Never let the facts get in the way of a good opinion

We all have opinions about things and if it weren’t for them, I wouldn’t have very much to write about. We typically have an assortment of personal feelings. They can be formed with a complete lack of logic or reason that facts can never penetrate.

The process of repeatedly passing information from person to person can result in the unintentional formation of our beliefs. Our minds are hard-wired to categorize information and create mental shortcuts. This helps us to organize knowledge using a minimum of mental effort. It also provides us with a needed sense of structure to cope with an otherwise messed up world.

There are the famously opinionated “Monday morning quarterbacks” who will analyze every game and every play. They will tell you what the local sports team did wrong and how they would have played it. We have the Trump supporters and those that think he should be impeached. We also have the people that are religious and that know they are in the one faith that will get you to Jannah, Nirvana, Canaan, Elysium or whatever you call Heaven. Never argue with these people because it is a waste of time.

From time to time we might ask other people about their stance on an issue even if we don’t agree with them. Forming new beliefs to add to the ones you already have might interest you. Of course this doesn’t mean you can’t change your mind. Changing your outlook is a sign of personal growth, having an open mind and the willingness to see other sides of an issue.

The sound of two opposing thoughts clashing can be very exciting. This can cause the development of intense debates in a frantic attempt to support your own existing philosophies. In my humble opinion, it seems very unlikely that there will ever be a shortage of opinions because most people have at least one well founded viewpoint based on personal experience plus four or five others about things they know absolutely nothing about. This is evident whenever you hear a person watching the Bills on television, offering a bar stool assessment on who should coach the team and how.  

I question all the opinions I now hear. Whenever I hear a new one, I handle it with skepticism, I check to see where it came from and listen it to see if it is ticking before I open it. Once it appears there is no problem, I fact check it and if it fails, I file the view point in the circular filing cabinet.

Working out which ideas are worthy of consideration and which are outright lies is now a full-time job as “fake news” is now used to undermine many assumptions. If the theory promoted seems to be from someone who has some expertise in the subject I will listen.

Convictions can be dangerous and having an incorrect belief might ruin your reputation. Voicing your opinion at the wrong time can also make you appear foolish. The old adage attributed to Abraham Lincoln goes, “It’s better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt,” and that seems to still hold true today.

However, when you hide your convictions to yourself, this can actually be more harmful than expressing them. As a matter of fact, opposing ideas are what fuel forward motion. Stating your opinion might make you appear more confident. Confidence never has been a bad thing to have.

A common reason that people may hold back on their thoughts is the thinking that their conviction doesn’t matter or that they won’t be listened to. For example, if a person is troubled by a new company policy, they could hold their tongue because they think that they will be labeled a troublemaker. Nevertheless, you may have a valid point. If you speak up, you might make a difference.

Even if your point of view isn’t taken seriously, what you mentioned can still encourage an important debate.  The argument you make may not have been thought of up until then. If you offer a possible solution it may still be decided that your idea isn’t worth investigating. But your opinion might encourage some new perspectives about the subject. Discussion frequently precedes results and the more thoughts that are promoted in a discussion the better and quicker you might see results.

If you’re wrong, you’re wrong. Perhaps your outlook is invalid, or that you think that there’s something “off” about it. If you want to find out just state it. The other people around you will let you know. If you are wrong admit it and don’t beat a dead horse. None of us is perfect.

You might express what everyone else is thinking but just too afraid to say. Occasionally people are afraid to state their views because they don’t think they are valid. If you voice your position, you might just present an idea that everyone can agree on.

But that’s just my opinion.

Brain Health

I do Sudoku puzzles, crossword puzzles and write 7 days a week 52 weeks a year. I feel that keeping my brain healthy is as important as keeping my body healthy. I recently found some support for this opinion.

The Daily Mail reports that doing Crosswords and Sudoku could keep your brain up to ten years younger. They stated that doing a puzzle every day might have a “dramatic effect” on your memory and help to ward off dementia as you get older.

The Mail reports that joint studies were done by the University of Exeter and King’s College, London. This involved participants that were between 50 and 93 years old. The participants took an online survey, reporting how often they did these types of puzzles, as well as tests to measure the changes in their brain function.

This research concluded that doing a puzzle every day could lower your brain age by up to a decade. According to a study, published in the International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, people over 50 can improve their brain function by completing word games. 19,100 people took part in this research, and they were tested on their attention, memory, and reasoning and were asked how frequently they did puzzles. Findings showed that those who did these puzzles performed better in tests, and had a lower ‘brain age’ than those who didn’t. The difference in brain function was ten years for those who worked on the puzzles regularly and an eight-year difference for short-term memory.

