AFS Publishing https://afspublishing.ca Welcome to AFS Publishing Tue, 15 Jun 2021 21:38:35 +0000 en-CA hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.7.2 https://afspublishing.ca/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/cropped-AFSP_Logo_for_letterhead-3-32x32.jpg AFS Publishing https://afspublishing.ca 32 32 25. On Certainty https://afspublishing.ca/25-on-certainty/ https://afspublishing.ca/25-on-certainty/#respond Tue, 15 Jun 2021 21:38:33 +0000 https://afspublishing.ca/?p=2313 It’s amazing how we put off doing what we know we must, somehow hoping to buy time and maybe a miracle. It’s certain we have to do our taxes. (Though maybe not for everyone – I’ve heard of people who avoided filing tax returns for years, maybe even know some of them, and I’m pretty sure it’s not because they have no taxable income.) It seems just as certain we have to accept our own demise too (though maybe those serial avoiders also know something about certain death the rest of us don’t).

The post 25. On Certainty appeared first on AFS Publishing.

]]>
I was going to give this post the title, ‘Death and Taxes’ but I guessed many of my readers are getting a little tired of my obsession with death, and who wants to talk about taxes. So I called it ‘certainty’ instead, as in, nothing is quite so certain as death and taxes. (This quote yet again attributed to the prodigious Benjamin Franklin, though he himself likely borrowed it from the general memes of the times, likely in this case begun by Daniel Defoe.) 

I had good cause to talk about death, or more aptly, grief, that great consequence of death, and then also taxes. As you know, Bonnie met her demise at the hands of The Grim Reaper’s veterinary agent, aided in the betrayal by Judas Jordan, trusting devoted poodle that she was. I was surprised at the blue funk I fell into over the subsequent two weeks, I thought I was inured to grief and I had easily rationalized the necessity of letting Bonnie’s struggle with pain and immobility end humanely. (Curious word that: humane.)

Despite the certainty of the having to do my taxes, I had procrastinated on filing my 2020 tax return for weeks – I’m not late, I have the privilege of being self-employed and so have till June 15 to file, which is of small advantage as one must still pay taxes owing by April 30. But Bonnie’s dying and my subsequent funk brought me very close to the deadline. My 2020 vision of timely filing was becoming myopic. Moreover, I also had the [self-imposed] looming deadline of posting my semi-monthly blog post on the 15th. I was stressed, I didn’t sleep well. I didn’t do anything about it.

I’ve never really enjoyed doing that burdensome chore, filling and filing the tax forms, but the latent clerk, or penitent, in me somehow drew a sort of perverse pleasure in the task. For many years this deeply personal administrative task was done by hand of course, and then the last 20 years or so with the aid of tax software. (Maybe that’s why it’s so stressful, finances is personal, with lots of implications.) I had an annual ritual, taxes were done on Good Friday. Sometimes Good Friday fell in March, well ahead of the due date. I would hope for rain, a suitable gloom for the double significance (for me at least) for the day. I’d get to my desk by 9:30 (it was after all a religious holiday and I was entitled to luxuriate a while in the morning Globe and indulge myself in a second cup of coffee), and then start in, collecting all my documents (Ha!), and open the forms, or software. The task got harder and lengthier when I became self-employed in the ‘90s, and longer again when Marlene had returned to the workforce and had to file her own taxes. Again, Ha! She was intimidated by forms and was very good at delegating. Five or six hours later I was be done, exhausted, and stressed out to here. The kids cleverly made themselves scarce. In later years I swear they even resorted to getting themselves married and avoided coming over on Good Fridays. 

It’s amazing how we put off doing what we know we must, somehow hoping to buy time and maybe a miracle. It’s certain we have to do our taxes. (Though maybe not for everyone – I’ve heard of people who avoided filing tax returns for years, maybe even know some of them, and I’m pretty sure it’s not because they have no taxable income.) It seems just as certain we have to accept our own demise too (though maybe those serial avoiders also know something about certain death the rest of us don’t).

I suppose the only remedy for the certainty of taxes is the certainty of death, though even in death your executor has to tie up all the loose ends you left and file one last return; how sad for her or him.

It’s paradoxical, our attitude to the certainty of death. Death may be certain[1] but we are rarely prepared. That may be because we are not sure exactly when that dread day will come. And as a consequence, we put off preparing properly for it. Of course in death we fear for the loss of our future but I’m not sure that is the greater fear. It’s the ‘not knowing’, for sure, what comes after death that troubles the mind; maybe it is the horror of uncertainty that keeps us avoiding our obligations. I oft recall Woody Allen on death: ‘I’m not afraid of death, I just got don’t want to be there when it happens!’ 

I’ve read a lot about death, and all its philosophical, religious, and emotional aspects, even long before I came face to face with it with Marlene’s end of life, not to mention all the dogs. We have strong attachments (see here for my reference to attachment theory) to the ones we love and I think dogs have reciprocal feelings; when it comes to feelings, dogs may be as ‘conscious’ as human beings, just not prescient. Bonnie had no idea what was about to happen to her, but Marlene surely did. We (Marlene and I, not Bonnie and I) never really talked about her inner-most fears, but right up to almost the last moment of her consciousness she likely believed she would still recover. Luckily for her, her last eight days were in a coma. 

But since we know death is certain, why do we put off making arrangements? We ought to face up to it and be prepared, even to the point of scheduling our own final hour, as I did for Bonnie. But really, when it comes to it, will I really be prepared for that much certainty.

I believe in MAID and fully intend to act on it when my time is closer to certainty, assuming nothing accidental happens in the meantime. (Curious acronym, MAID (Medical Assistance In Dying), I guess MAD was felt inappropriate, even though many think it apt.) And in the meantime, I should have all my affairs in order: my banking reserves sufficient to meet all my obligations; my funeral arrangements made, including music; a note to my executor so she can locate all my necessary documents, and passwords! But I know I am not as prepared as I should be.

So, certainty. The human mind craves certainly, it abhors ambiguity and uncertainty. I said ‘mind’ out of habit, memes, cultural vocabulary. We suffer under the illusion that we have a mind, that somehow our ‘minds’ are magically separate from our brains. But how can that be? What is mind? What is that ego-sense we have that we are in charge of ourselves, that there is a mini-you inhabiting your brain, a homunculus calling the shots? It is one of the great mysteries of the universe. Whether you believe in ‘mind’ or merely ‘brain’, in either case uncertainty is the enemy. If you are out of your mind, your brain’s architecture, its billons of neurons and trillions of synapses nevertheless churns away at its biological purpose; it is a memory and predictive machine; it processes environmental stimuli, compares it with existing mental models (or not, often it skips this step) and acts/reacts. If it took correct action it moves on to the next step; if not, it tries something else, less familiar in its repertoire, and assesses what happens. If it was a positive outcome the brain learns from its own experience[2] and files it away for future reference. (if it gets it seriously wrong of course it’s game over.) The memory of the stimulus, and the action, are associated with a ‘feeling’. And the feeling causes an action when the same or similar stimulus occurs again. In this way the brain deals with uncertainty: it is compelled to act. Even if it ignores the stimulus, the lack of action is a sort of action, and may have a consequence; it also generates a ‘feeling memory’. Lack of action to the stimulus may momentarily resolve the uncertainty for the brain but the uncertainty problem itself also gives rise to a feeling, or feelings. For the non-conscious brain the price of uncertainty is anxiety, but the solution is to act. (I imagine your brain hurts now after having read, even re-read, that paragraph. How do you think I feel? I had to write it!)

If the notion of a non-conscious brain is too upsetting for you you can always fall back on your conviction that your mind is more than your brain and it is up to ‘you’ to assess the situation and take, for you, some sort of action. Your mind seeks certainty and acts to reduce uncertainty. From its lived experience your mind evaluates the situation and takes considered action, or not. In deciding what to do your mind is somehow calculating risk[3]. (And some people have a higher risk tolerance, and capacity to evaluate risk, than others.) The course of action you take may not be fully rational but it is your choice. Or so you think.

But this uncertainty, this trouble we have of calculating risk, and deciding on what action to take, including taking no action, drives so much of our neuroses, and sleeplessness. We wake up at 3 a.m. in a cold sweat, toss and turn for a while, maybe a long while; we write down on a note pad what we’re going to do about it in the morning and so trick our ‘mind’ into leaving us alone so as to get back to sleep. Samuel Johnson has famously said, the prospect of one’s own demise concentrates the mind wonderfully, but I’m not sure he’s right; for some it may make them even more frantic about the uncertainty that is coming. On the other hand, as Julian Barnes said in his wonderful book, Nothing to be Frightened Of, death is nothing to be frightened of; but what does he know, did his dad send him a card?.

So why are we so frightened? Death and taxes, it’s the uncertainty of it all.

You may be relieved to know that I did finish and file my [2020] tax return on Saturday. You may also be churlish enough to smile at the information that I owe Her Majesty’s Government $15000. Now that’s a certainty to be frightened of. My ‘mind’ knows I had the ability to deal with this problem differently but ‘I’ didn’t heed. The question now is, has it learned anything? ‘I’ certainly doubt it.

Doug Jordan, reporting to you from Kanata Ontario

© Douglas Jordan & AFS Publishing

All rights reserved. No part of these blogs and newsletters may be reproduced without the express permission of the author and/or the publisher, except upon payment of a small royalty, 5¢. 


[1] The certainty of death begs the question of the what comes after death; that may be the topic of a future post.

[2] though even some of this ‘knowing’ many actually be inherited, imprinted in our DNA, our brains already programmed for some actions improving our chance of survival. For this reason people are innately xenophobic, and have a fear of snakes.

[3] (In current usage the word risk has lost its meaning, it now is a synonym for danger, whereas, statistically speaking, risk is the product of probability of an event happening, and the consequences if the event happens. Something of high probability but low consequence (positive or negative) is low risk; it is also low risk if it has low probability and high consequence, but many people don’t see it that way.)

The post 25. On Certainty appeared first on AFS Publishing.

