Category Archives: Inspiration

Jane Austen, in EMMA, taught me a new word

Emma, by Jane Austen, is a delightful story with vivid characters, challenging interpersonal relationships, but overall a backdrop that encourages doing one’s duty, being principled, caring for others, and ultimately doing what is right.

In this reading of the story, I was struck by a new word that I learned:

 

Valetudinarian: A person of poor health or unduly anxious about health.

Oxford Reference English Dictionary

After introducing the term, Austen illustrates it accurately in the character of Mr. Woodhouse, Emma’s father.

Before I describe him for those who have not read Emma recently, I think it’s important to distinguish Valetudinarian from Hypochondriac. A hypochondriac imagines he has a serious disease. I suppose when those fears are disproven, fear of another raging, illness emerges.

A valetudinarian, such as Mr. Woodhouse, does not necessarily believe he is ill at the moment, but rather evaluates every activity, every relationship, and every interaction from the perspective of the health implications. So, for example, when others are enjoying a hearty meal, Mr. Woodhouse insists on a thin gruel. When guests are coming over, he insists Emma make sure they are not ill. Children are seen as carriers of disease and travelling is to be avoided if there is any chance of cold, rain, or snow.

Austen does not overtly criticize Mr. Woodhouse, but simply shows how his valetudinarianism constrains his own life and the lives of those around him. Still he is much loved, and understood. Emma cheerfully looks after him. Even Knightley acknowledges this duty as an important obligation.

The implications

When I look at my own life in 2020 and 2021, the tendency toward valetudinarianism is very strong. I seem to have been conditioned to see every relationship, every activity, every human interaction from the perspective of health. Like Mr. Woodhouse, this long term focus, this application of a health filter to every aspect of my life is not beneficial and constrains me much as it did Woodhouse. Indeed, it naturally engenders a constant feeling of vague fear.

So what’s the answer?

While I was reading Emma, I was also reading George MacDonald’s The Seaboard Parish. MacDonald, like Austen, lived in an era when medicine could do very little to improve health. The recipe seemed mostly to rest and wait to see if the patient is able to recover. MacDonald’s personal experience with illness and death, should have made him a prime candidate for valetudinarianism, but he was not like that at all, even though he suffered many sorrows from disease.

 Sickness, particularly Tuberculosis, was no stranger to the MacDonalds. George would christen it as being “the family attendant” in later years. It took the lives of four of his children and some of his grandchildren as well.

http://georgemacdonald.info/children.html

MacDonald lived the idea that God is supremely good and we can trust the future to him, including whatever confronts in the way of illness or death. Our job is to do our duty in the present and leave our future (over which we really have no control) in the hands of the Almighty.

In The Seaboard Parish, there is a massive storm which casts a great ship on the rocks just off the coast of Walton’s parish. At great peril, some sailors and passengers are rescued but many were not. A battered sailor with a broken leg believes he is dying (he was not) and asks Vicar Walton what he should do. Here is what what MacDonald said through the character of Walton:

Trust in Christ and do not be afraid.

George MacDonald, The Seaboard Parish, Kindle Edition (Unabridged).

He did not lie to the man as perhaps some would today, to make him hopeful of recovery and easier. He gave the unvarnished truth and I believe it was the best thing to say, since MacDonald had a hope that transcended even the prospect of imminent death. So, as I continue to hear the never-ending news reports on Covid strains as they move through the Greek alphabet, like hurricanes moving through alphabetical names in September, I’ll remember George MacDonald’s admonition and try to live a life of faith, unintimidated by the government, the health agencies, and the news media.

What I learned from Tim Keller’s Message on Guidance

In these days when, by government edict here in Canada, churches are deemed “non-essential services,” I find myself searching the internet for inspiring and thought-provoking messages. A few weeks ago, I listened to a 2004 message by Timothy Keller on guidance. See the link below:

For a transcription of the talk, check out the link below:

https://reformedevangelist.blogspot.com/2015/12/a-transcription-of-tim-kellers-your.html

Keller talks about three forms of guidance:

“We’ll find out by answering, by looking at these proverbs and understanding first of the guidance God does, secondly the guidance God gives and thirdly the guidance God purchases for us.”

  • Guidance God does
  • Guidance God gives
  • Guidance God purchases for us

He further subdivides “Guidance God does” into:

  • Paradoxical guidance God does 
  • Non-obvious guidance God does

There is so much in this message that I can only talk today about what spoke to me about “Paradoxical guidance God does.” When I think of guidance I think of help in decision making. Keller points out there are two contradictory views about decisions. One view is a deterministic view that decision making is really an illusion. Our brain chemistry, our hormones, are appetites so completely determine our decisions (if you’re a Materialist) that our decisions don’t matter. There is also a theological version of this: God makes our decisions for us, so again they don’t matter.

