Creative Momentum

I was towards the end of that last post as I started seeing my head move towards another point and I figured, rather than just execute a couple hard turns under power I could stand to just hit publish on that as it was and start on something else. The abrupt end is the lesser weevil. Enough of that.

So one of the things I’ve known for a while, since we’ve been coming to Smokey on what roughly amounts to a schedule, that I really need the couple continuous days home for my brain to really get engaged and going on creative pursuits.

I used to think I was just mildly hung over on Fridays, since we hit the whiskey pretty hard after bible study. But tracking it over time I realized that I just don’t really drink that much most of the time. Most here being more than 9/10. So what accounted for the fact that my brain on Fridays has been mostly mush?

Well it comes down to the amount of continuous time spent with my own thoughts. When we’re here having a couple on days other than Thursday it’s usually a couple/few cigars over 3-4 hours. But Thursdays I get here at something like 11 in the morning (today it was about 10:30.) I sit here and fiddlyfart on the laptop (usually writing, sometimes coding) for a couple hours. The guys start to drift in between 1 and 3, at which time I’ll pack up and head over to claim my chair, socialize for a couple hours, a couple hours of study, then we’ll drink and bullshit for the better part of 4 hours.

I’m just tapped OUT the next day, alcohol or not. But Friday afternoon comes around and I can feel my brain emerging from the chaos of having to find its place again.

What I found is that the more consecutive days up the hill (I live on a ridge) the more focused I am.

What I didn’t even consider, but should have, was that those distractions of spending my time just dicking around on the internet are at least as poisonous to sustained focus and creativity as anything else. I’ve known that I’d been training myself out of having willpower in the first place.

What I didn’t realize was that creativity is a force that might as well obey Newton’s laws of motion. And this, now that I roll it around, contributes to what will likely be my next post. But we’ll see.

Creativity obeys laws of momentum and friction. As surely as a train of thought, once interrupted, needs to start from scratch and as surely as moving something from a stop requires you to surpass the friction constant to get it moving again, the momentum of creativity is additive and will continue along a trajectory unless operated on by an external force.

I noticed an aspect of this a few months ago when thinking (and likely writing) about games. Both goofy little mobile games and more involved ones. One of the insidious secrets about those habitual distractions is that they not only interrupt and prevent your attention from being otherwise spent in the moment (for the most part. There’s a category of zenning out while you’re trying to solve a problem that’s not germane) but they take up more time and energy than you might think even when you’re not engaged in whatever the specific pursuit is.

And you can notice that easily enough. But what I found so surprising is how I didn’t make that simplest of leaps, to understanding what the repercussions of that were on the negative space of what my mind was or would optimistically be engaged in.

Even when I’d stop wondering about this or that twitter goings on and retool my mind to a coding or workshop project I always felt like I was starting from scratch. But it never occurred to me that that’s exactly what I was doing.

The problem is that perceptually it just seemed like thinking was getting harder.

From this side of things it’s a moronic low-brow insight. Well duh. I’m starting from scratch every damned time and never getting enough project momentum going to propel me through periods of inertia against the ambient friction of day to day life.

But this week, only a few days in to the month, the act of depriving myself of some of my deepest default distractive behaviors has been absolutely exhausting. I can’t quite autopilot the way I normally do. Oh my brain has found some clever tricks and loopholes. I’ve watched hour after hour of “8 out of 10 cats does countdown” videos (do yourself the favor. It’s hilarious and has been going on for more than 20 seasons.)

After all, it’s an absolute bitch to live an intentional life day to day. I suspect it’s not, rather by definition, our default state. We look for patterns of behavior and perception, habits to take us through the day so we don’t have to spend all of our brainpower incurring the stress of focusing on every single thing at all times.

But all too often we fall in the trap of defaulting that way. We’re REALLY good at it and we can let it consume us entirely.

I could say something like take a couple days and set an unobtrusive alarm on your watch or phone to buzz every half hour or hour you’re awake so you can stop and pay attention to what you’re doing, if you’re just zoning out or are actually engaged with something at a level that’s at least proximate to a Flow state. But I don’t think that really does much except making every minute of the day a twitchy anticipation of the next buzz.

Maybe that works just fine on the neurotypical. I’ll sure as fuck never know.

But the pairing of having something intentional to replace the distractive habit with and a clear imposed barrier to said habit is the combination that will likely work.

Because that friction and momentum works both ways. If you make it hard to get to twitter (or…”just hard enough”) it can shake you into awareness of what you’re doing.

What I did, because I’m a nerd, is block those websites on my home network. As long as I’m using my network, over wifi or cable, I just couldn’t get to them if I wanted. Now…I COULD disable the locks. But wanting to do so and reaching for it is enough of a reminder of what I’m doing to force me into “An Intentional Moment” where I have a chance to make a decision, rather than just plow forward on autopilot.

But like I said, without the counter pressure to have something to take its place it would be an absolutely dead moment. Like pushing a shopping cart past the frozen pizza aisle in the supermarket, if I don’t have something else in my head, some directive to which I can defer, the temptation of frozen pizza is just too great to overcome with a general “well…that’s bad for me” because “yeah but it’s delicious as shit, I’m hungry and need a damned treat” is just too damned strong.

Know what you want to be doing, what you’d ideally be doing. Play games about “what’s my fantasy perfect day” if you’ve got to. Get Right Action in your head however you can. Unfortunately I can’t really help you do that. I mean fuck, I’m 53 and am still skipping along the bottom.

Because pure admonishment in the face of temptation isn’t going to do the trick.

But once you’re going in the right direction? Holy shit! Right Action compounds. Good Ideas and creativity have momentum. It doesn’t take long once you’re moving. And I’m not going to say I’m free of the temptation to waste time, the temptation to unshackle myself from the effort required to live more intentionally.

The payoff, even on the front end of it, is crazy. These things I’m working on are exciting! I’m more interested in thinking about and working on them than I am in wasting time.

