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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Jesus H. Christ - The Making of a Best-Seller

This is a guest post from my brother, Bryan.

Jesus of Nazareth sat stroking what would eventually become a beautiful and lustrous flowing beard and picking loose snags from his 100% cotton robe. No mixed fabrics in the house of the lord, his father had said. The beard would come in due time. At the age of thirteen, his face was more reminiscent to that of smooth porcelain, yet to germinate rich fields of facial flowings. Jesus was addressing Scribe. 

“So tell me, think it’ll be a best seller?” Jesus’ eyes were wide with excitement and he neglected to pause for a response. “My dad says that in the future there’s some book by an Austrian guy, which I don’t even know what that means, but it’s about some hussy who gets a tattoo of a dragon or something and does some damage around town, and that the whole world sweeps it up…just can’t get enough of it. I want this book to be like that.” 

Scribe shrugged, sprouting a little frown, “honestly buddy, I don’t think so. The grammar I can help you with, but the story… the way it is right now…just isn’t doing it for me.” 

“Well that’s easy enough,” Jesus responded, “spark it up. Hell, you’re a scribe, add something wild,” he said.

“Like what?” Scribe replied bleakly, wishing he hadn’t been charged with the task of jotting down his adolescent friend’s musings. He had his own stories to tell. About the seasons changing and the soft sand of the landscape, he wanted to write about the desert eagles and the way their wings would catch the wind to hover effortlessly above the ground, casting eyes to the nervous movements of edible creatures that burrow in the earth without haste. 

Jesus looked to the sky for a moment in deep thought. “Something with frogs,” he said.

“Frogs?”

“Hell yeah,” Jesus confirmed, “frogs and a big-ass storm, with lightening and rain and power and all sorts of meaning behind it. Maybe it could have raindrops the size of frogs or something. Nah, more than that…” he struck a serious expression, “make the skies pour down frogs like a goddamned plague; make them hop out of the rivers and streams and lakes in the thousands. No. Millions. Until they coat every square inch of earth. And that’ll mean that I’m seriously pissed and that things are bad, and they aren’t gonna get much better for a long time.” 

Scribe blinked dramatically. “Um, alright. When do you want that to happen in the story?”

“I don’t really care, probably in the first part. Just take notes for now.”

In walked rotund Mary, with a sleep still tickling her eyelashes that nearly concealed her rage. Not the mother to fuck with. “Jesus H. Christ!” She cursed, using his full name in a tone that commanded no objections. “I told you boys three hours ago it was time for bed. And I don’t want to hear another word. Scribe, I trust you recall the last ass-paddling party? And that time I gave you both a choice!” She warned.
“Dammit mama,” Jesus whined, “I’m 13 years old, you can’t spank me no more. And the sticks you use leave splinters! And we aren’t tired yet. And we’re writing the story of my life!” 

“You’re gonna be writing the story of your death if I hear another peep.”

“But mama I was—

“I don’t want to hear no buts, you hear me? Once you turn eighteen you're on your own. While you’re in my house: MY rules. That goes for you too, Scribe.”

Mary gave them a convincing glare and slowly shuffled to the other room. Jesus and Scribe sifted to the earthen floor, they punched sacs of grain into pillows and watched the fire spark in the corner of the room. Several hours passed…

“Scribe,” Jesus whispered.

“Yeah?” 

“I know where I want to put that part.” 

“Your mom’s gonna kill us man, keep your voice down.”

“You know when the Egyptians are keeping my minions prisoner? And I’m about to go all agro and raise hell ‘cause I want them to be set free so that they can worship me more appropriately?”

“Yeah,” responded Scribe. 

“Right then. Write it so that Moses tells the Egyptians that if they don’t stop fucking with me and mine, I’ll fill their homes to the brim, like honey jars, but it won’t be honey, it’ll be frogs! Millions of frogs, they’ll bounce and plop and flop and go all ape-shit all over the place and then-” and then Jesus got carried away in his excitement and his voice exploded, his vocal cord concerto carried over the crackle of the fire, trembling in the wind as it blew to the other room where a great beast was lurking, in the dark, not in a mood to be stirred.

“I said keep your voice down, man.” Scribe’s words fell an octave in volume, “she’s not beyond bludgeoning what isn’t rightfully hers, you know. Last time the ass-paddle party-stick was a god-damned tree trunk!” 

“Yeah, my mom’s got big arms.” 

“They’re not really fat though, it’s all muscle, huh?”

Mary’s hefty leg entered the realm of Scribe’s periphery. The earthen floor flinched as her elephant foot stomped the lingering dust to death.

“Oh, shit,” Scribe whispered. 

“Oh shit is right,” Mary glowered. “On one side of the coin, young men, is an oak beam as big around as your collective torsos. The other side of the coin represents a new device, one that not even you’ve seen yet, Jesus. You boys gonna choose, or should I just flip the coin and see where we land?”

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Book Burning, Revisited

As America slowly awakens to the fact that our influence in the world is becoming less, we will have to come to terms with the idea of "less" on a personal scale as well.  The fundamentals of our economy have been crumbling for decades, but fortunately, we could rely on plain consumer demand and easy credit to prop us up, putting off the inevitable fall and kicking the proverbial can down the road.

