Feb 21

Beyond the Wall

I was intrigued by the title–Beyond The Wall: The Human Toll of Border Crossings. This lecture was sponsored by Wallace House and given at the Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan on Wednesday, January 31, 2018.

There were three speakers: Brooke Jarvis, Jason De Leon and Ann Lin.

I was especially intrigued by Brooke Jarvis, a journalist and 2017 winner of the Livingston Award for her story “Unclaimed “. It was featured in The California Sunday Magazine in 2017.

About 18 years ago, a man was found in the desert of the southwest United States. There had been some kind of accident and he was taken unconscious to the hospital. He was in very bad shape.

The man had no identification, and because he was unconscious, no one could ask him who he was. This man was kept alive for years on respirators. But, who was he? What was his name? Where did he come from? Did he have family waiting for him?

Eventually, after 18 years, a Border Patrol Agent came to see him. He was determined to find out who this man was. He ordered the man’s information put in several government databases. Within two days the man was identified and his sister located.

For families of people who try to come to the United States illegally, a source of great trauma is, if they don’t make it, how does the family find out what happened? For years these families suffer–wondering, worried and traumatized.

Our current border walls and surveillance systems in the southwest United States are quite secure. The only way left to try to cross illegally is through the desert. Many people, if not most, die because of the terrain, lack of water and the terrible heat.

Currently there are about 800 bodies in morgues in the southwest United States waiting to be identified. There are also online websites for families seeking information about their loved ones who never arrived.

Wouldn’t it be humane, once someone has died trying to cross, to let their families know? Technology has advanced so much that this could be done by the repatriation of bodies or DNA evidence.

What do you think?

Feb 10

A Writer’s Confessional – Part One

Trying to figure out what process I want to take this year for the Deadwood Writers Voices has been a swirling dilemma for me this past couple of months. And I discovered through my creative process last year writing the meet-cutes drew me away from writing my novels and editing my works in progress. It helped with future story ideas, but my other works got sidelined. I’m striving to balance each piece of my writer’s life, and my artwork—which I’m developing more to open my own business—by using the scheduling process I’ve launched. I’m hoping it will allow me to see how to accomplish everything I want to each week, month, and year.

My weaknesses to this end are reading too much of my favorite genre, romance, and leans heavily on procrastination which is a result of my fear of failing what I’m trying to accomplish. The fear of failure is another reason driving me to schedule things. I can hold myself accountable.

One of the highlights of writing things down has been, aside from the monthly schedule, my bullet journal. I started this along with the scheduling so that I could see my progress. It has helped. I write down every accomplishment. I’ve blocked off six columns which are designated as follows, each day of the month, Hot Blacktop (I needed to fix some grammar and word confusion issues, so I could upload the new content), A New Life (work in progress), Hot Turns (the sequel to Hot Blacktop), DWriters (our blog), and Other (which could be a new story idea or even my artwork). What is exciting about using the bullet journal is I can focus on the accomplishments. If I can see what I’ve done every day, I know I’m progressing even if it is baby steps. It might not be even more than a couple of hundred words, or questions I’ve answered regarding characters and content that will make the work stronger. It’s progress, so I’m going to record it.

Talking about progress, learning more about writing techniques to improve my skills or getting advice from experienced authors on how to be a better writer is on top of my to-do list. Compiling a list of books to read this year has been fun, so I’m sharing the non-fiction list I’ve gathered so far. These are in no particular order, and each is linked back to Goodreads.com.

I hope you would comment and add any books that have helped you in your writing journey, or any book that has helped you in life.

The window into my writer’s life at the beginning of this year has been a short one so far, but insightful. I hope you’ll continue along on my journey and see what happens in the coming editions of my writer’s confessional.

Happy Writing!

