MS and Nothingness…

MS and Nothingness…

If you don’t want to see a sick man get kind of emotional and blubber, skip this video-blog…

But if you want to see how a sick man makes something of his life, with the help of his wife and dog, watch it…

https://youtu.be/Q37IJQ07kJI

Should I be having fun creating Vlogs?

Should someone this sick behaving so much fun creating Vlogs?

I use Loom and am enjoying the process. Not saying I’m great, even good at it, but am enjoying telling my story.

Watch my latest vlog: Me and My MS… The promo for it:

“Paul Lima is a freelance writer and writing trainer. He also has MS. This video is a bit about what MS is, and the types of MS… and a whole lot about his 22 years with MS–what he can, but mostly cannot, do.”

https://youtu.be/spv8LZadmas

(almost) Everything You Need to Know About MS – video blog

Instead of writing an article or blog post, I’ve recorded (almost) Everything You Need to Know About MS as a vlog (video blog).

If so inclined, you can hear me talk on (and on!) about MS, an illness that I have now had for 20+ years. The audio is accompanied by a PowerPoint presentation.  The whole thing was recorded using Loom, an application that lets you record your voice and image (optional) as you manipulate your computer screen.

You can watch/listen to the (almost) Everything You Need to Know About MS  vlog on YouTube here.

What I am doing with MS…

It’s been 25 years that I’ve lived with my MS… Feels like only yesterday that I was waiting for a diagnosis in the neurologist’s office and passed out from MS-related fatigue while sitting there…

Anyway, I have a calendar entry that says to write in an MS blog post today… Don’t think I have anything new or interesting to say, nothing that I haven’t already said in this blog. Oh, I have some new symptoms I could complain about, and some old ones that have been around for years. But what’s the point about complaining. Doesn’t make the symptoms go away…….

Like anyone with multiple sclerosis, I am living with what I have. I have learned to live with what I have. What other choice is there? I suppose I could go into deep, depressed funk and sit on the couch and do nothing at all. So then I’d have MS and be bored out of my tree!

While I can’t do the work I used to do, I still walk my dog every day, often twice a day. We go out for 90-minute to 2-hour walks. The walks feel like they keep me lubricated. Yes, after I walk him in the afternoon, I often crash on the couch — sit there for the rest of the evening. But at least I feel I’ve earned my couch sitting!

I am 65 now, and am doing no paid work. Instead of blaming my MS I just say that I have retired. I used to be a freelance writer/trainer. I can no longer train in person (I do conduct the occasional writing webinar), but I have created a series of pay-what-you-can webinars on writing and the business of freelance writing:

  • Tell Your Story: How to Write Memoirs and Autobiographies
  • How to Develop Your Business Vision
  • How to Find Corporate Work as a Freelance Writer, Editor, Trainer, Website Designer… or other Sole Proprietor
  • How to Become an Effective and Efficient E-mail Writer
  • How to Write Effectively and Efficiently About Any Topic
  • How to Write a Non-Fiction Book in 60 Days webinar

The webinars have earned me $15 so far! But it’s not about the money; it’s about the doing. In fact, if you have MS and find any of the topics of interest, I encourage you to take any webinar at no cost. (If you don’t have MS and find any of the topics of interest, I encourage you to take any webinar and contribute a few bucks to my retirement fund!)

Although I find it difficult to write for clients, I continue to write my blog and my books. In fact, I am now up to 21 books now–books on writing and the business of freelance writing, plus my autobiography and one on MS. You can read about my books here and listen to an audio/video about my books here. (And if you want a free PDF of my book on MS, simply email msandmebook@gmail.com and request one. Happy to email the PDF to you!)

While I no longer write fiction, I have created an audio/video production of my Christmas seasonal short story Hockey Night On Ossington Avenue (part of the book, Rebel in the Back Seat) that you can listen to here. I confess I giggle a few times during the reading, and mess up the video portion now and then, but I am learning how to use Loom, a free computer screen and audio recorder that is fun to use, and practical too.

In addition to that, I read a lot, watch good TV and movies (I know, ‘good’ is all relevant) and play Words with Friends on my tablet. Hey, if you play it, look me up and challenge me! I kind of suck at it, so could be an easy win for you.

So that’s about it for me and my MS, other than this: I have to thank my incredibly supportive wife, Lyn. I honestly don’t know how I could have gotten through all this without her love, support and understanding. Not saying my illness has been easy for her. Am saying she’s been there for me every step of the way. And I am so thankful for that, so appreciative of it! Thanks, hon! Many, many thanks.

So that’s it from me. See you in 2020, the year of perfect vision!

Freelance writing world continues to change, not always for the better

Never have so many words been written by so many people. Never have so many, not all, writers been paid so little. Yes folks, the freelance writing world continues to change. And not always for the better.

The Internet is kicking the crap out of most newspapers and magazines. They are all online, but making little or no money online. Some have put up pay walls, but few people are paying — at least not for news they can get for free at other news sites. Most are running ads, but the ads generate little money.

Advertisers target their markets. Why would they pay to be on a mass consumer website, like a newspaper site, when they can find niche websites that may have few viewers, but have more viewers who are in their target markets. So some niche sites are making money, and paying writers — but not a lot of them.

That’s not to say some companies are not making money from ads. Look at Google. But Google is not a publication. Meanwhile, companies like Kijiji and CraigsList have kicked the crap out of newspaper classified ads. I mean why pay to run a classified ad in a newspaper when you can run one online, one that gets read, for free. (And of course you can boost the profile of your online ad for a small fee — more money that publications are not getting).

In addition, with so many readers abandoning newspaper reading for (free) online digital reading, ad revenue at print publications has fallen. I confess, we no longer get a print newspaper, other than the Saturday Toronto Star — and we only get that so my wife can do the crossword and other puzzles and read the comics. I myself, former freelance journalist, reading the Guardian and CBC News on my tablet — just to see how the Trump impeachment proceedings are going.