Perhaps this isn't all bad.  Do we really "need" all of this stuff?  Do we need these McMansions in the suburbs?  Hell, do we even want them?  More and more people are embracing the ideas of simplicity, frugality and minimalism as a personal response to what they see as consumerism gone viral.  What may have begun as a necessary response to a downsized income or career opportunities is gaining traction as a potentially more fulfilling way of life.  Owning less means spending less, and that goes for time as well as money.

As mentioned in my previous post on the "Great Book-Burning of 2010," I have been doing some scaling down of my own.  Part of my daily "to-do" list is to eliminate one thing.  I can donate it, sell it, or throw it away.  This is easier said than done, as I run into practical and sentimental excuses of why I should keep a particular possession.  For me, and for a lot of people, books are one thing that I find very hard to get rid of.  I like having lots of books around.  I like how they look and feel, but when I am being honest, I mostly like how they make me feel about myself.  Owning lots of books makes me feel intelligent, informed, educated, and other pleasant fictions.  I am realizing that I hang onto them like trophies, instead of viewing them as important for their true value, which is the information, insights and exposure to new ideas that their pages contain.  As such, I do not need to "own" these objects, I just need to own the words inside.  I can read them, think about them, write about them, and adopt them into part of my overall life philosophy.  And then, I should pass them along, to friends, family or the library, so that other people can do the same.

I am pretty much done with getting rid of books for now.  I went through a massive purge when I first started this experiment, and have been slowing eliminating more, in ones and twos, as they individually fail to meet my requirements to be kept.  I am keeping some, and this is how I have decided to go about it:

Will I read this book again, or want to refer to it often for quotes, statistics or individual passages?
If so, it makes the first cut.  Lots of good books do not make it through this first round.

Is this book easily accessible through the library?
This is where most of the classics, like "1984," "The Jungle," and "Brave New World" got the axe.  I will certainly want to read them again at some point, but books like this will be at any library, with a few dozen copies of each. 


Do I really, really need this book?
For everything that made it this far, I take it in my hands and really try to envision a situation in which I need to actually OWN the book.  Here were some more tough choices.  Even though I think most of what Tim Ferris, author of "The Four Hour Workweek" is selling is mostly bullshit, the first few chapters were very motivating and inspirational.  Because of that, his book made it to the final stage.  I eventually decided to get rid of it because most of what he talks about in this section is available on his and other blogs.  So no, I don't really, really need it.


What I am left with is a little over 20 books, a few backpacking and camping guides, some maps of trails that I will be exploring again, and some reference manuals on backcountry medicine and staying alive in the woods.  For the last category, I like taking along one of these in any longish camping trip in the woods...you know, just in case.

Apart from these two dozen or so that I have resolved to keep, I have another larger supply of books that I have not read yet, but still have an interest in doing so.  I have given myself six months to read them, marked the date on my calendar, and will get rid of anything unfinished at that time.

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Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Less is More, and other Hippy Shit

I recently read Leo Babauta's "The Power of Less."  Actually, I listened to the audio book, for those who may feel that the distinction is important.  This is not a full review, but there were a few important points that I wanted to touch on.  The main themes include minimalism, frugality, simplicity; all of which appeal to me these days. 

My caveat about recommending the book is that I sincerely feel that Babauta often gives advice on topics that he is far from an expert on.  His suggestions on how to handle email or projects would have gotten me fired at any employer I have worked for.  His tips on fitness, nutrition and excercise are dubious at best, and certainly aim at the lowest common denominator of health levels.  During these sections, I found myself wishing that he would stick to what he is an expert in. 

With that bet well-hedged, I will say that he has some excellent tips on goal-setting.  Like many people I know, I will get my head and heart all a'flutter with a million things to work on, improve, and adopt.  I want to accomplish literally hundreds of goals, and I want to work on them all NOW.  The inevitable failure is spectacular, my good intentions blown to smithereens, and the resulting disappointment leaving me gasping for breath and rocking on my heels in the living room.  Babauta's advice is simple, as one would expect from the book's title.  One goal at a time.  This actually works.  Determining and focusing on one major goal at a time allows you to give it complete attention.  I started the month with a gameplan for the goal, am sticking to it, and write/journal about it at the end of the day.  When temptation inevitably comes, I find it much easier to stay strong, as I remind myself that this is the ONLY thing I HAVE to be disciplined about for now. 

As it currently stands, I plan on focusing on one major goal per month.  After 30-31 days of completely prioritizing that one thing, my feeling/hope is that a habit has been developed, and I can relegate it to "maintenance status."  I can then pour my energy into the next area. 

Heres my current schedule...at least, as I see it today.

September - Private Goal
October - Becoming an early-riser
November - Minimizing time spent on social media

If you read Babauta's book, you will find at least a few tips that should make a positive difference in your life, assuming of couse that you actually put them into practice.  That being said, much of the content seems to be recycled, such as the productivity tips that seem to be borrowed straight from David Allen's "Getting Things Done."  I found it to be worth a read despite this, as the goal-setting sections alone were worth the time invested. 
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