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.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

The First Pass is Always Heuristic B*llSh*t


Well we're doing it nearly first.

no, wait.
You know what?
Reader (hey there!) y'know what?
Since the point of this exercise,
meaning these words printed on this strange, changeable clay,
(as opposed to the other, more rarefied space; Emmy's space, the space of the slip and of Erra)--
since the point of all this
is transparency, honesty,
sharing the process whatever it is...

I am going to start
by just sharing my notes.

Here they are, pasted below with blue header.

Unrevised notes, written g*ds know when (long time ago), for what has now become, in this spot, this here "post." And which have, of course, changed so much in that time! It took me a minute to find these notes, even; that was mostly because my scribal software rather spectacularly failed to find the word "heuristic" in a search (???).


Here they are. And don't worry: they make no sense -- I agree; correct! That's the point. We'll talk, after.
the first time is always heuristic bullshit
not do full texts, but Emmy here in c1
the thinking is simple: need and want; and—oh joy, emergent in the scene—to make clear to the reader and for the story
emmy's relationship to the lore
and how the game handles the mechanics of quest-giving, etc.
do "writing" with "phrases" that describes those things
reader, many of those phrases were b4ller. no, really. your scribe has a way with the words.
[for which may the gods chop his hands, cut his tongue]
because what you must then do
what takes forEVER
is tell that story
this is not a precis
it's not a 600-word piece of bullsh1t on the internet
it's a story
it gets told
through instantiated and specific realities
[don't show final
but do show some version of early]
and the peace and the calm that comes on when you do
for the gods have released you
you are unworthy, unskilled
your showing is doubtless unclear, clumsy, deranged
but you have not cheated anyone
no gods
you are, as you are, in good faith with the world
good phrase: toil in cheap anonymity
[[there seem to be scribes who … and, to be fair, there seem to even be readers who, … to which your humble scribe has two equal and equally heartfelt responses: de gustibus non est ppl r krazy. unpack
- de gustibus; full phrase; just explain what umean
- ppl r krazy come ON. no, really. you'll be happier. i promise. u will.
compare to smokers
acknowledge insanity of comparison]] ]]
End crazy notes.

So, now, cool: let's unpack this. These notes, once again, are from months (years?) ago; that said, their main idea wholly remains. And, in fact, many snippets and fragments still stand.

That said: they clearly (haha!) make no sense. So:

In Column 1, we are learning about Emmy's new game. And, just as much, we are learning about Emmy. Who she is; what she's like; what she likes. We're learning how she functions as an agent and object of action; specifically, how she approaches these games.

In this context--learning about game; learning about our hero--there are several particularly crucial elements. Crucial elements that must be understood in a certain way. This is not true of all elements in the story; the gods aren't concerned very much with our "feelings", so many elements in this tale admit ranged understanding. But these "crucial elements" are not part of this freedom; they are elements that the Reader (you!) should be guided to see in a specific way, because if you don't then things built on them won't make much sense. [Even here, of course, there's subjective assumption: "it is more fun to read something that makes some sense." Some may not think so! Your humble scribe does.]

These "crucial elements", which must be specifically understood, include:
  • Emmy's particular relationship to "lore"
    • with some (minimal) explanation of what "lore" is and means in an MMORPG context
  • How this game, Erra's Throne
    • approaches "lore"
    • approaches quest-discovery and quest-allocation; how these things are linked rather tightly to "lore"
    • presents "lore" in its playing environment

And these two things--the two darker main bullets, above--are important because they sum into one crucial fact [no spoilers, of course :) ] :
  • many important events as the story progresses are driven by the interaction between 
    • Emmy's particular relationship to "lore"
    • the game's particular handling of "lore"
    • other players' differentiated (from Emmy's, and Stang's, and each others') relationship to "lore"
These things are important to plot ("what happened?" "why?" "why did [character] [do that]?"). Equally, they're important as, like...story elements ("what's this story about?" "why am I reading it?" "what did I learn? how'd it change me?" etc.).

Okay? Okay. So, at this point
these comments
will shift in their focus;
I'll do my best, Reader, to carry you through.

I encourage you now to abstract these specifics, to take a high-level and summary view of these "crucial elements". View them as a category. I went through the specifics because--for me as a Reader; and therefore for me as the humblest of scribes--a thing without specifics does not seem real at all. And I wanted this thing--these "crucial elements" as a category and concept--to seem real to you, because they are the driving need behind what I'm about to describe. But all the stuff about Emmy and the game, etc. -- you can now let that go. All you need to know going forward is that

I, as the scribe pressing words into clay
have some top-down conception of "crucial elements"
which we'll sometimes refer to as, say, [XYZ]
namely, plot/story/character elements of the whole
which I, as the scribe, have at some point decided
[or, perhaps, "realized" (if that's your view {it is mine})]
are "crucial" enough to be understood in a specific way:

I want you, the Reader, to know [XYZ].

