Time Warps

Something strange is happening.

Well, I suppose all things considered it’s not THAT strange.

So come here to the cigar lounge at least two days a week, sometimes three. I sit here (today’s adventures excepted) from about 11:30 until closing at 8:00. I generally put out a post of about 1500 or so words on iwilson.net (which you MAY be reading now. I’m never sure if I’m going to post something when I start writing. But of course I kinda always do)

I blast into this fun little word processor for a bit then hit ‘post’ and lean back for a few minutes, dick around on twitter and reddit for maybe 15-30 minutes, then set in again and just start typing on a new document. Or I’ll write some code. Or…whatever. Well, no. There’s only two. I don’t generally waste the rest of the day. I’m at SOMEthing.

In The Beginning, back in September 2020, when I started coming here somewhat cough religiously, I would just agonize over just about every word. I’d keep my eyes on the clock and on my wordcount.

A 500 word hour was an absolute triumph.

Eventually a 1000 word hour was trivial, getting to the point where I’d clock in at about 1200-1500 without breaking a sweat, as long as I had a topic at hand and didn’t spend an hour whining about having nothing to write.

But I’ve started noticing something, now most of the way through February.

Time is absolutely vaporizing. I can sit here for 8-9 hours and the day just…disappears. I absolutely lack the words for the feeling of it all.

Today, for instance.

I didn’t get here until about 2:30, which of course exhaserbated the issue. But I wrote that “Gratitude for a Purple Duck” post, hit ‘publish’ and it was 4:45.

I’m generally used to time doing things like that and I didn’t really think about it much at all at first. But I kept blinking at the screen, wondering what the hell felt wrong.

Hours. HOURS had passed. Like something out of a science fiction movie there was a blur and it was almost 5:00 and I was done with it.

I made a quick joke on twitter about wondering where the time went, chuckled to myself and wrote “It’s just a jump to the left…”, opened Q10 and hit control-n for a new document.

And now…410 words in I’m finding the absolute reverse is true. I’m typing at my normal speed and only about 10 minutes has elapsed.

The way time is moving when I engage in this kind of task is really quite something. Seeing as how the result of the time spent is actually of pretty high quality, all things considered. My writing is growing a bit more cohesive and I find it flows an awful lot better as time goes on.

Indeed I’ve been gathering, as I’ve mentioned, everything I’ve ever written into a single repository that I’m going to mine for a pretty big project I’ve got coming up and, in re-reading some of the pieces that stick out in my memory I’m finding myself cringing more than a little, for a couple reasons really:

First, my writing was, by my current estimation (not a fair comparison, I’ll grant) fucking abysmal. Just a giant stuttering mess. I’m actually not sure, when push comes to shove, if I’m going to be able to use any of it at all without complete rewrites. That would even be okay if…

Second, I used to be a holy shit gold plated asshole. My observational bar notes are just some of the most snarky rude horseshit I could imagine. It’s positively embarrassing. I’m going to have to come to some kind of decision about whether I can take those old stories and vignettes and rip them out of emotional context and rewrite them from my current perspective or not.

Hell maybe there’s some way I can include them with my old attitude and actually use them to demonstrate a prior way of thinking.

That might actually be interesting, assuming I can come to some kind of understanding about what…changed, when and why.

Because that all eludes me, at first blush at least.

The past 15 years has flown by at a truly extrordinary rate, much like the macrocosm of the cigar lounge writing periods of the last four or five months.

I didn’t notice myself changing all that much. Learning, sure. But did my time in New York eventually temper me? Is it just age? Tough to tell.

I’m going to have to figure out how the hell this all happened or is continuing to happen. After all, I’ve no reason at all other that the myopia granted by the illusory perception of the current moment as eternity to think that it’s not an ongoing process, rather than some pivotal event in my past at some point.

It’s 5:30 and time for me to close up and head to the back room for the more interesting couple hours of my cigar lounge day.

It’s just a jump to the left…

Gratitude for a Purple Duck

I woke up this morning pretty excited to get back to the cigar lounge with my laptop. Do some writing, hang out and other stuff I haven’t talked about here yet because while I have no trouble with the grief I’d get, the patronizing approval makes me fucking nauseous.

Knowing that my day was going to be spent there (here) I kinda dicked around for a couple hours. Got the day’s administrivia dealt with early, since there wasn’t much of it.

10:45 came around and I packed up the bag and tossed it in the truck, realizing the driver’s side door was open a bit. Whatever.

click

Not whatever.

Apparently I’d closed the seat belt in the door and the cab light stayed on…for days, and the battery was dead.

Well that’s all well and good, Just charge it, right?

Yeah I’m a new homeowner and…didn’t have a charger. I have cables, sure. But… no charger.

“Welp, I’m not going anywhere for the next couple days.” I slung my bag back around my shoulder and went back to the computer to order a car battery charger. Walmart has 2day shipping and that works well enough for me.

I spent a few minutes screwing around with which one was ACTUALLY from Walmart and which ones were 3rd party resellers that were gonna drop ship from the mountains of China.

I ordered it, and a couple other things and my mind rolled a bit.

Back downstairs I figured “Well, it’s a gorgeous day out. I can drag out the welder, the forge, or the smelter. Yeah, time to melt some cans.” I’ve been saving aluminum cans and have amassed…QUITE a bunch. It’s long past time I cleaned up by turning them in to ingots. I opened the garage door and started tracking everything I’d need.

Wait…Dollar General couldn’t be more than two miles away could it? It was in the mid 60s after all. The first bright sunny day after a week of weather commonly defined as “miserable.”

Screw it. I grabbed my jacket, a lighter, and some of those little Tatuaje cigars and went outside.

Shit garage door. I grabbed the remote from the truck and hit the button…nothing.

Really?

Well, sometimes I’ve gotta be real close. So I stalked up to the thing, brandishing the ancient remote, repeatedly hitting the button. The base unit would light up, indicating it was getting a signal. But the thing wouldn’t actuate at all.

