3.14159265359 Pi Problems

Today is Pi Day—and not just any old March 14th Pi Day, but rather THE Pi Day of the Century. Or so some T-shirts claim, showing it as 3.14.15 9:26:53. The problem is, wouldn’t that make it the Pi Second of the century? To name the entire day as Pi Day, the time designation would have to be dropped. But if you drop the time, shouldn’t the number 3.14159 be rounded up to 3.1416, making the Pi Day of the Century next year? And speaking of rounding, there’s the question of which is the correct Pi Second. Do you drop the numbers that come after 3.141592653 or round them off when determining the exact time? If you round them off, then the Pi Second of the Century is actually 3.14.15 9:26:54, not 3.14.15 9:26:53. Ignoring the seconds doesn’t work either. The minutes are faced with the same dropping-versus-rounding dilemma as the seconds are, making the Pi Minute of the Century either 3.14.15 9:26 or 3.14.15 9:27.

Of course, my dictionary gives the approximate value of Pi as 3.14159 because it’s one of those numbers that goes on forever. It doesn’t even repeat itself. So should we really be trying to pinpoint an exact minute or second for such an irrational number? If we stop at the hour when translating the number into a date, there’s no quibbling over whether to drop numbers after the 9 or round them off. Either method results in 3.14.15 9 am. We could even celebrate a second time at 9 pm—or a first time, if you sleep in on Saturday mornings. Surely something that occurs once in a century deserve an hour or two of celebrating and not just a second or a minute.

All those mental gymnastics are just the beginning of my problems with celebrating Pi Day…or Pi Second…or Pi Hour of the Century. Even if I can figure out when and what to celebrate, there’s the next question of how to celebrate it. Since I’m not a math geek, doing anything involving math would not be my idea of a celebration. My first thought, given my fondness for puns, was to celebrate by having pie on Pi Day. Unfortunately, while trying to decided between chocolate cream pie and key lime pie, I glanced at the list of ingredients on the labels, which cured me of any desire to consume either one. (I really have to stop reading what’s in prepackaged food or I’ll have to start cooking again.) The final blow to that idea came when I went online to research Pi Day and discovered that everyone was having pie for Pi Day, turning what I initially considered a delicious pun into something as stale as the three-day-old pie I almost had. Eating pie for the annual March 14th Pi Day is now more of a tradition than the spontaneous, pun-filled celebration I had envisioned.

I still wanted to mark the occasion somehow, just in case it is officially pronounced as THE Pi Day of the Century. After all, I’m unlikely to be here for the next one. So I’m celebrating with a spinach and mushroom pizza pie and blogging about my efforts to deal (semi) rationally with a situation involving an irrational number. As celebrations go, it’s pretty pathetic, especially if today’s Pi Day of the Century becomes one of those momentous events in life like the turn of a century that people use as a reference point, but it’s the best I could come up with at the last Pi second. And by including a pie chart that has no relationship to anything else in this post except for it being a pie chart, I can end all this with some appropriately irrational figures. How Pi is that?

Favorite Music Chart

You Know You’re a Writer When …

PunctuationOne of the articles I read recently in my backlog of writing magazines was about different ways to use punctuation to insert breaks or pauses in writing, with the main focus on ellipses and dashes. Although there was nothing especially new in it, it was well written and did point out a few subtleties to take into consideration. Not only did I enjoy it, but I actually jotted down a few whimsical thoughts.

Ellipses and dashes are the popular kids on the block, the celebrities of punctuation. They’re the ones we most frequently turn to when we want to add a little vitality or drama to our writing. But sometimes this habitual usage and their bold energy overshadows the nuances between them. Finesse is reserved for more elegant punctuation like the artistic semicolon, which highlights a similarity between two sentences that we might not otherwise notice. So it’s good to be reminded that ellipses and dashes are not interchangeable.

Of course, the article would have been more helpful if it had been about comma usage instead. I know I could use more reminders about all its different functions, since I often disregard the rules and insert commas willy-nilly throughout my writing. But I suspect the author of the article fell for the flashiness of ellipses and dashes. Besides that, covering all the finer points in how to use commas would take more space than that allowed for an article. Such a penetrating examination of commas would need at least a chapter, if not an entire book, devoted to it.

I also confess that I probably enjoyed the article more because it was about the exciting ellipses and dashes rather than the ordinary commas. But regardless of which specific ones were focused on, it must surely be true that only a writer would find an in depth article about punctuation that interesting and inspiring.

