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Category: Opinion

The Flashback

honda-cb-750-chopperThirteen years ago. October 13, 2000.

I rounded a corner. A Toyota pickup turned left in front of me, and I hit it at 45 mph. I ruined my bike, a CB750 I was lovingly restoring, and the freshly painted gas tank I’d just picked up and installed.

Broke the front forks and the triple-trees. Bent the front rim.

Shattered my right thumb, dislocated my shoulder, and got a nice piece of road rash on my right shin that would bother me for years. Still does from time to time. No one is sure why.

I was asleep October 12th–asleep at the wheel of life. The next day I woke up.

Thirteen years ago this coming Christmas day, I asked my wife to marry me, after we dated for almost two years. I told her she would have to wait until I was ready. She did. We married the following July.

102_1752In October 2009 we separated for six months.  In March of 2010 I was 40 years old and napping again. By April, I was awake. We nearly divorced, so when we reconciled, we rededicated our vows. We said I do again. That summer, I got serious.

I’m a writer. Always have been. A dabbler though, a pretender. This time the shit got real.

Did I want to be a writer for real? Did I like the idea of being a writer or actually writing? It was time to shit or quit: I woke up

and up

and up.

Book Cover 1A collection of short stories. Broken Bones. The wisdom at the time. If you are going to be an Indie writer, release a collection of your short work before your novel.

Check.

Write other stuff. Write what you know. Hundreds of articles on Motorcycle Maintenance for eHow.

Check.

Research and write new stuff.

Tons of articles for the now evolving Suite 101. Stuff I knew. Didn’t know, but researched.

Check.

Edit. Use your talents and hone your own work.

Check.

museum cautionCreate your own job. Oh, yes. Found research and papers that needed to be written. Found technology to do it better. Learned. Geology. History. Hydrology. Environmental science. Use these to write short films, do fun projects.

Check.

Three published novels now. That long ago scene on the motorcycle written into Temptation. Two more in the hopper, one complete one nearly so.

Check.

All the boxes checked. On the way to a career. A career, not a job I hate yet tolerate. Not something of fleeting interest. Writer. Editor. Researcher. Doing what I love. Five year plan: I’ll be working at home.

Check.

Prison Walls2April 2013. Wife wakes up. Hates her job. Geographically we are in the wrong place for this to happen. It’s not the right time. My plans, my career is taking off. But we have to move.

New location. New opportunities for me. For both of us. Five year plan, accelerated. I look around my home office, look at my keyboard, typing this. Dream realized. Opportunity knocked, we answered.

Awake.

cigarLast night, a strange show. Pins and surgery for the man on the screen. Suddenly I feel it again, beneath the scar on my right thumb. My shoulder aches. I see the hospital. Feel the pain, the need for drugs to quiet it. Rub my fingers along the lumps that were once protruding pins. Remember the physical therapy. It is a flashback. Suddenly I crave nicotine, a cigarette, a cigar, something. If I had one in the house last night, if it had not been so dreadfully cold … I might have ventured out, bought a pack. Or two. A new lighter.

A flashback. It takes time to pass. My nerves calm. My hands steady.

I’m awake.

Awake.

If it had not been for that day, if I had not woken up when I did …

The music starts and I begin to type, the words flowing faster as I pen the final scenes of my newest novel, the last in a series.

Confession.

The flashback is over.

Wake up. Before someone, something

wakes you.

tll2013

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The Write Software: What can Scrivener Do for You?

ScrivenerNow that NaNo is over and you may be planning your path for the next year, which I hope involves massive word count goals and tons of writing, its time for the first step in talking about my favorite software in this series, Scrivener. The first step is determining what Scrivener is, and what it is not.

Scrivener does not replace your word processing program. Like WriteWay and CharacterWriter discussed earlier in this series, Scrivener is not a replacement for your primary word processor, whether you have chosen Microsoft Word or the popular open source OpenOffice. (See the comparison here). Scrivener is a writing tool, but for advanced editing and document creation you will need one of these other programs. You can export great documents with Scrivener (see below), and with every update it improves, but it does not have the money backing and developers MS Office does. If you are not using advanced features in Word you will likely not even miss them, but if you use comments and track changes (see here) you will still need to hang on to Word a bit longer.

