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

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Hit It Running [1 of (presumably, we'll see) 2]

It's very cold here in Hong Kong, for Hong Kong, and apparently no one's prepared. On campus today, students took a final exam in full coats and hats. I am sitting in my cold little rental flat, a tiny space heater shaking its head back and forth at my side, because that is the only source of warmth available in the place. This is not because my host is a dingle; he's an excellent host. The city just is not prepared for the 40s, apparently.

I've already fallen asleep twice, radng ths. I'm just going to power through.

This is a post about a reasonably specific: an approach that, I have that I think may be of use as a data point to other people who derive a pleasure and satisfaction from pushing their bodies with physical exercise.

The point of this post is that, when you're traveling, you should ignore the voiehrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr

Start again.

The point of this post is that when you're traveling you should ignore the part of your voice that says "pull back, wait, give yourself a break" about your morning workout / evening workout / whatever. Here's what I mean:

It's worth refuting, this "take it slow, give yourself a break" mentality -- when you're traveling. It's worth refuting, therefore this blog post is worth writing, because it has smarts in it. This is in distinction to the general "nah" of laziness, mental or physical, that might keep you from doing the thing under everdyae

oh no, okay, wait! I just had a good dream. (I fell asleep for a couple of minutes, in front of this dumb little heater in my lovely little flat). I watched this movie, 77 Heartbreaks, on the flight over. Actually I watched ⅔ of it; jjjjjjjjjjjja

try again! 

Actually, I watched ⅔s of it, cuz the flight ended. But the microdream that I had one falling-asleep-at-the-keyboard ago involved a young couple clearly modeled on / looking like that young couple. And they're somehow....they are constrained by the fact that the borders of the phone screen is cutting off part of the picture on top (this hasn't yet happened in a way that's affected a good game I'm plyaing on my phone, but has happened) and so that's making it hard for decisions to get made

and the thing is he likes this one restaurant on one side of a little Hong Kong street
and she likes others, or one specific other
cuz they're opposites, see

and they can't agree!

and but then they meet in the middle of the street because neither of their respective companions showed up or ghy ol something and so there they are

this young couple

in the middle of a Hong Kong street; him in front of his restaurant

she in front of hers

and they see each other know the moment for what it is,
the Moment That They Met,

and then there's a funny postscript agout not fbeaofeah


funny postscript about

"which restaurant will they go to"

as they tug in opposite directions; and:


That's not what this post is about.

Okay so maybe I should start this again.

When you travel, reader, friend,
and if you--like me--are someone who gains pleasure from physical exercise
Hit it Hard.

You will have a voice that says, "whoa, wait, chillout. Take it easy."
And instead of being weak or whatever this voice might usually be characterized as
this voice will be compelling, worth following, because it contains the truth.
You're treavling, that's tiring; you were flying for whatever like 20 hours.
You need to conserve your strength.
Plus, you have less time, so the general idea of "work smarter, not harder"
don't waste the time of a workout on a second-rate workout
one that you're tired, a bit, during
one that you don't know exactly where the running rout leasd, or hwate0awi

the point is the idea of "taking it easy" might not seem crazy!
It's not crazy!
krush it.
Go. Do the thing.
Do it even if maybe you'll do it crappily, maybe you don't know the running routes yet
you're a bit tired you won't run good spltis

do. it.


(1) the nonspecific reason is that, barring injury or rhager yoaummmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmms

okay starting again reason 1 is:

non-specifically, "go do the thing" is very good advice. It's not always correct, of coruse,.T BUt htia

okay forget it I'll finish this tomorrow morning promise I will and promise I won't change anything obie ti a

nope! I am back. It is ten minutes later; I washed my face and now I'm in this tiny flat's even tinier bedroom--room for a twin bed and nothing else, the door can't even open properly with this bed in here--and the heater on heating the small space so back to the smart point I'm trying to make.

Maybe, let's review.
I went on a run this morning despite the fact that I had all kinds of reasons not to;
unlike most of the time when you have "all kinds of reasons not to" these reasons were somewhat defensible, since they related smartl yt to444444444444444444444444444444444444444444444444444444444444444444444444444444444444444444444444444444444444444444444444444444444444444444444444444444444444444444444444444444444444444444444444444444444444444444444444444444444444444444444444m

no i better give up i will finish thi stomorow

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Killed a Lizard

The western fence lizard is familiar to anyone familiar with the low-lying mountains of southern California; these scuttering, dusky little lizards pop up all over the place, doing their funny lizard push-ups and scampering up walls and all of the lizard things.
i didn't kill this lizard. i saved this lizard; the little interloper got caught in my door in my place in Topanga; I found it once it had exhausted itself from trying to scrabble up/through the glass, but (I really do think) before it was dehydrated past hope or whatever. I was able to scoop it up (carefully!) just with my hand and a sheet of paper, and release it.
On runs--not them; me--they do something else. I've indulged in many jeremiads about this thing that they do, to friends and family, because it is frustrating and self-endangering;

what they do is, when scampering across the path, while you're running, behave in a way that seems to me to be totally totally maladaptive if you're interested in not being eaten by a predator:

