Accentuate the positive

One of the great things about online communications vs. the printed word is that if one is prone to impulsive typing, then equally prone to obsessing about errors resulting from impulsive typing, one can wipe the slate clean.

That fact helped me scrub my last post free of the errors I had let slip by me, despite reading, rereading and reading the post aloud before hitting “publish.” When I made (or missed others’) errors at this newspaper (and others), the gaffe would ruin a week or two, anyway, depending on the severity of the mistake. So, in this way, I’ve already realized one positive via this blog:  I can expunge my virtual shortcomings. (My actual shortcomings will take a little more work to overcome.)

Another “positive”: I received my first spam comment today (from someone purporting to be from “Hermes handbags,” no less. I’m pretty sure Hermes handbags won’t match any of my shoes). But I guess being noticed on the Web by charlatans means the blog at least enjoys some online presence.

But the most important positive regarding this clunky beast I call a blog is the chance to hear from some old friends and colleagues, and bask in their good cheer and kind words. Thanks, all. Hope to live up to the approbation.

Keep your inner censor at bay

What’s keeping you from doing what you really want? What prevents you from embarking on a new career?

What’s thwarting my efforts to bring my long-planned, yet infrequently worked-on, novel across the finish line?

Rank laziness is part of it (I’m speaking of myself, here). But something else is standing in the way, and this is the part I bet also applies to you or someone you know: The insidious inner censor.

About a dozen years ago, I literally dreamed of the protagonist of my oft-started-and-stopped novel and, in addition to the aforementioned lack of gumption and drive, my efforts have been undercut by the critic inside my head (who has an uncanny ability to imitate my own speaking voice). It challenges me each day, demanding to know what kind of decent person thinks the kind of thoughts I’m putting to paper.

You were raised better than that. Your late aunt and grandparents will certainly be ashamed. What will your friends think?

I suspect we all have this critic inside us (and suspect it has a Rich Little-like talent for imitating your voice, as well). How did it get there, and how do you expel it, or at least ignore it?

I haven’t, yet, found the answer, or at least a good one. Whiskey, cigars and day-to-day work have a certain palliative effect, but those are only quick fixes, at best. (At worst, they become habits that sap all ambition, urgency and life itself. I’m struck by something the late Christopher Hitchens said about alcohol being a good soldier but a terrible master.)

At some point, I suppose, one has to just ignore one’s inner critic. Just avert your eyes even if it means staring at the ground as you pass it in the corridor on the way to the writing laboratory or the interview for the job you really want, or whatever.

The examples of people you admire help a little, as does the encouragement of the friends, family and others who comprise your personal cheering section. But, ultimately, you’re on your own. That’s what I think, anyway.

One thing is certain: The cost of failing to disregard the inner critic is greater than the ease of giving into it. I hope so, anyway.

You have a terminal condition. Now what?

You’ve just been diagnosed with a terminal condition. I’ve just diagnosed you.

I’m not a doctor, nor do I play one on TV. I have no knowledge of your medical history, and possess only a scant understanding of my own, yet I know this: You’re going to die. You might have six months or six hundred, I’m not sure. So what do you do with the time you have left?

That’s the question I struggle with, not just at this moment, but continually. Continuously, really. Yet, for all the reflection, as the sun sets on each day I’m stuck for a satisfactory answer.

I’m not passing this off as an original concept. Recently, an episode of one of my favorite television shows posited correctly that “each life comes with a death sentence.” That message has been underscored in books ranging from the supernatural fiction genre to self-help tomes to, I’m certain, a surfeit of “classics,” yet the answer on how to translate this truth into important action eludes me.

In addition to struggling to pay bills, fretting about a lack of adequate retirement savings and being vexed by brand-new yet still somehow out-of-round tires, I’m troubled by my own ability to “get on with it.” At this age, I believe I should have figured things out by now, right?

I mourn the money, education and time I’ve squandered, but mourning has to be restricted to a defined period. It can’t last forever. Each day you, and certainly I, must resolve to spend the majority — if not the entirety — of our days doing only those things that make us the people we want to become. You’ve got to fight fear, indolence and a legacy of self-defeating habits and, to quote John Paul Jones, I have not yet begun to fight.

But our time on this planet is coming to an end. We’ve just been diagnosed with a terminal condition.

Now what?

When ‘ballz’ become ‘ballss’

When I’m at the grocery I seldom put tonic in my carriage, but I’m raising an icy can of Moxie to this entertaining and informative article at Slate.com about regional dialects.

We New Englanders take pride in our well-known, oft-ridiculed accent (as if there’s only one New England accent), but it appears the language of America is more and more becoming like the chatter uttered by “da Bearss” (rhymes with “scarce”) fans in the “Saturday Night Live” sketch “Bill Swerkski’s Super Fans.” While those in the Midwest might find that to be “the ballss” (rhymes with “false”), I believe most New Englanders would find it far from “the ballz” (rhymes with “falls”).

OK, enough of that. The article goes on to say that the “tensing” of vowel sounds (that is, turning short “O” sounds into “ahhs”) is the most prevalent example of the Northern Cities Shift of other regional dialects in the United States (at least the “lower 48”). And, the article adds, this applies pretty much only to white people; blacks and Hispanics appear immune to the Great Lakes virus, even those who live in that part of the country.