Scrivener helps organize your writing and ideas. There are at least three ways to do this, and even more variations if you use your creativity. Whether you are an outliner, a corkboard user, or a punster who just writes scenes out of order from time to time or wants to document character descriptions, scenes, and other notes, Scrivener has formats and ideas that will work for you.

The project targets and statistics help keep you on task. Learning to use these tools can help you achieve your goals, breaking them up into reasonable short-term assignments. All of these tools keep you productive. By productive I mean writing more than organizing and fiddling around with separate files.

The search and collection tools are invaluable. Metadata for each scene makes these tools easy to use. With a little effort and set up time, these tools can literally save you hours of searching and speed editing. They can also help you prevent common continuity errors. Looking back keeps you from making mistakes that can cost you time wasted in edits, and at worst can get your work rejected by agents, editors, or publishers depending on your chosen route to publication.

Importing and Exporting is easy. Importing is imperfect: not all links and other features are imported from Word and other programs. But if you are just importing text, you will be fine. Headings and divisions are preserved, making dividing your manuscript relatively simple.

Exporting is not only easy, but it is quite powerful. You can create Word documents for editing, and even create ePubs and other formats easily once your manuscript is ready. Although these are the more advanced features, they work well for formatting provided some guidelines are followed. (An entire class).

If you are in the Boise area, we will be having a Scrivener 101 class on January 4th. (See the link here) If you are not in the area, a distance course will be available sometime later in the new year. Grab the trial version today, and give it a shot. Need help? Come out in January or stay tuned for more in the new year.

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Writing to Music

Do you write to music? I do, often a variety depending on my mood. Today a few friends and I talked about it over on Red River Radio. You can stream the show here: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/rrradio/2013/12/09/rfk-dellanis-tea-time

Below are my answers, with appropriate video links. The links can all be found in my rather schizophrenic YouTube playlist here.

Were any of your books inspired by a song? If so, which? Not specifically. A story in Broken Bones titled Amnesia was inspired (and includes lyrics from) the song Amnesia by Blue October.

Wish I could wake up with amnesia

Try to forget the things that I’ve done.

I wish I knew how to keep the promises

that I have made you.

But life I guess it goes on. . .

 

Do you find yourself including music within your books? Yes. There are several scenes in Temptation with music where it is used for both hypnosis and celebration. One of the final scenes involves a Mustang, Credence, and a car crash.

Do you use music for mood, pacing, etc in your novels? The music I listen to? Yes. I listen to quite a variety depending on what kind of scene I am writing.

Have you taken a song title for a book title? Nope. Never will I want the reader to use their imagination. I might include part of the song, or a snippet of lyrics, but I want my books to stand on their own, not be connected to whether someone likes a song or not, or even knows it to associate the book with it. A short story, maybe. But a book? No.

Are any of your characters musicians? In Temptation Gordon is a violinist. Other than that, no. That may change in an upcoming work, but it is hard for me to write musicians well as characters because I am not one. I love music, but when it comes to making it, I am very mechanical.

Do your characters’ musical tastes reflect yours? Yes and no. I don’t emphasize them in my books. They might listen to certain things on the radio. The struggle is, my musical taste is wide, eccentric and varied. The difference between life and fiction is that fiction has to make sense. No one would believe a character that has musical taste like mine.

What kind of music do you listen to when you write? Totally depends on the mood. I’ve posted a playlist, and I always say if you rooted through my computer, my music player, my phone, you still wouldn’t know what my favorite kind of music was.

Is there any type of music you will absolutely not ever listen to? I never say never, but I am not an old country, twangy, I lost my dog type person. It certainly doesn’t ever inspire writing for me. But I will listen to me some Big and Rich. Those guys are like the hair bands of the ‘80’s to country. The modern sex, drugs, and Rock and Roll.

Some authors make playlists for every book. Have you done that? Nope. My books are as musically schizo as I am. So I doubt anyone would want t listen even if I did. I did create a video for the Samuel Elijah Johnson Series, and there are several songs by Within Temptation that fit the book Temptation.

What are some of your favorite musicians? If we did this question by decade, genre, or style it would not be any easier. It varies from day to day. Some of my current favorites are Blue October, the indie artist from Texas David Ramirez, Disclosure, Daft Punk, Jean Michael Jarre, Giorgio, The Kinfe, Mumford and Sons, Joe Satriani, Rush, Floyd, and I am on a classical/opera kick early in the mornings.

If you had the chance to put together the perfect band, who would be in it? (Drums, vocals, guitar, bass, keyboard) What is your favorite instrument in the band?

