And there is nothing left remarkable beneath the blogging moon

Good morning and hello*!  It’s Thursday, June 17, 2021, and it’s time for another of my weekly blog posts.

Not much new is happening.  I’m steadily editing In the Shade, being quite assertive about cutting down words, including trimming back something of my tendency to be digressive with characters’ thoughts.  I don’t necessarily think that such digressions are bad.  People do tend to be pretty tangential, with one idea randomly triggering another, often only superficially related, thought.  However, I think that in times of stress and danger such meanderings may be more curtailed than usual, and since much of what happens to the protagonist of this story is stressful, I’m trying to keep him from thinking too many random thoughts.

They’re realistic in their way, but I don’t want them to distract from what’s happening and slow the story down.  After all, it’s a supernatural horror story.  I like having people in such stories behave as much as possible like people in real life would, since the whole idea is that these are ordinary people in what seems to be the ordinary world, to whom unexpected and inexplicable things happen.  But I don’t want the story to be dull.  That would be a shame in something that’s supposed to be at least a little bit scary.

As for other matters, well, I still haven’t gotten myself moving on Iterations of Zero.  I keep thinking that I should make it just a stream-of-consciousness blog, a sort of online free association but with no Freud sitting behind my sofa.  But it’s been difficult to commit to a time and situation in which to do it.  Weirdly enough, my schedule is remarkably full, what with writing every morning before work, then practicing guitar a little bit, doing this blog on Thursdays, and during the day, of course, managing the logistics of the office**.  There is a fair amount of down time during my workdays, but it’s haphazard, and it would be difficult to carve out a long enough period to make any kind of cohesive posts, even if I were to commit to two or so short ones during the week.  I think doing it might be good for me, but I have a hard time doing things that meet that description.  I’m not my biggest fan***.

I’ve been trying, as I constantly do, to find lifestyle modifications that improve my chronic pain and make my mental health better (and my physical health as well, since that is likely to help my pain in more than one sense), but it’s a difficult problem, and progress is slow and erratic, with regression happening nearly as often as improvement.  Earlier this week I experienced an episode (not for the first time) of inexplicably abrupt and severe worsening of my baseline mood, so strong that I felt it should be blatantly visible to everyone around me, perhaps as a dark gray cloud of acidic fog seeping from my body and poisoning the air.  Apparently, that wasn’t the case****.  But internally, it felt perilously close to one of the horrifying scenes from the M. Night Shyamalan movie, The Happening, and I had to do something quietly desperate to mortify the terribly strong urge I felt to do something much more extreme.

No one noticed.  I guess I’m better at hiding things than I might have thought; it becomes so habitual that even when you’d prefer not to hide, you can’t help it. And all the while, the band you were in continues to play different tunes, apparently not even noticing that you’re no longer there.

Sorry.  It’s a bad time of year for me, I’m afraid, what with Father’s Day coming, followed nine days later by what would have been my thirtieth wedding anniversary.  I don’t like to complain, since it’s rarely useful and usually is just annoying to everyone else, but if I can’t do it here on my not-for-profit blog, where can I do it?  I probably shouldn’t do it at all.

Still, I’ve got my latest story and the story collection to finish, and all that whatnot.  It would be nice to find some answers, or at least partial answers, or something that might help me, but I’m not optimistic.  I hope you’re all feeling much better than I am.  It’s not a high bar, but see if you can keep raising it for yourselves.  Why not?  You all might as well be as happy and as healthy as you’re able to be; that would certainly please me.

TTFN

Moon 2


*See what I did there?  I switched up the order of my usual salutation.

**On weekends, which are only one day long at least half the time, I can barely find the desire even to leave my bed, and there’s not much reason to do so.  I don’t see myself writing blog posts on the weekend.

***As a person, that is.  As far as my writing goes (and my music, as well), I’m almost certainly my own biggest fan.  I’m not sure how many other people even read my books and stories.  I have recently had the pleasure of having a coworker read both Son of Man and The Vagabond, both of which I gave her as gifts (I give out copies of all my books to my coworkers when they are published, both to spread the stories and to encourage people to read).  She seemed to enjoy them, particularly Son of Man, and she asked me the famous, eternal question about The Vagabond, which was, “Where did you get the idea for that story?”

****These types of situations often remind me of the lines from the Pink Floyd song, Brain Damage: “And if the cloudbursts thunder in your ear / you shout and no one seems to hear”.  That last line is what captures things.  When things are truly bad, it feels like you’re screaming like a banshee, and that surely anyone and everyone can tell that something is wrong.  Yet, weirdly, no one seems to notice or say anything at all.  I’m pretty sure I have only myself to blame.

But modest doubt is called the beacon of the wise, the tent that searches to th’ bottom of the blog.

Okay, well, hello and good morning as always.  It’s Thursday, June 10, 2021, and it’s time for another of my weekly blog posts.  I’m a bit under the weather—some low-level gastrointestinal bug has troubled me for the last three days—so I intend to keep this comparatively short.  However, I have long experience of such intentions going astray, like so many of the best laid plans of mice and men.

It feels, at first thought, that the plans of mice ought to go astray more often than those of men, but perhaps the plans of mice, if there can honestly be said to be such things*, are more constrained and simpler than those of “men” and so may have fewer contingent and unpredictable aspects.

Who knows?

It’s been a reasonably productive week.  I’ve finished In the Shade, as I think I might have mentioned last week, and I’ve been working on the initial editing run-through, which is now all but done.  This is only the first edit, of course; there will be many passes to follow before I consider the story fit enough to publish.  I’m being particularly assertive about reducing the story’s word count.  I obviously don’t want to take out anything that I think adds to the tale, and certainly nothing essential.  Nevertheless, I do tend to run off at the keyboard, so it’s useful to be hard on myself.  I enjoy writing words and conveying thoughts in written form, so I sometimes do too much.

This might come across as egotistical, as a sense of loving to “hear myself talk” so to speak, but I think that would be a mischaracterization.  My writing certainly doesn’t make me feel proud of myself, or that I’m particularly special, nor does it produce or reflect some narcissistic self-love.  Self-love is not one of my noteworthy attributes.

