Sunday, January 13, 2019

I Cannot Overstate the Preposterousness of This

A theme of this series—'this' 'series' being me, humble scribe (hello. it me.) writing about the process of channeling the work that you, Reader, know as Erra's Throne

a theme of this series is:

things that many people,
your humble scribe most absolutely included,
have had the good fortune to be taught
about writing
since they were in many cases rather young;
things like 'show, don't tell';
'don't overwrite; or, if you do, go back and edit'; or, conversely,
'your best arguments and material may be buried behind many words of much less good material; be disciplined: sit down and work your way through';
all these things that, honestly, your humble scribe
has been blessed with the extraordinary good fortune
of having been taught by teachers
and even guided on by peers
since a very young age...

a theme of this 'series', perhaps the theme of this series,
is what a hard f#*king time I still have with these things.

This is why, Reader-friend, your scribe (me) is 'humble'. I have many faults, as a writer and person, but I promise that—at least in this case—affectation's not one. The humility's true and extremely well-earned; I am a broken vessel, and the best I can hope for is to patch, somewhat, some of the cracks in my making.

Thank you for journeying with me as I do!

I'll return, further down, to one of these simple lessons and my (latest) failure to learn it. But first,

A Digression about Putting Words in the World
I've written eight (8) posts about the process of writing Erra's Throne, including one in November 2017 (fourteen months ago) in which I first articulated and embodied this persona in this space.

I have drafted 49 posts, some of them hundreds or even thousands of words long (I originally typo'ed that to "hundreds of thousands of words long" which...l0l. It's not that bad), as part of 'this' ostensible 'series' of observations about the process of &c.

And, in fact, in addition to those 49 unpublished drafts, there are...wait holdon lemme...twenty (20) drafts in a Scrivener folder dedicated to this ostensible u get it.

The backlog of posts is not quite so bad as summation implies; there is some overlap between these two collections, and therefore the total of unpublished work in this vein is not quite 49 + 20 = 69. But, it is close. Close enough that the point, as I'm making it, stands: there's a lot of writing sitting around in some digital shed gathering dust. And what is striking about this, to me, for today, is that it is this kind of writing we're talking about:

loose, experiential, first-person commentary; the kind of writing that is supposed to (and does, indeed) flow rather easily and—more to the point—not require fine-tuning, chiseling, improvement;

writing that is instrumental and communicative rather than experiential and/or immersive;

'just talking 2 u' writing, rather than the carefully wrought (for worse, and for better) prose that shows you, dear Reader, the story of Emmy, and Stang, and of Erra.

I'm not sure why this is: why even this casual side-commentary seems to be trapped in the bēt ṭuppi of rigor and effort that still houses the prose of the story itself. I'm not sure why I have held onto it in this way. It's understandable with the prose of the story; perhaps not right, even in that case—that's another topic; let's not get diverted—but absolutely understandable: I can give an account for why the text of the story (for worse, and for better) is precious and takes certain work, certain iterations (many) to be ready.

But this stuff? Right here? This is meant to be not precious; meaning, in this case, both the positive and negative senses of that word (hopefully, with respect to the prose of the story itself, the negative sense attains...minimally, if that. I'm trying. ). It's easy, not hard; this. And it is: easy.


I've got dozens and dozens of these posts, unpublished. Long posts, complete thoughts. Because they...needed a little more work, or weren't formatted yet, or...whatever! wutever.

I'm not sure I can articulate—in a real, useful way—what the holdup is. With any of this; certainly, not with this part. I was and am eager to open the process, to open myself to you, Reader, in this way.

I don't have more to say on this. That's where this is. w8, no— one thing, one more thing. That's pretty important:

Amidst all the work and the months and the years, it has also...not 'always', but 'usually' felt, in such a way that yes I think the feeling-of-this is real:

It's usually felt like I am making progress at something. ('At what?' Separate question.) That I am doing something material and real and that, in fact, the day may arrive—unexpectedly, perhaps—when the dominoes all are aligned and...tip:

down they go.

Okay. Enough of that. Back to:

"What is the 'This' That's 'Preposterous', scribe?"
⇑ That is you, Reader,
asking me—scribe—a question.
Here goes:

So, yes, the title of this post could apply to the section above: to the strange mystery of these posts, themselves, still being stuck in a locker. But don't worry, it in fact has a more defined and specific contextual meaning that

oh gosh Todd Snider has a new song that's fantastic

applies to a particular 'this' that's et cetera.

Lemme just plug it out; it'll be rough but hey hey here we go at least we're 2gether.

"just get there, just do it
and then…write something else"

That's the note I wrote. What it means:

"just get there, just do it..."
This is me saying to myself "don't mess around, don't write in extra stuff or digressions along the way, just get to the main story event and tell that, quick as you can."

I have 'realized' this so many times. So, so many. Honestly, I 'realize' this with the force and weight of a great new insight...mmm, two or three times a week? Honestly. I'm not kidding. I'm emphasizing both the repetition and novelty of this because what is 'preposterous' is the force and durability of its contrary, of this other thing in me and my...creative reflexes, let's call them. What I mean by this latter, 'preposterous' thing is

"and then...write something else"
Meaning the fact that, no matter how well I know that it's a bad idea, this impulse I feel
to 'build up' the story for the reader;
thicken it with events, with world-stuff—
all of which is done in a spirit of creative reflex (ugh) and 'inspiration' (UGH)
this impulse is powerful and often commands me.

And my point here
is that this? This impulse?
It is bad. So bad that, @ this point, let's call it 'preposterous'. 

It's 'preposterous', yes, (a) cuz I already know it. And the...fortitude of my ability to make the same mistakes over and over is shocking.

