Friday, July 12, 2013

Amazon's Up to Some Shenanigans


A little over a year ago, I started selling movies and videogames online as a way of earning some extra money (graduate school never having been the most lucrative of positions) and because it is by far the largest and easiest place to sell things, I have always listed the overwhelming majority of my inventory on Amazon.  For a long time everything was fine but a few months ago I started to notice something a little peculiar.

A small but not insignificant part of my business is TV seasons because they’re easy to find for cheap and always sell quickly.  But when I came home with a couple of seasons of Deadwood that I had found at a thrift store and tried to list them for sale, I got a message saying I had attempted to list a restricted item and could not proceed.  This was rather peculiar because there were plenty of copies for sale but I couldn’t find any explanation for the restriction and couldn’t get any response from Amazon when I emailed them about it.  Pretty soon I started to notice that HBO’s entire lineup was restricted for sale and I started to notice something else too: used copies were drying up.  Now if you go and search for almost any HBO series you’ll see only a handful of overpriced new and used copies are left for sale but the other thing too is that the first option that comes up when you search for them is to buy downloads of the episodes through Amazon Prime.

This was rather obnoxious but I just assumed that Amazon and HBO had struck some kind of deal and forgot about it.  Or I did until I started noticing that other TV seasons, in many cases shows that I had in the past had no problem being allowed to list for sale, were becoming restricted as well.  So far I have discovered that 3rd party vendors can no longer sell seasons of Everybody Loves Raymond, Veronica Mars, The Mentalist, Breaking Bad, Dexter and pretty much the entirety of the BBC’s lineup and I'm sure a little bit of digging around will yield quite a few more.  If you want to check for yourself you can.  You don’t need any special access, all you need to do is pull up the product listing and look for a button that says “sell yours here.”  If you click on it and are given the option to enter product information then the item has not been restricted, but if you get a message saying that it’s a restricted item then, well, you don’t need me to tell you what that means.

Furthermore, like with the HBO seasons, when you search for these shows you are usually given the option to download episodes through Amazon Prime first and sometimes you have to do a lot of digging to get the option to buy the DVD or Blu-Ray.  I don’t think it takes much logical deduction to parse out what’s going on here: Amazon is trying to force customers onto Amazon Prime (or at least force them to download TV shows) and while I don’t want to try to blow the severity of the situation out of proportion (at some point I will write a blog post about how we’ve gotten into a nasty habit of doing that) it is definitely not a good thing for two reasons:

1. It hurts small businesses.  In case you’ve ever wondered who those third party vendors on Amazon are, most of them are small businesses taking advantage of Amazon’s space to gain a huge amount of exposure for their business or they’re people like me just trying to earn a bit of extra money or simply get rid of some stuff.  When Amazon restricts the sale of a market as large as DVD and Blu-Ray TV seasons it really hurts the income of these sellers.  TV seasons used to be a reliable source of money for me but now I’ve found myself surrounded by a lot of TV shows that I can’t sell and reluctant to buy anymore because there’s no way for me to tell until I get home with them whether or not Amazon is going to restrict me from selling them (and yes I have tried eBay and it has been my experience that TV seasons will sit on there for months without selling. Furthermore, any online retailers outside of these two get so little traffic that your inventory will also sit for months before anyone buys it).  Luckily, TV shows are not the bulk of my business because if they were I would probably have been forced to close up shop by now.

2. It’s bad for consumers.  Essentially Amazon is trying to limit your buying options and limit them to a product that many people do not want.  I can assure you by the way that physical TV seasons used to sell almost as quickly as I could list them that there is still a very strong demand for the physical copies and Amazon is currently trying to take this away.  Of course there will always be brick and mortar stores (for the time being at least) and other online retailers but since Amazon is by far the largest of them, it is a bit of a worrisome precedent that they are setting, and more worrisome still when you consider the possibility that they may start restricting the sale of other physical media as well, in which case I and a lot of other sellers are going to be out in the cold and your buying options are only going to become more and more limited.