Indeed, I’ve often thought of depression (and dysthymia) as a sort of deficiency in the ability to delude oneself (positively) about one’s nature and abilities.  According to at least some studies of which I’ve heard, people with a tendency toward depression rate themselves more realistically on self-assessment tests of certain kinds, as opposed to their peers, who tend to overrate their own relative abilities.  This can be comically stated as a situation in which most people tend to rate themselves as above average, which is often declared to be mathematically impossible.  However, if by “average” most people refer to the arithmetic mean, it is possible for most people to be above average, if those people are only modestly above average and the others are well below it.  Such a circumstance is pretty unlikely, but it’s not a mathematical impossibility.  However, if one is referring to the median as the “average” then, by definition, it is impossible for most people to be above average.

I’ve recently read a book called On Being Certain, by Robert A. Burton, M.D., and he makes some interesting points about how the nature of being certain is related mainly to a feeling of being right, an emotion, produced in the limbic system, not actually to a process of thought or the conclusion of a logical train of argument.  That feeling—that sense of knowing, of revelation, of being convinced of something—can even happen spontaneously in certain kinds of seizures, and in certain psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia.  As a feeling, it can’t readily be overcome in the same way that a logical conclusion can be abandoned if the flaws in the logic are demonstrated.  But only such emotions, not mere logical conclusions, prod us to action.  In reading the book, I realized that another possible aspect of the disease states of depression/dysthymia involve, at least in my case, a deficiency of this feeling**.

There are very few things I feel certain enough of not to allow myself to entertain significant doubt.  There have been times when I’ve even doubted the conclusion of the cogito ergo sum—though you would think that, by doubting it, I’m demonstrating its truth.  But part of me thinks that if there’s a supernatural being (or a civilization of machines, a la The Matrix) that can simulate all the external facts of reality, then why could they not be “simulating” my very experience of thought?  As an author, I’ve created many characters who, within their stories, would certainly think that they are thinking; my readers can read those thoughts from the characters’ points of view.  Yet, those thoughts are artificial, in the strict sense of being brought about by external artifice—in this case, mine.

So, this combination of deficiency at positive self-delusion, coupled with a sincere doubt about one’s ability to be certain of nearly anything can engender an exhausting enervation, the deterioration of motivation, and a broad sense of pointlessness.  At least it leads to the avoidance of dogma, and I think that’s a good thing.  I think the world as a whole would have far fewer large-scale problems if more people could feel less certainty and more doubt.

But it would be nice to be able just to feel good about myself and my right to exist, however unjustified such a feeling might be.  It might be nice to feel that I—or anyone—deserves to be happy, even though that’s an incoherent notion.  Unfortunately, on those rare occasions in which I’ve felt a strong degree of certainty about myself or my conclusions, or about my value or values, it’s frequently been disastrous.  So also for humanity at large, I think.

And here I’ve gone and not written a short post, as should come as no surprise to anyone.  I really do need to try to get some of these thoughts out in Iterations of Zero on a regular basis, so I can spare hapless readers of this blog from the ordeal of such topics.  I haven’t given up on that notion, at least, which is rare enough for me.

TTFN

doubt


*And why not?  Mice surely have at least some rudimentary conceptions of courses of action to take and expectations of likely outcomes of those courses of action.  They are certainly not simple automata.

**He points out how this deficiency is prevalent or evident in OCD, for instance, as in cases where a person simply cannot feel convinced that they really did lock the door or turn the oven off, say, and so can become paralyzed by unreasonable doubts.  I don’t have OCD, but I certainly have some of those attributes.  As I leave the house in the morning, I check my pockets multiple times to be sure that, yes, I really do have my keys, and my phone, and my wallet, all of which I have already checked, and which I always bring with me.  I simply don’t trust my memory, nor my habits—I’m too well aware of how malleable memory is, and how fragile habits can be.  This does mean that I almost never forget to bring any of these items, but I also never can seem to embrace the conclusion that I should be able to trust myself not to forget them—and so every day involves that feeling of not being certain at all.

Make dust our paper, and with rainy eyes write blogs on the bosom of the earth

Good morning.  It’s the first Thursday in June of 2021, and since it is a Thursday, it’s time for another of my weekly blog posts.

I finished the first draft of In the Shade last Friday, as predicted, and have since embarked on the first editing round.  I’m already nearly halfway through it, so hopefully it won’t be very long before the story is ready, and thus I will be poised to compile my upcoming collection.  I haven’t decided on the order of the stories, except to say that I’m going to put House Guest first and In the Shade last.  I’m also going to put Solitaire roughly in the middle, and as I think I’ve said before, I’m going to surround it with comparatively light fare, since it’s probably my darkest story ever.  “Comparatively” is, of course, an important qualifier.  Most or all of my stories tend to be rather dark, at least in parts.

It will be interesting, if anyone out there reads the story carefully enough, to learn if there is any qualitative difference between the parts of In the Shade that were originally handwritten and those that were composed directly on the computer.  For anyone interested in investigating, the first portion of the story—right up to when the boy, Kyle, predicts that the deputies investigating the strange house where his friend was injured will not come back—was originally handwritten.  What follows was composed on the computer, until the very last section, in which we change our point of view to that of the owner of the house (you’ll understand these references when you read the story).  That final section was also handwritten, constituting just shy of the last 6000 words of the story.  It’s difficult for me to judge any possible difference objectively, so I’d be grateful for any feedback; I don’t have any actual friends who might read it and let me know ahead of time*.

I don’t know what else I should write about today.  Ideas and thoughts and reflections on many subjects frequently pop into my head, often during my commute or while reading some science-related book or upon encountering some absurd event in the news.  These are sometimes stored as my proposed posts for Iterations of Zero, but I haven’t yet worked out how and when to produce them consistently.  The video idea was simply not worth the effort; I’m not photogenic enough (to me, at least) to justify viewing or sharing my image.  I’m not sure exactly what possessed me to try it in the first place.  Whatever it was, that urge seems to have disappeared.  I considered trying to write the posts by hand and retyping them, but that’s more onerous than I have the will to carry out, and I’ve noted often that I don’t want to take time away from my fiction writing more than the one day a week I give to this blog.

I keep toying with the notion of just doing voice recordings when the mood strikes me, sparing myself much of the burdensome editing by simply committing to noise reduction and level adjustment, then putting them up as is—pauses, breaths, coughs, “umm”s and all.  So far, unfortunately, though I frequently feel the urge to talk about ideas, it tends to happen when I’m not readily able to record my thoughts.  It happens a lot during my commute.  So, what I end up doing quite often is just talking to myself, partly in my head, and partly out loud.

