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Reading The Masters…And Trying Not to Get too Jealous Along the Way

July 25th, 2015 No comments

Cover of ShogunFor the last month, I’ve been reading and obsessing over the book Shogun by James Clavell. In case you didn’t know, this book is good. Really, really good. I absolutely love the clash of cultures and the fish-out-of-water perspective. Through the eyes of protagonist John Blackthorne, we fall in love with the imperial Japanese culture based on the twin foundations of honor and death. The Japanese believe that life is death and embrace the suicide of suppoko with great dignity and composure, often even with pride.

Clavell has brought his world to life and filled it with vibrant characters like Mariko, Yabu, and Toronaga. The Japanese culture is so exotic and insensible to Blackthorne when he first encounters it, but slowly he begins to understand and respect their ways. We readers travel with him, learning to watch rocks grow and drink cha from an empty cup.

This book has been a joy to read, but I can’t help but feel a twinge of jealousy as much as I try to squelch it. Here is a master wordsmith. A man who dominates his art. Chapter after chapter reminds me of where I want to be and how far I still must travel. I feel this way when I read George R. R. Martin and Orson Scott Card. These authors exist on an entirely different level of brilliance and talent.

I’d like to climb up those steps one day, but not today. Today I read their words. I tumble headfirst into their stories. I learn. Grow. And exalt in the joy of reading.

Are you reading anything good?

Microsoft Kidnapped My Computer…And Beat The Crap Out Of It

April 28th, 2014 No comments

Last Friday, Microsoft kidnapped my laptop for 2.5 hours, and the psychological trauma still seems to be affecting poor Lancelot. He is so distraught he now has trouble connecting to the internet and loading pages despite a previous near perfect record on this WiFi network. (Note: Lancelot is my laptop’s name, because he is gray and came to my rescue when my previous laptop had a computer aneurysm and died without warning).

That Friday, after multiple nagging messages, I decided to finally upgrade to Windows 8.1. I assumed this upgrade would take 10 -15 minutes. It didn’t. It took two and a half hours to be exact.

I am very mad at Microsoft’s new CEO, Sayta Nadella for his assumption that I would just have 2.5 hours lying around for him to use for his glacial upgrade. At no point did I get a message before the upgrade saying something like, “Hey, you might want to go grocery shopping and go to the bank, cause this could take a while” or “Going to bed? Okay, now might be a good time to do that Windows 8.1 upgrade, because it will take FOREVER!”

Lancelot is not old or clogged with downloaded Gif files of cats playing the piano. He’s not some poor, fat old guy huffing and puffing around a track trying to get in shape before his heart explodes from French fry grease. In other words, Lancelot should be able to handle an update at normal speeds.

My perception of time has become severely twisted ever since I started working as a full time freelance copywriter and fiction author. Time is money. Literally. If I’m not working, producing content, I am not generating income. I know how much I need to make each month, each week, and each day to meet my basic expenses and to hit my income goals.

You might be able to see how this can quickly and quite thoroughly screw with someone’s psyche. Any last minute jolts or unanticipated interruptions, and all the building blocks in my daily schedule come tumbling down. A two and a half hour blackout for my laptop is a pretty big deal.

It was interesting, watching the screen do it’s little count up as it downloaded something or other, only to then start a whole new download sequence as soon as the former was complete. I got to really watch myself have a minor, silent meltdown.

I wonder if other people do this, study and muse over their reactions while they occur? Sometimes I feel like I am of two minds — the worrying part of me in the moment, and then the observer watching my thoughts frantically tumble around.

I have a coping mechanism for when I take myself too seriously. It’s pretty simple. It’s a game I’ve dubbed, “At least you’re not/you don’t [Fill in the blank]”

For instance, here are a few choice ones that came to mind on Friday:

— At least you’re not a kindergarten teacher

— At least you don’t live in Syria

— At least you’re not an Untouchable living in India

— At least you don’t live in the Game of Thrones Universe

— At least you don’t have Elephant Man syndrome

— At least you’re not struggling to survive during the Zombie Apocalypse

You get the drift. Feel free to use that little trick if it ever suits you.

The Microsoft 8.1 update was probably in the top 300 worst decisions I’ve ever made. Lancelot is severely traumatized as I mentioned earlier. Apparently it’s okay for updates to actually make computers work worse now rather than better. FYI to Microsoft. Messing with my computer’s ability to connect to my WiFi network and not drop pages while loading is kinda important to me.

