The Art of the All Day Zoom

I’m in another eight hour Zoom meeting today (well, obviously not without breaks. When else would I be writing this but at lunch?). This is not my first all-day Zoom session. It’s not my second, or even my third. Over the last long pandemic era, I’ve been in many meetings that have lasted 4 or more hours. They’re not fun, but I’ve gotten to the point that I know how to handle them, more or less. And seeing as how Zoom seems to be a part of our life probably for the next ever (though the platform itself may change at some point), I thought it might be useful to offer a few helpful tips for maintaining your sanity during long Zoom meetings.

(Note: if I’m ever in a long Zoom meeting with *you*, of course, I don’t need to use any of these tactics. Meetings with you are nothing but pure bliss from start to finish. I’m talking about Zoom meetings with anyone other than you. That goes without saying, right? Right.)

  1. Hydrate. This is part of a successful approach to pretty much anything. Yes, it’ll make you healthier, but it’ll also force you to take breaks from the Zoom meeting. All that hydration has to go somewhere, and you need to stand up and step away from the meeting now and then. You just can’t sit there for eight hours staring at a screen. Trust me. (And even when I don’t have to take a bathroom break, I will sometimes just turn off my camera and stand up. It really does help.)
  2. Eat! True, sometimes this means you have to turn off your camera for that as well (or risk being the butt of jokes about whether you brought enough for everyone), but food helps me focus again. One of the tragic side effects of the Zoom era is that the days of free food are over. In a typical all day meeting, there would be some juice and muffins to start the day, and then we’d have a lunch brought in, and there might even be some cookies in there somewhere in the afternoon to seal the deal. Now? It’s all up to you. I’m still on my limited diet, so I just look forward to my banana and my peanut butter sandwich. But I definitely look forward to them. If I weren’t on a diet, I would bring some other goodies to get me through the day. But I’d set specific times when I could eat them, because otherwise I’d eat them all within the first hour. Just saying.
  3. Exercise. Not going to lie, here: sometimes I turn off my camera and mic, and I jog in place in the middle of Zoom meetings. I mean, I need to exercise anyway, and that’s something I can easily do while I’m paying attention to what else is being said. It gets the heart rate up, and keeps me from succumbing to feeling overwhelmed by the hours of Zoom meetings that still lie ahead. True, sometimes this means you have to stop jogging, turn on your camera and mic, and risk explaining why you’re so flushed, but in those cases, just meet it head on. “I was exercising. Multitasking.” I mean, everyone else on the call has just been sitting there. You’re really flexing some “I’m a person who takes care of himself” muscles when you explain that.
  4. Keep a side chat going. It helps if you identify an ally in the meeting. Someone you can send snarky messages to in the middle of everything. BUT NOTE: DO NOT use Zoom to exchange these snarky missives. Zoom is like the Eye of Sauron. It keeps a log of all messages during the chat, even “private” ones, and then it sends those messages to the person who ran the meeting. So keep your side snark to Google Chat or Facebook. You’ll thank me later.
  5. If you’re really in trouble, and the meeting has turned into one of those terrible “You have to be here but it really doesn’t have anything relevant for you” affairs, then don’t forget you’ve got the internet at your fingertips. Sometimes you can check the news or your email or do some other business. But remember (WARNING!) if you wear glasses, those glasses will betray you. Cameras these days are pretty sharp. They’ll easily show the reflection of your monitor against your glasses, and it doesn’t take Sherlock Holmes to deduce that what you’re looking at is something other than a Zoom screen. So be careful with this. Just saying.

But really, with those simple steps, you can make it through even the longest Zoom meeting. Speaking from experience. Though if you’re lucky, you won’t have many of those to deal with.

Now if you don’t mind, my lunch break is running out . . .

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

To Sport or Not to Sport?

Last night, our local school board made the difficult decision to call off competitive sports this year. The Maine Principals Association had given a green light for sports to continue in some districts, depending on what each individual district felt was best, and so it shifted to a local decision.