Ah, well, it’s not really that important.  Probably such thoughts are of little value to anyone but me, if even that.  I had a brief burst of Twitter enthusiasm, but it’s too short form a medium, and anyway, I can’t seem to find any energy for social media, or for any other kind of socialization.  I find interacting with other people, including on Facebook and Twitter, increasingly stressful, though I’m not sure quite why.  Seeing a notice at the top of the Facebook screen indicating that someone has sent me a message is enough to make me avoid the site for a very long time, though I continue to share things like videos and articles and so on through Facebook and Twitter.  I apologize to anyone who considers this rude.  I can honestly say, “It’s not you; it’s me.”

Part of the problem—though not all of it—is that when I’ve posted on Facebook at times when I’m particularly depressed and having an especially strong case of my frequent “promortalist” urges**, and am honestly hoping that someone out there might have something helpful to say or to think or to suggest or to do, I get at best some discussion of the sorts of points that I’ve already encountered years and sometimes decades ago and found wanting***.  Others offer supportive words and thoughts which, while definitely appreciated and valued, don’t seem to have the power to change anything.  And then, of course, occasionally I’ve received statements of actual offense from some people who I would have thought knew better or were better—as if the fact that I have “issues” with which I struggle were an insult or slight upon them.

Well, that’s the last thing I need.  And, of course, the never negligible baseline level of human stupidity (my own far from the least) is positively enhanced by social media, ironically—though I feared from the outset that the internet and its byproducts would produce at least as much harm as good—and so the whole thing becomes a painful experience, and I’m not masochistic enough to keep laying my hand on a stovetop when I can’t tell if it’s hot or not****.

So, social media isn’t very beneficial to me in general, and I’m not good at pure personal socialization of any kind.  It’s never been my greatest strength, and it seems to have weakened over the years.  I often become confused, stressed, and even angry even at seemingly inevitable, ubiquitous, pointless inquiries like, “How are you doing?”  I honestly don’t know how to reply without lying.  The only person with whom I socialize at all, in any purely social sense, is my sister, and it’s hard for me not to feel that she’s never committed any sin or crime grievous enough to merit that burden.

I honestly would love to be rescued somehow from this mental state or tendency.  I would also love to see world peace.  But I fear that the only reliable ways to achieve either goal are probably similar in character and similarly irreversible.

Anyway, sorry about all that.  I’m venting, I guess.  I’ll try not to indulge in this so much in the future, and will strive to stick to my brief, or whatever the phrase is.  I do honestly, fervently, and sincerely hope that you’re all as well as you can be, and that you can keep your own spirits up, despite reading my gloomy grumbling.

TTFN

Lost in maze


*This is entirely my own fault.

**I’m euphemizing to avoid triggering any automatic responses either by computers or by people.  These aforementioned euphemized urges of mine happen, to a very good approximation, every day, and they have done so for a long, long time.  A day without them would be so rare as to merit something like the Dickensian description of the Cratchett family’s Christmas goose as “a feathered phenomenon, to which a black swan was a matter of course.”

***I am, after all, a medical doctor who has had dysthymia occasionally veering into full depression pretty much my entire adult life, and thus have taken a particular interest in them.  I understand the pathophysiology of the disorders, to the degree that they are understood at all, and the means, nature, and reliability of treatments at a level slightly better than most general practitioners, though perhaps not at the level of specialists.  I’ve partaken of numerous medical and psychological/therapeutic interventions, and I continue to use that which has historically been my most effective treatment.  That’s right:  all this is me while using the best treatment I’ve found.

****In a similar vein, the one time I called the “crisis hotline”, I found myself handcuffed by PBSO deputies (causing nerve damage that lasted almost a year to my left hand), and was brought to a shit-hole of a facility where I was assigned to sleep on a battered sofa, then discharged about thirty-six hours later, with a follow-up appointment in one month, which provided nothing I hadn’t already been doing.

Like as the waves make towards the pebbled shore, so do our minutes hasten to their blog

Hello and good morning.  It’s Thursday—the last Thursday of May in 2021—and so, to the possible consternation of many, it’s time for another of my weekly blog posts.

It’s been a reasonably uneventful week, though at a personal level, it feels like it’s been full of drama.  I did not feel well at all over the course of the weekend, for various reasons, and that rolled over into the beginning of the week.  Because of this, work on the (handwritten) final portion of In the Shade didn’t proceed at quite the hoped-for pace.  Nevertheless, I am within spitting distance of its end.  I should be finished with the first draft by perhaps midway through my usual writing time tomorrow, and I can then begin typing it into the computer and then moving on to rewriting/editing.

My overall mood tends to be slightly buoyed when I’m writing new things, so I get nervous when I enter a period solely of rewriting and editing.  The psychology of this feels rather transparent, to me at least—writing new things, especially new stories, is basically all that gives me any reason to be alive, so the writing of first drafts supports me a bit against my tendency toward nihilism and pan-antipathy.  Editing, while absolutely essential—and a legitimately creative process—is somehow unable to provide the sense of worth and value to life.  This was why, during the course of the very long editing and rewriting of Unanimity, I had to take a few breaks to write short stories.

Thankfully, In the Shade, though long a for a short story, as mine so often are, is still not going to take too much time to edit and rewrite.  Then putting together Dr. Elessar’s Cabinet of Curiosities shouldn’t take much longer and may take less time.  After all, it’s a collection of things that have already gone though all their edits and are just going to be merged and ordered and laid out together.

From there, I’ll go on to finish Outlaw’s Mind, which will be another interval of new writing, followed by another interval of editing, and thence to publication.  After that, I’m not sure what I’m going to write next.  I had considered doing my silly little fable-type story, Neko/Neneko, but that was largely because I had an artistic coworker who hoped to draw the cover for it, and I thought that would be great.  But that person is no longer my coworker, and I haven’t seen or heard from her in quite some time, so there’s not as much impetus.  And without that impetus, I don’t feel particularly strongly about the story.

