Don’t just create memories — look back on them, together

Scrolling through Instagram the other day, I noticed a friend’s photo of a photo of a jar filled with slips of paper. She and her family had spent the month of November writing down things to be thankful for, and then took turns pulling out slips of paper and talking about them together on Thanksgiving.

Since I was already feeling like Thanksgiving went by too quickly for our family, without much of a chance to reflect, and inspired by my friend’s simple idea to add some meaning to the typically busy holiday season, I decided to grab the kids and do something similar. The result is our first ever Memory Jar (beta version, of course).

The idea is that every Wednesday for the next couple of weeks — and in between, if the inspiration strikes — we’ll jot down a memory from the past 11 months (happy or sad, both are important) on a slip of paper and drop it in a glass jar. Some afternoon or evening between Christmas and New Year’s Eve, we’ll sit down and take turns pulling slip of paper out of the jar and talking over what we’ve done over the past year.

The resulting “memory jar” craft project is described below. Since this an off-the-cuff project we whipped up last night, I’m not sure how it will turn out, though I’m hoping it helps us take just a few hours to get together and think back on the ups and downs of 2014.

Here’s how we made our memory jar:

  • Some wrapping paper (holiday themed, if you’re into that)
  • Some ribbon (again, holiday themed is possible though not required)
  • A basket (or similar container)
  • Scissors
  • A jar
  • Something to write with (pen or marker recommended)
  • Friends and/or family to contribute
Step1

Step 1

Grab some different rolls of holiday wrapping paper and cut off 1’x1′ square pieces. Then, fold the pieces in half 3-4 times until it’s folded into a 3″ square.

Then, unfold the piece back again, and you’ll have some nice creases to cut on.

Step2

Step 2

Using the creases as guides, cut the larger squares of paper into smaller squares. Then, fold the smaller squares in half (with the paper design on the outside) and crease them to make sure they lay flat.

As you finish them, put them in a circle in the bottom of your basket. Leave room in the middle of the basket for the jar.

Step3

Step 3

Grab some ribbon (green and red, if available) and tie them to the top of a clear jar. Place the jar into the middle of the basket.

Step4

Step 4

Set a particular day of the week (“Every Wednesday”) or just invite friends/family members to jot down memories any time.

When you’ve written a memory, fold it back up so it’s hidden and place it into the jar.

Step5

Step 5

When the slips of paper are gone, or on a set date (we’re going with New Year’s Eve), take turns removing a slip of paper and reading it. Then spend a few minutes talking over the memory before passing the jar along to the next person to take the next slip of paper.

Bonus points for having a phone or laptop on hand — when a slip of paper is pulled from the memory jar, find photos or videos of the event to add to the conversation.

 

An innovation that DirecTV could probably never ship

I rarely ever channel surf live TV, though when I do I’m consistently amazed at the sheer length and frequency of commercial breaks. The seismic impact of DVRing aside, TV providers have limited if any tools beyond the decades-old “Previous Channel” button to help casual surfers avoid the mind-numbing crush of ads in those rare occasions when clicking around is the entertainment method of choice.

Browsing through the DirecTV channel guide while out of DVR’d shows on a quick lunch break the other day, I thought of a new idea that might infuriate advertisers and networks even as it makes casual browsing just slightly better for viewers.

DirecTV_Channel_guide

Imagine a small icon to the right of the channel or show name every time that particular channel was on a commercial break

Imagine your TV provider’s standard channel guide (a screenshot of my DirecTV guide is pictured). Now, imagine a new feature: An icon next to each channel or show name, to appear when that particular channel is currently in the midst of a commercial break. If we want to get negative, the icon could be a red button or perhaps a skull and crossbones; a more moderate icon could be as simple as a megaphone or “Ad break” — anything to provide an immediate and yet subtle visual clue so you can choose to skip past that channel and pick one where that 295th rerun of The Wedding Singer is actually airing.

If TV providers wanted to go a step further and give a nod to the advertisers they were helping viewers avoid, they could potentially even show a logo of the advertiser next to the show name in the guide, updating it live as the ads changed. An even more explicit and potentially mutually beneficial feature would be to show a countdown until the break is over. Sure, a commercial break countdown that still shows 4 minutes left might spur viewers to another option, though a nearly-finished countdown could also tilt the scales towards a few seconds of ad viewing. Since so much of my ad viewing comes via fast-forwarding the ads in DVR’d show, I’m assuming advertisers are already accounting for extremely brief views as part of their ad creation process.

Yes, this would be  more visual clutter in the already crowded channel guide user experience, and no, TV providers are not likely to subvert their partners so brazenly. All that said, “heads up” ad break tracking on channel guides could be a useful innovation to a problem that has plagued our lazy weeknights and sick days for generations.