I find that writing stimulates long forgotten memories. I call this opening the “file cabinets of my mind”. As soon as I open a drawer, hundreds of memories come pouring out. Memories of people I knew and things I did. Memories from my childhood right thru last week.

Sometimes they come so fast, this hunt and peck typist has trouble writing them all down. Frequently when the memories stop, I find I have written 1500 words or more. Now comes the job of paring it down to an acceptable size. I try to cut it to 800 to 900 words and save much of what I remove for another day. I frequently tell my wife that I have a 25 year old mind in a 70 year old body.

Dr. Anne Corbett, senior author of the Daily Mail studies, said: “Most of the people involved in the research did crosswords or Sudoku every day, which exercises the memory and improves problem-solving abilities and focus.” The theory behind these results is that the brain is just like anything else in the body. Continuing to use your mind and not vegging out will improve it’s capacity and adaptability.

The brain has a lot of connections that we need to use regularly doing activities like puzzles. It’s the old “use it or lose it” theory. We don’t really comprehend though if people like doing puzzles because they possess a higher level of brain function or if their mental function improves due to the fact they are solving puzzles.

Some people say that what is good for your heart is also good for your brain. This means you can lessen your risk of dementia by having a balanced, healthy diet, maintaining a healthy weight, exercising regularly, keeping alcohol use to a minimum, and quitting smoking. I quit smoking after 45 years and I never felt better. I think that maintaining social connections with your friends and family might also reduce cognitive decline.

The brain controls many things like memory, making decisions and much more. These cognitive abilities can affect how we are able to perform everyday tasks and if we can live independently. Changes in thinking as people age are normal. Older adults could have problems with multi-tasking, difficulty finding words and recalling names and decreased ability to pay attention. However, as a person gets older, certain parts of the brain shrink, particularly those areas that are important to learning and other complex mental activities. This doesn’t mean you cannot learn new things. You can teach an old dog new tricks!

I changed careers at 60, taking a job that I had absolutely no experience in or training for. I love a good challenge and just figuring out how to do this job made me feel younger. To do this job, I had to write PowerPoint training modules, something I had never done before. Not only was I able to write them for my job but other supervisors asked me to write modules for them. The last time I attended college, I went to UB when I was 62. Since then, I have received several certificates and diplomas from online courses including from NCCC and the University of Central Florida.

There is increased scientific evidence that the mind does not remain static but is able to take on new challenges as people age. It is not exactly clear why certain people think just as well when they get older and others don’t but exercising your brain is very important.

You can reach Norb at Nrug@juno.com. If he doesn’t answer you right away, he is probably trying to find his glasses.

I got up early

I get up early almost every morning to see if anyone has published any of my work. My articles usually get published around 4:30 or 5:00 in the morning. It wasn’t yet dawn but the sky was beginning to get brighter. I grabbed a banana, a glass of vegetable juice and my laptop and headed for the back porch.

The air still had the nighttime crispness to it. The kind of freshness that you only get in the late summer/early fall. The birds hadn’t started their morning song yet but the crickets and frogs were going full tilt. I love hearing the crickets and frogs.

There were a few other sounds in my neighborhood, My a dog barking in the distance and the low quiet hum of traffic passing a few blocks away. The neighborhood was quiet until my neighbor started his car to go to work. Other than that it was fairly quiet and I was enjoying it. Our neighborhood is comparatively serene. A few of my neighbors are retired and they don’t have anywhere to go that early in the morning. I would say it is a sleepy little neighborhood.

 Another advantage to where I live is that you can’t get anywhere by driving through it. The only cars I see belong to residents and the people who are lost.

The light from the moon was augmented by the street light filtering thru the leaves of our maple tree.  Between the two sources, there was just enough light so I wouldn’t step on something. The leaves of the trees hadn’t started to turn yet, but I knew it would not be long before their stately mantle would be on the ground, being strewn about by the wind.

I watched a cat slink across my back yard, looking for a meal when it spotted me. It froze hoping I wouldn’t see it and stared at me, watching to see what I was going to do. When it decided I wasn’t a threat, it continued across my yard, under my fence and disappeared behind my neighbor’s house.

A cool breeze kissed my face and sounded the wind chimes I have on my back porch. Listening to the wind chimes is very soothing to me and we leave some of them out year round. Unfortunately, the gentle breeze brought the pungent odor of a skunk with it. The skunk wasn’t nearby so it was only a slight wisp of a smell though.

