Friday, December 09, 2011

Who's a Bully?

The only person who ever bullied me was my mother. Bullies come in all shapes, sizes, and backgrounds, which is something I was reminded as I watched The Big Bang.

I was talked into watching the show and I love it. Last night's show was about bullies.

Leonard got a message on Facebook from one of the high school bullies who made his life hell. He wanted to meet and Leonard finally agreed to do so -- with his friends. Penny, Bernadette, and Amy were trying on clothes and having a little hen party and Amy and Bernadette talked about their bullies. Penny had no bullies in her life because she came from a nice place where no one bullied anyone else, but they did play pranks on each other. That's when it came out that Penny was the bully.

As I watched these adults work their way through the demons of their past, or realize they were the demons of the past, it dawned on me that Sheldon is a bully. He hides behind his intricate rules and ways of doing things and makes everyone's life miserable until they fall in line. Bully. That reminded me of another bully, a woman who was a close acquaintance and who bullied everyone in her life, but not with pranks or tricks. She bullied with her intellect, which wasn't all that great, but definitely above the average.

Sheldon and my acquaintance are bullies of the intellect, using their intelligence to make everyone else feel smaller and less accomplished, and that is just as bad as some big brute or beautiful girl who uses their assets to make everyone less brawny or cute to feel just as small, even when they don't stuff them into a locker.

When you get right down to it, bullies are basically narcissists, among other things, and they feel inadequate so they must knock everyone else down to feel superior. Come to think of it, I've known a lot of bullies in my life, and they were often people I looked up to (for a while) or called friend, but not for long. Their true natures eventually came out and I walked away, not without some emotional bruises and scars, but I walked away all the same.

Bullying happens in writing and publishing, too, but the only bullies seemed to be traditional publishers. They are no longer alone. Bullies crop up every day in indie publishing and among the writers, too. It still comes down to the same equation. If you feel inadequate or small, make everyone around you feel small, and sometimes the bullies are a little hard to detect because they seem to be doing you a favor or telling you some truth. Let me give you a hint: Even bullies know a few things and they're not shy about sharing -- or making you feel stupid and small.

Any time someone cuts you down or denigrates your choices, you may be in the presence of a bully. Any time you feel like your success has been turned to dross, a bully was likely behind it.

The only way to exorcise bullies and weaken their influence is to walk away and ignore them. Take what's useful and discard the rest. If someone makes you feel stupid for going the traditional or the indie route in publishing, ignore them. It's your choice and you're the only one who has to live with it. If it doesn't work out, then choose something else, but do not allow anyone the power over you to make you feel small or question your choices. All questions should come from inside you and not from some bully.

Life is difficult enough without being bullied, and there are plenty of bullies in every walk of life. Keep one eye on the bullies and the other on your path. Make your own choices and ignore the rest. It's your life after all, and bullies seldom change. They just switch games.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Marking Time

I was shopping (well, browsing) and I saw the signs for a 2012 calendar. I'm usually figuring out budgets and when I can afford to get my 2012 calendar, usually some time in January when they go on sale. This year, even with the lapse in paychecks (fired and then hired and then waited for a month to get a check), I bought my 2012 desk calendar two months ago.

For most people, a desk calendar is a way of marking days. For me, it's mini version of my journal with birthdays, anniversaries, and notable moments along the year's path. It's also the place where I keep a record of paying bills and buying food and appointments. A glance through any desk calendar will give you a quick view of what I did that year.

Yes, I keep them to refer back to for details, as a goad to memory when I know I did something at a certain time but just cannot remember when, and as a way of reminding myself how full -- or usually empty -- my days were of writing. Book launch days, personal appearances, the road to publication and the marketing and struggle to get people interested enough to buy and review my books, it's all there on the page, and I don't have to read through hundreds of pages of writing to find it. It's quick. It's simple. It's there.

I did get smart, though, about the time I found Levenger's metal page markers. Little pointed arrow-like metal clips that fit over the page to mark a passage. I began using them in books I was reviewing when highlighting text I would use in the review and then decided it was a good idea to use them in my journals to mark the spots when I was writing through problems with a book or fleshing out characters or themes or whatever in books I have yet to write. Again, it's better than having to read hundreds of pages to find one little moment when I had a brainstorm. My journals have a glint of gold about the pages in various spots, pages I marked with the little metal arrow-like thingies. Now I need to find a way to note what book the passages mark, so I don't have to read all the pages with markers on them.

There are paper arrows with space enough to write on, but that's not going to work. Paper gets torn and crunched up when they sit on the shelf, and the glue gets old and the arrow drop off if I don't get around to it for a while. The metal thingies work perfectly. I guess I'll have to work with what I've got and take those trips down memory lane more often until I memorize which journal, which year, and which months (a journal lasts me about 2-3 months) to look in. I have hundreds of journals written day by day over more than twenty years. If only I could turn them into books or, better yet, they would turn into books. Alas, that's not likely.

Maybe I could make a notation on the desk calendar about that, too. Some pages are awfully blank. Then again, some are pretty full, just like life. Some days, nothing, and then days when there aren't enough hours to get it all done. And so it goes.

