What Does Junk Mail and Wikipedia Have in Common?

The answer is that both only get  a two to three percent response to their solicitations. And while junk mail sells junk, Wikipedia serves a good purpose.

Their articles do a fine job of providing secondary source material  (external link) and an excellent job of listing or linking to primary sources of authority.

“If everyone who used Wikipedia this year donated, we wouldn’t need to fundraise for years to come. But only 2% of our readers give. We’re sustained by the support of our donors, who choose to do something exceptional.” Jimmy Wales, Wikipedia Founder

I donate whenever I can to Wikipedia. I hope you are able to do as well.

https://wikimediafoundation.org/support/ (external link – URL goes to the parent foundation)

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Posted in non-fiction writing, Research tips, revising writing, southwestrockhounding.com, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Architecture and Writing and Compromises

Tom Wolfe once said that we all have to live with an architect’s mistakes. How true. My bad writing won’t assault your senses (and that of the public) every time you drive to work. That’s unlike the concrete tilt ups that litter every office park and too often the close-in urban landscape. Along with buildings that had a decent budget, could do design right, and instead belong in a river like the library below.

Idea Exchange, Old Post Office
RDHA, Cambridge, Ontario, Canada

Wallpaper* Magazine is out with another great article on design. Library architecture and design: a worldwide guide (external link) shows off some very pretty buildings that complement their subject and others that indulge in a fascination with fashion that can impact any art.

In Las Vegas, Nevada, a building facade called stacked stone has been popular for years. It is literally everywhere and will be around until people move back to stucco or stamped concrete or slate shingles for siding or whatever next becomes popular. And then all of these old buildings will start looking dated, be torn down eventually, and a new cycle begun. In Vegas every new major building, churches included, demand a curved front. No more square buildings, there has to be a front facing hemisphere for anything to get built.

Tecnológico de Monterrey New Main Library
Sasaki, Monterrey, Mexico

As I mentioned, the Wallpaper* article features some terrific looking buildings, many set like this one in Monterrey. I find HDR photography fascinating as it recalls postcard photography, where everything is pictured in, literally, its best light. Professional photographers are so good they can make a pig farm compelling, artfully playing with mud and filth.

Like architecture, writing is a compromise. Budget, orientation, acceptance. My book topic wasn’t my first choice, it was my publisher’s marketable choice. Similarly, few architects can design what they want with the budget they want. Compromises or outright lies follow.

When California wanted a new State Fairgrounds it went big. Literally. Instead of the small, tree and lawn studded old state fair ground, this new place would sprawl over whatever acreage was needed to satisfy the wish list of every exhibitor and concessionaire. Walking anywhere would become a death march in the unshaded August heat.

Relieving that somewhat would be the generous use of brick pavers. Alas, the State Fair project went over budget and acres of concrete were installed instead. And then the money ran out for that and blacktop substituted. To this day, walking the Midway is no different than walking in a 110 degree asphalt parking lot. Last year, the State Fair installed misting stations  as attendance dropped due to the heat.

Adding to this misery was the miserly maintenance budget. Ordinary state employees with little gardening skills proved unable to coax the new, poorly planted trees to good growth. Hundreds of Canary Island Pines were installed for inexplicable reasons, those slow to grow and only thin shade providers. Scores of trees died outright and were never replanted. Forty years on, the grounds resemble a pygmy forest.

This present day happy graphic shows a green and blue oasis that the architects may have originally envisioned. That blue includes a splash fountain that has now been fenced off for play by sweltering children, perhaps to prevent slip and fall lawsuits. Look but don’t touch.

As Eliot said,

Between the idea
And the reality
Between the motion
And the act
Falls the Shadow
For Thine is the Kingdom

Between the conception
And the creation
Between the emotion
And the response
Falls the Shadow
Life is very long

Between the desire
And the spasm
Between the potency
And the existence
Between the essence
And the descent
Falls the Shadow
For Thine is the Kingdom

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One of The Seven Sisters in San Luis Obispo County

Just had some 40 year old half-frame slides turned into prints. Kodachrome film showing loss of color and tone. I’d post a picture or me or the rest of the countryside but I think the only thing worth looking at is Bobbi Jo Crane.

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The Harding Pegmatite Mine in Taos County, New Mexico

The Harding Pegmatite Mine in Taos County, New Mexico is owned by the State and managed by the University of New Mexico. You can visit and collect up to five pounds of material but there is a procedure you must follow and an unmarked entrance road you must find.

I describe those details in my Places to Visit and Collect in the Southwest file (external link) at my rockhounding site.

Taos County is D.H. Lawrence country and still home to countless artists, writers, and their studios.

These photographs are from last October.

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Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area

Took a walk at Red Rock today, just west of Las Vegas, only ten miles from where I live.

Below: looking north to iron stained hills at dusk

Below: looking south to a limestone outcropping with Yucca

Below: desert wash

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DHL, Serial Disorder and T.S. Eliot


I am using DHL to ship for the first time and getting odd results. They charge a premium price but the service isn’t premium.

