “Going Off-Road”. The good thing about Going Off-Road is that it means that your creativity is kicking in.

2) Visualization:

Visualization is essentially picturing the scene in your mind and using that mental picture as a dictation source to write your story down. It’s a great way to imagine the details and actions of each scene so you have a more sensory connection to what you are writing about. Imagine watching a movie with no picture. Not much fun, huh? Now, put the picture back up and it all comes alive.

3) Get to know your Characters:

Your characters are more than set dressing. They are the people who populate your story, generate conflict, and move the plot along. When I tell a story, I always start with three basic character types:

Main Characters:

The Protagonist(s): The Hero/Heroine of the Story. They embody the highest percentage of story time because it’s their story and they have something they are striving for. There are optional sidekicks for The Protagonist(s, whose purpose is to assist in achieving the goal.

The Antagonist(s): The Foil for your Hero/Heroine. They exist to prevent your Protagonist from achieving their goal. They also can have optional sidekicks or minions. The amount of story time they occupy will depend on the kind of story you are writing.

Secondary Characters:

Secondary Characters are similar to sidekicks in that they provide a supporting role, but not always. Generally speaking, Secondary Characters come in for limited times and then often leave, either through Death, the 5:00 Train to Tucson, or whatever manner you come up with. Often, they are the ones who put the Protagonist or Antagonist on their respective paths.

Tertiary Characters:

Tertiary Characters are often, in my experience, those characters that are mentioned yet rarely seen. The tricky part about using Tertiary Characters is that their status in a story can change without warning. Think of them as an Extra in a movie that suddenly becomes a speaking part. Be judicious when creating these types because you may end up with a cast of characters that would put Ben Hur to shame.

4) Writing Quotas:

I’ve personally found this very effective in keeping me on task. Set a specific amount of words that you want to add to your story every day and don’t let up until you reach that goal. I use a relatively low number for my daily quota of 500 words. It’s an easy to reach goal and if you exceed it, you have a very good excuse to give yourself a reward for your hard work.

5) Give in to the Procrastination:

Finally, I don’t like to advocate this option, but unless you are on a contract deadline and have to get your book to the editor or publisher, you’re on a self-imposed deadline like I use for practice purposes. So, go play, take a smoke break, coffee break, mess around on The Internet, whatever. Eventually, you will feel the tug back to your story. Just realize that every minute you spend away from Writing is one less minute of story being written.

Guys, don’t beat yourself up if you feel like you’re not making progress. Any amount of work accomplished is progress. I personally have some days where I’m knocking out hundreds upon thousands of words and then others when I can barely make 500.

Don’t. Give. Up.

Conspiracy Theories as Inspiration

Take some time to travel The Internet and eventually you will run across some of the best fiction ever created by Human Beings: Conspiracy Theories.

Don’t get me wrong because I love to read a good Conspiracy Theory and frequently use them (with a twist) as inspiration for my original stories. This article won’t go into a lot of detail on specific Conspiracy Theories, but rather how they can be used as inspiration tools. That being said, let’s define the parameters of this conversation. For this discussion, I will be using definitions provided by the friendly folks at Merriam-Webster.com.

What is a Conspiracy?

1) the act of conspiring together.

2) an agreement among conspirators.

3) a group of conspirators.

What is a Theory?

1) the analysis of a set of facts in their relation to one another.

2) abstract thought : speculation

3) the general or abstract principles of a body of fact, a science, or an art <music theory>

4) a belief, policy, or procedure proposed or followed as the basis of action <her method is based on the theory that all children want to learn>

5) an ideal or hypothetical set of facts, principles, or circumstances —often used in the phrase in theory <in theory, we have always advocated freedom for all>

6) a plausible or scientifically acceptable general principle or body of principles offered to explain phenomena <the wave theory of light>

7) a hypothesis assumed for the sake of argument or investigation

8) an unproved assumption : conjecture

9) a body of theorems presenting a concise systematic view of a subject <theory of equations>

Now that we have defined what a conspiracy and a theory is, let’s put them together.

The Dictionary Definition?

Merriam-Webster.com defines a Conspiracy Theory as “a theory that explains an event or set of circumstances as the result of a secret plot by usually powerful conspirators.”

Putting it all together:

Based on what we know about conspiracies and theories, we can’t help but come to the conclusion that a Conspiracy Theory is essentially the idea that a someone or group of someones is acting in a acting in a secret manner results in something happening. Let’s break that down even further:

Bob is getting ready for work when he slips on a bar of soap in the shower and breaks his neck on the floor. Obviously, Bob wouldn’t intentionally put the soap in a place where he would slip on it and kill himself. The key words “killed himself” are important because they take this event from a simple accident (bars of soap get slippery when wet) and turn it into a targeted event involving Bob, a bar of soap, and a window of opportunity where he gets in the shower, comes into contact with the soap, and then slips and falls to an admittedly embarrassing end. By removing the word accident and substituting killed himself, a simple fall in the shower is now the origin of a Conspiracy Theory.

But wait, as the salesman would say, there’s more!

We don’t know much about Bob so that ambiguity gives room for all kinds of wild speculation.

Did Bob work for the Government or in some other industry that’s not well-liked? If yes, then boom, you have another piece of the puzzle behind Poor Bob’s demise. Who cares if it’s not real. If someone contests your “facts”, you can always claim that the lack of accurate information is the result of some diabolical redaction of facts that can never be proved. If no, then simply make something up. After all, secret conspiratorial families like the Hapsburgs or Rothchilds have been supposedly controlling the world from behind the scenes for centuries. Or…LIZARD PEOPLE! I love the Lizard Overlords because they never show themselves, never seem to be revealed, and always seem to do the crappiest job at running the planet.

Wait, maybe Bob knew how to use Heavy Water, or Deuterium, in a way other than moderating nuclear reactions in reactors or in any number of applications including enhancing the visual capabilities of nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy, fuel in nuclear weapons, or in certain types of drugs. Bottom line, we’ve just taken a simple and tragic slip in the shower and turned it into a major conspiracy theory complete with bad guys operating in secret, chemicals that can be bad in the wrong hands, and Lizard People. Can’t forget the Lizard People.

Now you see why I enjoy Conspiracy Theories. Where else can you take a whole lot of disparate things, tie them together with a flimsiest of conjecture, and spit out something that sounds good on the other side but has no basis in Reality and no worthwhile use except in making a really good story.

I do feel bad about poor Bob though…. 😉