A few more baby steps…

I started working on the YA time travel series this week.

This doesn’t sound so very earth shattering, but, it’s probably been on my mind for more than a decade, and I decided to stop waiting for the characters to drop into life, or plot to magically plant itself in my head, no, I would actually *work* on it. Actively.

I wrote a few pages, and then decided on a radical “venue” change, and re-wrote them.  It has sparked a few other things into motion, and I think that maybe it’s a sign that this is what I should be working on? I don’t know. What most people don’t know is that there is actually a connection between this series and the SHUSH Museum, which probably sounds absurd, and in a way, it is. I’m not going to say more about that right now. It’s part of how I’m building them all to come together, and I mostly feel like as cool as I think it will be, the amount of work it will take to pull off will not translate into any sort of return on the investment, and no one will give a flying frack about it.

There is part of me that is looking at the amount of work involved to make the whole plan I envision for this thing, and know that I have very often poured tons of effort into things that didn’t do me any good. In fact, most of the things I’ve poured tons of effort into have done me no good.  And, while there is a decent chunk of my hesitation that is wrapped up in the normal fears of creative sorts that work very hard to keep us locked in our heads and not creating, there’s also the fact that none of the things I have managed to create have been particularly successful in finding an audience. It doesn’t help me fight off those fears if they’ve been RIGHT at every step. Maybe it’s just insanity to continue to pour effort into things that really ARE doomed to fail? Why do I keep doing this? Because, I will tell you, writing is hard. Marketing is harder. I don’t really like doing any of these things.

This is when I’m supposed to wax poetic about the urge to create, and how that is supposed to sustain us through these periods of doubt. Except, I’m not entirely sure I am feeling that urge. I feel like I’m doing the only thing I know how to do, to keep trying to do what exactly? To somehow turn these things into a product? To actually, FINALLY make consistent money on the crap that comes out of my head? Am I completely delusional? Who would pay for these things? *I* would not pay for these things. I am not even convinced that the small audience I do have would bother to plunk their money down for products. That is, while they’re loyal and engaged and the best and I love them, would they actually feel the content was worth spending money on? Even more so, I’m not sure that the content I am planning on building for sale actually matches the audience I am building. In other words, the people who read this are the people who would be interested in what I have to sell, as it’s different from the content they know. Am I wasting my time building the “wrong” audience for the stuff I hope to sell?

But, I’m trying to not think about the money part of this equation, even though, it’s taking a bigger and bigger part of my attention as I can’t seem to improve my income by the usual routes. I have tried. More than once. And after trying dozens of the usual routes multiple times? I’m feeling fairly confident in my assessment that an increase in my income is not coming from those routes.

I am exhausted by the limits of thin margins. How much longer will things hold together? I don’t know. The only thing that seems to make sense is to keep going forward, even if it doesn’t really feel like a meaningful direction.  So I will celebrate a few pages of a start, and hope more pages follow.

Meeting the Demands of the Super Bowl

After weeks of anticipation and painstaking preparation, the most holy day of the US calendar is finally upon us.  Countless avocados have been mashed to a cheery green pulp, numerous buffalo have sacrificed their wings, and scores of bowls have been filled with highly salted carbohydrates.

The faithful take their places on comfy couches and squashy armchairs, arranged around the warm glow of the television to watch grown men crash into each other and fall down.  The less faithful anticipate the stream of talking babies, horses with large feet, and shiny automobile antics.

For those whose sole reason for watching the Bowl known as Super is the advertising, disappointment has become the regular feature. How can the gift of a clever advertisement be enjoyed if it’s been previewed on the morning news media weeks before the big day? This is like opening your Christmas presents on Thanksgiving. By the time you get to Christmas, all the paint has dulled under thousands of greasy fingerprints, and the initial delight has been replaced by a “seen-it-all cynicism.” There’s no longer anything special about it at all.

It’s sad that companies have lost the true meaning of the holiday. The one day when people watch a show live and don’t fast-forward through the commercials, and they take it all away from us. Why should we bother paying attention on the breaks if they’re only going to be running commercials we’ve all seen before? There’s simply no respect for the audience.

And despite the increasing disdain for their viewers, they still expect us to eat the required allotment of junk food. I have learned that the USDA has proclaimed that their normal dietary guidelines are suspended for this day*, and in their place, there is a strict, enforceable, snack food intake requirement. This is to insure that the purveyors of all things crunchy and of dubious nutritional value sell enough to put the industry into the black for the year.

