Book Review: A Creative Companion



A Fair Trade Book

Title: A Creative Companion

Author: SARK (Susan Ariel Rainbow Kennedy)

Author’s web site: planetsark.com

Date: 1991

Publisher: Celestial Arts

ISBN: 0-89087-651-7

Length: 80 pages

Illustrations: drawings on almost every page, some in color

Quote: “It is good to read this book lying down, because that is how it was written.”

Like other SARK books, this one is a collection of calligraphy and cartoons, plus poems, quotes, a few photos, an occasional story. SARK lives in, for, with, and of creativity. Her brooks are wacky, goofy, intimate, inspiring, and fun guides for fellow artists.

This one tells us how to shake loose our creative blocks and build castles with them. You’ve probably heard of unblocking yourself by working with your less dominant hand, talking to someone much older or younger than you, or taking a long brisk walk. These techniques work, and SARK tells us about them, but she knows goofier ones too.

“Lying down” and “naps” are mentioned often, for a reason. Sleep deprivation is known to cause that “blocked” feeling. On the other hand, when creative people give our bodies the rest they need, they reward us with inspiring dreams.

When you’re rested, alert, and ready to write or draw, A Creative Companion offers lots of simple, affordable brain teasers to get you started. Some pages are left partly blank to encourage you to answer questions and fill in decorations. Five pages contain scaled-down versions of SARK’s original calligraphy posters; some of the black-and-white pages are suitable for photocopying, enlarging, and embellishing so that you become SARK’s “creative companion” in finishing the posters. (Attention any plagiarists who know how to read: SARK’s style is quite distinctive—if you tried selling these posters as your own, they’d be recognized.)

There are some artistic problems A Creative Companion won’t help you solve, such as thinking of something fresh or original to say on a topic a commercial sponsor has requested…but these techniques will go a long way.

SARK is alive and well and fundraising to help pay for expenses related to her partner’s cancer treatment. If you can possibly afford it, buy her books (this one and as many others as possible) new from planetsark.com to show respect. A Creative Companion is widely available secondhand, so I can resell clean used copies as Fair Trade Books for the usual $5 per book + $5 per package, from which SARK or a charity of her choice will receive $1. But check planetsark.com first; you might find as good a price there.

Book review cat, courtesy of Morguefile:

blogjob cat



The Zombie Apocalypse of Priscilla King

How do some people get into some messes? If I’d anticipated writing horror fiction, I certainly would not have chosen a screen name that happens to sound like the name of the, er um, absolute monarch of horror fiction…

Earlier this fall I was commissioned to write some zombie apocalypse stories. I hadn’t read any, and still wouldn’t call myself familiar with the rules of a genre that deals mainly in gross-outs. But I have read most of Stephen King‘s novels (I don’t recommend them unless you’re a fast reader; I am). I’m not related to him and wouldn’t even list him as a favorite author but he is very, very good at what he does. I have a lot of respect for his thoughts on the writing process. I set myself to the task of writing a short story sequence that wouldn’t totally disgrace Big Steve’s family name. Terror, horror, gross-outs, and the occasional sick joke.

Well, zombies are about as un-auntly as a topic can be. “Priscilla King” is the official, registered business name of an auntly writer. And I have to admit I’m on unfamiliar and unsteady ground. The important thing about an action story is that the action needs to work; if it’s fiction, and the writer doesn’t reality-test the action sequence s/he creates, it’s always possible for a writer to envision and write–however well–an action scene that would not work in real life. Even if a writer can call a friend and have fun wrestling around and blocking out a fight scene (and fight scenes were stipulated in the contract), what’s possible for friends having fun might not work in a real life-and-death fight.

Due to the virus going around, our aging and vulnerability, and the timeline for publication, I wrote and submitted a couple of zombie stories without even wrestling through the fight scenes. The client terminated the contract, as allowed under its terms, without explaining whether that was because he didn’t believe the fights, because he missed Bob and Ray (no worries, they’ll be back), or just because my zombie apocalypse vision was shaping up differently from his.

One of my rules is that if I write something for payment, and the client who requested it doesn’t use it, I have to publish it somewhere to protect my copyright. Another of my rules is that my Blogspot and Blogjob sites are family-friendly for all ages–absolutely no zombies. So, the zombies have to go on Live Journal, on a separate, family-filtered LJ account.

The first two installments of my zombie apocalypse have been published in another’zine. The second two have been written but not (yet) published. Others, enough to make a novel-in-freestanding-stories, have been loosely outlined but not written; whether they’re written or not depends on how readers react to the first two.

Here’s what I can say about the zombie apocalypse stories-or-novel. It’s not “supernatural”; in the zombie genre, I learned, “zombie apocalypse” does not involve any questions of belief about either the afterlife or the Final Apocalypse; these stories are about a hypothetical pandemic disease that may or may not kill enough humans to destroy civilization-as-we-know-it. The genre makes up for that loss of terror (while leaving room for emotional terror about bad things happening to good characters) in gross-outs. Lots of medical information, along with the medical speculation; to make any story into a movie would take buckets of fake blood.

