Category: ramblings

Leveling Up

I turn 42 today, which means (obviously) that I now know all the answers to life, the universe, and everything. Tragically, I’ll forget them when I turn 43, but I suppose that’s the price of old age.

One of the things I’m reflecting on today is how I feel like I’ve grown personally over the years, and the importance of remember other people are going through the same process, although likely in a different order than you.

For example, last week I read an article about how bad plastics have really proven to be for our environment, and how unrealistic it is that recycling them is a longterm solution. This stuck with me, since I’d always just not bothered thinking about what happened to things I threw away. It crossed my mind that it had to go somewhere, but I had too many other things to worry about than to worry about every little thing I was getting rid of. But for some reason, this article clicked with me. It made me wonder what I could do to make things a bit better.

What am I going to do? Well, I started by looking at the things I buy consistently that come in plastic. The nice thing in my case is that since I’m such a creature of habit, it’s fairly easy to identify what I’m doing that might be changed, and then it’s just a matter of coming up with an approach that might lessen that impact. Denisa already does a great job of reducing a lot of our family’s waste, because this has been a much bigger issue to her than it was to me. (She leveled up in it long before I did.) But I still go through a fair bit of plastic packaging from peanut butter jars, milk jugs, and powdered peanut butter. Everything else I eat comes in paper or recyclable bags. (Bread. Bananas (no packaging at all!). Chocolate chips (bought in bulk). Oatmeal.) My daily vitamins do come in plastic, but it’s small, and I go through two containers a year. Nothing heavy. Peanut butter, however, I go through a fair bit of. (No judging my eating habits, please. I haven’t leveled that up yet.)

So what am I going to do? I’m going to look into buy peanuts in bulk bags and then making my own peanut butter. My Blendtec should handle it, and then I can just make it in advance and store it in glass jars. And I can use peanuts in my shakes instead of peanut powder. More calories, but no plastic.

I’m not trying to thump my chest here and say “look at how awesome I am.” Mainly because I don’t think there’s anything awesome that I’m doing. It’s just a small thing that I can do, and so I’m going to try to do it. This comes on top of other decisions I’ve made to try to lessen my impact on the environment. We drive small cars (never bought a minivan), and one is a hybrid. I try to carpool when I can. I vote for people who will do their best to enact laws that will benefit the environment. I don’t eat much meat at all.

But that’s just one area of my life. I’ve also worked on leveling up other areas: my weight and my health, my sleeping habits, my reading habits, my patience, acceptance of other people, faith, family interactions, etc. There are so many different ways we can all become better people.

Of course, this leads to the question of what to do about people who don’t do the same things I do. For that, I try to remember I wasn’t always where I am now, and other people need to have the chance to grow at their own rate. Likewise, there are going to be areas where someone else is leveled up beyond me, and I would like to think they’d extend the same understanding to me.

When we begin to view other people as ignorant or stubborn or lacking because they don’t share our views, that’s a dangerous stance to be taking. I may really loathe our current President, and I may be very disappointed that the entire country doesn’t share that same sentiment, but I don’t think it’s true or helpful to begin assigning labels to those who continue to support Trump. “If you support Trump, you’re a racist” is no more helpful than someone saying “If you support Biden, then you’re a socialist.” (Though that contrast assumes “racist” and “socialist” are equally bad. But I’m not going to go there right now.)

I believe most people are trying to do the right thing, from their understanding. If we try to assume the best of others and their intentions, we have a much better chance of reaching compromises and making progress than we do if we assume the worst. Right now, it feels like too many of us are more concerned with trying to swell our ranks by making the people we disagree with look as villainous as possible. Look at the rhetoric on both sides. Trump would have you believe all of his opponents are planning on blowing up the entire country the moment they reach power. Many of his opponents want to label anyone who votes for Trump as a Nazi. This leaves people who find themselves in the middle feeling like they really don’t know which way to go. Do they vote for the anarchists or the dictator?

I’m not going to unfriend someone based on their politics. I believe there are many, many good people on both sides of the aisle. Yes, I have very clear opinions, and the choice this year seems obvious to me. But I realize it might not be that easy to others, depending on where they’re standing and what areas they’ve leveled up in. (No doubt to my opposites, I simply haven’t leveled up yet in the right categories, either.) There are good, sincere people on both sides who are earnestly trying to do their best. Let’s find each other and work together to make this world better.

Anyway. I don’t know what sort of a conclusion I can make beyond that. I will keep doing what I’ve tried to always do: be a better person, treat people with the kindness and understanding I’d like to be treated with, and do the best I can with the information I have, always trying to become better informed.