And yet look at all the words that make up the online universe! You’d think somebody would be making money producing them. But no. Most of the online words are part of what is known as social media or user generated content, like this blog post. The users, like me, do it for free. Nobody gets paid generating their own content. And they don’t mind. They want to share their thoughts and opinions with friends and enemies and relatives. Kind of like a conversation. And I don’t think people get paid to converse.

But I am not completely full of doom and gloom when it comes to getting paid to write. Not if you don’t mind corporate or promotional writing.

Companies are still hiring writers to write ads and other promotional material, website copy, social media content, case studies, media releases and other paper and digital documents. However, if you are a dedicated journalist who doesn’t want to move to the dark side, as corporate writing is often called, your money-making opportunities have been limited — especially if you want to break into writing for newspapers and magazines.

I know some veteran freelance journalists who still have gigs. Mind you, they are making per word what they made 10, 20, even 30 years ago. But they are managing to make a living at it, more or less. Some of them have supplemented their journalistic endeavors with a bit of dark side writing to pay the bills — bills that they used to pay with their work as freelance journalists.

I for one have been fortunate. I like to write, and to train. So a long time ago, when I needed to make more money from my writing, I went corporate — started to write for companies and started to conduct corporate training — in the areas of business, promotional and online writing. Enjoyed it all very much, and made a good living at it.

And then I retired. Now I seldom do any writing and am all but giving away my training  — and having fun doing so. But I can afford to have fun as I conduct my pay-what-you-can writing webinars. I’ve produced four webinars so far:

  • How to Find Corporate Work as a Freelance Writer, Editor, Trainer, Website Designer
  • How to Become an Effective and Efficient E-mail Writer
  • How to Write Effectively and Efficiently About Any Topic
  • How to Write a Non-Fiction Book in 60 Days

You can take the webinars at any time and although I have a suggested fee for each webinar (about 40 to 60 minutes long), you really can PWYC including (shhh, don’t tell anybody) nothing! Yet again, giving away content online. I am not the only one doing so; I am having fun doing so. But then I’m retired and can affords to make next to nothing.

Not sure how those starting out are doing. BUT I suspect those who are entrepreneurial in their approach to generating online content (the online word for words) have found some interesting and exciting ways to make a living online. I wish them well.

Those of you who have found your writing income slashed, you have some options. You may not like them all, but you have options.

  • Go corporate with your writing
  • Learn and sell some new types of writing
  • Learn and make money from a new skill, like editing, training, website design, video production…
  • Start a YouTube channel specializing in something that attracts viewers, and advertisers
  • Get a McJob and blog or otherwise give away your words
  • Start a specialized online publication that appeals to a niche audience, one with money to spend, and monetize your publication

I am not saying you have to, or should, do any of the above. I am saying that if you want to make, or continue to make, a living as a freelancer, you just might have to look for a change of pace. It may not be easy to adapt, but what options do you have, other than get a job? And few if any dedicated freelancers want to do that. Work? Ick!

 

Do freelancers ever retire? How MS has changed my perspective.

Do freelancers ever retire? If you had asked me that question 25 years ago, my answer would have adamant.

No. I’m going to keep on conducting writing workshops until my voice gives out. I am going to keep on writing until my fingers fall off.

I turn 65 tomorrow (November 26, 2019). I have been a professional writer for 40 years and a freelance writer/trainer for 26 years. But something happened that has changed my perspective.

I developed MS (multiple sclerosis) 20 years ago. Initially, it only occasionally prevented me from working — if I was having an exacerbation or MS attack. However, for that last five years I have had an intense, unrelenting, 24/7, chronic headache. My energy level has been steadily declining.

I can still walk our dog with assistance from my trusty cane, and do so daily even though my legs ache and I have balance issues. Thank goodness for benches on Roncesvalles (a street I walk on a lot) and tables at dog hill in High Park that allow me to sit down and rest with increasing frequency on the walks.

Reading this document, you should not see (m)any typos. But my fingers don’t work the way they used to. I make mistakes every fifth word or so. Sometimes two or three words in a row. So I have to correct the heck out of my writing, and have probably missed something. Mind you, that hasn’t stopped me from writing a bunch of books on writing, the business of writing, MS, and my memoir — four of them in the last five years. And it doesn’t keep me from blogging. But it makes the writing process laborious and tedious.

I can’t remember that last time that I wrote for a client. Not just because my typing has become crap. Writing for clients tends to involve in person meetings, phone meetings and back and forth with emails. Just thinking about that exhausts me and makes my throbbing head throb harder. Besides, even though I can walk my dog — put one foot in front of the other — I would find it next to impossible to attend meetings. (Clients don’t want to meet with a writer who has to put his head on the table during the meeting to rest!) And there would be days that the client would want to talk on the phone and I’d barely be able to get my ass off the couch.

As for training? Okay, I confess I conduct the odd writing webinar. I have energy enough to spend an hour or two at most in front of my PC talking into a microphone as I flip my PowerPoint pages for webinar attendees to see. But teach a one-day or two-day writing workshop in person? I’d be lucky if I could even make it to the workshop venue, let alone stand in front of a group of people and talk.

I am, I confess, recording a series of webinars on writing. I do so when and as I have energy. They are 30- to 45-minute pay-what-you-can (PWYC) webinars that I post online. People can take them at any time, and pay the suggested webinar fee, or more or less, or absolutely nothing. I am recording the webinars not so much for the money, but to fill time. I am enjoying the process, but it’s not work — not like I used to work. And loved doing.

So am I retired it? I sure as hell am not in Florida golfing. I am not taking a series of cruises. I am not trotting the globe or on Safari. I am not doing the stuff that many retired people do. But I am not working either. I just am. Not thanks to age. No. But thanks to MS.

It has been and will continue to be a difficult adjustment for me. But adjust I must. What choice do I have? But I will adjust with the best attitude possible. And I will keep on walking the dog — at least until my legs fall off.

So happy 65th to me. And unhappy (all but) retirement to me too.

