How to Help Your Indie Writer Friends

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This topic spills buckets and buckets of online ink. But it provides an excellent place for writers to communicate important needs to their unique audiences. Let’s face it, the average indie writer starts with a base of family and friends. Of course that is okay. The fact that anyone buys a book at all is a major accomplishment considering the near infinite choices of reading material on the web. If you want your burgeoning writer buddies find a wider group, there are some very important things you can do to provide a wider megaphone.

 

  1. Write a review

 

I can’t state this enough. Even BAD reviews are good because it provides evidence that people have purchased and read the book. Reviews on amazon or any other online retail space lend an important legitimacy to a work. It is a grand compliment to take time out of a busy day to sit and respond to writing. As you consider writing a review, don’t include personal information or discussion of your relationship with the author. The appearance that a reader came to the book blind lends even more credence to the book’s value outside of the friend/family connections, and make it’s that much more enticing.

 

  1. Discuss the book with friends, especially those who may have interest in the topic

 

Readers have more power than ever to influence the market. Each one of you is a walking ad agency that can influence the decisions of others. So many people have already made great use of this with Social Media like instagram and facebook, but even casual conversations are a great place to bring up a friend’s work. Every sale is cherished, and the likelihood of that new reader sharing the book with others is worth more than its weight in gold. Think about who in your friend circle may enjoy the book or has a vested interest in the topic it discusses.

 

  1. Bring up the work to book clubs, request at libraries and local bookstores

 

These can be tricky as you certainly don’t want to make yourself into a nuisance. Book clubs, library requests and local bookstores are chance to give your indie writer buddies a huge boost in sales. Taking time to make one simple suggestion or request won’t take up too much of your time and certainly don’t feel bad if the suggestion doesn’t result in a sale. Think instead that your discussion has spread word of the writing. Hopefully another will follow up on this request and organizations will soon take notice.

 

  1. Create a post on social media and tag anyone who may be interested

 

This is another item to put into the “nuisance” category. But one quick post on social media has so much potential. If the author has a website consider posting a link with a few comments about their work. Consider friends who do not live in the author’s area as a way to spread their audience geographically. Post a favorite quote, or even a short review. One post is certainly enough. No author wants to be treated like Amway or a MLM marketing scam. Sincere, concise posts take an author farther than most people realize.

 

At the end of the day, being a reader is more than enough, as being read is the single greatest gift we can give to our burgeoning authors! These suggestions are just a way to go the extra mile in a world where viral marketing is beast so few will ever tame.

 

Thanks for reading!

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Prufrock in the Age of Incels

 

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I have avoided The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock like the plague. There was always something about the poem that made me feel completely and utterly hopeless, which I believe is by design. But it goes further than that; there lurked something personal. I felt so deeply similar to Prufrock that I feared I would share his fate, wandering wraith like on the beach listening for mermaids. I was a loser. A disconnected, weirdly emotional loser that always stood out and never felt connected to anyone or anything.

We are going through many transitions at the school where I teach, and one of the most frustrating things for me is the switch to a new textbook. Textbooks bring with them heavy -handed, pedagogical umph. The choices as to what poems are included can force a literature class down a narrow choice of predetermined paths and I usually balk at them. Within this textbook, I made the decision to focus on Prufrock as a sort of challenge to myself. One of the only joys I find in aging is the constant reassessment of texts as I visit them in new stages of life. Different things stand out to me and I find the more complicated works unveiling themselves to me more readily as the years pile on.

Prufrock aged in some very peculiar ways that have much more to do with our current sociological climate. I felt my jaw hit the floor as I watched Prufrock bumble his way through the lives of women, coming up short and drifting away in a haze of lonely self obsession. And it hit me like an Emu rampaging down a dirt road while I jog and listen to Bon Jovi on those weird new Air Pod things.

J. Alfred Prufrock is an incel.

In a lot of ways I always knew this, but now I have a word for his predicament that brings his harsh and bitter reality in crystal clear focus. Prufrock wants nothing more than to have a connection with another. To reach out with his complex (if silly) soul and to have someone appreciate his inner self. But every attempt to connect goes hopelessly awry. Each mis-step crushes his fragile self-esteem even more to the point that his neuroticism has taken possession of him. He is a creature DEFINED by idiosyncrasies and built entirely upon the pain of his failures.

Compare this to the modern incel. A creature of the web, an incel is a man (and in some cases a woman) who is unable to function in the world of sexuality. They struggle to find partners for a variety of reasons. Some claim to not have the looks required of men for sexual competition. Others blame their height, anxiety, or weight for their problems in the romantic field. Incels have formed online communities devoted to the discussion of sexuality, and while many seek to rectify their difficulties, other have sunk into a similar despair to Prufrock, feeling lost and fragmented like the famous ragged claws crawling across the bottom of the sea.

