Current Works in Progress

Sunday, August 26, 2012

I don't know why you say "Goodbye", I say "Hello"

I was chastised (gently, yes, but chastised nonetheless) on Twitter the other day for not posting to the blog recently. I was a bit surprised, actually.

First, I was surprised because I hadn't realised it had been two months since my last post. We've been scrambling lately, trying to find a way to save a failing business, and it's been taking up a fair bit of my time and attention. We had to lay off 100% of our staff (we found her another job, though) and are moving into a much cheaper space in an effort to cut costs. We are also trying to find a way to expand into different markets, because theh best way to cut costs is to increase revenue. Or have some revenue. Things aren't going well on the business front, but I'm optimistic that we'll be able to stem the tide and reverse the fortunes and all that.

I've also started taking freelance writing work ( SEO articles and web copy mostly) from a couple of content mill sites. In a couple of months I've managed to nab 6 regular clients who pay reasonably well, and have managed to make a decent amount of money from writing. How cool is that? This has taken up the rest of my discretionary time, and I guess the blog has suffered.

I was also surprised because I always assumed that those who read my blog regularly did so out of some sense of obligation - the whole friends and family thing. To be told that someone actually misses my rambling, mumbled musings (sorry, I never could resist alliteration) took me aback somewhat. It was both heart warming and a bit of an ego trip, actually.

Here's the thing. I can't write this blog any more. I'm busy enough with important. life-related things (like trying to feed my family) that I can't really justify the time spent here. More importantly I don't have anything else to write about that fits with this blog.

I've been moving more and more towards the China related posts, because that's what people seem to enjoy reading the most, but I'm finding it harder and harder to maintain a sense of humour about a lot of the absurd and hurtful things I see here. Reading back over past posts it is clear to me that they are becoming more and more bitter and less and less amusing. I think it's better to stop now before I turn into one of those depressed, slightly insane foreigners you tend to meet in expat bars at 8:30 on a Tuesday night.

So. This will likely be the last post at the Lived-in Life. I'm not going to say I'll never pick it up again, but for the foreseeable future the last note has been played, the last encore performed, and Elvis is halfway to the airport. I need to focus on the things that move me closer to my goals, and this blog no longer does that.

Don't get me wrong, it has done quite a bit for me in that regard. One of my biggest and longest held goals is to make my living as a novelist. Starting this blog was a very important first step down that road. I learned a lot of the things a writer needs to know in order to market himself effectively, to develop a fanbase, and to build what they call "a platform". It is time, though, to move on.

And I am. Moving on, that is. This blog is done, its scaly carcass sinking into the tarry depths of the Internet. Perhaps it will rise again, like the Phoenix, to mix its metaphors and poke fun at stupid people. Perhaps it will fossilize and remain unchanged so that future generations can gaze in awe at the way the world used to be. Perhaps, and this one is more likely, it will rot away until nothing remains but a slightly metallic after-taste and a vague sense of shame.

Regardless of what happens to this blog, you might want to come with me to my new blog, which can be found at I know, I know. I didn't realise until after I'd registered the domain that my initials without punctuation can be read as Ms. Manz. You can call me Susan.

My new blog will focus more on short fiction and what I'm doing in my writing career. I plan to post regular pieces of short fiction, as well as doing podcasts and... well, there's going to be quite a bit going on over there. The difference between here and there is that here was all about Mike the sarcastic guy, and there is all about Mike the story-teller. What I realised, quite recently as it happens, was that as much as I like writing and playing with words, what I am really, truly driven to do is tell stories. I hope you'll join me at my new home for the next chapter in this one.

***I will be re-directing the RSS feed from this blog to the new one in the next day or two, so if you are using the feedburner link to follow this blog, you'll automatically start getting the posts from the other one. I may eventually be deactivating the current feedburner link, so if you want to continue following through RSS I'd recommend you add the link at the new site to your reader and remove the old one. Or, if you'd prefer, you can follow the new site via email. I spent 3 hours figuring out how to enable that, just to make Eva Rieder happy. You're welcome, Eva.***

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Traffic accidents in China

I may have implied in previous posts that the stereotype about Chinese people being terrible drivers might, in fact, have a fairly firm grounding in reality. It does. That isn't to say that all Chinese people are terrible drivers. My wife, for example, is an excellent driver as are many of our friends. It is incontrovertibly true, however, that the general level of driving ability here is well below what would be acceptable in any western country. But that is a post for another day.

Today I want to write about an inevitable consequence of the large number of unskilled drivers on the roads in China - traffic accidents.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

I am still alive

Just a quick one today to let everyone know that I'm still alive, and still writing, and still blogging.

We spent three weeks in Canada, visiting friends and family, and the past two weeks since we got back have been a whirlwind (or vortex - thanks @jtvancouver) of activity. This is why I've been absent for over a month. Bad blogger, I know.

I've been pretty tied up with finishing up the semester of classes which were put on hiatus by the trip. I've also been getting plans and materials and resources ready for the upcoming Summer English Camps which (hopefully) will take up a great deal of my time this summer.

I've been researching and applying for some freelance writing gigs - alternate sources of income are always welcome - and setting up the framework I need to do that successfully. This has been more awkward for me than it would be for most because of the whole "living in China" thing. I'll probably do a post about that once I'm further along in the process (short version: Paypal makes me very stabby).

Actually, there are a number of potentially interesting posts coming up.

  • I've got some stuff about the school I want to write about
  • I have a couple of rather large life-direction changes to share
  • I have a bunch of China posts in the near future 
  • I also have a not-insignificant number of Canada posts to write
I'm sure there's more in the pipeline that I'm forgetting, but the first thing on my to-do list currently is organize all the things on my plate, so I'll have to get back to you on what the "more" actually consists of. And whether it is a plate, or a pipe, or a pipe shaped plate, or some other combination of plumbing and porcelain.

At any rate, keep your eyes peeled, watch this space and cetera.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Dongyang Photowalk Part Trois (that's three)

Welcome back for the third installment of my Dongyang photowalk. If you are just joining us, the first and second parts can be found here.

If you haven't been following along I'll fill you in quick. I went out with my camera into the wild, concrete jungle that is Dongyang, Zhejiang, China. I took pictures of things that interested me. I had to be extra-super-ninja-sneaky when taking candid shots of people because I'm pretty much the only white guy for 50km in any direction. Also... no wait, that's about it, I guess.

I include here another set of pictures that I like with even more of the snarky commentary you've come to expect. All of that after the break, just click through to see.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

More photowalk highlights from Dongyang (东阳)

This post continues from where I left off in this post the other day. As I mentioned there, I went on a photowalk (photoride/photosit/photodrinking coffee) in this tiny little flyspeck village of a million people where I live, and I took some pictures of things that interested me. I share some of them in the hopes that they will also interest you.

