A Business Plan for the Renton Printery (Introduction)

Those of you who know me personally know that I currently work at my father’s print shop.

This family business has helped me to remain gainfully employed, to one degree or another, since 2011.

I currently hold the title of “Marketing Director,” but in reality I am responsible for a wide range of tasks, including data entry, bookkeeping, and sales.

The accumulated experience I have gathered in my work at the shop has led me to decide to engage in a not-so-short thought experiment, wherein I will outline a business plan for the Renton Printery.

Are you ready to begin? Return tomorrow.

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Building my Own Threshold

Early on in the maintenance of this blog, I planned a series of posts centered around Joseph Campbell’s monomyth.

The monomyth (more popularly known as “the Hero’s Journey“) was supposed to guide my own endeavors as I sought to succeed in obtaining employment.

The problem with my original set of posts regarding the subject was that my presupposed outline for my life hinged on me being accepted into the Praxis program.

After being tossed off the metaphorical threshold steps (twice!), I sank into a period of aimlessness. I took whatever work I could, trying to make sense of everything.

In many respects, I was quite lucky. I had no debt and my friends and family supported me.

Looking back on this period in my life, trying to track my life-goals according to a mythological theory was quite foolish.

Life, quite obviously, is not a story. I believe it was in the recent film Their Finest that one character stated: “Stories have structure, purpose, and meaning… unlike life.”

I should really watch that movie.

So what am I doing now?

For one thing, I have recently enrolled in fall classes at a local community college.

I’m doing administrative, marketing, and sales work at my family’s business.

I’m researching possible careers to pursue and the best course of academic study to fit such a career.

I’m reading a lot of old books, working on several creative side projects, and am writing this blog.

In a word, I’m building my own threshold, where the only threshold guardian is me.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Joseph Campbell’s theory of the monomyth, as espoused in The Hero with a Thousand Faces.

As a guide for story structure and dramaturgy, it’s an excellent tool.

But regrettably, it’s a pretty suckish model to plan your life around.

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Why Read Old Books?

Note: This post is adapted from a speech I gave to my Toastmasters club.

Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov once said, “If you want new ideas, read old books. If you want old ideas, read new books.”

Following this observation, I have made a point to read old books.

Pavlov’s maxim applies to both fiction and non-fiction, from the epic poems of Homer to the stories of Washington Irving to Greek philosophy to the Bible.

Picking up a dusty copy of The Iliad will transport to you the world of raging Achilles and bold Hector in the carnage of the Trojan War.

Or you could make a trip to rural New York, circa 1790, and become acquainted with the fearful Ichabod Crane in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.

Either of these books would excellently reveal to the reader that the heroes and villains of the past weren’t so different from us.

Whether it’s the wearied prince Hector’s longing for peace, or the hapless Ichabod’s unrequited affections for Katrina, we can all see something of ourselves, both admirable and repellant, in these imaginary characters and the eras they inhabit.

Reading old books is beneficial because it allows the reader to glimpse into other worlds, in order to better understand the past and to apply it to the present.

When I say you should read “old books,” I generally mean you should read the classics. That said, what is a classic?

Orson Scott Card, the author of Ender’s Game (an excellent read, by the way), once defined a classic as stories that are so good you want to share them with your children.

When I was seven or eight years old, my mother gave me a new set of books to read: The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis.

I loved those books dearly, reading them and re-reading them, and being overjoyed to hear the audio drama versions of them, before being crushed when the films failed to meet my expectations.

I later read The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien, eventually finding my way to Shakespeare’s plays Hamlet and Macbeth, and Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. By the time I was 18, I had read the entirety of the Bible ten times.

All of these aforementioned books, written across multiple continents in the span of dozens of hundreds of years, have been passed down through the centuries to us. We can read all of them at any time on our cell phones.

But why read them at all?

The first reason to read old books is that it provides a window to the past.

At some point in time, the author of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, Washington Irving, sat down and thought up his story.