There are of course, far more serious problems in the world but unlike most of those, this is a pretty easy one to see to.  There is a very similar parallel at work here to what Microsoft tried to do with the Xbox One and a lot of loud complaining from fans forced them to renege very quickly on the restrictions they had planned to put in place with the Xbox One.  The difference here is that Amazon has been putting restrictions in place in a much quieter way, because unless you are specifically in the business of selling TV seasons on Amazon you’d never know that this was going on.  I’m sure simply complaining to Amazon will get the same results.  They are, after all, a business and any business thrives by making sure its customers are happy.  I know I still love to have physical TV seasons on my shelf and I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who doesn’t want to give them up anytime soon either.  We just need to make sure that Amazon is aware of that as well.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Displacing the Blame

I wrote a little while back that I would take no part in the conversation around the Newtown killings unless I saw a major shift in how we discussed these tragedies.  At the time of my publishing that, I had seen nothing but the same inane bullshit that had followed the shooting in Aurora plastering the news and social media and I was as sickened by the sight of it then as I was before.  To my astonishment, however, the conversation has taken a turn to a discussion about gun control, one that has been quite interesting to follow, and while I hold that those who think fixing the second amendment will solve the plague of mass killings in this country forever are hopelessly naive, I certainly grant that stricter gun control could have prevented at least a few of the mass killing we’ve seen (but certainly not all of them) and that this discussion of gun control is something that needs to happen.  And so it seems, for the first time I can ever recall, that we are actually having an intelligent discussion about this problem.

To that end, there is one element of it that I cannot keep silent on and that is the barbaric suggestion that has been put forth by the NRA and numerous politicians on the right that the solution to this problem would be to arm teachers and/or principals.  There are quite a lot of reasons why this is an absolutely terrible idea but I really feel compelled to bring up one flaw that I have not yet seen addressed, which is simply this: even if given the right to do so, there is absolutely no way in hell I, as a teacher, would ever even consider bringing a gun into my classroom.

I am pretty sure I am not alone in my profession on this.  Educators lean largely to the left (and by the way, Republicans, you may want to think long and hard about why that is) and as such, would largely support the kind of gun control the NRA is trying to prevent with their ludicrous plan to let us have guns in the classroom.  I’d be surprised if, in even a large school, you’d find more than one or two teachers willing to come to work armed and if a school shooting does happen, we’d all better hope they’re not on the other side of the school from where the massacre is playing out or that, even if the teacher is nearby, that he or she is a better shot than the gunman, because boy, won’t the NRA’s face be red if their brilliant plan only results in a teacher who died with a gun in his hand and a bullet hole in his head.

I won’t deny that there is a certain ironic pleasure in contemplating how much easier it would make my job if I could bring a gun to class.  I would never again have to listen to a student complain that I grade unfairly or that they should be allowed to turn their paper in late.  I wouldn’t even need to brandish the gun, just the knowledge that I have it would make them fear me where before I had to work hard to earn their respect.  If I may paraphrase the NRA’s darling poster boy Dirty Harry: lots of people respect the teacher’s authority, but everyone respects the gun.

But the thing is, as a teacher who encourages free thought in his classrooms, I actually think a gun would give me a fair bit more authority than I actually want. How would a Glock on my hip or a shotgun leaning in the corner affect a student’s willingness to challenge me when I suggest a particular reading of a book or film as I so often do to try to facilitate discussion?  I expect that, where I would in the past have started a debate, I will find instead a room full of nodding heads.  “Yes, you with the gun, whatever you say must be right.”  After all, silencing dissenters is one of the things guns do best.

But of course the suppression of free thought is not going to persuade anyone who is advocating for armed teachers.  I doubt they’ve thought much about the implications of having armed teachers at all and that is because I have a sneaking suspicion that, even if such legislation were to pass, the people advocating for it know just as well as I do that very few teachers or principals will actually exercise the option to carry a gun to class and that that is exactly what they want.

Allow me to play out a rather horrid scenario.  A gunman comes into my classroom and I, as unarmed as any of my students, am unable to do anything to stop it as he opens fire.  However many of my students die or are wounded will be counted among the victims of the tragedy while those who survive will be witnesses to it.  I, however, regardless of whether I am killed, wounded or left unscathed, will not be a victim or a witness; I will be the son of a bitch who could have stopped the killer if only I had opted to carry a gun with me.  Never again will a school shooting be the fault of our gun laws.  Instead it will be the liberal pinko teachers who are to blame for their failure to put a stop to it because none of those bastards will exercise their God-given right to bear arms.  Meanwhile the NRA, who worked so tirelessly to put the power to stop these killings in our hands, will give a weary sigh as they throw up their hands and declare, “Don’t blame us!  We’ve done everything we can but these damn teachers won’t cooperate with us.”