Each person must eat a minimum of three servings from the fried food group, two from the salty group, five from the heavily seasoned, bite-sized meat group, three from the sugary and sticky group, four from the fermented and carbonated beverage group, and six from the dip group. I’ve had to pay expensive fines for not complying with the requirements, and this year I’m taking no chances. Now, not only am I going to be feeling exceptionally queasy on game day, I’m going to be eating leftover chips for months.

*This is not actually true, even if all the components of common party recipes mysteriously go on sale the week before the game, as do sugary beverages and macrobrew beers. The nation’s strategic snack reserve is perilously low around the first weeks of February, and, I’m certain it puts us in considerable danger on the world snack stage.

Mysterious Sea Cucumber

Mysterious Sea Cucumber

This specimen of echinoderm was contributed to the SHUSH in 1843. Since that date, no other examples of the species have been discovered. Superficially, it resembles the species Thelenota ananas, but the coloration is unique.

This mystery of this specimen goes beyond its coloration. The “creature” shows no evidence of any biological structures. It has no mouth, and no anus. It also has no exoskeleton, and seems to be made of cheap plant fibers and lacking in connective tissues or skin that would be congruent with an animal life.form.

Many experts have questioned whether this object could actually be described as a “sea cucumber,”  as it lacks any of the characteristics of a sea cucumber, beyond the superficial resemblance to the marine animals.

Want to send a postcard with a Mysterious Sea Cucumber picture? Visit the SHUSH store!

The Value of Fuzzy Photographs

A very blurry photo of a child(?) and a tree(?) indoors My parents were not good photographers. I say this with all the love and respect my entire being can manifest. But all that love and respect cannot change the fact that they have an exceptional chance of winning awards for excessively challenged photo taking skills.

As a child, I was innocently unaware of these simple truths. I figured it was more of a factor of the one camera we had in the house, which probably was considered an antique before I was born. It resembled Fred Flintstone’s model, and I suspect our failure to feed the chisel-wielding bird inside contributed to the poor quality of the images produced.

For you youngsters out there, cameras used to require carefully rolled containers of light-sensitive cellulose known as “film” to capture an image. The mechanical nature of a roll of film itself led to handfuls of photo horrors. If you didn’t advance the roll correctly, you got a handful of pictures where the image inhabitants are calmly ignorant of the black hole hovering just inches away from them, soon to consume not only their physical bodies but probably also their souls.

Another photographic technique favored by my thrifty father, was to make sure to use both sides of the roll of film. These pictures embraced a certain flavor of absurdist avant garde, giving my baby sister the body of a cat, while she explored a living room jungle, complete with sofa waterfall and hanging lamp flowers, while the upside-down floating birthday cake hovered over the waterfall like curious moon.

The creepiest samples are the ones where something in the image was moving, or perhaps the picture taker moved the camera, resulting in ghostly heads appearing above more solid, but still fuzzy heads. And does that blobby thing(?) person(?) have two extra arms? Or are those tentacles?

As antiquated as the photo equipment in the house was, it seems unfair to blame it for loping off the heads of three of the 4 people in the picture or adding random, gigantic fuzzy digits onto the margins of every frame. Probably, it’s also unfair to blame it for filling three-quarters of an image with a spectacular lens flair.

There are times when I lament the headless and fuzzy photos created by the only Polarock camera to survive the Stone Age, and then I also realize how only two generations before, you could count the total number of photos of the entire family on fewer than five hands. And a generation before that, a single hand might do the trick.

These were taken in an age where you couldn’t instantly see the picture you’d just snapped. Each click was carefully considered, and deemed worthy of preservation. Every time the button was pressed, it was one more segment of precious film gone, with no certainty that it would come out at all. Thinking about it that way, all these photos, even the fuzzy ones, become priceless treasures.

Invisible Portait

Photo courtesy of http://crazyideaphotography.com/
In 1897, using specially formulated inks on a specially treated canvas, Herbert Griffin painted this famous self portrait. The portrait, painted in typical Victorian portrait style, shows the artist dressed in fine clothing, with an ermine edged, deep-blue smoking jacket. The subject is seated in an over-stuffed chair, and on his lap is a cat. In the background are several tall shelves, filled with books and a fireplace, with a cozy fire.

Historians say that the picture is aspirational in nature, as Griffin was not a wealthy man, but that he was consumed with achieving power. In life, he as known as a recluse, and neighbors found him unfriendly. This portrait shows Griffin as he wished to be seen.

Purchase a postcard of this exhibit here.

Imperfections are Funnier

You are probably not terribly surprised to learn that I spend a good deal of time paying attention to the statistics of this mailing every week. I worry every time my “open” rate doesn’t hit my list average, and I obsess about every unsubscription. Not that there are very many of those, but, they bother me. How dare someone report my stunningly original content that isn’t even trying to sell something as being “spam?!” The nerve of those people!