A Semi-Organized Mess

My continual efforts to find a better free website have littered the Internet with a fragmented trail of content and randomly scattered links to that content. Decisions about what to do with it all are further complicated by my changing goals. I started off many years ago with personal blogs. After I published a book, I temporarily pretended to be an author and created websites with mixed content, some with multiple feeds to social websites. But the truth is, I’m a writer, not an author.

This is a perceptual difference that’s difficult to define. I used to think the distinction had something to do with whether one had published a book. That definitely justifies calling oneself an author. However, it didn’t automatically turn me into one and even publishing more books wouldn’t change that. So perhaps the difference is in the attitude of the person who writes, publishes, and markets books. Authors are professional about it. And it’s pretty obvious that I’m not.

I did try it for a while, too half-heartedly to achieve much success, but it was still sufficient for me to realize I didn’t want to be professional about either my writing or my website. Being nonprofessional doesn’t mean that I don’t know how to be professional or don’t know how to write well. It doesn’t mean that I don’t have a strong enough desire to write or that I don’t have anything worth sharing. And it doesn’t mean that my choice is either better or worse than someone who chooses to pursue a career as an author. It’s neither morally superior in some nebulous way nor intellectually inferior in a practical way. It’s simply about figuring out what’s right for me.

By reevaluating who I am and what my goals are, it’s now easier to sort through the mess I made and choose which material to transfer to this website. But I don’t want to just repost all of it on my blog here. Even if it’s updated or rewritten, it always feels a little stale to me and can also create too much duplication if blog feeds have been set up. So instead, I’ll create special archive pages.

The first group to be transferred are my book reviews, which will be listed on their own archive page (titled Book Reviews) because I hope to keep adding new reviews to it. Here are the individual links to their location on this website.

Book Reviews listed in alphabetical order:

Ask And It Is Given by Esther and Jerry Hicks
Frequency:  The Power of Personal Vibration by Penney Peirce
It’s All Too Much by Peter Walsh
The Management Of Time by James T. McCay
The Nature of Personal Reality by Jane Roberts
The One Thing Holding You Back by Raphael Cushnir
Poetic Justice by Alicia Rasley
The Power Of Now by Eckhart Tolle
Retired Not Expired by Eda Suzanne
The Sedona Method by Hale Dwoskin
Setting Your Heart On Fire by Raphael Cushnir
Straight Talk, No Chaser by Steve Harvey

A Comparison Review:

The Art of Indecision:  1) The Art of Choosing by Sheena Iyengar, 2) Overcoming Indecisiveness: The eight stages of effective decision-making by Theodore Isaac Rubin, M.D., and 3) The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less by Barry Schwartz

Holiday Hoopla

MuddyPawPrintAlthough we no longer do much celebrating when it comes to holidays, our favorite blogging dog, Big M, enjoys a bit of hoopla being made over them. Of course, he likes to make every day special, but we do try to give him a few extra treats for the big holidays. So for Christmas this year, we gave him a bone and a partially dug hole to put it in.

Well, not really. What we actually did was let him name his very own crater on Mars, partly as a Christmas present and partly as a bribe. When we were looking at pictures of Mars on the Web, he was so fascinated by all the shallow holes on its surface that he smeared the entire computer monitor with dog … uh, let’s call it mucus since we’re feeling very civilized this morning and don’t want to use any offensive four-letter words. After he closely studied the matter for a very long time (which for a dog would be more than an hour), Big M concluded that Mars must have once been inhabited by an unknown species of giant dogs, possibly some type of terrier, given the extent of the digging they did.

We cleaned off the monitor and told him he could name one of the craters if he kept his nose off the screen. He agreed and even managed to resist doing so for well over 20 minutes—a new record for him keeping a promise not to do something he wanted to do but shouldn’t. And at least us giving him his very own crater to name has localized the blur to one spot.

Big M’s Crater: Dig It

Catching Up

Catching Up ReadingI’ve been trying to catch up on some of my reading. After unsteadily working at it for the past few years, I feel it would now be appropriate to pat myself on the back for how much I’ve accomplished. I have finally finished all my old Writer’s Digest magazines through 2005 and am reading issues from 2006.

This may not sound like stellar progress, but my collection was ancient in magazine terms. I still had unread issues from the twentieth century and stopped subscribing to it in early 2010. By that time, the magazine was no longer being published on a monthly basis, so even though there’s 4 years left to go through, it’s actually just the equivalent of 2 years.

