Virtual Interviews with Real People

This is the future, and I often hang out in virtual worlds. And in these virtual worlds I occasionally meet and become friends with real people, a lot of them authors. One of these authors interviewed me for his blog, which was fun, but even better he interviewed a very interesting and talented writer who’s book I’m reading right now: Jane Watson

A novel by Jane Watson
ISBN: 0 330 36361 1
Picador - Pan Macmillan
Australia

An excerpt from the interview: “Hindustan Contessa is a novel set in Australia and India which follows the journey of an Australian couple, as they travel in an Indian car to meet the husband’s Indian grandmother for the first time, in his family’s ancestral village. The novel’s title comes from a particular car once manufactured in India, the Hindustan Contessa, which the couple travels in,  and which seemed to me a fitting image of a dual culture. This car, once made by Hero motors of India, was an imitation of a modern Western style car with a dash of Indian style. It attempted, I felt, to have a foot in both cultures. I wanted it to symbolise the cultural identity crisis that the main characters face.”

Another major part of the story is about the couple being kidnapped and held for ransom in a cave up in the Indian hills — which is beautifully foreshadowed in the book’s introduction, a particularly visual and immediate telling of Persephone’s journey into the underworld.

You can read more about the story, its creation, and the creative process: An Interview with Jane Watson by Alexander M Zoltai.

While I have never met Alex or Jane, at least not in person, I get to hang out with them through the magic of virtual reality, interacting with them in a video-game-like environment that enables communication on a level that I still find astonishing. All physical boundaries dissolve. The people involved in these discussions are from all over the world, with very different backgrounds and viewpoints, but all having common interests. The only barrier that I really find is the one of time zones. The place where we meet and discuss is called Book Island, on a system called Second Life (the continued existence of which seems to be a surprise to a lot of people — when in fact Second Life is not only alive and well, but thriving).

You can find out more about Alexander M Zoltai, his book Notes From An Alien, and his attempts to influence world peace, at his blog. Also you can find our interview as well: Author Interview with Jerry J. Davis.

Plant Seeds and Starships

For anyone who wants to see a genuine miracle, pop open a plant seed.

The amazing thing about life is that it’s a form of matter that replicates itself. Each seed contains all the information and mechanics it needs to accomplish this.

And you can hold it in your hand. It’s a portable miracle. You can even eat them.

Seeds have always fascinated me, and they’re now serving as the basis of a novel manuscript I’m writing. One of the most important endeavors humanity must work on is to develop the technology to replicate a seed, and encode everything needed to grow a whole world inside it.

It is possible. It can be done. And it’s far more feasible than trying to send a starship full of living people (frozen or otherwise) on a journey lasting thousands of years.

Just send a seed. Send a lot of them – small, compact, self-controlled, self-replicating, self-healing, and able to last for millions of years. Scatter them across the galaxy. If any of them succeed, they will send more, and each one will build a whole world full of Earth life. They would be, literally, Earth’s own seeds.

I truly believe this is the only way Humanity is going to spread to the stars.

Here’s the very premature teaser that popped into my head for this current manuscript:

A million years in the future.

Ten different worlds.

Ten different people.

The same DNA.

Eleven Days on Earth

11 Days - BW CoverI’m happy to announce that the novel I’ve been working on for the past three years (or has it been longer than that?) is now finally released for the Amazon Kindle.

From Amazon.com’s Editorial Reviews:

Jon August is dead.

If that weren’t bad enough, the place he lands in the afterlife is one where souls prefer vodka, not beer. That’s a problem because Jon is a beer lover. Not just any beer, either. Good beer. Great beer. Because he knows that mankind’s civilization owes everything to beer. It’s the actual Holy Water.

Jon meets and falls under the spell of a mysterious goddess who helps him find his way back to the land of the living. Under the Bridge of Eternity, through the Sands of Time — to emerge not as a ghost, but a living mortal, one who can die again.