]]>
https://afspublishing.ca/25-on-certainty/feed/ 0
24. Pavane pour une Infante Défunte, II https://afspublishing.ca/24-pavane-pour-une-infante-defunte-ii/ https://afspublishing.ca/24-pavane-pour-une-infante-defunte-ii/#comments Sun, 30 May 2021 17:19:31 +0000 https://afspublishing.ca/?p=2291 The problem of death for the mourner is the pain of loss. It is not the loss of the past – the past is already past, and we still have our memories and photographs. The grief of loss is for the loss of future experience of the loved one – the promise of the future is that we can live again the present we take for granted. But with death, we have no more presents, we can no longer enjoy the company of the lost loved one.

The post 24. Pavane pour une Infante Défunte, II appeared first on AFS Publishing.

]]>
Pavane pour une infante defunte – dance for a dead princess – is a slow melancholic melody by Maurice Ravel and induces, for me at least, reflective thinking on life. I wrote an elegy for a young woman last June, a young Filipina whose life was tragically cut short, too short, by cancer. 

Now I write a post for another princess near and dear to me, though I can’t claim she leaves us too soon. Still the pain of loss is heavy. Philosophers for millennia have wrestled with the problem of pain, from Aristotle to CS Lewis, balancing pleasure and pain, joy and sorrow. I have talked of this problem at some length in Travels with Myself, my personal journey with grief.

The fact that I have a princess to mourn is itself, ironically I suppose, a gift. If I had not had her life in my life to amuse and entertain me, to care for, to love and be loved, I would have missed a lot of joy, and that easily balances the sorrow of her loss, although in the minutes and hours and days after her life ending it doesn’t feel like an equal offset. We could protect ourselves from future sorrow I suppose if we keep all attachments out of our lives, but then, what sort of life would that be? Mere existence.

The princess in this case was yet another gift from another princess in my life, Marlene. 

Bonnie was very special. She was the result of a series of surprise decisions Marlene made that brought joys, and sorrows, into our lives – the family poodles. Born in the makeshift delivery room Marlene had contrived in the upstairs family bathroom, Bonnie was virtually indistinguishable from her six siblings until we marked them with nail polish on various body parts – head, shoulder, tail – but by day three she (head) was already squirming over her siblings and the barricade of towels and headed for the stairs, prompting the early migration of the litter to the basement kennel I had devised. Within weeks she was the first to try to climb over the 18-inch lattice fence, and soon succeeded; she was the first to climb the stairs from the basement and the first to discover the freedom of the backyard to do her business, leading a parade of puppies down the hall. I hated to see the others go to new homes but we kept Bonnie for Show, as she showed by far the most spunk, a quality most prized for success in the ring. She became a Canadian Champion and won Best Puppy in Show three times, just like her mother, Hallelujah. When her show days were done Marlene and I had to face the fact we couldn’t really keep three Standard Poodles (mother Hallelujah, and uncle Max) in our suburban Nepean house. Luckily daughter Alison agreed to give her a trial run and see if husband Tim’s acute allergies could tolerate poodle dander. (Poodles are allegedly hypo-allergenic because they have hair instead fo fur, but…) Tim toughed it out and Bonnie stayed with Alison for the next nine years of her life, with more than a few occasional visits and long stays with the ‘grandparents’. It was heart-warming, and at the same time embarrassing, to see that bundle of black personality show abject submission whenever she saw me again, and pee on the floor. We learned to greet her on the porch before letting her in the house. Was she showing feasance to the alpha dog, or merely echoing appreciation for all the days and nights I spent swabbing the basement kennel.

As the years passed Bonnie found her life becoming more and more stressful – she had to find her role in Alison’s growing family, protecting and herding, first Victor and then Miles. And then tragedy and crisis struck: five days after Marlene succumbed to her cancer and lepto-meningeal disease, Bonnie was afflicted with an episode of gastric dilatation-volvulus (‘bloat’). A hard decision had to be made: at almost 11 years old, should she have emergency surgery or be euthanized? We opted for surgery – she was an active and healthy dog, she deserved a chance to live a little longer. She survived the surgery but her recuperation had to be with Grampa, away from the tumult of life with Alison’s busy boys. Her stay with me lasted almost four years, apart from a seven-month separation while I did a tour in the Philippines with Carmen Beauty in 2019.

At 14 and a half, a dog is getting pretty old, maybe 101 in human life terms, and the ever-eager Bonnie was beginning to slow down. Bonnie was still keen to take her three-times-a-day walks with me, and because she was increasingly quiet and attached, I let her walk freely while I carried her leash. I often think if Bonnie hadn’t come to live with me four years ago, my life, my mental and physical health, would have been a greater struggle than it was. 

Because Bonnie was a show dog, we always kept her in fancy cut; not as fancy as her show days, but still, pretty showy. She visited the salon every six weeks; she was an expensive princess. She had her last hair-do in early February and she looked like her glamourous show-days self. 

Bonnie at The Polished Pooch 2021 February 10.

Bonnie in the Office

But her appetite was starting to lag. She had always been a lean dog and a picky eater but she was beginning to worry me. I tried different foods to entice her, even fancy canned food. Nothing appealed to her for long, except people food. Then she started to limp. I blamed myself for inadvertently stepping on her foot. But such a minor injury does not cause a tumour.

And so began Bonnie’s own slow pavane with death. I changed the bandages on her ravaged foot daily, I walked a ‘three-legged’ dog every day – she was still eager to go, though roaching was exhausting for her and the walks became shorter and shorter. But Monday I had to carry her home the final leg of her nightly walk around the block. Tuesday I called Claire Place Veterinary Hospice (Mobile Services); we couldn’t take any more suffering and I couldn’t wait for my regular vets at Lynwood Animal Hospital. Bonnie’s suffering came to an end Wednesday at the hands of Dr. Dorothy, a kind and gentle hospice vet, MAID for dogs at home. But mine continued.

The problem of death for the mourner is the pain of loss. It is not the loss of the past – the past is already past, and we still have our memories and photographs. The grief is for the loss of future experience of the departed one; the promise of the future is that we can live again the present we take for granted. But with death, we have no more presents, we can no longer enjoy the company of the lost loved one.

So today I mourn my lost future with Bonnie. I look out in my backyard and see her ghost taking her morning pee. I see her bowls and her bed and know I need to put them away. I walk the routes we daily walked, leash in hand but no dog at the end of it. I explain to neighbours when they ask where my dog is. I tear up every time, despite my claim to an enured heart.

Maybe my much scarred heart will soften. Maybe I can find new tomorrows with another dog, maybe as Grampa to Alison’s new poodle puppy, when she is ready. But for now we remember that beautiful black princess, Ch. Valmara’s Highland Fling Bonnie Doon.

Doug Jordan, reporting to you from Kanata Ontario

© Douglas Jordan & AFS Publishing

All rights reserved. No part of these blogs and newsletters may be reproduced without the express permission of the author and/or the publisher, except upon payment of a small royalty, 5¢. 

The post 24. Pavane pour une Infante Défunte, II appeared first on AFS Publishing.

]]>
https://afspublishing.ca/24-pavane-pour-une-infante-defunte-ii/feed/ 10
23. The Challenges of Blogging https://afspublishing.ca/23-the-challenge-of-blogging/ https://afspublishing.ca/23-the-challenge-of-blogging/#comments Sun, 16 May 2021 18:22:36 +0000 https://afspublishing.ca/?p=2262 Still it’s the 50% of regular ‘openers’ of my notification emails who don’t click through I wonder about – why don’t they stop and read my wonderful stuff?!? But then I recalibrate my ego and allow for the fact that many of these people have busy lives, and competing interests, and haven’t the incentive (the title doesn’t appeal to them, nor even the excerpt) to click through to my blog and actually read it. I have to accept that people, even covid cloistered people, are not sitting at home counting the days until my next blog comes out.

The post 23. The Challenges of Blogging appeared first on AFS Publishing.

]]>
Bloggers are writers. Some are excellent writers. Some are clumsy, inept. Or maybe actually ept but rushed to meet a deadline. Some write just for self-pleasuring. Many write knowing that their works are merely trees falling in a forest absent sentient beings. 

Some write as a pure marketing strategy, trying to draw attention to themselves, or what they have to sell. They link social media sites to their blog sites, thus attracting readers to their website and the real reason for the blog – buy a book. This works if you have thousands of followers, and even if only 5% actually click through to your blog, you may get some sales; and even still, google and ping notice, thus attracting even more traffic to your site. Some bloggers blog as a direct way to earn income by collecting micro commissions from the sponsors on their page.

And some write because they genuinely want to be read. They believe they have something interesting to say, and try to say it in an interesting way, and meet readers’ needs somehow. To entertain, possible to educate; or the opposite, to educate, possibly to entertain. Some perhaps write to preach, possibly to convert, but that seems rather elitist to me.

I confess I write for all these reasons, especially seeking fame and fortune, but mostly because of the last reason (not the John Wesley part) – I write in the hope that I will be read and be appreciated for my efforts.

And some do seem to appreciate my efforts. Or perhaps more satisfactorily, appreciate my results. (Sounds like a sound management practice to me, we don’t reward for effort but for results, the effort should be its own reward (Frederick Herzberg).) 

A theme throughout these pages, ‘Travels With Myself’, has been my transformation from being a Human Resources Professional and Consultant to being an Author. Writing has always been part of my sense of self, and I’ve always been a lover of words and good writing, but being a writer and author is a new identity I have adopted only in the last half dozen years or so. I have discovered I enjoy writing for its own sake (though there are times when I think it is more masochism) but I know that I also crave approbation for my work. Equally and opposite, I also fear reproval. It may not be reasonable but it is human, perpetuated by ambitious mothers no doubt.

I work hard on my blog posts – and of some I feel considerable satisfaction, others, ‘need improvement’. These posts take many hours to write, and polish, and post, at least 10 hours. Quite a few take many more than that. Most improve with editing, some get worse. But overall I think my writing improves with each outing. But the proof of this is in the reading, and the feedback (which as we have reported before is itself another fraught undertaking).

I post a post every fifteen days and for some posts it takes fifteen days to get it done, for some merely two days. My last post took only a day and a half, under pressure of deadline. And some of my readers thought it one of my best. This post is one of three I’ve been working on at once, not sure which I want to release, and serious doubts about this one.

So it can be somewhat discouraging to know (or merely think) that few of my ‘followers’ actually read my blog. My broadcast email software, Directmail for Mac, gives me some data as to which of my subscribers open the email (usually between 60-70%), and who actually click through to the blog site (usually around 15%, but not always the same 15). I only have about 100 subscribers on my subscribers list so this means only 15 people are clicking through to my actual blog post, and of those 15, how many actually stay long enough to read through the entire post?