One advantage to reading old magazines is that a lot of the content is obsolete and can be skipped over. There’s no need to check the market listings or conference schedules. Information about what the current hot topic is or what a particular agent is looking for no longer applies either. This greatly speeds up the process of getting through the magazine.

I do peruse some of the articles about the future of the publishing industry. Ones about the future of ebooks are usually worth a chuckle, since the explosion in their popularity seems to have been largely unanticipated. The most interesting articles are about effective writing and editing techniques. They are almost always still valid.

The disadvantage, of course, is it’s far too late to respond to anything. For instance, I took a humorous quiz to see if I had what it takes to be writer—or if I was too well-adjusted and normal. I failed the quiz. I only got points for 3 of my answers:  having delusions of grandeur, thinking writing is incredibly hard, and believing writers are just as important as doctors, teachers, scientists, and firefighters. Other than that, I wasn’t obnoxious or pushy enough. But let me assure you that I am not well-adjusted and normal. So it’s obvious there needed to be the following bonus question on the quiz:

Agree or disagree with this statement. Even though I have dismally failed this quiz, I still have what it takes to be a writer because I’m the exception that proves the rule. If you agree, you get 100 points and an automatic A+ pass. (Hooray! I get an A+.)

Unfortunately, there was no way to share this thought with either the author or other readers, as the quiz was published 9 years ago.

Once the backlog was reduced to a single magazine box, I slacked off a little but still hope to finish by the end of 2015. That event will merit another celebration, although it’ll be a quieter one since apparently Writer’s Digest heard me loudly congratulating myself on how well I was doing. After ignoring me for several years, out of the blue they sent me a special offer for former subscribers—one that’s almost too good to pass up. Except that’s the type of irresistible deal that created my unmanageable stack of unread magazines, so I’m not falling for it. At least not until I finish the ones I have and revel awhile in the wonderful, empty space I’ve created.

Spiritual Self Help Books

SpiritualSelfHelpWhen it comes to spiritual self help books, the underlying message is usually similar, but the form is strongly affected by the person sharing the information. So the real challenge is finding which ones you can relate to the best. I’ve chosen three prominent authors in this genre—Dr. Wayne W. Dyer, Abraham-Hicks, and Deepak Chopra—to provide a general comparison. They are all essentially saying the same thing, but with their own slant and their own valuable insights.

I really wanted to like Dr. Wayne W. Dyer’s books. He’s very knowledgeable and seems genuinely sincere in his desire to share what he knows and to help others. But it’s a struggle for me to finish his books. I’ve now reached the point where I’m trying to figure out why I keep losing interest in them. It’s not the content, although it does feel like a bit of a rehash of other people’s thoughts. Certainly, his frequent quotes and references to others don’t create a feeling of originality. Still, he does share some ideas and thoughts that expand the topic in ways I hadn’t considered before. It’s also not the clarity or the writing. Everything is clearly presented, and his books are easy to read.

One problem I have is I don’t find Dr. Dyer’s books particularly thought-provoking. He presents a goal—a “sacred” one, in fact—and makes it sound impressively special and eminently desirable. Unfortunately, deep down, I don’t seem to desire it. Not only that, I feel a little guilty for not desiring such a praiseworthy, and even exalted, goal. He then gives you all the steps to take to reach this preordained goal. There seems to be no room for reflection or different perspectives.

A second problem is the way he describes the journey one has to take to reach “the promised land.” The focus is on all the problems one faces and how hard it will be to overcome them. His books are filled with phrases like “try to,” “make an effort,” and “attempt to.” The feeling created from these word choices is that it will be a long, arduous journey to reach a place that I’m not sure I want to go.

In contrast, the Abraham-Hicks series of books brushes aside “problems” as if there aren’t any real ones. Everything is easy, if you allow it to be. What a wonderfully appealing idea that is! If your life is going badly, all you have to do is stop doing those things that are blocking the good life and start heading in the direction you want to go. The explanations of what you’re doing currently and how to change everything are amazingly clear and simple to follow.

These books were a refreshing change from most of the others I’ve read in this genre.  Not only that, I do happen to believe that when you’re on the “right” path for yourself, then life is easier. Things have a tendency to fall into place. And this type of easy reading, easy answers may be exactly what you’re looking for, especially if you’re not into all that mystical stuff (assuming you can overlook the one tiny flaw of these being “channeled” books).

