Friday, December 21, 2018

We're not as helpless as we may feel

We all know the truth of it. I know I’ve made the point before. It feels like it ought to be in bold print. Everyone, every single person you see or meet, is fighting one or more battles you will never know about. I have a few of my own, and so do you.

There are Mega Battles
  What kind of battles are we fighting, you ask? Actually, there are more battlefields than we can possibly list. But consider just a few of the many candidates. America may be the home of the free and the brave. But we are also home to staggering homelessness, a nearly unimaginable addiction crisis, a hit and miss mental health landscape, and a faltering health-care system….all of it framed by massive debt.
This very morning a USA Today article stated bluntly that the US is the most dangerous place in the developed world to be pregnant. Not simply inconvenient, but downright dangerous.
Meanwhile, we watch from the sidelines as our representatives do their own thing…… pandering to Big Pharma and insurance interests, filling our prisons at a rate seen nowhere else in the civilized world, while failing to acknowledge, let alone address, the most pressing environmental concerns mankind has ever seen. And in the process they seem to have enlisted the fox to guard the henhouse.
At the same time, at every turn, it seems that our elected leaders have also failed to address many of the mundane, every-day matters that most impact their constituents. So, while they fight their partisan battles, holding our very government hostage, you and I are lest to confront our own conflicts.

And there are our own Micro Battles
As mentioned before, each of us has our own menu of personal ‘battles’ to fight. And why not? Those obstacles are, after all, a part of what we call life. Whatever their form, no one escapes them.
Still, in the end it is not enough to simply point out how our leaders have failed us. Not when every person we see or meet……every life that crosses our path……the ones we love and the ones we hate…….is struggling in ways we will never know. The battles you and I fight rarely make the news. They are personal, and the battlegrounds on which we wage those wars are where we live, work, and live our lives. 

Yet we have weapons of our own
You and I cannot legislate the answers our legislators have failed to provide. But we can do our part, in ways that won’t make headlines, but are perhaps the most effective response of all.
Pointing fingers and shouting our hastily-formed criticism rarely helps. On the other hand, rather than looking away a thoughtful, person to person response, that allows our nonjudgemental empathy to shine through, is often the best, sometimes the only, gift we have to give to those in need. Best of all, that personal, caring contact is the most appropriate gift for any season.

Merry Christmas, all year long.

