Posts tagged reality
Self-publishing is a big industry right now. Which means big money. Not necessarily for authors but for companies who sell self-publishing services to authors wanting to self-publish. One contender, Balboa Press has been calling my cell phone every month or so. Writers Beware!
A class action complaint has been filed against Balboa Press’s parent company, Author Solutions, for its sketchy dealings that are bringing in the big bucks. The class action complaint breaks it down:
4. Author Solutions’ revenues are estimated at $100 million per year. Of the $100 million Author Solutions earns as revenue, approximately one third of that amount, or $33 million annually, comes from book sales. The rest of its revenue is derived from the services it offers, such as editorial services, formatting and design services, production services, and marketing services (“Services”).
5. Despite its impressive profits from book sales, Author Solutions fails at the most basic task of a publisher: paying its authors their earned royalties and providing its authors with accurate sales statements.
6. Author Solutions also fails to take diligent care of its authors’ works, making numerous and egregious publisher errors — errors made by the publisher, not the author. These errors include errors on book covers, in addition to various typographical and formatting errors. In fact, Author Solutions profits from its own mistakes. Aggressive sales techniques ensure that these errors are corrected only for a fee of several hundred dollars. Even though, as a matter of policy, Author Solutions promises to correct publisher errors for free, it rarely does.
7. Most of Author Solutions’ earnings are derived from its publishing and marketing Services. These Services, which can cost authors tens of thousands of dollars, likewise fail to deliver what they promise: more book sales and more opportunities for authors.
8. Therefore, even while Defendant Author Solutions prominently markets itself on its website as “[t]he leading indie publishing company in the world,” authors often discover, once it is too late, that Author Solutions is not an “indie publisher” at all. It is a printing service that fails to maintain even the most rudimentary standards of book publishing, profiting not for its authors but from them.
The apple doesn’t land far from the tree. I’ve had a pretty shady experience with Balboa Press so far. I’ve checked them out and everything I’ve read indicates they are ripping off their own customers. If you want a prime and horrific example look no further than this author’s experience:
The illustrative sketches and colorization were a disaster. It was apparent that there was a problem with adherence to the RAD/character description form. Pictures that were provided, or the coinciding text (page number and line number) from the manuscript provided to aid the illustrator were obviously ignored or subjectively reviewed. It was so evident, to the point where I was wondering if anyone bothered to read, or if they even couldread the RAD form. There was clearly no oversight of the illustrator’s work before remittance to me. I had continued to write, please call if you have any questions…
After months of inexcusable errors, it was apparent the Art Director, or whomever, did not adhere to “set up an artist that best suits your project.” The project was/is light, airy, and whimsical. I received “dark.” In most cases, the illustrations were sparse (not intricate detail) with no color consistency, no innovation, wrong genders, wrong race, missing or incorrect features, etc. An ancient woman was drawn as a bald-headed, old man numerous times, despite repeated pleas and request for adherence to the RAD and characterization forms. The little girl’s bed looked like a cot out of an army barracks or prison. Angel wings on a helicopter were inverted, objected to, and objections to the CIAC remained ignored – a lame excuse was offered.
My own experience with them so far has been subpar at best. They called me up and tried to rope me in by getting me excited about my novel’s potential. They told me how great my ideas were and how much I deserved to get my book out there. They wanted to help me achieve my publishing goals. All they needed was to relieve me of $999 to $7,999 of my money, and we could get started. Even if I had that kind of money lying around I wasn’t totally sold that first call. No deal.
A few months later someone else called again. But this person had no clue about me or my novel. What was my book about? No idea? Back to square one. Apparently no one at Balboa ever cares enough about what potential clients say to make any file notes. No points gained there. * Click.*
And on it went. For a few years now. (Yes really.)
Which brings me to another call today. Same thing. Starting from scratch with another clueless representative from Balboa. I wasn’t buying. *Click.*
Then I get the following email. Then it hits me. Not only did they pack this letter so full of stupid writing cliches that it reads hilariously, but they are preying on the dreams of writers’ with this letter and others like it.
Subject: Believe in Yourself
Be proud of who you are as a writer. An author’s voice is unique and no one will tell your story like you do. Don’t lose your voice. Stand out by having your own style. And your book doesn’t have to have an outrageous plot to be important. Simple can be good. Stick to who you are as a writer and your message will always hold significance.
Financial stability is a challenge nowadays. Money is something achievable but it will depend on you. It will depend on how committed you are in publishing and sharing your message to the world. Money comes and goes in life. If it is meant to be, it will happen. We can’t just wait for it to happen though. We need to do something about it. Dreaming for success is for everyone but putting it to reality is for those who are brave enough to take the next step even if there is fear of the unknown. Let us take this one step at a time.
Why make excuses when you can start your dreams? Why do nothing when you can begin something? Look, you have a lot more power within you that you’re revealing to the world. We all do. But because of distractions and interruptions and responsibility and excuses we sell to ourselves, we coast along at the same level for the best of our lives.
Only few have the guts to make A LEAP – a leap to new habits, new routines and a whole new story about their new place in the world and their service to it.
The Gandhi’s and the Mandela’s and the Zuckerberg’s and the Mozart’s were just ordinary people who had an idea, protected it from the voice of dissent, advanced it via tiny wins and got up every time they got knocked down.
You have this power too, but power unused deteriorates and potential not expressed turns to PAIN.
Now is your time to fly and to shine and to rise up. This is the day to show the world who you truly are.
