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Saturday, August 22, 2020

Going Offline for a Bit

You might have noticed that I haven't written much in the way of long form around here lately. 

No, I haven't given up writing.

No, I haven't abandoned the blog.

No, I haven't moved to a remote island without internet and gone back to nature -- though that is still a distinct possibility. 

The truth is: I've been having health problems and that has affected my ability to write longer pieces. Or complete the novels. Or write creative short stories. Or do much of anything but shout on social media at the latest idiocy by our government.

Pain will do that do you. 

It taken the doctors a while to figure it out. I've been scanned, X-rayed, probed, and had my blood tested in a dozen way. 

Yesterday I finally got a definitive diagnosis. 

The good news that it's fixable.

The bad news is that it's something that needs to be done right away, or it won't be fixable. 

So, in a few days I'm going in for surgery. Should be fairly quick. Recovery should be relatively short, a day or two, and I'll be out of the hospital and back to work. Hopefully back to writing long form here in addition to my usual copious social media output. 

That said, on the same day I'm scheduled for surgery, there are two hurricanes hitting the Gulf Coast because, of course, there are. 

One of those hurricanes is aimed more or less directly at us here in the Florida Panhandle. 

I need to secure the house and property, prep the generators, lay in supplies, etc, so my family is safe -- including members that can't evacuate -- while I'm in the hospital.

All of this is the long way around of saying: I'm going offline for a week starting today. Prepare yourselves accordingly. I may check in periodically on Facebook and Twitter and Instagram, let you know how things are going, but don't count on that. If surgery is delayed due to the weather, then I might be offline for a bit longer. I'll let you know. 


In the meantime: 

As previously noted, every once in a while I have to ask for money.

I don’t have to do it very often these days. But, this has been an expensive year and I’ve got bills to pay and people to take care of.

Having given up military consulting work and having shut down my woodworking business and art studio (hopefully temporarily) when I left Alaska, I subsist for the moment primarily on income derived from my social media sites and this blog – including the various merchandise I sell under my brand.

A few years back, I wouldn’t have believed this possible.

A few years back it wouldn’t have been possible.

But despite the sneering complaints of certain vocal critics, it is possible for a writer to make a reasonably decent living this way.

Yes, writer.

It used to be “writer” was defined as somebody who assembled words and ideas into books, short stories, articles, and perhaps screenplays, fact or fiction, and submitted those efforts via various means to editors at publishing houses or various presses or various media outlets, and then lived on cheese sandwiches hoping a check of some modest amount would come back. Traditionally the profession of “writer” meant you repeated this cycle without healthcare or adequate hygiene or presentable clothes until you died, or gave it up for a real job.

That model, that definition of writer, still very much exists.

And a lot of writers make varying degrees of living from it.

If you’re a Stephen King or a John Scalzi, you might make millions and live in a golden mansion high on a landscaped hill in the middle of a private island waited on hand and foot by an army of nubile olive-pitters (this is totally true and I heard it directly from one of George R.R. Martin’s gardener). But more likely you’re a stringer for the local paper, and you might make enough to buy a cheese sandwich or two providing you’re not particular about the definition of “cheese” or those weird green spots on the bread.

Various degrees of success exist between those poles.

Me? I wanted to be a writer since I was kid. It’s a sickness, writing. A weird mental disorder that makes you sit in front of a keyboard for hours, daydreaming and playing with ideas and wondering why anybody would read the blather on the screen. But my grandmother gave me a Hardy Boys book (#8; The Mystery of Cabin Island) for Christmas one year when I was about 8 or 9. I’d been an indifferent reader up to that point, but that book captivated me and my lifelong obsession with words began right there. Somewhere shortly thereafter, in a staggering moment of epiphany, I realized there were actually people out there who got paid to sit in front of a keyboard and daydream and those people didn’t have to put on pants every day. Hell they might not even own actual pants – unless you consider pajamas legitimate work apparel.

I knew then that’s what I wanted to do.

I’d always intended to go the traditional route, cheese sandwiches and all.

I’d never intended to write about politics. But evidence would suggest that’s where my talent lies – if you’re charitable and agree that it is indeed an actual talent and not just something you could train a chimpanzee to do (they taught ‘em to fly spaceships, so I imagine political pundit wouldn’t be that difficult).

But by the time I was free to write what I wanted (upon my retirement from the military) and I started writing in earnest with the idea that someday somebody would give me actual money for it, the world had changed. How we connect to it had changed and continues to evolve at a rapid pace and a new type of “writer” became possible – well maybe not new new, but perhaps a more modern version of the political broadsides and pamphlets penned by the likes of Thomas Paine.

It’s amazing to me how fast this has gone.