    • Drummer: Rick Allen, Def Leopard, Great Drummer, great story. Unless Miss Margery was available.
    • Voacals: Male: Freddie Mercury, #1. Female: I’ll be contrary and say Lzzy Hale of Halestrom. They are not the greatest band by any stretch, but for female rock vocalists she has to  be in the top few. Below you will see her and another of my favorites, Amy Lee doing a duet.

  • Guitar: Living: Joe Satriani or Slash Dead: Randy Rhodes hands down, Steven Clarke (formerly of Def Leopard) a close second.
  • Bass: Geddy Lee. Don’t Hate. Appreciate
  • Keyboards: Keith Emerson, ELP
  • Violin-Multi-Instrument: Ryan Delahoussaye

If you were stuck on a dessert island and had only one album to listen to, what would it be? (Yes, this assumes you had unlimited power but no wi-fi) Pink Floyd, Dark Side of the Moon or Daft Punk Discovery. Whatever was in the CD player at the time of the crash. Both all around great albums I can listen to over and over.


Do you ever get songs stuck in your head that simply won’t go away? How do you purge them? Yep. I sing them, play them on the air drums, or both. A little chair dancing never hurts.

I hope you enjoyed the show and all of my answers. Rock on and write on, not necessarily in that order.

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Will Work for Stephen King

TemptationNewI’m a King fan. I know, another one. We’re like Starbucks in Seattle: you can hardly chuck a rock without hitting one of us. You can draw many parallels between his life and mine, minus the self-publishing trend, eBooks and my work as an editor. I hope in the end, my career goes better than his.

Better? Come on! That’s ambitious isn’t it? Of course. I recently made my way pretty deep into Doctor Sleep, and realized something (again) about King: he needs an editor.

“Wait,” you say. “He’s a big name author published by Simon and Schuster. How can he need an editor?” Honestly, for the same reason I do, and all authors do. I recently went through a re-edit of my second novel Temptation and have been editing another rather long paranormal romance (more on this another day) and guess what? King has the same issues every writer does.

Sentence structure. Some of his sentences are just too long. Not something Joe Average reader might notice, but something I picked up on right away, mostly because I do it too. Some of his transitions are poor: he puts conjunctions at the beginning of sentences and ends them with prepositions. All these are common errors in early drafts. Stephen is not a super-writer. He is just a writer.

Wordiness. Anyone who read The Stand and then later read the unabridged version can tell you that Stephen King is wordy. Don’t get me wrong, he tells a great story and his ability to hold reader attention for 900 pages is remarkable to say the least. My favorite works of his are shorter though: Eyes of the Dragon, The Gunslinger Series, and the novellas of Different Seasons. Those novellas are the sources of the films Stand by Me, The Green Mile, and Shawshank Redemption. In my opinion it is some of his best writing.

Fails to follow his own advice. Okay, guilty again. I tell you kill your darlings, not use cliché, blah, blah, blah. I stole the advice from King in On Writing and from other writing instructors who tell you the same things. Then I turn around and break the rules myself. Example: “Never open a book with the weather.” Rule broken: An entire story in Broken Bones is based on the weather.

Stephen King is a victim of his own success. An editor sees his name on the title page and thinks ‘it can’t be that bad.’ Maybe they second guess their editorial ideas and leave faults they would otherwise correct. Maybe he is not as open to suggestion as he once was, but I hope this is not the case.

I am most of the way through Doctor Sleep now. I love the book and the story. This is not a negative review, I’m only pointing out things I see.

So do I want a Stephen King like career? Only if I will continue to face tough editors who force me to make hard calls, am humble enough to accept their correction, and only offer my best to you, the readers.

Hire me Stephen King. I won’t overlook your errors, I’ll edit the hell out of your work, and in the end the Constant Reader you speak of will only benefit.

Check out the re-edited version of Temptation and the powerful first book in  Samuel Elijah Johnson series titled Redemption.

Watch the video trailer below.

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It’s Social Networking not Social Net-Twerking

Stop ‘twerking’ all over social media

Advertisements. We all love to hate them. We Dub Step remix the funny ones, cry at touching ones, and cringe when the ones we hate blast out of our speakers when all we really want to do is keep watching our show. They’re an interruption, but have always tried to be an entertaining one. What better reason to watch the Super Bowl than for the zany commercials?