Irving was an American, influenced by stories of European folklore that he had picked up during his travels through the continent in the nineteenth century.

Reading his story allows us to get acquainted with his thought process and walk around in his mind a little.

Imagine what could have inspired passages such as this one, describing the town of Sleepy Hollow:

“However wide awake they may have been before they entered that sleepy region, they are sure, in a little time, to inhale the witching influence of the air, and begin to grow imaginative—to dream dreams, and see apparitions.”

You see that this is a time when the majority of people took the reality of the supernatural for granted— whether that idea lay in base superstition or religious faith.

To look back on such a concept with disdain would defeat the purpose of reading old books. Our ancestors were no more ignorant than we are, and in many ways were our intellectual betters.

Instead, our goal in reading old books is to look into the past, seeing a world that is very much like ours.

Take The Illiad for example. This epic poem is one of the foundational works of the western canon.

In Homer’s poem, the warriors on both sides of the war, the Achaeans and the Trojans, frequently blame the gods for their troubles, and the gods are shown meddling in human affairs quite frequently.

This human tendency to want to assign direct blame for misfortune and injustice to an ethereal, all-encompassing source is not new.

If there’s one thing that I took away from listening to The Iliad on audiobook, it’s that people have been saying, “It’s not fair!” since 800 B.C.

So whether you’d like to peruse the works of Washington Irving, Charles Dickens, or C. S. Lewis, or perhaps more ancient writers like Homer and the multitude of authors responsible for the Bible, I cannot recommend reading old books more than enough.

For there is no better way to enrich your mind, discipline your imagination, and open your eyes to another way of life than to turn the pages of a classic tome.

If any of you have children, grandchildren, or young nieces or nephews, your duty to pass on these great books is crucial.

The older generation must teach the younger generation of this important pastime. Otherwise, we face a new age of darkness, chained in the bonds of ignorance.

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My 11 Process-Oriented New Year’s Resolutions for 2017

In keeping with Derek Magill’s advice, I have decided to go about my New Year’s resolutions for 2017 with a different approach.

Mr. Magill states that the best way to accomplish a goal is to focus on the process, not the end result. It’s more efficient to focus on working a little bit of the way toward your goal every day than to be constantly trying to charge ahead all at once.

With that in mind, here are my eleven process-oriented New Year’s resolutions for 2017:

1.) Exercise 30 minutes a day every day.

I’ve managed to get in at least a little bit of exercise every day since the last day of last year. I haven’t engaged in serious cardiovascular exercise due to the icy weather preventing running.

However, I have done a set amount of weight-lifting and push-ups every day, plus a up to 2 miles of walking on a good day. Not quite 30 minutes, but I’m working towards it.

2.) Write 1 post on the Comics Experience boards every day.

This is a relatively easy goal to accomplish, considering that it’s pretty hard not to look forward to.

The purpose of this resolution is to improve my standing on the Comics Experience message boards and establish myself as a well-to-do member of this little online community. So far, so good.

3.) Write an 8-page comic and get it drawn, inked lettered, and posted on the internet.

This resolution is interconnected with another one I have that’s further down the list.

The comic I have in mind is a prelude to The Overlord, meant to build anticipation and demonstrate my skills as a comics writer.

Having nearly completed the script already, all I have to do is find a set of collaborators who can help with this.

(To achieve this, I intend to attend Emerald City Comicon this year to do some networking. There’s also a collaboration forum on Comics Experience, both of which sound promising.)

4.) Drive 30 minutes a day every day for 30 days.

This one… has gotten off to a decidedly rocky start. I drove home from church on Sunday without much of a hitch, but I haven’t driven since.

For those of you who know me, I have been struggling to obtain a driver’s license for some time now. I’ll just say I’ve had a devil of a time learning to drive.

Luckily, new developments on my side of the internet could prove beneficial in getting that the skills I need to be drive safely. I just have to remember: it’s all about the process.

