Happy New Year!

Well, I've managed to pack my life into a backpack and one carry on suitcase. Truth be told, most of my "possessions" are now squirreled away on a 2 terabyte external hard drive. The physical items amount to little more than shirts and socks.

I'm curious to see what New Year's Eve looks like on a plane. Do people celebrate on New Year's of the place they left? The place they're going? It will already be 12:30 on January 1st in Germany when my plane debarks. Or do we go by the time zone we're flying through? It would be entirely possible to miss the whole countdown nonsense this way, since it could be 11:30 PM, then we hit a time zone change and it clicks over to 12:30 AM. I'm kind of pulling for that result.

I'll have a full report filed here by the end of January 1st, assuming all goes smoothly. Of course, my January 1st will end 6 hours before New York January 1st. So I like to see it as travelling to the future.

24 Hours

In 24 hours I'll be sitting on a plane sitting on the tarmac, waiting for takeoff. I have a list with 25 checkboxes, and only about 7 of them are checked off. So why am I sitting here writing instead of cleaning, packing, or nailing cords into the wall? For one, so I can check another box off on my list. But more precisely, because I said I would.

The funny thing about writing is that most of it isn't that good. I don't have any profound thoughts right now that deserve to be saved for posterity. But I said I'd write every day so I'm forcing myself to do it. Unsurprisingly, it's coming out forced. But the goal is to establish habit, and in the creation of good habits, there may be a little collateral damage.

A more profound blog may have had something to do with writing a letter to my friend who's in prison for poker-related activities, whereas I'm entering something like exile in order to play online poker. But as I move away from poker, that parallel seems less profound. There's a tiny part of me that hopes I won't get those Euro-sites set up, and I'll be forced to just write for 3 months. Doing nothing but writing might lead to some forced material over that time, but I think it would lead to some great stuff as well.


Stuff. There's always more of it. That's one thing I rediscover every time I move. There's always more stuff.

Some of it is in the form of physical possessions, though I've done a decent job of whittling those down to the essentials, plus some keepsakes. Okay, plus some crap I just didn't have time to go through. And that's because there's so much of it!

But there's also stuff to do. Make sure I have everything. Clothes, electronics, food for travel, tax information for next year. I've done my research, but there's always more things to think of. At this point, I hope anything that I haven't thought of yet is just not that important, or I would have needed it by now. It's not like I'm going to get to the airport and say, "My passport! That's what I forgot!"

No, it's going to be something like a USB cable for my phone. I'm pretty sure it won't be that, though, because I'm not taking my phone.

Gifts From The Dead

I’m leaving my homeland on Saturday night, spending the year abroad. Hamburg, Soderhamn, London, then expedia knows where. I don’t self-identify as an American, even if I am quintessentially so. But I am interested in being a citizen of the world, seeing the sights, learning the language.

In the process of putting my affairs in order, I’ve divested myself of the majority of my worldly possessions. Ideally, I’d like to own only what I can carry, but I have this really cool sword, and I don’t want to cause a scene going through airport security. So I’ve kept a few things at home.

Throwing things away is a difficult process, empowering as well. But how do you cast off gifts from the dead? So many of my belongings were presents from those no longer present. I can’t say I’ve discarded those as ruthlessly as I intended. But the greatest gifts from the dead are not things, but memories. And those I hope I never let go.

Lottery Strategy

Most people correctly assume that the lottery is -EV, unless the jackpot is ridiculously huge. But even if your odds of hitting 6 numbers are 176 million to 1 and the payoff is $206 million, the lottery can still be -EV. The obvious reason would be taxes, which drastically cut the payout. Another problem is the chance of splitting the jackpot. While winning only $103 million may not seem like a bad beat, sharing numbers with others can cut your EV in half (or worse). So that brings us to the only lottery strategy tip I'll ever publish. Pick numbers that no one else will. That way, when you win a fortune, you won't have to split it with anyone. Merry Christmas indeed.