Of the ‘Openers’ about 50% are regulars, the rest occasional, but it’s not always the same occasional ‘openers’. So there are about 20 habitual ‘non-openers’ it seems. I think of deleting them from my mailing list and then I get surprised when a long absent person suddenly is seen to ‘open’, even if they don’t click through. Usually this happens, I have learned, when the person has been cleaning their spam folder after many months. And so I don’t delete from the mailing list. It takes no time to maintain the list, and a person who wants to unsubscribe can easily do so.

I recently had my webmeister put up an RSS feed link (RDF Site Summary or Really Simple Syndication) on my blog so that people who have RSS activated on their computers can bookmark my blog and every time a new post is posted they automatically get a notification, though I would never know it. I may have dozens of anonymous readers like this. Cool. Not likely says my webmeister, RSS is already a passé technology. Such a scary thought, I just found out what that little icon is recently.

Still it’s the 50% of regular ‘openers’ of my notification emails who don’t click through to the blog I wonder about – why don’t they stop and read my wonderful stuff?!? But then I recalibrate my ego and allow for the fact that many of these people have busy lives, and competing interests, and haven’t the incentive (the title doesn’t appeal to them, nor even the excerpt) to click through to my blog and actually read it. I have to accept that people, even covid cloistered people, are not sitting at home counting the days until my next blog comes out.

I don’t have a counter on my blog itself so I can’t know how many visitors actually go there, and even if there are visitors, one can’t know who actually take the time to read the blog. There are analytical tools that tell you how long a visitor actually stayed on your site, but I don’t consult the tools, not sure why not; most visitors are browsers and only stay for seconds at most, obviously not staying to read. Even so, I can be pretty certain that most visitors are merely bots, and as indicated from the reports I get from WordPress security, there are hundreds, even thousands, of bots. Lately there are a lot from Bulgaria and Spain! What’s even more amazing, judging from the spam comments I get on my blog site, is how wonderfully inarticulate those bots are.

My sense is that most of my readers (families and friends, and other parties who previously expressed interest) are more interested in news of me and not so much the wonderful erudition of my blog! Overall I find it quite discouraging – tender ego that I have.

When I explore other blogs on the web this seems to be a common pattern, there are lots of blogs that haven’t been updated in years. Like me, perhaps those bloggers after a while found the effort to write something good with a certain frequency becomes too big a burden. It makes me pause to think what the purpose of my blog is after all: a) a marketing effort for my products and services (mostly my books), hoping my web presence multiplies? b) A genuine exercise in expressing what’s on my mind in hopes that provokes new insight in some readers? c) Self-indulgent mental masturbation? d) A desperate plea for recognition? Or should it be e) forget the blog and merely send a newsletter only, reporting on the current condition of my dog?

I used to think, and still find some justification, that the answer is a), or should be. But then I think most of my readers are not there for reason a) and probably think I write for reasons c) & d). And charitably most of those would prefer I write for reason e). (Some readers of the broadcast email reply to the email but evidently don’t actually go to the bog post itself.) But the 15 or so faithful blog readers, some of whom reply or and a few even post a comment on my website, make me want to continue because of reason b). 

I am very gratified by remarks such as this to my last post, Pandemic Ennui.

‘l really enjoyed this blog [post]. It’s extremely well written and a sentiment we can all relate to in our own and unique way. It was an emotional read yet so enjoyable, insightful and inspiring. There’s a recent New York Times article titled, “Name for the Blah You’re Feeling: It’s Called Languishing” which shares a similar perspective. I encourage your readers to give it a read.’

And then I think, how many others might have got value from my post but never realized what they have missed because they never clicked through. My wonderful post falls into an empty forest, but such is life.

I subscribe to a number of blog posts myself, and sheepishly admit, I rarely click through to honour their work. Shrug.

Doug Jordan, reporting to you from Kanata Ontario

© Douglas Jordan & AFS Publishing

All rights reserved. No part of these blogs and newsletters may be reproduced without the express permission of the author and/or the publisher, except upon payment of a small royalty, 5¢. 

The post 23. The Challenges of Blogging appeared first on AFS Publishing.

]]>
https://afspublishing.ca/23-the-challenge-of-blogging/feed/ 2
22. Pandemic Ennui https://afspublishing.ca/22-pandemic-ennui/ https://afspublishing.ca/22-pandemic-ennui/#comments Fri, 30 Apr 2021 14:27:34 +0000 https://afspublishing.ca/?p=2254 Ennui is not quite the same as boredom... Ennui is more than that, a general feeling of lassitude and listlessness that dulls the mind and torpefies the spirit, and persists. It is this feeling of ongoing sameness that enervates; even people exhausted by their heightened workload and demands of the pandemic and its consequences are suffering mental fatigue. It’s a hamster wheel with no joy.

The post 22. Pandemic Ennui appeared first on AFS Publishing.

]]>
I hesitate to write about something that has itself become a big bore. Far too much has been written of it already and no-one wants to read more. We are all suffering pandemic ennui in some form or other and no-one wants to read about someone else’s misery.

But since this, Travels With Myself, is my blog, what else should I write about but what I am thinking or doing, or in this case, not doing, during this perpetual cycle of waiting. 

None of my readers have to deal with that dread question our fathers (and mothers no doubt) faced: ‘what did you do during the war Daddy?’ In the years ahead it will be, ‘what did you do during the pandemic Mom/Dad?’ and the answer for many of us will be, ‘nothing!’ Even if we wanted to do ‘our bit’, for the most part we haven’t been allowed to sign up. Unless you were already a front-line worker it was too late to volunteer. ‘Our bit’ mostly meant staying home, waiting it out. At least we didn’t have to black out the windows.

I’m not suggesting that I’ve been doing nothing. Nor you. Nor am I even suggesting that I am bored, exactly. But a feeling of inertia, stuckness, seems to dominate my days.

‘What did you do during the pandemic Grampa?’ ‘Not much, Son, but I remember having to pull myself together and drive myself to the pharmacy for some shampoo once. Oh, and I had a devil of a time cutting my own hair in the mirror.’ 

I’m not suggesting that everyone is feeling the same way I am. Some people, I think, are quite content with their current lifestyle and living under the current social constraints and protocols. And some people are very busy dealing with consequences of covid rules, whether they are front-line healthcare workers, so-called essential services workers, or merely busy people whose day jobs have become more complicated under covid conditions, their lives even busier than before. These people are not bored, but they may be exhausted with the seemingly never-ending stress and demands on their days, and their nights. 

A certain pall has settled over everything, ennui of an insidious persistent type. 

Ennui is not quite the same as boredom. This wonderful French word somehow goes beyond mere boredom, connoting more lethargy than apathy. Boredom is short-term, that empty afternoon feeling we have of children, or ourselves, seemingly having nothing to do, and discontented, but no ideas as to stimulate and entertain themselves. Ennui is more than that, a general feeling of lassitude and listlessness that dulls the mind and torpefies the spirit, and persists. Dull depression with a touch of anxiety. It is this feeling of ongoing sameness that enervates; even people exhausted by their heightened workload and demands of the pandemic and its consequences are suffering mental fatigue. It’s a hamster wheel with no joy.

I think everyone is tired of the constant constraints on our freedom. I’m not saying we have sacrificed all our freedoms, or that some of our suspended fundamental freedoms won’t return (though there is a risk of complacency), what I mean is we have lost the freedom of spontaneity. The constant reminders of the need for compliance, whether you think legitimate or not, takes away from our sense of empowerment. The withdrawal of so many services and diversions – all in the name of limiting social contact – takes away from our sense of choice. This creates a feeling of powerlessness, and impotence, so that even though we hate the mental state we are in we stay stuck. The psychologists call this learned helplessness.

Helplessness increases with loneliness. It takes a lot more discipline to encourage oneself to action than if you have a partner or group to perk you up and sweep you along. It’s like exercise, or any activity, where to have a companion who has expectations of you gets you going. It’s easier to go to the gym because you don’t want to let down somebody else than it is to get yourself to the gym for fear of letting yourself down. In fact, this is my best argument for getting down to my boxing gym in the basement two or three times a week – ‘you’re going to be disappointed in yourself later if you don’t’. I rationalize this failure by way of my daily default – walking the dog.

And it’s not as if I am completely without a companion. Even though I video-confer with Carmen 3-4 times a day via Skype or Messenger, it’s not quite enough. I am reminded, and then resentful, of that old advertising slogan, ‘reach out and touch someone’. Ha! And it’s not spontaneous – a major part of the ennui of powerlessness – it’s scheduled: we have to accommodate the 12-hour time difference between Ontario and The Philippines. But conversation, especially with the limitations of language, is not enough to overcome ennui, it needs activity. Oh, I could play solitaire or do a jigsaw puzzle, online or otherwise – but I would prefer cribbage or black jack, with the loser losing a garment. 

I also have my faithful and devoted companion, Bonnie, but she has very little sense of my needs, only her own. She doesn’t remind me it’s time we went boxing, or to bed. She sleeps all the time, except for our three walks per day. And at 14 years, and encroaching health issues, even that routine is becoming constrained.

I sometimes wonder about people in ‘retirement communities’ – at least that sounds better than ‘rest homes’ – and their increasing thrall, more and more confined to their small worlds. I think of my mother, a hugely proactive and productive woman in her active years even though living alone, but whose world shrank more and more with each passing year; and this well before the horrors of covid in ‘homes for the aged’. Like inmates in another sort of prison their ennui must be debilitating. Not for me a ‘retirement home’, though living in my daughter’s basement has no appeal either.

In an earlier blog I waxed on about purpose in life and the formula for happiness, pandemic or no pandemic. I said knowing and deploying one’s best talents to find moments of ‘flow’, is the way, and this is often best done though ‘projects’, especially if the project involves and benefits others. 

I have tried to take my own advice. And for that reason I have worked diligently on completing my novel (The Treasure of Stella Bay) and getting it out there. I have no paid consulting work but I have put many hours into facilitating the Canadian Authors Association with producing its 2021- 26 Strategic Plan. It has been demanding and very satisfying work – and reminds me that I am making a difference through my skills and experience, insight and energy, and still have value. I refuse to be retired.