Other things that tease at my possibilities include the potentially quite large story Changeling in a Shadow World, or a very old book idea of mine called Destiny (originally The Maker of Destiny, but that seems too clunky), or another horror story whose title oscillates in my mind between The Created and Entropy.  And there are at least two more books in the “saga” of Mark Red in my head, but I’m not sure that anyone’s interested in reading more about him, and if no one is, it’s hard to revisit prior characters when I could make new things.  Also, of course, I could someday try to recreate Ends of the Maelstrom, my long-lost handwritten book from high school.  And I have a significant list of jotted down short story ideas as well, some of which—knowing me—could easily metamorphose into novellas or novels.

This is all assuming, of course, that I live long enough to do any of it, which I often don’t think is the best of the available options.

In the meantime, I’ve pretty much given up on doing more video entries for Iterations of Zero, at least on anything like a regular basis.  The process is just too lengthy and data-storage intensive, and I don’t like looking at myself any more than absolutely necessary.  I’ve written a short post on the subject that I mean to put up on IoZ soon, and I have a final, whimsical and silly video that I’ll post as well, but I think I’ll hold off on doing more of them.  Videos, I mean.  I may try to work back toward doing some of what I call “audio blogs” (the term “podcast” seems far too grandiose, though that’s how some of them show up in Google searches, to my surprise).  IoZ still struggles to find its way, so to speak.  Sometimes I consider just nixing it and posting the occasional material that I would have put there on this blog.  I’d wanted to keep this venue dedicated to my fiction writing and related topics, but maybe that’s a silly idea.

Well, it’s not as though any of this is of any consequence whatsoever.  Talk about iterations of zero—I think all that I’ve written, here and elsewhere, and the songs I’ve sung and played and recorded (and some of which I’ve written), and pictures I’ve drawn, and all the rest, are just a very small pebble-splash with evanescent ripples in the middle of an ocean far vaster than the Pacific.  In a certain sense, that’s undeniably true—for me, and for anyone and everyone and everything else—given the size, scale, age, and future of the universe.  But it’s possible not to find that fact disheartening, and even to find it uplifting, if one just has a personal meaning and reason and justification and purpose.  Alas, all my versions of such things have long since fled.  I can’t be arsed to find or invent any new ones, even if I knew how, and I have no hunger for delusional or illusory comforts.

But writing stories is its own justification, even if no one ever reads them.  It’s pretty much what I’ve got, anymore.  And, on that pleasant note, I think I’ll call it enough for this week.  I truly hope you’re all as well as you can possibly be, and that you remain well…and even improve over time.

TTFN

“What do you blog, my lord?” “Words, words, words.”

Hello and good morning.  It’s Thursday, and so, if you’re so interested, it’s time for another edition of my weekly blog post.

I’m nearly done, now, with my “short story” In the Shade.  I use scare quotes there because, as is usually the case with me, the story has grown larger than I expected.  I won’t say how large except to admit that it’s well over thrice what it was when I picked it back up.  That doesn’t mean it’s bad—though I guess it may be—but it does mean it’s not very short.  As I think I’ve mentioned before, I mean to try to be even more draconian than usual about word count reduction in the editing process, to see if I can streamline it at least a bit without removing any of what I consider the important substance of the story.

I sometimes fear that I let my characters get too introspective.  There is, apparently, a modern common recommendation that as an author one should “show, not tell” what is happening to one’s characters and even what they are thinking.  But if a character is experiencing something alone—as we all, ultimately, experience life alone—then one must get inside that character’s head if one is to give the reader any sense of what the character is experiencing.

I think the “show don’t tell” edict is misguided, anyway.  A written story can only tell.  All it can “show” is a set of squiggles on a page.  Perhaps modern writers have been influenced by the prevalence first of movies, then television, and now all the various other forms of visual media.  And yet, ultimately, nearly all stories must be told largely in words.  Even silent movies contained intermittent panels of written explication.  And video is simply a different kind of medium than the written word.  In my opinion, though its impact may be more immediate, it tends not to be as deep or involved.

For instance, the movie versions of The Lord of the Rings were wonderful, and I loved them all, but they are not close to being as great as the original book(s).  They are also, ironically, much more data intensive, even though they had to leave out so many things from the books to fit the action into three long movies.  Books call upon the readers to provide their own special effects, but if a reader has a decent imagination, then the special effects budget is unlimited.  And the experience of the books is much more personal.  It is unique to every individual reader and every new reading.

I am biased, of course.  I cannot be otherwise.  But I think words are the most important part of any story, even movies and TV shows and the like.  Tales are told largely through the words shared between characters, from the plays of Shakespeare to a modern sit-com.  I’m sure that movies or videos exist in which there are no words at all, with stories told purely by action and motion.  If done well, they could be quite interesting*.  But such tales will tend to be outliers and curiosities.  Language—especially written language—is the lifeblood of civilization.

We know some of what Plato and Aristotle and Archimedes thought because they wrote it down.  If, on some distant future day, all computers and other video players were lost, or some catastrophe made their function impossible, we would not see any movies.  But as long as a written language is not dead, a book can play itself for any reader, and can be recorded on paper, in computer files, carved in stone (if one is so inclined), and can even be read aloud onto some recording media.

I’ve gone on a bit of a tangent, and maybe I’ve gone farther than is really warranted.  But I am a lover of the written word and consider writing the purest form of storytelling.  That being said, I do still recognize my tendency to run off at the word processor, and sometimes to say more than is necessary to get my point across**.  So, as I think I’ve mentioned before, I’m writing the final part of In the Shade with pen on paper, to slow myself down a bit and—just maybe—to make myself more concise.  It’s not much of a handicap.  Yesterday was my first pen and paper day, and I wrote a little over three pages in my morning session, which is probably on the order of over 1200 words.

I fear I may be incorrigible in this wordy tendency; neither Mark Red, nor The Chasm and the Collision, nor Paradox City could be called particularly short works, and they were initially written on notebook paper resting on the cover of a cheap photo album in FSP West.  But I’ll try not to get too carried away if I can help it.  Who knows, maybe some readers enjoy that tendency in my stories?  But it can’t hurt to cut out the truly unnecessary and the distracting.

With that thought, I’ll call this blog post to an appropriate end.  I wish you all the best, and I hope you stay safe and healthy, and try to be happy when you can.

TTFN

words


*The horror movie A Quiet Place does this to some extent, and is quite powerful, but even it must lapse into words for explanation, including sign language.  Nevertheless, kudos to the makers of that film!

