Archive for May, 2009

One man’s trash

May 27, 2009

One of the things my life has taught me is that no matter how smart, or creative you are, you will still have bad days.  Last Friday was like that for me.  Every time I started writing something, I would be interrupted to do something else.  When I came back to the writing, I was frustrated and I didn’t like what I had written, so I deleted it.  I went through this three times before writing my blog on patience.

That same night, as I dumped the trash, I saw three very beautiful paintings that were thrown out by the artist.  I wrestled with the idea of whether to rescue them or not but I had to go to work, so I decided to leave them.  When I started walking away the thought someone throwing out such lovely paintings really bugged me.  The artist spent hours working on creating something to express an emotion, in a way I never could, and all they could do was get rid of it.

I don’t need to tell anyone how sacred I hold the freedom to express one self.  It wasn’t until I had made it half way to work when a thought hit me; I was guilty of doing the exact same thing.  Sure, it wasn’t painting, but when I hit that delete button, I was destroying something I was creating.  If I had saved the writing, I could rewrite them until I was satisfied, but instead I took away my own works of expression.

It reminded me of the saying, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.”  That’s not to say that there are people out there building shrines to their neighbor’s candy wrapper.  What it does say to me is that once I write something, instead of deleting it if I don’t like the way it’s going, I should edit it to my satisfaction, then send it on to readers.

I’m not painting the Sistine chapel, I’m not saving the world from evil, but if just one person can get something positive from what I write, then it’s worth too much to throw out.

On a side note, I went back the next morning and was able to rescue one of the paintings. It is a painting of a little girl holding a yellow flower, and her gaze is focused only on that flower.  I’m going to have it framed and hung as a reminder to save my writing, rather than deleting it.

Challenge: Look at something you’ve created, but didn’t particularly like. See if you can rework it to your satisfaction.  Don’t deny someone the gift of your expression.

Enjoy,
Allen

Live in the present

May 25, 2009

I don’t know who said it first, but I love the saying “You must learn from the past, plan for the future, and live in the present.”  This is the way life is supposed to be lived.  If you try to do it another way you will live as a slave to chaos, and uncertainty.  All three parts of this saying are important to a well-balanced life when we keep their parts in proper perspective.

The past is important in that it made us who we are.  If we learn from it, all those successes and failures can teach us how to avoid the same mistakes in the future.  All the mistakes we’ve made, and all the rejections we’ve received, can give us the strength to succeed.  If you live in the past, you will live a life full of regret, and self-pity.  You will obsess over that one moment where you passed up an opportunity to advance.   You use past rejections to justify the feeling that you will never be good enough to deserve the life you want.

On the other hand, the future is important in that it gives us direction, and something to look forward to.  When we plan for the future, it will become a map to guide us to our dreams.  It will help us to make the right decisions so we don’t turn the wrong direction.  People who live in the future end up obsessing about every possible disaster looming over the next horizon.  They never reach their dreams because they are too busy worrying about the next epidemic, or they think the government is using our money to destroy the world.  They are slaves to paranoia and fear.  They may know they’re good enough to have their dreams, but what’s the point, we are all doomed.  They live hopeless lives, because to them life has no hope.

Living in the present means that we have learned enough to move forward. It means that life is still hopeful, and that we hold the key to our future.  We can grieve for our loved ones when they leave us, and we can face setbacks in our lives, but we can move through these because God has given us strength from the events in our past, and a purpose to move toward.

The important thing to remember in all this is we can’t change the past, and the future has not been determined, so it’s up to us to make it a good one, and give it meaning for the present.

Challenge: Write in your journal about your plans for your future, and re-read it often.  It will help you through some hard moments in your life.

Enjoy,
Allen

Be patient

May 22, 2009

“Everything worth having is worth waiting for.”  Patience is a commodity that so many people seem to have lost.  Two of the rules I have are “I always get what I want,” and “I never quit till I get it.”  If you noticed, the word “now” is not part of that.

