Ritual vs. Bursts of Genius

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Which one are you?

A scantily clad miner
Writing can be drawing if you need it to be

Are you the writer who makes an appointment each day or week to sit down and write for a set period of time? Or are you the writer who can only write when inspiration strikes?

If you know me, you know I’m a bit of a slob. I blame it on left-handedness and the need to keep tasks visible on my desk. Similarly, I find schedules really kill my hard on for writing. Right brain thinkers, in general, don’t do well with discipline. It tends to do exactly the opposite to which it was intended. Hand me a rigorous schedule, I will spend the rest of the day figuring out how and when I can skip everything on it.

Writing and a corporate job are tough for folks like me. If inspiration strikes between 8 and 5 Monday thru Friday, I can only scribble my thoughts on a notepad on my break. Technically. Google Docs is a game changer, but I don’t want to go down that road with you today.

If Inspiration strikes while I am home, great. I can usually finish dinner or pause my Netflix show and write. Weekends are the best. I’ve published four literary novels writing primarily on inspired weekends. If I’m in a visual mood, I might design a cover. If I’m bored with my literary fiction, I switch to my smut persona. I’ve published twelve smut novels and/or short stories under a different character. They’re short, so don’t think my ratio is 3:1 smut to legit fiction…it’s really pretty balanced.

If my right brain needs a rest, I take time to re-read and edit my work. If it’s ready to go, I format it for publishing and write marketing blurbs. Yesterday I re-did a cover of a poorly performing pulp novel about coal mining. I drew a scantily clad miner covered in coal dust. I took a snap of the drawing and ran it through some filters and editing tools until I got him the right size and width. Then I re-skinned my eBooks and changed the cover on the paperback. Just for fun I wrote a hook and tacked it to the front of the blurb. I don’t know if it worked yet. The changes went live this morning. But I didn’t write much…it was a burst of inspiration of another kind.

Do you write at a set time and place? Are you prone to bursts of inspiration? Share your thoughts!

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You Gotta Have a Hook

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I discovered that all four of my book blurbs were lacking “the hook”, that killer first line that makes a casual book shopper want to read the rest of the book description. I added hook lines to all my blurbs a few days ago. It should not be “keyword optimized”, but rather a well-crafted plain English one-line pitch for the book.

  • 5150 – Psychosis is not for the faint of heart.
  • Half – A halfway house is a terrible place to fall in love.
  • M3X1(0 – During the 1988 financial crisis in Mexico, even a broke, homeless American could live like a king.
  • A Quarter – The only thing worse than being mentally ill is being mentally ill and strung out on dope.

These hooks mark my best efforts, but maybe some of my readers have better suggestions. Creative writers, even with an MBA, are not always the best at self-promotion!

Serial Employee

Picture of the Stud in its heyday
I got laid off because I was underage

It wasn’t until I wrote the fourth book (A Quarter) that I at last had one of those “know thyself” moments. I have been laid off or fired from nearly two dozen jobs. I’m smart, very good at solving problems…but I don’t fit in with corporate culture. I don’t even fit in with anti-establishment culture. Here is an incomplete inventory of the jobs where I had to quit or was let go for incompetence, under-agedness, or spite:

  • Vallejo Times Herald – Paper boy
  • William Morris Reproductions – Wallpaper sample pack creator
  • Union Hotel – Busboy
  • Varsity Theater – Ticket vendor
  • Second Coming Records – Store clerk
  • Patricia Field – Shop girl
  • Milk Bar – Janitor and Barback
  • Diggery Inn – Dishwasher
  • Stud Bar Barback
  • Sparky’s – Prep cook
  • Grubstake – Dishwasher
  • International Center -Towel boy
  • Marcello’s Pizza – cashier
  • Broadmoor Hotel – Slave/Waiter
  • Peachy’s Puffs – Cigarette boy
  • New Line Cinema – 3rd Production Accountant
  • Tupperware Lady
  • Sixteen to Life – Assistant to Executive Producer
  • Married to the Kellys – Assistant to Line Producer
  • New Line Cinema – Product placement assistant
  • Ascent Media – Project manager
  • Miller Group – Advertising account manager
  • Deluxe Media – Billing process manager