Friday, December 7, 2018

Of Course You Can

  I know, I said I had hung up my blogging boots......that you might never hear from me again. Actually, it felt like I had nothing more to add to the conversation. Turns out I was at least momentarily wrong about that. I have something important I would. like to reemphasize. I just hope you are willing to hear me out.
  What changed my mind? It was the mundane process of editing the second volume of these October Years blog posts that had me reviewing the post that follows. I hope you can tell I was excited by the possibilities it offered back in early 2017, when I first posted this. I am even more convinced today......every one of my October friends, and anyone else who is interested, ought to consider the challenge I am setting out here.
  When I first addressed this subject it felt like I was speaking to the world in general, hoping that my message would resonate with someone, and perhaps lead to something tangible.
  Well, guess what? In the last few months I have watched two friends of ours set out on the path I wrote about---from the gentle nudging of a good idea all the way to a finished product. I spent a few minutes with each of them early on, suggesting what seemed to me the right approach, then stepped back while they carried on by themselves. I have seen their results, and they are impressive. 
  Let me begin with the fact of it. As sometimes happens, I have stumbled across a message I want to spread. I believe in this cause, and I would like to share it  with you.  
  Before you head for the door, please know that I am not interested in limiting your right to carry an AK-47, or bazooka, or whatever other “personal protection” device you desire. Neither am I advocating for the need to take away the weapons you already have. I don’t want to know if your Parenthood was Planned or not. I don't even care if Trump is your notion of God. Those may be important issues, but they are not on my plate today. With those disclaimers in mind, I hope you will hear me out before you change channels.
  I will begin with the obvious. If you are the kind who likes to poke around the internet, you may have noticed how many October-November folks are out there---speaking their piece, asking their questions, and telling their stories. 
  Spend a few minutes on the web and you’ll realize there is almost no limit to the ways you can have your say. Our October/November friends are making their points and telling their stories in the form of Facebook posts, blogs, videos, and chat rooms. 
  Beyond that, more and more of them are taking what seems to me the next logical step, They are writing and publishing their stories, whether family histories, family travel and adventures, self-help manuals, non-fictional offerings of every kind, and a multitude of fictional stories. (Have you checked out the Geriatric Vampire literature? It is quite ghastly.) 
   Let's start with the truth of it. You have a story to tell. Everyone has a story to tell. It is their story, and no one else knows it as well as they. That is especially true in late-life, when you are able to look back on your life-journey and spell out your personal perspective of the life you have lived.
  Have you ever dreamed of telling your own story? Disclaimer: I am not talking about the need for commercial success. Your story may be childhood recollections, family history and myths handled down from your grandparents, or an original children's story for the grandkids. The potential audience may be only family and friends. That's fine. 
  Do you realize how easy it has become to produce and share e-books and Print-on-Demand paperbacks? Beyond the book itself, an Author’s Page on Amazon that lists a writer’s books and e-books and allows prospective readers to browse and perhaps buy those offerings, costs absolutely nothing. 
   So let’s return for a moment to the reason for today’s post, the message I’m hoping to spread. As a veteran of those story-telling efforts I would like  to convince every one of you, especially my late-life friends, that you too ought to have your say, no matter what the content, in the form of a quality, hold-in-your-hand paperback. 
  Whether ‘your book’ (that has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?) deals with family history, fond remembrances, favorites recipes,  gardening tips, or your own fiction---today’s technology provides a gold-plated opportunity to see your work in print. Your book may be forty pages or four hundred. Either way it is easy and inexpensive. There are few excuses not to give it a try.
  So why not? Especially in late-life you probably have the time to do that. And given your history (whatever it may be), you certainly have stories to tell---if only for a limited audience of immediate family and friends. 
   That is exactly what Roma and I have done on a couple of occasions. Those books, there are two of them, were personal stories for and about our family. For each of the books we had five very professional-looking paperback copies printed, one for each of our children and one for us. If we never sell another copy we’ve accomplished everything we wanted to with those stories. I guarantee that you can do that too.
   Let’s consider the economics of it. In the old days, if we had a manuscript that publishers were not willing to underwrite, Plan B was what they called “vanity publishing.” That entailed paying an often second-rate publisher to turn your story into a book and print a given number of copies.
  The publisher would  require a minimum run, say one hundred books or more, enough to create economies of scale. The total cost would undoubtedly be at least several hundred 1970 or 1980 dollars. That was indeed a hefty price. Truth is, you had to be quite vain and a bit flush to afford that.
  Today, as the author of a Print-on-Demand book you can purchase your own high-quality paperbacks directly from the POD publisher for $5.00 or $6.00 each. The book might be your family history, your personal life story, a collection of poems, or the family’s favorite recipes. There is no up-front cost and you can order exactly the number of copies you want---from one to a thousand---for that same low price. 
  True, you will have to write and edit the material, enter it on a computer, then upload that file to the publisher’s template. Your investment will be one of time, not dollars. Most of us can afford that, especially when we are having fun in the process.
  By now you may be wondering, “How could I be expected to write a book or tell a story? And what about dealing with agents and editors---the experts who work with professional writers?” 
   Well, the fact is, you don’t need those folks, unless you are aiming for a best seller, complete with a big-time marketing campaign. You see, telling a self-published story of any sort is a very personal activity. Regardless of what the so-called “experts” may say, there is no right way, no wrong way to do that. 
  If you are writing for yourself, you are the only one you have to please. Your POD publisher will print exactly what you send them, which can be both good and bad. In any case, you are the one who judges the results. Does it work for you? That is the question. More than that, one of the beauties of Print-on-Demand publishing is the ease of revising and editing any or all of your book at any time in the future.
  What can I say? I enjoy seeing my stories in print. Of course it’s a vanity thing. There’s no denying that. It’s an accomplishment I am proud of. More than that, it has proved to be a most liberating way to spend my October and November hours. 
   As one who writes to please myself, (without worrying too much about what will sell), I tell the stories I want to tell, the way I want to tell them. In the end I am the only one I have to satisfy. Within those parameters, anyone who wants to tell their story---about anything, in any way they choose---can do that.
   Please bear with me for a moment while I offer a specific example. It was mid-May a couple years ago when Roma first dropped her idea on me. I was finishing a story and would soon be ready to start another. 
   “Why not write about our time in England?” she asked. “With all the crazy things that happened to us, it would be fun and funny. And I know the kids would like to know more about that time. It would be something for them to pass on to their kids.”
  Truth to tell, it took a few weeks for me to warm to the possibilities. But when I did, the fun she had talked about was only just beginning. For days we sat in the living room, just the two of us, reliving those 1972 months when we lived on Ashley Close in Winchester, England. 
  One recollection would lead to another. Before long the notes were piling up---about how we had ended up in Winchester, the life we lived there, the mistakes we made, the wonderful friends we met, and the life-changing experiences our children gained. Before we were done we had the stuff of a story---our story.
   By September we had a first draft, a 54,000 word computer file. As I had done so many times before, I uploaded the file to the KDP template. Daughter Amy, who would not see the finished story until much later, designed the cover using a collage of family photos from our time in England. Then, after proofing our online file, we made the first monetary investment in our project.  ---$6.50, including shipping and handling, for a single copy of the paperback.
   Long story short, that first copy was used to proofread and edit the entire story again. (Additional editing would come later.) A month later, we ordered five copies of the revised story we called A Year to Remember, by Gil and Roma Stewart---for a total cost of $30.05. That Christmas our children received their copies as gifts.
We had invested thirty-seven dollars, a few printing supplies, and a good many hours doing what we both found absolutely enjoyable. For that modest cost we had produced a fine-looking 254-page story that recorded a special time in the life of our family. Additionally, in e-book and paperback versions, it was now available to the public on my Amazon Author’s Page---where it has sold a few copies and received good reviews.. All in all I consider that a good return on our investment.
As for the story itself. Does this back-cover tease sound interesting to you?