Why do Christians consider all Gods but their God to be fiction?

Ask any Christian if they believe that the Greek and Roman gods were real and they would laugh. “Of course not,” they’d say. “Those gods were myths.”
Ask them if they believed in the ancient Celtic or Aztec gods and goddesses who required human sacrifice, and you’d get the same reaction.
Ask them if they believe in the monotheistic Gods–the single Gods of Islam, Sikhism, Zoroastrianism and some sects of Hinduism, you’d get the same reaction once again.
Ask them if they believed in any of the 8,000 to 12,000 gods who have been worshiped throughout recorded history and you’d get almost the same reaction. “I reject them all, all but one. My God.”
In other words, they believe that one God of all the gods is not mythical. They only believe in the single God of Judaism. But even then, they believe that most Jews got it wrong in that they are waiting for the Son of God to be born, whereas the Christians are waiting for his return.
So they reject all gods but one and they believe that their God had sex with a virgin who gave birth to his Son who died for three days to save the world. And they believe those of us who do not believe in that God and his Son are doomed to go to Hell for an eternity.
What I want to know is this: How cans such rationale beings, when it comes to myths of other gods, be so ignorant when it comes to the myth of their own God? How can they not see that a pre-science need for meaning and understanding led to the invention of gods/God? How can they not see that beliefs in gods/God are nothing but beliefs in mythology?
The fact is, the only difference between a Christian and an atheist is the belief in one God! Atheists reject all gods; consider them all mythological. Christians consider all but one God to be mythological, as do those of other monotheist religions–albeit a different God for each religion. And with their misplaced monotheist beliefs in mind, they wage holy wars and act in misogynistic, homophobic and so many other small-minded ways–even though, for the most part, they preach love and peace. The Christian faith also preaches the right of free will, and that their God is the ultimate judge, but Christians judge anyone who chooses not to freely accept their beliefs. Some theists condemn non-believers overtly (the religious right in America and all the televangelists who inspire them, as well as holy-war jihadists); some do it covertly. But they all do it.
Okay, not all Christians act like — there is no other word for it — jerks. Some Christians are loving, caring, charitable people. Guess what? So are some atheists. In other words, you don’t need God to be a loving, caring, charitable person. God does not make you humane. But too often a belief in God makes you act in a cruel, hateful manner. And hey, some atheists are jerks too! But at least they do not claim a divine reason for acting like they do.
I actually don’t have a problem with theists who want to worship in peace. I may disagree with their beliefs, but I don’t have a problem with their worship–as long as it is a peaceful and personal worship. I do, however, have a problem with theists who want to inflict their beliefs on others–and often do it in a war-like manner or in a political manner that shuns, disparages and hurts (physically, mentally and emotionally) those who are different–those who just want to get on with their lives. I have a problem with theist leaders who exploit the naivety of others for political and/or financial gain.
Honestly, if there was a Hell, I’d want theist leaders condemned to it. But instead, at some point they are just going to die, like rest of us, and turn into everlasting dust.
A lot of books countering religious beliefs have been written by former Christians turned atheists or by those who have been atheist forever. Heck, even I have written one–“The Atheist Chronicles” (available in print or e-book versions). But you know what? You don’t need a book to disprove God. You just need to open your eyes to see where gods/God/religions came from. In short, if you have a functioning brain, you will say, “Oh, I get it. All gods/God/religions have been made up.”
Initially, they were made up to explain this magical world around us when we had no scientific explanations. Then they were made up to pay heed to a higher power that gave meaning to an otherwise meaningless world. And finally, sad to say, they were made up to serve political and financial interests of those who pull various religious strings.
To all Christians, to all theists, I say wake up. Take a good long look in the mirror of your beliefs. See reflected back the mythology of gods/God/religions. Because that is all it is: mythology, fiction and lies. And if that causes you to shake in your boots because now life seems meaningless, well, welcome to life as it is. Find whatever meaning and joy you can in it. And heck, even be depressed by it now and then. Because life is what it is, and can’t be anything more than what it is.
Before I log off, allow me to ask my Christian fundamentalist friends–those who believe that every word in the Bible is the gospel truth–a couple of simple questions: Did two penguins waddle up from the Antarctic to get on Noah’s ark? And what about the fish? Did two of each kind follow the ark around while the rest of them, I don’t know, beached themselves or drowned in the flood?
Do you see how absurd your fundamentalist beliefs are?
But it’s not just the fundamentalist beliefs that are absurd. It’s all gods/God/religious beliefs that are. So even if you cherry-pick your beliefs — don’t believe the Bible as a whole but believe in God and that you are going to Heaven and I am going to Hell — sorry, but you have still fallen for one rather bizarre fiction.
I am not saying that I know how life began, that I know what the meaning of life is, or that I have answers to life’s questions. I suspect nobody knows any of that. And that’s okay by me. I am saying that your God, or anybody’s God, does not have the answers either, because everybody’s God is a myth — a work of fiction. And that will have to be okay by you. Or not. You are free to believe or not believe me. Just as I am free to not believe you. But I will not browbeat you or punish you or threaten you with eternal damnation for your beliefs.
All I am asking you to do it to look closely at the facts. You will see that what I have spelled out is just the way it is, for all of us — no matter our beliefs.

Revised Family Tree, chapter 1

Thanks for the feedback on Family Tree, chapter 1. I have revised it (see below) and sent it and a detailed book outline to a literary agent for consideration. Wish me luck! Note: Family Tree is historical fiction. Feel free to leave any comments in the comment section of this blog or email them to paullima.com@gmail.com.

Family Tree

 Paul Lima

 Chapter 1: San Francisco 2015

 Corey Alden pulled his yellow Ford Focus electric hatchback into his reserved spot in the parking lot of AncestryDiscovery, the DNA company for which he had recently started to work. Today is the day, he thought as he reached into one of his pants pockets and gave his lucky Linden tree seed a squeeze.

