Saturday, November 24, 2007

And then came the rains...

After two years of slogging uphill alone, people are finally starting to catch on and send in articles and requests to write columns for the local ham club newsletter. I have beaten the bushes for two years and managed to buttonhole only a few people and now the flood gates are opening. I have two new columns in the December issue and a new format for the web version that has been applauded as innovative. I don't know why they're surprised since I mentioned changing things months ago. All I needed were the articles and features that would work well on the web and I finally found them. Editing a club newsletter is nothing like editing a magazine and dealing with professionals who at least know how things work. It looks like my article about free lunches and keeping the lights on had an impact on people and they realize how close they came to having to find someone else to edit their newsletter. Sometimes it takes a wake-up call and a blast of cold water in the face when asleep to make people realize what they could lose.

The up side of all this is that I've managed to dissuade the club members from buying my Xmas dinner at the annual party or giving me a plaque or award. I think they finally understand I don't want recognition but input because that tells me they want to be involved. It's so easy sometimes to sit back and let someone else do the job, especially when the job they're doing is so good no one feels like they have anything to contribute, but if there is one thing I think I have proven it's that everyone has a story to tell and that the story can be interesting and enlightening. The readers have seen how something they thought was insignificant can be made significant and give people something to think and talk about. If this trend continues, I won't have to write too many more editorials and can stick to interviews, profiles and articles.

Out of all this hassle came a couple opportunities to break into completely new markets. A staff writer on the Wall Street Journal suggested I send my work to him to give to his editor to be published. He said I am a very good writer with a flair for profiles. Not too shabby considering it was his article that got me asking questions of one of his profile subjects and getting a different take on the story, but my focus was ham radio and Morse code and his was only peripherally so. He told me he was impressed. Not too shabby.

I also offered a longer version of the article, with pictures, to QST which is the ARRL's magazine and I'll get paid for that, too. One of the things I love most about writing is how accessible some stories can be if you change the slant just a little. I've gotten quite a bit of mileage out of an idea when I turned it around just a little bit or took some information and dug around in a different direction.

I thought about sending some of my articles to QST but ruled it out because I didn't have the time, but I found out it didn't take that much time. So, I'm going to profile a few more interesting people, like the guy who backpacks with his goats when he takes his radios into the field, and the mini-keyer that went to St. Peter's Island on a DXpedition (that's long distance radio expedition for the uninitiated). I have found yet another avenue to market my work and expand my base audience doing what I do best -- writing about people. And that's just one of the things I am so grateful for having, not just at Thanksgiving, but every day.

In many ways, it's like a crab venturing out of a cramped shell in search of a bigger, roomier shell and finding it no longer needs the shell at all and has evolved past the need of confined quarters.

That is all. Disperse.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Green-eyed vision

I just read an email from NaNoWriMo from a writer that suggests jealousy is a good writing boost. In some ways, she is right and jealousy does motivate people, but sometimes the green-eyed monster can do more harm than good, especially when it comes own to deciding who had an idea first and who helped whom.

Make no mistake, the baser emotions -- hate, jealousy, revenge, etc. -- do have their place but in moderation, as in all things. What usually happens though is that the person who is jealous can take things to extreme, even to the point of claiming someone else's work and ideas as their own and, depending on the forum in which the claims are made, can cause strife, bad feelings and, in some extreme cases, bloodshed. But let's forget about the bloodshed and concentrate on some lesser forms of devastation -- credibility.

Anyone who claims another's idea as their own is a very low form of life on a par with parasites and sycophants. It is possible the only thing worse is making the claim in such a way so that the thief cannot be called out or called to account because the person whose ideas and work have been stolen would end up looking like a liar and a whiny bitch, neither of which are good looks on anyone.

