Ten life lessons that you need RIGHT NOW

This is from the ever-insightful Brain Pickings:
1. Allow yourself the uncomfortable luxury of changing your mind. Cultivate that capacity for “negative capability.” We live in a culture where one of the greatest social disgraces is not having an opinion, so we often form our “opinions” based on superficial impressions or the borrowed ideas of others, without investing the time and thought that cultivating true conviction necessitates. We then go around asserting these donned opinions and clinging to them as anchors to our own reality. It’s enormously disorienting to simply say, “I don’t know.” But it’s infinitely more rewarding to understand than to be right — even if that means changing your mind about a topic, an ideology, or, above all, yourself.
2. Do nothing for prestige or status or money or approval alone. As Paul Graham observed, “prestige is like a powerful magnet that warps even your beliefs about what you enjoy. It causes you to work not on what you like, but what you’d like to like.” Those extrinsic motivators are fine and can feel life-affirming in the moment, but they ultimately don’t make it thrilling to get up in the morning and gratifying to go to sleep at night — and, in fact, they can often distract and detract from the things that do offer those deeper rewards.
3. Be generous. Be generous with your time and your resources and with giving credit and, especially, with your words. It’s so much easier to be a critic than a celebrator. Always remember there is a human being on the other end of every exchange and behind every cultural artifact being critiqued. To understand and be understood, those are among life’s greatest gifts, and every interaction is an opportunity to exchange them.
4. Build pockets of stillness into your life.Meditate. Go for walks. Ride your bike going nowhere in particular. There is a creative purpose to daydreaming, even to boredom. The best ideas come to us when we stop actively trying to coax the muse into manifesting and let the fragments of experience float around our unconscious mind in order to click into new combinations. Without this essential stage of unconscious processing, the entire flow of the creative process is broken.
Most important, sleep. Besides being the greatest creative aphrodisiac, sleep also affects our every waking moment, dictates our social rhythm, and even mediates our negative moods. Be as religious and disciplined about your sleep as you are about your work. We tend to wear our ability to get by on little sleep as some sort of badge of honor that validates our work ethic. But what it really is is a profound failure of self-respect and of priorities. What could possibly be more important than your health and your sanity, from which all else springs?
5. When people tell you who they are, Maya Angelou famously advised, believe them. Just as important, however, when people try to tell you who you are, don’t believe them. You are the only custodian of your own integrity, and the assumptions made by those that misunderstand who you are and what you stand for reveal a great deal about them and absolutely nothing about you.
6. Presence is far more intricate and rewarding an art than productivity. Ours is a culture that measures our worth as human beings by our efficiency, our earnings, our ability to perform this or that. The cult of productivity has its place, but worshipping at its altar daily robs us of the very capacity for joy and wonder that makes life worth living — for, as Annie Dillard memorably put it, “how we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”
7. “Expect anything worthwhile to take a long time.” This is borrowed from the wise and wonderful Debbie Millman, for it’s hard to better capture something so fundamental yet so impatiently overlooked in our culture of immediacy. The myth of the overnight success is just that — a myth — as well as a reminder that our present definition of success needs serious retuning. As I’ve reflected elsewhere, the flower doesn’t go from bud to blossom in one spritely burst and yet, as a culture, we’re disinterested in the tedium of the blossoming. But that’s where all the real magic unfolds in the making of one’s character and destiny.
8. Seek out what magnifies your spirit. Patti Smith, in discussing William Blake and her creative influences, talks about writers and artists who magnified her spirit — it’s a beautiful phrase and a beautiful notion. Who are the people, ideas, and books that magnify your spirit? Find them, hold on to them, and visit them often. Use them not only as a remedy once spiritual malaise has already infected your vitality but as a vaccine administered while you are healthy to protect your radiance.
9. Don’t be afraid to be an idealist. There is much to be said for our responsibility as creators and consumers of that constant dynamic interaction we call culture — which side of the fault line between catering and creating are we to stand on? The commercial enterprise is conditioning us to believe that the road to success is paved with catering to existing demands — give the people cat GIFs, the narrative goes, because cat GIFs are what the people want. But E.B. White, one of our last great idealists, was eternally right when he asserted half a century ago that the role of the writer is “to lift people up, not lower them down” — a role each of us is called to with increasing urgency, whatever cog we may be in the machinery of society. Supply creates its own demand. Only by consistently supplying it can we hope to increase the demand for the substantive over the superficial — in our individual lives and in the collective dream called culture.
10. Don’t just resist cynicism — fight it actively. Fight it in yourself, for this ungainly beast lays dormant in each of us, and counter it in those you love and engage with, by modeling its opposite. Cynicism often masquerades as nobler faculties and dispositions, but is categorically inferior. Unlike that great Rilkean life-expanding doubt, it is a contracting force. Unlike critical thinking, that pillar of reason and necessary counterpart to hope, it is inherently uncreative, unconstructive, and spiritually corrosive. Life, like the universe itself, tolerates no stasis — in the absence of growth, decay usurps the order. Like all forms of destruction, cynicism is infinitely easier and lazier than construction. There is nothing more difficult yet more gratifying in our society than living with sincerity and acting from a place of largehearted, constructive, rational faith in the human spirit, continually bending toward growth and betterment. This remains the most potent antidote to cynicism. Today, especially, it is an act of courage and resistance.
For the record, I struggle with all of these, but with #10 especially.