He was due to get his DNA results back and wanted to go through the assessment process that AncestryDiscovery clients went through because it would make him a more knowledgeable and effective Director of Information Technology and Web Services. But he was also wondering if he had a genetic connection to anybody in Germany or England, where his roots had been planted over a millennium ago.

He knew that nobody on his family tree had lived in Europe, Britain to be exact, since 1607 when his British ancestor had left England on the Discovery, one of the three London Company ships that also included the Susan Constant and Godspeed, to establish the Virginia colonies. His distant ancestor, Bayland Makepeace was a crewmember on Discovery. However, Bayland had fallen in love with Meredith James, a colonialist on the ship, and had stayed in Virginia to help establish Jamestown, the first permanent English colony in the Americas.

A tall, thin man in his early fifties with a full head of greying hair, Corey had studied information technology at the University of Waterloo in the late 1980s. He got a job in IT at the TD Bank in Toronto and worked his way up the ladder. As the Internet and World Wide Web developed, he moved into teaching IT at the University of Toronto and became the co-ordinator for the development of Web-based and e-commerce university courses. He did something most people in his position didn’t do. He took the courses that he brought instructors in to develop and in 2009 he and his wife Indira and daughter Ashley moved to Vancouver where he became the director of IT, responsible for Website and database development and e-commerce for an online stock trading company. AncestryDiscovery in San Francisco had recently recruited him to head up their IT and Website Development department.

He had never had his DNA tested until joining AncestryDiscovery. But he knew a great deal about his family tree from the family history that had been passed down to him. It had been passed along over generations, first as oral history, then written on birch bark, then on paper, then typed, and finally produced as a word processing document — on floppy discs, hard discs of various sizes, CDs and eventually the USB key that he now possessed. Since 450 AD, along with the family history came seeds from a Linden tree  — the literal family tree — that grew in Saxony. He had in a pocket one of the seeds from the Linden he had planted in Vancouver, before being recruited by AncestryDiscovery in 2015. In his briefcase he had a printout of the story he had inherited from his father, James, before he had passed way. At home, he also had other Linden tree seeds from the tree that he had planted in Vancouver from seeds that had come from the Toronto tree his father had planted. He would soon plant several seeds with his wife, Indira, and his daughter, Ashley, once they bought a new home in San Francisco.

That tree would spawn the seeds that Ashley would inherit and take with her when she left home, hopefully after spending a couple of years at the University of California–San Francisco in the Master of Science program.

As he walked into the AncestryDiscovery building, he saw Joshua Forbes, Director of DNA Results, in the lobby. Joshua wasn’t a millennial like most of the people who worked at AncestryDiscovery, but could almost have passed for one. Although he was almost forty, he looked younger with his straight-back posture, clear and healthy skin and his longish swoop of dark hair that often fell over one eye.

“Fancy meeting you here,” Corey said. “I was just going to come up to your office to see if my DNA test results had come in so I could start looking at how the system works using real information.”

Joshua shook Corey’s hand. “How are you settling in?” he asked.

“It’s been two weeks,” said Corey, “I’m still getting the lay of the land. But I think it’s fair to say that I’m settling in well. Lots of meetings, but getting me up to speed.”

“And in terms of a place to live?”

“We have a short term house rental. The owners are on an extended vacation in France. We are looking to buy a place, a house with a back yard where we can plant the Linden tree that I told you about.”

Joshua smiled and motioned Corey into one corner of the bright lobby, out from under the large skylight that kept the lobby perpetually filled with light on sunny days. They sat on a couple of padded benches that ringed the lobby, where visitors sat when waiting for somebody from the seven-story building to meet them. “I confess that I was waiting here for you,” said Joshua. “Wanted to go over a couple of things before we chatted in the office so that you could have your initial reaction here rather than in an open-space office. If need be, we can then go up to a meeting room to carry on our conversation.”

Corey looked at him, confused. “What would I be reacting too? How do you think I’d be reacting?”

“Nothing related to your job, not really,” Joshua continued. “The thing is, most of your DNA results are what you’d expect, based on what you told me. You are 35 per cent Germanic, 45 per cent British and 20 percent African, African American I presume. Nothing else in you.”

“None of that, based on the family history I told you about, is unexpected. So what’s the issue, if it’s not related to information technology or the website?” Corey asked inquisitively.

Joshua cleared his throat and rubbed a finger across the tip of his aquiline nose. “I took a look in our database, the kind of look that you would take if you got the results of your DNA testing from us. I wanted to be familiar with what I was going to show you. Save some time so that you could focus on how the system is set up and how it works and see any hiccups you might want to smooth over. That kind of thing.” A cloud settled over the skylight and the lobby lights automatically brightened, keeping the lobby well lit. People walking through the lobby, to and from the elevators, barely noticed the minor variation in lighting, the transition was that smooth.

“There is one result that I’ve never really seen before. Or I’ve seen it where one might expect it. A sibling separated from a sibling finds him or her, or find a sibling’s child in our database. A mother finds a child she had to give up for adoption, or an adopted child finds a birth parent. Two first cousins, long separated because one family moved away, reconnect. Your connection is not that close, given the passage of time, but it’s like that kind of thing.”

Corey looks inquisitively at Joshua. “You’ll have to give me more. You know, treat me like I’m a DNA dummy, which I am.”

Joshua chuckled. “We’ve found somebody who, again given the passage of time, is a remarkably close DNA match to you. Unless you have recent European relatives, perhaps people you are not familiar with?”

Corey shook his head.

“This person, she’s like a distant cousin. At least that was our first thought. Only we found markers that make it seem like she is somehow descendant from the woman that you are descended from.”

“That’s not possible,” said Corey, “I’m descendant from a single child, and have the documents to prove it, as ancient as they are.”

“That’s what you told us. Only the DNA is saying you need to dig deeper.” Joshua got up. “Let’s head for the elevators. I’ve got the meeting room next to my department reserved for the next while.”

Corey joined him and the two men headed up to the fifth floor of AncestryDiscovery. They sat in the small meeting room and Corey put his briefcase on the floor, settling in for the conversation with Joshua.