Emotional trauma was a requirement for the original contract, and all aunts know more about that than we normally inflict on other people. Lots of bad things happen to good people. Lots of cross-gender violence (fight scenes probably tested by a heterosexual couple, after all). Children, animals, and grandparents may be involved (although there won’t be zombie animals, because nothing can be added to Pet Sematary). Heroes from one story may become victims in another story. In what’s been published so far we’ve had an elderly church lady zombifying while her husband, her best friend, and a doctor have been trying to help her, and killing her husband; we’ve had a man having to kill a woman on whom he’s had a crush. In what will soon be published we have an old lady accidentally killing a ratbag relative before she finds out that that’s been possible only because he’d become a zombie (so now she has to kill his wife too), and a truly great-grandfather who may or may not survive killing a zombie.

It won’t get warmer or fuzzier. A zombie apocalypse is by definition about a different kind of zombies than Piers Anthony’s magically animated, tragically ugly but mostly nice characters (as in Zombie Lover). They need killing, if they have any human consciousness left they want killing, and the only way to kill them is to reduce them to small pieces and destroy the pieces. Try to be nice to them and die–horribly. If you want to be grandiose and literary you can say they represent evil misbeliefs more than people, but they’re embodied as characters that used to be people. In real life I don’t believe there are many situations where it’s really necessary to destroy a human body in order to overcome evil. In zombie fiction that’s how it’s done.

Triggers: if the whole novel ever gets written, probably all triggers I’ve ever heard of. Squick level: maximum. Family-filter activation: I see no need to type out every vulgar word or linger over descriptions of every wound, and zombies are by definition nonsexual, but that doesn’t mean that body parts I don’t normally mention may not be featured in stories–torn out, flung about, eaten…Totally un-auntly, and not recommended to The Nephews even when they’re fifty years old, because I’m not interested in provoking them to competing gross-outs. In real life I do try to limit our gross-out fests to discussions of spiders, bugs, and snakes.

Redeeming social value: All these stories were meant to accomplish was a small part of funding the infrastructure to keep my web sites afloat, which costs about $150 a month (mostly for Internet connection maintenance). However, they do incorporate what I know about survival and emergency prepared-ness, and I’ve survived a fair amount. If you don’t enjoy horror fiction you certainly don’t need to read it for that information, but the information is in the fiction.

Cost: The first two stories have been published and paid for. The second two will be published via an unfortunately complicated crowdfunding process (they’ll be online, but people will have to pay, using the Paypal button on your left, to read them until they’ve reached their funding goal). Others will be published as they are funded, like most of Elizabeth Barrette‘s speculative-fiction narrative poems; unfortunately, because they don’t fit Blogjob and Google Adsense family-filtering rules, these stories will not be available on Blogjob.

I’m hoping to make a nice, wholesome piece of speculative fiction, with life lessons and family-friendly romance, available at another Blogjob site. To make that happen, and (if you’re a really dedicated blogger) maybe even get paid for your own blogging and blog reading, click here:

https://blogjob.com/?ref=priscillaking

011

Should Students Hire Hack Writers?

I am a hack writer. So far this school term I’ve seen three job requests that I know for sure come from students.

There’s nothing unethical about students working with hack writers, especially foreign exchange students who aren’t seeking degrees in English and don’t want to be unfairly penalized for language issues, student teachers who want to test curriculum materials on reasonably well educated adults who majored in a different field of study, or even students who aren’t interested in the subject of a required course and can’t think of good ideas for projects or papers. There are, however, ethical and unethical ways to do this.

Students should do their own work. I can help you organize your ideas, polish your grammar, find appropriate references. I cannot go to classes for you, read your textbook, or work on a project with your classmates. And if I write your paper for you, I’m guaranteeing you a lower grade than you could probably get all by yourself.

Your teacher is looking for evidence that you remember what you have been paying the teacher to teach you. If you were able to use the same paper on which I or someone else got full marks at a big-name school, your teacher would probably knock at least one letter grade off your score, because, even if the paper were recent enough to look good to an unsuspecting teacher, it would not reflect your work in his or her class.

Hiring a hack writer to write a professional quality article that happens to meet the requirements for your term paper is probably at least as old a college tradition as fighting over girls (or guys) who don’t even care who wins the fight…and using that article as the term paper is almost as stupid and self-destructive.

You can certainly hire a hack writer to write one or more publishable articles on your topic. Hack writers love that kind of job. We get a free refresher course in a subject we might have enjoyed studying, too, ten or twenty or fifty years ago, even if nobody’s been paying us to keep up with that field. You get ideas about possible topics to focus on, ways to organize your outline, and books and web sites to quote. However, if your paper does not refer to things you did in class, you’re cheating yourself out of a grade.

An experience I had at Berea may be instructive. Returning to college after two years at a different college and six years in the workforce, I had to go back and sit through a mandatory general studies course with a lot of seventeen-year-olds whose high schools weren’t up to the same standard as mine. One of the topics for a writing project was particularly uninspiring. Around 9 p.m. on the night before the deadline, I finally thought of something that seemed worth writing about, that at least came from the right historical period. It was an A+ paper all right. It also began with different material than the class had studied, made minimal reference to the material the class had studied, and cited none of the teacher’s ideas. Not only did I have to argue the grade up from a C to a B, I had to make the case to the dean. “I have no idea where she got this, but it’s obviously not from my class!” the teacher griped.

