Sam’s and Sames

So, as I mentioned at the tail end of yesterday’s post, I went to Sam’s yesterday for lunch and engaged in a little bit of high-caffeine observation.

Sam’s is a pretty plain sports bar/restaurant of a type found all over the country in the borderlands between middle and lower middle class economic zones. Once you cross that boundary fully you get into the land where dirt bars flourish instead.

Cross that economic border in the other direction, on your way up and you end up with zoning regulations that yield things like Cheddar’s, J.B. Danigans, Bennigans, Olive Gardens, Outback Steakhouses, Texas Roadhouses and other instantiations of the same cultural template, varying slightly from region to region.

But Sam’s is a happy medium. Televisions all over the walls with every sporting event available blasted into every eyeball that is even remotely in view of the things. In fact, there is no seat in the house that affords you any safety or solace of any kind from the blipverts of modern culture. For reasons I’ll never quite understand I find it a fine place to eat but an awful place to drink.

I sat at a high top off to the side of the bar, where I could see the room and the front door. There were a couple tables behind me, which I really don’t like. But I wasn’t going to go full Aragorn and sit in the corner with a hood up like some fucking basement dwelling edgelord, no matter how much I love the aesthetic, if I’m being honest.

Waiting on my burger and fries I watched. It was the same group of guys who are always there. Always.

I watched the guys and the couple couples, most of whom had a decade or two…or three on me.

They’re the same people, sitting in the same seats at the same times every day, ordering the same beers and the same food. Their faces drawn and hollow, damn near to the point of being extras in a zombie movie.

I recognized a couple as regulars over at Johnathan’s, literally across the street (Sam’s if they had a budget, better lighting and kept the place clean.)

Some of these guys go to Sam’s for lunch and a beer then head over to Johnathan’s for a couple more beers, then come back to Sam’s for dinner, then head back to Johnathan’s to close out the night….several days a week.

The struggle toward sameness struck me. The hunger for pattern and predictability. Get up at the same time. Do the same things. Wear the same clothes. Ogle the same bartenders. Watch the same sports teams and refer to them as “we” (which might be the single most unsettling phenomenon of modern western culture.)

It’s one of those things I didn’t really see until my brain clicked in to that place. But once I saw it I couldn’t help but see it.

These guys pursue nothing so much as sameness. There was a time I’d have called that fear, but I’m not sure it even gets that far. To call it fear would be to presume there was an aspiration that was being subverted by trepidation of some kind. I don’t really think it goes that far.

Occasionally they’ll throw the dice to evolve the pattern: A new job, a new wife, kids, a new home. Then they’ll ride that series of habits and patterns, resting in it like their seemingly inevitable la-z-boy recliners into which they’ll finally (and sometimes Finally) be promoted.

Sure, we all have fantasies of one kind or another. But those are rarely imbued with sufficient gravitas for us to take seriously, much less to actually pursue.

No, this is something else. Seeking comfort, contentment, perhaps even animal and creature comfort.

I imagine they don’t fear illness and death as an end, but as a disruption of their pattern, their peace, as a change in and of itself and would be perhaps equally fearful of winning the lottery; though that’s far easier to conceive of, if astronomically less likely.

As I sat there, waiting on my burger and ginger beer, thinking this all through I realized how much of human behavior was becoming really quite clear, how many things it explained.

And as you’d imagine I was feeling, well, not exactly “smug” as I wasn’t thinking much of myself in relation to this weird dominant cultural phenomenon. It just seemed sad to me that so many would so obviously seek nothing so much as stability, safety.

I think a lot about finding one’s purpose. From dozens of years and millions of words of my own cogitations to seeking out other people who might have a clue about it through things like Ivan’s “Feast of War” I went to in 2018 in Denver (finding a good time but zero answers.)

Then a few years ago I “nominally retired.” In fact now that I think of it it’s pretty close to exactly the day three years past that I finally left the firm.

A couple things started really clearing up about purpose, and not to the good. It became pretty obvious that most people throw their need for a reason into, as I said above, their jobs, their day-to-dayness. When I stopped working I was suddenly struck even more forcefully (which is rather fucking saying something if I do say so myself) by how utterly rudderless I was and had been.

The closest thing I’d had to purpose really was the day to day normalcy of my job. Suddenly it was gone and I was cast utterly adrift, having severed what I hadn’t realized was the last line mooring me to reality.

It’s been as I’ve said, three years and while my life is indeed quite remarkably different and better than it was that first Monday I woke up at eleven in the morning, wearing bunny slippers and a bathrobe.

I spent months and now years trying to intentionally trick myself into doing things that “mattered.” Even this kind of exercise (put up one 1000 word post a day for a month) is that kind of struggling for something to live up to.

But I realized something at some point along the way that I hadn’t realized I’d realized until I was rolling over the above insights on my way back here to Smokey afterwards.

I haven’t been struggling for purpose, though that’s the name I’ve been giving it.