But where Prufrock focuses his attention inward, blaming himself as much as the sickening modern world that has cut him off, incels often turn their rage to women themselves in a vile misogyny,  Labeling attractive women as “Stacy’s” and “Roasties” in an attempt to dehumanize them. “Stacies” chase attractive men referred to as “Chads,” and other complex coded language fills these forums to describe what they perceive to be unfair aspects of their world. In essence, these self identified “incels” shape the world to fit a warped and painful vision built of their own suffering. It dominates their view of themselves and becomes a cult like dysfunction.

It’s possible Prufrock himself may be on the verge of his own violent rampage, or at least an increasingly bitter attitude to the women who refuse to acknowledge him. The image of Elliot Rodger filming his manifesto stands in a stark contrast to the shy and otherwise harmless image of Prufrock bemoaning his isolation. The forces are very much the same. Men often struggle to live in a world that takes issue with seemingly arbitrary facets of their character. Women surely struggle with this as well, but for the moment my interest rests with the men, who have taken obsession with sexual fulfillment to toxic highs. This may have always been with us, but the losers of our society have never found it so easy to form a community, to navel gaze and obsess with the myriad ways society has harmed them.

What is to be done with these men? What is to be done with Prufrock strolling the beaches and maybe taking solace with sexworkers in the seedy parts of town? What is to be done with them men crumbling under the primary desire of their being driving them to acts of violence even as their bitter tears flow?

The only authority I have to speak on this issue is the very little known fact that I myself was once an incel. I was very much of the Prufrock nature, immersed in depression and self loathing. I begged my dad for advice in my teenage years. The rules of the game, even the most basic parts of social interaction with others my age were just completely lost to me. I did not understand how to operate in the world. Looking back, I no longer blame my peers for rejecting me in a variety of situations. In short, I was a really weird kid. I was immature and just lost in the realm of how to act in groups. I would describe myself as a mix of being a doofus and just being lost in my own interests to the point that my relationships with others (especially girls) was strained.

My dad had no advice. All he could say was “I never had a problem. People just liked me. You mother just liked me and that was it.” It isn’t dad’s fault. He never struggled with this the way I did. How could he know some magical path to just “be normal” without also sacrificing who I was? How does one keep the dreamy, somewhat annoying charm of a Prufrock without being disingenuous? There was literally no answers. I had to just keep putting one foot in front the other, bungling relationship after relationship and looking like an idiot. I did not really begin to date until I was 22. Even then I sometimes ask my wife why the hell she overlooked some of my more bizarre behaviors. I still have an incredibly Prufrock like sensibility at times and I am not sure I ever truly understood my problems until I was treated for depression and ADHD. I am not exactly an attractive person. I can only credit my persistence (and careful attention to not being a creep) for ever winning the affection of another.

I lurk on incel boards and have such mixed emotions about these men. Sure there is a sense of morbid curiosity and freak show like effect, but ultimately I FEEL for these men. I want to help them get past their psychotic love for their own suffering that I once shared. I want to reduce their pain and help them find some measure of normalcy for themselves, but for the love of Christ I just don’t know how it could be done.

We need to find a way to teach boys and young men how to maintain their psychological well being. We need social exercises so that men can discuss their difficulties without collapsing into a conspiratorial blame game. Incels need to confront their own delusions about what the world owes them, to build a respect for women not as women but as fellow humans that are often as confused and trapped as they are. There is never any guarantee that a man will find some dream girl living in their spaced out fantasies. But there is the potential to find something completely unexpected. That hope never dies, but the darker aspects of inceldom kill it slowly with misogyny, bitterness, and even violence.  

At the end of the day, Prufrock listens out upon the waves though no one sings. The human voices drown our hopes, but as long as we live we can continue to look out upon a grey horizon and keep walking toward some future. At some point, it’s better to turn away from the ghostly voices of the sea and look inward. There you may find some song with which to build a life filled with a strange, and worthwhile joy. 

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Illustrations by Julian Peters, found on Google Search

For more musings on the complexities of mental health, check out the author’s Non-fiction writing.

His time in a psychiatric center

 
And meditations on religiosity.

We Are Killing Our Kids

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Anyone who reads this blog for my occasional stance on education policy will know my avid opposition to rising standardized testing and increasing rigors we place upon our children. I find it shocking how recess in my local schools continues to be whittled down more and more for a curriculum whose primary focus is “training” my child solely for tasks to prepare them for rote memorization. Pile on homework, constant evaluation, and a mix of socially stunted kids with no outlet to express their individualism and what you have is a pressure cooker of mental illness that gets more and more intense with each year.