I was able to show that the work was my own, but that teacher still hated me. Because he was a sexist jerk who didn’t want to give an A to a woman? He may have been that…but what I’d written was also a big fat ugly snub to him as a teacher. Granted, he’d wasted a lot of my time explaining to seventeen-year-olds who’d just come out of inferior high schools what my class had done in grade eight. Granted, I was more interested in exploring my own ideas as they had developed out of what I’d done in grade eight. Granted, my eighth grade teacher was a better teacher and probably a better man than that professor at Berea. But did my paper really have to rub those things in? Students can be arrogant, bigoted, overbearing bores, too. If you write a term paper that does not refer to your work in class, you are being one.

If your talents are for things that pay better than writing, and you want a professional writer to help you compensate for that fact, go ahead and hire one. But don’t cheat yourself.

If your school library does not have a collection of other students’ papers, or collects only dissertations and theses, and you need ideas, go ahead and hire me or some other English major–preferably two or three of us–to write sample papers on your topic. That is legal as long as you’re doing it as part of your research. You can use the same properly credited quotes, or read the same sources we’ve used and pick your own quotes. You can even use direct quotes from our papers; the correct form, depending on the style guide your teacher prefers, would be something like “Doe, John. ‘Medical Terminology in the Historical Plays of Shakespeare.’ Unpublished paper, 2015.” Just be sure that you’re working our ideas in with ideas of your own that reflect your class work.

If you want a professional writer to make sure your English is correct, you can pay for that too. Any decent hack writing site, including the one for which I work, will give you a discount if you state up front that you want revisions or corrections instead of independent writing jobs. Do your own research work, be prepared to exchange a few e-mails if your meaning is not clear, and you can legitimately take credit for writing your paper the way you would have written it if English had been your native language.

But I’ve seen some truly ridiculous proposals for writing jobs. One lazy student wanted somebody to write for him an assignment that was, basically, “Write about this week’s discussion in your project group.” How on Earth is any professional writer, anywhere, going to know what you discussed with your project group? There’s nothing wrong with asking me or some other professional writer to edit a rough draft that looks like “As the Project have discuss, One. J. Doe that the Trip for Smithsonian-Museums take have propose…”, but you have to deal with the shyness or laziness or whatever, write that rough draft, and then get help to rewrite it in standard English.

As a bonus, if you do have to write your paper in your native language and use a dictionary or translation software to obtain a very rough translation, a good writing site just might employ someone who recognizes the influence of your native language and can do a good translation. Just give us the chance.

Professional writers want to help customers, not hurt them. By doing their share of their work, students can make it possible for us to help rather than harm their grades.

(To sign off, for Google + purposes, here’s our Morguefile writing cat.)

011

Story: The Queendom of Beauty

Once there was a girl whose name was Aundra. Her mother was the only person she knew who thought this was a pretty name. Nevertheless Aundra was a pretty girl; the prettiest girl in the sixth grade. Everyone else agreed with Aundra’s mother about that.

Perhaps it was hearing herself called “a beauty queen” that gave Aundra the idea of organizing all the other girls in the sixth grade into a Queendom of Beauty.

Aundra was, of course, the Queen. Ruthanne, Diona, Christine, Suzie, and Jennifer were the Court Ladies. Brian, Ryan, Justin, Matthew, Joshua, and Eric were the Palace Guard. Alice, Chellie, Amber, Natalie, Grace, Katie, Sarah Lynn, Brooks, Chad, Sam, Cody, Steve, Tyrone, and Kendall were the Commoners. Crystal, Sarah Jane, Kim, Juniper, Hannah, Cynthia, Clementyne, Van, Rafael, Shaun, Paul, Jason, Fallon, Dylan, Jeremy, and Bentley were the Peasants.

“What do we do?” they asked.

“The Court Ladies stand around admiring the Queen and her beauty,” Aundra said. “The Palace Guard stand around protecting them. The Commoners go around outside being mean to the Peasants. The Peasants just have to take it. They ought to be doing hard labor but there’s not much hard labor to do at school.”

Cody smirked. “Yo, Van! Do my homework for me!”

“Do it yourself,” said Van. “I’m not helping you cheat!”

“Too bad you have to be a Peasant,” said Natalie to Hannah, who was her best friend. “If you hadn’t worn that awful shirt you’d probably get to be a  Commoner.”

Hannah was wearing a Kingsport Fun Fest shirt that had been in her family since 1994. It had pink and purple stripes going around and around the waist. It clashed with Hannah’s red hair. Hannah enjoyed wearing the shirt. “Who wants to be a Commoner?” she sneered. “Peasants got to have Uprisings. Over here, Peasants! Let’s storm the palace with sticks!”

“Let’s not,” said Rafael. “That’s not worth losing recess time for! Let’s play something better, like dodgeball.”

“Hey, yeah!” said Chad, who was Rafael’s best friend. “Dodgeball! Dodgeball!”

Other people began to chant along with Chad. “Dodge-ball! Dodge-ball!” They walked away from Aundra and her Court Ladies and started numbering off teams.

“Oh, Queen Aundra,” said Suzie, “your shark’s head ring looks so beautiful.”

“Oh, that old thing!” Aundra pulled off her shark’s head ring. “It is not beautiful. It is childish, and clashes with my outfit. I don’t think I’m going to wear it any more. It’s only a souvenir from my cousin in Afghanistan. He only got it out of one of those machines where you put in a quarter for a good cause.”

