Confusion: An Interesting Sentence

I’m not at all sure when I started following James David Dickinson. Judging by my following list it’s pretty recent. He no doubt tweeted something interesting in response to something or someone else tweeted, or was retweeted by someone I already…well, whatever, one of the ways people on twitter find each other.

Sharp guy. Go follow.

Today I was bouncing back and forth between writing that previous post and twitter and I saw this:

“In life, nouns are lies and verbs tell the truth”

and…I…stopped.

I spent a few minutes reading that over and over again trying to parse and apply it.

I responded before I read the essay he’d attached to it (which is good, but entirely orthogonal), saying “What a strange sentence” and cc’ing Thomas Bevan, someone I imagine to be a great appreciator of strange sentences.

It’s a strange sentence because it’s an idea I’ve never heard or considered, because it actually presents a new concept. Not in the way of being an esoteric dive into some narrow field, but by turning things on their head and absolutely forcing you to think about things differently even to merely parse the sentence correctly.

I wonder when the last time I came across An Interesting Sentence was. How many books do I have to go back through before I find one? A dozen? Two? I seem to recall there being one or two I read a few times over and over again in the second Warlock Holmes book. But those might have been more funny than interesting.

I’ve not-quite-joked (and I was sure I’d written about but can’t find) confusion being my happy place.

When you see something in twilight that you can’t quite make out the outline of your brain just races to try and fit it in to a box. And in that absolutely magickal moment before you’ve come up with a judgement about it the entirely universe is open and you’re cast adrift in this strange sea of infinite possibility. There’s a moment of something like terror as you feel suddenly that there’s something for which you have no box.

No noun.

And yeah, that’s a mystical description about being confused by something. But those weird moments remind me of some of the more elevatory aspects, actually, of the hallucinogenic experience. You just can’t make sense of what the hell is going on and it can drive you absolutely mad if you let it. But those moments show you the naked reality of how you deal with the world, with new experiences, even whether you allow them at all.

For extra credit consider how this relates to Carlos Castenada’s teacher, Don Juan, admonishing him to see. As I recall he continually attempts to get Carlos to see the world around him without letting his mind attach reductionist overly-cultured human symbology to what’s out there. I’d write more about that but it’s been 30 years and a lot of lives since I’ve read Castenada.

But to bring things back to the mundane, an “interesting sentence” exists in stark contrast to normal communication. We speak and write in quips and phrases that we’ve heard before, read before, and had held in our heads, waiting for deployment to fill up time and space. How much of what you say falls into those categories? If you stop to examine it, and that’s a pretty tough thing to do, it’s something north of 95% of what comes out of our mouths.

Sure, an argument can be made for these phrases simply serving the same roles as words in simple aggregate, encapsulating larger concepts that we then sling around.

But I don’t think that’s right. Well…yeah it’s technically true, sure. But when you take what it is you think you think and start breaking it apart you cannot avoid coming to the conclusion that most of those thoughts are themselves just things that have been bolted together out of other things you’ve heard or read. You don’t so much think as collate other peoples’ puzzle pieces into not-so-new ideas, playing the same little snippets of spliced tape to yourself, thinking that you’re thinking.

So the value of An Interesting Sentence is pretty stark in that it actually results from an act of creation instead of just…permutation.

And while I’m not sure “In life, nouns are lies and verbs tell the truth” is going to be something I’m going to add to the arsenal for cocktail conversation (that would be some pretty insipid shit), it’s definitely going to make me think.

Specifically to say that nouns are lies speaks to our near perfect inability to describe our world, to discover, much less to label things. I’m going to carry that through life while it lives in the front of my attention and I’m going to think about it when people talk and it’s going to force me to say to myself “sure, but that’s not what that IS. The notion that you think you can call it that is a fundamental untruth.”

Now before any of you assholes take this in this direction I’m NOT speaking about postmodern deconstructionism, the ‘subjectivity of reality’ or any of that damned tripe. I know a great short pier off of which you unforgivable nihilist fucks can take a long walk.

No, I’m talking about necessary incompleteness. Because like words, the way we deal with the world around us is in snippets of thought and understanding that encapsulate enough meaning for us to continue through life.

But in a real sense, we do what we do, regardless of what we really are. Yeah, I don’t have all that worked out that well, primarily because the first half has been rolling over and over in my head to too much enjoyment for me to have thought about it much yet.

Now…this diverges pretty remarkably from what James was saying in penning the sentence. Hell, it probably diverges pretty remarkably from what he even thought.

But then, that’s the value of An Interesting Sentence.

Masturbation

No no, relax.

My whole plan in coming in to the cigar lounge yesterday was that based on the idea that I wouldn’t feel like coming in today as I’m in day 3 of a 4 day fast.

Traditionally day one is the absolute worst, being exactly the kind of experience most people imagine when they think of fasting. Just the constant pull of hunger and craving.

The second day is better, definitely. The hunger isn’t nearly as all-consuming. But hydration starts becoming an issue and, well…stay close to a restroom.

What I’d forgotten about was the weird clarity that comes on day three. I figured I’d be a bit loopy and that driving down here and smoking a bunch of cigars then hitting Bible study might not make for the most coherent afternoon.

But I bounced out of bed this morning (having dreamt, no shit, about butter) really clear. The hunger isn’t really as urgent. Which is not to say it’s not there. Don’t get me wrong. But it’s not consuming every thought. Also the increased sensory acuity is something I’d largely forgotten about. I walked out to the kitchen and could smell that I used a bit too little salt in the pizza I made on Saturday.

So when 10:45 rolled around and I’d realized that I’d realized what to make of yesterday’s post I looked at the clock, bobbed my head a couple times, grabbed my bag and…then put it down, went and put some clothes on, THEN walked out the door to drive down the hill. Then I came back in to get my phone. Then I came back in to get my drinks. Then I came back in to get my lighters. Then I came back in to get my bag and realized after searching furiously for it that it was sitting on the front seat of the truck.

Yep.

Sharp as a tack.

So. On to it…

I thought about that post I put up yesterday afternoon and realized what the hell’s going on in my head. Of course the title presupposes the conclusion and you’d be right.

I started writing, a long long time ago in a galaxy far far away, for reasons much the same reason as I started writing software, because there’s something broken in my head. I know it. I’ve always known it. It will always be true. It’s fine.

So the thing that’s Always Been True about my personal journaling is that if I was in a fouled mood, depressed, anxious, and yes, suicidal (fret not, that’s a demon vanquished in the previous century) has been that IF I can get my pen to paper to write it out that I’d be able to systematically write myself out of the mood.

The thing about those kinds of states of mind is that they’re not really…states of mind. They can’t hold up to actual examination. They can only avoid it. When you’re depressed or anxious you get into a feedback loop that “kinda has some words hanging off it.” You end up looping around and saying the same things to yourself over and over again, key phrases that represent those strange emotional depths and serve as reinforcing self-talk. And that’s their job. All these things are little ‘sub-personalities’ that struggle for their own strength and identity, and damn the host that holds them.

Putting the pen to paper and writing my way through it, just narrating my thoughts serves to expose the repetition in a way that makes it impossible to continue. You can’t just write pages and pages of “you suck” without seeing it for what it is, so you’ve got to progress past there in some direction. That process serves to break the cycle.