**I know, you’d never realize that by reading this blog, right?

I will blog them all, even to roaring.

Hello and good morning.  It’s Thursday again, and time for my weekly blog post.  It’s the second Thursday of the month, and in that brief golden age of the past, this post would have been an entry into “My Heroes Have Always Been Villains”.  But that age came to an end long ago.  I’m obviously not completely over it, but I think everyone else is…if anyone else was ever “under it”.

I’ve been working at a halfway decent pace on my writing this week*, though for a few days late last week and so far in this one it has been hard going—not because of the writing, but because my back (and in radiating fashion, my legs, sides, and *ahem* groin, mainly on the right) has been acting up severely.  This has interfered with my sleep and my energy and has worn away at my never-too-impressive will to live.  It’s very annoying, and I’m continually trying to take steps to mitigate and improve it.  My aforementioned will to live may not terribly strong, but I dislike pain as much as most people do.  That’s the nature of pain.  That’s what it does.  It’s arranged so as not to be easily ignored, since it nominally exists to warn a person (or any other animal) to avoid or correct danger and/or damage.

Alas, there is damage that we are not capable of avoiding or correcting (yet), and since we live longer now than we ever have in the past, and we engage in pursuits our ancestors were never built to manage, we accumulate and survive damage that can persist for decades, with pain that does likewise.  That which does not kill you does not always make you stronger, and some things just kill you very slowly.  I talked a little bit about this in an impromptu, poor-sound-quality video that I shared on YouTube and through Iterations of Zero, but obviously it’s a subject that still weighs on my mind.  No surprises there.

I encountered a very nice quote recently—in a Doctor Who episode, actually (though I heard/saw it on one of those YouTube compilation videos)—and it struck a chord in me that relates to why I wrote my late, lamented run of “My Heroes Have Always Been Villains”.  In the scene, The Doctor is in a stand-off with a group of enemies, and one antagonist says to him that the anger of a good man is not a problem, because good men have so many rules.  The Doctor slowly turns and walks up to her, quietly saying, “Good men don’t need rules.  Today is not the day to find out why I have so many.”

This really moved me—it moved the antagonist of the piece as well, who quickly stood down—because I have never been a good person by nature or inclination, but I have always tried to do and be good things, so I’ve created many, many rules for myself**.  I don’t think I’m rare, let alone unique, in this.  I have very dark thoughts and ideas, which I put to good use in stories, but they make me dislike myself quite a bit a lot of the time.  And, interestingly, because I curtail my own evil impulses, and have done so all my life, I get particularly angry at people who do thoughtlessly negative, petty, harmful, selfish things.  If I can’t do it, I’ll be damned if I’m going to be okay with other people doing it!

Again, I don’t think this is at all unusual, though I may tend to think and imagine more extreme things than many or most people.  But Steven Moffat, the writer of that Doctor Who episode seemed to understand.  And, based on other things he’s written, I think he understands it rather deeply.  Maybe everyone does, at some level.  After all, not many of the stories we love are peaceful and positive and beautiful throughout.  In the real world and in fiction, only a minority of our heroes are not violent at any level.  It is an often dark, often dangerous world out there—everywhere—and true pacifists tend to be little more than excellent sources of protein.  It’s not fair, of course, but fairness is a human conceit, or an aspiration, if you prefer.  Fairness—in the human sense—is not found in the laws of physics, except to the extent that everything is.

On to other matters.  I’m going to be posting one more video for Iterations of Zero, I think, and then I’m probably not going to be making many, or any, more.  I don’t get very many “likes” from them, and I prefer writing for many reasons.  Also, I just can’t really enjoy the process of editing videos, because I really don’t like looking at my face.  It’s cruel to force me to do it, and I can only allow myself to be cruel up to a point, even to myself.

But, anyway, In the Shade is coming along nicely.  I’m thinking of writing the first draft of its final section longhand, just to see if it affects my speed of writing and my tendency to wordiness, as well as the quality.  I’m not certain of that decision yet.  I’ll let you know.  In whatever format, the story’s first draft ought to be done soon—by the end of the month I should think—and then I will set to rewriting/editing it and then putting together Dr. Elessar’s Cabinet of Curiosities.  That should be out this summer sometime, I would guess…something to chill your blood during the dog days.

TTFN

3700361-440565 doc

“Doc” is what everyone at work calls me.


*Yesterday was my best day this week, at just over 2000 words.  Last Friday I didn’t even break a thousand.

**These are implicit rules, not literally codified even in my head, but I know them when I come up against situations in which they are applicable.

The canker blogs have full as deep a dye as the perfumed tincture of the roses

Hello and good morning.  It’s the first Thursday of May in 2021, and so, of course, it’s time for another edition of my weekly blog post.  I don’t have any particular topic to write about today, so I’ll just start with some comments about how work has been going on my latest story.

It’s going well.

I won’t leave it just at that, though you might prefer it.  I’ve been writing at a decent clip, but not quite approaching my peak levels from recent weeks, because I had a flat tire, and earlier this week I had to get the repaired tire replaced, and I had to take the train to and from work while that was happening.

I’ve still been writing over a thousand new words—so to speak—a day, even on my worst day of the week, and on Monday I hit two thousand.  Given that I do my writing in the space of roughly an hour in the morning, that’s pretty good.  I’m enjoying being able to write new things instead of simply having to rewrite and edit works that have already been written.  I feel a bit like a kid how is finally able to go outside and play after a long rainy spell; it just feels good to move, or to write as the case may be.  I also tend to get caught up in writing new things more readily than in most other pursuits.  Though it’s often a minor push to get going in the morning, by the time I need to stop, I often don’t really want to do so.

The new story I’m working on, In the Shade, is a horror story, and is rapidly turning towards the Lovecrafty side of things, which was my intent and expectation when I originally started writing it.  Invoking Howard Phillips always seems to energize me.  The story is getting a bit longish, but that is at least tolerable in a Lovecraft-style tale, since his stories were often pretty long.  Still, I think I’m going to set my self a more draconian goal than usual in reducing the word count during the editing process.  Then, of course, I must put together my collection.

