June 03, 2002
The Commitment Thing

Is the following essay a coherent expression of an interesting concept, or just a pep talk to myself? I'm not sure.

I mentioned earlier that I'm discovering (rediscovering?) the power of commitments. While we might generally agree that it's a good thing to keep your commitments to other people -- you know, show up on time, do what you say you're going to do, etc., etc -- there is also a concept that I was introduced to a couple of weekends ago that goes a little deeper. That by establishing that your word is good, you give new power to your word. Your word becomes a tool to create. Since I'm working on my writing and speaking careers, this concept carries a few interesting entendres.

The concept as explained to me -- or rather, as I interpreted it -- goes like this: when I give you my word that I'm going to do something and I fail to follow through, I injure us both... even if only slightly. You are likely to feel let down, even if only a little, by my failing to follow through. I'm late to our appointment, for example. Not the end of the world, certainly, but you're a little put out. Bothered. It doesn't enhance your day, and can only serve to detract from it. Likewise, I feel a little bothered. Disappointed in myself. Rushed or frustrated. It doesn't matter *why* I didn't meet my commitment. The reason may be just as trivial or large as the promise itself. Either way, though, I've made a negative impact on our respective situations.

Likewise, if I fulfill a commitment I've made to you, both of us benefit. Again, you may not end up jumping for joy because I managed merely to meet you at the agreed upon time or followed through on some small favor, but by doing what I'd said I would, you at least feel good that I followed through and we can move forward from this point. I, likewise, feel reliable. I've invested some worth into my word.

Now, I realize this may sound like a load of New Age, touchy-feely nonsense. I've long subscribed to the concept that keeping a contract (however you choose to word it) is of the utmost importance -- whether from the Objectivist Epistemological arguments of Ayn Rand, or simply from the aphorisms my grandfather used to recite to me over and over again ("If the appointment is worth making, it's worth keeping," et al). When you get right down to it, this is the Randian contract as seen from a psychological viewpoint instead of a moral or social context.

But let's take it one step further. When you make a promise to yourself, you are doubling the stakes. When you break a promise to yourself, you are injured both as the promissor who failed to follow through and as the promissee who was failed. Likewise, when you keep your commitment to yourself, you benefit both as the promissor who followed through and as the promissee who was valued.

Now, none of us can keep every single promise we make. For many of us, most of the transgressions tend to be small. "Sorry I was ten minutes late, but traffic was awful." This may be because most of our commitments are actually small in nature. Ultimately, the damage or the benefits of breaking or keeping your word accumulate over time.

If you tend to make your word good, if you make a point of honoring your commitments, then when you give your word, you are more likely to be moved to make it happen. If you keep your promises to yourself and others, you are more likely to keep more of your promises. In other words, you develop a cycle of reinforcement.

(It's fun to note that in the ancient tradition of the Judeo-Christian model, God and the Word were one and the same. Here we have a being whose Word *is* Good, and therefore when the Word is issued, what is said simply... is. "Let there be light!" Lo and behold, there is light.)

So why do I bother mentioning all this mamby pamby mush? Because it provides me with a lever with which I can begin to move myself in the direction I want to go. Because by rededicating my word, I am making more distinctions, better decisions, and stronger commitments. I'm making fewer promises, now, but I'm making those commitments stick. As my word gets better, not only to others but also to myself, I'm finding it less effort to move forward.

A few entries ago, I mentioned that I'd followed through on a commitment to begin writing a new short story and to send out another story for consideration by a publisher. I then made a new commitment: to finish the story I'd started and to have it out by this past Friday. I have to admit, I wasn't feeling terribly moved by this commitment. It was a half-hearted promise to myself, at best.

But I decided that if my word is to have any weight, I have to do what I can to follow through with my declarations. I didn't even decide this with a great deal of deliberate thought. If I had, I think there would have been more of a "chore" aspect to following through. Instead, I simply... did it. Recent habits helped carry me forward. I began Friday with about 1,300 words or so written. By 11pm, I'd written a total of 3,600 words, trimmed 200 back out, and sent it off to my critique group. I'm now intent upon sending it out for consideration by June 15th.

As I develop the habit of keeping these small commitments, I expect to be able to follow through on the larger ones. Like becoming a published novelist. Like becoming a great father to my child/children. Like building a life that matters.

This may all be mumbo jumbo, or it may be the most profound concept ever devised. I'm inclined to think that it falls somewhere between the two extremes. I can, in fact, think of several counterexamples of people whose word was worthless but who nonetheless managed to do big things. However, I do know that renewing this concept of commitment is helping me right now to go where I want to go more effectively than I'd been managing before. So, whether it's legit medicine or just a placebo, I think I'll see how far this concept takes me.