So why do I still feel pandemic ennui?

Doug Jordan, reporting to you from Kanata Ontario

© Douglas Jordan & AFS Publishing

All rights reserved. No part of these blogs and newsletters may be reproduced without the express permission of the author and/or the publisher, except upon payment of a small royalty, 5¢. 

The post 22. Pandemic Ennui appeared first on AFS Publishing.

]]>
https://afspublishing.ca/22-pandemic-ennui/feed/ 5
21. Dealing with Feedback https://afspublishing.ca/21-dealing-with-feedback/ https://afspublishing.ca/21-dealing-with-feedback/#comments Thu, 15 Apr 2021 20:29:35 +0000 https://afspublishing.ca/?p=2246 And then there is the problem of giving and receiving feedback. Giving feedback is hard to do, which is why it is seldom actually done. Receiving feedback is hard because of our tender egos – but we self-protect by not listening, or rationalizing, or dismissing. Accepting ‘constructive’ feedback from social sources is especially hard. Who really wants ‘constructive feedback’? What we want is complimentary feedback, lots of it. How nice to have affirmation of our terrific traits and talents. But then, in the backs of our minds, there lies doubt.

The post 21. Dealing with Feedback appeared first on AFS Publishing.

]]>
Feedback is kinda like Change: it’s good for you, emphasis on the YOU. Feedback is a bit like Christmas presents – it’s better to give than receive. Or maybe Feedback is a bit like the view of the great comedic philosopher, Woody Allen, on Death – I’m not afraid of [feedback], I just don’t want to be there when it happens.

For someone who has spent his career giving feedback – 20 years in HRM and then 20 more in Executive Coaching, you’d think I would be good at feedback, know everything there is to know about feedback. And I do. 

In my book, The Dynamics of Management, I wrote a chapter on feedback, (and then a whole section on 360 feedback). Short of reproducing the entire chapter here is what I had to say:

<People fear feedback and rightly so – positive feedback provides for ego gratification, negative feedback hurts. But the brain needs feedback; no pain, no gain, I guess. The brain is a learning organ. It picks up information from the environment; it asks questions of itself for greater understanding; it attempts some trial behaviours and observes what happens: if the outcome was not desirable, it tries something else; if the outcome was desirable, it repeats and reinforces the behaviour. This is growth. Repeating the same behaviour expecting different results is insanity (Einstein). 

<Hence, the brain learns through feedback. The mind – and self-esteem – benefit. 

<There are two sources of feedback: social and non-social sources. Non-social sources of feedback usually come from mechanical indicators – the speedometer on your car, for example. Social sources, as the name would imply, is feedback that comes from people – the police officer who stopped you for speeding! In work situations you get information from the job itself: data tracking on the achievement of some task, such as expense reports, and signaling as it happens – spell-check in a word-processing software. Social feedback, either directly or indirectly, verbally (face-to-face or in writing) and/or non-verbally through body language, is information you get from other people: the annual performance appraisal from your boss, or the quizzical look from a colleague. 

<And there are also two types of feedback: negative [corrective] feedback, and positive [reinforcing] feedback. People generally prefer positive feedback from social sources and corrective feedback from non-social sources because this is less damaging to self-esteem.>

And then there is the problem of giving and receiving feedback. Giving feedback is hard to do, which is why it is seldom actually done. Receiving feedback is hard because of our tender egos – but we self-protect by not listening, or rationalizing, or dismissing. Accepting ‘constructive’ feedback from social sources is especially hard. Who really wants ‘constructive feedback’? What we want is complimentary feedback, lots of it. How nice to have affirmation of our terrific traits and talents. But then, in the backs of our minds, there lies doubt.

I recently invited a few of the faithful to review my manuscript of The Treasure of Stella Bay. Two have supplied me with fulsome feedback, two have declined, with very defensible excuses, a fifth has assiduously ignored my emails (but to be fair, this person – a long-time resident on Amherst Island, a referral – doesn’t even know me), and one is still reading and ruminating. Meanwhile I am on tenterhooks waiting for my date with destiny[1]. Of course I am grateful for their positive comments and generous reviews, but then I must suffer through their constructive comments, correctly pointing out shortcomings, problems, mistypes and differences of opinion. Of course I want and need those bits of warnings and advice, but I nevertheless take each and every one as disapprobation. I punish myself for my failings and faults and I have nowhere to turn – ridiculous to become defensive against the very things I asked for. I’ll need to revisit my notes from my hours of consultations with my therapist who reminded me that my relationship with my mother was mostly positive and she only wanted the best for me.

And in at least one case, a brilliant ‘save’. It’s one thing to wince at a typing error once the book has gone to press, it’s quite another to find a factual error of the embarrassing kind. There is a chapter in the TSB in which Alex and his friends decide to take in a Saturday afternoon matinée. It’s the summer of 1962 and I wanted to pick a movie that everyone would recognize from the era. I chose Lawrence of Arabia. Something nagged away at my mind about the date of that movie. So I googled it and was very gratified to learn that Lawrence of Arabia won the Oscar for Best Picture for 1962. Yes! Nevertheless one of my reviewers cast doubt on whether Alex would have watched that film in the summer of ’62. I was all set to counter him with my proof but first I thought to recheck Wikipedia. Lawrence of Arabia was released for distribution in Britain in December 1962 (and hence qualified as a 1962 film), but it wasn’t available for viewing in Kingston until the summer of 1963! Argghh. Now I’ll have to reconstruct that chapter. Ah the bittersweet reality of feedback.

And it’s not as if this is the first time I have sought and received feedback from courageous colleagues on my manuscripts, though some of them are not so close to me as they once were…

And then we come to reflect on the comments on the cover for The Treasure of Stella Bay. And here we are reminded of the distinction between responsibility and accountability, a problem every manager struggles with daily. You give an assignment to someone and you try to make your expectations as clear as you can. And then you let them get to work on it: they are responsible for rendering the solution to the problem but ultimately the assigner is ultimately accountable for the final result. Of course it would be so much easier if the manager could just do it himself/ if I could actually draw decently myself, extract the embryonic idea in my head, put the pencil to paper and then render the idea into a  sketch, and then reflect on it, rework it, and then revisions, and the colourization, and the subsequent revisions, all would be up to me. But I can’t and so I delegate to someone who can. I then have to allow my illustrator to get into my head and tease out my half formed (half-baked?) ideas and render the sketch as well as she can, give me a gander, absorb my feedback (carefully and tactfully given) and make revisions; and repeat. Okay, there we go, pretty good, pretty close. I let it ferment a while, and then send it to 110 or more of you for a little taste.

And the taste is sweet, or in some cases bitter-sweet, and in some cases, bitterly off. I find myself pleased for Katy for the praise of our efforts, and also defensive of her from the critics. Maybe Katy doesn’t need my protectiveness; maybe Katy has a much thicker hide than I. But overall the feedback is useful, even if I can’t (or won’t!) use all of it. I’ll be going back to Katy with my list this week and we will be closer yet to a final design.

Ultimately, as I narrated in an earlier blog post, the cover is intended to catch the attention of the prospective buyer and most of you have responded with that goal in mind. The hallmark of true friendship is to provide genuine feedback when no one else will.

Penultimate version?

So thank you all for your feedback. 

I’m pretty sure most of you still qualify as friends.

Doug Jordan, reporting to you from Kanata Ontario

© Douglas Jordan & AFS Publishing

All rights reserved. No part of these blogs and newsletters may be reproduced without the express permission of the author and/or the publisher, except upon payment of a small royalty, 5¢. 


[1] Maybe a brief explanation is required. For most of my life I thought tenterhooks was spelled tenderhooks and imagined it meant hanging a leg of beef from a hook by a tendon. Ouch. Talk about suspense. But tenterhooks only means drying cotton on hooks like a tent. Same amount of waiting I guess but hardly any drama.

The post 21. Dealing with Feedback appeared first on AFS Publishing.

]]>
https://afspublishing.ca/21-dealing-with-feedback/feed/ 1
20. Life is What Happens https://afspublishing.ca/20-life-is-what-happens/ https://afspublishing.ca/20-life-is-what-happens/#comments Sat, 03 Apr 2021 21:12:59 +0000 http://afspublishing.ca/?p=2213 Today’s post, already three days late and a dollar short, is not on the topic originally planned, but to quote John Lennon, life is what happens to you while you are making other plans[1]. My plan had been to continue my series of posts about the writing and publishing process. Being a deliberately planful person, …

20. Life is What Happens Read More »

The post 20. Life is What Happens appeared first on AFS Publishing.

]]>
Today’s post, already three days late and a dollar short, is not on the topic originally planned, but to quote John Lennon, life is what happens to you while you are making other plans[1].

My plan had been to continue my series of posts about the writing and publishing process. Being a deliberately planful person, and optimistic (unrealistic?) in regards to completion schedules, I had intended to write about the art of receiving feedback, with particular reference to dealing constructively with reviews on my writing, receiving comments from my editors on my manuscript, fourth draft, of The Treasure of Stella Bay. My project schedule had me finishing the Fourth Draft by the end of March (check) and in the hands of volunteer editors (check), with feedback from them by mid-/third week in April, and racing to the publish line as planned by the end of April.

That may yet happen but my blog schedule was ahead of itself. How could I write about getting feedback at the end of March when I wouldn’t have it until the late April? Obviously that post would have to wait another month. But what shall I write about to keep my semi-monthly regimen? March 31 was fast approaching with nothing yet committed to my hard drive. The pressure was on. I hold myself to a high standard of obligation; I have a sacred duty to my fans and readers (even though many of them are phelgmatic and few wait with bated breath for my next missive); I nevertheless feel a moral imperative to them and the stress increases daily as my deadline approaches. It’s a doubly demanding duty if the quality of the post is not to suffer from haste. 

Not only do I feel the pressure of getting my blog out, semi-monthly, on the 15th and 30th of each month (excepting February!) I had two other major deadlines bearing down on me for the end of March: the R3 of my draft manuscript, and compiling the compendium of survey responses for the strategic planning exercise I am facilitating for the Canadian Authors Association. But I wasn’t concerned. I got my March 15 post out on time and I was confident that the muse will visit me in a timely fashion, that I will find the necessary hours to pull the idea into a commendable draft, polish it, post it, and promote it to my readers.