Honestly, my reaction is a bit of a mixed bag. On the one hand, it seems to me that some sports (cross country being a prime example) surely could find a way to compete in a socially distant fashion. You’re outside, runners generally don’t clump together too much, and you could take steps to make that clumping even less frequent. Additionally, the case rate in my county (as I’ve noted multiple times before) is very low. We have 4 active cases today in the whole county. There has been 1 death. When you have colleges running entire football seasons in areas with much higher case rates, it’s easy to wonder why we couldn’t reach some sort of a compromise that would let competitive sports continue here. (Other districts in the area are moving forward with seasons, after all.)

On the other hand, I look at the potential “worst case scenario” outcomes on both sides of the argument. If you don’t have competitive sports, this might result in some very upset students and parents. Some students who are passionate about sports might grow less engaged in their schooling, and there could be some resulting depression or mental illness. (I’m trying to think as “worst case” as I can here.) On the other side of the coin, if you hold sports anyway, you might bring COVID into a community that has little evidence of it right now. It catches hold in the community, and multiple people die.

That might sound outlandish, but it’s 100% happening across the country now. The only difference between Maine and other states is that in Maine it’s easier to trace exactly where the COVID came from and what happens as a result of it. Case in point: the wedding in Millinocket that has since directly resulted in 176 COVID cases and 7 deaths. If that family had chosen to not have a public wedding, 7 people would still be alive today, and our case count would be at least 3.6% lower than it is right now. From one single event. I’m not sure who it was who got married (definitely safer for them not to be publicly known), but imagine making national headlines for the way your marriage ceremony ended up impacting your entire state.

With sports in Maine, you could potentially have something similar happen. And where in other states, COVID is rampant enough that you can’t be sure where a case came from and what it resulted in, you could see news stories in Maine about how a school that held sports ended up killing members of its community due to that decision.

Public workers are being forced to make calls that are beyond the level of responsibility they signed up for. A doctor might expect to have to make life or death decisions. A pastor or a superintendent? Not so much. Sure, any one of us might be thrust into an emergency situation where lives are on the line, but this is different than that. These are decisions you know about ahead of time, and where your judgement will be directly responsible for the outcomes. The preacher who married the couple in Millinocket has been unrepentant. It baffles me that someone could take that stance in light of what happened, but it is what it is. I don’t think a superintendent would have quite the same leeway.

I want my kids to have a great school experience. I want them to be able to be in school plays or go to school dances or perform in school music groups. But while we’re stuck with COVID (due to the gross negligence on the way the pandemic was handled in this country), this is the hand we’ve been dealt. I’m going to still try to do things to help my kids have fun, but it’s going to have to be different than it would have been if we’d handled this better. (Though that said, it appears other countries are having resurgences as well. Maybe their good actions just bought themselves a breather, not a solution. Time will tell. But a breather would have been lovely . . .)

Am I 100% happy with the school board’s decision? No. But there’s no decision they could have made that would have resulted in everyone being happy. They have to make the best they can with what they’ve been given, just like the rest of us. Maybe something will change in the future to make it possible to reevaluate the status quo. For now, we carry on.

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

The Danger of Conspiracy Theories

I love the internet. There are so many awesome things out there, waiting for people to discover. It’s enabled us to do things we couldn’t do before. YouTube acts as one of the best teachers out there, always ready to show you a video on how to do just about anything, whether it’s changing a tire or brushing up on an art technique. When I need to do research for a novel, I can find just about anything I need from the comfort of my couch. It’s a fantastic resource.

But.

The internet is built on a few key principles that have led to some very damaging side effects. First of all, everything on the internet is created by people, and people generally don’t create things just for kicks. They want to be compensated for the time it took them to create whatever it is they have to offer. And I’m all for the idea in principle. I mean, here I am writing a blog each day, and at the end of each post I put out a call for people to support my writing by becoming a patreon. But there are three general ways people get paid back for what they put online:

  • They do it for free, hoping that the “exposure” will eventually turn into something more. (Note: this is usually temporary. People generally give up on doing things for free, because time is limited. If the thing you’re putting out there is gaining no views or no interest, you usually just stop putting it out there. If it’s gaining views and interest, you start wondering if you can’t somehow be recompensed for it through other means. Like Patreon. This is one of the main reasons so many personal blogs just end up dying.)
  • They do it for a fee, meaning they either are employed to do it, they’re supported by others (like Patreon), or the return on that item is conveyed through other means. Maybe higher views gives them the standing they want to be able to turn that into something more than a side gig. (“Other means” is also a road that typically ends in transitioning to something else. Maybe the death the content.)
  • They do it for the ad fees. YouTube lets you monetize your videos. You can stick ads from Google on your websites. The more clicks those ads get, the more money you receive.