I would like to assist you with your dreams. Yes, publishing will ask you to shell out money from your own pocket, but what I can assure you is that Balboa Press can expose you and your book to the rest of the world. This way you truly get to say to yourself, “I’ve done my part, let the book speak for itself now!” It is not easy to invest in something that you’re not sure of its future, but nothing is ever certain. What you can do as a writer is to invest in your dreams and believe that you can be someone that you never expected to be. Your sacrifices can result to a life changing journey if you give your book a chance.
All the best,
A DIVISION OF HAY HOUSE
[Contact Information Redacted]
This email is an advertisement.
So I’ll be staying away from Vanity Presses. There are ways to legitimately Self-Publish but using Balboa Press isn’t one of them. If they contact you, remember it is called a vanity press for a reason. They play to your vanity and emotions. I know they tried to get me that way. It’s enticing to think that the only thing standing between you and your dream is your savings. But it’s a gamble. And Balboa Press is the house that always wins. The only way to beat them at their own game is to not play.
I consider myself a very productive person. I get a lot of things done. I’ve accomplished quite a bit. I’ve written two novels, designed many websites, worked on Alternate Reality Games for organizations like the Cerebral Palsy Foundation and The World Bank, maintain an active social, family, and most importantly spiritual life. I take care of my health with doctor’s and therapy appointments, meet weekly with my writing group, craft excessively, serve in multiple church callings, and blog now and then. My plate is overflowing, so let’s just say I’m up to some big things! However, to date, I’ve managed to do all this without any significant structured planning of my time on a day to day basis. Maybe you’ll find it impressive that I’ve gone so long without any sort of a schedule or plan, just doing what seem right in the moment, as it occurs to me. That’s code for “whatever task is stressing me out the most that second”.
Enough is enough.
I decided it’s time to try Getting Things Done in a more organized way. Conveniently for me, Getting Things Done or GTD, as it’s often referred to by its adherents, is a system for just what its name implies – getting things done. It was created by David Allen, and there’re plenty of resources in other locations where you can learn more about GTD. But for a quick overview, check out this infographic:
Once I learned about this system, and with some help and advice from others, I decided to focus on creating a schedule for myself based on GTD. The idea being I would now have set “Bucket Times” to manage all the areas on my life according to the principals of GTD. But I’ll get back to Bucket Times later.
The main problem I was facing with finding a system that would work with me was finding something I could stick with. In the past systems either were so cumbersome, scheduling and planning me so rigidly that I couldn’t realistically do it long term. Or on the other hand, the systems were so vague and abstract, focusing only on broad goals that they didn’t help me commit to anything. The third category of problem systems were ones that were incomplete, only addressing certain aspects of what I needed from an organization system and leaving me feeling semi-organized but ultimately even more overwhelmed. Why? Because now I knew exactly what I needed to do but had no structures in place to help me accomplish any of it.
To address of this, I there are 4 major components to my personalized GTD system I am putting into place initially. (This is just to get started. After these are going well I will add more.)
- Identify 6-9 Major Areas of Life
- Roles and areas are the major categories of your life such as Family, School, Faith, Friends, Work, Writing etc.
- List 10 Most Pressing Tasks Under Each Major Role/Area
- Most pressing tasks are tasks that currently need to be taken for that area. For example, for Family, it might be something like “Spend time with Mom” or “Game Night.” For Work, it might be “Sign the Parsons contract” or “Return Sonya’s phone call.” Any task that has more than two steps is called a Project.
- Create A Weekly Schedule of Bucket Times To Stick To Each Week
- Bucket Times are blocks of time designated at the same time every week for completing tasks in each of your Major Areas. For example, I created Spiritual Time every evening from 10pm – 11pm. During those times I will refer to my List of Tasks for that Area of Life for to do items to complete. See the Downloads Section at the bottom of this post for an Excel template tool to help with this!
- Generate Mind-Dump Of EVERY Open Loop In Life
- Open loops are thought processes that are incomplete. They keep the mind’s inbox full when it’s most productive empty. Empty that inbox by downloading everything in it! Generate a complete list of everything, every to do, action item, task, someday task, maybe task, goal, dream ,wish, hope, plan, etc. Include everything from “Remember to pick up the milk” to “Improve relationship with Dad” to “Travel the world”. Get that mind completely empty and onto something tangible and permanent that is workable for future reference.
Once I had a plan of action, it was just a matter of putting it into place…
Starting is always easier said than done.
I needed some help getting started. So I decided to enroll someone else to do this thing with me. No, not all of you readers! My dear writing buddy who I create my day with every morning. I told her all about his idea and explained GTD to her (the Cliff Notes version). She was on board.
Over Skype, we came up with our Major Areas of Life. This is mine:
Next I began to list my lost pressing tasks under each area. I’m constantly working on my list.
Then I created a schedule by which I would process the list of tasks. But instead of a rigid list of strictly scheduled times like ones that hadn’t worked for me in the past, I am working with a schedule of Bucket Times. The beauty of Bucket Times is it structured enough in that it gives you a set time you are committed to making forward progress in an area of your life, but it is flexible enough that you still get to choose what is most expedient to do within that Area. Furthermore, the whole schedule isn’t so rigid that the whole thing risks being thrown off if you go over a few minutes. As I see it, if you get behind you are often still within your bucket time for that type of item. And even if you aren’t you can rest assured that you have more time scheduled for that item soon. So file add it to your Bucket Time list for later. Lastly, the overarching rule is that this isn’t a rigid system, meaning the operative work is: expediency.
When all else fails, do whatever is most expedient in the moment.
I am committed to using this new system for a trial of the next 3 months. In the meantime, I’m looking forward to seeing an upswing in my productivity. And more importantly a decrease in my feelings of overwhelm at not knowing how to handle the overflowing plate that is my life. In this analogy, I’ve been eating off an overflowing plate for a long long time. Sure I’ve been digesting my food and getting nutrient, but lots of things haven’t been sitting well. GTD is a set of silverware – tools to help me eat my food, so that I can take small manageable bites and digest it easily and effectively. The schedule works like a restaurant menu (thanks Paul for that one!) with various selections for each category of food or area of my life. Some items or Tasks on the menu are more bland and others are the spice of life!