Not sure I’m buying the entire premise of the article, at least as it relates to the region I call home. Greater Bostonians and other New Englanders are hardly shy about letting a person know when something he or she says sounds a little queeah to the eahh. If your kid or best friend tried to say “cot” like “kaat,” you’d think it quite bizahh and would ridicule the benighted offender. At least that’s how things would go in my family and circle of friends.

Still, the article’s worth a look.

Smart phones, foolish choices

I’ve been somewhat buried in a candidate-cataloging project (and, believe me, I’m grateful to be so buried) that I neglected to point out this superb piece by Beth Teitell in the Boston Sunday Globe, as well as its sidebar by Katie Johnston. Bonus in the print edition: a headline off the jump that reads: “That glow in the woods isn’t the campfire.”

The articles concern the tyranny of smart phones and all manner of electronica, which make people, particularly executives but also children, accessible 24/7.

Coupled with this ease of access, or perhaps because of it, is a sense (or a hope) that the job just can’t get done without the executive in question. As a result, a harried professional sacrifices what’s left of his or her free time and non-work identity on the altar of constant information. Lost also, in many cases, are the experiences of being in the moment with family, friends or just oneself in an exotic locale, or even just on the beach with a book.

Electronica is as insidious and addictive as it is useful. Though I fear my days of relying on my dinosaur of a cell phone (a dumb device I made dumber by telling my carrier to disable text messaging — I didn’t want to pay even a nickel for marketing spam), I’ll do my best to keep from becoming a slave to connectivity.

But given how chained I am to Facebook and Twitter (and, increasingly, WordPress), I doubt I stand a chance.

Lost towns, discovered stories

My familiarity with New York Times best-selling author Caroline Leavitt is mainly through her occasional book reviews in the Boston Sunday Globe. I never fail to be impressed and charmed by her short takes on books in the self-help genre, such as her reviews of this fantastic book about the weather, as well as this kicky tome about getting and staying on top of life’s everyday travails.

And her review in today’s Globe is no exception to the pattern of wanting to read everything she reviews and recommends. I’m particularly interested this time, however, because the setting of the novel in question is near my hometown of Barre, Mass.

Cascade,” according to Leavitt, “grapples with small town limitations vs. big city sparkle … against the eerie backdrop of 1930s Cascade, Mass., a town about to be flooded to make way for a reservoir.”

Historical information of about the Quabbin Reservoir is easy to come by, but I’ve always believed the nearly 75-year-old public works project contains a rich trove of material for historical fiction. Seeing one’s bucolic hometown wiped off the map to provide potable water to big-city dwellers more than 100 miles away is bound to stir up at least a modicum of conflict, to say the least. I’m ashamed to say I’ve never taken even the slightest step toward writing about the Quabbin and its effect on the residents of the forgotten towns of Dana, Enfield, Greenwich and Prescott. But, luckily, Maryanne O’Hara has and, as usual, I have Caroline Leavitt to thank for the 411.

UPDATE, Aug. 20: Oof! I can’t believe I totally glossed over this novel by former Massachusetts Gov. (and not-quite-Ambassador to Mexico) William F. Weld! Thanks to former up-the-street neighbor Heidi (Bolger) Johnson for the heads up. (Her dad, Joe, is a genius with motorcycles and was easily the coolest guy in town, by the way.)

 

Minor leaguers give major help to kids

Writers need readers, and writers also need to be readers. That’s why I was charmed by this promotion by the Double-A Eastern League New Britain Rock Cats, my favorite non-Red Sox affiliate (though the Bowie Bay Sox are close on their heels).

At some point in their lives, lucky children realize that reading is its own reward, and the payoff is even greater today as it provides a perfect respite from what I call personal technology pollution, a/k/a “electronica.” But to get them started on that path, Reading Books In Summer awards school supplies to readers ages 5 to 15, as well as two tickets to a ballgame (today or tomorrow). The program is underwritten by the Rock Cats organization and Citizens Bank in partnership with the Connecticut Library Consortium.

It’s a simple promotion, but one that could change kids’ lives in an important way.

New Hampshire’s statewide town hall

When I’m not hustling small but lucrative writing and editing assignments (and if you’ve got a lead on any, e-mail me at sullivan@wordslikeacharm.com), trying to get my business online and finishing my novel about professional wrestling (more or less), I’m honored to serve as editor-in-chief of The Live Free or Die Alliance, New Hampshire’s statewide town hall.

The LFDA can’t make you a citizen, but it can make you a better citizen. Give it a look if you have any interest in Granite State issues, candidates, blogs and multimedia. Also, it’s the best (and perhaps only) nonpartisan candidates directory going (both state and national).

The journey of a thousand miles …

My name is John F.J. Sullivan and this is my first foray into publishing my own website. This will be a long journey but, as the cliche holds, it begins with one step.

I’ve been a professional writer and journalist since the day I graduated high school nearly three decades ago, and have been a newspaper and Web editor for most of the time since then, interspersed with brief forays into juvenile social work and high-tech public relations.

For more information, shoot me an e-mail at: sullivan@wordslikeacharm.com