Apologies to my US readers, for whom the parody cover below won't ring a bell. I shall explain: Here in England there's a railway operated by a company called Southern. The people who run the company and the people who work for it don't get along well, which means there are lots of strikes. Which means lots of trains don't run when they're supposed to (or sometimes at all).
During commute times they pack people in like sardines, while charging very high rates...partly because eventually they give in to the strikers and that means paying more or hiring more people or both.
There's just enough of the "stiff upper lip" tendency left over in the UK for companies and unions to get away with situations like this. "Mustn't grumble," they say, grumbling. Perhaps one day a hero will arise to lead the downtrodden commuting masses. Me, I work at home.
Today almost all of my websites were hacked by an Indian hacker. He removed all of the content and put a rant on one of the home pages about people hacking Indian websites.
My hosting is with Hostgator, and they have a backup service...but what I didn't realize is that there is a limit to the amount of data they back up. I hope there's a way around this but at the moment it seems that if you go over that limit, they don't back up any of your data. I recommend that you check your hosting service's policy to make sure you don't end up in a similar position.
If you have subscribed to my online screenwriting course, that site is also down but I have the files and will reconstruct it if we can't restore it. That would take some time, and I appreciate your patience.
I have a tech person looking into this to see if there is a solution.
Yesterday, an emergency root canal, today this...Tomorrow...well, maybe something good for a change!
This is one of those, "Is it just me?" quandaries, where you wonder whether what you're experiencing is universal, or personal and probably you'll just embarrass yourself by mentioning it. I'm talking about how disappointing my Future Self often turns out to be when he turns into my Present Self.
Here's an example. I belong to a lot of MeetUp groups. If you haven't heard of those, check out MeetUp.com, and you'll find hundreds, probably thousands, of groups of people interested in specific topics and activities, like photography, art, cooking and just about every other subject you can imagine.
I'll see something interesting scheduled for a week from now, like an interesting talk or a visit to a gallery or a mini-workshop.
I imagine my Future Self going to the event, meeting people, enjoying the activity.
My Future Self is a gregarious, fine fellow, a man of the world who pursues many interests. I sign him up for the event and we are both happy.
When it's time to go to the event, my Future Self has turned into my Present Self, and something has definitely gone wrong in the interim.
My future self is unconcerned with trivial details like the weather. My Present Self looks out the window and sees that it's drizzling and thinks, 'Do I really want to go out? '
Whereas my Future Self was certain he would meet interesting new people, my Present Self remembers that time I went to an event and got buttonholed for thirty minutes by The World's Most Boring Man Who Also Had Bad Breath.
My Future Self didn't bother with the details of how he would get to the venue. My Present Self looks at the Underground map and sees he'd have to change twice and walk twenty minutes.
My Present Self decides to stay home and Get Things Done. He can envision the short-term Future Self catching up on paperwork, clearing up the home office, getting a start on organizing those documents for the tax return. Yes, we have made the right decision and the Future Self will get to work right after dinner!
After dinner, the former Future Self notices that one of our favorite movies is starting on BBC2. When the movie ends he decides it's too late to get started on any work, it'll be best to leave it for tomorrow.
My Future Self was going to finish this post with a brilliant solution to this problem, but once again he's let us down.
I'm pretty sure he'll come up with it tomorrow.
Have you ever come to the end of the year only to find that many of the things you intended to do somehow fell by the wayside and you're pretty much at the same point with them as you were at the end of the previous year? I have.
Then it's hard to get excited about setting new goals because in the back of our minds is the nagging suspicion that it'll just end the same way.
Obviously, it's a busy time, and 18 days isn't very long, so I'm not suggesting setting some humungous task for ourselves--that would be a prescription for more disappointment. But getting a little head start on something you care about could help you feel better about it at the beginning of the year, and build some momentum going into January.
I'LL SHOW YOU MINE
I have one commissioned project to finish by the end of this month, a rewrite of a script that I originally wrote about fifteen years ago, but in addition to that my head-start goal is to finish the manuscript of a children's book I've been working on, on and off, for a while. Having a complete draft of that on January 1 would give me a good feeling.
WANT TO SHOW ME YOURS?
What would do the same for you? Why not add a bit of accountability by adding it in the comments section--I'll check back on January 1!
Psyblog reports on a study that showed positive memories can help overcome depression...at least if you're a mouse.
Yes, this study was conducted with mice. They gave male mice a positive experience--exposure to a female mouse. They were able to locate this experience in the brain so they could access it again later.