But why is it 'bad'? What's the substantive reason? I'm not just saying so, or kicking myself for no thing. It's bad because it is hard enoughmore than hard enough—to just tell the absolute essential story. You may have to write a bunch to, y'know, find that story. But once you've found it, even then — it's still hard! You're not done! It is not like the hard part is like...even half done! There is still lots of challenging (for me, at least!) work to do.

(I feel I may have written this sentiment, or a very similar sentiment, before in this space. I probably will again. Which...that's the point, right? Preposterous.)

And since I know this by now
since I know that
just writing the story is hard
this impulse to stack things above and before it
becomes not just 'bad'
but 'bizarre', 'perverse',
et cetera.

Putting in an extra little setup fight
before the main fight ("just so it's not y'know klunky, abrupt");

adding some detail
of lore or world-building ("just so y'know it's not just flop: 'heyhey, all dun'")'

all that,
is bad!
uses time!
lessens story!

And you have to go back, take it out — make things better.

Yet despite this awareness, I'm continually doing it.
Add a thing; throw a paragraph in that oh, okay; two paragraphs...three
because it's not as if these digressions and distractions need to be long to be damaging to the story and the flow and the reader's attention;
a switch on a train track is a tiny, small thing
when compared to the miles, miles of track all around it
but a mis-aligned switch...
well, you get it:

train. lost.

Putting things into stories or art makes them...different. It is not just additive; it never is, just. It changes and reconstitutes everything in them; things that go before, even, and absolutely things ager. You put in more stuff: the story itself changes — it becomes a new thing.

So you have to be diligent, 'bout what goes in.

Here's the specific occasion that set me off on this (this time).

We're in Column Two.

What's 'happening' is reasonably simple, or should be.

The action-y climax of this part of the story
is a long sequence in which

  • Emmy seeks Rich out at school, cuz she thinks she may need him to do [important thing]
  • She talks him into doing [important thing] with her 
  • They succeed! They do [important thing]
  • Which leads to [climactic battle]
  • Which leads to [Emmy's key realization in this column],
  • which leads to a [Big Choice which has Big Effects].

Now I started this riff by calling all that simple. is. Those literal plot-beats above are plot beats; you could do that with lots of stories at this level of detail and you'd get this bump-bump-bump sense of this "this, then this, then this..." (It's actually worse in narratives that aren't 'plotty'; try doing a beat-by-beat breakdown of Hamlet).

But it's not that simple, either. Of course: I know that. Especially because all those [things in the brackets] are crucial story moments that really need to land with you, the Reader, for the story to land. And for that to happen, it will really help if you—the Reader—have been served by the prose thusly:
  1. equipped with the knowledge (even if you don't 'know' it) required to make [thing in bracket] make sense; and hopefully more than just 'make sense', but matter;
  2. guided into an affective or emotional state such that you're receptive to whatever kind of [thing in brackets] is happening (exciting! tender! et cetera); and
  3. not freaking distracted by a bunch of other stuff that might clog up both your intellectual and emotional relationship to what's going on!
And now, again, we get back to 'preposterous'. Because: this is what I mean. (1), (2), and (3) are all...fundamental. Right? A good sixth-grade teacher with solid classroom resources could get his kids to come up with this list in discussion.

And yet! And yet...astonishing, frustrating, "preposterous": I add superfluous stuff to the flow! To the bulleted [things in the story], above, I add [off-track other things]! Details! Freaking...extras. In this specific case, my main (and repeated. repeated.) mistake has been to be like, "Oh okay cool good. Emmy and Rich did the [important thing]. They're heading to [climactic battle]. Good, great. Hey: I better put some [extra battle] and [stuff] in there."


What am I like this? Reader, honestly, how? What on earth the matter with...what you write the story about is what the story is about. So, um, don't write the story about things that are not the story? Maybe? Might help? Dunno.

And look, yes I know, there are things that I'm...papering. Exploration is important; so is making mistakes. Because they're not mistakes, lots of them; they are steps in a process. But. The reliability with which I do this, is past that. I think? Or is it, a form of...

honestly. i don't know.

Let me wrap this, here. But: there you go. This is one reason why, when people gently and carefully ask if the reason that Erra is taking so long is 'writer's block' or some metaphor for lack of flow, action, volume — when people (gently! carefully! understandably!) frame this, I tend to give something along the lines of a harsher-than-intentional blast of grim laugh. It has edge in it that I never intend at the person — though I know I still shouldn't do it, and am still sorry if I've ever done it to you. No. The issue is not, not blockage in that sense; there are plenty of words and actions and events; even plenty of character moments, choices. And plenty of 'world-building'. 'World-building' is junk.

No: the issues is burning off all of that excess. Getting down to the thing of, just...story. words. Reader. So it's all strong and legible. Affecting. And clear.

Okay! That is it! 4 real now: I am done. I've done my best to make this clear; I am sure that I've failed and that it's still riddled with errors and infelicities, as well as being sprawling, strange, discursive, and odd.

And so I thank you, always, for coming along. Even if you just skipped to those big words, below. You can have them. Even if you're not reading (though: not sure how that'd work).

Thank you.

Here's to talking more in this new year.

game, game on.

Friday, January 11, 2019

HliAT #31: Yeah, You Walk Back to Get the [Thing] WITH BONUS META HliAT

How long it actually Takes to...

realize while walking on Old Street, right here
that you forgot the plastic bag with your workout clothes here
deliberate for a second (that darn Old Street roundabout), and then
"yeah of course" walk back
get the clothes (of course: right there in the bag, on the bench in the changing room)
and get back to the spot at which you realized your error: 12:29.68 sec

This is part of the recent trend (well, two HliATs going) of "yeah, it's not that long but it does take some time." Which I guess is the thing of HliAT, really -- I'd pushed it around to the counter-intuitive position of this commentary usually being about "hey, it's not that long!" But that was an overlay atop the increasingly unspoken assumption: $h1t takes time.