“That makes ten on each side!” hollered Chad from the other side of the playground. “Play ball!”

“Please, Your Majesty, Queen Aundra,” giggled Diona, “we don’t seem to have any Peasants any more. They’re all playing dodgeball.”

“Right,” said Chellie. “Who wants to be a Commoner and not even have any Peasants to pick on? I’m going to play dodgeball too.”

“Deserter!” Aundra said.

“Be fair,” said Ruthanne. “It is a cool, windy day. If we run around and keep warm, it is not too cold. If we just stand around admiring you and making fun of Peasants, it will be too cold. I’m going to play dodgeball too.”

There are several different ways to play dodgeball. At this school they played “shirts against jackets.” If someone wearing a jacket hit someone with his jacket tied around his waist, that person had to put on his jacket. If someone with her jacket tied around her waist hit someone with a jacket on his shoulders, that person had to take off his jacket. It was a fast game, with people pulling their jackets on and off constantly.

“Get back here, Matthew!” screamed Aundra.

“He’s ignoring you,” observed Brian. “You don’t have any Palace Guard any more, either. I resign.” He galloped across the playground to the dodgeball game.

“Well,” said Jennifer, “see you later, Aundra.”

“What kind of best friend are you?” screamed Aundra. “Don’t desert me!”

“Oh, stop being silly.” Katie tried to grab Aundra’s hand. “Let’s go and play dodgeball.”

Aundra threw a very un-beautiful tantrum. “I hate dodgeball! I hate Chad and Rafael! I won’t play! I’m going inside!”

“What’s the matter with her, anyway?” said Jason as Katie and Jennifer joined the game.

Is something the matter with her?” Jennifer asked Katie. “She didn’t eat much lunch.”

The ball bounced past Katie’s leg. She kicked it to Hannah. Hannah kicked it back. Jennifer kicked it into the circle and caught Ryan. They forgot all about what might be the matter with Aundra.

Meanwhile a teacher had told Aundra, “If you don’t want to play, you had better see the nurse.” The nurse had told Aundra to sit still, or lie down, on a cot. As Aundra lay back on the cot, the nurse asked, “What’s that on your leg?”

“What’s what?” said Aundra weakly.

“This.” The nurse looked more closely at her leg. “Does it hurt? Does it itch?” It itched. Aundra’s temperature was high; there were more spots on her other leg, on her arms, and one on her neck. “What it is, is chickenpox. You’ll have to stay home for a while,” said the nurse.

Everyone except Fallon had chickenpox next week. Fallon had had chickenpox when he was just three years old. He still had two scars on his face, which was why Aundra had made him a Peasant. As a result he and a few fourth and fifth grade students had to sit together in one room, doing their separate lessons at the same time, and he bitterly regretted having had chickenpox when they weren’t even good for a vacation from school.

Then the rest of the sixth grade came back to school. Clementyne wanted to come back first. Since she was now the tallest child at school she wanted to play basketball. She scored all the points for ten minutes, then became pale and tired. Fallon passed the ball straight to her. She let it fly through her arms and thump against her ribs. Then she sat down in a corner and was sick. Then she had to stay home for another week.

A few days later, when everyone but Clementyne was back in school, Jennifer said, “Are we going to have a Queendom of Beauty again? I’ll be the Queen. You can still be a Court Lady.”

Aundra turned the shark’s head ring on her finger and said, “Oh, shut up!”

She had four scars on her face.

“Let’s play dodgeball!” said Van, who had a scar, too, but his hair covered it most of the time.

Chad and Rafael started chanting. Aundra started chanting, too. “Dodge-ball! Dodge-ball!”

During the winters when I was in grades six and seven, when there wasn’t much gardening to do and we’d outgrown the Shetland Pony, my brother and I used to slog around the hills after school, making up stories and acting them out. I liked stories about girls who wanted to be pretty and popular; my brother liked stories with a lot of running and shouting in them. I think this one was our best effort.

There really was a girl called Aundra at our school. She was older, and neither of us knew anything about her except that she had a pretty face and an unusual name. Both of us liked hiking, bicycling, or swimming better than tennis and tennis better than dodgeball, but what students were allowed to play at our elementary school was dodgeball. Only senior high school students were trusted to bring tennis rackets to school!

However, the character in this story who’s most like me is Clementyne. I had chickenpox during summer vacation, wanted to get up too soon, and collapsed on a half-mile walk. It’s important not to try to do too much too soon after chickenpox.

(Picture from Pedrojperez at www.morguefile.com/archive/display/923338/ :

IMG_5517

Three Athletes Who Write Poetry

What does a poet look like? It’s a trick question, but admit it—footballer Rashard Mendenhall, basketballer Etan Thomas, and baseballer Fernando Perez aren’t exactly what came to your mind. Nevertheless, a few years ago, USA Weekend profiled these three athlete-poets. I turned up the clipping and thought it might be fun to search the Net for what they’ve written, and what’s been written about them, lately…

Rashard Mendenhall became a professional writer. 

The former running back for the Pittsburgh Steelers transferred to the Arizona Cardinals for one season, then retired from football at age twenty-six. (Well, he’d been injured.) He writes for the TV comedy series Ballers, starring Dwayne Johnson (“The Rock”).

