So You Want To NaNoWriMo

So you’ve decided to take the leap.  Is it your first year?  Your billionth?  Are you a professional writer?  You ARE?  WHY ARE YOU READING MY BLOG!?

 

Okay, so let’s get back to first timers.  Or repeat offenders.  What’s your plan?

STEP ONE:  MAKE A PLAN

My plan has been to half-ass an outline, of which I’ll maybe get half the month out of.  And then I’ll pants* the rest.  I’ve had the heart of this story in some iteration or another for years, so I’m confident.  I’ve got extensive notes about these characters.  I have oodles of witty dialogue involving a psionic direwolf.  I’m on this shit.

STEP TWO: WRITE THAT SHIT

Easier said than done, right?  Absolutely.

Make time for yourself to write.  Steal it.  Do what you have to.  I’m planning on writing at lunch, and then for at least a couple hours at home after work.  I’m lucky though, because my wife is also a writer.  She gets it.

You’re not writing a masterpiece… even if that’s the endgame.  You’re writing 1700 words a day, every day.

That means no editing, no rewrites.  Only go forward.  Frustrated?  Skip that section and write the next one.  Or drink.  Just kidding.  You can drink and write at the same time.  Don’t give up or give in to despair.  That’s what half-way through December is for.

STEP THREE: ?????

STEP FOUR: PROFIT

Okay, now we’re underpants gnomes.  Sorry about that.

You’re the only winner with NaNoWriMo.  Your whole plan was to write FIFTY THOUSAND WORDS IN THIRTY DAYS!  You didn’t give up!  You didn’t surrender!

THIS WAS A TERRIBLE PEP TALK, RIGHT?

I’d apologize, but let’s face it.  We’re in the same boat.  Work competes with the projects and no plan survives contact with the enemy.

You’re going to feel an intense pressure, as with any attempt to write. (Or not, in which, you’re awesome.  Go you.)  But if you keep writing, you keep working, you’ll get it done.

I’m just some guy writing on the internet, but I believe in you.  I know that if you want to do this insane thing, you will do it.  Maybe I’ll even read it when you’re done.

 

Room for Discourse

This is an article I had originally written for Fantasy Faction, which I thought I’d share here:

 

Room for Discourse

 

Everyone has read a novel that changed the way they perceive the world around them or caused them to reexamine facets of their own lives. Perhaps the change was dramatic, but most often it was a subtle and lingering effect. History contains thousands of examples, from Pliny the Elder and Aristotle to more modern examples, like Philip K. Dick and Steven Jay Gould, of how literature can be used as a vehicle for social and cultural discourse.

There are many examples, both lofty and literary, of philosophies and anthropological treatises in our continuing conversation on society, culture and human nature. Poets and novelists fill libraries with the subject, but the genres of Science Fiction and Fantasy are often overlooked, or worse, dismissed as being childish escapism.

This hasn’t always been the case and there are examples of science-fiction stories and works of dystopia that have ascended to the heights of literary classics or cultural icons. George Orwell’s 1984 and Animal Farm come to mind, as well as Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World or Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. The works of Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke and Phillip K. Dick come to mind as well.

 

Spoonful of Sugar

 

Science-fiction, often being set in humanity’s future where cultures and technologies have evolved as we move amongst the stars and our alien peers (or enemies), can be easy to understand and interpret as food for thought. The wonders of new worlds, where sects of society can flourish uninhibited, appeals to the imagination. The mysteries of other species can be like shadow puppets, examining humanity’s xenophobia and fear of that which is different through the trappings of the exotic and terrifying. It can be a delicate examination of expansionism, nationalism or civic pride painted on a canvas as big as the imagination and wrapped in a tale of daring adventure.

In the Fantasy settings, these trappings can be further exaggerated while we focus on imperialism, zealotry, slavery and the nature of Evil. We detail the triumph of human ingenuity and spirit as our lowly farm boy overcomes his station and becomes champion to the world. The indomitable spirit of Justice and the forces of Good prevailing despite overwhelming odds can be inspiration to overcome our daily dragons.

Horror, as a sub-set of Fantasy, explores the darker aspects of human nature. Serial killers, horrific monsters and overwhelming fear of the darkness lurking at the edge of our vision spur us to look for the light in the world as much as they titillate us with gruesome images. Stories of the world overtaken by ravenous, mindless undead hordes can be critique of greed and complacency.

