Don't Shake the Flask

Because you don't know if it'll explode

Tag: blogging

Songs and Other Ephemera

It’s been a long time since I’ve written a proper blog post and I think it pretty much boils down to not having enough time and having other priorities which I have to attend to. Looking back at it, I had a lot of extra time when I was younger–enough that I could post regularly to this blog and actually do some background research for those blog posts at the same time. And now–well, as I’ve told someone recently, I feel like I’m being pulled in multiple directions at the same time. If it isn’t one MUST NEED TO DO CRISIS, it’s another. And this holiday season? Definitely not letting up. 

Anyways, this weekend, I have taken a few hours here and there to not do any work or deal with other obligations. On one of the forums I read, someone started a thread asking “What’s your favorite Christmas song?” Normally, this is something I don’t think about because no one asks me this question in real life, but for some reason, I did stop for more than a few moments and tried to think about this and I didn’t come up with anything.

I’m not religious and I think of myself as more agnostic than anything else, but I did grow up having to go to church every Sunday. At the time, to me at least, it was something that people had to do every Sunday. I didn’t have any friends at church–it was all very cliquey and no one seemed to be practicing what they preached. I didn’t view any of the adults as particularly kind–they were all too busy comparing whose kid was better or smarter than the others. Too much bragging about whose son or daughter ended up going to medical school, I guess. On an intellectual level, I understand there are a lot of people who get spiritual comfort from religion. But on a practical level, it just seemed like the problems of society magnified in a situation where arbitrary rules held sway.

As for the Christmas songs–I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s my own psychological hang-ups that prevent me from naming any “favorite” songs. It probably started when I was four or five and my parents put me into the choir to sing for Christmas. I remember being very confused and not knowing any of the lyrics–at the time, my grasp of English was  probably still very shaky. I still suck at lyrics. I can’t recall any unless a song has been playing non-stop for months and even then, I’ll still forget. I think subconsciously, I know memorizing lyrics is a bullshit activity that won’t benefit me one whit, so why bother.

Related to that are Christmas piano recitals. I enjoy playing the piano and my parents would have never sprung for piano lessons if I hadn’t asked for them. But man, piano recitals are the worst because it’s always expected that the performer memorizes the pieces. While there is a certain source of anxiety involved in, say, playing Mozart or Brahms–unless most of the audience are absolute classical fanatics, it’s easy to gloss over mistakes without anyone being the wiser. Christmas songs, though, everyone knows. And if you forget–EVERYONE WILL KNOW IMMEDIATELY. And not only do I suck at memorizing lyrics, I also suck at memorizing music in general so you can imagine how nerve wracking recitals were even though I tried to hide this from everyone.

So, that’s why I don’t have a favorite Christmas song. I don’t hate them, because it’s not the songs’ fault, but I don’t have a particular love of them either. I try to avoid places that play Christmas music too early and I do not listen to Christmas music in my spare time either except for maybe on Christmas Day in very small doses. These days, calm meditation-like music has a better effect on my mood than anything else.

A New Year, A New Decade

I prefer to call my occasional posting to this blog as intermittent notes while on hiatus. Life is busy and who knows what the future will bring. I also think that resolutions will never work, but there are a few things I’d like to do more of this year:

  • Post more to this blog.
  • Post more consistently to my postcard blog.
  • Write more regularly (instead of just binge writing during NaNoWriMo events).
  • Submit stories to places more often.
  • Read more books (and reduce the size of my to-be-read pile).

Will any of this actually happen? Who knows. We’ll see.

 

A New Hobby (Sorta)

New year resolutions are silly because almost no one ends up keeping their promises. People want to do something to improve their lives, but then they fall back on their old habits. That’s why I never make new year resolutions. It’s bound to end in disappointment and the same-old same-old.

At one point last year, I was regularly posting on this blog again because I had taken up the hobby of exchanging postcards. But then that ended abruptly when some overly obsessive postcard enthusiasts threw a fit, so I’ve been trying to think about what else to post to keep the blog going. I suppose I could write about writing. But I consider myself a rank amateur and I’m generally not chatty about my own stories unless there’s something like NaNoWriMo going on at the same time.

Recently, I saw a documentary on minimalism and I found myself agreeing with many of their points. Our lives are basically filled with too much stuff and I’ve generally found it a lot more easier to manage when I’ve migrated it online. I used to keep paper planners about to help me organize my day, but in the past couple years, I’ve gone completely to Google Calendar. And I’ve managed to prevent turning my apartment into a book hoard hazard by switching to ebooks (mostly).

