Category Archives: A Dude’s Guide to Life

This is where we can talk about how to be a dude, in general.

Blank Screen Blues

There are two kinds of people in this world: Those who divide the world into two kinds of people and those who don’t.

No, wait. True, but not the bifurcation for which I was searching.

There are two ways to approach a blank computer screen, staring at you, demanding to be filled with information, riveting information, information that will change the lives of readers and the destiny of nations and the course of civilizations: fear or eagerness.

Despite the last sentence above, I see a blank screen as an invitation to dive in and begin creating something, anything. Nature abhors a vacuum. (Much to the dismay of the Orek people, who keep having to replace Mother Nature’s vacuum system almost every week.) I abhor a blank screen.

If you’re the type who sees a blank screen and immediately your fingers begin itching for a keyboard so you can start filling that screen. . . We’re good. You can come back next time. Class dismissed for you. Go out and do something. Get some experience so we can strip mine that little memory, rip it into its constituent engrams and rebuild it into a story worth telling.

It’s the rest of you I want to talk to today. The ones who still are fixated on the whole blank screen sentence up above. Hey! Hey! Hey! Hey, you! Down here. Right.

Breathe.

Breathe.

Good. That’s good. Time to let go of the panic (at least a little bit) and concentrate (at least a little bit) so we can get to writing (at least a full page). (What? You thought I was going to advocate for only writing a little bit? We’ve got a lot to learn about each other, friend.)

So, the idea of a blank screen fills you with fear? Makes you quake in your Joseph Campbell high heels? Makes you tug on that full, manly beard and mumble about doing the dishes? (Hopefully one or the other because Joseph Campbell doesn’t make shoes big enough to fit the beardy types and no one likes to write with sore feet.)

There’s no need to fear a blank screen. The odds are very low that it will bite you or otherwise do you physical harm. The only damage that’s going to be done to you is by you. Or, more accurately, by your poor frightened brain.

People afraid of a blank screen are a little like my oldest son, Sarcasmo (Names changed to protect the not-so-innocent-but-still-likely-to-complain-incessantly) when faced with a roller coaster. He hated the things when he was younger. He would start to build up the idea of the roller coaster in his head until it was some massive monster, barely slapped together with dry chewing gum and goblin spit. Taking him to an amusement park was a waste of money because he was not getting on anything that moved fast or had the possibility of intentional loops.

Until the day he went with friends and they teased him into going on a roller coaster. (I didn’t say they were good friends) Forcing himself to step forward one foot after another, Sarcasmo climbed into the coaster car and prepared for the worst. Which never happened

He later told me he kept expecting to be torn apart, or feel like someone was trying to twist his brain around in his skull. And it never happened. The roller coaster wasn’t nearly as bad as he’d built it up to be in his head.

Now, insert you for Sarcasmo and blank screen for roller coaster. It’s the same deal.BS flag

People will build up the idea of a blank screen so much, they begin to fear it. They begin to fear it because they believe they must produce deathless prose the moment fingers touch keyboard. They must outwrite Shakespeare, out copywrite Don Draper each time they see a blank screen.

That’s a load of . . . bunk. Throwing my bunk stuff flag on this one.

Precision and nigh-perfection come with rewriting. And rewriting. And rewriting some more. Before you can get there, though, you have to write. And that does not have to be perfect. Or pretty. Or even likable. It just needs to be there so you can work on it later.

In fact, let’s make this formal.

You, hereinafter known as “the writer,” are formally given permission to produce sucky first drafts. It’s what you do with the sucky first draft when you’re done that determines your worth as “the writer.”

When faced with a blank screen. . . type. That’s it. Just start typing. It doesn’t matter if it’s any good, or even on point. Just type. Sort of like what I did to start the post. (Which was kept in there as an example that I could point to from down here.) I typed out a stupid joke and that enabled me to get warm and start warming to the topic from there on out.

melting iceThat’s all you have to do.
It doesn’t matter what you type, as long as you begin to type away. Once you’ve got some words, that fear will simply melt away.

Let’s get to it.

First published at Writing Lifea new blog by yours truly that examines how we can use our memories to create compelling personal essays or memoirs.

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All Greek To Me

Η ανεξέταστη ζωή δεν αξίζει να ζει. – Σωκράτης

The unexamined life is not worth living. – Socrates

The above quote is attributed, as you can probably guess, to the philosopher Socrates. To me, the idea behind his words is that we should all look deeply into our lives and try to determine if we are doing that which makes our lives better. Are we enriching our lives?

Are we living? Are we existing?

And, in this age of social media, are we busy telling anyone about that life?

The idea behind this blog is to work together to understand the best way to produce essays (or tell stories, if you prefer) about your life. I want to work together to craft highly personal stories that still reach out and offer meaning and insight to others reading our words.

Even personal stories aren’t all about me. Or you, for that matter.

So, what do you say? Get to it?

keyboard

The goat? Not a simulation. That, my friends, is a real goat.

 

First published at Writing Lifea new blog by yours truly that examines how we can use our memories to create compelling personal essays or memoirs.

