Things I do when I should be writing.

I should be writing

I enjoy writing. Whether for pleasure or work, I enjoy taking a blank page and putting words on it. There are few feelings of satisfaction for me compared to taking a blank page and forming structure from ideas.

I think the best way of improving any skill is by doing it. Reason would hold that to become a better writer, I should be writing more. Apart from this blog, I have business and technical writing at work, various personal projects and internet correspondence, and a handwritten journal I update occasionally.

Instead of writing, most days I end up:

Best option: Reading

If writing is the best way to become a better writer, reading is a close second. I read books, magazines, articles, anything about anything. I enjoy reading, and through reading learning about the world, imaging new worlds, and considering different perspectives. Even in the wildest fantasy fiction, we experience characters which present a different view of their world than what we would have. We are put in positions to build empathy and respect for characters, although fictional, which may affect how we empathize and respect those in the real world.

If I cannot write, I think I should read, and even some times I can write, I should still read instead.

Statistically probably option: Sleeping

Clocking in at six to eight hours of every 24 hour cycle, can’t rule out sleeping as something I should be doing instead of writing.

Sad but true option: Thinking of what to write

This is when I’m waylaid by my own jackassery. Maybe I need one of those writing prompt idea books. Ultimately, I think my goal in writing is to write the book I want to read. Right now, I can think of two non-fiction writing projects I could take on and a series of three to four fiction works. Why I haven’t so much committed an outline to paper is my own doing. Maybe this is the year I get motivated.

The I’m human too option: Maintaining basic hygiene

Everyone poops. Isn’t that a book?

The just like crack option: Consuming other media

Television. YouTube. Movies. Wacky internet videos. All of these things contribute to distract, calling out for precious neurons to interconnect and process, taking away from more productive tasks. As I sit here watching Rick and Morty I know my own focus is not where it should be, but hell, the point of this post is to get the juices flowing again.

Option gotta pay the bills: I’m working

Writing isn’t my day job. Truth be told, I’m not sure I’d ever want it to be my day job. I like having an office, working with other people on the type of things I work on. I’m not sure the idea of the lone writer, or even the collaborative writer meeting up in coffee shops is my cup of tea.

Nothing else to do? Write away

Which is where I am tonight, looking at a blog I started months ago which is woefully short of content. This is my jumping point to get back on the horse. Now when I’m doing those other things I am probably doing when I’m not writing, I hope to recall this post and remind myself I should be writing, then get to it.

Expensive Recycled Paper

The Cox household was out of paper.

I had a few spare moments to make a run to Office Depot to pick up a new ream of paper. We have a network laser printer for those rare times we need to print, so I usually get the cheap store brand. It didn’t take me long to find the Office Depot brand copy and print paper at $6.79. The red packaging drew my attention.

Sitting next to it, I noticed a green packaged version, the Office Depot brand Envirocopy 30  at $8.29.  I checked the specs — 20lb bond, 30% recycled, same brightness. Sure, I’ll spend $1.50 more for a similar quality recycled product. Whatever.

I pick up what I thought was a ream of the same Envirocopy 30 paper and headed to the checkout. Going through checkout, I see $11.29 come up as the price for my ream. I take another look to see I had picked up the Office Depot brand Envirocopy 100 paper. In my well-meaning quest to strike a balance between rabid destroyer of trees and environmentally cautious consumer, I was now a whopping $4.50 over the original price under consideration.

The damage was done. I paid quickly, and was already out the door thinking about my purchase and forming the basis of this post.

img_8098
Is doing the right thing worth $11.29?

Why does it cost more to save the planet (arguably)?

Producing recycled paper has additional costs over new paper production. Higher costs are associated with paper reclamation, cleaning, and pulping. A wikipedia article on the environmental impact of paper outlines the cost of preparing pulp from recycled paper is more expensive than production of virgin pulp.

Additionally, recycling certifications are added to verify to consumers the environmental benefits of the supply chain and processes used in recycled paper production. This particular product features certifications from the Forest Stewardship Council and Green-e.

How does the paper stack up?

As far as general copy/print paper goes, I personally cannot see any differences between this paper and the paper I have used in the past. There may be mild variations in durability, but nothing noticeable by the naked eye. The 100% recycled paper is bleached and smooth with no indications it is recycled. Overall, the only difference I can tell is I paid $4.50 more for the ream of recycled paper.