Side note: is this what those "Promise Keeper" groups are all about? Is there some kool-aid I should be drinking? I wonder, but I'm not sure if I really want to know. :-)

Posted by at 12:29 AM in the following Department(s): Essays | Comments (0)
What I Learned Today -- Conformity, part I

So, today I went to "Infant Care" class.

I learned how to bathe a baby and change a diaper.

I learned that toilet training is easier with cloth diapers than with disposables.

When I grabbed the nearest doll (they had these life-sized infant dolls for us to practice upon), it happened to be a black baby doll. When I got to my seat and saw all of the other parents, I noticed that the white parents all got white baby dolls, and the black parents all got black baby dolls. The parents of apparently Asian ethnicity got white baby dolls. Once again, I had mistakenly and inadvertently failed to conform with convention. Luckily, nobody arrested me. But I was a little uncomfortable at having bucked some convention that the room had adopted.

So, I guess I learned that I'm still uncomfortable when I don't conform, even when conformity is stupid.

Posted by at 12:45 AM in the following Department(s): The Boys | Comments (0)
That %$#! TV Show

I'm in a writing critique group that meets on Thursday nights. One of my fellow writers told me that the television series on the WB that has the same premise and working title of my first novel is slated to air on that nefarious network on Thursday Nights starting this fall.


Posted by at 03:11 PM in the following Department(s): Novel-in-Progress | Comments (0)
 June 07, 2002
Spam, spam, spam, spam, baked beans, tomato, and spam

I remember how, a few years ago, friends would whine about the amount of junk e-mail they received. They hated spammers. HATED them. And I'd be thinking, what's the big deal? One or two messages a day -- just delete 'em.

Well, now I get more than my own share of spam, and I understand the problem. When the signal to noise ratio falls below a certain point, one just wants to scream. I receive a great many legit e-mail every day which have to be answered (and, as I've noted here before, I don't answer it, anyway) and twice as much junk e-mail. So, like many others, I've started creating a set of spam filters to presort as much of it out of my e-mail box as possible.

The rules vary from keywords (is the word 'Viagra' in the subject line?) to IP address blocking to phrase matching (is there anything in the body about how the e-mail is sent in strict compliance with US Senate resolution blahbitty blah, blah, blah?). Some days, my spam filter manages to keep the load pretty manageable. Other days, I have to thwart the spammers filter thwarting.

Recently, however, I added a rule quite by mistake. I'd intended to block a certain overused phrase that only appears in spam, but due to an error (a short between the keyboard and the chair), the rule came out as: any e-mail with the word "click" in it is to be treated as spam.

As it so happens, the word "click" doesn't actually appear all that often in non-spam e-mail... except when it's appended to the end of the message by certain web-based e-mail hosts (msnmessenger, hotmail, yahoo). The word is often included in messages from web hosting affiliates of mine, as well. As a result, I'd been missing a few key e-mails these past few weeks. Then again, the number of spam e-mails that actually made it to my Inbox was tiny, tiny, tiny. That, alone, should have tipped me off that there was a problem, but so many other legit messages made it through, it simply didn't occur to me to check.

So I've gotten that problem all sorted out. But now I'm wondering, is there anything similar I can do to filter out unwanted telemarketing calls? (Sorry, that's redundant. "Unwanted telemarketing," I mean.) Anonymous CallID blocking isn't enough.

Any thoughts? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller?

Posted by at 03:53 PM in the following Department(s): Tidbits | Comments (1)
Another Milestone

Sending out my first three chapters of my first completed novel was an important milestone. Sending out my first professional short story submission was another.

Today marks another important milestone in the career of a would-be professional writer: I received my first professional rejection. The short story I'd recently sent out, which also lost two prestigious contests, also failed to interest the slush-pile reader of a well known science fiction magazine. Yee-ha!

Time to send out another one... and to resend that first story. Hmmm. I wonder where to send it next.

The story that I submitted to my critique group last Friday receives its crits on Sunday. I'll polish it up and send it out next week. So there!

Posted by at 06:30 PM in the following Department(s): Writing | Comments (0)
 June 11, 2002
Interesting Advice

I've been planning for months now to write a little essay about how much annoying advice I get whenever someone finds out that 1) I'm trying to get a book published, 2) I'm going to be a father soon, and/or 3) I vote.

As you can see, however, I haven't gotten around to it yet. And, while some people have been so passionate about their advice ("You have to do such and such...") that I'm inclined to tell them to buzz off, most of the advice has been well intentioned and not overly dogmatic.

Got a great piece of advice today, though, about the upcoming arrival. Said a good friend who recently became a mom: for the first couple of weeks after the baby is born, don't let anyone come over to visit unless they bring something. And most especially, grant no one baby-holding privileges if they didn't bring food. Since, for the first couple of weeks, the new parents will not have much opportunity to step out of the house, it is most helpful if others bring what you need to you.