Well…do that for a couple few decades and it becomes the entirety of your writing process if you’re not careful (hint: I haven’t been careful) so if you’re trying to produce meaningful content, ostensibly for the consumption of others that just doesn’t work. Especially if there’s not some kind of truly overt therapeutic need other than rummaging around in my head for words to throw up on to the page.

It really just becomes a self-sustaining exercise, undertaken for its own benefit, really a sensory pleasure of the mind. Masturbation.

And I do quite love the activity of just sitting here and typing. The additional feedback I get from hitting ‘publish’ is gravy.

But when I look back even at the posts of the last few weeks (months, years) I start seeing that same kind of ‘running around in a circle’ that I used to write to purge, though entirely without the (or, well, without THAT) emotional baggage.

And that, I suppose, is the primary insight from this session. The act of putting down words is attached to its own little sub-personality and results in the same kind of circular expression, if in a subtly different medium.

There’s utility in the repetition, to be sure. Every moment brings a different perspective, so even attacking the exact same idea over and over again yields a different outline from a slightly different angle.

And that’s great for ME. But I’ve GOT to imagine that you all are about done with it, assuming I’ve got more than two regular readers at all. (Actually I suspect it’s about 10. Statcounter doesn’t really work with modern ad-blocking technology.)

Ya know…now that I think about it… There’s an email list that I subscribed to. (Again, this is a matter of “what not who”.) It comes out weekly. I jumped on board a little late, so I went looking for the older editions, printed them all out and just read the first couple dozen in my chair one afternoon.

I noticed, reading them in sequential bulk like that, that they were really all about the same topic. Exactly what I’ve just been talking about and have been fretting about for quite some time. I ended up unsubscribing from the list because I have too many damned emails and there just wasn’t enough in the way of new ideas, information, or perspective to warrant the attention.

But now that I’ve discovered to myself that I’m doing the exact same thing I’m wondering if I hadn’t been thinking about it wrong. So I’ve just resubbed.

I think what I’m going to do is continue to write like this. I just get too much out of it to stop. But try to focus on new insights even when I am just…spinning around the same shit over and over, and edit with a focus on that THEN publish.

But I’m going to leave it all up because one of the things this goofy little site does is serve as a record for me. I really do go back and compare where my head was at a year or five or nineteen years ago.

But maybe stop posting for the sake of mental masturbation.

To This

Oh…how best to say…

I’m not real interested in writing to my audience. I’ve made no secret of the fact that what I post here is really for my edification and, if other people find it interesting, insightful, entertaining, useful or some combination therein, then that’s just gravy.

Previous incarnations of me writing online have had a fair amount of focus on staying relatively anonymous, after making a bunch of the kind of rookie mistakes that accompany a new foray into internet presence always does. But I’ve more or less abandoned that kind of conversational crossover in favor of not fucking worrying about it much.

The Deal goes roughly like this: IF I’m going to bitch and moan about real-life interactions I can say what, but not who, and even then only in general terms. Otherwise real life is mostly verboten, sans old stories about largely anonymous people or stories about fundamentally positive interactions. And even then, be sparing about names.

That pretty much keeps things clean to the limit of my tolerance for considering it.

Lately though I’ve been noticing something funny and I think the change is in the noticing, not the phenomenon itself.

I’ll sit here for my 4-7 hours or so, pen off a couple posts and really get in to my own head and feelings about it all. In a very real way this scene…

…becomes an extension of the inside of my mind. I tend to near intentionally forget that other people are going to be reading whatever goes up.

So I’m not writing any well structured essays. This is all really just stream of consciousness writing for the most part; blogging in the old style, as it were. It’s largely pretty sappy and deeply personal. But whatever, that’s the context I’m in when I’m staring at these amber words on the page.

“Problem” is the day after I’m here I reread what I’ve put down (I…read my own writing rather a lot, and with a level of repetition that I suspect people might find truly alarming) I frequently wince a bit. Usually that’s accompanied by a moment of “can’t believe I went all the way there.” But I very VERY rarely amend a post based on that kind of realization. I deleted a pair of posts a couple weeks ago. But aside from that I really don’t post-edit all that much.

Back in the day when I started blogging on Radio Userland (blog 0108194, I recall for some reason) I was absolutely shocked by what people did and didn’t respond to. It was always the most strange little inner thoughts and day to day ramblings that elicited the most enthusiastic response. Well, that was long before social media was an itch in Tom’s…err…mind. Let’s go with mind.

Generally speaking that just doesn’t happen anymore and it’s tough not to think I’m just shouting details a bit too personal into the void, giving random strangers a window into most of the workings of my mind….to what end? Well, who knows. You’d be more of a fool than I not to understand it’s still a persona, if not one so neatly and consciously contrived as that might imply. Oh it’s honest, don’t get me wrong. But it’s a selective facet of the guts of my mind.

My reasons for writing here have changed a lot over the years. At this point yeah, there’s some narcissism invovled in the idea that people will come and read these things and get excited about them, one way or another. There’s some thought to the fact that I’m trying to hone my wordcraft, even in this slapdash of a format. But mostly it’s just a personal journal of what’s on my mind, sprinkled with stories both fantastic and benign that I use to entertain myself and maybe others.

All in all it keeps me as close to honest as I’m likely to get, assuming I don’t make the decision to pull out some of the stops I’ve got in place that prevent me from running this all as an even deeper dive in to my psyche, which would certainly have its utility. Yeah, it’d be tougher to manage socially, especially since I’ve now got people in real life who say “Hey I read that thing you posted last week.”

Hell, maybe it’d be worth it. Problem is, I keep it on this side of the line here. But I also post about 2/3 of the words I put down on this forum. So those lines continue to behave, in practice, as limits on my ability to self examine, and that’s not acceptable.

Hmm… Enumerated thus it presents a problem I hadn’t really realized was there.

I suppose my options are:

  • Continue as I’m going: Solves nothing, but it’s certainly the easiest option.
  • Pull out some more stops and let this get a bit deeper: Frightening, to be sure. And maybe that speaks to the value. Playing it safe is certainly responsible, at least in part, for some of the stasis this all seems to have.
  • Back off here and start working more on fiction while doing more writing offline: Eh. There’s something to that. But I’m going to do that in reverse, regardless of what else I come up with.
  • Post to drafts then spend more energy editing and building up more coherent essay-like pieces instead of just ripping out stream-of-consciousness posts: I mean yeah, that’s a possibility but where’s the fun? I enjoy few things as much as doing this the way I do it. Not sure I’m willing to take the risk. But then what risk really? Not like there’s anything irreversable about it.
  • Be more intentional about topic planning and outlining: This is something like the above, but not quite the same thing. I really enjoy the straight up stream of consciousness writing. But taking the “ooh, I should write about that” impulse and even bulleting it out a bit before hand might be a nice happy medium.

And hell, maybe it’s a problem that doesn’t need a solution. I don’t know. It requires a fair bit more thought. On one side I’m playing it a bit too safe, on the other it seems I’m doing the opposite.

It’s the kind of thing that, having blasted out 1100 words about it, I’ll come up with some thoughts about it over the next few days.

Until then.

2021-03-29: Multidisciplinary Updates

So I made myself a pizza on Saturday. Sourdough crust that I kinda overdid. I ended up splitting it between a little pizza and a bunch of garlic breadsticks.

Now I can bake a loaf of bread but my pizza-fu is…less than impressive. After all, pizza cheese isn’t really just mozzarella, for starters. Then my sauce is…well…jarred pizza sauce. I don’t think my marinara would serve.