This interim project is getting more interesting as I keep adding ideas to it. Now I’m in danger over overengineering it. That’s fine. But I’ll get the basic one built (one of it’s saving graces is that it’s a cheap thing to build.) Then I’ll start right out on the next one…

adding One More Thing.

AntiSocial

So it’s August 4th and y’all may not get the notification of this post until September, assuming I can even remember to post it then. I’m not sure how that’ll go. The last three and a half days has been an exercise in patience and madness.

See, for a while now I’ve been taking on a minor practice of giving up something every month. It’s mostly just to keep me sharp, remind me that I’ve got some (however little) control over my own life.

If you just let minutes flow in to hours, you realize all too quickly that it will flow into decades. You’d think there are a couple hops in between but…they’re so small that it might as well just not be true at all.

So one month it was giving up caffeine, one month it was carbs. Two months ago I gave up soda. Last month it was “no amazon” and “no trips to the supermarket” which…is likely to hit the ear a little weird. Somewhere in there I gave up video games for a month (an exercise which was refreshingly easy, in opposition to my anticipated reaction.)

But THIS month it’s no social media. Facebook, Twitter, and Reddit. Now, as a “social media” platform, reddit doesn’t really qualify. BUT in how I use it it absolutely does.

The “I’ll just check…” turns immediately in to 3-4 hours in front of the computer when I’d come in the office for…who the hell even knows what. I’ve been watching it soak up my time in a way that might as well make it feel like it was literally against my will.

Last week I started thinking about it. About the stuff I mentioned in the last post about tooling up to make stuff but never actually getting to it, just soaking up hours, days, and decades in quick little dopamine hit pursuits.

I could feel the pressure of having other things I wanted to spend my time and energy on. And I’m the first one to say you can’t really quit something cold turkey without a plan. I’m sure I’ve used the quitting smoking metaphor around here someplace.

The overarching idea is that the easiest way to quit doing X is to push it out of the way by Y. But…I think that since this sort of thing, whiling away time in exactly this sort of way, in front of a computer, is something that’s been pretty entrenched in my head for more than 40 years, it was going to take a push. And, no doubt it will take several. This is going to be a matter of skipping along the bottom like a river rock, just bouncing against failure for what will undoubtedly be years.

So the combination of having a bunch of plans, hot in my head and using the “give up something every month” motivation to help snap me out of that groove seems to be working really well (he says on day 4.)

Now, the last three days have been pretty insane. I’ve had a lot of trouble not sitting in front of the computer and I failed to anticipate the number of tools my brain has at its disposal to idle away hours. So…it was a few days in before I caught myself at spending money on amazon, ebay, and etsy as a compensatory practice. Not to mention any number of trips to Lowe’s, Home Depot, Harbor Freight, Tractor Supply, and Walmart. Ah well. I can justify just about all of my expenses in the name of the projects I’m working on (stay tuned to this channel, though I may actually start a literal youtube one as well.)

But I’ve been buying steel and screws, angle grinders and strap clamps, sprockets and pulleys.

Last night I realized that something I was working on wasn’t going to work and I drove all around hell’s half acre in a state of high dudgeon, waving off (politely) the endless “can I help you find something” with a chuckle of “well, my marbles first of all, but I won’t know what else I’ll need ’til I get those.” It’s a throwaway with a smile on it that beats a “no thanks” in most cases. To her eternal credit, the girl in Walmart, instead of smiling in conclusion, waved me along to the toy section and showed me their marble selection.

I’ve rarely been so happy with my train of thought, consisting of lists of dimensions, thread pitches, major and minor diameters and rough estimates of friction ratings to be interrupted.

Of course I bought some marbles.

Duh.

But last night I got home, largely unsuccessful and, likely owing to the restoration of at least some marbles, I realized that I did actually HAVE all the parts I’d need for the next stage of this project (shh), but only because I have just…all the tools. I cleared out some space in front of the metal lathe and after approaching the problem wrong for an hour and getting 1800 degree steel razor blades falling through the holes in my crocs (what?) for an hour I stormed off in momentary frustration.

But 15 minutes later I realized I’d had the exact right idea but was approaching the problem a bit backwards. I drew out some diagrams in my head, did need to order an $11 part for the lathe (boring bar holder if you MUST know) and eventually, at about 12:30, laughed myself to sleep.

I feel fucking excellent. Yeah I’m making stuff to build a tool to help me make stuff and frankly there might be another level or two of what seems like Yak Shaving in between there.

But I can see at least most of the whole path between here and there. And the fact that I’m building a tool to help me cut steel for something else is overshadowed entirely by the fact that the resulting tool is going to be really interesting. I’ve seen a couple youtube videos of people doing something similar. But they’re really missing the possibilities in such an arrangement. So I’ve bookmarked and downloaded all the videos so I can bleed them dry of every bit of fucking clever I can get out of them (shoulders of mad scientists and all.)

And once I build this thing I’ll almost certainly start on building the next one. It’s a really low cost piece of kit, the extent of which I’ve never seen in a home made tool.

So it’ll likely end up being an article and a series of plans. But I’ve got something a bit grander in mind for it, even though in the larger scheme of things it’s really just one step on the road to something else.

It’ll be a bit of a road, to be sure. But I almost can’t wait. I’m nearly annoyed that I’m here today instead of cutting, grinding, surfacing, boring, screwing (“uh…huhhuh…he thed thkrewing”… “Yo shut up Beavis. Let him like…talk or whatever”) and otherwise machining.

That’s okay. Rome wasn’t built in a day. This isn’t Rome and I’ve got more than a day.

More in a minute.

Starving Spectre

Every once in a while you get one of these little things that sneaks up on you through patterns of behavior over decades then suddenly pops out.

I’d never really thought OVERmuch about what feels like an absolute fetish for book buying. I mean I’ve set up a fucking library in my house for fuck’s sake and I spend an awful lot less time in there than most people who know me might imagine.