Try not to forget your stuff, therefore; it'll take "about 15 minutes" (exactly what I would've thought) to get it.

That said, if you do forget your stuff...a favored set of workout clothes while traveling -- probably worth "about 15 minutes", yeah?


Bonus Meta HliAT...

post this post, which is based on a HliAT timing you took on February 17, 2018
and which--this post, I mean--in basically this current form
has been in your "drafts" folder since...February 20th, 2018 (why in drafts? why did you not just publish it???): 
325 days, 6 hours, 35 minutes and 28 seconds

I used this handy site to work this out.

Update: I actually think it was a technical issue. Sort of a relief. I was like...what?

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Tickets: 2 of ...2 (??); also a dream about dogs

Okay so clearly I threw a bunch of these out at some point; I remember it vaguely, they were so worn I literally couldn't read the words on some old movie tickets, etc. I probably wrote about it here? This blog is a weird repository for things I no longer remember that I take the time to share with some folks like [TBD] # of times / year. Communication is strange.

Here's a Dream About Puppies I had (I know. u r welcome)
I slept a little fitfully for the last few hours of my rest last night, because I was really really convinced--like, I woke up and had to walk myself why this could not really be true--that I had (a) acquired two puppies, one of whom my brain called "Boxer" as in was a Boxer but, in fact, was not at all that breed (I had a clear mental image of the dog in my mind) but looked a lot more like a pug / shar pei mix. And there was another puppy, as well, though this one went both unnamed and unseen. And I had (a) acquired them, as noted above, and (b) stashed them--responsibly--at a friend's house. There's actually a specific friend, a nice family, whose house they were at in my mind. And I did this with this family's clearance, of course; or perhaps because they (the family) were actually somehow the keepers of these new dogs and I was just looking after them? And it was okay, I hadn't messed up, but I had left the Boxer / ??? pup in its cage for like not-nice too-long; like I should've gone by their place last night to feed it, walk it, etc. But hadn't, and I really needed to get there soon, now. And it was this rumbling unease through my sleep and my waking. One effective tool was to note that I knew this could not be the case because I had seen a member of this family posting on social media that day about hanging out in Santa Monica, so clearly they were still home and I had not (a) acquired two puppies etc. etc. But that's actually what it took. I'm not usually seized by limn hour fantasia; and anxiety wasn't even the driving force behind this one. I just...thought it was true. For a couple of hours.

(It's not true. I have acquired 0 puppies lately, boxer or otherwise).

Okay Back to these Tickets
I know you're not here for puppy dreams, but because: riveting tickets. There are many fewer than I thought! I think we can just...I think we're getting this done, fam!

First I am going to do a bonus digital round because it seems basically unfair that things I watch digitally--which is, like, most things at this point--have no tickets and do not get archived. And one thing in particular seemed worth noting to wit

The Surprise, by Mike van Diem
This is the sort of comedy that we're meant to call "dark" or "edgy" or something, because it's ostensibly about death although of course it is not about death, etc. But really, it's not. It was also really interesting to watch it through the veil of cultural filter -- it's Dutch, and seemed very...that. To me. Not that I'd know. I think what I mainly mean is that it was (plot-wise) about a sort of shaggy-dog speculative fiction crime-n-caper plot where a man and a woman both sign up for this high-end service that will end your life for you in a way of your choosing: with a loved one, by surprise, etc. The idea is that it is a relatively humane way to go, although the examples we see are not super-humane (although, certainly, the film is not about body suffering). But in addition to not being about the body-suffering, it's has this skating-over the basic engine of the story quality that I actually liked (and that might have been what seemed a bit "Dutch", to me, although what the h. do I know), which was that these people's feelings/reasoning/motivation were touched on but really not the point; the point was this kind of antic madcap stuff surrounding "when's it going to happen? can we change our minds if we fall in love or whatever?" etc. And I liked it, a lot, despite a final final beat that seemed out of step with its general nice-spirited-ness and general treatment of its subject. The stars were terrific. It was well-plotted. Oh! I also thought it was cool that Mike van Diem, the director, won an Academy Award in 1998; and then...this feature in 2015. It could well be that the story behind that is a decade-plus of frustration, but also maybe not. Maybe he was active, happy that whole time, doing stuff; and then has these moments where he emerges to me, along whatever no-doubt very idiosyncratic vectors of marketing and artistic diffusion bring things to my attention. People can do their stuff for a long time, I'm saying. That's cool.

Okay now physical tickets. There's just a few left; it's more than is going to be fun, and that's what it is. I'm just going to lean into those feelings and do it. I will try to surface any negative feelings. I am ridding my life of these small bits of paper.

