Tag Archive | technophobia

Conquering my Internet angst

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000038_00069]Hallelujah! I just updated the signature that goes out with my e-mails, and it took me only an hour and a half to figure out how! Mark Coker, CEO of Smashwords, says e-mail signatures are one of the most effective and easiest ways to market your work, but for me, when it comes to internet technology, nothing comes easy.

Lest you think I’m a total ignoramus, I’ve known how to create signatures for ages, but they’ve been tiny and self-effacing, in the plain text that’s standard with Thunderbird. To promote my new book, Hope Dawns Eternal, and let people know it’s for sale on Amazon, I wanted something flashier that will jump out at viewers, and for that, Thunderbird told me I need to use – insert gasps of horror, hyperventilating and pounding heart – HTML code. For the uninitiated, that stands for hypertext markup language.

I’m proud to say I didn’t have an anxiety attack. I’ve come a long way since acute panic made me drop out of a web design course at Hudson Valley Community College a few years back. Instead, I calmly clicked on Thunderbird’s HELP menu, found the information on creating custom signatures, and printed it out for further study. Call me old-fashioned, but for truly assimilating new knowledge, I still prefer paper.

The Thunderbird tutorial took me part of the way, but my signature didn’t look right, so I Googled “HTML code beginners.” That brought up millions of hits, and some further surfing turned up what I needed to know.

<Insert break here. It’s time for General Hospital.> 

Anthony Geary with this years Daytime Emmy

Anthony Geary with this years Daytime Emmy

Okay, I’m back. Luke Spencer saved one of his sons from a grisly death by defusing a bomb, only to face armed gunmen who – oh, never mind. Michael Easton, my favorite actor on GH, isn’t on this week. They’re concentrating on Luke because the actor who plays him, Anthony Geary, is retiring and moving to Amsterdam, and they want to give him a spectacular send-off. I doubt they’ll kill him, though, because he may get bored and want to come back for a visit.

But I digress. True, Hope Dawns Eternal is about soap operas, but it isn’t about General

Michael Easton as vampire Caleb Morley on Port Charles

Michael Easton as vampire Caleb Morley on Port Charles

Hospital. The hero, Jonah McQuarry, is a police lieutenant played by the reclusive actor Mark Westgate, who used to play a vampire on a long-gone soap called Oak Bluff. When a talk show host turns up dead, drained of blood, suspicion soon falls on Mark . . . You can learn more by checking out previous posts, or still better, by reading the Prologue and Chapter One right here on this blog. Then, of course, I hope you’ll buy it.

The world of publishing has changed dramatically in the years since I published my two previous books, and indie authors like me have more opportunities than ever before. But the trick lies in learning to harness the infinite power of the Internet, and for technophobes like me, the challenge is daunting. The learning curve is steep, fraught with perils and frustrations, but I’m determined to hang in there and master at least the rudiments of self-publishing.

My cover illustration for the original ELDERCIDE

My cover illustration for the original ELDERCIDE

When I published Eldercide and Mood Swing: The Bipolar Murders, a small firm in Texas handled the formatting and design. They did a beautiful job, and I loved the finished product, but they took a huge percentage of whatever measly sales income I managed to accrue, and my royalty checks were minimal. Though I can probably never prove it, I’m convinced they swindled me out of some earnings.

Now, with the generous royalty arrangements available through Amazon, Smashwords and other distributors, I won’t get fooled again. By summer’s end, Eldercide and Mood Swing will be available in new editions, in a variety of e-book and paperback formats. I’ll be in total control, but the learning curve is less a curve than a raggedy zig zag line. The overall trajectory tends slowly upward, but there are lots of hidden hazards and pitfalls. Often I feel the way all those cops must have felt bushwhacking through the Adirondack woods in search of the killers Matt and Sweat, wary of ambushes and sometimes doubling back on their own tracks.

One example: The design of this blog. Notice how the headers at the top are superimposed on each other like a double exposure? I know exactly when the problem arose; it was when I changed “themes,” as WordPress calls its design templates, from “Misty Look” to “Koi.” While my blog was relatively inactive, I let it go, but recently I spent a couple of hours trying to fix it, in every way I could think of, but to no avail.

Finally I clicked on the WordPress link that says “Contact Us” and arrived at a site called “Happiness Engineers.” There I texted back and forth with a friendly fellow named Amal, who gave me all kinds of hints and suggestions to try. Alas, he couldn’t fix it either, and after a couple of hours, I thanked him for his efforts and signed off. The next day WordPress sent me an email with a questionnaire asking how the experience had been, and I didn’t answer, not wanting to get Amal in trouble.

Learning the rudiments of HTML is another challenge, but I’m hanging in there. I’ve got all summer to fine tune my marketing campaign and expand my online network. For example, once again I’ll be featuring guest bloggers, beginning around Bastille Day – but that’s a topic for another blog. Right now, I’m heading out to enjoy my shade garden and a gin and tonic.

Agita – agitation, acid stomach, or both?

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner

In my post about website design anxiety, I really wanted to use what I thought was a Yiddish idiom to convey the sense of gut-wrenching agitation the challenge invokes in me, but the word escaped me. It turns out AGITA is the word I wanted, and my search brings up a few thoughts about the internet, Merriam-Webster, and the changing nature of research.

First, thanks to my friend and Nia instructor Richele Corbo for answering the question when I posed it on Facebook. (I also ended the last post with my query, but no one’s come up with the answer here.) “Aggitah!!” Richele wrote. I’d tried adgena, agina and other similar combinations, and consulted lists of Yiddish idioms to no avail, but no wonder I couldn’t find it – it’s of southern Italian origin.