Happy Monday.

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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.

On Willful Ignorance

More and more, I’m seeing people who object to the idea that perhaps racism is still a problem America is actively dealing with. I’ll illustrate this with a case in point: up in Bangor a few months ago, five Black students at the high school came forward to attest to the fact that they had experienced racists attacks during their time at school. Specific instances, like being called the n-word in the middle of basketball games, or having other students defend white supremacy and slavery in the middle of class. (Mind you, folks: this is in Maine. You don’t get more north than this without a whole lot of Canada.)

It was upsetting to hear of those experiences, and disappointing to think it’s happening here in Maine, but not really surprising or unexpected. (We just had a BLM protest canceled in Portland due to death threats against the organizers, after all.) There have been many other instances of racism I’ve seen reported in the media, from slurs to outright attacks. But I hoped that with all the attention and newfound support for ending racism, this trend would diminish in Maine.

Cue today, where a student and his parents got upset that a teacher in the high school was addressing privilege and bias head on. The student filmed some of the teacher’s lesson:

In the shared video clip, the teacher talked to students about how race and gender shape their identities and their treatment in society. As a white woman, the teacher explained, she does not face racial discrimination but has faced sexism.

“The fact that my race is white is part of my privileged identity,” she said. “Race is not something that gets in the way of me getting a job or puts me in danger, whereas my gender being female is something I have to think about and might be one of my more targeted identities.”

They then took that clip and shared it online in pro-Trump Facebook groups, and suddenly you had people clamoring for that teacher to be fired.

I’m baffled that people would object to this line of reasoning in the first place, though (again) I suppose I shouldn’t be. There have been times in the past that I have written about seeing prejudice or sexism at work first hand, only to have people show up in the comments section claiming that they’ve never experienced anything like that, and so they doubt that it could be true. (In my case, it was talking about sexism among members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I’d seen it. I’d talked to plenty of people who had experienced it. Yet there were multiple women who came forward after I wrote the post to say that they had never seen any sexism in the church, and to call my statements into question because of that.)

There just seems to be a lack of imagination for some people. An apparent inability to be able to think for a moment that their small slice of life experience might not be 100% applicable to the experiences everyone else is going through. In many ways, I try to think of it like when I learn a new word. I could have sworn I’d never heard that word before I learned the definition, but as soon as I know the definition, I start hearing the word in conversations all over the place. It’s not some big conspiracy. I just leveled up my vocabulary, and so I was suddenly capable of understanding more than I was before.

Though it’s not just that. I think the very idea that racism and sexism (or other isms) are present in our society is threatening to some people. Because we like to think of ourselves as good people. If our society still has flaws, that might lead to the conclusion that we have flaws and that we are not as good of people as we would like to think. Even worse, it might mean we need to change what we’re doing, and change is hard.

I don’t hold ignorance against people. I don’t think it’s fair. If someone truly doesn’t know about something, then it’s unjust to judge them for that hole in their knowledge. However, what I’m seeing more and more is willful ignorance. When a person decides to ignore facts or other people’s experiences, or dismiss them as invalid because they contrast with their own experiences, then they stop simply being ignorant and move into more dangerous territory. Once you’ve embraced willful ignorance as a way to deal with problems, it becomes easier to turn to it time and time again to solve other difficulties. Worse yet, you begin to doubt any evidence that goes against what you’re already inclined to believe, until you get to the point that anything that contradicts your worldview can be dismissed without even looking twice at it. At that point, I’m not sure you can be defined as willfully ignorant anymore, because you’ve stopped even looking at anything that might put your ignorance in danger. Let’s call this “stubborn ignorance.”

So what do we do about the stubborn ignorant? Or worse yet, those people who have learned the trappings of this conflict and try to use those trappings to justify their continued ignorance (or at least their continued actions)? For example, once someone knows the term “gaslighting,” they can use it to justify just about anything. If I have never seen (or at least acknowledged) racism at work in my country, I can accuse anyone who says it’s present of gaslighting. “My country isn’t racist. You’re trying to get me to believe something that doesn’t exist. Stop gaslighting me!” And then the argument moves away from anything remotely threatening to the core of a person’s actions or beliefs, centering instead on just what “gaslighting” means and who is or isn’t doing it.

I’m not sure what else to add to this. The points are probably lost on those who might benefit from them the most. But of course, I believe Americans live in two seemingly contrasting realities at this point. It’s like a sports rivalry, where anything the other team does or says is automatically wrong, except played out in real life, where actual lives are at stake. I can see there’s a problem. Others can see there’s a problem. But the people we need to actually see a problem refuse to acknowledge such a problem exists. As if we needed one more thing to be depressed about . . .