Example 1: Nick is new to a job and he wants to make his mark and show his enthusiasm and abilities. He starts by asking the same questions everyone new to the company asks and gets the same answers. A colleague, Maria, has been with the company for a couple years and has turned her department around. No one tells her she's doing a good job and the few complaints made loudly when she first began the have been silenced by the great work she has done. Nick sees Maria as the person to challenge because she hasn't been with the company long and seems to be a safe target. He attacks, couching his questions and suggestions in such a way that he appears to be merely the messenger and not complainant. Maria, after answering the first few questions begins to see Nick's agenda and she suggests he take the time to go back through the files and read what has already been documented about his frequently asked questions. Nick takes offense and continues to challenge and harass Maria who decides to let the big boss decide whether or not the job she has done merits such scrutiny and abuse, and she offers her resignation if her work is not up to par. Nick, seeing that he is on shaky ground when some of the other department heads descend on him and tell him to pick another target, tells some of the people around him he's going to quit his job, but he fails to tell the boss or his supervisors. Instead, Nick spreads rumors and sloughs off his work, letting other people take up the slack and leaving his department in the lurch. He blames Maria and her offer of resignation as his reason for quitting even though he never actually quits, preferring to stir up discord and spread more rumors. The big boss talks to Nick directly and asks him why he hasn't offered his resignation in writing and Nick says that he has no intention of resigning and doesn't know how the rumors got started.

In a show of seeming conciliation, Nick sends a memo to everyone in the company and to the stockholders to let them know the truth behind the rumors, naming Maria's offer of resignation as his reason for considering quitting. He also goes on to say that he was acting at the behest of other people who had asked him questions about the value of Maria's work and how it benefited the company and the stockholders and that he had suggested several changes, including changes Maria had already planned and implemented before his memo, changes that had been in the works for months before Nick was hired. Nick's revenge is nearly complete. He has hung Maria out to dry to preserve his own back stabbing, Machiavellian tactics and taken credit for her hard work and ingenuity, and Maria cannot say anything because it will only come out looking like she is whining and out to discredit Nick.

Nick has sown the seeds of discord even though he took the time to mention that Maria could not be replaced and that the company would suffer if she resigned because no one could handle her job with the same quality and abilities that she brings to the work and he has held Maria up to ridicule for being the cause of his desire to deliver himself up as a sacrifice even though he takes his job and his position very seriously. Most of the people who read his explanation had no idea anything was going on because Maria kept the situation in-house and only informed those department heads directly involved, but now the stockholders and the rest of the company have a much different picture of what has gone on in secret without access to the memos, discussions and double dealing in which Nick has engaged. There is no way for Maria to win and no way to salvage her credibility. She's boxed in with nowhere to turn and even those people who know the truth cannot say anything because of the manner in which Nick offered his explanation of events.

Example 2: Two very close friends, Jim and Martin, have shared the ups and down of their work and their lives until Martin gets an idea for a new package design. Jim is excited about Martin's design and even though they work together and are friends he wants to see Martin succeed and get ahead. Jim helps Martin fine tune his design and helps him put together the proposal, making it better and more salable. Jim even suggests offering the design directly to the client instead of going through the usual channels because Jim believes that Martin's design will blow the client away.

Martin takes Jim's advice and goes to directly to the client who is excited but has to check with his board of directors first. The new design is cut from the board's agenda because not enough board members are present for a quorum. Martin gets antsy and wants to pull the design and go somewhere else, but Jim tells Martin to hang in and wait because he is certain the board will approve the design. Six weeks go by and Jim keeps bolstering Martin's confidence but Martin prefers to be negative because nothing good ever happens for him and he's going to be stuck where he is forever. Jim tells Martin to wait a couple more weeks and Martin reluctantly agrees.

One week later, the client comes back with a contract; the board approved the design without question. Martin is ecstatic and rushes to tell Jim he was right. Throughout the contract negotiations, Jim offers his support and suggestions but Martin begins to feel that Jim is trying to control him and is jealous of Martin's success. Martin has forgotten how hard Jim worked with Martin to help him succeed. Jim, feeling that Martin needs some space, backs off and goes on with his own work while Martin tells people that he never thought his best friend would ever be jealous of him and starts pulling back from Jim and spreading stories about him -- not about how much Jim helped him but how Jim wants to take credit for Martin's work. Things come to a head and Martin ends his friendship with Jim.

Over the following months, Martin's design goes from drawing board to public debut and he seems to be making friends right and left. He credits his success to some of his new friends and doesn't mention Jim or how supportive and helpful he was when Martin first had the idea for his design. He publicly thanks people who had nothing to do with those early days of collaboration and emotional support and starts spreading stories about Jim and how jealous he is of Martin's success. The stories get wilder and more absurd but Martin enjoys the limelight and how everyone rushes to his defense when anyone with any real knowledge of the events leading up to the board's acceptance of the design calls Martin to answer for his deceptions, omissions and outright lies.