Mendenhall recently told Men’s Journal that the best book he’d read lately was The Prophet, by Khalil Gibran. He may be writing for the commercial screen these days, but he’s still into poetry.

Then again, he’s also identified Quiet Strength by Tony Dungy, and The Autobiography of Malcolm X, as favorite books. For his NFL video profile, he was told he couldn’t mention The Autobiography of Malcolm X. Apparently some people don’t remember how the book (and Malcolm X’s life) ended with a rejection of hate and violence. Tsk!

https://www.mensjournal.com/adventure/races-sports/rashard-mendenhall-the-real-player-behind-ballers-20150701

Etan Thomas has written two books.

The former Washington Wizard wrote a collection of poems called More Than an Athlete and a book called Fatherhood, but if you visit https://etanthomas.com/ what you’ll see will be his collection of younger people’s work, (Etan Thomas Presents) Voices of the Future. More Than an Athlete is also available as a CD with a music soundtrack described as “impactful.”

Also at Thomas’s website, you’ll see a photo of Thomas towering over President Obama. Thomas’s politics could be described as leftist; he’s dedicated money and energy to the #BlackLivesMatter campaign, and he worked with President Obama’s campaign for reelection in 2012.

Thomas is often described as a “gentle giant” (his only alternative would be “mean giant”), but he recently scolded Charles Barkley for calling the Ferguson looters “scumbags.”

https://www.thenation.com/article/open-letter-charles-barkley/

Much as this web site disapproves of the article linked above, I think the one linked below makes some excellent points.

https://www.thenation.com/article/an-open-letter-to-richard-sherman/

The possibility exists that future generations of students may be required to read the best work of this versatile athlete. It’s even possible that, although Thomas clearly thinks his mission is to encourage young Black men to be good fathers and citizens, he may also write about other aspects of his life that seem unusual…like being 6’10”, or like being (predictably) a basketball player who (less predictably) writes poetry.

Fernando Perez 

The former Tampa Bay Rays fielder still lists baseball as his main occupation. Back in the minor leagues these days, Perez doesn’t seem to be publishing yet. He lists poets Robert Creeley and John Ashberry, travel writer Tom Miller, and authors Herman Hesse, Annie Dillard, and Howard Zinn, as favorites.

If published, Perez told the New York Times years ago, he’ll be published under a different name “so that [his work is] taken on its own merits.” While sports celebrity status undoubtedly boosted Mendenhall’s and Thomas’s writing careers, Perez wants to avoid being boosted as a writer by his success in baseball.

Image courtesy of Eric Kilby at Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/ekilby/2849508261

Ads Should Accentuate the Positive

Actually these are reasonable blogging tips, but the only reason why I know it was that I was looking for a browser-friendly example of off-putting advertising…and here, in return, are some advertising tips.

Granted, I’m not rich. Also granted, even when I was fairly well off, I avoided spending money on things that “had to be ‘sold'” and did most of my shopping in charity-related stores. About the only things I normally buy “unused” are food, shoes, and underwear. And I don’t even own a television set.

Nevertheless I note that advertisers are, for no obvious reason, trying to “target” me with a selection of ads that somebody out there thinks fit my online profile. I suppose, if advertisers just can’t keep from using the Internet to generate spammy ads (“Enhance Your Manhood, Priscilla!”), they seem more credible when they pay some attention to what people read. But this idea goes only so far. The fact that I might be doing a paid research job that involves reading an article about heroin addiction does not mean I’ve ever considered using heroin, or even talked to anyone (so far as I know) who has.

A few years ago I wrote about what Hobby Lobby stores could do to get more money from me, since money I spend there is business-related and generally a profitable investment. The article generated a thousand page views in one day, some undoubtedly from Hobby Lobby marketers. It did not mention offering “downloadable coupons” in exchange for spyware.

You do not need to spy on me to find out what I’d be likely to pay for, or pay more for. I told you…craft stores in that article, and all kinds of other stores, weekly, on Yougov. You need to listen when your customers tell you things like, in the case of Hobby Lobby, restocking the wide range of name-brand items skilled professional crafters buy, which was what made your store a big chain, and phasing out the store brands and losing most of the bulky prefab junk.

But I really felt moved to write this after noticing how instinctively I scrolled up or down to keep the part of an article that displayed beside an ugly image off my screen. [That article was at a magazine site where I was doing research for a paid article, earlier this week.]

First of all, even when pictures are pretty, and I like a pretty picture as much as anyone else does–pictures do not really work all that well with computers. Computers are all about numbers. They seem to convert those numbers into letters and punctuation marks fairly efficiently. They are less efficient with pictures. Any kind of graphic on a web site eats up memory, which with some computers, or with some research I do where I open ten different windows at once, is in short supply.

Also, since I visit a web site for the words, any picture that’s not directly related to the real content–the text–is clutter.

And if the picture is ugly, I have to wonder: Are you trying to sell anything–in which case the ugly-ad campaigns are certainly not succeeding–or just trying to sabotage the web site that’s hosting your ad?

The ugly ad I have in mind was yet another of that endless series of ads that presumably try to market something related to health and fitness–note that I’ve never even wanted to find out what–by shoving pictures of underdressed obese people in prospective customers’ faces.

