Thursday, October 27, 2005

Essential Life Skills

Sometime during the night, our plumbing came down with a virus. One of the pipes in the pumphouse started projectile vomiting. Not what I really wanted to wake up to this morning.

Plumbing repair is a skill that I very quickly acquired when we moved out to the country some 20 years ago. I have had many opportunities to practice this skill over the years. The advantages of country life, like big gardens, lots of birds, and not much noise, are somewhat offset by the need for emergency repairs like this. We own our home, or are buying it, rather, so we don't have a landlord to call on. Plumbers charge a godawful amount to come out this far for small jobs like a leaky or busted pipe, and one of the main reasons we moved out here was so we could live on less money.

That particular reason, of course, has fallen by the wayside in the wake of the recent gas price meltdown. Nonetheless, such skills as plumbing, electrical wiring, small-time masonry, gardening, and cutting and stacking firewood have kept us on the land and out of the city (and the poorhouse) for a long time. These skills are worth far more than the occasional frustration and hissy fits they bring with them. It's gratifying beyond anyone's expectations to be able to effect a repair like this in a couple of hours with $15 worth of parts. Not only do we save a significant amount of money, but the feeling of satisfaction and achievement that comes from doing a jobs with my own hands and doing it well is a major joy.

What else is going on today? My dog woke me up at 4am, at which time I discovered I was in the middle of a severe attack of hypoglycemia. Blood sugar had dropped to 54. 40 is life-threatening. Had to get up and deal with that for an hour. New medication I just started is having an effect, I guess. Needless to say, I have done no writing at all today. My wife's mad because she had to take a sponge bath this morning, and I pinched a hunk of skin off my finger working on the plumbing. Luckily, it's the middle finger on my left hand, so I'll be able to claim I was just showing off my Winnie-the-Pooh Band-Aid.

On the other hand, the sun is shining, the temperature's in the 70's, and the sky is a beautiful October blue. Everything else just seems kind of petty.

Happy Thursday!

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Professional Discourtesy

Yeah, I know, but where there's a brick wall, I must bang my head against it.

I realize that many, if not most, magazine and e-zine editors do it for the love and not for the money. Many of them finance the projects out of their own pockets. An awful lot of them consider the mag or 'zine a hobby. Those facts, however, do not exempt the editors from conducting their business in a professional manner. Anyone who offers to pay a writer for work is engaged in a professional activity, whether they are making money at it or not.

My writing is not a hobby. I am serious about it. I try to behave in a professional manner, and I expect to be treated in a professional manner. I read and follow submission guidelines. I format my manuscripts properly. I send professional, business-style cover letters and address editors properly as "Mr." or "Ms." or "Mrs." and by name wherever it is indicated. In return, I expect editors to live up to their end of the implied contract.

I am willing to abide by indicated response times. I don't like it, necessarily, since I'm not really a very patient person where my stories are concerned, but I will abide by them. When an editor states a response time in their guidelines, they have a professional responsibility to abide by that statement. I understand completely how overwhelmed and inundated they often get, but the responsibility does not go away. I amwilling to follow the editor's guidelines; they must be willing to do the same. If they cannot get to my manuscript within their stated time, I'm okay with that. I will give them a break and wait usually twice the time they state before I query them.

My queries are not confrontational or accusatory or in way anything other than tactful. I always acknowledge their overwhelming workload as well as the vagaries of human and computer behavior. All I ask for is some notice that they do or do not have that particular manuscript in their slush pile, I don't expect a detailed explanation, or, indeed, any explanation at all. A simple "Yes, it's here. We should get to it in XX weeks (or months)" or "No, it's not here". That's all I want, need, or expect. That is not an undue burden on anyone, especially in the age of computers. Organizing, storing and searching data is just so easy and so quick these days. A few seconds, a form e-mail, and I'm satisfied.

This is where the system seems to be breaking down. In 2005, I have queried 4 editors about the status of my submissions. One has replied. One. That is unacceptable. I have notified two of the unresponsive editors that I have withdrawn my manuscripts, and I am submitting them elsewhere. The third is fast approaching a second query and a final deadline. Those markets are now closed to me. They have chosen to treat me with disrespect and discourtesy. They will not participate in my future success.

Herbert White, long-time professor of Library Science at Indiana University, spent a long and very distinguished career being the librarians' gadfly. He constantly urged librarians to grow backbones and to demand the respect due them as professionals. It's past time for writers to do the same. Professionals should treat each other with respect and courtesy. That is nothing more than an acknowledgement of a common bond of profession. If anyone does not treat me with just a bare minimum of common courtest, then they are not professionals. Pure and simple. I do not have time or energy to spend on poseurs.

I intend to be successful with what Carlos Castaneda calls "unbending intent". I will be successful, and I will follow the path that leads to success without sacrificing my dignity. That is my intent, that is my goal, and that is my destiny.

That is all.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Some Thoughts on Culture

So Melly got me thinking about cultural dilution. I promised a lengthier answer and here it is.

Before we can talk about cultural dilution, we first have to figure out exactly what we mean by "culture". The American Heritage Collegiate Dictionary at Bartleby.com says that culture is "The totality of socially transmitted behavior patterns, arts, beliefs, institutions, and all other products of human work and thought". That fits reasonably well with what I think is our common conception of the term.

"Socially transmitted" is the key. Society is in a constant state of flux, and so is culture. Thought patterns, beliefs, notions of art, everything that makes up our society's culture vary almost from moment to moment, certainly from generation to generation. Culture is not static, carved in stone, unchangeable. Just look at the music that is accepted in today's culture and compare that to the cultural norms of 50 years ago. Look at clothing, public behaviors like the treatment of women or blacks, furniture styles, methods of entertainment. A visitor from the 1950's dropped into today's world would be completely lost, as would any of us in the reverse situation.

Cultural dilution is a myth. Since the very beginnings of human culture, each generation has bemoaned the destruction of their culture by the generation succeeding them. This is human nature. We want our children to be like us, otherwise we loose touch with them in some ways. Communication between generations becomes unreliable as the younger generations' attitudes and beliefs shift away from ours. We feel threatened as out children and their children explore and adopt ideas that are strange to us. We feel left out, marginalized.

The cultural dilution myth is the story of the death of the old and, implicitly, the birth of the new. It is our rage against what we see as the dying of the light. What this myth says is that the ideas that we found so fresh and new in our youth are now outdated. Our ideas are being supplanted by those of our children, and that hurts. We use the myth to distance ourselves from the hurt by removing it from being personal and making it societal.

Only our personal cultures can be diluted. On a societal scale, there is no dilution, only evolution. No matter how much we want to remain stable and secure, or moribund, depending on your point of view, society moves ahead. Few people can adjust to that movement as they age. I know I cannot. I can only watch from the cheap seats as the game rushes up and down the field. I don't even know what the score is anymore.