To save bandwidth for those on mobile devices or who use readers and don't want to wait for pictures to load (or who don't want to see them at all) I'll include a break in this post. Click through to see some Dongyang pictures with some sarcastic commentary from yours truly. I'll try not to be too snarky this time.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Two blog award thingies

Two unexpected things happened over the past week or so. First someone tagged me in the "Lucky 7 meme", and then someone else nominated me for the "Kreativ Blogger Award". Both of them involve me writing things about myself (which I love to do anyway) and both involve me tagging other people to do the same.

For reasons which will become clear momentarily, I decided to write both of them up in one post.

First of all, because it happened first, the Lucky 7 meme.

Part 1 - the Lucky 7 Meme

The Brewed Bohemian tagged me and a few other people who were participating in the Once Upon a Time contest (Contest here, my entry here) with this "Lucky 7 meme". Apparently this means I am required to :

  1. Cut and paste into my blog the seven lines starting on the seventh line of either page 7 or page 77 of my current work in progress.
  2. Tag 7 other people.
This raises an interesting dilemma. My current work in progress is a 4 page short story. It doesn't have a page 7.

What I will do instead is copy in my opening 'scene' from said work in progress. The working title is "Dragon".

A thousand times and more have we hunted together, reveling in the chase, the snap, the feel of flesh on teeth.  A thousand times and more have we frolicked and flew, glorying in the feel of wind on scales and wings. A thousand times and more have we tended our crystal gardens on the rooftops of the world, watching patiently as they grew, layer by painstaking layer.
Always together we rose up, to the highest reaches where the air thins, to throw ourselves ecstatically at the ground; both seed and sower. It was always together that we grew, drinking of the sun and the soil and the water, our roots intertwined and our leaves whispering secrets to each other in the breeze. It was always together that we went still, transmuting cellulose and capillary to crystal, freeing our minds to wander the gardens we'd so carefully tended in the age before. A thousand thousand years we've spent together, and now I am alone and it feels as though half of me is missing.
Imagine you wake up one day and half of your legs are gone, or maybe a wing. But you don't notice at first because there is no pain, no wound, just the absence of something that has always before been there. You have the feeling that something is odd, but you don't dwell overmuch on it because it is a new day and there are exciting things on the breeze. And then you try to walk, and you fall. Or you leap from the side of the mountain into the bright clean air. And you fall.
So it was for me when I awoke. The jeweled shards of my shattered trunk had not yet reached the ground when I realized that something was different. I had yet to open the eyes of my new body, yet to unfurl my wings, when I knew that something was horribly, horribly wrong. When I realized what had happened, I believe it broke my mind.
So there you go. The first four paragraphs of my current WIP. As Chuck Wendig says, "Please to enjoy."

Part 2 - The Kreativ Blogger Thingamajigger

So the other thing that happened was that Eva Rieder nailed me with a Kreativ Blogger award. She is a math teacher by day and a keyboard ninja by night. She writes fantasy and mainstream fiction, and has wavy hair.

This one is a bit more involved. I have to tell you seven (why is it always seven?) surprising things about myself, thank the person who's making me do this (thanks a lot, Eva) (:)), link back to their blog, and nominate 7 other people. I'm detecting a trend here.

So first of all, thank you to Eva. Not so much for tagging me with this, although I actually do feel a bit flattered, but for reading my blog in the first place. I'm always surprised when people come back more  than once, and find it suspicious when they claim to like what I'm writing. I should probably get over that if I want to be a professional author, no?

I don't know if there are 7 surprising things about me. I'm pretty open and like to talk about myself, so anyone who's known me more than an hour (or a pint, whichever comes first) probably knows most of what there is to know. I'll write seven things people who don't know me might be surprised to know, though. That is doable.

Thing number 1: Mandarin Chinese was my fifth language

I speak English natively. I learned French in high school and lived in Quebec for three months on an exchange program, becoming more or less fluent. I studied both German and Japanese in university becoming functional but by no means fluent, and then I moved to China 8 years ago and gradually learned to speak with the locals. 

Thing number 2: By the time I finished high school I had read an estimated 3000 novels.

I averaged about 4-5 novels a week, every week, through most of my schooling. I mostly read fantasy and science fiction, but I also read all the classic young adult series - Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew, The Black Stallion, Judy Blume, et. al. - by the age of 7 or 8. I had epic battles with the school librarian who didn't believe that I could read actual books and wouldn't let me borrow anything with a polysyllabic word in it.

Thing number 3: I am terrified of spiders, needles and, by extension, dentists.

I once left a cavity so long that the nerve died on its own. When the pain suddenly stopped I got so worried I made an appointment.

Thing number 4: When watching a movie or reading a book I cry at the drop of a hat.

More often for the old "underdog comes from behind to win" maneuver than for the obviously sappy or sad, but I'm not kidding about this. I even teared up at the end of "The Incredibles" and any scene with Iñigo Montoya gets me every time.

Thing number 5: I dream lucidly, and have since I was four or five years old.

Lucid dreaming is basically where you are aware you are dreaming. For some people (including me) this usually involves being in more or less total control of my dreams, but not always. This resulted in my sometimes having a fair bit of difficulty differentiating between reality and dreams for much of my childhood.

Thing number 6 (but related to number 5): I am still a smoker when I sleep

I quit smoking a year and a half ago, but I often have dreams where I still smoke. They aren't dreams about smoking, just dreams in which I am a smoker. This means that quite often I spend an entire morning going through withdrawal from an addiction I beat more than a year ago.

Thing number 7: I am the poster boy for INTJ personalities

This probably isn't a surprise to anybody but myself. I was mostly surprised that there was a known personality type that fit me. I was even more surprised that there are a whole bunch of us. I found an INTJ circle on google+ and I have to say, I love those people. If you have no idea what I'm talking about, the dry version and the funny (and more useful) version.

As a side note, when I asked my wife what was surprising about me she mentioned that she was surprised by how filthy my mind is and at how loud I can pass gas, so umm... be happy I didn't listen to her and include those.

Now, for the harassment of seven people whose blogs I read. Rather than choosing 14 people in total or forcing 7 people to do both of these I will name seven personal blogs I read and let them decide if they want to do one, the other, both or none. I can't in good conscience name the two ladies who singled me out (although it occurred to me to give the one to the other and the other to the one, if you follow), so 7 new people (in no particular order other than this is the order I put them in):

  1. Nicole Feldringer at
  2. Voss Foster at
  3. Kia at
  4. Gnetch at
  5. Stephen Hayes at (I know you just got one of these recently so I'll understand if you skip it. No really)
  6. Meg McNulty at
  7. Susan Lewis at
None of these people write about the same thing, but they all write with personality, and honesty, and from their hearts, and with fewer clauses than I do. I don't actually follow very many blogs, I'm extremely picky, and these seven are the blogs I get the most excited about when they pop up in my reader - well, these 7 and "Text From Dog", that guy is hilarious. 