A Little Help From My Friends

Dear Friends,

I'm putting together my first work of published fiction, and you can help make it a success. My project is a collection of (mostly dark) short stories titled Zen Madman's Flash Fiction Folio. You can read samples HERE and HERE. I've launched the project on Kickstarter.com, which is an all-or-nothing funding site where you can pledge support in exchange for rewards. For $9 or $15, you can pre-order the book (PDF or hard copy, respectively), and there are bigger rewards as well. My goal is to raise $777 by January 16 to cover the cost of printing, shipping, and design. While financial backing would be outstanding, Kickstarter is as much about promotion as it is about funding. There are lots of totally free ways you can help:
  • Like: Right under the video on my project page there is a Facebook Like button. Click it. Easy.
  • Tweet: You can use this prefilled tweet, click the tweet button on my Kickstarter page, or compose your own tweet containing my project link: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/zenmadman/zen-madmans-flash-fiction-folio/
  • Share: Throw my link up on your facebook, tumblr, blog, or anywhere fiction lovers might find it. If you're more ambitious, you can embed my project video or even a full widget by using the Embed button below the video on my project page.
  • Forward: Perhaps the most helpful thing you can do is forward this email to everyone you know who likes fiction and might forward it on to their friends. Friends are awesome, but friends of friends of friends are geometrically more powerful.
  • Comment: Put a comment on my Kickstarter page letting me know what you think of my stories, what you'd like to see, and any questions you have.
And of course, you can:
  • Pledge: It's super easy; it goes through amazon.com - if you have an account there you don't even have to reenter your credit card info. You can pledge as little as $1, get the ebook for $9, the hard copy for $15, or both for $20. There are a bunch of higher pledge levels, too, but i'd rather get lots of little ones than a few big ones. Of course, no pledge will be turned away. :p

My long-term goal is to become a professional writer (and publisher) of fiction, so this is a huge first step. Not only is your help (in any form) useful, but knowing that my success comes with a little help from my friends means more to me than doing it alone.

Signed in virtual blood with actual undying gratitude,

- Paul

Christmas Solitude

Today I'm alone on Christmas for the first time in a decade. My mom's moved west, so I have no family left in New York, and my girlfriend's off on a cruise with her family. "Here I go again on my own" blares from my computer speakers as I try to psyche myself into being productive, casting off the feeling of loneliness by reveling in it.

That's all well and melodramatic, but the truth is that I'm not alone at all. I spent the 24th and 25th with friends - chosen family, as one of them says in his sermon. I'm lucky to have good friends that welcome me to their family events. I'm also lucky to have people whose absence I actively miss. I'd rather have family that I miss than family that feels like an unfortunate obligation. It's sort of the better to have loved and lost thing.

I've always felt comfortable by myself. That could be an artifact of my one-parent, only-child upbringing. Even when I still had two parents, I could spend hours alone, engrossed in activity. I can't say that I really get bored. There's always something to be doing, and a lot of things are better done alone. So today I'll value my friends and family, but also my solitude. I'm lucky to have both.

Let It Snow

When I was making the video for my Kickstarter project on Monday morning, I pondered how to make it less boring to watch. My plan was to sit in front of my webcam and talk, so I did this thing where I added some winter gear each time I paused the video. It didn't make much sense until today, when YouTube added a snow button.

To make it snow, click just above ... THERE ^ after you press play.

To Do (Ha Ha!)

I'm a big fan of To Do lists. Maybe it goes back to my parents' "To Do (Ha Ha!)" file*, but I'm great at making lists of things to do. I'm slightly less awesome at crossing everything off of them. I've pretty much been moping around the house all day, not for any particular reason. But we're coming up on low noon here on the East Coast, and that usually means I'm about to get productive. At the very least, it means I'll force myself to write a blog. Here's my to do list before dawn:

  • Print out a copy of "No Balls, Two Strikes" and mail it to my grandmother along with a Happy New Year card.
  • Get at least "very close to done" with Part 2 of my newest poker article.
  • Indulge in shameless self-promotion for my Flash Fiction Folio.
  • Eat some warm oatmeal with maple syrup.
  • Walk my girlfriend's sister's dog.

* (My mom had written "To Do" in pen. My dad responded by writing "Ha Ha!" in pencil, referencing the fact that items stayed in the folder past their due dates.)

No Balls, Two Strikes

I just finished up a new story for my Flash Fiction Folio. This one's about baseball and may have too much lingo for those who aren't fans. Let me know what you think, though. I'm always interested in the opinions of fans and critics alike. You can read it on Free Association.

Low Noon

You know how 12:00 PM is called high noon? Well, I like to call 12:00 AM low noon. It's gonna be a thing.

When in doubt, talk about the weather.

A few days ago, it looked like winter was finally here. The temperature dropped into the 20s for the first time since last winter. But now, on the winter solstice, it got up to 59°F, and at low noon, it's still 55°. What's that all about? Sounds like Armageddon to me.

I ♥ NY

New York is the Greatest City in the World. I say this not out of any disrespect to other cities. Sure, there are bigger cities, and yes, there are friendlier cities. And god knows there are cleaner cities. But nowhere in the world are more languages spoken, more cultures mingled, or more stereotypes debunked.