In the meantime, Jim shrugs it off and works on his own designs, each one more successful than the last. Jim racks up several successes and his career takes off like never before and Martin, seeing Jim's designs and mounting contracts, is jealous and angry, reviving old stories and embellishing them to cast Jim in a bad light. Jim is oblivious to most of it until mutual acquaintances point out how Martin has publicly slandered and libeled Jim. Jim doesn't care. He wishes Martin well and wants Martin out of his life so Jim can concentrate on his own work, but every time things get quiet Martin stirs things up. Martin's jealousy of Jim is so strong he can't enjoy his own success. Martin's jealous has taken on a life of its own that slowly and systematically destroys his happiness and his relationships, none of which have really be more than superficial acquaintances, but which Martin believes are deep friendships. As people begin to see Martin's rampant green-eyed jealousy and begin to fall away, Martin blames Jim.

What can Jim do? He can't tell what really happened since Martin poisoned the well. Jim would end up looking like a jerk because his credibility is gone in the wake of Martin's jealous and vicious tirades. Martin doesn't owe his success to Jim but he does owe everyone the truth and that Jim was instrumental in getting his design seen and accepted. Martin will never give Jim the satisfaction and Jim doesn't care because he has his own success and recognition for all his hard work and talent. Still, there will always be those who believe Martin's story because they don't see Martin in the wee hours of the morning when his conscience is plaguing him so much he has to seek out Jim's designs and reread all the press about his successes.

When you get right down to it, both situations are bred in the hearts of people possessed of the feeling that they are somehow less talented and less important than those they have attacked. Their jealousy has poisoned their ability to think and act rationally and instead of owning up to their own feelings of inadequacy they attack those they fear the most.

Jealousy in moderation can be an excellent goad to keep you reaching for success or to help you realize the value of friend, family or lover, but rampant, unchecked jealousy is a destructive force that makes a person miserable and those around them even more miserable. Misery does not love company. Misery needs to see suffering to equal its own and will destroy the very things they once cherished the most. Jealousy is one of those emotions that, like some spices and herbs, must be used with discretion and care.

That is all. Disperse.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Feeling expansive

Last night I went to the grocery store to pick up a few last minute items. When I walked out the door and down the front porch steps a few flakes of snowy down drifted past my face and I smiled. More snow. There was a little accumulation on my windshield and I smiled all the way to the store, reveling in the possibility of more snow.

It's a small thing, snow in the late fall and winter, but it's something I love and part of the reason I moved to Colorado. I also smile when it rains, sometimes going outside to raise my face to the clouds and spin around and around arms out to feel the splash of raindrops. I didn't know until recently it's something I have done since I was a very small child just learning to walk. My mother told me I used to run outside to spin and dance in the rain, a child of the elements. Some things never change.

I miss the rain that loomed like a dark curtain rushing at me from the horizon every day when we lived in Panama. Winter is the rainy season, but it rains all through the year because it's in a tropical rain forest. It wasn't something I controlled, but something I wished I could control, bringing rain to make everything glossy and green and alive. One thing I have learned is that even when you think you're in control, you're not, least of all when dealing with other people.

As a writer, one of the most important things is communication, not just in my writing but with the editors, publishers and other writers. My livelihood and writing depend on things being sent and received on time. There's nothing more frustrating than being told a contract or writing assignment has gone astray even though it was sent in plenty of time. It's even more frustrating when dealing with friends and relatives who swear they never received what was sent or, worse yet, never knowing if what you sent was even read. In part, it's about control, and it's about instant gratification, but mostly it's about being seen, even by email.

When I send out proposal packages, contracts, manuscripts, cards and letters by snail mail I always spend a little extra to get the delivery confirmation. When someone tells me they didn't get what I sent, I can go online, enter the confirmation number and see how long it took and when it was delivered. I cannot, however, be sure what I sent was read, but I know it got there and I have proof. It's more difficult with email because you can never be sure of anything when you send your words and files out into the cyber ether, that is until I found out about email tracking.

It costs a few dollars, but it's definitely worth the expense. I tried it and I liked it so much I bought a year's subscription and I use it for nearly everyone I email, even family, except, however, for Beanie since we talk on the phone as much as we email. She is the one person I know I can count on to respond and she never leaves me hanging in the middle of an email conversation with questions asked and not answered. I can't say the same thing for anyone else.