I’ve been trying not to listen to those people who are talking about the end of summer, trying to pretend they are wrong, that these long, lovely days will never end. But in the early mornings, I can smell, hear and feel fall coming.

It is still light out enough evenings to fool us all into thinking that we have more time. And my wife and I will delay dinner until 7 p.m., to take advantage of that time. Playing cards outside until dark, but then we have to move inside until bedtime. Gone are the nights sitting on our porch swing until 10 o’clock.

Very soon it’s going to be time to change the clocks. Finally the clock in my car will be right once again. I never did learn how to set that damned clock. How does the axiom go? Is it fall back or fall forward? We must have 12 to 15 clocks that will need resetting: vehicle clocks, alarm clocks, a clock radio, the clock on the stove, clock on our phone and one on the microwave. The list seems endless and that’s just downstairs. It’s an all-day job. Everything else resets itself.

As I think about it, I am retired with nothing to do, why do I need so many clocks? The only room in my house that doesn’t have a clock is my bathroom. I get up when I am awake, eat when I am hungry and go to bed when I am tired. But I digress.

These late summer days won’t last long, I know that. The older grandchildren have gone off to college and the younger ones will be back at school before long. They won’t be spending all day with us like they did over the summer, until the next school vacation.

The leaves will soon start turning a kaleidoscope of colors signifying the shorter days and longer nights. Soon, I’ll all be switching the position of the lawn mower and the snow blower in our garage.

But that’s all for later. Right now is a good time to put off whatever it is you wanted do inside until after dark, step outside and just smell the air. Soon we won’t be able to breathe the fresh air outdoors without bundling up against the cold.

So, step outside. Look at the trees, look at the sky, and enjoy the scents of late summer. Take advantage of the daylight and walk through a park if you can — or just walk around the block. Fire up the grill, cook the last few hot dogs of summer and eat your dinner outside.

But, as we all know, these days won’t last forever. Winter is coming, with its cold winds, snow, icy roads and slick sidewalks and then it will be time to put on our boots and snow tires. Norb is a freelance journalist from Lockport NY.

Growing older

People my age are so much older than me.

When I think of old age, I to think of my maternal grandfather. When I was a kid, I considered this white-haired, 65-year-old man as old. I can still vividly remember his vegetable gardens at 101 Bickford Avenue, Buffalo and how he taught me how to trap yellow jackets.

He sold Watkins products and aprons to women around his own age. I recall going on sales calls with him in his dark blue 1948 dodge. This was a treat for me because I got to ride in the front seat of the “Blue Bird” as he called it and every client he had invited me in for milk and cookies. Instant grandmothers!

Now that I’m in my early 70’s, my concept of old age is substantially different than it used to be and I suspect I’m not alone. I am positive that everyone else is growing older and that person that I see in my mirror each morning is somehow aging at a slower pace. I frequently ask my wife how come everybody we know is getting older and we’re not, ala Dorian Grey.

If you’ve been pushing yourself for many years by working, raising a family or both, it feels strange to have time to yourself once you have retired and the kids have all flown the coop. One good thing about getting older is that you’ve been there, done that. Now you can take the time to impart what you’ve learned over the years. I try to do this by writing.

Baby boomers seem to be having a hard time admitting to the inevitability of growing older. Granted, we are all mortal, but I never imagined this referred to me. Sure, I am in my seventies and have been married for fifty years. Yeah, my children are in their forties and have grandchildren in their twenties. Indeed, I have been retired for four years and have been fighting cancer for ten. But those are only numbers to me, not an indicator of how old I feel.

When I take sum of my life, everything I’ve created, experienced and collected, I can count more positives than negatives. More than anything else I learn with each and every passing day the importance of appreciating what I have and choosing to be happy. Taking time to laugh with my family and friends becomes more important. Of all the good things about getting old, the best by far, according to older adults, is being able to spend more time with family members.

My 8 year old grandsons will yell “Papa run over here.” I have to explain, Papa doesn’t do run anymore.  There’s a lot that Papa doesn’t do anymore. Papa doesn’t drink anymore. Papa doesn’t go to the basement or attic anymore. Sure I move a bit slower, but that’s just my body that’s acting it’s age, my mind and my spirit are still in their twenties. The great irony, in this, say the experts on aging, is that this could be a healthy thing. Believing you are younger can actually make you feel younger.

“People, particularly older people, usually say they feel younger than they are,” said William Chopik, assistant professor of psychology at Michigan State. “People who report feeling younger actually tend to live longer and healthier lives and they don’t tend to have as much of a pattern of decline.” says Chopik. In most circumstances, people state that they feel around 20 percent younger than they actually are. This is according to a Michigan State study of over than 500,000 people.

