NOW IS THE TIME

From a recent article in SUCCESS From Home by John C. Maxwell entitled “The Law of Intentionality“…

Five frogs are sitting on a log. Four decide to jump off. How many are left?

Answer: Five. There’s a difference between deciding and doing.

 

I love this. Thank you, Mr. Maxwell.

This year? JUST JUMP OFF!

THE IDES OF JANUARY

 

2012. Quite a year.

Published my second book.

Battled Writer’s Block, my weight, and encroaching old age.

Wrote a lot of content, did a lot of brand building for clients big and small – most notably as a long-term consultant and “creative director for hire” with Appliance Therapy Group.

Buried my BFF (Best Feline Friend) of 18 years – Mojo. Rescued my two new BFF’s – the orange/tortoiseshell, brother/sister team of Mozz and Hidee.

Missed my mom. Celebrated my 32nd year of marriage to the same patient, loving woman. Spent serious quality time with my daughter Caitlin, moved her from Santa Barbara to San Diego State and cheered her efforts in the Masters program there (one smart cookie, my girl). Re-connected with many old friends in person and via Facebook – not to mention my brothers in Sigma Chi (thanks to a long-overdue, still-treasured SB reunion).

Read “The Great Gatsby” for the 47th time. I like it.

Started the next two books, lost 40 pounds…and consequently triumphed over the ravages of time for at least one more year.

2013 is the year of my new book, CREEK SONGS (and Other Seductions). It’s a collection of poems, short stories and memories – deeply personal, yet easily accessible — and certainly evocative of growing pains we all have experienced along the way. Such was my intention in the writing and so I’ve been told by those kind enough and brave enough to give it a read of late.

CREEKSONGS was born from a need to first tell my story to myself…to remember, and appreciate, and listen – really listen — to the songs of my youth. The lessons of experience.

But no writer writes just for himself. Deny it all you want. Tell me how you’re different or people are different or situations demand that it be different. Writer’s want to be heard. The more I listened, the more I wanted to share. The more I came to the realization that my songs are your songs, our songs, everybody’s songs. We all heard them. We all danced to them (and continue to do so). Some of us stopped listening long ago. Some never stopped. Most fall somewhere in between. And there is wisdom, and truth, and resolution in the listening.

I wrote this book for all of us…and I’d love to hear what you think about it.

CREEK SONGS available here.

Please post your reactions on Facebook.

SPECIAL COLOR-PHOTO EDITION (SIGNED AND DATED) available upon request via scotsimmons@mac.com.

 

WRITE WHAT YOU KNOW? NO.

“Write what you know.” Common-sense common wisdom for writers. Headline advice…dispensed as many times as there are words in the dictionary.

What I have to say about that is certainly not news…nor is it in any way earth-shaking (or paradigm-shifting). Just an observation sparked by something I saw on PBS this week. I’ll get to that later, but the core of what I want to throw out there is this: writing effectively and evocatively is not a question of writing what you know. Good writing often rises from the still-warm ashes of memory and experience, yes, but it is empowered by passion and imagination and risk.

And “risk” is perhaps the most important element of all. Every time a writer sits down with a blank space to fill, he or she risks exposure, ridicule, and worse…indifference.

Einstein said “Imagination is more important than knowledge.”

Sportswriter Red Smith said “Writing’s easy. All you do is sit down and open a vein.”

Ray Bradbury said “Find the Metaphor.”

All have bearing on this discussion, but finding the metaphor that drives your writing doesn’t necessarily depend on what you have experienced directly. It depends on what shapes, directs, fires and inspires your thoughts. your feelings and your imagination.

Which brings me back to PBS. A State Parks special on PBS this week opened my eyes to a view that I enjoyed most of my young life, without ever knowing the truth behind that experience. Angel Island.

I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area. I occasionally visited Angel Island on a cub scout hiking trip or family getaway picnic. What I learned just this week is that historically, Angel Island was considered to be the “Ellis Island of the West.” In the early part of the 20th Century, Chinese immigrants were taken from the point of their arrival in San Francisco harbor and detained at Angel Island “for investigation under the auspices of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882” for weeks, months, sometimes years before either being allowed to enter the city or being deported.

In 1974 the forgotten, dilapidated station house and barracks were scheduled for demolition – an act that would have effectively buried all signs that what happened there did, in fact, happen. Carvings were found on the walls of the barracks…Chinese characters carved into the soft pine planks…poetry left behind by those held against their will – “detained” on Angel Island.

Like the story of the Japanese internment camps, this story draws attention to one of our less-than-prouder moments as a state (and indeed as a nation), but it serves a different purpose for my discussion here. These marks reflect an experience – pain, hope, loss, determination. Just seeing the pictures speaks to the writer in all of us…the writer that eavesdrops on such everyday experiences as conversations at a lunch counter; or notices interaction in an elevator; or pays attention to the way people walk, or laugh or cry. That writer absorbs the story of Angel Island and begins to write a thousand stories in his or her head…stories that speak to the human condition, the American Dream, the inspiration and pathos and sobering reality of who and what we are.

Look around you. You don’t have to live it to love it. Risk.

Find the metaphor.

Found on the walls of the Angel Island Immigration Station and barracks:


Ox Poem

Instead of remaining a citizen of China, I willingly became an ox.
I intended to come to America to earn a living.
The western styled buildings are lofty; but I have not the luck to live in them.
How was anyone to know that my dwelling place would be a prison.

Revenge Poem

Leaving behind my writing brush and removing my sword, I came to America.
Who was to know two streams of tears would flow upon arriving here?
If there comes a day when I will have attained my ambition and become successful,

I will certainly behead the barbarians and spare not a single blade of grass.

