AH, F***!

Fair Warning At The Top: This post uses that ‘F’ word a lot. You know, the one that’s four letters, starts with F, and rhymes with Truck? Nobody’s doing that in the post, if that helps, but the word is featured prominently. If that’s not a word you want to read, go somewhere else.

C’mon on, sing it! “It’s a Small World After All! It’s a Small World After All! It’s a Small World . . .”

Yes, that title means “Ah Fuck!” This is a post about language and how it changes. The word Fuck is an excellent example. (I could use “sucks” also, but it lacks the impact of Fuck.) In some histories of the English language (yes, there certainly are such things) the word is traced back to early Indo-European, where it was a terrible thing to say, meaning something like “go back to whatever hell you were in before you were born,” or something like that. Other sources cite more recent etymology, but still point out that the word was well beyond the line of impolite throughout most of its history. In fact, it has only been since the late 1950s that the word has gradually come into common use in English outside of military personnel and frontier towns.

It’s a fucking shame, is what.

What I mean is that, it has become more common, and you can actually say it on primetime TV so long as it’s used for emphasis, as it is in italics above. It doesn’t happen often, and conservatives always get aroused when it does, but when it does, in that manner, the FCC shrugs and goes about its business. Not so back in the 1950s. Good heavens, Lucy and Ricky had Hollywood beds. That is, matching twin beds. She got pregnant somehow, but certainly not by fucking, because that just wasn’t done in those days, except by tattooed sailors and criminals in seedy hotels and back alleys. Everybody knew that. And when you told somebody “Fuck You!” it was a damned serious thing to say. It’s maybe not the nicest thing you can say to somebody these days, but it probably won’t get you knifed or shot, or at a minimum in a fistfight. ‘Cause that’s what it did back in the fifties, my friends. Because that good old word, fuck, was a very powerful word. Now? Pffffft! Not so much, huh?

Look at those italics again. It could say terrible shame, or tremendous shame, or horrible shame, and the meaning would be the same. A really big, honking, lot of a shame, bro, and don’t you forget it. Yeah, fuck indeed! One of the most powerful words ever to enter the English language has been reduced to a weak, slap-on-the-wrist sort of word, and that’s on the powerful end. On the weak end it’s just another one of those modifiers you search your manuscript for so you can use fewer of them. Friends, I really do think that’s a fucking shame, because I like powerful words. Which fuck isn’t, anymore.

And that’s because that word, like all of English, and every language, even French, much to the dismay of their language Institute there on the Seine, changes constantly. In Spanish, during my lifetime, B and V have come to be pronounced exactly alike. They weren’t in 1967, but they are now. If you want to see change in French, just compare written to spoken French. The joke is that it’s simple, you just don’t pronounce most of the letters. But, they used to. And in English, among many other changes (anyone can check their own vocabulary to see that I’m right) (heh heh) the word Fuck has been diminished by too much everyday use. As a person who uses language to craft his products, this is the sort of thing that I have to watch out for. I try to avoid using slang, because it changes so often. Not so easy to know how to avoid having your wonderful word become useless, though. Sigh.

Well good luck, give it your best shot, and if they don’t like it, you know . . .

So Here’s My Problem

Weird Al Yankovich performing in Henderson Nevada, fall 2014.

Weird Al looks like he certainly has a problem. The poor man has no face! I picked this picture deliberately to go with this post. This post is about my real problem as a creative individual (I hope.) Weird Al wrote and performs a song titled First World Problems, wherein he outlines such tragedies as having to brush his teeth manually when the batteries die in his electric toothbrush. I relate to that, I truly do. Because, I, too, am besieged by First World Problems, and not much else.

It’s taken a lot longer than I’d hoped to put up the shed I bought at Sam’s Club last Winter. My hearing aid batteries only last 4 or 5 days. My dog sometimes poops in the house. My house is so big that it’s almost impossible to keep clean. My optometrist recently moved far away and I have to find a new one. My local supermarket stopped carrying my favorite 35 percent fruit muesli in bulk. See what I mean? I could go on and on.

Boo-hoo, I hear you saying. I say that too, but this really is a problem. I have observed, and psychology backs me up on this, that the most creative efforts arise from relatively tortured circumstances. The one time I wrote a good poem was just after a break-up. It really was a good poem, but it’s gone forever because I lost whatever media it was on. (Another first world problem, I know.) It’s so bad that I actually got a comedy bit out of the situation. It’s a bit that ends with a song that I wrote, a song that is the only blues that I can legitimately sing. The song is called the I Ain’t Got No Troubles Blues.” And that’s the trouble with me. I’ll record it and post it to YouTube sometime, and put a link to it here while I’m at it.

Meantime, for my own version of Imposter Syndrome, I worry that I may never sell any significant amount of fiction because I’ve just lived too easy a life!

That’s probably another first world problem, huh?

Computer Advice (Free!)

It’s Rocky; It’s a Coast; It’s Maine!

Written in response to some specific incidents. If you write with a computer (any electronic device) you should read this.

You may be reading this on a smartphone. You may be reading this on some sort of tablet (there are lots of them these days.) You may even be reading it on a desktop computer, which is what I produce this site with. No matter which device you use, you are, in fact, using a computer (yes, even if it’s an Apple product.) I am inspired to write this post because of several instances later where I’ve either advised, or had to, do a hard reboot on a device. (Most recently this desktop on which I write.)

