Monday, December 12, 2011


The world is full of potential frustrations. Doubly so when you're trying to go out of your way to make things better for someone else. Hence, I believe, "holiday stress".

So it's nice to find little reminders that things aren't all frustrating. That there is some good in the world. Like, for instance, coming across a bit of writing from a long way back that, despite all memory, reads well. They can be the gift we give ourselves.

I have more I'd love to share, but not the freedom to do so. Like Jacob Marley, we're all bound by chains that (some more than others) we forge ourselves. Don't worry about coming off like Scrooge at times, because at the end he turned out okay.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Janitorial Duties

There are a number of strategies writers adopt when they edit their work. There are some that will keep a document active for as long as it takes. Years, even decades will go by from the completion of the first draft to the final edit, while the writer will meticulously correct, restructure, and position every letter with the diligence and precision of a neurosurgeon. I respect this strategy, but it’s not for me, mostly because it requires a number of attributes I lack.

There’s the first-and-out strategy. I’ve known a couple of people who truly believe that the first draft is the most honest, that the raw text contains the purest form of the narrative and that’s what should be published, and good for them. Such people did not grow up required to take regular speech therapy sessions. I can’t legally describe what I would do for the ability to pass what I want to say through a trusted set of eyes before it shot out of my mouth. Any clever thing I’ve said – probably EVERY clever thing – was a result of me holding back a statement that crucial half second to get just a little bit closer to truth. Thoughts are pure and beautiful things, but the language used to express those thoughts inevitably fails to convey their whole essence. I firmly believe the best anyone can do is know their languages flaws well enough to occasionally use them to their advantage.

Most people fall in the middle. They push the first draft out, ignoring the errors they find as they type, then go back and start cleaning it up enough that they can admit to another person they wrote it. Then those people tell the writer what they missed. Revise and review. The sequence and amount of time can vary endlessly, but it stops when the writer’s sick of looking at the thing. Most say “when the document is as clean as it can be before submission”, but there’s not one user of this strategy that hasn’t felt queasy at the thought of reviewing their manuscript another time.

There’s a lot that happens during the editing process that can determine how long it last, but ultimately it comes down to the deadline. How clean can a writer get their manuscript before someone with a checkbook gets bored waiting for it? Setting one’s own deadlines is a great disciplinary measure; a writer gets used to having to focus, to the best job in the fastest time, and develops skill as a result. Of course, writers have their own checkbooks. Often stained with red.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Apologies to xkcd

There’s a sci-fi staple that I haven’t seen or heard in a while, it feels to me, and that is the notion of quantum computer. In the shared experience we tolerate (re: reality), all quantum computing entails is the capacity for a computer to say “it could be both zero AND one”, instead of the current “it must be either zero OR one” mentality. Such a computer could take longer to process some things (it has 50% more possibilities to work with), but could solve other problems in much fewer steps.

In science-fiction, quantum computers get a bit cooler. They take their definition of “quantum” from the idea that all options people don’t choose in life exist in other realities. This kind of quantum computer observes those other realities and, taking a set of definitions from its user, can actually predict the outcome of a situation, and even recommend actions toward optimum benefit. Does this sound familiar to anyone else? Give it the stock reports from the past week, it’ll tell you how to make 50,000% return in one afternoon of trading. Are pirates invading your home with the aim of abducting you and your cat to hold for ransom? If you have a quantumly-smart phone, you just describe what they look like and what order they burst in and your phone can tell you how to either sneak out and steal their car or go all Batman on their asses. In short, sci-fi Q.C.s could activate god mode in a person’s life.

I was thinking about this and a few side-thoughts came up. First was that this Q.C. would have one huge, critical blind spot, that is it would not be looking at its own reality. Presumably, the best reason our Q.C. could comprehensively observe these realities is because it exists outside of them. That being the case, this position would mean it could not examine any data that was not entered in by its user, itself vulnerable to bias, error, and its own limited perspective. This means that any output from the Q.C. is applicable only to a certain point for its user. For example, I could ask for the ultimate chocolate chip cookie recipe, and could get one, but if the realities it searched just happened to be silicon-based instead of carbon, I would probably not appreciate the resulting cookies as much as the Q.C. thought I would. Not to mention I would need to get a government license to legally buy a few of the ingredients, but whatever.

