Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Be More Productive and Fulfilled by Reducing Social Media Use


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I got a lot done one night last week or the week before. Minimizing my time on social media, mostly Facebook and Twitter, likely had a lot to do with it. I cut down after noticing a correlating relationship forming between my exploitation of social features on my phone and frustration about not getting as much creative/productive things done as I would like.

When people talk about changing their relationship with social media, they often talk about taking a break or vacation from it or just dropping it completely. Let's be frank here: they're talking about Facebook. People have strong reactions to Facebook. I don't know why.

I don't intend to go cold turkey. I want to remain involved, just in a more limited capacity. Social media, on its own, doesn't cause me to have a direct emotional reaction. I like to think this decision comes as a rational response to feelings triggered by many responsibilities and dreams not getting attention.

A few months ago I had gotten a bunch of writing done. I wrote semi-regularly here. I had done a bunch of brainstorming for my project, then I rewrote a couple sections. I had a hard time progressing forward but had a bunch of ideas/goals for some earlier scenes. Other things got done, too, including chores around the house and financial shenanigans.

Even more frustrating: the social media stuff hadn't helped me progress in the short term, professionally or personally. Maybe I've planted some seeds and gotten some attention. Without substantial material to present someday, though, this attention doesn't mean a thing.

I found myself appreciating tropy criticisms about society just cycling weekdays, stories involving time loops of characters experiencing the same day over and over again and, heck, even the Nine Inch Nails song, "Every Day is Exactly the Same".

I felt that weekends sucked, too. Both weekdays and weekends, I never felt like I had the time to finish what I had set out to do. Cutting down social media probably doesn't free up all the time I need, but it helps.

Social media and chores may put me into addiction territory a little. Griping about people wanting to hang out doesn't sound healthy. People want to be around me, but I don't want to be around them. They get in the way of me getting things done. Alone, I can hopefully do things I REALLY want to do. But I never get the cyclical daily things done.

I like the idea of people. I don't always appreciate people.

I force myself to hang out with people. Rationally, I know it's the healthy thing to do. Makes for a great reason, right? We should all hang out for health reasons, not for fun and enjoyment.

I had reached the point of living in the moment. It didn't give me serenity and peace of mind, though. It stressed me out. It anesthesized me. It turned off my brain rather than help me reach mindfulness and awareness. It had silenced my monkey brain, not through calming it, but by exhausting and deadening it.

All the same, these attempts had a goal to free up time for actual productive activities. I don't enjoy cleaning for the sake of cleaning, packing lunch for the sake of packing lunch or packing clothes for the sake of packing clothes.

Maybe working with the numbers of finance takes me into the moment of letting go. It gets repetitive, though, and still acts more as a means to an end, rather than an end in itself. This state becomes especially true when I have a system together that has more to do with numbers than the reality those numbers represent.

Instead of continuing on the daily rotation and rather than go cold turkey, I've cut back on social media. I try to keep my social media to morning and evening dental rituals and during lunch time.

Most of my activity involves catching up on groups and people that I've set up to receive push notifications on my phone: Close friends on Facebook, starred people on Twitter and some groups on Facebook.

One of the more interesting things: Intense tunnel-vision interactions don't happen as much. The many hours between online social time keeps me from falling in hard. I find myself able to filter my thoughts rather than obsessing over the next clever retort to some acquaintence or stranger.

As intensity dies down, though, I find myself having more genuine interactions with more immediate circles. I can catch myself from spouting off intense emotion.

I learned indirectly through a friend's kid that Google Chrome has a silly game embedded in it. When the dinosaur pops up because a Web page doesn't work, you can push space bar to start a game of hurdle the cactuses as a T-Rex.

When I showed it to Michi, I might have gotten her a little addicted to it. Oops!

Interesting opportunities also pop out more to me, too. Rushing through feeds, thoughts and comments, I'd feel too emotionally fatigued to take advantage of them. Someone invited bloggers to check out a play they're putting on for review. I plan to make the time to see it then write about it here. I haven't gone to a play in a long time!

If you're curious, it's Queen Amarantha being put on by Otherworld Theater.

Carving time away from social media challenges me, though. I try to use my Smartphone Wi-Fi at home for just podcasts and music. When I can, though, I try keeping the Wi-Fi off while working on the computer. I'll play music on the stereo or computer. Spotify has more power on the computer, anyway.

