Tuesday, December 26, 2017

The day of Mad Reckoning*

*a.k.a. Retunes (or exchanges)

We don’t “do Christmas,” unless you count the general good wishes of Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays and homemade cookies. It’s been years since I spent time in department stores scouting for gifts in the month of December.

But what I do hold onto this time of year is to not go anywhere near stores the day after the holiday. I have made that mistake twice, but no more. The first time, long ago, I was lured by promises of uber sales. The second time I did it by mistake. I forgot the madness of the day and thought it might just be the time to look for something that could have waited. I should have.

The day after national gift giving, hoards descend on stores with gift certificates that fell from the trees or were handed in office parties. They make a rather joyful bunch. They were not the problem.
The ones that got to me were the other faction crowding the stores— the people with return receipts to exchange gifts they refuse to use. They never seem joyful. In fact, they seem angry, cantankerous, and garrulous.

That first year I saw a young woman in tears that the bathrobe she got cost so little there was nothing she wanted to get for it in exchange. She had some choice words for the gift-giver who was not present. I saw a child who got a toy he already had, in tears because his mother would not pay for something he wanted as she would have to add too much $$$ after the exchange. The worst was an older woman who refused to take anything other than cash for her return, because she said she hated that store.
It was not pretty. The energy was the most unhappy and unspiritual that I could recall. I vowed to accept gifts from now on and only return them, if I felt an overwhelming inkling, sometime later. From then on, this was the day to NOT go anywhere near stores. It was the day to count one’s blessing that I was here, and not there.

The day after Christmas. That’s today.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Nothing Wasted

When a job application does not result in an offer, when an audition did not yield a part, or when a story failed to find a publisher, many sum up the time and effort as a failure.

Here’s my take, which is also a sort of moto for me:
Nothing wasted if I learned from it.

I have written middle grade novels that have not sold. (Yet. Let’s be positive.) But in the process of research for each my world got richer, fuller, and the purse of riches is still with me and continues to grow.

The only writing failures in my eyes are the stories that came with little inner motivation, such as attempting something that was fashionable, or repeating a variation of a story and setting I have plowed and fully mined before. Those taught me nothing. (Unless I count the “don’t do this again,” so maybe they are not complete failures, either.)

Striving and learning are the most worthwhile of all. Prizes may be the frosting, but striving is the cake.

Eat cake, folks!

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

My Guarded Hanukah Secret is Out...

Tonight is the first night of Hanukah.
No, that’s not the secret.

In years past, we had a small crowd for our yearly Hanukah party, and that meant making latkes.
I have a trusted recipe for latkes. It’s not hard, and I’ve shared it here. This recipe makes very good latkes for a small family. The grating and squeezing of the potatoes is part of the dues we pay for eating them, and the tears shed grating the onions must stand for any penitential feeling we have about taking in so much oil then, and for eight days to come.

But for a party, (that is, more than twenty latkes gobblers) it’s different. Not only will the cook be grating until there’s no strength left to eat, but the onion-tears will make more than a puddle. You are liable to drawn before anyone arrives.

My kids attended a Jewish preschool, where I volunteered to be part of the latke-making crew. The teacher in charge of the kitchen was a legendary cook. I mean it literally; as the rumor persisted she’d been a real chef in some fancy shmanzy three-star restaurant in France in her younger days. She most certainly had a French accent, so it was not impossible.

She taught us a thing or two about child rearing. She was wise that way. But her lasting contribution for me was her latkes-for-a-crowd secret. I’m paying it forward on to you, which is my Hanukah gift this year.

So here goes: For half the amount, use your favorite traditional “from scratch” latkes recipe. The second half you will make with potato pancake mix. Yup, the kind you buy in small boxes in the “ethnic” section of the supermarket. Then use one half cup less water for each boxed mix. Make the mix first, and add to it the hand grated traditional ingredients as you grate them.

A.    You will not need to squeeze the potato water as much.
B.     You will have more time to play with the dreidel, because you will not need to grate as much
C.    The Monoglycerides and Sulfite to Maintain color in the mix will keep the whole batter nice and yellow before the potatoes oxidize into an unappetizing gray, and you won’t have to hurry as much
D.   This combination absorbs just enough oil to make it the miracle of the oil,  but not quite as much

Finally, this half-and-half recipe actually makes the best large-batch latkes. 