Simply by observing the scope of the multiverse, we would remove ourselves from it. Much like the camera man and the mosh pit at a concert, we can either be in the thick of things ourselves, or we watch everyone else have fun. We can’t have both. Taking it to another level, this means that in another reality, one with its own Q.C. that can look into the whole of the multiverse, it would not be able to look into ours. Why? Because we already took ourselves out of the multiverse by having the audacity to want to look at other realities.

It is common knowledge that the most comprehensive opinion is the one that comes from outside. Such an opinion has risen in value over time because it has so often been proven correct, if occasionally unwelcome. It’s why doctors and judges are made to remove themselves from cases whose outcomes might affect them directly. But the power to control such weighty things as health or freedom comes at the cost of being able to stand with one’s own when they need connection the most. In the case of doctors or judges, very often there are others that can act objectively so those of us with friends in need don’t have to act, they can simply be there for each other. Does the same apply to factions of the multiverse? Can we add ourselves back in after grasping the power to watch and learn from others, trusting another universe to wield the same power in a way that won’t hurt anyone?

I normally see such trains of thought accompanied by comforting stick figures. I hope their lack didn’t make the above too painful.

Monday, October 10, 2011


Here's that shorty I was talking about last update. This was typed using QuickOffice Word on a Droid Bionic with SwiftKey X. Between the breaks and "editing", this took about an hour and a half to write. One typo was corrected after moving it from the phone. It came from a joke exchanged at the comic book store that I wanted to explore just that much more.

The cold was biting again, and would bite for some time yet. It wasn't concerned. The snow had blessed it just a short time ago with its cushioning depth. The kin would benefit as the season passed and it went from loose powder to protective shell. For itself, the powder would be best loose, just for a while longer.

The tree waited. Reliably, dutifully, the savage walked into the forest. It tracked the savage as well as it could through the snow's coverage. The savage was as regular as the season. The tree had felt the screams of the kin as the savage followed the snow to fell one post-sapling tree every year. They all felt the screams, it corrected.

It felt the savage approach. It was to be the savage's chosen this cycle, and it rejoiced. It delighted as the savage prepared to take the first bite. This bite was not like the cold, it would penetrate faster than anything the tree might have imagined. It remembered the screams of the kin-that-were when, over the course of a thousand insignificant bites, each tree fell. The silence that followed was always louder still.

The tree allowed the savage one bite. Before the tree could register the pain, it flailed its upper limbs and blinded the savage with its accumulated powder. Distracted, the savage never saw the tree's lower limbs whip into his soft, watery flesh.

Heavy red rain stained the alabaster snow directly beneath, when the tree noticed that same rain would not color its ageless needles. It felt sacred bathing in the savage's sap, and while the shock of the single bite spread through its trunk, it started to sing.

Happy Holidays.

Monday, October 3, 2011


I got a new phone the other day. The last time I upgrades cell phones, I got a Blackberry Storm about two months before the Storm 2 came out. This time I promised myself I'd get something that - while it WOULD go out-of-date in side a few months, that just the nature of the beast - it wouldn't be out-of-date for a long time. Hence, the Droid Bionic.

Not being very experienced with Android phones, I have been poking at prodding like a young boy might a full-figured mannequin. The Bionic is much more responsive and rewarding. Angry Birds and the Amazon app have been downloaded and get good use. I found one game, Alchemy, that I have gotten at least one friend* angrily addicted to. I've ordered a cheap case, and mean to install a mount so I can get all GPS-y up in this. It's like I'm catching up with the rest of society.

Another friend* got me into SwiftKey, a third-party keyboard which I immediately gravitated toward over the stock program. I'm still not completely used to it yet, and since the only way will be with practice, I aim to write a short story on this little piece of tech. The results shall be posted here. Should I time it? I'll figure it out.

*I don't use friends names NOT out of shame of or for my friends, but because I want to provide them the option of anonymity.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011


A lot of my friends love to boast about how much sleep they can avoid. I may be mixing up the context a bit, but I think I have the idea: if one isn't asleep, one can do other things, and other things are more interesting than sleep. Sounds great, and I respect those that can pull it off. I ain't one of them.

It's not like I have the fun kind of insomnia where I can't physically sleep for days at a time, otherwise I'd be one of the above. Sleeping, for me, is something of a chore. I've never been able to just lie on the couch and grab an hour of rest, not without a major dose of either antihistamines or disease. At night, I can have burned 10,000 calories, worked eight hours, and played games with friends until I thought the pieces/ screen was moving on its own, my head hits the pillow and it takes an hour for my head to calm down, sometimes longer. It's not enough that I'm physically, mentally, spiritually exhausted, oh no, I have to WANT it.

