Take up your quill and write your own destiny

I’m approximately halfway through my life, given current longevity rates for a person in my socioeconomic situation.  It’s causing me to see that I will never do the things I want to do unless I make them happen.  I can’t afford to wait, it’s time to decide what things I want to take the time to be good at.  Also, what things I want to do, and how to get there.  Here’s an example of what I’m talking about.

Growing up, I didn’t have much variety of music to listen to.  We had a few cassette tapes of folk music.  We didn’t go out and buy albums.  We didn’t have Mp3s to download, and I didn’t listen to the radio because I took the bus everywhere.  Listening to music on the internet was a total revelation to me when I went to college, but I didn’t do it much because music wasn’t really a huge part of my life.

Fast forward to meeting my wife.  She is a metal head.  I didn’t like it at first.  Gradually I started to and now power metal is my favorite genre.  For a long time I had a recurring dream about playing the guitar but I never did anything about it.

Tonight I got to hang out at a friend’s studio.  He’s been playing electric guitar for 38 years and wow, he’s good!  I haven’t listened to much live music so this was a real revelation.  The music touched me as never before.  I even liked the songs I normally wouldn’t like, as the sound enfolded me and stirred my deepest nerve endings.  I found myself totally comfortable in the studio.  I liked the smell of the air, the look of the equipment.  I didn’t feel out of place like I have in other musical venues.  It felt… right.  In fact, I was inspired to do a painting, which I’ll start tomorrow.

This reminded me of my dream of playing the guitar.  Perhaps, I thought, I could start playing one!  Time’s wasting, there are fewer days ahead than there are behind.  I can find a cheap used guitar to start with, and look at lessons on YouTube.  I can practice with headphones on so I don’t even bother the neighbors.  The point is, if I want to do this, I can make it happen by taking the first step, and then the next, and then the next.  I can have my dreams if I go about it in a sensible way.  As my guitar player friend said, “you have to decide you’ve already done it and then just get started.”

Is there a dream you’ve had that’s like this?  How might you write your own life story?




The greatest paper I’ve read this month

Okay, it’s metaphorical paper – the endless scroll that is a webpage.  Yet, I’m actually tempted to print this one out.  I found it thought provoking, refreshingly non-partisan, and eminently useful.  It’s a graphic discussion of core beliefs and how we learn, done by one of my favorite cartoonists.  Just click to follow – there’s a safe for work, and a not safe for work option!








Message in a Bottle

If you could write a message in a bottle to your former self, what would it be?

For the longest time, I didn’t have a clue.

Now, I know what I’d write to myself when I was in high school or early college.

I’d tell myself to find some career mentoring.  I’d also remind myself to take very good care of my teeth – those things are incredibly expensive to fix!  And I’d tell myself very gently that all this time I was spending in artistic pursuits wouldn’t mean anything if I didn’t push myself to actually improve.  I’d tell myself to get into weight lifting and a high protein diet when I went to college, and spend more time in STEM classes even if it meant getting a tutor.  Last of all, I’d remind myself that clearcut goals would let me go very far, instead of paddling around in low wage jobs for years after I got out.

I’d have quite a few things to say if I could throw a message to my former self.  Maybe she’d even read them and listen.  Who knows?

Now, here’s the more interesting question.  If you could write a message in a bottle to your future self, what would it be?  Put another way, imagine your future self.  What things would they have wanted you to know now?

Everything we do right now is a message to our future self.  How much care we take of ourself, how much money we save, how much we learn every day, what we do in our spare time, everything.

It can be useful and even fun to think about the future self we are creating at this very moment.


Fear, Cliffs and Precipices

I’ve been scared of heights my entire life.

Mostly cliffs and steep stairways, steep hills, things like that.  It makes my knees go all watery when I look at pictures of that city in China, the one that’s all built on a cliffside and is nothing but dizzying views of the valley floor, far, far below.

It even makes me nervous to look at rock climbers when they are dangling from some difficult rock face.

At a writer’s retreat, I wrote the following passage:

What is it like, not to be afraid? I’ve never known. Among the planar ferns, carpeted with dew- bedazzled moss and roofed with maple clerestory, I’m fine. Or, watching mist-silvered ripples run cross mossy swells of granite. Or ranging mile on mile through fir and cedar pillars, hot pitch perfume rising to my nose. It’s easy to forget when things are comfortable.