A couple weeks ago I hit McKay’s used bookstore just outside of Nashville, an absolute fucking candy store that’s similar in size and shape to a Lowe’s or Home Depot. It’s full and tightly packed with eight foot high shelves, not quite far enough apart to allow two people to do anything but pass uncomfortably with the white person “hup” sound of apology or the mumbled “s’cuseme.”

I’ve been better lately, on my trips to that land of insane promise. I walk out with only what I can carry and I do manage to do some economizing, trying to stay under a c-note and to only go in once a month or less.

This time I bought a couple books that I’d seen the last time or two I’d been in there that just lit me up.

I was positively giddy when I put these two books, $3 and $8 respectively, in my poor little plastic shopping basket that must have done absolutely absolutely horrible in a previous life to deserve being relegated to a bookstore instead of some fresh fruit stand. Like…it must have been a dinosaur that was a complete fucking dick. You draw the line forward.

The first one was a back version of The CRC Standard Mathematical Tables and Formulas.

The other (not in front of me so I won’t get the title right) was a huge hardcover full of financial tables. Amortization schedules. All kinds of horseshit. A thousand pages or more, full of columns of numbers.

I was absolutely fucking giddy I tell you.

Yes. I asked and answered the question that should probably have come to mind: “Dude…fucking WHY?”

And yes, my answer reminds me of the Little Red Riding Hood character from the Bugs Bunny telling. “TA HAAAAVE!”

“Are you ever going to…”
“Probably not, no. Except maybe as a goof now and then.”
“But don’t you have enough…”
“No. No such thing.”

And there. There, dear enslaved reader, is the little ‘ding!’

Because having a full library of and on whatever might interest me is about the power of potential. It’s the result of having half the equation figured out: To have the resources to just jump in any particular direction with everything I MIGHT need at my fingertips.

Yesterday I fixed my youtube downloading scripts for reasons arcane and too geeky for me to go in to. But their purpose is to monitor the people I subscribe to and the playlists and “likes” I apply to videos and pull whatever new videos there might be every night.

To have.

Just in case.

Now, with the youtube thing, there’s some logic to it. The internet is a far FAR more ephemeral repository than people understand. Things disappear all the damned time and it’s fucking infuriating. And that which is true of the internet at large is doubly true of youtube in particular.

But I never watch or listen to them.

I have them.

It’s data hoarding.

You should see my workshop, though the pattern ought to be clear. I have grinders and drills and saws (God…so many saws), hand planes and spokeshaves. Boxes full of grits for angle grinders, grinding wheels, sharpening stones and steel. Hell I’ve got a stick welding rig. Guess who doesn’t weld. Go ‘head. I’ll bet you can get it in one.

There’s a forge and a smelting furnace. Those I’ve used on occasion, I’ll concede.

I have raspberry pi computers and boxes full of electronic components, little gears and motors and leds.

I have a full set of basic tools for leather working. I’ve spent a bucket of money on stained glass tools, and about 2 dozen sheets of foot square colored pieces; never so much as sketched out a single project.

There’s not one but two 3d printers and half a dozen spools of plastic filament to run through them and make stuff; a little cnc router I built but have never plugged in.

There are boxes and boxes of screws, bolts, and nuts, surprisingly organized for me.

I might have a full ton of construction grade lumber, a few dozen pieces of dimensioned oak boards, piles of angle-iron and other pieces of mild steel, a stack of high-carbon steel (mostly 1095) for making knives; boxes of fittings for making boxes, hinges, brass corners, little latches, all in several different styles. Whatever I might need.

I’ve got an 8 gallon conical fermenter and a couple 5 gallon carboys along with any number of one-gallon small scale glass jars for fermenting and a little still. A dehydrator and a deli slicer, instant pot (still in the box), cases of mason jars in every size, and literally 45 pounds of bread flour (at least, it’s probably closer to 60.) You know, just in case.

Everything’s ready. Well…I mean I don’t have a milling machine or a 2×72 belt grinder. But I’ve been shopping to fill those gaps. Because then THEN I’ll be ready. Well, I mean I need a writing desk because the office is too cluttered with technology for me to think and certainly to just sit and write. But I’ll need a place to put them, so I may just convert my basement TV room into an office and my office into a quite writing room or den.

Then I’ll have all the books I need, all the tools, all the raw materials. I’ll have downloaded all the plans and made all the lists.

I’m almost there. Only a few more thousand dollars.

I’ll be ready, finally.

That constant slow-burning anxiety will finally be quiesced.

I’ll have the full potential energy and power to do any of the things that spring to mind.

And I’ll be able to start.

Right?

Won’t the madness go away?

Won’t that make it stop?

The Cost of Focus

Wasn’t gonna, but I did.

So you’ll notice (or, you know…not) that I haven’t been posting lately.

It started with a post I put up a few weeks ago which, while content rich, was a disjointed stream of consciousness mess. I read it a couple days later and realized that most of what I’ve hit ‘post’ on over the last year has been a bunch of lazy half-assed stream of consciousness mess. I just pulled it down, disgusted.

So I’ve been coding instead, when I’ve spent my few hours on a Thursday morning/early afternoon here waiting for the guys to show up.

I’ve been sticking with this project that I’ve wanted to have done for a while. But for years (literally years) I’ve avoiding diving in to the hard parts.

Well, over the last couple/few weeks I’ve torn the panels off the thing and gotten down there and figured some shit out.

The result, which I’ll do a write-up of over the next week or so maybe (I dunno. I might want to get a bit farther with it) amounts to…oh I don’t know, maybe 30 lines of code spread across a couple files.

It’s not the whole project. But it’s the kernel of everything I couldn’t figure out how to implement. A couple/few techniques that I’ve hammered out finally, heading straight into the wind instead of trying to find a way around it.

The code isn’t particularly clever looking. But then good code doesn’t look “clever.” That’s an artifact of people who generally speaking, well, aren’t. Or of programmers who like things to look clever.

It’s simple, clean, self-explanatory and I’m pretty sure I could hand it to a junior python programmer with one or two bits of explanation and they’d just get it entirely.

So while the full project is going to take me a minute, I’m going to spend some energy cleaning this bit up and posting it here.