Really.

Being some kind of lunatic, I just stood in my driveway and cackled like some kind of lunatic.

Okay, so it’s time to play THIS game.

Obstructions? Nope.

Okay fine. Have it your way. I went in the garage, pulled the release, dragged the door down, and set out down my driveway.

Birds EVERYwhere. The sun felt nice and…admittedly strange. I wondered how long it’d been since I’d been outside doing something other than going to and from a vehicle. Jessica’s birthday party last summer? Not okay.

The barking of dogs marked my passage along the dead-end street in a 200-300 yard radius around me.

It was a little shocking how much my legs hurt as I hit the main road and turned towards Dollar General. But so what. Physical pain isn’t really that big a deal until it’s interfering with concentrating on something else.

Besides, it was just too lovely out for me to care.

The change in context to what I could only call The Real World hit me about half way down my road. I thought of how I’d spent my morning and why. I’d been taking up space, taking up time sitting in front of my computer, where I’ve been sitting for about 40 years. I recall the sun hitting my face and realizing that nothing short of some kind of weird catastrophe could have gotten me to get out of my chair.

Yeah, without a doubt that the dead battery was probably the best thing to happen to me in a few days at the very least. Even if all it did was get me out the door for a nice walk. It’s something that bears thinking on. There was far more to it than that and I find myself unable to draw the line between the idea and the words as easily as I’d assumed I would.

Heading in to Dollar General I said “y’all wouldn’t happen to have a car battery charger, wouldja?”

“A..what?”

I…don’t know how else to say that.

“You know, a charger for your car battery in case, oh I don’t know, your car won’t start and you have to walk a mile and a half to Dollar General to get a charger. That kind.”

She laughed and the older woman, now brought into attention said “Nope. Nothing like that. We’ve got all the fluids. But nothing like that.”

blink blink

Now…I could have called. I thought about it. But calling ahead in this case is something like going to google immediately to answer a question, it’s a clamoring to avoid the unknown. But…there’s really nothing wrong with the unknown. There are other ways to learn things. If I’d called I’d have just stayed home.

Besides…it was a really nice walk.

“There’s the NAPA store just down the way though.”

“Yeah, there’s the NAPA store just down the way though.” I chuckled.

I ran through some images in my head of the road and found one with a NAPA store, but really had NO sense of how far it was. What’s “just down the way” to people who are thinking in terms of a drive? Well? What did it matter?

I set off that way. Turns out it was a little less than half a mile further. They had a little one, a big one, and one on a dolly. I grabbed the big one, presuming it was sufficiently skookum for the task.

My legs were getting to me a bit on the way home. But again, whatever.

Just past Dollar General something on the road caught my eye right in front of me.

It looked for all the world like…a rubber duck.

I stopped, processed the image a bit, and walked a couple steps back.

Yep. Purple rubber duck with black spots.

I was really pretty surprised I’d missed it on the way out. I must’ve stepped right over the thing.

I smiled, bent down, picked it up, turned it over a couple times, put it in my pocket, and continued home.

The return trip is always shorter than the trip out. I’ve found that to be true in just about every case. My holiday drives to New York, just about any walk or drive just about anywhere. I’m not all that sure I understand it. Sure, going from known to the unknown always seems longer. But even on an established route it seems shorter. It’s just one of those things.

I was on my road when a big white truck came my way and slowed down, a 60ish woman driving.

“Stephen?”
“Huh?”
“Are you Stephen?”
“I…don’t think so, no.” I smiled.
“Oh, I’m sorry. You look just like my neighbor.”
“All good.”

Then she pulled off the road, turned around and went back the way she came, as if she had driven out to ask me that. Very strange.

I got home and finally fiddled around with the thing and got it plugged in to the truck.

Glad I got the ‘big’ one since it had a trickle, charge, and a start mode.

A couple aborted attempts and I thought “wouldn’t it be a bitch if it wasn’t the battery?” and laughed a bit.

I let it sit, went upstairs, washed off my little duck, dicked around on twitter a bit before coming back down and turning the key.

Started right up.

I did a little happy dance, unplugged everything and tossed it in the truck, then just stared at it a few minutes to be sure it wasn’t going to stall out or something awesome like that, then drove down here.

Now hopefully the half hour or so drive down the hill was enough to charge the battery. But if not I’ve got cables, the charger, and all kinds of goofy nonsense in the truck.

So what I’d, for a brief moment, thought of as a week-destroying inconvenience became a really nice walk on a gorgeous day. I spent $90 on something I’d be hard pressed to consider less than a critical piece of gear, and got a cool little purple duck with black spots.

Plots, Peterson, and Avengers, oh my

A couple/few weeks ago I set up a raspberry pi as a home media pc. I generally only watch stuff I have locally available. I don’t have cable tv. I don’t have Netflix, Disney+, Apple TV, Amazon Prime, or any other such nonsense. I just refuse to pay for services with dubious licensing of content that goes away when I stop paying. I’ll happily pay for dvds, drm free downloads and such. But no spotify, youtube music or any of that crap.

Well, I got the thing set up and the video bled off the edges of the screen. I got frustrated and walked away from the thing until…I think this past Tuesday or so, when I wired up the laptop downstairs where the TV was and started looking in to the proper solutions to such things.

There was some back and forth as I figured out what the hell I was really looking at, then spent a few mintues doing the real calibration required to get it all up and running correctly, finally. I think I watched a couple episodes of Archer to prove to myself that it was working.

Last night I was tired of looking at the computer and the workshop was just too damned cold to go farting around in, so down to the TV I went. I paged through what I had available and settled on The Avengers…again.

Now I must have watched The Avengers…I don’t know, a few dozen times by now and I will no doubt watch it a few dozen more. I can pretty much recite the dialog. Hell I could probably do a scene by scene treatment of it without actually watching the movie at this point.

There’s clearly something in there I keep going back for. It absolutely pulls me in. The whole of the Marvel Cinematic Universe does.

As of the end of Avengers: Endgame, pretty much the entirety of the MCU is the Tony Stark story. Sure, there’s a lot more going on. The show must go on after all. But it’s really all about him.

Cut to my writing. I’ve been allowing myself to get more and more frustrated by the unfocused nature of my writing projects as time has gone on. For all the millions (and it really is millions) of words I’ve put down, there is a truly astounding lack of fiction. All of it, by any reasonable estimation, has been this kind of stream of consciousness thinking on to the page. It’s absolutely vital for my life that I do this and arguably do more of it.

When I’ve worked on what little fiction vignettes I have they’ve been pretty universally well received and I want very much to continue and expand on the form. Sure at the beginning I was perhaps overly prone to take compliments as fundamentally dishonest. But I don’t think anyone who’s read more than a post or two of mine could come away with the slightest bit of confusion about that at all, though it really is something I need to explore in some depth.

I’ve always had a very hard time writing…well…stories. I can blast out a vignette or scene just fine. There are a bunch of things I have trouble with, like action scenes for instance. I find those particularly opaque. Overarching structure though, the large scale scope of story has really eluded me since the very first time I was asked to write one.

I was a kid, maybe in 7th or 8th grade (12/13 years old) and I was in…someone’s office. School councelor maybe? It wasn’t a classroom. The details are a bit fuzzy through 40 years of memory. But it was me, one of my bullies (oddly) and one of his buddies. The councelor asked us to write a story. Any story. About anything at all. Just…anything. They wrote for a few minutes each. One waited for the other, they looked up when they were done and left.

I absolutely locked up. The absolute horror of the blank page just stared at me accusingly. I didn’t have a flood of “what if it’s not good?” Not consciously anyway. Sure the “I can’t write anything if it’s not perfect” excuse comes to mind. I’m not sure if that’s not just parroting what people say about that kind of writers block or if it’s an actual reason. Pretty tough to tell. Hell, I can still feel it as strong as that day when I broach the topic in my head while writing this sentnece. It’s an absolute sense of panic. I just started sweating and gripping my goofy little pencil tightly enough that the school psych noticed my fingers were red with the pressure.

Having waited him out, he finally let me off the hook. I have a vague memory of him, me and maybe just my mother, maybe both my parents sitting in a room as he related the scene. “You should see how hard he gripped the pencil.” It was fucking humiliating.

One of the problems, as I see it (which may or may not have anything to do with the actual problem, but I’ve got to start with what I’ve got) is that I don’t have far-sighted motivations for my characters. Sure there are a couple of immediate seeming concerns. But what happens after the scene I’ve got in my head? What led them to these places and these events? How does their interaction with the events of the scene/event/world on the small scale contribute to their goals (successfully or not?)

I’ve looked at the various story structure graphs, turning point this, conflict number that, yadda yadda resolution, blah blah, turning point, etc. But it all just seems like so much noise to me really. Yeah, I understand it well enough. It’s not like it’s that difficult a concept. But there’s a line between that structure and what I write that’s entirely broken.

So last night when I went down to the tv room in the basement I brought a pad and a couple pens (getting down there and seeing a bunch of pads and a pile of pens already on the ottoman I had a good chuckle.)

Usually when I’m reading or listening to a book or watching a movie or a show I get a barrage of “what if” flashes. They’re fun, but they go as fast as they come.

While I didn’t have a deep agenda I was determined to take some notes to see if I could get some insight into, if not to the bottom of, the reason I keep going back to the same material over and over again, even through I absolutely know it through and through.

I’d watched some Peterson yesterday morning, as is my wont (a determined follow through a copule of his online courses is on my extremely long short list) and he said (butchery incoming) that stories of sufficient mythological and symbolic significance are essentially bottomless, that they can be explored and examined almost infinitely since we don’t consciously KNOW what they “really mean”, that these things speak to us on a level beneath (or aside) language.

It’s a fascinating notion that, having heard him (and Jung, and Campbell, etc) say it over and over again over the past 20 or so years of my explorations into their writing, is starting to really grow legs in my head.

One example from the lecture I watched yesterday went something like this:

“If I asked you if you believed in vampires you’d say no, of course not. But you’re perfectly willing to watch hours of vampire movies and have no problem with it at all. Yeah, tell me again what it is you actually believe.”

On one hand it sounds like a ‘reducto ad absurdam’. But…I think a large part of his point was that it wasn’t, not at all. While we don’t “consciously” think that there are supernatural undead that survive on the blood of the living, there’s a part of us that those stories speak to strongly enough that we accept the notion fully.

The idea that we’re not simply what we think we are and that that aspect of us might actually be a very small part of us indeed is one that causes some initial fright, but is insanely enticing, perhaps literally.

So I laid on the couch with a couple blankets (I keep the heat off downstairs since I’m so rarely down there. Besides that’s cozy as fuck) and had my pen handy as I watched, determined to keep a closer eye on things than usual, interested to see what it was I’d notice.

I did take some notes I thought about a bit, but by the end of the movie I was more or less on auto-pilot. But I did watch a couple “Agents of SHIELD” episodes afterwards that got me back on track.

Today as I left for the cigar lounge I passed by the pad, ripped off the top page, folded it in half and stuffed it in my pocket.

Just for fun I haven’t looked at it and going to unfold it and type out my notes here. It says…

  • Character spends too much time in the other/under-world and is driven mad while being granted great insight.
  • Enlisting forces beyond their control and losing that control
  • Omens and Heralds
  • The villain understands far more about the world than the hero (at least at the outset.)
  • A weapon fed by blood [I think this was just something that occurred to me along the way. Not sure what specifically triggered it.]
  • Travis McGee [Coulson fantasizes about TAHITI (it’s a magical place) where he read a bunch of Traivs McGee novels. I didn’t know who that was so I wrote it down.]

