Fools’ Names and Faces

how-to-become-famous

When I was little I used to hear the old saying, “Fools’ names and fools’ faces always appear in public places.”  Nowadays there are fools everywhere:  reality shows, online videos…. Many people have their own websites and hope that someone will read their writings (like this one, for instance).

It’s such a contradiction that we complain about privacy, but secretly hope to be noticed.  Some people have  hundreds or thousands of social media connections.  Bloggers spend time and money on search engine optimization so that their websites will rise to the top. Others hope for their photos or videos to go viral to a worldwide audience.

And for what?  It’s all vanity.  There are so many people wanting to be seen and heard out there now.  At least with the new technology we can all have a greater voice. We can proclaim our thoughts to the world.  Good luck getting anyone to notice.

Would Melville Have Been a Content Writer?

Content_Writing_pic

When I think of writing, the works of writers such as Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Dickens, Melville, Hemingway, or H.G. Wells come to mind. I think of crafting fine stories in literary fashion. Or I think of the great non-fiction writings of Winston Churchill, William James, or Carl Jung. What I don’t think of are business blogs or how-to articles. Some may argue that this is also the stuff of great writing, but I wonder.

When I read Leonard Woolley’s account of the Sumerians earlier this year, I was fascinated. I love the way he told about the uncovering of the temple of ancient Ur, and how he described the design of houses in the city. The subject matter fascinates me. But content marketing to improve a company’s financial position? Not so much.

Here are some articles I recently submitted online (for which I received a pittance):

“Branding Strategies for Software Providers”
“Exploding IT Outsourcing Myths”
“Is Big Data Definable?”

I know that writing for content marketing or other freelance purposes gives a writer experience in writing economically as well as developing a solid writing work ethic. But what is the return on investment when our minds and souls are limited to such tedious and temporal topics? If it is about making money, I can think of much more interesting things to do that free me from the illusion that I am in the same realm as the timeless and influential authors that I love.

Become a freelance writer? At what price?

Writing as Mystery

scream

What constitutes good writing?  The best answer may be that you’ll know it when you see it.  Identifying bad writing is probably easier, especially when the writer has poor grammar or spelling skills.  I suppose good writing is in the eye of the beholder.  In the same way that “artists” in the pop music world are able to capture the attention of millions, writers with style and personality generally get the most attention.

Dunno.  I’d like to think that well-formed paragraphs, rich vocabularies, and meaningful insight are valuable writing commodities.  But that’s just me.  Who cares about grammar and vocabulary anyway? Let’s cast them aside and appeal to the masses.  Let’s all just be familiar with one another, shall we?

You see that I’m waxing cynical.  But these are just words on a computer screen — they cannot harm you.  You can easily go back to Facebook and watch a cat video to restore your soul.  Melville was ticked off that some people didn’t like his arcane writing style, so he dumbed it down sometimes.  What a pity.

There is a mystery to fine art.  Among the brush strokes, surrounding the harmonies,  between the lines, there are worlds of truth and beauty to be discovered.  What we know in simple terms does not explain the universe that we don’t know.  As my father used to say, people communicate on different planes.

What is the purpose of writing? Content written as instruction or to promote a product or service should be clear and concise.  The salient points should be addressed economically and with little fanfare.   But creative writing allows the writer to leave some things out, to assent to the presence of unknown spirits that hover beyond the page.

I like to think of writing as mystery.  It melds the mind of the reader and the author.  It elicits thought and imagination.  It suggests something beyond the obvious.  And when writing does that, it can be good.  Very good.

Oh, the Joys of Business Writing!

cuneiform

They say be careful what you wish for.  Many of my friends and family have heard me lament about my unfulfilled desire to be a writer. I like to go on about how I was once a Poet-in-Residence, how I always scored very highly on the verbal section of standardized tests, how I was meant to write.  Well, now’s my chance.

Through unanticipated acts of fate, I find myself in a position where my only real opportunity to make money is through ghost writing of business blogs at meager rates.  Oh, joy!  Can anything good come of it?