What could the point possibly be? Everybody has already seen obese people. I’ve never reacted to the sight of an obese person with the thought, “I want to buy something.” I react to the sight of people like the models and cartoons in these ads with “What a pity that that person has a disease; I can’t do anything else for her/him but at least I don’t have to look.”

If you’re trying to sell the idea of health and fitness, why, for logic’s sake, are you not showing images of health and fitness? Why do you want me to think “I don’t have to look” instead of “Wow, that looks like fun!” Where are the images of sleek healthy people running, swimming, dancing, throwing frisbees, doing gymnastics moves, playing sports, sailing, surfing, riding bicycles, frolicking with dogs or horses or children, or even painting their own walls? Do the soda pop commercials of my youth own all the video clips of beautiful bodies in motion?

And, although a computer screen puts enough strain on the eyes without filling the screen with the kind of huge words and tiny print that characterize medical journals, we need a happy medium on the chumminess, too. Yes, the general tone of web sites and e-mails is usually casual. “Casual,” however, should mean collegial among adults, rather than cutesy-wutesy, heavy-handed adult-to-the-dear-little-kiddies.

I read a fair amount of legal and medical material, and some technical material, that’s not edited down for the layperson. I’d be happier with some of it, and think doctors, lawyers, and engineers might also be happier with some of it, if it weren’t quite so specialized…maybe run past an intern? But I’d rather stretch my mind, if necessary, to absorb something aimed at graduates and interns in a different field, than try to squash myself down into a kindergarten-sized desk or the cognitive equivalent of one.

You are not “my best friend,” and you sound more like someone I might someday want to call a friend if you bear that in mind. Like that batch of blog tips at the top of the page. Does my content, shall we say, reek? I think some of it does. But how would you know, Sheownsit writer? Have you read any of my content? I don’t think so. You’re posting generic complaints about online writing generally; by and large those complaints describe some other sites more accurately than they do mine. So why are you picking a fight with a description of my content that automatically generates a reaction like “Hah! At least I know that to ‘hock’ something means to pawn it, and to ‘hawk’ it means (among other possible things) to market it with raptor-like aggressiveness…what do I have to learn from you?”

I’m not a Positive Thinker; I prefer to deal with things I don’t like in the real world, rather than try to live in a feel-good fantasy world. But when you’re selling things, why would you want me to perceive those things as things I’m not going to like, even before I find out exactly what they are?

Why weren’t those blog tips titled “Why We Like These Sites” or “Five Things I Wish Some Writers Would Learn”?

Why aren’t those fitness ads showing images of bodies the customers might want to look like?

Why, even if you persist in the delusion that all e-mail users are men, would you cast aspersions on our (or our mates’) “manhood”?

Do yourselves a favor, advertisers. Rent the classic Eddie Murphy movie Boomerang. This time, instead of fast-forwarding to the scenes with the pretty girl in them, pay attention to the part everybody wants to skip, where Eddie Murphy’s character bungles his job. Then watch it again and pay attention to why nobody wants to pay attention to that part. Then ask yourselves: “We say we learn things ‘visually’ and yet, as long as this movie’s been out, we’re still making the same stupid mistakes this comedy character made in 1992? What has been going on?”

011

Where Do I Find the Links for the Link Logs?

(Short answer: if you read other people’s stuff on the Internet you, too, will soon be sorting through hundreds of links to pick the top ten or top fifty for re-sharing. Thanks to +Sandy KS for asking a good question!)

Where do I find the links for my Link Logs? Each web site I’ve used has generated a blog feed of its own as I’ve connected with people there. I’m online at an obscenely early hour this morning, and I’m starting a new blog that I hope will actually generate some revenue as well as publicity, so while waiting for the caffeine to kick in I think I’ll reminisce about my blog and e-mail feeds…

1. Live Journal: Before the Internet, I wrote an appreciative letter to Suzette Haden Elgin. Enough readers had done that that she was publishing Newsletters, which were really mini-magazines, sometimes accompanied by handwritten notes to individual correspondents, but much more about what everybody had been reading–from medical journals to comic strips–than about anybody’s personal affairs. The Newsletters were the sort of thing that naturally worked better in cyberspace. Around the turn of the century Elgin transferred them there, first to short-lived web sites and then to the Ozarque blog at Live Journal. That blog still exists as a memorial. It attracted hundreds of readers, most of whom started LJ blogs of their own. Many of those blogs are still active. Ysabetwordsmith (Elizabeth Barrette), Harvey Rrit (Matthew Joseph Harrington), and Language Log (University of Pennsylvania teachers and friends) are reliable daily sources of thought-provoking fun stuff. I’m sorry to admit that, because LJ is based overseas, designed to work best with foreign browsers, therefore full of quirks and glitches when it interacts with U.S. browsers, I’ve neglected that site and probably discouraged a few e-friends there.

2. Associated Content: I was a paid writer for this “content farm” site during the years when it prospered. AC encouraged writers to interact in helpful ways. Groups of e-friends formed. +Lyn Lomasi , +Theresa Wiza , and +Coral Levang were three AC writers who’ve stayed active in cyberspace and maintained e-contact with me.