But then Fate, to paraphrase John Lennon, or maybe Publilius Syrus, c 43BC (‘Homo semper aliud, Fortuna aliud cogitat.’) stuck her foot in my plans. 

And Fate is a cruel mistress. Not only is she an uncontrollable force, and a random actor, she comes in threes! It doesn’t rain, it pours.

On March 13/14 my eldest daughter Shannon suffered a sudden cardiac[2] incident. She had emergency angioplasty and was released for home care two days later. I knew immediately I had to go to Markham to attend to her and her family. But I had to attend to other things in Ottawa first, and not just to get the March 15 blog post out. I had to take my dear dog Bonnie to the vet on March 17 to address a problem with her foot. We, Bonnie and I, were on the road to Markham on Thursday March 18.

Bonnie limped and hobbled and slid around Shannon’s polished ceramic tile and hardwood floors, hotly pursued by the Christner family herder, Darcy, the Shetland Sheepdog. He’s actually quite lucky Bonnie was ailing, yet still agile enough to jump up on couches and thus evade her relentless admirer, else he might have had his face bitten off.

Despite these family calamities, I was still confident that I would be able to meet my production deadlines. I had brought my computer and files with me and would be able to continue work on my manuscript, recruit reviewers, finish the CAA survey, and get out my blog.

I set up office on Shannon’s dining table, found an extension cord, plugged in my aging MacBookPro. I pressed the on switch. It didn’t come on. I pressed that start button several times, each time with increasing panic. I’ve learned long ago that panic is no remedy for problems, despite Greta Thunberg’s advice. I took deep breaths. I called my granddaughters, Madelyn and Erin, and asked them if they would like to accompany me to the Apple Store at the sleek and modern Markville Mall. They did, and thirty-five minutes, and $3100 later I was the proud owner of a new 2019/20 MacBookPro (Intel processor) 16-inch portable computer. (It was a lucky thing I had First-year Queen’s student Madelyn with me as the Apple Sales Agent was more than eager to offer me the 10% student discount.) A brand new computer is useless without the files to work on and in my haste to leave Kanata I did not bring backup files with me. I had brought a flash drive but failed to remember to transfer the files to it. So I needed to get the files off my dead MacBookPro’s hard drive onto my new MacBookPro.

The Apple Store doesn’t do this. They won’t touch such an old dead computer, but referred me to a service company who is licenced by Apple to do these sorts of data recovery. I phoned the agency, got an answering service who took my information; a while later I got a long e-mail with a quote: $1114, shipping included! I was to ship my computers to the agency, and get them back in 10 days. Talaga!

Lucky for me, my ever-resourceful son-in-law, Michael, referred me to a wizard repair guy his company uses for their computer needs, located in Markham west, Peter Wong of Computer Square Inc. Off I went Saturday morning down the 407ETR to find Peter’s shop, trying hard not to show my desperation to granddaughter Madelyn. We arrived at his shop at the designated opening hour of 12:00 noon, to find him not there. Nor was he there at 1:00. Evermore despairing we went back home to wait, and worry. Peter did answer his phone at 2:00 and I drove again down the 407 to Woodbine Ave. to meet Peter amongst his benches and rows and rows of shelves with bins of every known and unknown electronic parts. 

I gave him my computers, my new 2019 MacBookPro and my old 2009 MacBookPro.

“Can you transfer the files from my old computer hard-drive to my new computer?”

“Ah yes, but why you not just transfer with cable?”

“Because my old computer not turn on,” I said, noticing I was already slipping into pigeon-English with a Chinese accent.

“Oh, lets see. Much better if it can turn on.”
After a few minutes of fruitless touching of power button, and plugging plugs he pronounced,

“Motherboard dead.”

“As I thought. It already had some issues. You can fix?” I inquired, not quite frantic with an admixture of hopefulness and doubt. “You can install new mother board?”

“No,” he said “not new. Used. This is old computer, not make new boards.”

“Yes, but can you fix?”

“Yes, sure,” Peter said, “but first we must transfer files from dead computer hard drive to new computer. To be sure.”

“Okay. Let’s do it. 

“When can you do this?”

“Maybe Monday. Maybe Tuesday.”

“How much will this cost.”

“I think $135,” said Peter. First good news of the week!

Peter called Monday afternoon, “computer ready.”

“I’ll be right over.” Another trip down e-toll 407, and making a mental note about how many tolls this was going to be, I arrived at Peter’s to claim my computers.

“You want old computer fixed?”

“Yes sir if you can. I have systems on my old computer that won’t operate on the new one because of old OS.

“How much for new motherboard?”

“Not new. Used. I have to order from supplier.”

“How much?”

“Maybe $300.”

“Okay, when do you think you will have it?”

“Maybe next Monday.”

I left my dead MacBookPro with Peter and took my new MacBookPro home to Shannon’s; Tuesday I set up the new computer on the dining room table, stumbled around my new MacOS environment looking for files and apps so I could get to work. Took all day.

Friday he phoned, “computer is ready.

“But there is problem. Battery not charging.”

“I was afraid of that, it has been unreliable for a few years now.
“Can you get new battery?”

“Oh sure, but not till Monday.”

“How much for new battery?”

“Not new, refurbished. Maybe $100.”

“By the way,’ Peter continued, “I showed you, your old power adapter not safe, you need new one.”

“How much for new adapter plug”

“Not new, used. Maybe $50
“Go ahead.

He called Monday, “your computer is ready.”

I raced down 407 one more time.

I paid Peter $559.35 including HST. Might have been less if I had thought to bring cash.

But now I have two almost new MacBookPros and can finally get to work.

I’ll have to wait another few weeks to find out how much the ETR tolls cost me.

On Sunday March 28 I sent my manuscript off to two trusted reviewers. I’ve promised them outrageous fortunes if they provide me with encouraging reviews for the cover of my book. I’ve reached out to another luminary of my acquaintance who is equivocating on doing a review for me, and I am seeking contact with radio personalities at Radio Station CFAI FM.

Meantime Shannon has been thriving, well as much as fear and her latest handfuls of drugs permit – she is to be quiet, no excitement, no exertion. This can be difficult for my highly extroverted daughter, especially when I’m around, despite my best efforts. Still I took her off to two appointments and picked her up after her telephone consultations with her other attending physicians. On Wednesday March 31 I said goodbye to Shannon and the girls, promised I would be back May 1 to see all the tulips we had planted last Thanksgiving. There were no tears, except maybe from Mr. Darcy. I drove home to Kanata with no hope of getting my semi-monthly blog post out on time. But I had an appointment for Bonnie with Lynwood Animal Hospital for Thursday April 1. It was no joke. Another $595 for consultation and meds and another two week watch. And the prognosis is not particularly good – elder poodles are prone for cancer in their toes, and I won’t have her foot amputated if that turns out to be what is the matter. Bonnie is a lot happier now – must be the codeine – she thinks she’s a young dog again though she still avoids putting weight on her socked foot.

Friday I finished my CAA survey report and sent it off to the Strat Planning Task Force in advance of the facilitation session scheduled for April 9/10 (volunteers can only work weekends it seems).

That’s a lot of life packed into two compacted weeks, when I was planning other things.

And here it is Saturday April 3 and I am issuing my semi-monthly blog post, three days late and a dollar short.

Doug Jordan, reporting to you from Kanata Ontario

© Douglas Jordan & AFS Publishing

All rights reserved. No part of these blogs and newsletters may be reproduced without the express permission of the author and/or the publisher, except upon payment of a small royalty, 5¢. 


[1] But where did John Lennon get the idea, or the quote? https://quoteinvestigator.com/2012/05/06/other-plans/

[2] For the truly curious of you, she had a SCAD (https://www.heartandstroke.ca/heart-disease/conditions/spontaneous-coronary-artery-dissection) which is a rare and dangerous condition of uncertain cause found mostly in premenopausal women and highly corelated in RA sufferers.

The post 20. Life is What Happens appeared first on AFS Publishing.

]]>
https://afspublishing.ca/20-life-is-what-happens/feed/ 2
19. Writing for Reviews https://afspublishing.ca/19-writing-for-reviews/ https://afspublishing.ca/19-writing-for-reviews/#respond Mon, 15 Mar 2021 21:13:54 +0000 http://afspublishing.ca/?p=2206 Not only should the cover have a clever and pithy summary of the book which entices browsers to pick it up the and browse through it, it should also have a couple of short and sweet blurbs from noteworthy reviewers recommending the book to hesitant readers. And let’s not make too fine a point of it, anybody who makes the cover of a book with a recommending blurb must be noteworthy to the otherwise ignorant browser.

The post 19. Writing for Reviews appeared first on AFS Publishing.

]]>
If there is one crucial element to marketing your books, reviews are it.

Human beings are notoriously timid and generally avoid making decisions entirely on their own. And I’m not just talking about buying books. Buying anything, making any decisions. They prefer recommendations, or someone else’s advice, even if they don’t take it. <’Did you hear about that new restaurant that just opened. Great review in The Citizen. Too bad about covid.’> <‘I heard that new film running at the Cineplex is great; too bad about covid.’> <‘Do you think I should subscribe to Netflix?’> <‘Hey, what did you think of that boy we met at the bar last night?’ she asked her girlfriend.> (Men tend not to ask their male friends their opinion on a new prospect; maybe they should.)

Anyway, reviews are crucial to getting your book noticed. And not just word of mouth reviews. Reviews on various websites are crucial, and not just because a potential buyer wants to know what others thought of the book, the damned Amazon and google algorithms rank your book higher in the listings depending on the number and recency of the reviews. I say damned algorithms but of course I praise them when/if my books get noticed. That’s why authors shamelessly beg for reviews from already devoted followers, and sometimes from perfect strangers. 

Goodreads is a social media site of sorts devoted to readers willing to tell the world about the books they are reading, have read, or want to read. It started as a ‘social cataloging’ (whatever that is) site in 2006 but was acquired by Amazon in 2013. Ah, there’s the rub. Members can review any book they’ve read, even if it’s a classic and long out of print (though Amazon seems less interested in those). I’m sure there must be a limit on how long the review can be on Goodreads but I’ve seen some that go on for hundreds, maybe thousands of words. This is a long way from the sort of essence I talked about in my last blog post <https://afspublishing.ca/18-writing-for-essence/> I have myself written many reviews of books I’ve read in the last 18 months or so but I’ve tried to keep them short and pithy, and perhaps clever. After all, my slogan for my personal brand is, To entertain, possibly to educate. I’ve had many perfect strangers ‘like’ my reviews but I’m not sure that translates into them finding my author page and investigating my own books; but, in marketing, all possible avenues to exposure are to be investigated, and exploited if relevant, and free (or at least cheap).