In addition to writing (and working at my day job, of course), I’ve been doing some more videos.  For two weeks in a row now I’ve released some as part of my Iterations of Zero blog; they appear on YouTube and in the blog proper.  I also did a few little silly videos, mainly in order to play with video editing programs, to see what they can do and what I can do with them, in a half-hearted kind of way.  I also did a video of a cover of the Beatles song, Blackbird.  I’d posted on YouTube a video among others I’d made of me just practicing the song, but my singing wasn’t great, and the sound quality was also far from ideal.  So, I did a more formal recording/mix of the song—in one morning, after writing, originally, but then I redid the vocals after that.  The whole song is just one guitar and a singer (double-tracked in the middle), so the vocals are very much in your face.  I was reasonably happy with the outcome, and I did a video proper—so to speak, again—with pictures of various blackbirds, with effects pasted onto them using a very basic video editor, in a rather silly fashion.  I’ll embed the video here, just in case you want to watch/listen.

I feel foolishly proud of my guitar playing there, because it’s a rather complicated finger-picking song, and I’m really playing it, and at full speed.  I remember reading about how, when the Beatles were hanging out with the maharishi, Donovan showed Paul and John that finger-picking style, and they each excitedly went on to write and record a finger-picked song for “The White Album”.  Paul did Blackbird, and John did Julia.  I’m also practicing the latter, but it has some additional challenges—the use of a capo, for instance, and more complex chord fingering—that mean it’s going to take a bit longer to get to where I want it to be.  I did do a video of me playing it, on that same morning, and it’s on Iterations of Zero, here, with other videos, but I haven’t put it on YouTube.  Eventually I’ll get it in shape and do a full recording, maybe with a real video of me (you are hereby warned).  This song definitely has at least double-tracked vocals, because John overlaps himself singing it.

Anyway, that’s all really a side thing, though it’s enjoyable working on a new skill.  As mentioned last week, I’m unnoticeably far into the beginning of the ten-thousand hours needed to master playing, but it’s fun.  I have advantages in that I’ve played piano and especially cello since I was quite young and played in orchestras regularly right up until the end of medical school.  I’ve never been a great cellist—my practicing habits were abysmal—but I always enjoyed it, and it definitely provides a leg up for playing the guitar.

That’s about all I have to write about today; it’s probably more than I actually have to write about, or at least more than is worth writing about.  I hope you all have a lovely, lusty month of May, but that you stay safe and healthy in the process.

TTFN

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This is a picture I drew a long time ago. It has nothing much to do with this post, but captures my love for the monstrous “hiding” amidst beauty.

To-day, to-day, unhappy day, too late, o’erthrows thy joys, friends, fortune and thy blog

Hello and good morning.  Welcome to Thursday, and to another edition of my blog post.  It’s the last Thursday in April of 2021.  This day of this month will never come again.

Of course, we could say that about any given date, or hour, or moment—that’s the nature of time.  We may, in some future epoch, decide to restart our dating system, and so we might eventually come to a day the designation of which would match this one, but it would obviously not actually be the same day.

If there is some external meta-time, in which higher-dimensional organisms can replay our time and lives at will—perhaps like Kurt Vonnegut’s Tralfamadorians—they might be able to look at any of our given moments or days over and over again, just as we can re-watch a movie as often as we may like on anything from VHS to DVD to blu-Ray to digital download—or even on old-fashioned film.  For the characters in the story, however—as for us if we were “looked at” earlier in our time—the events are always identical.

Each moment of the story is the same moment, no matter how often you see or read it.  The characters don’t change, their experience, if you will, doesn’t change, and they have no ability to recall previous viewings or readings.  Each time you rewind, you undo whatever developments might be coming.  A character in a film—or in a novel—who comes to a tragic end that “could have been” avoided cannot learn from that tragedy, cannot do things differently the next time you read the story or watch the video.

There is a sense in which, according to most interpretations of General Relativity, every moment in spacetime is “permanent”, but it doesn’t help us as individuals living in time.  If, after the moment of our death, we immediately simply re-begin at the beginning of our life, there will be no memory of having lived “before”.  Indeed, the very concept would make no sense.

And, of course, as even the MCU recognizes, at least at some level, if you could “go back in time” and change things, you wouldn’t literally be changing the past, you would simply be creating a new sequence, which would now be your local future.

It’s an interesting notion to write a sci-fi/fantasy, or perhaps horror, story in which a person reads a book over and over, or perhaps watches a movie over and over, and finds that the characters are learning, in a sense, from the mistakes they made “later” in the story.  Perhaps there could be a character with precognition, or some other form of metacognition, that allows her or him vaguely to recall particularly horrible events from “previous” iterations of the story, and so be inclined to change them on another go-round.

A simpler version of such a notion has been dealt with often in science fiction—in such movies, for instance, as Edge of Tomorrow, based on the story All You Need Is Kill.  But in that story, Tom Cruise’s character (or Keiji Kiriya in the book) gains the ability not merely to return to an earlier time, but to remember clearly, in an “ordinary” sense, what he’s gone through before, every time he dies.  So, it’s not quite the same.  Ironically, the course of the stories, including the time repeats, are the same each time you watch or read it.

Anyway, that’s all a digression.

It’s been a peculiar week—in this, it’s not unusual.  Perhaps one might say that a week in which nothing that feels peculiar happens would be quite unusual, though we might not notice it as such.  As I think I said previously, I got distracted last week by playing with video, and playing on video, a bit, so I didn’t write as quickly or as much as I might have in the morning.  This week, I did better.  In fact, on Tuesday morning—I wish I knew why—I went into afterburner mode, so to speak, and in only an hour wrote 2968 words on my new story!  This is first draft, of course, but still, it was coming out in a gusher.

Then, Tuesday night, I got a flat tire on the way home, and after taking the train the rest of the way that night, I had to come out with my housemate early on Wednesday morning so he could fix it (he has the proper tools), which quite obviously set my schedule back quite a bit.  Nevertheless, I still wrote exactly 1400 words yesterday, still leaving me time to diddle around on the guitar before I needed to start getting the office ready for the day.

If the rule of 10,000 hours’ work needed to become an expert at something holds—and it does seem to be a pretty good rough rule*—it would take me almost 47 years to become an expert guitar player at the rate I “practice”.  I could shorten it, obviously, if I put more time in each day, but that’s difficult.  And I certainly don’t want to live 47 more years.  I don’t even want to have lived as long as I already have!