 

We should celebrate the end of Kroll Show

One of my favorite TV shows is ending, and I couldn’t be happier about it.

Nearing the third season premiere of Kroll Show next month, co-creator and star Nick Kroll announced that he’s ending the show entirely after this season airs. Not because ratings are low, or the network decided to move on, or any of the business-related reasons that shows are ended. Rather, Kroll is wrapping up simply because he “wanted to feel like we were going out with the best work that we’ve done.”

Given how rare this type of voluntary ending is, I have even more respect for Kroll than I already did. In an industry where the norm is to renew successful shows until long after their natural expiration dates — resulting in increasingly ridiculous plots and beloved cast/characters exiting, among other issues — it’s really refreshing to see a star (with creative control, no less) making sure a show goes out like this.

Kroll Show

Nick Kroll and Jon Daly as Wendy and Ashley, two wealthy jerks who get into adventures

Of course it’s natural to want something great to continue. That said, we often stick with great shows to the point where they’re no longer recognizable as what we loved in the first place. The results are comedies like The Office continuing on without its star, funniest character and emotional heart; otherwise superb dramas like Downton Abbey resorting to inexplicable deaths, and previously respected shows like ER descending into soap opera-like insanity to keep viewers tuned in.

The worst part isn’t even what we’re watching — it’s what we’re missing. When previously great shows continue on well past their prime, their producers and stars are spending time and energy investing in a stale product when they could instead be working on new and different projects. A new project isn’t guaranteed to be a winner, though I’ll always bet on a great performer to come back again with something new and great, when given the chance.

After Kroll Show wraps, I’ll miss Liz and Liz, Ceasar (maybe not), Bobby Bottleservice, Wendy and Ashley, the Wheels crew, and of course Gil and George most of all. That said, loving nearly every minute of the show so far only makes me more excited to see where Kroll and the cast and crew of the Show will end up next.

 

Message to the Young Man

A few months ago, my wife noticed this simple, beautiful and a little bit sad classified ad, and I impulsively snapped a photo of it. When I’m looking through photos, it’s still one that I stop to read, especially when I want a smile or reminder of the good, and whimsy, of the people around us.

Did the Young Man ever see the ad? Did he ever recover the lid? It almost doesn’t matter. Just the existence of the ad proves that somebody moved beyond thought into action. IMG_0330.JPG

From Hammond to Rannazzisi (and more)

Getting tickets to see Steve Rannazzisi (he might hate this, but you likely know him as Kevin on The League) tonight got me thinking about the other comics I’ve seen perform live. Below, a list with approximate dates.

  • Darryl Hammond, Sept. 2003 (John Fugelsang opening), Orono, ME
  • Dane Cook, October 2004, Colby College, Waterville, ME
  • Mitch Hedberg, November 2005 (Stephen Lynch opening), State Theater, Portland, ME
  • Eugene Mirman, June 2008 (As part of a live taping of Late Night with Conan O’Brien)
  • Ricky Gervais, June 2008 (Todd Berry opener), Madison Square Garden, New York City
  • Demitri Martin, February 2009, Orono, ME
  • Conan O’Brien’s live tour, June 2009 (this counts, right? Deon Cole performed a short set), Connecticut
  • Bob Saget, December 2010, Orono, ME
  • Aziz Ansari, October 2011 (Joe Mande opening)
  • Bill Burr, July 2012 (Multiple openers)
  • Louis CK, November 2012 (With Gary Gulman opening)
  • Comedy Bang! Bang! Live, October 2013 (Scott Aukerman, Paul F. Tompkins, The Birthday Boys)
  • Steve Rannazzizi, September 2014, Orono, ME
  • Norm McDonald, May 2015, Orpheum Theater, Boston MA
  • Update, June 2015: Dave Attell, June 2015, State Theater, Portland Maine. (Josh Day, opener)
  • Doug Loves Movies taping, October 10 2015 (Riki Lindholm, Kate Miccucci, Paul F. Tompkins as Werner Herzog, guest appearance by Dan van Kirk as Mark Whalberg)
  • Gilbert Gottfried, November 2015, South Portland, ME
  • Steve Martin & Martin Short, September 2019, Bangor, ME

Empathy: The Secret Ingredient in WordPress Work, Development, and Success

Today at the first inaugural WordCamp Maine, I presented a talk with the title “Empathy: The Secret Ingredient in WordPress Development, Work, and Success.” Below, my slides, along with notes and additional info.

I’d love to hear your feedback or ideas — please leave them in the comments or on Twitter!

