Thursday, January 25, 2018

Maybe Society Should Have a Warning Label

Every now and then, something happens in America and I get to hold my smug head high and say "Not me, I don't live there." I may be from the States, but I've been safely on the other side of the world in China for the last 18 months. Therefore, I will accept no responsibility for the events that have prompted some of the recent headlines.

Tide Pod Challenge 

First, let's not even get into how stupid someone has to be to think that eating soap would be a good idea. For generations, parents washed kids' mouths out with soap as a punishment. Now, the kids are doing it willingly. There are plenty of jokes already written about this and a ton of memes. You've already seen everything floating around social media and can look them up for yourself if you wish.

People (especially young people whose brains haven't fully developed yet) doing stupid things is not really surprising. Still stupid. Feel free to shame them all you like (I know I do). But not surprising. A huge percentage of the world's population are idiots and always will be. What surprises me is the reactions that people have to the stupid trends.

Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Pinterest, Google and other sites started getting pressure to remove all videos featuring idiots eating Tide Pods. Some sites even started giving 'strikes' to people who uploaded content showing people eating Tide Pods. Some people have even suggested holding these companies liable for even having the videos. Click here for an article explaining it all.

Tide even hastily threw together a video to stop people from ingesting their non-food product.

I find it pathetic that pressure was put on them to have to say anything at all to the idiots who are well aware of what they are doing, but I respect the attitude that Tide took with their public service announcement.

They have been active in getting information out there about not eating laundry detergent and have helped to get internet videos removed, but they have stated that they will not change the appearance of their product. To read the article, click here. To summarize their stance: Stupid people are stupid people and we cannot change that. You're lucky we are even acknowledging these idiots. There's already a warning label on the box. That should be enough.

And I couldn't agree more.

It bothers me that pressure is being put on anyone to do something about this. No one is to blame for any idiot older than a toddler purposefully chewing on a Tide Pod. Not a website, not the manufacturer, not another person who did it, no one other than the person who made this choice. That person is a moron and YouTube cannot be blamed for that.

YouYube also has videos showing how to grow a garden, fix your car, ace an interview, etc. If you just have to do something you saw on the internet, have an honor student help you choose a better video.

Next topic, Crock-Pot Mania

SPOILER ALERT: If you are a watcher of the hit TV show This is Us and are not familiar with the big plot-twist that happened earlier this week, do not continue. You have been warned.

Now, I do not watch This is Us. I am not really even sure what it is about, but it is in the news this week because they killed off one of the main characters. Jack Pearson, the "world's greatest dad" dies in a house fire that was started by a crock pot.

Now, other than entertainment news, this doesn't seem like much of a news story. However, it has grown into something more. This sometimes happens when people are stupid. If you haven't noticed, this is the theme I am running with.

People all over the country are looking at their crock pots with suspicion and wondering if they are safe to have in their homes. It has gotten so bad that both the writers of the show and crock pot companies have had to issue statements explaining the safety of these devices.

Apparently, many of the fans of this show don't realize that this crockpot was a fictional item that was 20 years old and had a faulty switch that "had to be fiddled with a little" to get it to work. Emphasis on the word fictional. This was a literary device used to produce the outcome the writers were going for. They could have used an electric knife, a dishwasher, just faulty wiring, or had him stumble down the stairs and break his neck. That's it. But…as with the Tide Pod Challenge, people are stupid. Now, they're scared of their slow cookers. I don't even know what to say.

Maybe we could learn a lesson from Mexico where even their drug lords are more trustworthy.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Life is Rough

Today is my first day of my six week vacation. SIX WEEKS! It's time to party.

I get these unplanned (but fortunately paid) breaks quite often due to the nature of my job. I am an English teacher in Beijing, but not the same kind of teacher as the local teachers. I am the "native English-speaking oral teacher" at my school. I have over 700 students spread out across 20 different classes in third through fifth grade. I meet with each class once a week for 40 minutes.

This means that I am not their actual English teacher. They have Chinese English teachers all week and I pop in once a week to play English-speaking games. I don't do typical English lessons. I just design my classes to get my students to talk. It gives them a chance to practice the language they have been learning without getting caught up in structure, grammar, and syntax. Those things are important, but it is not the purpose of my being there. Plus, they get exposure to a native English-speaker.

This makes my job different from the regular teachers in several ways:
  • I don't give homework
  • I don't grade papers
  • I don't give tests
  • I don't have progress reports
  • I don't assign grades
  • I am not responsible for any paperwork
Because of this, I also don't go to staff meetings, teacher's workshops, field trips, extra-curricular activities, after-school programs, etc. I don't even stay at school for the entire day. I show up in time to teach the first class I have for the day and leave as soon as I finish my last class. While the other teachers are there Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., I put in just under five hours and I only work four days a week. Take all these "perks" and add in that as the "professional expert" in my field, I get paid more than them. So you can imagine how popular I am with the rest of the staff.