Oh, well.  I can’t change my past—and I maintain that I would not change anything prior to September 13, 2001, for any reason**—but perhaps I can learn from it.  Indeed, one cannot ever learn from anything but the past, since the present*** is always already happening.  And, unless one falls into the singularity of a black hole, it presumably always will be.

So, the final take-away from this week’s blog post is, “stay away from singularities”.  And in other ways as well, stay safe and healthy if you can, and try to be happy, at least occasionally.

TTFN

time machine


*I once did the math and realized that, during internship and residency, I had literally worked about 10,000 hours in three years.

**That’s my daughter’s birthdate.  I suppose I might be willing to change things on or just before September 11, 2001—it might be worth it to avoid the 9-11 attack and the subsequent/consequent wars; I cannot easily imagine any realistic way in which those two days would have a detrimental effect on my daughter’s birth.  Of course, if this were a “monkey’s paw” type story, there would be such a way, and being a pessimist, I would still be quite nervous.  But I probably would bite the bullet and do it, given the extremely low probability of a bad perinatal outcome.  Goodness knows I would change many things that I’ve done since then.  But if I were told to choose between 9-11 and something bad happening to my daughter or preventing her birth…I’d probably just have to accept 9-11 happening.  That’s easy enough to say, though, since 9-11 did happen, and I already know and have internalized it, sadly enough.  Hindsight is 20/20, but it’s also biased, since we become inured to what’s already happened…even horrible, horrible things.

***Locally speaking, anyway.  In General Relativity, there is no sensible notion of any universal “now”.  Time is always local.  It makes some sense if you think about it.  I can’t say that this address on West Hillsboro Boulevard in Deerfield Beach is in some sense located everywhere, or even anywhere else, and likewise, I can’t say that the moment I’m presently experiencing is happening anywhere else right now.

The bay-trees in our country are all withered, and meteors fright the fixèd blogs of heaven.

Hello and good morning.  It’s Thursday, and thus it’s time for another edition of my weekly blog post.  Windows, et al recently updated twice (yesterday and a few days before), and that seems to have done more harm than good so far, but hopefully I won’t have too much trouble getting this written and posted.  We shall see.

It’s been a reasonably productive week.  I’ve worked steadily on In the Shade.  I’m near the climax, when the worst of the bad things happen (it’s a horror story, so that’s only to be expected), but I’m going a bit more slowly this week, so it will take a bit longer than I previously expected it to take.  Also, as you all probably know by now, my writing tends to balloon rather easily, so it’s becoming longer than I guessed it would.  That seems to be the usual case with all human endeavors (I think this was discussed nicely in Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow, a book I can highly recommend).

I’ve generally made a key part of my editing/rewriting process a targeted trimming of word counts, usually by a set percent (at least), and for the most part I’ve been able to reach that target.  Still, I may need to raise my reduction goal and be more dogmatic in its application.  I try to do this with my blog posts, though the short time given to writing them in the midst of my otherwise full days* impairs that process slightly.  As a historical person, possibly Benjamin Franklin, is reputed to have implied, it often takes longer to write a short piece than to write a long one.  But trimming away excess is important, and I’m capable of producing copious quantities of excess.

I’ve posted some of the guitar/singing videos I did last week, and I even recorded two more of them last Friday.  The process was decently enjoyable, though seeing myself on the screen is not an easy pill to swallow.  Nevertheless, given how popular videos about ideas are—I enjoy many of them, myself—I thought that I’d try to incorporate video into my other blog, Iterations of Zero, using video to produce the equivalent of articles or essays that I had planned to write, but which I haven’t been able to work into my schedule, or into my mental energy budget, or whatever you might want to call it.

I recorded a brief introduction to this idea, and I’ve been working on editing that video, but trimming out my hems and haws and pauses has led me to realize that the Microsoft basic video editor is just too cumbersome a tool for such purposes in the long run.  So, I went to How-To Geek, a most useful resource, and found an article in which they reviewed various free video editors**.  I have downloaded one of them.  I’ll finish the video I’ve already started using the Microsoft editor, but will probably then experiment with this new one.  It has online video tutorials, and these are—as one would expect—quite well produced.

I’m not the most committed person to using instruction manuals for such things; I often try to figure them out as I go along, seeing what works for my purposes, consulting manuals only when I want to do something and am not sure how to go about it.  Usually, successful computer programs are written in reasonably logical ways, so I can usually figure out how they do what they are supposed to do.  Sometimes I learn about things that I would never have thought to use otherwise, just by poking and playing around.

Anyway, I mean to at least try to use the IoZ platform to share these videos, though I’ll upload them to YouTube, which has much more available video storage space; that is, after all, its entire function.  I may try to put together some better videos of me playing music (both better video and better playing, hopefully), and I’ll let you know if I do.  For now, if you want, you can watch recent videos of me playing Pigs on the Wing, a demo of a song I’m working on called Mercury Lamp, and a less well-done video of Wish You Were Here, which I posted on April 20th in (dubious?) honor of my son’s 21st birthday***.

There’s not much more to say that anyone would probably be interested in reading; I tend to be a bit of a downer.  Dr. Elessar’s Cabinet of Curiosities will be coming before too long, once I’ve finished and edited the last story in the collection (see above) and decided how to put it together.  Then, of course, I’ll finish Outlaw’s Mind and release that as a stand-alone novella, before going on to whatever work I decide on next.

That is, of course, unless some meteor strike or some such kills me in the meantime.  We can all hope for and dream of such things, right?

TTFN

Meteor Shit


*Full with work of various kinds, as well as commuting.  I have no social life.

**They all have options for paid upgrades if one develops the need for them.  The one I chose seems reasonably priced—certainly compared to Adobe software.  I’ve used Adobe’s video editor in the past, when you could buy it in a box and load it onto your computer and didn’t have to pay an outrageous monthly fee and get online to use it.  But who knows, I may eventually go back there in its modern incarnation.

***He’s alive and well, by the way—so I’m told—so don’t worry about that.  He just hasn’t spoken to me in eight years or so, by his choice.  So, particularly on a milestone birthday, I find his absence extremely painful—his birth, and his existence, was the greatest thing that had ever happened in my life, equaled since only by the birth of his sister 17 months later.  Tuesday was not a good day for me.  This is not a good week for me.  I’m sure I deserve it.