I overcooked the crust (you’re supposed to parbake it first, not fully bake it) added sauce, cheese, and pepperoni and put it back in the oven with the breadsticks.

I ate…just…all of it. Holy hell did I feel disgusting afterwards. After all, the serving size of pizza is “the.”

Even while I was doing it I knew I didn’t want it. But I plowed through it out of some strange completionist urge. Then I sat in my chair and whined about it, quite thoroughly disgusted with myself.

“Yeah, I’m not eating tomorrow.”

Half way through Sunday I thought “Ya know, I should just fast ’til the end of the month. There are only 3 days left and I can do that standing on my head.”

Well, it’s 4 days, Sunday included and today is day 2. Maybe I’ll commit to it all the way through, maybe not. I’m not that married to it. It’d be a fun accomplishment and it’s worth doing things like that to keep myself on my toes about not staying too comfortable.

Normally I’d be here at the cigar lounge on Tuesdays and Thursdays. But I predict that tomorrow I’m going to be in no shape to get much at all done. Besides it’s going to be gorgeous out so my tentative plan is to open all the windows, pull open the garage door, and get some work done in the shop, which is a damned disaster.

Rex Kruger posted a video on bench making mistakes (immediately below) that kinda lit a fire under my ass about building a bench again. I’ve still got the top I laminated for the roman-style bench build, a behemoth of 2x4s. It’d make a pretty awesome normal bench top if I attached legs, stretchers and maybe a couple more laminations to bring it up to width.

I’ve been ignoring the woodworking stuff for too long as it all sits in my workshop, staring at me accusatively every time I go down there to do laundry. I’m overdue for building myself a simple platform bed to replace the rickety nonsense I’ve been sleeping on for the last year.

Let’s see, what else…

The big batch of rice wine is coming along really well. It’s fermenting up a storm and, looking through the side of the fermenter I can see it’s separating really well. Last time I made it I went through all kinds of nonsense to try and pre-game separating the rice from the wine. I tried putting the rice in a big paint filtering bag. I put a bunch of stainless steel wool in the bottom of the (conical) fermenter, thinking that would help keep it out of the valve. All of that was just a damned mess. This time I just spooned the rice in directly and it’s behaving just fine. So in 2-3 weeks I’ll lift the thing up and let it pour into a 5g carboy, where it’ll stay until it clarifies and I can bottle it.

———

I made a round of beef jerky a couple weeks ago and just used Cajun Garlic Sauce in a 36 hour marinade with nothing else. Took me a little bit to warm up to it as it was a bit sweet. But I’ve only got a little bit left.

The biggest pain in the ass with that is cutting the beef thin enough. But otherwise I really enjoy it. It got me to wondering what a deli slicer would cost, since I ALWAYS get tired of cutting it so damned thin that by the end my slices end up a quarter inch or thicker. And yes, that’s even with putting the beef in the freezer for a couple hours first to make it easier to handle.

I figured a slicer would be a couple/few hundred bucks which…is really too much for dicking around with jerky. But I found a bunch down in the $80 range, so I’m seriously considering picking one of those up. If I could factor slicing out of the equation I’m pretty sure my dehydrator would always be going.

———

A few days ago someone on one of the alternative social media platforms (gab or mewe, I don’t remember which) posted a deal on Ender-3 3d printers for something like $165. That’s…a really great deal.

So I pulled the trigger on it. I want to print up some interesting stuff and I fear my CraftBot is just not up to the task.

Well I got a text message from my bank saying that fraud detection had denied the charge and to respond “YES” if this was really me. I did so, then got the response that they’d allow future charges to that vendor. Okay fine.

By that time I’d gotten the email that the charge had been denied. Sure, fair enough. I still had the store’s browser tab up, so I hit back a couple times and re-bought it.

Well…guess what happened. Go ‘head, guess. I’ll bet you can get it in one.

Yep. You guessed it.

So by the end of the week I’m going to have…heh…3 3d printers. I thought briefly about cancelling one of the orders, but figured I could load them with different filaments and keep them going. The radio project, a couple other far FAR more interesting projects are coming down the pike as well. So I ordered some red ABS to accompany the PLA I’ve got.

——-

I got that great comment from Joan of Aaargh (seriously. Best nom de plume of all time) on my post from last week and it really fired me up about my fantasy fiction writing. So I’ve been plugging sporadically away at that, determined to actually get the damned thing at least framed out. But I’m finding writing a large piece like that such an amazing bitch and a half, just flying blind like that.

The problem is all the tools and tricks, templates and techniques I see always feel like cheating. But that’s a bunch of horseshit. It’s the over-engineering problem writ large.

“I don’t need help. I can do it all myself from scratch!”

That’s an attitude that actually got me extremely far in software development, if it was a bit counter-productive on the short term, since it forced me to figure out how the hell to build things that I could (and almost certainly SHOULD) have just pulled a 3rd party library for. As a result I know things I couldn’t possibly have learned any other way.

But I’m not at all sure it’s appropriate for writing. Writing isn’t software development. These are really well-trodden paths and there’s all kinds of great information out there about the pitfalls people have encountered along the way. Hundreds of years of the stuff.

At this point I should really be long past worrying about whether or not I’m going to have an original (or at least authentic) voice to my writing. I mean shit, really? But it still gets under my skin.

And yeah, I understand where it comes from. It’s not REALLY for exploring in this venue. But draw a line back in time to “I don’t need help, I can do it by myself!” and you’ll see it all pretty clearly.

Bit of an issue trying to prove something to someone who’s no longer on this earth.

Gak. Didn’t mean to run head-first into THAT line of thought. But that’s where it took me, so that’s what it is.

Sadly though, dear readers, as I said above, there’s a limit to the depths into which I’ll descend on this particular outlet, so I’m going to cut this off here quite abruptly and hit post.

Prologue

“It’s not like that, see. Magic isn’t something ELSE. It’s…it’s the stuff we’re made of. You can’t just go twiddlin’ around with it any more than you can go messin’ about with the beams and nails that make up the inn. You’ll do things to it. Change it, and if you don’t know what you’re doing, rarely for the better.”

“That’s what magic does, boy. Changes people.” The old drunk looked down in to his stein for something that wasn’t there. “And rarely for the better.”


But there was no magic. It was the fish tales of old men and the hushed knowing looks of those who knew very little indeed.

“Oh, there was a time…before you were born, when my grandmother told stories about her grandmother….” They’d start. Always the same speech. Always the same damned nonsense.

She cursed her wandering mind. But then this was the easy part.

The rain patted heavily against her leathers as any sound she could have made was drowned out completely and hid her that much more thoroughly from sight. She could probably whistle without fear of being discovered.

Still, no reason to get careless. She went through the motions of hugging the walls, rounding corners quietly, making her way across the roofs and chimneys in the merchants quarter of the sleepless city. At least she was up from the smell of the docks for a change. Though tonight it wouldn’t have mattered much. She’d be soaked for days.

Counting three doors from the corner she double checked her memory. This is the one. Making her way over the edge of the balcony she kept a fixed gaze on the door. An ear pressed against it confirmed…nothing. The storm had its disadvantages. No one seemed to be home. She’d watched the place for days. No one had come or gone. She should be okay.