And why not blame the teachers?  After all, we get blamed for so much else in this country.  Declining test scores aren’t the fault of bad legislative decisions, it’s those lazy teachers who won’t get off their tenured asses and actually teach our kids anything.  My child isn’t a spoiled brat because I’m a lazy parent: those damned teachers don’t establish any kind of discipline.  Hell, they won’t even paddle my kid for me anymore.  And let’s not also forget that, as a college professor, I’m brainwashing them into becoming atheists, communists and homosexuals (if only we would let Jesus back in the classroom!).  Now the opportunity has presented itself to dump the blame for school shootings on teachers and the Right isn’t hesitating to take it.  We are, after all, the perfect scapegoat.

Enacting stricter gun control laws are only a partial solution to the plague of mass killings that have infected this country but they are at least a step in the right direction.  Arming teachers, however, will not only fail to prevent another school shooting, they’ll do more to enable them than the cycle of inane commentary that I discussed in my last posting.  It will, however, let people keep their assault rifles, because you never know when you might need to overthrow the government, which apparently is what this country is all about.

Friday, December 14, 2012

A Tragedy Deeper Than We Know

And so we have had another mass shooting, and a particularly horrific one this time, and I find more and more that my reaction to these events comes in two stages.  As I write this I am coming down from the first stage: a reeling back from the abyss, recoiling in horror as the concrete facts emerge from the haze of the chaos of conflicting reports that inevitably come about as information pours in faster than we can verify it.  27 dead, 20 of them children, the shooter’s mom was a teacher at the school, the principal is dead, the councilor is dead, 100 shots were fired...  Though I try to shut my mind’s eye, images come to me: children splayed out with bullet holes in their foreheads, blood splattered across the finger paintings that adorn classroom walls, other children, alive still, cowering beneath their desks in tears, suddenly aware at their age that they are already being forced to confront the imminent possibility of their own deaths.  And before my real eyes I swear I can almost see the beast looming before me, a vaporous embodiment of the callous, indifferent evil of the universe.

But then a second wave hits me: a slow boiling dread that comes about as I realize that I must now face weeks of politicians, talking heads and special interests groups shamelessly exploiting this tragedy to push political agendas; sound bytes, usually in the form of Facebook and Twitter posts, providing overly simplistic explanations of why these things happen (“it’s the second amendment’s fault, “guns don’t kill people, people kill people,” “it’s the deterioration of moral values in this country,” “videogames and heavy metal warped the shooter’s mind”); I must endure water cooler conversations where I will be assured that this is a sign that the world is coming to an end (or, at the very least, is on its way to hell in a handbasket) or that the solution to fixing this problem is one that just so happens to perfectly line up with the ideologies of whoever I’m speaking to.  And God forbid you should be subjected to the international coverage of this event, where the talking heads in their news outlets will be quick to assure their fellow countrymen that this happened because America is a country of sub-human, gun-crazed savages who lack the sophistication that they so nobly embody (and what kind of savage do you have to be when, in the face of a tragedy such as this, your initial reaction is to be a self-righteous prick about it?).  I remember reading such an op-ed piece on BBC after the Tucson shooting and responded in the echo chamber of the discussion board with a list of crimes against humanity committed by various European countries in the last few years.  Long story short: I have been banned from commenting on BBC discussion boards (lesson learned: be very careful about forcing people to confront their own pretentions, a lesson I am admittedly ignoring with this post).

And I can’t help but feel that there is a different sort of evil at work in this cycle, that this global response is almost as horrific as the tragedy it’s responding to.  I can understand that, when confronted with such a monstrous act as this, that you want an answer to why it happened.  I want an answer too, and I wish I could give you one, but I lack the expertise to be able to properly contextualize it.  I am, after all, a mere writer.  But what I do know is this: the question as to why it happened is not impossible to answer and that that answer, whatever it is, is a difficult and complex one, one that cannot be reduced to inane Facebook quotes or cable news bickering between wingnuts of various persuasions.  And I know also that I despair of finding anyone capable of giving an intelligent answer to why this happened because the vacuous sound bytes that you can post on your wall and get a bunch of your friends to like or the partisan bickering and shrieking rants from political pundits that are so much fun to watch is what people want to hear.  They don’t want the details.  Why get into a confusing discussion of the myriad forces at work that contribute to something like this happening (because let’s not forget that a complex, difficult to understand answer to the question also means a complex, difficult to implement solution that just may force you to reconsider some of your own values) when you can so much more easily use it to reinforce your own beliefs and score moral compass points on social media?