They say when you are older, you heal slower but my innate ability to recover from injuries is well known among my friends and family. Recently I hurt my ankle but I thought I could just walk it off. After 8 days of walking on it, I discovered I had broken it. I was in a boot for six weeks after that and still wear a splint. The orthopedic surgeon I went to said “The x-ray revealed that your bones are, and I going to use a medical term here, crap.” (I love a doctor with a good sense of humor). He said he wasn’t sure just how long it would take me to heal but he suggested it would take months.  I surprised him by how quickly I healed. I have had cancer three times, and managed to spit in death’s eye each time.

So, at my age, I’m on a low salt diet, do Physical Therapy, quit smoking, and have to take an assortment of meds to control my blood pressure, cholesterol, edema and pain. I wear bifocals and hearing aids and But I still don’t look into the mirror and see an old man looking back and I definitely do not see a septuagenarian gazing at me. I see someone that is much younger and more vibrant than that. Then again, I never put my glasses on before I look in the mirror. You remember the age old adage “You are only as old as you feel.”? I believe this to be true. In my mind I am still only 25.

It’s kind of funny how being old doesn’t seem so old now that I am old.

Norb is an independent journalist from Lockport.

Rejection:

person using macbook
Photo by Burst on Pexels.com

I am getting up for a glass of Pepsi when I get an email. Any writer, author, or journalist knows this email moment. The notice pops up in my inbox and my heart takes a wild, insane, roller coaster ride. First, my heart goes up, way, way up, as my expectations climb. Then, it plunges because I remember just how the deck is stacked against me. I open up my email and my eyes quickly scan, looking for the words, “pleased” or “unfortunately” or “we regret”.

It gets much easier though. I have gotten quite a few rejections. In fact less than half of what I have written has been published. I take pride in the fact I have learned how to isolate someone rejecting my work from someone rejecting me as a person. There are many, many reasons why an article might not be suitable for a newspaper, magazine or blog and not one of these has anything to do with me personally.

If I get a rejection email but it is encouraging and positive, it is even worse. Maybe, just maybe if I had just been just a little better at writing or if I had changed one word in my 900 word article, it would have been acceptable.

I would like to say who the hell cares, but I do. It’s about the constant fight to advance in my craft. If the newspaper had accepted my work, that would have been it. But, seeing as they didn’t, I’m back right where I was, without any hope that I am headed towards my goal of being a respected writer.

Well, this is the part of being an aspiring writer that is much worse than the movies show. This portion really hurts. But rejection is as much an element of being a writer as writing the words onto the page. It’s as much a component of being a writer as the late night editing and the early mornings doing Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Pinterest marketing. This is as much a part of becoming a writer as is every submission or every query letter.

These are the writer’s baptisms by fire, and the hot coals we have to walk across in order to make this our vocations. I have to constantly sell myself and my writing. If it were simple, everyone would be a writer. Every person that took a creative writing class would be a writer for the Associated Press. Every kid who worked on his High School newspaper would now be writing for The Washington Post. But it’s not that easy. There isn’t any clear path to my goal, no directions.

Rejections just flat out suck. It might slow me down a bit and make me question whether writing is what I really want to do but rejections won’t kill me. It’s great to be a writer the days when the words just seem to flow. It’s awesome to be recognized also, whether it is on the street in a store or in a restaurant. It’s a rush when people ask me questions about my mysterious job, when they say they enjoy my writing.

It isn’t these trouble-free days that separate the weak from the strong, the successful from wannabes. It’s not about the stress-free days. It’s about the hard days where my work is rejected or the days when I get writer’s block. No one told me the life of a writer was going to be painless. But, if I’m still standing at the end of the day, it might just be worth it.

I can’t allow my emotions to get the best of me when I receive those inevitable rejections. So I pick myself up and try again. I question, I edit and I resubmit. It’s just not about me. Those who are rejecting me are making decisions based on my commercial marketability. My personality and personal life play a very, very small part in getting published.

I don’t waste any energy anymore being angry or holding a pity party for myself. I have been to this rodeo before. I still go through rejection, but it’s healthier for my well-being and self-esteem to concentrate my energy on taking the feedback positively and utilizing the information someone gives me to grow and enhance my writing style. To focus on being a better writer.

I work on trying to hone my skills every day, writing and rewriting and rewriting again, reading the periodicals I want to work for to learn their focus and slant on the issues.

