The Print Dilemma

I was on a TV interview last week, promoting my recent book, and was asked whether print is dead? How could I answer this but with a resounding “NO!” me, a writer who churns out reams of print matter all the time? How dare the interviewer ask me this question when I was on the show promoting…well…print!

Coming out of the interview however, I got to thinking about this question more deeply. If he had asked me whether “print for money” was dead, I may have been inclined to say that “the patient was in the emergency room.” When you consider that writers like Fitzgerald, Hemingway and Salinger were paid in the $’000s per story during the glory days of magazine publishing in the ’30’s and ’40’s, and that now those payouts are down in the $’00’s or less, inflation seems to have worked in reverse here. But if he had asked me whether more people are reading like never before, and therefore whether print is a more integral part of people’s lives today, I’d have said, “Yes, the patient has left the hospital in fine fettle, is fiddling with Twitter and Facebook, is surfing the web, and reading her e•book – channels filled with print, channels that previous generations never had.”

If he’d asked me whether the payment model for print has changed, I would have said “Yes” again, and if those who are reluctant to accept the new model, whether due to pride or principle, are the ones who will be left behind from making their efforts pay, I’d have said a capital “YES!” And yet this change is the most difficult one to make, and has become a moral dilemma for conscientious writers.  I recently visited a site on which my blogs are syndicated; certain keywords had been hyperlinked – this was not of my doing. When I placed my cursor on these words, advertisements that synchronized with the hyperlinked words popped up. Someone was making money off my content, no longer with mere banner ads on the periphery of the frame but with commercials embedded inside my content! I went a step further and placed my cursor over some hyperlinked text in one of my syndicated articles and it took me to a site for casual adult encounters. I was shocked and deflated. So, is this the way to be paid for one’s content these days? And in this case I wasn’t even being paid, I was being used. Needless to say, if they do not delete those hyperlinks, I will be deleting myself from that site, platform building notwithstanding.

I have never let commercials dictate my content. I am also not a fan of “advertorial” which seems to be commanding larger and larger chunks of the daily newspapers these days. But if advertizing is the only paymaster left, because readers have been conditioned to get their print for free, then content creators (writers) need some radical re•adjustments to their moral compasses, for sometimes the content and their hyperlinked ads are incongruent, and writers have no control here.

Now, if the next TV interviewer asks me, “Would you let your content be commercialized on your own website so that you can move it from an altruistic content portal to a source of paying your bills?” my answer will be a resounding “NO” —I will remain “commercial free.”  My content will be my sole message.


A Writer’s Repeating Themes

I have been writing a blog for over five years, so I took the time to pause and review what I had written. I have written over 180 articles, averaging three a month, on a variety of subjects, all of which I thought were quite original and topical at the time. But when I re•read them, some key themes kept appearing and re•appearing. My articles seemed to fall into the following broad categories:

1)      The Writing Life, its rewards and travails

2)      Politics & Society, especially an exploration of the parts that do not work

3)      Business Life, its necessity and its incompleteness

4)      Travel

5)      Social Media, its opportunities and pitfalls

6)      Life Stages

So, that’s it really. One hundred and eighty articles circling around six themes. I could have written six large essays, one on each of the topics, and have had my say, packed my pen, and gone fishing. Instead, I circled around pet peeves, unearthing new material and coming at them from different angles each time, a veritable dog with a bone, or six of them.

Is this what most writers do? Exorcise their ghosts by repeatedly confronting them, or do they stand on a platform and make their point until people turn a blind eye and a deaf ear? Dickens returned to the nemesis of his childhood, the workhouse, time and time again; Twain sailed the Mississippi back and forth; Hemingway confronted death not only in the afternoon but everywhere and all the time until the last instant of his life; Lawrence was trapped in the sex act; and Joyce walked the streets of Dublin even when he no longer lived there.

This question went through my mind as I pored over my 180 articles, thinking of the time and effort that had gone into writing them. I know that thousands of readers have read them, if I can trust the tracking meters on all the sites I had them posted on. But did anyone change their life as a result of these articles? Did anyone even say, “Ah, ha!” That, I will never know. All I know is that my life stayed in balance for having written them, perhaps it even changed for the better, when I realized that I could not change the world but could change myself and accept the unchangeable.