Aero Theatre
April 1st, 2018 7:20pm
I saw this with one of my oldest, best friends. He's a person who often goes to see old movies; I'm a person who very occasionally does, with him. It's always nice to talk to him about them after, because sometimes we argue but it's generally pretty productive as long as I can master myself and not be a childish jerk. I think we kind of strongly disagreed about things on this one, but I can't remember what! I was really struck by this movie. I was struck by the gravity and weight of the physical bodies (horses, people, buildings) in the gigantic scenes; I remember how people say about Tony Scott (I have no idea if it's true) that he disliked CGI and preferred practical effects, really filming real things, and how that gave his movies' action sequences weight and impact. I first heard this after seeing Unstoppable with a friend, and it certainly scanned for how we saw that movie. And  I always think about this when I'm seeing something like Ben-Hur because...yeah, I mean yeah. I think that I do feel and see it; it feels crunchy and tactile and real. I was also struck, at least at the start of the film, by how lived-in the characters seemed. I think that this is a function of era. Meaning: even as it was very clear that what I was seeing was almost crazily trope-y, movie-acting, movie-character stuff of this bromance between these two men, now movies we still just used to let people talk more. We'd less perfected the art of a four-dialogue-line disposable scene that needn't exist except to goalpost for the audience, "hey, this guy's brave" or whatever-whatever. It's interesting because these are the very same tools -- in Ben-Hur, they clearly were telegraphing to us: "hey, these guys are close." "hey, they're both very masculine." "hey, there's political tension." It's not like any of this was handled with the delicate touch of pure organic storytelling. But just keeping the camera on people, flat, and letting them talk a bit more; it can be really nice. It's old-fashioned, at least in a big entertainment like this. And I liked it. It's maybe why that scene at the very end of Avengers,when they're eating, is so nice. Cuz it's nice! It's just the camera, on them, chilling! Crazy! Anyway. And there was stuff that my friend and I disagreed about, qua the famous homoerotic subtext, which I think...I don't even recall? Maybe one of us thought it wasn't subtext at all? I don't really remember. I don't think this was one where disagreed because--this is a motif, with me and this friend--there's some aspect of the film that we both acknowledge as problematic (racism, sexism, etc.) but I just refuse to look past it and I'm like, "yeah so it's trash" meaning just: junk to me; and he quite reasonably is like, "okay yes, its values are trash, but still XYZ," and XYZ are generally reasonable points one might make about the film but I'm less receptive to them because I'm so jarred by the problematic stuff. In my defense, I can definitely take pieces of art in their different aspects and different...layers of achievement. But I find it very hard when I feel that there isn't adequate widespread acknowledgment of how terrible some aspect of the piece of entertainment is; like that it's fundamentally, grotesquely racist at its heart but that kind of gets skated over in how people discuss it. This is not my friend's fault. And also, I don't think this happened with Ben-Hur! Okay anyway next ticket:

The Landmark
May 13, 2018 3pm
Oh good not much to say about this one. In a good way. I liked it! I thought it was all those adjectives critics use: brisk, sharp, funny, 'smart'. It moved along at a good pace and told an interesting story with some ramification and thought outside itself. disclosure: I'm acquainted with someone involved in its production, so I'm primed to like it. But, well yeah: I did like it. So, ticket.

Three Days in the Country
Antaeus Theatre Company
Sunday, July 8 2018 at 2pm AND (!!) Sunday, August 5 2018 at 2pm
Whhhhhaaaat? I saw this twice? Yes I did and on purpose LET ME TELL YOU WHY. I totally wanted to. I never want to do that. I don't really re-watch or re-read things; I probably could benefit from doing so much more, in fact; at least, great things, things I've loved. But I don't really do it. But here's where I saw this production twice.
I thought it was terrific
I thought it was terrific and wanted people to see it; so I was happy to say to friends, after having seen it once already with a different friend, "Oh yes we should go to that together let's go."
I was very interested in seeing it twice (!?). Because: it is not a plot-driven play; it's Patrick Marber's adaptation of Ivan Turgenev's A Month in the Country and, while Marber does a lot to make it quicker and snappier and more contemporary-feeling than the source material, he also leaves the source material alone: this is a play about people wallowing around in bourgeois (mostly) malaise and heartbreak, and it's melodramatic (on purpose) and about the minutiae of their interactions and the moments between characters. It's a very lived-in type of play. And I wanted to see it twice, therefore, because (a) I probably wouldn't be bored; the "point" of this play is not what "happens", so knowing what "happens" would spoil very little; and (b) the production was good good good, and Antaeus often DOUBLE CASTS big plays like this (I assume because actors in LA are wont to flit off for lucrative gigs in filmed entertainment), so seeing all these interactions and characterizations and tiny little sharp beats between human desires with a whole different cast might be like A WHOLE NEW PLAY! And it was. The experiment was 100% a success. The casts were really different. The characterization in each performance, of itself, was quite different; how they interacted of course differed; even casting accidents or non-accidents like how two people looked alike or did not drew comparisons between characters that seemed thematic, etc. It is really rewarding to watch robust material like this performed by good actors, guided by steady and disciplined and pacey and specific direction. I'm really glad I saw this twice; both times were great.

2018 World Series: Boston Red Sox @ Los Angeles Dodgers, Game 4 (Home Game 2)
Dodgers Stadium
October 27 2018, 5:09pm
This was the most fun I've had at a baseball game in LA, even though it was a pretty disappointing game. The Red Sox were favored to win the series this year, and did so handily. But there's always capacity for big surprises in post-season baseball, and while my main baseball allegiance (such as I can claim to have one, at this point) is to the Yankees, I was rooting for LA certainly. And LA had given all of us reason to hope, with an historically long, insane game the night before: an 18-inning game that LA won 3-2, making the series 2-1, Boston. Meaning that this game, the game I was at on the following night, was the game that would show whether that crazy 18-inning game was a wild fluke, or if LA would even the series to 2-2 and it really would be a real series, and maybe we'd all reconsider Boston walking away with this thing. And LA took an early lead, so it looked possible and was very exciting! And then LA gave up that lead, and then really gave up the lead (the relief pitching was not very successful), and Boston...walked away with this game and the series. But we had fun! It was a nice night; I was very glad to be there, and with a cool new friend who was excited to be at a series game.

so...close... (actually no negative feelings. just saying).