I used to love New York in an elitist way. I kind of thought everywhere else sucked, and The City (ah...my The City) was just better. But I had it backwards. What makes The City great is all the good things from cities around the world, and maybe some of the bad things too. It's not all here, but in one form or another, most of it is. And that's why this will always be my home, no matter where I am.

On that note, my New Year's countdown starts tomorrow at 10. That's 10 days until I leave New York, New York, and America for the better part of next year. I'm going to Germany, then Sweden, then the UK, then who knows where else. It should be an exciting journey, seeing some of my roots and some of my city's roots. Fragments of those places are found here, but I want to see the source.

I'll leave you with the following clip, the most stirring performance of The City's municipal anthem:

Flash Fiction Folio Kickstarter

Yesterday's blog was about writing every day. Continuing in that trend, I'm happy to launch the kickstarter for Zen Madman's Flash Fiction Folio. Kickstarter.com is an all-or-nothing funding site, where you can pledge to help me publish my first collection of fiction. Pledges are not donations. Instead, you receive rewards based on the amount of your pledge. You can essentially pre-order the book, get special stories just for you, or receive copy-editing, proofreading, or discount coaching services. Click here to pledge or learn more, and check out the video below.

Write Now, Every Day

Almost every book ever written on the subject of writing contains the following advice: "If you want to be a writer, start writing every day." Now that may seem obvious, a less generic version of "Just Do It." And while everything in life may seem as simple as that, two things make it particularly applicable to writing.

The first is that anyone can be a writer. In fact, you don't even need to know how to write. You only need to know how to speak. A friend recently related to me the story of his father, an illiterate man who wrote technical manuals by dictating to his secretary. Only if you're mute and illiterate are you precluded from joining the ranks of writers worldwide.

So it's easy to be a writer? Well, yes and no. The other side of writing is its permanency. Most would-be writers fall short because of a fear of commitment. When you write something, you commit those words to the page (or computer). Yes, your words can be edited, erased, or deleted later, but there's a special terror that comes with putting your thoughts down in a semi-permanent fashion. Even for those that overcome this initial fear, there is a secondary fear of showing your writing to another person, and the tertiary fear of the finality of publication.

How many great stories are left untold because of the teller's fear of telling? I fear many. So if you have a story to tell, put pen to paper, hands to keyboard, chalk to cave wall, and write now. I'll be going with the "every day" thing, writing an entry in this blog every day for the rest of the year. To put my money where my hands are (on the keyboard), I'll give 2 books or 1 hour of coaching to the first person who calls me out should I fail to make a post on any day between December 18th and December 31st (EST).

I Am Entropy

“You have, like, the worst superpower ever,” she said. For the third time in my life, I had just shattered a glass in my hand. Now, I’ve broken dozens of glasses. Most of them were on purpose. I’ve also smashed phones and lamps, computer mice and headphones, and even a television set. Breaking stuff is fun. My policy of non-violence towards living things apparently doesn’t extend to inanimate objects. But that’s not what this is about. This is about destroying things through no more than physical proximity.

A few years ago, a friend lent me his cell phone to make an emergency phone call. He dialed the number and handed me the phone. I spoke for five minutes, then handed the phone back. It never worked again.

I’ve never owned a phone or computer that’s lasted more than a year without some major malfunction. My last phone just stopped dialing 1, 4, or 7. Try to dial an NYC area code without those numbers. Others phones physically lost buttons or simply stopped working.

A friend and I used to walk around the Upper East Side a lot. Every time we passed this one streetlamp, it would go out. When we’d pass it going the other direction, it would go back on. When we formed a new band a few years later, we scheduled our first practice for September 11th, 2001. When that band went on to record a CD in August of 2003, the entire City of New York lost power.

Recording for our next band hit speed bumps when my guitar mysteriously caused the recording computer to malfunction. Drums were recorded fine. Bass was fine. Vocals went off without a hitch. But when I plugged in my guitar, the computer stopped working.

I don’t tell you this with a woe-is-me intent. It’s frustrating when mechanical devices malfunction, but sometimes it feels like there’s a little magic to it. That much is fun.

It’s not fun when people start dying, which has been too common a theme. For someone who’s never seen war or famine, I’ve seen too much death in my life. Sometimes it feels like a curse. I know that people die and things break down. These are laws of biology and physics. But it’s hard to feel like it’s not me.

Facebook Poker!

That's right, Facebook is hatching plans to enter the real-money online gaming arena. Will this make them the world's largest online affiliate? Maybe. I ponder the question for Pokerfuse here: http://pokerfuse.com/features/editorial-opinion/will-facebook-become-worlds-largest-online-poker-affiliate/