His mere presence upsets the balance of our world, and Jon finds himself a pawn in a power struggle between the modern gods — in particular, the feuding daughters of Time and Fate. One is acting as his guardian angel, while the other is trying to kill him. Jon must stay alive long enough to find the Holy Beer and, in the process, stop the power grab being made on our Universe — a struggle where not only is humanity’s fate hanging in the balance, but also the fate of our eternal souls.

Links:

How to Discover Your True Life’s Desires

It’s a very good thing to have dreams and aspirations. The problem is, which ones do you chase? Which ones do you lock in as a goal, and work toward? For some people this is a no-brainer, but for others — especially creative types who have a very large range of interests — choosing can be difficult. So difficult, in fact, that you end up making no choice at all.

Another pitfall is choosing to pursue something that, in the end, you lose interest in. The time in your life is finite, and it’s a shame to waste that time and energy chasing something that turns out to be a whim. That’s why it’s best to take some time up front, studying, to discover what it is you really want out of life, before you dedicate a lot more time working toward it.

It’s like that Talking Heads song Seen and Not Seen, where the guy spends years slowly changing the shape of his own face to an ideal, which — halfway through — he decides isn’t what he really wants.

Here’s what I did, and it worked for me. Maybe it will work for you as well.

Spend a couple weeks making a list of the things you really want out of life. Don’t be afraid to think big. What is it you really want?

Don’t worry about listing them in order, and if you think of something else later, you can add it in at any time.

My [highly edited] personal example:

  • See New Zealand
  • Get a pro camera
  • Write for a living
  • Become a gourmet chef
  • Paint pictures
  • Pursue photography
  • Own a Starbucks
  • Live in a beach house
  • Own a Bookstore
  • Learn computer programming
  • Learn database programming

Make sure you don’t lose this list. I kept mine on a Palm Pilot, because iPhones weren’t around yet and I carried my PDA with me everywhere. You can keep it on your computer, in the cloud, or in a paper notebook you know you won’t lose. It doesn’t matter where just as long as it’s accessible and safe.

Now, over the course of the next 6 months to a year (or even longer if you’d like), go down this list and rate your desire for each one on a scale from zero to ten, using decimals if you so choose. Do it at least once a month. When you’re done, you’ll have a list of numbers beside each:

  • See New Zealand – 8 / 3 / 5 / 9 / 9 / 6 / 7 / 7 / 8 / 10
  • Get a pro camera – 8 / 9 / 9 / 4 / 5 / 6 / 3 / 7 / 8 / 10
  • Write for a living – 7 / 9 / 8 / 9 / 7 / 6 / 9 / 10 / 9 / 10
  • Become a gourmet chef – 7 / 2 / 3 / 4 / 3 / 4 / 8 / 4 / 5 / 4
  • Paint pictures – 7 / 8 / 4 / 3 / 0 / 2 / 4 / 3 / 7 / 0
  • Pursue professional photography – 6 / 10 / 8 / 2 / 0 / 2 / 3
  • Own a Starbucks – 5 / 0 / 1 / 0 / 0
  • Live in a beach house – 9 / 8 / 10 / 8 / 9 / 8 / 7 / 8 / 10
  • Own a Bookstore – 4 / 0 / 3 / 0 / 2 / 2
  • Learn computer programming – 1 / 1 / 0 / 2 / 4 / 0 / 0
  • Learn database programming – 1 / 3 / 0 / 1 / 2 / 4 / 1 / 1

You can see immediately the goals I’ve consistently craved over time are things like a beach house and a really cool camera. One of the things obviously a whim was my desire to open a Starbucks of my very own.

Now, average each one up and sort them highest to lowest:

  • Write for a living – 8.5 Average
  • Live in a beach house – 8.4 Average
  • See New Zealand – 7.3 Average
  • Get a pro camera – 6.9 Average
  • Become a gourmet chef – 4.5 Average
  • Pursue professional photography – 4.5 Average
  • Paint pictures – 3.8 Average
  • Own a Bookstore – 2.0 Average
  • Learn database programming – 1.8 Average
  • Own a Starbucks – 1.2 Average
  • Learn computer programming – 1.1 Average

And there you go. You have a well researched list of what you want out of life. Concentrate on the top of the list, and forget about everything averaging below a six in your ratings.

