Gregor Writes to the Pope

Pope Sixtus V

Dear Mr. Pope:

My name is Gregor. I’m a luminary, just like you. But, today, I’m writing mano-a-mano, friend to friend, just two guys lipping over a few important issues. When you write back, please tell me your real name. In the meantime, I’ll call you “Papa.” All my Italian friends use the term, and I like them all.

Like you, I’m old. That means I’ve picked up a few ideas along the way. I’d like to share with you. Maybe you would like to do the same? It would be unkind to just throw this letter away. You wouldn’t do that, would you?

I think it would be best if you lose all those stuffy dresses you wear. A simple shirt and pants would be better. I’ve heard rumors that you once took the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. So, poverty means you need to dress down a bit. I suspect this would appeal to the 1+ billion folks who pay your bills. None of them are running around in fancy dresses. You need to have more appeal to the masses. Besides, it would make you look a little thinner. I understand that all those sumptuous meals can put on the pounds. You might want to try a light salad sometime, or maybe something from Mickey D. I know you have fast food over there. That’s where most of us eat and you might make some new friends.

On the subject of chastity, I’ll just wait until my next letter. I understand you’re in deep doo-doo on this issue, so I’ll give you some breathing room. Please don’t forget about it, though. That hasn’t worked well in the past.

As to obedience, you should no longer have a problem. Since you’re the Main Man these days, you don’t have a boss any longer. This presents you with a rare opportunity to do the right thing.

Lottery ticket

You need to start a lottery. You need to start giving away stuff. You’ve been hoarding for too long. Now, I understand that you may want to save some stuff for your museum. That’s OK. But I know from the History Channel that you have lots of nice things laying around the Vatican. Why not liquidate some of it, start a lottery, and give your followers a chance at comfort? It’s works over here in the U.S. Give it a try.

You should digitize the Vatican Archives and put it all online. After all, sharing is a good thing, right? So you say, anyway. Why not put your words into action. Digitize, share, be a hero. Then, give everyone a computer who needs one. Preload it with links to your new, digitized archives. Let the rest of us see what you have down there. Forget Dan Brown. Do it because it’s the right thing to do.

When are you going to get behind equal rights for women? You really need to catch up, Papa. You’re looking out of sync with the rest of us. So, get behind the cause, open up opportunities, enjoy the pleasures of men and women working together for a common goal. If this is merely a testosterone issue, remember what happened to Lance Armstrong. It’s wise to pay attention to current events.

GeezerA mandatory retirement age might be helpful. You have too many old geezers running around the Vatican. Now, I don’t mean to sound harsh about this. Geezers have their place. But not when they are so stuck in the old days. If some geezer Cardinal can’t keep up, send him off to a nice retreat center. Give him three hots and a cot, all the prayers he needs, but get him off the main stage. Make more room for those with fresh ideas.

This celibacy thing has got to go. It isn’t working anyway. Step up to the times and you’ll be a happier Papa.

Stop trying to keep secrets. You guys are doing a lousy job of it anyway. Don’t bother. Just tell it like it is. Your followers are smart enough, and tough enough, to deal with the truth. So, give them a break. You need a better press agent.

Convert the pope-mobile to a biomass engine. You’re doing a lot of swamp gas anyway. Why not divert some to the pope-mobile? Green is good, Papa.

Invite Dan Brown to a big party in Vatican Square. Let him bring along a few thousand of his closest friends. Serve a nice Italian meal. Thank him for all the free publicity. He’s been a good agent for you. Treat him right, OK?

I wish you the best, Papa. It’s clear that you have a tough job. But you also have some juice to use, some political capital as they say over here. Why not spend it? I mean, don’t spent it on yourself! That wouldn’t be good. Spend it on all those folks who’ve been paying your bills all these years.

Remember, Papa, when you write back please tell me your real name. I want us to be friends, to be on a first-name basis. Could you also send an autographed picture for my collection?

Your Friend,

Gregor

PS. If you’re still doing the prayer thing, please think about me from time to time. My lobotomy didn’t go well.

GregorGregor lives here.

Gregor Uncovers DIY TV Conspiracy

GregorGregor likes to watch do-it-yourself TV channels. He used to believe this was reality TV at its best. No fluff, no stunts, just real people doing important stuff. Sure, the plot could be a little light from time to time. The drama was not always there. But the characters were so real, so believable. Gregor was hooked for many years.