“I’ll bring you up to speed on our DNA discoveries, then we’ll go to my desk so I can show you the computer results of what I’ve told you,” Joshua said.

Corey wrinkled his brow, a confused look settling over his face. He scratched the back of his neck. “I have fairly remarkable family history documents and a conventional immediate family. A younger sister, and no long lost siblings, certainly not any that I am aware of. My father’s deceased and my mother still lives in Toronto, in a nursing home. My sister, bless her soul, helps to take care of her. We have some aunts, uncles and cousins in Ontario. Not many. But no European connection.”

“All that may be,” said Joshua. “But I found a person who is a rather remarkable DNA match to you. She doesn’t live anywhere in Ontario, or even in Canada or America. She had her DNA tested by our European division. She is closer than anybody else we’ve discovered. Even closer than some folks living in North America who are somewhat of a match to you.” Joshua paused and inhaled. “But there is more.”

“Do tell,” said Corey.

“She is also very active on our discussion boards. She says…” Joshua cleared his throat as if about to recite a dramatic passage and looked at Corey. “She says that she is looking for somebody with a DNA match who has… and these are her exact words…’inherited the planting of a Linden tree.'”

Corey sat back in his chair and slouched. “Her exact words?”

Joshua nodded.

“But how would anybody outside my immediate family know about that?”

Joshua shrugged his shoulders and shook his head. “For an answer to that, I think you will have to chat with her.”

“She lives in England?” Corey asked.

“Germany. Just outside of Dresden.”

“Dresden? As in Dresden, the capital of what was once Saxony? That Dresden?” Corey asked incredulously.

“That Dresden,” said Joshua. “She’s lived there forever, as far as I can tell, and has a rather extensive family tree around her, all living in and around Dresden and several other locations in Germany.”

“And you are saying that she could be a relative?”

“About as close as one as you can get while putting a thousand years or so between you,” Joshua replied.

“What’s her name and can I connect with her?” Corey asked.

“Elsa Stern. Like I said, she is quite active in our community forums,” Joshua replied. “She’s communicated with people in England and North America who have some DNA matches. But nobody she’s chatted with has anything like you have in terms of your DNA results match to hers. And as far as I can tell, nobody she is communicating with is planting Linden trees.”

“Does she have access to my profile? Does she now know I’m out there?”

Joshua shook his head. “I didn’t post your DNA results in the database because I didn’t want her finding you before you found her and got to review who she was and what her connections to you were. Also, I wouldn’t publicly post your results without your permission, even though we are just doing this, in theory, so you can test the Website and backend system and have your department make any necessary modifications. I went into stealth mode, which I can do as the database administrator. That way I could set up a dummy account and look for matches to your DNA, without giving you away. Now it’s just a question of when, or if, you want to reveal yourself.”

Corey nodded. “Makes sense to me. So what’s the next step?” he asked.

“We go to my cubicle. I show you your results and her profile. Then you decide if you want to go live.”

“That simple?” he asked as he picked up his briefcase which had been on the floor, resting against his leg.

“That simple.”

The two men got up and headed towards the door. “Thanks for briefing me privately,” Corey said.

They went into the DNA Results administrative centre, where Joshua’s cubicle was located. “Come into my lair and I’ll show you what we have,” Joshua said as he headed towards the end of the open concept office space. They passed a dozen DNA analysts either tapping away furiously at laptops, almost all of them connected to large flat screen monitors, or sitting in front of their computers sipping coffee. Four analysts had started a foosball game at the game table in the centre of the room. Joshua nodded at all of them as he passed. To the foosball players he said with a chuckle, “Let me know when Germaine and I are up.” He turned to Corey and explained, “We’ve got a round-robin tournament going on. Winner takes on a team from the membership department, then I think your IT folks are next in line.”

Corey laughed. “Trust me, you won’t see me on the IT team. My assistant wanted me to hire a freelance programmer on a three-month contract. Think she was a foosball ringer. But I couldn’t justify the headcount.”

“Thank goodness,” said Joshua as he pulled two chairs in front of his computer desk. “Have a seat while I get us a coffee. Cream and sugar?”

“You got that right,” said Corey.

Five minutes later Joshua was calling up Corey’s DNA results. “We’re going to take a look at the results of your test. You’ll be seeing exactly what the consumer sees. No bells and whistles. Then I’ll show you how we enter the database and find matches. We’ll still be in stealth mode, but again you’ll be getting a consumer bird’s-eye view of the system. Finally, I’ll show you the profile of Elsa Stern. You can then decide if you want to leave stealth mode, post your results, and contact Elsa. That’s something you can do here, from your computer in your office or on your computer at home if you’d prefer to get the full consumer experience.”

Corey leaned back and sipped his coffee as Joshua put his DNA test results on screen and began to explain the process of analyzing DNA. “We can track your paternal ancestry by looking at the Y-chromosome, which fathers pass on to their male children. Maternal ancestry can be found in what is known as mitochondrial DNA, which mothers pass to all of their children. However, the richest and most detailed ancestry information comes from comparing everything else, as in the twenty-two non-sex chromosomes, against the massive database we have accumulated in North America, Europe and a number of other countries.”

Joshua pointed to the screen as Corey’s results began to process. “In short, the algorithm we use takes an entire genome and chunks it up into little pieces and compares each piece against what is known as the reference data set. It compares it against British, German, Scandinavian, African and other reference data. It goes through the entire list, and it spits out a probability for where that piece of DNA came from. So if the test says that you’re twenty-five percent British, it’s because twenty-five percent of the pieces of your DNA were most likely to have come from a group that our reference library has labeled as being British.”

“That is quite remarkable,” Corey said. “And from what you’ve seen, you’ve deduced that I’m 35 per cent Germanic, 45 per cent British and 20 percent African American?”

“That’s correct,” Joshua said. “But here is where it gets more interesting, at least to someone like me.”

“And I expect to me too.”