The second, free-will view, is that our decisions completely determine everything. Keller astutely points out that both points of view, if thought through to their logical implications, can’t help but lead to despair. Absolute determinism logically leads to complete passivity. My decisions don’t matter, ever. But free will leads to paralysis since I know so many of my decisions will not only be wrong, but devastatingly wrong that second guessing and doubt will paralyze me.

Keller correctly points out that, not only Proverbs, but he New Testament itself asserts both individual Free Will and God’s Sovereignty (Determinism) simultaneously and the two together are essential for hope and confidence in the future.

Since Free Will exists and is operative, my decisions matter a lot, so I cannot be passive. Yet since the God who loves me still is sovereign, he can smooth over my many poor choices, so in the end I will be okay. Keller uses the Genesis historical account of Joseph where many people made terrible decisions with some good ones thrown in, but God, made everything work together to good purpose and save Jacob and his family from a killer famine.

How to Come to Terms with this Paradox

As a scientist, I am no stranger to paradoxes. The one that springs immediately to mind is the wave-particle duality that is particularly pronounced in small particles. One knows this paradox is intrinsic to particles. One also understands the quantum nature of very small particles is so different from what I encounter in the macroscopic world, that I should not be surprised the properties characteristic of the quantum realm appear as paradoxes to me.

The way a physicist handles these paradoxes is instructive. One knows when to treat an electron as a particle and when to treat it as a wave to solve a particular problem. For diffraction one treats an electron as a wave; for collisions as a particle.

Some years ago I read Roger Penrose’s book The Road to Reality. Much I did not understand but his explanation of the arrow of time always stayed with me. Of the four dimensions (x, y, z, t) only time is unidirectional, that is to say time always moves from the present to the future. Indeed, our world is what it is, because of time. The Second Law of Thermodynamics states that for any process, the entropy of the universe must increase. To go back in time is to return to a lower entropic state of the universe and so contradicts this law. As a human being, I am remorselessly and relentlessly bound in time. At one point in time I am deciding cereal or eggs for breakfast. Twenty minutes later that decision is irrevocably set in the past. Within time I made a decision.

Yet if I believe that God created everything including time, then I have to believe he exists outside of time as well as within it. This to me is the whole explanation why Free Will and Determinism can co-exist. Within time (the only realm I comprehend), real decisions are being made and have consequences. Outside of time, in some way there is some multidimensional present where all of infinity is seen (I want tot say simultaneously, but that would be a symptom of my incurable compulsion to always drag time back into God’s timeless realm).

This brings me to my final point. I can’t understand God’s Sovereignty without dragging time into his timeless realm and so making him responsible for all actions and destroying Free Will. I can’t understand his sovereignty, but at least I know why I can’t understand it.

As Keller points out, having free, meaningful choices and a sovereign God superintending all is the only way of avoiding paralysis on the one hand and passivity on the other. Like the scientist, I apply my imperfect models to the problem at hand. When I am making a decision, I decide knowing that this is my responsibility. When I have second thoughts and wonder if I my decision has been a huge mistake, I am confident that God in his sovereignty will make it work out, despite my flawed choices.

A Review of Andrew Seddon’s IRON SCEPTER

The year is 2495 A.D. when the Earth-based Hegemony is expanding its influence across the galaxy to integrate independent worlds settled during an earlier expansion phase. Major Karel Novacek is the ranking officer of the Hegemony’s Political and Ideological Bureau assigned to Lenore, a cold world of about 65,000 inhabitants that is slated for integration into the Hegemony. Novacek faces the difficulty that the inhabitants of Lenore don’t want to integrate. After the Hegemony navy easily destroys the defending Lenore fleet, Novacek has to quell an underground resistance movement. The first contact with an alien space-traveling species further complicates his Lenore mission, but also draws him into a much bigger political gambit.

The fast moving plot, the surprises, and the battle that Novacek fights within himself as he carries out the ruthless dictates of the Bureau, make this the best science fiction book I have read in a long time. Not only is the plot exciting, but many times I found myself thinking about the weighty questions facing Novacek as he agonizes over the conflicting dictates that arise from obedience and loyalty to the Bureau and doing what is right. I’m looking forward to reading two of Seddon’s other books, Farhope and Wreaths of Empire, in the near future.

My rating … 5 out of 5 stars

Attending CRAFT, COST and CALL Book Launch

I’m looking forward to attend Patricia Paddey and Karen Stiller’s book launch of their latest book, Craft, Cost & Call at Wycliffe College.