Ten years ago, hell five years ago, I would never have guessed that Facebook would become my primary platform for day to day short form.  Facebook is a horrible platform for the kinds of things I write. It’s a bastard cross between a blog and public forum and doesn’t do either very well. It’s subject to arbitrary and random censorship. There’s no protection for intellectual property at all. It lacks the most basic of editing tools and formatting functions, its search capability is ridiculous and all but useless. Facebook’s interface, timeline management, and display are one of the single most infuriatingly horrible experiences in an age of limitless customization – limitless to everybody but Facebook users that is. It’s impossible to get any kind of help from the operators and it’s subject to every kind of cyber-abuse from bullying to trolling to sexual assault.

And Twitter, where I spend many hours every day, is – if anything – worse.

If Facebook is a dysfunctional community, then Twitter is Monkey Island in that community’s horrible zoo, a screeching riot of flying shit and bared fangs. Twitter is a chemical plant for distilling out the absolute worst elements of human existence, like some sort of highway where every driver is armed and in the throes of howling road rage and they don’t care if they die if they can take everybody else with them.

And yet – and yet – these platforms do one thing very, very well.

They do the one thing that traditional publishing venues cannot do.

Facebook and Twitter (and Instagram and Snapchat and CoSo and so on) connect writers to people in an organic, viral, geometrically expanding manner that is completely impossible anywhere else.

Now, interacting with readers on a real time basis for hours upon hours every single goddamned day isn’t for every writer. It takes a certain degree of masochism to do it, see my previous comments about road rage and flying monkey shit.

In point of fact, a lot of writers become writers because they are anti-social bastards who enjoy living on moldy fake-cheese sandwiches and sitting around all day in dirty pajamas and who tend to break out in a cold sweat when they actually have to put on pants and go outside where all the other people are.

So real time interaction with their audience isn’t something they consider a feature.

And that’s okay. “Writer” is a loose enough definition that it accommodates the gregarious right alongside the hermit.

But, if you write well, if you write the things people are interested in, and if you’re willing to interact with your audience directly and in real time, then social media makes it possible for your work to spread far beyond the size of audiences normally available to traditional writers. For example: A few years ago, when I started doing this full time, Stonekettle Station averaged maybe 20,000 visitors per month – and that was after 8 years of writing every single day.  Maybe 3,000 people followed me on Facebook, maybe another 1000 or so on Twitter, and like one weird guy on Instagram.

Five years later, with some considerable effort, my daily Facebook audience is coming up on 200,000 subscribers, 170,000 on Twitter, and a single long form essay on Stonekettle Station can exceed 200,000 unique pageviews in a few hours.

That’s not connectivity traditional publishing, even things like newspaper columnist, can do.

Social media, for all its ills, has created new opportunity, an alternative to traditional writing models. Not a replacement, a supplement.

And that’s where I ended up.

I admit that in my case there is some degree of luck. I happened to be in the right place just as opportunity opened with the right experience and skillset and enough free time to take advantage of it.  It suits me. It’s not easy. Really it’s not. It sometimes (often) takes 14 to 18 hour days, research, writing, swearing at the screen, it can be incredibly frustrating at times for reasons you never imagine or anticipate. It requires constant attention, a constant presence, and everything becomes grist for the mill, making much of your life public – something that is often less than thrilling to your spouse.

It’s work.

And it is … writing.

I’ve had a number of critics sneer at me, you’re not a real writer! Well, okay. Fair enough. I’m not particularly put out by that and I’m willing to go with whatever description you want to call it.  Sincerely.

But what do you call it?

I sometimes crank out a quarter million words in a month for a dedicated audience larger than that of many highly successful novelists. Hell, news sites steal my work on nearly a daily basis, and publish my stuff as their own for profit – that’s got to mean something, right? Now, I’m willing to accept any label you want to slap on that, but before you do, I’d like to suggest you try it. Start a blog, social media sites, assemble words every day, build an audience without gimmicks or tricks solely on the basis of what you write, and then tell me what you call that effort.

As a cautionary note: no matter what you call yourself, no matter how much adoring admiration you manage to inspire in your audience, no matter how many people send you fan mail and messages of respect, no matter how successful you eventually manage to be and how full of yourself you become as a result, your family and friends still think you’re a putz and remind you of it as often as possible.  Ideally this keeps you grounded and from turning into a complete ass. Ideally.

And every day, every single day, no matter how well you’ve done, everyday, you’re sure that’ll be the day it all falls apart and you’ll have to go get a real job again.

I’ve been invited to a number of writer’s conventions to talk about this with other writers – or those who want to become writers under this new paradigm. That’s something I’m happy to do. I’ve been pretty lucky and I’m glad to pay that forward. The world is a big place, there’s plenty of room for many, many more writers – or whatever you call ‘em – in this new arena. More on that as plans firm up.

But, here’s the downside – or at least the part I like least.

Every once in a while I need to ask for money.

I don’t like this. I really don’t like this. I don’t like asking for money.