Next, the mice were given a stressful experience that put them into a depression-like state. The article doesn't say exactly what this was. Maybe a researcher read them the news headlines.
Then they used light to stimulate the part of the brain that held the positive memory of the female mouse. The male mice quickly recovered from their depression.
Knowing how the male brain works, this didn't surprise me all that much. I wonder whether it would work as well with female mice who are exposed to a handsome male mouse.
When I felt a bit down, I decided to give it a try. My first attempt failed because exposing myself to a female mouse didn't make me happy and it seemed to frighten the mouse. Then I realized I already had happy memories, none involving rodents, I could call upon.
I think this is a bit more complicated in humans than in mice. For instance, remembering a happy time with another person can come attached with all kinds of negative thoughts as well, particularly if you're already in a down mood.
Thoughts like, "Yes, that was a happy time, but she's not in my life anymore!" or "Yes, but stupid me, I should have appreciated him at the time," or "Yes, we had a great time on that vacation, but now I don't have enough money to do that kind of thing," etc.
The positive memory would have to be unencumbered by any of those kinds of additions. A depressed person is really good at finding the "yes, but" view.
My non-scientific conclusion is that this could work when you're feeling slightly down in the dumps, but could actually backfire if you're seriously depressed. (If you are, please get some help. You may think your view of reality is accurate but when you're depressed you're seeing things through a deceptive filter.)
Here, from socialmediatoday.com is advice on how to attract readers with headlines that lie:
"Good headlines make the content seem interesting and useful. Sometimes a headline might introduce a little mystery. I’m sure you’ve seen the ones that set up a narrative and then a mystery, like this, “A Chimp and a Tiger Met in the Waiting Room at the Vet and You Won’t Believe What Happened Next.” You click on it. And maybe you are not surprised about what happened next, but the headline proved effective nonetheless."
Suppose I offer to sell you a candy bar. It's called, "The Candy Bar So Tasty It Will Change Your Life!" You buy it. You taste it. It isn't tasty.
Success! I got you to pay me for it.
But you're never going to buy from me again.
I guess people are more gullible when it comes to headlines, but surely there'll be a point when they realize that nothing happened next (or the tiger ate the chimp, which isn't surprising), that the ten amazing ways you can lose weight aren't amazing and you won't be shocked when you read number six, and the seven things you don't know about what women or men want in bed are all things you do already know.
Good headlines don't make the content SEEM interesting and useful. Good content IS interesting and/ or useful. Then the headline can be honest.
Honesty: what a concept! Let's hope it catches on.
The MobileInsider newsletter describes a new app in development that will be able to tell your emotional state from the sound of your voice. It says,
"...the app analyzes your tone and cadence and matches it against an arsenal of pre-stored voice samples that will help it to qualify the caller’s emotional state. So if someone is speaking rapidly and in a high-pitched voice, the phone takes this frequency and tone to mean that he is anxious, or perhaps angry."
How could this be used? The article comes up with these examples:
Maybe it knew you were really stressed at a certain time of day and took it upon itself to give your screen a complete makeover, changing the colors and hues to calmer, cooler tones that are easier on the eyes. It almost would feel like your phone “got you” and was, in a strange way, taking care of you.
If I'm really stressed, I don't think changing the color of my phone screen is going to help. Maybe if it could scream at the person in the supermarket checkout line in front of me that she should have thought about getting her cash or credit card out of her purse BEFORE the checker packed the very last item, I'd feel my phone "got me." If it Tased that women, I'd really feel taken care of.
Of course ultimately it's not about taking care of us, it's about selling us stuff:
It will also afford the ability to find people in an emotional state when they are more open to a very specific marketing message and even more importantly, when they are not.
I can imagine the message to advertisers: "Detect when phone users are most vulnerable! Yes, even people experiencing grief can be persuaded to buy, and depressed consumers are sitting ducks for comfort food."
Don't call me and I won't call you.
It's natural when something terrible happens to want to find the reason why, which is happening with the recent airplane crash apparently caused by the co-pilot's deliberate actions. The media have been pointing the finger at his problems with depression.
Unfortunately, this is likely to make some members of the public assume that people who suffer from depression cannot be trusted with positions of responsibility. It adds to the stigma that already exists.
This isn't an abstract point for me; I've been suffering from depression since I was a child. At times I've taken medication for it. I've never felt like hurting anybody as a result, nor is that a symptom of the condition for others.
