Welcome

I am a freelance, nonfiction writer who cares about the environment, individuality, creative expression, and simplicity. I'm glad you've found my blog, and I hope you'll join in the conversation by leaving a comment. Disagreements are allowed, even encouraged, but cruelty, vulgarity, and slander is not.

A Sense of Accomplishment

January 23rd, 2015

New ideas give me a rush. They flood in and overwhelm all other thoughts, consuming my ability to focus on whatever task I was doing at the time. To make the most of a good idea when it comes, I drop the mundane and chase the possibilities.

"That would make a fantastic website."

"This is a story I need to write."

"Why hadn't I thought of that sooner; I must get started RIGHT NOW."

New ideas make me feel alive, as if I might still have something to contribute to this old world. Why keep plodding through an unfinished task, a report about yesterday, that letter I'm tired of writing, this data-collection scheme weighing down my eyelids? Finishing things is boring; I want to devour freshness.

Why? Because a sense of accomplishment never gets stale. In fact, it lets me sleep at night. After I finish a task I hear things such as, "take a break," "time to celebrate," and "good job." And because every idea is virtually worthless until it reaches completion.

So, what to do?

There is a way to trap the ideas so they don't get away, without having to act on each one the second it develops:

Write them down.

For those who get explosive torrents or regular good ones each day, take this advice to the next level: Start an Idea Journal. A simple spiral-bound tablet will do. Record the date if you want, but more importantly, document your thoughts. Write down enough information so that you can recall not just the concept but also the enthusiasm and emotion and the reason for the urgency.

Put the paper aside and go back to what you were doing. Then, on those days when nothing comes, open the journal and be inspired.

Humans are losing their sense of accomplishment because our brains are evolving with technology. This is especially true for the brain that grew up with computers. We are increasing our ability to process multiple streams of information at once, but we are decreasing our ability to focus. This is great for starting things, but not so great for finishing them. Still, we need to close the books, tie up the lose ends, and put the laundry away.

This blog post is an example of the "save it for later" technique I am suggesting. The premise originally flashed through my brain in October 2014, while I was updating the html code on my Website (boring). A few days ago, knowing it was time to post to the blog, I was burned out and empty. I opened my folder, plucked out a concept, and suddenly I was back on track. Not only did I successfully finish updating the navigation links at www.thewritebeat.com, I have completed this post, and thus can now celebrate two minor-but-mighty accomplishments.

Clearing the Road to Hybrid Car Ownership

January 8th, 2015

Gas prices are down. Drivers are celebrating. But does that mean we can slacken the conservation reins? Not as far as I'm concerned. For me, prices have no effect on my quest to burn less fuel. The cost of consumption is almost immeasurable when you factor in the associated environmental damage, corporate gluttony, health impacts, and spiritual conflict. I conserve because it's the right thing to do.

Which I why I jumped on my friend's suggestion when she said, "Your readers should know what I learned about buying a hybrid car. It's more affordable than you think."

I've known Judy for 15 years. She has always impressed me as a goal setter, a smart shopper, and a caring person. Plus, she has mechanical knowledge. I figured the best way to share her car-buying information was to let her explain it in her own words. Here is my interview with her:

Question: Why did you want to buy a hybrid? 

Answer: For better fuel economy and to help encourage industry to find better ways to be more environmentally friendly.

 

Q: Describe yourself as a shopper. Impulsive? Thoughtful? Unimpeded? Budgeted? 

A: All of these.  I know I can be impulsive, so I stop myself in process and start analyzing. I have a budget; it's small.

 

Q: Why did you initially think a hybrid wasn't an option for you? 

A: I assumed it was way out of my price range before I ever even looked into it.

 

Q: What changed? 

A: While shopping for a new car, the sales people explained to me that there are many incentives from our federal government to buy or lease a hybrid, so that it was not only affordable, but more affordable than a regular non-hybrid car.

 

Q: What kind did you buy? 

A: 2014 Ford C-Max Energi

 

Q: How do you like your new car? 

A: Absolutely love it!

 

Q: What is it like to maintain compared to a traditional car? More expensive? Less expensive? Bothersome? 

A: Easy, no different than any other new car.

 

Q: Do you have any hybrid-car-buying online resources you'd like to share?

A: No, just Google

 

Q: Is there anything else you'd like to say about the experience? 

A: Don't rule out hybrids if you're thinking of buying or leasing a new car. Explore all options.

 

Q: Please describe yourself.