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In Memoriam: Sir Terry Pratchett

The sun is a little less brighter today. The sky a little less blue. The spring blooms a little more drab. Sir Terry Pratchett is dead.
At age 66, Sir Terry died yesterday after a long battle against early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. Despite the debilitating dementia, Sir Sir Terry PratchettTerry managed to continue writing books, each one of them filled with the righteous anger and sparkling wit that first drew him to the attention of his adoring reading public all those many decades ago.This man quite literally changed for the better how I view the world. I have him to thank for my ability to look at the most mundane thing and possibly find something magic within. His sense of humor is so deeply intertwined with my own, I’m surprised when I find something funny and realize he didn’t actually produce it. He was strong, friendly, supportive, angry at all the right people and causes, loving and more productive than almost any writer alive.

I realize that not many of you might know of Sir Terry, but he was, in my opinion, the finest English-language satirist of all time. His crowning achievement was the 40-books-full Discworld braid. It wasn’t a series, because the books weren’t necessarily designed to be read in any certain order. But they weren’t all stand-alone books either as each one used characters from other books. It was like life: Messy, busy and chock full of more amazing things than most people could find with both hands, a map and a GPS.

There are times in life when people must know when not to let go. Balloons are designed to teach small children this.

On the surface, the Discworld looked a lot like pre-industrial England, had a social structure of about the same, with lords and ladies and serfs and all, and resembled just about every single fantasy novel that had ever been written prior to Sir Terry beginning his work. You see, he enjoyed nothing more than taking the tropes and cliches of fantasy literature and subjecting them to the burning eye of daylight. He liked to rip away the cover of darkness, find the pomposity lurking underneath the silliness, and begin poking at it with very large, pointed sticks.

It was several books in to his Discworld braid that Sir Terry began to realize that the Discworld didn’t have to content itself with skewering only fantasy tropes, when there were so many cliches, so many horrible wardrobe choices, so many appalling people right outside his window that deserved to be finely skewered and roasted over the slow-burning coals of satire.

And it all started with the Discworld. A flat disc or a world, the round Discworld rested atop four gigantic elephants, which, in turn, stood astride a humongous turtle that swam through the depths of space. As silly as that seems, it once was one of the theories of what the actual Earth actually looked like. I like it much better when it’s serving as home to the characters that made these books come alive.

I have no use for people who have learned the limits of the possible.

There was a wizzard (spelled correctly. If you don’t believe me, just look at the man’s pointy hat.) who couldn’t do magic because one of the eight great spells that created the universe has set up camp inside his head and is blocking all lesser spells from getting in.

A clothing wardrobe named Luggage, with hundreds of horrible little legs, a snapping lid with a penchant for closing on the fingers (and toes and entire arms or legs) of the unwary, and a surprisingly lively love life for something that’s supposed to follow its owner around and give out fresh clothing.

A young girl who saves her brother and single-cast-iron-pandedly holds off an invasion of faeries. Although she did have a little help from a tribe of loud, unruly, frequently drunk, frequently cursing blue men of incredible strength. And each of them less than two inches tall.

And, of course, DEATH. The personification of death on the Discworld looked astonishingly like our idea of death: skull face, bony fingers, long black robe, large scythe. All the trimmings. But DEATH had an unusual fondness for the humans of Discworld, which, sadly, often didn’t turn out all that well.

The truth may be out there, but the lies are inside your head.
And then there was the tribe of mice who became intelligent and learned to talk once they ate garbage from the dump out back of the Unseen University, the Discworld’s preeminent school of magic. The mice would travel from town to town, breaking into homes and messing up the place. In each town, though, a young boy and cat would appear and offer to chase the mice away for a payment. Once the job was finished, the boy and the cat, who, after a delicious encounter with one of the mice, suddenly found himself able to speak and think and was far less hungry, would meet up with the mice and split the loot.

As much as I loved Sir Terry and his work, as much joy and wonder and wisdom and laughter as I found within the pages of his books, I wouldn’t be writing about him here if it weren’t for one thing. Sir Terry created some of the most amazing young reader books ever written.

The Wee Free Men (starring the aforesaid blue men) and The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents (starring the aforesaid intelligent mice, intelligent cat and a boy) were a revelation when I read them out loud.

See, when the Spawn of Our Loins were young, I used to sit with them for an hour every night and read to them from whatever book caught my eye or theirs. I would read them out loud, often using outrageous (and outrageously bad) accents. But it was with these two books that I really hit my stride. We all laughed so hard we had to stop and catch our breath nearly every page.

I urge you to please, if you have youngish children, or even kids who just love a good read, go out and get copies of these books right now. I’m frequently asked for recommendations for kids to read. No matter the gender of the child, I will recommend these books by Sir Terry and I’ve never heard one complaint, only thank you and please tell me there are more.The world is a better place for Sir Terry’s having been in it, and a poor one for him having left. But he did leave behind a legacy of laughter and love and wisdom that will stand the test of time and be delighting readers for centuries to come.

And you can get in on the ground floor of that. Go buy one of his books. Read it. Laugh and you can thank me later.

So much universe, and so little time.

March 13, 2015 8:21 am
Written by: Richard E.D. Jones

 

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