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

REGRET is a Useless Emotion Unless...

It Prompts to Do Better Going Forward

I’ve heard actors and musicians say they don’t care to look at their own performances because they cringe at how they did something they should have done differently. For writers, the printed first edition can yield a similar emotion. There is much we’d change, rephrase, or cut. Now it’s set, and we can’t.

Life is like that. Once something has passed, regret can take over about the many things that we could’ve and maybe should’ve, and now we can’t do over.

I know people who are raked with regrets. It’s a useless loop that serves to paralyze. The functional among us “let it go,” which usually means we try to forget and move on.

But forgetting, while serving the purpose of getting the wheels to move, isn’t the best way. For my own process, there were times I wished I could be as good at forgetting as many people I have known. There’s at least one typo in each of my published books that gnaws on me, and I can’t do a thing about it. There are chapters in my life I would never “do” the same way.

I found a way to mentally handle these sorts of cant’-fix ‘em. I am not a Catholic, but I borrowed it from the Catholic confession, when at the end the priest says, “Now go and sin no more.” This echoes Jesus’ saying. (John 8, 11) The brilliance of confession is not the telling, or the penance. It’s an awareness combined with learning from mistakes and resolving to not repeat.

Nothing wasted— if we learn from it.

I will look at my performance. I will stare at these typos and awkward phrasings. I will remember where I dropped the ball. Then I will resolve to pay attention and to try not to repeat. Of course, I will repeat. But maybe not the same mistakes or sins, and maybe I will catch them earlier when I can fix something. It’s a process, and a mighty beneficial one.

In this way, regret becomes useful.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017


When my kids were ten and twelve, they had their first real loss to the great beyond. He was not even our cat, but the neighbor’s. But he thought he lived with us, and for as long as he lived, DD was adamant that we take in no other lest he stopped feeling at home. 

When Chester died, there was a period of profound mourning. The neighbors were even kind enough to invite us over for a remembrance, and shared some of his ashes with us. DD erected a memorial where she placed the ashes, and it’s still there today.

What stayed with me was something she said. “I’m so scared I will forget him.”

If we remember, they are not completely gone.

Today is a special day at my house. I remember three of the closest people to me who passed away on the same calendar day. They are gone from the blessings and tribulations of this world, but not forgotten. 

מילים: פניה ברגשטיין
דוד זהבי
שנת כתיבה: 1944

נִגּוּנִים / פניה ברגשטיין, 1944

שְׁתַלְתֶּם נִגּוּנִים בִּי, אִמִּי וְאָבִי,
נִגּוּנִים מִזְמוֹרִים שְׁכוּחִים.
גַּרְעִינִים; גַּרְעִינִים נְשָׂאָם לְבָבִי –
עַתָּה הֵם עוֹלִים וְצוֹמְחִים.

עַתָּה הֵם שׁוֹלְחִים פֹּארוֹת בְּדָמִי,
שָׁרְשֵׁיהֶם בְּעוֹרְקַי שְׁלוּבִים,
נִגּוּנֶיךָ, אָבִי, וְשִׁירַיִךְ אִמִּי,
בְּדָפְקִי נֵעוֹרִים וְשָׁבִים.

הִנֵּה אַאֲזִין שִׁיר עַרְשִׂי הָרָחוֹק
הִבִּיעַ פִּי אֵם אֱלֵי בַּת.
הִנֵּה לִי תִּזְהַרְנָה בְּדֶמַע וּשְׂחוֹק
"אֵיכָה" וּזְמִירוֹת שֶׁל שַׁבָּת.

כָּל הֶגֶה יִתַּם וְכָל צְלִיל יֵאָלֵם
בִּי קוֹלְכֶם הָרָחוֹק כִּי יֵהוֹם.
עֵינַי אֶעֱצֹם וַהֲרֵינִי אִתְּכֶם
מֵעַל לְחֶשְׁכַת הַתְּהוֹם.

You can hear it sung in this link:

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

GRATITUDE in Many Ways

It’s almost that time again, the time to give thanks, a.k.a. Thanksgiving.