However, it’s that “mostly” that’s the sticking point. Because I still have a lot of physical books. Probably about half of them are in the “to-be-read” (TBR) pile. And I know not all of them are keepers. Simply put, I need to buckle down and read them to determine which ones I’ll keep and which ones I’ll give away or sell. So, here’s what I’m going to do for this year:

  • Only read books from the TBR pile.
  • Write a blog post/review about the book after I finished it.
    • Exception: the book is so bad that finishing it would be a waste of time.
  • To keep me from temptation, I am not allowed to buy new books unless:
    • I’m gifting them to someone else
    • Three or more people have personally recommended a book to me
    • Or it is no longer 2017.

Of course, book reviewing isn’t without the risk of stirring the wrath of the crazy either, but we’ll see. If an author or their fans threaten to sue and/or kill me because I’m not all sparkly rainbows and sunshine about the story, I’ll probably stop this experiment. You and I will know that scenario is ridiculous, but I don’t have the money, time, or spoons to deal with the crazy–so if it happens, it’ll just be easier to discontinue.

Anyways, here we go. I’m starting this with Sixty-One Nails by Mike Shevdon, the 2009 US paperback edition. Why? Because it was the first book on the nearest bookshelf. Feel free to let me know how you liked (or hated) it.

Notes from MisCon 27, Part 1

(To see all my posts on MisCon, including last year’s notes, go here.)

I wasn’t sure whether or not I would have been able to make MisCon this year, but happily I was able to see some of the panels. And yes, I took some notes. I managed to lose my pen at the second panel I attended on Saturday (if you were sitting next to me and were irritated that I was rummaging through my bag like mad for a writing utensil, sorry!), but I was fortunate enough to bump into a friend and bum a pen from her.

In the panel transcriptions, I’m mostly paraphrasing what the panelists said. If there are any errors, they’re mine and mine alone. For any corrections, just drop me a note.

Panel title: Authors, Readers, and Social Media
Panel members: C.J. Cherryh, Jane Fancher, J.A. Pitts, Peter Wacks
Panel description: Let’s discuss social media. What can it do for writers? Readers? What do you expect from your favorite authors on social media? How do new writers learn the best ways to take advantage of social media? Will this trend continue or do you see something new coming along?

JAP: Publishers don’t do marketing. You have to do your own marketing.

JF: Social media has allowed me to meet some of my most supportive fans. The publishers haven’t ever done marketing for me. So you have to do anything you can. The Internet is one way.

Q: What would you prefer–a blog with a few die-hard fans or silence? Sometimes it can become a popularity contest.

JF: If you have a lot of “friends”, sales can go through the roof. It is a popularity contest so in some cases it doesn’t matter if you publish crap.

Q: I’ve posted an average review of a book and the author’s rabid fans down-voted my review to oblivion. It was an average book, so I was open to trying the author’s other books. But the fan base ran me off.

CJC: I’ve seen that operate and it’s not pretty. It also depends on the writing. A certain type of writing will attract a certain type of reader. If it becomes self-exclusive and waterproof, it will seal out any other viewpoint. I don’t like flame wars so I try to avoid politics, religion, etc.

JF: On Amazon, writers can’t post reviews.

JAP: Actually, I’ve been able to post on Amazon. Amazon doesn’t apply it consistently.

PW: If you have a hard core fan base, you should try to shape them. Have them run a Twitter or Tumblr account for you.

JAP: It’s not how many fans you have but who likes your books. You write books to garner more fans.

Q: Do you have a fan page to talk to other fans?

CJC: I have a blog, but I don’t go into the discussion to stifle them. Otherwise if I do say anything, it will become canon and it makes it harder to converse.

PW: Find friends to recruit to help you grow.

CJC: But you have to be careful who you choose. Choose someone who is polite, sensible, good-hearted, and knows what they’re doing.

Q: What’s your impression of the Amazon/Kindle issue?

CJC: I wrote a book on the care of fish and put it on Amazon because my SF base is too small. I haven’t put out my SF stuff because they change the rules all the time. For some projects it’s good. But you still need to get someone to edit your stuff.

JF: I use Amazon to sell my backlist. The worst thing that could happen is if you self-publish a book that is rife with errors. You’ll never live down that reputation if you don’t edit. And don’t rely on your own editing.

JAP: Amazon just bought Goodreads. Which means you can by stuff in people’s recommendations on Goodreads. Reviews will be bleeding from Goodreads to Amazon.