5.) Write a new blog post every day for 30 days.

This resolution is taken directly Derek Magill’s linked post.

In his original post, he suggested that if you want to become a well-known blogger (goal), then you ought to write a new post every day for 30 days (process).

Therefore, I’ve been plugging away for the past three days, and I believe I’m on a role.

Here’s hoping I haven’t spoken too soon.

6.) Finish the Constitution 101 course by watching 1 lecture per week until completed.

One of my pastimes is watching these free online courses offered by Hillsdale College.

I swept through the course on American history, but I’ve been stumbling in my efforts to complete the course on “The Meaning and History of the Constitution.”

I think this is mainly because it’s mostly theory, as opposed to the rich, detailed story of a survey of American history.

But I am confident that with a clear objective and method at my disposal, I can get back into my groove and finish this informative course.

7.) Read the 100 shortest books on my Goodreads to-read list in a year.

Having read 50 books last year, I narrowly met my Goodreads objectives. But now I am ready for a more ambitious goal.

I have over 500 books in my to-read list on Goodreads, and of those that have listed pages numbers, I intend to read a good deal of those ranked the shortest.

The idea is to prioritize quantity. I’ll have read a lot of very short books, but I won’t have learned nothing.

There are plenty of books that are a joy to read because of their concise genius. I look forward to reading them, particular several penned by C. S. Lewis and Francis Schaeffer.

With luck, maybe I can bang out this batch within a hundred days.

8.) Finish reading the complete works of Bastiat. Read 2 pages a day for the whole year.

For those of you who’ve been keeping an eye on the Goodreads tab on this blog’s sidebar, you’ll notice that The Bastiat Collection has been there from the beginning.

This 1,000 page eBook is a real monster of a text, the densest thing I’ve taken on since I read The New Evidence That Demands a Verdict by Josh McDowell. That beast clocked in at more than 600 pages.

But now I’m about halfway through Bastiat, so I calculate that if I read 2 pages a day every day for the rest of the year, I can wrap it up by September.

9.) Watch a classic movie every week and write a review about it for 50 weeks.

Not really that hard of a goal to meet, all things considered.

All I have to do is make sure I have a couple hours to myself every weekend and then spend five minutes writing a quick review on my Letterboxd account.

This will also provide lots of fodder for my posts related to old movies. I’ll be glad to see what bits of wisdom I can glean from my efforts to watch every old movie available.

10.) Write 2 pages of comics script every day for a year.

Now we’re getting to the meat and potatoes of my New Year’s resolutions.

Thanks to this simple, process-oriented goal, I have nearly completed the script for that 8-page comic I mentioned earlier.

With luck, I’ll be able to continue in this manner as I work on both this and other projects. Once again, so far so good!

11.) Read and study a chapter of the Bible every day for a year.

For ten years, I read a daily entry of a One Year Bible every day. The result was that I read through the entire Bible some 10 times.

I switched to a more in-depth study, meticulously making my way through various sections with a commentary on hand.

However, the lack of process-oriented focus which accompanied the use of my One Year Bible left me struggling to stay on task with my studies of the Scriptures.

Therefore, I have now resolved to tackle it in a more concentrated manner, as stated above. That is the bare minimum. I may or may not study more than that on a given day.

These are my resolutions for 2017. I now hope that I can stick to them!

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Thursday Roundup

Sorry for the irregularity of posts lately, but I’ve been distracted by other concerns.

I recently did a brief survey of the works of Gail Simone. I never paid much attention to her work before, but when I found out about her unused “Angel of the Bat” idea, I began to wonder why she was such a “fan favorite.”

After consulting a list of her best stories and doing some reading, I was left thinking that perhaps Simone is more of hit-or-miss writer similar to Judd Winick. Combined with her admittedly genuine love for the characters she writes, and she’s not exactly bad at her job.