A small knife blade was all it took to shim up the latch that held the door closed. She padded in to the room and latched the door behind her, taking a moment to let her senses adjust. At first there was nothing but the musty smell suggesting the room was ill kept and well out of use.

As her eyes adjusted the rest of the room came in to focus. A modest personal chamber; better than the inn. But far from the finery she expected in this area. Servant’s room? Maybe. Seemed unlikely.

She made her way down the hall and replayed Fal’s words “Third floor. Room on the right at the end of the hall towards the docks. Behind the desk.”

Thankfully the door was open a crack when she got there. Giving it a good look she pushed it enough to slip inside then took a good survey. It was about twice the size of the room she came in and the furniture was indeed finer. The wood was finished and there was a rug she was thankful for. The smell was definitely coming from in here.

The tapestry depicting familiar scenes of Bhoar’s Scholars hung on the walls and a richly appointed bed was fixed against the middle of the opposite wall. On the other side she saw something that looked like it could be a small writing desk and a wardrobe.

“Give me a full moon over this damned dark any night.”

“The desk, the desk.” she reminded herself in a whisper. But the desk was a tiny affair, a writing desk; little more than a table against the wall. Reflexively she pulled open the drawer to find some messy parchment and a spilled ink pot, the ink quite wet, soaking into the drawer and the loose pages. Odd. She closed the drawer and reached around behind it and just felt the boards that made up the wall. There wasn’t anything here. Some secret? It was an exterior wall. There wasn’t enough room for that kind of thing. She’d never find it in this dark if it were. And what in blazes was that smell?

As she made her way softly across the room her foot made an audible squishing noise and pulled up stickily. She caught herself taking short fast breaths as her body recognized the smell an instant before she was aware of it.

Blood. Very wet blood…recently spilled. Gods….how recently? Wait…who’s blood?

Eyes darting around the room “behind the desk” didn’t make any damned sense. It wasn’t the bed, where she could now make out the outline of a very recently deceased occupant as her breath quickened.

Footsteps? No. Rain on the roof. Calm down Kly.

Taking a couple deep breaths to steady herself, she looked up at the tapestry. “The Scholars of Bhoar” was a familiar image, depicting the transcription of the scrolls that would carry his laws across the world. One Scholar, she could never remember which one stood dictating to the other one sitting at…DESK!

“HA!” She winced at her exuberance and squinted.

A rumbling downstairs.

She darted on her toes in two quick steps to the tapestry, pulled it aside and padded the wall behind it. After some searching she could feel the outline of a rough seam, a change in texture in the wall. Pulling out a utilitarian blade, she gouged at the plaster for a moment as quietly and quickly as reasonable (given the now unmistakable footsteps on the staircase.) After a moment the outline of a small panel was exposed which pulled away easily, if noisily.

“Someone’s up here!” the voice called out.

She hugged the wall behind the tapestry as she reached in to the alcove and retrieved what had better be the carved wooden box she was after.

The lantern light came down the hall as she tucked the box in to the bag at her side and she took one last deep breath. In a panic moment she paced through her actions and shook her head in disgust. Dripping wet, she’d led a trail right here. Stepped in the blood. With any light her hiding spot wouldn’t fool a child.

The door opened and she caught the gleam of a blade as her pursuer walked in the room.

Not big and overly cautious he walked in to the room, not immediately noticing the bulge behind the tapestry. But the second he saw the bloody footprints.

“What the…” he took a couple steps farther in to the room. But she couldn’t get a good look at him.

She shoved the tapestry forward with both hands, pushing against the wall with one foot as it came loose from the decorative hardware towards the unseen figure, darted out the doorway and down the hall.

A second figure was at the end of the hall, looking down at the floor in front of the doorway she came in through at the puddle she left. Seeing movement he looked up slowly and saw her, groggy, not quite registering what was going on.

She sprinted at the bemused obstruction as her first victim righted himself.

“Hey. Hey there’s a gir…oof” she drove her shoulder into his midsection and over he went as she darted into the room, flipped up the latch, opened the door and vaulted over the balcony railing into the driving rain on to the tile roof.

“Wet!” She yelled to no one as her foot flew from under her. She tried to flatten herself against the tiles. But it was no use in the driving rain.

Pulling a couple tiles along with her she slid down and off the tapered roof, over she went, in to the air and slammed into the muddy street.

Closing her eyes she took a quick survey of herself. Her right side stung badly. But she could get up. She looked up at the balcony but couldn’t tell if there was anyone there.

“This had better be worth it. Oh no.” In a sudden realization she padded the bag where she’d stored her prize. She could feel the box in pieces. Well, hopefully the box wasn’t the important part. But if her prize was particularly fragile she was done for. It was in ruins and something heavy roundish and pointy remained. No time. She could make out some kind of chaos coming from inside the building.

“uhm…alley…right…docks.” she panted, and pushing herself the rest of the way to standing, she disappeared, limping into the night.


“What do you mean ‘Dathios is dead?’ He’s wasn’t even supposed to be in the city. That’s why I sent you two to begin with.”

The brothers looked at each other then at the floor.

“Alright. One more time. You went in the side door…”

“We came through the side door…” the more articulate of the pair began. “and followed your directions up the stairs, to the end of the hall on the right.”

“The dock side.” His brother added, proud to help.

“Yes Feld. The dock side.”

“The dock side.”

“We walked in to the bedroom and startled Dathios in his sleep. He got out of bed and started yelling.”

“He yells loud. Well…yelled.”

“If it weren’t for the storm…”

“Yes, if only.” their bewildered employer shook his head.

“Well, then Feld…”

“I stuck him.”

“…stuck him.”

“And behind the desk?”

“There wasn’t anything behind the desk. Just a blank wall.”

“All for nothing then. Just…get out of my sight.”

“There’s just…the matter of…” The more articulate brother shuffled.

“What. You’re not really asking me to pay you for murdering one of the few good merchants left in the city AND coming back without the box are you? Not really.”

“It’s not our fault the box…”

“DON’T.” He was seething now. What was he thinking, hiring these fools. He’d had so little time to act when he’d heard. In fairness, these two were muscle and had been worth the money on other occasions. This was his fault. It had been a bit subtle of a task.

“Just get out.”

The brothers looked at each other for a moment and started out.

“Do you think it would’ve made a difference if we’d told him about the girl?”

“FELD!”

“Girl? What girl!?!”

“After we’d gotten back downstairs Feld said he heard a noise.”

“I went up to have a look and she got past me, knocked Feld down and jumped out the window.”

“She was mean.”

“What did she look like?”

“Dark clothes. mask over her face.” Geniuses.

“And she jumped out of a third story window?”

“Well. I think she meant to crawl across the roof. But with the rain and how fast she was going…”

“She was fast.”

“She slid off and hit the ground pretty hard. We went out to look for her. But by the time we got down, out the side and around the front, she was gone and there were broken roof tiles in the mud.”

“Just…get out before I…just…get out.”

That was the big problem with buying information. There was nothing stopping the seller from getting paid on the same information several times. Information was a bit too much like a flame, the more it spreads the faster it consumes its utility. Hopefully whomever this was didn’t have any more luck than his two oafs. But the odds were thin.

It was too dangerous now to send someone back in to see what happened. The man’s family and guild would be or have been all over the place.

It was time to pay his source a visit and do something about his newfound competition.

Purpose From Focus?