And with this we slide in towards the heart of these thoughts.
(I am listening to this; it is very fantastic).
Because the moment I'm allowing for this category:
these "crucial" [XYZ] things the Reader "must" know;
the moment I'm allowing that guiding conviction:

"it's important for the Reader to know [XYZ]"

I'm revealing a state-of-mind
and state-of-writing-process
that will lead
almost inevitably to
what we'll call, hereafter,
instrumental writing.

Definitions! No, not violins; not "instrumental" like that. In fact, the word's first meaning (per whatever dictionary comes up when you use your search bar to get a word's definition) is the one we are using.

"Instrumental writing" meaning writing that was wrenched into existence in order to serve some preset goal/objective; in this case, say, "make sure that the Reader understands [XYZ]."

Reader, you'll have to allow some fluidity with this definition--this isn't Chemistry. It's not even Economics. But that word, "preset", is helpful and important. Certainly, any writing can be said to "serve" goal(s). Much writing, of course, quite explicitly does so: to educate, persuade, et cetera etc. And even the most felt and private of prose can be seen in this way: a journal entry that, written, remains ever secret -- in this case, perhaps, the "goal" was that the writer 'got it off her chest', or it 'helped her think through it', or just: expressed joy.

But all that's precisely why "preset" is helpful.

For instrumental writing, the goal's known going in. So, for a project (a whole project) to be instrumental overall, its goal or objective is known going in. For an op-ed, or similar piece of persuasive short prose: in most cases the writer embarks with a goal; it's specifically defined, s/he understands it quite well. This does not mean their thinking won't evolve as they work; it does not mean that the writing's not generative, creative. It is. But it means that the map and the reason are there.

This idea, instrumentality, applies equally to some fiction. If a project has a prescribèd goal at conception ("write a [movie] about [those characters from the popular book series] that will [appeal to young kids and a bit to their parents]")...that defines it. Literally. Both circumscribes and directs what it is and will be.

So now let's do a different thing. Non-instrumental writing: writing that, in its genesis, can be anything. Including, and in most cases: be nothing at all! There is no goal @ outset. Or, if there is, 'goal' must be defined in such broad sweeping terms as to be, like...who cares? "To write in my journal" is a pretty broad goal and, more importantly, doesn't redound onto the text itself -- it's a goal about practice and action, not deliverable. Writing in her journal may make this protagonist feel good; or clear her head; or think through things; whatever. But qua the thing that she writes -- no goal. Whatever! It can be long it can be short it can be coherent incoherent neither both fanciful sad whateverwhateverwhatever: she has no agenda.

She just sat down to write. Cuz...y'know? whatever. She may not even know.

Returning to fiction: this applies just as well.

In this view, sitting down to that blank page with a prescription even as specific as "Okay, I'll write a story" takes you welllllll into instrumentality and "instrumental" writing. That's where you are from the start: you're prescribed. Because you're not then just writing--

just writing because these ten lines of dialogue have been in your head for the last several days
and for one thing it's getting kind of hard to remember them
and for another they kind of are driving you crazy
and a third (fourth?) you're interested where they might go...
...and, turns out they go nowhere! oh well! done with that!

Because that riff in the voice of your sparky protagonist
a clear riff on a [topic] that [could be in story]
has been churning and churning and seems pretty good
and so yes: write it down! Flesh it out; a few...hours...
yeah okay that's fine but totally doesn't fit. done with that!

I deliberately slid, with that second example, into the context of non-instrumental writing on a preëxisting and larger project. Because that--and I know, it's taken some time to get here--is what this whole post is about. Rather, this post is about the eventual necessity of instrumental writing on even the most internally motivated, non-prescriptively defined project. Because: once there is a "project", prescriptions are in place. [Unless you want to be constantly tearing the whole thing down or changing fundamentally what it is, which I know it may look, in your humble scribe's case, is what's been going on for the last um...three years? But is not. Honestly. That is nuts. lol.]

The whole point of this piece 
is that on any project,
of any length whatsoever 
even one that begins in the most 
unforced, unprescribed, "found" and discovered way, 
if that project is a thing to be given to Readers
and especially if that project is more than, like, four lines long:

you're gonna be doing instrumental writing.