One friend reminds me how annoying it is to have our emails tracked so that I know at a glance when an email was read, how many times it was read, whether or not to was forwarded, etc., but it is preferable to being in the middle of a conversation and hear nothing for days or weeks on end. It's the cyber equivalent of being in the midst of a conversation and the other person goes to the bathroom and doesn't return. Yes, it may be annoying to them, but email tracking has saved me countless hours (and much paper and ink and long distance charges).

I don't tell everyone I use the tracking program, but I have told a few and they have responded with anger, annoyance and surprise when I tell them I know when they received my communications and how many times they read it. Obviously, I don't tell everyone and keep that information to myself, but the program has been invaluable in showing me who is and isn't being honest with me and exceptionally helpful when proving that contracts and work have been received.

To some people my actions seem like I'm trying to control them or spying on them, but those people are usually hiding something or don't like the idea that someone other than they have a modicum of control, but it's really not about control; it's about communication and information. It's about not being left hanging and clueless. It's also about peace of mind because I know without doubt that my message has been received and read and it doesn't matter so much the other person didn't respond. It's comforting.

One thing about the tracking program is that the receiver can't just click the button to not send a notice and make it go away. With some features, in order to read the email the receiver has to acknowledge receipt or click a link to read the email but there are less intrusive, more invisible features that are activated when the email is opened and read. I prefer the invisible features and use the more intrusive features only when necessary or with someone who needs proof as much as I do, and I have calmed my fears and doubts and confusion with the knowledge I'm not being ignored.

Even when the rain and snow don't come, there is comfort in knowing it's out there and will visit one day and my prayers have not been ignored. There is no comfort or peace in silence or ignorance no matter how annoying the need to be sure seems to others. And it's not about trust either, although trust is a factor with some people. In knowledge there is peace even when the news isn't always good, at least it's more reliable than some people or expecting snow in the desert.

That is all. Disperse.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

In the scheme of things

Since I have four days off, starting tomorrow, and tomorrow is going to be full of food, fun and friends, I've decided to wish you all a happy turkey day and slip quietly off into dawn for a few days, most of which I plan to spend finishing my novel, which is about to go over the 100,000 mark. When I get done, I've decided to strike while the iron is hot and work on a novel I've thought about (and finally ready to write) for a very long time, more than ten years. All I ever had was the first line and a general idea of what the book was about. Now I have the plot points, the characters and a conflict that will drive everything forward. It's almost ready to write itself, so I'm going to climb aboard and let it take me where it's going. A friend got me thinking about getting it down on paper, so that's where I'll be, and will probably finish it during my vacation at the end of the year when there's nothing but me, my laptop (I'll be so happy when it's home) and the solitude.

I'm nearing 100 reviews for Author Link and that's a good thing. I've written more reviews within the past year than I have the whole 4.5 years I've worked for them, but it takes time for these things to happen. Like raises -- which I have been given again, effective January 1, 2008. Now that's the way to start a new year.

It's so dark right now in these last few minutes before dawn and the sound of cars swishing by gives me a tingle of excitement. I washed the car yesterday while I was out spending money on food and it looks like my idea worked. There must be snow or rain or a mix of both out there. Just what I wanted for Thanksgiving, and I got it. I love it when things work out the way I want. Boosts my spirits and and confirms my faith in the weather elementals.

When I was at Mountain Mama's yesterday, I stopped at the deli to get some green coconut curried vegetable soup and talk to some of the denizens. One of them, a lovely young woman who is always friendly, told me I motivated her to get back to writing. She doesn't have Internet access at home, or a computer, and keeps a list of URLs to visit when she's at the library, but she took my advice and started writing longhand and she's been writing every day. She hasn't been to NaNo, but the young guy I spoke with has been and he's working hard on a novel right now, one it looks like he'll finish before the end of the month. She said I motivated him, too. Makes me think I should take the school board up on their offer to join their artists in residence program and teach a couple of classes on writing. I don't know if I want to go back into the work-a-day world because I'm so used to working at home and not having to deal with weather, traffic and politics, but it might be worth the effort just to mingle with children and maybe help them get writing. There can never be enough writers, as far as I'm concerned. I could use some of my writing for good for a change instead of for evil -- like posting here. It's something to mull over.