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poem for #3WW: taboo, taut, tattered

Today's words for Three Word Wednesday are: taboo, taut, and tattered.

Everyone slips, though they ought
To learn to tell "taut" from "taught".
Want your image tattered?
Say: "As though spelling mattered!"
It's taboo to write like a bot.

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#3WW: Quick, Raw, Sassy

The three words for today's Three Word Wednesday are: "quick", "raw" and "sassy".  Here is a poem, using them:

"Babe, you are one sassy chick!"
Said the bro at the bar (rather thick).
The femme glanced sidelong,
Then said, "Move along.
I like my boys raw, not quick."

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#FridayFlash: Die, Wizard!

Purple-white fire licked and danced, filling the north wall of the Last Throne Room with death. Dagger-shards of ice gleamed and darted in the freezing air to the south.

Between them, sat the wizard. Stripped of her staff, her seven nightblades, all of her rings of power, and her circlet of warding, stripped of every rune-bedecked magical device, she should have looked weak, frightened, and helpless. With instant, burning death facing her, and with slow, agonizing death behind her, she should have at least looked tense. Instead, she simply sat naked on the wooden stool and looked calm. Despite her split lip and broken fingers, despite the iron shackles around her ankles and wrists, she looked... calm.

Her serenity made the Dread Lord pause before he began the torture. She had surprised him with the ferocity of her attack and he had barely beaten her. Straining every magical sense, he leaned closer to the wizard. His eyes searched for any trace of the magical runes wizards used to store energy, but saw none. He looked harder, considering her artifact-weapons, now safely locked in one of the Council's war chests, carved with as many warding runes as the ancient weaponmasters could fit on the olivewood surface. A lot had changed in the world during the thousand years he'd been held in the Council's prison. Although there was much he had yet to understand about this new age, some things did not, and would never, change. He inspected her minutely, but saw nothing.

Although humans now had strange machines and they no longer feared their gods, they remained weak and stupid, eager to follow a fearsome leader. Although the Council was intact and powerful, its members remained arrogant and overconfident. And, although this wizard, woman though she was, had shown herself to be clever and resourceful, the laws of magic remained immutable. Her Power was as bound to physical manifestations of summoning as all Power had always been bound. Without a rune to store, shape, and guide the Power, it could not be bent by any will, no matter how strong. The laws of magic did not allow a user to simply summon Power without first carving the appropriate runes.

She held nothing, she wore nothing. He had seen to that after the battle. Her several tattoos and scars, he ignored. Runes of Power could not be carved into living flesh. He inhaled, searching for the scent of metal, wood, gold, or gemstones, anything that could have been carved with a rune. The more runes that could be carved onto an object, the greater the Power it could hold and guide. In the ancient days, the most skilled magecrafters could carve a rune no larger than a pea, putting dozens onto a ring, hundreds onto a blade, and thousands onto a staff. But she held... nothing. He leaned in closer, yet still, he sensed nothing. Was the wizard's mien, then, merely a bluff, an attempt to prolong her life?