Summary

Was it worth it? I guess it depends on how you feel about the certification processes and the extra money diverted to the governing boards. I’d like to see a breakdown in expenses based on how much goes to the actual reclamation of paper products against the cost of certification per product, then how much overall markup is on the final product to the store. If there were any assurance that the retailer made the same amount of money from the non-recycled as the recycled, I guess that would help level the field, but from recent experiences I have had with calculating markdown from cost against markdown from price, I don’t see a world where Office Depot isn’t making a greater profit on the more expensive recycled paper.

With that in mind, next time I’ll probably just go with the 30% recycled paper product. I’m not trying to win any awards for my home use, and the price difference between non-recycled content paper and 100% recycled content paper is suspiciously exhorbitant. I’m probably getting ripped off on the 30% as well, but the difference isn’t so much I’m kicking myself for the purchase.

The best way to save on paper costs and be green is to continue reducing the amount of paper I need to print in the first place, which is getting easier. Most movie theaters can now scan tickets from my smartphone. I stopped printing photos at home. I save PDFs of things I used to print and save them to my iPad to read later. In the end, I think those go much further in being environmentally friendly than purchasing recycled paper.

Congratulations, Mr. Trump

President-Elect Trump,

I did not vote for you.

I had deep concerns about many of your platforms when running for office.

I don’t want to build a wall.

I don’t want to start mass deportations.

I don’t want to regulate immigration on the basis of religion.

I don’t want national stop and frisk.

I don’t want to cut the protection of a free press.

I don’t want more involvement in overseas conflict.

I don’t want women, minorities, and LGBTQ people to lose hard fought civil rights protections.

I don’t want people to lose health care insurance.

I don’t want sexual harassment to be acceptable.

I don’t want you to try to be a moral compass for me or my family.

I don’t think you’ll be able to meet any of the above concerns. This is why I didn’t vote for you.

Although I didn’t vote for you, I will give you the opportunity to win some limited support.

  1. I need a strong economy where I can keep working to support my family.
  2. I need a stable marketplace where I can afford housing, food, clothing, and make sensible investments for my family’s future.
  3. I need a healthy public education system for all children to learn, find opportunities, and become effective adults.
  4. I need affordable health care solutions, so when the unexpected happens, it doesn’t wipe out our finances.
  5. I need equal protection and treatment under law, or else none of what I work for is secure.

These five needs are what it would take for me to say you did a good job for me, but not for everyone. The first four were talking points in your own campaign. While not all encompassing, I think if you hit these five points, you will meet the needs of the vast majority of Americans.

I don’t encourage you to meet the needs of the majority at the expense of the minority.

I expect you to rise to the role of President in more than title.

I expect you to show compassion and help the poor.

I expect you to show respect to all Americans, even those who disagree with you.

I expect you to allow others their dignity.

I expect you to be in this for all the American people, and not just for yourself.

I hope you surprise me.

For the sake of all, I hope you prove me and everyone who did not vote for you wrong. I hope you will be a great President, that you will be a great leader for our country.

Congratulations on your election.

Sincerely,

Alex Cox, San Jose, CA

Election Day Eve

Tomorrow is the election. I will wake up early, get down to the local fire station, and vote.

My family did not always have this right.

My grandfather used to carry me to his polling place in the basement of the courthouse early on Election Day. He would bring me into the voting booth with him, pulling this big lever across the front of the machine to close the curtains behind us. Lifting me up, he would tell me which switches to pull down to vote for his chosen candidates. He would explain his selections before pulling that big lever again to cast his ballot and open the curtains to the machine.

img_7011What happened within those curtains on those voting machines in Virginia was magical. I looked forward to the day when I would be big enough to pull the lever and informed enough to know which switches to pull down for candidates on my own.

California does a paper ballot that seems archaic to even the machines my grandfather voted on when I was a kid. Voting in the primary was an odd, but comforting experience, placing my ballot in a box rather than initiating my vote by pulling a lever on a machine.

However you vote, it is important that all the votes get counted, that all voices get heard. Take your time, complete the form, and make sure your vote counts.

No matter what happens tomorrow, our nation will keep on. We are more than any single elected official. Media overemphasizes the importance of any single individual on the outcome of the whole. It is easy to get out of perspective.

I wrote a few months ago that I won’t fear a Trump presidency. It is as true on the eve of the election as it was months ago. If Trump wins, I will wake up Wednesday morning the same, go about my life and my day the same, and believe the same things as I did the day before.

Regardless of who wins, I hope there is a move toward reconciliation among the American people. Our polarization cannot stand.

Passing on the Brand

Hiatus

Months have gone by since my last post. My thoughts have not changed on Trump. I announced support for Hillary Clinton after the DNC. The intervening months have only strengthened my decision.