To hurry up a mineral identification I had my local shipping store send a tiny package to Canada using DHL. Or, at least I thought it was sent to Canada. At 5:05 PM I got a call from an unidentified number which I didn’t pick up. They did leave a voice mail, though, so I did listen to that.

It was Las Vegas DHL hub, saying that they had opened the package to inspect for customs and discovered a ten dollar bill. “We don’t handle cash so please call us back to let us know how we should proceed.” Darn. I often send small amounts of American money through the US Postal Service without any problem.

I immediately called back, only to get a recording that said the office was closed and to call back during regular business hours. Which turned out to be 9 to 5, Monday through Friday. What? An international shipping company that closes at five? There weren’t any online or phone resources to help me since the package hadn’t fully entered their system.

Delaying my trip for today, I called this morning and was told the package could proceed but that I would need to fill out a commercial shipping form. DHL marks everything that isn’t a document as commercial, even if the value of a package is worth nothing. Like my crystal samples. My postal store hadn’t told me anything about such a form.

The hub said I needed to come downtown to fill out the right form but then later agreed to e-mail me one I could fill out. Instead of a clickable .pdf, they sent an Excel file that dated back to 1997. Whatever. If you don’t have Excel, Google Sheets can be used to read Excel spreadsheets and save them in that .xls format.

With that filled out and e-mailed back, my package is now supposed to be on the move, fully 22 hours after I first dropped it off. I will now send a check through the USPS to Canada, hoping the mineral dealer will understand the delay.

Serial Disorder

During my conversation with the DHL rep, I constantly tripped over the waybill number. I had carefully written it down after listening to the voicemail, but the rep couldn’t get find it in their system. I thought it might be that my serial disorder acting up [internal link] but I hate to blame my own carelessness on my condition. Besides, how could I know if it was acting up at this moment? Maybe, in recalling this number, I was just being stupid. Like all my math teachers thought.

The rep finally looked up my account with my street address as a key. He then said I had been telling him the right numbers but they were mixed up. I hid a depressed sigh and said I understood. After getting off the phone, I sent a text to my brother who also lives in Las Vegas. I needed to pick up the air compressor he had borrowed. I said I couldn’t remember, was his apartment number 1146? The reply, 1164. It never leaves!

As I said in my previous post on high school, a terrible problem with math and this condition is that you can never safely double check your work. Even in being careful, there is no guarantee that your numbers will ever match up. A pox on all those self-righteous self-help advocates [internal link]  who say you can overcome anything with hard work and dedication. No, some things don’t bend neatly to the system that you are selling. Peddle something else other than guilt and blame.

T.S. Eliot

I was trying to remember a quote by Eliot and found out I was instead quoting myself. The line was, “By that virtue that leads you to the top of the stairs, think of me in my time of pain.” It describes the plea of a wretch condemned to the pit who sees Dante moving through Hell, finally alighting on a staircase, seemingly able to leave.

But I couldn’t track down the quote. Where was it? With Eliot, as with the writing of Kurtz in Heart of Darkness, “The peroration was magnificent, though difficult to remember.” Turns out the quote derives from the epigraph in ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’. But not the published epigraph, a draft. I’m sure I read this draft in hardcopy a long time ago but the best explanation is now here:

“The draft version of the epigraph for ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’ comes from Dante’s Purgatorio, Canto XXVI, lines 147-148:

‘sovegna vos a temps de ma dolor’.
Poi s’ascose nel foco che gli affina.

More fully (lines 142-148):

‘Ieu sui Arnaut, que plor e vau cantan;
consiros vei la passada folor,
e vei jausen lo jorn qu’esper, denan.
Ara vos prec, per aquella valor
que vos guida al som de l’escalina,
sovegna vos a temps de ma dolor!’.
Poi s’ascose nel foco che gli affina.

In his essay “Dante” (1929) [87] Eliot provided this translation (emphasis added):

‘I am Arnold, who weeps and goes singing. I see in thought all the past folly. And I see with joy the day for which I hope, before me. And so I pray you, by that Virtue which leads you to the topmost stair–be mindful in due time of my pain’. Then dived he back into that fire which refines them.


I may have reduced Eliot’s quote to what I was comfortable with, “By that virtue that leads you to the top of the stairs, think of me in my time of pain.” I can’t find that exact quote on the net. Thinking about it now, though, that distillation isn’t bad. Not bad at all.

Finally, Dante’s Inferno is well worth reading, just find the translation that works for you. Too often a classic book in a foreign language is intimidating because it is poorly translated. Too many students give up on great literature because a teacher assigned them a difficult to read version. Usually, like Eliot, the greatest writers and poets make the greatest interpreters.

Posted in books, editing writing, Poetry, revising writing, Thoughts on writing, Uncategorized, Writing by others, Writing tips | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Writing for Free

I recently corresponded with a friend who is an authority in the rock, gem and mineral trade. He laments that he has never been paid for his writing, even for a newspaper that he contributes to. His writing mainly sits at a nonprofit website, and his dozens of articles receive tens of thousands of hits. He doesn’t expect the website to pay, it’s an all volunteer organization, but he’s still troubled by that newspaper experience and a magazine that publishes his work without compensating him.