Thing is, in order to do this I’ve had to drop an awful lot of other stuff. But, as I suspected, the sequence of decisions is the reverse of what I’d been shooting for.

Dropping pursuits in favor of having time to work on The One Thing sounds good. But it just doesn’t work. Like any habit you’re trying to get rid of, you don’t “create time” for it. You pursue what you want and then, when you’re confronted with the fact that you don’t have time to do The Other Things, you have to let them go, if only for now.

So I’ve gotten myself to a good breaking point on this for the day. Everything works. It’s pretty clean. I’ve zipped it up and put the prototypes in a “techniques” folder, where I keep all the weird stuff I don’t do from scratch very often.

That allows me to continue working on the existing code. But if (read: when) it becomes the core of a large system it would be tough to extract the hows and whys of what I’ve done. I’ll keep a comment or two in the real project, pointing me to my techniques library so I can go back and look at the prototypes if I want to use them on another project.

So that’s what I’ve been up to and what’s coming. More practical experiments, techniques and other assorted concrete real-world stuff, be it programming, baking, cooking, or workshop projects.

Of course I won’t be able to avoid editorializing or adding anecdotes and such. And I’ll post the odd story here and there. The problem with most of those is real life crossover. Too many of them involve people who read this site. And I’ve always been of the mind that you can either say What or Who, but not both. So most of those stories, and there are more than a couple of them, I have to sit on. Perhaps using them as raw material to be torn to little pieces and remixed into other stuff in a way that makes it barely recognizable.

But such is the cost of focus.

Racking Disciprine And Porpoise

I keep running aground when thinking about purpose. It’s just not something I can see my way to, no matter which way I try and attack it.

I’d like a sense of not just long-term purpose, which is a post for another time checks clock or, well…well, we’ll see.

But a sense of purposefulness, what the buddhists call mindfulness, of living in a day to day way that matters, that’s proceeding in a direction at least.

In contrast to that I tend to live a life of distraction. But I wonder to what degree are procrastinative distractions simply a matter of your brain filling in existing gaps. I’d have to experiment with it.

The entrenched habits of distraction are horrendous. I can envision, or at least imagine, having that sense of purpose which I daresay would be a calm prospect. Sure there would be times I’d have to vent off pressure and allow myself to get swept up in things. I can’t imagine that not being the case (probably a problem. But an honest one if anything.)

My distractions have gone from distractions to focused action. The amount of time I spend doing what amounts to absolutely nothing is TOO damned high. Well fine, that just is what it is.

I like to think that I’m distracted owing to a lack of clarity and I’ve really no reason to suspect it’s not at least largely true. As if taking the list of “what I’d like to have/be doing in a year” (which is NOT making it to a blog post) and breaking it down into its atomic “next actions” in David Allen parlance would make it easy to pick up a task or two and just start hacking away at it.

What I DO know is if I tried to tackle all that, or any of those, with the top level goal as my primary focus I’d be fucked without a kiss. It would be a vast gulf of nightmare, too great to hold in my head all at once at the resolution required to be truly achievable. It just makes my head explode and leads me back to the computer chair for another quick hit on twitter or reddit.

I touched on a tangential topic with Frank and Kevin about this kind of thing…last week I think, maybe two weeks ago under Frank’s gazebo.

There are a couple ways to approach meaningful existence. My problem is the problem of overarching purpose. All of the things people seem to cite when they talk about living with purpose are pretty nebulous and abstract to me.

It’s quite like the discussion about “luck” in The Richest Man In Babylon. Luck favors the prepared. If you live a purposeless life then it’s absolutely true that you’re not living as well as you can.

If you don’t know what to do and you’re lost to a greater or lesser extent, what you CAN do is prepare. Come up with the wildest awesome situation you can think of: You have the perfect idea, the perfect partner, or the perfect opportunity just appears on the horizon. ARE you in a place where you can take advantage of or accept that situation?

The desk in my office is a great emotionally uncharged example: It’s a fucking shitstorm of papers, electronic components, keyboards, books, notebooks, pens, cigars, change and dust. If I suddenly had the perfect software project or writing idea, I’m not sure I could actually work on it immediately. In fact I’m sure I couldn’t. What I would have to do is spend an hour cleaning it off so that I was ready and hope I didn’t lose it while I prepared.

The exact same thing is true, now that I think about it, about the inside of my head. Now, there’s a bunch of higher-order abstraction about how the inside of my office is a dangerously-near-literal projection of the inside of my head, but I’ll sit on that for a couple paragraphs.

If I have an idea, as I often do when I’m in the truck, going back and forth between White House and Hendersonville, I’ll sit down in one destination or the other and immediately be distracted by the rest of the crap that’s swimming around in my head.

All too frequently I forget that what I’ve got to do is purge that, to “clear the decks” as it were, so that I’m prepared to dive in to whatever the idea is without fear of me distracting myself with this bill or that weird tumbleweed of thought that’s been kicking around in my head.

And of course it’s the same thing. I sit and write through the crap on my head and more often than not, the original idea is lost by the time I get the last “pen in the desk drawer” as it were.

Quite like this time.

But it does present a way through. To prepare for possibilities.

House is a mess? Prepare it for the possibility of guests.
Head’s a mess? Get it ready for the possibility of ideas.
Workshop? Office? Kitchen?

Hell, the kitchen is a good one. The number of times I haven’t baked anything because I just couldn’t be arsed to clean off the counter space required.

Does living in a mode of preparation guarantee you the next steps will appear to you? Frankly I’d be lying if I didn’t say “yeah, it probably does.”

So much of (my) life is in stasis partially because I wouldn’t be able to take advantage of The Next Thing if it was dropped in my lap, at any level of abstraction.

The core idea then is that: In the absence of purpose, the purpose is to prepare.

And there’s another facet to this that bears mentioning: To have a clean mind and environment is to be able to even see when such things are there. If you’re too muddled with unresolved concerns then the likelihood of you even SEEING an opportunity is pretty damned low.