The desktop story is that I clicked on a mail that looked like it was from the USPS. Delivery problems, it said. Okay, that happens. But instead of an email I got a loud message about how someone has used my ip address without my knowledge to access a site with dangerous malware on it, and now my computer is “locked up” because of that. Now, first of all, nobody can ever know whether you or a hacker used your ip address without your knowledge. What are they, mind readers? Second, the technical term is not “locked up.” What happens is that your computer is locked, and you are “locked out.” And thirdly, they wouldn’t put a phone number in the warning page. There were updates pending, so what the heck, I ignored the warnings from the loud page and restarted. My computer updated, but the loud page didn’t go away. So I did a “hard reboot,” aka a “cold reboot,” and everything is fine. Fancy that. Now, if you’ve never been an IT person, you might not even know what a “cold reboot” is. I mean, you turn your device off and on all the time, I’m sure. But you still have times when the thing seems slow, messed up, won’t run your favorite app, won’t even make a call sometimes. I speak from experience. A hard, or cold reboot will cure all of these ailments in any computer.

What is a hard, cold reboot? If you have a desktop without a battery you can easily demonstrate one. Just reach around behind the big box wherein the mystery that is your computer resides. Pull out the power cord, carefully so as not to damage it, and then wait thirty seconds, and then plug the cord back in. Poof! A computer has billions of teeny circuits that, taken together, represent everything the computer can do. Each teeny circuit (I’m talking electron microscope teeny here) is either on or off. When the computer is first turned on, it sets each teeny circuit to “off.” That makes a clean working area for what follows, which will first be your operating system, then whatever apps you decide to run. Starting clean like that means that your programs will all run optimally, you know, as near to perfectly as possible. You should do it once in a while even if you don’t have trouble, as a way to prevent trouble from cropping up.

But what if you have a battery in your device. My desktop, for example, is in fact a Microsoft Surface Pro 4 plugged into a docking station. It acts just like a desktop; I’m using a large format monitor, plus a real keyboard (bliss) and a mouse. Easy-peasy to use, but tricky to cold reboot. For many tablets, the trick to hard (cold) reboot is to hold down the power button until the device turns on again. Huh? Well, it’s on when you start. Press the power button and ignore the screen messages. After a bit your device will turn off. If you keep holding the power button down, the device will turn on again shortly. If it doesn’t start back up in thirty seconds, let go of the power button, then press it again. In fact, if you accidentally let go of the power button after the device is off, that’s okay too. Just press the power button (for a few seconds, usually) until your device restarts.

I’ve had Motorola phones that cold rebooted just like that. My Samsung requires me to hold down both the power button and the volume down button at the same time. Something similar works with every tablet and smartphone with a battery. With phones, especially, it’s a good idea to do that cold reboot every couple of days. I do it before I go out driving for Lyft or Uber, as their driver apps are veritable resource hogs. (I mean that they use up a lot of memory, processing time, network bandwidth, and battery. It’s the memory that causes problems, so a cold reboot makes sure the app has all that it needs.)

There you go: my public service announcement for the quarter, uh, half, uh, year? Whatever. Cold boot your device every so often. You’ll be glad you did.

Rejection Deconstructed

It’s The MonaAlegOhio, Summer 2017.

In keeping with Mr. Wendig’s contribution, just prior to right now, I want to talk more about rejection, and how it absolutely is not something to worry about. I write from experience, as I have done sales in the past, and have been rejected plenty.

In insurance sales, there’s a rule of thumb that goes for every ten people you call, one will be willing to talk with you. For every ten people willing to talk with you, one will close on something you’re offering. And, results, naturally, vary with how well you present your case, and with exactly what it is that you’re selling. In real estate, for instance, the odds are longer initially, because nobody knows you from anybody, and they don’t trust you. Which is reasonable.

Book sales are still sales. Yes, you introverted kid you, it is necessary to plug your product. You can, of course, simply publish your work and then plug that. Or you can plug your unpublished work to agents and editors, sending query letters, pitching in person. Everybody involved in writing anything ends up knowing all about these things, right? And, what happens? In my experience, there are two types of rejections you receive as a writer. The first, unfortunately common, response to a query is, ready for it? Nothing! Nada! Rien! NIchts! As Caesar would say, NIHIL! Then there are the good ones.

The good ones are good by virtue of being real and definite. When I get an actual rejection note via email or messaging (I guess snail mail is still possible but I haven’t seen one in years) I am overjoyed that the person took the time to at least drop me a form note. My very favorite rejection letter (it was via USPS) was from Mad Magazine, because it was truly funny. Those are the rejections which I savor, those ones with a modicum of personal touch to them.

If you’ve published a few books that sold well, your marketing gets easier, but you’ll still get rejected a lot. And, here’s my advice about that:

DON’T WORRY ABOUT IT!

Ever heard the advice, “Just keep doing it?” Well, that’s true. You will be rejected, by many, and by some who will, in time, come to regret the fact that they rejected you. (Think Decca Records and The Beatles.) Keep writing, keep plugging your product. If one thing just won’t sell, write something else. You are a writer, right?