Now, he’s not so sure.

Gregor has found some major inconsistencies in the DIY TV world. There are too many of these oddities to be coincidental. Gregor suspects something else is going on behind the scenes. He wonders about out-takes, fake people, phony scenes and re-dos. Is this reality TV or is Gregor being pimped in some subtle way?

English: Tools

Tool malfunction. On TV, tools don’t break. They never malfunction, act up, blow up, talk back, or just refuse to work. This doesn’t happen in Gregor’s life. His tools are always behaving badly. Gregor now believes some of these tools may not be real characters. They may be stunt monkeys or stand-ins.

Nothing gets lost. TV people never lose anything. All their stuff is just where they left it, always within reach. Nothing is ever misplaced, even for a moment. How come Gregor can’t live like this? He loses stuff all the time. Who puts the stuff in just the right place, each time, every time?

Nothing bites back. On TV, hammers don’t slam into thumbs, ladders don’t fall over, paint never spills, nothing is slippery, soggy, stained or wet. Lines are always straight, curves are always smooth and perfect. All implements are functional and pristine, always right for the job, always well mannered. Wood is gorgeous and unflawed, metal doesn’t have sharp edges, insulation never gets in your hair. Gregor is envious. Gregor doesn’t believe it.

Measurements are never wrong. Gregor understands the theory of “measure twice, cut once.” He tries to practice it, always. But it never works. On TV, they measure stuff just once and not very carefully. Voila! Everything always fits perfectly. Gregor doesn’t believe this for a minute. He knows there’s something very wrong going on behind the cameras. He thinks they’re hiding their mistakes, not showing us the reality of measuring. No one is that good.

Yikes!TV people never swear. Maybe it’s because nothing ever goes wrong or maybe it’s because kids are watching. Either way, those TV people don’t get angry, don’t swear, and never throw their tools around. This runs counter to Gregor’s DIY experiences. They are far less sedate.

People don’t get sweaty. Those folks are always well-groomed and dry, even when they work outside. Gregor is never well-groomed or dry, even when he works inside. Why?

Everyone is good-looking. Gregor is not.

Everything is delivered to the door. How come these DIYers never go shopping? Everything they need is right there, johnny-on-the-spot, delivered right to their front stoops. Gregor lives in the boonies. Nobody delivers anything out there. Does that mean Gregor can never be a true DIYer? Where does all this stuff come from? Why are all those delivery guys so friendly? Gregor hasn’t met many friendly delivery people.

Nerd body builder

Everyone has muscles. It doesn’t matter if its a woman or man who heads up the DIY crew. They have muscles. They wear tight-fitting clothes and small shirt sleeves that show off their beef. Where are all the wimps? Can’t wimps be DIYers? Gregor likes wimps. Gregor is a wimp. He wants equal rights.

They’re never wrong. It doesn’t matter about the job, big or small, simple or complex. These DIYers never get it wrong, ever. They always know what to do and they know it immediately. Why is that? Gregor doesn’t buy it. Life is just not that simple.

Dirt and debris. This impediment just disappears from the show, without explanation. When they don’t need it anymore, the dirt and debris just vanishes. Sure, they sometimes show these DIYers knocking down walls or pulling up floor boards. But they never tell Gregor where all this stuff goes. Gregor can’t seem to get rid of his dirt and debris. He wants to know their secret.

Contractors are always reliable and capable. Well, not in Gregor’s world. Sorry.

Who pays for all this crap? Gregor never sees money changing hands. No one lurks around the back yard with a wad of cash. No one whips out a credit card or writes a check. No one sends a bill. What’s that all about? Gregor is forever paying for his DIY experiences, one way or another. How come he’s the only one who pays? Where are the deep pockets?

HappyWhy are the homeowners always so happy? The DIYers come in and completely re-do a bathroom, kitchen, whatever. They create a new backyard according to their own design. They change rooms, knock-out walls, spray and paint everywhere. The homeowners are always smiling, always saying “ooh” and “aah.” They do endless gagas over the DIYer, give hugs and offer a thousand thanks. How come? Gregor has seen more than a few home do-overs that turned out looking like complete doo-doo. Still, the homeowners were so happy. Were they on drugs? Did they know someone behind the scenes? Why didn’t they just say, “You did a lousy job!” or “That’s ugly!” No one is happy all the time, are they? Gregor senses a deep conspiracy.