3. Tea Parties: AC was politically neutral before it sold out to left-leaning Yahoo. Petitions that circulated via AC, many of them sponsored by Republican-husband-and-Democrat-wife Newsmax, brought me into contact with a lot of political bloggers, writers, activists, and news sites from a wide range of positions. I’m on dozens of e-mail lists and file a few hundred political news e-mails in the Bacon Folder daily. The feeling that U.S. citizens are “Taxed Enough Already,” the belief that governments should respect private property rights (as discussed in the Bible), and the belief that Obamacare is neither ethically acceptable nor economically sustainable, are not limited to the Extreme Right, although I know some nice people on the Extreme Right. These views are actually bipartisan. I get e-mail from Tea Parties affiliated with the Democrats, Greens, and Libertarians as well as the Republicans. I’ve tried to move that whole department to Freedom Connector because I think that site needs more activity (and funding, if any of us can spare any) and, being U.S.-only, is a better site for discussions of our political issues than the more general, more global sites.

Personally, I’ll accept the label “conservative” about domestic fiscal policy, as long as people respect my right to be “liberal” about people: I think race is a lingering myth, cultural diversity is fun, women are generally superior to men but should concede equality as a useful fiction, abortion is so horrible that nobody should judge women who’ve survived it, and who cares what people get up to in their own bedrooms as long as they don’t gross everyone else out by publicizing it. Which is the kind of liberal thinking that can be considered “libertarian,” and although I think some of the kind of “victimless crimes” the Libertarians defend are not in fact victimless, I do think public funds shouldn’t be wasted on victimless crimes. And I’m also “Green” in the sense of believing that people can and should live in harmony with the other living creatures in their part of the world.

I reserve the right to disagree with anybody, including the shadows of real-life friends and sponsors who form the “we” at the Blogspot. When I post things with which I disagree I feel obligated to explain where and why I disagree. Readers are entitled to their own judgment. And disagreement in no way means I don’t like people, or even support those things that they do with which I don’t disagree. “Don’t you know that Barbara Ehrenreich is a Socialist, that +Stephen Marsh is a Mormon, that Dave Barry makes anti-cat jokes,” etc. Well, yes, those writers mention those things rather often, and no, I don’t think those things invalidate everything else they say.

4. Elected officials: Almost all e-mail from my U.S. Senators, my U.S. Representative, or the U.S. Representative for Danville goes on the Blogspot for its historical value. (Why Danville? Because for a while the Blogspot was functioning as the publisher for the Danville Tea Party.) I get daily e-mail from the White House social media staff, too, far too much to use, and occasionally link to it. (All through the twenty-first century, every U.S. computer user has had the option of joining the White House e-mail list; the Obama administration have worked social media more than the Bush administration did.) Once in a while we get content that qualifies as information rather than campaign material from other elected officials.

5. Writers whose Fair Trade Books I’ve reviewed: A majority of writers who’ve published books don’t do blogs. Many use sites like Facebook or Tumblr that don’t work for me. When I’ve found that a writer maintains a blog that does interface well with mine, I’ve added it to my blog feed. Scott Adams, Neil Gaiman, Liz Curtis Higgs, Dave Barry, and of course Glenn Beck as founder of The Blaze, come to mind as sources of many good links. (Before the Internet it was rare for very successful writers to make the time to become pen friends of all their fans–Ozarque was, so far as I know, unique. Now, for those who maintain blogs and web sites, it’s common. Musicians are doing it too.)

6. Google +: My Blogspot predates Google +. If you go far enough back into the archive you’ll find some of the history…Blogspot used to encourage users to discover one another with a “Next Blog” button, which generated random leaps and few sustainable connections. Then there was Blog-Zug, a German effort that I and some other non-German-speaking bloggers interpreted as “Travel Blog” and failed to understand or use. (It was meant to be a “Blog Train” on which bloggers could meet…if they could read German.) So then Google launched its own networking page with automatic membership for all users of Blogspot and Blogger. Despite some glitches, the worst of which may still be presenting every pretty picture from every site you’ve ever plussed as if it were a picture you had taken and you had offered for everybody in the world to use free of charge, I’ve found some nice things at Google +. +Ruth Cox , +Jasmine Ann Marie , +Susan Zutautas , and +Jeff Sullivan come to mind.

7. Bubblews: The site that promised to pay users, but didn’t, was where I e-met +Marsha Cooper , Callie WVU2 , Arthur Chappell and several other sources of material to which I’ve linked. (Interestingly, although nobody I actually recognize is still using that site, there’s a sucker born every minute and when I checked for activity among old e-friends I found new Bubblers following my long-inactive account. I’ll reactivate that account when I receive the $100 Bubblews promised to pay me and didn’t.)

8. Chatabout: Most of the people I e-met at Chatabout were old e-friends; for a social site it was surprisingly unconducive to e-bonding, but I did discover +Protecto Shell there.

9. Yougov: Yougov doesn’t seem to have been conducive to e-friendship either, and currently seems to have given up even trying, but sometimes their survey results have been worth linking to.

