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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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So, what in the name of god have I been doing all this time?

Writing. No, seriously. In fact, I have completed the book in full, and am actively looking for an agent. And where I haven’t been writing, I’ve been programming; enough to inspire a how-to guide, from the front, for people accustomed to all of the good habits of Object-Oriented Programming, that now need to learn to deal with the very different world of Binding-Oriented Programming. Beyond that, I’ve been working my day job as an inventory manager, cooking more than you would guess, and on my break time gathering a squadron of friends to aid me in “Guns of Icarus Online“… Which I turned out to be a freakin’ maniac bad-ass in, but that’s beside today’s point.

Today’s point is, I want to apologize to you, the reader, for nigh-forgetting this blog. I’m adding a whole series of new items in the near future—that’s a promise—including a few new original recipes. Some of the guides will even be more like open questions, as Binding-Oriented Programming is very new to me.

I have a recipe that I’m experimenting with right now for bosc pears, hollowed out and filled with a bread-pudding like custard, then dipped in a hard dark chocolate. (Possibly also poached in rum and honey, not sure how that will work yet.) I already devised an excellent recipe for a white kidney beat (cannellini bean)-mango-pork chilli, which was fantastic and easily modified to be vegan. (Which I’m still not.) It’s definitely going up, just give me some time to get some photos and a proper recipe together.

This is all contending with my efforts to get an agent and get published again, but I’ll find time. I may also begin work on the subsequent book, which it will be easier to establish a framework for while passing through the completed book. Writing isn’t an on-or-off process for me, it’s a calculative and architectural skill; I’ll stare blankly at the screen considering my topic for half of an hour before I’ll start typing, and then I’ll throw two thousand words down in ten minutes.

So anyway, I’m back, and I have some new treats with me.

 
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Posted by on August 17, 2013 in 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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“Promise”

“Promise”, by Michael Eric Oberlin
May 6th, 2013

I promise simple things
To provide what frightens you
To take away your comfort
To remove what you need
To bring you to places
You alone might avoid

I do not wish a reader comfort
For in my heart
I know
The readers read
To leave a duller life behind them

 
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Posted by on May 7, 2013 in Poetry

 

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