"Two words," the wizard whispered.

The Dread Lord froze. Though he had defeated her, taken her weapons and stripped her bare, she was a wizard sent by the Council to return him to his cell, and therefore not to be taken lightly.

Seconds passed, his senses straining, searching. He saw nothing, smelled nothing.

"Two words," she repeated, so softly that he could barely hear her over the rushing of the fire and the moaning of the ice.

After another long, agonizing moment, when she said nothing further, the Dread Lord replied, "No words will save you, wizard. You have no way to channel whatever Power you would summon with them." His voice was harsh from a thousand years of disuse, his suspicions tearing at him.

She looked up, raising her eyes from the floor to lock her strange, calm gaze onto his.

"Two words that you should learn, Dread Lord," she said, "if you are to live in this age of humanity."

"Oh? And what Powerless words would you teach me before I kill you, wizard?"

"The words are these: 'laser' and 'microengraving'."

And from her eyes, the stored Power of a thousand thousand runes tore through the space between
them, caving in the breastplate of the Dread Lord's stolen Armor of Night. Between one heartbeat and the next, fingernail shards of the darkmetal smashed back through his sternum and through the armored back plate like a handful of gravel thrown through a windowpane. His huge frame lifted off the ground more than a hand-span with the force of the impact. When he landed, blood fountained front and back from the cabbage-sized hole where his chest had been. An instant later, his stiffened legs gave way. He was dead before he hit the floor.

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Coming clean

This morning, I got up at 5:15 (as I do several days each week) and ran 4 miles through quiet, dark, pre-dawn neighborhoods. My pace was something over 11 minutes per mile, a time which would be pathetic for a gung-ho, competitive runner. For an overweight 46-year-old guy who otherwise leads a pretty sedentary life, it's still kinda lousy. Still, I ran it. No walking, no stopping to chat with other early birds or to pet their dogs.

I ran.

Despite knowing that the results would be nothing to win any awards or accolades, I ran. I ran until my knees crackled and my feet complained and my thighs ached, and then I kept running until my knees stopped crackling, my feet stopped complaining and my thighs... didn't ache quite so much anymore.

I sweated and stank. I gasped and plodded. I looked directly at the right hand turn which would lop a mile off my course, and I gave it a side-eye as I went past it and continued straight, up that one fucking hill that always kills me.

I ran.

So now let's talk about this novel I'm working on. I've been feeling for some time that my situation with this WIP is much like how I feel at 5:22 am. I silenced the alarm, got out of bed, dressed in the dark, and am sitting in a chair in my living room, ready to begin... but waiting.

Wearing my high-tech, odd-feeling, brightly colored running shirt is on my torso, wearing the extra layers suited to that morning's heat (or rain or cold or snow or...), wearing the surprisingly expensive running shoes, wearing my phone in a special holder strapped to my arm, wearing the earbuds so I can listen to the commands and reports of my preferred running app (and whatever audiobook I'm currently in the middle of), wearing an expression of mixed anticipation... I pause.

The run will hurt. The run will then stop hurting. I'll feel better when I've done it. I just need to begin.

Then I take a breath, step outside, and begin.

My WIP is with me now, the marked-up third draft, in a three-ring binder, waiting. It's an ugly, misshapen thing. The work yet to be done is daunting, to say the least. And when I'm done, what will I have? Something to win an award? Or something still kinda lousy?

I'll feel better when I've done it.

I'll feel better when I've done it.

I'll feel better when I've done it.

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"Depth and dimensionality" - a new review of Verbosity's Vengeance

In this new 5-star review of "Verbosity's Vengeance", my book is described as "a comic book wrapped in novel form". This is an insightful take, since I've had publishers suggest that my novel would make a great comic book or graphic novel. Maybe I should try describing it as the gripping novelization of a comic book/graphic novel/screenplay that exists only in my head?