This doesn't exclude me from the biological need for sleep, in fact Nature thought it'd be funny if my need was actually above average on top of being able to get it so roughly. Like many of my countrymen, I am not in shape. Sorry, Body, I have other things I'd like to do with my time. When I can, I exercise, but usually I can't, which limits my energy under ideal conditions. These conditions are mostly theoretical, and I can't recall actually experiencing them; in fact, I think that's what "ideal" means.

Last night's, for example, were what I call "good" conditions: plenty of physical and mental activity, maybe not as social as possible, started prepping before 11pm. Today I woke up feeling exactly the same as I did before sleeping, re: completely exhausted. This isn't unusual, I just drink a couple cups of coffee and it goes away. Not today. Today I drove to work, barely, my brain moves like mud in winter, and someone has replaced my eyes with burnt-out charcoal. If I could access my full vocabulary (thank you, internet, for getting me this far), I'd properly curse whatever gene was responsible for this. Though now that I think about it, one ancestor or another had to have beaten me to that punch.

And I have five more hours of work to go through. Score.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Where’s the Line At?

A friend of mine mentioned that he was noticing something of a red flag I’ve come to notice, though he put it better than I did way back then, so I’ll try to put it at least as well here.

We prefer clever stories. All of us. Even when the story is about a man hitting a rock with his head, if he does it cleverly, we’re more likely to watch it. Actually, more I think about it, the man would HAVE to hit the rock with his head cleverly for that to work as a show, the nuance and pathos (note to self, new script project...). News shows and documentaries are not immune to this preference - if no thought is put into making them, we don’t think we’ll watch them. The news anchor that presents a story in a way that captures its impact on the world and connects it to their viewer is more successful than the one that reads an article off

This holds true even for the bane of my existence: “reality” shows. If I believed the people on these things were average citizens of the USA, I’d have applied for another country’s residency long ago. I gave Survivor a longer shot than any such show to date, only until I realized no one was going to actually die. But even here, it’s the clever contestants (where applicable) that always “win” - they’re usually deceitful, backstabbing liars, but they’re clever liars.

Clever is essential. Clever is appreciated. And just like anything else, Clever can be overdone.

Too-Much-Clever is what happens when a show or story consistently gets into and out of situations that are impossible to follow from within the narrative. Such a narrative may grip the audience, pull them to the edge of their seats, and they may even follow along, but if they do, it’s only because they’re the audience. They get to see every perspective, thus collect all the relevant data, and thus can track what’s happening and why. Within the narrative, each character can only see their own perspective, and so when they arrive at a solution to a problem that uses all the materials and data, it’s dramatic, exciting, it may even be accurate, but something in our heads recognizes that they couldn’t have figured it out if someone wasn’t helping them cheat.

Now at all times, when it comes to fiction-based stories, it’s always the writer/ creator of the work who is being clever. But when a particular problem is solved not with brawn or explosions, but with a tiny idea and good timing, the strongest narratives make the audience cheer for the characters, not their writers. The best way to tell is, again, being able to define who knows what, less than how they work with it. As soon as someone on screen starts using what other people know to get their way out of a jam, while they may still be clever, it’s not their cleverness we’re really watching.

George R. R. Martin comes to mind as someone that makes really good use of this principle by flipping it. The fastest, most reliable means of long-distance communication in his Song of Ice and Fire series is carrier-pigeon (or raven, if you want to be technical). If someone wants to tell a buddy across town something, there’s going to be a lot of running involved. Most of the main characters are very clever (in their unique ways), but Martin is very careful in establishing each of their perspectives. What do they know that others don’t? How do they act on it? Within each one’s purview, they are making the best decisions they can, but as an outside observer with access to everyone’s information, Martin gives us a perverse sense of satisfaction as we observe a very clever person make a very stupid move. If only they knew what we did.

So the question I put is this: Where does the line fall? How clever is too clever? Just how brilliant can a character be before those of us on the couch just stop believing anyone could be so amazing? When you watched the series premiere of Dr. Who, did you praise the Doctor for the way he was able to stall long enough for the answer to make itself known? Or did you praise Steven Moffat?

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Mystic Lawyers

It’s not possible to turn on a television or computer anymore without learning that someone meant to construct or enforce laws – be they from man or faith – has broken them. It’s an example of greed, usually; other times the corruption of the soul by power. The victim feels abused, belittled, and perhaps eternally vulnerable. There’s also a sense of betrayal, knowledge that one's fellow man is able and willing to hurt another, sometimes for as little reason as feeling superior for a few scant moments.

