Sunday, August 24, 2014

Lessons Learned and to be Learned

Several months ago I had mentally and emotionally reached a point where I had to accept and admit to myself that I was very unhappy. The move to Washington, DC, for the new job had not gone to plan. The friends and activities I thought I would have waiting for me here had not turned out as expected. My salary situation was complicated and considerably less than I had anticipated. I had nearly no social life. I was poor, broke, bored, and lonely.
Going to my mid-singles ward (congregation) every Sunday exacerbated my pain. Everyone else there seemed to have a network of friends, nice clothes and cars, and all the things I had hoped to have, but hadn't panned out.
I began to mentally check-out and withdraw from my ward. But I didn't turn away from the Church, Spirit, or gospel. I turned more to prayer than I had in a long time, in search of guidance. I had partially made the decision, completely based on my pained emotions, to leave the mid-singles ward and go to my nearby family congregation. I figured no one would notice my absence, since no one had noticed my presence.
I prayed more than once. I prayed for several days, if not weeks. And then one day I began to receive an answer and guidance in the way that I often receive answers to prayers. It began as a foreign thought in my mind. An idea that I knew didn't come from me. Just an idea that forced me to think and puzzle it out, and reconcile it with what I knew and felt.
I find that these moments often come to me when I'm driving and my mind is clear. When I used to drive from Roanoke to DC so often, I had many of these moments alone in my car. I miss them now.
It was a Thursday afternoon. I remember it clearly. I was in my car. And a thought came to me that I had to work out, ponder on, and eventually it led me to an answer.
What that thought was is not what's important. But it was the feeling I had at the end of it. I recognized the experience. I had had similar experiences in the past that had prepared me for major life changes. A little seed was planted in my heart that opened my mind to accepting a major change just around the bend. These have always been changes that I could not control, but would need to accept for my own happiness. (For instance, every time a bishop has been released in my ward, I knew it in this same way in advance.) I don't handle imposed change very well. I always need to come to the same conclusion that the change was needed and the solution was the best option. And sometimes I don't agree, or it takes me a long time to get there. And so these moments where I have felt the Holy Ghost prepare me in advance have been cherished and important to me.
And that Thursday afternoon I got the answers to my prayers- there was about to be a major change in my life, and I needed to be prepared to accept it.
And so I was.
In the following days I was "called" or asked to co-chair the mid-singles conference. After I prayed about it, I readily accepted the assignment. I knew it would be a tough road ahead, but I felt spiritually prepared.
But then I went home and cried for hours. I've planned conferences in the past and knew what I was getting myself into. I didn't cry about the workload though. I knew I could survive that. I cried because I have been there before. And I know that when you are in charge of planning a spiritual event for 400 people, Satan will do everything to ruin your life.
I wasn't wrong.
These last several months have been a true test. I've nearly stopped blogging altogether because I just don't want to share all of the difficulties I've been hit with. Of course, the hardest thing I've endured is losing my job. (My grandmother dying, my apartment getting condemned, and car troubles rank pretty high up there as well.)
But on the hard days, the really hard days, where my life is just not easy or rosy, it helps to stop and remember how clearly and perfectly I heard the answers to my prayers.
I know I am in the right place and the right time. I know I will survive this.
I know there are some who would like to believe that for every major effort and sacrifice we make, we are paid back in obvious blessings. For instance, put your heart and soul into planning a major conference, and you'll get your dream job.
I don't believe it's always so obvious. For me, my heart can accept that I've survived and received dozens of blessings these last few months, because I was willing to devote myself to the Lord's work. I haven't gone hungry. Miracles have paid my rent. Hearts have been softened and opened to offering me unexpected assistance.
There are less than 7 weeks left to the mid-singles conference. The workload is getting heavier by the day. I can rarely relax without my brain overflowing with the dozens and dozens of things we need to get done. This is about the point where most people would want to run and scream and never do this sort of thing again.
Trust me, I have those feelings- often! But then I'm reminded one more time that I know that I'm in the right place at the right time. I find the strength to make one more phone call and one more email. Because I can do this. WE can do this. (I'm not alone. I have a great co-chair and committee.)