Silence is Golden

I get quiet when there is a lot happening. Writing is usually the first thing to go when I get busy. Priorities often limit my own time for reflection. Three months is a long time for me, so something big has kept me from taking time to form words.

My wife is pregnant, and we are expecting a son in April 2017.

I just turned 39. I will be near the same age as my grandfather when my grandparents began having children. The mirror where I view my own life through my grandfather’s is pretty clear right now. There are a lot of differences; in us, in our environment, in the world. I have come to see more similarities with my grandfather than I ever would have imagined as a child.

So comes the realization that my grandfather is my primary role model for how I will be as a father. I recall him more as the family patriarch he became than the mysterious authority figure of my childhood.

It wasn’t until I was 15 when we developed the close bond I cherish today. My grandfather shared stories of his youth, of growing up in segregation, of what the town and the world was like as he remembered. He shared with me the experiences which would mold his values and reasoning that built the rules of the house where we lived.

By the time I was 20, I had a good sense of who my grandfather was and my role to build upon our family’s legacy. We had become close, but in a relationship about ten years overdue.

Awkward Evidence of Bad Timing

My grandfather had the sex talk with me when I was almost 21. I had brought a female friend back to Virginia with me on an impromptu visit. It was about 2 in the morning, in the kitchen, after she had left for the guest bedroom and before I was about to sleep on the couch. It was a surreal moment as I was long past his ability to communicate about sexuality.

As weird as it was, it was also the moment our parent/child relationship was complete. All things before led to it, and all things after that night changed.

In a couple of years, I completed school, returned home, and our dynamic changed to me as a caretaker. I drove for him when he could no longer drive. I made doctor appointments and took him to the store. When he was hospitalized and went to a nursing home, I had an accelerated experience of caring for an aging parent. Thankfully, I was not alone. The rest of our family was there for support, help, and to pick up my own shortcomings.

Preparation

I think about my relationship with my grandfather, and I think about how I want to be as a father. I want my son to experience something like the relationship I had with my grandfather at 15 when he is about 5. I want it to be better, in my own way. I am more open, and the world has been a different place for me than it was my grandfather.

I want my son to understand me through the experiences and stories I pass on, and apply things I have learned to his own life. He will be the judge of my life, as I now become the judge of my grandfather’s.

Final Verdict

My verdict of my grandfather as a parent is to pass on some of what he taught me, some of what he gave me, and some of who he was to our son. I think he would be happy with that. He wasn’t a perfect man. Neither am I.

In this tone, I have drawn upon a quote for my goal as a parent, to pass father to son.

All that I have, all that I’ve learned, everything I feel… all this, and more, I… I bequeath you, my son. You will carry me inside you, all the days of your life. You will make my strength your own, and see my life through your eyes, as your life will be seen through mine.

Superman (1978)

If our son grows up to have the same judgement of me, I will be happy.

Fear and a Trump Presidency

This is a series of tweets I wrote toward the end of Donald Trump’s GOP Convention Nomination Acceptance Speech I wish to share. 

It’s easy to feel fear. It’s natural, it’s human. What you do with that fear helps define you as a person.

You can let fear turn you mean and cruel. Fear can make you close out others in distrust.

I think fear can be used to motivate yourself and inspire others to be better. To help make the world less fearful.

In the face of fear, I like to smile. I own my fear, and don’t let it control me. Smiling breaks fear’s power for me. 

I’m not going to fear a Trump presidency. I’m going to do all I can to help others to rise above their fear, grinning the whole way. 

No matter what happens, no matter the worst, I’m not going to let that son of a bitch take my smile from me. 

On Political Correctness.

Let’s talk about political correctness a moment. 

I’m seeing a lot of posts and comments with the repeat phrase “why do we have to be so politically correct?” My answer to that is without practicing political correctness, people have time and again disregarded the dignity of others. Usually those others are more vulnerable, less fortunate, and have less agency than those making the non-PC statements. 

Granted, being politically correct doesn’t mean the heart underneath is good, just as being politically incorrect doesn’t mean you are a bad person. However, working to improve the experience of others by thinking carefully about the words and phrases we choose is a good thing.

So the next time you think about throwing out political correctness for the sake of expediency, consider your message. Do you want people from other groups to consider your idea with an open mind? Are you trying to convince others of a concept which would require sacrifice or a consideration against their own self-interest? Odds are you would receive a better response thinking critically about how others would respond to the words you choose, and how you would want them to select words wisely for you. 

In the end, taking a moment to treat others with dignity is always a better option.