Maybe.  As I did with the senior entertainment business last year, I have begun to develop my own system of tracking my business activities and setting business goals. At least with the writing business, I do not have the major expense of transportation.  I am embarrassed to say what I will be paid for my work, but I have written five posts since I started again yesterday evening, and one of them has already been accepted. I suppose I should be able to manage minimum wage for now.  (To improve the income I could either try to write faster or find more favorable rates.) I’m convinced that I’m worth a lot more.

I once read of an aspiring journalist who complained to his editor about having to write obituaries.  The seasoned veteran corrected the young man by explaining to him how important these pieces were to the families of the deceased, and how there was a certain skillful art required to do them well. I’m sure I could convince myself that boring business blogs have some secret value that, if I gave it some thought, I would learn to appreciate.  Right.

Today I found myself spending more time doing research than writing.  I learned about the benefits of distance education so that I could write a post called “Remote Learning Solutions Can Transform Your Business”.  I spent an hour preparing and writing “Five Reasons You Should Consider IT Outsourcing”.  It took me over two hours to teach myself enough about work productivity to write a piece called “IT Professionals and Work Performance”.  This evening I left off after reading for forty-five minutes about how to write an investment thesis.  It all seems dry and colorless, lifeless, and without soul.

I wonder if that is how the first writers felt some 5,000 years ago.  The earliest uses of cuneiform writing in ancient Mesopotamia were related to such mundane subjects as agricultural accounting or the manufacture of temple goods.  How many cows did Farmer Brown trade for how many bushels of grain from Farmer Smith? Creative writing came much later than bookkeeping.

I guess that shows where people’s priorities are. The internet is replete with articles on topics like “How to Be a Successful Blog Writer”, or “10 Ways to Improve Your Small Business”.  Readers want to know how to get ahead more than they want to plumb the depths of metaphysical reality.  Economics trumps art every time.  And that gives me such a thrill.  Oh, joy.  Oh joy oh joy oh joy!

 

Writing for the Ages

Behistun Inscription authored by Darius the Great, c. 500B.C.

I should be writing more.  What a simple statement.  I have a strong interest in writing.  I believe in my writing.  I want to make something of my writing.  And yet I am hesitant. I’m sure there are deep psychological reasons.  Who can say what is the stuff of motivation?

Writing is a powerful art.  There is so much do be said; there are so many important truths to be explored; there is so much to be discovered. Even more, it becomes a sort of exercise in immortality.  The mind of the author can be extended through the ages by the written word.  Imagine that generations to come might find themselves reading my work!  I am fascinated by the possibility that I can speak beyond the grave.

And there’s the rub.  Life is short, as they say, and every moment wasted is a further step toward oblivion.  Perhaps that is my greatest fear.  Death itself is trouble enough, but being forgotten compounds the problem.  I will live until I die, but how will I have lived?  What will I have contributed to humanity? Digging ditches is a fine and noble work, but it means very little.  A fine painting, an inspiring story, or a clever song about someone digging ditches could be very significant.  The work of a coal miner must be mundane, but the song “Sixteen Tons” is wonderful! And it endures long after the singer Tennessee Ernie Ford and the songwriter Merle Travis have gone.

I love to read ancient writings.  I am reading The Iliad by Homer.  No one is sure exactly who Homer was, but he may have lived in the 8th century B.C.  I find it incredible to become acquainted with the mind of a man who lived some 2700 years ago. Recently I read the text from the Behustin Inscription, written by Darius the Great. It is a record of his conquests inscribed in three languages on limestone rock on a 300-foot-high cliff. The writing feels personal, and I got the sense of Darius the man, his religious devotion, and his ambition.

Yes, I should be writing more, but not for electronic media.  Hard drives do not last, and websites come down.  I don’t have any limestone inscriptions planned, but a book would be nice — a real book that you can touch and hold and carry with you.  That’s really what I want.  I should get on it.

Which Way to Speakers’ Corner?

Speakers' Corner in Hyde Park

I would like to find my way back into public speaking. I am considering whether I should pursue teaching in some way. Maybe when I write my books I will have speaking engagements. Then I can do radio interviews and maybe give speeches at political conventions. Or maybe I should just stand up and speak, like they do at Hyde Park Speakers’ Corner.