9. Persona Paper: Like The Blaze, Persona Paper offers sponsors flashy ads that, in practice, actually cost these sites readers because they use up memory and may slow down or crash browsers. Even new, expensive browsers. Web hosts who want actual readers should just ban Shockwave Flash and anything similar from their sites. Modest and simple ads are the way to go. The more an ad looks like the sort of cheap, simple, one-time ad taken out by a student trying to resell a bicycle, the more likely I for one am to read it. The more an ad tries to grab my attention, the more resolute I feel about not buying the product. And the kind of “negative ads” that are so common on the Internet, that try to market allegedly health-related products with images of human bodies in disease conditions, can just put me off using a site at all. However, a lot of e-friends post interesting content at Persona Paper…when it works for them.

10. Tsu: It was a nice concept, and I’ve tried using it and linking to it, but Tsu is just too many pictures.

11. Twitter: I avoided Twitter until a local lurker convinced me that “Twitter Mobile” is the only way a lot of people in our part of the world connect to the Internet, so using Twitter would boost local traffic. So now I use Twitter. It’s a memory hog that crashes some browsers but, since all the major news media tweet features and stories, Twitter is a great source of the news stories your local newspaper may have overlooked.

12. Blogjob: Back when I was conscientiously not surfing the Internet and using it only to write paid articles, Blogging for Dummies reported that some blog sites paid bloggers per post. +Sandy KS told me that Blogjob is trying to revive this concept. I’m checking it out. There’s a minimum word count for paid posts and a cap of two blog posts a day, plus pennies for supporting other people’s Blogjob sites, so for the duration of the experiment I’m moving the daily book review post and the next longest post–typically the Link Log–from Blogspot to Blogjob. Although I’ve pre-scheduled a few more book reviews for Blogspot, they’ll be migrating to Blogjob, at least for a while. I will be exploring other Blogjob blogs.

13. And let’s not forget Amazon, even though that site has apparently forgotten us…the contextual ad has been replaced with a lame graphic that doesn’t actually link to anything. Has the “crawler” that’s supposed to find Amazon book links on a page that’s been consistently displaying half a dozen Amazon book links, perhaps, broken down? Has Amazon decided not to bother because nobody’s ever clicked through the contextual ad? Has Amazon decided to stop linking to books and just push the sort of department-store products I don’t promote? Yourall’s guesses are probably as good as mine, Gentle Readers. Anyway, my purpose when I started blogging was to help promote writers and help writers get paid, so the great online book exchange site is a natural source of links.

14. Finally, the easiest way to get your blog added to my blog feed or e-mail lists is to interact with me through anything I’ve posted at any of these sites or at new ones. If you don’t post often, no worries, I just won’t find or link to a lot of your posts. If you post often but mostly in order to advertise something, I’ll be unlikely to read your content. If you’re either a left-winger or a right-winger who just predictably follows your party line, I’ll skim or ignore your posts; if you’re a “winger” or even a Real Wingnut (e.g. Barbara Ehrenreich) but you deliver fresh new information that’s reliable and informative and fun to read, I’ll read and probably endorse your posts. If you write things (or photograph things when I’m using a computer that can handle images, but I usually ignore audio and video content) that are funny or moving or insightful or fresh or informative, I’ll look forward to reading your content whenever I’m online.

Now for a graphic…Google + tends to misplace links to posts that don’t contain graphics. I have a Blogspot graphic, but Google + isn’t picking it up. For those who didn’t know, Morguefile and Pixabay are sites where photographers and graphic artists promote their work by sharing free samples with the world. So let’s see…courtesy of Mensatic, here’s www.morguefile.com/archive/display/974817 . (This is not Grandma Bonnie Peters’ front yard, but it’s the same species of flowers, blooming in similar profusion.)

 

Post About My Blogjob Picture

I want an avatar for this web site. The system doesn’t make them mandatory, but I want one. Back when I was “born” into cyberspace in 2005, nobody else was using the screen name “Priscilla King.” Now there are a couple of hundred of us on Google + alone; several of them insist that that’s their real legal name, in which case I think they shouldn’t be posting it on the Internet anyway. Anyway, if they don’t see a black cat with amber eyes, how will readers know I’m the first one to use this name in cyberspace?

(For those who don’t already know: “Priscilla King” is not my real legal name as an individual, but I’ve been using it long enough to have registered it as the real legal name of my business.)

Fun part: go to Morguefile.com, search for “black cat,” check out the familiar and new cat pictures. Morguefile pictures are available for anyone to use. The site encourages users to “pay” for pictures we gank by donating pictures we’ve taken. I don’t think any of mine are good enough actually.

Somebody’s added a new black cat image. Cat playing with “mouse” on keyboard. Sort of like Viola the Cybercat (a friend’s kitten who contributed some comic relief to the Blogspot, years ago). Cute. Let’s upload it.

Blogjob says the picture is too big. Let’s open Paint and make it smaller. Let’s cut it down to 12.5% of the original size. Yes, the folder description shows that it’s been stored as a much smaller picture now. Save it. Paste in the smaller picture…

Blogjob opens it as if it were exactly the same size it was before–not even Morguefile “magazine” size, but maybe the size of an extra-large centerfold. Much bigger than the computer screen. The part that shows up on the screen is a blur of pixels that doesn’t look like anything; on inspection it’s the far left corner of the original picture, not showing the cat or the laptop.

Try something I know how to do. Paste it into Blogspot. It looks good in Blogspot. Copy the image from there. Paste it into Blogjob. It refuses to paste into Blogjob that way…

Long story short. Here are enough words to make this post count as a Blogjob blog post. Now: