Index Posts

I’ve now got a couple post series’ that have “Index” posts that join them all together. Much like a WikiWeb (not to be confused with wikipedia, fuck that garbage) CategoryPage I’m going to use this as a top-level permalink to those series indices. It’ll make things easier to find for me and anyone else who might be interested. I’ll add to this now and again as things accumulate. Then I’ll post a link to this page in its own little box on the main page.

So far there are only a couple:

9/11: Accounts of the day, the aftermath, narrations of same, and such.

Creativity and Commitment

Creativity and Commitment: The Index

I didn’t think this was going to be two posts, much less four. And it will probably end up being more than that. So rather than make interested parties traipse around this bucket of letters, here’s a top-level topic post.

2020/10/20: The End of the Beginning [Creativity and Commitment: 4]

20201020- Smokey

Ah the blank page…

There was a great post over on imgur some months ago about taking your anxiety and negative self-talk and assigning it an identity:

“God dammit. I’m not worth anything.  It’s amazing I even have the energy to get up in the morning.”

“Ah, that’s just Steve.  Steve’s a dick that lives in my head.  Fuck Steve.”

It was a screen shot of a tumblr post (because of course it was) and the comment thread of people emphatically agreeing with the technique, either through personal experience or the sense of how it “rings true.” 

Since the movie Inside Out came out it hasn’t been so alien an idea. But I have to agree with the tumblristas that actually using it as a tool to help mitigate your own internal processes, instead of just “tossing all your thoughts in a hopper” seems like something that would be tremendously useful.

The last quarter of Think and Grow Rich has a similar tenor.  Hill talks about how he would imagine a group of people in his head, historical figures if I remember correctly, and just run his imagination through sitting with these people, his council to talk through ideas.  While lauding the initial success he also adds that these characters became imbued with their own identities that he…didn’t foresee or particularly plan for, behavioral and personality ticks. 

Most astonishingly, he talks about abandoning the practice because, not to put too fine a point on it, freaked him the fuck out.  He felt these little personae he’d created in his head had taken on such a life of their own that they existed independent of his conscious imaginings.

I imagine that would create an incredible crisis of identity.  It’s no wonder he’d back away from it.

Give Think and Grow Rich a good reread. “We become what we think about.” Usually the most lauded encapsulation of Napoleon Hill’s wisdom from that seminal work is not NEARLY his greatest insight.

We’ve powers we can’t even imagine right at our fingertips, there to be harnessed at will if we have the Will and courage to diverge from the straight and narrow path of consensual normalcy.  Now, too many people will take that incorrectly as a statement declaring the relative nature of reality.  That’s a bunch of crap.  I mean a divergence from the normal pseudo Newtonian mechanics of day to day living that we’ve all more or less agreed to. 

It’s terrifying what we can accomplish if we’re truly of a mind to.  It MAY be glorious. But it’s at least terrifying.

I’m not sure if that’s going to come back in this little blurt.  But they’re pieces of a puzzle on the topic.

If you’ve read the last three of these you get some sense of how I’ve been fighting with my anxiety and neuroticism.  I simply must get a handle on it in order to continue living.  That’s it.  Non-negotiable.

A bit under three years ago I went to Denver to the first Feast of War held by Ivan Throne, where I had the great pleasure to meet the future Lord of Mars, Mr. Swift, and Alexander Cortes.

If you ever get a chance to meet any of those three Men, do it.  At the risk of sounding like this is going to sound, being in a room with them for a few minutes will change your life.

At one point Ivan asked the assembled table of men, about…10 I think, “Why are you here?”

I’d followed Ivan on twitter for the better part of a year by then, had started (but not finished) Nine Laws. (Read it.  It’s exceptional: https://www.amazon.com/Nine-Laws-Ivan-Throne-ebook/dp/B01LZ2FEGO/.) When it came around to me, feeling cheeky I said “I’m here to see if you’re full of shit.  The fact that Alexander is here as well is a bonus because I wanted to see if he was full of shit.” 

I got a raised eyebrow for my mouth and replied “It was obvious immediately upon meeting you.”  Which was absolutely true.

The conversation continued and, while fuzzy, Ivan said something about “fulfilling your sacred purpose.” And again I couldn’t keep to myself. 

“I envy that.  But I don’t understand it at all.  I don’t HAVE a sacred purpose. I don’t understand where it comes from.”  And I admittedly, quite rudely, hijacked the conversation into that topic for…a half hour, trying to figure out if they had something.  In retrospect I was looking for a silver bullet and hoping they had it, while knowing really that they didn’t.  But they did try to get out of me a statement of what really mattered to me.

Alexander at one point, sitting two to my right, picked up a butter knife and said “If I came over there with this knife and killed you, what would be your last thought?”  Again I said something deflective, with Mr. Swift called me out on, all to the good.

I don’t think anyone can answer that question until they’ve been in the situation.  Until you truly face down death you can’t know what your answer would be. Humans are uniquely good at lying to themselves, creating their own stories to cover for the uncomfortable reality of their lives.

I’m not all that proud of my conduct that evening.  But I’ve kinda gotten over it.  It was what I could manage at the level I was operating on back then. 

So the questions remained.  It really took Jordan Peterson to hand me the mirror I’d been looking for, being exposed to Big Five theory had the same effect as learning about survivor guilt a few months after 9/11, “Oh, THAT’S what that is.  Okay well at least I can cordon it off as a thing I know about myself.”  Though unlike surivior guilt, the understanding of being “high neurotic” did backfire a bit on the way towards clarity.  It became a bit of a crutch. “Oh well, I guess this is what I am” and such.

Well I was wandering around my house this morning whining to myself, yelling “Shut up Steve” and chuckling to myself, trying to find my way out of that mess for what is probably the several thousandth time, getting more and more frustrated with the same intellectual arguments, feeling like I was trying to pull a cruise ship off course by treading water with a rope.

I got fed up and said “GOD DAMMIT!  I JUST WANT TO CREATE BEAUTIFUL THINGS!”

And the world stopped.

God dammit.  I just want to create beautiful things.

It was so simple.  It’s always been true.

With an absence of purpose bordering on nihilism, the truth of beauty stands out as its own reward.

It helps explain the diffuse nature of my interests.

The thing about writing software, which is arguably the thing I’m best at, is that no matter how subtle and beautiful your ideas and code can get, it’s still “just engineering.”  Even at its height.

When you look at the work of the greats there’s an elegance to it that’s absolutely impossible to ignore if you’ve got the barest sense of what’s going on.

That beauty isn’t accessible to the outside world.  It’s not visible even to the users of the application, only to other engineers. 

Sure, that may be enough to the majority of programmers (and it may not. I don’t know. I’m not “most” anything.)

That’s not good enough.  I love writing software. I expect I always will. 

That’s why I was drawn so strongly to the Struthless video mentioned in the first post in this series.  “Do one thing every day that pulls in a single direction and you’ll lift yourself out of the morass and confusion of undirected flailing about.”  It’s a perfect sentiment and rang true with me.

The problem is I didn’t really have a clear statement in my head about what I was shooting for. 

So I proclaimed “I’ll write a page of fiction a day” and “I’ll do one simple drawing a day” because, well, they seemed like things I’ve always wanted to do. 

Last Wednesday I’d gotten myself so torn up in knots about what to write (though, perhaps ironically, not what to draw) that I said “screw it. I’m taking a day off.”  Well, it’s been a week. And while I felt guilty about breaking the promise I’d made to myself for a bit, I…got over it.  In fact I got over it really fast.

It was tough to forgive myself for it. But this whole “egg beater in my brain” thing has to fucking stop.  I have to get a handle on it to continue living.  I’m high fooking neurotic on the best of days but now that I’m “nominally retired” and have no reason to get up it’s gotten worse not better.  Add to that the dumpster fire of this year and I’m nearly surprised I’ve literally lived through this much of this year.

No no, I’m not that selfish.  I defeated that demon about 35 years ago (not that the outcome of that battle was so foregone a conclusion.)  There’s just no way to talk about it without cranking the nomenclature up to 11.

There’s a lot more I have to cull from my list of casual pursuits:  Infosec stuff has to go. I’m not a hacker.  I’ve never been a hacker.  I’m never gonna be a hacker.  And there are a couple more in there.  Brewing, like I said, has already gone as a serious pursuit.

Baking is a bit rough since I’m trying to keep the carbs down. But I can be satisfied staying down at dilletante level, baking for friends and holidays. Baking sourdough now and again to keep my chops up to something reasonable.

The long and the short of this is that I have some exploring to do.  Being uncommitted because you’re just a fucking scatterbrained neurotic is one thing.  Active exploration of media is something else. 

I’ve got a few ideas in my head and I think there’s room to try a lot of these things out without diluting myself overmuch.  I’m not going to speak to it all too much, if at all.  There are a few projects I’ve really wanted to complete

After all, that’s what this year was supposed to be about, finding out what I really wanted to do.

“This year” has five days left. 

2020/10/14: Dilution and Bad Promises [Creativity and Commitment: 3]

I’ve been trying to map my way around the confusion of these daily tasks I’ve set myself and the attending neurotic chaos it’s produced in my head.  This morning, likely not for the first time, I drew a straight line between these tasks and playing video games, which says rather a lot about how I feel about both.

The problem with video games is the way your focus is stolen, diluting your potential as a human on something close to all facets.  And before gamers get up my ass, yes, there’s value in some of them.  Hell, a lot of them.  There are great stories and such. Blah blah blah.  That’s not what I’m talking about.

It’s easy to fall in to the simple trap of thinking that an hour a day of playing video games represents a cost of an hour a day. 

So you budget yourself your hour a day and feel relatively good about it.  You stick to that hour, shut down when it’s done and go to bed…or whatever.

But that’s not taking up an hour of your day.  You log off or shut down and it’s drifting through your head.  “What if I’d done this?  What’s the plan for tomorrow?”  You wake up the next morning and, along with the rest of your mental effluvia you think “Hmm…I can get past that level, finish that dungeon, if I did this instead.  Yeah that might work.”  Maybe you leave it there.  Maybe you poke around on youtube [note: I actually typed ‘yourube’ there and was really tempted to leave it like that.  Instead I’m leaving this note in] and find a video or two on fetching that particular golden dingus.

As you lead up to your allotted playtime you get a little anxious and, like 4:30 on a Friday you pretty much hang up the rest of the day. 

You get a snack and a beverage, set yourself up and play for an hour and stop. 

Thinking you’ve played for an hour.

Weeks go by and you can feel that nagging sensation that something’s…off.  But it doesn’t occur to you what the problem is because, on paper, you’re following the rules you’ve set out for yourself.

Got the principle?  Let me say it 19 other fucking ways because that’s how I work an idea around and set it in my head.  It’s not really me being patronizing, though it’ll no doubt seem that way.

The cost of an ancillary pursuit is not in the time spent actively pursuing it, but in the attention it demands when you’re not.  An hours task a day is a perfectly reasonable amount of time to spend on something, assuming you even could.  But creativity, interest, and progress has a tremendous amount to do with the time between the cracks that you spend on the pursuit.

See, I knew I’d get somewhere with this if I just wrote it out. 

This dovetails with the phenomenon of the Eureka moments that come to us when we’re “in the shower” or otherwise not engaged.  Your (well, my, and I assume your) mind doesn’t REALLY ever stop thinking about something.  The very idea of delineating blocks of time for you to be engaged in a pursuit, after which you can stop and work on something else is an entirely illusory notion.  Brains just don’t fucking WORK that way. 

Everything you do puts things in the hopper of your mind, just behind your consciousness for processing.  It doesn’t really matter how much time you think you’re spending on these things, they’re all in the fucking hopper, being processed by the majority of the magnificent engine that partitions only a small portion of itself off for maintaining consciousness. 

Owing to the nature of consciousness, we think that’s the majority of what’s going on because consciousness seems to be related to our perceptual linkages…

[ Well wait…that’s not right.  We react to things before we realize we’ve perceived them. (That’s some heady stuff to read about.)  It’s…almost as if our more primary (primal?) circuitry is higher in the processing queue for stimuli and only passes it along after it’s done with it, going up the line to consciousness, down in priority until we actually have something to deal with ourselves. 

Eh. That’s an aside…I think. ]

If you try this sometime I think you’ll see what I mean.  Just stop yourself, close your eyes, take a few deep breaths and see what comes up in your head.  You only need to do it for a few seconds. If you can manage not to have any one particular thought grab your attention and lead you off in one direction you’ll find that it’s complete chaos behind your eyes.  That’s your normal state. That’s what’s going on behind your consciousness.  You’re trying to play gatekeeper. But your mental potential is being absolutely squandered by that madness. 

Now I’m particularly high in trait Neurotic (of Big Five fame) so I’m particularly prone to that kind of internal horseshit. But that just means (as a metaphor, I’ve no idea what the actual mechanics of this are on a biological level) that the aforementioned chaos doesn’t stay put and the barrier at the back of my consciousness is permeable so it comes forward and manifests itself as internal dialog. 

It makes me wonder if that’s not what high neurotic really is, at some level at least. Impossible for me to say, certainly. But it’s an interesting Way of Talking at the very least.

Alright. Now let me circle back again.  Given that and the prior couple posts in this series, and redescribe what it is I’ve been doing:

I watched that Struthless video and decided “Okay, time to trim down my hobbies. Plus I’ll do one thing a day.  I’ll write a page of fiction”  I actually added something else. A simple drawing exercise because I’ve always wanted to learn how to draw.

So I poured out most of my aging mead.  The stuff I already have bottled I left alone since it’s zero maintenance.  Gallons of the stuff.  I’m just not doing it anymore. 

I bought myself a set of notebooks which came half blank notebooks, half ruled, and committed myself to one drawing and one page of fiction a day.  The drawing is of the same subject, much like his Ibis.

So I get up in the morning and say “FUCK.  What the hell am I going to write today?” and I watch the time drag on, dick around online and get some administrivia and crap done.  But hey, as long as I get my two things done I’m golden, it’s a successful day, right?

I eventually stop carping and do my daily push-ups (because oh yeah, I do that too) and, a trip to the cigar lounge to write or to the stupidmarket to pick up food, or to Lowe’s to buy stuff to screw around in the shop (because…yeah, you guessed it) or a trip to Johnathan’s and suddenly it’s dark. 

Well yeah, it’s October, so it’s dark by six something.  But people are home from work and twitter is starting to light up and I’m getting hit after hit after hit of those juicy juicy dopamine interactions.

I look to the left and there’s my notebook standing there tapping its foot “no bed ‘til you’re done.”

A few times in the last week I was up after 3am going through writing prompts, looking for SOMEthing to write, having scribbled some doodle in the other notebook out of sheer impatience with myself.

Of course once I’ve actually selected something and the pen has hit the paper the words come pretty damned fast.  Sure I have to spend a couple minutes structuring something in my head. But that rarely does more than help me get started.  More often than not the challenge becomes stopping at a page.  NOT that “strictly one page” is the rule.  But I think about the task in terms of “one page. Get it done.” Sure, a couple times I’ve been captured by the spirit and gone for a couple/few instead.  And sometimes I’ll actually continue a story from a prior page.  I’ve even got them numbered so it’ll be easy to follow if it’s the case.

Then I have that absolute wave of cool water cascading around in my mind that’s just liquid relief.  I did it. I finished my day and “didn’t not do it.”

Off to bed.

So many things I haven’t done. 

So much time staring at the clock and dicking around doing really nothing other than waiting and agonizing about what it is that I’m going to be faced with when I knuckle down.

The couple/few times I’ve gotten off my ass and gotten it all done within a couple hours of getting my ass out of bed the rest of the day is spent exulting rather than agonizing, but still preoccupied with the task.

There are projects that are admittedly, and in any serious way, far more important to me than these two little pursuits.  They’re curiosities.  My software development has…well, being honest it’s ceased entirely.  I’ve not written more than five lines of code in a couple weeks. 

That’s not okay.  It’s got to change. 

I haven’t lit the forge. I haven’t built the anvil stand, though the plans for something pretty clever and simple are right there on my whiteboard.  I did spend some time in the shop Saturday screwing up the build of a bookshelf. But that’s okay. I don’t mind the failed experiment.

So the question becomes this:

Did I make myself a bad promise and if so can I just walk away from it?

Or (and here’s some fucking neurosis for you, strap in)…

Am I reaching the first hump of difficulty because I’m just finishing week two of this habit/pattern and weaving a series of well-founded excuses out of raw aether because “Waaaaa, it’s getting haaaarrrdddd.” And should I therefore stfu, knuckle down and just get it done first thing in the morning so I can move on to other things?

I’m not sure how to tell the difference.  Is this a dilution of my potential by squandering it in multiple directions?  Do I try to turn it all on its head and focus on project work rather than daily habits? (aside from the metahabit of getting my ass in the chair/shop to do the work every day on a timed schedule?)

The curse of being able to reason out either perspective (or is it a false dichotomy?) is that I have no reason to believe one or the other is more accurate.  All of it is just a mind game.

As I’ve said for years, we don’t discover our purpose, we decide.  But that’s convenient and self-serving.  Maybe I should turn all my efforts to HHC. My god what I could accomplish if I focused on that project and where it led me. Or any of a thousand other things.

 I don’t know how to tell.

2020/10/12: Tech Brainstorming [HHC M of N]

20201012-Smokey-TechBrainstorming

This is just some brainstorming for projects in the front of my mind.

I always find that doing this frees my mind up to take an idea a little bit farther.  Plus, the more different things I mix in the same session, the more seemingly strange connections I end up making. Eventually there’s a point past synthesis when I get in to real creativity.  So if instead of just blurting this out to a word doc in a cigar lounge I actually intentionally added these kinds of things to my personal desktop wiki or another blackboard style format, I’m sure I’d come up with both more simplifications and more interesting ideas. 

The general scope here is “managing my data.”  So I started with a few headings and just started going from there, with an overall goal of keeping everything in one loosely-coupled but still cohesive system.

Have fun trying to figure out wtf I’m talking about or hell, give me some ideas if you’ve got any kicking around.

  • Images and Music

So this nonsense with the iPhone image format (heif?  Dafuq Apple?) has me rolling my eyes on one hand, but it reminds me that I’ve been wanting to write a media import script to keep my pictures, documents, and such in a well-defined tree. 

Sure the /root/* stuff on the external drives is a reasonable structure. But frankly even that’s become a mildly well partitioned dumping ground.

If I can find a python library for handling that nonsense I’ll add something to it that saves a ./original/ copy then converts it to jpg. 

While I’m there, something that traverses the jpg files and rips out the exif data will do my sense of sanity some good.  Actually…shit, no.  Actually what I’ll do is extract a copy of the exif data as a json file so I can keep a database and maybe use some of what’s actually in there (not sure what all it contains) to categorize the images themselves.

Yeah I like that.

I could probably do the same thing with mp3 files as well.

  • Text content

Take the wiki engine and merge it with something like bloxsom (or some generic text/markdown file storage) to merge my writing (import from word?) blog entries and such in a single library with a couple different front-ends. Then I could rip a bunch of code against it for higher-level processing, tag clouds, etc. Maintain a ‘publish’ tag for things that would be mirrored to a largely-static external website. 

I really like that idea, since nominally different types of content could still be easily represented. 

Shit I could add a JSON -> markdown module so I could view just about anything from a single console.

I wonder how easy it would be to build something like that that was sufficiently flexible without being too brittle.

  • Emails

I think an alert system that ran against Thunderbird’s mbox files, spliced into the old import scripts would be really useful.  Take, for instance, newsletters from AJAC or Bevans could be promoted and shuttled off to a reading inbox.

I could use a similar system to capture my clippings directory, where I save things like twitter or reddit threads.

  • SIP

Again, if I can figure out how to build a pdf or ps file in python that will print duplex, then print it automatically in the morning I’d be able to take my todo list and generate a simple hipster pda sheet that’d be waiting for me every morning when I got up. 

Hell, the sound of the printer might even be a sufficient alarm.

Either way it would dovetail well with a todo list/project management system that traversed the contents and built priority listings and dependency trees.  THAT would be exceptional if I could get a diagraming package (something like graphviz/dot, with less ‘auto-layout’ and more programmatic positional layout) to build something like actual tech trees for ease of visualization.

  • Contacts

Import vCard and csv files into a standard json format and get that synced with either iCloud or something else that’d sync down to my phone.  Getting real tired of having half assed contact management.  Deduping becomes the primary issue. 

IF I had a UI on the front of it I could present a side-by-side based on common key fields (either email, last & first name, or normalized phone number) so I could clean that damned list up.  With so many imports and exports I’ve got 3 copies of Joe’s contact card on my phone and none of them have his phone number.  That horseshit has to stop.

  • Frameworks and front-end

Most of this could technically happen without any UI at all. But a simple web front-end or Electron app (but I repeat myself) would be really nice.  The guys seem to like Vuetify as a framework.  I’ll give it a shot. Surely there’s a tutorial kicking around somewhere I can follow.  Everybody loves writing a todo list tutorial for their pet framework.

Problem is I’ve got an image in my mind of what I want from a web framework and I’ve got a really bad feeling that I know what’s going to happen.

A framework and generator script pair that would build a ‘module’ (whatever the fuck that was) based on a spec of a back-end script and some information about required parameters that could be plugged in to a page/app easily would prevent me from having to hand roll (even with a rich framework) each new addition.

  • Log viewing for a ux

A framework that had modules as discussed above could have an added facility to hunt around for a well-known log file name which it could display on an auto-refresh of some kind.  Then add some kind of ‘expect’ style output scanning and it could re-sync an essentially async process.

If I broke these all down to unix design philosophy command line scripts (probably a metric fuckton easier than dealing with it any other way) then I could bang out functional components at a considerable rate.

 Welp, I’m finished with my 2nd cigar and have to hit the stupidmarket for…well, cheese and water.

So I’m going to post this as is just for fun.

I didn’t cover RSS feeds or using RSS as a format at all. But that’s somewhere in my head with all this stuff as well.

2020/10/12: …and miles to go before I sleep [Creativity and Comittment: 2]

[This is probably the 93rd post I’ve made with that title. Deal.]

I’m really here because I haven’t been here in a while.  I guess it’s been the better part of a week.

Damn. My brain just isn’t all that thirsty for the word today.

I saw a tweet by @deeperthrill

  • You need to build momentum with whatever you’re doing. Because the minute you stop rolling a boulder up a hill, it starts to roll back down.

And I realized that my attempts to pursue multiple threads is just getting me absolutely nowhere.  My commitment to a page of fiction a day based on my previous post is just a bunch of crap if I’m not committing myself to an actual project.  

Sure, it’s a useful exercise. But those little bites of disjointed productivity aren’t doing me any real favors if I don’t put them in the context of the rest of my day.

What’s going on is something like this:

I wake up in the morning with a little bug in my ear saying “so what  are you going to write about today?” and I treat it like homework.  Being high neurotic means I’ll let it claw at my brain all day.  So then, ‘round about 9 or 10 o’clock I’ll open my notebook and glance over at it while traipsing through my mind (or back through prior pages) to see what kind of vignette I can come up with, either from a writing prompt or from the back of my mind, I can blurt out to a page.

Once I’ve got one and I get the first sentence in (a process which can take anywhere from 10 minutes to 5 hours, biasing towards the latter) the rest just dumps out to the page pretty much as fast as I can move the pen.

And it feels great to do.  It really feels like an act of creation (unlike, strangely this which, while fun, is in truth little more than a therapeutic exercise.)  Once I’m done I push my wheeled desk chair back and exhale as through I’d been holding my breath for the entire time.  It usually backs right in to my keyboard, which I haven’t touched more than twice since I bought it a few months ago.

Then I walk away, satisfied that “I did what I said I was going to do.”  Keeping a promise to myself to write at least a page of fiction every day in Q4.

The problem is that fiction isn’t really my primary goal.  It’s just a thing I wanted to get good at.   Yeah maybe I’ll “actively pursue” it at some point. But right now it just feels like it’s sucking up my attention and focus.  I’m getting almost nothing done because I said that was what I had to do every day,  (There are other things I’m doing every day, push-ups, logging my weight and some other stuff I’m nowhere near sharing.)

So then what is the value of the promise?  I’m really bad at keeping promises to myself so is this just me trying to weasel my way out of something because it’s a little tough? 

If you’re low neurotic I think that last sentence may make no sense to you.  It’s taken me a long time to figure out that people just don’t think that way. 

What good is a promise to yourself if it keeps you from yourself in a real way?

Here’s some contorted logic for you sane people to chew on:  What if the promise of engaging in a new pursuit was made for the express purpose of distracting myself from my primary interests, in the name of “expanding my mind” as a clever dodge to justify my lack of focus?

So then, what about committing to fiction as my primary project or pursuit, even for a time?  Even typing that question leaves me short of breath with anxiety.  What about all the other stuff?  Working on the house. Building my own bookshelves (because I priced them out at $420 for a 7’ shelf for plain pine and they can kiss my ass with that shit) or my development projects?  Robotics? Infosec? Music?  I’ve already given up brewing entirely. 

Maybe…hmm… there are a couple stories in my little notebook of one-page efforts that I’d really like to finish.  Okay commit to finishing one of those stories at least. No idea what I’ll do with it once it’s done.  Hell, maybe I’ll just post it here. (So I guess this is going to be a blog post in a few minutes.) 

If I clean my slate of everything but that and some administrivia that I have to accomplish (which isn’t really trivia. It’s more important than just about anything as it’s logistical life stuff) I can probably get that done in a couple days.

Here’s a thing that used to happen most weekends when I was working full time:

Friday evening I’d get home, sit down at the computer and I’d say “Okay, I’ve got 48 hours to myself.  I can take this time and really accomplish something great.”  I usually meant in terms of a software project, and the ‘great’ was less objective than personal. 

Every once in a while I’d actually do it. I’d open my editors, kick off my testing environment and start ripping away at a project and get far enough that I was proud of my accomplishments. Along the way I’d have all of those “activity begets interest” insights all over again. I’d get in The Zone and just rip.

But it was VERY rare.  I’d usually end up going to bed hating myself for my lack of productivity and laziness.  So I’d go through a few weeks of that then reformat my primary desktop computer and put linux on it rather than windows since I couldn’t be tempted to play games.

Linux, though, on the desktop is pretty damned horrible still.  So I’d get fed up after a couple days and reintall windows, again defeated.

The real enemy for me is completing projects, always has been.  That’s one of the reasons this format comes so damned fluidly to me.  Its not a project. It’s got no beginning, middle, or end.  It really is just me babbling into a word document, letting my fingers drag my mind across the keyboard, come what may.

So…if that’s the real difficulty, then I’m trying to solve the wrong problem.  “Doing little things consistently” is right in principle. But not if they’re all different little things.  Again I’m slapped in the face by how strongly my current effort flies in the face of the Struthless video from my last post. 

Yes, writing a page or more of even disjointed fiction is a great task for getting my brain to just write. But doing so while working towards completion of single projects is going to be immeasurably better for my soul.  It forces me to learn something about story structure, characterization and pacing. 

Okay yeah.  So for now the slight tweak will be to complete the short story I’ve worked on a couple times throughout those previous 11 days of October and not to just “work on anything as long as I get the page down.”

Here’s another thing that I’ve realized recently:  I don’t actually KNOW anybody who’s a creator, not in my day to day life (there’s an exception that occurs to me off the top of my head. But Tad’s back in NY.)  I know an awful lot of cool people. But they’re not generally people who would self-define as “creatives.”  So, coming at this blind I’m trying to teach myself, with no example, what that kind of life is actually like.

You (read: I) wouldn’t think it would matter so much. But those attitudes and behaviors (probably what Peterson would call “microhabits”) are almost completely alien to me.  A lot of people whose content I consume online are of the “find what you’re passionate about and just keep driving.”  And that really seems like “let your muse through” hogwash.  Where’s the practice, the downtime.  Are Creatives really consumed by their artistic passion such that it’s on their mind all the time?  It sounds as wonderful as it does exhausting. 

I can’t imagine what it would be like to hang out at a bar with a bunch of creative people for a good long ass session. 

I’ve hit the writing equivalent of a 7 minute lull so I think I’m just going to post this as is and go on to something else.

This is starting to feel like it’s going to become a series, of which this will be the second part.

Fiction vs NonFiction [Creativity and Comittment: 1]

I just posted a quick 2500 word thing on it being the 5 year anniversary since I moved from New York to Nashville.

At a meta level this had me connect a couple interesting dots. 

First, some background.

An internet friend of mine sent me a link to this video:

It’s exceptional.  Watch it.  I’ll wait.

Well, one of the couple things that came out of that was a personal commitment to write a page of fiction a day for Q4.  So I’ve been doing exactly that.  I got some little folio notebooks that fit in the 5×8 cover I made and I’ve been dutifully, if painfully writing a page of fiction each day for the last couple. 

I’ve always wanted to write fiction and it really doesn’t come easily.  This kind of internal narrative is easy as pie since it’s really just stream of consciousness right on to the page.  Most of the things you’ll ever read from me were written in a single shot and posted with maybe a quick look for spelling mistakes.  I don’t go back and think about structure at all.

In fact my writing process for these posts is exactly this:

Pack my laptop and a bunch of talismanic toys and head to the cigar lounge (before the world was on fire I’d go to Barnes & Noble. But frankly that never worked as well as this does.) I camp out at a high top table, plug in my Surface Pro, a bunch of equipment including a mouse, a usb hub, my phone, a pwnagotchi (just…don’t ask.)

THEN I go to youtube and start my writing playlist going on a loop.  Here’s a link to THAT.  Go check out some of those songs. They are NOT what you’d think of as “writing soundtrack” songs.  I’ll frequently get to one that hits me just right, right-click it and select *loop*.  Right now, for instance I’m listening to “She don’t dance no more” on repeat and have been for ABOUT 2 hours. Yes. Two hours on a continuous loop. 

So a couple days ago when I pulled out my notebook to get the night’s page of fiction done I naturally reached for this playlist.  I hit it, Lights came on and my brain immediately just fucking fried.  It was blank.  It was noise in my head and I just couldn’t fucking get anywhere near the place in my head where the fiction was going to come from.  I switched back and forth between tracks and nothing. I finally shut it down and went back to the page.

Nothing.

FUCK.

Well I tried other stuff.  Ambient “binaural music for studying.”  Nope.  Closer, but no cigar. 

Utterly perplexing.

On a hunch I went diving into my programming soundtrack playlist, which is MUCH different.  Some of the lower key ambient stuff from there ended up serving very well, then I added “rainymood.com” in another window. Yep.  Golden. 

The words didn’t actually flow so easily since I wasn’t just scraping the scum off the top of my consciousness, as is usually the case.

Maybe it’s obvious to everyone but me. But I find it a startling piece of information: The two types of writing come from markedly different places in my head. They’re vastly different thought processes.

One flows like water and there’s of course an argument, hell, even an argument from the aforementioned video, that says I should stick with that and really crank down on it.

But there’s another train of thought I have that leads me to think that what I should be doing is stretching myself in unknown directions. 

Is it…diluting my (*hurl*) talents?  Or is it learning new skills for the toolbox? 

The problem of having too many hobbies hits me square between the eyes. After all it sounds cool as fuck to say “I’m a blacksmith, woodworker, mead brewer, writer, programmer…” etc.  Even if I DO have to add the “Oh I SUCK at most of those. But they’re fun, so…” rider to the end of them.  It serves my narcissism well but my ego poorly.  People find that all very fascinating as I preen with their reactions.

But it’s a bunch of crap isn’t it. I don’t do enough of almost any of it to be any good. So it’s just lying, to myself and to other people. 

So the new task is to at LEAST stop talking like that. 

I’m not sure what that means.  Not really. But I’ll figure it out.

In the meantime, the places my head has to go in order to get out my daily page of fiction (no, I’m not posting it here) is really fascinating.  It feels as though I’ve gone from traveling in jets to walking. 

There’s something vitally important in the journey itself that perhaps I’m otherwise missing.

We’ll see.

5th Anniversary: New York to Nashville

20201003 – Smokey

I don’t remember it being particularly cold.  But I remember that drive, all 16 or more hours of it.  I sure remember that fucking rain.  Holy shit.  It’s something of a miracle that I did it all in one trip. 

It’s five years, to the day since I schlepped my way down here, upstate New York to Nashville, Tennessee.   As with all stretches of time it’s been long and short.  It feels like another life because it was and it feels like nothing’s changed because it hasn’t.

I remember the months leading up to it, trying to divest myself of almost all of my possessions.  If it didn’t fit in the truck, it had to go or perhaps stay.

Nashville wasn’t such an easy choice and I’m not all that sure I made the right one in an objective sense.  But what the fuck does ‘objective’ actually mean in this sense anyway?  I was going away not going to. 

“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”

 Alice speaks to Cheshire Cat

“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.

“I don’t much care where–” said Alice.

“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.

“–so long as I get somewhere,” Alice added as an explanation.

“Oh, you’re sure to do that,” said the Cat, “if you only walk long enough.”

Lewis Carroll, Alice In Wonderland

So back in…hell I think it was March of that year, 2015, I bought a US map and spread it out on the kitchen table and I sat and looked it a while, not sure what I was looking for. 

I’d lived out of Brooklyn for too many years (3) and desperately wanted to get back to a city like environment where I could walk from home to a watering hole so as not to be overly concerned about my path back home.  So… cities of a reasonable size. 

Someplace that was a bit more open about gun ownership, which meant south and/or west.

No, Texas was just too damned hot.

As an aside I’d been listening to Julia Fowler’s “Shit Southern Women Say” videos on youtube.  It twisted my head to look at Nashville.  Not so hot as Texas, but 9ish hours from Dallas, 9ish hours from New Orleans, a long but reasonable haul back to New York for holidays and such…

Okay, let’s give it a look. 

Not quite prepared to just launch myself in to the void on blind faith I planned a little trip.  Well…I planned the time window for a little trip. I didn’t plan squat other than a roughly  downtown hotel and five or six days. 

I drove down my birthday week, early June.  The drive down 81 through Virginia was just gorgeous.  I noticed as I stopped for gas farther and farther south, not bothering with the big truck stops, that each stop took a little bit more time.  I’d get in to the odd conversation here and there. 

“Yeah had ta take the truck down from the mountain and wash it.  The pollen up there you wouldn’t believe.”  Indeed her truck has a telltale yellow pallor.  I’d get in to little “how’s your trip” and “where ya headed?” conversations with the people behind the counters when I’d grab a snack or a redbull to help push me through. 

Before I was really in to audiobooks, I was spending a fair amount of energy changing stations as my route grazed moderate sized broadcast radii. At one point I heard a radio contest going on.  A caller would start with a $100 prize and they’d decide whether to take a chance at doubling their money or take the cash. If they took the chance they were waiting on  I think it was actually Bessie the cow.  They’d “milk the cow” and either get a squirt of milk or Bessie would kick the pail (with the appropriate sound effects.)  If Bessie kicked the pail, it was over and you lost everything.  Otherwise you could keep going.

I don’t think I’d laughed that loud in months. 

I stopped at Smokey Mountain Knifeworks which was just..a candy store, and bought a nice little gentlemen’s folder with a titanium handle, dangerously straddling the border between fancy and gauche.  It’s still in my sportcoat pocket.

I was determined not to get involved in touristy crap during those four or five days down here.

I’d just drive around to try and get the lay of the land.  Eventually I did what I do and took my laptop down to Barnes & Noble in Cool Springs, the only one around that was really big enough to justify visiting (I have since confirmed.)

New York requires front and back license plates, unlike Tennessee, so it was something of a bumper sticker. 

I parked my little Taco a bit out in the parking lot and, as I got out I realized someone was coming at me.  A late middle aged guy was walking dead at me, away from the store.  I couldn’t figure out what was going on.  The truck was to my right and there was nobody behind me.  I watched his gate and leaned forward a bit, my hands at my front pockets. Hell my eyes were probably half closed.

“Afternoon” He said, one hand up.

“Afternoon” I drew out a bit.

“Hey, I noticed you had New York plates.”

“Yeah I…drove down here a couple days ago, figured I’d visit and see if I wanted to move down to the area.”

“Well we’re real proud of our community I just thought I’d stop by and say welcome.  I hope you decide to come down.  Have a great day.”

“Hey thanks man, you too.”

He turned to walk in to the store and I was left standing there, crouched, my hands an inch away from a pair of knives I keep in my front pockets. 

I had a flash and I started chuckling to myself, stifling a good solid belly laugh.

I was the psycho.  I was the crazy person in this equation.  Not him.  Me.  And in that moment I realized… “I HAVE to move down here.  I’m wound WAY too tight.”

I can’t even resist laughing about it here in the cigar lounge, drawing a couple looks.  But at this point the regulars are used to me bobbing my head to my writing soundtrack and muttering/chuckling to myself at odd intervals about nothing in particular.

I walked downtown a few times and found, to my delight an upstairs bar, somewhat obscured called The Wheel.  Apparently…you could smoke a cigar in there.

Well that was that.  I headed in and up the stairs and was met with a plain dirt bar with a little glass “humidor” at one end. 

I plopped down, waited for the bartender and smoked a cigar or three.  I came back a few nights and somehow had forgotten to get the bartender’s name.

I made small talk with guys who’d wander in and out.  Groups of woo girls would come up and, disgusted by the smoke, leave immediately, which would elicit a fist pump or three from the bar.  The rest of Broadway was their domain.  We needed someplace to go while they bitched at bartenders about their cosmos and whine about it being their birthdays, failing to get free drinks.

I talked with one gentleman and told him what I was up to. 

“So, do you have a job down here?  What brings you to Nashville specifically?”

“Nothing.  I’m just here checking it out, figure I’ll move down in a few months.”

“What do you do?”

“Programmer.”

“What kind?”  Oh here we go.

“Okay…most people when they ask that don’t…really know what they’re asking.”

“Well what’s your primary implementation language?” Huh.  Guy didn’t look like a tech.

“C++.  I’m a server side guy, just did a couple decades on wall street and enough is enough.”

“No shit?  I’m actually looking to hire a couple senior C++ guys.”  You’re shitting me.  Wouldn’t that just be amazing.

“You’re shitting me.  Wouldn’t that just be amazing.”

He shifted in his seat a bit.  “Yeah…there’s only one problem.”

“Uh oh, what’s that?”

“I’m just in town for a conference.  The job’s in Cheyenne.”

“Cheyenne?  Wyoming?”  oof.

“Yep.  I run a mining concern.”  A phrase I’d never heard a human utter.

“Oh man.  That’s… a long way away from Tennessee or New York.”

“Yeah.  Gorgeous town though.”

“Not a lot of girls I’ll bet.”

“No.  Not a lot of C++ programmers either.”

“Yeah I’ll bet not.” 

We shared a couple more drinks before wishing each other well and he left.

I still wonder what would have happened if I’d taken that bait.  Impossible to say of course.  Sounds great now. But there’s no way to actually do that math.  But looking back I know that event had some wu to it.  It’s important to recognize those.

I spent a lot of time walking around downtown, great barber shop, and I noticed a banner “Coming this fall: Blend cigar and whiskey bar” and I nodded.

The last night in town I was at The Wheel again and I told the bartender, a long haired guy who really knew his cigars and whiskey (oddly so for a place like that) “Hey so I’m gonna move down here and I’ll tell you what, the day I drive down here, probably the first week in October, I’ll dump my stuff off at wherever I’m staying and come straight here.”

Four months later I pulled in to a motel out by the airport that turned out to be a truly disgusting establishment, owned by a company whose name I can’t bring up that specialized in long term stays for business people.  It wasn’t one of their primary facilities and only cost me $900 a month.  I didn’t realize what I was getting for that. 

I unstrapped the art from the top of my truck and brought it in to the room along with whatever was cluttering up the cab and a single suitcase and brought it inside. 

I was WHIPPED from the drive, having started at 3 or 4 in the morning. But a promise is a promise so I freshened up a bit and headed downtown in the pouring rain.  That storm was one for the ages. 

I parked and hot-stepped it a block or two over to the wheel…aaannnd it was a different bartender.  I told him the story and he said “Oh hey, that was probably my brother.  You said he was interested in programming?”  He was, we’d talked about tutorial resources.

I’m there for 15 minutes, a guy stands behind my left side, leaning forward to look in to the little cigar case behind the bar.  He’s 6’4” or so, hair slicked back, relatively lean.

“Yo, can I get a cigah?” I hear.  Perfect Brooklyn accent.

I turned and looked at him and just dialed it way the fuck up.

“Are you fucking kidding me?”

“What!”

“I just…I mean today…drove 16 hours to get the fuck away from New York. I sit down here for ten minutes and what the fuck? Some guy from the fucking neighborhood just appears at my side.  What the fuck?”

“The neighborhood?  What fucking neighborhood?” He challenged.

“Avenue U and Ocean Parkway.”

“NO SHIT! HEY YO TONY!” He shouted down the bar.

“WHAT!?”

“GET OVER HERE!”

The bartender’s looking at me funny.  I switched to Brooklynese on a dime, hands flying with every F-bomb.

Over walks Tony.  Tony is 5’4” high and round.  Bald and waddling, right out of central casting.  

“Wha?”

“This guy’s from the fuckin’ neighborhood?”

“Bullshit. What neighborhood?”

“I lived across the street from Carlo Gambino when I was a kid.”

“Oh no SHIT? Dafuq you doin’ down here?”

“Got the fuck out man.  Drove down from New York today.”

“Holy shit. You’re fuckin’ kiddin’.”

“Nope.  Been on the road since about 3-4 this morning.  I’m whipped but I promised I’d come in here for one the day I arrived.”

“Dude that’s fucking awesome.”

We shared a couple drinks. I don’t remember if I bought them or not.  But I like to think I did. 

I went back to the hotel and passed the fuck OUT.

It was almost exactly two months before I got a job.  I took the offer letter downtown to shop for an apartment.  I remembered the “Coming soon” sign and used the force to find my way back there. 

Sure as shit the sign was still there, but there were signs of active construction.  Across the street was an apartment building.

Well, wouldn’t that just be the shit?

I rang the bell and was buzzed in.  I talked to a lovely rental agent named Jordan, who showed me an apartment on the 18th floor, a balcony with an unobstructed view of west Nashville.  It was no Manhattan. But it was right in the thick of things while having the virtue of being a couple blocks off Broadway.

“Yep. I’ll take it.”

“Uhm…we need to do a credit check.”

“Sure sure. There won’t be any surprises.  I’ll write you a check right now if it’ll help move things along.”  It’s amazing how a bird in the hand will expedite otherwise intractable bureaucracy.

“When were you thinking of moving in?”

I pretended to look at my watch. 

“Okay we’ll get in touch when everything’s squared away.  But this weekend should be doable.”  It was Tuesday.  I could deal with a few more days in the roach motel.

So I moved in on Friday, December 11, 2015. 

Blend had the audacity to not open until February. 

I went in on their opening weekend.  There was a bartender, Hunter, who was exceptional at his craft and even better at pairing cigars and whiskey.  It got to the point where I didn’t know what I smoked or drank. I’d just go in and he’d grab a cigar or two and pour me something.  It was always perfect. 

I told him the whole Wheel story that weekend and he started laughing.  Like…really laughing.  Gut bust hilarity.  It was funny. But…it wasn’t THAT funny.

He noticed my confusion at one point and, after a moment’s thought, put it together.

“You don’t remember me at all do you?”

“Huh?  Jesus man I’m sorry. I like to think I’m pretty good with that sort of thing.”

“I was the bartender that night.  I watched that whole thing.  It was hilarious.”

“Shit man. I’m sorry. I didn’t realize.”

“Well, the light is dim in both places and I cut my hair.”  AND he was wearing full sleeves. I’d identified him by his full sleeve tattoos.

So that was the beginning.  There’ve been buckets of adventures and misadventures since then. There are details I’ve skipped and things I’ve missed.  But I’ll get to those. 

Stories belong in their context, if not in their timeline.

There’ll be more soonish.  I just wanted to get all that out on the 5th anniversary of the move.