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Media about media.

Warrant

I’ve been thinking a lot lately. I’ve also been a little down with a notorious stomach bug, which hasn’t really put me in the mood to write. Vomiting and heartburn does not put one in a pensive mood, and cognitive fatigue can be so very real. Thankfully, I’m over it.

All the same, the one topic that did keep coming to mind is the nature of my work, and why I do it. I can dispel a few illusions right here; I have been published but I don’t write for the sake of getting published; I program but not for the sake of making a lot of money off of my programming, either. (Not that there isn’t a strong chance of that happening.)

I used to actually believe that the right to call oneself a writer came from publication. Later on, I distilled that down to a writer simply being one who writes; but that isn’t strictly true either. It’s more like being one who is fully capable of writing, and for one reason or another, has the impulse to do it from time to time. For “programmer”, I can say the same. In fact, I can say it for virtually any adjective expressing a craft.

It brought to mind the first time that I ever wrote. I was eight or nine, not in such a good situation, running out of books, and wanting to escape. So, on an impulse, I tried to write a novel. It was much more difficult than my ten-year-old brain had imagined that it would be, and I only got a few pages down before stopping. (I had, for the first time in my life, encountered the phenomenon known as “writer’s block”.) It wasn’t about publication back then, either, though. I think part of the story may have been written in crayon.

Don’t get me wrong, I do intend to publish my entire quartet eventually. My most likely route will be through Amazon’s self-publishing services, depending on how they’re standing at the time. The reality remains that few writers, regardless of the quality of their work, make an enormous amount early on. There are a few people who seem to believe that after publication, due to the apparent quality of my work, I will instantly rise to the status of a one-percenter. (Obviously they don’t know me that well.) It’s undue pressure, and rather distasteful.

It doesn’t help to try and explain to them that the software project I’ve got running in the background is like trying to build a jetliner all by myself; especially given that most of the people who I meet throughout my day have never written a line of Python in their lives. It’s outside of their realm; like trying to describe music to someone with little or no musical taste, or a painting to someone art-blind. It’s also inconvenient.

The thing that all of this comes back to is the notion of the future; of imagining things happening that may or may not even happen at all, which I may or may not ever have any say in anyway. I’ve been guilty of this before. Such talents of imagination are better spent on fictional characters than my own life; at least in that instance I have some control. Thinking about the future is the origin of two things; hope, and fear. When you fall on fear more than hope, it’s time to put it away for a while.

The truth is, I am right where I want to be right now. I live in a beautiful town, I have a wonderful girlfriend, I have an excellent set of tools right in front of me. I have peace of mind. I have a fully equipped kitchen, and a set of friends who truly care about me. I have an awesome hair cut and some sleek jewelry. I have a fucking Keurig, too, which is like a having robot barista in my kitchen. Why does this treasure need to exist in the future? Am I worried it will go somewhere?

There will always be a worse day to come. When the bad day comes, there will be a better one following it. It’s the principle of the yin and the yang. How I look at it is the only choice I get, and it’s as arbitrary as anything else, except that I prefer to think of the permanence of the good days. The last bad day might be said to be the day that I die, and when it happens, I will be able to look back on my life, and say that I have truly lived it to the fullest. I have no say in these things, I need no say in them. I’m cool with it.

The whole idea with creative work is to see to it that it feels more like a game than a job anyway. For me, programming, and writing (including on the blog) usually feel very much like games. They keep my mind active and involved and growing. When they start to feel like a task, it’s an impediment worthy of the same dread as writer’s block.

I haven’t experienced writer’s block in a very, very long time. I figured it out, I learned the signs of its approach, and I learned how to undo it. (In fact, that might make a good non-fiction book right there.) There isn’t any reason why I can’t overcome this new problem as well. Like curing a disease, it begins with understanding it.

I declare here and now that these books will not be written for the sake of publication; they will be written for an audience. They will be written to be good and correct stories, with interesting characters and ethical storytelling. “Good enough” is not good enough for me when it comes to my writing. The same can be said for my code.

Jesus, it can definitely be said for the code.

My real work will always be back here. I am at peace here, it is my circle and my temple. And every day, when I’m finished, I have pushed my mountain one further step; when I’m done, I will have delivered a mountain. That is my warrant.