To all 7 of you, pick your poison. Would you like to do the lucky 7 meme or the Kreativ Blogger Award, or both? I leave the decision in your hands as I think you're all worthy of both.

For my readers, please take a look at all 7 of them and vote for your favorite in the comments below. The most favoritest blog will get a special prize just as soon as I think of one.

Monday, May 14, 2012

On the road again. I can't wait to get...

It is Monday evening as this goes out on the interwebs. In the morning we will pack up the car, strap the munchkin into his seat, and head off for Hangzhou. Thursday morning we will hop on the shuttle bus that takes us from downtown Hangzhou to Shanghai's Pudong airport where, around 3pm our flight will leave for Canada.

It's an interesting function of the international dateline that we leave Shanghai at 3pm on Thursday May 17th and arrive in Vancouver just before 12 noon on Thursday May 17th; three hours before we leave. If that doesn't seem fair, don't worry. We lose a whole day on the way back.

Oh, by the way, we're going to Canada on Thursday. We will be spending three weekends, and the two intervening weeks, visiting my home and native land. It's my wife's and son's first trip to Canada and only my second trip back in the last eight years. This is my wife's first time meeting most of my family (my parents have been here to visit us) and my son's first time to see the country of which he is a citizen. I'm so excited that I haven't gotten anything useful done in weeks.

I'm looking forward to seeing people I haven't seen in years (Facebook doesn't count). I'm looking forward to eating a number of things that I haven't eaten for years. People will be hugged and meals demolished. Dee. Mall. Isht.

I am also looking forward to something that few people ever have a chance to do. I'm looking forward to seeing the place where I grew up and the culture I grew up in through the eyes of a stranger. I'm partly referring to my wife's reactions to things, of course, but mostly I mean my own.

I've been living in China for eight years. That's a very long time. In those eight years I'm fairly certain I've become more acculturated than I think to the Chinese way of living, and less accustomed to good old Can-eh-dia, eh? I've also spent a lot of my time hanging out with Aussies, Brits, the French and other disreputable types (I'm looking at you, Germans). I think culturally I'm still more Canadian than Chinese, but I'm not sure by how much, and I'm interested to find out.

I will make an effort to keep this place updated. I have a couple of posts already written and scheduled, and I have the blogger app installed on my tablet, so I should be able to do some basic blogging "from the field" as it were, but if I don't post much for the rest of May it's probably because my mother taught me not to blog with my mouth full. Dee. Mall. Isht.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Dongyang (东阳) Photowalk Highlights

In my first week or two using Google+ I happened to add a large circle of photographers. Two things happened as a result; I got to look at photographs much better than anything I can take (yet), and I found out about something called a photowalk.

A photowalk is when you go for a walk mostly so you can take pictures along the way. Many people do this in groups and it is a social event. I don't know many people here who are interested in photography. I do know a number of people who own very expensive cameras, but they are more interested in making sure everyone knows how expensive it is than in learning how to use it.

At any rate, I went on a solo photowalk the other day (except I rode my bike) and took some pictures of some people and some places and some things. I thought I'd share some of the better ones ones I like the most.

I'll put any photography related comments in italics in between the picture and my "social commentary" in case anyone is interested. In a related note, all pictures were taken with a Canon Powershot S5 IS. They are presented here straight from the camera with no post processing. My philosophy is to try and improve my skills with the camera rather than with the computer. 

This picture shows the limitations of my camera quite effectively. It is a very, very good point and shoot camera and I love it, but no matter how small I make the aperture I can't make it give me a narrow depth of field.Had I been able to make the camera do what I wanted the boy would be in sharp focus and the girl would be blurry enough that you couldn't recognize her. This is the best I could do with the equipment I have.

While out riding I stopped (for 4 hours) to have a cup of coffee with the other foreigner who lives here. I decided this was no reason to stop taking pictures.

This little guy was fascinated by the two white guys having coffee. He started out by walking up and standing about three feet from our table and staring at us for a few minutes. He was surprised when I asked him what he wanted in Mandarin Chinese (Chinese people always assume that Caucasians are genetically incapable of learning their language - usually with good reason). When he didn't answer me I switched to the local language and he just about fainted. After that there was no getting rid of him.

I was working mostly on my framing and composition on this one. I wanted to catch the feeling of the location while maintaining attention on the two people. I used a fairly small aperture (and correspondingly high ISO) to try and zone focus on the girls.

Dongyang is a small town of almost a million people and is part of a larger metropolitan area called Jinhua that holds more than 4 million people. It has a population density of 420 people per square km (just for reference, I grew up in a place with a population density of 1.75 people per square km). Thirty years ago, however, it was all farms and while you can take the farms away from the farmers, you can't make the farmers stay indoors, pay for electricity, or stop spitting.

The people here tend to spend a lot of their time outdoors doing activities that most westerners would consider indoor activities. Here a woman is teaching her granddaughter how to knit. At the risk of being too cynical, it says something about the housing here that sitting in the back alley is more comfortable than sitting inside.

Great big old aperture on this one. I wanted both the foreground and the background in focus. I really with I had a wider lens on this camera. I'd love to do some landscape photography around here, but I can't get a wide enough angle of view. Someday I'll get a DLSR and the first lens I buy (aside from the kit lens) will be a nice wide 16-35mm.

This is one of my favorites.

There are a number of places like this where there's a cement wall and someone has knocked a hole in it, and on the other side you can see a green space. Every time I see one I get Pink Floyd's "Another Brick In The Wall (pt. 2)" stuck in my head (except instead of "brick" my brain sings "hole"). Also, this image ties in with a novel I'm working on in interesting ways (more on that later).

These holes are made for a very specific reason, any guesses what the reason is?

Monday, May 7, 2012

An update

I thought it might be high time to update the old blog with recent events, but before I do that...

Hello to all my new subscribers!

It seems a bit odd to me that the number of people who subscribe to my blog should quadruple in the three weeks I don't post anything, but it is what it is. I hope you enjoy what you find here and that you make your presence felt in the comments.

Now, on to the news which consists mostly of;

  • I finally finished the short story I've been working on. Again.
  • I'm modifying my vision for the blog slightly. Again.
  • We (the Baby, the Wife, and I) are off to Canada in 10 days for a visit. For the first time. 

The Short Story

First, the short story. I wrote a short story almost a month ago. I was very pleased with it, especially with the second half of it which I wrote in an hours-long cathartic burst of creative YARGH! Two or three days later I copied the document from my tablet to my desktop so I could start editing. I write on both machines, so when it popped up saying there was already a file by that name I thought nothing of it. "Copy over that one," I said.

So I lost the last half of my short story. The part where the language flowed like burgundy and dripped like liquid gold. The part where the characters came right off the page and burrowed into your brain and built a nest there. The part where the awesome happened. I'd forgotten that I'd written the last part of the story on the desktop, not on the tablet. I actually wept.

