October 2021

Oof.

I’ve had it in my head a while to read my posts from the last year-ish to look for patterns, progress, and some direction if it’s there to be found. Well, I printed it all out a couple months ago, then yesterday printed out everything I’d posted in the meantime.

To my shock it comes in at about 800 pages.

Yesterday I came down here to Smokey and started reading. Took out a little notebook and just started chugging along, writing the post title then taking the odd note or two, leaving a couple blank lines between post notes so I could go back.

I started July 2020 and got through most of December.

What a depressing bunch of fucking crap.

Holy shit.

Now, the problem with that is that in order to actually see progress I’ve got to slog through the rest. So maybe the right thing to do is come at it from both ends, do December 2020 then September 2021, then January and August, something like that.

That won’t really help much in my quest for an intuitive understanding, since that requires contextual continuity. But it’ll hopefully keep me from hating myself for having thought such drek was worth hitting ‘publish’ on.

BUT I’ve decided to just stop writing here for a bit, at least until I figure out what I’m doing and where I’m going with all this. Too much of this is play-acting at writing and I need to shit or get off the pot.

‘Til whenever.

o/

Tribalism

Bit of a late start. After some back and forth in my head I started Count Zero on the way down here, having finished Neuromancer last night.

I’d kinda rolled my eyes at whatsisname’s perhaps flippant advice to listen to your favorite audiobook for 200 hours. But I’m on my 3rd run through of this trilogy in a row. No break, no pause. It’s really something else. The way some things recede into the background and other things begin to emerge is always interesting because you never know what’s going to fall in to which category until it starts actually happening.

There’s a great essay at the end of Neuromancer by I don’t know who, a testimonial to William Gibson. Inside it the author talks about the origins of science fiction (in the particular sense) and of how deeply tied it is to the upbringing of the authors, he and Gibson in particular. And this crossed in my head with my assertion (which I no doubt heard from someone else) that all writing is autobiographical. I’d resolved to turn my observant eye to my past, to start really focusing on writing out my autobiography in retrospect (as well as “in realtime” as I do here.)

Letting my mind work on that concept over the last few days (fueled a little bit by Colt’s unwittingly salient question about when I’m going to be done writing my autobiography) has evoked a certain train of thought in my head to which I will now subject you ;-).

I had an image on my way down the hill in my head about Outsiderness and the weird ebb and flow of various aspects of culture and how I’ve…for lack of a better term, built myself around not getting sucked in to them under the pretense that they seem particularly shallow and inherently valueless.

I figured I’d come here sit down and write about that specific aspect of things.

Again, meaningless without a contextual example:

Take any industry. Fashion. Fashion’s a good one because there are few entire industries for which I have such naked contempt and, well, I’m in a fucking mood this morning. (One might say “I’m a little bit off today“.)

I can’t even imagine what it’s like to be involved in the fashion industry. Oddly my father was, but in a financial context so that’s different. I have SOME exposure to things like fabric selections, industrial dyes, manufacturing problems, etc, through him. That’s not what I mean. Actually now that I think of it that all has nothing to do with the vertical industry and are just concerns of any manufacturing industry.

I mean questions of style. Designers and their pretensions. The way it’s got its own social caste system that starts from a tween girl drawing dresses to the hallowed halls of Conde Nast, and probably to the parties of Epstein and Weinstein.

I don’t know what goes on there. I don’t know how much authenticity even exists in those circles. I know nothing about their small talk. My only insight into the industry is the occasional glimpses of insipid horseshit I get on social media and the couple hollywood offerings on the subject.

I have no interest in it. It’s a vast thing that exists quite intentionally outside my world or, perhaps more to my larger point, outside of which I exist.

Now you can grab any definable collection of people and do the same thing, across any interest, profession, skill, past time, industry or identifying characteristic. Each of them have their own little sub-culture that is a thing unto itself with it’s whorls and eddies, fashions and ideas, orthodoxies and heresies.

The thought I had on my way down the hill was a reflection on my life and how strongly I resist the pull these things seem to have, how…self-referential and insular they seem.

Hell, even my own field as a programmer, I find the surrounding culture to be absolutely insipid. I don’t, generally speaking, have programmer friends. There’s almost no one I know with whom I can have a discussion of advanced software design. For my money that’s a pretty small price to pay. It’s notable to me that the couple I DO have aren’t really embodiments of nerd culture. Musicians and cigar smokers (again, cross sections of other…subcultures.)