That is all. Disperse.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Food, glorious food

Since the moment of conception I have been dieting, or at least that's how it seems most of the time. Living in a family full of balos con pelo (sticks with hair), I was made acutely aware that I was different: taller, bigger, more muscular and, at least to my mother, fat, (pictures forthcoming), so I was denied food, which made it that much more important to me. I love food. I like the way it looks and smells and tastes, the way it feels when handling it to make something special (even not so special), and the way it makes me feel -- no longer hungry. I go into paroxysms of joy over sizzling medium rare steaks, onions and mushrooms sautéed in olive oil, salads full of vegetables and fruit, and fresh fruit and vegetables, I dream of luscious desserts and fantasize about simple snacks. In short, I love food. Yes, I know I already said that, but it bears repeating. What's not to like? And I love to cook and bake. Anyone who knows me well has been party to my cooking and baking jags. For me, baking and creating new desserts and meals is therapy for depression and sadness, always perks me up. But I also keep my weight in mind and I do have a tendency to gain weight quickly.

The thing is that I gain weight when I starve myself or my food budget is under funded and I am stretching my reserves of cash and food to the limits. It's a well known fact that most people who are overweight (like Sumo wrestlers) are mostly malnourished and oftentimes don't eat all the time but rather in spurts, activating their survival genes to lay down a supply of fat to get through the lean times. The more lean times, the more fat laid down when available. After years and years of starvation or near starvation diets I have evolved a coping mechanism; I make lists. Lists of recipes, foods, menus, and ingredients culled from food magazines, cookbooks, and tinkering with old reliable recipes to make them healthier.

For some people, reading and rereading cookbooks and food magazines and going through old recipes makes them hungrier, so hungry they can't resist a trip to the kitchen or the nearest restaurant to sate their cravings; it has the opposite effect on me. It quells the hunger pangs and takes me to a place where anything is possible, a place where the foods of the world are at my fingertips and I have an unlimited supply of ingredients. I am -- for lack of a better phrase -- in hog heaven with a world of food at my fingertips in glorious color.

I sometimes spend hours making lists of weekly menus, checking and rechecking ingredients and making substitutions in recipes I want to try out to see if they taste as good as I think they will. Most of the time, my substitutions come up roses and sometimes they come up dandelions -- edible but not good enough for gift giving.

Right before payday when the food budget is stretched the thinnest, I pull out the magazines and cookbooks and make my lists. Then I go through the grocery circular and check for sales, adjusting my list to reflect what is available and least expensive. I mix and match and come up with some pretty good recipes and menus that are pruned and pruned again when I add in the necessities: toilet paper, Kleenex, shampoo and conditioner, soap, toothpaste, new toothbrush every three months, etc. The list is pruned again when I have to buy gas for the car which, luckily, only happens every other month (I work at home and most things I need are within walking distance), but the list takes the hit.

Every once in a while I go off the list to buy pots and pans and bakeware, adding stock to my nearly empty cupboards, but that requires making a new list to reflect diminished funds, knowing the items will reappear in later lists when I buy the ingredients that will require the new cooking utensils.

For me, lists are a great way to diet because they keep me from eating and keep me focused on the delayed gratification of a slimmed down recipe in the future. Hours pass quietly while I nibble on celery stuffed with chicken liver pate studded with pistachios and rich with organic chicken broth, Marsala and sautéed shallots or sip a cup of cocoa made with almond milk, 85% cacao and agave nectar. Butternut squash soup sprinkled with toasted pumpkin seeds and made with organic vegetable stock and coconut milk instead of cream is soothing and delightfully warming. I made big pots of soup and freeze individual portions, stock up on unflavored almond milk and organic vegetable or chicken stock when they're on sale. I hoard sugar for months for when I make cheesecake for special occasions, keep a few bottles of organic key lime juice and buy pumpkin puree (or make my own when pumpkins are in stock and on sale) for the future. The foods on my lists aren't always bought when I want them but they are bought eventually and as long as I have paper and ink, I'll keep making the lists and culling magazines and cookbooks for the future. For me, it's a great way to deal with food and my weight. Unfortunately, it hampers getting out and walking a couple of miles, but there's always a trade-off. Walking makes me hungry. Cookbooks keep the hunger at bay.

Beauty shot

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Bouldering in the Black Forest

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My German gang -- I'm the one with Mohawk hair

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Everyone's a clown but me and my dog, Rinnie

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Girl Scout fashion show with Debbie Nelson in the lead in her paper towel dress held together with staples and me in my hillbilly garb peeking out from behind

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Opening presents with Beanie at Gram's

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As you can see, I was very much in need of a ton of diet pills and a case of anorexia.

That is all. Disperse.