From the review:
It [Verbosity's Vengeance] has the fast pace of a comic, the vivid action sequences, and the larger than life challenges and heroism. But, by having it in novel form, all of the characters and events unfold with far greater depth and dimensionality. Even the struggles of a burgeoning super hero class are illustrated by the mayor of Lexicon City not just having to have a specific super hero liaison on his staff, but in the difficulty of keeping the position staff. It is also a lens through which we can observe so some of the "little things" that super heroes would have to do in order to maintain their air of mystery, and shedding some light on the Pandora's Box which is opened when someone decides to take on a secret identity, and the many layers of secrecy that are required.
Did I mention that the book is only $0.99? At least for now? Get it cheap, while you can!

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Ideas that won't leave you alone

I've got an idea niggling in the back of my mind. It's not complete enough to even call it a scenario - more like a set-up that could be fleshed out into a scenario. No characters, no plot, just a string of events.

Who's the lead? What's the objective? What's the conflict? What's the knockout?

No idea. Maybe I should write it down and find out.

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Making mistakes in public

If you tweet something clever that gets picked up and retweeted by an account with 500,000+ followers, you may rest assured that it will contain 1) a spelling error, or 2) a mistake in your math.

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Twitter and the Ten Thousand Character Mistake

If Twitter is truly going to expand tweets to 10,000 characters, it will mean the death of the service. Brevity is not merely the soul of wit. It forces editing of any comment - funny, insightful, evocative, provocative, profane, or inspiring - into its purest form.

Limited space forces people to think carefully about word choice, about phrasing, about tone. Opening it up to a half-acre of text will encourage meandering, mushy, diarrheal verbosity. Verbosity is not necessarily the soul of poor speech, but it is certainly its handmaiden.

For example, here are the first 10,000 characters of a book you should buy, a book that has a few pointed things to say about verbosity and the type of people who engage in it.