Me being off work right now is one of those perks. School is still in session, but my services are not needed. This week is the semi-yearly progress test for all Chinese students. Because all students are taking this test, there are no classes for me to teach. So I get to stay home.

All next week, the students are out of school, but the teachers have meetings and training all week. However, it is all in Chinese and most of it doesn't apply to what I do. So I don't have to go in for that either. After that is the start of the Chinese Spring Festival which kicks off Chinese New Year. It lasts four weeks and everyone does get off for that. I just got to leave two weeks early. It's a pretty sweet gig. If I could just find a way to not have to deal with children, it would be the perfect job.

Now that I've got all this time off, I need to figure out what to do.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

National Novel Writing Month

In my last post (click here), I mentioned that I would be tackling NaNoWriMo this year.

NaNoWriMo is the National Novel Writing Month that takes place every year in November. Writers from all over the world join together to crank out the story that's been rattling around in their heads in one single month. The measurable goal is to write 50,000 words in the 30 days of November.

Now, anyone who has ever met me or even been in the same room with me, knows that I have no shortage of words constantly flowing out of my head. Primarily through my mouth hole. I can eek out 50,000 words from my mouth over lunch. There are absolutely no topics that I am not willing to fake being an expert in so I can hear myself talk.

However, NaNoWriMo is considerably more challenging. 50,000 words is approximately 200 pages of written words. And there must be a theme that runs through all these words. Not like speech where you can just talk and talk and change topics from politics to restaurants to polar bear mating habits to the ugliest Sex in the City cast member.

When you are writing a book, it must have a coherent path for the reader to follow. It needs a beginning, middle and end. And that does not even get into the need to have likeable characters, a plausible story arc, a significant conflict, and a resolution. It's rather a large task to undertake, but it has some great advantages.

First, it gets the story written. I came up with my story about two years ago. I even made phone calls to some published author friends to pick their brains about how to get started on a story. I carried around a notebook and made notes about significant plot points as I thought of them and I really enjoyed developing the characters in my head as I was at work. I would get so excited when a new angle occurred to me. It was great. It was energizing.

What it was not was…actually getting written.

I had almost the entire story in my head and a little of it in some notes, but that was all I had done. About six months ago, I actually sat down and wrote out the first five chapters. I wrote them and re-wrote them over and over until they were just they way I wanted them, but it was a very slow process. When I felt that I was happy with them, I even sent them out to about a half dozen people to get their feedback. I got some great pointers on things I could change to improve it. However, once again, that is all that happened. I went back and made changes to those chapters.

The book still wasn't getting written.

I really want to be able to just write for a living. I keep picturing myself getting up in the morning and sitting at my computer for a few hours to work on my next novel and not having to punch a time clock somewhere.  But in order for that to even be in the realm of possibility, I have to actually produce a book now and then. Thinking about a book does not get it written.

Stephen King at his writing desk

So, when people on Twitter started talking about NaNoWriMo, I decided that having the specific goal of having to commit 1,667 words to paper per day might give me the motivation I needed to actually get this book out of my head and onto paper.

Starting November 1st, I dove in with a personal commitment that I had to produce this daily quota. And I did. Turns out I just needed a specific goal to shoot for instead of "Just sit down and write, stupid." As of today (November 20), I have written 40,137 words toward my goal of having 50,000 by the end of the month.

This means, I will actually have my book written before December gets here. YAY!!!

It won't be ready to go yet, because I will then have to start the tedious task of going through it and editing it. For the past three weeks, I've just been cranking out the words to get the story out, but I wouldn't want anyone to read it yet. I need to tidy it up and give it my specific voice, develop the characters further, drop in some witty dialogue, and make sure that it flows well. I have no idea how long that part of it will take, but I have learned that if I set some specific goals for myself, I can get it done without dragging it out unnecessarily.

Once I'm satisfied, I'll be looking for volunteers to read it and give me feedback on what they think needs to be fixed before I start sending it out to publishers.

I can't even begin to express how excited I am that my novel is finally coming to life and that I have that space in my brain back. It's been in there long enough.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

It's Really All About the Words - #NaNoWriMo

Note: This post has 3 entries in the middle of text displaying word count. They were added after writing to show how many words were written at various time intervals. They are in the format of (x min - xxx words).  The purpose for these are included in the post.

This post is a test to see what I can actually do with concentrated, uninterrupted time just typing away and not worrying about editing or word-smithing.