So that’s it, I concluded: I was not writing for an audience, I was writing for my own therapy and survival. These themes were important to me and still are; that’s why I keep returning to them time and time again. And in rereading them, I have come to appreciate them even more. The issues I have been absorbed with are unsolvable and need to be confronted in their many guises. The more aggressive minded may join political organizations, non•profit organizations and/or service clubs to deal with matters that are important to them, matters that will prevail long after the activists have shuffled off this mortal coil. But like them, the writer too shows his activism by continuing to write about those unsolvable issues that matter most to him. The act of confronting them is the sign of never giving up. To give up is to die.

Okay, back to the grind. What shall I write about next? Should it be on the writing life, or politics and society, or business life….?

 

The Immigrant Story – has it peaked?

Immigrant stories, or traveller’s tales, have been told for ages. From Homer’s Odyssey, to Dante’s travels across the various other•worlds, to Pilgrim’s Progress, to Michener’s tales of mass immigration, to the tales of displacements taking place after wars and ethnic conflicts, to the recent flood of “Asian immigrant comes to North America” books, we have been engaged, entertained, educated and enlightened with these “quest” stories and novels.

Writers who have never had the immigrant experience have also delved into their ancestral pasts to bring us stories of their forebears who first crossed oceans and founded new homes. There is a parallel with the story of life in these tales, where every day is a new journey that holds surprises, reversals and rewards. But have we had enough? This stuff is so close to reality and reality has always been hard to stomach, especially for this generation that is only licking the dregs of the rewards of the previous one due to a flattened, connected and decaying planet. The immigrant story makes us remember, not forget.

Bring on the entertainment they say – give us vampires and goblins and magicians and super•heroes. Give us situations so unreal that they can be safely relegated to fantasy and escapism. Throw in some graphics, sound and movement, and animate the experience; get us into the story and let us become a character, let us choose the ending – better yet, make it into a video game or a movie and we might be able to palate it. And above all, make us laugh. Make us forget.

Being an immigrant and writing what I know, and wanting to cover a part of history and culture that has been somewhat underrepresented in literature, I have frequently returned to the immigrant story over these last dozen years, producing three novels and many short stories in that genre. It is a journey into memory and into acceptance, sometimes painful, sometimes rewarding, but always enlightening. However, I am finding the demographics of those who read these stories to be shifting and are now found in two segments (a) those in my cohort or older who are trying to remember, and (b) the very young •teenagers • who are looking for clues to their origins. The middle tier has vanished – they either do not read anymore or read only to escape or are playing those video games • and I would so like to see them return.

As I get my next collection of immigrant stories, Paradise Revisited, ready for mass consumption (or should that be selective consumption?) I have to ask myself whether this will be the last in this genre and whether I too should wise up (grow up?) and move on to new fields. Wipe out memory and create fantasy. Or write about what happens when the traveller has put down his roots and travels no more. Will stories of fantasy or of stasis be as interesting? Will my heart and soul be engaged in this new crop of “entertainments?”

An interesting inflection point in the writing journey, and indeed, the journey of life…

Is the (good) book review dead?

What is the value of a book review today– can it be trusted? On the surface, it’s one person’s subjective (and sometimes biased) view on a text. Why read it unless that person’s tastes are similar to yours and unless the reviewer has no vested interest in the author’s financial fortune?

I realized that the reviews I was reading in newspapers and journals had gradually morphed into unsubtle sales messages for the books they were covering. I concluded therefore, that the serious impartial reviewer had gone the way of the dodo bird, replaced by the “mutual admiration society”—aka writers helping other writers, especially their friends, a situation created out of necessity, given that publishers rarely paid for reviews these days, and the only person who would sacrifice time to read and write something about a writer’s work would be a friend, potentially another writer; and the chances are that he would write something nice, and expect something nice to be written about him too when the time came to call in the favour.

There was also the “syndicated review”—the one that hogged prime space in all the national newspapers simultaneously to the exclusion of the hundreds of other good books vying for attention. Big money talking here, not big writing, I concluded.

And what about those paid reviews—I mean, author•paid—a service offered by reviewers who were once held in high esteem for their credibility. What sorry times we had sunken into!

Oh, and don’t forget that other phenomenon taking place, mostly on the web and in social media: “hate reviews,” by those wanting to discredit the author for reasons political, commercial or otherwise. We heard of Amazon and other online sites being bombarded by the infamous “1 rating” (aka “very poor”). Even the lofty J.K Rowling was humbled by this onslaught from unseen forces. And how credible were these reviews?