Native Son
Antaeus Theatre Company
Sunday April 22, 2018 2pm
My ticket says "Native Son 2018", but I just checked the website and it doesn't look like it's one of the things where they slap the year onto a thing to emphasize that it's an adaptation or whatever; it seems like the show was just called Native Son, like the source novel. This production did not work for me! And I'm so glad I went! It didn't work for me because it's hard to adapt a novel like this to the stage (obvi), and I thought that the production and adaptation made bold thoughtful choices that didn't click for me. There's always this risk when you take a very internal character from prose and put them on stage or in film; because their interiority (which in prose can be fine, because you can be inside them in various ways) can be really alienating to the audience. The adaptation and production are way on top of this; the script has this embodied inner-monologue for the protagonist (who is a man who, externally, is not well seen or known by others) and allows us to see him talk out / argue out / act out his inner tensions, desires, impulses -- and how his environment impinges on his inner life in this way. I definitely have no thought on this choice, or no conclusion rather; I don't know if the production didn't work for me because that basic choice didn't fit for me, or--also possible, as the staging seemed good and the actors were excellent--if it was that it just somehow didn't for me convey the same tensions and level of thought or, in fact, drama of the novel's prose portrayal. Antaeus always does 'good theater' and this was no exception; it was a challenging theatrical enterprise (adapting a novel that is very rich and complex in its own right, as well as having the status of being an acknowledged classic an important testament of American culture and history) that a bunch of talented people took on with skill and thought. I'm glad I saw it.

City and Cosmos: The Arts of Teotihuacan
Saturday April 21, 2018
I had to kind of root around to figure out what was up, here. This is the slip of paper:
Pretty dramatic, right? But so I was confused because I knew it was one of two trips I took over the summer to LACMA with N., my mentee, but I was quicker to remember the exhibit we saw on the second trip -- not this trip. This trip we saw a collection of Mesoamerican art from "the ancient city of Teotihuacan," which "flourished in central Mexico in the first millennium CE. This multi-ethnic, cosmopolitan city was the largest urban center in the Americas in its day." That's all from LACMA's site on the exhibit, which both N. and I enjoyed. I really enjoyed it; I think N. did as well -- hope so. We also went, later that summer, to "3D: Double Vision", an exhibition about the development of the art and technology of 3D imagery. At that exhibit, I saw this, which amusèd me some:
What I liked about this, which some of you will recognize, is that the object on the left is a Nintendo 3DS. That's a terrific portable gaming system that is currently, if not sunsetting, in its senescence; I on-purpose linked to Wikipedia for the product and not some Nintendo site because I'm not sure if the Nintendo site will still be good in a year or two. It's a great little system, and made me smile in this context because it wasn't being featured as an example in itself; its 3D-imaging feature--ironically, an aspect of console which is viewed, I think, as having had an unclear impact on its success--is just being used to show a picture in 3D can do it.

There's nothing funny or interesting about this, actually. Or to you, maybe. That's totally reasonable. I just found it funny.


Saturday, December 29, 2018

Tickets: 1 of ?

I've joined a book club. I really hope it continues; we've met once and I really enjoyed it. I've never been in one. It's loosely tsundoku-themed, which I imagine could be said of many book clubs.

Its being thus has brought me into more contact with that concept--tsundoku--and how it's crept across the zeitgeist from its original, book-centric meaning to encompass all of the things we all do where we're making lists / collecting things / setting intentions to read / see / create / do, instead of actually just doing the things. Making stacks, literal and figurative.

I've got a stack of tickets that I've had for years. I may even have done this exact thing I'm doing right now already -- either here in this blog (I think not?) or in my own personal journaling (I think so). But I'm going to do it here, now; what I'm going to do is just finally do what I've been meaning to do for however long (honestly: years) and just kind of work through this stack of tickets to write out my thoughts about them. Half of which I will have totally forgotten! Because this ish happened years ago! What is wrong with me?

I am listening to Laura Stevenson's new single, "The Mystic & The Master", and its b-side "Maker of Things". They're terrific; Laura Stevenson is terrific.

Let's go.

The Little Foxes (preview)
Antaeus Theatre Company
October 21, 2018 2pm
Good great starting with an easy one. I saw this a couple of months ago. I remember it well. Antaeus is a wonderful theater company here in L.A., and I try to see everything that they do. I'd never seen this play, which is by Lillian Hellman and was terrific to see. I was braced by how contemporary and engaging so much of it was (much credit for which goes, no doubt, to the uniformly excellent cast and characteristic crisp, sharp, specific direction). I was also engaged by how not contemporary parts were, dramaturgically -- by how the creaky machinery of plot mechanics of another era really leap out at you and mark something as of its time. I am very happy I saw this, and to tell you about it.

Hole in the Sky
Circle X Theatre Co.
August 26, 2018 8pm
So one note @ the top: this production was a produced site-specifically, at a ranch out in Lake View Terrace, which made it quite a trek for me (and, I suspect, many of its audience members). And I wanted to change the date of my ticket, and Circle X was very prompt and friendly about letting this happen. Thanks, Circle X -- I'll be back because of that, if nothing else.
Also, this was a very worthwhile production. So again: it was produced site-specifically: it's a play about the tensions created by water use and water shortage in a California agricultural community, and of course how class and race interweave with these material concerns and the people they press on. So it was performed on a ranch. They did a really good job--seriously--at making that a non-crappy experience for the audience; it was comfortable, sightlines were good, etc. As night fell, some of the visual value of being on the ranch was reduced since it just became like being outside. But they did a nice thing with a truck pulling up at one point, and etc. It certainly made the whole story more lived in. The play leaned--for my taste--towards exposition, didacticism, and plot swerves that whose wind-up had been unclear (to me). But I learned from it, and was grateful for the chance to live for an evening inside voices and concerns that are very real and warrant dramatic presentation. I'll certainly see Circle X's next production and, if it's like this one, see the one after that too.

The Women
Archway Theatre Company
April 7, 2018 8pm
This was fun! My friend costume designed and acted in this production of another famous play of a bygone era; it was staged in the very vintage clothing shop from which the costumes were drawn. Everyone was dressed just right (as far as I could tell!), and I was grateful to be exposed to a play that was significant and successful in its time but that I had missed until now.