I did this about eight years ago. I’m now writing for a living, I’ve saved up for and bought the camera, but I haven’t made it to New Zealand yet — though I have made it to Europe several times. And while I don’t live on the beach, I’ve found a beautiful place nestled right up against stream. So you see, once you’ve set your goals you know what to focus on and work toward — you can achieve them!

Now right in the middle of all this you may stumble into something else that fires your rockets. Add it in. Pursue it a bit. Study it as well. Times change, interests change … if I were to do this list now, it would look substantially different.

The most important thing is to make sure you enjoy life, and keep enjoying it. It could turn out that something on your list (that you’ve wanted for over a year) will suddenly drop off after you’ve started pursing it. Maybe something you pursued while you were making your list takes its place.

It’s okay. If you feel a passion for something, and the passion doesn’t fade, you may not even need to make a list or study your long term desires.

If that happens, then go for it!

If not, then at least you have a solid place to start. And everything you do, learn from it. If you can do that then nothing is wasted, and you’re living your life to its fullest.

Controlling Your Loved Ones Kills the Love

I’ve seen this happen over and over again among family and friends, and it hurts to watch.  And as far as I can see it never ends well.

To generalize this, let’s make up a story about Dick and Jane.  I’m making Dick the controlling partner, because I usually see it on the male side of the relationship, but it isn’t always so.  This is written hopefully to help Dick understand why it seems the world has turned against him, and what he needs to do makes things better for himself and those he loves.

So as our story begins, Dick and Jane fall in love and get married.  Immediately afterwards, Dick’s attitude toward Jane changes.  She’s his property now, his wife, and he is the husband.  Dick is now the Lord and Master of his castle.

Incidentally, we can’t blame Dick for this sudden attitude shift.  This is what he’d been taught by his parents, which they in turn had been taught by their parents.  This is not what you’d call an enlightened family, more a traditional one.  In the old days this was the accepted rule of thumb.

Fast forward to the new millennium.  This is no longer how society works.  Change which began a half century before has now come to fruition.  Man and woman are equal partners in a relationship, and in society.

Jane has been taught this, if not by her family then by society itself.  She is a equal and free person.  She has equal rights, and no limits to what she can pursue in life.  She can run for President of the United States if she so chooses.

This archaic rule her new husband is now trying to impose upon her does not sit well.  Jane has sudden and serious second thoughts about this marriage, but something keeps her in it.  Be it love, or a sense of obligation, or stubbornness – or most likely, the false hope that she can change him – something makes her stay.

The first few years are a period of adjustment anyway.  Quibbles and quarrels are part of the natural landscape.  Over time they settle into a sense of equilibrium, especially as children arrive into their marriage.

But slowly, over time, Dick has devised (or perhaps, evolved) ways to control Jane so that he feels secure.  Here’s a few examples:

  • Monetary controls – she only has access to specific amounts of money, if any at all.
  • Communication controls – he checks on her constantly.
  • Transportation controls – she doesn’t have a car, or at least not a reliable one.
  • Social controls – he has approval/disapproval powers over who she can have as friends.

If Jane has accepted this – if she has the type of psyche where this makes her feel secure – then she may grumble but that’s the end of our story.  But our story is not about that type of Jane.  Our Jane is resentful, feels trapped, and against her will has started thinking of Dick as The Enemy.

Now, you see, Dick loves Jane.  To him, he’s taking care of her.

Jane, however, is now starting to resent, and starting to fall out of love with, her own husband.  She begins pulling away, trying to free herself, to demand some autonomy.