But venturing along a cliffside trail, or threading a narrow planken bridge, I’m liable to turn… and there it is, a grinning vista. My blood runs icy as a spring when I contemplate infinity. Far peaks turn into fangs to bite me, friendly lake a vat to drown me, lovely trees just claws to catch.

“How lovely,” I hear from far away. “How picturesque!” For my best appreciation, it should stay in the picture. Caught between cliff and hill it’s all too easy to feel the footing fail, the world tilt askew and the mountain come tumbling on my bare head. Here, imagination turns from friend to foe. A stout stick and a will of unworked sponge-iron are my only defenses. Step by halting step I head for home.

I’d like to be able to stand atop a cliff or mountain, and not know what that fear meant. Not feel my heart slam against cage of ribs, not have my legs turn to egg noodle paste, not taste imminent death on the wind.

Until then, isn’t this fungus under the emerald-blanketed log a thing of beauty? And do you mind if I stay on my knees?


Anyone with a phobia can probably relate.   There’s a way through that terror.  The way is to remember that fear is a paper tiger.  If you realize that it can’t truly control you, and you face it and move through it, fear dissolves.  I have not been entirely successful yet.  However, whenever I truly practice this, I beat back fear.



via Daily Prompt: Precipice


Two Weeks to Resignation – and a new Lifestyle

Some say your life flashes before your eyes when you are about to die. I don’t know if that’s true, but as my time of resigning draws nearer, little memories of this job keep coming up. That time my coworkers did something sweet, or something funny a team lead said. Little things. How hopeful I was when I was hired, how happy I was to have a job. My frustrations with upper management. Things I’ve learned, both large and small. My ecstasy when I saw a friend come back who nearly died twice, my overflowing joy as I hugged him back into the fold.

This hasn’t been an easy decision. I’ve weighed so many different factors. Distance from home, atmosphere, opportunities for advancement, pay, friendships. I’ve been thinking about it for months. When I finally was offered a good position, I thought it might vanish away like smoke. I even dreamed about it. Yet, it was real, and now only two weeks away. I find myself clearing up loose ends, planning my end. I clean up my work station, decide what saved information I’ll bequeath to my friends, decide where my locker loot will go. It’s like a death. I think I’ll bake something for my friends, including bringing something for the diabetics, to show them how much they’ve meant to me. I’ve spent a lot of time here, after all, and sometimes they feel like a second family.

As I tell people of my decision, they are happy for me but sad to see me go. I feel the same. I will miss so many people. Even though I feel anger at injustice from on high, still I’ve had so many intangible gifts. I tell each person with warmth and regret. I wish management could have improved things, if they had, I would have stayed. But their goals are my goals and mine are mine, and it’s time to go. I intend to make these last days good ones, working hard to serve my callers and train those who will follow me.

I know that someday my memories of this place will fade, I’ll learn new halls and doorways, and new faces will start looking like my family. I’ll be over the rocky ridge and back again in familiar country, but it’s going to take a bit of walking across barren ground, looking for landmarks. For me, nearly seven and a half years is a long time, the longest time I’ve worked in one place.

On my last day I’ll leave with head held high, wishing well to all I leave behind. Right now, I am trying to leave a legacy of helpfulness and good will. And there are two weeks to go.



There was another, somewhat unexpected fruit to that job – inspiration for my book, How to P!ss Off the Customers, which will be made into a second edition soon.  It’s a lighthearted look at the perils of working Customer Service, and available for sale on my Books page. 


via Daily Prompt: Lifestyle


Ownership versus Right to Use

I remember what it was like when everyone was used to owning things. Increasingly, the trend is to pay for the use of something, but it’s not really yours. We rent houses and apartments, lease cars, and buy computers that lock us out from changing anything.

I remember a time when you could do what you wanted with what you bought. You controlled what you paid your hard earned money for. You could modify it, upgrade it, get rid of it, or fix it over and over. No warranty stickers to dissuade you, no secret wiring diagrams not available to the general public, and it was all put together so it could be taken apart again.

If you bought a computer, for example, you could get into the BIOS and change basic settings. You could upgrade or downgrade the operating system as you chose. And when you bought a piece of software, you bought it. You could use it for as long as you wanted. Ownership IS control.

Now, increasingly there are Windows chipsets that try to lock you in to one operating system. They stop working if you change it. Certain operating systems won’t even let you revert to earlier versions unless you want to completely wipe your hard drive. If you own something that doesn’t let you change it or alter it, can you really say you own it? Control is taken away from you, the buyer.