Isle of Dogs
The Landmark [for movies, I'll just say the theater I saw them @]
March 31, 2018 12:05pm
I don't have a lot to say about this that hasn't been said. It was really well made; it was really carefully and elegantly and successfully conceived and executed. It felt a little clinical and distant, to me, like Anderson's work generally does. And I guess most of all was the thing of its being set in Japan but still--to me--feeling like the choices that were made about whom you can understand and who speaks like...basically, I think it wound up other-ing Japanese people some. Which felt particularly twee and odd, in a movie set on their home turf. Other people might not feel that way, and I'm not pushing some big thesis about the filmmakers. That's how I felt.

ArcLight Santa Monica
March 16, 2018 8:05pm
THIS MOVIE WAS VERY GOOD WHY DID IT NOT DO BETTER? That is about all I have to add. It was so cool to see original IP (I know it's based on a book, which I'd like to read; I mean "original" IP in that it does not rely on a popular and preexisting franchise/character/topic) in like a real sci-fi movie with ideas and crazy stuff happening and the ol' resonance-between-the-protagonist's-inner-turmoil-and-the-crazy-stuff-happening-in-the-world thing, but that thing is so great when the "crazy stuff" is great! (And, when you have a committed and engaging performance from your lead actress, as this film did). I'm really glad I saw this! I wish more people had seen this!

Black Panther
The Landmark
March 12, 2018 1:15pm
What do you need me to say about this movie? It's as good as you've heard. Maybe better? Here let's do lists; this isn't ranked but here are movies based on Marvel IP that I thought were totally terrific: Black Panther, X-Men and X-Men 2, Logan (probably my favorite), and...okay I'm putting The Avengers on this first-tier list because of that post-credit scene where they're eating gyros or whatever and I did enjoy it so much, but I think it's actually more like in its own little tier between first-tier and second tier. By the way @ the Landmark early afternoon on a weekday there's "bargain" pricing; I didn't even know that! Cost me twelve bucks to see a superfun supercool movie. Big win.

That's it. I'm not going to attempt any summary till I'm done with all these, and maybe not even then.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Incidental Fauna of the Southern California Coastline, July 6th 2018

It's so nice to be here just talking to you.

The water off the coast is now (finally!) warm; very warm, very comfortable. You can swim for a long time, especially in a suit

this was the morning I'm writing about
I'm writing about some animal stuff that happened in/at it.

A little before 8 a.m., and there's a shorebird on the empty beach. Rather: there's a shorebird on the nearly-empty beach. An older man who's living rough on this patch, and whose wake-up my arrival frequently coincides with -- he stretches out of the sleeping-bag (I think) that's laid over himself, resting amidst a few bags of stuff and a mountain bike with thick tires. He's fine to me; I'm fine to him. We say good morning. No other people.

Not that many animals, either. At least not visible. But: this one bird. Pecking and scampering, doing its thing. And it's a really interesting bird: it's not a sandpiper; it's not a seagull. It's not an egret or heron. I watch it doing its thing; its thing is neat. It scampers back-forth with the waves, 'Piper-like. It clearly is hunting: it searches, it pecks. It has a long bill, it has long-ish legs. It's not a bird I've seen before.

It pecks, it hunts, and its hunting takes it gradually down the break towards where I am standing, watching it. After it gets pretty close--15 feet--it hunts for a couple of waves then takes flight; flies just twenty feet or so, to the far side of me, and continues its pecking and hunting progression.

I go for my swim (more on this below, hold on). After, later, I try to figure out what the bird was. The Internet is a weird place to figure things out; once you get there you see how winding your path was. But after a bunch of search-adjustsearch-blahBLAHblah, I settle: I'm pretty sure that it was this.
Frank Lehman / Macaulay Library at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology
I actually...I'm embarrassed to say I imagined at one point that the story of how I figured this out would be interesting. It is not. I won't tell it. But the bird was fantastic. If that's what it was. I think that's what it was: a Marbled Godwit. The name is apparently an attempt to represent their call, rather than some extraordinarily bizarre act of antiquated sacrilege. Anyway, my bird was silent. Focused!

Now, back/forward to the swim. I'm out, swimming; it's gorgeous, a pretty still day with no big scuffling or swells once I'm out past the break and the surface is glassy.

On the glassy surface, I see one of those disturbances--very small--that at once you're quite sure is some thing. I swim up; it is. It is one of these.
It is flopped on its back, doomed (I think) on the water. I've kind of often wondered this: when I lived in a building with a pool, I probably saved two to five bees/wasps a day from that pool. It seems like a majorly maladaptive trait: to need water (as all living things do), but to...die? If you get to close and your wings get caught? I guess I'm saying it always surprises me that these charismatic Hymenoptera haven't kinda evolved out of this watery-doom thing. But:

The wasp is on its back, well out on the water. I lift it up from below and it's now on my finger. What's exciting about this is the super close-up view; wasps, you don't usually get to see really, right? They are zipping around, tiny threatening aerialists -- you don't get to study them up close, mostly. This one, obviously, wasn't zipping anywhere. At least not for the moment.

So then I'm faced with this question, which strikes me at once. How long am I willing to wait, for this wasp? I immediately see that the only good option is to hope it can sort itself out on my hand here--do what it needs to get going, and go. Because: (a) swimming all the way back to shore with my hand up and a waterlogged wasp sticking to it seems both kind of annoying and not very feasible; would take a long time, would suck, might not succeed (wasp washed off). (b) Just being like...f*ckit: sorry wasp-y. U die, also didn't feel right. I in general feel that way, about things like this. I'm way far from perfect, in terms of my local and broader impact on the earth and it's creatures. But whenever it's one of those choices, like: I could interrupt my swim or not; this wasp could live or die. I could get out of bed to rescue this fly or not; this fly could or die. I could run through this dumb bush, get a little cut up (or not), avoiding this lizard; this lizard could live or die. It always just seems so weak and small to choose the small comfort / ease thing for myself when the animal's stakes are existence or not. Which is how this choice felt.