I have written a lot of book reviews over the years, myself. I started writing them when I began forgetting the plot lines and characters of the many books I had been reading. I felt I needed to keep cheat sheets on them. Soon, I had over 200 reviews and that number has grown. In a desire to share and engage, I placed these review on the web. A few websites liked what I was writing (Goodreads and e•Zine Articles among others—even mighty Amazon deigned to publish some of my reviews as long as they weren’t too controversial and did not adversely impact sales), and so I began posting my reviews for the wider world to read via these sites, for free. Although I was interested in the books themselves, I had no personal interest in the authors as I did not know any of them— many were dead or too famous to bother with little me. And none of them were going to reciprocate by writing reviews of my books (Imagine reviews written on my books by the likes of Philip Roth, Margaret Atwood, Ian McEwan et al? Dream on, Shane!), so I did not have to pull any punches. And now, over the years I seem to have gathered a small but loyal flock of readers of my reviews, ones who will be influenced to pick up a copy of the book after reading my review on it. Likewise, I have compiled a list of independent reviewers whose opinions I hold in regard over all the others I skim over in my weekend newspaper.

So in order to restore credibility to the book review, we must reduce it to a DIY industry, it appears. In future, serious readers will follow self•selected reviewers, in small flocks, not in hordes via mass media or on those websites that are used as weapons of mass author•destruction. The Book Review is not dead, the good ones are just a little hard to find amid the myriad wannabes cluttering up the Book•o•sphere today.

Who are your favourite book reviewers? Do share…

The Aging Male Writer and his Vanishing Audience

This is a controversial subject. Let me make that clear at the outset. And I apologize in advance if I come across as that typecast “male, chauvinist p—”; that is certainly not my intention. But as I am one among this soon•to•be•extinct species, I thought I would get my thoughts on paper before the opportunity lapses.

Once upon a time, the majority of writers were men. Profligate and prodigious, they wrote on topics of adventure, war, espionage, crime, love and even ventured into poetry and literary fiction. This breed of writer was objectified as the epitome of the writing life. They made fortunes and squandered them. Women fell for their charms and got burned, but this only added to the writers’ mystique. And many of them died young, garnering permanent places in literary history. We still read Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Joyce, and Miller. After WWII, the stereotypical male writer became a bit more disciplined, businesslike: Updike, Bellow, Irving and Roth come to mind, although a few renegades of the older gang still hovered, like Kerouac and Bolano. Why I picked these particular writers is because their subject matter was intended primarily for a male audience; their protagonists were men, often guys who had been shaped by two world wars, in search of their place in a changing world. Readers loved this stuff. These authors wrote for their “Me generation.” But their protagonists eventually started to age as the writers themselves got older, along with their male audiences.

And now the tide has definitely turned. Numerous surveys indicate that the majority of readers today are women. To the neutral observer and book lover, this is welcome relief because as male readers diminish, or get taken hostage by the Twitterverse or take up golf, the emergence of the new majority assures us of a continuing book reading public. As another aging male writer, Ian McEwan, wrote in The Guardian newspaper: “When women stop reading, the novel will be dead.”

The encroachment on the old boy’s writing club continues with pressure from readers and interest groups to publish more female authors and to include more female writers’ work in anthologies, magazines, literary awards and other bastions of recognition (and accompanying financial reward) where male writers held sway in the past. Again, an understandable shift as tastes and audiences change.

So where does that leave our aging male writer and his vanishing audience? Will he have to create female protagonists? Would male characters have to exhibit more of their dormant feminine sides in order to appeal to readers? Out with machismo and in with sensitivity? A tough job for an author who learned his chops in another camp; he will be like an immigrant trying to get a job in a new country, only it was once his country. Does he have to write under a female pseudonym, which I’m told happens regularly in the romance fiction genre? After all, George Eliot and one J.K. Rowling did it in reverse quite successfully.

Tempting options, all of them. But another side of me says that making this seismic level of a disguise will be a contrivance and will be untrue to the philosophy of the aging male writer. At the end of the day, it’s back to the essentials: (a) the quality of writing, and (b) having a message to say that resonates with the times—let the audience fall where it will. And if the aging male writer has to head off into extinction as a consequence, at least he will be contributing his spoor to the trail of evolution for future generations to study and appreciate.