A: I am retired from two careers, military and civilian, living on a strict budget, and totally enjoying life. I garden, do a lot of volunteer work with veterans and animals, and I support environmentally friendly businesses, especially small businesses.
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There you have it; hybrids are worth a look. When doing your research for tax incentives, add the syntax "site:.gov" to your search to obtain links to government websites.

Earth-caring people get a lot flack about burning fossil fuels whenever they speak out against the companies that produce it. "Hypocrites," the antagonists yell. But Americans have been victims of a manipulated market, one that has blocked meaningful, affordable gas and oil alternatives from getting beyond the prototype stage. That's changing. We've passed the point of such alternatives being "right" and reached the point where they are "critical." Today's options may not be perfect, but if you dig a little you will find more are becoming available, ones easier to acquire than in the past.

Thanks, Judy, for reminding us of that.

Everybody's Talkin'

December 5th, 2014

When Fred Neil released "Everybody's Talkin'," the stuff on his mind was different than what's on mine. Forty eight years later, I sing his lyrics because I too often hear:

Sell. Sell. Sell.

Buy. Buy. Buy.

"You need..."

"Isn't it time..."

"Aren't you ready for..."

"This is the most revolutionary..."

"How did you ever do without...."

Blah. Blah. Blah.

It's gotten worse. Advertising voices are everywhere. They break in at a frequency and volume that has become unbearable. Why?

Is it because there are more of us on the planet, so more of us have to shout to survive? Is it because so many of us already have what we need that sellers have to work harder to convince us to buy what we don't? Is it because our economic engine is straining from the weight of the billionaires, the new millionaires?

The Christmas holiday takes a lot of heat for its role in turning up the volume. I too must wonder if Santa isn't some ploy in a commercial conspiracy, planting a message in kids minds at an early age, "Life is about getting stuff."

However, I don't blame Christmas, because this is the one time of year when commercialism is exposed, like catching Santa with his pants down. Truthfully, I always enjoyed the magical mystery of the North Pole story. And now, being older, I realize that the presents were only a part of what made Christmas morning so great. (Sorry faithful ones; going to church for a birthday celebration wasn't it either.)

To me, the morning was about getting up before dawn (mom's groaning), sitting around a pretty tree and an old train set in our cozy PJs and smiling in the company of family. My brother wasn't mean to me. My dad wasn't yelling. My mom laughed easily. Christmas morning was daily strife interrupted by happiness.

Sure, the presents rocked, but the anticipation was bigger than the receipt. I tried to open slowly, to savor the moment. And it never failed, Christmas night sucked. What did I have to look forward to then?

Whether it's Christmas, a birthday, some Hallmark holiday, or just your daily routine, I'd like to suggest ways you can help tone down the selling chatter? I'm not talking about grinding our economic engine to a halt. I'm simply talking about changing the channel.

• Stop buying junk -- particularly gadgetry junk. Challenge: this Christmas do not buy a single electronic gift. Why? It's too easy and, next to car sales, electronics represent the noisiest babble of all.

• Use your purchases as a vote. Send a message that you will only buy inventions that solve real problems. The inability to lock your car door while flying over San Francisco is not a real problem. That you still need to fuel your drive through town with fossils is.

• Shift anticipation away from materials toward experiences. Extend the happy family time by doing something inexpensively fun.

• Buy from local small manufacturers whose budgets for product development exceed that of product peddling.

• Be creative and give of yourself. Make your gifts. Share your possessions. Offer your time.

• Consider all that you have when analyzing what you need.

• Stop counting billionaires. Who cares anyway?

• Sacrifice low, low prices for high, high quality.

And finally, when they start talking at you, put in some earplugs and say, "I can't hear you."

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Tell me, how do you deal with the noise?

Who is to Blame?

November 14th, 2014

Have you ever cursed the open overhead cabinet door for coming in contact with your head? It's funny how angry we can get at an inanimate object. Spilled milk. A locked door. The leaking roof. We ignore the fact that the object in question is really innocent. It is we who spill, lock, and fail to maintain. This "not my fault" subconscious reaction helps us deal with the frustrations of daily life. Seemingly beneficial and inconsequential, this response can also skew our better judgment.

Oil, coal, methane, carbon dioxide, and mercury are not to blame for pollution and sickness. It is we who mine, burn, and dump. The fossilized remains of ancient life hidden in the sand under a forest in Canada are not what make the Athabasca Oil Sands an environmental disaster. Should the Keystone XL Pipeline Project move forward, should we actually go ahead and increase the extraction and production of bitumen crude and send it 1,179 miles to the south through a 36-inch pipe, humanity -- not the oil -- will be the defendant on trial for all that goes wrong in court of ecological health.