“VERBOSITY’S VENGEANCE - A GRAMMARIAN ADVENTURE NOVEL” BY TONY NOLAND. Chapter One.  A gruesome sentence flew toward the Grammarian, blasted from the barrel of Professor Verbosity’s latest weapon, the Concept Cannon. Festooned with a dozen hook-like prepositional phrases, the complex construct spun widely to ensnare the superhero. Anticipating the attack, twin thunderclaps exploded from the Grammarian’s gauntlets as he fired a powerful pulse of parentheses from one hand and a simultaneous shower of semicolons from the other. The punctuations found their marks, creating nodal points that shattered the sentence into a cloud of fragments. With an electric shriek of memetic energy, the construct collapsed like an accordion. Discrete, unconnected phrases bent and flexed harmlessly around the Grammarian. “Give up, Professor Verbosity,” he said. “You should know by now that sheer weight of words is no match for the power of punctuation!” He shifted into a fighting stance and faced his opponent, who had backed to the far side of the room. Professor Verbosity lifted the Concept Cannon and pulled a lever. The barrel swiveled into an angular projection. Blue sparks shone along the length of the weapon as electronic circuits reconfigured themselves. “Is that so, hero? Let’s see how well you can withstand my Redundancy Ray!” “You need a new bag of tricks, Verbosity. I’ve already seen that a dozen times. Now, give up!” The supervillain smiled in response. “You always try to bluff your way out of difficulty, don’t you, Grammarian? I can’t say I don’t admire the attempt to win with words instead of brute force, but in this case, I’ll use both.” The weapon in his hand was now shaking with barely contained power, long plasma streamers flowing from end to end. “True, my Redundancy Ray is an old favorite, but I haven’t shown it to you since I added the Rephraser Refractor!” Blue lightning exploded from the weapon. In less than a second, a million microfilaments of memetic concept energy wrapped themselves around the Grammarian. Knocked to the ground by the force of the impact, he had no chance to react before the energy coalesced into a single, coherent sentence. Within the densely convoluted word-construct, the Grammarian was immobilized. It’s about time he pulled out a real weapon, the hero thought. If I’d had to duck and dodge much longer, he surely would have begun to realize that I was holding back. Professor Verbosity laughed in triumph, delighted to see his foe struggling in the grip of the memetic energy his weapon was projecting. The Grammarian struggled even more vigorously and threw in a growl of frustration to enhance the effect. For a moment, he thought he might have overplayed the acting, but the hero could see that Verbosity was convinced of his triumph. Supervillains are suckers for cliché, the Grammarian thought, every one of them. “You’ll never win, Professor Verbosity!” He spit his archenemy’s name with obvious contempt. Pinned to the floor under the weight and complexity of shimmering word-memes, he fought for breath as his bonds grew ever tighter. Now, his gasping was only partly exaggerated for effect. Although allowing himself to be captured was part of the Grammarian’s plan to trick Verbosity into revealing his latest plot, Lexicon City’s smartest hero feared that that he’d underestimated his foe. Professor Verbosity laughed. “Ah, my dear Grammarian,” he replied, “I have already won, insofar as the first and most crucial step in winning is to render you utterly and completely helpless. These sentences are not only long and complex enough to entangle you completely while you try to parse out subject and object amid the subtending and supporting prepositional and participial phrases, they are also perfectly correct grammatically, which renders you powerless to break free!” Under the triumphant gaze of his nemesis, the Grammarian was indeed struggling, completely snared in the thick ropes of words. He tried to find some flaw, some grammatical mistake that he could exploit. With all his super-powered lexicographical might, he scanned and rescanned the sentence, though it was blindingly painful to do so. Being captured was part of the plan; being rendered unconscious was not. He wanted some avenue of recourse if he needed to go to one of his backup plans. Unfortunately, Verbosity had gone to great lengths this time, figuratively and verbally. If only there were an inconsistent verb tense, a dangling or misplaced modifier, even an intransitive verb used transitively, but there were no grammatical mistakes to latch onto. The Grammarian needed to get to the bottom of his foe’s plot and time was running out more quickly than anticipated. Stepped up your game, have you, Verbosity? Well, you always fall for a taunt, you windbag. “You’re insane! When I break free of this sentence, I’ll put a stop to your criminal circumlocutions!” “Typically valiant words from my typically valiant nemesis, or rather, a defeated and broken man who once was a worthy adversary to my rhetorical skill and encephalitic eloquence... you mustn’t try to -” “AHA! An ellipsis! If only I can grab it in time!” “- struggle so, for as you can see, my confounding concordances of verbal envelopment are employed without flaw, a condition which encompasses the little ellipsis you spotted, as well as the en dash you forced me to use - entirely against my will, but without consequence to the strength of the bonds holding you - as well as the em dashes I just threw in, purely as a lark, not in the sense of a bird preparing to take flight, which would be completely inappropriate in this context, given your utterly earthbound condition, but in the sense of a jest, a jape, a witticism at your expense, Grammarian, for as my memes move to muffle the mouth you muster to mock me, you are now naught but an object of ridicule and contempt, the highest of the high made the lowest of the low, the mightiest of the mighty made the -” With a tremendous