There are studies that show living in gratitude makes a person happy(ier), healty(ier), and more productive. Did we need these studies to confirm what all cultures everywhere have long enshrined into their fabrics? Apparently we do. What the pious knew all along, the freethinkers needed academic research to prove.

Jews interject TODA LA’EL = Thank G-d into every other sentence.
Muslims do the same, only pronouncing it IL HAMDU L’EEL-LAH.
Catholics of yore used to say it in Latin, DEO GRATIAS
Budhists just say THANK YOU.

I will do my best to remember that Thanksgiving is not a meal or putting up with irritating relatives, as the modern ethos reports on it. It’s a way of being.

I thank G-d for enabling me to write here, and I’m grateful to you for reading this. 

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

This Day in History*

*November 14th, 1851

On this calendar date, one hundred and sixty-six years ago, Harper & Brothers in New York published Moby Dick by Herman Melville.

Many consider it one of the Great Books in the canon of western literature, certainly of North American books.

Confession: I never read it.

I even knew one of Melville direct descendants, the lovely Meredith Melville. I never admitted to her that I hadn’t read it. I had no excuse. I did read much longer books that book lovers think are must-reads (Yes, War and Peace) and I can’t say that whaling and fishermen are a turn off (The Old Man and the Sea, I did read that one) and really, I have no idea why some great books have escaped the net of my youthful reading, when either the schools I attended or my love of reading drove my cart. Some books just slipped by, and then slipped off.

Like Moby Dick.

But something has changed in me as the years accumulated. I no longer feel I should, or would. I can’t explain that, either. No excuses or “someday.” Call me Ishmael if you need to. That’s fine.

What great books have you not read? Do you still think you will?

&Happy Birthday, MOBY DICK&

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Daylight Savings/Standard Time & Website Statistics

It happened again. The time was changed on us. Today, Sunday, we were shoved back onto Standard Time. This reminded me of a post from five years ago. Let me explain.

When you have a website, you can get statistics on how many page loads there were on any given day. You can even see the general geographic places these “clicks” are coming from. It’s a free service, and if you want to pay more, (I don’t) there are sophisticated versions of it.

On Blogger this is automatically part of the site and easy to see if you click on the word Stats on your blogger panel on the left. You can set it up never to count your own clicks to your blog (I did) and get a more accurate idea.

This blog’s posts usual click numbers are modest by any standard. They range in a low couple of hundreds, with occasional posts not even reaching three digits. Some of the hits are real readers (like you) and some are random search engines that look for keywords.

I’m delighted that anyone visits. Bless you.

But there was one outlier early on among my posts. It was this one, on Daylight Savings Time. It’s not a great post, nor very informative. But it had a few thousand hits, well above the usual for my site. Looking at the origins of the hits, Blogger’s Stats said that many were from Russia.

At the time, this did not mean much to me. I assumed Russian search engines were combing the Internet for certain key words. So what? Surely, they are not interested in Daylight Savings Time, and most definitely not in my kvetchy rant about it.

The whole subject of Russian hacking has taken a completely new meaning now. My time-disturbed brain is wondering... Hey, Russians, will it happen again? C’mon down and look. For your convenience, I’ll even use Google Translate: Летнее время*

*Daylight Savings time in Russian, I hope.

I doubt it, because these Internet-combing algorithms must have long concluded this blog is useless for their purposes. But if I knew for sure, I would tell you.

And yes, I’m in the throws of adjusting to the time change, Kvetch-kvetch.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

SPAM= Unwelcome Spiced Ham

Remember when Spam stood for canned meat of unclear origins?

Euphemistically named for “spiced Ham,” (it wasn’t exactly, but those who liked it preferred not to delve further) it was salty, greasy, meaty, and oddly satisfying to all but gourmet palates.

In the Internet age, SPAM became something almost completely different. It is unsolicited commercial Email. Only the “unclear origins” retained the connection to that potted thing-a-ma-food.

Beginning last spring, I noticed more and more comments on this blog that were not from readers. I moderate comments specifically to weed out SPAM. I have rarely gotten comments that were cantankerous, and welcome those. So long as they are from genuine readers, c'mon in. I’m not afraid of disagreements.