For the rest of us, we see just how much laws protect us. Our laws define our society, give checks and balances to those in power, and are only as strong as the determination of those who enforce them. Otherwise, they’re worth less than the paper they’re written on. Every time an official breaks the law, we’re reminded of how much protection a sheet of parchment provides from attack.

Yet The Law holds power. The Law breaks the wicked and ruins their empires. The Law shields the innocent and empowers the just. And yet it seems like more and more, all the law does is give a name for the ways people screw each other over.

If that weren’t the case, what would happen? Would someone that stole from another find their own property missing? Could someone abuse their child only to discover their own body broken? It sounds great at first, but when one follows that line of thought more, it gets muddier. Crossing the street in the middle of the block to catch up with your runaway dog? Forget it. Skip turning in that rental DVD by one day? Maybe you’ll be just as late to that interview for your dream job. Sure, a lot of criminal activity and malicious behavior goes missing, but so does free will.

So there needs to be a happy medium. A force that will respond whenever called to whoever calls it, under any circumstances. Something beyond interference, that doesn’t pay heed to gender, race, social status, age. At the same time, it would need to be completely reactive. It could be aware of what a person is doing, but unless someone directly requests action be taken (and specifies what actions need to be taken), our hypothetical Law would do nothing. The onus would be on everyone tied to this Law to know when the Law needs to be involved, how to involve it, and be responsible for the consequences. This Law is not justice in and of itself, but it is a set of tools that anyone should be able to use to make sure people behave in a way that everyone can tolerate.

This “happy medium” Law is an idea millennia old, further away than a matter transporter yet something kept very close. Harry Potter learned exactly what such Law could give people, and watched others use this Law to take as much away from those he cared for. Gandalf gave his life to enforce the Law, and the Law gave it back to him to bring those who had abused it down. Merlin tried to teach his Laws to his fellow men, and though they could not use it like him, he taught them to enforce its spirit. This Law isn’t beyond abuse, it’s simply beyond corruption. Those who would twist it to their own ends cannot bend or rewrite it, nor can they block anyone else from using it themselves. It would not stop bad things from happening, but it is a source of power independent of physical strength or material wealth and influence.

It has given life to an entire genre of fiction, one that has grown along with societies, mirroring the complexity of their laws with its own.

Rules with the power to enforce themselves, that leave it to the people to say when they’re enforced. That sounds Magical to me.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Resolutions and their Proper Avoidance

SPOILER WARNING: I talk about the endings of plays over 400 years old. Odds are readers won’t be spoiled anything, but just in case…

I was watching Charlie Rose the other day, interviewing the director of the RSC Michael Boyd. The topic was the recent set-up in New York for a run of a number of plays to be performed by the company there, including a production of Hamlet for inner city youths. Early results seem very positive, and this is the kind of thing I’d like to see continue and spread – one of the biggest misconceptions about Shakespeare is that it’s incomprehensible without either a college degree or a monocle.

Rose asked Boyd what he thought made Shakespeare endure as well as it has, and his answer’s been running around my head for a few days. He said (to paraphrase) that Shakespeare knew how to close a story without resolving anything. Taking Hamlet as an example, the play’s named for the boy, he succeeds in killing his enemy at the end, so on the surface everything’s wrapped up nice and neat, but if you take a deeper look at what’s going on, the big picture is still blurry. By the end of the play, the country’s torn itself apart in civil war, the entire royal family is dead, and Hamlet’s more concerned about how it’ll sound in history than who will succeed him.

I thought back to what I remember and realized Shakespeare does this a lot. In Romeo & Juliet, the families keep the feud going even after their kids kill themselves. Toward the end of Twelfth Night, one character is swearing revenge on everyone, the only response sending a messenger with a request for peace. Othello: Iago manages to tear apart his own nation’s army and destroy the lives of a happy couple, and he is one of the few main characters to survive through the play.

Boyd goes on to explain that with every story, the temptation exists to tie up all the loose ends, and give the audience a clear indication of what the creator wanted the audience to take from the story. This exists in teaching as well – a teacher can tell students what they need to know in a certain subject and have done with it. They’ve said their piece, the audience will either take it as their own or leave it. But the best teachers orchestrate ways for the students to figure the critical things out for themselves. The effective teacher will lecture like normal, but instead of the whole of the lesson they’ll just give pieces – breadcrumbs – for students to pick up, and every now and then the teacher’ll stop lecturing and see which student has followed the breadcrumbs and can tell where the class is heading. This is a far less certain method – it depends as much on the audience’s energy and attention level as anything – but when it pays off, the lesson sticks with the audience forever. Even through finals week.