Of course even that can be extrapolated both high and low: Everything from cash to buy something perfect that’s suddenly on sale to unresolved trauma stopping you from healthy relationships.

I suppose what I’m doing really here is reverse-engineering the underlying principles of living a disciplined life. Being able to manage your own crap isn’t just about doing the dishes and laundry (he tells himself), it’s looking in the mirror with cold naked honesty and asking what you might be wrong about, what you have to unravel, and what you’ve got to do to put yourself together to get yourself past the stumbling blocks preventing you from seeing your optimal future.

The ones you put there.

A Tale of Sound and Fury

So I went to Frank’s yesterday for a little birthday get together. Just a core group thing. Hang out, eat something delicious, smoke a bunch of cigars and drink a fair amount of whatever.

As I pulled up I picked my phone up off the seat next to me and thought for a second. I’ve been pretty good over the last bit as far as looking at my phone goes. It’s pretty rare that I’ll do it in a social situation and really…why invite the temptation? I was the nominal “guest of honor” and how fucking rude would it be to let myself get distracted. So I left it on the seat of the truck, picked up my bag with my toys in it (lighters, a notebook, some pipe tobacco ’cause I figured I’d try THAT again, and such), my cigar box and head in.

It was, in Frank parlance “a great hang” with a few of us. Annie made Rattlesnake Pasta which, far as I can tell is chicken fettucini alfredo with some cayenne and jalapenos kicking around in there somewhere. Truly greater than the sum of its parts. I managed to have only ONE heaping plate of the stuff (unlike the first time I’d had it over there, when I had two if not three and ended up spending the next 18 hours just kinda moaning.)

I drank a couple tumblers of “Old Blue-Eyes” a low-proof high sugar mixed drink Frank makes up. Really delicious but not for diabetics and you’d REALLY have to work at it to get drunk on it.

There was a purple frosted birthday cake, the same stories with a couple new people, the same stories with the same people, and a couple new ones from the night of my actual birthday.

The evening wound down, people drifted off and I realized everyone left was watching me smoke the last third of my cigar. So I hotboxed it and we left.

I got in the truck, reached over and there was the dangling end of the purple usb charging cable, sitting on the seat.

My stomach sank. I swear I could feel myself get shorter. Oh what the absolute fuck.

Now, a word about the condition of my truck. I don’t….keep it neat. I go through bursts of cleaning. But then the empty water bottles, full soda bottles, odd half bottle of scotch (in transport to or from the cigar lounge) a bunch of wrappers and nonsense, including a couple full-sized towels (handy for using as seat cushions or toweling off the seat when I leave the windows open during a downpour which…happens more than you might expect.)

So I figured it had just fallen off the seat…probably. But I can see it in my mind’s eye. Sitting there at the end of the tether in the exact place the cable ended. It looked like, well, someone had unplugged it and taken actually some care in leaving the cable back exactly where it was. As I drove home, listening to Molly Millions and Kumiko Yanaka off to find what remained of The Finn (for the sixth time in nine months or so. Judge me if you want, I don’t give much a shit.)

I made a token effort out in the dark. But my heart wasn’t in it. I was deflated and angry at my own foolishness. I tried to page through the tape of the afternoon to see if I could remember the sound of the truck door opening, maybe place it in time. I recall a couple people coming and going. But it could have been anything; Frank has a pretty active household.

After gutting my bag, just in case…on the off chance…because…maybe…no. I went to bed.

And I dreamt of my phone. I really did. Nothing elaborate. Just scenarios where “it was right there” I picked it up and then woke up relieved, then remembered and drifted back off to sleep. I distinctly remember three separate ones, no more substance than that and not worth relating.

Finally upon awakening, before showering or brushing my teeth I set out with a couple garbage bags and a pair of reusable shopping bags to settle the question once and for all, though I already knew it was gone.

Two garbage bags of trash, and both shopping bags full of stuff which included a distressing number of full soda, water, and tea cans and bottles and…a distressing amount of bourbon, scotch and really great rum. If I ever get pulled over by a hardass I’m really going to have a problem. After about 10-15 minutes of that, interrupted by being chased around my car port by a fucking hornet the truth was confirmed. Phone gone. $1400 phone…gone.

While showering (because…eww) I charted out the list of things I was going to have to do. First, hit the AT&T store and have my last shred of patience exorcised by some poor teenager, along with my final fuck. Then there are all the accounts that are automatically logged in on my phone. The worst of which being Amazon, I suppose. But Red Phone Booth, Twitter, etc. Some miscreant could really make me pay for my negligence if they were so inclined.

It all just made me more resigned and glum. I’d get over it. But I had to have the destination mindset in my head. I’d get a new sim card and put it in this POS iPhone 11 (but I repeat myself) I’ve got sitting around (currently wired to my previous phone number. Don’t know if I ever bothered with THAT bit of madness on here.) And I’d spend the rest of the 3 years paying off a $1400 phone (which I got $800 off of because of that goofy AT&T deal) and being mad about it every month.

I bitched a bit on twitter about having my phone stolen to help let off some steam and prevent my head exploding as if someone’d started playing Indian Love Call.

Log on to amazon and go into the security stuff. Because I’m looking at account security settings it sent notifications to all logged in devices, which constitutes most of the things that run on electricity in my house, apparently. PC, a phone, iPad, Fire tablet, etc.

So everything goes off and there’s…a noise. Not one I’m used to though. I figured it was the ipad notification since I don’t use it for anything other than bible study and a goofy ass mobile game. So I went in to the bedroom and looked at the iPad…sound off.

Then what the…holy shit. It was a ring. I had the iPhone in my hand though, so it wasn’t that. WHICH could mean only one thing and I started tearing around the house in a wild-eyed frenzied mood I know quite well but couldn’t describe to the sane.

I typed out “WHOEVER DID THAT, DO IT AGAIN” but didn’t post it.

Got a DM from Cigargoyle saying he’d just called my phone, just in case.

I reached for my iPhone, thinking to just keep hitting redial ’til I found it.