Athabasca Oil Sand 1984 from NASA Earth Observatory
Athabasca Oil Sands, 1984, NASA Earth Observatory

Athabasca Oil Sands from NASA Earth Observatory
Athabasca Oil Sands, 2011, NASA Earth Observatory

We must control our actions. We must accept responsibility for our part in closing the cabinet door, moving the glass of milk out of the way, and repairing the old roof. And we must stop exploiting Earth's elements. Period.

Who is responsible for climate change? I really don't care. It doesn't matter to me. I reject that question entirely, because this decade's old call for awareness has turned into THE scapegoat for consequences that ARE entirely our fault. Instead of using every scientific mind to find alternatives to the exploitation, we waste time looking for proof that we've done something wrong. Pollution. Surface destruction. Tainted water. Wasted water. Sick children. Dead birds. I can laugh at myself for yelling at the cabinet door, but beyond that it gets just plain embarrassing.

A Path to Health and Connection

October 24th, 2014

Do you wish you could get more exercise? Do you wish you had more time to yourself? Do you wish you could escape once in a while?

There is a phenomenon in American culture: we don't do the things we know we need to. No matter how much we understand the value of exercise and stress reduction, we push aside the activities required to achieve our goals, as if these were luxuries we haven't yet earned.

"I cannot take time for myself; my family needs me," the tired mother says.

"I cannot afford the equipment I need to start an exercise program," the busy employee says.

"Somehow the day's end comes before I manage to take that walk," the blog writer says.

Guilty as charged. Productivity. Health. Focus. Happiness. Success. I know I can gain all five with one act, yet day-after-day I don't do what I need to do. And all I need to do is go for a walk.

Thus, I have made a commitment in order to break this cycle of failure. I have woven together a plan, and I hope you'll come along with me.

Loyal readers already know that I've had a new project on the horizon. I hinted at it when I sent out an exclusive readership survey invitation last season. Fifteen percent responded (thank you!), and a synergy was found in what was written. Here is a summary:

• Of all the subjects listed, no one liked gym best in school.
• No two respondents share the same profession.
• 80% want to be outside.
• While only one person gets to be outside for his or her job, the majority is satisfied with number of hours they work.
• Everyone has reasons to care about the environment.
• No one believes the earth's climate is remaining the same.
• Most people check the weather every day but not more than once.
• Birds and water ranked highest among people's favorite outdoor-related things.
• We live in a variety of environments (urban, rural, etc.)
• Most of us began using a home computer after the age of twenty, and most still prefer to read digital content on a computer or laptop, none of us via a phone.

As for what was liked and disliked about this blog, the answers were all over the map. "Too long," "a bit preachy," "not enough graphics," and "not enough solutions" were negatives offset by "very succinct," "love the kindness," "informative," and "clean design." Of course, I've taken it all into account, both negative and positive. Each comment is a thread in my woven plan.

And so, here it is:


Today's Walk

www.TodaysWalkOutside.com

This is a new blog that is set to launch in the next few days. Walk with me each day, in all kinds of weather, down a variety of paths, and through a world that offers an unlimited supply of prompts to get me thinking about my role in it.

Each post is short and falls into one of four categories: facts (nature-related knowledge), events (cyclical or unusual), observations (life-related metaphors) and tips (instruction, gear, advice).

This does not mean Back to Basics will end. The frequency may change to every-other-week, but the writing will remain the same. I cherish you loyal readers of the Back to Basics blog, many of whom have been here every week since it began in 2008. With fewer than 300 people on the mailing list, 60 of whom I know read every post within 24 hours of its release, I am honored to continue to share my thoughts with you.

Meanwhile, in order to continue to write, in order to stay healthy both physically and financially, I need to expand. And here's where I need your help. Today's Walk must reach an audience that is 100 times greater than Back to Basics. This is for a variety of reasons, most of which centers on satisfying the wants of the publishing industry. I am actively seeking an agent in a very competitive marketplace, and nothing peaks the publishing world's interest more than a large reader following. In short, Today's Walk has to be big.

The first post will be ready soon. After the release, if you like what you see, please tell a friend. Please continue to offer feedback, privately or via the comments. Please continue to care about the natural world so that together we can inspire more people to walk down the path that connects us all to better health.