A few jobs in my life were a decent match. They ended for reasons like a major geographical move, or widespread layoffs:

  • Marriott’s Great America – Self-reflexive juice salesman
  • Tower Records – Store clerk
  • TimeShare Consultants – Phone sex bookkeeper filer and dog walker
  • Italian Welfare Agency – Social worker
  • Italian Cultural Institute – Event promoter, News segment producer and Radio DJ
  • Lavender Lounge – Segment producer
  • New Line Cinema -Post production accountant
  • Verestar – Global account manager
  • The Acres – Musician
  • La Lucha – Producer/Director/Writer/Editor
  • Deluxe Media – Manager – Overseas Back Office
  • Psychotic Break Series – Author

The primary pattern: I need to express myself and feel good about the work I’m doing. I need to be in a group of similarly creative and quirky outcasts. I have waxing and waning periods of creativity and energy, so I need to have a job that lets me make my own hours or is only intermittent work. Travel and languages keep me interested for a while, too. Tower Records was a really great group of people. I loved working there. Second Coming Records was hell in a glass box. I write about them in the prequel. Several people who worked there have been diagnosed with PTSD. So, if I’m going to work for the man, the boss better be cool.

The boss on this one was super cool…me!

The Quartet Is Complete

I started 5150 in 1997. It’s taken 22 years to go from a single manuscript to a complete series. I honed my craft. I learned to self-publish. I opened my inner life up to public scrutiny. It has been a rewarding journey. As I pen the last words to the fifth book (a prequel to the series) I complete the tale of an incredibly difficult period in my life. It makes me grateful for all I have now. My dog just sighed and gave me the eye. What a wonderful life.

Click here to go to Amazon

The prequel is in progress.

Take guns away from Trump!

Today felt like a slap in the face with a lollipop. Donald Trump is going to “seize guns from the mentally ill.” This is being discussed despite the fact that violent crimes are carried out by people with no record of mental illness at a rate fifteen-fold higher than the mentally ill. The idea of getting guns off the street is glorious. The idea of targeting, vilifying and seizing property from a group of people arbitrarily deemed less fit is totalitarian at best. Consider three points:

First: Under HIPAA laws, a person’s mental health record is not publicly available. Are we going to make an exception for mental health only? What about your mother’s anal fissures? Your brother’s genital warts?  Would we make those public as well? Doesn’t that sound embarrassing?  That’s because it is!  Your health is private for a reason.

Second: While figures show that 15% of the population at large will commit violence towards others in their lifetimes, less than 1% of those diagnosed as mentally ill will do so in theirs.

https://www.fbi.gov/news/stories/2016-crime-statistics-released

Stephen Paddock, who carried out the deadliest mass shooting in history in Las Vegas, was not diagnosed as mentally ill. He never sought treatment of any kind. Interviews with his friends, neighbors, and relatives painted a curious portrait.  Paddock might have been financially successful, but he had real difficulty interacting with people. He is described as “standoff-ish, disconnected, a man who had difficulty establishing and maintaining meaningful relationships,” according to FBI profilers. This is what psychiatry labels “antisocial” personality disorder.  Is there someone in the White House who fits that description? Antisocial personality, also known as sociopathy, is the leading cause of mass shootings.  Sadly, it is almost impossible to detect, since it rarely causes the person to suffer or seek treatment.  It is labeled a mental illness, but not treated like one, since the behavior is typically rewarded in Western society. Suicide, not mass shooting, is the real danger to the mentally ill.  See this very cool study from the National Institutes of Health: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4211925/