In all honesty, being published is an adrenaline high for me, an ego boost. I set my sights high and have my goals. I have to show my passion for writing and be courageous enough to bare my soul. I have to have confidence in my talent but also be willing to learn if I want a successful writer.

So I know the skyrocketing heart rate is normal when opening an email. It’s a very challenging journey that I am on. I can tell you from experience, it is well worth it. But hey, I’m 71 and have nothing to lose, so I continue learning the writing craft. And the best thing is, I will have something concrete to leave my children and grandchildren, yay!

I am a freelance journalist from Lockport.

I tend to write much more than I need to

person typing on typewriter
Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

I tend to write much more than I need to, but when I can’t write or get published it’s a very distressing feeling. A good day is when I get articles published in multiple places. My mind tends to become dependent on writing and seems to build up a tolerance to being published.

I find myself writing all day, late into the night and sometimes get up at five in the morning so I can write again. But I do catch myself nodding off in my recliner with my laptop in my well…. lap in the afternoon and early evening. Go figure.

I was nominated for the “Survivor of the Year” for the “Relay for Life” one year and accepted. One of my duties was to give a speech. I started out by writing a speech about my personal involvement with cancer and it was exciting. I felt I needed a hook to engage the audience so I started with humor.

I read my speech out loud for a week so I could get the cadence, mannerisms and inflection down and the day of Relay I was ready.

I went onstage with a thick pile of paper and thought I could feel the unarticulated groan from the people there. At this point I felt I was my plan was working. I dropped the papers on the floor and with great flourish and picked them all up clumsily.

At this point I heard a few muffled giggles. Nobody really knew at this point if I was doing stichk or not. After I composed myself I looked down at the papers and said “I wish to thank the academy, the Hollywood foreign press……” by now there was more quiet laughter but everybody was trying to be polite at this point, still not knowing if this was a comedy routine or a bumbling idiot.

I knew I had had set the hook and I was now ready to reel them in. I then looked up and scanned the crowd and said “Oops wrong speech” and everybody laughed. At that point I had their attention and I read the piece I had written for the occasion. A few people came up to me later and told me that it was the best speech they had ever heard. The heart pounding feeling this gave me made me want more and I thought to myself “I can do this”.

Up until then, I hated writing. Ninety percent of the things I had to write for a school assignment were written on the school bus on the day they were due. No sense in wasting time if we were going to have a snow day and school was going to be closed that day.

I started writing shortly after Relay I would write about about personal experiences, marriage and my thoughts on driving safety, volunteering and mandatory retirement. I would then submit them to local newspapers, hoping to get published.

After a few of them picked up my work, I started writing about more “hot ticket” issues. Issues that affect us as a city, a state and as a country. These included things that are driving us apart like education, the Vietnam War, the border wall and nuclear power. I got some fans and had some very passionate adversaries complaining about these columns. We all have opinions but I felt I had at least opened the lines of communication.

But writing isn’t successful unless someone is actually reading what you write. I know that it is important in America that we talk to one another about the walls that divide us as a country. That even if we disagree we must have civil discussions about that which comes between us. Any attempt to prevent this is censorship, pure and simple.

I am now being published regularly in three print newspapers, in three online magazines and have had my work published in at least 10 other places.

The First Amendment guarantees “Freedom of the Press” which is the right to circulate opinions in print without censorship by the government. Private entities however can censor the hell out of anything you write and you have, as a reader, the right to read and comment on a piece or just not read it at all. It’s no wonder I love this country.

In closing let me say,
Free Speech – Good.
Censorship – Bad.

We all have our own view points but please let us just discuss them respectfully.

What’s the point of teaching English if it ain’t going to be spoken good?

black and white book business close up
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

“Why can’t the English teach their children how to speak?” asked Professor Henry Higgins in the musical “My Fair Lady.” It’s a very good question for Americans now days.

I recently was in a movie theater and two young women sat behind me. They were talking rather loudly. In just a few minutes I counted 16 “likes” and “you knows” from just one of them. It went this way: “And then she was like blah, blah, blah and then he was like blah, blah, blah, and I was like blah, blah, blah, you know.”

As an adverb, “like” means nearly, closely or approximately, as in the experience was like jumping off a high diving board. This is perhaps the most familiar use of the word like but there are others.

The NBC News Correspondent Edwin Newman penned two books concerning the mistreatment of English. Some of his least desired words are heard inside airports. Newman grew irritated when airline employees spoke of a “podium“. This is defined by Merriam-Webster as a low wall, serving as a foundation or terrace wall or a dais especially for an orchestral conductor, and not a desk. He was also confused when they invited certain passengers to “pre-board” the airplane, which he noted was impossible. One can board early, or board ahead of other passengers, but to “pre-board” is a contradiction.

