Tuesday, December 30, 2008

What I have learned (or already knew) in 2008

We've made it through another year (heaving a big sigh). 2008 had some ups and some downs. So what have I learned?
  1. My family supports me through thick and thin. I knew this before but in the past year it was very clearly illustrated to me. I really, REALLY know this now.
  2. Really good friends are like diamonds. Hard to find but precious to behold.
  3. Democracy is very fragile, even in first world countries. Look at the current Canadian political crisis.
  4. China can paint a cheery face on their massive social problems, but in the end, it's just stage makeup. Wonder what happened to all the Beijing vagrants after the Olympics.
  5. Rampant greed on Wall Street adversely affected the entire world, trashing the world economy.
  6. eHarmony and other online relationship websites seem to be taking off in popularity, now more than ever. Good thing? Maybe. Bad thing? Just be careful. Meeting people online requires that the genuine participants exercise due diligence when meeting their matches or giving out personal information.
  7. Salsa dancing is great exercise, fun and sexy as hell.
  8. Letting go of past hurts is essential in order to move forward.
  9. When threatened with violence, act as insane as humanly possible, if you can't get away. No one wants to mess with insane people.
  10. No one has the right to emotionally, mentally, verbally, sexually or physically abuse you or your family. Protect yourself and your family. 
  11. Live your life with a musical soundtrack - makes commuting, housework, working, writing so much more enjoyable.
  12. Dance at least once a day.
  13. Sing at least once a day.
  14. Laugh every day.
  15. Exercise a little every day.
  16. Feed and nurture your body properly and take care of yourself. You only get one body. Don't pollute it.
  17. Feed and nurture your mind properly. You only get one mind (unless you have multiple personality disorder which is a whole other problem) so be aware of what you're feeling and why you are feeling a particular way. Your core beliefs inform your feelings - explore your core beliefs and if some do not serve you well, change them. Get help if you need it.
  18. Love yourself. No one else knows you better.
  19. Meditate on a daily basis.
  20. Stand up for yourself. You are your best champion. Set your boundaries and stick by them. You  teach others how to treat you, so teach them to respect you.
  21. Achieving your dreams takes patience, persistence and more persistence.
  22. Do something that scares you (but won't hurt you or anyone else) like public speaking. It expands your life.
  23. You are perfectly, fragilely human. 
  24. Don't point fingers. Someone said once something like "let he who is without sin cast the first stone".
  25. Instant messaging/chatting online is great but can land you with some startling results. No, I'm not explaining this one :)
  26. "No" is not the final word, unless something criminal or unethical is happening.
  27. Miracles are scientific or spiritual things we don't understand.
  28. Try to be nicer to people than necessary because you never know what they're going through behind the scenes.
  29. The unexpected happen every day.
  30. You can change your life in a single second.
  31. There are exceptions to everything.
That's probably not all I learned or knew in 2008 and I could keep going but I'm going to stop here.

Have a wonderful, prosperous, Happy New Year and may all your fondest dreams, desires and wishes come true.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Don't you just hate...

Don't you just hate it when you call an airline for information and they send you through voice menu hell? I swear, sometimes the most unhelpful companies in the world are airlines. And no doubt the staff at the airlines dread having to deal with customers driven irate by the endless menu options that are no real option at all.

Why can't I just press zero and get some assistance, for Heaven's sake? Now voice menus have gotten rid of dialing zero to get an actual real live person on the other end. No doubt too expensive to have to hire someone - they've taken away meals, soft drinks, water, movies and hand you a teeny-tiny bag of cardboard pretzels as compensation. Now you need five dollars to buy a can of soda, after having paid hundreds if not thousands of dollars to get to where you need to go. 

They've gotten sneakier with ways to hide how to talk to a person. Sometimes you have to press "#" or "*" or some combination thereof. Or if you do get a real person on the line, they tell you to call another number where the other number puts you through voice menu hell. Again.