Playing around with the spelling, I tried my huge old Webster’s Unabridged without success, but I finally found “agita” on Google. One definition came from a medical site:

Agita: heartburn, acid indigestion, an upset stomach or by extension, a general feeling of upset. Italian American slang, from Italian “agitare” meaning “to agitate.”

The online Merriam-Webster’s had the word as well, along with the date 1982, suggesting this was when the word was added. They even had an aural application giving the correct pronunciation aloud. 

Agita: S. Italian dial. pron. of Italian acido, literally heartburn, acid from Latin acidus, therefore a feeling of agitation or anxiety.

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner

So one source claims the word is rooted in agitation, the other in acid. But both agree on the confluence of anxiety and indigestion as well as the Italian origin. It took Richele, who’s of Jewish origin but married into an Italian family, to come up with the link I needed. Here I could wax rhapsodic about our wonderful American melting pot and how it’s enriched our language, but I’d rather focus on the word itself, and how I can now use it with confidence to describe that physical and psychological state that arises from too many hours spent trying to decipher new computer programs. (If you want a fair facsimile, try overdosing on caffeine or trying the wrong antidepressant. Or, come to think of it, those pharmaceuticals I experimented with back in the sixties – but we won’t go there.)

My exploration of agita also reinforces what my husband always says when we try unsuccessfully to prune our book collection: there’s no need to hang onto outdated research materials, because it’s easier to find what you want on line, and the paper versions simply clutter up the house. But does this mean we’ll throw out our entire collection of dictionaries and reference books? I wouldn’t bet on it.

How about you? Do you suffer from agita? And have you been pruning your collection of old-fashioned printed reference materials? Or do you think that’s meshugana?

Design my own website? In my dreams, maybe

Giorgio De Chirico

What is it about trying to design my own website that invariably triggers acute anxiety attacks? My site’s in need of a radical update, so for the past several days, I’ve been playing around with a program from Go Daddy called “WebSite Tonight.” The implication, clearly, is that one should be able to build it in a single night. So why is it taking me days?

I printed out the 17-page “Getting Started Guide,” and there was a disclaimer of sorts: “Like any new application, there is a learning curve when using WebSite Tonight.” Learning curve, hah – that’s an understatement.

Part of the problem is that my tolerance is limited to two hours max. After that, I can feel my blood pressure climb, and my thoughts drift to the liter of wine chilling in the fridge. That’s a sure sign it’s time to get away from the computer, if not to pour some wine, then to confront some housekeeping or overdue bills, or even watch American Idol – I’ll resort to anything to set my mind on a different trajectory.

Is there an insurmountable generation gap at work here? I wasn’t brought up to think along the lines these programs demand. Supposedly the more user-friendly ones operate along the lines of WYSIWYG – for those not in the know, that stands for “what you see is what you get.” But it ain’t necessarily so – after you follow a slew of inscrutable commands and consult the online help manuals, what you get rarely turns out to be what you wanted to see in the first place. Or sometimes you get lucky and see what you want, only to have it disappear again like the Cheshire cat when you try to save it.

Paul Klee

So why on earth am I doing this anyway? It comes down to pride and economics – I want to sell my books, I’m too cheap to spring for a professional website designer, and WordPress won’t let me run PayPal on my present site. Besides, I’m planning to launch my new blog, Authors Avant Garde, and the least I can do is become more savvy about the technical aspects of my ever-expanding web presence.

As a writer, I taught myself touch typing in high school – I simply learned the correct finger positioning, then typed stream-of-consciousness meanderings with the lights out until I got it right. In later years, I typed my way through endless term papers and menial jobs. I wrote in several genres, completed two novels that may never see the light of day before completing one worthy of publication.

As a visual artist, I spent countless hours in life drawing classes and workshops, countless more learning color and composition through years of trial and error. I’ve probably thrown out as many canvases as I’ve sold or saved. But there’s an immediacy to painting or pastels, the medium I used for my book cover illustrations – in the visual arts, what you see is truly what you get. (There are exceptions, like print-making, but that’s another subject.)

So I paid my dues for decades to develop my skills as an author and artist. I rarely  questioned the endless hours, the expense and aggravation. It occurs to me that web design may not be any different. Who am I to expect instant gratification and overnight success? As the I Ching so frequently says, perseverance furthers. I just need to cultivate an attitude of relaxed mindfulness and patience – and know when it’s time to get up and walk away.

What about you? Do you love computer programming challenges? Have you always loved them, or do you think it’s possible to learn to enjoy this brave new world? Are the challenges age-related? I look forward to reading your thoughts.

And by the way, there’s a Yiddish word that describes the way these computer programs make me feel – something like agina or adjena – but I haven’t been able to find it in a dictionary or glossary of common Yiddish terms. If anyone can come up with the correct word, I’d be most appreciative.

Amazing synchronicity amd live WordPress lesson

What are the odds that out of 22 participants in Blog Book Tour’s Blog-A-Day challenge, three of us live in the Capital Region in upstate New York? And that one of those uses WordPress and offered me a live tutorial? (Most people in the BAD challenge are using BlogSpot.)

Today I met Alexis Grant at Panera for lunch and a lesson in WordPress. Among other things, she taught me the right way to insert links and changed the widgets on my page in ways I hadn’t thought possible. She’s a wonderful teacher. Though it will take awhile to assimilate everything, I experienced none of my usual techno-anxiety – perhaps because she did all the work on her laptop, while I watched, asked questions and took notes. I’ll blog more about the experience tomorrow – for now, once again, it’s my cats’ bedtime, and I need to vacate my office.