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Posted by on December 15, 2014 in Meta-Media, State of the Moment

 

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Happily Never After

I just rolled across an excellent analysis of the state of the modern storyline.  Permit me to share it with you.

The End of Happily Ever After

 
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Posted by on June 4, 2013 in Meta-Media

 

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A Writer’s Voice

"Words have the power to both destroy and heal.
When words are true and kind, they can change our world."
—The Buddha

Or they can, you know, kill somebody.

I’ve gotten a sequence of complements and critiques on my writing lately, mostly complements, and it has led me to a mode of metacognition. That’s thought, about thought, and in this case an analysis of its mechanisms. The discovery that it has led me to is that, while I might not be capable of it yet, this mechanism can be documented.

There’s an old model, established by Malcolm Gladwell in his book “Outliers”, called the 10,000 hour rule. I haven’t personally read that book yet, but the phenomenon has wound its way into much of the text that I have, particularly in the realm of social psychology and cognitive neuroscience. The concept is that in order to acquire a fundamental precision and beauty in any art or technique, you need roughly 10,000 hours of practice. That’s just an estimate; some people reach their goal much sooner than others. However, no one is born knowing how to play a guitar or program a computer, and in the way of talent development and the learning process it’s more or less the case.

I have been writing since I was ten. I’ve indubitably learned a hell of a lot since then. My first independent attempt was to write down an idea I had, which struck me as valid for a novel format. I reached about two pages, from the beginning, before I got tired and had to stop. It was in crayon.

Come on, I was ten years old.

Whether or not that began a trek into literature that has accumulated 10,000 hours I do not know; I’ve had a lot of other things that I’ve been doing. However, I obviously wasn’t committing anything to memory at the time; my focus was on writing something down that could be committed by someone else, to their own memory. It hadn’t occurred to me that the sheer practice of the action could be teaching me something. The more important point, even if a secondary one, is that what I learned I may have learned on a subconscious level. I may not know that I know it.

Every writer has something known as a “writer’s voice“. That is, a specific dialect and personality that finds its way into their writing, by which they can be identified, like a psychological fingerprint.  I read a rather enjoyable book once, a combination effort of Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchet, titled “Good Omens“. There was an afterword, not a part of the story but a story about the story, discussing the beautiful obsession that Neil and Terry pursued their work with, hammering away at every idea they had until they were too physically tired to continue. Neil took nights, Terry took days, on a clockwork schedule. All the same, I could feel the difference in the writing; when Pratchet was writing, I could tell, because he followed a specific pattern, whereas Gaiman followed a rather different one. There was a seam in the book, not a painful one but to an analytical writer it was noticeable. They were not the same man, their experiences and their base dispositions were different, their subtle lessons of the trade had been given by differing circumstances. The rules they followed were sharply distinct.

Guitarists have been described to me, in casual conversation, as having a “guitar voice” defining the way the guitar sounds in their hands; a difference in picking or the way they hold the string down that ever so subtly changes the timbre. It may not be limited to art. Perhaps programmers have a programmer’s voice, changing the nature of the code on the basis of experiences, good and bad, that they have had in the past. Mathematicians may have a mathematics voice, altering the way they approach problems on the basis of what they have done in the past. This is an innate part of our humanity.

So, as I walk home from my (dreaded but accepted) 4:00 AM job the other day, I begin to wonder, in idle meditation, about the metrics of my pursuit of short stories. If semantics can be measured quantitatively, regardless of whether it has, and through it potential story content is compared to story length, could a statistical relationship be formed? Could a thermodynamics of the creative mind yield usable results? Could I use it to better my own writing?

One such psychology text, “Introducing NLP“, by Joseph O’Connor and John Seymour, was on the subject of the communication of a thought from one mind to another. It presented me with four levels of technical capacity: unconscious incompetence, conscious incompetence, conscious competence, and finally unconscious competence. If I could roll back the lesson that jumped through raw experience into unconscious competence, the final stage of talent, to conscious competence and have it exist in both states at once, then I would have a manner in which to pursue a more academic study of my work. I could amplify my methods, and document the intricacies of the method for the rest of the world. How this is to be done, remains to be seen.