I’m getting more used it, especially since it doesn’t seem to bother readers at all – well except for that one guy who shows up periodically to call me names and generally make an ass of himself. But ideally, I write something and if you like it enough, you’ll kick in.  And thankfully, you do so often enough that I can mostly survive on that part. Mostly, but not quite.

So when I began this I found a way to assuage my conscience.

Any subscriber who donates any amount via the donation button or as a Patreon during the next 30 days, August 22, 2020 to September, 22, 2020, will be put in the running for a giveaway. Every few days over the next month, I’ll give away loot. I’ve got at least a hundred of my handmade ink pens, engraved with Stonekettle Station. I’ve signed copies of books that my work appears in. I’ve got signed copies of my photography – and given that I generally don’t sign those prints, these will be unique. And randomly, I’ll give away a couple of Stonekettle Station T-shirts (If you win one of those, I’ll have it made to your requirements, size, color, sex, etc).

Winners will be announced every few days until I run out things to give away.

To donate, click on the “Donation” button on the upper right side of this screen and follow the directions or click on the Patreon link for additional options.



Edit: Readers viewing Stonekettle Station on mobile devices sometimes can’t see the side-bar. As such, I’m attempting to embed the donate function code here in the text.







My Patreon is here



You may enter more than once. Each donation will be counted as a unique subscription. 

Those of you who already donate via an automatic monthly payment, you’ll be entered automatically in the giveaway.

I’ve discovered that winners sometimes, often it seems, do not want their names made public. I’d like to tell readers who got the various art pieces, but if you want your name kept private I will certainly do so. One time when I did this, the first person I selected to receive a prize refused because they lived on a boat and had no room for addition items. The alternate also refused for personal reasons and requested that the artwork go instead to a charity for auction to raise money for a cause important to them. They wanted it kept anonymous. So, that I did. I will honor any reasonable request when it comes to such things.

Legal Disclaimer: To be clear, this is not a lottery or a raffle.  Donations are voluntary subscription fees specifically in support of this blog and the associated social media feeds and conducted in accordance with state and federal requirements.

That is:  you’re paying for content not a chance to win something.

I am not claiming any tax-exempt status or charity. Donations are considered business income and I pay all applicable state and federal taxes on that income and I have the records to prove it.

The items I give away are my artwork, created and paid for by me.  As such I chose to randomly give them away to supporters, just as I gave away my custom made pens to my fellow writers.  The giveaway list is generated from voluntary subscriptions, since I have no other way to determine who readers are.  You are not donating for a chance to win a prize, you’re paying for the content of this blog and my associated social media feeds and I’m using this opportunity to give something back other than just my usual blog essays, Facebook posts, and Tweets.

As always, thank you for your support // Jim





Thursday, June 11, 2020

Down With Slogans!



Make America Great Again! 
-- Donald Trump, 2016 campaign slogan and policy statement

I said a thing. 
It didn't go well. 
Or, on second thought, maybe it did. Days later, I'm still not sure one way or the other. 
It began, as it usually does these days, on Twitter:


Hang on. 

Just wait. Don't start screaming yet. 

If you let me explain, I'll probably give you even more reason to be mad and outraged. Won't that be nice? 

So, anyway, that's what I said. 
We don't want to defund the police.
We want to fund police training, de-escalation, community outreach, oversight, and especially police ACCOUNTABILITY.
What we want is to defund police brutality, abuse, racism, escalation, and militarization.
Fund protect and serve EVERYONE.

Outrageous, right? 

In my defense, Twitter is a lousy platform for political commentary. Tweets are limited to just under 300 characters, which doesn't allow for much in the way of detail or nuance. And sure, you can thread tweets, i.e. link them together into a longer message -- and I do that, a lot, and am in fact somewhat notorious for it -- but the truth of the matter is that not very many people read beyond the first tweet in the thread anyway.

And frankly, I thought this mostly a throwaway comment. 

I posted that at 8:35AM on a Monday morning. First tweet of the week, while I had my first cup of coffee and settled in to get a feel for what was happening in an America on fire, burning from both ends and right down the middle. 

But this was a Monday morning after two weeks of protests following the murder of yet another black man at the hands of police. 

This was Monday after a weekend of the president throwing gasoline on the fire from the safety of his bunker, under a fortress, behind a wall, surrounded by a brand new fence, guarded by an army. 

This was the day after police across the nation declared war on American citizens, a weekend of dogs, escalation, gas, tanks, and bullets -- some rubber, some not -- and yet more murders, more racism, more abuse by those who should be protecting Americans instead of killing them. 

I want to say this Monday was unusual, but, you know, it's starting to feel like it's not. 

Maybe that's where I went wrong -- if indeed I did. 

Rage has become the norm of American existence and this just seemed like more of the same.