Like Facebook, there are many ‘Groups’ of like-minded people on Goodreads. Authors are readers too of course and can join groups on Goodreads but some of these groups are devoted to soliciting reviews for their books. These requests are offered for the mere cost of a copy of your book, or even a pdf copy of your manuscript. Submitting a copy of your manuscript raises some risk – some unscrupulous person may try to rob you of your creative endeavour – which is why even a manuscript must be copyrighted and registered with an International Standard Book Number. There are also dozens of ‘organizations’, I suppose we can call them, who, for a fee, will promote your book on various social media (mainly twitter) and via email lists with short cliché blurbs. These spammy services seem pretty sketchy to me, and since I have some experience of spending a few hundred dollars on these services a few years ago with no discernable return, not very efficacious.

So, to help emerging authors along, dear reader, please take a few minutes and post a review of a book you have read on any of the relevant sites you like: Amazon, Goodreads, google e-books, even lulu. (There’s not much point in posting on Indigo books: even though it sells on-line it’s mostly a chain of bricks and mortar bookstore and relies on reviews of the old fashioned kind – blurbs on the covers of the books.)

Which brings me back to the discussion of essence in my last post, particularly blurbs. Not only should the cover have a clever and pithy summary of the book which entices browsers to pick it up and browse through it, it should also have a couple of short and sweet blurbs from noteworthy reviewers recommending the book to hesitant readers. And let’s not make too fine a point of it, anybody who makes the cover of a book with a recommending blurb must be noteworthy to the otherwise ignorant browser. 

I am very appreciative of the willing reviewers of my past books. Their wonderful words made this author’s heart swell with gratitude. No pecuniary promises were made in return for the reviewers’ remarks, except perhaps one but that promissory note did not pass to his estate, and no animals nor arms were harmed in the production of these blurbs.

As of this writing I am now at the point of submitting the manuscript of my latest opus, The Treasure of Stella Bay, to reviewers for feedback and commentary. Two eminent fellows have agreed. I have requests out to others, though none are O of C recipients nor celebrities. But time is of the essence. I am on track to publish this wonderful little novel in April and I need those pithy poignant blurbs for the cover. Please let me know if you want in.

Doug Jordan, reporting to you from Kanata Ontario

© Douglas Jordan & AFS Publishing. All rights reserved. No part of these blogs and newsletters may be reproduced without the express permission of the author and/or the publisher, except upon payment of a small royalty, 5¢. 

The post 19. Writing for Reviews appeared first on AFS Publishing.

]]>
https://afspublishing.ca/19-writing-for-reviews/feed/ 0
18. Writing for Essence https://afspublishing.ca/18-writing-for-essence/ https://afspublishing.ca/18-writing-for-essence/#respond Sat, 27 Feb 2021 16:37:26 +0000 http://afspublishing.ca/?p=2190 Never judge a book by its cover’ so goes the saying, but if readers never crack the cover, they will never know what they’ve missed. Not everyone will be interested in your book – not their genre, not in their present mood, they’ve already read one of your books and one was enough – but for those who might be interested in the extent of your book, they need to be captured by the essence and the essence of the book has to be demonstrated somehow in your cover.

The post 18. Writing for Essence appeared first on AFS Publishing.

]]>
Writing for Excellence, or even merely good, is one thing. Getting to the essence of the thing is quite another. Essence is about getting to the heart of the matter, the core, pith (and that ith not a mithtyped lithp.) But this post isn’t just another philosophical trope, it’s about marketing!

Everyone ‘knows’ the effort and creativity that must go into writing a book, whether fiction or non-fiction, short or long, narrative or poetry. But few appreciate the creativity and energy that goes into capturing the essence of the opus in the cover so that people might be attracted to it, and buy it.

‘Never judge a book by its cover’ so goes the saying, but if readers never crack the cover, they will never know what they’ve missed. Not everyone will be interested in your book – not their genre, not in their present mood, they’ve already read one of your books and one was enough – but for those who might be interested in the extent of your book, they need to be captured by the essence, and the essence of the book has to be demonstrated, somehow, in your cover. But essence is hard. And so the cover and the blurb are really hard. (There are many other hard things about getting exposure for your book and persuade people to buy it but that will be the stuff of future posts.)

The cover, and the blurb, are crucial to actual readership. How do you make it interesting enough that the prospective buyer (or even borrower) picks it up and looks at it? I am not a marketing specialist, nor a design specialist, but I don’t let that stop me. I have enough knowledge to get me into serious trouble. (Scary thing that MBA.)

To begin with, the cover needs to have something about it that gets the attention of the the prospective buyer’s scattered mind already working hard to screen out massive amounts of data. The paradox of information overload – there’s so much information streaming into the brain that there ends up being almost none registering. In Jungian terms this may be even more acute for those with a Perceiving preference – they’re so busy with the Perceiving function they have limited capacity for Judging. They go to the mega-bookstore, spend many minutes, or even hours browsing, and come out empty-handed. Maybe that’s why many of us go shopping with a list in hand.

Anyway, back to the shopper browsing the bookshelves. If your book is actually displayed, you, the author, have a much better chance of the browser stopping to pick it up. Whatever is on the cover has to capture the viewer’s attention, directly or subliminally: the title, the illustration, the colour, the font style and colour. 

Everybody knows sex sells, or at least gets attention, so if your cover can stimulate the amygdala in some way and the Browser picks up the book, you’ve got to first base at least, so to speak. But how do you bring sex into a book cover about dogs? Or of a 12 year old boy? (Well actually, in The Hallelujah Chorus there are some provocative sex scenes but those were mostly included as clinical discussions, if perhaps tongue in cheek; and in The Treasure of Stella Bay there is a love interest between Alex and Sandra, innocent pre-pubescent kids. But really, do I want to suggest, subliminally or otherwise, sex in the cover of the book?) 

(Amitié, A novel is a love story and the cover sought to evoke mystery and a certain sex appeal. Despite this, hardly anyone has seen the cover and so the take-up has been slight indeed.)

Beyond sex, there are other subliminal messages to be conveyed in the illustration (or elsewhere in the cover design) and these must still address the problem of capturing essence of the story in the illustration. The Maxim Chronicles illustration tried to capture a masculine proud canine, a worthy competitor for the show ring, and possibly a bit willful for his intimidated family. The photo on the cover of The Hallelujah Chorus depicts a sweet and intelligent, attentive poodle – surely everyone would want to know more about this lovely dog?

The cover of Travels With Myself tried to answer this question of essence by providing a map and a flight path halfway around the world. There was also the image of a woman, intended to raise questions (and another on the back cover as well) but also an image of a tombstone – not very sexy.

There are other elements of cover design designed to capture attention and provide essence: colour, title and font design. Of course much of this is subjective – what is appealing to one is terrible to another. Generally, the cover’s colour should be primary, bright and inviting. This is especially true if the Browser has only the spine of your book to pick out from a sea of spines on the shelf. If the book is intended to be bright and cheerful, then a bright and cheerful colour should be chosen; if the story is dark and sinister, perhaps a dark colour is best, but people tend to avoid dark colours, unless they like them – think goths. 

The cover forThe Maxim Chronicles is a warm yellow, almost caramel, framing a bright white interior, and then the black graphic image of a standard poodle in show coat. Strong red name (Maxim) in the title and a thin red border. Red attracts attention, but needs to be used sparingly so that it doesn’t send the message, Stop. 

The Hallelujah Chorus cover is a softer, creamy yellow to suggest a gentler, feminine, subject than the masculine Maxim. The white background with the subliminal image of the actual sheet music for Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus sets up the title (pure genius don’t you think?!?). The robin’s egg blue for the title and the thin border were also echoes of The Maxim Chronicles cover, and idiosyncratic echos of real life: Max’s collar was red, Halle’s was light blue.

The title of a book is almost always conceived with the cover in mind, the ultimate essence, a very short invitation to open the book. I’m pretty happy with the titles of my books. I didn’t struggle with any of them, in fact, it seems to me I had the titles before I had written ten words of the text. I’m of course delighted with The Hallelujah Chorus and I am particularly happy with the titles Travels With Myself, and The Treasure of Stella Bay.

Then we have the problem of font choice and design. Who would think font matters?, size too, but it does. Big enough, bold enough, striking enough, reflective enough of the style of writing inside. But not too bold, too striking, too modern/abstract, too distracting. I’m fond of serifs; sans serif fonts are, to me, sterile even if efficient (think Helvetica, think Swiss!), whereas serif fonts are elegant, artistic (think Palatino – named after the 16th-century Italian master of calligraphy Giambattista Palatino). Research has also shown that people find sans serif fonts tiring after a while, serif fonts are restful to the eye and allow the reader to keep reading, though this may be irrelevant in a three word title! Despite this knowledge of the utility of fonts my decisions on The Maxim Chronicles and The Hallelujah Chorus, are a mixture, with no particular rationale in mind but contrast.

And then we come to subtitles. Sometimes they are useful, most times they are unnecessary – usually used by academics with too much to say or just trying to be clever. Consequently all of my books have subtitles. A Year with a Standard Poodle was an obscure attempt to echo Peter Mayle (See, this book is going to be funny.) Living with a Beautiful Bitch was of the ‘too clever’ variety (and even got me into trouble with the Facebook censors). I resolve to have no subtitle for The Treasure of Stella Bay.

And now we come to the ultimate ego trip for a cover – the author’s name! If you are famous celebrity, and/or an already successful published author, 37 weeks on the New York Times Best Sellers’ List, your name is likely to be prominent on the cover. The publisher likes it that way, name recognition helps sell more books. If you’re a modest indie published author (new term for self-published) you shrink a bit from making your name too prominent. But dammitall, you put a lot of time, energy, effort and creativity into this opus, take pride in it. But not too much. My brand is Doug Jordan, in serif font!

