Jul 23 2014

Cultural Noise: Remember When It Was Quieter? It Still Is…

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View from our deck

I just got back from a working vacation in parts of the northwestern USA that are so gorgeously bucolic and blessedly detached from the grind of urban life that one can’t help but be reminded of just how noisy things out there have gotten… and how quiet they can still be!

It is a noisy world we live in, isn’t it? Particularly when so many insist on being permanently tethered to news and media, with TV sets blaring all day, smart phones ever at the ready, the Internet in all its tabloid permutations bleating a litany of tragedies and travesties from one end of the globe to the other, those of us not living in war torn squalor, profound poverty, gangland violence, or insidious oppression, can almost feel guilty for our relatively unscathed lives. And even if we refrain from such misguided tendencies, we’re still spending too much of our time fending off anxiety, fear, worry, or seething commentary from the worst amongst us, discovering that just laying one’s head on the pillow is a trigger for loud, internal late night chatter.

I’ve seen more and more posts on social media from people bemoaning the vitriol and hissing ignorance of so many who have  somehow become “experts” on issues of the Middle East or the Ukraine. I’ve read head-shaking online conversations in which someone’s expression of gratitude for a good life is attacked by trolls who’ve decided expressing gratitude shows lack of compassion for the suffering (because trolls know all about compassion, right?). I’ve talked to people who are SO convinced that horror and dread is around every corner based on endless ticker-tape reporting of horror and dread worldwide, they can barely acknowledge a beautiful moment without waiting for the axe to fall.

Foggy Lighthouse_sm

 

NOISE. Noise couched in news. Noise that is so relentless that we begin to feel that war, violence, hate and poverty are all there is to the world… and that’s simply not true. It is, simply, all we hear about. Which creates the delusion of “darkness descending everywhere.” It’s not and we cannot immerse ourselves in every tragedy, every war, every historical feud, every horrifying injustice, without taking a toll on our mental and emotional health. Doing so is as unbalanced as eating nothing but dirt and expecting to be healthy.

We are now and forever so connected to the collective noise of the world-at-large that QUIET and SERENITY are almost an unfathomable concepts. But think about it: we didn’t used to have all this chatter around us. We used to be able to watch an hour or two of news, then get on with the business of living our lives. Now “living our lives” is composed of never-ending bouts of watching, reading, commenting, fearing, yelling, trolling, posting, defending, attacking and deleting, to the point that serenity and detachment is a lost art. We can blame the culture, blame the Internet, blame new technology, but it’s all about us. We have the power to turn it off and go find that lost art.

Do. Get it back. It’s essential. And it’s there to be had; you deserve to  – but WAIT, you yell! How selfish am I if I revel in my own good fortune, enjoy my own peace and serenity while people elsewhere are living in literal hell? I can’t put my head in the sand!! I have to be engaged, involved, immersed in the world around me, so I can be a good citizen or, hey, even just have enough information to be able to scream and yell on social media with other marginally informed people!!

Right. As my therapist used to say: “and is that working for you?” No.

Here’s the thing, and I’ve said this before… many times: Screaming and yelling at each other on Facebook, Twitter or Reddit is NOT activism. It’s screaming and yelling at each other. Spending countless hours watching and listening to profoundly biased anchors on cable news and talk radio is NOT getting informed; it’s being propagandized to. Stockpiling weapons, joining militia groups, being “anti-government” and stashing duct tape is NOT being pro-active; it’s being fear-based and paranoiac. Wringing hands and lying sleepless at night roiled in anxiety after endless articles on the very worst of people and the most catastrophic of life events is NOT being informed and involved; it’s being oversaturated and toxified. None, not one, of these things does one bit of good for the children in the Middle East, the Eastern Europeans in their battles with Russia, the starving children of Africa or elsewhere, or the beleaguered young women in repressive countries. None.

Sunrise On Whitefish_sm

 

I don’t know why any of us land where we do on this planet, how we end up in the families we do; why some of us are born in war-torn regions and others have parents with endless wealth. Depending on what you believe it’s either all random, dumb luck, or some kind of spiritual path set in motion in another realm. But whatever it is, you living in Van Nuys, California with a good job, a healthy family, a decent marriage and the chance to get out of town from time to time are NOT obligated to feel guilty, or not enjoy your abundance, because someone in Gaza is being blasted to hell by rockets. None of us knows why any of us ends up on the paths we do, but denying and negating your own is not the answer.