As the counterfeit comments come into my comment-moderation sphere, I mark them as SPAM faster than I can read them to the end. Sometimes the comments contain links. I don’t click on the links, so I can’t report if they involve relatively benign selling of somethings we don’t need, or dreaded viruses. Sometime they may be attempts to get entrance to the site, with no visible links.

In the past, the texts of the comments were riddled with very poor not-quite English. The sort only Google Translate could have come up with. They did painstakingly (I assume) refer to the specific post, but they did so incoherently. Those always contained links.

This summer brought a new flavor of Spam. The ones coming in in the last few months have two things in common. Invariably they come from Anonymous and they are to a post that is old. I mean, a few years old. Key words must have been caught by the casted nets and fished out by the swarming hacking machines. The comment’s text says nothing about the post, but congratulates me on such an excellent blog, promising to follow my “informative posts” from now on.

Frankly, my “excellent blog” is not very informative. (Gee, Mirka. You really can’t take a compliment, can you?)

Just as I was typing here, one of those marvels showed up . Here is most of it, for your amusement:

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I can't imagine who would click on this clown's link for "school composition assist to". If anyone ever did, maybe they deserve such polished assistance. (It must work better in Polish, come to think of it.)

Yes, I have activated Spam filters. A few of them. I also mark every comment that I know isn’t from you, real readers, and send it to the great trash bin on the Ethernet. Lots of garbage floating up there, no doubt.

We do what we can to shore up the wall against these cans, and will continue to do it.
What do you do about Internet trash?

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Good Instincts

A Pat on the Back, Me

Sometime ago when I was looking to be agented, a well-known literary agent turned my novel down saying she has a client working on something she felt was similar. This agent was surprisingly specific about the setting and a couple of details of her client’s WIP. She asked that I check with her if and when I had other work, and was still unagented.

Shortly after, another agent offered representation, and I’ve been agented since. That particular novel has not sold, and we have moved on to my next.

About six months ago, I ran into a review of a middle grade novel that sounded so much like my unsold story, and I checked it out. What-d-y-know, its setting and specifics fit perfectly with the response I got from that agent. I began reading the book online in its E-version. I found myself heaving as the first paragraph reminded me of the way I chose to begin mine. But there’s more. The name of the main character, (an uncommon one) was the very same as in my story.

I did a bit of searching to find and verify that this writer’s agent was indeed the same one who liked my story, but had a client working on something similar.

I bought the book in its print version. I read it. It is a very good book, well written, and it deserves its place in the market.

You wouldn’t blame me for doing the next thing. I wasn’t going to, but something in me felt I just had to. I wrote to the writer to tell her I liked her book (true) and added that I liked the main character’s name very much.

Almost instantly, I got a reply. The writer was grateful for my appreciation, and added that, incidentally, the main character’s name was her agent’s suggestion, after her editor didn’t care for the name she had used originally.

I sat, heart pounding, staring at the screen. It’s rare that you get such confirmation of the tentacles you put out in the universe actually reaching somewhere. Bingo.

I am well aware that names, titles, and even general plotlines are not intellectual property and thus, rightly, can’t have a copyright. Inspiration comes from what we have read and seen before, and writers take from others (often subconsciously) all the time.

But it still felt... weird.

There’s a good article about writer’s envy that just came out a few months ago. I must have incorporated it inwardly, because I spent only a few moments feeling these pangs. I looked in the mirror and said, “You’ve done well. You had the good story and a name that was worth borrowing.”

Both stories deal with unseen connections across time. It’s fitting that I found just such a true connection between them, the one that was published and the one that was not. 

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

This Life is NOW

A few months ago someone I had some virtual contact with, mostly in years back, let her Facebook friends know she had just suffered a calamitous loss. On what should have been a joyous father-son bonding trip, half her family was wiped out. Her husband and older son died while hiking, likely from heatstroke.

In one cruel swoop she was a widow, and the mother of one surviving son.

This horrific event was on the news, local and national. I read the reports over and over, as if re-reading would tell a different story, maybe with a happier ending. I woke up the next day with that feeling most would recognize. It’s that did this really happen thought, and a feeling of reality descending but not quite hitting the ground.