Categories: Other Tags: , ,

Top Ten Things My Pet Bunny Clearly Does Not Understand

February 3rd, 2014 No comments

I have a pet bunny named Avalon. This is him. He is adorable.

For the most part, we get along well. He has soft fur. I like to pet his fur. He likes it when I pet his fur. He also really, really likes lettuce. I can procure lettuce. We make a good team. Unfortunately, our relationship isn’t all roses and delicious lettuce.

 

10. Flipping over your water bowl is not nearly as awesome as you think. Flipping over your water bowl, while impressive, actually completely depletes your supply of water. You need water to live. This is not a cool trick from a survival point of view.

This is what your water bowl should look like if you don’t want to die a slow and horrible death of dehydration

09. Carpet is not food. It has never been food. It will never be food at any future point. In fact, it is the opposite of food, in that you really, really shouldn’t eat it. Ever. Please stop eating the carpet.

This is not food

08. There is nothing at all interesting underneath the dresser. Please stop trying to dig up the carpet under the dresser. Yes, I realize that there is a small arch at the bottom of the dresser that looks kind of like an opening to somewhere, but it’s not. The only thing under the dresser is more carpet, which, we’ve already established is not food.

There’s nothing under here

07. No matter how much you beg, I will never ever let you eat chocolate again. Remember that one time a chocolate chip fell out of my cookie onto the floor and you ate it before I could pick it up? Two days later you got really sick and I had to rush you to the vet. Do you remember how they had to give you fluids, force feed you, and shave your leg to take a blood sample? Do you remember how I was a total emotional mess, because I thought that I had murdered you via cookie? Of course you don’t remember this, because you are a bunny. But I remember . I also remember the $300 vet bill. So, please stop begging for chocolate, and stop pretending to be shocked that I’m not giving you any. Chocolate can kill you. Seriously, it can kill you.

Deadly poison

06. When you stand right in front of the door it will hit you in the face. Please stop standing so close to the door. The door is not transparent, therefore I cannot see that you are standing on the other side. So, again, this will lead to me hitting you in the face with the door. I now try to open the door very slowly, so I don’t get why I still keep hitting you in the face. You must see the door opening. Just move and you won’t get hit in the face.

Just stand about four feet back from this and you should be good.

05. I’d like you to stop eating your poop in front of me. I understand that eating your poop is a natural thing that bunnys do, and that special forms of your poop (called cecotropes) contain bacteria and fungi that are essential for your health, but it still weirds me out. I accept you for who you are, but that doesn’t mean I’m comfortable with everything you do, mainly eating your own poop. I wish you wouldn’t so flagrantly eat your poop in front of me. I leave the room multiple times a day, often for 30 minutes or more. This would give you ample time to eat your poop in private, but you seem not to care whether or not I’m in the room. Please be more considerate in the future.

04. The sound of peeling a hardboiled egg is not a huge scary thing that requires you to thump your back leg loudly for five minutes and hide under the bed. It’s just a noise you haven’t heard before. It’s okay to be a little nervous, but you really don’t need to freak out about it. There is absolutely no way the sound of peeling egg shells is threatening or can harm you. The same goes for the clinking of change and the sound of my pen tapping the desk. These things are no big deal. Please stop thumping and making it seem like I’m trying to terrify you with everyday life noises.

This is terrifying

This is not terrifying

03. You should probably be more scared of the cats then you are. I am noticing that you don’t give them as much notice anymore. Sometimes they sneak into the room, and you just sit in your hay box munching on hay while they stalk around. You don’t seem afraid at all. You should be. You’re a pretty big bunny, but the cats can still eat you. They are faster than you, stronger than you and have sharp teeth and claws. They are not your friends. You may think that you can change them, and while this is really sweet, it’s also a quick ticket to betrayal and death.