So what’s the catch? Well, it’s all too facile, too superficial. The books lack a spiritually satisfying depth. Everything is outwardly focused. Even the source of the information is an external “group of beings” called Abraham. And all the information and techniques given are aimed at changing the life you are leading in this physical world. It’s all about creating abundance, health, great relationships, satisfying work, etc. Perhaps creating a wonderful life experience is the whole point of us being here. Yet, it’s hard to ignore that niggling feeling of “Is that all there is?”

If you want spiritual depth and thought-provoking ideas, there’s always Deepak Chopra. His books presents many different religious and spiritual perspectives, blending Eastern and Western philosophies, with a special emphasis on health. Like the other authors, he has read widely and distills the knowledge he has gained from his reading and from his personal experience for the benefit of the reader. But he does not portray himself as the grand teacher and knower of all things. Thinking and questioning are definitely encouraged. They are meant to be read slowly and reflected upon, which is my preference when it comes to these kinds of books.

But there’s no real “action plan” given. So for some people, they may be too philosophical to do any good. Understanding is valuable, and sometimes that alone will “solve” a problem. However, more often than not, people need a hint of what to do next. No matter how profound something may be, there needs to be some kind of practical application for it, if it’s going to affect our everyday lives.

All these books are based on the idea that we have “creative control” over our lives, which is accomplished through the amazing power and focus of our consciousness. And even if a person can’t embrace this concept in its entirety, our thoughts and beliefs do control the way we experience our lives. Therefore, any book that helps us to understand ourselves and our thinking processes and helps us use this information more effectively is of value.

Which author a person likes really depends on whether one prefers the problem-solving approach of Dr. Wayne W. Dyer (a result of his psychology background) or the simplicity and practicality of the techniques in the Abraham-Hicks books (shaped by their business background) or the intellectual style of blended philosophies provided by Deepak Chopra (influenced by his upbringing and life which combined Eastern and Western beliefs). Of course, if you are searching for answers and understanding like me, you’ll probably read books by more than one of them because each will help you expand your perspective and add to your self-knowledge.

There is one other important thing these books tell us. The authors were able to find their answers—ones they were confident enough in to share with other people. So even though their answers may not be exactly right for us, there’s no reason we can’t find our own answers, just as they did.

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(This post was previously published on a website that is no longer available.)

A Good Cry

Life is full of niggling incidents. Some are so trivial we barely even notice them in our busy lives. Most of the others we’re able to brush off, conserving our energy for bigger problems, rather than wasting it on minor irritations. But all those little jabs and dings do accrue over time. We end up with layers of invisible scrapes and bruises that make us feel battered and worn out. This built up negativity can be counterbalanced with positive things. We regularly rejuvenate ourselves with a vacation, a pat on the back for some achievement, or a special treat.

But that’s not always sufficient. Sometimes these psychological injuries can only be alleviated by being expressed. That’s probably why some people feel better after having “a good cry.” Unfortunately, I’m not one of them. All my cries have apparently been “bad” ones because I’ve never felt better afterward and usually feel worse. The only thing crying does is add the discomfort of a stuffed-up nose and red eyes to my still unresolved problem.

It wasn’t until recently at a chamber music concert that I experienced something similar to that cleansing release of a good cry. One of the pieces they performed was String Quartet No. 8 written in 1960 by the Russian composer, Dmitri Shostakovich. Since I’m not that knowledgeable about classical music, I wasn’t familiar with it, even though it’s very popular with both musicians and audiences. The only information provided was that it was written during a very dark time for Shostakovich (both in his private and public life) and that this piece was autobiographical. There are five linked movements, blended together so I couldn’t differentiate them, but in the fourth, there is a repeated series of three rapid, strong notes, possibly intended as the ominous sound of the KGB knocking on the door in the middle of the night.

With only this limited information, I was unprepared for the feelings it evoked. The solemn opening motif instantly drew me in, and the music carried me along, deeper and deeper, into the turmoil of emotions being expressed. There was anxiety and agony; danger and despair; fear and frenzy—all these feelings and more. But rather than dragging me down, as one might expect such a dark piece to do, it seemed to siphon out all my negative, stressful feelings and absorb them into the music. When the music faded, I was left with a feeling of peace.

I would not expect to react like this every time I heard Shostakovich’s String Quartet No. 8.  Nor is it something I would want to listen to very often because it’s very intense. Instead, it’s a musical experience to be saved for once in a while, for when I really need a good cry.

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