Third: Mentally Ill people in crisis will be less likely to seek treatment if their health record will be or could be made public. This will lead to more suicides, since most of the diagnosable and treatable illnesses put the individual at very high risk for suicide when left untreated. Another cool article about this – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC27859/

 

I want America to stop seeking a scapegoat in a group of people who are largely defenseless and 15 times less likely to commit a crime. Why don’t we go after the people who have difficulty interacting with people, like Donald Trump? Let’s make his anal fissures public. Let’s expose his complete lack of moral compass and antisocial “screw everyone” mentality.  That mindset is what leads to mass shootings, stock market crashes, housing market bubbles, and most of the world’s woes.  The problem, of course, is that sociopaths are at a huge advantage over people with feelings, and they tend to claw their way into positions of incredible power, where their selfish decisions damn the rest of us to suffer and pay for their follies without recourse.

You can always read 5150 for free

The e-book of 5150 is free on Smashwords.  Go to 5150 on Smashwords.com You will see that it is set to “name your own price.”  This means you can pay $0.00, or anywhere from $0.99 and up, depending on how generous you feel.  I want the book to be available to the families, friends and loved ones of people who have had or who are having a psychotic episode.  It will give you tremendous insight into the chaos inside their heads, and probably help you sort out what some of it means to them. 5150_cover_09_Page_10

Rosa Parks Didn’t Drive the Bus

I got steaming mad all over again tonight watching a National Geographic special on sexual freedom and government.  They gave a little air time to County Clerk Kim Davis and her one woman protest against the Supreme Court.  She was the lady who refused to issue a gay marriage license to two men because she didn’t want to be condemned to damnation and hellfire.  She went to jail for it.

As ludicrous as her cause sounds to a city slicker, out there in the bible belt a lot of people agreed with her.  One woman went so far as to say “She’s our Rosa Parks.  She’s refusing to obey a law that is unconscionable.”  I was plucked!  I hadn’t seen that little sound byte before.  It didn’t sit right with me not just because I am gay and damn proud of it, but because there seemed to be a logical fallacy embedded in there that I couldn’t name.  I needed a little time to stew over it.

I went to the kitchen, washed and recycled my pudding cup, gave my dog Patsy a treat, and then it struck me.  Rosa Parks was a citizen standing up (or sitting down, actually) in a fight against an extremely oppressive set of laws that were directed towards her from her government.  County Clerk Kim Davis is a government official, trusted to carry out the law of the land.  She is the bus driver, not the passenger.  The laws the Supreme Court passes are part of her job, not part of her private life and certainly not directed towards her.

If she wants to rally against gay marriage in the center of town and spew hate on the steps of the courthouse on her vacation days, I feel she has the right to do so.  In fact, I would actually fight for her to have that right, because denying it to her would be laying dangerous grounds to deny it to anyone else with something different to say.

Religious freedom is extremely important, including the freedom to be intolerant and nasty to people whom you feel are judged in the eyes of God as being lesser than you.  I hate that, but it really keeps things in balance.  It allows others to believe in a more loving God, and it also allows atheists to believe in something entirely different.

I have spent a great deal of time with conservative Christians in the South.  I think a lot of them figured out who and what I was, but they didn’t judge me to my face.  That is, in fact, the Christian thing to do.  As far as they were concerned, if I could sit next to them in the pew and sing, I was welcome in their church.  And I did an awful lot of singing.  I am certain that some folks judged me behind my back.  But they didn’t ask me to leave.  They showed respect and restraint.

I don’t believe that County Clerk Kim Davis showed proper Christian restraint in her dealings with the two men that wanted to get married.  She should have judged them and condemned them to hell silently while handing out the marriage license.  In her scratch-and-win theology, I think that would keep her from going to h-e-double hockey sticks.

When you’re driving the bus, you don’t get to sit illegally in the ‘whites only’ seats.  You’re in the  driver’s seat.  Ms. Davis is in the driver’s seat at the courthouse (assuming she still has her job.)  So she cannot be Rosa Parks in this civil rights issue.  Ever.