I would wager that she’s earned her status as a “fan favorite” primarily due to being an outspoken feminist. That, I believe, appeals to a certain quarter of comic book fandom which I do not claim an overall familiarity with.

My Goodreads.com reviews for the three stories of hers that I read are here, here, and here. If any in the audience would like to suggest any further reading of Simone’s works, please comment below.

In other news, I’m making progress on a webcomic I’m working on. I’ve finished the second draft of what I hope will be the first chapter of an ongoing webcomic, titled “The Overlord.”

Now all I have to do is find an artist, an inker, and a letterer. I’ll have to start putting together a marketing plan to start promoting it. In terms of story, I’ll have to start mapping it out a little further, but I’ve got a lot in mind.

In addition, I’m getting feedback on my scripts in the workshop forums of Comics Experience. It’s been very encouraging, getting honest advice from fellow comics creators.

I even got a question answered by the one and only Chuck Dixon! Man, that was a dream. That month-subscription has easily been the best thirty bucks I’ve spent in a long time.

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Want to Understand How the World Works? Read History!

In a letter to someone asking for a good source of information about politics, Thomas Jefferson once wrote:

“I will add, that the man who never looks into a newspaper is better informed than he who reads them; inasmuch as he who knows nothing is nearer to truth than he whose mind is filled with falsehoods & errors.”

In this rather cynical and barbed letter, Jefferson makes several reading suggestions to his correspondent, also giving his opinion on the popular press:

“General facts may indeed be collected from them, such as that Europe is now at war, that Bonaparte has been a successful warrior, that he has subjected a great portion of Europe to his will, &c., &c.; but no details can be relied on.”

Jefferson was smart enough to know that newspapers (and their 21st century counterparts) are engines fueled by sensation, wild speculation, and excitement above all else. I don’t believe that much has changed.

Many people my age who go to college enroll in a “political science” class in a misguided effort to gain an understanding of how the world works. In reality, this rather dubious field of study is hardly up to the task. Even the realm of economics falls short.

The best way to understand the way the world works, the way that all of the great men throughout the ages did so, from Alexander the Great to Jefferson himself, is to read history.

History shows how the world works because it shows what happened that resulted in how things are today.

The press is a constant stream of random facts, many of them false.

“Political science” is little more than a term used to legitimize the idea that politics can be reduced to a uniform set of scientific principles. No term should have “science” put after it unless it involves a lot of math.

But history is different. History is the story of the world, the grand, mindbogglingly complex saga of what’s been happening on the face of dear old Earth.

There are plenty of authorities who will say silly things like “History repeats itself” or “History is written by the winners.” Neither of these are true.

But as Mark Twain, another great man from American history, once (but not really) said: “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.”

The meaning of these wise words is that there are patterns to be found in history.

This isn’t because there is some inexorable force causing all the events of time to periodically go around the merry-go-round in some fashion or another which we decide to call “history.”

No, it is because history is the unpredictable story of a subject which is absolutely predictable: Man.

Man, mankind, humankind, humanity, is entirely predictable. By this I mean that human nature never changes, one of the only things that can consistently be relied upon.

And inevitably, because human nature is inclined toward evil, history can be very ugly. Conversely, because history is so ugly, it naturally follows that mankind is inclined toward evil. Both statements prove each other.

The point here is that learning history is important, because otherwise you’ll go looking for answers about how the world works from your Political Science 201 professor.

He will proceed to fill your head with nonsense about how human nature is on an upward march toward a classless utopia as envisioned by Marx. Trust me, your instructor’s predecessors have been saying that for the last 125-plus years.

Instead, please turn off the news, politely filter out your professor, and pick up a history book instead.

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Supernatural Aid

In keeping with my running theme of basing blog posts off Campbell’s monomyth, I will now talk about the invaluable help I received in getting on the path to the metaphorical world of adventure.

Some time in the middle of winter quarter at a local community college, I began to feel that I wasn’t learning anything. I’d gone to college to get training and knowledge, for I wanted at the time to become a college professor.