I had ads on my site about ten years ago, but I finally made the decision to do away with them, because I found myself writing articles for the purpose of getting more clicks. Sort of like a rat in a lab experiment. Press this button and get a treat. You do that enough, and all you start thinking about is how many treats you can get.

The majority of what we consume online these days is supported by ads. If you are reading something for free, it’s usually free because someone else is paying for it, or because the content creator is making money off your clicks. (Sorry for the cynicism. There are definitely exceptions to the rule, but they are generally rare.)

Speaking as someone who’s blogged daily for more than a decade, I can say from experience that the road to more clicks comes through creating content that resonates with people, for good or bad. You get more views by voicing strong opinions. Ideas that either make people want to throttle you or sing your praises. In my opinion, this is why news organizations have drifted more and more toward inflammatory opinion pieces instead of just presenting the news.

And that’s bad enough, but one of the more extreme results of this is the rise of a plethora of conspiracy theories, from flat-earthers to QAnon to Holocaust deniers. On the surface, it might seem trivial. If people want to believe the earth is flat despite scads of evidence to the contrary, fine. Idiots have to idiot, right? Except it’s not just people being bone heads. In an article just published by Time, the reporter found that

In more than seven dozen interviews conducted in Wisconsin in early September, from the suburbs around Milwaukee to the scarred streets of Kenosha in the aftermath of the Jacob Blake shooting, about 1 in 5 voters volunteered ideas that veered into the realm of conspiracy theory, ranging from QAnon to the notion that COVID-19 is a hoax.

Conspiracy theories don’t just stay harmless ideas on the fringes of the internet. They inspire people to take very real actions. To avoid vaccinations. To vote for or against different people. To wear a mask or not wear a mask. And if you want to believe the earth is flat, chances are you’re not going to hurt me by that belief, but if you start voting people into office who also believe the earth is flat, and those people begin to enact governmental policies around that concept, then we’re playing a whole different ball game.

Why do people believe conspiracy theories? I think it’s because we like to feel like we’re in the know. That the “truth” is out there, and that if you just put in the time to piece together all the different proofs, you too can become enlightened. And of course, the internet is right there waiting to help you find all the pieces of the puzzle. Better yet, there are people who have already found all the pieces and are ready to present it to you, all tied up with a bow.

Conspiracy theorists are resistant to arguments that go against the theory they’ve invested in. For one thing, the theory comes prepackaged with the concept of “people will try to convince you this is wrong, but they’re just deluded.” So as soon as you try to tell those people why what they’re believing is off base, they’re already immune to your arguments. “You’re just one of the other sheeple,” they’ll say. “Wake up!” For another, the more invested people become in an idea or cause, the more important that cause being right becomes to them. If you’ve very publicly stated your belief, you become that much more invested in doubling down on it, for the simple reason that people don’t like to admit they were wrong.

And conspiracy theories let people make more sense of a world that sometimes just feels like it’s lost its grounding. Change happens so quickly. Demographics are switching. Global pandemics are raging. Governments are using hush campaigns to undercut other governments. And now forest fires? Surely there’s a reason for all of this. It doesn’t just happen by accident, right?

From that simple desire to have meaning restored, people head down the path that (for some) ultimately leads them to think Hollywood, the media, and Democrats are holding on to power so that they can continue a global child sex trafficking operation. An operation only Donald Trump can save the world from.

As I said, there are plenty of “sources” out there that will help prove these theories. The rabbit hole that leads to this sort of searching can often start out innocently enough.

  1. Hear about real world examples of sex-trafficking rings, like Epstein.
  2. Read about the horrifying statistics around child molestation.
  3. Read about how Netflix just released a new movie centered on 11 year old girls twerking for money.
  4. Hear the media decry the outrage around that movie.
  5. Wonder what else the media isn’t telling you
  6. Turn to Google

From there QAnon is waiting with its slew of articles and videos that all claim to tell you what’s really going on. (And never mind that “what’s really going on” is that Netflix made a really poor choice of marketing materials, and this Cuties outrage has grown far beyond what the film really seems to warrant.)