It was gone. I spent 90 seconds yelling “FUCKING REALLY!?! REALLY!!!” at the ceiling before figuring out what I’d done with it and starting the process of dialing while turning and tilting my head with my eyes closed to triangulate.

A few iterations of madness in to the process and I was back at my same bag…which has a big outside pocket on the back.

There it was.

My memory of it sitting on the seat was poignant because I took notice of it at the time. The thing is it wasn’t the LAST memory. As I was focusing on and in that moment I realized it would just be stupid to leave it there when I could just as easily put it in the bag and just not look at it.

After all, what kind of fucking dumbass leaves his phone on the seat of his truck with the doors unlocked?

Someone might steal it.

Detail

Since I hit post on the previous entry I’ve been going over the old half-baked posts I’ve started and outlined and such.

A lot of them are things that are really fresh in my mind, vignettes that all mesh together with a lot of possibility in the aggregate story. There’s some synergy in these things. I can see it quite clearly, with none of the odd confusion of “seeing possibilities off in the fog” that I’m usually talking about when I mention such things.

But the problem I’m having is the opposite of the normal one: There’s SO much information that I don’t even know where to start. I’ve gotten to a point where I’ve started just bulleting ideas and little encapsulations of scenes, hoping I’ll be able to get back to them and fill in the details when I’m a little less overwhelmed with the sheer scope of it all.

Even when I am working on filling in details, it’s really a transcription task, since the things I’m talking specifically about are actual events. So that doesn’t take TOO much mental energy.

Okay, so I end up typing out what happened in a way that doesn’t tax my head. So what ends up happening is that the writing task becomes a mental context that the unused horsepower of my head just rolls over thinking while I’m typing. It’s damn near disassociative. I come up with ideas and directions while I’m typing, thinking about where things are going to go, what lessons I could emphasize and pull out of the text and these events, what else to relate to it, etc.

Ordinarily if I’m doing something and my head goes off in that kind of mode, I can just take myself some notes in the middle of the process. But not when I’m already writing. That’d be a little meta even for me. I’m terrified of breaking stride, the near Flow state I’ve reached. So half the damn things that come to mind about direction, theme, the long callback and such just leave my head as fast as they come in to it. Drives me out of my damned mind…or would if I’d let it.

Hell, I’ve got half a mind to have a recorder at hand and see if I can talk about one thing while I’m writing another. I’m not at all sure I couldn’t do it. I don’t think so though. There’s something about engaging the “language expression circuit” whether it’s for typing or speaking, as if it can actually only do one thing at a time.

It’s pretty frustrating.

I suppose the only solution really is to just power through it and blast out details like a brainstorming session. Grab a stick (or not) loop something groovy like Acid Raindrops and just keep typing ’til I exhaust myself, then type some more.

And sure, most of it won’t make the cut. That’s fine. I’m not looking for all the words to make it all the way through. Large blocks and sub-scenes would likely be carved out and dropped. But I can’t know which ones would and wouldn’t make the cut until I get the whole thing down and see what’s actually there.

Pretty excellent problem to have, all things considered. But it’s not the kind of thing I’d ever have EXPECTED to be a problem.

Eh. I was just thinking about that while trying to decide whether to relight this cigar or not. So you get two today.

1,233

Well…it’s time to get something down, even if it’s, as I said on twitter this morning, just a bullet list of things I’ve been thinking about writing and all the false starts I’ve made over the last month and a half.

Because you see it’s not that I haven’t been writing, though my word count has been pretty disgraceful. I just can’t seem to get much in the way of traction on any of these damned topics. Ah well, fair enough. It’s already a too-thoroughly groped elephant for me to start getting wound up about.

So here’s a bunch of the topic ideas I’ve started writing about or just flat-out ignored but thought was a good idea.

  • Imprurience
  • Believe your first impressions
  • All about The Hang
  • Purpose, inside out
  • Tolerate Less
  • “Friends” don’t do that.
  • Preemptive deweaselification

I’ve restarted my goofy little practice of taking a month at a time.

May was “No video games” and June is “No Soda” (flavored seltzer is allowed.)

I’m starting to realize how far I’ve fallen out of any sense of discipline at all. I’ve suspected it was true for the last couple/few months. But I’m just not getting ahead on anything.

There are a few things going on that I’m pulling in the right direction on, but for the most part I’ve been languishing, if I’m being honest about it.

It’s easy to think of anything that gets me out of the house as “something productive” and every time I come down here and hang out with the guys as “time well spent.”

But the fact of the matter is it isn’t always the case. An awful lot of the time I’m just sitting here making smalltalk, puffing on a cigar or two…or three when I should be doing something productive. Fortunately I don’t drink the way I smoke.

So I’d been fantasizing about yesterday, being the first, as the day I was going to, at 12:01, boot into the windows drive and start playing something. I don’t know, either Fallout 4 or Skyrim. Some bog standard favorite time suck.

But I couldn’t really be arsed when push came to shove. I went to bed. Got up the next day and figured, “Well, let me boot over into windows and at least make sure everything is updated.”

And that’s where the trouble started.

After 90 seconds the machine kinda froze. Weirdly. Mouse still worked, but eventually it would flood the UI message queue and just beep at me. So I rebooted a couple times, tried to run diagnostics. Same thing every time.

Went in to “safe mode”, ran more diags and of course there was nothing wrong. I tried uninstalling the last couple windows updates, patches, and applications I’d installed but…nothing.

le sigh

I tried “Reset this computer” which does a half-assed job at reinstalling windows such that you don’t lose anything. Nope. Can’t do that from “safe mode.” Okay. I’m quick. I booted into windows normally and got it started. Took about a half hour, 45 minutes to get it reset. Started up and…1-2-3-death.

I had to reformat the whole damned thing.

BUT…I have 2 drives in that box. One has linux and one has windows. I thought about it a few seconds and realized I didn’t trust the windows installer as far as I could throw it not to fuck with the linux drive. So I powered down and popped the M2 it was on.