And that’s it. Clearly what I did was not write down the ideas from the movie itself but ripped something out of those ideas and saw them as inspiration.

But the theme (Travis McGee aside ;)) is clear.

The idea that the villain (in this particular case Loki) is driven mad by deep knowledge that is simply inaccessible to the heroes, who spend an awful lot of the movie (and indeed the franchise) trying to figure out what the hell is REALLY going on.

Both Loki and SHIELD are dealing with things utterly beyond them. Loki was “given knowledge” of the Tesseract and SHIELD had the benefit of decades of study by Howard Stark and Hydra.

They have some success but are still clearly outmatched by what’s really going on. The short-sighted task of the Avengers is really just to thwart Loki, and as such they succeed.

I don’t mean to rip the whole thing to pieces. Geekier minds than mine have almost certainly done that to absolute death, and I’ll leave all that to them.

That trope though shows up all over the place. In the Bethesda franchise, reading an Elder Scroll grants tremendous insight but literally blinds the reader over time, if not driving him out of his mind with truths too large for a normal mind to hold.

I fear I’ve become a victim of my own meandering on this one. It leaves me with more questions and thoughts than it resolves.

The issue of overarching plot continues to frustrate me. I…suppose I could pepper my setting with characters and, if I make them rich enough, just pit them against each other (by which I mean only bringing them together and forcing them to interact) and see what they do in response.

Tapping in to that kind of symbolic/mythological understanding as a source for material instead of “merely” as a tool for understanding what I’m consuming is an idea that seems to have the promise of a little tuning fork resonating in my head.

Yeah, log jam broken.

There’s so much more here that I just don’t QUITE know how to get to, which I suppose is the entire point of this little (checks his word count) or…medium-sized rant.

If there’s ONE thing that’s clear it’s that I absolutely need more blackboards in my office and may need to cover the walls in cork board as well. Then I could get some string and push pins, print out a bunch of nonsense and pull lines between them all.

“My God, it’ll be beautiful.” – Judge Doom

Venting, Tool Porn, and Fermi Estimation

There’s the persistent notion that The Right Tool for the job is right around the next bend. I just downloaded and installed Wikidpad for the….oh who knows how many times I’ve pulled that piece of software. It’s solid. It just has a couple stylistic warts in its ease of use that prevent me from adopting it wholly which I forget about every time six months or so.

Problem is it’s one of two things:

  • An absolute vision of the right tool that’s driving me to move forward with all these little software projects to build it once and for all
  • A near perfect delusion that’s sourced from something deeper in my head, that drive that “if I just get THAT I’ll be happy.”

I suppose it could be both. Both would be good. After all, one doesn’t necessarily preclude the other at all.

But the idea of the desktop wiki based editor with reasonable keyboard navigation and a gutter with a list of pages just seems like something that would be easy to manage.

Hell, something like Visual Studio Code would be ideal for that kind of thing. You could keep the pages as individual files, as I do in my wiki, which would allow the project view to just be a giant page listing. It’s not like I really need the level of editing capabilities that something like Word or WordPerfect (yes, I still have WordPerfect) afford me. If I REALLY need fancy formatting I’ll run the shit through LaTeX.

I mean how fucking hard can it BE to write a wiki plug-in for VSC? Of course this is assuming any of the ones that are out there wouldn’t be already well suited to the task.

I SUPPOSE I could put some damned intention in to actually testing that shit out, ya think?

Gah, it’s probably a problem that solves itself with some investigation.

But I simply can’t be the only person out there who wants this kind of thing, can I? I mean I get that I’m half a bubble off plumb on the best of days. But I simply refuse to believe I’m THAT fucking unique, at least along this particular dimension.

So if you just play the estimation game of how many developers there are out there, how many have cross-discipline interests, how many of THEM are writers and abstract thinkers, how many of them have the motivation to build tools for the job and how many of THEM have a vision of what they want that’s similar enough to mine to create a “mostly compatible tool?” THEN I suppose you have to deal with the release, adoption, and exposure issue.

Not like there’s any way to really even ballpark it. I don’t expect Fermi Estimation can even get you close.

So when it’s laid out like that I suppose that number may really be very very small, only a couple, a dozen?

I COULD stop what I’m doing here, open up visual studio code and start screwing around by downloading wiki plugins and see where they take me. But I’m finally getting in the groove of putting words down here, so that’s not a today task.

“What’s wrong with the emacs wiki plug in?” Nobody’s asking.

There’s really no problem with the emacs wiki plug in. It’s served me really well for decades, and actually continues to do so at home. But the key chords required to run emacs efficiently simply don’t lend themselves to the abbreviated keyboards on small laptops. So that means I have to bring a full-sized keyboard with me whereever I go to attach to the laptop.

I’ve got one here in my bag. Yep. A full sized wired keyboard. But holy hell is it a lot to whip out and add to an already insanely cluttered cigar lounge high-top table.

So maybe to really continue this process I’ve got to just commit to screwing around with the available tools for a few hours and see if there’s something close enough that I can either use or modify to suit me.

It’s got to be out there. If not then it should be simple enough to take something that IS out there and tailor it to my use.

Well, rather enough of that particular elephant for the day I think. I’ve got other stuff to get out of my head.

Providence?

Hell of a trip down here. We’ve had an ice storm that’s lasted for the previous two days. I stayed home on Sunday and Monday which was a bit rough seeing as how I didn’t leave the house on Saturday either. But that was enough. It wasn’t coming down today and we’ve actually seen a little bit of something I’d call sun.

Having disgusted myself quite thoroughly on Wednesday with my lack of productivity I went Half Wilson and took a few days off from PC gaming. Friday night I’d had enough and I resolved Saturday morning to reinstall a bunch. It didn’t bother me much since it was the plan to only take a couple days off.