I like it. Good advice that allows me to act in a silly and autocratic fashion and *justifies* it! :-)

Posted by at 11:22 PM in the following Department(s): The Boys | Comments (1)
 June 16, 2002
Playing with Matches

Can someone please explain to me how an individual working as a firefighter -- a forest fire fighter -- for eighteen years can make the mistake of burning a letter from her ex in the $#@! forest during one of the worst droughts in years?

Hello! Stupid person! You're going to jail now!

Too bad Colorado had to go up in flames, first.

In the upcoming movie Minority Report, the justice system apprehends and convicts people of "future murder" before they commit the crime, thereby serving justice and sparing the victims. An interesting idea (from the mind of sci-fi author Philip K. Dick). Now, wouldn't it be cool if we could to the same thing with just plain stupid people? Like this firefighter and accidental arsonist stupid person? Imagine how much less traffic there would be congesting our nation's highways....

Posted by at 10:59 PM in the following Department(s): Tidbits | Comments (4)
 June 18, 2002
The Bourne Identity

Just saw The Bourne Identity this past weekend. In his review of the movie, Roger Ebert says, "It's too bad this movie isn't about anything."

I disagree. It's *great* that this movie isn't about anything. It's a James Bond movie that works on its own merits. It doesn't have any great message... it's just an action picture. And a fine, fine action picture it is, too. The actors are well cast, the characters work well as far as they go.

Good flick. Much, much better and more fun than Spider-Man, which also wasn't about anything. :-)

Posted by at 11:49 AM in the following Department(s): Books/Movies/Music | Comments (1)
 June 25, 2002
The Boxer

"All lies and jest
still a man hears what he wants to hear
and disregards the rest."
--Paul Simon, The Boxer

The President of the United States gave a speech on Monday regarding the prospects for peace in the Palestine region of the Middle East. I am amazed at how the speech appears to have been received by leaders in that part of the world. (See this article.)

Palestinian leadership, for example, praise the speech because it mentions the United States' call for the eventual creation of an independent Palestinian state... although they also seem to be scoffing at the idea that Yasser Arafat should step down (also mentioned in the speech) as being ludicrous.

Meanwhile, leadership in Israel praises the speech because it calls for new leadership in Palestine, while the Israeli leadership scoffs at the idea that there could ever be an independent Palestinian state along their border.

And, then, beyond the leadership, the people of the region are quoted by the aforementioned news article as condemning the speech because the listeners hear the message of compromise and they say words to the effect of, "This will never happen. The U. S. expects us to actually back down on 'X'? Not gonna happen."

The article is almost comical. The whole situation is almost comical. The way these people hear only what they want to hear and disregard the rest has all the makings for a Shakespearean comedy.

Except, of course, this isn't a comedy. Both sides are intent upon exterminating the other. The lessons of the Holocaust, forgotten. It's really quite sickening.

Posted by at 10:03 AM in the following Department(s): Tidbits | Comments (2)
 June 28, 2002

My first agent of choice sent me a very nice letter regarding the first three chapters of my novel I'd sent to him. He tells me that I've got some smooth prose in my manuscript, that he likes the way the novel opens without set up or a lot of back story. Alas, he would nonetheless prefer to see more of the central conflict right up front, and he is therefore passing on representing this novel.

This is probably the most professional and, at that, helpful kind of rejection letter one could hope to receive. Of course, I wasn't hoping to receive a rejection letter, but I'm nonetheless glad that he told me *why* he is choosing not to help me sell my novel. It gives me the opportunity to decide whether it's worth re-writing before I go to the streets with it again.

My current plan is to try, try again. I'll query another agent or two or fifty. Not all at once, of course. That's considered bad form. Fortunately, though, the response was quick from my first agent of choice. Given the two upcoming television shows that have a remarkably similar premise to my novel, I need to move as quickly as I can in order to still be "timely."

In the meantime, a number of short stories that I've started to circulate are coming back to me with "Good writing, but I'm going to pass" letters, as well. Nonetheless, I keep sending them out, and writing new ones to send out. My goal is to get another new one out into circulation tomorrow.

Writing is hard work. Getting published is proving to be at least as hard as writing.

For those of you following the saga of getting my novel to market, I'll also mention that the title "The Do Over" is now officially retired. I won't be posting the new title here until I have representation for it, owing to the fact that titles can't be copyrighted and also owing to my paranoia that has resulted after the WB decided to create a show with the same title as my novel (and the same general premise, set in the same year, etc., etc.). However, I had a chance to market test it at an author reading last night and it went over well. E-mail me in private if you'd like to know the new title. :-)

For the record, however, allow me to state that receiving a rejection letter or six hasn't deterred me... but it hasn't made me happy, either.

Posted by at 01:31 AM in the following Department(s): Novel-in-Progress , Writing | Comments (0)

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