This is in large part why I haven't been very active with the blog for a few weeks. I haven't actually been writing anything - nothing creative anyway. I've been active on twitter (active for me, anyway). I've been very active on Google+ (you should sign up, if you haven't). I've even been active on Facebook. What I haven't been doing, however, is writing. I couldn't.

The loss of those few pages of writing crippled me a little. I was intimidated by myself, I guess. The section of writing I lost was good. Really good. The thought of trying to recreate it made me feel nauseous. So I didn't try.

Finally, yesterday, I looked myself right in the brain and said, "So are you a f**king writer, or aren't you?" It turns out the answer is yes. I didn't recreate the section I'd lost, but I did write it again. It isn't as good now as I remember the first version being, but at least now it exists in some form. More importantly, I feel as though I've passed a hurdle. The burden I felt slide from me as I hit save is indescribable (and I'm reasonably proficient at describing stuff).

So I'm back to writing again. Onward and Upward.

The Blog

This one is pretty simple, really. I realized that while I'm interested in technology, I'm not interested enough to write about it regularly. So I won't.

Likewise, I don't listen to enough new music to write about music regularly. So I won't.

I watch the same two or three TV shows and usually not until several days after they air. If I were to write about TV it would be quite repetitive and not at all timely. So I won't.

I will continue to write about China. I enjoy that, and I've gotten the impression that my readers do as well.

I will also write about writing, at least writing from my point of view. As I travel along this road of becoming a professional storyteller, I'll share the bumps and snags and pitfalls I encounter and the ways I find to cope with them. For example, yesterday I learned that swearing at your own brain helps you stop refreshing social networking sites and makes you finish a story.

I will also post some things about music and technology from time to time, but only when I feel like it. I am also getting back into photography again these days, so I may share some of what I'm learning in that arena as well. It tends to tie in with my China posts because, after all, I'm mostly taking pictures of things in China.

As I continue to change and evolve, so too will my blog. This plan is only in effect until the next plan takes over. :)

The Trip

So. We leave in 10 days. It's a 24 hour journey - 16 hours on a plane, 3 hours in an airport, another couple of hours on a smaller plane and voila! We're there. Doing this with an 18 month wiggleworm is going to be... interesting. I have plans for that (they involve Teletubbies and Shaun the Sheep on my tablet, mostly) so we'll see how that works.

This trip is the other reason I haven't been present around here much of late. We will be gone for two and a half weeks, and we don't have enough time between when we get back and the end of the term to make up all the classes we'll have missed while we're gone, so we've been working overtime to make up the classes before we go.

I've only been back to Canada once in the past 8 years, and this will be the first time my wife or son have been there at all, so to say we're excited doesn't really cover it. Current plans include a weekend in the Canadian Rockies, a number of BBQs, a fishing trip to northern Saskatchewan, a weekend in Calgary with a couple of the best people in the world (and probably a trip to the zoo), and a bunch of relaxing with my family. Heck, I checked out of here mentally two weeks ago.

Umm, yeah.

So, that's what's been up with me. What about you?

For my new subscribers in particular, but also for anyone who happens to be reading this, tell us a bit about yourself in the comments. Who are you and what do you like to do? Do you have a blog? A website? A google+ profile? Can we add you on twitter? Do you raise purebred dalmatians for fire houses? Inquiring minds want to know, and blogger only tells me how many of you there are, not who you are. Unless you say something down below I have no way of getting to know you.



Monday, April 9, 2012

Flash Fiction: Once Upon a Time

“Well it figures, doesn’t it? It just bloody well figures.”

Larry sighed as turned slowly in front of the mirror, trying to see himself from every angle. The jet black of the jacket set off the gold highlights in his wings, his hair was styled perfectly; he was one dapper looking fairy. He twisted his shoulders to look at the back of his ensemble.

“What was I thinking?”

He’d panicked, no ifs ands or buts. He’d panicked and now he’d be a laughingstock, and he really had no one to blame but himself.

It had happened yesterday when Susie Farnsworth, a centaur, had asked him if he was going to the senior prom. He’d said that of course he was going and then she’d uttered those five fateful words - “Save a dance for me”, before trotting off to advanced math class. A dance. Dancing. There would be dancing at the prom. Larry hadn’t the first clue how to dance.

He’d panicked. He’d cut out of school and headed downtown to one of the seedier districts where you could buy just about anything, and for cheap. Cheap was all Larry could afford. He’d bought a spell from a nasty old Hag that, she'd assured him, would teach him how to dance while he slept. Before bed he’d dutifully read the incantation and performed the gestures exactly as the Hag had described. He’d even managed to swallow the entire noisome potion that she’d given him for “extra potency”. And then he’d gone to bed.

If only he’d read the label he’d have known that the Hag had given him the wrong scroll.

When he’d woken up in the morning, there it had been, apparently happy to see him. He’d had to cut a hole in his trousers just to put them on. Now here he was, with his senior prom just two hours away. He still didn’t know how to dance and he looked ridiculous. Never mind the prom; he couldn’t even go out in public like this.

For goodness’ sake, who had ever heard of a fairy with a tail?

*   *   *

My entry for the Once Upon a Time flash fiction contest over at Yearning for Wonderland. Exactly 350 words (point of pride, there). Just out of curiosity, did you see the tail coming, or were you thinking something else?

Sunday, April 8, 2012

So, You're Moving to China: Personal Space

Dear Imaginary Person,

So far I've told you about some of the smells and sounds you'll encounter when you get here, and it's true that both of these sensory assaults can take some getting used to. You can rest easy, though, in the sure knowledge that you will get used to them. There is something else that I should tell you about, and it's something that you may never get used to. Knowing about it ahead of time might prepare you to better cope with it, though, so here it goes; Chinese people stand really close to you.

You might think I'm having a laugh, or making a bigger deal than I should about something that doesn't really matter very much, but I'm as serious as a heart attack about this. People here stand entirely too close to you, close enough that you can smell what they had for breakfast three days ago, and it will drive you batty. Your idea of personal space is tied directly into the part of your brain that decides whether to run away from someone or tear out their throat, and different cultures have a different idea of what constitutes that space. Canadian personal space is more or less as far as you can reach without stretching; if I can easily put both of my hands on you, you are in my personal space, and I am in yours. Chinese personal space seems to extend to the end of the eyelashes, or occasionally to the end of the nose.

This plays out in a number of ways in daily life here. When lining up for things (if you can get people to line up), you will step up to the back of the line a comfortable distance from the person in front of you. One of two things will then happen. Some people will assume that if you are standing that far away from the next person you aren't actually in the line and they will push in front of you. They may well actually push you; remember - eyelashes. Some people will realise you are also in line and will step up behind you. You will feel their breath on the back of your neck. They will make glancing contact with your clothing. You will be convinced that they are trying to pick your pocket (they might actually be trying to pick your pocket - that happens a lot). This only happens when there is a queue though, so don't worry over much as it is next to impossible to get Chinese people to line up for anything.

