When I enjoy a free or low-cost ebook, I’ll often write a review. I consider it a way of showing appreciation for the author’s time, effort, and willingness to share creative energy with the world. It’s chiefly meant as encouragement, like posting a comment on a thoughtful blog entry or giving feedback to a friend in a writers’ group.

Conversely, when a book doesn’t suit me at all, I move on to something else without reviewing it. Everyone has different tastes, and I have better things to do with my time than complain. Besides, it strikes me as mean-spirited to post a review saying that a book sucks, even if that is my honest opinion. It’s not like commenting on a shoddy product where a company has been deliberately cutting corners to save money. Authors of ebooks usually aren’t weighing cost-benefit considerations when they dream up their stories. They’re just ordinary people.

And when I read a book by a celebrity author, I generally don’t feel motivated to write a review. Not even if I believe it’s a great book, recommend it to someone I know, or buy it as a gift. That’s because I put celebrity authors in the category of businesspeople selling a commercial product, rather than online acquaintances creating stories for the pleasure of sharing them. As such, my encouragement isn’t needed.

For the past century or so, we’ve had an entertainment industry whose business model has been to create glamorous stars for the masses’ adoration. They’ve made it such an ingrained part of our culture that it seems like the natural way of things. We expect to see tabloids full of celebrity gossip in the grocery checkout line. Most of us take for granted that a career in the creative arts is only available to a lucky few, and that for everyone else it’s just a daydream. When our kids say that they want to be actors, novelists, or singers, we tell them it might be a fun hobby, but they’d better keep up their math and science grades because they’ll have to get a real job.

Of course, today’s technology-driven society really does need a lot of engineers, and I am not suggesting we shouldn’t inform our young people of that fact. On the contrary, I’m very much in favor of programs that encourage high school students to take a rigorous schedule of math and science courses in preparation for careers such as engineering and nursing, which are facing major labor shortages in the near future. That’s wise public policy in a world of rapidly falling birthrates and increasingly specialized jobs. But at the same time, our technological advances have created more space for artistic pursuits than we ever had before.

In the early days of our celebrity culture, real physical constraints made it impracticable for any significant number of people to pursue creative careers. We still had a mostly agrarian society, and manufacturing was low-tech and labor intensive. Most people had to be farmers or factory workers because the economy didn’t generate enough surplus production to support more than a few entertainers. Also, the low level of technology meant that films, printed books, and vinyl records were expensive to produce and distribute.

What a difference a century makes. Today’s cheap technology and the Internet have made it possible for anyone to create indie movies, songs, and books. Although our culture still has its celebrities and all the hype that goes along with them, I expect that paradigm will fade quickly as we move toward a decentralized entertainment industry. The corporate winners will be companies like Amazon that provide a low-cost platform for individuals to market their creative works.

While indie artists won’t make millions or have paparazzi following them around, there is enough money in today’s economy that they should be able to earn a respectable living, while also enjoying a close relationship with audiences who look upon them as friends.

July 7, 2013 · Write a comment · Categories: Musings · Tags: ,

I recently exchanged emails with someone I knew from a writers’ group several years ago. We’d had great fun sharing stories with a lively, imaginative circle of friends. Even the silliest stuff usually found an appreciative audience who understood it in the playful spirit it was intended. But after a while, we just got busy with other things and drifted away. We talked about how much we’d enjoyed the group and how we missed those days.

“Sometimes my husband asks if I’m ever going to get back into it,” my friend told me, “but I don’t know that it’s possible to recapture magic in a bottle.”

After the conversation ended, I thought about all the moments that we don’t fully appreciate until after they have gone by. We chase around after our kids when they’re young, and we feel exasperated because they’re so noisy and they make such a mess. Maybe we snap at them, “Grow up!”—and then they do, and we’re left looking at their empty places across the quiet dinner table.

Or we complain about trivial annoyances at work, even though it’s a pretty good job and we get along well with our coworkers. We let the small stuff get blown totally out of proportion, and we grumble about every careless or inconsiderate thing someone does. We fantasize about how much better a new job would be. But after we’ve moved on, we don’t remember the little annoyances; it’s the good times that stick in our minds.

Of course, we learn something every time our circumstances change. Our perspective broadens, and we become more resilient. Even though change is stressful, we’ve come to expect it, as creatures of our busy modern society. If we stayed in the same place doing the same things all our lives, as most of our ancestors did, we’d get bored and restless. Besides, we have much longer lives than our ancestors, so naturally we’re going to fill them with a greater variety of experiences.

The way I look at it, those magic-in-a-bottle moments aren’t really lost. They just get moved farther back on what I envision as a memory shelf, as present-day moments take their place. We write more stories and find other groups of readers who enjoy our creations. When our kids are grown, we still have conversations with them, even though they live somewhere else and we talk about different topics. Maybe we become grandparents, as more time passes. We find new jobs that challenge us to develop our skills in unforeseen ways, and after a while we discover that we’re pretty good at them.

Before we know it, we’ve built up a lovely collection of antique bottles sitting proudly on the imaginary polished hardwood of the memory shelf. They sparkle in different colors, glowing inside with fragments of the magic they once held. Here’s one that gleams softly in warm green-brown hues, holding memories of a beautiful summer morning at the river. There’s another, flickering a bright fiery yellow like the candles on a birthday cake. And look at that perfect red—it’s just the color of the roses around grandma’s porch, fragrant and humming with bees on a Sunday afternoon.

The magical moments we encounter in our daily lives can easily go unnoticed. We rush from one activity to another, worried about completing our tasks and staying on schedule. Often we don’t pause to be mindful of the dazzling sunlight coming through the window after a dark gray morning, the soft comfortable fabric of a new pair of blue jeans, or the affection in a loved one’s voice greeting us when we return from an errand. So many little details don’t find their way into our conscious awareness until many years later, when a scent or sound unexpectedly triggers a wonderful memory.

When we take the time to notice life’s small details as they unfold around us, we’re opening a door to invite the magic into the present.

Three pale blue speckled eggs filled a bird’s nest on the wall calendar in the classroom. Their smooth ovals contrasted with the long, straight twigs that formed the circle of the nest… [This is Part 6. Continue reading this installment, or read the story from the beginning.]