Talk:

Notes:

 

Top 10 favorite comics

The Sunday comics are a big deal in our house, and while we love the overall experience of reading the entire comics, a discussion about our favorites quickly turned into three of us building our own “Top 10 favorites” list. Here’s my list — this isn’t exhaustive, as it only represents the comics available in our local paper, and it’s not permanent — just a few weeks ago, the previous #1 fell to #2.

10. Pickles

9. Hi and Lois

8. Wizard of Id

7. Barney Google and Snuffy Smith

6. Blondie

5. Baby Blues

4. Non Sequitur

3. Zits

2. Dilbert

1. Dustin

pre://d.o.mai.n: The Interview, Part 2

With his sci-fi thriller pre://do.mai.n, author Christopher Godsoe isn’t interested in painting a dystopian vision for the future — society as we know it can be ugly enough. That is, until you’re prepared to fight for it.

In part 2 of this wide-ranging interview, Chris talks about his influences as a writer and his experiences bringing the book to life over the course of the past year.

pre://d.o.mai.n • By Christoper Godsoe • 395pp • Released December 2nd, 2013 

Note: This is my final in a series of three posts covering the launch of Christopher Godsoe’s new sci-fi thriller, pre://do.mai.n, available online. Read my review of pre://d.o.mai.n, and part 1 of my interview with Chris. Today, part 2 of my interview, covering Chris’ experiences writing the book.

Aspiring writers are often intimated by how to begin writing, particularly while balancing a full-time job, family and friends, and other commitments. I occasionally hear the old line repeated that it’s only a “lucky” or “connected” few who actually produce writing, though most writers who actually try know it’s a lot more about effort than a lucky break. Looking back on how you brought a nearly 400-page novel to life, how did you start? What helped keep you going?

Christopher Godsoe

Christopher Godsoe

The advice most proven writers give to aspiring ones sounds a lot like this-”Write”. It comes across a lot like, “Get out of here kid, stop bothering me. Can’t you see I’m busy?” I’m sure some of them even mean it that way. Most of them don’t, they’re just trying to let people know that there isn’t really any shortcut. Writing is a slog, it’s a marathon, and the path to it’s summit is littered with the corpses of the millions of people out there that have said, “You know what? I bet I could write a novel.”

Anyone can write a novel. Completing one requires no physical gifts outside of the average human, and since everyone can (meaning there is nothing preventing them from doing so), they assume that anyone can (meaning that it’s easy). It can be unnerving, but there’s still a large divide between those that can and those that do. Not everyone enjoys writing, especially to the extent that it takes to see a book through to completion. It sounds romantic, slaving away in silence only to emerge with a stack of pages months later, unequivocal proof at how brilliant you are. The reality is a lot different.

My advice is for anyone that feels like they should write a book is to try it. It’s not for everyone, and in that I mean that not everyone enjoys the process as much as they think they will. The bar of entry is low, meaning you likely already have everything you need to create a book and publish it now with the advent of self/independent publishing. The largest barrier for new writers is the same as it always has been- the actual writing.

As if writing itself isn’t a solitary and difficult enough process, a sensitive topic among writers is the manner in which written work is published: Even with the proliferation of devices like the Kindle, iPad, and smartphones — and with the success of self-published books like “50 Shades of Gray” — many authors still choose the traditional printed publishing route over self-publishing, whether for reasons of prestige, validation, the potential for more money, or just because “that’s how it’s done”. Do you feel self-publishing is still not as desirable as having work bought by a traditional/print publishing house? If so, why not? Do you expect that self-publishing will become the norm, even for bigger-name authors?

I think there are perks to either path. I sent this book out to several agents via query letter. It was rejected by every one of them that saw fit to grace me with a response. A funny thing happened though, while I was waiting to hear back from them. I started thinking about all of the ways I could benefit from traditional publishing (such as the prestige and validation), and realized that what I was giving up was actually more valuable to me than what I would be getting in return. The cash earned is roughly comparable. Sure you may sell more copies with a traditional publisher backing you, but you will also make considerably less per copy, and you also forfeit most of the rights you have to the story.

If your book takes off, and a business opportunity arises from that down the road, such as a film deal or a video game company wants to use the world you created, it’s more likely than not that they will be negotiating with (and paying) the publishing house you signed with. Signing with a traditional publisher is great, don’t get me wrong, but it’s not the best fit for everyone. This way, if I decide I want to partner with an artist to produce a graphic novel version of pre://d.o.mai.n down the road, I can do that. If I want to release the next novel episodically, I can do that. I don’t have to ask permission from my publisher.

Who are your influences, particularly for this book (sci-fi or otherwise)?