Software is also becoming a pay for use type service. You pay a yearly fee to use your software, even after buying it in the first place!  Then, companies reserve the right to mine your information if you’re connected to the internet, just like certain modern OS’s like Windows 10. Once again, you don’t truly own it, you just pay to use it, and the people who own the software get most of the benefit.

If you lease a car, you don’t really own it either.  Even if you own one, many modern cars aren’t serviceable by the owner, so if something goes wrong you have to bring it to a dealership or an expensive certified mechanic. You are forced to pay for services. Your vehicle becomes just another way for manufacturers to siphon money from you, and keep on siphoning it from you in the future.

That’s why I won’t buy a brand new car. That’s also why I won’t use Windows 10. I’ll use Windows 7, or Linux, but I demand the ability to adjust or fix what I own. I am interested in creating and producing, not being a cash cow for someone else. That’s also why I use ad blockers – so I won’t be data-mined so easily. I’m tired of giving up control. I won’t use subscription software, except for one program which is the best spyware and virus blocker I’ve yet found, and only costs $15 a year. I use open source software like LibreOffice and GIMP. I don’t use Mac products.

I vote with my dollars.

I hope others will too.




via Daily Prompt: Control

Living Blindly

I’ve thought a lot about what it means to  live blindly.   My father is completely without sight, so I know what it means literally.  I do it all the time in a more figurative sense.

You might wonder how I live blindly even though I can see.  It happens when I don’t think about what I’m doing.  Too often, I react on instinct when I should be thinking first.  I speak without thinking and it causes problems for myself and other people around me.  I don’t see what’s really around me because I’m too busy reacting to what I think I’m seeing.  I live on expectation.

The cure for this is self awareness, which is encouraged by mindful living.  It can be tough at first, but it’s a habit that can be built.  Just think about what you are doing – gently, quietly.  Watch how you react to things.  Observe the world and how it works.  When you forget, fine.  When you remember, start again.  Eventually you’ll build a habit.

My dad will show anyone the meaning of perception versus reality.  Because he is blind, so many people perceive him as helpless.  He’s not!  He’s built sheds and half a cabin, raised and butchered chickens and rabbits, hauled dirt, sawn logs, cut down trees with a two man cross cut saw, split wood, programmed his own word processor, designed robots, put together a 3-d printer from a kit, earned an aerospace degree and a masters in adult education, written several books, fixed a washing machine, and a whole lot more.  His blog is here, if anyone wants to check it out.


Even though he moves confidently and independently, people still see what their preconceived notions tell them to see, rather than their perceptions.  For instance, one time someone looked at him going up a set of stairs and gushed “that’s AMAZING!”  Not one to overlook an opportunity for fun, he had something to say when he went down the stairs again.  He paused, then said “Amazing Dave is poised on the pad, the gantry is retracted, and we are go for liftoff.”

My dad has helped teach me that living blindly can happen quite a bit in people with sight.  My wife has taught me more, about how not to live blindly.  The key is mindfulness.


via Daily Prompt: Blindly


The instinct for nonviolence

Nonviolence doesn’t settle anything.

I used to be a pacifist. That’s what I called myself, anyway. I thought all war and conflict were bad. I avoided disagreements like the plague and prided myself on the refusal to fight. At the same time, I didn’t really have a cause I believed in. In my case my beliefs were based on cowardice. I allowed my instincts, my fear of conflict to override anything I valued. It weakened me terribly.

I wasn’t really a pacifist. After all, true pacifists have to be very brave and strong. Think of Gandhi and everything he faced! I didn’t truly believe in peace. Instead, I feared conflict, and I feared it because I hadn’t learned how to properly deal with it. I believed that walking away from a fight was the best option, because that allowed me to avoid facing my fear.

Running away from my fears led me to run away from everything else – any lesson that wasn’t easy, any challenge that was hard. My mental muscles atrophied in certain ways. Fear really had me in its grip – I hadn’t learned to face it, so in effect my fear was more important than all my goals, my dreams, my aspirations. That eroded my self confidence and even my self esteem as surely as water washes away sand. Because I was too afraid to stand up for myself, I proved to myself that I didn’t have value. It also led to a lot of feelings of frustration and powerlessness, which in turn led to angry outbursts. I also felt completely worthless.

Have you ever seen a small dog that snaps at everything? Sometimes they are called a “fear-biter.” Their own perception of powerlessness can lead them to attack everything indiscriminately. It was the same with me. When I grew angry enough, I didn’t have control over it. My fear would lead first to pacifism but then to thoughts of violence.