But the social media calls to me through the Smartphone. When I have a spare second, transitioning between tasks or even doing a boring chore that fits into the neverending cycle, I want to turn on the data to look at Facebook or Twitter. I want to get down and dirty with people, joking about stupid stuff, post articles, share articles, having witty arguments, argue politics then get into an all out writing brawl every once in awhile. I want to feel that surge of dopamine and endorphins as I tear and lash into social media.

I've done it, too. The weekend, without the structure of schedule, proves especially hard. Social media constantly calls, By habit, the phone comes out of my pocket. As I'm about to touch the Wi-Fi button, I stop myself. I have better things to do. And sometimes, I still turn it on and engage.

When I stay away, though, I get quite a bit done. I can swim in my thoughts. I can make progress. I can spend quality time with Michi. I can feel myself experience moments, not in a rush of endorphin flow. Rather, it has more of a relaxing bubbling up of thoughts and feelings.

I engage with parts of me I've forgotten. I buried them. I've had to make more apparent progress or not even progress, but productive procrastination.

I will try sticking with it. My quality of life has improved. I've had some innovations here and there. I've felt more serenity and enjoyment than I've felt in awhile. I've even touched upon those moments from the past where I've grappled with emotional road blocks and growth challenges, defeating for the spoils of blossoming into life.

I plan to keep minimizing my social media activities to a minimum during the day. I still want to engage with it. I plan to still get something out of it. I just plan not to over indulge, not to lose myself in it. I guess it can fall into that old saying, something about the person who talks a lot doesn't say much. The person who speaks little, however, can say a lot.

Don't write me off as a curmudgeonly Luddite. You'll see me around, probably even moreso here on the blog. For all I know, you might even see me more standing out rather than all buried in the masses of social media. I hope to contribute to more big things getting out, too.

Yeah, you'll see me around.

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Sunday, May 10, 2015

Uncanny Magazine Having a Subscription Drive


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The release of Science Fiction & Fantasy (SFF) Uncanny Magazine Issue 4(a) excites me a bit, but what gets me going even more: Uncanny Magazine has started a subscription drive that ends May 19, 2015 (you better run and take part! Don't hesitate, just go).

Someone might ask "Why should I subscribe? After all, I can get the content for free by just going to the Website."

This someone has a point. You can read the SFF stories, poems and essays for free. You don't get all of them at their initial release, though. Notice how I put the "(a)" after the "4" when I stated the issue number above? For Web readers consuming for free, they get half the issue one month then have to wait another month for the rest.

I guess that works fine for people on a budget or casual readers. What about for people who like to stay on the cutting edge? Who want to have all the material at hand to enter into those water cooler discussions (how cool would it be if more workplaces had water cooler discussions centered around literary SFF)? And how about those of you who want to avoid spoilers?

A softer argument probably has better footing, though: By subscribing, you're supporting, nurturing and growing talent with unique perspectives and styles. Undeniably, Uncanny has their tent-pole pieces. Nothing wrong with that, in all honesty. Having worked in small insurance businesses over the last thirteen years, I've learned that tent-poles have their place in keeping businesses afloat.

When handled well, tent-poles can help pull up little known and undiscovered talent. Uncanny utilizes this tactic well. They've published Neil Gaiman's poem, "Kissing song", republished Anne Leckie's "The Nalendar" and Jim Hines's essay, "The Politics of Comfort".

They also published Sam Miller's "The Heat of Us: Notes Toward an Oral History", which was submitted unsolicited and went through the "slush pile" process.

My favorite story, Hao Jingfang's "Folding Beijing" (translated by Ken Liu) would probably have had a hard time finding a place in other English-language publications. It would have had no problem (it's beautiful and lovely!), if it were submitted in English, that is.

Uncanny goes out of its way to look for amazing non-native-English stories. Look at the new story, "Restore the Heart into Love" by John Chu). It provides a piercing perspective on the relationship with language a young Chinese man has who is also a second generation immigrant to an English-speaking land. Non-English-native-speaker stories definitely provide perspective and innovation that English-as-first-language stories don't.

Unfortunately the the call for submissions has closed since they can't purchase new works. They want to purchase more, but that's all they could budget from their initial Kickstarter financing.

I didn't do the reckoning until now, but after this issue (first half published on the website this month, next half next month), there's only enough material for two more issues! Things get real when you do the math.