Give me a helping of work every weekday. Indulge in a double portion of friendship on weekends. A spicy side dish of romance if I’m so lucky! Pile it on my plate and enjoy a delicious, nutritious, and satisfying life!
Stay tuned for Part Two of this post series on Generating a Mind-Dump of All Your Open Loops coming soon! Get an email reminder when it comes out! Subscribe to the newsletter!
I hope you enjoy the Downloads below. The Weekly Schedule Templates for Microsoft Excel should be helpful tools for planning a schedule in the fashion described in this post. Please post comments with ideas for improvements, and I will do my best to make them.
It was well past the stroke of midnight. My room had been turned upside down, and I was ready to cry in frustration. How could I have lost a letter I’ve been waiting for 15 years to open? A letter from one person who would never forgive me if I never read it – a letter from 15 year old self. It was 2:30am on October 23, 2013, and my 30th Birthday was already turning into a disaster.
Fifteen years prior, I had watched an episode of Northern Exposure in which one of the main characters, Maggie, receives a letter from her 15 year old self on her 30th birthday. She is then haunted by her 15 year old self while she comes to terms with who she is, who she was, and who she is becoming. I watched that episode on the last day of my 15th year. I was inspired! And I had little time to lose. That night after my family had gone to sleep I got back up out of bed and spent a few hours composing this letter to myself. I poured out my soul, instilling every ounce of my being in that letter, intuitively knowing that it would be so needed in 15 years. Flash back to the wee early hours of my 30th Birthday. The letter was nowhere to be found. But sitting around feeling devastated would get me no where. There was only one course left to take. Fervent prayers were answered. Inspiration struck. I remembered a 15 year old external hard drive that might contain a digital copy of the letter – the next best thing to the physical signed copy. And there it was. Right where I left it untouched by time for 15 years. I printed it out and started to read as the tears flowed down…
To: Lauren Drew Soffer
(This letter is not to be opened until October 23, 2013.)
It has probably been quite some time since you have heard from me, at least fifteen years to be exact. I just thought that you might want to hear from your fifteen-year-old self now that you are twice as old.
I try to imagine what you will be doing in your life right now. If we are anything alike then you are most likely taking a break from your incredibly busy life and something really important that you are suppose to be doing in order to read this letter. So where are you? Did you become a famous actress? Did you write a brilliant screenplay? Are you directing great movies? Or did you do something completely different?
Have you changed a lot in fifteen years? Are you closer to that idea person I am now working so hard to become? Do you still dream all of the time? I hope so. I love to dream. You remember that, don’t you? I love to occupy my hours with imaginary alternate realities of my life, present in future. Did you ever go on the Rosie O’Donnell Show like you so often dreamed? Did you ever meet Gillian Anderson? Well, it doesn’t really matter. My dreamtime is only a few steps above childish fantasies.
Well, enough with the questions I can’t get answers to. I will remind you a little bit of a little bit about me. Aside from school where, in my junior year, I am taking one honors and two AP classes, I am involved with a few (ha ha) extracurricular activities. I am the first alternate for Varsity Tennis, I really wanted to be one of the nine players on Varsity, but my serve isn’t ready yet. Next year. I hope that by the time you read this letter, you can really serve the pants off people, or at least have a good serve. Right now I am working on a Comedy Scene for the Drama Festival with Johanna Fair, Jeff Newman, Jeremy Nation, and George something or other. Jackie Luttrel is directing. We are doing the last scene from Play It Again, Sam by Woody Allen. Now that will be an old movie when you read this. Which reminds me, do they still have videotapes, audiotapes, and CD’s? Probably not. Anyway, I just tried out for our Senior Produced Winter Drama that is Love, Sex, and the IRS. I don’t think that I did that well. Only you know if I will get a part. I am also going to do Psychodrama for Advanced Peer Counseling, which is another thing I am doing. I love it. We went on out retreat together up to JCA Shalom, and it was one of the best experiences I had in a long time. I am on the grant writing committee for PC as well. Let’s see, there is also Comedy Sportz. It is one of the best things in my schedule. It is just so much fun, and I always look forward to it. I also am training Beginning Peer Councilors, going to Film Club (when it doesn’t interfere with writing the PC grant), and going to drama club. I believe that brings me to the last but not least thing on my plate, my job at temple as an assistant teacher. I have a second grade class this year, and I enjoy everything about it but getting up early on Sunday mornings. I’m pretty busy for a fifteen year old, huh? I am a little stressed over it all right now, but I enjoy doing everything so much I can’t give anything up.
So, that’s what I’m doing. Now, onto what I am like. I believe in believing. I like to think that there is still a lot in this world worth believing in. And, if the whole world keeps on believing, there will always be hope for the future. That’s another thing. I know that the young people are our future. That is why I love my job where I get to be a part of making the future. I believe that there is no greater gift you can bestow than your love. I try to give my love everyday. I’m not perfect yet, but I’m working on it. My goal is to be a person who never runs out of love to give and who is a strength and a model for those trying to be better people. And, I don’t think that my progress is going so badly. My best friend, Leslie, tells me that I am her strength. Basically all of my beliefs can be summed up in my goal for life: Before I die, I want to leave a lasting and positive impact, I want to make a difference to at least one person, I want to leave the world a little bit better than when I entered it, and I want to be a living example of love and kindness. That brings me to what I want to do with the rest of my life. I think that I am best suited to fully that goal by doing something in the entertainment industry. I think that I can really make a difference to a large number of people though work in that field. I want to act, I want to write screenplays, I want to direct, and I might want to produce (funny how my I-Search that I am working on for English is on this very topic).