Dick will have none of that.  In fact, the moment he feels he’s losing control he starts to panic, and does rash things.  He lashes out, tells her she’s misbehaving, tells her she’s causing all sorts of trouble.  He punishes her psychologically and sometimes even physically.  Worst of all, he puts all the blame on her.

This does serious damage to the marriage.  Jane now goes undercover, pursuing her freedom in covert ways.  Dick has ceased being a life companion and has now totally become The Enemy.  Her love for him may not be fully extinguished at this point, but hate has crept into the picture … it’s become a love/hate relationship.

Dick doesn’t know what else to do.  He was brought up with the understanding that control is the only path, that he must remain in charge.  When he inevitably catches Jane doing the unthinkable – outright defying him – it throws him into blind panic.  He doesn’t understand why the woman he loves has turned against him, and so now he feels betrayed.  As far as he’s concerned, he’s given her everything.

And he may have – as far as all her material needs, and her physical needs.  But he has denied her the one thing she needs most:  freedom.

At this point it’s probably too late to save this relationship.  Too many bridges have been burned.  Dick and Jane are getting divorced.

Sadly, if Dick doesn’t learn what caused this disaster, he’s doomed to repeat it with other people in his life.  He’ll drive away his own children, and probably his next wife as well.

However – and unfortunately – Dick is usually the type of person who blames everyone else for all his problems, as he literally doesn’t see or understand that he caused them.  So step one for Dick is to accept responsibility for his own actions.

Dick needs to do something called “root cause analysis” on his own life.  He has to look at his problems and ask himself, sincerely, “What did I do to cause this,” and he has to be brave enough to accept the answer that will inevitably come to him.

It is never too late to change.  It’s never too late to turn a new page in your life and start again.

Here’s a to-do list for Dick:

  • Accept responsibility for your actions and stop blaming other people.
  • Accept that you need to change, and truly want to do so.
  • Accept that in many cases you’re not the victim of your problems, you are the unwitting culprit who caused them.
  • Accept that the choices you make cause the things that happen in your life.
  • Accept that you make mistakes, and that’s okay as long as you learn from them.
  • Learn to let go of the illusion that you can control people.  You cannot.  The only person you can control is yourself.
  • Accept that the only person you can change is yourself.
  • Learn to accept people as they are.
  • Learn to love unconditionally.  Do not demand or expect things in return.
  • Learn to trust people, especially those you love.
  • Learn to give people freedom, and trust that – because you’re sincerely trying to be the best person you can be – they will not abandon you.
  • If they do leave you, you have to let them go and trust that it wasn’t meant to be.  If you let them go graciously there’s always the chance they’ll come back.
  • Always focus on trying to be the best person you can be.

The most important thing Dick has to accept is that you cannot force people to love you, and that you cannot force people to stay with you.  Instead you have to learn to become the type of person people would never dream of leaving.  To do that you must be willing to give them:

  • Unconditional love
  • Unconditional encouragement
  • Unconditional freedom

If Dick cannot do that, then he is doomed to repeat his failures.

And he will always be a Dick.

Can Smiling Make You Happy?

When you’re happy, you smile. So, if you smile will it make you happy?

According to studies, the answer to that is “Yes.”

More and more it’s coming out that the connection between the smile and the happiness is not a one-way street. The signals sent from your brain to your body to make you smile when you’re happy can also be used in reverse. Some studies even suggest that it’s the smile itself which comes first … that your happiness is in fact triggered by the smile, not the other way around.

I am not happy as I write this (romantic problems) so let’s try an experiment. I’m sitting here at Starbucks, sipping coffee and writing on my trusty Sony Clie, and I’m going to try to cheer myself up simply by smiling.

6:42 pm – Big fake smile on my face. Still feeling sad.

6:44 pm – Still wearing a big fake smile. I’m right in the window and people are walking by. I’m on display with this stupid grin on my face, and I’m feeling more than a little foolish.

6:45 pm – The smile is now genuine because it’s starting to become funny.

6:46 pm – I am really starting to feel like an idiot now, but it’s still funny and people are smiling back at me. And, yes, I definitely feel more cheerful than I did a few minutes ago. So it works for me.