Hyde Park Speakers' Corner

Hyde Park Speakers’ Corner

I have spent many years of my life teaching — but it seems like a lifetime ago! For some six years or more I taught children in Sunday School, Junior Church, 5-Day Clubs, and Good News Clubs while my life was moving toward a career in children’s ministry. I completed a four-month program at Child Evangelism Fellowship Leadership Training Institute. I even did my senior project in college on the faith of a child.

But somewhere I went astray. You could ask me whether I believe in child evangelism or whether a child could savingly believe or whether I believed that I was responsible to evangelize them. But I really wish you wouldn’t. These days I try to keep matters of faith private, and I am certainly not in the practice of seeking to persuade others regarding their faith. You could then say that I am apostate or unfaithful or some other word to heap shame and reproach upon me. But I really wish you wouldn’t. Can we just move on? Oh, but I guess I was the one that brought it up, wasn’t I.

The point that I am trying to make is that I have many years of teaching experience. Not only did I teach Bible lessons and missionary stories to children, I also preached sermons to adults. Sermons? Yes, and here we go with all the faith-based questions again. Can we just change the subject? Please? I also taught History of Western Civilization for a semester. This was at Tri-State Bible College. I love the subject, and I would love to teach it again.

I did a few more stints along the way. I once tried out for a teaching position at a Christian high school in San Antonio, Texas. I taught one class and was told that I did an excellent job. But the position was filled by a returning teacher. I also had a seven-week position in the San Antonio Independent School District as a Poet-in-Residence. I shared my poetry in various schools and encouraged students to write their own.

I have had very few opportunities for teaching or public speaking since those early days. I regret that. But what could I do? I had one opportunity to speak during my U.S. Air Force career. I was a lowly airman (A1C), and I gave a presentation about the section I worked in (Special Actions). I put together talking points that were approved by the Lieutenant, and after the speech I was given rave reviews. Some said it was excellent. In my telecommunications career I had very few chances for public speaking. I may have taught a tech course or two, but nothing special or interesting. I just spent eight hours a day with my arse in the chair staring at a computer screen and managing massive computer networks. How mind-numbing.

Some People May Be Right

800px-Stipula_fountain_pen

I love to write. But you know what? I am hesitant to do it. Isn’t that strange! It is not that I don’t enjoy the writing activity itself, but that I’m concerned that either no one will read my work, or no one will read it and particularly like it.

How I love it when you like me!

How I love it when you like me!

We all like to be liked. Everyone loves to get those likes on Facebook. Everyone wants to be someone about whom people speak highly, or to whom they speak affectionately, with warm and kind regards. And, of course, every writer or artist or musician wants his works to be liked too.

Maybe that is too much self reflection. There is so much of the world to study and discuss. It would be such a tragedy to waste all one’s time in an endless loop of vain solipsism. But you know, it is true there’s only one of me and so many of you.

Frankly, I would love to launch into a lengthy research and writing project about ancient Sumer or Western philosophy or Russian literature. Unfortunately, no one is paying me to do that, and I wonder what would be the result of just churning out pages of text that it seems no one will ever read.

Is that too bleak? Some people say that it is enough to write for writing’s sake. Some people may be right. You never know with some people.

 

 

What is Insight?

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I awoke one morning recently from a dream with a sentence lingering on my mind. The statement itself was nonsensical, but the concept and keyword were clear: insight.

I have been trying to grasp the idea more completely. An online definition gives:

: the ability to understand people and situations in a very clear way
: an understanding of the true nature of something

What are the pathways to insight? I expect many of you have simple answers or applicable verses. Is it so easy to gain true insight? Pat answers often lack depth of deliberation.

The true nature of life is more than buying and selling, marrying and giving in marriage, surviving in a difficult economy. Sometimes I find myself searching for some all-encompassing algorithm to address my needs and wants. Maybe it is insight that I need instead.

I have contemplated three ways to gain new insight on a situation. The first is to gain a new perspective, trying to see things from a different angle. This could mean an actual change of scenery – perhaps a vacation – or it could come from reading or conversation where we begin to understand the views of others.