As I’m bleating out on to this black screen, amber type and the dark reflection of my face staring back at me I’m trying to think through the whys and whats of it all.

What seems to be bubbling up is that they all seem like traps to me. Traps of ideas and behaviors that have no particular value outside of themselves; things to belong to and do just for the sake of belonging and doing. Sports fandom and obsession seems to me to be the same kind of thing. None of it really GOES anyplace and I find that pretty repulsive.

It seems, from the outside of all of these things, that people sacrifice authenticity for membership and tribalism, for that sense of belonging, for something to talk about with other people at bars or parties or cigar lounges or in the office.

Hell, one of the reasons I enjoy spending so much time at Johnathan’s, if I’m being honest, is that my friend group over there will never really be a peer group. I have no deep attachment. Sometimes I want it. Sometimes I envy what they’ve got going on over there, the way they’re all a part of each other’s lives.

But after a few months of watching any particular generation of the social circles as they evolve over time, like some Conway-esque iterative process (with fewer rules than you might expect) it becomes apparent that a lot of it is pretense, a sense of belonging that’s built on the house of cards of them working together or drinking together. It’s stucco, not brick. The social interaction is downstream of the setting entirely. So I watch what look like deep friendships fall apart, people come into and out of favor and the whole thing just looks like scaffolding built fifty stories high, yet made out of a material that can’t really support the weight it’s being asked to. And it falls apart over and over again. Then a new generation emerges from the rubble. Rinse, repeat.

None of this is to say I’m not interested in people. Quite the opposite. But I make a point of delving in to these subcultures and groups, vetting the everloving hell out of everyone I encounter, and pulling out of them the people who actually interest me.

That’s another side of this which I’ve always engaged in. I have a couple people I’d consider Friends from Johnathan’s, from Bible Study and the cigar lounge, from my last few jobs, hell even from Twitter and Twitch. And I can go spend time in their social niche if that’s what it takes to spend some time with them, though it costs me a lot to do so.

I’m constantly scanning those little near-tribes for people worth extracting, in part. It doesn’t always work. I find it fascinating that I can have a deep friend IN context, but the moment I try to interact with them outside of it, they simply don’t exist. Won’t respond to messages, anything. That’s fine, though I don’t really understand it very well.

Indeed at BasedCon a few weeks ago it was lovely to watch this group of tight-deep niche “enthusiasts” find each other and spend a couple days just obsessing. I loved picking their brains and getting into conversations of a depth to which I am generally unaccustomed. And there are a couple people that have crossed over to twitter who are really interesting. Though with them in particular there’s a geographic problem.

But after some existential angst I realized that as much as I enjoyed their company I’m…not one of them. Not really.

I’m not one of anybody.

I’m a subculture of one.

Always have been.

Of course the problem with that is wondering whether and to what degree that’s a matter of courage or a matter of fear.

Because avoiding what feels like a “tribalism trap” in one sense brings to mind Peterson’s descriptions of nihilism. “If nothing matters then nothing matters.”

What I wonder, on again and off again, is if what I’m doing isn’t just looking in all these places I dip my toes into for my tribe.

But then I shake my head as if shaking off a fog and realize that no.

I’m building mine.

Writing About Writing About Writing (or, Meta Meta)

2021-10-07: Smokey – Meta meta

Well, that was an adventure. If you follow me on twitter then you may have seen my blasted out tweets from this afternoon about being frustrated by writing software and how I ended up writing about what features I’d want in a piece of writing software. Then I got all excited and managed to spec something out that I think would be tremendously useful yet still a tractable software project.

Then I went spelunking into my “ideas” list, saw something about Teddy Bear Debugging and thought “ooh! I’ll write about that!” I got a couple hundred words in when I realized that it was all flowing suspiciously well. Okay, it’s not that odd. I do it all the time as a matter of course. But on a hunch I went to the blog, typed “Teddy” in the search box and came up with the reason why it was so familiar to write about.

I chuckled for a bit but that was fucking obnoxious.

So I went back and forth between the search box and the bullet list and found about half a dozen things I’d already posted multi-thousand word pieces about.

oy.