I will say again that I have no answer as to why 27 people are now dead, but I think I may be able to provide a partial explanation as to why it keeps happening: because every time it does we never seem to say anything that progresses us towards implementing any sort of meaningful solution that could keep the next mass killing from happening.  And there may be a perfectly innocent explanation for why that is: that the horror of these things are so overwhelming that we just don’t know how to respond.  I would like to think that that is the case because it is so much better than believing that there are gun control advocates who heard the news and thought: “Great!  Now maybe people will finally start listening to me!” or evangelists who heard it and thought “Thank God!  Now maybe people will finally realize we need to start getting back to some good old fashioned Christian values in this country!” or...well, just fill in the blanks yourselves.  But even if the innocent explanation is the right one, that we just don’t know how to respond, that still doesn’t change the fact that we waste no time in filling the void of our collective stunned silence with a cacophony of useless blithering until we get bored of talking about it.  And then the next mass killing occurs and the cycle starts all over again.

Whether you want to accept it or not, you are complicit in these killings when you participate in the conversation that we keep building around them, no matter how pure your intentions are.  The roots of this problem run deep, so deep that they cannot be extracted without considerable hardship and toil.  And all we have accomplished with this same conversation that we insist on repeating every time another one happens is to scrape a bit of bark off the trunk, and yet we think we are making progress when we do this.  And the tree grows ever taller.  What more evidence do you need than in the fact that, ever since Charles Whitman climbed the clock tower at UT Austin and killed 13 people we have made absolutely no progress whatsoever in stemming the tide of mass killings in this country?  If we are to accomplish anything we must first fundamentally change the conversation we are having but, though it has only been five hours since I learned of this most recent shooting as I’m writing this, I’m already seeing on Facebook and Twitter and cable news the same fount of bullshit that was spewed when Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris went on their killing spree and when Seung-Hui Cho went on his and when Jared Lee Loughner went on his and when James Egan Holmes went on his (and I did not have to look any of those names up - such is the Herostratic fame that we crown these murderers with)...

There was a time when I would throw myself pell-mell into this blithering but now I have grown so weary and wary of it.  However, there is some (naive, perhaps) part of me who believes that just below the surface of the cacophony lies a few quiet voices, experts who have spent years studying tragedies such as this one and who can at the very least point us in the direction of a meaningful conversation that may lead towards some kind of meaningful solution, and that if we would all just shut the fuck up for five fucking minutes we could listen to them speak and maybe learn something.  I don’t know if that will ever happen, but I know what I’m going to do about it: I’m going to abstain from the conversation.  This posting is the only thing I am going to say about what happened in Connecticut.  Anyone who asks my opinion of it, I am going to direct them to this blog.  I will not be liking anything on Facebook relating to it nor will I be tweeting or retweeting anything or sharing any viral images, no matter how sincere and heartfelt they are.  I will walk away from water cooler conversations and change the subject when my friends ask me about it (and I will know my friends by those who respect my request to not discuss it with me).  I prefer the silence of my sorrow to the din of the explanations that don’t explain anything, the talking heads who have nothing to say, the shrieking ideologues who see in the wake of the dead only the opportunity to advance their political agendas.  And I hope in this silence that maybe I’ll parse out the whisper of sanity, of someone who actually has something intelligent to say on the subject, and that I can then rejoin the conversation. 