Here are my other interests. In the area of television, these I the shows I watch: I watch X-Files religiously and consider myself a devoted X-Phile, I am addicted to the Simpsons (a highly intelligent and brilliant satire of society which also happens to be a hysterical cartoon), I am almost completely hooked on Ally McBeal, and I enjoy watching Inside Actor’s Studio. I must also make a note to a show I always love to see and without I wouldn’t be righting this letter right now: Northern Exposure. There was this one episode where in a flashback to 15 years earlier Maggie writes a letter to herself in thirty years. In the present, Maggie gets a hold of the letter and a whole thing plays out, but that isn’t the important part. The important thing is that I got the idea for writing this letter from the show. There are also an endless number of movies I love. One of my very favorites is The Princess Bride. But there are so many others I adore that I couldn’t name them all or I’d be here forever, however, for a dramatic piece, I liked the Piano, for a comical piece I like Forget Paris, and for one that just sticks out in my mind as being really good, I enjoyed Fried Green Tomatoes. Some of my favorite books include The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver, The Shipping News by E. Annie Proulx, Exodus by Leon Uris, and The Dune Chronicles by Frank Herbert.
My social life is as follows: My two best friends are Leslie Klein and Jackie Luttrel. I am closer with Leslie, but we also go through more rough spots, like the one right now, for example. I should also mention that we went to Spain together this past summer, I’m sure you didn’t forget that. I love them both to death though. I don’t know how I would possibly get through my high school life without them constantly being there for me, mostly to just let me vent. We understand each other in a very special way. They are what real friends are, or at least are the closest things to it that I have ever experienced. I also hand out with a lot of more casual, mostly drama friends. There is Johanna Fair, Blair Anderson, Jessica Yuda, Lauren Hubert, Tarren Polack, Shelby Schulman, Miriam Krikorian, and Brittany Stabile. I have especially been getting closer to Johanna lately because of Peer Counseling and the Drama Festival Scene.
Well, I guess that just about wraps it up for now. But I do want you to remember a few things. Lauren, you are an amazingly strong person. You have the power to change things in your life. Never feel like you have to settle. Remember the wisdom of the car commercial: “If everything were just good enough, would anything ever really be good enough?” Never loose hope, never stop dreaming, and never loose sight of those dreams. Don’t be afraid to make your dreams a reality. You are an incredibly talented person. You can do anything. “If you think it, want it, dream it, then it’s real. You are what you feel.” Never forget that Matt Kaplan always believed you could make it as an actress. Remember to remember what is really important in life, what makes life worth living, and place that thing above all else. Remember to spread light and to give and receive love openly. If you have forgotten any of this in the past fifteen years, then remember that it is never to late to change. Don’t forget the road less traveled by, it can make all the difference. Remember that, as Abraham Lincoln said, “People are just about as happy as they make up their mind to be.” And finally remember the great Dr. Seuss’s words from Oh, The Places You’ll Go,
“So be sure when you step
Step with care and great tact
And remember that life’s
A Great Balancing Act
And will you succeed?
Yes! You will indeed!
(98 and ¾ percent guaranteed)
Kid, you’ll move mountains.”
Lots of love,
(Fifteen Years Old)
October 22, 1999
When I finished reading the letter, I went right back to the beginning and read it again. Crying all the way though. It was so full of hope. So full of love. So full of excitement. So full of confidence. So full of wisdom, especially for a 15 year old.
Lots of things stood out to me. For instance, I did meet Gillian Anderson and I did get the part in Love, Sex, and the IRS. But what stood out to me the most was the last paragraph containing advice. It was wise beyond years and exactly what I’ve been needing to hear. In fact the one line that most stood out to me was, “If you have forgotten any of this in the past fifteen years, then remember that it is never to late to change.” That hit me really hard. And I have forgotten some of the qualities I had at 15. Namely that level of confidence I once had. I want that back. And as I said, It’ s never too late to change.
The only thing I have left to do is write another letter to my 45 year old self, but this time I need to find a way to hide somewhere more obvious. No need to go through all that stress on my 45th birthday again. Until then, I have mountains to move!
It is for us to pray not for tasks equal to our powers, but for powers equal to our tasks, to go forward with a great desire forever beating at the door of our hearts as we travel toward our distant goal.
Happiness is not a goal; it is a by-product.
I set goals for myself every morning with my friend over Skype. We talk about the space we are in, clear the air, and set goals for what we want to accomplish for the day and the kind of people we want to be while we accomplish it. For example, I might set a goal to write for two hours on my novel, and I create a context of doing that in a playful and creative mood. But setting the goals is only one side of the coin. The followthrough is just as crucial as the goal setting. Why do I set goals? I set goals because it gives me direction. More than that it creates the idea of the future I can then live into. It’s a powerful thing. The President of my church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, told this anecdote:
Several days ago, while driving to my home, I approached the entrance to Interstate 15. At the on-ramp I noticed three hitchhikers, each one of whom carried a homemade sign which announced his desired destination. One sign read “Los Angeles,” while a second carried the designation “Boise.” However, it was the third sign which not only caught my attention but caused me to reflect and ponder its message. The hitchhiker had lettered not Los Angeles, California, nor Boise, Idaho, on the cardboard sign which he held aloft. Rather, his sign consisted of but one word and read simply “ANYWHERE.” Here was one who was content to travel in any direction, according to the whim of the driver who stopped to give him a free ride. What an enormous price to pay for such a ride. No plan. No objective. No goal. The road to anywhere is the road to nowhere, and the road to nowhere leads to dreams sacrificed, opportunities squandered, and a life unfulfilled.