Social media is different, and there is a reason. We expect advertising in newspapers, magazines, and on the TV and Radio. On a deep level we understand they pay for programming, even if we don’t like it. But social media is just that: a social network for being—well, social. So advertisements are considered interruptions, even rude if improperly done. So how do you cope? Just forsake social media ads? No! Social media, specifically Facebook, drives people to publishers and books more than any other avenue right now.

Stop shaking your stuff all up in our faces. Don’t post drive by ads in groups or on hashtags. First, they don’t do any good. Most of the time, they are just passed over. Look down the feed for two things: first see if there are any likes, shares or comments on posts or favorites and retweets on Twitter. If there aren’t any, you are just posting to a group or #hashtag with a whole bunch of other drive-by-posters. If there is no meaningful interaction, chances are all the real folks have bailed, and you are trying to sell apples to apple growers. Stop the madness. You aren’t doing your book, business, or the social platform any favors.

Also, see if your post from the day before is just a few spots below the one you are posting now. If if is, don’t post. Nothing is worse than seeing a group filled with posts only by one person.  Well, maybe a stick in the eye is worse, but it is pretty bad.

Talk to me Goose! Advertising on social media is not about being intrusive, or even an entertaining interruption, but starting or joining a conversation. You need to look for places that are discussing either reading, the subject of your book, or something related to you and what you do. React to relevance, do not try to force your way in. If you do advertise, say something relevant to the conversation or the group about your work. Don’t just post links and disappear. You will be ignored, banned, perhaps even hated. In social media, not all publicity is good publicity.  Talk, converse, and realize that sometimes, less is more.

Don’t lick a hammer to get attention. If you dedicated a six months to a year of your life and over 60K words to talk about something, the likelihood is you had a story to tell and you told it. Now convince us we need to read it because it matters or should matter to us. Be visible, but don’t draw attention to yourself through foolish antics. Let your work speak for you, but be ready if someone wants to reach out.

Sounds simple right? It is and it isn’t. The social media world is one where the rules are ever changing, and the herd is migratory. Traditional marketing media is not dead either, just gasping for breath and struggling to adapt and survive. So think about the message you are sending next time you are about to flex your advertising thighs, bend your advertising knees, stick your groove thing out there and shake it baby, shake it. You may draw the wrong crowd, or you may chase all of them away, frightened and looking for an eyewash station.

Now back t’work. Until next time.

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NaNoWriMo: Time Management

“Diligence is the mother of good fortune, and idleness, its opposite, never brought a man to the goal of any of his best wishes.”

— Miguel de Cervantes

I sit here, at 4:47 a.m. knowing what can happen today, and what might happen, but not what will happen.

Oh, I have a plan. I always have a plan. Sometimes it is a good one, sometimes it isn’t, but it exists.

It all comes down to time management, something I vary between being good at, and totally sucking at. If you are super organized, never get distracted, and have no idea what I’m talking about, you don’t even need to read on. Besides, the rest of us hate you anyway.

self discipline

Discipline. Time management is about discipline. Making yourself do things, even if they are not what you want to be doing right at this minute. It is tough, and it sucks, because even when you work at home you have your favorite parts of your job and the things you wish you could put off until shortly after your death. Trust me, if you think any profession is exempt, you are sorely mistaken. If you like everything about your job, and can’t relate to this, see the above.

donotdisturb

Eliminating Distraction. This is a control what you can control moment. Shut the door. Turn off the wi-fi. Threaten the children with death following slow torture. Threaten your spouse with withheld … well, whatever it is they usually want from you: sex, money, cooking, doing their laundry, sex (did I already say that?).

 


multitaskingDeal with interruption.
No matter how good you are, or how well you plan, distraction will inevitably come, multiple times a day. If you are the kind of person that has no distractions, ever, during your writing time, also see the above. Most of us have cats, dogs, kids, spouses, phones, and bladders. You can shut these out to an extent, but when the dog pukes in your shoes, or you have to vacate your bowls or empty the coffee you drank all morning you will need to get up from time to time. Unless you wear adult diapers and are not averse to dealing with rashes or dog puked in shoes.

Learn to open “browser windows” in your brain, and leave them open while you piss, let the dog in and out, strangle children (plot material), or cook dinner. You need to be able to go back to what you were doing after the interruption and pick up right where you left off.