I have the privilege of reading a short passage on Writer’s Groups as part of the festivities. It looks to be great fun and I am honored to be asked to participate.

Kazmaier Summer 2019 Update

Kathy and I had a chance to spend thirteen glorious days at our cottage near Seeley’s Bay, Ontario. The days were mostly sunny and the weather was warm. Here are some of our highlights.

It’s a time to disconnect from the internet, enjoy God’s wonderful creation, and see the beauty of the natural world.

Swan at Evening

We’ve had our cottage since 1989 and never before have we seen swans in our bay. I have seen them elsewhere on the Rideau, but never in our bay. Here is a picture of one with the evening reflection of the trees coloring the water,

Blanding Turtle

We often see turtles in the water, but this is the first time one was wandering across our front lawn. My best guess, after looking at the eight turtle species of Ontario, is that it was a Blanding Turtle, although I didn’t handle it to check for a yellow neck and characteristic markings on the plastron.

Porcupine in Elm Just Off Porch

We have a small elm on the front lawn just ten feet from the porch. To our surprise we had a large porcupine in it. Thankfully it left at the first opportunity. I don’t know if our dog knows the danger of porcupines and they can damage buildings if they set their mind to it.

Morning Kayak on the Rideau

One morning I was up before dawn and took my kayak up the channel. It was beautiful seeing the first glimmer of sunrise from the water. It reminded me of Proverbs 4:18

“But the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, which shines brighter and brighter until full day.” [ESV]

As I thought about it, most people would say this metaphor has it backwards: our lives begin with the dawn, progress through the noon day of young adulthood and then fade into night as we grow old and die. But I think Proverbs has it right. As Christ-followers, old-age is like the darkness before the dawn, but we have a great hope and look forward to a glorious sunrise. I find that a very cheerful thought.

Finally, one of the things I am able to do consistently at the cottage is write. I had set as my objective to complete the first draft of my next book: Coventry 2091. I didn’t quite achieve it, but I came close. My first drafts are very crude and really show up the defects in my story, but even so it’s a major milestone for me.

Now Something I had Intended to Add

Othello, our dog, often watches to make sure that everything is okay at the cottage. If it is not, you can be sure he goes out to investigate.

http://bit.ly/2YRduRP_Othello-Door

I’m often asked: “Can you make money as an indie author?”

When people ask me this question, they are usually asking because they or someone they know is active or will be active in writing a book, and they are wondering what to expect. Others ask it because they are skeptical that it is even possible to make money without going through a traditional publisher.

My answer is usually a qualified “yes” it is possible (but certainly not guaranteed) to make money through an indie or as I prefer to call it, a micro-publishing endeavor.

Why the qualification? There are three basic reasons.

Indie or Micro-Publishing is a Small Business Endeavor

The first thing that one has to remember: Micro-Publishing is a small business. Like other small businesses, this means you will likely not be making money out of the starting gate. Rather, like other small business start-ups, you will have to put in long hours with little remuneration, and finally there is significant risk that you will run out of money, patience, or interest before the business begins to pay off. This comes with the territory of starting something you own.

A case in point, many writers that try to find a traditional publisher also spend a great deal of time writing with no remuneration and then attempting to convince a publisher to take on their manuscript (also with no remuneration). This start-up time when taking the traditional route is often excluded from pay-back calculations. The writers who run out of money, patience, or interest choosing this route are ignored leading to a “survivor bias” when comparing traditionally published authors with indie authors.

Many writers augment their early cash flow with writing-related income, for example, editing, free-lance magazine submissions, contract writing for trade journal or instruction manuals. In my own case, since I write Science Fiction, I tutor in physics and chemistry, as well as provide chemistry consulting as a way of staying connected to science.

Indie or Micro-Publishing is an Annuity Business

Secondly, Micro-Publishing is an annuity-driven small business. When you publish your first book, there will be an initial flurry of interest and then slower sales over the long term. Long-term sales depend on how many people hear about your book and hear enough good things to take a chance to buy it. You may also get copyright remuneration or some remuneration for library usage. These long-term sales are your annuity.

The key point: as you write more books, this annuity stream will grow, but often in the initial stages, the up-front costs of writing and publishing more books will grow faster than the annuity stream.