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

I love to cook

I'm making dinner for a small group of friends this weekend. I can't wait. I need the creative outlet just as much as I need to socialize.
My life is consumed these days with the planning of the midsingles conference. (58 days and counting!) As I get more and more involved in the details of it all, I find that I need to awaken the creative side of my brain as well. I need to start thinking about the fun, decorative touches to add to the conference. And that side of my brain is stagnating.
But that's why I love cooking. It brings it all to life- socializing, feeding, eating, loving, touching, tasting, and creating.
My friends (unless they read this, and I don't expect that they will) have no idea what they are in for. I'm pulling out all the stops- 4 course meal, tablescapes, the whole kit and caboodle. I'm making homemade Italian bread, shopska salad (because it's cheap, easy, tasty, and I miss Europe), homemade spaghetti and pasta, and something fun for dessert. Haven't decided what dessert will be. Probably something light and fruity. And I'm making basil lemonade.
Nearly every ingredient will come from my garden, which makes me very happy. (And my pocketbook happy.)
Since I know they won't read this, I'll share this detail too. One couple is being set up. The guy knows, the girl does not. I believe in not telling both parties, so that they aren't both anxious and nervous. He isn't behind it. He doesn't even know her name. Of course, he also hasn't accepted the invitation yet, so there's that. I'm keeping the numbers 4 girls, 4 guys. Only problem is I'm one guy short. Presumably the one that would be my date. That's a problem. Gotta work on that.
Also need to figure out where to buy Serbian soft cheeses. And clean my couch.
And maybe decorate the living room.
But first, I have to finish getting over bronchitis and this migraine. Which, I might add, do not go well together. (Coughing + migraine = misery!)

Saturday, August 09, 2014

No thanks, Amazon

I got the following email today from Amazon KDP.
It's complete garbage.

Dear KDP Author,

Just ahead of World War II, there was a radical invention that shook the foundations of book publishing. It was the paperback book. This was a time when movie tickets cost 10 or 20 cents, and books cost $2.50. The new paperback cost 25 cents – it was ten times cheaper. Readers loved the paperback and millions of copies were sold in just the first year.

With it being so inexpensive and with so many more people able to afford to buy and read books, you would think the literary establishment of the day would have celebrated the invention of the paperback, yes? Nope. Instead, they dug in and circled the wagons. They believed low cost paperbacks would destroy literary culture and harm the industry (not to mention their own bank accounts). Many bookstores refused to stock them, and the early paperback publishers had to use unconventional methods of distribution – places like newsstands and drugstores. The famous author George Orwell came out publicly and said about the new paperback format, if “publishers had any sense, they would combine against them and suppress them.” Yes, George Orwell was suggesting collusion.

Well… history doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.

Fast forward to today, and it’s the e-book’s turn to be opposed by the literary establishment. Amazon and Hachette – a big US publisher and part of a $10 billion media conglomerate – are in the middle of a business dispute about e-books. We want lower e-book prices. Hachette does not. Many e-books are being released at $14.99 and even $19.99. That is unjustifiably high for an e-book. With an e-book, there’s no printing, no over-printing, no need to forecast, no returns, no lost sales due to out of stock, no warehousing costs, no transportation costs, and there is no secondary market – e-books cannot be resold as used books. E-books can and should be less expensive.

Perhaps channeling Orwell’s decades old suggestion, Hachette has already been caught illegally colluding with its competitors to raise e-book prices. So far those parties have paid $166 million in penalties and restitution. Colluding with its competitors to raise prices wasn’t only illegal, it was also highly disrespectful to Hachette’s readers.

The fact is many established incumbents in the industry have taken the position that lower e-book prices will “devalue books” and hurt “Arts and Letters.” They’re wrong. Just as paperbacks did not destroy book culture despite being ten times cheaper, neither will e-books. On the contrary, paperbacks ended up rejuvenating the book industry and making it stronger. The same will happen with e-books.

Many inside the echo-chamber of the industry often draw the box too small. They think books only compete against books. But in reality, books compete against mobile games, television, movies, Facebook, blogs, free news sites and more. If we want a healthy reading culture, we have to work hard to be sure books actually are competitive against these other media types, and a big part of that is working hard to make books less expensive.

Moreover, e-books are highly price elastic. This means that when the price goes down, customers buy much more. We've quantified the price elasticity of e-books from repeated measurements across many titles. For every copy an e-book would sell at $14.99, it would sell 1.74 copies if priced at $9.99. So, for example, if customers would buy 100,000 copies of a particular e-book at $14.99, then customers would buy 174,000 copies of that same e-book at $9.99. Total revenue at $14.99 would be $1,499,000. Total revenue at $9.99 is $1,738,000. The important thing to note here is that the lower price is good for all parties involved: the customer is paying 33% less and the author is getting a royalty check 16% larger and being read by an audience that’s 74% larger. The pie is simply bigger.