Thomas S. Monson, Which Road Will You Travel?
But how do I turn goals from dreams into reality? I find that it’s all about accountability. And accountability starts with a good plan. I was recently introduced to the SMART Goal Method of goal setting. SMART stands for:
- Specific: What will I accomplish?
- Measurable: How will I and others know I’ve reached my goal?
- Attainable: Do I have the commitment and resources to realistically achieve this goal?
- Relevant: Why is this goal important to me?
- Time-Bound: When do I expect to complete this goal?
I’ve also found it really helps to think of the most powerfully positive outcome I can have around this goal. So I ask myself the following questions:
- If I were to have a breakthrough miracle in this area, what would my life look like?
- What are the benefits of achieving this goal?
It is great to make goals, but it’s vitally important to put a plan for that goal into action. So I make a list of tasks or to-dos that will help me achieve the goal with target completion dates.
It’s important to have a contingency plan for possible challenges I might encounter while achieving my goal, so I make a list of possible obstacles and ways to overcome them.
Finally, I find it infinitely helpful to have someone who helps me stay accountable in my goal making. That is why my morning goal making has been so life changing. Out of that I’ve completed multiple drafts of both my novels, increased my productivity at work, and found more time left over to do the other things I love to do. I also haven’t forgotten to be grateful for how precious this life is and enjoy the journey.
In order to facilitate my goal making, I’ve made a custom worksheet in PDF format. If you download the worksheet you’ll be able to fill it out on the computer (you’ll even be able to check the to-do items off your list), save and print it. It’s free to download. I only ask that you don’t sell it. Also please don’t republish it without attribution (a link back to this article). Finally, please let me know if you have any feedback or suggestions on how to improve upon it! Enjoy!
Life is a noisy place. It often feels imposible to escape the noise of life. The traffic, the talking, the hum of electronic devices, cell phone rings, music blaring, Aside from the noise pollution, there’s even light pollution So many places there is so much ambient light that I can’t see the stars that surround me. Of course there’s ways to get away from all those types of noise in my life, but there’s a type of noise that’s much harder to get away from. The noise in my head. How do I escape the constant noise contained within my brain? Intrusions of thoughts and words and sounds and images that keep my mind so busy, that I it’s difficult to focus on what’s right in front of me. Distraction. Seemingly harmless most of the time, but in reality, potentially deviously dangerous. It’s scary to think what might be hiding amongst all the noise that’s right there, but, like the stars, just out of sight.
Sometimes I wonder if I keep all the noise there intentionally to prevent myself from discovering something about myself. But this isn’t something I’ve done on purpose. This is a coping mechanism. Keep my mind busy at all times and I won’t have to think about things that are painful. I won’t have to deal with the fact of having a chronic illness. I won’t have to recall vivid memories of time spend in the hospital that resulted in Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I won’t have to address ways I often feel inadequate or unworthy of being liked or loved by others. I won’t have to be confronted by instances from my childhood. Instead I can focus on the noise. And in a way it works like a charm. It works so well I can go for months or even years sometimes without addressing something that’s deeply troubling me directly. But it comes out in other ways. All sideways like. But the noise is just a distraction. And all distractions eventually come to an end.
And now that the magic of the distraction has been lifted, I don’t have to just stand here breathless with the rug pulled out from under me. There are things I’m learning to do to help me dissipate the noise and deal with the underlying cause of that made me want to distract myself in the first place. With the help of a therapist I’ve been learning to process the emotions that led to the noise in the first place. I’ve been learning to differentiate that I’m not the same entity as the noise. Who I am is a divine child of Heavenly Father. I am so much bigger than these disempowering distractions that got made up to keep me from dealing with my real emotions. I’ve also been working on being present and getting in touch with how I am feeling in the moment. It’s important to notice everything around me until my thoughts quiet down. The thing that helps me the most is to turn in prayer to my Heavenly Father and ask for His help in dealing with everything I’m going through. Once I’ve done that I can finally start to take action and make changes.
It’s a slow process for me, but it’s well worth it. I’m tired of being distracted from what’s right in front of me and all around me. I want to see my life for what it is. All it’s blessings. Especially the stars.
When people speak of the Atonement, they often speak of sin and the redemptive powers of the Atonement. This aspect of the atonement is crucial to our eternal Salvation and to our ability to return to live with our Father in Heaven again. Through the Atonement, we can be clean of our sins once more and able to live in God’s presence.
When people speak of the Atonement, they sometimes also speak of immortality. Through the Atonement, Jesus Christ broke the bonds of death, so that we too may be resurrected in perfect bodies.
But I want to speak about a third aspect of the Atonement which is sometimes referred to as the enabling power of the Atonement.
For years, I had been searching for a diagnosis for a slew of strange and debilitating symptoms. My doctors thought I had some sort of autoimmune disease, but they weren’t sure which one. Then, about a year and a half ago, I was hospitalized with a serious skin infection on my neck. The infection caused the unknown disease plaguing my body to suddenly get much worse. I woke one morning to discover that I was too weak to lift my left leg off the hospital bed. My right leg shortly followed.
As the severe weakness spread up my body, I knew I was in trouble when I started to lose my voice. Before long the muscles in my chest were so weak and tired that I couldn’t keep breathing on my own. My doctors rushed me to intensive care where they placed me on a machine that breathed for me for the next 7 days. I was subsequently diagnosed with a disease called Myasthenia Gravis in which the immune system attacks the connections between the nerves and muscles causing severe weakness.