Last week I wrote about the bleed of attention of pursuits across the day, the way focusing on something “for a couple hours” infects your mind for the rest of the day (on the small scale.)

I’m not sure it occurred to me at the time, or maybe it was just starting to, how useful that knowledge is as a tool.

In the time since I’ve been leaning REALLY hard on a couple programming projects and, as expected they’ve preoccupied my mind in what are ostensibly other pursuits.

The picture of my own personal software ecosystem has come back into sharp focus as I’ve wanted for tools that would help the couple projects I’m working on.

What I couldn’t really have foreseen, but makes perfect sense in retrospect (even though “retrospect” amounts to about four days) is how sustained attention in a singular domain compounds.

As I work on the trading system and my HHC ecosystem at large the ideas that are just spinning off as I work are getting deeper and deeper. And no, you can’t work on every idea that comes in to your head. You’d drive yourself completely fucking insane if you actually tried.

But what I can (and do) do (heh. do do. 12. I’m 12) is write them all down on a notepad or the whiteboard next to my desk. Then when I hit a breaking point I’ll key them in to the wiki with some verbiage. Over time what happens is, quite like writing, I get the crap or low hanging ideas out of the way and start getting down to the actual interesting stuff before too much time at all.

That’s not to say that the first cut of ideas aren’t worth anything. But they’re like the leaves on a tree. Once enough of them are sketched out you start to see the larger form take place. The general principle starts distilling out of them.

There are shittons of “Wait…this is just like that, but different. I’m clearly heading towards something that’s a distillation of these five or six thoughts.” A couple generations of that and I end up getting down to the trunk of what it is that’s inspiring those thoughts through the filters of the day to day work.

Then my designs change, getting inevitably simpler as I distill the general principles out of the clusters of items. Then again, and again. Finally I reach a practical terminus of “this is just that with a coat of paint on it” ideas.

None of this would be possible without sustained focus within a particular domain.

I’m excited to see where this effort takes me.

BUT

It’s pretty frustrating when I walk downstairs to do the laundry, through the lab where all of my electronics projects, my 3d printer, little cnc machine, and vacuum former live, into the garage/wood/metal shop to the washer/dryer live to do the laundry.

I can absolutely do anything. But I absolutely can’t do everything. Not at the level of focus I demand in order to get good at any of it.

The payoff of single-mindedness is just too damned high.

[Warning: Segue from hell incoming]

Most of these posts, I think everyone who reads them would agree, have the same flavor of “running around a relatively tight circle, picking up apples from the same tree.” As I go through the same territory back and forth like some manic puppy I can absolutely see myself carving out the negative space around the problems of drive, meaning, dedication to ideals, and purpose (sacred or not.)

It’s a larger issue I’ve heard speak of everywhere from Ivan Throne to Jordan Peterson. It’s always been something that’s met my mind as a great mystery, this notion of Sacred Purpose, a higher ideal, something to strive towards. I adore the idea.

That idea of being somehow PULLED in a direction by something greater than yourself is something I absolutely lust after, but have absolutely never experienced. Of course that presupposes a willingness to BE pulled. That’s an idea that hurts my head enough that it may indicate at least some of where my trouble lies.

When it came up at the first Feast of War in Denver back in February 2018 I stopped the conversation with my question to Ivan, Mr. Swift, Alexander Cortes, and the assembled gentlemen at the table.

“Sacred purpose sounds amazing. And I envy people who have it. I really do. But…I just don’t have anything like that in my life.” (Sure, maybe I’ve gotten better at phrasing the posit than I did back then. But the substance is equivalent.)

And they tried. They did. Sadly I’ve forgotten Ivan’s response. Mr. Swift took a hard hack at it and asked if it was all the same to me if someone tried to kill me, as an exercise in evoking “what I have to live for.” Alexander picked up his butter knife and said “If I came over there and killed you with this knife, what would be your last thought?” Again, a provoking question well posed.

But no one has an answer to those kinds of things that means anything, and I was dismissive and dodged them because they backed me into a conversational corner where I had no tools at my disposal. Again, that was the point.

Now I knew than just as I know now that no one can give you that. You can’t be granted purpose. On reddit when the subject comes up in any of the various “hey throw me a line here” subreddits I’ve always responded with: “You don’t discover your purpose, you decide.” It’s a bit pat and sounds good. Hell, it might ACTUALLY be true.

But the problem with deciding over discovering is that you can decide based on a whim. Well okay, but then what weight does that decision actually have? If it’s not a based on some deeper compulsion than the weather then it simply hasn’t the gravitas required to sustain you on the path in the dark times of doubt.

To horribly butcher Hitchens: What can be decided on a whim can be discarded on a whim.

So what, then?

I’m finding fascinating…synergy in singular focus and it’s becoming self-propelling. But does that constitute larger purpose? Will it evolve into that over time?

Again, I don’t know. But it definitely knocks on the same kind of door.

Of course there are…other…things that are absorbing my attention in a way that doesn’t interfere with my current hobby/project/software work. Interestingly, my Tuesday/Thursday writing sessions technically DO interfere. If I was to really roll up my sleeves and commit to the project work then these would have to fall by the wayside. But I’m not giving this up. Writing is the effective fountainhead of my self-awareness.

It’s dialing in. Dead weight is being left by the wayside. Things are clarifying at what, if I’m being honest, is an extraordinary rate. Yeah, maybe it’s a bit late and it’s absolutely too slow for my liking.

I do take some solace in the fact that lessons learned quickly and easily aren’t really learned at all. That introspection and integration process takes time, focus, and energy if it’s to stick. (Huh. Reminds me of Ouspensky and Gurdgeiff. But I’ll have to save THAT discussion for another time, pending a couple re-reads.)

So for now all I can really do is plug forward, keep digging at this burial site, try to be patient with myself, and keep working on that trading system code.

The Tools Of My Enemies

I’ve asked this question of groups of people on Twitter, at cigar lounges, groups of half-drunk friends, and elsewhere…always to the sound of crickets.

In the current culture war it seems every corporation has taken a stance.

Some are front liners. The behavior of Twitter and Facebook is absolutely unconscionable. TikTok is run by a malevolent foreign actor. Amazon kicked Parler off their infrastructure and has started banning books based on some internal leftist metric of “suitable content.” Don’t even get me started on fucking Google. Major media isn’t even worth discussing.

Most of these companies provide an incredibly valuable service. The social and business utility of the social media defies all metrics.

So my question is this: In attempting to maintain your convictions, is it okay to use the tools of your enemies, knowing that in so doing, you benefit them directly?

There are a couple people who I only keep in touch with over facebook. Quitting twitter is an absolute non-starter at this point. It’s really my primary social forum.

Those two use advertising income to pay the bills (note: If the service is free, you are the product.) So I have all MANNER of ad blockers on my home lan, my laptops, phone, browsers, etc. My personal information is a lie and on Facebook I post just about nothing. Facebook and Twitter just don’t get much from my participation.

But what about Google? Well, yeah I have an android phone, which is a google operating system (I bought an iPhone 11 pro somethingorother but just couldn’t get used to it as I’m unwilling to buy in to the ecosystem.) They bought FitBit so THAT’S now in the box of verboten hardware. I’ve got a few gmail accounts that are used for secondary concerns, and I use duckduckgo, Brave, and microsoft products for the most part. What about YouTube? Well, the ad blockers manage that pretty well and I pull down copies of most videos I ever revisit. So I’m more or less okay there. But there’s still a dependency that makes me physically sick.