I am running on a narrow single track -- the whole thing is say two-and-a-half feet wide, hemmed in by thick chaparral and brush either side. A lizard darts out and, incredibly, instead of continuing its direction of motion to dash into the protection of the thick brush, charts a straight course that is clearly along my trajectory, as if trying to outrun me as of course it cannot since it is a tiny lizard, causing me to pull up my pace and often do all kinds of side-stepping calisthenics to avoid it. I've never had to, like, toss myself off the side of a cliff to avoid one, but I've sure stumbled and scratched up my legs and just generally emerged from these encounters shaking my head at the tiny reptile brains of these things that veer off what seems like a promising course to safety in order to endanger themselves (what if I were a hawk?) and also make me have to do silly trail-dances to dodge them. But I'd never--or, at least, not knowingly--stepped on one until a few days ago.

I've reviewed this a bunch; there really was not anything I could have done. This was not, actually, a scenario like the one I've just described. I'd feel worse then, because (presumably) if I'd simply stopped running the lizard would have escaped. This was more sudden. I was going downhill in Temescal, running the return of a pleasant short loop of the kind I've been doing a good deal of lately. I saw a flash of dark from the brush; it was either after I'd pushed off my left and was coming down on my (I'm pretty sure) right foot, or--the earliest possible, as my memory has it--just as I pushed off my left to come down on my right. Running perpendicular across my path. And the dark flash slipped perfectly underneath my shoe, disappeared for a moment during which I felt nothing, and then I was past it and on down the trail.

And I stopped, of course; and's not like this is so horrible, so if you're titillated by that sorry no dice, but it does get a bit unpleasant so perhaps you'll want to skip this paragraph. I'll put all the this-kind-of stuff in this paragraph. So I stopped, of course, and turned back up the trail; my idea was (a) to make sure, and (b) to see if, you know, there was a situation where I had to do a thing to finish a thing. And for a second I was happy, because I saw nothing, and then a saw a fluttering shadow and knew I'd been right. And I approached it, and it was already in the process of-- I don't know, it may not even have been conscious or neurologically active: it was flopping around like a broken machine, or a wind-up toy losing gearage with half its parts missing, jack-knifing in strange ways on its side, flopping spasms. It was a pretty big one, big as my hand nose to tail (for these lizards, at least the ones that I see, that is pretty big). And after some moments its flopping spasms subsided, replaced by twitches in its small, pronged lizard feet. I picked it up, pretty sure I would not need to do a thing to finish a thing; pretty sure it was finished. Its little feet still jerked and spasmed, but I was practically certain it wasn't in pain -- I had not popped its head or anything dramatic, but a thick foam of blood had soaked out from the whole right side of its jaw, and my guess is that I'd broken its neck or otherwise utterly shattered the machinery of its neurological/physical systems. It had a blue-brushed belly; a couple weeks earlier, talking to my parents about lizards on the trails, my mom had observed (from her internet research) that western fence lizards sometimes have blue bellies, and then said oh but maybe I haven't seen any like that, and I'd corrected her that no, they were dusky on top but I'd seen their blue bellies, I'd liked their blue bellies.

I held it in my hand -- after ten, fifteen seconds even foot twitches subsided. I laid it to the side of the trail, so its form would not be further mangled by footfalls. I hoped that something would come, eat it soon; I'm practically certain that hope was well-founded. I finished my run.

It's a small thing, compared to all the things. OF COURSE. But these inexorable things are, like, very inexorable; there's no positive gloss or yeah, but... I didn't beat myself up: I really don't think there's much I could have done. It just made me sad. And it felt/feels unfair, in the way of these things, and in a way that--perhaps--part of my sadness is about how these stories are always so broken and unfair. An existentially catastrophic thing happened to this animal; a thing that was--for I hope just a flash--horribly painful as well, no doubt. And I'm the one who gets to talk about it; I'm the one who gets to think about that lizard, on my next trail run, or right now, or whatever. I KNOW I AM TALKING ABOUT A F#*(ING LIZARD, THANKS; I GOT THAT. But it's a tyranny of narrative that applies to all of these things, and is why--leap here, lookout--our fixation on murderers and perpetrators of harm in the stories we tell is so odious to me. Because one of the grievous harms of physical and psychological harm, of victimization, is that it takes you out of the world in a way that ends your story. Ends or compromises your ability to tell it; ends or curtails the timeline of it. And it's not fair! To the extent that anyone did a bad thing in this setting, I did -- I went recreationally to a place that's not really mine, or that is I M H O more that lizard's than mine, and as a result of my going to that place and how I chose to behave there, even if I was not being a big crazy jerk, that animal died. I did the bad thing, but I get the story. That's bullshit. It's bullshit. That's not how it should be.

I'm glad I wrote this. I'm impressed with you, friendly reader, if you read it all through. But I wanted to write it as a not let myself, forget. Such a small, "stupid" thing; and isn't that crazy, too? Because it is small and stupid, compared to so many other things. I agree. BUT I BET IT DOES NOT SEEM THAT SMALL TO THAT LIZARD-- OH WAIT, NOTHING "SEEMS" ANY"THING" TO THAT LIZARD ANYMORE, BECAUSE I CRUSHED ITS BRAIN BENEATH MY SHOE BECAUSE I LIKE TRAILRUNNING.