Now let me take the experiment one step further. The next person who comes through the door frowning, I’m going to talk them into smiling.

Later now. My victim’s name was Dave, a nice guy about 40 years old, wearing glasses and talking with an Australian accent. He admitted he was feeling down because of his financial situation, so I convinced him to sit across from me and try the smiling experiment. We smiled at each other until he finally asked if I were gay or something (no, I told him, this is a real experiment). A few minutes later he was laughing, and I asked if it cheered him up … and he said yes.

So in this unscientific little test of mine, I have concluded that something about smiling does in fact lighten your mood. I know from prior experience that forcing yourself to laugh works as well, but you can’t really sit down by yourself in a public place and laugh for minutes on end without frightening people.

Let’s not end this here … why don’t you try it?  Maybe we can make this world a happier place one smile at a time.

 

Do You Have Sleep Apnea?

Every night I go to sleep with a CPAP machine strapped to my face, and it’s wonderful.

Used to be that I’d fall asleep while driving so often that I had my kids trained to pull the hair on my arms to keep me awake. I’d routinely fall dead asleep during meetings at work, and even once during a job interview. When visiting friends, I’d always end up dozing off on their couch. I even used to catch myself falling asleep while standing in line.

Coffee only had a limited effect. Herbal stimulants could only do so much. It was bad. I thought I had narcolepsy.

My doctor pegged it, though — she said I probably have sleep apnea. The moment she described what that meant, I knew she was right. People often told me that I snored loud, and then stopped, and then started again. During camping trips my snoring would scare other campers — my friend’s wife even thought I was an angry bear.

Spending the night at the local sleep lab confirmed the diagnosis. When I’d go to sleep, my throat would slowly close and cut off my airway. I’d stop breathing. My lungs would fight for air, which would wake me up only enough to gasp and open the airway again. Then, drifting back to sleep, it would happen all over again. All night long. Waking up every five minutes.

No wonder I kept falling asleep while I was driving. So many times I’d nod off and then come back just in time to avoid flying off the side of the road, or slamming into a wall of concrete. Seriously, that happened so often I’d lost count of how many times I almost died.

It was because I wasn’t sleeping at night.

The solution to the problem turned out to be a machine called a CPAP, which stands for “Constant Positive Airway Pressure.” It’s basically a specialized air pump with a hose and a mask. The mask comes in various designs, all meant to put air into your nose at a specific pressure that’s just enough to keep your throat from closing while sleeping.

Let me tell you, I was very dubious of being able to sleep with what I considered a SCUBA apparatus strapped to my face all night long. But being that it was so hard for me to stay awake in the first place, it only took me twenty minutes or so to drift off even with the strangeness of the contraption. I slept so well that first night, I woke up a new person. I’m totally serious, it was that profound. It had been so many years since I actually had a full night’s sleep that when I finally did, I felt like I’d just woken up from a coma.

Even now, over 10 years later, I’m awake all day long. I never fall asleep while driving. I don’t snore anymore. I’m a totally different person. The CPAP doubles as a white noise machine, and is quieter than a fan. You can usually get your health insurance to pay for it — mine did, twice. Even if not, you can now find them on the Internet for a fraction of what they used to cost.

A beneficial side effect I’ve found — and my doctor has confirmed — it may also solve any acid reflux problems you have at night.

I’m writing this to help anyone facing the decision of going with a CPAP to know that it’s not horrible — it’s wonderful. And I’m hoping that if someone else out there recognizes these symptoms, please go to your doctor and have it diagnosed and treated. Not doing so can take a serious toll on your health, and also — and more immediate — falling asleep while driving can not only kill you, but the people with you, or the other people who you might hit.

More information about sleep apnea:  Sleep Apnea – Mayo Clinic

Internet sources for reasonable priced CPAP machines:  CPAP.com  |  CPAP Supplies Plus  |  CPAP Supplies USA