And when you do get someone, they have no idea what they're talking about. Even if I ask about really, really basic things like can I get luggage loss insurance or health insurance for my trip. Even that is asking more than they know, and some of these people are the supervisors. I called one of the Internet airline booking services the other day, by some miracle of Christmas, I got the supervisor on the line and even he couldn't tell me if I could insure my baggage against loss. He didn't have a clue. He would only tell me that I could have health insurance. What kind of travel operation doesn't have luggage loss insurance, I ask you? I can't even ask if I have a connection that I absolutely, positively must make, will the airline ensure I get to where I need to go. Will they hold the airplane if they're late because I need to make it to my destination or I might as well just shoot myself. It's just insanely stupid.

Why won't someone at the airlines or travel agents' booking offices just talk to me and tell me the truth? Why can't I rely on the travel industry to train their people so they know what they're talking about? Why are the travel people on the telephone so unhelpful? Why, why, WHY? Aaaaaaaarrrgggggghhhhhh!

I realize the time of year is not conducive to travel agents being able to help everyone with their plans. Christmas is an insane time in the travel industry.  But they know it comes every year - why can't they plan to have more people on staff through the Christmas season? Why is there no back-up planning in evidence?

They just want to herd us onto planes, trains and automobiles at outrageous prices and not hear a word of complaint. And if you're paying many hundreds of dollars for service, why is all the service at an extra charge? Oh, you want to choose a seat for your flight? That will be $22. Oh, you want to have a guarantee that we may be able to get you to your destination on time as required? That will be another $35. Oh, you want headsets to listen to the movie that cost you $5? That will be another $5. Oh, you want to be fed on a twenty hour flight? That will be another $75 - each way, thank you very much for acting like the mindless automaton we want you to be. Just hand over your moola. 

Oh and really, the flight crew isn't required to be polite to you, even if you are always polite to them. And, by the way, we forgot to tell you that, tee hee, your pilot was trained in the jungles of Papua New Guinea so the pilot doesn't have any verifiable flying credentials. Have a wonderful flight. Buh-bye!

For God's sake. 

I'm going to wait until later to book my travel even though it'll cost me more because I can't deal with these people now. ***rolling my eyes*** 

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Fear Not, My Love

Fear not, my Love,
The passage of time against which
We sail into the unknown ages

To make love of our words,
To experience our expense,
To laugh at our selves, our lives,
Was worth the price

Subtlety amidst the obvious
Shrouded against the world
We converged souls and grew to be more,
Became one for a single spark of eternity

Though we never met
We are together
Though we never touched
We are lovers
Though our time short
We are forever

Copyright © Brooke London 2008

Live the Music, Write the Music

Music has been a part of my life since I was seven years old and my parents bought a secondhand practice piano from a convent for, I think, $200. I can’t say I appreciated the thought behind it at first. Being forced to sit there every day for fifteen minutes with the timer on the oven set. As soon as the buzzer went off, I took off. And sometimes I got away with not practicing. However, we did have a cat for a short time who seemed to love prancing down the keys at midnight.

I think I was thirteen when I stormed out of my last piano lesson and stated to my mother than I was never going back to lessons ever again and I would never touch the piano again. My two sisters had already given up playing piano before that, so I couldn’t understand why I was being tormented with lessons. I was a crap player, didn’t like the music I was playing and didn’t see the point. What can I say, I was thirteen.

Two years later, at the age of fifteen, I heard the beckoning call of the poor instrument abandoned in the basement. It was a beautiful piano, oak I think, but with one small chip on the edge of the key of middle C. The sounds it produced were rich and vibrant, like a wonderfully aged port. Time had imparted a particular deep resonance to the notes when played. None of this tinny sounding honky-tonk stuff – a comforting, inexplicable, full sound emanated from the strings as the soft hammers struck them.

And I was hooked. With additional maturity, I found I was able to play and enjoy more complex pieces. I loved that piano. It was the place where I found solace from the pains of adolescence and anxiety of life. I would lose myself in the music because playing it pushed everything but the music out of my mind. I played that piano whenever I could throughout the rest of grade school and to the end of university.