When I lived in the Sacramento Delta I wrote five or six free gardening articles for a weekly newspaper in the Sacramento Delta in the late 1990’s. I wanted to be a part of that paper because I liked the editor. He had graduated Cambridge, spent five years living with the Bedouins, and had even met the Beatles. Really. (Another story). No money, nothing financial came out of it. But I made a friend and got my art out.

You see, there were things I had learned as a green trade professional that I wanted to express. As a writer, you feel a compulsion to explain or describe things. Like  a painter who sees an image in his head and can’t relax until he brings it to life on canvas. When I am seized with an idea I sometimes go half-mad until I get it down in words. And then, like this article, I will come back over the coming weeks to edit and revise it and get it closer  to what I wanted it to say in the first place.

I tell people wanting to write for publication to spend their time seeking paid work, rather than writing free articles. Get paid something, no matter how little. “People pay me for my writing” is a tremendous confidence booster. It gets you to thinking of yourself as a professional writer. You don’t have to make your living from writing to be a professional. It’s more about attitude and discipline.

Writing on assignment or for publication is a different outlook and demand than writing for yourself or for free. Get an assignment, work with an editor, meet word count, beat deadline. That’s what being a professional is really about, not the amount of money. Beat deadline. Every damned time. I don’t want to hear that you are in a hospital or that the wife ran off or the kids have been taken by the police. Beat deadline. Every damned time.

Free articles, though, once a number of them have been written, can be thought of as resume building. That’s not a bad thing. My five articles for Rock&Gem, although they paid little, most assuredly helped me get my book contract. Those articles took a great deal of time and research and money to produce, all of which contributed to what I know now. They made me a better writer, as have all of my magazine articles.

Although I am a professional writer and get paid for all of my assignments and continuing work, I do not make a living from it. Not even close. I have always had to have other work, regular day jobs, to keep my desire to write alive.

The book project I just completed is a good example. I knew little money would come from it because I ran the numbers well ahead of time. At most, over a period of two to three years, perhaps $3,000 to $5,000 would come back. Well, my last magazine article for Outdoor California paid over $2,000. And that article only took two months to write and just two trips to the desert. I would have been better off those 14 months writing articles but I wanted to write a book. That seemed like the ultimate goal for a writer and I wanted to dedicate the book to my parents. That’s the one thing I miss about cancelling my contract. But my Mother wrote freelance articles from time to time and she would have understood walking away from an unprofessional publisher.

Because I was obsessed with completing the book on time and under word count I spent a tremendous amount of money to get it done. Like buying my $1,2000 microscope, my rock collection, my camera gear, and all of the travel expenses of the road. At least five grand. Maybe seven. My money is long gone. I  think of it now as a bad business deal like the kind everyone has in life. What’s more regrettable is that I had to give up some of my decent paying work from my Vancouver employer to get the book done. Fortunately, they have put me back on regular hours.

Let’s get back to Rock&Gem if you are in the mineral trade or hobby. They are a good starting point. They pay little but they do pay. They accept articles on spec (internal link) so there is no guarantee of publication. Best approach is to query them first with a one paragraph proposal. See if they have covered your topic before or if they are interested. If they are not, you could respond by asking, “What would you like written about?”  You never know what an editor needs at the time.

My articles for Rock&Gem were from a desire to write and to document trips that I was taking anyway. Nowadays, I feel empty if I don’t describe and share my rockhounding or road trips. When you write for publication you also have to do tremendous research on your subject and from that you will learn a great deal. I learn something on every trip to the desert or mountains. I’m learning so much about what I found on my last collecting trp that it will take two weeks to get the text and video together to describe it all.

Money. When I ran privateline.com as an educational website, no ads, I think I got two donations in five years. It had over 400 pages and two million hits one year in the early 2000’s. The Library of Congress sent people to me. The History Channel sought me out and put me on TV for an episode. No money, though. My self-published telephone magazine attracted much more attention, a few hundred subscribers paying about $27 a year. People were far more willing to pay for something in hardcopy than they were to pick up that information online. Go figure.

To wrap up, I’d suggest that anytime spent penning articles for free should instead be put into getting paying work. It may not be for publication but find something paying. For the last five years I’ve been editing and producing content for law firms through my Vancouver  employer. I love the outdoors and rocks and minerals but editing a lengthy article on elder home abuse is actually what provides some income. Most of us are just like aspiring actors working in a Hollywood coffee shop, waiting for that big break.

I hope that break comes your way but if you _have_ to write then you’ll eventually find a path that satisfies. In the end, it is the art first, then the money. A bird has to sing. You may have a website with few hits, no donations, but you will have the opportunity to present you work in the way you want to. Express yourself, even if time and logic and financial planning all say otherwise. You’re a writer. Write!

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