What makes these genres that much more subversive than anything else? And what is it about them that makes social and cultural discourse more palatable? Some works are far more blatant about their philosophies than others, such as Terry Goodkind’s Sword of Truth series. Others, such as George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire presents critical thought on politics and morality amidst the scheming, warring and backbiting. Creating a fantastic setting allows a writer to take themes or ideas out of a modern context and frame them in the abstract, altering perspective and perception.

 

Love and Hate

 

In the best works of Fantasy and Science-Fiction, we find evil in the strangest places. The best villains are sympathetic, so that even as you cheer for their downfall you still reach an understanding in their motivations. Even more so are the anti-heroes, who do what is right even if it is ultimately self-serving, and whose morals and means are questionable. They are the assassins, wetboys, barbarians and warlords that populate modern fantasy, hardened killers and callous thieves holding onto ancient grievances and deep-seated scars.

These anti-heroes and villains represent the moral gray area, and give us pause to reflect on ourselves and how we would act, put into such a situation. The lowly farm boy, full of pluck and vigor, has given way to the endearing urchin, suffering abuse and cruelty and set out on revenge.

The monsters our heroes face are often human traits given substance. The dragons of old Europe, creatures of pure avarice and destruction perched high on their mountains of treasure, waiting to devour the next would-be slayer. The vampire as our desire for immortality and eternal beauty, but also as our obsession with death. Werewolves and the like can be seen as representative of our conflict with our own animal natures. Those things that we dislike in others are often the traits we fear in ourselves, projections of our own self-image. It would make sense then that these traits become symbols for the hero to overcome.

 

A Civil Discourse At The End Of The World

 

The Apocalypse and Dystopian worlds have long been fodder for writers, often blatant in their criticisms of society. In 1950, George R. Stewart published Earth Abides, one of the first novels to examine a world without people. In the novel, a plague eradicates all but a handful of our species, leaving the Earth once again in the care of nature. Isherwood Williams, the protagonist, explore the ruins of the United States and eventually gathers a group of survivors to him. Ish grows to fear the loss of humanity’s intellectual legacy as those who survive struggle with more mundane, day-to-day issues such as food, shelter, clothing and protecting their families. The story is told from Ish’s perspective, chronicling his change from isolationist on the edge of society to the father of a new one. Though written just after the second World War, the story holds up remarkably well as a dialogue on human nature.

Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother presents the reader with a dystopian world only slightly removed from our own, as a terrorist attack destroys San Francisco’s East Bay Bridge and the Department of Homeland Security places the city under martial law. The story is one of extremes, of government in the hands of zealots, the effects of American complacency and the spirit of rebellion and civil discourse that the United States was originally founded under. The protagonist of the tale is a 17-year-old kid in the wrong place at the wrong time, forced to examine his role in society and how he comes to form a grass-roots rebellion to overthrow an authority grown corrupt. It is a story that hits close to home, of civil liberty and the post 9/11 culture of fear in America.

There are so many tales of corrupt governments and humanity’s survival, it would be impossible for me to list all of them. While often less subtle in their analysis and critique, they still provide the reader with a heaping spoonful of moral fiber to chew on, amidst the chaos and adventure. Other great examples are Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaiden’s Tale and Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower. In Storm Constantine’s Wraethu, she presents a post-apocalyptic world where humans have begun to be overshadowed by the Wraethu, our next step in evolution. The tale is as much an adventure in strange magics and alien cultures as an examination of gender roles amongst human society.

 

The Pursuit of Happiness

 

Maybe you don’t want to swallow some heavy philosophical diatribe when you read. Maybe all you want out of your SF/F&H are crunchy action bits and thrilling acts of escapism. Maybe you want to live in another world for a few hours, or a few hundred pages, at a time. To experience the joys and sorrows of someone else, as they quest to save their family, the world or even just themselves.

Isn’t the need or desire for escapism a comment in and of itself? Perhaps you need a vacation from the stress of work, school or family. Perhaps you feel your life is so dull and mundane that you need to spend some time in Middle-Earth, Malazan, Dragaera or Melnibone. Or maybe, in your pursuit of sciences, you read space operas to inspire your worldy interests. Maybe you love to envision new cultures as a way to examine the rise and infuences of cultures from our world’s past or to speculate on an alternate course in history.