This cold hearted killer is not your friend

02. I know you’re the one eating my shoes. How do I know? Simple process of elimination. The cats don’t eat my shoes and I don’t eat my shoes. That leaves you. Also, I have seen you hop into my closet on several occasions. On more than one occasion I have heard a sound emanating from the closet that sounds suspiciously like you chewing on something expensive and beloved. Also, there was that one time you chewed on my boot while I was wearing it. That was not subtle of you at all. Don’t act all shocked and innocent when I go to buckle on a pair of cute sandals only to discover that the buckle is no longer attached. When I give you an accusing stare, your eyes bug out, as if to say, Who would do such a horrendous thing? If it’s been more than two hours since you ate the shoes, then maybe you’ve forgotten and don’t honestly know. But I do. It’s you. You ate my shoes. I also strongly suspect that you’re the one whose eaten through two of my purse straps.

I didn’t do this

01. Chewing on wires is a terrible idea. Remember up at number 9 where we talked about how eating carpet is really bad for you? Chewing on wires is an even worse idea. It’s actually the worst idea you’ve ever had, except for possibly eating that chocolate chip, discussed in number 7. For some reason you hate wires and want to destroy them all. The existence of wires offends you on the most fundamental level of your being. Your mindless animosity for wires goes deeper than some of the world’s greatest rivalries, including Colonists vs. Red Coats, Hatfields vs. McCoys, Athenians vs. Spartans, Amish vs. Twitter, and Yankees vs. Red Soxs. I have some bad news for you rabbit – you will never win the war against wires. No matter how many times you chew through my cell phone charger, computer cord, lamp wire, WiFi router cable or any other wires, you will not make a dent in their dominance of the world. They are like a hydra. For every paper shredder wire you chew, two will come back in its place. Also, the wires don’t care how many of their kind fall. They are like the army of Xerxes, numberless and undefeatable. You, on the other hand, are very defeatable. You’ve been lucky so far, but this luck can only last so long until your little brain gets fried, mid-chew. You must learn to coexist in a world of wires. I am doing my best to keep them out of your sight and reach, but you have to meet me half way. Did you see what happened to Leonidas in the movie 300? Of course you didn’t, you are a rabbit. So let me tell you. He died. A lot. Sure, he got to yell and chop some heads and run around in his underwear and a cool cape, but by the end of the movie he was a pin cushion. Don’t be like Leonidas . Bow down before the wires. It is the only way.

This is a battle you cannot win

Categories: Essay, Other Tags: ,

The One Year Self-Employment Survivalist

May 20th, 2012 No comments

A year ago this month, I set out on one of the biggest and scariest endeavors of my life – following my dream to work for myself fulltime.

It’s no coincidence that the name of my copywriting business is “Endeavor Writing”. Even as I endeavor to help small business owners achieve marketing success through content management, I’m also following my own endeavor to live by and on my words – literally.

As I’ve mentioned in previous blog posts, shy people and risk don’t mix well. Taking this leap was difficult for me, especially because I left a secure job with full benefits and a steady paycheck.

I think here is the point where I’m supposed to say something glib and uplifting, like “…and I’ve never looked back!”

But I have looked back. Loving what I do hasn’t made me immune to worry or doubt. It hasn’t swept away my anxiety over whether I made the right decision, if I’m moving in the correct direction, going too fast or too slow, etc…

Big decisions aren’t supposed to be comfortable, and I think only a fool plunges into something new without at least a little discomfort.

Even so, my first year of total self-employment has gone exceedingly well. Perhaps a little too well, if you’ll permit me my usual suspicion in the face of positive outcomes. My client list has grown. I’ve raised my prices and my confidence.  I’ve expanded my product offerings, learned to work with many different personalities and have seen my profits increase little by little each month.

Certainly, self-employment is not an easy road. I miss the steady paychecks and the benefits. I’ve had to make cuts to my lifestyle and keep an eagle eye on my finances. Also, when your income becomes tied to billable hours, it changes your perspective, making you question every drop of time you use on something that isn’t work.

It can be hard to shut off, hard to relax – and I wasn’t that good at relaxing even before.

Still, I’ll trade the steady paychecks for the ability to take a nap after lunch each day, the walks I can take anytime to clear my head, and the thrill of pitching a new client or sending out my hard-earned invoices at the end of the month.  Oh, and all my awesome clients.

WARNING: here’s the part where I get all sappy about how much my clients mean to me.

I truly value all of my clients. Their respect for my talent is both intimidating and motivating, which is a perfect mix. The intimidation keeps me humble, the motivation keeps me hungry and eager to give my clients the best words that I own. Through my clients I gain confidence in my skill. Through them I learn what I am capable of. Through them, I believe even more strongly in the power and value of content to make connections and build relationships.