No one has dirty hands, dirty clothes or dirty anything. This was the key for Gregor. They tried to fool him but they overlooked the most obvious tell-tale. Gregor knows that dirt and DIY are wedded partners in the real world. But, no, not on TV. This lack of dirty people finally convinced Gregor that he’s been pimped all these years. Nothing could be more obvious. Gregor no longer trusts clean people on any reality TV program. If they aren’t dirty, they can’t be real. Period.

Gregor is depressed and angry. His deep, personal connection to reality TV has been shattered, forever. What can he do now?

Gregor lives here.

Self-Publishing Doom, Gloom and the Police State

Published!

In October 2012, the Huffington Post ran an article entitled, Are Self-Publishing Authors Killing the Publishing Industry? This opinion piece raised some interesting and troubling questions about writers who choose self-publishing as their entree into the business end of writing. It’s a vast area that offers both opportunities and spiderholes for writers and readers.

I’ve covered this topic in several previous posts, including here and here. The opinions rage on, and publishing problems often overwhelm the entire writing process. Let’s look at some excerpts from the HuffPost article that attempt to address the issue. In the end, it didn’t work for me.

Self-published authors have created a devaluing of the written word, and, some of them are scrambling to see how low they can go to get noticed.

The opening sentence is a hard swallow for self-published writers, but it makes a point. It’s a relatively simple process to self-publish, although it can be a frustrating and expensive one. Traditional publishing offers many layers of filters, several stopovers where a proposed piece of work can be reviewed and assessed. Although traditional publishers have made some horrendous blunders over the years, their review process does serve to limit the material that finally reaches the reading public. In the world of self-publishing, there are no stopovers. Writers can go right from rough draft to final print, if they choose. Obviously, this has flooded the literary market with all kinds of material, good and not so good. The blow-back from this way of doing business is the point of the HuffPost article. Still, who is the arbiter of the view that self-published writers have devalued the written word? Isn’t that a decision best left to readers?

Why are indie authors selling their work so cheap? In short, mismanaged expectations. Many self-published authors hear about the outliers who earn hundreds of thousands of dollars, and they’ll do anything to try and reach that pinnacle. The plain fact is that most of them never will.

sharkThis seems to be the heart of the HuffPost argument. Self-publishing has become a chaotic marketplace of price wars without sufficient regard to product quality for the reader. It’s hard to argue with this point of view. Spend a few moments at Amazon or Barnes and Noble. You’ll get the point. On the other hand, traditional publishing suffered from the same problem throughout its history. The only difference can be found in the volume of material produced. Technology has created a vast marketplace that was once the domain of publishers. Most writers never made a good deal of money on their published works in any era. Only the numbers have changed.

Does this mean that self-published authors are killing the publishing industry? Yes, in a sense it does. What can be done about this devaluing of the written word? How can self-published authors change this scenario and help make self-publishing, as a whole, shine and earn as respectable of a reputation as traditional publishing?

If indie authors are going to make their mark, they’ll need to band together, put out reputable works, and stop looking for get-sales-quick gimmicks.

The article points out that our marketplace is flooded with questionable work and intense pricing competition without regard to quality. It advocates that “indie authors” band together to solve this compound problem. But, how realistic is that? Not likely. In fact, it’s not even feasible to expect self-published writers the world over to magically join together to properly value their work and self-police the quality of their offerings. It’s a naive suggestion.

The more practical and effective answer to the problem is to do nothing. Seasoned writers understand that quality offerings will usually float to the top of the raging torrent of second-rate work. Readers make these decisions. They understand what they like, what they want, and how to make it happen for themselves. Good authors are the beneficiaries. Seasoned writers know how to present their work in the best light, using the most effective means. They understand that readers do not appreciate the “hard sell,” nor are they fooled by glitz and freebies. The last thing writers or readers need is some vast policing system that determines what material is released and by whom. That kind of thinking is right out of George Orwell, and it’s outdated.