So why am I telling you this story? This experience makes me think of the Atonement in several ways. It reminds me of this scripture from 2 Nephi 25:23:
“We know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do” (2 Nephi 25:23).
After I had done all that I could to and taken every last breath I could on my own, something outside myself breathed for me. And by doing so, saved me. Using the Atonement is much like this. When we are too worn out by life to take even more breath, Christ’s Atonement enables us to breath some more. This is the enabling power of the Atonement.
Elder Bendar writes:
“[ Grace is] a word that occurs frequently in the New Testament, especially in the writings of Paul. The main idea of the word is divine means of help or strength, given through the bounteous mercy and love of Jesus Christ.
“It is through the grace of the Lord Jesus, made possible by his atoning sacrifice, that mankind will be raised in immortality, every person receiving his body from the grave in a condition of everlasting life. It is likewise through the grace of the Lord that individuals, through faith in the atonement of Jesus Christ and repentance of their sins, receive strength and assistance to do good works that they otherwise would not be able to maintain if left to their own means. This grace is an enabling power that allows men and women to lay hold on eternal life and exaltation after they have expended their own best efforts.” (The Atonement and the Journey of Mortality)
How does Christ’s Atonement have this enabling power? It is because through the Atonement that Christ received divine understanding of each of us. Through the Atonement, Christ suffered for far more than our sins alone. Bendar writes:
“The Savior has suffered not just for our iniquities but also for the inequality, the unfairness, the pain, the anguish, and the emotional distresses that so frequently beset us. There is no physical pain, no anguish of soul, no suffering of spirit, no infirmity or weakness that you or I ever experience during our mortal journey that the Savior did not experience first. You and I in a moment of weakness may cry out, “No one understands. No one knows.” No human being, perhaps, knows. But the Son of God perfectly knows and understands, for He felt and bore our burdens before we ever did. And because He paid the ultimate price and bore that burden, He has perfect empathy and can extend to us His arm of mercy in so many phases of our life. He can reach out, touch, succor—literally run to us—and strengthen us to be more than we could ever be and help us to do that which we could never do through relying upon only our own power.
“Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
“Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.
“For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” ( Matthew 11:28–30 ).” (The Atonement and the Journey of Mortality)
Words cannot express how much comfort this knowledge brings me. Often times with the illness I suffer, I’m tempted to feel so alone. Like no one could possibly understand what I endure. But in truth, my Savior knows exactly what I am going through. He has already suffered all of it. He knows what the sheer terror of being too weak to breathe feels like. Of how helpless that felt. And, because he understands so precisely, he was able to give me exactly the kind of comfort and strength I needed to get through that experience.
He knew to fortify me with warm feelings of comfort and courage that I would be okay. He knew to prompt friends and family to visit me. He knew just how to love me through the ordeal. As it says in Alma 7:11-14:
“11 And he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people.
12 And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities.
13 Now the Spirit knoweth all things; nevertheless the Son of God suffereth according to the flesh that he might take upon him the sins of his people, that he might blot out their transgressions according to the power of his deliverance; and now behold, this is the testimony which is in me.” Book of Mormon, Alma 7:11-14
Because Christ suffered and even died for me, he could succor me according to my infirmities. What a great blessing that is. That we don’t have to feel alone in our infirmities, but instead have a Savior that can nurture us through our darkest hours because he has already endured them and so much more.
So how do we utilize the enabling power of the Atonement in our lives? There are five steps that I’ve come up with: repent, submit, pray for help, have faith, and act.
First we have to repent. D&C 19:16-19 reads:
“For behold, I, God, have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent;
“But if they would not repent they must suffer even as I;
“Which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit—and would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink—
“Nevertheless, glory be to the Father, and I partook and finished my preparations unto the children of men” ( Doctrine & Covenants 19:16–19 ).
To use the Atonement, it is required that we repent for our sins and take the upon ourselves the name of Jesus Christ. The sacrifice required of us is nothing more or less than a broken heart and a contrite spirit.
Next, we have to submit to the will of the Lord. As it says in Mosiah 3:19:
“19 For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the =fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.” (Book of Mormon, Mosiah 3:19)
It isn’t always easy to submit. It is often frightening to let go of the perceived control we have in our lives and turn our will over to our Heavenly Father. It helps me to remember that Heavenly Father can see the whole picture and has a plan for me. From my limited point of view, my life might look like abstract paint daubs where, from His eternal perspective, my life is a painting of a beautiful garden. With that knowledge, it’s far easier to submit to his will and trust that he will ultimately know what Is best for me.
Once you submit, the next step is to pray for help. Now there are lots of ways to pray for help. Sometimes, I am tempted to pray for God to just fix everything. “God,” I might say, “just make this all better. I don’t care how or what has to happen. Just fix it.” But I find I get much better results when I pray for the ability to solve the problem myself. Elder Bednar touched on this when he said:
“I come to understand and employ the enabling power of the Atonement in our personal lives, we will pray and seek for strength to change our circumstances rather than praying for our circumstances to be changed. We will become agents who act rather than objects that are acted upon (see 2Â Nephi 2:14 ).” (The Atonement and the Journey of Mortality)
Next, we have to have faith that this enabling power will come. Moses 1:39 reads:
“behold, this is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” (The Pearl of Great Price, Moses 1:39).”
If we have faith that this is true, we can have faith that the Atonement is here to bless us and help us overcome obstacles we couldn’t surmount otherwise.
Finally, we must show our faith by acting. This is so vitally important. We can’t just sit back and passively wait for the Atonement to bless our lives. We need to actively seek it out. Seek to understand it and apply it. Act in our lives with the faith that the Atonement will get us that extra mile if we allow it to work in our lives.