This did not happen to me. I could go on with my day and the days to come with my routine intact. But it did shake me up. The opening words of Joan Didion’s Year of magical Thinking kept echoing

Life changes in an instant.

It’s still a wake-up call for me. I tell my kitties I’m so happy they’re here. I look at people and places with gratitude. Nothing is permanent and most things are not for later, they are now.
Hugs, everyone.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

What’s Wrong?

a.k.a The Art of Diagnostics

Some months ago, I had an odd sensation of my throat swelling. I went to sleep thinking I was likely coming down with something. I woke up the next day with a swollen tongue to boot, and a vague unease in my digestive system. The swelling was mildly sore, nothing that would make me reach for medication.

I also felt peculiarly tired and, while all fit with a possible reaction to infection, I somehow felt there was something different about it.

Long story short (love this peculiar expression)— after trials and tribulations, and a wandering set of symptoms getting worse, better, then much worse, I found the culprit. The natural sugar alternative Stevia, otherwise revered by natural food folks, was causing a sort of allergic response from my immune system. Until then, my body was not known for reacting to anything that wasn’t attacking it. I don’t remember having verified allergies to anything, even as many around me did. There was the suspected reaction to Penicillin, never verified. There was a sort of reaction to mascara, also not clear. All go back to adolescence, and penciled in my medical records with a question mark.
But, really, not really.

So in my quest to solve this problem I didn’t make the right connection for a while.

This reminded me of the process of writing. There are times when a writer knows something is just not right, but all suggested feedback rings false. For myself, I will attempt the fixes anyhow, if only to try to be the humble and receptive person I aspire to be. Then, the fixes make the story need other fixes, and eventually nothing is working.

It’s a matter of accurate diagnostics.

When it comes to doctors, be they medical or book doctors, a good diagnostician is the most important quality. If you are one, or have such on your team, you’ve hit the jackpot.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Ye Shall Dwell in Booths...*

*Leviticus 23:42

The seven-day festival of Sukkot is an odd one if viewed without context. Jews are commanded to make insecure structures with porous roofs that allow us to see the stars and let precipitation seep in. We are to eat meals and spend nights in those “booths” (some translate it as “huts”) for seven days.

All this— to remember our ancestral forty-year journey to the Promised Land, dwelling in tents for two generations.

All over the observant Jewish world, these structures are erected according to specification, and then decorated to the hilt. I have warm memories of this from my childhood in Israel, where even the marginally observant just had to have a Sukkah, (=Booth) even if we mostly decorated and rarely dwelled.

In my current home, I tried to give my kids a taste of it. Our non-Kosher hut (because it was a section of our entry-porch, and the only solid part was, alas, the roof) was not a place to sleep. But we had a couple of lunches in it, and like in my secular upbringing in Israel, we spent more time on decorating than being in there. The neighbor’s cat, though, adopted it immediately and did the Mitzvah for us.

{{{I highly recommend the movie USHPIZIN, one of very few made by ultra-orthodox Jews, and telling a beautiful tale that stars the holiday of Sukkot.}}}

The point was to remember. To recall where you came from and pay homage to the struggles of those who went before.

I no longer attempt a sukkah, even for our cats. But, you see, the holiday starts tomorrow, and I remember.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

What’s *NOT* Working?

I’ve received editorial feedback along the lines of—“I like the premise, but not the voice.”

This usually means the idea & setting were good. But “the voice” (the personality of the narration, i.e. my writing) didn’t appeal.

 I’ve received editorial feedback that said, “I like the voice, but the plot is full of holes.”

This generally means that my writing is appealing, but either the premise or the unfolding of it isn’t working.

I’ve received editorial feedback that the writing was skilled and the characters appealing, but this and that detail ultimately made this story commercially unviable.

This usually means it’s pretty good, but needs more fixing than editor has energy or passion for and, frankly, hotter properties are flowing in the transom with abandon.

And these were reactions to the same manuscript.

I’d like to learn from everyone. But this is confusing, confounding, and crazy making. (The three “C’s for short.)

What these reactions have in common is simple: we don’t want to pursue this to publication.

Where they differ also contains a shared a point. It tells me something is off, whether the feedback has labeled it or not.