The big ones are Richard K Morgan, Daniel Suarez, Neal Stephenson, William Gibson, Hugh Howey, and Chuck Palahniuk. I am also a huge fan of the short stories of Karl Schroeder (his stories in MetaTropolis are brilliant), but haven’t had a chance yet to check out his novels.

Relatedly, what authors and/or books people should check out if they like pre://d.o.mai.n?

altered-carbonWorks from the above authors that I have enjoyed are (in order from above) Altered Carbon (still my favorite novel), Daemon/Freedom Inc., Snow Crash, Neuromancer, WOOL/SHIFT/DUST (The Silo Series), and Fight Club.

Science fiction seems to be in the midst of a resurgence of popularity across media as part of a larger renaissance of “geek” culture. Do you see any other implications for this popularity outside of entertainment? Will it help people become more self-reflective, or skeptical of the power structures of society?

I think there is a lot of truth in science fiction, and there always has been. No other form of fiction devotes itself so heavily to predicting the future, in my opinion. I feel that science fiction is often a product of the time in which it is conceived, and with recent stories like “V for Vendetta”, the Silo series (Wool, Shift, and Dust), the Matrix movies, the Terminator films, etc, it’s obvious a lot of science fiction creators have a less than stellar opinion of the current power structures of our planet and where they are pushing us.

It’s a bit of a “chicken or the egg” thing, really. Are people feeling that the current power structure is corrupt, and that mistrust is feeding into their art through science fiction, or is science fiction helping to cultivate these ideas? I’m more inclined to believe the former, though I do feel like life follows art to some extent. People are giving geek culture more play than they ever have, and are learning that it has some pretty interesting things to say about the world. The biggest grossing films for the past few summers usually have some pretty heavy science fiction influences, and more and more often people are choosing science fiction as a place to spend their entertainment dollar. In a capitalistic society such as ours, it’s as good an indication as any that we are entering a new golden age of geek culture, where it’s far more acceptable to be a geek than it ever has in the past. Kids are far less likely to get picked on for wearing shirts with comic book characters on them, or Star Trek, etc. That, in and of itself is a huge shift in the way the public sees geeks. The problem isn’t so much that geeks are insulted anymore, we’ve almost reached the point where people are trying to inflate their geek credentials in order to be accepted. The geeks are taking over.

One of my favorite meta topics about writers and writing are the routines of creating and editing. Can you share your own personal habits for writing and editing: Mornings? Late nights? Longhand? Only with headphones?

I write primarily late at night. I’m a bit of a night owl, and I can’t say with any certainty if writing early in the morning would work for me, because I’ve never tried it. In talking with other authors, I hear that a lot of them write early in the day. They start the day off with coffee or something caffeinated, and try to get in their work before they start anything else. It’s not something that works for me, I don’t think enough caffeine exists to get my mind into a serviceable state before I need to be doing other things.

As far as music is concerned, sometimes I listen to it while writing, but it varies based on what kind of a mood I’m going for. I’ve taken to creating what I call “mood playlists” on Spotify, each containing music evoking certain emotions, and select which one to listen to based on the mood of the specific scene I’m writing. If I’m writing a sad scene, I’ll listen to music like “Mad World” by Gary Jules, something by Blue October, “Imagine” by John Lennon, or “Same Old Lang Syne” by Dan Fogelberg, which is an incredibly lonely, sad song.

If I’m writing an action scene, I might go for something with more energy, such as something by The Crystal Method, Rage Against the Machine, or Skrillex. It changes constantly based on mood, and sometimes I don’t listen to any at all. I try to avoid headphones unless there’s a lot of background noise, I just keep the volume low enough to hear the melody without being able to understand the lyrics. I like to think the meaning gets through subliminally. “Mood by Osmosis,” if you will.

By introducing  fantasy worlds and futuristic technology, science fiction as a genre enables a writer to subtly comment on life in the present, demonstrating that while settings and tools may change, people will always face similar (and sometimes new) human challenges. Did you choose science fiction as a means to reflect on present-day challenges? Did you start with the themes, and then decide science fiction was the format you wanted to express them in?

I think science fiction is fascinating as a genre in it’s ability to comment on the possibilities of the future. It’s the main purpose of the genre, as far as I’m concerned, to forecast what might come to be one day. Alot of that involves extrapolating what we are dealing with now, taking it to one of many logical conclusions to illustrate what could come to pass if we continue on in a certain direction. It’s a powerful thing, the ability to tell a tale while influencing the next generation to make better choices, and one I don’t take lightly. I know not everything I try to say will sink in, and many readers will gloss over those parts of the story in lieu of getting to the action, but it’s there for those that are receptive to it.