When I was in school, English grammar was required, not an optional. We would diagram sentences and learned the proper use of words. We were taught when to say “me” and “I,” and the difference between there, their and they’re.
Clichés were once mostly used by young people and inexperienced writers. Today, clichés have crept into the language of people who should know better. These clichés include “needless to say” (then why bother to say it?), and “cautiously optimistic.” The Washington Post compiled a list of “200 journalism clichés … and counting” and these are only two of them.

Don’t get me started on TV hosts and reporters. They say, “As you can see……” Yes, we can. That’s because it’s called television. It’s not radio, it has pictures. “Shot in the encounter” was a favorite of a former news director at a TV station that I watched. I often wondered where the encounter was on your body.

Good English skills are vital to succeeding in life, in terms of career, and personal relationships. There are three main areas that have to be worked on, vocabulary, pronunciation, and grammar.

Then we have the word axe. What does it mean when you axe someone a question? Do you chop if into little pieces? I was walking to my car at Walmart when I overheard a woman on her cell phone (it wasn’t too difficult). It went. “I was literally in Walmart when she literally walked up to me and literally started an argument with me. I told her she had better literally get her act together or she was going to literally lose her kids.” Really? (pun intended)

The point is to learn English as a means of expressing ourselves that shows we didn’t just fall off a turnip truck (deliberate use of a cliché). What’s the point of teaching English if nobody learns it and it can’t be properly spoken or understood?

Speaking English lets you to truly broaden your world, including job opportunities and the ability to relate to people from every country.
Knowing proper English makes it much more interesting when traveling. Wherever you want go in the world, you will probably find someone who speaks English. If we count only the countries where the English language is the official language, the United Kingdom, U.S.A., Canada, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand and the Caribbean countries, there are more than 400 million native English speakers.

The statistics reveal that more than a quarter of the world’s population speaks English that means that about 1.6 billion people understand and relate with the help of the language of Shakespeare. To not mention that most of the films are in English, the largest film industry, Hollywood, is produced in English.

English also improves the quality of life. You have access to jobs that you could not even take into consideration, you can evaluate an international career and you can live in many countries with the ease of being able to go shopping or negotiate a rent for the house.

Simply put, we must recognize that English is an international language, the main language of this planet.

Over Christmas, I listened to a reading of the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas’s brilliant “A Child’s Christmas in Wales.” The delight of words, well-chosen and beautifully spoken, was thrilling and captivating. He makes you want to listen, as opposed to wishing to plug your ears.

The benefits speaking properly can bring in to life of a person is countless. It is important to know that the English language is able to knock down a lot of barriers, including cultural ones.

The English language allows us to relate to and therefore understand each other.
Could one of our Resolutions for 2019 be to speak better English?

The printed media is under attack

For ages, books, magazines and newspapers, were revered for the enormous amount of information they contained. I can remember looking things up in the Encyclopedia Britannica when I was young. One summer I set the goal of reading everything that was in the encyclopedia. I’m pretty sure I never got through the second volume. In 2012, the company announced that the 2010 edition would be the last printed version. However, they were being replaced by their electronic “copies”. Reference books of all types are feeling the pinch caused by technology and the internet, from atlases to dictionaries to thesauruses.

I have a subscription to Time Magazine and it seems like a shell of its former self. There are just 68 pages in a recent addition and a large number of them are full page ads. The same thing seems to be going on with The Readers Digest that I receive every month. There are now a lot more ads than I remember with less content.

My wife is an avid reader and she has a kindle. That way she doesn’t have to lug around one or two large books. Her Kindle has well over a thousand books on it at this point. Every day I download free books for her off the internet. If she doesn’t like a book, she just deletes it. No muss, no fuss,and we haven’t wasted any money on it plus we save gas by her not having to drive to the library.

The newspaper industry has always had its ups and downs and the industry has survived previous slumps. I remember that television’s arrival in the early 1950s was supposed to predict the decline of newspapers’ prominence as most people’s source of daily news, I think sudden increase of the internet in the 1990s and the increased number of media choices available to the average reader has made this much worse. I feel the Internet has also gone further than television in eating away at the income of newspapers with Craig’s list, e-bay and other online sites that are available to sell your goods. I think the increasing use of internet search, primarily through large engines such as Google, Bing and Yahoo, has changed the habits of newspaper readers.