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

A Dire Threat to USF's Funding

For those of you who aren't in the know, one JD Alexander, a state senator of Florida has decided that, in the round of budget cuts that Florida is facing, it is unreasonable to think that every institution should have to take its fair share of the losses.  In fact, he has decided that one institution, The University of South Florida (ie, where I currently attend as a PhD student) needs to take a great deal more of the brunt than any other, not because it is a necessary sacrifice, but because he has his panties in a twist over the fact that a bill he proposed to spin off the Lakeland branch of USF into its own separate university (which, surprise surprise is in his district and which he wanted to take charge of) was shot down by none other than Rick Scott, the Florida governor who's policies on education are so backwards he actually thinks its a good idea to eliminate all humanities from public education.  When the man who is to Florida's educational system what Lord Voldemort is to muggles and mudbloods is telling you you've gone too far, that really says something.  Nonetheless, Alexander is so furious over his efforts to draw funding away from USF in the past being shot down (not just the USF Lakeland incident, but also his attempts to steal the pharmacy school away from the university and, when that didn't work, trying to completely eliminate the pharmacy school's budget) that he is taking revenge by exploiting his position as head of the Florida State Senate's budget committee to take revenge on the school.  I cannot emphasize this enough: there is no actual reason for USF to lose 60% of its budget, in fact, the original budget cuts had USF poised to lose 17%, a number on par with what every other public university in Florida is looking at.  USF could lose 17% of its budget and Florida would still be able to balance its budget for the year.  The only reason this is happening is because of Alexander's bruised ego.

And because of all of this, I wrote him a letter, which I would encourage others to do as well.  I'm sharing the letter here, because I think it's worth sharing and because I don't think there's enough that can be done to stop this.  We need to do everything we possibly can to put Andrews in his place.  So, before I get to the letter, here's his contact info:

201 Central Avenue West
City Hall Complex, Room 115
Lake Wales, FL 33853
(863) 679-4847
Senate VOIP: 41700
FAX (863) 679-4851
Statewide:
1-800-444-9747
alexander.jd.web@flsenate.gov

And here's the letter I wrote for him.  I hope you find it compelling reading:

Dear Senator Alexander,

I am a grad student at USF who has recently learned of your unfair and grossly disproportionate budget cuts to USF. As someone who's future depends on the prestige of the university I graduate from, I take personal umbrage to your absurd proposal on many levels. Not only does it show a clear bias against my institution (a bias that is clearly based on a personal vendetta you wish to carry out against USF) but the incalculable damage your cuts would do to my university would serve only to drive away the top students and faculty who make USF what it is. Your proposal, in effect, would utterly destroy the prestige and reputation of my school and in the process, make the degree that I have so far dedicated almost three years of my life to obtaining here of little value on the market. Your selfish, petty actions against this university are a threat not only to the Tampa Bay area, for whom USF is a pivotal economic powerhouse, but also a threat to the futures of every student currently enrolled in the university (which, I would like to remind you is the 9th largest in the country with 46,000 students who you are currently putting in jeopardy). It is difficult for me to grasp what a vile, petty and heartless person you must be to value your personal grudge over your failure to turn the Lakeland branch of USF into a separate institution above the livelihood of USF's 46,000 students and the city who in part depends on the considerable cash flow the university brings into it but the facts speak for themselves. It is probably too much to hope that you will suddenly choose to see reason when you are so clearly an unreasonable man, so I will appeal to something that actually will speak to you: your political future. It is my belief that politicians need to be reminded from time to time who it is they work for as you all so often seem to forget your duties are to the people and not to yourselves, but I seriously wonder if you are actually dumb enough to believe that you will continue to be in office for much longer if you carry on with such ridiculous policies. You certainly will not receive any support from me, as there is no question in my mind that you are anything other than a disgrace to the state of Florida but I will hope for your sake that some of your other constituents will be more forgiving.

A very angry and disgruntled voter,

Adam Breckenridge

Thursday, February 9, 2012

On the Impermanence of Things


I recently had to deal with a rather ingratiating annoyance with one of my web publications; namely that it no longer exists.  I had heard word that the editor of Lightning Flash Magazine, an ezine who had published a story of mine was trying to sell the publication because he could no longer maintain it.  I gave it no further thought aside from the fact that it was out of the question for me to buy it, as I had neither the time nor the money for such an endeavor.  Well, as it turned out neither did anyone else because as I found out the other day the website is now gone and there is no longer any record of it or the story I had published on it ever having existed.

While I have been assured that I still get credit for the publication, the line on my CV that I get from that work is only a small part of the benefits of having a publication.  In fact, as far as I’m concerned, the CV line is one of the least valuable benefits of publication.  I don’t just publish to make myself more employable (though it’s a nice perk), I publish because I want to get my work and my name out there in the world.  I want to be read and, most of all, I want the glory goddammit.  There is nothing altruistic about my publication ambitions and when a website to which I’ve been published ceases to exist, all of those benefits go out the window.  All I’m left with is a line on my CV that, if push comes to shove, I don’t know that I could even prove is authentic.