I’ve been struggling to find a pattern in whose stasis I can find comfort.

The Ministry

About two and a half years ago…actually two and a half years and 11 days ago was the closing date, Dave Brubeck day I closed on my home (be it ever so humble) and spent the next month moving all my crap up from my Nashville apartment. It was about three trips back and forth in the truck a day for four full weeks, a damned haul. I probably didn’t realize I had QUITE that much stuff or I might have figured out another solution. But it was just before the onset of the Kung Flu and between that and a general state of ass draggery I never got the address changed on my driver’s license.

Well I tried to get that done in late September, early October…ish of this year. I don’t remember anymore. But apparently New York state had my license suspended…there and that was preventing me from getting a new license here in Tennessee. That’s some weapons grade bureaucratic bullshit you ask me.

All that’s to say that I spent about an hour and a half there this morning, a pretty painless process all things considered.

The room was clearly designed by an alien race of government functionaries, the walls a little too dark to be hospital bland grey. One of the things you notice after a few minutes is that nothing in the place is quite…white. The “white” columns are really a dirty beige as if they’d started their existence in a dive bar someplace that still allowed smoking thirty to forty years ago, from which they’d been rescued as the perfect supports for this kind of a place.

The floor is concrete with linoleum tile in three foot by three foot sections of solid colors, but alternating between black, something close but not quite dead on to that same beige and an almost forest green, a little too dark to actually have a duplicate in nature.

It’s really quite amazing. There are screens pulled down in front of each desk station like those we used to pull down in class to project a movie on, complete with their rickety aluminum frames, opposite those peculiarly steampunk looking cameras they use.

A Chinese kid was taking his permit test for the second time. He had on a mask that had been ubiquitous two years ago and a fully stuffed black winter jacket. He insisted on taking the test on paper rather than on the computer, which struck me as odd in this day and age.

I wondered for no particular reason if he was taking the test for someone else.

As I was getting my nonsense dealt with a couple in their late 60s were standing at the window to my left trying to get something similar accomplished. They were thickly accented and talking very quietly.

The guy was just standing there waiting for things to happen, head slung a bit low in his shoulders. He was clearly used to his wife taking care of things for him, but having cajoled him into coming, he condescended to get dressed. There’s no doubt she drove.

The woman behind the counter asked for proof of domicile, which struck me as a weird way to actually say it. But there it is. His wife handed things to her across him as his hands just…hung there, as close to the floor as they could get.

“Do you have anything with your name on it?”

“She my wife.”

And that began a conversation that wasn’t QUITE an argument about needing proof of address with his name on it and, if he didn’t have that available that she’d need their marriage certificate to prove that ….well, you get it.

“We don’t have…”

“Where were you married?”

“Romania.” The poor woman behind the counter exhaled in exasperation.

I was struck, watching them, by the sense that they had this inbuilt mode for dealing with bureaucracy that just didn’t jive with the American functionaries.

He was standing there looking pitiful, waiting for the woman behind the counter to say something like “Well, I mean I SHOULDN’T do this. But it’s obvious you’re married and I can just push this through. Just be sure to have all of your information in order next time.” But she wasn’t biting at all. Nope. Rules are rules. And I don’t disagree in this case.

It struck me almost as though (and I have exactly zero evidence to suggest any of this might be true) the bureaucracy behind the iron curtain were put in place with a sort of nod and a wink to the rules; still able to “be flexible” more or less at their discretion built in to the system.

But then we imported that kind of nonsense over here and took the whole damned thing at face value. “Yep. Rules are rules.” We took it seriously, figured we were going to do it right dammit, nailed it down and that was that. As if we imported the concept of mindless functionary and really hit the throttle, missing the point of it being a fig leaf. If we were going to have mindless functionaries at licensing bureaus then by God they were going to be nothing if not mindless.

He left quite bewildered, in tow of his wife.

Of course it could be a primarily technological development driving the cultural shift. With the information age we’re now in a position where all of this nonsense can be tracked and audited. Indeed when I finally got my nonsense sorted out (and it was a pretty painless process, as I’m in Tennessee and, being from New York know a thing or two about having my ducks in a row when heading to DMV) every piece of supporting documentation I handed him went through the scanner, no doubt attached as a pdf to some goofy archive someplace, attached to it the timestamp, computer id and name of the user logged in at that moment.

I handed the guy all my nonsense and he started sifting through it all.

That’s when someone shit their pants.

Everyone tried to play it off but finally from behind me I heard someone say “Jesus…” under their breath.

When I finally got out of there I drove south, realizing I’d end up here at some point, but fixin’ to pick up something for lunch first.

So, rather than dither endlessly about it I just went to Sam’s and got a burger and fries from a cute waitress who was suspicious until I was more friendly than the lecherous clientele with whom she’d evidently been dealing with thus far.

I sat there at a high top off to the side of the bar with most of the room in front of me, waiting for my ginger beer and burger and watched, as I’m wont to do.