Come the morning I did indeed install Steam, picked a dozen games and had it pull them down. I’m still giddy over the fact that my download speeds are such that 400g of downloads takes a bit over an hour including the installation process.

While it worked I started grinding on my “writing consolidation project.” But more on that later.

So…I was playing a bit of Skyrim on Saturday morning when suddenly the screens went dark and it got quiet. Ruh roh.

My first thought was a power hit, but the UPS wasn’t screaming and the other machines were running just fine.

I started it back up and went back in and played another 10-15 minutes aaannnnd pop down it goes again. Well…I’d be worried if there was a pop. It’s just an immediate software-based power down. Now, Skyrim is a near 10 year old game (11/11/11) so it’s not really stressing out my machine, even though IT is about 8 years old by now.

So Saturday night I started making sure everything was backed up (and thank the good lord for my foresight in keeping everything on separate boxes, a san backup of most everything, etc.) So it wasn’t SUCH a bear to make sure everything was up to date and square.

I figured that for it to be a sudden problem like that it would have to have something to do with the new Steam reinstall. Besides, my windows install was a couple years old, so a complete ground-up refresh was probably in order anyway.

Sunday morning I took my UEFI usb stick with the win10 installer on it, nuked the partitioning and let it go nuts on my 2t ssd.

I spend most of Sunday morning and early afternoon reinstalling software, tracking down motherboard drivers and such. It was just easier to grab them online than it was to find them on the lan.

But I was mostly absorbed in document conversion. For SOME reason I’d apparently decided for a few years to do my writing in Word. Great dude, thanks past me for that horseshit. A few hundred files individually opened and saved as text (I’m sure I probably could’ve scripted it. But it would have taken me longer to find out how, write the script, and debug it than it did to just do it by hand I’m sure.)

Yesterday I kicked off 2077, not having played it in a week and feeling the jones.

To its credit it took a couple hours.

Bang. Right at the tail end of the “can’t save now” clouds sequence. Fuck me. Well, let me start it up again and get through that section.

Bang. Down it went.

Dammit.

As long as I didn’t use the GPU it would stay up for any length of time. So my hypothesis is that it’s just overheating suddenly for some reason. I’ll give it a good look when I get back from the cigar lounge tonight…or…you know, not.

Monday night I started shopping around. After all, 8 years is a LONG time for a desktop computer. This thing owes me nothing. I lost myself in the fantasy of a shiny new screamer of a box, maybe 128g of ram, a couple 2t SSDs, some GPU that would heat the house, etc.

But…by the end of the night, after Cigargoyle’s nightcap stream was wrapping up, (and after another spontaneous powerdown) I got to thinking.

What if…I didn’t?

What if I cleaned off the gpu (it’s probably hopelessly gunked up with dust, dead bugs and my hair) then…just left it alone.

What if I didn’t fight so hard to feed and maintain my favorite addiction?

It’s a terrifying thought. But that sinking feeling in my stomach is one of the greatest indicators of a path of growth I’ve come across in my near 52 years.

Already I can feel my brain just thrashing against the notion, all the stories and games I’ve loved so much and just letting them go. But the quest for adventure through these things is just so shallow. In the end they take the place of the search for adventure in my own life. Yeah my life is progressing and moving forward in a way I’m finally pretty happy with, if both a bit late and slow.

While I planned on talking about dispensing with the games, I didn’t quite expect my mind to go all balls-out in this direction today. I like to let the words take me where they will. Sure, these kinds of posts lack direction, and I don’t expect they get much in the way of readership. But that’s fine.

[Ooh, my favorite seat is about to become available…

5 minutes later I’m moved over.]

“Ooh, Mike’s got his favorite seat!”
“Yeah, I’m a creature of habit, what can I say.”

I’m generally startled that people notice me at all really. Not in Bible Study group, surely. But just generally around the room.

Well enough of that.

I don’t think it would be an exaggeration to say that giving up video games, even if that’s just these desktop AAA titles would be the hardest thing I’ve ever tried to undertake.

They’ve been such a significant part of my life for more than 40 fucking years, after all. And yes, I could list chapter and verse what negative effects I think that’s had on my trajectory, how looking for excitement in a saccharine experience has prevented me from pursuing it in real life and all. And maybe I’ll spit out a piece about that at some point in the future. But that’s not for today. Today is for looking forward.

What am I going to do with my time? What sunk costs am I going to let lay?

I’m not sure there are even any subscription services, MMOs and such, that I need to cancel.

Do I go through the work to shut down and cancel my Steam account?

I don’t know. It’s not a problem I need to solve. The technology has rather solved it for me.

“I’d like to get to 100% in Cyberpunk 2077 first.” Is the kind of reaction my brain’s having to this idea.

That’s exactly the kind of trap I am expecting.

It’s like Gollum being tied down by an elven rope, squirming for any way out. But…I’m either going to stick to my guns or not.

It’s going to be a “one day at a time” affair. I don’t think bold declarations of “never again” are going to serve me very well. Hell, maybe they will.

The trick is going to be having something ready for those moments when the impulse strikes. Even if it’s just some kind of goofy ass affirmative replacement.

So what IS the benefit? (Not that I don’t have a hundred handy. But I won’t when it comes up and I’m thrashing thus.)

It amounts to having time and energy to spend on other things. One of the insidious things about video games that I’ve mentioned before is that the time spent actually playing is the lesser of the evils of the thing. It’s the time and energy spent dwelling on them when I’m not specifically engaged in them.

All of that energy spent thinking about how I was planning on approaching a certain problem or what I was going to do next, how I was planning on outfitting a character and what I was looking forward to would all be spent thinking about other things. What other things?

Shit it actually doesn’t matter even a little bit. It’s an interesting realization. But aside from dwelling on the past there’s literally no single use of my mental and emotional energy that’s worse.