What’s a storyteller to do? Let it sit. Let it sink. Then get back to work.
Don’t give up, because that’ll not even be a C. Giving up, while legal and legitimate, is also an automatic F. 

Thursday, September 21, 2017

It’s That Time Again

The thing about traditional holidays is that they come with a regularity. This reminds us of the unrelenting passage of time, and also of times past.

 In this way the repeat celebrations act to sort of stop time.
Because---- there they are.


Happy Jewish New Year

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Who is a FRIEND?

The Internet and its lingo have created many new words, and also changed the meaning or use of established words. I have heard much lamentation on linguistic deflation, going back to the halcyon days of pre-electronic “interneting.” But what has been happening since the end of the last century is a snowball of changes, which will make this post outdated before it’s even out there.

Some of the new uses of old words are brilliant marketing and not much else. Getting congratulated on having to pay for something you could do without by EBay, telling you you’ve won the race to the top and will pay more than others were willing to, is an interesting way to frame it. Who doesn’t want to be a winner? Soon after, the seller’s feedback bursts apoplectic with feedback that says you’re an A+ and “recommended.” When was the last time you got such a grade and got to have a package of whatever show up in the mail to boot?

Some terms are imaginative and somewhat literary. Trolls, for example, are mischievous trouble-stirrers in Scandinavian mythology. Seems they’ve come back from the deep woods to flood the internet and cause more heartaches than their ancestors ever did. It also seems we’ve all become noisy birds in the Amazonian jungle, whether we are tweeting or making a purchase on the virtual river.

But possibly the most confusing is the use of the word friend on the social network to beat all others.

Confession: I am a participant in all the above, and while I entered reluctantly, I’m happily there now. I have more than a thousand Facebook-friends, and though most asked for my hand, I’ve asked for some and in the end it doesn’t’ matter who initiated.
 My Facebook friends are for the most part kid-lit writers and/or illustrators. We have loads of Facebook-friends in common. I enjoy the illustrators most of all, because it’s a visual medium and I get to see their work when they share it. I also appreciate the trials and triumphs of writers, and the relevant links they share. I look at these Facebook-friendships as a loose professional connection.

A few hundred of my Facebook-friends are people I know in real life. That means we’ve met, and I harbor the possibly illusory notion that they will recognize me on the street. An even smaller number are family or true-blue friends. {Some of my closest friends are not even on Facebook, but that’s another matter.} On that plane, Facebook has been a powerful tool to find people I used to know. I was surprised not only to re-establish some contact, but to discover how much I enjoy seeing their pictorial posts and have the “where are they now” question answered, at least as far a public sharing goes.

For that matter, it’s touching to see how open and vulnerable some are willing to be on this forum. It assumes that most people will not abuse this vulnerability, and this very assumption is a beautiful thing.

The thing is, I know the difference between friends and Facebook-friends. I noticed that when I link a more personal post from my blog to my timeline, any reaction I get comes from the true-blues.

This brings another case of word hijacking: Like or LIKES. I get many requests to like this or that, and you know what? I am a holdout for using these the old way. I will not “like” that way. If I like (or love or wow or L) it’s a spontaneous and real response. I have yet to like on request.

I mean, someone has to stand up for the old ways, ey?

On the soon-to-be eve of the (Jewish) New Year, I’m thinking about the new, and the old, and where I’ve been, where I am, and where I hope to be.

And if you’ve read all the way to this paragraph, I like you. I really LIKE you.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Try to Remember that Time in September...

My memory isn’t what it used to be, and never was.

But then, I remember the odd things.

Sitting with old friends, I remind them of the time some years back when they were renovating their bathroom and found their contractor sleeping off a hangover in the (dry and empty) bathtub.
“It’s amazing that you remember that,” they say.

Would anyone forget such a sight, even if relayed second hand?

Walking with a friend, I remind her how ten years ago she enlisted a city cop to drive us to her car, parked a few blocks away on an empty side street. We got out of a play and it was dark, and she decided it was unsafe. A policeman reluctantly gave us a ride in his marked-fully-lit-“cage,” And I told her that if any of my acquaintances would see us going by I would never forgive her.