The answer is twofold. First: if you are so compelled, and it would be good if you were, do what you can for those for whom you feel concern by allotting appropriate attention and energy to sending money, volunteering, writing meaningful articles, doing honest due diligence upon which to base opinions, educating others, raising your consciousness, and promoting and exemplifying tolerance, peace, and sanity.

Then, when you’re done with all that, there’s the second step: go live and enjoy your good life with gratitude, acceptance, kindness and compassion. If every single person who could do that did, the positive energy swirling around this planet would surely raise the bar of humanity a notch or two… of this I’m convinced.

47a. The Blue Canoe

So in following my own prescription, my family and I take every opportunity to go to wherever we can to find stillness and beauty. To revel in peace, nature, and serenity –  “But I can’t afford it,” you holler. “Lucky you, but not everyone has that kind of time or opportunity,” you admonish.

That doesn’t hold water. Because no matter where you live or what your budget might be, every person can find some place of solitude, some corner of nature and beauty where they can lower the anxiety and feel the quiet that exists away from chattering humanity and its machines. I had a creekside oasis in my childhood hometown where I could ride my bike to climb into a tree and sing show tunes surrounded by long grass and dandelions (for some reason “Shall We Dance?” was a favorite! :). A friend of mine used to find her spot in a big city park where a grove of trees surrounded a bench where there was surprisingly little traffic, human or automotive, to disturb the sound of squirrels and swaying branches. Another friend makes it a pilgrimage to drive to the beach at every opportunity; another, to hike the Hollywood trails; yet another to prioritize funds to get out of town at least once or twice a year.

Whatever you have to do, whatever you can afford to do, find your quiet. It exists out there. I promise. It takes a willingness to detach from our addictive, mechanical informantst but, trust me… it’s worth it. There’s a beautiful, quiet, peaceful world out there just waiting to be heard.

All photographs by LDW.


 

LDW_BWFollow Lorraine Devon Wilke on Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, and Huffington Post. Her article archive can be found at Contently, her photos at Fine Art America; details and links to her other work @ www.lorrainedevonwilke.com.

Her novel, AFTER THE SUCKER PUNCH is available at Amazon.com and you can follow her adventures with the book at www.AfterTheSuckerPunch.com.

And don’t forget to FOLLOW THE BLOG!

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Jul 4 2014

Did You Know It’s Writers And Editors Who Are Most Honored On July 4th?

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Flag Waver

Teacher: “Where was the Declaration of Independence signed?”


Student: “On the bottom.”

From Top Ten Fourth of July Jokes For Kids

As a writer, a grammarian of sorts, and certainly someone who edits and fine-tunes everything I write within an inch of its life, the 4th of July holds special meaning to me. Which may seem surprising. Why, you may ask, does this most iconic of American holidays, one celebrated with parades, picnics, flags and fireworks in honor of our country’s glorious state of independence, resonate with a writer and editor? Simple: the day is a celebration, of sorts, of our most noble profession.

Don’t believe me? If you do even the most cursory research on exactly why we’ve come to celebrate this exact date, what you’ll likely find is a myriad of hazily similar but often inaccurate facts, with at least one that’s indisputable: what actually happened on the fourth day of July in 1776:

It was the day the writers and editors of the document finally gave a thumbs-up to the final draft of the Declaration of Independence.

It wasn’t signed that day, it wasn’t declared as law that day; it was simply (or not so simply!) the day it passed muster with a fierce group of literary and legal minds who understood its importance and wanted to be certain every word, every pause, every piece of punctuation was exactly as intended. Historical website, ConstitutionFacts.com, confirms that on July 4, 1776, the Continental Congress – after much editing, tweaking, and rewriting of previous drafts – finally approved what would be the ultimate, accepted verbiage of this momentous document. And while certainly those of us who traffic in our own versions of such literary activities find the accomplishment meritorious of a firework or two, it was not widely seen at the time as worthy of celebration. In fact, it was a frustrated John Adams who stepped up years later to pop the day into the cultural zeitgeist. Well, maybe not the day itself, but the celebration of the day. And maybe he didn’t exactly pop it, but he did have something to do with kicking it into gear.