I told you this was a difficult subject. Do I have any friends left, of either sex?

How to write the next literary novel

A fellow writer asked me what it would take to write the next literary novel. I searched through my notes, gathered after wondering for many years in literary wastelands, and came up with these Ten Commandments (caveat emptor: I take no responsibility for the success or failure of your novel):

1) Do away with plot. Plots are superfluous and distract from the language.

2) Create metaphors within metaphors within metaphors…

3) Deliberately obfuscate the flow of the narrative. Forget about beginnings, middles, and ends. Start at the end and go to the beginning. Or better yet, start in the middle and go both ways, testing your reader who wouldn’t know if you are coming or going.

4) Throw in all the literary styles you can think of: dialogue, poetry, screenplay, Q & A, parallel scenes, songs, flashback, flash forward, oh, and bit of straight narrative so that the reader still believes that she is reading a book. Write at least one chapter as one long stream•of•consciousness sentence. Write from about five first•person points of view (of preferably the same scene) and let the reader figure out who is who. Worried this book may be unclassifiable? Who gives a damn? The literary novel makes its own rules. Show them how clever you are.

5) Create characters that are not just larger than life but physically grotesque. Their character flaws and physical defects must yawn larger than the Grand Canyon.

6) Make sure that everyone is sexually repressed but don’t have them express their sexuality—the imagination is better.

7) Invent new words. Go for sound not meaning. And you don’t need a glossary at the end of your book to explain them—if the reader doesn’t get it, too bad! He will put it down to art.

8) Write at least 1000 pages. After the publisher’s cuts, it should not be less than 500 pages. A heavy tome is always authoritative. Also the reader will never finish it, so it will remain a mountain to be conquered, a masterpiece to be returned to time and again, in frustration.

9) Don’t publicize the book. Just make sure it has some scandal attached to it (charges of nihilism, sedition or sexual deviancy would work).

10) Print a limited run of 100 copies, give them away free to people who are looking for a hook or platform to further their own literary careers, then sit back or get on with your regular writing and watch your book become the stuff of legend. Better yet, say it’s out of print and have readers scramble to get their hands on a copy.

In the end, if the reader does not understand your novel, he will put it down to the superior intellect of the writer and your work will be hailed as a classic, only to be read in small doses by scholars.

All the best with your masterpiece!

Reframing the definition of “Writer”

I was asked to provide a motivational talk to a group of writers recently. Me? A guy who hangs between feast and famine (mostly famine) in his writer’s journey, and who self•medicates daily on the Bob Marley oldie, “Don’t worry, about a thing. Cause every little thing’s gonna be all right, yo!”

I thought I was being set up for a fall and began to panic, looking for my three little birds—even one would do, I prayed. Then I said to myself, “Wait a minute, son – you got into this gig willingly, no one asked you to be a writer. Besides, others have endured worst fates.” Let’s see:
1. Rebelais, Cervantes and Defoe served prison sentences, and flirted with bankruptcy and madness.
2. Balzac was eternally broke, and Flaubert and Kafka died unrecognized.
3. Dostoevsky and Solzenitsyn ended up in Siberian prisons, while Pasternak was stripped off his writer’s union privileges and forced to decline the Nobel prize
4. Maupassant committed suicide brought on by venereal disease.
5. Zola went bankrupt defending a Jew’s rights to a fair trial.
6. Thomas Hardy sold less than 20 copies each of his first three books
7. Nietzsche paid to publish Thus Spake Zarathusthra that went on to sell all of 40 copies
8. Virginia Woolf dismissed Ulysses as “an illiterate and underbred novel.” She had husband Leonard publish her work. By today’s definition, wouldn’t we say that Joyce & Woolf were both self•published authors?
9. Hemingway blew his brain out when it refused to produce brilliant prose anymore
10. Fitzgerald died an alcoholic, yadda yadda…

“You are not alone,” my little bird said (she was present, after all), “greater ones, have suffered this mortal coil too.” So I decided to craft a new definition of today’s writer, one that might reflect reality rather than the romantic fantasy we were weaned on. The writer of today:
• Writes daily – this is a commitment. Ray Bradbury said it takes about 10 years before what you have written becomes publishable. (I am in my eleventh year. Have I graduated?)
• Has a day job or a retirement income or a wealthy spouse.
• Writes a lot of free stuff, instantly published and instantly forgotten (try Facebook).
• Is grateful when someone reads his work.
• Writes to make sense out of her life and leave a legacy.
• Writes to have fun and calm his active imagination. It’s cheaper than paying for a shrink.
• Realizes that going viral is a like winning a lottery. So just fogetaboutit! And write!
• Realizes that her reward is in heaven.