In these confines with a monarch’s voice cry “Havoc!” and let slip the blogs of war

Hello and good morning, all.  It’s the “ides of April”* today, a date that is much more traditionally associated with dread—in America, at least—than is the anniversary of the assassination of Julius Caesar.  It’s also time for my weekly blog post.

I’ve done my part to further general world health this week:  I recorded and posted some video of myself playing the guitar and singing, on Iterations of Zero.

No, wait!  That’s not what I did that was oriented toward public health (quite the contrary).  Rather, yesterday I received my second dose of the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine.  I should be just about as immune as it’s possible to be at this point (or soon, anyway), since I had the infection itself in January, and now I’ve received full vaccination with the version that seems, based on what I’ve read, to have the highest protection rate.  This, as I say, was done for social reasons more than for personal protection; I honestly wouldn’t mind much if I’d gotten severely ill**, or even if the virus had killed me.  But that’s not a choice I think I have any right to make for other people (neither does anyone else, especially out of personal laziness, contrariness, selfishness, or unwarranted paranoia) so I don’t want to spread it thoughtlessly.  Getting as immune to it as I can seems the most reliable way to avoid that.

I did post some videos of myself singing and playing guitar on Tuesday, though.  You can watch them, if you want.  I’ve avoided posting videos or even pictures of myself in recent years, because I hate how I look now, in many ways, for many reasons.  I don’t even like to look in the mirror much.  However, I recently figured—at least this is the story I tell myself—that hiding from cameras is like eating when no one is around.  Just because someone doesn’t see you eat, and you don’t count the calories, doesn’t mean that you haven’t eaten, and it won’t protect you from the consequences.

Reality is not merely perception.  A catastrophe you don’t see coming can still hurt or kill you.

One source of my dissatisfaction with my appearance is that, rather than lose weight when depressed, as some people do, I tend to eat more, and thus to gain weight.  This is probably a self-soothing thing, since the process of eating food is one of the most reliable short-term neurological rewards a person can engineer, for good, sound biological reasons.  So, when everything else in the world feels and seems like shit, including and especially oneself, it can be hard to resist the urge to snack and overeat.

I suppose opiate and other addictions can similarly be a form of self-soothing, due to literal, direct, neurologic effects.  This often leads to emaciation, as all other drives fall by the wayside.  But since I associate opiate use with chronic, severe pain, I’m not as likely to seek them out, “heroin chic” notwithstanding.

You can thus tell from looking at me in my videos that I have been struggling with my Churchillian “black dog” for quite some time, with inconsistent (or consistent but negative) results.  I also, possibly for related reasons, botched my recent job at trimming my hair on Sunday, and I couldn’t see it until I saw myself on video; no one told me about it, but that’s not surprising.  Who would?

Anyway, I figure if I just start doing such videos and posting them, at least I’ll have to face my appearance and what bad shape I’ve allowed myself to get into.  Perhaps it’ll help provide some counter-pressure against the eating thing.  Also, frankly, people out there in cyberspace just seem to like videos of people, even if they’re just talking to the camera.

I was remarkably stressed by the fact that I was playing and singing on video for the first time ever, even if just on impulse, just to test it.  I hadn’t warmed up my voice at all—which I think is obvious—and my guitar playing was not at its best either.  I fumbled in many places where I normally play without a problem.

I didn’t even get the picking and fingering in the shot for most of the videos!  This is a minor shame, particularly with respect to Street Spirit and Blackbird, since I feel mildly proud of how far I’ve come with them.  However, the former song’s complexity of play compels me to cock my neck waaaaay down, desperately eyeballing the pick and to some extent my left hand, and that’s not a great posture for singing.  I can sing that song much better when I’m not hunched over like that***.  But I was extremely self-conscious during this “filming” process, and it was early morning, and my throat was still dry and yet gummy.  These are excuses, obviously, but they are also actual, legitimate reasons, so I don’t feel too bad about making them.

I’m probably going to commit the crime against humanity of sharing these videos on my YouTube channel, and even on Facebook, and Twitter, and on the recently rediscovered Instagram account that I made for unknown reasons in the past.  I might as well use it for something.  Goodness knows I’ve seen people post worse videos, and I’ve even enjoyed some of them.  If you have any strong objections, do share them with me.

On to lighter things, so to speak.  I’m making good progress on In the Shade, and the first draft should be done within the next week or so, even with minor distraction from making ill-advised videos.  As evidence, on Tuesday, even though I stopped early to do my “filming”, I still wrote about 1500 words on the story.  It helps in this that I do have the traditional early-awakening brand of insomnia associated with the “black dog”—actually I’ve always been an early riser and a short sleeper—but at least I can put it to work for me.

Even black dogs can be used as draft animals, it seems.

So, look forward to Dr. Elessar’s Cabinet of Curiosities, which I think will be a good collection of stories, and look forward—perhaps with fear and trembling—to the prospect of me doing more videos.  If you have any reaction to the ones I’ve posted, please let me know.  Also, I’d love to hear feedback regarding The Vagabond, if you have any to give.

TTFN

Video killed


*It’s been called to my attention by the alert and educated reader, StephenB (see comments) that the Ides of April is actually the 13th, something I did NOT know at all, but am delighted to learn.  Seriously, it made my day.  I’m leaving the term, now in scare quotes, in the post, since it’s a fun reference to “Tax Day” in the US, but I expect I shall not make this error again.  Thanks, StephenB, seriously.  I love learning new things like this!

**As I think I’ve mentioned before, I was not the sickest I’ve ever been when I had Covid, but I was sicker than I’ve been in a long time.  Thankfully, I wasn’t as feverish as I was during at least one episode of severe flu.  Maybe that’s because now I pretty much always have significant—probably long-term-toxic—levels of NSAIDs and Acetaminophen in my system, because of chronic pain due to “failed back surgery syndrome”.  My body probably has a hard time even generating a fever nowadays, so the fact that I did get a fever a few times during Covid might mean that I would have had quite high ones if conditions were otherwise.

***I did some good belting in Exit Music, even resulting in clipping/distortion at the song’s dramatic peak.  That’s kind of funny to me; I do get very into that song when I sing it.  How could I not?  Radiohead wrote it for Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo and Juliet, and Shakespeare makes everything more powerful.