Working in retail, I’ve had my share of customers who throw temper tantrums if their work is not done at the exact moment they said they wanted it.  I had one woman screaming at me because the owner didn’t have her Christmas cards ready on November 21st at 2:00 in the afternoon.  According to her, we ruined her Christmas.  We had them done at three.  Of course, we still ruined her Christmas.

I believe we live in a spoiled society that prides itself on convenience.  Meals are done in a few minutes; information is available with the touch of a button.  We can go shopping for almost anything in one building.  With all this convenience, people have got into the mentality of “I want what I want, when I want it” They never stop to think there might be a cost for impatience.

Of course, you have to be patient with yourself.  Rome wasn’t built in a day, and the same applies to anything you do.  In all the time I’ve been writing, I am just now getting to the point that I can start selling my work.  If I had started too soon, I wouldn’t have known enough to write with any quality whatsoever.

I’m not perfect yet, and I probably never will be, but I have learned enough to move forward to my career in writing.  Everything we do takes time to learn. Training and experience are two steps that can’t be skipped.  Sure, maybe you might know someone who can move you through the system faster, and get you to the top. Unless you know what you’re doing, you will do a substandard job that can get you fired. Even worse, the company can lose customers, and close its doors, all because you wanted to be airlifted to the top of the ladder.

Don’t rush your work.  Take the time it needs to get it done right.  If you are impatient to get the job done, so that you can leave early, or move on to the next job, you will make mistakes, and have to do the work over.  If you have to do it over, you will spend more time correcting your mistakes than you would have taken to do it right the first time.

I’m not saying you should waste your time either.  Don’t take so much time that the job never gets done.  Try to get it done in the right amount of time.  Another way to put it is be patient, but not lazy.  When you work, work hard, learn how to do your job well, and be creative in making it more efficient.  It will come to you.

You have to be patient with yourself first, then you need to be patient with others.  When you are patient with others, you will get better service and quality out of that person.  By showing patience, and respect to others, you will get it back from them.

One last word on this, patience brings success, and impatience brings failure.  A tree grows and bears fruit in its own time, and we should let our projects grow in their own time, and see the fruit it bears.

Challenge:  Don’t push something to happen faster than it should, and you will have the best results.

Enjoy,
Allen

A different kind of signature

May 20, 2009

When I was younger, my mom told me one of the secrets of the Denver Museum of Natural History that made it fun for any kid to go.  One of the backdrop painters had a unique signature to his paintings.  Somewhere in his paintings he would add a gnome, and it was always placed in interesting places.  This made it a game to find it, and kids found the museum interesting.

In movies, Steven Spielberg is always adding a little joke about a previous movie in all of his movies.  Nora Ephron even put the name of a desert in one of her movies as a dating ritual, just so that people would ask her about it.

Artists of every kind will put something personal in something they do.  Sometimes it’s an inside joke, and sometimes it’s sentimental, but if you look closely, you might be able to spot it.  Writers are no different.

I’ve notices some writers I’ve talked to think it’s a cheap trick, so they say they don’t do it, yet I’ve caught a couple of them at it.  To illustrate this, I’m going to give mine away in the book I’m writing, there will be others but this is just fun.

Those who are regulars on youtube will recognize the name Shay Carl.  In my book, there will be a restaurant named “Chez Carl’s”.  Only those who watch youtube will get that.  I’m always using people I know (their names mostly) and parts of my past.

The point is this, if you write, don’t be afraid to slip something personal in your writing.  It makes it more fun for you, and makes it a game for your readers to figure it out.

Challenge:  Pick something personal, (a favorite food, or a photograph…) and try to slip it into a paragraph where people have to look for it.  It’s a fun exercise.

Enjoy,
Allen

This blog may offend someone!

May 18, 2009

This blog is going to offend someone!

If you can’t take public opinion; if all you get from bad reviews of your writing is high blood pressure and a migraine, put down your pencil.   If you feel that your writing is so perfect that any criticism, constructive or otherwise, offends you, turn off your computer, and find another hobby, because you will never make it as a writer.