All those damned projects that are in a start state in my workshop. The damned state of the house at all (though I’ve got to give myself some credit for keeping it up as I have been. It’s so much better than the way I lived even less than a year ago.)

So I’ll add a little red X on the whiteboard for days without gaming, and a blue/black/green one for days where I spend at least an hour writing. That’s not “collating existing writing” because that’s a task on its own. But actually writing.

Should be a good step.

Yeah. I’m pretty encouraged about all of this. Plus, it got out 1500 words in about 90 minutes. So I’ll take THAT shit any day.

Slip sliding away

2021-02-11: Smokey – Slip sliding away

I’ve been slacking quite badly. I know one of the simple rules is to forgive yourself your own failings, and people get up my ass about giving myself a hard time. But if I don’t, who will?

It sounds flip and I phrase it that way a bit tongue in cheek, to be sure. But it’s not wrong. I’ve got to stay on top of myself or I just slide and drift, unproductive hours stretch into days, then weeks, then years, a decade or two, then a life poorly lived.

Well that’s certainly not acceptable. “Mikey, you can never get back time.” My father echoes in my head. As if I had the faintest fucking idea what that really meant at 17.

So remaining vigilant against current distractions and failures is absolutely necessary.

But a life of self-flagelation for its own sake is certainly not any more well lived.

The balance must be kept. Though it could certainly be argued that it’s not balance along a spectrum as they are two different attitudes.

It is critical that we forgive ourselves our pasts, once we’ve learned the lessons we need to extract from those events which lay siege to our minds from our own history, because surely there are lessons they offer, as Peterson is keen on pointing out.

But once internalized those lessons and those memories mustn’t be allowed to claw at our heels the same way they had been. Life is for living forward, not for looking back.

Someone wiser than I once said “You want to learn about a man, listen to how far back he reaches in his life for his ‘glory day’ stories.” It’s a fascinating thing. And, it works at least as well in examining one’s own life, if you’ve the courage to do so.

When you’re in a social situation with people with whom you’re just becoming familiar, and stories are being traded around the table (one of the great joys of all time) how far back do you go? When is the material you pull from?

In the interest of disclosure mine tend to come from the time from 9/11 through about 2010. Yeah, there are a bunch of more recent gems. But if I’m shooting my shot to impress and entertain, it’s the particularly demonic Wall Street stories (shit jobs yield the greatest esprit de corps) and the social madness of Manhattan in the early 2000s with newly empty satchel of fucks with which I approached the world.

But I digress…

Shit. I kinda lost steam there.

I’ve found this nominal retirement to be quite tough on me as I’ve always had a bear of a time self-regulating my schedule. I have endless projects and pursuits, but they all seem to have the same numbing priority. It’s nine months since I moved in to my home and I still have VERY little furniture. Eh, I’ll make it. Eh. I’ll buy it. Dithering back and forth until I just abandon the consternation and go without.

So…to get back on track.

And again, these admonishments come repeatedly. They’re much the same over time. But course corrections are rarely particularly sexy. But seeking inspiration and motivation is the sucker’s path.

The tools are simple if you can get yourself to employ them.

First you need to understand what’s going on and where you’re at. Usually that’s enough for me. Once I make the mental jump to awareness that I’m drifting I snap pretty well into a bit of a frantic mode of stopping it. Though the next steps elude me sometimes.

Yesterday, for instance, was a horrible day in that it was a gorgeous one. It was a bit over 50 degrees up on the ridge where I live and it would have been a perfect day to drag a bunch of metalworking stuff out to the carport and either bang on some hot steel, melt down a bunch of aluminum cans, or take another shot with the welder.

The problem was, once I realized I was sitting at the computer dicking around, bouncing between twitter and reddit, I felt the day slipping away. I went down to the shop yelling “Dammit dude! Do SOMEthing!” I did end up cleaning up the shop a bit, because I had nothing in the front of my head that I was prepared to work on.

What I DID to finally, was say to myself “Well, you’ve lost this opportunity. The best thing you can do now is a session of planning.” I opened my wiki, kicked off a Pomodoro timer and just started banging away at my project list, organizing the wiki contents a bit and getting my head straight. I realized that if I’d done it in the morning I wouldn’t have been able to avoid making better use of the day. But the damage had been done and I’d recovered what I could. So I had to be satisfied with what I’d done in response to the failing, once I’d awoken to it.

So I think that’s really the best thing I can do for myself going forward. To dedicate time each day to going through my various projects and really break them down, not necessarily completely, because that way lies madness, but at least so I have the next couple steps clearly defined, a la David Allen’s “Getting Things Done.”

The fantasy is to have a file someplace that has a list of conditions and a pool of tasks that matches them.

For example:

  • Is it nice out: Here are your top five projects and the next things that need to be done on them that can only really be done if it’s nice outside.
  • Is it cold out: Here are the top five indoor projects and their next actions.
  • Are you in the kitchen: Here’s some stuff to fix, clean, or make.
  • Downstairs in the hardware lab: you get the point.
  • You haven’t done these few things in a while. Is it time?

Yeah, maybe having a giant Expert System that checks the weather report at night and sets up a list of goals for the next day might be a bit much. But…hell, it might not. I’ve got to do the data entry on the projects anyway (which, frankly, is what I thought I was going to do today while sitting here instead of just blathering. But The Cruft has caught me and this all needed to be purged anyway, so better now than later.)

So having a set of tools would help me immeasurably since I get ideas faster than I can possibly bring them to light. And yes, as I’ve mentioned before, I have to spend a significant amount of energy that I’m not spending in the process of pruning out the things that I’m just not ever going to do. It turns out that even keeping them on a GTD style “Someday Maybe” list still doesn’t purge them from my mind the way it probably should.

But it’s really the meta habits of keeping track of these things and then checking that information that I want to entrench in to my daily routines. I’m of the mind that once I get that straight that I’ll self-correct in a bit more of an organized way than I do now, at least.