But there’s another reason this bothers me so much.  When a website like this goes down, everything on that site is lost.  At the time, Lightning Flash had published nine volumes of fiction and while there’s not much reason to assume that any important works of literature would be found there, the fact of the matter is that something of value was lost and sites like the Wayback Machine don’t archive every site that goes down.  Furthermore, while Lightning Flash may not have been a bastion of cultural treasures, there are other such publications that are, including some ezines, which have by now gained enough respectability that writers of some import are perfectly okay publishing to them.  When these websites go down everything published to them becomes lost all too easily.

What’s worse, this kind of centralization is becoming a trend.  There’s been a lot of talk about cloudware and the advantages of storing everything to central servers and the general consensus right now is that cloudware is the wave of the future.  I invite friends to my apartment, who look at my DVD collection (which is quite substantial) and snicker and shake their heads at my foolishness in making such a worthless investment.  Don’t I know that within a few years I’ll be able to keep every movie I want saved to a central server to access whenever I want and I’ll save so much space?  Same goes for books, music and even my own writing, as I’ve been assured that my habit of saving everything I write to two different hard drives and two different flash drives (one of which I keep in a fireproof, waterproof safe) is a waste of energy when I could just save everything I write to Google Docs or Dropbox and not have to worry about the 120MBs of space all of those documents take up on my 300GB hard drive

I cannot emphasize enough that I am not a Luddite.  I do not believe that technological innovation is sending us to hell in a handbasket or destroying civilization nor am I a doomsdayer but I can’t help but wonder why anyone thinks centralization is a good idea.  I’ve yet to have anyone explain to me why I would want to keep all of my writing on a centralized server where any number of glitches, password malfunctions, natural disasters or churlishness on the part of the host (Google has, after all, locked out quite a few people from their own Google Docs accounts) could wipe out ten years worth of work in an instant.  But I could have my computer stolen or my flash drive stolen and the worst case scenario is that I lose whatever I wrote in the time since I last resaved my writing folder.  I have nothing against them as an additional precaution but it strikes me as sheer idiocy to rely solely on them to keep your work safe.

And it is no different with works of art and entertainment, though on a much larger scale.  I could just as easily lose access to my online movies as I could have my DVD collection (more easily, I would suggest, as I would not envy the burglar who had to haul five hundred DVDs out the door without anyone noticing).  But what if centralization becomes the standard so that everything, old and new, are kept to a handful of servers?  And what then if the worst happens and the entire archives of a major studio are wiped out?  Improbable?  Yes, but impossible?  No.  Why would we ever take the chance of relying on such a system?  If I’m not mistaken, the last time civilization relied on a central storage service for the world’s knowledge was the Library of Alexandria and the loss to world knowledge because of that ill-advised idea is incalculable.

The above, of course, is an extreme example, but the overall point is a valid one - preservation of art is best served not by keeping it all in one place but by copying it and scattering it as far and wide as possible.  Think of how many hundreds of millions of copies of Shakespeare’s plays are out there in the world and how difficult it would be to destroy them all.  And even if you did somehow manage to wipe out every copy of every play Shakespeare ever wrote there are still derivations, homages, critical analyses, cultural references that would allow future generations to reconstruct quite a bit of it.  To eradicate all knowledge of Shakespeare from the world is a task that would seem daunting even to the laws of entropy.  When people tell me cloudware and other forms of centralization are the way of the future the idea strikes me as being about as idiotic as deciding that every copy of everything ever written by and about Shakespeare should be kept in a single building - there is no good reason to do it and a whole lot of really bad ones.

And what makes it more absurd is that there is no reason we cannot disperse works of art and other information electronically the same way it has been done manually.  Every time a book or a movie or an album or anything else is saved to a hard drive (and we’ll assume it was done legally, as I don’t want to open that can of worms) it is the same as printing another copy.  Even if the original is destroyed it would exist on an untold number of hard drives around the world.  If Lightning Flash had been a PDF magazine all those copies of it would still be out there even after the website went down.  They wouldn’t circulate in quite the same way that something like a used book would but that is a problem that could be overcome.  And with hard drives currently being cheaply available in the hundreds of GBs (and hundreds of terabytes not very far around the corner), space is hardly an issue.