When I was in fourth grade, I read a book on writing.  In the introduction, the author made a comment that has stuck with me through the years.  “If you started writing for fame or money, you will not have a future in writing.  You should write because you have a passion for the written word, and you have something to say.”  If you write for these two reasons, fame and money may follow, but if it doesn’t you will keep writing because it is an inseparable part of what you are.

The ruling in a Russian district court awarded a writer 12,000 rubles (1000 dollars) to be paid by a journalist who wrote a “bad” book review of his book, “Gemini”.  I don’t know what she said, but he said that her review caused him “high blood pressure, head aches, and a broken heart,” and that his family suffered.  What this ruling says is that any time you are offended by what someone wrote you are entitled to money.  I believe this opens the door to censorship, and it should never have been allowed in the courtroom.

My view about reviews is the same as comments.  If you didn’t read my blog on comments, or how to take them, it was posted on March 16th, the rule here it you should never take comments or reviews personal.  The review is an individual’s opinion on your work, not you.

Whether people realize it or not, it take a lot of courage on the writer’s part to express their true opinion where the world can see it. Even in today’s world the most influential writers are the ones who don’t let public opinion and political correctness stop them from saying what needs to be said.

You may disagree with what a reviewer says, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have a right to express their opinion.  There is something that can be learned from both good and bad reviews, if you look closely.  No matter what kind of reviews you get, don’t take it personally, and remember, you can’t please everyone, so don’t try.  If you are happy with your writing, what does it matter what others think.

Challenge:  Look at every review as an opportunity to learn something, and never lose any sleep from a bad review.

Enjoy,
Allen

Walk to your health

May 15, 2009

There are hundreds of diet pill manufacturers that tell you that you can take their pill and lose weight without exercise.  A number of diet plans tell you that with their meals that you can lose weight, and keep it off.  What they don’t tell you is that once you go off the diet you will gain the weight back, and a little more.  Their meals are so loaded with salt, that if you don’t die from anorexia, it’s only because you will die from a stroke before you have a chance to lose the weight.  According to fitness experts, one of the “secrets” to losing weight, and keeping it off is to eat right and keep moving.

Out of the three greatest aerobic exercises, walking, bike riding, and swimming, walking is the one most suited to helping you lose weight.  Bike riding requires clear roads unless you spend a lot on a stationary bike.  Swimming you have to wait for fair weather or be at the mercy of a gym’s schedule.  Walking can be done year round.  Leslie Sansone has put out dvd’s on walking in the comfort of your own living room making concerns about the weather obsolete.

In an article on walking.about.com “Walking at a moderate pace for 30-60 minutes burns stored fat, and can build muscle to speed up your metabolism.  Walking an hour a day is also associated with cutting your risk of heart disease, breast cancer, colon cancer, diabetes and stroke.”

The trick is to find time in a busy schedule to do aerobic walking.  The trick I use is walking the 25-30 minutes to work.  I’ve been able to lose 20 pounds in the past few months just by walking to and from work.  It helps to live two miles away from work.

Whether you walk to work, school, when you wake up, or after you get home, you just need to figure out when you have the time.  Even if the only real time you have is spent in front of the television, you can use that time walking in place while catching your favorite show.

After finding your walking routine, there is one problem.  Over time you may find yourself in a rut.  I’ve come up with a few tricks to overcome this feeling.  I make my walking more interesting by making it into a game.  A good example that I use, and I got my wife interested, by observing the birds and animals around me.  After I get home I try to remember what I saw, and try to identify the nature I find.  The walking games you use are up to you, just make sure it’s something you’re interested in.

The other method I use is to reward myself when I finish.  It doesn’t matter what reward you give yourself as long as it motivates you to keep going.

Walking is not only healthy, and a great way to lose weight, it can also become a fun way to learn about the world around you, so keep your eyes open.  Keep on walking.

Challenge: Check your schedule, find at least 30 minutes of free time, and use that time to get healthy.

Enjoy,
Allen

This won’t be easy

May 13, 2009

Are your family and friends telling you to clean up?  Is your spouse threatening to hold a cleaning intervention on your behalf?  Do you refer to the piles of clutter in your home office as organized chaos?  If you answered yes to any of these, then it may be time to let go of those things that are adding to the clutter.