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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.

On Stating Your Opinion Online

Want to know something that depresses me? (There’s a lot, but how about just one thing?) I wrote two opinion pieces in the last week or so. The first was one I thought about for hours in advance. I spent a long time pondering what I would say, and I put in a ton of effort into getting my thoughts down on the page. It turned into my post on racism. The second I rattled off in about ten minutes. It’s my now infamous post vilifying Grape Nuts.

Guess which one generated more discussion, debate, and ultimate more views.

Yup. Grape Nuts.

I’ve been thinking about why that is over the last few days, and there are a few reasons I’ve come up with. I imagine it’s a mixture of these, but I’ll take them one at a time.

First, my blog posts primarily generate views through Facebook. As much as I would love to one day foster a forum where people not associated with Facebook will come and interact with each other in the comments section of my blog, that just isn’t in the cards for now. Facebook promotes posts that people will interact with. The more people interact with one, the more it includes that post in other people’s feeds. The Grape Nuts post generated a lot of discussion, probably because people felt pretty safe expressing their opinion about the topic. There was a lot of banter back and forth, and it was a fun post. Very low risk of feelings getting hurt or of someone saying the wrong thing.

The racism post just couldn’t compete in that arena. There were a few comments and a few likes, but the post appeared and then sunk into the abyss without making enough ripples to get pushed by any algorithm. So why wouldn’t people want to comment and talk about something that many, many people have strong feelings about?

One reason might be they’re just tired of the topic. They’re drained about the debate on both sides, and they’re just not up to defending an opinion for the umpteenth time. While my Facebook posts generally remain civil, you never know when someone’s going to crawl out of the woodwork and say something mean or spiteful or ignorant, and who wants that?

But I tend to think a bigger reason is that people are worried about saying the wrong thing. About being judged by the internet masses, one way or the other. And that’s an area that’s really concerning to me. It’s an area where I believe both sides of the political spectrum could really be helped by changing.

Case in point: JK Rowling. She has said some callous, poorly-thought-out things on trans rights in the past, and she doubled down yesterday by penning a huge long essay saying just where she stands on the matter. I read it, and there are problematic things throughout the post. I’m not going to derail my post today by analyzing it. (I’m both not nearly well informed enough to do so, nor am I remotely qualified to do so.) However, one thing I feel comfortable saying about her post is that the appropriate response is not to pepper her with name calling and death threats. I’d like to think the instances of that are the exception, not the rule, but from what she says, there have been many many instances of that.

Granted, perhaps she’s already had multiple instances of people explaining to her how she’s being harmful in her continued approach to discussing these issues in public, but at this point she also clearly feels like she’s under attack, and that’s causing her to dig in even further.

This isn’t something unique to her situation. The YA scene can be a really thorny one to wade into these days, with a very heavy groupthink mentality. Say something that’s slightly out of line, or inadvertently off base, and the repercussions can be swift and fierce. I’ve spoken to multiple authors who have decided to just never say anything about anything other than writing, out of fear of making a blunder.

That’s certainly their right, but is that a helpful environment to foster? By ruthlessly crushing thought on both sides of the aisle, we perpetuate an arms race of sorts, where the only people speaking are the die hards who have their caps lock key permanently engaged.

I have waded into more a few treacherous waters, discussing religion, gay rights, gun control, abortion, and more. I have yet to have any real repercussions from those posts. Why is that? One reason (likely the biggest) is that I’m relatively obscure. It’s not as if my posts get spread to the winds and reach enough eyeballs to get anywhere near a critical mass of mob mentality going. Another could be that I’m a white male, so that squelches many of the racist or sexist attacks that might be aimed at me otherwise.

What I’d like to think is at least partly due to that is that I’m as open and honest about my thought process as I can be. My posts are almost never written in absolutes. (Except for Grape Nuts. Blech.) I explain what I think and why, but I leave room for others to disagree with me, and for me to be wrong. Ironically, I believe this is also a reason why my posts are not more widely read. People who are more willing to make strong stands end up getting more views. (Which probably explains why that Grape Nuts post resonated . . .) If all I cared about were eyeballs, then I ought to either become an arch conservative or an arch liberal.

But that’s not what I want. I’d much rather encourage people to think about an issue. To maybe see the other side of it, or to help me see why what I already believe might be misguided. I believe that’s the sort of approach that might lead the country toward a more unified populous, and this continued game of “Gotcha!” on all sides is only exacerbating the problem.