But none of the classes seemed to be teaching me much. My political science class was taught by an avowed socialist who I foolishly antagonized. My drama class was a farce, no pun intended. The only class that seemed to make sense was a remedial math class. How ironic that my least favorite subject would become my refuge.

To cut a long story short, I declined to return to college after the quarter ended, opting to get a job at Burger King. The ratio between cost and return wasn’t balancing out.

But I was not without purpose.

I had made contact online with various persons involved in the Praxis program, which I meant to apply to at the time. One of those people was Derek Magill.

Derek Magill runs his own blog, has consulted for several high-grade companies, and is really, really good at what he does. He’s the Director of Marketing at Praxis, and I suppose it was his job to interact with people like me who were interested in the program.

However, I’m glad to have interacted with Mr. Magill online, having read his blog and his eBook How to Get Any Job You Want. I even found out about Ryan Holiday’s book Trust Me, I’m Lying through his blog.

Mr. Magill’s advice gave me the idea and drive to strike out on my own and try to find a job. Although I didn’t get into Praxis, his blog has been a valued source of information regarding career advice. His general theory of career success is to find where you want to work at, do valuable free work for that company, and then ask them to hire you to keep doing it.

It worked well for him, so I’m certain it could work just fine for me. Stay tuned.

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The Threshold Guardians Kicked my Butt, and I’m Glad They Did

It’s been two weeks since I was politely denied admittance to the Praxis program which I mentioned in my first post.

In short, it looks like the threshold guardians kicked my butt.

To enlighten those of you who haven’t read Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces, the First Threshold which the hero crosses in his monomyth (see the aforementioned first post) must face an obstacle, referred to as “threshold guardians,” in the way to his entrance into the world of adventure.

In this case, the threshold guardians were a couple of fine gentlemen who kindly showed me the door, throwing my metaphorical butt down the stairs of the first threshold.

In a word, “Ouch.”

I wanted to get into the Praxis program, I really did, but I think I know why I didn’t make the cut. Firstly, my interviews weren’t very impressive. That’s a big road block.

Second, I now realize (and they probably knew it before I did) that I was seeing Praxis as just another conveyor belt. Like the college student before me who expected a job right when they graduate simply because they have a piece of paper that says they sat through a bunch of classes and passed some tests, I thought that if I could just get into Praxis, I’d be set.

But these fine, indefatigable Threshold Guardians knew better. They had no time for such layabouts as I, so they picked me up by both arms, gave me a nice reality check, and threw me back over to where I had met up with my Supernatural Aid (more on that in a later post).

So there I sat (metaphorically and literally, as most of this was done while I was sitting), wondering what on Earth would become of me.

But then I had an idea: There are other thresholds.

So, remembering Moltke’s maxim that “No battle plan survives first contact with the enemy,” I picked myself up, put some cold water on my face, and set to work on another fork in the road, heading to another Threshold. With luck, the threshold guardians there will be a little more forgiving.

Either that, or I’ll be a little tougher.

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Why Read Fiction?

I’ve known at least one guy who just doesn’t read fiction.

This particular guy is an incredibly smart man. He’s a student of mathematics and physics, having formerly been employed by Boeing. But he plainly told me that he does not read fiction, preferring to instead read books on those areas of expertise.

Being a “Live and let live” type of person, I am happy to let my acquaintance read about mathematics and physics to his heart’s content. However, I am left wondering just how many educated, employed, successful persons share this view, that reading fiction is a waste of time that is better spent “learning” about “practical” subjects.

I instead assert that reading fiction is good both as a means of recreation and as a way to sharpen the imagination.

As children, we are encouraged to read, at least I was, and I was of course drawn to fantasy. I remember being curled up on the sofa for hours on end, absorbed in a Redwall book. I often found myself cajoling my dad into journeying to the nearest Barnes & Noble so I could use my hard-earned lawn mowing revenue to purchase the latest Bionicle pulp novel.