Religious Addendum (atheists, feel free to skip this appendix)  In the bible, Jesus didn’t have anything to say about gay people, that was St. Paul, who never actually met Jesus because he was busy persecuting Christ’s followers prior to his conversion.  According to Matthew, Jesus said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” So you see, Love is the clincher.  (I was going to say trump card, but it’s too close to election time).  So maybe some of the holy folks in Ms Davis’ church will sit her down and explain this concept to her, so she can stop panicking about stepping on a crack and breaking Jesus’ back.  If she adds to the quality and amount of love in this world, she’s on the road to heaven.  If she hates her neighbor, she’s already in hell.  It’s truly that simple.

Finance in the Shadows and 5150

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I began a series of posts on LinkedIn aimed at assisting some of society’s most vulnerable members who are struggling in the Shadow Economy.  You can read those articles here:

Finance in the Shadows on LinkedIn

I also wrote a book about mental illness that is intended to help families and loved ones of the mentally ill understand better what is happening inside the mind of their beloved.  I am uniquely qualified to write the book, and I will say no more.

Duncan’s Author Page

May this information reach eyes that need to read it, touch hearts that need to feel it, and open minds that are confused or closed.  I can’t fix the world, but I can do my little part to make it a better place, right?

5150_cover_09_Page_10

 

Data Mining for Naughty Letters?

I am an advanced beginner user of Tableau working to become an intermediate user.  I have real data sets at work that I viz mercilessly. It is probably a sign that I am deranged, but I actually find it FUN to dig into data and find the stories hidden in the numbers.

This week, I decided to get better at geographic visualizations.  To that end, I was able to find a really interesting set of data containing crime statistics between 2012-2015 in Los Angeles, the city I call home.  It included a field that represented longitude and latitude for each of the crimes.  After removing parentheses and converting text to columns, I was able to create a unique shape and color for each type of crime in the LAPD list – of which there were about 100, and place them in the exact location on a map of Los Angeles where they occurred.

The first hurdle I discovered was that a few of the entries were missing the latitude and longitude, so they mapped the crimes as taking place in Sierra Leone (0,0).  I highlighted them and excluded them, and the map snapped to a map of California.  I cleaned up a handful of outliers in parts of the Southland that weren’t really relevant, like Tehachapi, Big Bear, etc.  Next I discovered that due to limitations of Excel, the dataset cuts off before it reaches 2015 – only showing 460,000 pieces of data through August of 2013.  Like I said, I’m an advanced beginner, so I settled for what I got.

What resulted was a nice concentrated map of all the reported crimes in all of the relevant locations within or immediately adjacent to the city of Los Angeles from the period January 1, 2012 to August 18,2013.  Here is what it looks like:

LA1

I was able to focus on my part of town, the Van Nuys division, and by deselecting all crimes and only selecting violent crimes, I was able to determine that my neighborhood was far safer from violent crimes than many of the areas around it, particularly Central Van Nuys.  Here is the visual proof:

VanNuys1

Then I thought I would look at a map of homicide in LA 2012-2013.  There were 762 entries.  Here is what that looked like:

LAHomicide

Then I saw a crime that I had never heard of called “Letters, Lewd.” When I clicked it, I was astonished by the result.  There were over 3,450 “Letters, Lewd” crimes reported in the period between January 1, 2012 and August 18, 2013.  Here is what that map looked like:

LettersLew

What the heck? I looked up lewd letters on Google, and there were no mentions of this hideous crime wave anywhere.  There was one news item from Sacramento about one lewd letter being sent and a local gentleman there was hauled in on suspicion.  There was no mention of the LA lewd letter bombs of 2012-2013.

I noticed how democratically distributed these lewd letters were.  No one area had been spared the scourge of naughty mail.  This was a truly unusual data mining result. It is the reason I get all excited about data visualizations.