So yeah, my clients rule.

Now for the wrap-up – I’m happy with where I am. Endeavor Writing continues to be a fascinating and rewarding endeavor for me. Each day is an adventure. I love that I get to learn a little about so many different topics, that I get to formulate articles and blogs and press releases and even ebooks. Every day is a beckoning challenging, and I am ready to meet it today, tomorrow and into the future.

I want to thank everyone who has supported me on this journey. You have no idea what your confidence means to me.

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Did Tim Burton Just Steal My Idea?

April 15th, 2012 No comments

As some of you may know, not know, or know and not really care all that much, I recently released a satirical short story called, “Employment Interview With A Vampire”, featuring a severely anachronistic vampire named Nathaniel who struggles to adapt to the current century.

Cover of J Bennett's short story - Employment Interview With A Vampire

A while ago, I went to see The Hunger Games in theaters. There I was, eagerly anticipating some delightful child-on-child violence when I was accosted by a preview for Dark Shadows, a new Tim Burton film featuring, you guessed it, an anachronistic vampire struggling to adapt.

Coincidence?

Check out the trailer and then come back.

The trailer features a scene where Burton’s anachronistic vampire, Barnabas (played by Johnny Depp) sees a television for the first time and exclaims “what sorcery is this?”

Compare that to a specific line in “Employment Interview With A Vampire”:

“I demand tea each noon when I arise,” Nathaniel says, “and I expect you to learn the magics of the television so that you can bespell the TiVo to show Law & Order at my whim.”

A little too similar if you ask me.

There are certainly some differences between my story and Mr. Burton’s upcoming movie. The main characters have different names and Dark Shadows takes place in the 1970s, but couldn’t these variances also be the small tweaks someone might make who is attempting to cover their trail? Like a schoolchild copying his best friend’s essay and changing a couple of words here and there so the teacher doesn’t notice.

Now, I can already hear the naysayers (possibly in the pay of Tim Burton) who might suggest that Tim Burton is not the villain but the victim. According to Wikipedia, that bastion of truth, filming for Dark Shadows, began in May, 2011, a full ten months before “Employment Interview With A Vampire” was published in March of this year.

 Could it be that I stole Tim Burton’s idea and not the other way around? All I can say is that anything can be bought, or actually freely changed when it comes to Wikipedia.

Of course, even with the similarities between my story and Dark Shadows, would Tim Burton, an incredibly successful producer, director and writer stoop so low as to steal a story idea from an unknown writer? The very idea seems ridiculous, but nevertheless, I did some digging into Burton’s past. Accompanied by a peppy montage melody, I typed away at my computer, pulled books off the shelf at the local library, looked through old newsreels, scribbled notes, rubbed my eyes, tapped my pen against my lip as I struggled to make connections and…finally, gaped in shock as I revealed Burton’s dark and dirty secret.

woman studying

Accurate depiction of me in the midst of a hardcore research montage

What I discovered was this: Three of Burton’s past blockbuster movies, Alice in Wonderland, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Sleepy Hollow were all direct rip offs of little known books. In all three cases, Burton didn’t even bother changing the name of the title or the names of any of the main characters.

Like me, I’m sure you’re incredibly disgusted by this scandalous revelation. I just can’t imagine for the life of me why the whistle hasn’t been blown on Burton until now. My only theory is that Hollywood protects its own. Also, I’m pretty sure Johnny Depp is in on the whole thing.

So, did Tim Burton steal my brilliant anachronistic vampire idea? Perhaps we’ll never know. All I can say is that given Burton’s seedy past, nothing would surprise me.

And Mr. Burton, if you’re reading this, don’t think you can shut me up. Sending Johnny Depp over with flowers in chocolates probably won’t change my mind about speaking out against you…though maybe you should send Johnny over anyway just in case. Make sure he doesn’t forget the chocolates.

P.S. For all of those interested, Tim Burton did take the idea for Dark Shadows from someone else…just not me. According to Wikipedia, the film is based on a gothic soap opera from the 1960’s also called Dark Shadows, which Tim Burton and Johnny Depp have mentioned being huge fans of. The film rights for the property were lawfully acquired by Warner Brothers after which Tim Burton was brought onto the project. The movie opens in theaters May 11th.