After university, I traveled for a year and a half and didn’t have the opportunity to play. When I arrived back home, I couldn’t afford to take the instrument with me when I moved to Toronto so it was sold. I wanted to cry.

For eleven years after that, I didn’t have a piano. And then one day I was ‘given’ a piano as a ‘present’ from my then-significant other. It was also a beautiful instrument with a wonderful sound. And it was like I had never been without a piano. Again, I could play more complex pieces and truly appreciate the art behind the music, appreciate the composer, appreciate the mind-clearing reality of music and just be.

It was with playing piano and listening to other music that I was able to write my first novel. Music inspired me, it led me to different conclusions, different methods, a different…me. If I wanted to write something upbeat I would listen to upbeat music. If I needed to write a sad scene, I’d write to sad music. All the moods in the world captured in time and in writing with music.

When my relationship ended with my ex, he took my piano away, took back his present to me, even though he did not play the piano. And so now, I do not have a piano again. I seem to keep losing them in one way or another. I will buy another one someday.

I like to live my life with background music of my own choosing and playing, sort of like that spoof soap opera back in the 1970s named ‘Soap’ with Katherine Helmond. The matriarch of the wealthy family, played by Katherine Helmond, wanted to live her life to a soundtrack. At the time it was just a joke to describe her wacky, oblivious character.

Geez, maybe I’ve turned into a wacky, oblivious character. Although owning an iPod helps me to have a soundtrack for my life. You can never tell where life will lead you I guess. But I will own a piano again and this time it will be all mine. That is a promise.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

So You're Writing Your First Book...

A little while ago, a Facebook aspiring writer asked me for advice on how to keep the motivation going to complete her first book. I don't pretend to be an expert by any means, but this was my answer with some edits for clarity:

Congratulations on writing your first novel! It's an exciting, frustrating time for you.

I think writing your first book is more difficult in some ways than writing your next books. For a lot of authors writing their first book, they're sort of out there in the wilderness without any support and just winging it, hoping it'll turn out. One of the best things you can do is to join a writing group - they help to keep you motivated and moving forward. It's inspiring to hear how others in your writing group succeed and how they did it. Also gives you more ideas on what you can do. Having a critique partner is also motivating and encouraging.

Also, for writing, some days your muse is on vacation. In those cases, don't stop writing - just write about something else other than your book, update your blog if you have one, journal. Just something to keep you writing and your brain functioning. But don't stop writing.

You can try to set aside a period of time each day, a date with your manuscript every day, and just sit in front of your computer for twenty minutes. Often, just forcing yourself to sit there and stare at the thing helps to get everything going.

Be patient with yourself. Some people take years to write a book. Kelley Armstrong took seven years to write her first book and now she's a New York Times Bestselling author.

If you've run into a road block and don't know what to do, I have found that there is normally something wrong with my plot. It may take me a month of whacking my head against the wall before I realize it. So if you find you can't move forward, revisit your plot to see if something is not working there.

My advice, and some may say differently, is not to worry about finding a publisher until you've at least completed your first draft. Do take a look at which publishers you think will be interested in your writing and their guidelines ("The Writer's Market" is a must-have book for all the publishers, editors and agents out there) but don't approach them until you've polished your manuscript. For first time writers, the publishers want to know that you can complete a book you've started.

When it comes to submitting your manuscript, expect rejection. You will be rejected, maybe less than other writers, maybe more than other writers. I'm not trying to discourage you. I have a binder full of rejections from publishers and agents. Most writers have a drawer, file folders or boxes filled with rejection letters. They say (whoever they are) that on average if you're going to be published it takes five years. I don't know where this is from but in my experience it's fairly close to the truth. Most writers I know have 5-6 manuscripts collecting dust under their bed before they sell their first book. Some will sell their first book - I did but that's a little unusual - but it took me one year of writing, one year of editing and two years of schlepping it around before a publisher contracted me.

Editors, publishers and agents are not infallible. If they get your manuscript when they're having a bad day, then your manuscript could be rejected. After all, they are human too.