“We go to what we call a Match Compare page and click on the Shared Matches tab for a list of DNA matches that you have in common with others.” Joshua moved the mouse and clicked on a couple of tabs on the screen. “Like so.” He picked up his coffee cup and took a swallow. “Now you can review the family trees of your shared matches for surnames, places and specific people that are similar to you in terms of DNA. As you will see, some of those who have similar DNA matches to you have started to build their family trees. Others have not. It’s all up to individuals to do what they want to do.” Joshua made a couple of additional clicks. “If you identify an ancestor, a person with similar DNA traits to you who has at least two of your shared matches in their tree, you’ve found someone to research. You can consider contacting that person. Your goal would be to work together with them to build your mutual family tree. When you get the name of a possible ancestor you can investigate how closely the person is related to you and use the predicted relationship to estimate the ancestor’s generation in the biological family tree you’ve created.”

“The interface looks easy enough to manipulate,” Corey said. “But then I’m in IT and this is your job. What happens if a consumer gets befuddled by all the options they have?”

“That is a good question,” said Joshua. He sipped at his coffee which was in his left hand while manipulating the mouse with his right to show Corey what users would have to do if they needed help. “We have help screens but I’d like to see them more closely integrated with the action a consumer is taking rather than having the consumer click away from the Match Compare page to get help, then come back to the page and remember what to do.”

“Something to think about as I am going through the process.”

Joshua nodded. “I love the fact that you are thinking about work, which we are supposed to be doing, as we go through this process. Having said that, I have to show you one more thing that is related to your personal DNA quest.”

Corey laughed. “I don’t mind combining business with personal.” He put his coffee mug down on Joshua’s desk.

Joshua did some clicking on the screen. “Remember, we’re still in stealth mode. We are not invading anybody’s privacy because everything we are seeing is publicly available. We are just not publicly sharing your DNA results.” He made one final click. “Here she is. And watch this.” He had Elsa Stern’s DNA results on screen and he pulled Corey’s DNA results on to the same screen. “As I said, you are vaguely related to a number of people in our database. But you are truly related to Elsa.”

Corey leaned in and looked closely at the DNA results on the monitor. “To my eye, I hardly see any differences,” he said. “Some, but not a heck of a lot.”

“Like I said, based on the DNA markers you have in common, we’ve found a decidedly close match. Only from what you told me, you and Elsa are separated by over a thousand years, unless somebody related to you in your recent past went back to Europe and started a family that Elsa is descended from.”

Corey scratched his head of thick but greying hair. He rubbed his hands together as if trying to conjure up an explanation. “I guess the story that I’ve inherited could be missing some pieces, but I’ve created a timeline based on the rather extensive document that I received from my father, who got it from his mother, who got it from her mom, and so on and so on. And it sure looks like it’s all there.” He sat back and inhaled deeply. “So what’s the next step?” he asked.

“Your call,” said Joshua. “As I mentioned, we can go live here. You can go live in your cubicle. Or I can send the link you need to you and you can go live from home.”

“I’ve got a meeting coming up soon with our ethical hacker team to get up to speed on our state of online security, so send the DNA information to my email address the way you’d do with any customer, and I’ll go from there tonight. Might as well see how the system works while I’m going live and tracking down my mysterious connection,” Corey said.

*     *     *     *     *

When Corey got home from work he could detect the distinct aroma of Chettinad Fish Fry, pieces of surmai fish marinated in garlic, cumin, fennel, curry leaves and tomatoes and then pan-fried in oil. He knew it would be served hot on a bed of basmati rice with a saag paneer or spinach curry on the side.

He hung up his jacket on the hall tree and called to his wife, Indira. “It smells so damn good! What’s the occasion?”

He heard Indira laugh from the kitchen just down the hall. “I’ll let Ashley tell you when she comes downstairs,” she called back.

He entered the kitchen and gave Indira, who had her slim figure dressed in a traditional white and purple sari, a hug from behind as she flipped the fish. “My, aren’t we formal today, in dress and fish?” he asked.

She turned her head and her long black braids swung with her as she kissed his cheek. “That is because I too have news,” she said.

“Well that makes three of us,” he said.

Ashley, a lanky twenty-two year old with a brunette unisex crew cut entered the kitchen carrying an envelope. “Guess what I got,” she said to her father who turned his attention to her.

“I’m afraid to guess,” he said, “because I don’t want to jinx anything.”

“You can’t jinx what has already happened,” she said waving the envelope back and forth. “I got accepted to the University of California–San Francisco Master of Science program. I’ll be specializing as a nurse practitioner.”

Corey gave her a hug. “Isn’t that what you applied to get into?” he laughed. “Starting next month, after Labour Day I presume.” Ashley nodded. “I’m so proud of you,” he said. Then he turned to Indira. “And you have news too.”

She put down her tongs. “You set the table. Ashley, put out some mineral water. Dinner is ready in two minutes. We sit. We eat. We share the rest of our news.”

Assembled around the table with their plates filled with the Chettinad Fish Fry dinner, the Aldens were momentarily preoccupied with eating rather than sharing more news. Finally Corey sat back and wiped his lips with his napkin. “So,” he said to Indira, “do tell.”

“As you know I applied to be a volunteer at the San Francisco Women’s Crisis Shelter.” Corey and Ashley nodded. “They called me today, asked if I could come in for an interview, which I could.” She sipped at her mineral water.

“And?” said Corey.

“They said that with my degree in social work and my experience at the Vancouver Rape Crisis Centre, I was overqualified.”

“But that’s ridiculous!” Ashley sputtered.

“You think they’d be more than happy to have you volunteering.” Corey chimed in.

“Exactly,” said Indira. “That’s why they are taking me on as a volunteer and making me the volunteer co-ordinator. The person who holds the position is leaving for greener pastures and they were desperate to replace her.” She filled her fork with saag paneer. “They said something about me being ‘manna from heaven,'” she added, before eating the spinach.