explosion, the skylight in the ceiling of the old factory burst inward, cutting off the flow of words threatening to choke the life out of the Grammarian. A gleaming, armored man did a graceful back flip through the rain of glass shards and landed perfectly in front of the supervillain. His sleek, silvery armor was airbrushed with an iridescent pattern that was part sunrise, part moonlight. Verbosity recoiled. “No, not you! Not when I was so close to -” “Yes,” the newcomer interrupted, “it is me, the Avant Guardian! Now, Professor Verbosity, face the might of the Champion of Chic! I’m here to stop your evil plans, whatever they are!” On the floor, the Grammarian was furiously trying to shout at the armored hero, to tell him that his interference was going to ruin everything. Unfortunately, as the Grammarian was completely muffled by interlocking clauses, sub-clauses and parenthetical asides, his words were unintelligible. The Avant Guardian glanced down at the bound superhero and puffed his chest out a little more. “I shall also rescue my colleague, the Grammarian. There’s no way to escape, Professor Verbosity! At all!” The villain sneered, but shifted his memetic energy projector gun away from the Grammarian to point it at the Avant Guardian. Without the flow of energy, the sentence-bindings lost focus, and the Grammarian felt the bonds start to loosen. “Au contraire, you metal-clad buffoon,” Verbosity cried. “Among the many ways to escape are -” “Save your speeches for prison, Professor!” Punctuation marks erupted from the giant hero’s silver gauntlets, a blinding cascade of periods, question marks, hyphens, and exclamation points. A glittering stream of memetic energy flew like a Pelikan blue-black hurricane into the sputtering face of Professor Verbosity; the venal viceroy of verbiage stumbled backward, shouting a short, sharp sentence. The great splash of punctuation rained onto the prone form of the Grammarian. With a crackling release of energy, the serpentine syntax snare fell apart into discrete phrases and clauses as the terminal punctuation marks lodged among the tangle of word-memes. Each new sentence fragment glowed and hissed with latent memetic energy. Verb forms collapsed from gerund to infinitive to simple, while prepositional phrases folded back in onto themselves and evaporated. The Grammarian diverted his intelligence to augment his physical strength, thrashing violently. If he could get a hand free in time, he might yet be able to salvage the situation! Verbosity crouched in a defensive stance and deflected another verbal assault from the Avant Guardian. With a snarl, the Professor responded with a tight string of overheated metaphors that caught the Avant Guardian in the thigh. His molecular-mesh nanotech armor flashed into a shower of molten metal as the beam raked across its surface. Sparks exploded as his armor short-circuited. The Guardian shouted and dodged, leaping sideways across the room. He landed heavily against a rack of tools and equipment, which collapsed on top of him. Professor Verbosity aimed his beam to follow, clearly intending to finish off the Avant Guardian. Before he could fire, he was knocked sideways by a wild accusation flung by the Grammarian. The Avant Guardian pushed away the debris and clambered to his feet. He drew a complicated-looking weapon and aimed it at the villain. “You don’t have a prayer against me, Professor Verbosity. And once I free the Grammarian with this sentence diagramming gun, you’ll be trapped good! And by that I mean bad! Trapped bad!” On the floor, the struggling Grammarian moaned with frustration. “Uh, badly! I meant badly!” His weapon hummed in a rising pitch as it charged, green and orange indicator lights winking along its length. Professor Verbosity didn’t respond, but swiveled his aim and blasted the floor underneath the Avant Guardian. A rebounding wave of energy threw the slab of concrete up to smash into the hero’s legs. He fell back into the debris as dozens of electric discharges erupted from the knee and ankle joints of his armor. The diagramming gun flew into the tangle of verbal bonds around the Grammarian where it was completely caught up in the argument. The weapon discharged, but with no rationality guiding it, the gun’s grammatical formalism only made the sentence structures more complicated without increasing clarity. Professor Verbosity aimed at the wordcloud and shouted quickly, pulsing memetic energy into the bonds to renew their strength. “Like two sides of the same coin, aren’t you? Two peas in a pod! Two birds of a feather! Well, this will take care of two birds with one stone!” Reinforced by the power of overused metaphor, the tangle of grasping memes grew heavier and more leaden with every second. The Grammarian tried to speak, but the tightening bonds were again crushing the breath out of him. From across the room, a wrench flew in front of Professor Verbosity’s face. Startled, the villain turned sideways, ducking under another flying tool. Half-buried amid the wreckage of the steel shelving and obviously not yet able to stand on his damaged legs, the Avant Guardian was grabbing and throwing anything within reach. A fusillade of hand tools rocketed across the room; Professor Verbosity dodged most and batted the rest away. His opponent’s concentration broken, the Grammarian felt the bonds around his arms shift. He clawed away the muffling memes that masked his mouth. Through a gap in the energy bindings, he brought up his right hand and shouted, “Full stop, Professor!” He sprayed a wide stream of terminal punctuation marks, striking the furious villain a glancing blow. The Avant Guardian took advantage of Professor Verbosity’s partial immobility to grab another tool and drew back for a throw. “Guardian! No!” The Grammarian’s shout was too late. The heavy framing hammer tumbled end over end, flying forward. The Grammarian shot another

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