If we allow the Atonement to work in our lives, it will make the seemingly impossible, possible. Elder Cecil O. Samuelson Jr of the Seventy says:
“His perfect mortal life devoid of sin, the shedding of His blood, His suffering in the garden and upon the cross, His voluntary death, and the Resurrection of His body from the tomb made possible a full Atonement for people of every generation and time.
The Atonement makes the Resurrection a reality for everyone. However, with respect to our individual transgressions and sins, conditional aspects of the Atonement require our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, our repentance, and our compliance with the laws and ordinances of the gospel.” (What Does The Atonement Mean To You?)
Brothers and sisters, on this Easter Sunday, I sit before you with a testimony that Jesus is the Christ. That he died for our sins and was resurrected that we might return to live with our Father in Heaven again.
I have a testimony that it is that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do. That through the enabling power of the Atonement we are able to still receive life giving oxygen when we can no longer breathe on our own.
I have a testimony that if we repent, submit, pray for help, have faith, and act, the enabling power of the Atonement will work go to work in our lives.
Yesterday I went through the Temple for the first time and received my Endowment. I am so grateful especially for Temples on Earth again today and for the special Spirit I was able to feel there.
I know that the Book of Mormon is true. That it is another testament of Jesus Christ. That the Gospel has been restored. That Thomas S. Monson is a prophet of God on earth today.
I want to leave you with one of my favorite scriptures from 2 Nephi 22:2:
And I say this in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.
From a talk I delivered today in Church for Easter Sunday.
Sometimes I’m just really so grateful for my life. And though everything is ultimately all in God’s hands, I also know that God doesn’t want us to sit around and wait for Him. Going forward with faith, it’s really clear to me that there’s so much I can do to create what I want my life to look like. And so much of that has to do with attitude and structure.
I can chose to be apathetic, bored, isolated, or depressed about my life or I can choose to be excited, engaged, connected, and grateful about my life. And then I need to put that into a structure that reminds me and helps me fulfill on how I’m choosing to be about my life.
To give a concrete example, here’s what I’ve been doing recently. I’d been wanting to change how I’m being about my writing in my life. So now, most every day (six days a week), I get up and start my day at 8am by checking in via Skype with my writing buddy Yudit. In our conversation, we talk about where we are with our writing and what we are going to write next. We also talk about what’s going on in our lives and how we want our attitudes to be for that day. We put how we are going to be into words. For instance, today I’m my attitude has to do with being in touch with divine light in humanity, joy, and connection. Then we write until ten-thirty when we check in again to see how each of our writing projects went.
As a result, not only has my relationship to my writing transformed, but my whole life has transformed. I’ve gone from inconsistently writing about a thousand words a week to writing nearly a thousand words a day consistently. I’m now rapidly approaching the end of the first draft of my second novel, The Particulars. Things have shifted in my life as well. I start out the day now feeling so accomplished that my productivity has increased in every area of my life. I’m getting more website development done. I’m making more progress on the Alternate Reality Game I’m designing. I’m fulfilling on my spiritual goals by reading my scriptures and doing my callings.
And life is just plain good as a result. No, good doesn’t even begin to cover it. Life is wonderful. Life is miraculous and awesome. And I can’t help but feel so very grateful for the wonderful blessing of being alive to enjoy it.
In my life, I’ve found that everyday is the perfect day to make a resolution. Everyday is a perfect opportunity to commit to something that will transform my life into whatever I am determined to make it.
The key word for me is commitment. Doing what I say I will do when I say I will do it in the way it was meant to be done. This is no small feat. Days are busy and intense, and what I’m committed to often gets buried under layers of things that seem more urgent but are in reality less important.
Fear, too, can be commitment’s nemesis. Like so many people, I am afraid of change. I am sometimes afraid to commit to the very things I ultimately want. But it would be tragic to let fear of abandoning what’s not working but is comfortable determine what I am willing to commit to. So commitment takes courage. The best definition of courage goes like this: courage isn’t the absence of fear but a willingness to act in the face of fear.
So what am I committed to?
Three things immediately come to mind. Writing, health, and faith.
I call myself a writer. And writers write. It’s not hard to realize that I need to write. I have two novels I’m working on. One is a first draft and one is a second draft. I am committed to finishing them and getting them published. It’s great that I say I’m committed, but that is not enough. I need to take actions towards my commitment and be accountable for them. So over a week ago I set up a structure in my life to help me meet my commitment. I got in touch with one of the members of my weekly writing critique group and told her my commitment. I told her that I wanted to be working on my writing for 2 hours every weekday. And I asked her to be my accountability buddy in this commitment. She agreed and requested that I be the same for her. So last week, everyday at 8am we’ve checked in via Skype to talk about what we’ll be writing over the next two hours. The we’ve written until 10am at which point we’ve briefly checked in again to discuss how it went.
It has been a great experience so far. And it’s given me insight into a pattern of steps I need to take to meet my commitments. They are:
- Say it.
- Do it.
- Account for it.
“Say it” is just like it sounds. It’s declaring what I’m committed to and what actions I’m going to take to meet that commitment in a formal fashion so that it is clear what I’m committing to and what I’m going to do about it.
“Do it” means following through on those actions I committed to.
And “Account For It” means to in some way set up a structure of accountability for what I am committed to. That could be another person I ask to hold me to account or it could be something entirely different such as a reward structure for when I meet certain commitments.
So far I have a great structure in place for my writing. I’ve started to setup something similar for my health, but I’ve come up short in the “do it” and “account for it” departments. That doesn’t mean I have to beat myself up for not following through. It’s merely an opportunity to re-commit to my structure. And finally I plan to figure out some sort of structure to support my commitment to my faith.