Feb 05

My Introduction to Video Game Streaming

I am someone who consistently loves trying something new.  This has lent to me having a lot of hobbies, such as video games, writing, and photo manipulation.  Overall, I would say I’m a very creative person with a passion for delving into games.  I believe there have been times in my life where I wished I could make some sort of living from video games.  I remember a period of time where I thought about seeking employment as a game tester, but nothing ever came of it.  Nor did I have success in pursuing a degree in software engineering; that never panned out because a full-time job took priority over college courses.

About half a year ago, I started viewing videos on YouTube from a vlogger called Tipster.  He is someone I gradually found I had much in common with and I started looking forward to whatever new videos he’d post.  After several months, I started checking out live broadcasts (or streams) of his on a site called Twitch.  Over time, more channels got added to my watch-list – among them Katastrophe, Stando, and YeskaYuggz, Tipster’s sister.

The more time I spent viewing streams, the more it felt like something I wanted to try for myself.  This feeling was compounded when I viewed a YouTube video from Tipster on what it took to be a successful streamer.  Providing a good commentary, engaging with your audience in the chat room, and just being yourself and having fun are key components to building a thriving Twitch channel.

The start of 2018 felt like a good time to try something new.  After researching what I’d need to begin streaming, I bought a set of headphones with a mic attachment.  On January 9th, I broadcast my very first video game – Dead in Bermuda – from a Surface Book.  The basic premise of the game is to keep the eight survivors of a plane crash alive until they can be rescued from the tropical island – not necessarily Bermuda – they’re stranded on.  I had attempted multiple times to get through the game, but all of my playthroughs ended with two or more characters starving to death.  The longest I lasted was around 29 days.

I started streaming Dead in Bermuda with the intent to survive for 50 days if possible.  I don’t know if it’s because I was taking my time and thinking things through more, but I surprised myself by actually making some good headway this time.  I started feeling more confident that I would make it through the entire game with all eight characters.  This belief changed when one of the survivors – Illyana — died of illness on Day 47.   The next night, her father, Yuri, succumbed to depression over losing her.  Despite this setback, I ended my stream at the 50-day mark with the resolve to try to make it through the rest of the game with the remaining six characters.  It might be difficult since Illyana and Yuri were the most skilled at researching and scavenging, but I aim to do my best.

On the flip side, my forays into streaming were just as much of a learning experience.  When I reviewed the first couple videos I recorded, I discovered that the mic on the headphone wasn’t the best.  In addition to picking up my voice really well, it also recorded every breath I took.  I hate to use the term ‘mouth-breather’, but that is pretty much what it sounded like.

Prior to my final recording of Dead in Bermuda, I decided to invest in a webcam.  I believed it might be good to have an alternate mic recording my commentary as well as have a visual of me reacting to the game.  The one downside to this is that the volume of the game was too high.  As I found out when I reviewed the recorded video afterward, the sound effects and music of Dead in Bermuda were so loud that it was drowning out my commentary at times.

Since I failed to gain much of an audience with Dead in Bermuda, I decided to switch to a more popular game on January 12.  The one I picked this time was Party Hard, a satirical little game where the objective is to slaughter the participants of a given party without getting killed or arrested.  Prior to starting my stream, I tweaked the game’s volume and moved the webcam video to a different corner of the screen so it wouldn’t obscure what I was doing within the game.  I was much more animated in my commentary with Party Hard than I was with Dead in Bermuda.  I felt more confident that I would start building an audience to my budding channel.

Unfortunately, I found out after I’d recorded 90 minutes of gameplay that I’d hit another snag.  For whatever reason, the mic failed to record my voice at all for the entire broadcast!

While I haven’t yet recorded any further streams as of January 17, it is something I do plan to continue.  I have been spending my time researching to avoid any further hiccups.  I have also been brainstorming on ways to make my channel unique and entertaining enough that viewers will want to keep tuning in.  And I have ideas geared toward putting together a background for the webcam that will better showcase my interests, such as reading and photo manipulation.