One of the problems I’ve always had is that, owing to my software development background, I’ve found it much easier to take a bottom-up approach to getting things done. To not “overplan” something that ends up being a mistake in large time scale direction and instead to take the iterative approach of starting small and seeing where that takes me.

Well sure, that’s all well and good in software projects, certainly in a corporate environment, because there are external governing factors that keep track of direction, and all it takes is a modicum of communication with the larger organization to get kicked back into the right lane if I start careening off course.

But when it’s just Me, Myself, and I Inc., there is no such superstructure to rely on.

So now there’s this whole set of skills that not only do I not have, but that I didn’t even realize were there to be missing. It’s a part of the cost of always having been a lower-rung programmer, having had no desire to manage people (though managing projects would have been fun. The problem is there isn’t actually enough of a difference.)

Without that kind of higher-level guidance I’ve been sticking to highest granularity, trying to force myself forward through sheer force of will.

Well of course that yields the kind of results I’ve had. This strange frenetic activity which sure, produces things at its level of magnification. But thinking that’s enough to take me any distance along an undefined trajectory is just silly.

Okay, so now I have to tackle THAT problem.

But…I think that’s not really for this forum.

Good talk.

2021-02-09: “I Feel Lost”

One of the subreddits I like to haunt is r/askmenover30. A lot of it is guys trying to get their shit together and asking for help. Well there’s very little I know so much about as not having your shit together and emerging from the fucking muck of that kind of despair.

BUT I’m…as you may have noticed…pretty fucking mouthy.

And I forget that r/askmenover30 auto-filters out anything with the word “fuck” in it. As far as I’m concerned that’s like rejecting posts with commas in it. But whatever, fuck ’em.

Sometimes I think about editing and reposting the comment. But then I usually come to the conclusion that….well…

Fuck it.

If they can’t handle my eloquence then, uhm, fuck ’em.

This morning a guy posted this: https://old.reddit.com/r/AskMenOver30/comments/lfra19/im_32_and_i_feel_like_life_has_flown_by_so_quick/

I don’t really know where to go from here, basically no relationships, dead end service job. I just uhhh I dunno I feel like I fucked up so bad and I don’t know what to do.

So I spent a few minutes writing up this response, not realizing the bot would just bounce it. So…here it is, in case I don’t post anything else here today:

—–

First, give yourself a break. That shit happens to all of us at one time or another, and it’s really tough to see up from there when you’re looking down. I get it.

Zoom in on your time horizon a bit.

Pick a day, maybe tomorrow, maybe a couple days from now, and decide what you’d like to accomplish. What would make that a good day? Maybe it’s creative stuff, going out for a drink, maybe NOT going out for a drink, do the dishes, spend some time with a pad of paper and list a bunch of things you’d like your life to be like (that’s a fun but oddly scary one.)

Doesn’t have to be a stressful or long list. Just write down some shit you’re gonna do, then do it. If that’s “get up and dressed before noon” then that’s it.

So, at the end of that day you lay down and you can say “I did what I said what I was going to do.” Then you smile and drift off to sleep. And if you didn’t get it done you can say “I bit off a bit more than I could chew, but now I know for next time.” Then you smile and drift off to sleep.

You’ve got to get to a point where you understand what you’re capable of and trust yourself that you’re going to do what you say you’re going to do.

Start small. Just really really small. Then build on it a little bit at a time.

I was at a point where I’d be stomping around my apartment and I’d say “Jesus man, wash ONE dish. Can you wash ONE fucking dish?” Then I’d go wash a dish, then maybe a few because I was there. But I said I’d wash one and I did. I’d nod and walk away.

The game gets fun:

  • Pick up one sock
  • Wash one dish
  • Do one push up (on my knees because I was almost 250 pounds and weak as hell)

What happens over time as you take care of the stuff in short time spans and your immediate area is that your vision starts to clarify a bit and you look farther out. You necessarily get a bit hungry for larger accomplishments and projects.

Pretty soon you’ve got a chain of days that feel like accomplishments.

But without the trust of being able to bargain with yourself and knowing you’re gonna do (or make a best actual effort at doing) what you say you’re going to do, then you sink in to “why bother shooting for anything. I know I’m not going to do the work anyway.”

DRAFT: The Word of Power

UPDATE: Within 24 hours of posting this I can’t quite stop thinking about its warts and wrinkles. So while I’m doing a rewrite, I’ve retitled this as a draft. From here down it’s exactly the same:


Prelude:

I’ve gotten to the point where I’m only here one day a week and tend to have another agenda in my head for most of the afternoon/evening.

The blank page and the predictibility of the writing playlist gives me the illusion of sameness. I’ve left the cruft grow overmuch through distractions and laziness.

Even sitting here, 62 words in I’ve found myself bouncing back and forth between Q10, Twitter, and Reddit no less than 3 or 4 times.

And again here I am, having put “pen to paper” and finally at about 100 words, started feeling the energy coming, summoned by activity.

Activity begets interest. Always has it been thus.

Combatting “I’m not in the mood” always goes the same way.

“Well, at LEAST open a new blank document and title it. Then just write that you have nothing to write about.”

———

“No.” Came the flat answer.

“But has anyone ever tried to start it?” The youth asked as they walked through the halls containing The Great Machine in the deep place under the mountains where they lived their lives.

“No.”

“It’s not really a machine. It’s just a grand sculpture. Gears and rods and other things we’ve never been able to explain going on through chambers we’ve never seen. It has no purpose other than its grandeur. We study the pieces as we can, to see how they built it.” The scholar looked up at the giant rusted thing that stretched into the darkness above and beyond them. “Surely they must have been giants who walked these halls, to create such a thing.”

“But…”

“No. It’s fine to wonder, son. But it doesn’t really do anything.” The scholar looked at the youth, remembering his first time in the hall of The Machine. He brought the kids through once a year to show them and to keep an eye open for some who may some day be a keeper of the machine, like himself.