What books have made you think? What books have made you consider a different perspective, or try and understand the world in a different way? What books have filled you with a sense of outrage for injustices both fictional and real? Did I miss one of your favorites? Do you think I’m wrong? Tell me in the comments, and let there be discourse.

In The Context Of Me

I’ve probably mentioned that I hang around this website called Fantasy Faction, loitering with the other bad seeds, discussing our fantasy and science-fiction literature and shunning the non-believers.  Being of the nerdy persuasion and having had access to the internet since I was young, I’ve spent a lot of time on message boards over the years.  I was even some sort of administrator type person for a video game politics forum a few years back.  We sent flowers and a nice letter to Jack Thompson, who proceeded to continue being a crazy person.

I’m big on etiquette and manners, though I often choose to ignore them in favor of sounding good.  I also dislike drama, though often find myself at the center of it and I’m known for hyperbole.  Still, I’ve learned a few things, like not being a troll, not starting pointless flame wars, how to ignore people who just want attention and how to avoid being a smug douche.  When confronted with those types of people, I usually just ignore the thread or write around them.  When I respond, I try to avoid doing it directly.  This may seem passive-aggressive, but its more for the sanctity of my sanity.

That being said, there is this guy that makes me crazy.  I ignored, thinking perhaps I was over-sensitive.  Then I noticed other people being irritated by him.  And still others.  I’ve been racking my brain trying to think of why.  His posts come off as both smug and defensive, as if you could some how forget how he is the Font of Knowledge for the Universe, so he will prove it to you anyways.  But, while annoying, the guy can occasionally muster a good point.  Hard to see through the piles of bullshit yet to be raked, but those good points are there.  I don’t want to silence the guy, because maybe someone doesn’t like my voice or opinion and I don’t want them to silence me.

We all go through life viewing things from our own unique perspective, filtered by our experiences and opinions.  We interpret the world through a context of ourselves.  The Context of Me involves minimizing my external stress factors, because I do a good enough job making myself crazy that I don’t often want or need help.

The Context of Annoying Forum Guy is that everything is self-referential.  He is the guy who always has to reference his own opinions while giving you his opinions.  He’s the guy that makes everything about his Epic Novel Which Has Been Read By Acclaimed Author You’ve Never Heard Of.  He’s the guy that will give you all the crunchy numbers and statistics to prove that he is in fact right, but when you poke a hole in his logic, will then shun the non-believer.  He is the sort of asshole who probably doesn’t mean to be, but just can’t shift his perception of the world past his own bloated ego.  On better days, I chuckle and ignore.  On the worst days, I find myself contemplating technology that will allow me to physically pimpslap someone through the internet.

Yet I am still only perceiving these actions through my own filters.  One of those old adages, those ones your parents or grandparents tell you when attempting to appear wise, has stuck with me.  That which we dislike in others is a reflection of what we dislike in ourselves.  These are the traits we attempt to avoid, be it for moral reasons or because we are ashamed of our own bad habits.

I’m going to keep Annoying Forum Guy anonymous for a few reasons.  The first is that I don’t point fingers, because I don’t want somebody pointing back at me.  Goes against the whole ‘no drama’ policy I’m trying to establish.  Keep the action and intrigue to the novels, people.  The second reason is that Annoying Forum Guy’s name doesn’t matter.  You don’t know my particular case, but if you’ve spent any time on message boards or comment sections on the internet, you know Annoying Forum Guy or some other incarnation.  And thirdly, I have a moral message for you.  And you’ve read this far, so you may as well keep going.

It comes down to fairness, respect and integrity.  Words that often get chucked in with honor and out with the trash.  It comes down to being an adult and treating others the way you’d like to be treated.  Being both empathetic and sympathetic, while still maintaining a low tolerance for petty bullshit.  Love thy neighbor.  Some other tiresome cliche.

I’ll wind down my rant now.  I mentioned above that I’ve been on Fantasy Faction, writing some articles on some stuff.  My latest can be read here.  Progress has been made on the Western, though not as much as I’d like.  I have a handful of drafts started for blog posts, but I can’t bring myself to finish them.  I’ll try and throw another short story up here later this week, for your viewing pleasure.

In the meantime, be nice to each other.  And remember:  Arguing on the internet solves nothing.  It only makes you look dumb.