The second idea is to change focus. From our own current standing place (pou sto), we can choose to focus on something different. We can give our attention to something new in the landscape, or the cityscape, or the convoluted reality that is our lives.

The third facet of my search for new insight is interpretation. We can look at the same things that we have seen for years, and perhaps if we label them differently, we can create a new framework for understanding in our lives.

All these may seem overly philosophical. But I think that much of the way we see our world and ourselves in it is couched in the language – both internal and external – that we use to describe it. Can we change our lives through insight? I believe that we can. Now the practicality of it is something different.

Building WordPress Websites

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Through the years I have worked on various ways to build websites.  I studied HTML and CSS and sometimes became bogged down in the design aspects.  Creating a website from scratch and making it work was not my problem.  I was able to build simple HTML pages, like this:

<!DOCTYPE html>
<html>
<body>

<h1>My First Heading</h1>

<p>My first paragraph.</p>

</body>
</html>

I added content and worked on ways to place the data and pictures at different places on the page.  I created CSS files to control the various styles within the website.   It all seemed like a lot of work just to get some basic results.  Snippets of code could be added to spice it up, and the work project became ever more complex.  Enter WordPress.

I was never satisfied with my results until I started working with WordPress.  With WordPress I am able to focus on what is most important to me about web development:  the content.  I can easily and quickly put up a basic website, and within minutes I am able to start adding content.  There are additional functionalities that can be added simply by using plugins.  My point is this: Why re-invent the wheel?

Not everyone who wants a website has done this groundwork.  In fact, many people don’t want to be bothered at all with building or maintaining a website.  If it is not their core business, why spend the time and effort required?  These people just want it to work.  WordPress can make that happen.

I have been reading online about the practice of creating websites for profit.  There are two ways to do it.  The first is to create and maintain websites for yourself through which you can sell products, advertising, and services.  The other way is to build websites for others.  I’m considering whether either or both of these could be profitable for me. I have made some efforts in the past, but need to learn how either to find customers or to monetize my own sites.  It’s possible.  People do it.

I noticed that someone has taken my domain name www.newzplanet.com.  I was not able to monetize it and I didn’t renew the domain. It seems that there is a common practice on the internet of gobbling up domain names as they expire.  It’s a crazy business, this website domain market.  It is referred to as virtual real estate.  How odd.  And you thought I was not realistic.

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A photo used for my NewzPlanet website logo

 

STEM or not STEM? That is the Question

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After so many years working in technology, I wonder how I survived. I have read that anyone with an IQ of more than 115 could do just about any job out there. Since that applies to me, I may well have found my answer. But I am inclined to think that I may not have been using my greatest abilities in this work.

These days, creative people must struggle to find their place. In the US, there is a tremendous preference for anything related to STEM careers. STEM stands for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. And the need for STEM workers is on the rise. What is an artistic person to do?

It is like trying to put a square peg into a round hole. I am not trying to say that I’m square, or even that I am incapable of doing technical work. But my greater interests and aptitudes are for a different kind of career. I long for a flourishing career using my greatest strengths. Sometimes that is difficult to make clear to those who are most concerned about money and security.

There is little creative leeway allowed in technical work. First the problem must be defined, next the solution must be created, and finally the design must be implemented. All of this must be within the parameters of established protocols and procedures. The attributes required for this kind of work may be classified as realistic, enterprising, and conventional. This is no place for Picasso.

Every career field has its plus points. For STEM, there is the challenge to wrestle great problems to the ground. It takes tenacity, ingenuity, and focus. There are opportunities to learn and grow both horizontally and vertically. At the same time, there is the constant risk that one’s skillset will become out-dated in a volatile and everchanging field. I can name several obsolete network protocols and vendor platforms for which I was considered a subject matter expert. Many of my colleagues through the years have gotten out of the field and moved onto other things.

Probably the best thing is to stay alert and ready for whatever opportunities might arise. But for me, I yearn for chances to read, study, write, sing, teach, and speak publicly in ways that help us all to grow and learn and become better. That’s what I want.

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