Thus, armed with this epiphanic re•framing, I headed off to my presentation. Reframing is wonderfully therapeutic. It can make the impossible possible. Just don’t make the goal posts too narrow for you might get a swollen head at how successful you are and never try harder again.

In a future blog post, I will let you know whether I received laurel wreaths or rotten tomatoes after my presentation.

Giving it away for free. Why?

I am inundated by new writers offering me free e•content these days. “Download my book for free!” And this has led me to realize why the traditional world of publishing, that is, those who try to make a living out of this business, have circled the wagons on their industry.

It is almost a given these days that a new writer has to self•publish his book and give away the e•book version for free. Some say that you have to give away three free for every one sold at $0.99. That is less than 25 cents per copy. How long will that take before you amass the minimum required to receive your first royalty check from the online retailers who are notoriously lax at paying? Perhaps many fall by the way before accumulating that minimum, to the benefit of the online retailer. And why do we have to do this? Where is the value exchange? Where is the token of respect for all the hours socked away into learning the craft and then producing the book? Where is the sense of self•respect that this labourer is worthy of his hire?

Sure, I give a certain amount of content away for free – like this blog article, for example. But my value exchange here is received in the engagement by the many that read and provide feedback to me on the issues I raise – that is my compensation. But to give away a whole book, something taken years to create, to some faceless person, seems a bit excessive to me. Yes, I have given away books for free too, but again, only when the reader engages with me one•on•one and agrees to discuss the book’s pros and cons. Most of these “freebies” have paid off, for the readers have gone on to post online reviews of my book, good, bad or indifferent.

I am told that free downloads can amount to thousands of curious, “anything for free” collectors, but not many of these freeloaders actually get down to reading the book. So, all that one has achieved is to have moved the book of your own hard drive to the hard drives of many others where it sits in storage. I believe that the online retailers also count free downloads as “books sold” (I recently received a $0 invoice for a free download that I tested) so this permeates the myth that the free book is now a best seller. Of course, try telling this to a new writer and it’s like water falling on a duck’s back.

I developed a principle some time ago: I will not give away my e•books for free unless in a limited promotion (and I haven’t engaged in one yet for I am still studying the implications). My e•books (and trade books) will have market competitive prices to the faceless multitudes. And “market competitive” does not mean “free” for then there is no market for one’s work. And if my restraint ends up in fewer copies sold, well, so be it. At least that will give me an indication of my true value as a writer. J.D. Salinger was the master of this restraint principle – the more he tried to hide his work, the more the world wanted of him.

I do not know if this stubborn “last stand” of mine is going to drive me into a hole in this new publishing world. I am sure those who practice the “give three free, expect one to be bought for $0.99” approach will dismiss me (and Salinger) as a Luddite. But if the new publishing world means working for free, it sounds worse than working in the times of slavery, and I thought that we had evolved past that dark stage of our lives. And as for the guy who sends me that ubiquitous tweet, “Thanks for the follow, please download my debut novel Blah, Blah & Blah for free,” he, or she, will be coming off my “following” list pretty damn quick.

Citizen Journalism vs. Traditional Journalism – which should we trust?

I have been following this ongoing debate as to whether free journalistic content on the Internet and real•time amateur photos uploaded from the world’s flashpoints will outpace traditional journalism. No, say the traditionalists: our investigative journalists go deep and cover many viewpoints. Wrong, say the citizen journalists: our information is current and we have no profit motive behind it. We are impartial, counter the traditionalists. You are paid by advertisers, so you have to be politically correct, say the rebels. Our personnel risk their lives in the world’s hotspots and many of us have died in the line of duty, say the traditionalists. We are in the line of fire, says a rebel, poking his head out of a bombed•out building to snap the latest atrocity on his iPhone and upload it for the world’s viewing pleasure (or horror).