You Can’t Stop the Signal…

…but you sure can misinterpret.

 

Let me start by saying that I am both a Browncoat and a Whedonite.  I started watching Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer with the pilot on the WB, refusing to leave the house unless my dad promised to tape every episode thereafter.  In high school we had Buffy and Angel night, which kept up afterward.  I missed Firefly while it was on the air because I didn’t have a TV for a few years, but now own it on DVD.  I saw Serenity in the theater a half dozen times, and every time that last “I am a leaf on the wind…” happened, I gasped.  I’m such a Whedon devotee that I stuck it out for Dollhouse, watching every episode.

The whole Help Nathan Buy Firefly campaign is great.  Browncoats are numerous, and more crop up every day.  This is an awesome thing, and the series deserves it.  Moreover, we as fans deserve more Firefly.  Fox canceling it was a terrible decision, and they should pass the rights on to somebody who could do something with it.  That will not happen, even if you, me, Nathan Fillion, Patrick Rothfuss and Fidel Castro came up with 1 billion dollars and tried to bury Fox executives with it.  This article over at Inside TV has a very good explanation why.

I’m not trying to be needlessly pessimistic.  I want more Firefly, more of the crew of the Serenity, more awesome space cowboys and crazy ‘readers’ and Reavers.  I want Joss to do it, with all the cast returning.  Is it likely to happen?  Probably not.  Why not?  Well in the most immediate sense, Joss Whedon is busy.  Who else could be the showrunner?  None that I would trust with the integrity of the property.

But really, the whole impetus of this latest charge to resurrect our favorite canceled program was a misread signal.  The interview that spurred all this, Nathan Fillion made an off-handed comment.  “If I won the lottery….”  How many times have you said, “If I won the lottery, I could do X.”  Numerous, I’m sure.  The people running HNBF understand this, thankfully.

Fillion tweeted yesterday “It’s beautiful to dream of more Firefly, but PLEASE DON’T SEND ANY MONEY. Just keep being great Browncoats, which you are!”

So watch the DVDs of Firefly and Serenity.  Buy the comic books.  Watch Castle (because they like to make references and because its awesome).  Be the best Browncoat you can.  But don’t get your hopes up that Firefly is returning.  You’ll only crush them.

The Obligatory Holiday Post

The OHP is one of those unavoidable realities if you decide you want to share your opinions on the internet.  You must make a holiday post, wishing well and merry spirits to your loyal readership.  So the ten of you out there, happy holidays.

I’m one of those people that hates the holidays.  Oh yes, the crowds, the noise, the incessant Christmas music and the constant visual bombardment of Holiday Theme.  Sure I have fond childhood memories of Christmas Eve waiting for Santa, whom I knew to be my parents but was still exciting.  I remember riding in the back of my grandparent’s Ford Bronco on the way home from church.  I would look up at the stars, trying to spot Santa’s sleigh.  My uncle would point up in the sky at a flashing red light (satellite, plane, antennae, etc…) and say “Look Ralphie, its Rudolph leading Santa’s sleigh.”  I would get excited, and when we got home the presents would be under the tree.  Santa had been there!

Nevermind my dad packing me in with the relatives to drive back from church, so that he could rush home before us and pull out the ‘Santa’ presents.  I didn’t care.  I led the bizarre, present-rich life of a child with divorced parents.  After the Christmas Eve festivities, when all my presents were packed into my dad’s pickup and I was sleeping off a sugar coma, he would drive me to a mall.  This was the halfway point between where my parents lived.  My mom lived closer to Chicago, dad out in the western ‘burbs.  I would be sleepily transferred between vehicles, along with whatever presents I couldn’t live without until the following weekend.  My mom would ask me what I got, making me talk to her so that she would stay awake.  I remember being bundled into the puffy marshmallow coat, and that in collusion with the car heater, would put me right back to sleep.

The next morning I would wake up abominably early, as children are wont to do on Christmas Morning, scurrying to the living room to unwrap presents.  Only my mother was usually still sleeping.  Maybe I’m mixing memories here.  My parents divorced when I was 7, though my dad’s family always traditionally gathered on Christmas Eve and my mom’s family on Christmas Day.  The summer before 6th Grade, my mom and soon-to-be stepdad moved from Elgin to Oak Park.  So I was older, long past the age of caring about Santa, during most of these festivities.