I'll figure it out, but suggestions are welcome.

How do you use your desk calendar -- if you have one. If you don't have one, why not?

By the way, the little picture up on the right is of the page nibs (arrow-like thingies) and they're available from Levenger's. They make good bookmarks and great gifts for the writers and readers on your list.

Economics 101

Occupy Wall Street has gone global. People are angry and they're not sure why or to whom they should direct their outrage. It's really about economics and what should be going on and isn't. Take a lesson from the King of the Elves in the following cartoon. He sets the shoemaker right. This is Economics 101. It's not difficult and it's not about power or grabbing as much money as possible, but about using resources intelligently to make a product to sell that people want and/or need. In this case, it's shoes. Pay attention. There will be a test. It's called life.

That is all. Disperse.

Nothing to See, Lots to Write

The water is running in the bathroom and kitchen and the water bill will be higher than usual because of it. I don't care. I can't, not when the alternative is frozen pipes and no water for a few days. I went through that at the beginning of the year and I don't want to go back there again. No toilet, no water, and bitter cold. So I'll pay the extra because of the subzero weather and be grateful for the water.

It's amazing what makes me grateful these days. Running water and heat. Being able to buy a book or indulge myself with a pizza instead of the usual round of frozen and shelf stable dinners. Being without a paycheck for six weeks will do that. I'm back and the paychecks have started up again and I'm doing all right, except that I can't figure out what OASDI is on my paycheck and why it's deducted from my pay, so a quick check was in order. It's the new name for Social Security: Old Age Survivors and Disabilities Insurance. Okay, so it's descriptive, but what was wrong with Social Security? More useless labels, just what everyone needs, and I can do without.

Nothing like reminding me that I am getting older and should be closer to the end than the beginning, and I would be if I weren't going to live another 96 years. Yes, I plan to live to a ripe old 150. I can dream, can't I? It's where it all begins -- dreams.

I still have dreams about writing lots of books and getting paid for them, of people talking about my books and getting what I put into them, of living a life different than the one I live now where I'm grateful for breezes around the windows and doors because it keeps out the specter of carbon monoxide and running the water all night, and all day if necessary, keeps the pipes from freezing. I don't like having to rely on other people and, as long as I rent, that's what I'll have to do. I'm at the mercy of a landlord who doesn't care enough about keeping this house up, like making sure it's insulated, everything works, and the roof doesn't leak like a sieve. He's too busy on building his other properties while this one deteriorates at an increasily rapid rate. I'd buy it, except he wouldn't sell and I can't afford it right now, not until my books sell more than they have.

That's the way it always is, dreaming about what you don't have so you don't enjoy what you have. I get that way sometimes, but only when the weather is below freezing and the water is running. It's the way of things, the need to focus on the bad and forget about the good, like reading there could be a cure for Alzheimer's and Parkinson's in the lichen used to create the red dye so prevalent in junk food. No wonder my mother is still around. She eats nothing but junk food. She forgets things sometimes, but that's just atrophy in a brain that's used for little more than arguing and demanding her children (that would be me and my siblings) see she's right when we all know she's wrong. She has no good memory of things but she insists that she remembers. It's the usual dichotomy of someone who spent all of her life controlling the people around her, mostly Dad, and is suddenly cast adrift because her favorite focus of abuse is now dead, and we all deal with her in various ways.

My brother, the Mushroom, stays away from her and keeps his life and himself to himself. Beanie avoids her, except at the beginning of the month when she has to give Mom her B12 shot and whenever she blows up Beanie's phone while she's at work. Hoity-Toity lives with her, but spends all her time at work so she doesn't have to deal with her too much. Well, that and because she doesn't have a man in her life for a change. He got tired of Hoity-Toity's controlling ways and constant niggling about how cheap he is and gave her the gate on Valentime's Day over a year ago. I heard he's come back with a motorcycle and plans to take her out again. He's either addicted to the nagging and belittling or he is a classic masochist missing his daily dose of sadistic treatment -- probably a bit of both. And then there's me.

I keep my contact with Mom brief and usually talk to her on Thursdays, unless she calls me to ask who this actor or that author is because she can't remember. Like Tom Wingo, I am her memory -- on everything but my own life, about which I cannot be trusted to remember. I used to argue with her about that, but gave it up when I realized that was mostly the reason she started the argument in the first place. She knows my buttons and she pushes them with gusto and unholy glee. I've learned to just tell her she's right (not very often) or say I have to go to the bathroom, which gets me off the phone and gives me time to realize she's pushing my buttons again. She lives for confrontation, which is why all of us, my siblings and I, have an aversion to confrontation . . . in varying degrees. I, less so, because I have had to fend for myself by myself a long time. Mom lives to argue and I have been her favorite opponent even before Dad died. It took me a long time to figure that one out, and that is one thing I had that I do not miss now that I don't have it -- or at least avoid it most of the time.