You see, I have jumped into something that is starting to be very intimidating to me and I haven't even started it yet. I signed up for NaNoWriMo 2017. This is the National Novel Writing Month that is held all over the world via internet in November each year. The goal of the month is to sit down and crank out a 50,000-word novel in just 30 days. 30 DAYS. For a whole freaking book.

I know this is a mammoth undertaking because I have been working on a novel for the last year and have only written the first five chapters. Yeah. Five chapters. That's an average of about one chapter every two months.

But...I know that I could be going at a much more acceptable rate if I just sat down and wrote the thing. Everything I've read about writing (yeah...I read about it a lot even if I'm not doing it), says that you just have to sit down and write it. Just get the words out. Worry about editing it later. So, I am practicing (5 min. - 205 words) just writing without having to worry about making sure the words are just the way I want them to be so I can see how many words I can actually produce in a given amount of time.

My time for this post is 30 minutes. Just 30 minutes. I want to see how many words hit the screen if I write without interruption and without sitting to think about just the right way to say something. Just get it up on the screen and I can perfect it later.

So, I have set three times for myself. One is at the 5-minute mark. I already hit that one. You can see the formatting for it above. One is at the 15-minute mark (that one is yet to come) and the last is at the 30-minute mark. For the moment, I am just pasting a symbol into that spot when the alarm goes off so I can go back and look at it later, calculate the word count and see what kind of progress I am making when it is all over. When I am finished, I will edit this post to include the numbers when they actually occurred.

So, here is why I am doing the challenge. I want to be a writer. I really, really, really do. My ultimate goal is to not have to go to work each morning, but sit down at my computer instead. My job would be to write.

I'm not even looking to get rich off of this. I just need to make enough money to be able to rely on my writing for my income. And, of course, I need enough money to be able to pay back my massive student loans also, but that is another story.

However, in order to be a writer, I have to write. Like actually write. Not just think about writing or read about writing or take notes for story ideas. I need to actually write. I have every confidence that I have some good stories in me. And I know that I write well enough that I could do this, but the difficult part is getting those words out of me. I have found that it is very easy to not write.

For one, I am a lifetime procrastinator. Always have been. Thus the word 'lifetime'. It takes a concentrated effort for me to get past it. If I want to get something done, I have to really focus because I am a master at putting things off.

Next, even if I do get started on a project, I move very slowly. Especially with writing. Suddenly, my mind is filled with all the things that need to be done and, for some reason, demand my immediate attention.

I need to fill the ice cube trays.
Did that shirt get ironed?
I still have all those emails I never went through?
I need to call Adam back.

The list is endless. Plus, even if I don't have other things that are demanding my attention, I constantly want to go over everything that I have written. I like my words to be (15 min - 674 words) perfect so they reflect exactly what I want to say. This means that after every paragraph (and sometimes after a sentence), I go back over what I just wrote to tweak it. I have written some of the sentences in my book over 20 times. Making little changes here and there. It never ends.

This is an issue that I have seen addressed in many of the blogs and books that I have read about writing. It's called "silencing your Inner Editor". When writing, it is not the time to edit. It is time to write. Editing can come later.

I know this is true, but I find it rather difficult to do. Which, once again, is what I am trying to do with this post. I am just writing it.

A book will never get written if the author does not write it. If it has not been written then there is nothing to edit. And, as I have learned, editing each chapter as it comes out just brings the entire process to a grinding halt. It moves so slowly. So, if I am going to even come close to finishing the NaNoWriMo challenge that I have entered, I will have to learn to just move forward. The editing can come after the month is over.

One of the excuses (and I know it is just an excuse, not a legitimate reason) I have used since getting to China is the size of our apartment. As I have mentioned in past posts, we live in a very small apartment. Very small. We can't even both fit in the kitchen at the same time.

Because of the close proximity, I feel like I can't get away from my wife.

I love my wife. I don't really want to "get away" from her, but with the close quarters, it is difficult to get into my own head and write. Our proximity to each other is distracting. At least, that is the excuse that I have used.

Lately, I have been trying some different tactics to try to get past this. For instance, I am taking advantage of the little times during the day when I have the house to myself. Sometimes it's just 20 minutes before she gets home. Sometimes, it's when she is in the shower. Occasionally, I will actually get a few hours. Not taking advantage of these moments before was time that I was wasting.

Next, I am experimenting with ways to write even when we are both in the apartment. I have always preferred to write in silence, but have begun to learn that putting in some earphones to listen to soft music is enough to take away most of the distraction of having someone else in the house. It is beginning to work.

My next distraction is the biggest time waster of all. I am an internet addict. I am well aware of this weakness, but it is easier to identify than it is to conquer it. I have to be sure to shut down the internet to my computer before I start writing. I don't need any Facebook or email notifications popping up to let me know that someone just had an amazing lunch at a new restaurant or their kitten did something cute. I know that if I do peek over to Facebook, I will lose the next three hours without even realizing it.