If the front cover has done its job the Browser picks up the book and turns it over to consider, the back cover, and the second hallmark of essence – the blurb. The illustration on the front may be the primary come-on – does the picture speak a thousand words? Does it raise curiosity, questions, in the Browser’s mind and prompt him/her to turn the book over and look at the back, and read the blurb?!

Ah yes, the blurb – the ultimate precis, the attempt to capture the whole story in a few lines, to coax the browser into opening the book, and try a few lines therein, to carry it to the cashier, or virtual shopping cart, and swipe, or click.

I think I’m a decent writer, even good, occasionally good to great. But writing that blurb is hard. Major publishing houses have small armies of blurb writers distilling your 77,000 words down to a pithy 27. But if you are self-published, how do you describe your baby in 27 words? Well, she’s blonde, looks like her mother, … After many hours of noodling and writing, and scrapping, and thinking some more, writing and re-writing, and re-writing, I finally settled on something – the pressure to publish pushes you to make a decision. And once you see the final product on the cover, doubt sets in again – maybe we should have said it this way. But it’s too late. Sometimes when it comes to essence the standard of excellence is, ‘good enough’. If the Browser actually bought a copy of the book, the blurb did its job.

In our next post we will take this marketing discussion a bit further and talk about promotion, and reviews!

Doug Jordan, reporting to you from Kanata Ontario

© Douglas Jordan & AFS Publishing All rights reserved. No part of these blogs and newsletters may be reproduced without the express permission of the author and/or the publisher, except upon payment of a small royalty, 5¢. 

The post 18. Writing for Essence appeared first on AFS Publishing.

]]>
https://afspublishing.ca/18-writing-for-essence/feed/ 0
17. Writing for Excellence https://afspublishing.ca/17-writing-for-excellence/ https://afspublishing.ca/17-writing-for-excellence/#comments Sun, 14 Feb 2021 15:52:55 +0000 http://afspublishing.ca/?p=2176 Or how ‘bout this one, don’t let perfection be the enemy of the good. Absolutely. How many of us get mired in design detail seeking perfection (or even excellence) and never make deadlines, or even produce anything at all? But you know, the devil is in the details. And there’s that damn word ‘good’ again. What is good? Is it good enough. Good enough is hardly excellence.

The post 17. Writing for Excellence appeared first on AFS Publishing.

]]>
To continue with my ruminations on writing and how will I make manifest my purpose in 2021, I offer this post: after all, my Purpose is to be the best version of myself I can be, to utilize my Signature Strengths and put myself in moments of flow, and perhaps achieve momentary happiness, and in the bargain maybe make a difference in something bigger than myself. (Phew, that was quite a sentence. WordPress Editor will have a big red flag for that one.)

Oh, did I mention, to entertain, possibly to educate?

In the industrial world, which apparently includes software and ‘high tech’, the quality gurus like to confuse the troops with competing aphorisms: 

  • quality is meeting customers’ expectations (which is pretty sound advice if you know what the customers’ expectations are, and that is especially difficult if the customer doesn’t know himself.)
  • quality is exceeding customers’ expectations (which I guess is a step up on the first one but suffers from the same uncertainty).

Or how ‘bout this one: don’t let perfection be the enemy of the good. Absolutely. How many of us get mired in design detail seeking perfection (or even excellence) and never make deadlines, or even produce anything at all? And seriously distressed into the bargain. But you know, the devil is in the details. And there’s that damn word ‘good’ again. What is good? Is it good enough? Good enough is hardly excellence.

Where is the limit in the Pursuit of Excellence?

So when it comes to excellence in writing, what is the standard? In my experience, excellent writers are as different as chalk and cheese, spare Hemingway and loquacious Wilkie Collins. (Personally I’m not much for Ernest but admire Wilkie.) I think most writers just write for themselves, write for writing’s sake, but really, deep down, they want recognition, or perhaps more accurately, approval. Politicians may be content with mere recognition but authors surely seek something more. (It’s a well established view in political science that many voters casting their ballots check off the box beside the name they recognize, but otherwise know nothing else about him or her, hence the cynical expression: ‘I don’t care what sort of reputation I have so long as I have one’.)

But I digress, we’re not talking about politicians here, we’re talking about writers. Do writers write for reputation, or recognition?, for awards [for excellence] or remuneration? I guess if they want to make money, recognition is pretty handy. But if you worry about what the reader will think then we’re back to that bothersome thing called excellence, or even merely ‘good’. 

I am my own worst critic. I suppose anyone in the creative arts is self-critical. We may create for ourselves, but we know who the icons are. (These days though I’m not at all sure who the ‘good writers’ are – when does a good writer become an icon? When they’re dead? When they have the good sense to retire at the top of their game?) And we certainly know (most times) who our parents are: We may not aspire for iconic status but we sure want Parental Approval. Will we measure up?

So we edit. We revise. We rework. We trash and start over. We strive. We fret.

There are apocryphal stories of writers who revise their manuscripts 20 times, or even for 20 years. There are stories of writers, famous writers, who punch out 50,000 words in their latest opus and then decide it’s crap and trash it. More grounded writers try to limit their drafts to 4, and then surrender it to an impartial, objective editor, and cringe. There’s even a recent, well-regarded, book on writing called Draft No. 4.

(I’ve been meaning to buy a copy of that for ages. I tell myself I’ll download the e-edition but somehow that just doesn’t seem right; on the other hand the hard-cover print edition is expensive. What to do? What to do?)

I have adopted the 4 drafts standard: first draft to get the whole story down, knowing full well many revisions and edits are yet to come. Second draft is to get the structure and logic correct, and perhaps some formatting adjustments, with little rewrites here and there as they occur to you – don’t want to lose that little gem of an idea or description you just thought of. The 3rddraft is crucial, that’s where the detail and polish comes in. But be careful that the 3rddraft doesn’t become a run-away train, or a stuck one, the endless revisions, the enemy of the good, the self-doubt. And this is the time for staring the standard of excellence in the eye. 4thdraft is for line editing – typos, and punctuation and a little spit and polish here and there – and you’re done!. If you have a major publishing house backing you you only have to worry about the editor’s feedback, and leave the line editing to the minions. If you’re self-published you hope your volunteer editor will be generous. In either case you likely face more drafts. It’s not clear to me whether John McPhee was being completely candid about Draft No. 4, except perhaps for journal articles. (And since you asked, this blog post has had six revisions.)

I admit to getting stuck on excellence; or worse, concern that my standard of excellence, or merely my standard of good, is going to meet general approval of my readers. Or is it junk? To some of my more discerning readers, perhaps it is. (Does that mean my approving readers are less discerning?) Should I worry about the hi brows and try yet another rewrite?, or should I say, good enough, and give my fans a chance to read it? I doubt, I struggle, I want to give up.

And then out of the ether comes a surprising and unbidden email congratulating me on my last book, or blog post, complimenting me on being ‘a good writer’ and to ‘keep writing’.

Many people tell me they are eager to get their hands on my current opus, The Treasure of Stella Bay. (This is gratifying of course but in the meantime I’d be happier if they would put their hands on my last few opi and help me pay some of my bills.) They like the premise, they think my story will be ‘pretty good’. I live in dread that it will be a hopeless pile of juvenile vanity. 

I review my manuscript and think, it’s a pretty good story (ah, there we go again, ‘pretty good’). I read a chapter and then another one and think, nice rhythm, and pacing, and imagery. I read another and I think, thud. And another, tangent. And then I rationalize that the chapter provides necessary information for the overall story; or builds characters, or helps with setting and context. I remind myself that this novel is not supposed to be drama with a tight arc. Neither is it an allegorical work of intellectual prowess worthy of a Governor-General Award for fiction. It’s a series of charming vignettes that all sort of come together at the end.

I remind myself this is my Tom Sawyer, a much loved story of a boy growing up in 1860s Hannibal Missouri. Only this is about a boy growing up in Stella Ontario in the 1960s. There I go again, comparing myself to a famous superstar, in this case the redoubtable Samuel Clemens. But then I tell myself, not everyone thought Tom Sawyer was much either, and Clemens even hid behind a pseudonym.

So I put excellence aside, tell myself this is a good story that people will enjoy reading. Not everyone has to like it. 

I return to the task of making the 3rddraft as good as I can make it. Maybe it will be good enough.

Doug Jordan, reporting to you from Kanata Ontario

© Douglas Jordan & AFS PublishingAll rights reserved. No part of these blogs and newsletters may be reproduced without the express permission of the author and/or the publisher, except upon payment of a small royalty, 5¢. 

The post 17. Writing for Excellence appeared first on AFS Publishing.

]]>
https://afspublishing.ca/17-writing-for-excellence/feed/ 2
16. Writing for Flow https://afspublishing.ca/16-writing-for-flow/ https://afspublishing.ca/16-writing-for-flow/#respond Sun, 31 Jan 2021 18:12:36 +0000 http://afspublishing.ca/?p=2161 My purpose in life is not necessarily to be happy so much as to be worry-free. Regardless, you can put yourself into that state by becoming absorbed whole heartedly in something. Some people can do this through ‘mindful’ meditation. I can’t. I have to do something. So I write.

The post 16. Writing for Flow appeared first on AFS Publishing.

]]>
If you are a visual reader, you had no difficulty with the word flow in my title and begin to wonder what this article was going to be about. But if you are an auditory reader you may have seen the word flow but your brain might have ‘heard’ the word Flo, and you might begin to wonder who this woman Flo is, and why is Doug writing for her. 

Reading is not an innate skill. We learn to read. Language is not innate either. It is learned. We arrive in the world and our infantile brains are flooded with sensory input, but we have no words for what we perceive, nor concepts either. (The brain must have some sort of protective mechanisms to avoid sensory overload – imagine, ‘burnout’ in the first 36 hours. Maybe that’s why babies sleep so much. Maybe that’s why anxiety afflicted adults sleep so much.) We learned early to sort things out, prioritize, categorize and ignore. We couldn’t speak but we could cry, and we learned very early that when we did, that god-mother came.

For much of human history, philosophers, and even more modern day evolutionary biologists, assumed that homo sapiens, born with large brains and elastic larynx, was uniquely capable of speaking, but nevertheless was not fully conscious until it had invented speech[1]. Psychologist Steven Pinker, and others, have since reversed that thinking and have postulated that the human brain had developed the capacity to formulate complex thoughts and then found the words to articulate what they were thinking and communicate with others. No doubt this began with mothers grunting in a particular way instructing their young progeny to use a fork not their fingers! Turns out mothers have influenced our development in more ways then mere manners; it is after all why our first language is called our mother tongue.