But this child wanted too much. If he’d been made a scholar he wouldn’t be able to handle the disappointment. Better to come to terms with a normal life.

No.

There was no candidate among these.

They would gasp at the size of it all but grow quickly bored. A couple questions about what it did, then they’d usually just retreat just as rapidly in to their day to day teasings, glad only to be what they thought of as being a day away from their studies.

Surely it must not be disturbed so it can be studied. What better way to understand the greatness of the past but to leave The Great Machine alone that we may walk among its seized gears and wonder? It is a museum to the past, to be sanctified and preserved, as knowledge lost.

No.

…..

In the dead of night a man unsatisfied sneaks in, laden heavily with the tools he’d been hiding along the way for weeks, to the forbidden bowels of the machine, deemed too dangerous by scholars of generations past. How many of them even knew these rooms were down here any more? The answer had been “No” for so many generations that it was questioned no longer.

Pfft. Scholars. What is a scholar with no wonder? With no hope? With no QUESTIONS? They were no more than curators, living ghosts, carrying on traditions with no underpinnings.

No.

He spends days walking among its controls and dials, buttons and levers, nipping sparingly at his provisions which had seemed so bountiful when he’d packed them.

At first he fiddles and scrawls down notes in his long blank scrolls. He tears off pieces with little notes and sets them in place with stones or slips them between cracks where he can go back to them.

He checks his notes, tears them up.

No.

He goes back again to the beginning. Again. And again. Slowly some secrets are revealed. Back to the beginning.

Time gone, water gone, food long gone he speeds back and forth between the rooms in those forbidden catacombs, fearing more that he’d forget what he’d learned than being caught.

How many times, in the beginning, had he been caught, escorted back home and warned, then punished. “You are forbidden from The Machine.”

At first he was frustrated, then heartbroken, then resolved. Tell ME no?

No.

It was impossible that anything could move it, he reflected. It’s too far gone. The whole thing will collapse in a Great Catastrophe in the face of what he sought to attempt.

But how many generations have done nothing but stare at it, curated it as an impossible dead thing? How could they go on thus? What would ever change?

No.

He would never be forgiven.

But it was not for his breatheren to forgive him. Nor was it even for the ancients who built this thing.

No.

Only The Great Machine could forgive him. He laughed out loud at that thought, wondering if a madness had taken him. Was this why they had warned him away?

No.

He forgot himself and grabbed the lever. Pulling on it he achieved nothing. His sledge rang, the machine laughing at his screaming hands.

Rope and pullies. Levers and fulcrums.

Again he tore at the lever, through the mechanism he’d created to amplify his strength.

His hands bloody with his fevered attempts he pulled, feet on the wall against his rope and pullies, the levers and fulcrums he built up. Even if it snapped off it would be a success of a sort. But it didn’t bend.

No.

The machine cared not for his attempts. It mocked him openly.

One final scream as he felt something inside him tear and give under the effort and he fell to the ground and smacked his head on the stone floor, spent.

The rope hadn’t been fastened tightly enough, it had slipped or snapped against a knot tied too tightly.

No.

He got to his hands and knees, his side in shooting pain he felt the blood on his head running down into his face. A moment to catch his breath as his hands and knees felt as though they were vibrating from the effort. Just…so much pain.

He spit blood from his ruptured insides, his head swimming in pain.

He heard it and snapped his head upright. It was a moment before he dared look over his shoulder.

The rope had held.

He blinked.

The chamber rumbled. The very ground on which he now crawled was shaking underneath him. A quake. Now?

No.

The lever had been thrown.

He was going to be buried alive under the wreckage of The Great Machine.

He rolled on to his back and laughed as he coughed…more blood.

Above him the great halls of impossibly seized gears and wheels, pipes and vents whine and scream their resistance as the corrosion and rust and years fought against the force of The Great Machine.

It seemed forever, the deafening roar of the war between the past and the present. The Machine was going to rip itself apart in its drive for life.

He thought about the pain in his side, the blood on his face, his ruined hands, and laughed some more.

In the higher halls the scholars screamed. Some stood in wonder. Most ran. Not this.

No.

A great crack deafened them as one of the great gears, standing ten times the height of any man…turned one tooth and stopped.

Rust cascaded on to their heads. Dust and sheets of the stuff began coming down as the machine screamed again at them through ages of anger.

And in that moment more than one of them was overcome by the judgement of the past.

Again the gear turned a tooth and they saw, through the dust, that the rest of the machine turned with it.

No.

Through all of their studies, in all of their books they had never determined the machine’s purpose. But the books had been written by their predecessors, men of past ages, as clueless then as they were now. Dimensions of the pieces they could see, guesses as to how and where they were made, since no workshop or forge or smelting ovens existed that could create such wonders. There was no lost knowledge. There was no knowledge at all.

Nobody, as near as could be told, had ever even seen the ends of The Great Machine. It disappeared into the heights of the rock and the depths of the halls. Expeditions into the deep tunnels found traces of the machine coming out of the stone miles away.

The gear turned…not freely, but suredly. The rumbling of the halls deafened them.

One by one they left, fearing for their lives or for their worlds, until there was only one left, staring upwards, his hand shielding his eyes from the falling neglect, determined to hold his ground to witness awakening of The Great Machine.

“It’s going to kill us all!” One had screamed as he’d run from the halls.

The one scholar remained, tears forming in his eyes, and he smiled, “No.”

The volume and tempo just kept increasing. What they’d come to think of as the grand gear had turned a half revolution now.

Finally a great vent expelled a gasp and the last scholar swore to the end of his days that with it came a word.

Yes.

Deep below a man lay on his back, bloodied by himself, smiling. Dead.

———

A man sat at a table and smoked a cigar. Reading what he’d written he found his palms sweating. His heart raced and he felt his eyes dampen.

Yes.