Then there’s the big one: Amazon. I was an amazon prime user since it’s existed, for about 20 years. The amount of money I’ve spent at Amazon is almost embarrassing since 1999. As they dropped more and more books from their catalog, without a trace, I started flinching. But when they kicked Parler off the AWS infrastructure I had enough. I unplugged all my amazon echo devices, wiped my kindles (yes, plural. Don’t ask), boxed up my Fire TV unit, and just cancelled my account completely.

Felt good to exhibit the courage of my convictions.

Amazon is absolutely the one that hurts the most. I don’t QUITE walk into the kitchen and say “Alexa, play ‘My Likes'” or ask for the weather report. But…even now, months later, it comes up every time I walk into the kitchen. I’ve found other sources for books and other stuff. Abebooks, thriftbooks, hell, even Barnes & Noble. Walmart delivers pretty quickly. Newegg, Monoprice, Tindie, and Sparkfun have all the tech I could want.

But Amazon is SO damned good at what they do that, months later, I still feel a little stabbing pain when I order something from somewhere else.

The only way alternatives will exist is if the demand is there, and every person who makes that kind of decision pulls in the right direction.

Of course some people will say “That’s just stupid. They don’t care about you. It doesn’t make a difference to them and you’re just cutting off your nose to spite your face.”

And…maybe there’s some truth to that. I don’t know. Seems like giant low IQ cop out horseshit. That’s what I’m trying to navigate.

Let’s take the Amazon example a little further: I’m working on a book (yes yes finally, shush.) I’m not going to fill out query letters and go agent shopping. That time has passed. The one true platform for self-publishing and marketing is Amazon. Yeah there’s gumroad and others that have print on demand services and such. But…they’re not really marketing engines. So now what?

At what point is it acceptable to use the tools of people who’ve done nothing short of declare themselves as your enemies, especially when it benefits them in a material way?

On one hand it’s a matter of voting with my wallet and my attention. It’s a decision I’ve made and continue to stand by. Though I’d be lying if I wasn’t looking for a line of reasoning that would allow me to bend and sign up for an amazon account again.

On the other: What difference can it possibly make? Is it a hill worth dying on?

But aside from people either deciding to boycott or not I really don’t see a lot of discussion about this idea.

When push comes to shove it’s a personal judgement only we can make.

Sudokme? No. Sudoku!

So I’ve gotten the video game thing down to a manageable level. Yeah there are a couple events coming up in the next few months that will show a dramatic uptick in my activity. But a couple hours a night a couple nights a week is a far better level than I’d actually even planned on achieving. I’ve just got better shit to do with my time.

One of the things that I’ve swapped out is some of those goofy phone games which I only really ever played when drifting off to sleep or blearily staring at my phone in the morning in a hypnogogic haze in the morning.

Instead of trying to cold-turkey it I’ve gone back to Sudoku puzzles. They’re sufficiently engaging and have a ‘pure logic’ aspect to them that appeals to my sense of order.

Back in the day I used to be really good at them. It really was just a matter of never giving up and never guessing. My girlfriend at the time had gotten me in to them for our commutes in to the city.

She’d go at the damned thing with a pencil, taking notes and crossing things off until she finally unlocked those couple few keys.

Well…I’m kinda a dick so I’d just stare at the puzzle until I found something I could fill in and I’d fill it in with a pen. It used to drive her fucking BANANAS. Plus I’d have an eye on hers as well and when she’d get visibly frustrated I’d ask if she wanted a hint.

It was fun.

But it was funny when I realized how much of that had drifted away from the front of my mind when I started doing them in earnest this week again for the first time since back then. I could feel the patterns and heuristics in the back of my head, banging on the inside of the trunk I’d locked them away in, looking to get out.

Well…Tuesday night I had a ‘medium’ puzzle, which usually takes me a bit over 11 minutes nowadays, that I had brain lock on for over an hour. I just kept getting madder and madder about it. Finally I condescended to sleep.

Wednesday morning, back at it. The damned thing took me another 45 minutes to solve.

Unacceptable.

In a bout of frustration I went to the computer and opened a new project.

So yeah, I’m TDDing my way through a sudoku solver (and probably generator, before all is said and done.) What I’m going to do is puzzle my way through it without any external references other than a bunch of downloaded puzzles to test against.

Eventually I’ll post it all. Maybe it’ll be my first github project. We’ll see.

I’ve tried posting about software project work before and it’s been…hit and miss. So I’m going to see what I can come up with.

Draft: Focus you FUCK

[I’ve tagged this as a draft because now that I’m about to hit ‘publish’ I’ve seen more that I can add to it once I put it together, which has a delightful self-referential humor to it. Well, you’ll see…]

I’ve been refocusing pretty hard on my programming chops and projects over the last couple/few weeks.

Now, before I continue I feel the strange compulsion to say that I don’t suppose any of this is actually new information. But having come to a more clear (and therefore simple) understanding of the phenomenon itself definitely helps me to deal with my unENDing frustration in trying to shoot off in 19 directions at once.

There’s this illusion in my head that because in theory the time exists to pursue several different things during the day, that I could actually do that in practice.

On paper it seems like there’s MORE than enough time in a single day to write for a couple hours, code for a couple hours, then head down to the shop and get some frames built, then round out the day by defusing for an hour or three with a video game or two.

But attention doesn’t work like that. And it’s really taken me banging my head against a fucking wall over and over again for years…well, decades really, to figure this out.

The time you spend doing a thing isn’t the time you spend doing a thing.

The time you spend actively engaged in a pursuit is not only a fraction of the time you spend thinking about it, but a small fraction.

With my various programming projects for instance, if they’re front and center in my head, they’re really front and center. I can code for a few hours at a time. But the active task of programming is really the process of taking structured notes on what I’ve been thinking about for the rest of the day and testing those thoughts against reality to see what works and what doesn’t, then making necessary adjustments.

If for instance, I end up with a mental log jam resulting from a design consideration I’d either not anticipated or just straight up gotten wrong, I have to stand up and walk away, sometimes to a whiteboard, sometimes just to go wash dishes so I can reconsider the problem and make adjustments to that weird 4d model I have in my head (which is something I’m going to have to try and put down some day.)

Once I have a new picture ready, ready enough to screw around with, THEN I head back to the compiler and test it against reality.

Rinse.

Repeat.

It’s the time I spend NOT writing software where I’m actually doing the lion’s share of the work.

Picture a bell curve graph representing mental energy spent on a pursuit. Now let’s say the middle….1/4 or so actually represents the time “Engaged in the Active Task” with the mental energy tapering off in either direction. You can’t actually fit four of those in a day. Hell, it might not be practical to fit two of them.

This is why wasting time on engaging but ultimately superfluous pursuits is so damned dangerous. I mean, if you’re not trying to accomplish anything then sure, have at. Go watch your fucking sportsball or your favorite series and let it dominate your mind and your conversation. More power to you if selling your human potential short and drooling backwashed light beer into the couch while watching other people perform to their limits so you can staturbate with your buddies is what actually makes you happy.

I…for my part spend a fair amount of time playing video games. (What, you thought I was claiming high moral ground with that last paragraph? Please. I’m as guilty as any.) It USED to be that I’d soak up a dozen hours in a stretch several days a week. But rather than trying to eliminate/reduce that time for its own sake (which induces a strange phenomenon I’ll call an “Engagement Vacuum”) I’ve muscled it into a corner by intentionally focusing on things I enjoy much more.