Our senses, hearing and seeing, and the rest, function automatically, but what we see and what we hear has to be converted by the brain into something it comprehends, a concept, some sort of neuro-electric synaptic connection. It then compares the specific thing it  is perceiving into a generic thing already in memory, somewhere. The eye records a photon image and the retina converts it to a neuro-electric signal that is transmitted to a particular place in the brain where it resonates with previously perceived concepts (or parked in a new place in memory if never perceived before). ‘Oh look, a ‘dog’ (whatever that is in a synaptic pattern). It’s not the same dog as I[2]saw yesterday but it is a dog’. The image of the dog is perceived and the concept of ‘dog’ appears in the brain. 

The ear captures the sound of barking and the brain parks that concept somewhere in the brain too; and the brain soon learns to associate ‘barking’ with ‘dog’. The ear and the eye both bring messages to the brain but they arrive in different places and there is a temporal lapse before the brain can make complete sense of what the messages received ‘mean’ to it. There may be an even longer lapse if the specific input doesn’t quite fit the universal dog concept in your brain – a tiny squeaking lhasa apso causes cognitive dissonance with the large deep-voiced dog in your head and it takes a little longer to reconcile the little lapdog with ‘dog’. (There’s also a temporal lapse between what the brain then decides to do with the input and ‘you’ becoming aware of the thought, but that was discussed in an earlier post. You reach your hand to touch the little ratter wondering whether it might bite you, and then you are surprised when it does. Why didn’t you think of that before you put out your hand?) (And how many of you just thought of the old Inspector Clouseau scene of the encounter with a dog in the hotel lobby???)

Then along came language (well, actually, just words, language came later) to make this process of making sense of the world easier, perhaps. Language is a set of organized words and words is code for concepts and while this may facilitate comprehension of the world, language introduces an extra level of effort in the brain, as well as opportunity for error – the code does not always translate accurately into correct concepts in the brain. 

Words – language – were spoken long before they were written. Words may have evolved 1,000,000 years ago, language 100,000 years ago, but it was oral; written language didn’t appear until perhaps 10,000 years ago, or perhaps only 3000 years ago. Words are a set of sounds and sounds are represented in written language by letters. Words existed before letters and Letters always represented the sound that had been associated with some object. The European Latin-based languages (as well the Greek and Cyrillic languages to a different degree) emerged from ancient Greek and Phoenician words. For example B derives from the Phoenician (and earlier Semitic languages) word bayt – house. (Curiously, none of the European languages have a word for house that sounds like bayt, or even starts with a ‘b’; the word didn’t survive, just the sound did. Even more curiously, house in Tagalog is bahay; Tagalog was not a written language until the Spanish came along.)

So objects, and concepts, were represented by sounds and sounds begat words, and words represented images. Images in turn were drawn on a surface and became letters. And letters/sounds in combination begat words that the eye could see, and these codes represented concepts that the mind already had learned. The codes are filed away in memory to be retrieved when needed, most of the time. And these codes greatly improved the ability for humans to communicate with one another. 

But these codes are filed away in different places in the brain from the concepts they represent. And sometimes the brain has difficulty associating the codes with the concepts. This is not just a problem of dyslexia, wherein the codes are somehow scrambled; we all encounter coding conflicts at times. You’ve no doubt tried this little experiment: 

 The red house vs the red house

You read the word red and your mind almost instantly (to most of you) understands the colour red. But if the word red appears in green type on your screen, assuming you are not colour blind, you have a moment of cognitive dissonance. 

If you are an auditory reader, that is, your ‘word concepts’ are stored predominantly in your auditory centres, your brain translates the visual word ‘codes’ into sound codes. You saw the word red but you might have not even thought of the colour at all but the act of reading. (He read the house quickly.) You may have ‘read’ the word ‘red’ and your brain sounded it out and comes up with book, or even room, meaning audience. (This is the problem with homonyms – they all sound the same – and writing the right word: there, their, and even they’re; new, knew, even gnu.)

I’ve now written almost a thousand words and I haven’t even begun to tell you about flow, or even Flo. (I know no Flo, nor even a Florence, so I have nothing to say on that matter, though I think Carmen’s cousin in London is called Flora.)

But I do know a bit about flow, and not just the lava kind, or the river kind, but the Mihaly Csiksgentmihalyi kind. When your mind (and the willing cooperation of your body) immerses itself in some activity intensely, all other thoughts and worries evaporate. This is MC’s formula for how to achieve periods of happiness and Martin Seligman agrees with him. But it takes effort.

From www.wikipedia.org

My purpose in life is not necessarily to be happy so much as to be worry-free. Regardless, you can put yourself into that state by becoming absorbed whole heartedly in something. Some people can do this through ‘mindful’ meditation. I can’t. I have to do something. So I write. I’ve said my purpose is to be the best version of myself I can be, to utilize my talents (and virtues), especially if in doing so I can contribute to something larger than myself – the well-being of others. So I have determined that creativity, via writing, primarily, is the vehicle by which I can achieve my purpose. 

Sounds so grand and high and mighty, doesn’t it? Makes you almost want to throw up. Why can’t Doug just content himself with being ordinary, not so bloody pretentious. Why can’t he just be his authentic self – ordinary, mediocre. (Who’s to say pretentiousness isn’t authentic?) Anyway, that’s not the point. The point is that I, at least, am not content to just ‘be’; I feel the need to ‘do’. And not just ‘do’, as some idle occupation to distract myself from the ordinary exigencies of life, but to do something just a bit stretchy for me, to be a better self, even if just a bit.

So I write. I write to allow my creativity to emerge. I write to give myself the chance to be better than my ordinary self. And perhaps make a small difference for others – to entertain, possibly to educate.

But who am I kidding. I also write for escape. When I am writing, when I am immersed in my writing, I am in flow. (And somewhere in my primordial male brain I might like to distract myself by being in Flo but let’s just leave that shall we?) I think about almost nothing else when I am in my writing state (though every once in a while the music on CBC, or the 11:00 o’clock news, will interrupt my thoughts) and all my cares and worries and frets melt away. I write to distract myself, and all those lofty other goals and purposes – to entertain, possibly to educate – are just justification, pretense for some higher purpose that may not actually be true. But I don’t care. I am in a good place when I am writing and I am in flow. (Although, that little self-doubting part of my brain speaks up and questions whether my writing is ‘good enough’. More on that rub in my next blog.)

This blog post is a case in point. I was going to post yet another article on Purpose and Signature Strengths and Values in Action and evaluating 2020 and plans for 2021 based on these concepts, but then I thought, readers are probably getting pretty bored with all that. After all, how much entertainment do they derive from such heavy stuff. Maybe I should write about what I’m actually doing these days, not just what I burden my thoughts with, and yours if you even read them. Instead, a little light education, and layer on a little humour. So I resolved to write about writing.

And I have already been rewarded in this, perhaps coincidently. I’ve spent many hours on this blog post, immersed in flow. Not that my days are filled with joy and bliss – you can’t stay in flow 8 – 12 hours straight – and when I’m not in flow my mind drifts back to the usual pattern of frustration and ennui, just like millions of others, their lives interrupted by our governments’ ineffectual efforts to save us all from ourselves, and the dreaded corona virus. But at least when I am writing I have temporary respite from my cares and woes and say bye bye blackbird.

So for two or three hours per day, often including weekends, I write. Until I immersed myself in this blog post, or should I say, became immersed (was it an act of will? Or am I just allowing myself to be swept along?) I would face my keyboard and screen and re-engage with my manuscript, The Treasure of Stella Bay. I must say the revisions I have made in R1 have not been nearly as satisfying and consuming as the first draft, but the daily effort nevertheless pulls me back to another time and place. Stella Bay circa 1961 is infinitely more pleasing than Bridlewood in 2021. Perhaps my writing is just escapism for me, and not the higher purpose I claim.

But I don’t think so. Quite randomly I had feedback from two of my readers last week about Travels With Myself. And these were not the usual suspects. One woman wrote me and told me that writing about the trials and grief I had gone through in 2018 must have been therapeutic for me. I don’t really agree with her – I thought I was just compelled to tell my story, not self-soothe – but she may have been right. Here’s what she had to say:

‘Travels with Myself has so far been quite enjoyable, [she’d just finished chapter 48] It’s caught me by surprise. As I read I am seeing this, Love of yourself is all you need, everything else falls in place.

‘I will enlighten you on the surprising factor: you have a unique persona of energy, I know this from seeing you in our office, not the grief-struck person in ‘Travels’. It’s no wonder your book is such a wonderful enlightening read, I am thankful for your courage; sharing your grief was your process of healing your heart. Be proud of the strength you have, Own it …you earned it.’

Now doesn’t that make your heart swell. Doesn’t that make me want to hasten to get back to my keyboard?

Another woman of my acquaintance reading TWM had this to say when I was talking to her last week: ‘I’m really enjoying your book. Even though I knew some of your story from our conversations the book has shown me so much more insight. It’s a pleasing read even though tough at times. You write the way you talk, it’s like you’re in my head talking to me.’ 

So writing, and having readers like what I write, has certainly helped me with my own struggles with life in the time of covid. I have been sleeping better in the last two weeks than I have in the last two years, or more likely the last twenty years. Maybe I am more content. Or maybe it’s the meds.

Now isn’t it interesting that you understood all this? You have been able to interpret 2000 words, 2000 bits of coded concepts? You should thank your mother. I thank mine.

Doug Jordan, reporting to you from Kanata Ontario

© Douglas Jordan & AFS Publishing

All rights reserved. No part of these blogs and newsletters may be reproduced without the express permission of the author and/or the publisher, except upon payment of a small royalty, 5¢. 


[1]Even then, ability to speak and communicate did not necessarily explain consciousness. In fact one fascinating theory argues consciousness didn’t emerge until speech became written. Julian Jaynes, ‘The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind’.

[2]Now, don’t get me started on ‘I’. It’s hard enough to get your head around the dog concept, never mind the ‘you/I’ concept.

The post 16. Writing for Flow appeared first on AFS Publishing.

]]>
https://afspublishing.ca/16-writing-for-flow/feed/ 0