That celebrating the 4th needed to be kicked into gear is not all that surprising once you’re aware that the signing of the Declaration of Independence, that auspicious and momentous occasion memorialized by countless fine art paintings and stentorian expressions of oratory, actually occurred on August 2nd of 1776. Almost a month later. So how, you ask, did “July 4, 1776” come to be the “day of American independence”?

Likely in honor of those writers and editors who fine-tuned the document into its final form. The date “July 4, 1776” was affixed to the original handwritten copy they completed that was then signed by our most celebrated of Founding Fathers on August 2,1776, the copy that now hangs in the National Archive in Washington, D.C. The date “July 4, 1776″ was also printed on the Dunlap Broadsides, the “original printed copies of the Declaration that were circulated throughout the new nation.” For those two obvious reasons, July 4, 1776 became the official date attributed to our Declaration of Independence.

And, really, after all these years and all our “4th of July” celebrations, doesn’t “the 2nd of August” just sound feeble?

But still, no attendant celebrations occurred until many years after 1776, the country and its citizens far too distracted by the demands of burgeoning democracy to party down at the time. It seems, much like today, that partisan divides between the various political factions were fierce and unrelenting, and much of the rancor had to do with the Declaration itself. Some, the Democratic-Republicans (can you imagine a party actually combining those two disparate political assignations?), supported Thomas Jefferson and the Declaration; the Federalists on the other side thought it was a bunch of pro-French/anti-British hooey. The only things missing from this colonial melee were cable news and blowharding talk show hosts!

And with that political rumble as a backdrop, as well as the War of 1812 to contend with, who had time to think about fireworks? At least the pretty kind that blew up in the sky? But despite these many distractions, the date was an important marker for the aforementioned – and very outspoken – John Adams. In 1817, this Founding Father and well known letter-writer is said to have written a missive expressing his frustration that, by ignoring the  momentousness of its historical milestones, America seemed “uninterested in its past.” The complaint apparently struck a chord:

As post-1812 War politics shifted, the “anti-Declaration” Federalists spun into disarray and by the 1820s and 1830s, the political parties that evolved from this seismic shift came to agree on at least one thing: that all Americans were “inheritors” of what Jefferson and his party had wrought: the glorious Declaration of Independence. National pride spiked, copies went flying around the nation as evidence of America’s greatness (all dated, as noted earlier, with “July 4, 1776”), and attitudes about the date and the importance of its celebration changed. Particularly when, in what can only be seen as a confluence of epic and cosmic perfection, both men so instrumental in establishing this profound document – John Adams and Thomas Jefferson – died within hours of each other on July 4th, 1826, forever anointing the date as one of monumental significance to the United States of America.

So between his signing of the Declaration, his grumbling letter of 1817, and his eerily well-timed denouement (giving Jefferson a nod for the same!), John Adams more than played his part in helping define this day as worthy of celebration. It took Congress almost 100 years after the initial signing to codify the date into American culture, but it was declared in 1870 that the “4th of July” was, indeed, and would always be, a national holiday.

Which in every community in America translates to warm, neighborly activities, the excitement of children waving sparklers against a star-lit sky, wonderful food shared with friends and family, fireworks to “ooh” and “ahh” over, and, of most importance, the sense of enduring community and national pride based on ideals – and a very well-written and edited document – of stellar and unassailable grandeur.

John Adams would be smiling. Certainly writers and editors across the land are!


 

LDW_BWFollow Lorraine Devon Wilke on Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, and Huffington Post. Her article archive can be found at Contently, her photos at Fine Art America; details and links to her other work @ www.lorrainedevonwilke.com.

Her novel, AFTER THE SUCKER PUNCH is available at Amazon.com and you can follow her adventures with the book at www.AfterTheSuckerPunch.com.

And don’t forget to FOLLOW THE BLOG!

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Jun 22 2014

The Scourge of Spam: Does This Nonsense Really Work?

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Spammer

“Hmm.. what other nonsense can I send to Rock+Paper+Music?” Spammer pondered.

My little blog here is not a high-traffic site. I wish it were, but given the demand to spread my attentions across a wide swath of creative endeavors in which I’m involved, I have not had the time (nor, unfortunately, the savvy) to pump this bad boy into the virally, chewy sensation I intended.