But, without Mom and my estranged siblings (except for Beanie) and my lack of luck with man-woman relationships, I'd have nothing to write about. It would be all sunshine and flowers, sweetness and light, and who wants to read about that? It does get boring after a while, which is why I write what I do. Oh, well, life's a mixed bag of tricks and each comes with its own warning -- most of which we don't understand until they land on us full force -- like the water bill when it comes. I'll have at least nine months to recoup. Meanwhile, I'm thankful for budgets on utilities that take the financial kinks out of what could be a disaster, but a small disaster compared to replacing pipes and hiring plumbers when the pipes freeze from the lack of insulation, old works, and absentee landlord, except when the rent is late 5 minutes. That's life in the big city.

And, yes, I still miss the cabin. I do not miss the owners of said cabin who dropped in whenever they liked without a phone call or the balloon payments on propane and paying twice for something that was on the budgets. Yes, more stories, and stories upon stories, from the highway pile-up that sometimes resembles my life.

There are shining moments when a helping hand reached down to me or I was able to reach down for someone else, but those are best left untold. In that at least I prefer to remain anonymous.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

M. Eve and Spartacus

The M in M. Eve is for mitochondrial. Mitochondrial Eve is one of the clan mothers, the first clan mother, who had at least two daughters who lived to have two daughters who had two daughters and so on up to the present time. Mitochondrial DNA is a circular spiral that has a neutral section that collects mutations, about one mutation for every 10,000 years, and is used to track connections between the generations. It is accurate and stable and it comes down to us through our mothers, the one parent we know without a doubt is the parent. Fathers? Not so much.

During conception, the sperm sheds its tail and his mitochondrial DNA when it enters the ovum during fertilization, which is why mitochondrial DNA can only be tracked through the maternal line. How do I know all this? I just finished reading The Seven Daughters of Eve, a book about the seven clan mothers, mitochondrial daughters of M. Eve, who are the progenitors of the peoples of Europe. Their DNA is in a large percentage of the European population and has been used successfully to determine whether or not archaeologists are correct about their assumptions regarding how people moved from continent to continent, where they came from, and what they did (hunter-gatherer or farmer). The book also shed light on some fascinating facts that turned archaeologists and historians on their ears.

There have been two camps, for instance, in determining where the polynesians came from, and it wasn't the Americas. They came through SE Asia and Tawain across the Pacific Ocean and against the prevailing currents to settle the islands between Asia and the Americas. Sorry about that, Thor Heyerdahl. His epic voyage on the Kon-Tiki was indeed a marvelous achievement, but it was wrong. The polynesians actually did come from Asia. The inclusion of yams, or sweet potatoes, in the diet was as a result of trade and not because they came from Chile or South America. Good guess, but wrong, although there is DNA that proves some females came from South America on a few of those trading expeditions and became part of the polynesian DNA. That's there, too.

As for Europe, it seems that the farmers did not push out the hunter-gatherers. They're still in Europe and they are the predominant population. They weren't pushed out; they adopted agriculture because they knew a good thing when they saw it. Historians and archaeologists were wrong about that one, and that was a hard fought realization in scientific circles.

The Seven Daughters of Eve is fascinating and even shares a bit of fictional fancy when reconstructing the lives of the seven women whose DNA is visible in the European population. I'd have to say the science is just as fascinating with its in-fighting and battling publications about the veracity and efficacy of using mitochondrial DNA. I enjoyed it thoroughly, so much I decided to begin another nonfiction book, The Spartacus War, something I haven't been able to do much of (reading, I mean) for years, not with my book review load.

I began The Spartacus War last night and dove right into the deep end of the pool. Spartacus was a Roman trained soldier who, for whatever reason (bandit, brigand, thief, or insurrectionist) was sold to a gladiatorial school. He was not a poor and ignorant slave, but a free man who was taken by the Romans and thrust into warring for them after Thrace was conquered. That's the way they did things back in the Roman days.

No wonder the Romans so feared Spartacus. He was a trained solider and a gladiator from a race of war loving people who knew how to fight a guerilla war, strengths that kept Rome from capturing and killing Spartacus for two years, while Spartacus freed rural slaves and wreaked havoc against Rome, while Rome fought two other battles, one with the Silesian pirates and the other with Mithridates. I haven't gotten very far into the book, but I already know it's going to be riveting.

I shouldn't be surprised that Stanley Kubrick took the facts, such as they are, and made a Hollywood movie, a movie, I might add, that I have enjoyed for decades. That's the way Hollywood does things. They take the facts, twist them into what they believe is a better story, and pass them off as entertainment. It worked -- to a point. I was entertained, but my interest has always been more for Spartacus's son and what his life was like after his father was crucified. I doubt I'll find out about that, but I can still dream there's a book out there that will shine a light on his son's life.

Or I can write one.

As much as I enjoy fiction, I often prefer a good nonfiction book on science and history. I haven't read a mathematics nonfiction book that really held my interest, but I keep hoping. Give me DNA and ancient history, astronomy and archaeology. Give me quantum physics and medicine once in a while and I will count myself content. Besides, all that nonfiction is fodder for fiction in helping the reader suspend disbelief and get into the story because there is a ring of truth. In the last case, the ring was mitochondrial DNA. I'm not sure what the ring is with Spartacus, but I'm sure I'll find it.

That is all. Disperse.