LET’S BE REASONABLE. NOW.

“The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”

This is actually the close to a recent article (“Tech community, are we MTV or TED?”) written by Francisco Dao and published in the Innovations section of The Washington Post. Being a literary kind of guy, I am often tempted to begin with a quote when discussing matters of import. So since this is my blog, that’s how we’re gonna roll.

I like to keep up with technology – if only for the reason that one must pay minimal attention if one is interested in making a simple (simple?) phone call these days. And while I’m not particularly interested in why “so many great developers spending their time trying to create products specifically designed to addict and help us waste our time?” or “whether members of the technology community have lost the ambition to build lasting companies that contribute to productivity instead of another “flavor of  the month” social media application” I am aware of how this postulation speaks to the present human condition.

Dao makes the point that the basic business model “seems to be: Get a TechCrunch writeup, make a lot of noise, cash out guickly and maybe linger on as a pseudo tech celebrity.”

I see it as pretty much the model for success in the world today. Too simplistic? Perhaps. It bothers me, however, that fast-food “reality” TV is seemingly taking over the air waves; that there is no space program anymore; that news is really not news; that the number of kids graduating from college with zero background in critical thinking and expectations of a wide open job market is legion; that this country doesn’t really “make” anything anymore (except noise); that…OK, I’m ranting a little.
Dao encourages our technical community to take a second look at our perceptions of ourselves as exception and deserving of the mantle of intellectual superiority.” He further issues a challenge to “think more independently, to question our aspirations and to reexamine our heroes.” Bottom line: He concludes that the “current bubble we face isn’t driven by valuation or funding but by our acceptance of mediocrity.”
I think the hero thing is key. The world is not an easy place to live in right now. Well, Duuuhhh. Question your choice of heroes – and look for the ones that do more than make noise or make waves or make the scene. Look for the ones that actually make a sacrifice, make a difference, take a stand. Don’t be fooled by the social proof saviours or the weeping platitude brokers or the down-with-reason ragers.

Embrace reason. Substance. Sustainability. And HEROIC vision.

LISTEN MY CHILDREN…

Just finished reading Katie Stansberry’s parody “10 Reasons to Ban Pens and Pencils in the Classroom” in Mind/Shift – an online forum which, according to curator Tina Barseghian “explores the future of learning in all its dimensions.”
Here’s a taste…
“According to a recent MSNBC article, 69% of high school currently ban cell phones. But you’d be hard-pressed to find a school anywhere that has enacted a blanket ban on pens and pencils. Here are 10 reasons to reconsider the widespread acceptance of these distracting and potentially dangerous implements.
1.    Pens and pencils are distracting. The tapping, clicking, flipping and rolling can drive just about any teacher around the bend. I remember a happy indoor recess spent throwing newly sharpened pencils at the classroom ceiling trying to make them stick.
2.    Writing implements are dangerous. I still have a small lump of lead imbedded in the soft, fleshy area between my thumb and pointer finger. It’s a souvenir from a mini-sword fight that occurred between my close friend and I in third grade. She won.
3.    Pens can be used to cheat. Now that I’m at the head of a classroom instead of behind a desk, I’ve seen some ingenious cheating techniques. One student managed to write an entire history of media studies on the bottom of their shoe. I’ve also found forearms covered with vocabulary words, ankles tattooed with definitions, and hands dyed with smeared blue ink.” (more)
Very clever stuff. And it got me thinking. Seriously, it might not be such a bad idea. And while we’re at it, let’s keep all electronic devices out of the classroom as well. No laptops, notebooks, Androids, Apples or Abacus’ either. Nothing. Nada. Zilch.
Overkill? I think not.
As a former English teacher and current brand facilitator, I’d settle for anything that would support simple LISTENING. If there’s nothing on your desk but your folded hands and nothing in your hands at all, the default position just might be to LISTEN.
Remember lecture classes in college? Those huge theatres of learning with the professor droning and the students diligently scribbling and furiously turning to the next page so as not to miss a word?  (Historical Note: I’m speaking here from my college experience in the days before electricity. Today it would be punching and scrolling.)
There was never a lot of actual LISTENING going on as I recall. We got the words down, but didn’t always pick up the meaning, the nuance. And if we didn’t think something was going to be on the next test, we didn’t scribble or listen. We just took a breather.
I’m sure it’s not that different today. It certainly isn’t demonstrably different in the corporate world of my current experience. I make it a rule to separate my client from all forms of distraction – from scribblers to tappers to cell phones to intercoms to ipads – in the singular interest of ensuring silence. Know why?
Here’s the clincher. “SILENT” and “LISTEN” each contain the same letters.
I know. Deep.
But here’s the thing. LISTENING is becoming a lost art. In the classroom and in the boardroom. In Parliament and Congress and the Oval Office as well. Listen to the news.
Here’s an idea. Instead of bowing to the pressure of formulating a response before the speaker has formulated a finish…instead of making sure you transcribe every word before you start actually thinking about the concept…instead of focusing on the expression of your agenda before you understand what the other guy’s is…try turning off everything but your brain and putting your empty hands on the desk and…
Let’s bring back LISTENING!

ONE PERCENT. LESS THAN ONE PERCENT, ACTUALLY.

 That’s what separates us genetically from a creature that is as happy in the trees as he is on land, whose upper body strength is more than five times that of a man, and whose powerful jaws could take your hand off with a single bite. A creature that came before us and still shares our world. A creature we traditionally relegate to circus tents, jungle movies, zoos, and, yes, “research” labs.

The creature that is the titular subject of the novel Mr. Coleman by Scot A. Simmons – a chimpanzee.