The bottom line is that streaming is something that I greatly enjoy so far.  I could easily see myself doing this long term, even if I don’t gain much of a following from it.  I’m glad to have some means of sharing my love of video games with like-minded individuals.  And if I can entertain an audience while I’m at it, then all the better.  It will mean I’ve finally found the perfect niche for myself.

For any readers who are interested in giving my channel a chance to see what I’m all about, be sure to tune in for the streams of Sahara4877 at https://www.twitch.tv/sahara4877.

Tags: Twitch, video games, streaming, Tipster, Dead in Bermuda, Party Hard, games

Feb 04

The Challenge

The creative writing instructor challenged the class to write a 100-word story. Too easy I thought as I completed the assignment. On my own, I challenged myself further to write a story using 100 single syllable words.

Still easy for me because I’ve always enjoyed writing short stories. How could I make the challenge even harder? Could one hundred, non-repeating single syllable words tell a story? My story, “Stilled Voice,” answers that question.

Stilled Voice

When Bill Gray learned that Joan might die in less than three months, his heart sank. Tests dashed hope she’d see their girl’s new boy. He wished to hear her sing babe’s first song.

Each night they cried and prayed the staff was wrong. God’s dawn brought joy. Breast lumps grew but death closed its eyes.

June tenth, just past noon, cries were heard. Cheers filled Room Five.

“Big C, you did not win. I am Gram at last. Love kept me here this long.” She held him, rocked, sang, took one breath, looked up, then died with a smile.

Fellow writers, are you ready to try a 100-word writing challenge? See the tags.

 

Feb 01

Editor’s Log: Creativity Wisdom from a Rock & Roll Star: Bono

Writing is a journey without a permanent destination. Each story that we tell is only the part of the iceberg that appears above the surface. Sure, the great authors show tremendous depth in their stories like Toni Morrison, Ernest Hemingway, and Chinua Achebe. One of the ways that their stories are remarkable is by what’s left unsaid.

Writing is like other creative processes in that the skills to acquire and strengthen are limitless in how much one can develop. Bono, the lead singer of U2, reminded me of this in his recent interview with Rolling Stone magazine. The article is titled: Bono: The Rolling Stone Interview. Much of it sounds like a recording of a conversation between two people in a room, which I suspect was the case.

In the interview Bono shares much about his creative process and growth. It resonates with what I’ve heard others who create for a living. After 40 years of success in an industry that is tough to stay relevant, Bono and his bandmates continue to seek growth.

  • He talked about learning how to write music through structures like from musical theater as way to create sounds that stay with people—in a good way J
  • He reads voraciously across multiple genres. For example, he references the work from Saint Paul, “…he writes this ode to love, which everybody knows from his letter to the Corinthians: “Love is patient, love is kind. . . . Love bears all things, love believes all things” – you hear it at a lot of weddings.”
  • He analyzes song lyrics such as from Dylan like one does with poetry. Because good music IS poetry.

Creativity is a demanding mistress who is there for you if you commit totally to her. Dedicating time and thought brings about moments where I feel like I’m in “the zone”—this perfect cocoon of synchronicity where ideas, emotions, and structure flow melodically.

Bono reminded me that to get those moments requires preparation, study, and dedication. Sometimes it’s easy to get distracted with doing “stuff” that feels real in the moment. It’s getting stuck in the minutia and not organizing time set aside for that which we love the most: Creating. My takeaway is a reminder to do these things more, if I want to stay creative:

  • Reading others
  • Journal
  • Dialog on topics that move me to laugh and to tears with people who disagree and agree with my perspectives. Avoiding “the conversations” diminishes the depth of creativity
  • Being comfortable with being uncomfortable
  • Exercise
  • Notice how I am creative in areas of work and non-work
  • Most importantly: truly listen to others, the world, and my inner self

These last couple of days, I’ve been listening to U2 songs, both the ones that I’ve always loved, and now the ones that I’ve not paid too much attention. I listen for the joy, and to learn author craft from someone I admire even more now that he’s shared the gifts of his reflections.