The move towards cloudware strikes me as being something with a lot of disadvantages and few to no advantages.  We instead need to find ways to disperse information as widely as possible and in places where dispersion is not viable, such as with websites, we need to make a greater effort to archive as many of them as possible.  At the very least we should do it because it sure is inconvenient to have to lose a publication.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Submitting as a way of life

I had a funny bit of good fortune came upon me last year.  After two years of consistently getting my work rejected I suddenly found myself receiving acceptances for the four stories I was submitting within the span of a few months.  As joyous as this was (and as fine a vindication it was for the frustration of endless rejections that preceded it) I found myself in a peculiarly unfortunate position.  Those four stories were all I had available for submission.  I had for the last two years been working on a novel and assumed that those pieces would keep me busy with submissions until it was ready.  The rest of my work I had either scrapped as unworthy of publication or were months away from being whipped into good enough shape for me to show them to the world.

I had not anticipated how depressing this would be.  Submitting fiction, though it can be a source of considerable frustration, proved also to be a source of inspiration.  When I was honing my art as an undergrad and as an MFA student I was always told that I would be ill-advised to think too much about publication, that I needed to focus instead on perfecting my work.  While I do not fault any of my professors for this advice, I've also come to see how the promise of publication can be a profound driving force for one's creativity.

As a professor told me once, when you submit your work you always have a reason to live.  I was always fascinated by how he worded that.  Not "you'll have something to look forward to," but "you'll always have a reason to live."  It always puts an image of my head of a despairing artist with a gun in his mouth, hitting the refresh button on his inbox before deciding if he pulls the trigger.

As an undergrad I found myself writing for the sake of trying to perfect my art.  I turned out hundreds of pages of garbage that I knew perfectly well was garbage, dreaming of a day when I would write something great.  Now I turn out hundreds of pages of garbage, slogging through the endless nights of uncertainty of whether what I wrote was any good, tossing out stories and story ideas left and right, waiting for that moment when I hit on one of which I can say "This is a story worthy of seeing the light of day."

For six months I set aside my novel and worked on story after story to get myself submitting again.  I was cautious not to let the lust for publication cloud my good judgment and after months of work I finally found myself with a handful of pieces I thought worthy of sending out into the world.  I'm quite proud of all of them and hope that each of them will see the light of day but what's more important is that the drive for publication was an important driving force for my inspiration behind these stories.  They might not have been written otherwise.

Here's why I'm bringing this up.  It is the conventional wisdom in fiction that a desire to be published is a base desire, comparable to a Christian who focuses so much on getting into heaven that he forgets to be a good man.  This is a sound philosophy but I think it's possible to hit a point in one's life where it can be safely tempered.  Years of experience of learning how easy it is to get rejected has given me some insight into the high standards you must attain to see your work in print.  If you aspire to make it your goal to produce only work that will meet those standards you can use the lust for publication to inspire you to new artistic heights.  And as long as you have at least one submission you're waiting to hear on, you can always look forward to your labor bearing fruit.  Or, at the very least, that you'll be able to refrain from shooting yourself for one more day.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Kizuna

A message for those of you coming here to find out if some Malaysian lawyer really does have millions of dollars he wants to share with you: no, he doesn't, but since you've taken the time to show up, how about helping some kids orphaned by the earthquake in Japan?

I had the good fortune recently to get a chance to contribute to an anthology called Kizuna: Fiction for Japan, all of the proceeds of which go to help children orphaned by the disaster.  Among other things, it's a great example of what the digital age has made possible.  In a period of just a few months, the editor, Brent Millis, managed to cull together the support of 75 authors from 11 different countries, compile the anthology and publish it to Kindle (here) and put out a print copy (here).  It was not very long ago that putting together a charity effort like this could never have happened, but here is an example of how our increasingly fast-paced society is not always a bad thing.  High tech and high speed allow us to help each other more quickly and in more meaningful ways, no matter who or where you are.

It also allows spammers in Malaysia to dupe a bunch of people into thinking they might get to receive millions of dollars with no strings attached.  What can I say?  All technology is a Faustian bargain, but at least with this one you can make it work for the good.