“What a day,” said Corey as he picked up his glass of mineral water and toasted his wife and daughter. “Somebody rolled a seven today.”

“So tell us your news,” said Indira.

“AncestryDiscovery has discovered a number of DNA matches for me to review. One is particularly interesting.” He then told them about the conversation he had had with Joshua and about the woman in Germany who was a close DNA match and who was looking for somebody who planted Linden trees. “And that is why I have work to do after dinner. I have to see if I can connect with her.”

*     *     *     *     *

Corey was in his den, at his computer, Indira sitting on one side, Ashley on the other. He accessed his email and opened the message from AncestryDiscovery that told him what to do and how to do it. “This is it,” he said as he clicked on a link and accessed his DNA results. “I can officially upload them and then look at the profiles of people with DNA that significantly matches mine.”

“This is exciting, no?” asked Indira as she pulled her chair in closer to Corey’s monitor.

“This is exciting, yes,” said Corey as he watched AncestryDiscovery tally contacts that had significant DNA matches to his. At the top of the list, the closest match, was Elsa Stern.

“That’s her?” asked Indira.

“The one and only,” said Corey.

“So what do you do now?” asked Ashley.

“Put in a request to chat. And wait. It’s eight o’clock here, so that makes it what time in Germany? Must be five in the morning. I doubt that we’ll hear back from her for at least a couple of hours, maybe more if she doesn’t access her DNA profile until the end of the workday. I’ll be able to access this account from work, between meetings. But before I put in a chat request…” He clicked on Elsa’s profile link and read about her. There was nothing extraordinary that would explain their connection, other than she lived just outside of Dresden. But then he didn’t expect anything earth shattering.

“Her profile said she’s a school teacher, so you might hear back sooner rather than later if she has the summer off,” said Ashley.

“What’s that?” asked Indira as she pointed part way down Elsa’s page to a link called Elsa’s Queries. “Looks like some kind of extension to her profile.”

Corey clicked on the link. There were questions Elsa had for anybody connected to her. The first question read, “Have you ever been asked to plant a Linden tree?” Below the question was a statement: “I am descendent from a line that has a history of planting Linden trees. Seeds have been passed on to children for generations, each generation being asked to plant a tree. We hadn’t planted many since we still live pretty much where we have always lived. However, our main source of seeds was pretty much destroyed in World War Two. I am looking for anyone who may be a genetic match who has been asked to do the same–plant Linden trees.”

“Holy crap,” said Ashley. “She really is looking for you.”

“But how? I can trace my family tree to Saxony, where Dresden is, but my main root, so to speak, left to go to Britain in 440. And then the branch that leads to me left Britain for America in 1607. My line has been planting Linden trees in America and Canada ever since. We’ve never been back to England or Germany.”

“Unless your historical document is incomplete, somehow,” suggested Indira.

“The historian I showed it to, Dr. Foster at the University of Toronto, assessed it as remarkably comprehensive. He appreciated how the oral history got written down without skipping a beat, or generation, and how every generation added a page, often several pages or more, to the document. There are no identifiable gaps. And the arborist I talked to, Jean Franklin at the university, found Linden trees where all my ancestors have lived, other than in areas where pretty much all of the trees have been removed for urban development.” Corey sat back and ran his fingers through his hair.

“The only thing you can do is chat with Elsa and ask her how she thinks she became a DNA match to you and why she is looking for somebody who is planting Linden trees, said Indira.”

“That’s the plan. It’s all rather fascinating, and yet I feel like we are barely at the beginning of the journey,” said Corey.

“So if I had my DNA assessed, I’d discover what?” asked Ashley. “That you are my parents?”

“You’d discover that I was your father. You wouldn’t discover your mom because she hasn’t uploaded her DNA. Yet.” He looked at Indira. “You should try this. Get your DNA analysed.”

“Why? You know I was in a foster care home in India and then adopted by a missionary couple who brought me to Toronto. I can’t imagine my actual parents, if they are still alive, getting their DNA assessed.”

“I could not imagine a relative living in Dresden looking for somebody planting a Linden tree,” said Corey. “If you have it assessed and nothing comes of it, then nothing changes.”

“And I’d feel, I don’t know, a little less.”

Corey took his wife’s hand. “Nothing is not even close to how I would describe you. You are one of the most remarkable women I have ever known.”

“One of?” Indira laughed.

“You’ve met my mother,” Corey said with a smile.

And what about me?” asked Ashley. “Could I get my DNA assessed? Not that I’d expect to find much beyond you, and Mom if she does it”

“Absolutely,” said Corey. “You qualify for the family discount.”

“So what’s next?” asked Ashley.

I bring home a kit and we take a swab.”

“Okay,” said Indira. “Let’s get all Three Musketeers about this. Bring home two kits.”

“Done,” Corey laughed.

“I actually meant what’s next for you?” said Ashley.

“I click on the Send Request to Chat button beside Elsa’s name, and then we wait.”

Chapter 2: Saxony 380 AD

………. Do let me know what you think of chapter one. Email your comments to paullima.com@gmail.com. Or leave them in the comment section of this blog………..

Get free PDF copy of “The Accidental Writer: A Memoir”

Discover how to receive a free PDF copy of this book at the end of the excerpt from:

The Accidental Writer: A Memoir
Didn’t know rules of grammar; became a writer
Had a vasectomy; became a dad
Liked cats; became a dog lover

By Paul Lima

1 / Introduction
I have been one of Canada’s most successful freelance writers and one of the country’s most successful freelance trainers. Now before freelance writers and trainers who have been more successful than I have been say, “Hey, wait a minute. Not as successful as me!” please reread my opening line. I said “one of Canada’s most,” not “the most.” In other words, I’ve done well for myself.

I started out as a full-time copywriter way back when, became a freelance journalist and then a six-figure freelance corporate writer and author of over a dozen books on business writing, promotional writing, online writing and the business of freelance writing. When I added training (business writing, promotional writing, online writing and media interview preparation) to the list of services that I offered, my income soared to even greater heights.