But when a thing has been done a certain way for a long time, resisting change can be a reflexive instinct, and the powerful interests of the status quo are hard to move. It was never in George Orwell’s interest to suppress paperback books – he was wrong about that.

And despite what some would have you believe, authors are not united on this issue. When the Authors Guild recently wrote on this, they titled their post: “Amazon-Hachette Debate Yields Diverse Opinions Among Authors” (the comments to this post are worth a read).  A petition started by another group of authors and aimed at Hachette, titled “Stop Fighting Low Prices and Fair Wages,” garnered over 7,600 signatures.  And there are myriad articles and posts, by authors and readers alike, supporting us in our effort to keep prices low and build a healthy reading culture. Author David Gaughran’s recent interview is another piece worth reading.

We recognize that writers reasonably want to be left out of a dispute between large companies. Some have suggested that we “just talk.” We tried that. Hachette spent three months stonewalling and only grudgingly began to even acknowledge our concerns when we took action to reduce sales of their titles in our store. Since then Amazon has made three separate offers to Hachette to take authors out of the middle. We first suggested that we (Amazon and Hachette) jointly make author royalties whole during the term of the dispute. Then we suggested that authors receive 100% of all sales of their titles until this dispute is resolved. Then we suggested that we would return to normal business operations if Amazon and Hachette’s normal share of revenue went to a literacy charity. But Hachette, and their parent company Lagardere, have quickly and repeatedly dismissed these offers even though e-books represent 1% of their revenues and they could easily agree to do so. They believe they get leverage from keeping their authors in the middle.

We will never give up our fight for reasonable e-book prices. We know making books more affordable is good for book culture. We’d like your help. Please email Hachette and copy us.

Hachette CEO, Michael Pietsch:

Copy us at:

Please consider including these points:

- We have noted your illegal collusion. Please stop working so hard to overcharge for ebooks. They can and should be less expensive.
- Lowering e-book prices will help – not hurt – the reading culture, just like paperbacks did.
- Stop using your authors as leverage and accept one of Amazon’s offers to take them out of the middle.
- Especially if you’re an author yourself: Remind them that authors are not united on this issue.

Thanks for your support.

The Amazon Books Team

P.S. You can also find this letter at

Thursday, August 07, 2014

I miss July already.

August always depresses me. The weather is erratic and oppressive, schedules are unpredictable, the humidity will try to kill you, and you know that at the end of the month, summer is gone, and another long, boring, cold winter is right around the corner, and all the beautiful green things are about to die.
August, you are not my friend.
July was a great month. I spent very little of it at home. I was in Europe for the bulk of it obviously, and then I spent the last 10 days in Roanoke with my nephews. But now I'm back home, facing reality in my little apartment.
Reality is confusing to me these days. I don't have a full picture on what it looks like right now. I'm very busy, but unemployed. I'm writing up a storm, and getting lots of publications, but the money just isn't coming in. I'm tour-sick and missing my tour friends who all live on the other side of the country. And yet, very happy to be home and ready to catch up with my friends that I haven't seen all month.
My mother has been getting into this new fad called "dressing your truth." I'm not too into it, because most of it seems sort of commonsense to me. But I can see how maybe it isn't that way for everyone. We've talked a lot lately about which colors, styles, and haircuts are "your truth." (And ultimately decided I already dress and style "my truth." Go me.)
But now that I'm back home and in my own little apartment, I'm thinking about whether or not my apartment reflects my "truth." I think I mentioned it last year sometime that when I moved here I had to make the sad decision to let my storage unit go. In other words, I lost all my belongings that were in it. It wasn't cost effective to fly cross country to save anything from it.
I had spent several years building up little collection and reflections of me. I had lovingly restored most of my own furniture, and took great pride in several of the pieces. My decorations were unique and unusual, vibrant, colorful, and a great reflection of the things I love and enjoy. (I had an awesome vintage movie poster collection as well as several really cool Broadway record albums.)
The most heartbreaking loss was my book collection. I had around 100 books in storage, all of which I had read and loved.
But that's all gone now.
And I'm rebuilding, slowly but surely. It's not quite the same when you live with a roommate. And it's not easy to do whilst unemployed (again).
It's giving me a lot of time to really think about what matters to me, and what I want my home to say about me. I don't like or want trendy, typical furniture, but you wouldn't know that by looking at my current home. I do like statement pieces that show or share something I love. (I have a great big picture of the DC cherry blossoms in the living room right now. And my bedroom is decorated in maps.)
And so I sit and wonder about who I really am, and have I crafted a world around me that really reflects that? Or are my surroundings simply the result of circumstances? 

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