Comrade Barking OrdersLet the chaos roll on, I say. Trust the readers to make good decisions, to follow their favorite authors, to make it all work. I agree that the marketplace is a nightmare these days. But, I also have faith that good writers will rise to the top and that astute readers will create order from chaos. Marketing gimmicks, giveaways, and police state mentality will do nothing to end the misery. It will only bring more.

As a lifelong writer familiar with both traditional and modern publishing modes, I’m happy as hell to see a wide-open market where promising writers can try their luck and follow their dreams. I don’t like police-state filtering, even if it does make the end marketplace more seemly. A filter is a filter by any definition. Put the power where it belongs, in the hands of the readers. Let them vote with their money, based on the widest possible selection opportunities. If we want to make it as writers, we’ll work as hard as we can to produce a final product that is as good as it can be. The vast majority of us would do this anyway, regardless of the market.

While I’m still on the grandstand, let me make a point that the HuffPost article completely ignored. Ask any group of experienced writers why they write. How many will put “making money” in first place? Will any?

Here’s a related article that may be of interest.

Dear Gregor, Can My IPad and Toaster Cohabitate?

GregorAlphonse, thanks for writing to my Head Wrap Advice Column! I truly enjoy responding to deep-thinking, intuitive readers like yourself.

Let me state right up front that it’s possible for your IPad and toaster to cohabitate. It’s dangerous, but possible. However, it would be completely irresponsible to allow them to breed, or even to permit occasional conjugal alliances in your home.

Let me give you some reasons.

Lack of Clarity. This issue has not been documented, yet. However, field trials have been undertaken and there are recorded instances of a rather sordid nature. I believe I have enough information to outline a strategy that will work for you. Perhaps your institution has some documentation I have yet to review. If so, would you please forward it to me? Your medical records would also prove helpful.

Separation Anxiety. You may find that your IPad and toaster sometimes desire to spend time together, in private. There is a mutual attraction that cannot be ignored. However, you must be assertive when you notice these urges. The toaster is much older and more experienced than the IPad. It has a long and well-understood history. The IPad is still in its youth. You simply cannot allow these two to succumb to their natural tendencies. You must maintain a strong balance of separation anxiety between the two.

Safe Distances. Once you have introduced a workable separation anxiety protocol you must enforce a safe distance between your IPad and toaster. The general recommendation is 10 feet when the toaster is plugged in, otherwise 6 feet. Personally, I have found the best solution is to make them go to their respective rooms until they both calm down and start listening.

Unwanted IPad Breeding Can Present Family Difficulties

Unwanted IPad Breeding Can Present Family Difficulties

Unwanted Breeding. Despite your best efforts, breeding can sometimes occur. This presents a difficult problem for your entire family. The IPad is often devastated by such an encounter. Sometimes, the toaster suffers as well, although toasters will generally prevail. If breeding does occur, you may be forced to banish your IPad, perhaps forever. At best, your toaster will require a good scolding. With vigilance, breeding should not be an issue.

Personal Safety. Given the mutual attraction here, you must consider personal safety. Do not plug your toaster into your IPad . Never insert your IPad into your toaster. Never touch both devices when you are standing in water. Never trust your toaster, which can have moments of frenzy and emotional arousal without warning. Do not butter your IPad under any circumstances. Never try to recharge your toaster without professional guidance.

The Bottom Line. Your letter was both long and revealing. I think you are a twit. At the very least, you have some significant Mommy issues. If I was running your household, I’d take away both your IPad and your toaster. Nonetheless, despite your deficiencies, these tips should see you through.

I Hope this advice has been of some help, Alphonse. As always, I love to hear from my readers.

Gregor, the Head Wrap Advice Columnist

Great Literary Bleemersnarks: Carlos and Don Juan

The Teachings of Don Juan

The recipe is simple but the preparation may take some time. Start with your favorite slices of fraud, hoax, scam or forgery. Mix well with several cups of greed. Garnish it with the essence of a failed self-lobotomy. Simmer until done. Serve while hot. That’s a literary bleemersnark.

Today’s favorite recipe: The entire body of work created by Carlos Cesar Salvador Arana Castaneda, better known to us as Carlos Castaneda. In total, a dozen books in the series. A unique smorgasbord of tasty fable-weaving, wrapped in obvious writing talent, with a likely daily diet of self-delusion. Ironically, this all worked well for nearly everyone involved, including Castaneda’s readers.