But why am I using past tense here? As of this writing, I am 64 years old. I have multiple sclerosis (MS), and it’s fair to say that I am more retired than not retired, although I teach online writing courses for the University of Toronto and conduct the occasional writing webinar. But for the most part, I am simply having fun writing this memoir and researching my next book, The Atheist Chronicles.

The fact is, as well as I have done, I am an accidental writer. I am also an accidental dad and an accidental dog lover. Stick with me, because this book will explain it all. And it will take more than a few digressions into other aspects of my life.

Some people might call this book a memoir; some might call it an autobiography. There is a difference, or so I’ve been told by writers who are more knowledgeable about such things. But just as there is a difference, there is also a spectrum when it comes to writing like this. The spectrum might have a strict definition of memoir at one end and of autobiography at the other, but there is a heck of a lot of room in between the ends for writing that is a bit of both or somewhat more of one and less of the other.
It’s kind of like the different spectrums in life — gender, sexual orientation, careers, mental health, physical health (such as my Multiple Sclerosis) and other facets of who we are. I am, we all are, at various places on different spectrums. For instance, I am male and heterosexual, but there has been a tiny bit of same sex experimentation in my life and there is a whole lot of stereotypical male stuff that I avoid and am not good at doing. In fact, if you were to invoke stereotypes you might say that I have a strong feminine side when it comes to gender. I am definitely male, but gender is complex. According to the Merriam Webster dictionary, gender identity is “a person’s internal sense of being male, female, some combination of male and female, or neither male nor female.” In fact, Facebook provides more than 50 options beyond “male” and “female” for users to describe their gender identity, from “gender questioning” and “neither” to “androgynous.”

That’s quite the spectrum, just one of a myriad of spectrums that make up our lives. However, I digress in a manner that has nothing to do with my becoming an accidental anything. To be clear, I do feel this book belongs somewhere on that spectrum, the literary one, not the gender or sexual orientation one. It is a memoir about how I became a writer and dad and dog lover. But it is also an autobiography, one that leaves out a heck of lot of autobiographical stuff about me. So this work fits somewhere on one of the many literary spectrums that are out there.

But before we get on with my memoir, here is a bit about memory, which is an important component of this book. Memory does not work like a DVD waiting to be played. It is not stored like a video file waiting to be downloaded or streamed. Memories are formed in networks across the brain and every time that they are recalled they can be altered. (At least that is what I’ve read about memory.) I know people whose memories are much more vivid than mine are. They are much more emphatic about what they remember. For instance, many people know exactly where they were when they heard that president John Fitzgerald Kennedy (JFK) was assassinated. I haven’t got a clue where I was. But a friend of mine remembers, and I am in his memory. So we were at the same place at the same time. He says we were walking home from public school when several boys walking down the street stopped us and told us the news.

It was November 22, 1963. I was nine years old, about to turn ten in four days, and in grade four. I was not in a great mood because an aunt was getting married on November 26, my birthday. That meant I would not be having a birthday party because I would be at her reception. So I remember being peeved that there would be no birthday party for me; I do not recall hearing that JFK had been assassinated. Priorities.

On the other hand, I remember where I was when I heard the news in the early 1980s that a passenger jet had been shot down. I was working as a copywriter for Radio Shack, the company that is now known as The Source. I remember feeling depressed about the loss of life. Who would kill all those innocent people and why? However, I don’t remember how I heard this news, what country the downed plane belonged too (although South Korea comes to mind) or what country shot it down (I have a nagging feeling that it was Russia, but I could be wrong).

So why remember some things and not others? Why have holes of various sizes in some of the things that I remember? For instance, I remember where I was on 9/11 and how I heard the news that planes had crashed into the World Trade Center in New York. I also remember who I immediately told about it. So perhaps what we remember has to do with age and with what else is going on in life at a particular time, as much it does with the event itself. As in I can’t remember what I had for lunch yesterday, but if a major political figure or famous person had died yesterday, I suspect I’d remember that. Unless lunch was particularly scrumptious.

With that in mind, many of the memories in this book are suspect. In some ways, this book feels like a work of fiction; I feel like I’m making up characters and events. But I can assure you that this book is non-fiction. I am not lying, at least not deliberately. This book is me, as best as I can remember myself, becoming a writer… a dad… a dog lover. All accidentally.

*********************

So how do you get a free PDF copy of The Accidental Writer? If you want to learn how to write your memoir or autobiography, buy a copy (print or e-book) of Tell Your Story: How to Write Memoirs and Autobiographieswww.paullima.com/books/ – and then email the e-receipt to paullima.com@gmail.com and I will email you the PDF. Don’t want to write your memoir? Check out the other books on www.paullima.com/books/. Buy a copy of any book on the site, email me the e-receipt and request your copy of ANY OTHER BOOK on the site. I will send you the PDF version of that book. It’s that simple.

Become an effective and efficient business writer, and get a free book

Do you want to become a more effective and efficient business writer? If so, Harness the Business Writing Process is for you. The book is ideal for anyone who has to write email, letters, proposals, reports and web content.

If you find yourself
…feeling blank when you face the blank page… with a lot to say but not knowing where to start… feeling that  your writing goes on too long… wanting to write more effective email messages, letters, proposals or reports in a more effective and manner…
then Harness the Business Writing Process is for you.

This comprehensive business writing book:

  • introduces you to the writing process
  • shows you how to eliminate the blank page before you write
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  • helps you structure and outline long documents and write them in short, manageable chunks
  • helps you define (and start with) your purpose

“I consider myself a decent writer, but upon reading this book I discovered I was a writer who had no method to my madness. Paul Lima’s book has helped me flesh out my thoughts and construct logical and sensible outlines.” – Lauren Ching, University of Toronto business writing student

Get a free PDF of How to Write Sales Letters and Email if you buy Harness the Business Writing Process by October 31. Email your book e-receipt to paullima.com@gmail.com and How to Write Sales Letters and Email will be emailed to you. It’s that simple!