Well, fair enough. But it highlighted yet again something I’ve been trying to handle, then fact that it needed quasi-external highlighting has a self-referential flair to it I quite enjoy.

If I’m going to get organized about writing and take it seriously then I’ve really got to start formalizing my habits.

Writing’s something I’ve always done mostly because I’ve HAD to do it. I’m not sure who it was who said it but someone smart said: If you can avoid writing, do it.

Now I’m not going to belabor that overmuch…this time.

But the formalism is more what I’m interested in. It’s one thing to have formalize the habits, get all James Clear and such about habit stacking. But there’s an issue I hadn’t really taken seriously until I tripped face forward into the fire about a half hour ago (and yes, this is a Context discussion adjunct): The habits are really tough to maintain if you’re not ready to work when it’s time to work.

It’s one of the things about “Clearing The Deck” which is something I assume I’ve written about but if not will go on the ideas list for later.

So I think I need to spend a significant amount of energy and time working on setting things up so that I can write when it’s time to write. Well what the crap does that mean?

I think it means a few things:

  • Keep a clean ideas list. At a high level I need separate fiction/non-fiction lists. I’d tried keeping them in one list not assuming for a moment I’d get them confused. But holy shit does THAT get weird when you go back over the list, having forgotten you’ve done it.
  • Build and maintain character, setting, observational vignettes as a library of things to both trigger ideas and to pull from when you need them. The idea reminds me of a song-writer’s book of lines or a rapper’s book of rhymes. Just something
  • Over time those libraries will build and undergo a mitosis into their own subcategories, from both size and conceptual clustering.

I figure I should have these things ready for the 9am (or whenever) bell rings and it’s time for me to go sit down and write, even if what I’m doing is brainstorming.

Now that all sounds happy nice-nice. But the thing that kinda slips off my mind is that in order to have those things I need to spend the time and energy cultivating those resources. There’s the issue of transcribing bar notes, which are starting to get a bit more sparse and intentional at the same time. I’m not all that sure that’s a wholly good thing. But that’s fine. At least I’m being a bit more intentional about the whole affair.

For the writing task itself I wonder if I can’t use something similar to the tactic I use in software development.

One of the problems I have in writing software is a byproduct of the number of projects I have going at any given time (you don’t want to know. It’s SO many.) I tend to end a programming session after I’ve reached a new threshold of functionality. So I’ll come back to a project a few days or weeks later and spend a half hour trying to figure out where I was because “everything seems to mostly work.”

What I’ve started doing is, before getting up and walking away from a programming project, to find the place (or a place) in the code where I want to start digging around next and I’ll just type out some comments in the middle of the code but NOT format them as comments. As far as the interpreter or compiler is concerned I’ve just got some massive syntax error in there once it hits free form text. So I’ll sit down and type some ‘runme’ command that looks obvious and it’ll blow all to hell with some smidgen of the notes I’d written myself as a reminder.

It gives me a good chuckle and a sure sign of where I left off.

Well, that kind of thing won’t work directly with prose as there’s no interpreter. But I’m sure I can do something, some textual sentinel that’d be easy enough to trace.

So okay. This all makes a lot of sense.

More than that, it has this ring of truth to it, like I’ve tripped over something missing that I didn’t realize was missing. On one hand that makes me wonder what the hell else I’m missing about the writing process, etc. But I can’t get too worried about that since I can only know what I can know and don’t what I don’t.

That’s more or less fine with me. I can live with that frustration but don’t need to try and force myself too hard to see things that are in my blind spots until I evolve a bit.

Preparatory work tends to be frustrating when I’m looking for the dopamine hit of the quick successes. But there’s a reason an apprentice needs to spend the first two years sweeping the floors of the shop.

You can’t skip the basics. Most people interpret that as “you shouldn’t skip the basics.” But you really can’t. I’ve fought with this in all kinds of things. When you skip the basics and “just want to get to the real work” then you’re going to (duh) skip steps that you’re going to have to go back and do.

So this kind of practice should give me a pretty rich array of things to work on when I sit down. Plus the creation and maintenance of these kinds of things, just as a raw brainstorming/free-association effort is going to be a blast.

See now I’ve gotten myself all excited.

w00t \o/