The more common way you might experience this is with friends and co-workers. I can recall several occasions when I was walking down the street with a friend and I had to tell him that if he continued to walk that close to me I would have no choice but to punch him in the head. He was a close friend - we shared an apartment for a couple of years - but he was walking with his arm in almost constant contact with my arm and every time I widened the space between us he immediately closed it. The sidewalk was otherwise empty, so there was no reason for such close proximity aside from his idea of personal space differing so drastically from mine.

This is another one of those differences where Chinese folks will tell you it's because there are too many people in China. The thing is, outside of the bigger cities like Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou and Shenzhen the population density isn't any higher than in many western cities (where people don't crowd each other unless there is no other choice whatsoever). Here they crowd each other even in otherwise empty spaces. Habits are funny things, unless they are other people's habits.



Saturday, April 7, 2012

Writing Friday: How Useful is deviantArt?

The Beginning Part

Last September I made a decision to seriously pursue my dream of becoming a professional writer. One of the things I thought would be helpful was to find an online writing community to take part in. My reasoning was that I'd been away from writing for quite some time and it would be good to get feedback from people who had no vested interest in making me feel good about myself. Also, given that I live in a city of about 1 million people where fewer than 30 or 40 people are fluent in the English language and only 2 of us can claim it as our native tongue, maybe I wasn't as fantabulous with the verbiage as I thought I was. As my ability in French attests, language skills atrophy with disuse.

So, off I went to the internet, in search of a critique group. Google provided me with the names and addresses of several, and I ended up joining deviantArt. This turned out to be a reasonably good choice, although not a permanent one. While deviantArt has some qualities that are invaluable for a beginning writer, the site was not originally designed for writers, it's focus has never been and never will be writers, and eventually anyone who is serious about writing professionally will find it outlives its usefulness relatively quickly. 

Out of the short list of candidates, I chose deviantArt for two main reasons; it is free, and it seemed friendly. Also, while most of the other groups I found dealt solely with novel length works, deviantArt is more suited for shorter pieces, and I didnt want to get involved with a novel just yet. You don't want to start off your first swim in a years with a cliff dive and a trek across the English Channel, no matter how good a swimmer you think you used to be.

As I mentioned above, there are a number of great things about deviantArt. It is free although you can pay for additional features that, while somewhat useful, are not actually necessary. Also, it really is friendly. Possibly as a result of feeling marginalized by the visual art folks, the writing community on deviantArt is one of the most open groups of writers I've ever met. The level of snark is so low, in fact, that I was tempted to check for a pulse on several occasions.

The Middle Part

The main reason for joining a writing group is, of course, to get feedback on your writing. There are a number of groups on dA that encourage their members to critique each other's work; The Written Revolution, and litPlease come to mind as standout examples. There is also a fully functional "critique" system that allows you to critique someone's work in a separate section from the general comments as well as assigning ratings to various aspects of the work. This used to be a premium function, but I believe it is currently available to everyone. Even when it wasn't, critiques can be left in the comment section without too much difficulty.

The writing community, in addition to being almost snarkless, is also fairly active. There are always contests and prompts and chat events and any number of other activities going on. At least, it seems that way. Once you start to dig a little deeper, though, you notice that most of the activity is being generated by the same 10-15 people week after week, with varying degrees of engagement from the rest of the members. And this is where we come to the negative side of dA as a writing group; outside of the small handful of stalwarts the rest of the members are pretty useless.

At first I was quite excited by the sheer volume of content being posted to the more active groups. As a reader, I was thrilled by the chance to sample so many up and coming writers. After the first few weeks I'd completely changed my tune. The vast, vast majority of the writing posted to deviantArts writing groups is poetry; angsty, poorly written, adjective laden, free verse poetry. The remainder is mostly fan fiction (again, mostly of poor quality) with the occasional gem of an original work of prose buried in the dross.

Given the quality of the writing going on there, I shouldn't have been surprised by the quality of the critiquing. It is awful. I would frequently write critiques 2 or 3 times as long as the piece I was critiquing; analysing line by line and making suggestions for word choice, structure, pacing, character, dialogue, and in some cases very basic things like how punctuation works and the difference between they're, their, and there. The critiques I got were mostly along the lines of "This is really good! :P :D lol" and if the piece was longer than 500 words or so I was lucky to get even that as very few people will actually read anything that long. This brings us to the other downside to deviantArt as it pertains to the serious writer; age.

I think the average age of the users on dA is about 15 with the fat part of the bell curve resting snugly between 13 and 17. I don't know about you, but I'm 37 years old. The things I have in common with most of the dA writing community are mostly of the "we're both bipedal, carbon-based life forms" variety. The vast majority of the time I felt like I was teaching a high-school English class only, instead of it being normal students with one or two hippy-dippy, reality impared cornflakes, the whole class was hippy-dippy, reality impared cornflakes. The kind of students who say things like, "No one can define art." and "I write free verse poetry because I don't believe in rules. Shakespeare didn't follow rules.", and "You can't critique my poem because it's about how I feel.", and "Who cares about spelling? Stop being a grammer natzi." Sigh.

The End Part

In spite of the bad poetry and the lack of meaningful critique, I truly did enjoy my dA experience. I say did because I've more or less withdrawn completely from my involvement there. I just don't have the extra time to spend on something that won't move me closer to being a professional writer, and I've accomplished everything on dA that I'm going to accomplish. I met a handful of wonderful people, some of whom I'll remain in contact with outside of dA. I confirmed that I'm at least a better writer than the vast majority of high-school students, and I developed a few story ideas that might even turn into readable novels some day.

The take away from all this is that if you are a writing hobbyist, or you just aren't quite ready to make your play for publication, deviantArt is awesome. It's a friendly, safe environment to give your writing chops a workout and practice your craft. There are groups that provide writing prompts and contests and a sense of community. If you are serious about writing and have professional aspirations, however, you might want to look elsewhere. Where, I haven't quite figured out yet.

My deviantArt profile is here, but you can only read my "deviations" if you're a member; first rights and so forth. 

Do you have any experience with online writing communities, either paid or free? Any suggestions for sites to avoid, or recommendations for places to go? Give the world a heads up and let us know in the comments below.

Ps. In case you were wondering, someone told me I should have headings if I want people to read my blog because no-one likes a "wall of text" (except people who read books, I suppose), so I put in some headings. Do you like them? They also said I should have a bullet list, but I didn't have anything I wanted to shoot at and I wasn't feeling list-y.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Tech Wednesday: The Asus Eeepad Transformer

Hi there. 

Welcome to Tech Wednesday here at the blog. Normally I'll be using these tech posts to round up and comment on any recent technology stories in the media, but I thought I'd write today about my Asus Eeepad instead.

About 6 months ago I was faced with the necessity of replacing my laptop. If you'll recall that was smack-dab in the middle of the release of a whole gaggle of new android tablets. Now I have to admit that even though I really really wanted to have one I never thought seriously about buying a tablet. I love the idea of them, as I love most new gadgets, but I just never saw how one would be of any real use to me.