Anyway: sorry, thanks. I will try to be nice to the world all around me, and all of the creatures and forms it contains. Thanks for reading.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

HliAT #29: Across the courtyard and back in a flash!

How long it actually Takes to...

move from the microwave (exactly: right in front of it) in the kitchen  
through the open door (i.e., no time spent opening/closing doors)
across the courtyard with a glass of water in hand;
place glass of water down onto your desk in 'garden-studio' (your room; door: also open);
move back from your room--
NOTE: all moving' = walking briskly,
neither hustling nor ambling--
again through door to kitchen
BACK to microwave
in time to press 'Cancel' so microwave doesn't beep
(important, cuz it's 5am.
Everyone's sleeping): 0:27 sec

The methodology of this HliAT was to start the microwave and note time upon departure (1:09) and return (0:42).

The useful takeaway from this HliAT is that, despite the fact that this time is >30 seconds, you cannot reliably cross courtyard to room with a thing in your hands and get back in time to cut off a 30 -second burst in the microwave (the easiest shortcut button to press, start a cycle). Because, while this time is >30 seconds, your margin of error is like three seconds and you don't want to miss out on 'Cancel'-ing the microwave before it is done and beeeeEEEps because [as noted] other people are sleeping. You already clattered a plate in the courtyard at like 4am (sorry, Housemates).

If you need to heat something for a 30-second burst, just press the button and wait for it, dummy.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Some of the instructions of Šuruppag

Reader, good evening. Here is the view out your humble scribe's door.

The door is open and the night is cool; your humble scribe is fully garbed, even unto sneakers and sweater, feet up on a stool with the door wide and this scene laid before him. He lives in a free-standing room in the middle of the backyard of a nice house. This is the backyard of that house, which--like most houses--is more than a 'house'; it is a lovely and distinctive community in which your humble scribe currently takes residence. The people you see are enjoying 'Friendsgiving' together and, bending towards year's end, singing Christmas carols. They are singing in euphonic, occasional harmony and with humorous, frequent gaps in the lyrics -- mmrhsmshmrling bits they do not know and laughing.

They are drinking. Earlier, at dinner, your scribe was as well. He glasses? of more-than-acceptable red wine.

More than enuf. But: speaking of gaps in the text:

"The Instructions of Šuruppag" (often transliterated as "Šuruppak" or "Shuruppak" (that Š gets a 'sh')) is one of the most famous--and complete--examples of Sumerian wisdom literature. 'Wisdom literature' is a term that you may be familiar with from other contexts; if not, it doesn't matter -- it does what it says on the box. Someone is imparting wisdom to someone else, often in the form of a mono- or duologue, and it is implicit that the wisdom conveyed reflects a value system someone felt was worth recording.

Your humble scribe has spent much of his weekend with this and related texts. Here are some bits of it.
get it, Reader? 'bits of it'...?
This picture is Creative Commons; thank you, Daderot.
Reader, this tablet and words etched upon it are dated to ~2500 BCE. Meaning: these words predate the common era by more than the advent (as it were) of the common era predates you; the gap between Šuruppak advising his son and a man on a cross between two chatty thieves is longer than the subsequent gap between those three unfortunate, crucified men and yourself.

That is how long people have been like this -- drinking, singing in gardens, giving advice: the whole all of it.

Here's some of what Šuruppak has to s--

oh! Last note: all translations are from the Electronic Text Corpus of Sumerian Literature, an indispensable resource that does not--insofar as your humble scribe can discern--offer individual attributions in its translations. But at least that credit can be given, and gratefully so.

101-102. Property is something to be expanded (?); but nothing can equal my little ones.

103-105. The artistic mouth recites words; the harsh mouth brings litigation documents; the sweet mouth gathers sweet herbs.
Your humble scribe suspects that there is some sophisticated, erudite gloss of 'sweet herbs' that makes this insight make...sense? It's not even a robustly parallel construction!

126. You should not pass judgment when you drink beer.
The singers outside are passing no judgment. They are singing, and laughing. But: point taken.

242-244. Nothing at all is to be valued, but life should be sweet. You should not serve things; things should serve you. My son, …….
This comes out of nowhere! There's advice about where to dig your well and "female burglars", and a lot of recognizable parental 'work hard, don't lie or mess around in bad stuff' type advice. And then BOOM: Šuruppak's like, 'possession is dust.'

261. Without suburbs a city has no centre either.

265. [...] of Dilmun [...]
Even an exceptionally complete piece of text from forty-five hundred years ago has some holes in it. Anyway: great advice, clrly.

266-271. {To get lost is bad for a dog; but terrible for a man} or, as a different tablet says {An unknown place is terrible; to get lost is shameful (?) for a dog.}
The second version is actionable, at least.

Good night, Reader.
Happy start to the end of the year.