So I do what I can: I write for it with the same fervor and focus I put into anything I do; I keep it current and contemporary, dress it up to my satisfaction, and it remains a place where I speak my mind and share my thoughts without limitation. It’s my blog. I love Rock+Paper+Music.

It seems Spammers do, too.

I use the capital “S” because this contingent of online personality is simply impossible to put into lower case. They are everywhere, as ubiquitous as the omniscient “God/god,” and evermore diligent about spreading their word with all the passion and fire of snake-charming, tent-dwelling fundamentalists. How do I know? Because I hear from them by the hundreds every single day and their missives have flooded my spam filter by over 460,000.

Yes… you read that right: almost 500K comments from Spammers!!! That’s about 497,455 more than I’ve gotten from actual readers (clearly I’m not as under-the-radar as I thought, she says drily).

Keeping this horde at bay has been left to the ministrations of my hearty spam filters — thank God for them – but still… it’s amazing, the sheer number and variety of issues submitted and disguised as faux comments or requests. I’m in awe of the creativity. There is clearly a script that various groups use, one that gets altered just enough with each missive to suggest real communication, and, of course, these always contain links and trackbacks (interesting, isn’t it, how many random readers have those? :).

I’ve been told by, oh, so many “readers” how they just “stumbled upon my blog” and are so impressed by my skill and talent they had to write. Or how “my cousin told me I had to visit your site and boy, am I glad I did!” (Me too!). There are some that just leave trackbacks, others that leave LOOOOONG lists of links to pharmaceutical drugs or designer sites or sex services (do they really think I’m going to let those get by?). There are even some who clumsily offer critique and still think their posts will pass muster, things like: “You’re not the best writer on the web and your images upload slow”…neither of which I hope is true!

The scourge of spam is like locust, cockroaches, and posts about the Kardashians: never-ending, pointless, and seemingly unstoppable. According to one survey, at least 12% of those who receive spam either through email, comments, Facebook posts; whatever, actually do respond to them, and often to their own detriment. Earlier this year TechDirt reported the story of a woman on ChristianMingle.com who was looking for love in what one would assume was certainly a right place but being taken, instead, by some Turkish scammer for $500,000 of her hard-earned cash. Frightfully unChristian and clearly a trump of my 500K spam comments, but as long as those “profits” keep coming in, in whatever percentages, they’ll keep on spamming.

There seems to be consensus (see related articles below) that this scourge is one we will have to endure like disease and earthquakes, but, as with both of those burdensome realities, we are wise to do all we can to protect ourselves in response. Which I do. In fact, I bow down to my spam filters both here at Rock+Paper+Music and at my email address, impressed by their relentless ability to ferret crap from commentary. Long may they filter.

But still… I gotta say I’m just a little wistful that my biggest audience here is those wily, unscrupulous, indefatigable Spammers who just “stumbled upon” my blog and want me to know they think I’m really, really awesome. All I can say to that is: gosh, thanks, you guys! :)

Related Articles:

The Spam Battle Report 2014

Why The Spammers Are Winning

Stupid users respond to spam? Survey said… (ding) 12% do!

The reasons why you should never respond to spam email


 

LDW_BWFollow Lorraine Devon Wilke on Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, and Huffington Post. Her article archive can be found at Contently, her photos at Fine Art America; details and links to her other work @ www.lorrainedevonwilke.com.

Her novel, AFTER THE SUCKER PUNCH is available at Amazon.com and you can follow her adventures with the book at www.AfterTheSuckerPunch.com.

And don’t forget to FOLLOW THE BLOG!

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Jun 21 2014

Hello, Summer. Time For An After the Sucker Punch Half-Price Sale!

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ATSP Summer Reading 1

Beaches, sun, lemonade, barbecues, late nights, lazy mornings, loads of fun and…. summer reading. Happy First Day of Summer!

And in honor of my favorite season, we’re having a “Lazy Hazy Crazy Days of Summer Sale.”

Starting today, June 21st at 12:00 am, and running until tomorrow, June 22nd at 11:00 pm, “The Lazy Hazy Crazy Days of Summer Sale” readers can purchase the ATSP ebook for $4.99.

HALF-PRICE!! TWO DAYS ONLY!

So if you haven’t picked up a copy yet, or you’d like to email a few extras to family and friends who’d enjoy the book, this is the time to do it! Here’s the link:

AFTER THE SUCKER PUNCH LAZY HAZY CRAZY DAYS OF SUMMER SALE

Enjoy, let me know your thoughts when you’re done, and thank you for not only supporting me, but supporting independent publishing. We both love you!


