Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Be it Resolved

Here it is the final week of 2011, which can only mean it’s time to make our resolutions for the upcoming year. The problem is, we make resolutions fully expecting they will not survive the first week of the new year. Those few stragglers not totally abandoned immediately will suffer a slow demise of increasing neglect until they disappear entirely.  

Like many, my experience in watching resolutions vaporize spans decades. This year, however, I decided to fully analyze the why, the what, more importantly, the how of resolutions. The purpose being to find a way to make meaningful  resolutions that will stand the test of time and not fall by the wayside as we plod along the path of life in the coming year.

The why of resolutions is easy: to improve ourselves and make us feel better about ourselves. It is unlikely anyone ever resolves to take actions ensuring the rack and ruin of their health and life. That’s just the way things turn out.

The what is also comparatively easy. According to folks who track such things the most common resolutions are: lose weight, quit smoking, exercise more, reduce (or eliminate) alcohol consumption, manage finances better and improve our minds.  Pshaw!  Like we needed somebody with an advanced degree in statistics to figure that one out!

So, that leaves only the how of resolutions to consider.  The how is the Achilles’ heel of every resolution made, and subsequently abandoned. The secret to keeping a resolution is in its presentation. Hard and fast resolutions presented in a manner demanding strict adherence are not only difficult to maintain, but counterproductive to one’s well being. Failure to follow rigid resolutions only brings about feelings of guilt and self-recrimination. A good resolution allows a little wiggle room. A good resolution provides room for a little forgiveness. A good resolution is easy to follow.

I can’t address every resolution, but here are suggestions for improving the most common.

The “I will lose weight” resolution is as perennial as grass, and as vexing as dandelions.  Some folks make this guaranteed loser of a resolution even tougher by assigning a set number of pounds. Instead of taking such a draconian approach, try something a little more user-friendly. “I will not look into any full-length mirrors,” works well.  Even better would be, “I will avoid all reflective surfaces and scales.”

“I will quit smoking” is probably the second most common resolution. The reason for it is sound: it will improve your health. Improving your health is the why, but the really tough part is the how. (I know this because I’m in the twenty-fourth year of my sixty-day smoking cessation program.) The solution is to recognize that the true goal – better health – can be achieved in stages.  Try, “I will encourage others around me not to smoke.” Not only will you be helping someone else, you’ll experience significantly less second-hand smoke, thereby achieving the why of the resolution without all the hassle. (Even the longest journey can be made in small steps.)

“I will exercise X amount of time,” or “I will exercise daily,” are pretty darn strict. Blunt statements such as those are tantamount to a resolution’s death warrant. The first thing that will happen on January 2nd is a friend will invite you out for drinks at a cigar bar, or a rendezvous at a fast-food joint. You aren’t going to disappoint a friend, are you? Heck no. Let’s reassess the how, and try something like this, “I will consider any kind of physical movement – lifting a fork, opening the refrigerator, stirring macaroni and cheese, striking a match to light a cigar, etc. – exercise.” Friend, you have just become an exercising machine!

Even better than reworking the how of one resolution to assure success is rolling two resolutions into guaranteed successes. In regards to alcohol and better management of finances, try this gem: “I will only drink when somebody else buys.” Ta-dah! Instant success!

“I will improve my mind by watching less television and reading more,” is moving up the list of most commonly made resolutions. (Probably due to the increasing number of “reality” shows being aired.) Since we’re a nation of TV junkies, it presents a definite challenge in the how department. Approaching this resolution with some thought yields, “I will read all the credits at the end of my favorite television shows.”

Hope this helps. You can make a resolution to thank me later.

Thursday, December 22, 2011


I’m late on this post. There’s a reason: HTML.

Twelve years ago I self-published a collection of newspaper columns. The effort was as much a result of wanting to learn about publishing as it was about selling a book. It was an educational endeavor.

The first thing to learn was how to go about the chore. Not having the faintest clue of what I was doing, I bought a book by Dan Poynter titled (not surprisingly), The Self-Publishing Manual. It was invaluable. Poynter is the master of the self-publishing business, and his book, in about the gazillionth edition, is still available.

Ugliest book cover in history
The second thing I learned was that self-publishers were considered the equivalent of ugly, red-haired, blotchy-skinned, pock-marked, lice infested, illegitimate step-children in the publishing industry. For the most part, in 1999, self-publishing was considered the desperate act of a writer too poor at the craft to find a “real” publisher. Maybe so for some, but for many others self-publishing was a chance to experience all the facets of writing. As the years have progressed, the perception of self-publishers has improved, somewhat.

The third thing I learned was that marketing a book takes as much time and effort as writing and printing the damn thing. Maybe more. (I also learned writing is much more fun than sales and marketing.)

Judging the success of that book is subjective. Is the criteria for success measured by the number of sold books, or by the percentage of the print run being sold? There were only approximately 3,700 copies printed. However, the book sold out, so I deem it a moderate success.  Although it was not successful enough to entice me into a hard copy reprint.
Things have changed drastically for self-publishers with the advent of electronic books. The author of an e-book can “publish” without risking thousands of dollars to end up with a lifetime supply of fire starters, or toilet paper. The catch is that in order to e-publish, the author must be “e-smart,” or at least willing to become “e-knowledgeable.”
I’ll never be e-smart, but decided it might be fun to become e-knowledgeable. (The word “fun” is also subjective. It might be “fun” to trim someone else’s fingernails with a hatchet… not so much for trimming your own in the same fashion.) There are many software programs that can do the job of creating an e-publication, but in the final analysis they all simply turn what you’ve written into an HTML coded document. Why go through a middleman? (D’oh! Why does simple logic never turn out simply?)

HTML stands for something to a computer geek, but let’s just say it stands for Hard To Memorize Lingo to us non-geeks. HTML is the modern world’s combined version of runes, Sanskrit and hieroglyphics. Fortunately, Rosetta stones abound for learning HTML, and after a little research and a lot of cursing, I managed to electronically reproduce the book previously published in hard copy.
The e-book edition of, Of Moose and Men: A Skewed Look at Life in Alaska, will serve as the first in a series of collected humor columns. It’s cheap – 99 cents (much less than the cost of the fancy latte you’ll spew out your nose while reading it). It’s available at both Amazon (for Kindle users) and Barnes & Noble (for Nook fans). Don’t have a Kindle or Nook? No problem. Both sellers offer their e-readers (don’t know about you, but I’m e-overdone about now) as a free download for not only PC’s and Macs, but other devices. I hope you’ll try it, and please let me know if you do.