Then, when I was 17, my father passed away from abdominal cancer and the whole holiday situation changed for me.  My dad always loved Christmas, would always get the biggest tree, would always decorate the house and have a swell party.  Christmas tunes would be heard in the house shortly after Thanksgiving.  My mother converted to Judaism when I was 12.  So then, I got Christmas and Hannukah.  But I started to lose the holiday cheer after he passed.  This post has become long and rambly, but I’m winding my way down to a point.  The point I mentioned earlier.  I hate the holidays.

Without my father’s enthusiasm for Christmas, I stopped caring.  All I could feel around the holidays was the hole in my life where he had been.  I went to celebrate the holidays with both families, but I was just going through the motions.  Instead of the time of joy and cheer, I could only think about the loss and grief.  I was too blinded by it to remember the family I still had.

That faded too.  Christmas is still rough.  I still miss my dad.   But now my reasons for disliking the holidays have changed.  Now I see Christmas decorations before Thanksgiving, here Christmas music before Thanksgiving and am bombarded by rampant, unwieldy commercialism.  Now its buy, buy, buy!  Christmas at a profit, and I’m not the first to make this rant so I’ll cut it short.  For me I feel that the holidays in general have lost their purpose.  For me, a holiday like Christmas is less about religion, less about buying things for other people and hoping I get some bitchin’ awesome presents.  Christmas to me is about family, about loving each other and caring, and taking a day out of the year to be with each other.

So what did I do to enforce that Christmas spirit in myself?  I moved a couple thousand miles away from my family.  Well, that wasn’t really my goal.  But it is an an unpleasant side effect.  I moved to California with my wife because we thought it was the best idea at the time.  But distant makes the heart grow fonder, and as the holidays roll through, I miss my family.  I miss those Christmas Eve nights, even if they were awkward and uncomfortable at times.  I miss the raucous and lively chaos of my mom’s family, 30 people filling my grandmother’s basement for 6 hours.

Once upon a time, maybe a couple years ago, I would’ve just been sad and depressed.  I would have most contentedly wallowed in the bleakness of the season, writing atrocious poetry about Santa’s helper, Black Peter, swapping my heart for a lump of coal.  Or something.  But as I attempt to build a family of my own, I must build a new tradition.  So often we cling to our past, lauding it as a golden time which will never be recaptured.  Half of that is right.  You don’t get to go back.  Instead, we build for the future.

This year I’ll spend Christmastime with my in-laws, who are kind enough to fly in and spend the holiday with us.  I can’t think of anything better than spending it with my wife and her parents.  That’s not entirely true, of course, but the holiday is still a time of joy.  Celebrate what you have, instead of mourning what you don’t.

 

Merry X-mas.

Life be not so short but that there is always time for courtesy. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Don’t reserve your best behavior for special occasions. You can’t have two sets of manners, two social codes – one for those you admire and want to impress, another for those whom you consider unimportant. You must be the same to all people. ”
– Lillian Eichler Watson

Yesterday I was on the bus on my way home from work, by itself a common occurrence.  This particular instance I was on the phone with my mother, and the bus was a little crowded.  I also had my messenger bag full of dirty uniforms from work, so it may have been a bit bulky, but I do my best keep it out of the way.  Commuting on public transportation is tedious and full of thousands of miniscule annoyances, but ones that we try to navigate with some manner of grace and aplomb.  There is a code of etiquette, one that applies to all interactions with other people.

So here I am, minding my own business, glad to be off of work for the day and having a pleasant conversation with my mother.  As a brief aside, to lend context, I love talking to my mom.  We have a great relationship, and when I was still living in Chicago I used to go visit frequently.  Now that I live on the other side of the country, it’s harder to go for a visit.  And because my mother has a very busy life teaching and raising my two brothers, she doesn’t get a lot of time to chat.  I steal time with her whenever I can.  So imagine that I’m a little pissed, getting interrupted over some rude bullshit.