But how long would I wait?

Did the wasp even have a chance? Was it too...saturated?

I watched it.

It surprised me by "preening" itself. Well: first I gently (careful of wings) kind of used the stick from one damp hand to set it right (i.e., not flat on its back with its wings plastered down) on the other, which I'd air-dried as well as I could. So but then: if I were a wasp in this spot, I think I'd be like: "sh*t: I am drying my wings." Not this wasp. No. It preened. This was a cool, cool thing to see close. Holding it up almost right to my face, I saw its tiny frontal legs making those "running forward over the carapace of the skull piece"-type motions; like it was doing its hair or cleaning its face off or something like that. I still can't explain it (and haven't revisited the research-weirdness that is trying to research these things on the web). Was it assuring the patency of its airways? That, I believe, would be really important. It had to be something important, I guess; that or I just got this very vain wasp. It did that for a while, though -- like most of our time. Preened, little front-arms rubbing over its face.

This whole time its wings were Just a mess. They were all wet and sideways and f#cked up and...that's the thing I (not I as a hypothetical was; I) was worried about. Cuz if its wings didn't work, then I did not know what.

Its antenna were awesome. So ar-tic-u-lat-ed.

So okay then it did its wings, and they took like thirty seconds. First, it messed up. It tried to extend them and flap them off--I could tell it was doing this; once I was watching it closely, over time, I was struck by how 'animal-like' it was. I tend to think of insects as strange alien things in this alien tinyworld; once I dropped down into it, this one just seemed like a creature--anyway the first time it tried to extend and like flap off its wings it screwed it up totally, tipped sideways and again plastered itself to my hand, which of course was not fully dry because we are a freaking 1/4-mile or whatever out bobbing on the ocean this whole time, wasp, wut r u doing here anyway?

So it's stuck to my hand again.

So I do the thing with my other hand, again; edge of my thumb, gently as I can, lifting its stuck wing from flush to my skin. It's at this point that it occurs it to me that yes, this is wasp; yes it is now oriented to sting. For some reason, this just occurs to me. I'm not worried about it. It is not like I'm super-tough about wasp stings or something. No way do I want that. It hurts like a lot. But I somehow feel sure that that's not how this goes down; also I have some vague trivia factoid back of my mind that maybe not all wasps even can sting (only the females? or something? I still have not checked this out because...meh. I will. Soon.).

So but then, after I thumbed its wet-plastered wing up from first failed attempt...then the whole rest of it took like ten seconds. It splayed them out: two pairs of wings, bigger-smaller. (I really saw this! Or: I thought that I saw it! This whole thing was my own tiny (wet) nature show).

And then it kind of whuzzzzzed them for not long, two seconds at most

and leapt off my hand and was gone.

That was it.

Compared to the dainty extent of its ministrations to its head / face / mandibles / ?, the whole wing thing--which I would have thought would be hard and mission-critical--took two seconds. Maybe, once it was out, it wasn't worried at all. I was a magic piece of wood or whatever (what does it care? I'm not eating it. Sure fine I am wood); it knew its wings would be fine; it wanted to sort itself out before flying.

I checked, really searched, all the water around me. In case it had dumped itself plop back in ocean. The water was glassy, and I could see several feet; I cautiously started swimming again, looking. Didn't see anything.

The whole episode took longer than three minutes and fewer than ten.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Lucky (sunglasses)

I've written in this space about compulsions, and the tensions of my own largely on-top-of-it relationships to my own. I've also written, in a general way, about what a lucky life I have. THIS IS A POST ABOUT BOTH.

A thing I'm compulsive about, after runs, is forgetting my sunglasses. Look, I know they're not fancy; I bet you have nicer ones (they cost $46.44 when I bought them in 2014, which is-- what? $Eight-grand, today? ). They're not fancy but I like them; I've used them on runs and on bikes for four years! They work great! And if I lost them I'd be sad -- I'd have to get something else, it would cost more, and I'd be sad.

This is dumb, right? I mean.

So anyway I'm concerned always, specifically, about leaving them on top of my car. You drive to the trailhead, you do your trail run (today: 9 miles here), and you come back and you're changing out of your sweaty clothes and you've got all this stuff and you're putting things on top of your car to dry while you change might forget your sunglasses, right? Like some (most?) of my compulsions, this one isn't crazy and has an upside -- I am inclined to forget my sunglasses on top of my car, they blend into the blackness and--especially if I've not in fact worn them for much of the run--they're somehow sort of the last thing on my mind. But I've never done that, because I'm like, worried about it!

Till today.

Today I got home, and I did not have them. I looked for them in my room, after dumping my stuff. I looked for them in the area outside my room, where I kind of stage some dumped post-run stuff before sorting it out. I looked in the various bathrooms I'd used and had not. I walked to my car and I looked in it. I found the other pair of sunglasses I'd (why?) decided to wear for the drive home, but not these. It was looking bad.

I worked for awhile, telling myself it didn't matter (with success). I ate some food, walked back to check my car one last time. On the walk, I acquainted myself with the reality in which I had sustained the jagged loss of this pair of sunglasses; the positive angle of getting a newer pair that might even be better (I knew it would not, but I was being very brave). I gave my car one last--

Here is the drive, back from the trailhead to my house:

That's a 17-minute, eight-mile drive; for those who don't know: the "1" is a freeway that runs 'long the ocean, then that hook left (as you're driving, right as you stare at the image right now) is onto the "10", which is one of L.A.'s main arterial freeways. So: freeway driving, lane-switching, etc.

--look and smiled at once:

I'm already so lucky! It's totally dumb! Why should I get this luck-nugget as well? Tucked against bicycle rack, just so, such that...

hwelp: I'm not going to question it.

I put them on, walked my desk, and began typing this to tell you.

Saturday, June 2, 2018

It's Not Weird it is Good

I've started using Toggl to track time spent doing lots of things.