Maybe I'm underestimating the intelligence of the people who read these news stories; maybe they will be aware that isolating the man's depression as the cause is no more logical than assuming that those with an eye problem (which he apparently also had, and which may have threatened to end his career) are dangerous.
What is clear is that he was mentally ill. That would be true of anybody who is willing to kill 150 others while ending his own life. Depression may well have been one component of that mental illness, but it was not the primary cause of his horrific actions, and I hope (but don't expect) that the media will give a bit more thought in future to the impact of their rush to judgment.
If you read much on the internet you may have noticed that "insanely" now seems to be the most popular adjective:
"You'll learn some insanely successful ways..."
"Insanely cheap flights"
"25 insanely sexist vintage Valentines"
"Insanely easy vegetarian chilli"
"21 of the most insanely genius hacks"
Somebody, somewhere, must have figured out that more people click on articles with the word insanely in the headline and now it's spreading.
ALSO INSANELY POPULAR: RIDICULOUSLY
Coming up fast from the rear we have "ridiculously":
"the 21 most ridiculously frustrating video game moments"
"8 ridiculously hard butt moves"
Also ridiculously fun, resilient, efficient, handsome, responsive, extraordinary, and hot.
INSANELY, RIDICULOUSLY OVERBLOWN
Sooner or later, people will realize that what they read when they click on these headlines seldom is insane, ridiculous or outstanding in any way.
Perhaps we can start a movement for Honesty In Adjectives and Adverbs (HAA!), in which case the above would read, "You'll learn some occasionally successful ways..", "8 somewhat difficult butt moves," and "averagely priced flights."
Another current favorite is to add to many listicles "You won't believe number X" in hopes you'll open the list just to see the one you won't believe. A few examples:
"Top 10 Smartest Female Celebrities. You Won't Believe Number 6!" The text starts, "Who said you can't have ridiculously good looks...") No, I didn't look to see who number six is.
"Restaurants open on Thanksgiving. You won't believe number 13!" (I didn't look, but I think it unlikely that I'd react with astonishment to the fact that any particular restaurant is open on Thanksgiving.)
"10 Reasons the Web Is Getting Worse. You won't BELIEVE number six!!" Note the capital letters and the double exclamation mark. I think this is a sign of inflation in the "you won't believe" category.
A variation is "Number X made me..." Examples include "made me cry," "made me spit out my coffee" and "made me lol on the train."
Unfortunately, I won't believe any of those.
Nothing terrible, it's just that sometimes life fails to pay attention to our plans. In this case, I had to make an unplanned trip back to the US to take care of some family matters...not all bad by any means, since it entails spending time in Palm Springs. The temperature here has been in the 70's (20's Centigrade) with lots of sunshine. Not quite the same Christmas atmosphere as in London, but it has its own charms.
Anyway, I should be able to get back to posting more regularly now, as well as sharing a few creative projects I've been working on.
And whether or not your December is going according to plan, I hope you're enjoying the holiday season.
"Freedom is cumulative. One choice made with an element of freedom makes even greater freedom possible for the next choice. Each exercise of freedom enlarges the circle of oneself." - Rollo May
I think this applies to what we write as well as to the rest of our lives. When you refuse to self-censor based on what others might think or whether something is more or less likely to sell (do we ever predict that correctly?) you make your circle of freedom smaller.
"Two hours of writing fiction leaves this writer completely drained. For those two hours he has been in a different place with completely different people." - Roald Dahl
With a few exceptions, I've avoided writing (or reading, or seeing films) about serial killers, child molesters, and murderers, mostly because these are not people I want to spend time with.
If you do enjoy vicariously confronting horrible people, perhaps making sure they get their comeuppance more often than is the case with their real-life counterparts, that's great, too.
Either way, I hope you're taking advantage of our unique ability as writers to create worlds and people to live within and to share with thousands or even millions of our fellow escapees.
Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground.
They want rain without thunder and lightning.
They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters.
This struggle may be a moral one; or it may be a physical one; or it may be both moral and physical; but it must be a struggle.”
– Frederick Douglass
Of course that's not to say it will be enjoyable. I get annoyed by the cheerful motivational speakers who tell us with a big grin that we must embrace failure as our best friend. I'm willing (grudgingly) to shake its hand as a necessary companion but I'll save best friend status for the occasional success.
(Speaking of motivational speakers, can they please stop asking rhetorical questions and then making the audience respond to the question, "Yes or yes?" If I go to another one of those presentations I may take along a pea-shooter and sit in the front row. "Yes or yes!?" PING!! right between the eyes).