I'm a classic function over form guy. Whenever I look at buying a new device I make a list of all the things I need it to do, all the things I would like it to do and, as I do my research, all the things I didn't know it could do but that I now look forward to it doing. If I end up with more than one device that satisfies all of my use criteria, I consider which one looks nicer. Now, I have a decent desktop system that takes care of my computing needs at home, so my list in this case was focused strictly on my computing needs while on the go.

What I Need (after the break)

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Album Review: Dia Frampton's "Red"

Hello, and welcome to Music Tuesday. 

As you may have heard, I enjoy a program called The Voice. One of the things I like most about it is the way it promotes people with unique or unusual voices. Season 1 of the voice had several such performers; Xenia, Nakia, Dia Frampton, and Rebecca Loebe come to mind. Dia Frampton, who placed 2nd in season 1, recently released her debut album (sort of) "Red". Today, I review that album.  

I say that "Red" (available on iTunes) is sort of her debut album, because even though it isn't her first album, it's probably the first one you've heard of. Dia and her sister Meg have recorded 4 albums and 6 EPs already under the name "Meg & Dia", and have spent the last 7 years or so touring to promote those albums. It's not even her first album with a major label; "Here, Here and Here" was released under Warner Bros.. This is, however, her first album with a significant amount of publicity behind it, and so it seems appropriate to consider it as a debut album.

Keep reading for a track by track analysis.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

So, You're Moving to China: The Nose Knows

Dear Imaginary Person,

In my last letter I told you about the sounds of China, and how the first thing I noticed here was the noise. The thing about living in a noisy environment is that you pretty quickly develop selective hearing. After a few weeks you don’t even notice most of it any more. Except for the street washing trucks*. And the laowai** comments. You always notice those. No, what has really made a lasting impression on me are the smells. Food smells, street smells, the smell of animals, the smell of people, the smells of construction and manufacturing, and every so often the smells of natural, growing things. China is a land of many smells.

For example;

Saturday, March 24, 2012

My first post about writing... mostly.

Like most people with a creative bent, I am frequently plagued by consistently low self-esteem and crippling bouts of self-doubt. This often causes me to question both the wisdom and the motivation behind many of my decisions, although not usually until long after it is possible to make a different decision. This is why I'm dedicating my first writing post to answering the same question every other writing blogger has answered for their first post since time immemorial; "why do I want to be a writer", or more specifically, "why do I want to be a professional writer of fiction?"
I won't lie to you and say that people often ask me why I want to be a writer. They don't. The only writing related questions anyone ever asks me are, "when will your novel be finished" and "can I read it?" I won't be addressing those questions here though, as they are too easily answered ("eventually", and "only if you are willing to either buy it or edit it" respectively), and don't provide me with adequate space to be witty and charming on a blog that no-one few people read.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

How "The Voice" ruined TV for me

I'll begin this, my first TV related post, with a few caveats. I don't actually watch very much television, and what I do watch has been Tivoed* and de-commercialed. I haven't seen more than 4 or 5 commercials in the last 15 years and I probably don't even know how to deal with a commercial break anymore. I very seldom watch a show on the same day it airs, and I would be lost if I couldn't rewind and fast forward at will.  I also watch a particularly eclectic mix of shows. The idea of turning on the TV and watching whatever comes on seems very foreign to me.

I can’t watch America’s Got Talent any more. Or Canada’s Got Talent. Or Britain’s GotTalent, for that matter. I used to enjoy all three versions of the “Got Talent” franchise, as well as both the British and American versions of X Factor, but they are no longer on my “to watch” list, and it’s all because of The Voice.

The Voice is, much like X Factor or Got Talent, a competition show primarily for singers (AGT has been won by a singer every season). The format of The Voice, however, is different in some very fundamental ways. On The Voice, in case you haven’t seen it, contestants are pre-screened by the producers and only the best are invited back to audition in front of the judges. The judges listen to the auditions while facing away from the stage, and judge acts based solely on their voices.

If they like what they hear they can hit their button and turn their chair, indicating that they would like to add the singer to their team. If only one judge turns their chair, they get that singer. If more than one judge turns, the singer chooses who they want to work with. After selecting their teams, the judges mentor the singers as they compete against each other. It is a format that emphasizes the skill and talent of the singers and minimizes the popularity contest element prevalent in the other shows.

I have to say that I thoroughly enjoy the variety aspect of the Got Talent shows. It isn't all singers doing much the same thing, with much the same songs. The sheer variation and the creativity people put into trying to make unlikely things entertaining is, in and of itself, entertaining. What I've never liked about the Got Talent series is the open mockery of people who plainly have no business being on a public stage, who generally seem unaware of their complete lack of ability, and who in some cases seem mentally ill.

What makes it worse is that what you see on the show has been prescreened by the producers. We are supposed to be laughing at the poor, hapless schmuck belting out an off key rendition of some tune that was barely popular in 1983, let alone now. I’ve never liked that aspect of the show and, after watching The Voice, I find it turns my stomach.

The Voice shows that you can have an extremely entertaining show based only on actual talent, where making a mockery of some person’s dreams and ambitions is as unnecessary as it should be. On a recent episode of Canada’s Got Talent, Stephan Moccio actually said to a fellow human being, “The best part was that you actually thought you could win.” What a smug little... well, let’s keep this post family friendly. Needless to say I don’t think I’ll be watching much of the “Got Talent” audition shows any more. I may stop watching the rest of the season entirely.

The only things I really have against the X Factor when compared to The Voice is the quality of the performers and the judges. During season 1 of The Voice, at one point Adam Levine made a comment that any of the contestants on the show would have won Idol or X Factor. I find it difficult to argue with this, as I was thinking much the same thing myself. With the exception of Josh Krajcik, I didn’t find any of the contestants on X Factor to be compelling enough that I wanted to hear more of them. I have bought both DiaFrampton and Javier Colon’s albums (didn’t care for Javier’s, but loved Dia’s album) and am planning to have a listen to Beverly McClellan’s album in the near future. Overall, a much higher quality of performer, I think.

Likewise, The Voice has better and more interesting judges than X Factor. Nicole and Paula (replaced for season 2) were clueless numbwits for most of the season. I cringed any time either one of them opened her mouth. L.A. Reid was competent but lacked anything resembling a personality, and Simon Cowell is Simon Cowell.

On the Voice, Blake Shelton seems like a genuinely nice guy, Cee Lo is 5’2”** of awesome, and Adam Levine is one of the smartest and best spoken music industry insiders I’ve seen. Christina Aguilera… well, she believes her own press too much, and doesn’t seem to believe in wearing clothing that actually covers anything, but is otherwise not overly offensive.