 

 
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Posted by on May 27, 2013 in Meta-Media

 

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“Spirit of the People”

Aquí Demogorgon está sentado
en su banco fatal, cuyo decreto
de las supremas causas es guardado
por inviolable y celestial preceto.
Las parcas y su estambre delicado
a cuyo huso el mundo está sujeto,
la fea muerte y el vivir lúcido
y el negro lago del oscuro olvido
(Libro II, estrofa 19)

I had an epiphany the other day.

It was not a high time for me, I’ll admit to that much. I was seriously hurting in the self-esteem. This is actually not that uncommon a thing for me, I depress periodically along with a score of other odd little issues; so, resulting from the empiricist mechanism that I subscribe to, I have developed a reflex action to protect me from it.

When things get so bad, below a certain threshold, I automatically step back and look at everything in the third person. I look at where I am, what I’m doing, and what I’m thinking; I think about what point “A” is, objectively, and what point “B” I’m moving toward. Then, when third-person-self has a strong comprehension of what’s going right and what’s going wrong, it makes adjustments. Wakes me up. Sets me on a more correct path, however narrow it may be.

When this reflex hit, I noticed something incredibly odd, and may have accidentally solved a millennium-old riddle. As we grow up, we take on the lessons presented to us without question. We learn what we are expected to be, and we expect as much as ourselves; habits, nurtured during an age in which we are willing to believe that the world is perfectly functional and kind.

For many, certainly for myself, these become invisible faces, staring down at us and judging our every action. They become the face of our ideal, the origin of a great deal of terror for many. I recognized that many of these things were without faces, the imagined correspondence with them simply the result of demographic systems stemming from a bad and blind economy. Others had no correspondence, mere shadows of what we expected the world to be and an equally blind determination to credit ourselves with our own disappointment.

I realized that I had heard this story before.

There was a god once named “Demogorgon“, a word meaning “Terrible Spirit”, or “Spirit of the People”. His/her earliest confirmed mentioning was in the fourth century, by the scholar Statius. A powerful and fearful spirit, associated with the underworld, the original, the primordial. The name itself was taboo for quite some time.

The catch was that before this author mentioned Demogorgon, there was no written work regarding him (or, seriously, her; for spirits of this nature that term is moot). I have never personally believed that it was meant to be taken so literally. Demogorgon, “King of Fairies“, was never real; Demogorgon did not need to be. He was the cast and crew of our imaginary audience, our judge and jury; he had power over us that was immeasurable. Best of all, he did not exist beyond our own minds, ingrained in us as a function of the mind.

Later references described the shape of Demogorgon as formless, infinitely vague, and dynamic. Suspicious. It was seriously said to be either male or female, largely dependent on the circumstances. Try looking it up on Google Images; you’ll just get a seemingly infinite number of portraits of some kind of two-headed-baboon-thing and metal bands, neither of which (needless to say) have anything at all to do with the myth.

Endless power, ascribed to something that must hold sway over us and could not exist. This is the riddle; this is my answer. This, I would imagine, is what Statius was trying to get at. I haven’t read the piece, Thebaid, myself; at least not yet. Now, I may have to, preferably with a reference to its original language (ancient Greek). Now, when I perform this reflexive fissioning of self, I can stare this dæmon in the face, and analyze it. I have a further grip on whom, and what kind of a machine, I am.

I’ve been nothing but roses ever since.

 
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Posted by on May 9, 2013 in Meta-Media

 

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Boston Bombing Logistics

Yesterday, resulting from a savage and soulless act, two bombs went off during the Boston Marathon, killing three and injuring hundreds. The implication of this attack, along with many others, is that this is simply the kind of world we live in now, one in which random acts of hateful violence take the lives of people the perpetrators never even knew. Before too many are stirred into ruthlessness and desperation, I would like to call that idea into question, not by proposing an alternative but by bringing the totality of the event into scope.