Reward yourself. Keep your schedule for a week, and then take some time off, even an hour. Treat yourself to a latte or a giant cookie dough ice cream shake from Arctic Circle (if you are into that kind of thing). A bottle glass of wine or scotch or whatever you fancy, just give yourself something for all of your hard work.

Now get back too it. You’ve wasted enough time reading this blog. Write on! I will be right back after I spend some time in the throne room getting rid of some coffee, last night’s pumpkin cake, and some egg nog.

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Marketing, Distribution, and the Future of the Book

What I Learned at THAT Camp BSU 2013

printvsdigitalOn Saturday, one of our sessions at THAT Camp BSU un-conference was about the future of the book. The beauty of an un-conference is that topics organically center themselves on what really concerns those in the room: the root of the topic. Here’s what we talked about.

Print vs. Digital: Obvious right? In the group were two librarians. In the print vs. digital world, the library is one of the most widely impacted institutions, right next to book stores. So what does a library full of e-books look like? What of preservation, one of the clear missions of the library? What do these modern collections look like?

The answer is that libraries morph into more of a community information and technology rather than just a paper book repository. Print books will likely never go away, but they will be more of a niche market novelty than the mainstream way to read and find information. Some books will always be better in print, and that too will never change. The role of print books is and will continue evolving. But e-books are the new paperback, and libraries and others need to recognize this and adapt accordingly.

BuyMyBookMarketing: Bookstores used to be the market, shelf placement one of the keys to sales. Change your last name or the title to earn a more advantageous spot? You bet. The shelves are now the size of the internet, and the plethora of self-publishing hides even the best of titles amidst thousands not nearly as well done. How do you stand out? How do you get your book on that shelf close to the front of the new virtual store?

The hour long think tank session raised as many questions as it answered. The point is that the old marketing strategy does not work anymore. Books are a unique product and need to be marketed accordingly. Authors need to join conversations, not interrupt them. Sales come from personal connection and recommendations. It is the best and worst of times. Word of mouth has now become world of mouth, but it takes a lot of skill and a little luck to strike the spark in the right spot to start the fire.

booksintrunk

Distribution: Who is the largest book distributor? Amazon is the current big boy, but do they have staying power? How many versions of the Kindle will appear before folks wake to other devices, other formats, and other outlets? And what about those print books that keep hanging on? How do you get those into the hands of eager readers when the once popular book store sells more coffee, toys, and trinkets than they do books?

Amazon likes to make money, and sees every loaned book from a library as a potential lost sale, so they don’t play nice. Book stores often won’t carry Amazon produced books, perceiving them as the enemy rather than accept the changing role of books and book stores. So how do you distribute your books? A friend of mine and I called it “Back of my Bronco” marketing, involving carrying copies of your books around in your trunk and selling or giving them away that way. Unless you travel a lot, this is marginally effective locally.

So what is the future of the book? We don’t know exactly. What we do know is that it’s changing, and if we are going to survive as authors we too must change with it.

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What Would Jesus Do? The Happily Ever Afterlife Negative Comment

seek-truthMost of the time I am genuinely a nice guy. I like to help people, do things for good causes, and give back when I can. I’m not rich, but I have enough. I also can give my writing and my talents. Some people think I am too hard on organized religion and churches, and I admit I do have a bias and a certain measure of bitterness.

I messed up too. Yes, I’ve been the church teacher. I’ve been the leader, and I’ve even lived in hypocrisy. For those years I am truly sorry to those I hurt without knowing better. But I matured and I learned, and I now I give back, but not in the confines of a “church” or as a “Christian.” I’ve come to question the very foundations “the church” is based on, and found them lacking.

museum cautionGiving Back. That being said, I’ve spent the last four years where my only “day job” was for a non-profit. Recently I started a charity drive around one of my stories in an anthology as I’m sure many of you know. Proceeds go to Boston Children’s Hospital, and even if you don’t want to buy the book, you can give directly to the cause here. You can even buy t-shirts the publisher helped design here. There are a variety of ways to give, but even if you can’t afford to help at all, even by buying a book, you can share the link with your friends who may be able too. I’m not even asking everyone to participate. So why this post?

Backlash. I’ve only gotten one negative message on the page so far. I won’t use names, but if you are around the promotion groups on Facebook you have seen her, and her “bombed with five star reviews” posts. The first message from her was basically “I already liked your page, now like mine.” I did and then posted this: “Thank you. This page is for a charity giveaway. Please consider donations, buying books, or just spreading the word about this event for a great cause.”