And that's hard. 
Because all your first passes 


Your poem, your play, your seven-part serialized sci-fantasy novel, your memoir that began when words raced from your heart...all these might originate from unplanned inspired motion of the stylus -- a phrase you loved; a single scene; a first-moments-of-story that just leapt from your mind. BUT,

  1. it's unlikely that this unreflective and instinctive rush will sustain for, say, 150k+++ words; it might sustain for the length of some much shorter pieces, but even that doesn't matter because
  2. you're going to, at some point, present this to Readers. Right? i.e., other agentive, reactive intelligences that do not reside inside your freaking head.

You're going to wind up with stuff that is unclear. Some of your most "inspired" bits...are unclear. You're going to read these bits, realize they're too long and in fact aren't that good, but the bits that you wrote after them are maybe okay, so you cut them and see how et cetera etc.

You're going to--most of all, Reader, if "you" are me--realize that something that seemed clear to you is not even close to clear for your dear Readers. And you're going to need to figure out, in a "figuring it out", top-down kind of way:

okay. so what can i do, then, to make this thing better?

Instrumental writing.

And, to be clear, it is going to suck.

[Unless you're a Mozart: it comes out sublime. In which case that's great gud 4 u go away. (Did it even work that way for Mozart, though? Just cuz a guy wrote a play where it did? We digress.)]

Your "fixes"? To the "problems" that arose from your writing? Problems should not be in quotes: you were right. There were problems: your story was bad and unclear; the gods were enraged at your clumsy, sad efforts.

But now they're yet madder: your fixes are WORSE. In your humble scribe's limited, humble, humble humble experience: you may or may not have an inspired flash; you may or may not write a thing that...okay, might be worth working on. So you'll write it. Then, "fix" it.

Your first, second passes will be beyond hope. (The actual 'first' pass, where it first gets laid out...that's not even a thing. That's a zygote. A spud.)

Your fifth, sixth and, very embarrassing.

Eighth ninth tenth: f*ck: junk.

Meanwhile you've at some point cut out inspiration--the inspired nuggets; that first throbbing gem that set all this in motion [you haven't. not all. but that's how it feels.]--and you're left with a thicket's it feel? Like:

True story. First draft? Second? ...Fifth?
l 0 l.
.Moving on.

...actually: let's not.

I had intended to dive into details, with this. To explain the "heuristic B*llSh*t" in the title with examples; examples that demonstrate the how and the why of these awful first (through fifteenth) draftings. And then, from these examples, lead into a cathected, snippy, and self-important exegesis of your humble scribe's views on the whole "show, don't tell" thing.

I had not, in fact, just 'intended' to do this: I just cut 925 words that did do that.

Which I mention because I am going to end, here. And that feels like a fitting conclusion as well. Not just ending the post here (which does: feels 'bout right). Ending with that thought: about cutting and changing the scope, because...well:

This "post". These words, etched in digital clay...are these words "instrumental"?

...somewhat. ?

I'm not sure. They did not originate with any set goal; they erupted from the facts and frustrations of work. But...they're also 'making a point' (or at least: trying to). Which is a pretty good indication of...I don't know.

I don't care!

But the reason I like ending here is that this post has already gone on...well, let's be kind and let's say "long enough". And that, therefore, the ideas I not-just had 'in mind', but had in fact written out, fully detailed for you...they will wait.

Despite the fact that the prescriptive idea that emerged in my mind of what this short piece is--the idea that emerged as it moved from my mind to a lived, written-out execution in clay--encompassed a whole further set of ideas; despite the fact that, whether or not this piece originated as an eruptive expression of thought/feeling, it eventually became governed by this same top-down, instrumental thinking...or, rather, ran the risk of being thus governed. Because it's not. Governed, thus. It is ending now, where my instinct feels it should (really, honest; it's ending; gimme like...fifteen seconds).

Which is, perhaps, another good and related topic to this. Even in instrumentality-- rather, topping instrumentality, which is no use in itself, is the fact and the shape of the thing as it grows. So perhaps another topic is: finding it. Making the map, but then breaking it. Following the thing as it goes...wherever. Perhaps we'll return to that, some other day.

Right now, today, this, these words: done. Winding down. Not me! I'm bright-eyed and ready 2 go!

But the words, they are done. This is done. So

I, humble scribe, have herein written this
I set it down
with my hands; with my fingers and mind.
I told only the truth. (Might not be smart or right.)
I hope it was worth your time.
I'm sorry if it wasn't.