As I slowly learn to face my fears and deal with my worries, I find it easier to have goals and aspirations. As I stand up for myself by being assertive rather than aggressive, I show respect for myself as well as those around me.

If I can imagine defending myself or a loved one, I prove to myself that I have value and so does that loved one. If I value my own life enough to save it, my feelings of worthlessness are dispelled. We protect what we value, and we value what we protect. Letting fear take over and cause a pacifism without true conviction says “I value nothing.” That is why nonviolence settles nothing.



via Daily Prompt: Instinct

Nervous About Asking

Sometimes, I become very nervous when I think about asking questions.  Whether it’s “Can you make dinner tonight?”  Or “Would you like to have your art featured on my blog?” asking a question can be nerve-wracking.

Is it because I don’t think I have permission to ask?  Is it because the great, looming “no” is too hard to contemplate?  Whatever the reason, asking questions leaves me in a cold sweat.

Yet, asking questions is really helpful and a skill that’s important to know.  We gather information through questions, we get things done, we improve our lives and the lives of others through questions.  For me, the way to get through the question is to make sure I’m asking politely, and also think about what “no” means and resolve that I can handle it.

It still takes practice.  This week and weekend, I’ll be doing three author interviews.  That’s a lot of questions!  It’s good practice for asking them.  I do it because it helps fellow authors.  Every day in my job I have to ask questions.  That’s good practice too.

If you’re like me and hate asking questions, it helps to plan out what the question will be, before you ask it.  Make sure it makes sense and is reasonable.  If you do get a “no,” try to see the other person’s side of it.  They may have a good reason for that “no.”  Be understanding.  If you get a “yes,” be appreciative but relaxed about it.  They may not think it’s as big a deal as you do.

Even knowing these things, some questions still give me the collywobbles.  The hardest is “would you do something for me?”  That’s hard because some little part of me thinks I don’t deserve anything.  That’s the part that is truly poisonous, and needs to be starved away by robbing it of energy.  So, I’ll keep asking questions.  Even if I have to tense my gut like I’m about to take a punch, take a breath and push through fear, I’ll keep asking questions.

So, how are you?

via Daily Prompt: Nervous


How Gaming Translated Into Personal Success

I’ll be perfectly honest here. I didn’t learn much about perseverance while in school. I also didn’t learn much about successfully finishing projects. I learned those things later, when I got into online gaming, particularly breeding sims like Aywas, LioDen, Horse Isle, and yes, that granddaddy of all games, the one that started it all for me, Howrse.  It sounds silly to me, but it’s really true.

The biggest lesson I’ve learned is that consistent effort is more important than  a large amount of effort that is sporadic. I have achieved great things in online games by just doing something a little every day and setting good goals. Whether that’s earning game currency, building experience, or collecting items, it doesn’t take long before that effort adds up.  That has translated into novels, complex pieces of art, a better job, a paid off car and a much nicer apartment that I had to save up for.

I’ve learned patience as well. Usually, in online games, there are tedious tasks that you must do over and over in order to get some kind of reward. In games, as in life, patience usually yields good results.

I’ve learned to be a bit more comfortable with measuring myself against other people. I’ve also learned about leadership as I’ve come up with ideas other members of my gaming sites have enjoyed, and set up small events such as forum threads.  That has taught me much about taking the initiative.  I’ve also learned about communication and negotiation.

I’ve also learned a surprising amount about economics from games. I’ve learned about finding what people want, offering it at an attractive price, researching the competition, and keeping up with the trends. I’ve learned that the way to make money is to stay abreast of trends, recognize opportunities, and jump on them when they come. Then know how much things usually are going to cost, price just under that but not far below. This is especially important for freelancers. You want to be attractive to your clients, but not ruin the market by pricing so low that you devalue the service you provide. We see this in art – I could have a book cover created for $5, a task that used to cost hundreds.

Finally, I’ve learned about ways to make my offerings more attractive to other people.  I’ve learned about wording, ad copy, creating interesting and eye-catching graphics.

These lessons have caused me to put effort into my various projects, such as writing books or blogging, a little every day. I’m far better able to work at it without expecting immediate success or payoff. Consequently, my work is higher quality than before and I produce a lot more of it.  I credit much of that to learning patience and persistence from online games.

(Sometime I’ll write another article about how useful tabletop role playing has been!)

Horse Herd.PNG
Screenshot from Horse Isle II

via Daily Prompt: Translate