When I decide to write, I need to be able to do it and not be pulled away by these things that really aren't going to matter for anything anyway.

I know that I am reaching the end of the 30-minute goal I had set for myself and am really curious just how many words I have gotten typed. (30 min - 1299 words) I am amazed at how easily the words came.

Ok. Experiment over.

I came in at about 1,300 words for 30 minutes of uninterrupted time dedicated to just getting the words out onto the screen. Not bad.

To complete the NaNoWriMo and hit the 50,000-word target by the end of the month, I need to write an average of 1,667 words each day. That seemed pretty intimidating, but now knowing that I just did 1,300 words in 30 minutes, I have much more confidence that this is actually doable. I just have to discipline myself to sit down and do it.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Embrace Variety

In my last post, I wrote about the wonderful vacation my wife and I had in Qingdao. We love when we get the opportunity to get away and experience someplace new.

When we got back from our trip, we were recalling some of the places we've been since we got married. We've done a lot of traveling in the three years since we said "I do" and even moved to the other side of the world. In the middle of that conversation, I was on Facebook and noticed that a mutual friend had just returned from her trip to Disneyland.

I asked Red, "Wait. Didn't she just go to Disney last year?"

"Yeah. She goes there every year for her vacation."

Now, before everyone goes all Colin Kaepernick on me, let me say that I have nothing against Mickey Mouse other than him owning the Star Wars franchise. I have no problem with someone going to Disneyland for their vacation, so I don't want to hear the defensive arguments:
  • Disneyland helps connect with my inner child.
  • Anyone who thinks Disney is just for kids is a miserable person.
  • I take my kids to Disneyland because I love them.

 Honestly, I don't care where anyone goes for vacation. People have a variety of different interests and things they enjoy doing. What I am calling into question is someone going to the same place year after year.

Even if you're one of those freaks who gets off on dressing as a cute little animal and hanging out with other people who do the same, you can at least get some variety by going to those furry conventions in a different city each year.

The world is a BIG BIG BIG place and there is so much to eat see and experience, I can't wrap my mind around picking one place and being happy with not seeing anything else.

The woman who goes to Disney every year says that she does it because the family has learned they enjoy Disney and don't want to spend a bunch of hard-earned money and time off work on a vacation that might end up not being enjoyable. I guess that makes sense.

Sure, if you're a petulant 9-year-old child who discovered he likes frozen waffles and now refuses to eat anything else because it might be

It doesn't seem to bother her that despite having the means to provide her children with deep cultural experiences and expose them to various ways of life and types of people, she would rather have them stand in long lines every day and get their picture taken with a guy in a duck costume and come home having learned nothing other than Florida is hot and any food shaped like a mouse head costs three times as much as non-mouse head shaped food.

Which, once again, I don't have any problem with. But why would you never attempt to branch out from that?

Now, some people are worthy of a pass when they take the same vacation every year. For example:
  • The one time a year you can actually travel is spent going to visit your parents (or children) who live far away. That is understandable.
  • You foolishly bought a cabin or condo time-share somewhere and now you have to go there for every vacation or you're throwing even more money away and your wife already nags you enough about buying it.
  • You bought a GPS unit for your car years ago, but now can't justify paying the outrageous fee to keep it updated, so all the maps are outdated and you don't know how to go anywhere you haven't already been.
I do understand that not everyone cares about cultural experiences. Everyone's taste is different. Personally, I would never book a vacation that revolved around basking on the beach. I can't do it for more than an hour. I also have no desire to go hiking for more than an afternoon. If you are vacationing with me and suggest going shopping, I will meet up with you after you're done. However, many people do love those sort of things. Going to a tropical beach is a very popular tourist destination, but would you really want to see the same one every year?

When I was a kid, we went to the Current River to go tubing every year and I loved it, but it wasn't our only destination for the year. We went with friends on one of the three day weekends and enjoyed each others company and the time on the river. So, please don't think I'm against going anyplace more than once. But if your main opportunity to get away is always the same, it kind of defeats the purpose of getting away. It's just more of the same.

If your family doesn't have the money for big vacations or even travel, whatever you do can have variety. My father was a big fan of going camping. I hated it, but we went on many camping trips. In the first 10 years of my life, I camped in every state and national park in Southern Illinois. It sucked was still camping, but at least we had different trees to fall out of each time we went.

I make this argument mainly for people who have children. Parents should take every opportunity they can to help their children be well-rounded individuals. Show them the world. Show them people, cultures, food, scenery, and ways of life that are different from what they are accustomed. Let them experience more of the world than what their hometown or single vacation spot has to offer. It will make them not only better people, but give them a broader outlook on life, the world and humanity.