My current obsession in that sphere is Cyberpunk 2077. It’s a phenomenal work of art. The outgrowth of that, with regards to this post, is that it’s infected the rest of my project thinking. I’m in the (slow and laborious) process of building a cyberdeck (more on that elsewhere.) I’ve got components ordered to duplicate, near as reasonable, one of the standard radios that show up in the environment (though I still don’t know how I’m going to build the shell.)

When you’re that focused on something it just gets in to everything.

So you’d do well to pay attention to where your attention goes when you think it’s not going anywhere.

——-

Addendum:

I couldn’t figure out where the hell in there to put these couple paragraphs, so I’m just adding them to the end.

As I wrote this my brain had ‘my writing process’ as an abstraction on the back burner. It occured to me that this is one of the things at the core of my continued (and endlessly harped on) frustration with writing longer pieces. I really don’t think about (or more properly stated, dwell on) individual writing projects, be it these rambling blog posts or the longer form fiction I keep fantasizing about writing.

In order to move forward in a meaningful way in building this skill set I need to be able to chew on these projects while I’m not actively typing. Trying to reason it out here on the page I’m thinking that means I need to consider higher level structure, much the way I do with software. Spend some time thinking about what I want to accomplish then coming up with a structure and go top-down with it. Of course this is in stark contrast to the way I write, which is entirely bottom up; start typing and see what comes out.

It’s interesting stuff that I’m excited about getting to the bottom of (or at least deeper in to. I expect it’s effectively bottomless.)

Post Post Refractory Period and Thoughts on Writing

Not sure if I’ve ever actually said anything about this IN a post before.

I sit here and eventually get the engines of my fingers going and it just feels good to do. Frankly it really doesn’t make MUCH of a difference what I’m typing about, so long as my fingers are going back and forth over the keyboard and the funny amber word things are coming out.

But I encounter this perhaps not-so-weird phenomenon where I’ll finish something (or, more typically just…kinda stop), do some proofreading then hit ‘publish’ after which my brain goes completely blank.

It’s what I call my post-post refractory period. There’s this strange dead air in my head immediately after I get something out the door where the compulsion leaves me a bit and I scramble around for the next idea or topic.

Usually I’ll dick around on twitter and reddit a bit until something strikes me. Maybe I’ll look through the half-baked documents in my working folder. But truth be told I rarely go back to an in-progress piece. I think it’s a weakness in my writing process really.

So there’s this period of about a half hour or so where I’m in absolute limbo. If I weren’t pathologically incapable of relaxation it would be a nice time. Instead my brain starts almost immediately scrambling about for the next thing to blast out in a stream of consciousness.

I even have a “post ideas” page I keep in a OneNote document that I can add to from my phone and is automatically synced online and is accessible throughout the known universe.

I thought I was awfully clever setting that up and…maybe it’s a good solid step in the right direction. The problem is I’m victim of my own success in that…well…there’s never anything in there. I pull it up when I sit down here, grab the top idea and write about that so it’s always empty. It’s not nearly the Brian Eno deck of ideas (or whateverthepretentiouscrap he called that deck of cards) I hoped it would be.

Even this just started because I wanted to just keep typing SOMEthing even if it was just for the love of doing it.

I really want to teach myself (therein lies the rub) how to compose longer more cohesive pieces. Yeah these blog posts are fun. The process is really helping me get my thoughts in order, which is something I desperately need.

I’m just not sure how to get from here to there since I really don’t know what ‘there’ looks like. Post longer stuff? Outline first? Start Mind Mapping? (ugh. I mean yeah, but ugh.)

These are the problems the wiki is supposed to solve; allowing me to write a bunch of small pieces that I can seamlessly integrate so that I can create a corpus from which to draw for a larger piece. But it’s not really working out that way.

It’s something I’m going to have to attack far more intentionally than I have over the last…err…several…uhm…decades.

But it’s not enough. These are still just the pithy ramblings of an intentional if largely inadequate thinker.

Good Joke. Everybody Laugh. Roll on snare drums. Curtains.

I think an awful lot about humor. That’s not to say I really understand much about the mechanics of it. There’ve been endless smart people who’ve compared humor and comedy, understand the depths of telling jokes or Twainian short stories, dissected them and come up with formulae involving the violation of expectations, etc.

It’s all really quite fascinating.

But something I never quite see is people telling smart jokes to smart people.

It seems a damned shame to me that telling jokes includes punch lines.

I’m not sure if it’s always been true. I don’t know, if it hasn’t always been true, if it’s an outgrowth of the industry of comedy and its need to appeal to the broadest possible audience base.

It just seems a damned shame.

Here’s how the perfect joke works, by my estimation:

You’re in a room with a dozen or two people and have the floor. You set up the joke in the middle of a paragraph, then keep talking, not giving the slightest visual clue as to what you’ve done. It’s acceptable to give a person or two a conspiratorial glance. But that’s IT! A pause after the paragraph in which the setup is buried and someone across the room crinkles their brow, looks up, and starts chuckling. MAYbe a couple more reparse the paragraph and get it.

But then people will laugh along at they don’t know what. Invariably someone will come in late and ask if you knew what you said. Le Sigh. Even that is a part of the ego boost, truth be told.

A great joke should tell the way an IN joke should, where you know a couple people are going to catch the reference, draw the conclusion, and realize what you’ve done, and laugh along.

“In jokes” are the next best thing I suppose. But it’s still a devolution of the idea. You’ve got guaranteed context with a few other people so you have the near guarantee that the reference will be caught, removing the need to spell it all out for everyone.

Now that’s not going to work on stage, where you have an audience paying you to make them laugh, and alls the more shame for it.

A few weeks ago I met a guy here at the cigar lounge. He sat down in a chair a couple down from me and…I’m not sure how the hell he picked up on it. Maybe he is just constantly slinging a certain type of humor. He’s certainly got a couple extra IQ points to his name. But we were talking about food and he made a subtle show of mispronouncing Italian food names.

It took about 3 for me to realize he was fucking with me. No one else SEEMED to see what was going on. Hell, I’ve no reason not to think it was just standard schtick.

At one point I brought up the book “Outwitting the Devil” by Napoleon Hill. He’d directed that it not be published until some number of decades after he died. Nate looked up and said “He should’ve published it posthumously.” And he just caught me.

“That’s what he di…shit.” And we laughed.

I suppose that’s a different category. But it’s still “The Joke you don’t realize is supposed to be a joke.” A slight level higher than the standard low-level fare.

Contrast that with the way my mother tells jokes. You’ll know if my mother’s going to tell a joke because she starts laughing the second she thinks of it. She ends up laughing herself to tears, completely destroying her ability to get the damned thing out, half the time leading to her spitting out the punchline then saying “No…wait…” and fumbling her way through it. It’s really quite endearing, and hilarious to watch. But if you’re actually waiting on the joke itself, well…you’re going to have a bad time.

Any jackass can tell a joke with a punch line, and I can’t begrudge anyone trying to make people laugh. But it’s the comedic equivalent of slapstick humor, leading the audience right to the oasis and jamming their head in the water.