I hired an editor to do a manuscript evaluation on my book before sending it out to anyone. I wanted to know if what I wrote was total garbage - it's easy to lose perspective on your own writing. I found my hired editor a little pricey but absolutely worth the cost - I learned a lot from her including the fact that in her opinion the book was marketable as long as I made the changes that she suggested. And she was right, I made the changes and a publisher contracted it.

If you feel the editor you hired is totally off-base, then go with your gut feeling. Give your most honest friend your book to read, so that he/she can give you really, really honest feedback. You don't want to be squeamish about this, but at the same time you need to trust the person giving you the feedback and take it with a grain of salt. If you feel strongly that something you've done is right, then go with your feeling.

I hope I have provided you with some ideas.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Let My People Vote

I have a few (okay, a lot of) hot button issues that are guaranteed to get a rise out of me. Politics, emotional, mental, physical or sexual abuse of anyone but especially of children, terrorism, genocide. The other topics annoy me mildly: traffic, waiting in long lines, high heels, the outrageous prices of food/gas/electricity, you know, the everyday issues. But politics…politics are driving me nuts in the past week.

In Canada right now, we are having a huge political crisis. The crisis is unprecedented in Canadian history: we're pulling ourselves apart. Neighbor against neighbor, friend against friend. Canadians are known for being somewhat apathetic when it comes to politics; after all, Canadians know that politicians are people with massive clay feet who speak out of both sides of their mouths. It comes down to a choice of the lesser of two/three/four evils. Cynical? Maybe. But also realistic and pragmatic. In Canada, unlike the USA, we vote for a party instead of for an individual President. The party elects their party leader and if that party gets more votes than the other parties, then that leader will be Prime Minister.

Until the past week and a bit. Canada had a federal election on October 14 2008 and we elected a minority government. The previous government was a minority government that lasted two years or so. Prior to that, minority governments didn't generally last more than a year, not including during WWII. Anyway, the parties who lost are now banding together to form a Coalition government backed by the Quebec separatist party, making the separatist party the 'king maker' and giving the separatists veto power over all decisions that affect all Canadians.

This is apparently not unconstitutional, but I feel...I know it is unethical. After all, no one in Canada voted for or against a coalition government, especially not one backed by a separatist party whose only interest to undermine Canada in whatever way possible. You have to know that when a proposed government allows a separatist party unprecedented power in something they wish to destroy, there are some serious problems with the people in charge of the situation. The opposition parties are attempting a bloodless coup in parliament, a blatant power grab, for something they could not gain legitimately, hoping that the Canadian people will behave as they normally do: apathetic and fatalistic.

The opinion polls indicate that if Canada went to vote again that the current minority government would turn into a majority government in of unheard of proportions because many people, Conservatives, Liberals and NDPs alike, including myself, think this is a subversion of democracy in the most cynical, selfish, self-aggrandizing way possible. I can accept that the minority government will fall on a non-confidence vote. What I cannot and will not accept is a coalition government, backed by separatists, which no one voted for or against. There was no coalition party option on the ballot I used to vote. This is a bait-and-switch tactic.

During the run-up to the election, the opposition parties flatly denied that a coalition would be a consideration. If the current minority government falls, I call on the Governor General of Canada, Michaƫlle Jean, to immediately dissolve parliament and call a new election. I want my vote. Canadians who believe in fair play want their votes. This attempted theft of the House of Commons is unacceptable on all levels. It is the desperate bid for supremacy by the losers of the last election, who will do anything for power. They do not have the best interests of my country at heart, they think only of themselves and their political scheming, acting like Canada is a Monopoly game.

I can't even get my federal government representative, my Minister of Parliament (MP), to return the telephone call I made to him last week. I will be making daily calls to his office in an attempt to speak to him; he is supposed to represent his constituents and I am one of them. It is my impression that he believes he will be the next Prime Minister, the great pretender to the throne, if the coalition is successful in this heinous plot.

Moses said, "Let my people go."

I say, "Let my people vote."