The “Christian” response: “Living hands to mouth daily. Unable to give. Please don’t ask me again.” Not to pick apart the grammar, I was shocked. I certainly didn’t intend to ask her again. The purpose of the page is not to boost anyone’s likes, mine included. It is to raise money for a worthy cause. Her blog had a recent post: Blessings Abound When …” Not to edit that post, or the phrase under her photo: “Writing for Fulfill The Great Commission.” (That is an exact quote, capitalization and all). No matter what else she writes, I’m not inclined to follow whatever creed she ascribes to. With her response, I’m not sure her commission is that “Great” after all.

t shirt backDo no harm. I don’t share her name here, or bash her book, although I might suggest proofreading mission statements and blog posts (I’m sure someone will find an error or two in this one now), but I don’t know her circumstances, background, etc. so I won’t put her down. I’m told to love my neighbor, and like it or not she is in my neighborhood, so I can’t throw stones. I’m sure in some contexts she is a wonderful person. Listen, I know you can’t embrace all causes and support everything you are invited to. I have to pick and choose. I love dogs, adults, kids, and starving tribes in Africa. But I had to pick one charity, and I let my readers pick mine so I wouldn’t play favorites.

BCH T-shirt LogoMake a difference: I’m one guy. But you are one person too, and you can make a difference. You can share the causes of others. You never know who will be the one to spark a fire, and really make a huge impact, maybe one of your friends. Sometimes though, you just have to say no. But if you are going to say you are a follower of Jesus, please be polite about it.

For that matter, if you are going to claim to be a follower of anyone, or if you are just a human, stop damaging our reputation. Be nice. You may not be able to help every time with everything. But at least be nice when you say “no thanks.”

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To MFA or Not to MFA: What a Silly Question


Master-of-Fine-ArtsIf this is such a silly question, why do I keep asking it of myself?
I know the answer. I don’t like it, but I know it. Ready? I work as an author, editor, researcher, technical writer, and teacher. In that role I tackle complex subjects, including geology, hydrology, natural resources conservation, history, English language uses, literature, and more. I don’t have the ‘paper’ degree to go with any of those things. So when I opened my Poets and Writer’s Magazine and saw that it was the MFA issue, my heart sank. Like Titanic, without all the romance or the iceberg.

Most of the time I don’t give a hoot about degrees or letters, but people keep asking me where I did my graduate work. When I tell them I didn’t do any, and in fact I also didn’t finish my undergraduate degree, jaws drop. There is no BA, BS, or any other letters after my name. Just plain Troy Lambert, he of many previous professions, currently self-employed and a proclaimed autodidact and polymath. Those are two of my favorite intellectual words, recently brought to the front of my mind by a friend. What do they mean, and why do they qualify me to do anything at all?

polymath

A polymath: a person whose expertise spans a significant number of different subject areas; such a person is known to draw on complex bodies of knowledge to solve specific problems. Let me give you a life example, and please don’t take it as bragging. It illustrates my shotgun approach to both my education and my past careers: what has led me here. In my most recent ‘job’ as the Museum Operations Specialist at the Wallace Mining Museum (a made up title meaning I do it all) I designed a new exhibit area using CAD. I presented it to a funding partner using PowerPoint and an animation software. I then drew up plans which the director submitted to the building inspector. To obtain grants I did materials estimates for the granting agencies. When we got funding, I then built the exhibit area with my own hands, supervising the two individuals who helped me. I then assisted in populating the exhibit, writing much of the language used in the displays.

Let’s see: design, presentation, project management, material estimates, supervision, construction, and authorship all on a single project. Yes. Am I insane? Yes. But how did I have the knowledge to execute all those tasks and do them well? Because of the next term.

AHAYES-Autodidact-300x385Autodidacticism is self-directed learning that is related to but different from informal learning. In a sense, autodidacticism is “learning on your own” or “by yourself”, and an autodidact is a self-teacher. Autodidacticism is only one facet of learning, and is usually, but not necessarily, complemented by learning in formal and informal spaces. So where did I learn CAD? I’m self-taught, with a few formal courses. Same with GIS. Project management I learned through a series of management positions in various professions. I’ve always been mechanically inclined, and learned a great deal of carpentry from my grandfather. Writing and research? Well, those come as naturally to me as breathing.