Most Writers Care About the Art as Much or More than They Care About the Business

Finally, writers are artists as well as business-owners. They have a message or art they wish to develop which is often more important to them than the money. I’ve often been told, “If you wrote Science Fiction more like mainstream SF, you would sell more books.” I think that’s true, but I wanted to write Science Fiction that I would like to read but no one else has bothered to write. For me that means I explore worldview, spiritual, and philosophic questions as well as maintaining a strong science component in my novels. Not optimizing only for the money, probably puts one on a slower growth trajectory, but through it I hope to connect with kindred spirits who long for the same kind of story that I seek.

So What Should I Worry About as an Indie Writer?

1. Scalability

First, ask yourself what happens if my next book goes viral and hundreds, even thousands of readers want it at once? Can your distribution system handle it? If you only sell personal copies or mail them yourself, the answer is probably “no.” If some other organization handles the sales, then the answer is likely “yes.” In other words, make sure your distribution channel is scalable in case the breakthrough you hope for happens.

2. Marketing

Writers are often taught to market aggressively. I won’t do that for two reasons: (1) I don’t want to approach anyone in a way that I would not want to be approached. I don’t like aggressive tactics so I won’t use them. (2) I started to realize that when friends would see me, they would immediately think “I haven’t bought Peter’s book yet.” I don’t want that either. Their friendship is much more important to me than a sale. They need to know that they don’t have to like or buy my books to be my friend. That thought should not even come up.

As a consequence, most of my “advertising” or marketing is low-key on social media, by email signatures, or by magnetic signs on my vehicle. Word of mouth, without my intervention, is still the best form of advertising. Improving my writing craft so that readers will enjoy my books so much that they will give them as gifts or recommend them to friends and family is my long term objective.

3. Things Change Unexpectedly

When I published my first book, it was still possible to use Canada Post to mail books to customers at a reasonable shipping charge. Now so many surcharges, special charges have been added that even with a small-business discount, it can cost me $17.50 to ship one book to a nearby small town. Who can afford to pay that much on a book worth $20-30? the answer is “no one.”

This unexpected change has shut down one potential channel for reaching readers. These kinds of changes that are beyond a writer’s control have a major impact on the business. Like all small businesses, one has to adapt and make sure there are several ways to get your books to your readers.

Final Thoughts

Above all, keep writing, connect with like-minded readers, and connect with other writers who share your passion to communicate with others and bring a little beauty and inspiration into their lives.



Disclaimer

I do not offer publishing, small business, or other financial advice. I offer my own history, observations, and comments up in the hope they will stimulate thinking and discussion.



Inspirational Writing Locales – Go With The Flow- Maurelle Island

Maurelle_Cropped

Imagery Copyright 2018 DigitalGlobe, DigitalGlobe, Map Data Copyright 2018 Google

As a writer I’m always looking for inspiration. I want my readers to “see” the scenes they are reading about and so I want to experience and even do my writing in places that help me describe beautiful locales. Furthermore, beautiful natural settings seem to inspire my imagination.

One place that helps me in this way is our cottage on the Rideau Canal System in Eastern Ontario. I have found that my kayaking adventure off British Columbia’s Maurelle Island is another place that has inspired my imagination.

I had opportunity with family to spend five glorious days with Go With The Flow near the Surge Narrows islands.

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle Heriot Bay

We were a family group of four and were joined by another couple who began as strangers but rapidly became good friends. We had an absolutely wonderful, breath-taking time! The temperature on the ocean was perfect for summer. The kayaking instruction was helpful. The scenery was spectacular. We were able to see abundant marine life and our guides were very knowledgeable and provided interesting details about the plants and animals we were observing.
Although I have kayaked on lakes a few times, the kayaking instruction I received significantly improved my stroke and my endurance and confidence improved markedly.

Read Island View

The food was superb. It was well-presented and delicious. I so appreciated the early morning coffee enjoyed on the Cabana overlooking our bay, the Surge Narrows islands and Quadra Island.

With respect to my writing, I now have pictures embedded in my memory of tidal flats, rain forests, fern-filled glades, and brooks bubbling over moss-covered rocks or meandering through flower-filled meadows.

What a contrast to the lake country I love—the tang of ocean spray, seals, sea urchins, crabs, and cool air even in the midst of summer. And almost no mosquitoes!

Kayaks

Base Camp at Low tide

If, as a writer, you’re thinking of checking this out, you need to be aware of two things:
1. The days focus on kayaking. Your writing time (if you choose) will be in the late afternoon and evening.
2. The base camp, on a picturesque, secluded bay, is off-grid. For my part, I took six chapters of my latest manuscript for reading out loud and editing. You can charge your laptop, but there is no internet.

For my part, I have pictures in my mind’s eye and photographs that I think will enhance my writing for years to come.

If you’re interested in what Peter is writing, 
follow this link for his author page.