It's part of an overall organizational rubric I've been trying to implement for about a year. I'm provisionally satisfied with this rubric. The idea is that there are five categories, and that if I'm doing okay in each of these five categories then I'm doing okay. And the idea is not to complicate them too much with too many sub-cats. They are:

Write (good)
Write (world)

"OToYS" stands for "on top of your sh*t".

The categories are self-explanatory (I think!); more importantly, their specifics aren't important for our present discussion. The point is: I use these across everything. My to-do lists are thus organized (again, there are sub-categories, but I try to keep them from proliferating wildly); bookmarks in my browser are organized by this rubric; tasks in Toggl; habits in HabitBull; I squeeze everything into these boxes that I can, which turns out to be almost every thing. There's a color code that persists across all programs / apps (as above), although that can be fussy when the colors don't quite match up.

Point is, I'm tracking anything work or work-esque in Toggl. Recreational stuff, including fitness stuff, doesn't get tracked on the hourly basis (although it does get marked in HabitBull). I'm writing (listening to this lovely, relaxing music) on this nice Saturday because

(a) I never get to talk about this stuff with anyone, and
(b) When I imagine myself talking about this stuff with anyone (most of my interactions--I suspect I'm not alone, here--most of my interactions are between myself and imaginary interlocutors) I always kind of laugh it off with some kind of self-deprecatory, "lol, I know I know, it's a little bit crazy and compulsive, ha ha." This is also the posture I take (in imaginary conversations, but also in glancing kitchen interactions in the group-house type setup I currently live in) towards the fact that I keep a reasonably careful running log of my caloric intake throughout the day: "ha ha, I know, it's so nuts lol."

I wanted to write because I think it's not nuts.

So there may be an edge to some of these words, and you--Reader-friend--you may be like whoa, slimb, why are you yelling at me? I don't mean to be, Reader-friend. Sorry. It's not even that I imagine 'you', whoever you are, when I'm having these imaginary conversations. Unless there is some specific scenario I'm thinking about (rare), those imaginary conversations are pretty much with myself or an 'audience.' I'm talking to me; these words are at me.

Every Time Someone Asks What I Do

Them   What do you do?
Me   I'm a writer. Prose, mostly.**
Them   Oh! What do you write?
Me   [short version:] Well, I'm writing this {interesting non-fiction project}. 
[long version:] Well, I do non-fiction stuff that's mostly how I, y'know, make money, and I also have this quixotic undertaking of writing a masterpiece sci-fantasy serialized novel that I've been working on for a few years and that is never done and that's kind of my heart and my passion etc. 

And always, always when I say this last thing

I wonder (in my head) 

Me   [in my head] yeah and how much time do I spend, on each of these categories? Am I working on Erra enough? Am I working on Erra too much? What's the deal???

** I promise, saying 'prose' is not as tacky or naff or unclear as it sounds. I live in L.A.; most people everyone who say that they write, in this place, mean a specific thing. When I weirdly say 'prose', people probably don't know exactly what I mean, but I've found it's a simple way of saving the conversation about fifteen seconds (big savings!).
So yeah: no, me: ur a d1ck. It is, in fact, super-great that I weirdly track all this stuff.

For the work-hours, Toggl and I all that. First of all let me note that, beyond the material pressure to make some kind of living, which (at this second) is going okay, I have no real external to...anything. ever. And while I'm self-motivated, that also means that there is no measurement, no management, no oversight. I have to self-manage.

To wit: I often feel unproductive. I often wonder if my lack of output is in fact due to lack of effort or focus, even if it doesn't feel that way. I often wonder why I'm more (or less) mentally exhausted on a given day, or at the end of a given week: if I actually worked more or if perhaps something else is going on. I often wonder--basically every time I explain to someone what I do--how the ratio of my time expenditure on various projects works out, because...look to the sidebar for this one.

(I don't know why I'm writing this, or trying to convince you! It's not like people are unaware of the benefits of time tracking, outside just client billing or whatever. That latter application ("client billing or whatever") seems to represent a small portion only of what these firms that sell all these time-tracking apps are selling.)

I think what I want to say on this--to myself, mostly; also to you, Reader-friend, of course; and if you disagree then yes right str8 2 u--what I want to say on this is that

having an actual empirical tracking mechanism, having numbers, helps me at least make a start of creating quantifiable metrics around things that are important to me. Things for which I'd otherwise have to resort to 'sense's and 'feelings', or very rough time signatures ("I guess I spent yesterday morning working on [that project], so...").

We all live inside them, these 'senses' and 'feelings'. That is what it is; I myself spend a lot of time (deliberately, on-purpose) following them.

And I know that I can't/won't achieve actual "empirical" mastery of the expenditure of the minutes and hours of my life; I know I can't in fact capture and quantify all this in a way that is even close to complete. I also know that thinking I could do that, and attempting to do that, (a) would drive me crazy, and (b) still wouldn't get me to that total mastery, and thus I'd be at risk of a bigger/more dangerous mistake than just resorting to senses and instinct; i.e., I'd be running the risk of thinking I knew more than I do.

I know nothing. I know that. There's no way to end-run my innate, reptile-brain, heuristic stupidity; I don't know myself that well, or the world, and certainly don't have a clear view on how I'm navigating through it effectively or not.

So / but, trying to do these small things--keeping track of specific, measurable work-flows that feel like they matter--does help keep me grounded in what feels like an at-least credible attempt to anchor my views of my workweek / time-management in something real; gives me something to look at that is, hopefully, 'directionally correct'. Something outside myself to guide...whatever it is that goes on in my head.

I'm sure I'll still find myself laughing this off, in these imaginary conversations I have on...whatever, long runs. Sh1t like that. But I wanted to say this and I'm glad that I did.

Thank you, as always.