Reinstalled everything and spent a couple hours building the box back up from the metal, installing Steam, Fallout 4, Skyrim, and Cyberpunk 2077.

Now I HADN’T, as I said, planned on playing anything. I’d actually figured that it’d be fun to just bail on the idea, long as everything was up to date, then swap back over to linux (one ‘oh shit I forgot to reinstall the drive. gotta do that’ later) and write some code.

But by this time I was so fucking pissed, having accomplished nothing all day other than getting the damned install back to baseline (and…burning about 75 pounds of boxes I’ve been accumulating, thus pissing off an awful lot of hornets, leading me to run around the back of my house waving my hands in the air yelling “fuck fuck fuck fuck FUCK” more than once) that I just wanted to kill some bad guys.

So I killed all but one of my Fallout 4 save games (because why bother not starting from scratch, right? After all, it’s the first third to half of the game that’s the best anyway) and set off in to the Commonwealth.

It was minutes, a very few minutes, before I was wandering around Sanctuary, looking at the furniture and structures, taking screen shots and just generally indulging in dicking around.

And while I spent a couple hours following the general plot line to get things to a stable enough state where I could abandon it and continue with settlement building and such, I realized that I was getting something out of it that I hadn’t quite realized.

Or, more properly stated, I knew it. But I never quite realized how important it was to me. Part of it was how damned calming it was being back in that headspace. You’d think that something like that would be good for getting wound up and cathartic.

But between the dopamine hit joy of the little explorations even when I already know what’s around the next bend and the weird inspiration I get from the settings of the Bethesda AAA games. They make me want to make things.

The furniture and decorations in both Skyrim and the Fallout series both get me itching to head down to the shop. I can’t help but take screen shots of this bed or that cabinet from every possible angle and wondering what it would take to make them.

And I realized I’d been doing myself a horrible disservice by not playing for a month. I’d felt a bit lost partially because I’d fucked with my own behavioral pattern in a massive intrinsic way. But also because I’d tossed some baby out with the bathwater.

Fortunately I didn’t get completely sucked in to the thing and spent about three or four hours killing bandits and building settlements.

But it was enough. And I got all the screen shots I’d lost in the reformat process of the bed I want to build.

Next up is trying to take those pics and turn them in to a set of woodworking plans. That oughta be some fun.

But…I think I’ve got something else kicking through my head. For June I’m “not drinking soda” as I said. But…that’s not enough. I’ve set myself up a new bullet journal insert for my home-made midori traveler clone, and I’m tracking everything; expenditures, cigars and liquor, writing, coding, cleaning, mowing, reading. And I’m tracking the things I do that I shouldn’t as well, gaming, eating whole frozen pizzas, etc.

I thought maybe…maybe that wasn’t enough. Writing 3 pages every morning as I did in Q1 was ROUGH. But…I’ve got to do something like that.

This is pretty incoherent as it is. But it’s the most words I’ve put down in a single sitting in a bit too long, so I’m just gonna go ‘head and hit post on it. Let y’all sort it out.

Stew

I’m in the middle of writing something else, but I was called upon to write up the recipe, such as it is, for the beef stew I made yesterday. I rather surprised myself with it, to be honest. I was just winging it. It was kinda shocking that it came out as good as it did. I figured I’d end up with “basically edible.”

Note: I do this in a 7 quart crock pot. If you try to do this in a 4qt, you deserve what you get.

  • 4 medium-sized onions.
  • Large container of sliced white mushrooms. (Not exactly sure what the volume is on these.)
  • 7 pounds of chuck: I probably could’ve gone with something leaner. But fat is flavor after all and I didn’t want to back-load it with something.
  • A couple big idaho taters.
  • Small bag of baby carrots (I just didn’t wanna clean ’em.)
  • 3 cans of beef broth (concentrate)
  • 1 can of cream of mushroom soup (probably superfluous)

  • Celery Flakes 3-4 tablespoons. (fresh would certainly have been better. But I wasn’t thinking about it when I went to the stupidmarket.)
  • Worcestershire sauce: 3-4 tablespoons. (Probably could’ve used more. I’m not sure if I can even taste it. Seemed like it oughta go.)
  • Dried rosemary: Maybe 2 tablespoons.
  • onion powder: I really like onion. So I put a crapton of this in there.
  • Black pepper: Eh. Lots. It’s “to taste” so..whatever that means. For me it was probably 3-4 tablespoons (sensing a trend here.)
  • Just…so much fucking salt.

Now there’s NO reason you can’t just dump this all in the crock pot, turn it on low and go to bed. That’ll work just fine I’m sure. But here’s what I actually did:

Slice the onions; don’t have to get them all the way down to minced but you can if you want to. I generally prefer that, but just couldn’t be arsed. I laid the onions down in the bottom of the crock pot first, figuring that I’d stop the possibility of the beef burning if there was any.

Cube up the chuck. I really dislike globs of fat floating around in my stew. So I cut out the big seams of fat running down the middle of these cuts. I ended up with 3/4″ cubes or so. I wasn’t real precise about any of this. Surprisingly the fat rendered down pretty completely.

Dump the mushrooms in, quite unceremoniously.

Now for the cans of stuff. (I probably should have put the first-cut of spices in the middle someplace to stop them from just floating on top. But in the end I’m not sure it makes THAT much of a difference after 12-14 hours in the damned thing.)

I just dumped the spices in almost at the end.

Once that was all in I poured water in until I could see it, about 3/4 of the way up the inside of the pot. DON’T fill it. Proteins do weird things when they’re heated up so if you start with a full crock pot, you’d better have it on a cookie sheet or something because it’s going to overflow. But don’t skimp on the water either because the beef broth is concentrate. Unless you’re in to that sort of thing.

I skinned and cubed up the taters at the end because…I’d forgotten them. Shoot me.

Turn it on low and wait. About 5-6 hours in you’ll get enough flavor meshing that you can start adjusting things to taste. I dropped in a bunch of garlic powder and kept adding spices as I made room with all my taste testing.