I’m talking to my mom and I hear this girl behind me start running off at the mouth.  She says that she is going to open my bag if I don’t get it out of her way.  Hearing this, I turn around and give her the steeliest glare I can muster.  I’d like to think that I have a very good angry face, but this was too no avail against the tide of ignorance.  The girl (along with a handful of her teenage friends) goes off, telling me to turn back around before she kicks my ass.  I curtly ask her to be quiet, since I’m on the phone.  My mother tells me not to be rude, and I explain that the situation warranted the response.  And then tell her I’ll call her back.  Meanwhile, the idiot child is continuing to spew forth vitriol, saying that she doesn’t “give a fuck” if I’m on the phone.  And while I restrained myself, I so very much wanted to backhand that foul mouth.

But I was raised better than that.  I was raised to act decently towards other people, regardless of how I felt.  There is that golden rule, “Do unto others as you would have done to you.”  In layman’s, if you want people to be nice to you, be nice to them.  Sure the bus was crowded, and we were all crammed.  I’m sorry my bag was in the way.  But you would do better to politely ask me to get it out of your way, than to go off with a bang.  I’m usually only polite until provoked.  But I was also aware of my surroundings.  I know that arguing with an ignorant teenager on the bus is futile, something that will only serve to cause needless aggravation.  I also know from experience that keeping my mouth shut will keep me out of trouble.

When did manners fall by the wayside?  I was raised to believe in kindness, honor and integrity as essential values.  Add to that a lengthy career in the food service industry and I have learned that it pays to be nice.  If this girl had politely asked me to move my bag, I would’ve done just that and apologized to her.  We all would have felt warm and fuzzy.  Now I’m sure she didn’t lose any sleep over her outburst, and it was probably long forgotten.  But what happened to please and thank you?  What happened to peace and common decency?

And then there are the people that listen to their music over the speakers of their phone on the bus.  Why?  Can’t afford headphones?  Maybe if you got a job, instead of thugging around San Francisco Centre you’d be better off.  There are more.  There are countless things that irritate me, and I’m sure that through the course of this blog I’ll remember a few of them.  For now though, feel free to weigh in on the subject of good manners in public.  I welcome your comments.  And remember parents, don’t let your kids grow up to be ignorant dipshits.

Politeness is the art of choosing among one’s real thoughts.  ~Abel Stevens

Twitter Will Doom Us All…

I should clarify a few things here.  I don’t have any sort of fancy bachelor’s degree.  I’ve taken a few classes and made it half way through culinary.  Doesn’t mean I don’t know anything, just that I don’t have credentials to back up my opinions.  That being said, I feel that social media via the internet will doom us all to complacency, pushing us further and further away from close personal relationships.  And man will it play heck with the English language.  Really, I think the language part bothers me the most.

I love the English language, with its counter-intuitive spelling constructs, its odd dipthongs and the rare beauty of a language cobbled together out of spare parts from every other language.  And I understand that a language like English will only continue to evolve.  But I don’t know how I feel when we start erasing grammatical constructs and shortening words so that they’ll fit within a 140-character tweet that has a link attached.

And books!  Nobody reads!  Well why the hell not?!?!?

And that’s not true, lots of people still read.  But there are huge numbers of people who go: “Books?  I read a magazine once.”  Because reading is a chore.  Sure, I’m biased as a writer.  I want people to buy and read books so that they will one day buy and read mine.  But I have spent the majority of my life with my nose buried in a book.  I love the texture of paper under my fingertips, the feel of a worn paperback cover.  Maybe I’m just a huge dork.  I don’t care.  I love books.

But now there are e-books.  E-BOOKS!  &*$&%*$ Kindle!  Because we need one more piece of technology to carry around with us.  Sure, maybe they are better for the environment.  Less paper used, right?  I like the trees too and I don’t want to run out of them.  But then again, I like post-apocalyptic fiction.  I think I could survive your apocalypse situation du jour better than your average John Cusack.  Between recycling plants and hemp paper, I think we can keep the trees and the paper.  Sure, hardcovers suck.  So find a more durable paperback.  It would be so much cooler.  Maybe we can make it some sort of holo-book, but with some actual page to turn.  It could download books.  A crazy hybrid book/e-reader.

So yes.  I greatly fear that technology is gradually taking over our lives, making them too easy.  I feel that it makes us lose touch with the world around us, isolates us.  Not to say that I don’t enjoy its perks, I am most certainly a product of the Digital Age.  But we should all step away from the computer, pick up a book and go outside.  Sit in a sunny spot in the park and read a book.  Or just go for a walk.  But the book-reading part is great.  And let’s please try and spell things properly.  R U getting me?