Buffalo News owner Warren Buffett wrote, “Simply put, if cable and satellite broadcasting, as well as the internet had come along first,newspapers as we know them probably would never have existed.” Since the beginning of 2009, the United States has seen a number of major metropolitan dailies shuttered or drastically pruned. Even the news magazine “Newsweek”, has ceased being published as a print magazine.

Since the end of January 2016, I have managed to get my writing published a number of times. I have gotten published in an online newspapers as the food columnist under the banner “Lovin Spoonful”. In that time, I have also seen one online publication and two of the print publications that I was writing for close. The Lockport Star has announced it closed in July 2016 and The Tonawanda Sun also announced it was closing in July. It appears that the Community Papers of Western New York has decided to discontinue publishing all of their small town papers. Readership of print newspapers has fallen by a staggering 25% in just the last four years.

I am now being published in 3 print newspapers and four online ones. I have a portfolio of my articles cut out of the newspapers and they seem much more real than the ones I print from my computer. If I wanted, I could put together on my computer, something that said I was published in the New York Times and I’m sure that anyone with basic word processor skills could do the same thing.

Maybe I am just old fashioned and behind the times, but the feel of a newspaper in my hands just seems right. I prefer having ink stained fingers to carpel tunnel. Sure, the newspaper might not be up to the minute but it sure beats those news bytes that you see scrolling across the bottom of your television screen. What does the statement “17 dead in Brazil” tell you? Was it a terrorist attack, a bus overturning or a meal of bad Shushi? There is no how,when or why and just leaves you not knowing what the heck is going on. I’m sure at least 17 people die in Brazil almost every day. Just knowing how many people died without giving us many more facts is useless.

It seems to me I have picked a bad time to try become a journalist.I hate to say it but the best way to reach me is on the internet at nrug@juno.com. My blog is at whywny.home.blog

Writer’s Rejection

 

reading the book
Photo by Kaboompics .com on Pexels.com

Dear Sir or Madam, will you read my book?
It took me years to write, will you take a look?
It’s based on a novel by a man named Lear,
And I need a job,
So I want to be a paperback writer,
Paperback writer.

The Beatles, 1966.

Every writer, author or journalist who has submitted work to various places knows all about email and the feelings it provokes. A notification will appear in your inbox from a place you sent your work and your mind takes a wild ride. At first, your spirits go up, way too high up, as your hopes skyrocket. Then you become realistic, remembering just how slim the chance that your writing has actually been selected for publication.

Thoughts of the deck being stacked against you flash through your head. Your hopes plummet, remembering all the times this has happened to you before. Your hands shake as you open the email and you scan it, looking for a few words that might reveal the content of the message. Words like happy, sadly or sorry.

When I first started writing, I got a lot of rejections but as I honed my craft they seem to be fewer and fewer. I have learned that everything I write will not be used and depending on the venue I may only get one out of every twenty pieces published. I have become pretty good at differentiating between someone rejecting my work and rejecting me as a person now. There are millions of reasons why an article doesn’t fit with a magazine, print newspaper or online newspaper and absolutely none of them has to do with me personally.

So, I get another email. Sometimes the message title reveals all I have to know. “We are sorry to inform you ……….” I would like to say I don’t care! There is more than just one outlet for my work, but I do care. This is the part of becoming a writer that sucks. It sucks so much worse than what you see in the movies. I feel my soul sink into a deep hole that feels like there is no escape from. This was something I had spent hours on writing, rewriting and polishing to get it just right until it became like one of my own children and all you can say is “We are sorry to inform you”.

But I’ve learned it’s less about whether people like my work and more about the constant battle to get published, to see my by line. If this particular newspaper had accepted my article, it would have been over. But because they didn’t, it’s time to “shop it around”, to send it to other places, or to possibly find new places to send it to. But I’m once again back at the start again, feeling like I might not be on my way to being a paid, professional journalist.

Rejection is as much a part of being a writer as putting the words onto the page, a completely unpleasant part though. It’s just as much a part of being a writer as the late night and the early morning edits. It is as much a part of being a writer as every proposal, every inquiry letter, and every abstract.

This is the writer’s lot, their baptism by fire, the broken glass and hot coals we have to cross barefoot in order to make a living at this. If it were easy, then everyone would be a writer. Every single kid from your creative writing classes in high school would be a writer. Every single freshman who worked on their school paper would now write for the New York Times. But it’s not easy. There is no easy way. Truth is rejections suck.

But rejections won’t kill you, they may just slow you down temporarily. You have to learn how to keep plugging along. It’s very easy to be a writer when the words flow and your blog rankings spike. It’s easy to be a writer at a party, when people ask you questions about your cool job, about what you are writing about now. It’s not the easy days that differentiate between the weak and the strong, the successful from the wannabes. It’s the days when you feel like packing it all in and quitting. But then a tiny voice in the back of your head tells you to give it just one more try, just one more try.