 

LDW_BWFollow Lorraine Devon Wilke on Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, and Huffington Post. Her article archive can be found at Contently, her photos at Fine Art America; details and links to her other work @ www.lorrainedevonwilke.com.

Her novel, AFTER THE SUCKER PUNCH is available at Amazon.com and you can follow her adventures with the book at www.AfterTheSuckerPunch.com.

And don’t forget to FOLLOW THE BLOG!

Click to read & share!

Jun 20 2014

Sometimes The Best Story About a Book Isn’t About the Book At All

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I ran this story at AfterTheSuckerPunch.com, but thought it was so sweet I had to share it with subscribers here as well! Enjoy:

“If cookies be the food of love…munch on.”
-Dame Judi Dench

There are three things about the above quote that I adore: Dame Judi Dench, love and… cookies. If one combines cookies with love, well, that’s an explosion of wonderfulness that could only be topped by adding Dame Judi. Barring that option (and one assumes that’s a given), the combination of cookies and love is a mighty potent mix in itself. And today I had occasion to be the receipient of that marvelous brew:

Book cover cookie1

This is a cookie… a very delicious (yes, I ate one) shortbread cookie designed with the cover of my book as the frosting top. I ask you: WHAT COULD BE BETTER THAN THAT??!

Not much.

Book cover cookies2The cookie came in a box of identical cookies, all of which were designed, made, and sent by my cousin in Chicago, Vicky Sarris Blanas, who, with her husband, Larry Blanas, owns the Lawrence Deans Bake Shop in Wilmette, Illinois, a close neighborhood of Chicago. (A little history about them and their bakery can be found in a Chicago Tribune story titled, It Started With Biscotti.)

What is utterly amazing about this unexpected and incredibly touching gift is that it comes from a member of my family whom I only recently met and rarely get to visit, what with her in Chicago and me in LA. But my blood ties with Vicky go way back and are attached to some of the sweetest memories of my childhood:

Grandma by Mary_3.11.79

My grandmother; photo shot by Mary Amandes on 3.11.79

When I was a little girl visiting my grandmother in Chicago (though the city of my birth, my family moved to a small farm town in northern Illinois when I was three), my sister, Mary, and I often spent time with various combinations of our many Greek relatives. Two who completely captured our little-girl imaginations were women whose names I’ll never forget: Sia and Helen. They were incredibly beautiful young Greek women who couldn’t help but appear particularly glamorous next to our dear but rather classic Greek immigrant grandmother! Their names were always said with Sia’s first: “Sia and Helen.” I can’t remember anyone ever saying, “Helen and Sia.” Don’t know why. Sia and Helen’s mother, Victoria, was the half-sister of my grandmother. And Sia’s daughter is Vicky Sarris Blanas, the baker of my cookies.

Vicky making her magicI met Vicky and her family during the summer of 2011 when in Chicago for an event, and found their very hip, just-opened bakery on Green Bay Road to be as warm and inviting as a good bakery should be. We later connected on Facebook, particularly in a private family group, and have “liked” and Facebook commented on various posts over the last three years. But, to be honest, I didn’t know she was particularly aware of my book and I certainly didn’t expect her to take the time, and put her creative skills to work, to memorialize it in such a unique and thoughtful way!

But she did… and I am so touched. We will enjoy “munching on” them, as Dame Judi suggests, but I will keep at least two as mementos of not only the launch of my first book, but the love and incredibly sweet consideration of my dear cousin Vicky.

Lawrence Deans Bake Shop

Stop by the bakery’s Facebook page and give a “like,” and if you’re in the Chicago area, be sure to visit for coffee and a treat. Here’s the link: Lawrence Deans Bake Shop.

Sometimes the best story about a book isn’t about the book at all….


 

LDW_BWFollow Lorraine Devon Wilke on Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, and Huffington Post. Her article archive can be found at Contently, her photos at Fine Art America; details and links to her other work @ www.lorrainedevonwilke.com.

Her novel, AFTER THE SUCKER PUNCH, is available at Amazon.com and you can follow her adventures with the book at www.AfterTheSuckerPunch.com.

And don’t forget to FOLLOW THE BLOG!

Click to read & share!