(What am I basing this on? A few things. For one, it premiered at Sundance back in January, winning the World Cinema Directing Award but not really making much of an impact beyond that. See this review, for an example. It’s particularly interesting to note the statement: “the film establishes its critical view of a culture that steers impressionable young girls toward the hypersexualization of their bodies.” I have not watched the movie, but I can certainly relate to the concept that society is hypersexualizing young girls, and all I have to do to support that assertion is point to the scores of dance pictures and dance outfits taken at yearly dance recitals every. single. year. And indeed, the articles I read about the film (the ones that aren’t rabidly denouncing it as evil incarnate) seem to fall in line with this. And then there’s the fact that this pedophile argument falls right in line with pre-existing far right furor, and it all just doesn’t pass the sniff test for me. It wouldn’t be the first time a film made to critique something becomes accused of promoting the very thing it’s critiquing.)

But again, how do you combat this line of argument? You could suggest people actually watch the movie, but if you do that, then you’re accused of trying to promote child pornography. You could watch the movie yourself, but you get the same accusation. I don’t think there’s a way out of this except to clamor for people to cancel Netflix. Otherwise, you’re clearly just another person enabling pedophiles.

Sigh. This post is getting derailed. Let me get back on track.

The bottom line is that the gateways to these conspiracy theories are much more reasonable than the destinations they end up leading to. But getting out of the conspiracy theory is much harder than getting in.

How do you avoid them? Always question your sources. If it’s something written on a fringe site, what are the qualifications of the author? Why does the fringe site exist? Where does it get its money? One of the sad side effects of the internet is that quality information costs money, but crappy information is free or ad-based. (Written by the man who’s providing free commentary.) And because those free or ad-based sources get money based on clicks, it’s in their interest to accuse the subscription sources of being biased or wrong.

But I think a main reason so many of these conspiracy theories are taking stronger and stronger root in society is that they’re being used as a continued way to convince people to support certain candidates or campaigns. This isn’t really up for debate. Trump retweets articles and supporters of these QAnon conspiracies. He parrots back some of them on the campaign trail. (And when you’re no longer able to make a reasoned argument for why you should be reelected, but instead need to resort to people believing you’re the only person saving the world from child-eating monsters? Maybe you should reevaluate your campaign platform.)

But it’s not just people on the right falling for them. People on the left buy into them too. Bush planned 9/11 was a popular one back in the day. The flurry of reports of the Robert Mueller was “really going to do” was another, and some of the claims around Trump get very outlandish, to say the least. (He’s either an idiot or a mastermind, depending on the theory. Sometimes both. That doesn’t add up.) If you think only “other people” fall for conspiracy theories, you’re not helping things.

(Of course, the world being what it is, there are some who would have you believe some actual world events are nothing more than conspiracy theories. Climate change, for example. But I don’t have time to go there today.)

Anyway. That’s all I’ve got for you on that for now. I’m out of time as it is. I’m just hoping we can, as a people, be a little more questioning of information. Not all sources are created equal. Be extra careful when you start buying into an argument that “everyone wants you to ignore.” I’ll leave it at that for now.

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

Success through Failure

Denisa is teaching a class this semester for first year students, all about how to succeed in college. Today, she’s asked me to come speak to her class all about failure. “I was the first person to come to mind, huh?” I asked her. She gracefully dodged the question.

In all honesty, however, I do know a lot about failure, and I’m looking forward to talking to her class about it. Failure and success are completely interlinked, in my book. You almost never have success without failure first, and even once you have success, you will inevitably also have failure. It brings to mind the famous Michael Jordan quote:

I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.

The thing is, I didn’t always know nearly as much about failure as I do now. When I was going through high school, the times I really failed at something were few and far between, at least on a stage where it mattered. I applied to only one college, and I was accepted and given a full ride scholarship. I was the valedictorian. I missed out on a few auditions, which I looked at as failures back then, but for the most part I breezed by everything without too much effort.