I could probably have bothered to drain some of the liquid off and make a gravy with it. But…eh…I didn’t. I may yet. Who knows. It’s all in my new chest freezer in the basement.

I’m gonna put this over egg noodles this weekend and just let my eyes roll back in my head.

What would I do differently:

  • More carrots
  • Fresh celery
  • probably 4 taters.
  • more worcestershire. Couldn’t really taste it.

Spreading Poison

This guy is sitting here for the second Thursday in a row. It’s in his mid to late 70s, short, round.

Same brown pants and houndstooth jacket he wore last week, with the white pocket square and something close to full-on coke bottle glasses.

He’s chugging on the end of a cigar and sitting, bent over the arm of the couch, resting his chin on his neck, watching a video on his phone at full volume while coughing up gobs of something that would give a first level party a run for their money in a newb dungeon.

The video is, near as I can tell, some kind of genre proximate bodice-ripper style soap opera, complete with panting soft core scenes, fit for married, lonely middle-aged women.

I hear tell he’s an English professor at a local college. I can only imagine him falling asleep in the front of the lecture hall.

But if this is his petty indulgence, the thing he does, having cleared Thursday morning of a class load then so be it. I can’t begrudge him overmuch. It seems a pithy watered-down enjoyment. But who am I to say what’s going on in his head.

Perhaps an hour’s respite from slings and arrows does him some good, sitting in the back room of a cigar lounge where no doubt no one would think to look for him, zoning out to poorly written overly emotional tripe.

I play video games and listen to pop music for fuck’s sake. Talk about hack entertainment.

I ran him down in my head a bit last week. It was a weird toss between the prime directive of not disturbing people and being disturbed myself. When push came to shove I just opted to put some techno somethingorother crap on and crank it ’til he left at about noon.

“Nah, I don’t want to talk about that.”
“Why not?”
“It’s a bit uncomfortable and not particularly complimentary.”
“So…”
“Yeah I get it. But it’s not what I had in mind when I drove down the hill.”
“Oh fuck off with your horseshit. Dude you had everything in your mind when you came down the hill, except perhaps this.”
“A point, that.”

So, like I said, I grumbled a bit about him. I did it in my head and, quite a fair bit worse, I did it in public. It was too easy to do. Last week all I saw was an annoyance, a rude old man who was a simple manifestation of a template of obnoxious selfish behavior and I’d given him no more thought than that. So it was easy.

The left has ruined the word “dehumanizing” but…gotta call a spade a spade.

My own frustration, multiplied by his admitted lack of social awareness made for a cocktail of snark at which I am somewhat disturbingly adept.

Of course there’s a vein of cowardice with a pinch of anger at myself for being unable to face the situation head on. But that kind of social interaction runs in absolute violation to some of my most deeply held circuits. Conflict Avoidance, while the lion’s share of the issue, isn’t really the whole deal.

It’s a combination of “who the hell are you to assert your will?” (a no doubt confusing idea to almost anyone who knows me nowadays) and a projection of fear of conflict on to other people. It’s a weird second-order problem, the internal narrative of which being something like “I’d hate it if someone started shit with me, so I’m not going to do that to someone else. I’ll just suck it up instead.”

But what’s funny about it is that the underlying deep identity issues that such behavior is there to protect me from don’t really hold so strongly any more. I’m FAR less “first order conflict avoidant” than I ever have been. BUT I still behave as though I am because those practices have turned into deeply ingrained habits over the last fifty years. So it’s a little cargo cult in its own way. Interesting. I didn’t expect this to go quite this direction. But then, I never do.

No, what I was complaining about not wanting to write is how, with all these constraints in place, the accrued pressure comes out in just the worst possible way: I end up bitching about people’s behavior behind their back.

The worst part about that is when the complains seem at least nominally justified.

I tell myself, and others, that I’m trying to work out my frustration and anger with people to understand it. And that’s not…NOT true. But it’s still nothing short of spreading poison.

One serious problem is that…I can be pretty persuasive, especially when it’s not a goal. So I’ve watched myself twist the social consciousness about situations and people.

“Well, that’s giving yourself an awful lot of credit. Grown ups are perfectly capable of forming their own opinions.”
“True. But providing the near occasion of sin doesn’t make you a hero. I mean, you don’t invite an alcoholic to a bar or do a line of coke in front of a Senator either.”

And…because it’s an argument with myself, it ends there because I’m utterly convinced I’m right. You’re not responsible for what other people think or how they behave. But you’re responsible for being a good influence and the inspiration for people to be better. THAT you CAN control.

The other problem, the dirty little secret that we generally don’t like to admit (and I’ll drag a bunch of humanity along with me on this one) is that…it’s FUN. It shouldn’t be true. But people like talking about people. It’s low brow, sure. And I can talk about ideas with the best of them. But there’s something about it that’s conversationally satisfying, the dark temptation of it is almost impossible to resist.

But I can’t seem to stop myself. If I don’t have anything nice to say about someone…and it’s all too frequently true that I don’t, I just am ready to explode…like a vegan who hasn’t told anyone in five minutes.

I’ve gotten a little better at not responding or not starting the conversation. But holy crap is it a slog.

A part of it is a byproduct of working on curating my social circles. I don’t, of irony of ironies, condescend to friendships with people I don’t like, for whatever reason. And I’ve got no reason, other than social convention, to pretend to like people I don’t.

So I get myself in these social situations where I’m forced to torture myself by not saying anything, never a strong suit of mine.

The right thing of course is measured response to offensive behavior, not to let it bottle up. But unlike most social interactions, that’s a pretty costly thing to get wrong. So it’s pretty tough to practice, to rehearse it. So it’s slower going than I’d like.

“Ya know most people have trouble with…” GOD do I not want to hear it. I’m not evolving against a model of other people. There’s no sanity to be had in that kind of comparative analysis. I’m trying to evolve from where I stand not from an outward perception of other people.

I suppose I’ll get there. Lord knows I’ve got an awful lot to get over on the way.