When and Where: The series began in California, in 1968, with the publication of The Teachings of Don Juan. Eleven more books would follow, including two published after Castaneda’s death.

The Bleemersnarkee: Not much damage here, unless you believe what publishers like Simon and Schuster tell you. Like Castaneda, the publishing house never failed to classify his work as “nonfiction” despite decades of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Consider this a case of mislabeling, perpetuated at the altar of corporate income. For Castaneda, it was a dream come true. Yes, even wizards can be surprised.

Carlos Castaneda

The Bleemersnarker: Castaneda was born in December 1925, in Peru. He died in April 1998, in Los Angeles. These are the facts, contrary to Castaneda’s changing stories about his birthplace, age, and a layer-cake of other goodies. He was a first-rate writer, as anyone who has read his books can attest. This is especially true of his first three novels.

The Plot: In a nutshell, Castaneda claimed to have received special training in native mysticism from a Yaqui “Man of Knowledge,” who went by the name of Don Juan Matus. His entire collection of books involves the practice and passing on of the sacred knowledge through a variety of characters. His first book, The Teachings of Don Juan, was allegedly the dissertation required for his doctoral candidacy in Anthropology at UCLA. This first book fooled them all, as did his next two. For a time, Castaneda was golden in both anthropological circles and literary ones. Several luminaries drank fully of the Castaneda cocktail, and life was so good.

After a few years, a small enclave of researchers began to look more closely at the body of Castaneda’s work. Their microscopes revealed some very nasty bugs.

The Fallout: In the 1970s, everything started to unravel. A number of articles critical of Castaneda’s work began to appear. Internal inconsistencies were many, time lines didn’t match up with movements, gaps in his work were appearing frequently. In fact, a close look at Castaneda’s first three books proved to unwind the myth that he had created with their publication. For example, when Carlos said he was out in the field dropping peyote and having mystical encounters, library slips showed him back at UCLA researching a wealth of related material. Woops.

Primary among his critics was Richard de Mille, who summarized his findings in Castaneda’s Journey: The Power and the Allegory. There were many other doubters, who also published scathing yet usually well-researched rebuttals. It soon became clear that Castaneda’s work was anything but nonfiction. Nonetheless, the author continued to insist on the authenticity of his work and the reality of his experiences. As criticism reached a crescendo, Castaneda disappeared from public view for long periods but would resurface at rare and convenient moments. He was a master at the dodge, only allowing a few individuals close access. In the last decades of his life, Castaneda had, of course, become a full-blown wizard, just like Don Juan before him. He was also somewhat of a cult leader.

However, all was not the pure pleasure of enlightenment for him or his closest associates. In fact, it all got pretty nasty near the end.

The Reveal: In April 2007, Salon published a lengthy article written by Robert Marshall, The Dark Legacy of Carlos Castaneda. It’s a fascinating, detailed look at Castaneda, his life, his devotees, his cult and, of course, the hoax. Marshall leaves no stone unturned and offers readers a penetrating investigation into the whole affair. The Castaneda story did not end well for some. At least five of his closest followers disappeared. Many others were left holding the bag. As Marshall points out in his article, Castaneda left a very dark legacy in his wake.

Yet, for those of us who read his books, especially the early ones, the fond memories remain. Call it hoax, fiction, or whatever you may, Castaneda could weave a heck of a tale. He created characters that last a lifetime for many readers. Perhaps a little honesty would have been better, but would it have killed any chance at publishing his first book? It’s one of the many enduring mysteries of Carlos Castaneda.

Self-Publishing Whiners and Malcontents

Yikes! From AmacordI’m completely towed-up with self-publishing malcontents. I mean those people who look down on self-publishing as some kind of modern leprosy. They chaff my undies, big time. They need to just settle down and find something else to whine about.

Now, I probably have little right to rant about this subject. My books have been traditionally published, mostly. But I’m irked by people who mock the self-published writer, claiming anyone can do it. Of course, the complainers typically have not done it. But that doesn’t keep them from spewing nonsense. For those traditionally-published writers who are among the malcontents, you are an embarrassment to our trade. Give it up and be happy.

Then, there are those universal prophets of doom who claim the entire publishing industry has been obliterated by the ease of today’s self-publishing tools and opportunities. These are the alleged guardians of what is good for the rest of us. Who appointed them my keeper?