My first real failure was when I applied to PhD programs in English. I thought I’d done everything I needed to be accepted. I felt confident. I was going to be an English professor. No doubt. And then I was turned down by all of them, one after another. That was pretty jarring. Suddenly I found myself in a new landscape. I didn’t have a backup plan, and I had to really scramble to figure out what I was going to do with my life.

Thankfully, things worked out. I bounced back from that failure, pivoted toward library science instead of English, and I’ve been very happy with that change. (So much so that I really feel like those rejections were for the best.) But ever since that huge failure, I’ve always been working on having backup plans, and backup plans for the backup plans. I never want to be caught in that situation again, where I’m so flat footed, and I’m left staring at my life wondering what in the world I should do next. (And even with all those backup plans, I realize sometimes I’m still going to be stumped by life. Thanks for the reminder, COVID.)

The same holds true with my writing. I finished my first book back in . . . 2001? 2002? Something like that. And when I was done with it, I kept revising and revising. Polishing. I wanted that first book to succeed, because I’d worked so hard on it. Finally, my creative writing professor (Louise Plummer) told me I had to start on a second book. “The first one’s done. Move on.”

Of course, now I’ve written 18 novels. Two of them have been published professionally, one self-published, and another one is set to come out next summer. If I’d always stuck to that first book, insisting it had to become a success, I never would have gotten to any of the others. Some of the books have done well, and some not nearly so well. But I’ve learned from all of them, and the successes have been built on the failures. I keep trying new things with my writing.

(I suppose in many ways I could trace some of that back to another failure that slipped my mind until now. My eighth grade English teacher didn’t want to recommend me for honors English in ninth grade. The reason? “I don’t think you’re a good enough writer.” I had to push through his resistance and enter Honors anyway.)

Anyway. It should be an interesting discussion. Would it have helped me to hear it back during my freshman year of college? I don’t know. Some things have to be learned on your own, I suppose. Maybe someone tried to teach me those lessons back then, and they just sailed over my head. Wouldn’t be the first time . . .

But hey: I got there eventually. Success through failure!

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

Revision Complete!

Yesterday I finished the sixth draft of THE PERFECT PLACE TO DIE. There was much rejoicing. It wasn’t a huge revision in the grand scheme of things, but it came at a very difficult time. Between the kids’ school starting back up, the university getting in gear again, the puppy, and general anxiety, it’s a tough time to force yourself to get creative. But I did, and I’m happy with how it turned out. (Now here’s hoping my editor is also happy . . .)

Of course, I also realize that when I say “wasn’t a huge revision,” it might mean different things to me than it means to you. For me, a revision is something much more than checking for spelling errors and internal consistencies in the book. (Such as, “Does a character’s description remain constant?”) No, an actual revision is going through making real changes to the text itself.

For this revision, there were a number of things I set out to tackle. First, my editor had read through the whole manuscript and had some great suggestions about what needed to happen. The first third of the book dragged too much, so it needed to be slimmed down. (I cut it by almost a fifth.) The climax was over too abruptly. (I extended it by about 40%.) Some of the characters didn’t appear often enough. Some areas needed more tension. In all, I probably trimmed about 7,500 words (out of 75,000) and added back in around the same amount I cut. (The final length did drop by a few hundred words.)

Once I’d read her suggestions, I read through the book myself again, looking for ideas on how to execute her suggested edits, as well as checking for things that still didn’t sit right with me. It’s always super helpful to be reading with a purpose. I get to the point on a book that I can’t take it any farther on my own. I’ve made it as good as I can without feedback. Once I have feedback, I can almost always see what I was missing before.

(It reminds me in many ways of the days when I was still searching for an agent. I’d send off a manuscript, confident it was perfect. I’d get back feedback and suddenly see all its flaws. This isn’t to say that a book always has those flaws. Sometimes I’m trying to do something that appeals to some people and not to others. You can’t just give up on your vision because someone doesn’t think it’s great. Sometimes you need to stick to your guns. A lot of the trick is knowing when to do that.)

Anyway. Glad to have the revision done and be that much closer to sharing it with you all!

And in other good news, Ferris didn’t just keep his cage poop free last night, he went to bed at 10 and didn’t get up until we got him at 6am. That’s a huge win in my book. If we can keep that up, things are looking rosy!

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

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