Uncanny Magazine has a lot more to offer consumers SFF: supporting content creators. Uncanny has as one of their goals to publish experimental, challenging content. Issue 3 had a lot that challenged me. My belief system didn't feel challenged or anything, but my sense of story structure and grounding in convention felt grasping and without a foothold. I had a hard time getting into it, but I sensed quality that as an aspiring writer, I would like to emulate some day.

New talent, non-English-as-first-language-speaking talent, experimental talent, challenging talent and good talent always need help for exposure. Uncanny Magazine has shown itself as good vehicle to do it. The Publishers/Editors-in-Chief staff, Lynne M Thomas and Michael Damian Thomas, and Managing Editor, Michi Trota, all show commitment to curating this type of material.

They also show their commitment to nurturing and exposing this talent to the world by paying professional-grade (if not higher) for content:

  • Original fiction: $.08 per word (including audio rights)
  • Poetry: $30 per piece
  • Nonfiction (unsolicited submissions not accepted): $50 per piece
  • Fiction Reprints: $.01 per word
  • Art: $60 for reprints

Over the last couple years as Michi and I manuevered our way into the professional and fannish SFF world (mostly through her hard work), we have learned a hard lesson. Rarely will fiction writing pay well enough to quit your day job.

I know. It has burst my bubble and dream, too. Seriously: Practically all our writer friends and acquaintences, even the well known and prolific ones, either have day jobs or live the not-as-secure-but-independent-entrepreneurial-freelancing-and, often, multitalent-utilizing lifestyle.

I don't know how they do it. I have trouble doing my daily chores for survival alongside my day job. I'll have to ask them for tips.

Every little that can send more dollars and exposure to good writers helps. In our current state of things, it seems that we want everything for free. I'm not even talking about illegal downloading of pirated material via Torrents or illegal streaming at YouTube or anything.

I'm part of the crowd that takes free legal products for granted. I've got a ton of online stories bookmarked in my Web browser (without the time to read them). I use the free music-streaming services provided by Pandora and Spotify. I download free apps/programs for my computer and smartphone. I accept the ads and loss of privacy by using Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and LinkedIn.

If it's there, it's free and I want/need it, I'll use it. I'll admit: I'm in on it. I'm part of the Internet Freerider Problem.

There comes a time when, in our current economy, any producer of a product needs to get paid, whether directly or by some other means. If app producers, music streaming services, Facebook, Twitter and so on and so forth decided to all charge a fee or lose access, I wouldn't hold it against them. I may not make the purchase, but I wouldn't hold it against them.

I want to encourage more good, cutting edge writing for me to enjoy. If you're a fan of good SFF writing, too, I bet you want to, also. Uncanny Magazine probably provides one of the best vehicles to invest this kind of encouragement. It curates quality, experimental, challenging and poignant work and pays well. In addition to providing great product for the consumer, it contributes to producers creating MORE quantity of great product for the consumer.

Not to say that other SFF magazines don't do so, in their own way, though, Uncanny, focuses a lot on getting quality voices in its "pages" that other magazines might not give as much of a chance because of too much experimention or challenge.

Don't worry, though, they do provide balance with some fun pieces and others that might not be as extremely challenging. A couple of my favorites in this category:


And if that isn't enough for you, like any good fundraising drive (I know this because I listen to NPR and watch PBS). . .Uncanny Magazine also has other incentives for subscribing by May 19. Quoting from the subscription drive entry, the first incentive:

When we reach a total of 50 new/renewing subscribers we’ll unlock an ebook of Issue One for *every* new/renewing subscriber. Plus, we’ll randomly draw 2 winners for Uncanny swag packs: postcards, a sticker, and a Space Unicorn Ranger Corps patch!

Find out more of the incentives by going to the Uncanny Magazine announcement then go to the Weightless Books subscription page for Uncanny Magazine. If we're lucky, they might have drawings for more stuff than already listed.

And one more reason to subscribe: Navigation. While reading, your device can bookmark or keep your last read spot active. You can walk away then come back to where you left off. You don't have to do all types of navigating and cursing to find your place again. Darned Webpages making reading the long form difficult!

You want additional good writing in the SFF Library, right? Be a part of making it happen by subscribing to Uncanny Magazine.

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Saturday, May 02, 2015

All Supporting SFF Fans Can Nominate and Vote for The Hugo Awards


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A week or so ago, I tweeted the following:



I would love to see all Science Fiction/Fantasy (SFF) fans know its relatively easy to participate. Read on for an introduction.