Q: With community building and interacting with the community, have you had any gaffes?

JAP: If it’s on the internet, it’s public. With Facebook, they change policies all the time so what was once private could suddenly become public. Be careful what you post. I post because people seem to like it. And it’s a powerful tool because you can reach people all over the country.

JF: I’m extremely open on my blog. It’s about honesty. My books are about honesty, so if you like me then you might like my books.

CJC: Don’t put anything down that you won’t be willing to face in court. Be kind and circumspect. I wait twenty-four hours before I decide to post anything that I’ve written when angry. But if the fans are behaving badly, you should get on them.

JF: When I was on Compuserve, I once posted a comment on an author’s message board. The fans jumped on me and the author just fanned the flames.

JAP: Some people who do social media right are John Scalzi and Cory Doctorow.

JW: I’ve managed to avoid gaffes. But some really stupid things can be pushed and you have to wonder, why?

Q: Do you ever use social media as a focus group to help you write?

Entire panel: No.

CJC: I don’t use social media for my creative process. I would rather spin my own wheels. There will be loonies out there who would say that you stole their idea.

JF: Only a very special person could help me with the creative process.

PW: Fans don’t want to see how their ideas get written.

JAP: You could open yourself up to lawsuits. It might give me ideas for further research, though.

Q (Deby Fredericks): I do a podcast instead of self-publishing. But the only way I knew people were listening was when someone sent me a response that I posted the wrong link.

JF: We just want to know that someone is reading us. Just come and say, “Hi!” We have statistics to prove that someone is visiting the site.

Q: Tell writers that you enjoy their work.

Q: If I’m the only one to comment, am I being a nuisance?

Entire panel: No.

JF: It tells me that I’m not dead yet.

Q: I think people should only comment when they have something important to say. Otherwise it would devolve into YouTube comments.

JF: You could stop them, but then there are e-mails.

JAP: I once didn’t post for five days because I was really busy. But I got a fan comment wondering if I was okay.

CJC: There are a lot of regulars who visit but don’t necessarily comment. They always check the site to touch base with “family.”

Q: Authors seem to use social media in reverse compared to businesses.

PW: There’s no model for authors to use. Businesses use the broadcaster model. Authors, however, need to interact. The trick is to be honest in your communications. I have 17,000 fans, but I feel it’s a waste. I’ve managed to sell a book without help from social media.

JAP: It’s a time sink.

JF: E-books are convenient, but now they are hard to find among everything else out there.

Q: Someone can write a really insightful blog, but I feel “eh” about it. I would rather watch interviews. Have you done video podcasts?

JW: I’ve done videocasts (not necessarily interviews). With podcasts, once you mention an author, sales spike.

JAP: I have a hater on Twitter. But whenever this person rants about my books, I get a sales spike. I’ve done interview podcasts live. There’s Between the Sheets and Skiffy and Fanty. Someone in Norway once invited me to do a blog post on craft. Someone read that blog post and it led to an invitation to a conference. If you put it out there, assume that someone will read it.

Q: What’s the most important platform?

JAP: Anything you’re comfortable with.

Mid-Month Meanderings

Update on Camp NaNoWriMo progress: I am behind. Extremely behind. By 20,000 words. So I’m going to have to really kick it up a notch for this second half of the month. As to whether or not I’ll be able to reach the 50k goal–maybe. But I have other things that have more priority at the moment, like preparing for the ASM general meeting next month.

And speaking of ASM, sure it’s kind of stressful if you’re going to be presenting anything there, but it’s fun, too. If you’re a microbiologist or want to become one, I highly recommend attending the conference at least once. And even if you’re not, there are plenty of interesting talks. (I saw that they had a cool workshop for do-it-yourself whole genome analysis, but it’s already sold out.) Most of the talks can get pretty technical, though, so you might get lost if you’ve never taken any biology courses in college.

* * *

If you’ve followed me on Twitter, you’ll know that my website, gamalei.net, got wiped out last month when the hosting server suffered a catastrophic hardware failure. I wasn’t too worried about this since I had my website backed up elsewhere and otherwise, I’ve never had many problems with the hosting company for the approximate decade I’ve been with them. However, I did take it as an opportunity to streamline the site as it had grown rather labyrinthine.

Among one of the semi-hidden corners of the old site, I had a section titled “Linkrot” where I had stashed a bunch of links that I thought were interesting but not interesting enough to be taking up permanent residence in my browser’s bookmark folder. It was all hand-coded which after a while, got rather tedious.