So we pick ourselves up and dust ourselves off. We send out our work into the world once again. We edit, we rewrite, we inquire and we submit again. No one said that the life of an independent writer was easy, but if you stick with it and you make it through the dark times, it could all be worth it.

Norb has now written 500+ articles, over 90 restaurant reviews, and has been published in the Buffalo News, Lockport Union Sun and Journal, Niagara Falls Gazette, the East Niagara Post, The Lockport Star, The North Tonawanda Extra, the Niagara Reporter, and Artvoice. His work has been published on Press Reader, Good Cookery, the National association for Home Care and Hospice, and Konitono.

Blogging

man in white dress shirt sitting on black rolling chair while facing black computer set and smiling
Photo by bruce mars on Pexels.com

Someone asked me why I have a blog. I do it because writing a blog helps me to express my thoughts in front of the world. Blogging helps me to stay up to date on current events about because I have to do research for my articles. It also helps me to learn new things. I have always liked learning and in fact I have attended 2 on-line colleges and the University of Buffalo on Main Street, Buffalo in the 60s.

I think writing a blog helps me to think clearly and deeply about my life, world events, society etc. Blogging helps make me confident about writing and helps me express myself and my opinions. It helps me become unafraid of making a mistake. Any time I get a date wrong or a fact wrong, people let me know. I now understand the adage “Cite a number or a date but not both.”

Having a blog where I can document and share my life adventures, ideas and struggles is a great way to stay connected with my family and friends some of who are hundreds of miles away.

I blog to write about the people and places that have made me happy throughout my life-like growing up in Buffalo. When I write, it is to share, with anyone that is interested, my thoughts and knowledge about a particular subject. I have so many wonderful fans that write to me about how much they like my articles. It is a great feeling to know that the articles I write can have a beneficial effect on someone’s life.

I don’t make any money out of writing my blog yet. This is not why I blog at this point. I also post articles as a guest on other online newspapers and websites like Art Voice. I do this to both garner new eyes for my blog and to help them out with content. Plus I also enjoy seeing my byline on articles I write. Some of these people make a living from this and I am glad to help out.

The more I write, the easier it gets and the better I think I become at it. Most professional bloggers write on a regular basis. I run my articles thru a spell checker, grammar checker and two plagiarism checkers. I even get feedback from readers, some good some bad. This helps me become a better writer.

Being a good writer is not required to a successful blogger. In fact many very high-profile bloggers are self-proclaimed lousy writers. Part of their success might be credited to their message of “If I can do it, anyone can”.

Most people start out with just one blog but as they gain experience and they sooner or later come up with other ideas for blogs. I am now on my third blog. What I have learned from my previous blogs will assist me in growing the readership of my current blog and blogs I may yet write.

Meanwhile, by cultivating my own online network of readers has created its own benefits, like gaining access to seminars, product unveilings, and other events. I wrote an article on being color blind that appeared in Buffalo Rising and was read by someone in California.

They contacted me and asked if I would be interested in trying out their glasses that help people like me with a color perception problem.  They ended up sending me $700 worth of glasses to try out for free. In fact I am wearing them now. Not too bad for writing a 900 word article on the difficulties I have being colorblind.

I also received a call from the owner of a restaurant I had reviewed. I had cited a few problems and the owner said he couldn’t have paid to get such an honest assessment of his restaurant. He sent me a $25.00 gift card even though I told him I wasn’t going to change the review.

Blogging is a great way for me to build up my writing portfolio. I get published a few times a week in local newspapers but blogging has enabled me to get readers from Maine to California. I have notebooks with my articles that have been published in local newspapers but by showcasing my writing skills on a blog, I can grow my exposure and possibly find a way to start getting paid for writing.

As the internet and technology become more ingrained in our day-to-day lives, the benefits of blogging become impossible to ignore. Gone are the days that I needed to program in HTML like I did when I wrote my first website, ten years ago. Websites such as WordPress.org or Blogger.com have made it relatively easy to set up a blog in 15 minutes or less.

Blogging makes me think about newsworthy topics and the world around me. A blog keeps my mind focused and sharper. I believe in the adage “use it or lose it” and at seventy I am still able to write two or three fairly lucid articles a week.

Apart from all the benefits of blogging I mentioned above, my blog might someday become a source of income for me when it achieves enough subscribers. I have not yet made any money off any of my blogs so far, but I just might.