Abandon Text!

W. H. Auden once said: "Poems are not finished; they are abandoned." I have been abandoning writing projects for many years, since only the pressure of deadline and high expectations ever got me to finish, or even start, anything of merit. This blog is an attempt to create a more consistent, self-directed writing habit. Hopefully a direction and voice will emerge.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

"The Wal-Mart Effect" Effect

I recently downloaded The Wal-Mart Effect from Audible. It had been calling my name for a while, and I had resisted. It's one of the few times I've been drawn to a book that had absolutely no connection to technology, or spirituality, or any connection to business that would affect me. Finally I decided that it wouldn't kill me to read some non-fiction for sheer enjoyment.

One of the things that intrigues me about the book is the fact that more like it don't exist. Wal-mart had been a behemoth for almost a decade before Charles Fishman came along and wrote such a definitive and balanced book about it. Now he is a regular on all the business-related media -- TV, radio, print, and Internet -- because he's now the default Wal-mart expert. If Wal-Mart rolls out a plan for cut-rate medicines: "Call Fishman and see what he thinks." If Wal-Mart gets shut out of the business-banking sector: "Give Charles a buzz and get a comment." What a swell little niche. It's the kind of thing that makes any self-respecting author slap his forehead with the obviousness of it, wishing they had thought of it first.

The other thing that pulls me is the fact that Fishman is so even-handed in his treatment of Wal-mart. In a cultural climate that is increasingly anti-Wal-mart, its nice that someone can be so smart about it without sucumbing to political rubric. That said, I doubt the directors at Wal-mart are sending him any Christmas cards. While he's not making any mournful noises about the loss of mom-and-pop shops like everyone else, he is raking them over the coals for their treatment of vendors and their environmental impact.

Let's just hope the fun lasts through nine hours of an unabridged audiobook.

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Conversations with Santa God

My brother-in-law saw my recent post “God talks back”, and sent me an email with a link to the trailer for the “Conversations with God” movie, which had been forwarded to him on the same day.

I have not read the book, but the movie certainly didn’t make me want to. The plot, as near as I can tell, is:
  1. Man has tough breaks

  2. Man starts journalling his brains out, calls it a “conversation with God” and sells it as a book

  3. Man is showered with millions of dollars, so now he can smile at the cameras, wave to the crowds, and drop fifty-dollar tips

For some reason, this is supposed to inspire me.

I kept watching scene after scene of Mr. Walsh receiving all kinds of approbation, and I kept waiting for the boom to fall, for there to be some kind of reversal, in which God punishes him for his hubris in taking all the glory that really belonged to Him. But the fall never comes. Presumably this is so moving because someday, if we listen to Him with an open heart, God might someday make us into millionaire authors who can smile at cameras.

Although God managed to get into the title of this movie, his agent couldn’t make him the star . . . or even the co-star . . . and not even the love-interest of the lead. Some reviews had said the book had “rare wit and verve,” but evidently none of God’s biting one-liners managed to make it into the trailer.

Mr. Walsh is not the first author to write a book that put words into the mouth of God. There was a book about a decade ago, Joshua, that was a paper-thin reimagining of what Jesus would be like if he came to the modern world. The only problem with such stories is they tend to take the author’s (often asinine) opinions and attempt to elevate them by attributing them to someone much more important than they are. Such stories do not usually succeed in portraying Jesus’ love in any new way, though they do make a point that he’s a vegetarian, an environmentalist, and would probably vote a straight Democratic ticket.

Mr. Walsh’s heresy is not that he presumes to have spoken to God – that is actually the most plausible thing in his book. The real heresy is that he could write anything so shallow, insipid and boring and still think it was coming from God. If you’re going to give God a part, give him a funny, interesting part, like George Burns in the movie O God!

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Wednesday, November 01, 2006


For the first time in fifteen years, I’m cramming for an exam. I’m taking a Microsoft certification test in the morning, and I know I’m on the edge. I got 70% right on a practice exam, the bare minimum to pass, so I know I need to study a little more. I’m getting all these flashbacks from school.

The sad part is that I will probably be able to pass the test without really having done much hands-on work with the product. Nearly useless book-learning geared strictly towards passing the test lives on, even outside of academia.

Back to the books, before I fall asleep.

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Monday, October 30, 2006

God talks back

Kenny asked a former student of his: “Why did you fully accept the religion of your parents, when so many other children don’t?” Part of his reply was: “Religion is, in essence, the getting into communication with Deity. If I talk to God, and He talks back to me, and I teach my children how they can do the same, and they do so, and He talks back to them, then the religion lives. If not, then religion dies.”

I like that, if nothing else for its Darwinian simplicity. Religion either meets the need, or it doesn’t. And the fundamental need is to feel connected back to the source of all things.

I had also recently read the converse, from Daniel Dennett: “If you have to hoodwink – or blindfold – your children to ensure that they confirm their faith when they are adults, your faith ought to go extinct.”

So, by those two truisms, a religion has deliver some essential value, and it has to deliver it better than any other option that the world presents. Seems pretty simple. But this whole “communication with Deity” is such a slippery business. Even after years as a devout believer and many more years as an earnest seeker, I still don’t know exactly what “communication with Deity” really means. Nor am I alone in this . . . the whole premise of a whole series of O God! movies and the more recent “Joan of Arcadia” was that, while everyone talks about talking with God and hearing God’s replies, they didn’t actually, like, intended for it to really happen.

I have had some genuine spiritual experiences, too . . . and yet I’m not sure I would describe it as “God talking to me.”


Sunday, October 29, 2006

Visible Change

I have a lot of pressure mounting up . . . a Microsoft certification exam next week, for which I am only half-prepared at best, plus another SKS meeting, plus a project that I am further and further behind on.

And yet, I am feeling perfectly equanimous this evening. And that’s because I have a clean office in a clean house. I got all the backlogged shipping packed up and ready to go, all the stray packing materials bundled up in the garage, some hard disks and screens redeployed. So, in spite of the fact that I’m still in the hole, I feel like I’m in control and on top of things.

In a lot of the work that I do, I forget the importance of morale. Sometimes it doesn’t matter how much progress you’re making, as long as you feel like you’re making progress. Style will never fully replace substance, but at some level you need to see enough change, enough visible progress, that you feel like you’re moving in the right direction and that the struggle is worth it. When you get really tired and depressed, a clean office might be all that gets you through the night.

I’ve heard lots of stories to back this up. In World War II the American POWs made a point of shaving every day, just to keep themselves feeling civilized and unbroken. The FlyLady, a sort of Stephen Covey for the homemaker set, advises that you dress completely, all the way down to your shoes, even if you’re going to stay in the house all day.

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Newer Faster Better

Ok, after losing my post about the New Atheists twice, I finally succumbed to installing the Word add-in for Blogger. It’s clear that I need a better way to post that doesn’t lose my work if the upload happens to fail.

One thing I had noticed: I have become very state-dependent on that Blogger dashboard look-and-feel. It feels strange and different to be writing in plain-old-Word. In some ways, I’m glad; it shows I have cultivated some writing habits that go deeper than consciousness. But I also am rebelling slightly against my Blogger dependency . . . I would like, eventually, to publish this puppy myself. And now that Google has absorbed Blogger in its path to juggernaut-dom, I feel even more cagey.

Ok, so this is mostly a test post to see if this thing works. I need a URL to see how well that translates, so how about a link to the New Atheists story in Wired, which I keep trying to write about.

Yoiks, and away!

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