This also reminds me of the idea of a writer’s “contract with the audience,” the idea of a creator’s obligation to the people for whom they create. To put it another way, a writer will put hundreds or thousands of hours into a novel, estrange friends, family, health, hygiene, so when they finish they have every right to expect an appreciative, paying audience; an audience member has only so much time and money for themselves, the rest spent working hard to survive, so when they do spend time and money on a novel, they have every right to expect something they’ll understand and enjoy. How much can the writer explore their art and play with their audience before the audience moves on to something they can absorb easier? A tricky equation to solve.

Personally, I enjoyed the lack of resolution Shakespeare employed because it helped give each play a sense of continuity, that it was one segment out of a much richer environment that we were seeing as an audience. We’d watch characters grow and change, perhaps die, and by the end they had stopped being the people we met before, and the background had changed just as much. Both were ready to change and grown even more, but the audience wasn’t going to see it. It gave them lives – it gave them life – outside the story.

And I liked that.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Catching Up

REALLY?! January? What the hell?

Okay, this is where I should promise never to let a lapse like that happen again, dedicate myself for more faithful blogging, and leave it at that, right? Well, screw that. I came here to blog.

One of the exercises I ran for this past semester's class (everyone passed!) was something I'm calling Thread Pulling. Take one thread of a story, be it a plot thread, character thread, anything that's consistently present but changes from beginning to end, and yank it out; isolate that thread's actions in the story. The story we used was the movie Chinatown, and students built these threads in an effort to understand everything that was happening in this very dense film. We ended up with six threads, each of the pretty long and complicated.

Over the past few days, I've tried adapting this technique to my novel project, isolating the main characters and figuring out what the story is from just their perspective. I've finished only two threads so far, but it's filled in a LOT of questions I hadn't even bothered asking about the beast yet. By the time I finish the threads, I hope to have a much better understanding of what my end product will look like.

The next phase of the student project was to re-weave their threads into a single swatch of story, with the ultimate goal of reworking it into a piece of prose. This mostly involved putting each thread side by side and connecting them where we could. Sometimes it was easy, two characters talking at a table links their stories just about automatically. Others were trickier - sometimes a character will be alone in the middle of a riverbed, but what they find or learn there triggers something in another thread, so a link needs to be established. It was a painful assignment in some ways, but by the end of it they knew this story so well, adapting it into a novel was almost a relief.

Visually, this is hard to pull off simply because it can take up a lot of room, and technology doesn't necessarily help for the limits screen size can create. Once I get it done, though, each moment and each connection I visualize will be something to write for the novel. These kinds of headaches I can look forward to.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

The Crash

I am currently experiencing what is well known, if not popularly called, The Crash. Visiting family is gone back to their homes, traveling's done, and it's the first time the body has a chance to cope with all the stress it's put up with recently. I feel like I could sleep for days, I'd like another week to really get my shit together and be ready to go back to work, but there's zero chance of that happening. in 24 hours I'll be in the mail room again, wondering how many more packages I can sort before I give myself an aneurysm and have an excuse for a break.

I take Crashes seriously. When I Crash, I take it easy, I don't push myself, and I let whatever reserves are gone get replenished. I know plenty of people that don't. They pride themselves on how they can just push past it, ride their own momentum, and get through it; good for them. Me, it doesn't work like that. I can push through Crashes as well as the next guy, but I also know that if I do, I'm pretty much guaranteed to get sick. Crashes may be a hassle, but I can deal with hassles, but I spent enough of my life laid up in a sickbed to not want to be there if I can possibly avoid it. Even if that means not staying up late for a week in a row.

My first semester as a college professor is done, and I think it went pretty well. I won't have my evaluations back until later this month, but all my students passed, I had fun (so what if the students did), and nothing went horribly wrong. I'm teaching another class this coming semester, one that plays a little closer to my strengths, so we'll see if I can keep that momentum going for a whole semester.

My writing... has slowed. Not stopped, and I suppose that's its own victory, but I wanted to have more done by now. A full time job plus a part time teaching job equals a much larger strain on my reserves than I estimated. It was the right call and I'm happier for it, but this is not a long-term thing. I'm meeting with people and am trying to change some habits to get back on top of things, my writing and fitness being the two big things, but it's going to come down to willpower. We'll see.

Happy New Year!