I am not sure who is right. Certainly, Internet 2.0 has provided for an instantaneous dialogue between writers and readers and we are not satisfied any longer with just the bare presentation of facts, arguments, propaganda and lies. And the very static “letters to the editor,” – that is, the traditionalists’ old fashioned attempt to stimulate audience participation – pales under the online world’s “like” and “comment” buttons that accompany most e•journal pieces these days. “Going viral” happens faster on the Internet than in traditional media. The fact that most traditionalists have embraced the Internet to issue e•versions of their paper editions means that they don’t want to be left behind. To make matters worse for the old guard, the recent telephone bugging scandals of the traditionalists have not endeared them to readers. Traditional content providers are out to sell advertizing – we all know that – so mass appeal is where their interests lie and the citizen journalists are left to cover the niches. Therefore, one could argue, how comprehensive is traditional journalism if it is shaped by a powerful sponsor with vested interests?

Not getting paid for citizen journalism, while this indicates purity of intention, could also include poorly written pieces and content emanating from those with undisguised axes to grind. But we have also heard of “right wing” or “left wing” newspapers in the traditional space. On the other hand, traditionalists are lifers and insist that their journalists are immersed in their subject, and provide accuracy, structure, responsibility and voice, while citizen journalists are scattered in their presentation and may quickly get bored and move onto other pursuits once they have had their fill of saving the world or exposing its underbelly.

I too have dabbled in citizen journalism and like the fact that I do not have to pay obeisance to an uncaring editor who may edit, alter, or reject my submission because it is not to his liking or displeases his sponsors. It has allowed me to view the world and comment on its idiosyncrasies while maintaining a paid career elsewhere. I do not entertain ads on my website or blog for the privilege of being free of interference. I have thus managed to escape the moniker of “jaded journalist” or “corporate lackey.”

I am not sure which side is better for both have pros and cons. I am grateful that Internet 2.0 has allowed many of us who care, to share our views with the world without relying on the narrow portal of traditional journalism to showcase us. It has also given the reader a wider spectrum of opinion to consider and a bigger headache in sorting out the wheat from the chaff.

Welcome to the Inspiration Zone


Amidst the hustle and bustle of deadlines, day jobs, family commitments, social networking, and the mere act of living from day to day, some of us try to carve out oases of quiet to rest the mind and the spirit in order to write. These are precious moments, diminishing as we age, for our fingers on the keyboard eventually slow down and our tiring minds needs longer periods of pause before they kick into – what I call – the inspiration zone.

What is this zone? It’s a storehouse of memories and impressions created from any and all of the following occurrences: a moment of stress or loss, a change of scene, a thought provoking piece of art, a book, a movie or play, a song, a promotion, a demotion, a firing, an illness, a transgression, a relationship, a cataclysmic social event, a birth or a death. Sometimes, a hidden voice gives us something brand new, something we have never experienced, a bonus for our enjoyment; we like to call that imagination.

How does one enter the zone? Although this storehouse comprises our personal collection of life experiences, we are not automatically granted access. There has to be a preparedness before the door opens, a willingness to go inward without holding back, with the Blackberry switched off, and with an acceptance that not all the artefacts within are necessarily pleasurable to handle.

What do we do with the contents of our inspiration zone? Not all can be shared, for not all will benefit mankind, therefore why share them? Besides, events need to be embellished, polished, sequenced and arranged so that they tell a coherent tale and yield a valuable lesson. This is the price for entering, for what is gathered needs to be deciphered and communicated. And this is not easy, for the moment this composition is out in the public domain it is subject to the slings, arrows and plaudits of an uncaring audience. This is sometimes like a road to Gethsemane with no reward in sight. The only reward is the inward journey that enriches the soul.

It is less painful to take the easy way out, to never open this door, and live the unexamined life. Some who take that route are known to have sudden heart attacks, suffer neuroses, jump off tall buildings, go on a rampage, or simply drink themselves into an early grave. Those who brave into the inspiration zone do not suffer any less, for they too are known to engage in self –destructive activities, but their demons are exposed to the world, and through the act of unburdening and sharing, healing may be expected, though not always granted. This latter category is usually labelled “writer.”

As 2012 dawns, the year in which great change is predicted from way back at the time of the Mayans, where do you want to play? Are you prepared to enter through the door into your inspiration zone or do you want to leave it for another generation to discover?