So, what to do now? Well, I’ve decided to stick all those extra links on Tumblr. Technically, I’ve created two Tumblrs. Textual Curiosities contains cool stuff I’ve found on archive.org. Its sister site, Strange Interlinks, contains everything else. The thing about Tumblr is its simplicity. I can just dump a link into it and tag it to help categorize it rather than spending too much of my time manually adding to my old page. And since it’s now on Tumblr, other people can follow and/or share these links if they wish. Of course, if no one else does, I don’t mind. This is more for my own edification and organization than anything else.

After reading some opinions on Tumblr, I was thinking about how my own views about the blogging platform has changed over time. When I first encountered it, I couldn’t really understand why anyone would have one in addition to a weblog on, say, Blogger or WordPress or LiveJournal. But I think, in some ways, simplicity is a good thing. And it also depends on what sort of project you’re working on and what sort of platform is best suited for it.

When I first started blogging, I had also included random links I’ve discovered on the internet in my posts. Sort of like Kottke.org or Rebecca’s Pocket. But eventually, I ditched that format and concentrated on writing posts that were a little more focused and coherent. So that’s sort of how I view this blog today: a journal-like site containing long content or commentary (in text or in pictures) generated by me. And while Twitter and Tumblr can in some sense also be blogging platforms, they’re both more ephemeral in my mind. I like using Twitter because it’s quite amendable to quick observations (which can be extremely cumbersome on a traditional blog) and it has an instant messaging-like capability that doesn’t quite have as much stress as an actual instant messaging program*. And as for Tumblr, you have the ease of chucking things in there without the worry of moderating comments. And these days, I find that ease has a lot to recommend it.

*Aside: One thing I hate about the electronic age is the expectation of immediacy. Some forms of electronic communication, however, have greater expectations of immediacy than others. Like instant messaging, for instance. I once had instant messaging eons ago, but I am prone to multitasking and getting distracted by more important things than random chitchat. This, of course, pissed off people I was IMing with so I ended up not doing any sort of instant messaging at all. E-mail, on the other hand, is more flexible. I respond fairly quickly if it’s from family or work, but otherwise I can put it off for a couple of days. Or respond not at all. (Or pretend that it got lost in the aether if it’s from someone I don’t really want to talk to.) Twitter is a mix between the two. While I like the IMing aspect of interacting with other people online in a semi-immediate way, I don’t think many people would get really angry with me if I get distracted and respond two hours later.

A Brief Note

As I will be traveling extensively for the next week and due to my, uh, lack of structure with my itinerary, my access to the internet may be sporadic at best. So don’t expect too much posting here until after the new year. However, you can still follow me on Twitter and suggest places for me to visit.

I will continue to write vignettes for the ISADG challenge and will post them when I can. If you’ve missed any of the previous installments, they are all linked here.

Meanwhile, I hope you all are taking (or planning to take) a break from the internet. Just don’t overdose on the eggnog and Christmas music. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

Still Blogging, Apparently

I remembered today that it is this blog’s anniversary. Eleven years. And it’s been through a number of incarnations. I don’t blog as often as I used to as I’m mostly on Twitter now, but this space is still useful, especially if I find that I have something longer to say.

Reflecting on how technology has changed, it will no doubt change again a decade from now. Whether or not this blog still exists then, who knows. But I suppose I’ll still be blathering into the aether (whether it’s the internet or something else) to no one in particular.

Saving Face

Over at Third Level Digression, Yahmdallah talks about his misgivings about social media.  I think my own views are very similar.  So far, I’ve resisted signing up on Facebook, LinkedIn, and the like because those networks aren’t very amendable to anonymity.  And they’re also not as restricted as I’d like.  Let me give an example of what I mean: I think they can be used as a good tool for professional networking.  However, even if I had a professional profile with my resume and such online, this does not stop other people–say, people I knew in high school or random other persons who know me–from looking me up and trying to “friend” me.  I suppose I could institute a policy where I would only “friend” professional contacts or even “friend” no one at all, but that would hurt other people’s feelings.  And hurting other people’s feelings often translate to real world consequences.  Better, then, to not have a profile at all and sidestep the entire issue.

I think part of my resistance is also due to my own personality.  I’m an introvert and intensely private.  This might seem sort of silly since I have this blog and a Twitter account (which I treat like an abbreviated blog), but I view this space not as a place to show off (if I really wanted to show off, I’d have my real name in the about page, not a pseudonym) but rather a place to have my say.  Whether somebody else reads this or not is irrelevant.  It is the illusion that I have a voice in a democratic medium that counts. I know I am not completely anonymous.  My family knows I write in this blog.  Others know that this and/or my Twitter feed exists because at one time or another, they decided to search for me online.  But they don’t read this regularly or have lost interest because I’ve basically kept my posts about my interests rather than social drama.