The Voice is a talent show the way talent shows should be. It celebrates great singers without regard for image, age, gender (it's sometimes surprisingly hard to tell by listening), or any other irrelevant criteria. It promotes the enjoyment of truly talented people without resorting to the public mockery of those who aren’t (but think they are). It is judged by people who are demonstrated experts in the field they are judging, and who are interested first and foremost in the careers of the contestants rather than their own waning and inexplicable fame (with the possible exception of Xtina).

The Voice airs Monday nights at 8/7C on NBC, or whenever you like on the “Tivo”.

*The Internet is my Tivo.

** According to IMDB he’s 5’6”, but he looks shorter to me.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

So, You're Moving to China: The Sound and the Fury

Dear Imaginary Person,

[name redacted] mentioned that you were planning on spending some time in China and asked me to fill you in a bit about what to expect. As I do love the sound of my own voice (clack of my own keyboard?), I am happy to help.

The first thing that struck me when I arrived in China was the noise. Well, no, that’s not quite true. The first thing that struck me was the heat and humidity. I grew up in the Canadian prairies; 30°C is a hot summer day, and 0% humidity is normal. I arrived in Hangzhou on July 9, 2004. It was in the vicinity of 45°C with a relative humidity of sauna%. I had trouble breathing for the first few days.

Once I got used to the weather, though, the first thing I really noticed was how noisy China is. Chinese people will tell you that it’s because China has too many people1 and it’s true that, at least along the heavily developed East coast, there is an awful lot of traffic, construction, and crowding – all of which contribute to the elevated level of ambient noise.  The thing is, while I lived for 7 years in Hangzhou, a wealthy city of about 10 million people (many of whom own cars), I currently live in a small city (DongYang) of only 1 million people and I have spent a lot of time in small villages of a few hundred people. They are all noisy. All of them.

I have developed a theory to account for this. The theory is this: Chinese people are loud. They talk loudly, they eat loudly, and they blow their noses loudly (and often without the benefit of a tissue). They watch TV loudly, and they listen to music loudly. I’m still not entirely sure why they are loud, but it isn’t because of too many people. On the contrary; the smaller the village, the louder the villager. Two middle-aged DongYang ladies having a conversation in an otherwise empty room are audible from three buildings away, and their cell phone ringtone can be heard in the next village2. The default volume setting on most televisions here is “distortion”, and the majority of shops in most downtown shopping areas put large PA speakers outside their doors to blast passersby with the latest Japanese and Korean pop super-hits (and Lady Gaga, of course)3.

Don’t let any of this bother you, by the way. You’ll soon develop the ability to tune the majority of it out completely. You might not even notice it as much as I did. Keep in mind that we Canadians are a pretty quiet bunch (3 Chinese people make about as much noise as 30 Canadian prairie-dwellers), so it was a bit of a shock to my system. If you are from a bigger city, or a large family (especially a large Chinese family) you might not notice anything out of the ordinary at all; until Chinese New Year, anyway.

Chinese New Year makes the rest of the year seem like the cozy confines of a library or crypt by comparison. Everyone (and this will include you) who is in China for Chinese New Year makes a video of themselves “reporting from the front lines” of wherever the US is currently dropping bombs. The unrealistic aspect is that the US never drops that many bombs, that steadily, for that long. In the major urban centers they have restrictions on the fireworks and actually enforce them much of the time. In the country side… not so much. This most recent CNY (old-timer speak for Chinese New Year, of course) was our first in DongYang.

In Hangzhou the fireworks go on for two or three days. They are non-stop the whole day leading up to New Year’s Eve, and then peter off towards 3am or so. In Dongyang, we experienced 2 solid weeks of non-stop bombardment. I’m serious. For two weeks there was not a single moment of a single day that we couldn’t hear the explosions of fireworks. Day time, night time; it didn’t matter, stuff was exploding. Fireworks were being set off at the base of our building. We live on the ninth floor. Most fireworks sold in China explode between 8 and 12 stories up, so we had firework sparks hitting our balcony doors pretty regularly. It was insane.

At any rate, I hope none of this has scared you off or made you second guess your plans. I also hope you aren’t a light sleeper. You may want to acclimatize yourself by trying to have a conversation while blow-drying your hair or by hanging out with airplane mechanics while they work. The noise isn’t really a huge problem; it’s just one of the many differences I had to get used to.


1. This is the reason Chinese people will give you for almost any oddity you mention about China. It is almost never the actual reason. China does have a lot of people, but the population density isn't that much greater than in many other places.

2. I'm exaggerating slightly.

3. I'm not exaggerating at all.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Look! Categories! ------------------->

The life cycle of the common blog is a strange thing. You would think, given that every blog springs forth whole from the forehead of its creator, that they would all be individual and unique and snowflake-like. Not even remotely. What you have to keep in mind is that, while people are indeed often unique and individual and snowflake-like, they are also even more often utterly predictable.

In the course of my research1 for this post, I discovered that there are three types of blog. They are, in no particular order; the Bubble, the Blue Moon, and the Butterfly2. They all begin in the same way and for the same reason. Generally speaking, a new blog is born because the would-be blogger has something to say. Maybe they have a newly formed opinion about something, or recently had an unusual experience that they want to tell the world about, or an awesome new recipe they tried. At first they find they have lots of things to say, and boy do they say them. The first few weeks of a new blog's life are full of frenetic activity as post after post is published.

The problem is, most of us don't have unusual experiences very often (that's why they're unusual) and opinions (as they say) are like assholes; everybody's got one, and most of them aren't very interesting. What this means is that, sooner or later (usually sooner) the new blogger runs out of things to say. This is where a new blog splits off to become one of the three types.

-   -   -

If the blog is of the Bubble variety, by far the most common, it pops and disappears never to be seen again. Having run out of things to say, the blogger loses interest and stops posting. In the fullness of time they may even forget that they ever had a blog at all. Sad.

If it is one of the less common Blue Moon variety, it doesn't disappear entirely, but rather becomes reclusive. The blogger still posts when the mood strikes, randomly and infrequently, and we only hear from these blogs once in a, you’ve guessed it, blue moon.

The third type of blog, the Butterfly, is possibly the least common of all. These blogs occur when, rather than ignoring or neglecting his blog, the blogger recognizes the problems inherent in every new blog and takes steps to save its life. Wrapping their stunted, ugly creation in strands of shimmering gossamer they breathe new life into it through a radical approach known as "planning". What emerges from the cocoon is, hopefully, something far more interesting and beautiful than what went in.

-   -   -

My blog, this blog, was never going to be a Bubble - I'm too stubborn for that - but it very nearly became a Blue Moon. I'm happy to report, though, that steps have been taken. Whether what emerges from the cocoon in this case is sustainable and beautiful, or a misborn monstrosity, only time will tell. I'm excited to find out.

The steps I have taken so far to save my blog consist primarily of talking to myself. I asked myself two questions: what do I want to get out of a blog, and what do I have to offer those misguided souls who choose to read it? Put another way, why should I write, and what should I write about?