So this year isn’t a year for New Year’s resolutions so quickly out of sight, out of mind. It’s a year of commitments. Commitments I recommit to everyday, every hour, every minute.
Last night I went to my ten year high school reunion, and it has put me in a reflective mood. It was fun (though somewhat strange) to see everyone after ten years apart. I was impressed by how friendly everyone was and how genuinely happy everyone seemed to reconnect with everyone. It has me thinking though about my seventeen year old self and who I thought I’d become verus who I’ve actually become.
When I was seventeen I had a lot of expectations for myself and everyone. The other day on Twitter I mentioned that I was “Trying not to compare myself to the me my 17 year old self thought I’d be by now.” My friend (@nerdgoddess) replied, “Don’t worry. I don’t think any of us live up to our teenage expectations.” I think this must be true. But I sure had a lot of them at that age. At seventeen, I thought that by ten years later I’d have made my first film, have a husband or at least a serious boyfriend, and be living on my own. None of these predictions were accurate.
At first I was feeling kind of bummed about what my seventeen year old self would have thought of me now, but on further reflection I’m really rather happy with where my life is at as unpredictable as the last ten years have been. It hasn’t all been great; don’t get me wrong. No one predicts or wants to think they are going to end up with a chronic illness. But there have also been so many wonderful things that have come of the last ten years of my life.
When I was seventeen, I was headed to the University of Southern California to study film. I wanted to be a director. Or at least I thought I did. And although I’m sure I could have found happiness pursuing that line of work, my real love is for the written word – specifically the novel. At seventeen, I never would have considered that I’d have it in me to write a whole rough draft of a novel by the age of twenty-seven or that I would be doing freelance graphic and web design. Or that I’d be designing Alternate Reality Games.
When I was seventeen, I was in the middle of a serious depression. My perfectionism consumed my life and made me miserable. Thanks to meds and therapy and a lot of hard work, I have found so much happiness in the last several years. And that is something I certainly didn’t expect at the time. In fact, at the time I didn’t even know what it was to be happy.
When I was seventeen, I was essentially an agnostic Jew searching for some meaning and connection to something larger. I NEVER would have dreamed in a million years that I would have found it in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. But a little over a year ago I did. And becoming Mormon has brought me a level of joy, comfort, and perspective on life I never anticipated was possible.
The last ten years have been a roller-coaster ride that my seventeen year old self never would have imagined. Sometimes the sudden drops and loops make me want to throw up, but all in all I wouldn’t get off the ride for anything.
There’s no denying that I am a bona fide geek. If you want evidence, you need look no farther than my Nymphadora Tonks from Harry Potter costume that I made from scratch and then wore to every movie and book party. Or perhaps the role playing game campaign online I run every week. Or the fact that I like to learn new software for fun in my free time. The list just goes on and on.
So yes, I’m a geek, and I love that I can call myself one. Geeks are some of the coolest people I know. They are uber intelligent, interesting, adaptable, creative, resilient, fun, and talented. In fact, geeks are in high demand in today’s culture. We have certain skills that others don’t. For example, many of us love games, codes, and puzzle solving.
One of my geekiest (and most favorite) activities utilizes all of these skills – participating in the world of Alternate Reality Games or ARGs. So what is an ARG you might ask?
An Alternate Reality Game is a unique storytelling format that uses the whole world as it’s platform (but mainly things like internet sites and blogs, tv, print, email, chat, phone, and live events). Often involving clues, hidden evidence, codes, and puzzles, the story is initially broken up and hidden in these various mediums, and it’s up to the players to collaboratively piece it together to progress the story as it plays out in real time.
So how does it work? It all starts with a trailhead or rabbit hole – the initial piece of information that leads you to the rest of the game. This for example might be an email you receive from one of the characters in the game asking for you help in locating his missing sister. The email might have a cryptic message at the end of it that leads you to his sister’s blog which in turn might talk about a sketchy company she got involved with before she disappeared. This takes you to the company website. Eventually the pieces start to come together and the story begins to unfold. And what the players do matters to how it all turns out.
I got involved with ARGs back in April of 2008 when I started getting more seriously ill with multiple autoimmune diseases. ARGs gave me something fun, creative, and intellectually stimulating to do from home in bed all through the magic of the internet. It also gave me an amazing community of fellow geeks who were just generally really smart, kind, wonderful people in my life.
Under the pseudonym IneffaBelle (or Belle), I played lots of ARGs and made lots of friends, both real and fictional. I also attended ARGFest the last two years in Portland in 2009 and Atlanta in 2010. I hope to attend this year’s ARGFest in Bloomington, Indiana.
Eventually I started working behind the scenes developing ARGs for others to play, and I’ve been working at that rather intensely over the last few years. I have several projects in development now, and I’ve found the development side even more fun and rewarding than the player side.
Sadly, I haven’t had (or made) the time to actually play an ARG in quite some time. But the other day I received this to my ARG email:
My curiosity was peaked by this cute sort of whimsical concept. The email led to http://sotanaht.com/ (how is detailed in this forum post on the ARG community site Unfiction). The first mission opened up today asking us to “mask ourselves” with masks provided on the site. Here’s mine:
How this particular ARG will unfold remains to be seen, but it’s certainly good to be back in the Alternate Reality Game!
Further Reading on ARGs:
Alternate Reality Gaming – A Definition – Brooke Thompson’s excellent and comprehensive definition of an ARG.
Alternate Reality Gaming – A Quickstart Guide – Brooke Thompson’s funny and informative guide to getting started with ARGs.
ARGNet – The best source of ARG news.
Unfiction Forums– Excellent forum for finding and playing ARGs.
IneffaBelle.com – My ARG website and resume.