There are a few problems that can come from filling your home with too much clutter.  These problems include a total lack of organization, procrastination, missed or delayed deadlines, and marital problems. According to Jeffrey Mayer, author of “Time Management for Dummies”, you can save yourself an hour a day by getting organized.  If your house or office is filled with clutter, you are wasting that hour by looking for things you can’t find.

I could devote several pages to the excuses people use when they save useless items, but what I really wanted to get at is this.  There comes a time when you have to get rid of those things that only add to the clutter.  So many people collect, and save, things in the event that someday they might need it, or they buy something they “need” at the moment, and after two weeks it just becomes a great place to store their dust.

The best way to start to de-clutter your home is by getting rid of those things you don’t need.  There is no specific time when you should get rid of the stuff you’re saving unless it’s food.  A good rule of thumb is to get rid of it if it sits unused long enough to collect dust.

I make a list with three categories, and each item in question goes into a category.   The titles for these categories are save, donate, and trash.

Under “save” I put down everything I still use.  If I still use it, I obviously still need it.  The “donate” category is for any item that I don’t use, or don’t use enough to keep it, but it is still in good workable condition.  For anything that I don’t use, that also happens to be in disrepair, it will go in the “trash” category.

Once you have made the list, you will know how to take care of those items you don’t need, and you can get your family and friends off your back.  Don’t forget to follow through with acting on the list, and on the items you donate, get a receipt.

Challenge: If it’s too difficult at first, start with getting rid of the items you know you won’t miss, like the third Black and Decker steamer that’s just collecting dust under the sink.

Enjoy,
Allen

The debate over the personal darkroom vs. the photo lab

May 11, 2009

With the digital revolution, a bad economy and luxury spending at a low point, film photographers are asking themselves, “Is there any advantage to having your own darkroom?”  After weighing the pros and cons, I’ve only found three.  When it comes to photo labs, the personal darkroom falls way short.

Here are the three advantages to your own darkroom. You have full control of the content and quality.  You know what you look for in a picture, and even the best photo labs may misunderstand your instructions.  If you do go with a photo lab, you must develop a working relationship with the printer, and make certain they know exactly what you’re looking for.

Another advantage is you don’t need to waste paper.  You can cut the paper to meet your current needs, and use the unused portions at a later time.  Remember, paper is expensive and the more you use the pieces the more cost effective your paper becomes.

The real reason schools teach darkroom techniques are so that you learn the whole process of photography.  It helps to understand what’s possible when your film is developed.

The biggest problem with darkrooms is the cost.  When you consider the paper, the chemicals, and supplies the cost of running your own darkroom is far more than any photo lab.

Running your own darkroom has another big cost, the cost of your time.  Printing takes time, and that’s something not everyone has enough of.  With a photo lab you just drop off the prints, give the printer instructions, and let them do their job.  You can pick them up at your leisure.

The final cost to you is space.  With a darkroom you have to have a place to store supplies (paper, chemicals) when they’re not in use.  The actual equipment takes a little room, not a whole room but enough to make it inconvenient.

There’s also the hassle of poisonous chemicals, and messes to clean up.  Even photographers like Ansel Adams preferred to go to a lab he trusted.

I could go into how to find good labs, but that’s another blog.  The point is if you still shoot with film and are thinking about building your own darkroom, don’t. You’re far better going to a well-run photo lab, and you’ll save money, space, and time.

Challenge:  Develop (no pun intended) a relationship with a local photo lab that has a good reputation for quality, and service.

Enjoy,
Allen

Liscense to enhance your image

May 8, 2009

Since the beginning of photography, there have always been people who have manipulated their photographs in order to convey a certain mood, or meaning.  In the early 1900’s a man took a photograph of a spider monkey, and one of a bat, and combined the two negatives to create a bat-monkey.