My pet theory is that there is an informal rule in the police department that code 956, “Letters, Lewd” is used when the nature of the crime is not to be disclosed.  It may be code for prostitution or some other sex crime that wasn’t listed elsewhere.  It may be used to reduce the number of reported homicides and other violent crimes.  There were just way too many lewd letter reports to pass my sniff test.  Over 5 times as many lewd letters reported as there were homicides.  Is this a cover-up?  Is it an error in the data set? Why don’t I get lewd letters in the mail?  I think it might actually be entertaining.  I certainly wouldn’t find receiving such a letter worthy of a trip into dangerous downtown Van Nuys to file a police report.

I have no idea how to get to the bottom of this mystery, so I am posting it to this here blog to see if someone out there in cyberspace knows why there were so many lewd letters reported in Los Angeles during 2012 and 2013. Maybe a police woman/man can weigh in on the subject.  Or maybe a vigilante reporter will take up the lewd letter cause to find out the truth behind these bizarre numbers.  Please comment if you have suggestions or answers.

letterskey

Employee Engagement – Underrated and Neglected

I have worked for many companies over the years, and I have seen what a difference engagement makes in the attitude and output of the employees. So why do so many corporations ignore it or treat it like an unimportant factor? In most cases, the leaders of the company have clouded judgment. Here are five misconceptions about engagement that need to be addressed.

1. Engagement is expensive. – Yes, it costs a lot to offer employees a performance bonus. Heck, it costs a lot to offer employees bagels and coffee. But what does it cost to replace a valued employee who leaves because they are disengaged and disheartened? A friend of mine worked at a company that took away the coffee, then the microwave, and finally they removed the bottled water. This was a multi-billion dollar corporation that could afford coffee for its employees. Short-sightedness on the part of some well-meaning bean counter caused the employees to feel undervalued, and they began quitting in droves, despite the job being a union job with benefits. How much did that coffee really cost?

2. Engagement is not a Key Performance Indicator – well why on earth not? The leaders of a company should measure engagement through a company-wide survey and see where they are at – baseline. They should re-measure every year to see if it went up or down. And they should see what their performance in other areas looks like, and whether or not it correlates with the rise or fall in engagement. Correlation is not causation, but there will be a connection – a very strong one – which points to engagement as a key indicator of future performance.

3. My employees are all disengaged, there’s no way to turn this around. – Really? If you run a shop that expects overtime, how much will it cost to order pizza for the people who stay late to get a job done? How about paying overtime to hourly employees and comp time to salaried employees? When you get an employee who wants to make things better, listen and don’t send them packing. There’s a million things you can do to increase engagement. It is true that it is much easier to discourage employees and cause them to disengage. Guess what? That means you are going to have to work harder to turn things around. Don’t you want your employees to work harder? Are you immune from this requirement?

4. I did an engagement survey, and everyone gave positive feedback. – Great! Were they assured their responses would remain anonymous? Did the questions give them an opportunity to voice their dissatisfaction if they had any? Have people been punished for giving negative feedback in the past? Was everyone given an equal voice, or were some voices weighted more than others? These are some questions to ask before resting on your engagement laurels.

5. Engagement has nothing to do with me. Are you an hourly employee who has no interest in staying at the company you work for now? Then engagement may not really matter to you. Do you love your company and want to make it better? Are you a manager with employees reporting to you? Are you a Director, VP, CXO? If you answered yes to any of these questions, then engagement is extremely important to your work life. Disengagement kills companies faster than bankrupt clients. Disengagement means that the sales force can’t really sell a good product, because they know that the people who make it don’t really care if it comes out good or bad. Disengagement makes the workplace toxic. Disengagement makes it impossible to find new hires to replace the excellent employees who jumped ship. You’d better believe it has a lot to do with you!

Get involved. Ask for the results of your last engagement survey. If the people with the results aren’t willing to share them, you know there’s work to be done.