Swamp gas to you all! A pox on your querulous houses, one and all!

The whiners completely miss the point of why a writer wants to see his or her work made available to others. For most writers, self-publishing is the only way to achieve that goal. It really hasn’t much to do with their talents. Great writers often never get published. Lousy writers sometimes do. Traditional publishing is a hard, specialized game in which only the lucky few get through the door. Publishing houses are not the arbiters of art. They often make mistakes and they are in business to make money, not preserve or promote great literary accomplishments.

Mr. BillSo, why should other writers, sometimes very good writers, not have the opportunity to be read by the widest possible audience? Self-publishing makes that happen for many writers. It can level the playing field for young, talented authors, for those who would never see the light of day in the old way of doing business.

For the complainers who believe in the value of the police state, in which a few publishers determine what gets to the marketplace, self-publishing must seem like Armageddon. They claim that the openness of today’s publishing process degrades the quality of work available to readers. That’s absolute doo-doo. Who are these people to make reading decisions for you or me? I don’t need or want the Reader Police messing around with my literary pleasures. I want to make that decision for myself. Give me the widest possible selection and get off my collective back.

Self-publishing makes all kinds of reading experiences available, everything good, bad and in-between. As a reader, it gives me choices. I like that. I’ll do my book-voting with my money, not based on the Reader Police or the selections of a few publishing houses.

For the writer, self-publishing makes complete sense. It marks the end of a long, tough process. It’s the reward for the writer’s work. If the writer allows crap to be released in his or her name, that’s on them. They still have the right to publish. I still have the option to buy or not to buy.

So, to all those malcontents who persist in the argument that today’s publishing opportunities have ruined the literary landscape, I say biddle to you and your whining. Get over it.

Instead of croaking about the opportunities available to today’s young writers, go put it in a book. Self-publish it so I can vote with my money.

Dear Gregor, What’s the Worst Book Ever Written?

GregorMickey, thanks for writing to my Head Wrap Advice Column! I truly enjoy responding to persistent and intuitive readers like yourself. Today, I am writing to you from the Moon, so I’m a little closer to home.

Your question is a ripe minefield of wisdom and speculation. As you can imagine, the accolade “worst book” is somewhat subjective. Still, this kind of thing has been measured, bandied about, argued, settled and resettled many times. There are also innumerable “worst books” out there, as I’m sure you’ve already noticed.

My research indicates that there are several worthy candidates. I’ll give you just two to consider. In my view, either of them oozes the qualities you are seeking.

Microwave for One (by Sonia Allison). Don’t bother to search out a copy. It went out of print just as it went into print. However, it has been read by a few, brave and desperate souls. Some alleged chapter titles have survived, which should tell you all you want to know. Here they are:

Plugging in Your Microwave and You

How to Wait 3 Minutes

Eating With Cats

This book was generously nominated for the accolade by the Huffington Post. Readers’ reviews and commentary can be found at the Huff Post Books section.

Sonia Allison’s book was apparently meant as a serious treatment of the subject. However, our next candidate offers more of a mystery as to message and intent.

Moon People (by Dale M. Courtney)

This is a completely controversial selection but it seems to meet the criteria. The book is available from Amazon and has some extraordinarily insightful reviews that discuss the literary masterpiece in detail. It’s very hard to know what is real and what is not, which is so much a part of the fun. Before you dive into the book, take a look at the writer’s opening paragraph for Chapter One. It is certainly a work of art, somewhere, like on the Moon.

This story begins on a Beautiful sunny day in Daytona Beach Florida With a man by the name of David Braymer. A 45-year-old Single man that works at the local High school as a science teacher and astrology in the 12-grade level. Now he’s been here about 5 years and has become kind of partial to a young lady by the name of Cheral Baskel a local restaurant owner in Daytona Beach. At the moment Cheral’s preparing her restaurant for another Shuttle launch at the cape and everyone always gathers at her place because you can see the launch real good at her place. It’s also on the water and its real close to the cape and she really decks the place out.

So, you tell me, Mickey. Are we all being pimped or is this the cosmic underdog of all literary achievements? Perhaps there are other candidates in the running. Would you like to share them in your next letter?

Hope this advice has been of some help, Mickey. As always, I love to hear from my readers.

Gregor, the Head Wrap Advice Columnist