Let’s look at the murder rate for Massachusetts. It was, as of 2011 (I don’t imagine it has changed much since), 2.8 murders per year per 100,000 people. The state population, as of last July, was about 6,600,000. So, this implies that per year, there are 180 murders in Massachusetts. Three people—just three—died in the blast, people I respect and honor the loss of. However, you will note that adding three to 190 does not even break the significant figures. It was an acute act of hatred that injured a lot of people, but, in the grand scheme of things, this is scarcely a blip on the map. Life in Boston will go on, life in Massachusetts will go on as ever, and in the greater scheme of things, the world will not change.

Except of course for the perpetrators, who will be imminently captured and subjected to undeniable horrors in prison. Hey, they made a lot of people angry. Additionally, I wonder what is going on with the security for the marathon; while I recognize that it’s a particularly backwards choice for a target, and they may only scarcely be at fault (believe me, I appreciate them), they might consider going over their event schemes.

Thus, while I am mad as hell at a few specific individuals, and extremely mournful over the loss of innocent people—one of which was an eight year old child—I fully expect the world to move on, and hope the rest of you will as well. Do not allow hype journalists, opportunist marketers, and God-only-knows-how-many-photoshopped-internet-posters stir you from a sound mind.

—Mick

Addendum: The words of Patton Oswalt

 
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Posted by on April 16, 2013 in Meta-Media

 

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The Nightmares That Look After Us

tarantula hawk

New Mexican Tarantula Hawk (not actually a flying tarantula, but just as scary)

I’m in the completion stages (what I like to call the “sand, buff, and polish phase”) of a speculative horror story, and it has led me to a number of introspections on the nature of fear.

Not just any fear; proper fear. The kind that leaves you checking your hair and looking over your shoulders for hours, or even days. The kind that is unsettling on a deep level. I have no interest in panicking people (although doing that in literature is a feat in itself), I want to make an imprint on them. It isn’t an interest in their detriment as sentient beings, not an insult or a mock. It’s the same interest that brought us beyond the small children we once were, frightened of bees or spiders or shadows, and into the adulthood we know today.

The great catch is that we’re only fundamentally afraid of the things that we admire. As a youth, I for one was afraid of spiders, terrified of them. I would freeze, too chilled to respond, to move, to dust them out of the way.

Why was I frightened of something so small and squirrelly as a spider? I live in North America, the only deadly spider out here is the black widow, and last I checked, the antivenom was even more deadly than the venom itself. You get bit, you have a ninety nine percent chance of surviving after mild to severe flu symptoms, and I’m not even rounding. Spiders are beautiful out here.

Was it the eight legs? Irrelevant. How about the sheen of the exoskeleton, or the soft fur? That ranged from cute to gorgeous. Maybe it was the multiple eyes, or the pincers? Not particularly. Looking back, it was the way they were so cool about everything. They were trappers. Everything they caught had a singular intention that was bent back against it, stuck in an invisible web, bitten, envenomed, and wrapped into a helpless ball. The spiders are the lords of their universe, they do not panic.

They have no need to panic.

As a small child, I could think of dozens of reasons and many incidents in which it was an excellent time to panic. I was a pro at it back then. Small, kind of scrawny and frail, short-winded (no one ever did figure out why); maybe I was at the top of the food chain but I wasn’t feeling it. And yet, today, I am no longer concerned with spiders, in fact I welcome their company. They’re intelligent, they’re pretty, they keep the place tidy, and unless I do something stupid like roll on top of one in the middle of the night (again), they aren’t generally inclined to bite me.

Today, in many ways, I now am a spider. I have learned from my nightmare, and adopted its ways. Among many native cultures, this would mean that I have a spirit connection with the animal, a belief that I am inclined to follow. After all, they’re adorable.

A proper monster, the kind that remains as a relic of the film or book, in the imaginations of its viewers, long after completion, must also on some level be beautiful and majestic. It must be the kind of creature that we are intimidated by, because we doubt that we can overcome it. It must be everything and everywhere, inescapable, and inevitable; it must become a god to us before the end of the story.

(No, the story I wrote does not involve spiders in any way; but the principle is the same.)

As an addendum, I am now on Twitter as @MickOberlin. Every now and then I’ll come up with the prose equivalent of a limerick, and throw it there instead. I politely encourage you to follow it.

 
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Posted by on April 8, 2013 in Fiction, Meta-Media

 

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