“Gil was at it again. At the tender age of 35 he was on track for his third mid-life crisis in five years. For some inexplicable reason he had concluded that he was meant to be a writer. Now he was preparing to move his thoroughly confused family to England in pursuit of his career as a novelist.”

As I said in the beginning, my mission today is to make the point that everyone of us, young or old, has stories to tell---memories to preserve, personal passions we would like to translate into a permanent, paperback form. 
Let me repeat, loud and clear---for next to nothing you can turn your family adventures, genealogical history, or the fictional tale you have longed to create into something special for you and your family. Chances are you will find the process both fun and creatively invigorating. 
Personally I use to publish my books. I like their process and love their customer support. There are, however, several other Print-on-Demand publishers out there. You’ll find them online.
Okay. with that I’m through preaching. But before you sign off I hope you will take a moment to let your mind wander a bit---to whatever story you would like to tell, or topic you would like to explore......especially ones your family deserves to read and hand down. If you are looking for a New Year's resolution, you couldn't do better than telling your own story in your own way.

PS -- I mentioned earlier the recent Print-on-Demand books I have watched coming to life. Don is a retired Methodist minister, with stories to tell and a gift for interesting titles. I think his first book, Of Donuts, Toilet Paper, Grace, and Love, proves that. Mary, on the other hand, has created a sizable collection of family stories, assembled in a 400+ volume, complete with black and white photos.
Both of them put in the creative work and mundane computer entry.....and have something special to show for their efforts.

Finally, don't you dare "Comment" on this idea. I don't want to spoil my 'no comment' record.