I went to Gotham Comedy Club with one of my more insane and intelligent ex girlfriends. She was a trial lawyer. (Just…never again. NEVER again. No trial attorneys.)

One of the warmup acts said:

“Two muffins are in an oven.”

I was sitting to my girlfriend’s right with my arm around her and I leaned in and whispered in her ear “it’s hot in here.”

The commedian(ne) said “One turns to the other and says…” and she snapped to me wide-eyed and smiled. “Damn it’s hot in here.”

I leaned back in and said ‘holy shit a talking muffin.’

And…well…you know. “Good Joke. Everybody laughs.” – Rorschach.

Now…I hadn’t recalled having heard that joke before. But I must have. It was just too damned obvious.

That was 14-15 years ago and it just seemed so damned sloppy.

I haven’t been to a comedy show since.

Maybe it was the girl.

Logjam

I’m typing this right in the WordPress editor, rather than using Q10 to write, then proofread, and post.

I DID open Q10 to write, but the words really didn’t come. I know I know, the easiest thing to overcome is writer’s block. You start with “I don’t know what to write” then write about what you’d be writing about if you COULD write, then it’s over. “Writer’s Block” doesn’t exist and anyone who tells you otherwise is fucking lying. Lying. “But it’s a real…” Lying.

This was different only in that I write here at the cigar lounge “with intent to post” and I just couldn’t come up with anything for about a half hour/45 minutes. It finally struck me.

I’ve got a LOT on my mind. A bunch of shit has happened in the last 5 days or so. Lots good. Lots bad. None of it can I post. Too many other people involved.

So what happened is those topics kept coming up and I kept trying to stomp them back down in favor of something else with the fervor of Daffy Duck.

But it…doesn’t work that way. Yeah there are other things I could write about. Sure a couple other things have come up even as I write this. But my mind is absolutely dominated by the four events that took place since my post from last Thursday. So I’ve really got little option but to write them out.

I know. People are going to be curious. But I can’t (read: won’t) discuss that here.

I just found it curious that the structure of the problem highlighted itself so clearly. Two years ago…hell, maybe even so little as three months ago, if this had happened I’d have just dicked around online and not written a word.

Let People Pay

I’m in the very fortunate position that I really don’t want for much in terms of material things. I can’t and don’t just pull the trigger on everything that strikes my fancy. But let’s say that more than my basic material needs are met.

I’ve realized recently how badly I play certain kinds of social interactions with people.

Let’s take the brewing hobby, so as not to highlight the somewhat more poignant and potentially sensitive example that actually triggered the realization.

For about a decade I used to brew meads, fruit wines, cider, rice wine, hard lemonade (which is much better than the “Mike’s Hard Lemonade” garbage that’s just zima with some lemon flavoring) and other stuff. I tried my hand at Apple Jack (don’t do this. The result will make you feel like someone drove an ice pick into the side of your skull.) Then there’s the whole hot sauce thing.

I’ve settled down with most of that to the point where I’m really just doing the rice wine now. Though…I might take another crack at hard lemonade. That shit was good. (Look up “skeeter pee” online for the recipe. It’s dead easy.)

Now, I don’t drink all this stuff. I make it partially because it’s fun to understand where things come from, partially because of the wide-eyed “wait, you MADE this?” response I get from people.

The general principle is this: I have a surplus of generally desirable material things that have much less value to me than they do to others.

I bring a bottle or two of something I made to either Johnathan’s or the cigar lounge or wherever. About one out of every three or four times someone asks if they can buy a bottle.

It makes me flinch every time. “Nah man I’ll just give you a bottle.”

I don’t expect anything from it. I don’t demand they treat me differently afterwards. I’m not looking for any kind of indebtedness. Sure I like the gratitude. That feels nice.

Most of the time the reaction is “Are you sure? Thanks man. I appreciate it.” Shading up and down from there in a pretty narrow band. But that’s the end of it.

Well…that’s not ALways the reaction. As I mentioned in a post that….I just realized I never posted…sometimes people twitch a little. “No man, let me buy it from you.” Or “I can’t do that.” When this happens you can read the discomfort quite visibly in their body language.

They make something close to a disgust face. It’s interesting because I wouldn’t normally associate that with the actual reaction.

It’s visibly painful for them to accept whatever it is as a gift.

What’s funny about this is that that’s how I react when someone tries to give me something. I’ve got a complete double standard about it. If someone’s trying to give me something I absolutely feel a debt hanging around my neck which eats at my soul until I clear it from the books, preferably with interest.

Now, that’s not ALways true. I’ve got a couple friends where none of this is a factor. It’s not a race to pick up the check for lunch. But we go back and forth. A cigar or two here, a soda there. “hey I bought this piece of electronic gadgetry but I’m not gonna use it, here…” etc. That works because we know we’re on the exact same wavelength about these things. There isn’t really incurred debt. Of course, it also never gets very unbalanced.

But that’s an extreme exception.

In the normal case when someone starts getting insistent on paying for something I’m trying to make a gift of I handle it QUITE poorly. I tend to lean on it and get more and more insistent. It’s because I don’t see enough value in the bottle of wine to warrant payment. In that case the payment the other person insists on therefore BECOMES the gift, which throws the scales out of whack in my head.

It’s the wrong way to think about it, entirely.

I currently have the opportunity to do something for a guy I know who’s in rough straights. It’s a simple matter for me and is of no practical (monetary) value. The item in question is no more than a bit of clutter in my basement.

I don’t want the guy’s money. I really don’t. I don’t need it. But I saw it written all over his face. He needs to have paid for it and I backed off before fucking up too badly.

IF I’d leaned on it and insisted “no man really, it’s fine. You can just have it.” then it would have been (seen as) patronizing, for lack of a better word. It’s a power play.

SO…

What I’m thinking is this: Maybe I tell him to buy me a cigar or a drink or two or something. I’d much prefer a bartering arrangement (generally true. Maybe more on that later.) Now in my head that’s about perfect. I’m more interested in whatever thought he’d put in to it, even if it’s him going into a cigar shop and saying “I need a cigar of X value. Whatcha got?”

I think that’s probably fine. Now… the hyper-neurotic in me immediately asks “Would that put undue pressure on him to come up with an effective valuation?” But no. I think that’s actually okay.

You need to understand people, what they need, what makes up their head in order to deal with them appropriately. Sure, you can demand people meet you on your plane, and some people will. Hell, that’s actually the appropriate way to deal with a lot of people. But as a strategy it will only ever take you so far.

Understand when you’re projecting your needs on others. Of course that’s basically impossible. But you can move forward at least a little bit on that dimension. It helps clarify your own motivations, where they come from, and why.

A subtle shift can be all it takes to move from putting someone down to lifting them up, and making that shift does the same for you.

Daemons: An Interlude

Aristotle’s Daemon
Carl Yung’s Eudaemonia
Napoleon Hill’s Imaginary Council
Every Ventroliquist (esp. Nina Conti)
The Holy Ghost
The Machine Elves
The Conscience

Books:

Napoleon Hill: Outwitting The Devil
Neil Donald Walsh: Conversations With God

I will add to this as I find more examples.

This is something that’s been on my mind an awful lot since I first read Think and Grow Rich. Hill was the first person that drew the line forward in time from Aristotle for me. Since then I’ve tripped over a lot of examples and it’s always tickled something in the back of my mind.

But I’m not yet quite sure what.

There’s something there.

Something fascinating.