But as I got older, especially in recent years, I began to read fiction less and less. I had important things to do, like reading books on history, politics, economics, business, and theology.

I enjoy all of these subjects thoroughly, but I found myself seldom reading prose fiction. I was instead drawn to comic books and graphic novels, fine stuff in their own way, but not quite the same.

Before this year, I can remember reading two fiction books within the last three years: The Book Thief and Ender’s Game. Both were remarkable books, and I got such a thrill out of reading them from cover to cover. Ender’s Game blew my mind and The Book Thief made me genuinely  sad. But I soon was back to business as usual.

Eventually, out of some fervent desire to get back to what I was missing, I finally cracked. I picked up an old, dusty copy of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis, and sat down and read it in two days.

Up to this point I had rigidly been abiding by a complicated series of reading lists, where I just had to read these books in that order, never mind what I actually wanted to read at any given time.

But emboldened by my sudden, out-of-the-blue reading choice, I checked out 1984 by George Orwell from the library. Thus began the transformation. 1984 was an absolutely thrilling novel, and the only one to actually scare me in years. I swear I jumped in my seat while reading the thing during a ten-minute break in the Burger King break room.

I began listening to fiction audio books on my phone on the walk home, including The Iliad and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. I balanced these out with works of non-fiction, but the course was set. I was now consuming real, prose fiction again!

I have just finished reading The Pilgrim’s Progress for the first time all the way through. Now I’m happily rereading The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis, a remarkable work of epistolary satire. I hope to read a comic book next, just to spice things up, though I hope to continue on my fiction streak after that.

I’ve found that since deciding to make a concentrated effort to read more fiction, my creativity and critical thinking skills have improved fantastically. I feel I can solve problems more quickly, more easily overcome obstacles at work, and more effectively engage in problem solving.

To summarize, reading fiction is not only fun, but also useful for expanding the imagination and encouraging innovative and ingenious thought. If I can’t find a solution to that marketing problem at work, I’m bound to have something brewing the next day after having spent the evening reading.

Without imagination, there is no ingenuity. Without fiction, there is no imagination. Therefore, I will read fiction.

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Crossing of the First Threshold

In his book The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell states that all of the world’s mythologies follow the same basic structure, beginning with “The Call to Adventure.”

This is the beginning of a process in which the hero receives the calling to depart from the ordinary world, enter the world of adventure, and eventually return transformed.

The first post of this blog is not so much “The Call to Adventure” but instead “The Crossing of the First Threshold.” That is to say, I’d already answered the call to adventure before I started this blog, and now I’m finally entering the world of adventure.

My journey began when I graduated from high school, and then moved on to community college. I received the Call to Adventure when I heard about the Praxis program. But I ignored it at first, neatly stepping into the second step of the hero’s journey, or monomyth: “Refusal of the Call.”

Eventually, however, reality caught up with me: College is expensive. The things you learn there are often useless, dull, and Marxist. The long bus rides back home are no picnic either.

I had been home schooled before all this, many years of which involved a co-op, and it was a good experience. But I’d sat in a classroom long enough, and if I wanted to learn anything new, I could do it on my own.

I reached out to the guys at the Praxis program from before, and began talking online with some of them. The seemed like good guys. Thus the next step in the monomyth, “Supernatural Aid.”

This is where the hero receives help or a helper to guide him into the world of adventure, often imparting to him special knowledge and expertise that will be useful on their quest.

My quest? To become a entrepreneur, a writer, a businessman, a statesman, a reporter, a poet, a churchman, a big shot, a grunt, a leader, and a servant.

(I wouldn’t mind settling for “employed.”)

So I dropped out of community college, got a job at Burger King, worked for nine months, and then applied for Praxis.

Armed only with my social media savvy and a laptop, I have crossed the first threshold.

To be continued. 

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