So why didn’t I get a degree? I have no idea. I finished tech school (yes, I’m also a certified motorcycle mechanic) but not college. I guess I just never made it a priority. I’m not sure that any one person can gain enough knowledge in enough subjects today to be truly called a ‘Renaissance Man,’ but you can know where to find the answers, and how to learn.

schoocloudI think there are a plethora of people who could be self-taught in more areas than they are. There’s a whole bunch of educators that believe it too, so strongly that they are creating schools centered on the idea. So many friends who have degrees find them almost meaningless in what they really do every day. So why do I need a degree to do what I do now?

I don’t. The days when I think that way are the days when I focus on others and what they might think. I consider the credibility that letters might add to my name on a plaque on a desk somewhere. Then I wake up, realize I don’t even want that, and recognize that every time I can talk to someone about what I do and what they want me to do in a real situation they recognize ability, and welcome my enthusiasm.

So far, none of them have asked to see my papers. If you think you need to go back to school, go for it. But me? I think I’ll take history of world religion again. I hear the professor is an interesting guy. Right after I teach myself to write apps and read The Jesus Papers one more time.

Watch the video below to learn about the School in the Cloud, and the movement to teach kids to teach themselves.

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The Hidden Sacrifice

Heritage and the Government Shut Down

museum cautionBeen to a museum lately? How much did you pay to get inside? Ever think about where the money comes from to keep them running? Many used to be privately funded, but that changed in the last 50 years or so. As a writer who works for heritage organizations and is paid by Federal dollars routed through them, the “Big Shutdown” affects me directly too. Don’t worry. I’m not starving, but it hurts. So what happened?

Private Funding. Private funding for museums used to come from generous individuals, and most often their estates. Many who founded museums in the 1950’s and 60’s did so for the tax benefit: a museum was a great tax shelter. Many set up heritage trusts, especially in rural areas, specifically designed around historic site preservation and education: thus the IRS 501(c)3 status of many museums. But that generation has slowly been replaced by a younger one that for whatever reason feels more entitled. Private donations to museums and historical societies fell off sharply. In short, most were in real financial trouble.

102_4697Admission Fees. I admit, I was an admission fee snob until I worked for a museum. We build a world class attraction, one of the best small museums in the state and region, spending hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars in an effort to preserve the history of Wallace, Idaho, and Idaho’s Silver Valley, one of the nation’s premier mining areas. We weren’t the only ones. Heritage tourism is big in the area where Big Ed Pulaski fought the 1910 fires, and where Wyatt Earp spent a few short months. Yet when people walked in they regularly baulked at the admission price: $3.

102_2898That’s right. Three lousy bucks to see, in my opinion, one of the coolest museums you will ever visit. Many were used to publicly funded museums on the east coast, where admission was free. But if the government shut down illustrates one thing, it is that those museums are no freer than the small one in Wallace. They are just paid for differently. I remember one woman who walked in and threatened to call her congressman, because she had to pay to get in. I asked her to please do so, perhaps he would send us some money.

Federal Grants. Many museums shifted from relying on Federal Grants rather than private donations or private grants. The private money just wasn’t there any more. That’s why, as the budget gets cut, museums close early, shorten hours, and sometime stop accepting donations and go into what they call “collections care” mode. Citizens have come to expect museums to be dependent on Federal money that is one of the first things cut in almost any budget. Not to mention state and county budgets, where there is now almost no room for these “non-essential” services. That’s why the Museum of Arts and Culture in Spokane nearly shut its doors a few years back and drastically reduced operating hours and staff. Federal grants that were cut from the budget funded nearly 75% of their operation.

1995 closeupAnd federal contracts for reports necessary for the preservation of history and archeology at various sites? You guessed it. They get cut too. And when the government shuts down, they go away. Many of these reports are funded by trusts and other methods to protect them. Those trusts are getting smaller or disappearing all together. How do you think those trusts performed when you lost half of your retirement? You guessed it again. They fared no better than your 401k.

Here’s a final hint. We can’t learn from history if we do not preserve it. If we do not learn from it, we are doomed to repeat it. Remember the election after the shutdown 17 years ago? Remember the turnover in the House and Senate? That’s history. This is today. I’m sure there are no lessons to be learned there.

Now if anyone asks you if you know someone that is directly affected by the government shut down, you can say yes. Then look around, and realize that even if it doesn’t seem like this is a big deal, it affects all of us in the long run.

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