Of course, I always wonder how much people like each piece, and, of course, if they still like me.

Over the years of reviewing this data every week, I wasn’t prepared to learn that the content I thought was the *best* content was often the content where the “open” rates were much lower than average, or that people seemed to be less than impressed with the content. Worse, the content that seemed to have the best reception was content I felt was not very good.

And then I realized why.

The stories I liked the best were always the ones where I was undoubtedly the hero, defeating the forces of darkness with my extreme cleverness and astonishing talents. They were tales where I was undoubtedly the master and in charge of the situation, and my awesome powers shined like a beacon of hope to all mankind.

And the stories that got the best reactions from you, my readers, were the stories where I was much less spectacular. The ones I really didn’t want to share because I was so unremarkable.

In short, these are the stories where I was vulnerable and so very disappointingly human.

I grew up learning that showing vulnerability meant that you became the limping wildebeest at the back of the herd, the one that the lions would spot immediately and target as the “easy prey.” And even if that particular wildebeest was much beloved by the herd for her quick wit and excellent cooking skills, that limp was going to get her killed. I learned to hide anything that might be interpreted as a limp.

I really hate showing my limp.

And yet, hiding the imperfections and showing only the good stuff means that I am only succeeding in surrendering to my own fear and preventing myself from doing the real work of connecting with people.

So, I’m going to try and do a better job of exploiting the vast catalog of my failures for your amusement. I figure it’s the least I can do.

Popcorn Tree

The Popcorn Tree. A tree covered in white, fluffy flowers.
In 1898, botanist Hiram Englehardt successfully created the world’s only known Popcorn Tree. Despite many attempts, Englehardt was never able to create a second one using his controversial hybridization techniques. Many others have attempted to follow in his footsteps, but to date, no one has been successful.

The tree, standing on the grounds of the grounds of the SHUSH Museum, produces 1.5 bushels (90 pounds) of popcorn annually. The corn is suitable for popping, and is served exclusively for members at special events held on the Museum grounds.

There are some who would identify this tree as a Dogwood tree, and indeed, the main root stock was taken from a variety of Dogwood, and the popcorn, which resembles the berries of the Dogwood tree, develops over the winter, in the same fashion as Dogwood berries.

My Dad Didn’t Know Ronald

A statue of Ronald McDonaldWhen I was very young, my dad had the coolest job on the planet.

He worked for McDonald’s.

Imagine it! Surrounded by those fantastic fries and hamburgers! I figured he knew Ronald McDonald personally. He was a font of insight into all the McDonaldland denizens: Mayor McCheese, the Hamburgler and Grimace. I was pretty sure, as an insider, he knew intimate details of their lives, like their birthdates and their favorite colors.

While other kids might boast their dad was a lawyer or an accountant, if pressed, they had no clue what being an “Accountant” meant. These kids might know the word, but, that did not translate into actual insight into what their parent actually did all day. Not me. I could report with confidence. My dad made hamburgers and French fries. Every kid knew what a McDonald’s employee did.

I went to exactly one birthday party at a McDonald’s during this time; in point of fact, it was the only one I ever attended. It was not at the McDonald’s that my dad worked. It was a bigger, shinier McDonald’s. The kid whose birthday it was, is a child about whom I have no recollection, not even trivial things like the tyke’s sex or name. I do remember that the child was blithely smug about his or her own importance having a McDonald’s birthday demanded we display the appropriate reverence for his or her own lofty status.

I was unimpressed. Ronald McDonald was a personal acquaintance of my father. This child may have been able to temporarily buy usage of Ronald’s business, but she (or he) did not have the cash enough to get him to appear, whereas my dad was probably having lunch with him as we played on the freakish plastic representations of McDonald’s icons.

The party was disappointing. I had secretly held out hope that my dad might actually appear as a surprise, bringing Ronald with him to the party. Maybe it was his day to drive the clown around and Ronald had heard that his loyal employee’s child was a guest at McDonald’s birthday and he *had* to meet the irresistibly cute kid. Seriously, I was adorable.

I remember that I was thoroughly uninterested in any of the other children, they seemed unworthy of a child whose father was on a first name basis with Ronald. They were clearly not the important ones in attendance, even if one of them was celebrating a natal day. I played by myself, with only half my attention on the colorful diversions, the bulk of my attention was for a glimpse of my dad and that clown, who, at any moment, would walk in the door, walk past the celebrant and straight toward the most important four-year-old in the restaurant, if not the world.

He did not come.