Because it is


And that's the problem. 


See, on that Monday, my various social media timelines were full, tens of thousands deep, with people shouting "Defund the Police!"

Defund The Police?

That's the message we've settled on, I guess. The shouted slogan, the unifying narrative that has emerged in the wake of the protests, the riots, the rhetoric, the war on American citizens waged by those sworn to protect and serve and openly led and encouraged by those supposedly elected to support and defend the Constitution for all. 

Defund the police!

There were thousands of requests, demands, entreaties, for me to use my platform to push that message: Defund the Police! Come on, Jim! Join us! Use your voice to get others to join us! Defund the police! 

Sure, but ... defund the police? 

Defund?

What does that mean? 

The day before I saw a handful of people shouting this. Now? Monday morning it was thousands. Tens of thousands. 

So, anyway, I...

What? 

What's that? 

Oh. I see. 

You're mad. It was way before Monday morning, you say. You've been shouting it for years. Well, you know, maybe it was being shouted long before Monday. But maybe we don't all have the same view, the same input, the same shared experience -- and we're going to come back to that. So, for me, it was Monday when I really noticed the slogan "Defund the Police," when I realized it had become some sort of national movement, when people began demanding that I join up. 

You? Your mileage may vary. 

As I way saying: You want me to join you? You want me to push the message? 

I might, but I'm going to need more than a slogan.

Defund the police? 

What does that mean? Get rid of the police? Abolish the police? Or just ... don't pay the police anymore? What are we talking about here? 

I looked at what my readers were saying, over half a cup of cooling coffee at 7AM. 

I looked at the thousands of comments and messages, and I  listened to what people were shouting in the street, and it seemed to me they were saying they didn't really want to get rid of the police. 

Instead, again it seemed to me, they wanted to reduce the things which lead to institutional bias (such as, you know, racism, for example), abuse of power (like kneeling on a man's throat until he dies, for example), unnecessary use and/or escalation of force (like tear gas and rubber bullets used on peaceful protesters outside the White House), militarization, lack of accountability, etc. 

That sounds good. 

I can certainly support that, and in fact, I have been shouting that very message myself for more than a decade right here. 

And, again it seemed to me, they wanted to reward, fund, and/or increase the things which lead to better policing. Such as: community outreach to help cops and citizens see each other as people and not enemies, i.e. make policing local, community based and less like an invading army; programs which move some of the burden for non-policing matters (such as mental health intervention) away from law enforcement; increased oversight of police departments by community, state, and federal entities; significantly increased accountability of police officers and departments, training (which can be everything from de-escalation to civil rights to sexual harassment), etc.

That also sounds good to me. At least as a starting point. 

Again, since it seems I might need to repeat myself on this, I've been preaching exactly that message for more than a decade now, right here on this blog, and on my various social media feeds -- and I haven't been exactly shy about it recently either. 

I think "defund" might not be the best choice of words here, but you go to into revolution with the slogans you have and so I boiled what I was seeing down into a single summary small enough to fit into a tweet. 

Monday morning and a throwaway tweet of agreement and, even now, this doesn't seem like a controversial statement to me. 


But it only seems that way.


As it turns out, that's not what everybody meant. 

See, some people really did mean "abolish" the police. 

A lot of people, as it turns out. 










 


















There are thousands more. 

Three days later, it's still going on. 

You can take a look at my Twitter feed if you don't want to take my word for it. And tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands, of similar comments on Twitter outside of my feed, and on Facebook, TikTok, YouTube, Instagram, etc. 

Fuck you, defund the police. 

Fuck you, abolish the police. 

Fuck you, eliminate the police. 

Fuck you, defund means defund. 

Well, okay. Fuck me. Whatever. Not exactly the first time Lefty social media has told me to go fuck myself. I try not to take it personally. But about the hundredth "fuck you" from people who I'm supposed to be sharing a side with, well, like the man said, it kinda feels personal. 

Maybe I had it wrong. 

It happens.

I was once -- allegedly -- trained to hold a full cup of coffee, while standing in a canoe, in the middle a hurricane, without spilling a drop. Something about attention to detail and focus, or so Navy Chiefs would have you believe. But, this? This makes a hurricane at sea in a canoe look pretty good. There are one hell of a lot of moving parts lately. Lot of people yelling. Lot of rage. Lot of hate filling my feeds. We're still in the midst of a pandemic, record numbers of new cases, record number of people dying -- and here in Florida, I'm right in the middle of it. Meanwhile, there's an economic crisis, a looming recession, a collapsing energy sector, a trade war, an election. Right now, half my social media is lit up with very angry people yelling about the Harry Potter lady...

So, maybe somewhere in that tempest, I missed something. 

Unlike Trump, I don't claim every word I speak to be perfection. Maybe I got it wrong. Maybe I needed to apologize. 

So I went to look.