While I might be interested in what other people have to say about certain issues and what other people might think about what I have to say about the issues, I am far more reticent about revealing anything about myself–particularly anything about myself going on now.  And while I’m not particularly keen about nosy people prying into my life, the reverse is also true. My inclination to look up old friends or enemies or crushes or whatnot is virtually nil.  If the thought ever comes up, “Oh, I wonder what’s going on with so-and-so,” it is almost immediately quashed because the question, “Do I really care what’s going on with so-and-so?” is invariably answered with a resounding, “No.”

I guess what it boils down to is, do certain social networks have any benefit to me?  The companies that run these social media would have obtained my information, random people could obtain my information and a peek at my private life, not-so-random people could also find out stuff about me, and the rest of the information on these social networks will be mostly useless to me because I simply don’t care.

While I suppose I could still do blog-like things on Facebook and the like, I wouldn’t be anonymous or even semi-anonymous while doing it.  I don’t particularly want someone googling my real name and retrieving a post ranting about chat speak and the decline of grammar, melancholy musings about certain things in life, or even about finishing a novel in a month.  Everyone thinks about random things or pontificates about their hobbies at one time or another.  But I think everyone would also agree that these things don’t necessarily define a person.  If I were on some of these social media as “the real me”, the minutiae of my life would be the first thing anyone would find.  And first impressions, more now than ever, are what others use to form their idea of you–even if philosophically, they agree that judging a book by its cover is wrong.  That’s why I’m not on certain social media.  Because what’s out there about the real me is already more than enough.

It’s Not A Secret If Everyone Knows About It

After reading a post on So Anyway about private blogging, I’ve come to the conclusion that I still don’t really understand it.  If you post on the web, someone’s going to find it–most likely it will be the person who you’d least like to find it.  Password protection seems a bit pointless and iffy–after all, passwords can be cracked.  And if more than one person knows a password, the chances of it getting out are magnified.  So what’s wrong with the old pen and paper and keeping the files offline?  If you truly do not want an audience, that’s what you’d do.  But people don’t do that.  Instead, they do this private blogging bit, submerged in an illusion where they get to control the audience.

The thing is, you can’t.  If people really want to read your stuff, they will.

However, people can password protect their blogs if they want.  I’m not saying that they can’t.  It’s like me not understanding why some people like durian or why someone would paint their house sea foam green.  What I really can’t wrap my head around is the fact that some people have private blogs yet they publicize it, trying to get more readers.  It’s like they don’t understand the term “private.”  If you’re going to be serious about private blogging, keep it that way.  Posting links to your private blog to public forums defeats the entire purpose.

As you can see, I blog under a pseudonym.  One could argue that I’m practicing a form of private blogging and that I shouldn’t be calling the kettle black.  But it isn’t about that at all.  I’ve always been aware that people in real life would find my writings online.  Indeed, they have*.  This isn’t something that I actively seek or hide.  But I don’t normally talk about my online babbling because I don’t think it’s that interesting.  Blogging is navel gazing.  But people are nosy, I suppose.  Someone (who thinks this pseudonym thing is some elaborate cat-and-mouse game I’ve concocted) once remarked to me, “Now that we’ve found you, I bet you’re going to make up a new pseudonym and disappear again.”  That’s too much work.  I’m already too heavily invested with what I’ve managed to carve out (or not) with this particular internet handle.

I merely wanted to make a distinction between two personas–what I am and how I think–with an emphasis on distinction.  Because when people do a cursory Google search, of course it’s going to reveal only certain aspects of me.  If anyone wants to figure me out more personally, they’re just going to have to do a little more digging–just like in real life.

*Yes, undergrads with too much time on their hands, I mean you.

A Clean Slate

Sometimes being forced to start over again can be a good thing. Even at the time, it seems annoying.

I am still trying to figure out this WordPress thing.  And biting my non-existent nails about my computer’s hard drive that died last week.  But in the meantime, I’m re-evaluating the notion that we really need all of our old stuff.  Having all that previous work there makes one comfortable and complacent.  Once it’s all gone–it can be terrifying.

It can be exhilarating, too.  Because once the inital shock has worn off, you realize that you didn’t really need the stuff.  The world still turns.  Life goes on.