Karl Schroeder does a great job of tackling things like that in the stories he has contributed for the MetaTropolis audiobooks. His writing on Augmented Reality in “To Hie from Far Celenia” is genius. While I didn’t discover it until I had nearly finished pre://d.o.mai.n, he brings up a lot of good points that will inspire new choices in my writing as I continue this series. I recommend anyone interested in new ideas to check out those audiobooks (They only exist in audiobook format). In MetaTropolis: Cascadia, he delves into the “Internet of Things”, as well as explores the concept of a commodities based currency with expiration dates printed on each bill. I can’t say what making a change like that could do to our economy, but it would certainly keep the currency flowing through it at a steady clip.

His writing on “The Internet of Things” in Daodan is impressive as well, because some of what he goes into there is actually beginning, with the Animal Rights movement, and one could see how-even with no direct input from the animals-their rights could be leveraged to great effect. Science Fiction is cyclical in nature, what today is far fetched and “Sci-Fi”, will tomorrow inspire scientists and engineers to make real. Tomorrows Science Fiction will inspire the next generation to move the needle even further, and so on, and so on. In many ways, Science Fiction gives our frenetic technological advancement a constantly moving goalpost to strive for. We’re all still waiting for our hoverboards, though.

A major theme in the book is tenacity: Miles continues to stubbornly work to save his mother, almost relishing defeat and using them as fuel to continue his quest, even if he allows himself moments of bitterness amidst his generally optimistic demeanor. Does that arc reflect your own challenges as a writer? Do you think it’s a requirement of success that it be achieved through adversity?

I haven’t really had any adversity as a writer, so far at least. I don’t have sizable expectations on my work so far, and very much look at it writing to amuse myself. I write to tell the stories I want to see told, that I don’t see anyone else telling. If other people enjoy them, It does feed my drive to write more, but I’m pretty much powerless at this point to stop writing now. I took the incredibly arrogant step of plotting out the remaining books in this series to counteract the narrative evolving in my head should any one of the novels “luck out” and scrape together a following. I didn’t want to make the same mistake I think the Matrix films did, where after the first film the directors may have tried to outsmart themselves. I wanted to have a clear sense of where everything was going, so that the input of others wouldn’t persuade me into changing the story to what I thought they might want to read.

predomain_coverI say arrogant because on some level, it presumes a level of financial success for these books, and I know how hard a thing that is to achieve, no matter how talented you might think you are as an author. I expect nothing in the way of volume when it comes to how many people read this novel, or the rest of the series. I would much rather be surprised in the event that it takes off, because I think “Expectation” should have been classified as the eighth deadly sin. It’s never useful, all you can do is confirm what you already suspected or be surprised when things are even worse than you thought. I try to avoid expectations, unless it’s a completely attainable personal goal, such as how many words I’d like to write today or how many books I see this series going.

Anything more than that, and I think you are opening yourself up to the randomness of Mother Nature and the Universe, which has already made it’s own plans. If you think you’ve considerable enough for them to account for you, you will at some point be disappointed. That line of thought contributed heavily to the creation of “The Flow”, in pre://d.o.mai.n.

We’re told to “write what we know”. If you can share, what parts of your own personal experiences went into telling Miles’ story? Other than, of course, having a computer-generated member of the opposite sex awake you in the middle of the night —because I think we’ve all had that happen to us at one point or another.

Yeah, it messes up your whole night’s worth of sleep when it happens, too. I drew a lot from personal experience, and not just for Miles. I patterned the character of Skyler on my son, because I hear a lot about how Orson Scott Card catches flack for overestimating the intellect of younger children, so I wanted to base the character on someone real. My son swears a lot less than Skyler in the book, however, so I did take liberties with him.

For Miles and Tobin Maldovan, I took parts of myself, emotions I recall from my divorce a few years back, and used them. Miles’ awkwardness at being around his ex girlfriend was certainly something I experienced shortly after the divorce, though I outgrew that in due time like we all do. Tobin Maldovan is similar. I drew from my experiences during that time, back when I was going through the emotions of rediscovering myself, when a sizable part of my life had to change. In his instance, it’s his discharge from the military, but I think if you strip out all of the personal emotion, the losses are surprisingly similar. I couldn’t have done that shortly after the divorce, separate the emotions of it all, but I think that’s part of my process-giving things time to appear on their own time. I avoid forcing things, writing just to write, and when the parts of the story that are hard to write become easy, that’s when I know they are ready to be written. I may never be the author that can crank out a book every three months, but I’m not sure I want to be. I’d rather write a book a year that I can be really happy with, and that says what I want it to say.