Disclosures: This blog entry has no direct bearing on the current Hugo Awards controversy. I'm not qualified nor have done enough research to provide an educated opinion or record on the matter.

What facts I've used in this entry come from what I've found online from official-looking Websites of Worldcon, the Hugo Awards and Worldcon: Sasquan. I did not fact check beyond this points of access intentionally since these sites are official and, for purposes of this entry, demonstrate the importance for ease of entry.

UPDATE: Uncanny Magazine has a published a summary history of the Hugos with Mike Glyer's "It's the Big One". If you want some history, go there.

I currently do not nor have I ever had any membership or affiliation with Worldcon or the Hugo Awards. Frankly, I can't dedicate the time that I would want to feel that I would meet the level of "citizenship" for full value from participating.

I'm setting the bar pretty low for dedication to this "citizenship": Regularly reading science fiction/fantasy and nominating/voting on who gets to receive a Hugo.

Over the last three or so years, I haven't read much. I recall reading the first two books of Graham Storr's Timesplash series probably back in December.

Before that I read John Scalzi's Redshirts and the Terry Pratchett/Neil Gaiman team up novel, Good Omens, a couple years ago while on a Carribean vacation. I haven't been the best SFF consumer since getting what could be called an adult career.

The neat thing, though, as I understand it: By no special virtue other than ponying up a financial consideration (presently $40 to become a supporting member), anyone can become a supporting member of Worldcon for a period of time. The most apparent benefits of a supporting membership include, but not all inconclusively: Helping deciding who gets awarded the Hugos.

I didn't fully understand the ease with which someone could nominate and vote. Even Michi and other friends talking about this ease over the years didn't penetrate my thick idea/brain barrier. It took reading up on the latest kerfuffle to grok it.

The Hugo Awards have an ubiquitous presence in area of SFF, too. Publishers, studios, receivers won't hesitate to put this status on their products. SFF essays in periodicals will name drop the Hugo when discussing cultural relevance and nominees/winners. I'm sure literary non-fans have heard of the Hugo. The Hugo has a presence in the cultural consciousness.

Such presence doesn't translate into communicating how to participate. Instead it creates a certain mystical, esoteric air that only the Select know how to participate. Not a unique situation, since many awards and organizations fall into such a state. The non-participants just watch, taking it for faith that if they should have anything to do with something, they would know about it.

This phenomenon has become pretty common in all human societies and groups. What makes the phenomenon so tragic most of the time: it usually happens subconsciously on the part of humans without meaning to. It often comes out of the best intentions.

The phenomenon had become such a sticking point in the '70s Feminist Movement, Jo Freeman wrote "The Tyranny of Structurelessness".

Go ahead, click on the link and read the essay/speech. It's not too long and has use for understanding human nature. Even if you don't sympathize with feminism, it still provides useful insight into human and social nature.

Frankly, it saddens me to see this phenomenon with Worldcon/The Hugo Awards. I feel frustrated that I feel compelled to amplify the low base of entry into the ranks of "official" SFF fandom, which includes professional authors and other media presences of all levels, and participate in deciding who gets a Hugo. Professional status and relationship to the media shouldn't become basis of fandom.

I want it to become common knowledge. I could almost feel happy if it reached a level of peer pressure to become a supporting member. I'm all for independence of thought, liberty and freedom. Nonetheless, I would love to see the knowledge of how to join Worldcon become so common that people ask non-member SFF fans "Why aren't you member? You're a fan, right?"

For reasons already listed, I don't plan on becoming a member in any capacity. I can still help spread the word that participating can be pretty darned easy. All it takes is $40 and a bunch of time. Let those with the capacity of citizenship do it.

So, SFF fans with the time and energy to dedicate, become at least a supporting member of Worldcon, so you can can participate in nominating and awarding The Hugo Awards. As of the time this entry has been written, you can do so at https://sasquan.swoc.us/sasquan/reg.php.

After the current Worldcon, you'll likely have to search around the Internet for the next Worldcon then find their registration page.

OK, maybe it's not the easiest thing in the world. It takes some investigatory research skills to find the right knowledge and Webpage. That definitely plays a part in how the Tyranny of Structurelessness works against the ease of entry.

We live in the Age of the Internet, people. Investigatory research skills are everyday now (stop depending on just Wikipedia!).

Hopefully my amplifying this information can help fans join up. I encourage others to do the same: amplify the ease of contributing to nominating and awarding the Hugo. Start today and keep doing it.

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