This was probably my first inkling that my father did not know Ronald McDonald.  I don’t remember the moment I knew for sure, but, I know that it was more devastating than learning about Santa. If I was a more melodramatic sort of person, I might even claim that was the moment my childhood ended, crumpled in a bag of McDonaldland cookies, but, I’m not that sort of person. Instead, I’m the sort that tells you she was a pretty arrogant four-year-old.  But, you probably already knew that.

Map to Kukuanaland

Map to Kukuanaland. A torn piece of linen covered with rust colorad writing and a rough map

In 1590, a Portuguese man by the name of Jose da Silvestra, created a map on a piece of linen, and gave it to a servant who took it from his dying hands, in an obscure place in Africa. The servant took the linen, and delivered it to Silvestra’s family.  Three hundred years later, one of Silvestra’s descendants attempted to follow the map to its destination: the long lost Mines of King Solomon.

This map was later entrusted to Allan Quartermain to assist him in leading an expedition to rescue a lost brother, who  had disappeared while attempting to locate the vast riches promised by the mines.

The map, when translated into English, reads as follows “I, José da Silvestra, who am now dying of hunger in the little cave where no snow is on the north side of the nipple of the southernmost of the two mountains I have named Sheba’s Breasts, write this in the year 1590 with a cleft bone upon a remnant of my raiment, my blood being the ink. If my slave should find it when he comes, and should bring it to Delagoa, let my friend (name illegible) bring the matter to the knowledge of the king, that he may send an army which, if they live through the desert and the mountains, and can overcome the brave Kukuanes and their devilish arts, to which end many priests should be brought, will make him the richest king since Solomon. With my own eyes have I seen the countless diamonds stored in Solomon’s treasure chamber behind the white Death; but through the treachery of Gagool the witch-finder I might bring nought away, scarcely my life. Let him who comes follow the map, and climb the snow of Sheba’s left breast till he reaches the nipple, on the north side of which is the great road Solomon made, from whence three days’ journey to the King’s Palace. Let him kill Gagool. Pray for my soul. Farewell.

José da Silvestra.”

Various tests have agreed that the item is created on linen, but, have not been conclusive on the age of the artifact, nor on the substance of the ink. The item was entrusted to a prominent member of the Society, and it is with the permission of the member’s family that the item is now on display.  They will neither confirm or deny the continued existence of a place called “Kukuanaland,” nor the existence of a vast treasure in diamonds.

Birth of a Notion

Small tablet with relief profile of King Hammurabi with cuneiform signature

A few years ago, as you might (or might not) remember, a family member sent me and my sister on a fabulous trip to Ireland to do some family history research. Our dad came with us.  I wrote a series of stories on that trip.  On the day that comes after four you will see a curious comment about a glittering thing picked up from the ground outside of Dublin Castle. And that, my friends, was the Birth of a Notion.

It didn’t really sound like much, I hear you thinking. (That’s one of my superpowers. I didn’t want you to be unaware of it.  It’s a super power of limited utility, in that, I can only hear your thoughts when you are reading something I wrote. I know. It’s a stupid power. )

And, you’d be mostly pretty right. That little bit of discovery turned into an ongoing inside joke between the three of us, and by the end of the trip we were referring to this project as “The SHUSH Museum.”

I know, now you’re wondering where the heck all of this is going and wondering “What is the SHUSH Museum, and WHY do I care? “

Think back a few weeks, and you might recall I blathered on about a new project, coming to an Internet near you. That project would be a mailing on Saturdays, starting in January.  By some extreme set of coincidences, these two seemingly disparate projects are actually THE SAME PROJECT.

For more than two years, this quirky little project wouldn’t leave me alone. Between you and me, it’s been something of a bully, and it hasn’t particularly been forthcoming with comforting statements about what anyone is getting out of letting it be born. Because, this little notion required me to pull in the talents of people who were not me. I have recruited the finest photographers I know into this bully’s plans, and, on Saturday, all that work has found itself a home.

You’re kicking yourself for not signing up for this, aren’t you? Well, I mean, not literally. That’s physically beyond most people.  My superpower is picking up your internal monologue. I told you this whole SHUSH thing was kind of a bully.  Actually, I know this bit was more wishful thinking than superpower. Most of you aren’t that broken up about missing the debut posting of the SHUSH Museum.

The good news is that you can go take a look at things now. Get a better idea of what will be coming out on Saturdays.  If you still want to get it in your e-mail, you can also still sign-up.  If you want to just catch the items on the website each week, that’s also a good option, but, be warned. Each item will only be on exhibit for 5 weeks. Once they’re gone, they’re gone, and you’ll have missed the opportunity to explore the curious exhibits of the Society for Hoarders of the Unique, Significant and Historic (SHUSH).   Join us, won’t you? The surprises have just begun.