Because people still have opinions. Strong opinions on all of the hot button topics. They just have stopped telling people about them online. On the one hand, I miss the days when racist opinions were taboo enough that trolls weren’t ready or willing to state them in public. But I also miss the days when people didn’t regularly sift through people’s old social media posts for anything incriminating. People can and do change.

Sometimes I wonder if this will happen to me at some point. If something I’ve written years ago comes across as heartless or inappropriate in today’s environment, and I’m called to task for it. I’d like to think people would judge me based on the entirety of my work, but I know it’s more likely that the focus will all laser in on the one or two posts I wrote that didn’t pass muster. (Please note: I don’t think I’ve said or written anything that will get me in hot water, but you never know.)

Oh well. This has gone on long enough. I’m not sure I came to any enlightening conclusion. I suppose at the end it’s just a statement that people need to engage in hard discussions if we’re going to make real change. Name calling and silence isn’t going to solve these problems. People need a safe space to state an opinion, but they also need to be ready to listen to what people say back, and (most importantly) to be able to admit when they’re wrong. “I was wrong” can come across as a defeat, but admitting it and growing is one of the best ways of becoming a better person.

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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 Quarantine is Ruining Everything

Let’s face it, folks. This whole quarantine thing is the pits. It’s ruining all the important things in life. I mean, zombie apocalypse movies? Totally ruined now. Every time I watch one, I’m just going to think about all the things they got wrong about the apocalypse. If they show a single grocery store scene, and it’s got toilet paper anywhere in sight?

Totally unbelievable.

And if I ever become a zombie, I now know to avoid going to places most zombie apocalypse movies focus on. Forget cities. People apparently flock to beaches to ride out the apocalypse by giving as many germs to each other as possible. And what zombie apocalypse movie would be complete in the future if it doesn’t feature a “Zombie Plague Party,” where people get together to give each other the plague so that they can develop herd immunity to it.

Are you making notes, Hollywood?

Also ruined? Any and all time loop movies. That’s right, woodchuck-chuckers: Groundhog Day is doomed. Because now everyone knows what it’s like to wake up and live the same day over, and over, and over. Seriously. Phil Connors goes through the entire film without a single Zoom meeting, and I for one find that highly suspect. The time loop I’m currently stuck in features at least three Zoom meetings a day, and that’s if I’m lucky. Get it right, movie makers!

Also spoiled? The ability to complain about anything. I mean, at this point if we ever get back to normal, I fear I’m never going to be able to whine about simple things without some doofus saying, “Hey! At least we’re not in quarantine.” And when I try to whine about things while I’m in quarantine, I’m reminded that loads of people have had it worse than me over the course of history. Which is totally true, and completely valid, but you know what? We’re allowed to have a struggle with all this crap-o-la without being made to feel guilty we’re struggling.

Which leads me to the next big thing to fall to this quarantine: logic. I mean, it already fell somewhat when people decided to panic buy toilet paper, but that was just the first domino. Now people are saying things like, “It’s okay if just 3% of the country dies, as long as the economy stays strong.” They’re also making arguments like “The flu kills way more people than this each year, so why is this a big deal?”

You know what never killed anybody? Shoe bombs. And yet, back when I was allowed to travel, I had to X-ray my shoes every single time I got on a plane because some dipstick had a concept that maybe a shoe bomb would work. You know what killed “only a few thousand people”? 9/11. And what moron would get up and say, “I don’t know why you people are so worried about a couple of planes crashing into a building. Way more people die in car crashes every day, and nobody looks at it like a tragedy. Get over it.”

Nope. Reasoning isn’t going to get us anywhere, except to maybe one of those hawt beach parties happening in Florida a week ago. Instead, I get to watch in horror as Trump’s approval rating somehow goes up, with people happy about the job he’s doing. And I wonder if I’m in some sort of bizzaro world, or if everyone’s watching the same news I’m watching. (Clearly not.) Right now, Trump is King of the Frogs, sitting in a pot of water that’s getting hotter and hotter, and claiming the fire underneath that pot is going to magically disappear any moment.

Ugh. Don’t get me started. I have no desire to get into a Facebook argument with people over this, so if you disagree, go you. Go out and lick a hand railing or something. Whatever it is you feel you need to do to prove to the world this disease is overhyped. (Actually, no. No licking hand railings. Unless you sanitize it afterward for the rest of us.)

Sorry folks. I’ve been stuck inside for a while now, and my mind space is all over the place. Maybe sidle on by and catch me after the weekend, which I’m sure will feel way different than the week has felt.

It has to. I’ll be in half as many zoom meetings, tops.

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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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