The answer to the first question was fairly straightforward - I mostly just want to reinforce writing as a daily habit (the unbreakable, unshakeable kind). I quit smoking last year after 25 years of nasty, so I know firsthand the power and inertia a good solid habit holds. As a secondary goal, I'd like to improve the quality of (as Chuck Wendig would say) "my wordsmithy". Improving my penmonkey-ship (thanks again, Chuck), though, is more of a side-effect for me. The main goal is to write more.

The answer to the second question was slightly less straightforward, but not overly difficult to figure out. I looked at the blogs I read and realized that there are two main reasons I read a blog; because the author shares one of my interests, or because the author possesses knowledge or skills I want to acquire. The question of what to write, therefore, boils down to what do I like, and what do I know?

-   -   -

And so we arrive at this. Starting next week I will be writing on a specific topic for most days of the week. My non-alliterative titles are:

l  Food Monday
l  Music Tuesday
l  Technology Wednesday
l  Stuff I Watch (on TV) Thursday
l  Writing Friday
l  So You're Moving To China Sunday, and
l  Open Letter of the Month

Mondays will be about food, obviously. Generally I will share a recipe, as often as possible with a video to show how to make it. I'm a long time foodie, as well as being fairly competent in the kitchen. Also, I have lived in China for the past 8 years, so I've been forced to start making from scratch many of the things I would normally have bought pre-made back in Canada.

Tuesdays I will write music reviews. I'm a classically trained percussionist, and have played drums (jazz, blues, rock and heavy metal) for most of my life. I'm also an experienced singer and a not-so-experienced guitar player.

Wednesdays and Fridays will have some connection with tech and writing respectively. Both topics belong more on the interest side of things than the knowledge side, I'm afraid. I've wanted to make my living as a writer for as long as I can remember, and I took my first computer apart more than 20 years ago, so hopefully I’ll be able to muster up some insights into both of these topics..

We don't watch much TV in our household; living in China doesn't afford many opportunities for quality programming. Using undisclosed methods, however, I am able to get my hands on select shows of interest. I will use Thursdays post to talk about whatever it is we're watching these days (at the moment, season 2 of "The Voice", mostly).

Sunday will be my way of writing about life in China. I want to write about living in China, but it’s been done so many times by so many other Westerners in China that I came up with a conceit to make it more interesting (for me, not necessarily for you). I will write about living in China as if I were giving advice to an imaginary person who is planning on moving here. Woohoo, let the good times roll!

I'm also planning to do an "Open Letter of the Month".  My goal is to take various "-isms" and "-ists" and put them under the microscope. This will allow me to exercise my essay writing and rhetorical skills, and will give me a soap-box from which to pour forth my opinions. I'm a very opinionated person and if I don't let them out from time to time my head explodes.

So there you have it, a new era for the Lived-in Life. To the 7 of you who already read my blog, I hope you enjoy what I have in store. And to anyone who tags along in the future, I hope you find something here of value.

1. No research was actually performed
2. Pure coincidence that they all start with 'B'

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Click Here, Searchmonkey!

As I travel around the intertubes these days, I see more and more articles and blog posts and Google+ conversations about marketing and SEO (search engine optimization, as it turns out) and, while I don't get why so many people spend so much time trying to game the system instead of just doing what they do, I thought I'd give it a go with this post.

I don't really care that much how many hits my blog gets in a day (a week might be a more useful time frame, actually). I know I will never be as popular as Justin Bieber or Jeremy Lin (until a few days ago I’d never heard of Jeremy Lin). I don't write about Apple or iPhones, or about Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum. I'm just an as-yet-unpublished author (much like Stephen King, J.K. Rowling, and Stephanie Meyer once were) carving out my little space on the internet. Oh, apparently J.K. Rowling is writing a new book. Aren't we all?

I could write about the iPhone, actually. My wife owns an iPhone, and I am responsible for iphone maintenance. We live in China, as you might know, so I am also responsible for jailbreaking the iphone and installing iphone apps on the iphone. I won't write about iphones, though, because I despise that iphone. I've lost track of the number of hours I've spent trying to get that iphone to do what I want it to do rather than what Steve Jobs wants it to do. It's my iphone Mr. Jobs, not yours. I've also lost track of how often I've had to reinstall all of the iphone's apps and media after someone plugged it into a new computer and itunes wiped everything from it. Stupid iphone.

After owning an iphone and an ipod touch for a few years now, I will never buy another Apple product, so no writing about Apple and iphones, and certainly nothing about the ipad, the ipad 2, or the ipad 3. I'm writing this post on my ASUS eeepad (Transformer TF101), which suits my needs more than an ipad 3 ever could. The transformer has a keyboard and USB ports, the ipad 3 does not. The transformer runs flash, the ipad 3 does not. The transformer allows me to work with common document formats and actually create content, the ipad 3 does not. No, I have nothing to say about the ipad 3, so I won't write about them.

I could write about Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, Ron Paul, and Newt Gingrich, but writing about politics makes me too angry. I think Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum are both insane, Newt Gingrich is a liar, philanderer and a waste of skin, and Ron Paul isn't even a real conservative (I’m halfway convinced he’s not a real human – he certainly looks like some sort of zombie puppet). Also, my politics are generally well left of center and I'm not American, so I find it difficult to care very much about Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and their friends.

I could write about Jeremy Lin. I live in Zhejiang province (in China). Jeremy Lin’s mother’s mother was born here. She moved to Taiwan in the 1940s, married Jeremy Lin’s mother’s father and then gave birth to Jeremy Lin’s Mother. I am not sure when Jeremy Lin’s mother’s parents moved to the United States, but that’s where Jeremy Lin was born and raised. This doesn’t stop everyone in Zhejiang province from claiming that Jeremy Lin is also from Zhejiang province, of course. People are weird.

As to Stephen King, J.K. Rowling, and Stephanie Meyers; well, I really just included their names to get hits. Of course, if your only goal is to get hits, the best word you can try to work into your writing is “porn”. I did a quick check on a list of search word trends, and porn was far and away the most searched term in the whole world. Porn, porn, porn as far as the eye can see. I guess it’s true what they say about the internet having been invented solely to distribute porn. I don’t know if pr0n is as popular as porn… it looks like it isn’t. Porn is absolutely the king of search. Hooray for porn!

I'm not sure why anyone would bother with this sort of thing, though. Anyone who gets here as the result of searching for the keywords I've included will almost certainly be disappointed by what they find. Unless you are only trying to turn a quick buck through ad revenue (good luck, by the way), tricking people into landing on your page is a useless endeavor, and actually does more harm than good to your brand or image. A much better strategy would be to provide something of value to your target market/audience, and grow that audience organically.

I'd rather 10 people read my blog regularly because they enjoy what I write than have 10,000 people glance at it once and decide that I’m a douchebag; even if none of those 10 people is Jeremy Lin.