The legal system has regularly used photographs as admissible evidence because they assumed that a photograph couldn’t be manipulated quickly enough to taint the evidence.  This just isn’t true.  Once digital came out, they wouldn’t admit it at first because it made manipulation that much quicker.  Now, however, they are now allowing it with the provision that the photographer has done nothing to change the photograph.

In the world of fine art photography, photographic manipulation, and enhancement, is not only a common practice, but at times it’s necessary.  Purists will tell you that enhancements will destroy a photograph.  I believe that if you can avoid it, do, but that doesn’t mean you should run away from doing so, just use moderation.

When you take a photograph, think about what you are trying to convey, and crop it while taking the picture.  Move in closer if you have to, or if you can.  Include only the elements that matter.  If you’re trying to bring attention to the way carving initials into a tree can ruin its beauty, don’t include the whole tree; no one will see the damaged spot.  Only photograph the damaged part. If you’re trying to show the beauty of a landscape, you will periodically get power lines or unsightly buildings in your picture.  In this case, you may have to alter the image; cloning out the power lines or the buildings.

There are times that you may want to produce an abstract image.  Don’t be afraid to alter the colors, or change something in the picture to conform to your mind’s image.  Don’t forget photography is no different than any other art.  It’s very personal and the message you want to send to the viewers will determine what you do with that image.

Here’s a couple of other things you might want to consider about enhancements.  Enhancing a Photograph can draw attention to the area you want people to focus on.  Even something as simple as changing a photograph from color to black and white can tone down distracting elements to bring out your subject.

On the computer, you can blur out everything but the subject to let people know, “this is what I want you to see.”

Adding an element to a photograph can add humor to a picture that might have been boring otherwise.  I did this with a wood frog I photographed.  I added a Santa Clause hat to the image to make a Santa frog for my Christmas cards that year.  It got lots of laughs, and had people wondering how I got the hat on the frog.

Digitally enhancing an image can help you say what you want to say, and can even add to the fun.

Challenge:  Have some fun, and change an image in different ways to see how it changes the message.

Enjoy,
Allen

How to plan a man’s baby shower

May 6, 2009

Having a baby!  It’s a life-changing event for both men and women.  In the past, women would have showers and the men would just slap each other hard on the back, congratulate the father, and get back to work.  In modern society, men and women can both have baby showers, but when you try to combine them, either the father or mother-to-be end up uncomfortable.  The best thing is to plan separate showers; however, two showers can be costly.  The woman’s shower always has been, and always will be the most important shower, and therefore the most expensive.

If you plan on throwing the father-to-be a shower, here are some tips on throwing a shower a man can feel comfortable with, at a reduced cost to you as the host, or hostess.

Decorating: The best advice I can give for decorating is “don’t”.  If you send a man into a room with pastel colored streamers, and balloons, you’ll lose them to the sports bar in record time, to cleanse their disgusted egos of the horrific image.

The more you try to make it like a regular party, the longer they will stay.

Games: try to make the games as athletic as possible. Here’s one I came up with.  Have a life-size picture of a baby with its arms straight up in the air, mounted on something durable so that it can stand up.  Put a piece of masking tape on the floor across the room from where you place the picture.  Then have each man throw a nerf football, and try to get it between the arms.  The men who do get it in the right spot, get a prize.

Good prizes don’t have to cost a lot.  Anywhere from five to ten dollars is a perfect range.

Gifts: Gifts should be wrapped in solid colors.  Any sign of wrapping with pink teddy bears, or babies on clouds, and you can find him at the sports bar.

The best gifts for the father-to-be usually come with the label, “some assembly required”; things like cribs or strollers.  This is a great way to show you think of him as part of a mother/father team.

Guests: Make sure that the guest list is all male, Even one woman in the bunch can throw off the balance, and someone is left feeling uncomfortable again.

Food: Dainty finger sandwiches and pink candy are great for a woman’s shower, but a “little” sandwich to a man is a six-inch sub.  The best way to save money on this is to make the shower pot luck.  Not only do you save money, but also there will be plenty of food.

One final tip, get help planning from the guests you invite.  You would be amazed at what kind of ideas they could give you.  This is also the challenge.

Enjoy,
Allen