I thank you, as always,
dear (patient! firm!) Reader
dear dear dear Reader
who's made it this far

I thank you
as always
that yet I exist.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Unity, Discipline, Joy: here we go...


"Aristotelian Unity": our subject, today.

It is often in mind as I press, erase, press, and re-press in this clay. And not just in mind: it comes out of my mouth, in conversation about 'story' and 'structure', etc. And, every time—every time that your humble scribe says it, uses these words to articulate what he seeks ever day (fails, every day) to achieve—he's a little bit anxious he's making stuff up.

Brief research reveals that this is not the case. These words, "Aristotelian Unity", essentially mean what I mean by them.


To spare those who'd rather not click links (and who would? what would that mean? to prefer to click links?), the key idea is to create
a whole, the structural union of the parts being such that, if any one of them is displaced or removed, the whole will be disjointed and disturbed. For a thing whose presence or absence makes no visible difference, is not an organic part of the whole.Source!
Your humble scribe—Reader, hello, that is me!—spends most of his energies trying to do this. Failing, as noted above, to do this. Cutting and slivering pieces of text; realizing some recent addition does not "help"—that it, in fact, obscures things for the Reader (that's you! hello, again: thank you for reading). That in fact what he's done, and done over and over, is added where reduction was what was required; it's always well-intentioned, not some deranged narcissistic expanse (we'll discuss "world-building" some other day, friend; believe it). But my frequent discovery is that, in the efforts to make something clearer, I have instead simply added more words / phrases / ideas, in a tale that is already quite full of them, thank you. So the whole challenge, the whole challenge, becomes distilling the scope and complexity of events, of this tale that the g*ds demand be pressed into clay, with an efficiency and directness that serves story and you — Reader; since you are of course the whole point of this thing.

It is hard. I'm not good at it, yet. (Getting better?)

But what's interesting to me, here and now—

since all of the rest of my time's spent attempting this—

what's interesting here/now is:

"But sometimes it sucks."

To be clear, it does not "suck"

because it is hard. Things don't suck

cuz they're hard; they are hard

cuz they're hard, and you suck

(perhaps; in that moment; wutever)

if you let that fact beat you.

No, I'm interested in how, why, and when this "Aristotelian Unity" that I (and so many others) have praised and reified as a lodestone of narrative creation just actually is a bad idea, on the merits. The thing I'm concerned with is stifling joy.

What about joy, Aristotle? Hm? HUH?
What about "geeking out" (awful term, but you get it)?
What about undisciplined excursuses into world, character, context?

When everything, everything is tight and constrained, it seems you must run the risk of creating a story that feels, to the Reader, that way: tight, constrained. A work that is empty, that lacks the sprawling joyful wantonness of—

no. Wait.

Already, I have to double back on myself. These "feelings" I reference: they're not yours. They're mine. Confusing the two is the same awful mistake that the actor may make — thinking the performance is good if/cuz she feels it. For some actors, I'm sure we all know some examples, feeling it is indeed a magnificent tool by which they achieve what in fact is their goal: making us (the viewers) feel/see something. So this is the same thing: how "I" (humble scribe) feel truly does not matter. All that matters is how you (Reader) feel, read, receive.

BUT, infusion of joy is a real thing, as well. It seems far from far-fetched—in fact, ex ante, it seems probably true—to suggest a connection between how the writer writing the work feels about it and how that work is then received by the Reader. We've all read, seen, experienced stories that were loose, sloppy, lacking in sense or direction, deficient (in our view) in important respects...but still very enjoyable. "Good", if you will. Because they were animated and enlivened by this joy, and that sense itself was itself quite infectious, and of course therefore trumped all our small, who-cares quibbles.

And the reason this concern seems, to me, worth expressing is that it's presumably beyond my control. There are many things that your humble scribe tries to, if not 'control', at least 'manage': diction and cadence and vowel-sound, line length; character, choice, decision, action. Words. But, presumably, in each of these things there are manifestations I cannot control. Ways in which—and this is, of course, also thrilling—my mind, heart, and state are laid bare for the Reader. It is not hard to believe that my internal state—and, specifically, the extent to which I do or do not allow a sense of abandon, of "f*ck it: keep that part. it's fun"—is conveyed to you, Reader. Subliminally (or not). That it manifests itself in every aspect of words that I press, erase, press, and re-press in this clay.

Given that, might it be that

this unrelenting 'disciplined' dedication to "Unity"…

might it not be depriving you, the Reader, as well?