“I forgot all about this,” she said. “You have an amazing memory.

Dah-ling, it was my one and only ride in a police car (so far.) Would you have forgotten that?

I remind my husband of the first time we met, when he walked into the textile gallery where I worked . It was September. He remembers it not at all.

Now, really!

I probably won’t remember your name unless you repeat it a few times, and then some. I often forget where I parked my car. I consistently manage to forget at least one essential item from my grocery-shopping list (and forget the list on the refrigerator.) 

But some things, dear September, I remember.  

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

The GIANT Experiment

Those of us who use the Window 10 operating system must have noticed the ever-changing screen photos that Microsoft so generously gifts us, always with the question at the right-hand corner of the screen asking whether we like their new selection. 

The choice of reply is couched in the gentle affirmation (“I like it”) or gentler negation, (“Not a fan”) with the promise to change the photograph if you clicked on the latter.

I noticed that the Microsoft deities change the ones I liked almost as fast. I also noticed they bring back some I decidedly was not a fan of before, and told them so. With the exception of two photographs in the many I have given feedback to, none were really what I wanted to have on my screen. But I found myself saying I liked the ones that were not too queasy-making after a whole series of truly unpleasant photos appeared as I feverishly clicked on the Not-a-fan option. I was ready to settle for the Not-as-awful ASAP.

Granted, all the photographs are technically brilliant. All would have their fans somewhere. But I tend to dislike close-up photos of  mechanical implements (think gears, tools, and such) or icy winter shots during a cold spell. I don’t care for the photos that give me vertigo, either. I’m not a fan of the desert or any arid landscape, having come from a land that has too much of that.

I want green and lush. I want to feel nourished. Once in awhile, the Micro-deities indulge me. I click on the positive, and get to “keep” the image for a wee bit. They have yet to offer what I really love— a cozy indoor space replete with rich traditional textiles and many books. I’d stay in such a space forever.

This whole thing got me thinking about the purpose of this operation. The Micro-deities do not do things without a purpose. So, Bill—what gives?

Until someone somewhere tell us the whole story, I have concluded this is some sort of experiment where the algorithms calculate not only who likes what, but also how fast they are at telling. This would explain the returning of rejected images. Maybe they were rejected on average at 1.2 seconds before, and on second round, they are rejected faster/slower. I wouldn’t be shocked if someone at one of the Ivy-leagues is compiling the data, paying the Micro-deities a handsome sum, and devising the cleverest way to market something.

It isn’t personal, and no one has to reply to the prompts. But you know what? I’d like to know what. That is— what’s up with that?

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

How NOT to Fall*

*...off the cliff, while hanging on by the fingernails

This blog post appeared a few months back, but I find it one to bookmark and return to.

The gist of it is that feedback on one’s work, while essential and helpful, is not to be treated as sacred and infallible.  I would say it even more strongly: it is, like we all are, biased and fallible.

What is left for creatives is to discern what helps them, and what is unhelpful or worse, i.e. toxic.
This is just as hard a process as the initial making something out of nothing, be it writing, painting, or composing. Just as hard, and much less enjoyable.

But discernment on how to use feedback is indispensable.

Early on, I took every single point to heart. Then I learned what worked for me. Here is the way I go about this stage—

A.    Feedback received, read, and with tears blurring my eyes  I type a Thank You  note.  I’m grateful for the time and thought they gave. This is not a fully digested reaction to the content.

B.     Letting the feedback rest for a time.

C.     Marking the points that make perfect sense with an exclamation. This part is actually enjoyable, not only because every fix is a clear improvement. What makes sense also makes me feel this reader understood my work. Then I make the suggested changes one by one. By now I feel I’m working, and things are looking up.

D.    Mark the points that maybe possibly sort of make sense to me with a question mark, to be addressed later.

E.     Mark the points that seem completely off with a red dot. I will return to them only after I digested all the rest, and have gotten more feedback from another beta reader.

F.      Keep the feedback as a printed or word file, because someday it will either resonate fully or be the funniest thing I ever read. But when fresh it’s not funny. 

I go through more or less all the above with all feedback. I continue to seek it. I do my best to give helpful feedback. It’s part of the writing life, and in a way, part of life, period.