 

This system is inflicting both intellectual and emotional harm to our students. It is time for our society to discuss the rights of children to develop in more natural, nurturing ways, and one of the best models for this potential shift can be found in the language of the growing LGBTQ advocacy.

 

I have been very attentive to the developing arguments centering around increasing the rights and empathy for LGBTQ individuals and have noticed a potential connection between our shifting social climate and the way we institutionalize our children. The environment of someone identifying as LGBTQ has profound effects on their health depending upon whether they live in a supportive or oppressive location. For those who must hide their true nature, the health effects and increasing rates of suicide are shocking. It is truly a devastating mental health hazard to imprison one’s true self in shadow for fear of persecution.

 

Consider for a moment the rate of depression, obesity and mental illness that plagues our country. A great deal of that malaise may be directly related to the oppressive nature of education. We rob children of freedom. We snatch away the concept of play and replace it with grinding gears and grades that constantly question their self worth. We compartmentalize them, separate them according to age group, and demand a homogenous learning process that makes almost no allowance for individual learning processes or styles.

 

Is it any wonder we are miserable and medicating ourselves with junk food and antidepressants? Is it any wonder that our teens anguish and melt away as their creativity and divergent thinking wither to nothing?

 

We are killing our children. We are killing them not just in the physical, stopped heart, suicide kind of way. We are killing the very person that they are. We are exterminating the individual they could become. All of this plays out in service not in an attempt to develop a better self, but to train the child as a better product for the job they will one day be damned to perform.

 

We can do better than this. We MUST do better than this.

Embracing the magic of Uncertainty

While indulging in a little intellectual navel gazing, I flipped through the pages of Uncertainty by David Lindley. It’s a popular account of the development of Werner Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle. I am quite a sucker for cross disciplinary study even though I don’t usually have much practical use for Quantum Mechanics in the teaching of English.

In fact, I quoted Gore Vidal in his seemingly mocking evaluation of English teachers trying to mimic the genius of physicists and their “half erased theorems.”  This was in my chapter “Embracing a New World of Research” in the book The New Digital Scholar. I included this as a kind of decorative, tongue in cheek jab at my own complicated theories of language education.

A LOT has happened since then, and my once youthful, idiotic exhuberance for education has somewhat waned in the unending administrative tyrannies and countless wasted hours attempting to quantify assessments no one, and I mean NO ONE believes in. It’s rough out there. People want improved education and no one is getting it. Government and school leadership keep’s ratcheting up the standards, asking for more and more data, and meanwhile our workload increases and we STILL haven’t gotten standard of living raises since I began my career.

Jesus…

It’s hard enough trying to improve courses in the face of such overwhelming demands. Then Sir Ken Robinson comes along in a brilliant RSS Animates video and says “of course we should raise standards. Why would we ever lower them?”

Well yeah I get the idea. Sure…it’s an amazing video, but something about that quote above always bugged me. I would sit and think to myself their probably ARE situations where lowering standards could be appropriate.

My friend who teaches pre-k cleared this up for me. Our state is pushing more and more reading comprehension standards in Kindergarten. They have even gone so far to begin expecting Pre-K students to read. She sat in a coffee shop with me shaking her head, looked me in the eye and said

That’s not developmentally appropriate.

Oh…yeah that’s a real problem. There are situations where the state’s rising standards could cause problems and it may make a ton of sense to lower standards to a place that is managable for a child’s level. I would go so far as to say inappropriate developmental expectations could do real intellectual harm to a child. I’m a little surprised Ken didn’t consider that.

Now let’s jump back to my thumbing through Uncertainty to make a rather controversial comment on assessment and standardization. I recently heard the argument that successful schools don’t succeed because of high standards. Typically it’s despite them (I know I need a source here, nobody’s perfect). I took this a step forward and wondered if school’s success in our modern paradigm (love that word) in RESISTANCE to over standardization. As I thought more an more about the goal of standardized tests and course outcomes, I began to consider Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle.

It goes like this, and keep in mind I am no physicist. The more we know about an object’s speed, the less we know of it’s location. The more we know about an object’s location, the less we know about it’s speed. Now this is a crazy complicated idea with tons of implications, but our ability to measure momentum directly affects how precisely we can measure location. This kind of relates to the idea that observing something in quantum mechanics can alter its potential outcome, though that is a whole other pile of confusing flim flam.

We have been measuring a LOT of stuff in the last twenty years. We constantly attempt to drag education more and more to a certain ideal. Meanwhile things only seem to get worse. Could it be that the more we obsess over making all classrooms look the same, the less we are able to achieve innovation? Are those things related in a similar way to momentum and location?  The more we know about where we are limits our ability to determine where we should go?

Maybe we should allow for more school and instructor autonomy. Maybe central, standardized goals make the whole situation worse. It’s certainly an anarchic idea, but I have always been a proprietor of useful chaos.