Or is this whole thread just weakened justification? That's a real question, because—to be totally honest—every time I review work of hours, days, weeks, reading over some section that was hard to create... is good. It is better, for you. I am sure.

No matter how it felt or was, for me. Doing it. Good or bad. Sticking tight to this discipline goal, 'unity' has always, always meant the thing has got better.

Joy, freedom—

they're there! They are there, from the discipline;

they don't need themselves to come into being. They need work, to create an experience for you.

I'm not at all sure what solution this frames. I think that, predictably, it frames none at all.

Keep allowing flights of fancy, word plays, ideas and side-bars and scenes chapters irrelevant; or overwritten, overdetailed, whatever. Do them as necessary

then cut them away. Keep lashing the words and the work into the shape that lives somewhere inside it, obscured by excess.

And take joy, and hope that it's joy some will share, at each contour and line of that shape you reveal.


Or, not.

Just keep trying.

It's all you can do.

Monday, February 12, 2018

HliAT #30: That Walk That's Like ECH But It's Also Like Doable But It's Also Like _ech_....

How long it actually Takes to...

walk, briskly but not rushing
from the base of the steps at the intersection of O'brien Rd and Hennessy Road
in Wan Chai
up the steps then along the overpass/walkway
until you reach, by (I think) the basically most direct route
the lobby elevators of the Grand Hyatt Hong Kong09:47.19 sec

The methodology of this HliAT was to start the timer on my phone, then stop it. I was diligent with it! It took the silly thing a second to load as I began, so I walked down to the base of the steps to start clean.

So the point of this one was a thought about disruptions, and the tradeoff between one "big" "satisfying" disruption, vs. sitting there kind of picking away at one's distraction or hunger or whatever, over an extended work session.

And my takeaway is actually: yeah, things take a long time. The context is I was sitting in the perfectly nice, but kind of anodyne and corporate lobby cafe mezzanine area of this very nice hotel, and had been working for awhile, and was kind of wondering about getting some food or taking a break, and weighing the merits of the not-appetizing (all desserts), stupidly expensive snack foods available at this anodyne &c., versus walking into Wan Chai to get some real stuff. And I was telling myself, not incorrectly, that "the walk won't take that long" and if I just do it wouldn't take that long, and etc. BUT, I was also telling myself -- "it'll take awhile. It'll be disruptive."

And my takeaway with this HliAT is: that second thought's right. If you're desperate, or have budgeted an hour-long break: great, take the "short" walk, which sums up to over 20 minutes of walking going and coming, plus whatever time you spend wandering and choosing -- whatever; great, do that if you have an hourlong break, i.e. lunch or a real rest from work. But for just a break? Don't kid yourself. Stretch your legs, eat a protein bar -- stick with it, kid.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Honolulu Cafe, ~6:30am: a Text That I Sent to my Folks [hyperlinks added]

Family cha chaan teng update. Several notable ones near the fancy hotel. The one that opens earliest, Honolulu Cafe, is known more for its baked goods than savory breakfast sets. I wish the one known for its scrambled eggs opened early, but it opens at seven which--even when I'm not traveling--is much too late for the category of meal in question. I go to Honolulu Cafe at 515 and they have this neat thing going on that these places do where the metal screen is still down on the storefront but a small door within it is _open_; I hop in. It's dark and the guy says they're not open till six (I'm highly abbreviating a language-barrier interaction) but gestures for me to sit. I'm crestfallen but go with this; this is still my best bet for an early opening, and i don't want to bail on my cct outing. This turns out to be one of those times when the thwarting of my drive to use every minute of the day efficiently is great; I'm well aware that I'm "too" focused on this, and am good at being like 'hey maybe this is one of those times.' It was. I got work done and sat ina dark cct as the staff arrived, punched punch cards, bantered and complained. No one paid me any mind, after that first interaction. I wrote down the Cantonese that i needed on my work notepad, wanting to be ready to move through my optimal preferences here. At 6 on the dot a waiter came up; I ordered nai cha, bo lo bao, and daahn taht. The egg tart came first of the food, just after the tea. It was _great_; exceeded high expectations.
the egg tart did not last long enough for photographic evidence
this is the pineapple bun and the tea
The bo lo bao met high expectations -- it came out, fresh, about twenty minutes later. I was surprised that, on my running tab check on the table, the two 10s were the baked goods while the 21 was the tea -- I learned this whenI ordered my second tea. I loved every minute and got good work done. I will probably post this verbatim, with pic, but wanted to actually send it you first. Love you all. This isa fantastic city. Xo