And I really didn’t much like what I saw.

But that’s tomorrow’s post.

The Power of The Balls

So this is a little heady and I’m not sure if I’m going to get my requisite 1000 words out of it today.

I had my little (or not so little) Sausage Ball experiment yesterday and I kept popping those fuckers in my mouth.

Finally I get to the place where I’m walking around the house talking to myself which…ISN’T as outlandish a circumstance as you might reasonably expect. But I realize I can’t understand what the hell I’m saying because my mouth is full of sausage balls. (There, that one’s for free, you fucking animals.)

“is is ucking eediculuf” I mumbled, then swallowed.

“Fuck it. I’m not eating for a few days.” Thus, at 8:00 last night began a four day fast, starting that minute (actually 7:57 if I’m being a dick about it) and ending with the pizza Rick is likely to have at the event on Thursday night.

When I fast it’s a zero calorie affair. Water, tea, diet soda, zero cal gatorade (electrolytes) and electrolite tabs. Maybe the odd nodoz.

But aside from that I consume nothing. No alcohol, nothing.

Except, you know, some cigars, owing to their properties as an appetite suppressant…and because I really REALLY enjoy them.

Normally day one of a fast is the absolute fucking nightmare people all anticipate out of fasting, consumed after the first few hours by hunger. It’s the hump to be gotten over, the wall that stops most casual people.

The second day is really peculiar. You wake up feeling really crisp, sharp. I wouldn’t say you’re “not hungry.” But it’s just not such an all-consuming thing, it’s just an ancillary fact, a thing going on in the background.

From day two it’s pretty smooth sailing for a couple/few days. The biggest problem you have to deal with really is the habit of eating, rather than the hunger itself. You start realizing how much of your day is punctuated and partitioned by food rituals for no appreciable reason other than cultural convention.

It’s really quite strange.

But I noticed something quite strange today, as I puttered around Hendersonville doing most of my chores before coming in here to sit down and get after it a bit.

I feel…fine.

Sure, the pull of all the standard habitual behavior is pulling at me, as expected. After all I haven’t done this in quite a while. Int fact…I don’t remember how long it’s been. Six months? A year? A year seems too long, but it might actually be.

As I sat here and pondered my cigar for a bit, before lighting it up I had a truly uncharacteristic degree of mental clarity for the first day of a fast. It was almost meditative and I ended up just kinda sitting here and soaking in it for about a half hour, pretending to work, zenning out.

I knew once I started doing anything that it would, much like any purely meditative state, it would start to dissipate. But the day goes on and there’s stuff to be done.

Not that I did everything on my list. But I got 2/3 of the things I’ve been kvetching to myself about and avoiding out of the way.

Upon nonzero reflection I realize that my mental state has been an awful lot better on the whole for the last I don’t know how long. Not that I’m anywhere close to actually being on top of things. I mean fuck, some days it’s like shoveling against the tide. But life always feels like that. It’s an illusion even when it’s the reality.

But most things are moving forward. Most things.

I don’t know. I kinda only had about 500 words today. I’m beginning to wonder if it would be reasonable to loophole myself by putting up “a total of a thousand words” rather than “a post of a thousand words” a day. It would definitely be a bit weaselly, which rather suggests an answer if I’m being honest.

I guess what I’ll do is hang it up for now and come back to it tonight.

Tim, and Frank are here. Eddie is inbound. So I’m off for now.

… fast forward 8 hours …

erm…whups.

So I packed up my laptop, put all my dolls and dishes in the truck and moved from my perch on the high-top and went to sit down with Tim and Frank. I put the two big bags of sausage balls on the table. They had a couple and…well, let’s just say they enjoyed them.

I smoked my cigar and stared at them…and they stared back. The sausage balls, not Tim and Frank.

Then Kevin showed up.

I lit another cigar and still they stared at me and I stared back at them.

I blinked, by which I mean I went to the men’s room. They sat there all smug in their sausage cheeseness and stared back at me when I got back. I sat back down, squinted, then said “Fuck it” grabbed one, and popped it in my mouth.

Fucking delicious.

I thought about all the stuff I’d written, well…up there about fasting and how good it felt and just figured…eh. I didn’t figure much of anything. Just wanted some damned sausage balls.

So I thought a bit about it, as I plowed through half a dozen of those delicious fuckers and came to the tentative conclusion that I just wasn’t THAT committed to fasting. I’d gotten on the scale yesterday morning and was horrified by what I saw, then couldn’t stop stuffing the damned things in my mouth when they came out of the oven.

Frankly I’m going to give myself that one. They’re really tough to resist, particularly when your whole house smells like bacon and really sharp Irish cheddar.

I really figured I’d end up wrapping myself around a fucking post with angst about the whole thing. But I’d started the day off in far too good a mood and too clear a mental state to let that kind of horseshit get a hold of me.

Besides, I’m not ACTUALLY trying to torture myself.

Maple Salty Balls, an experiment

In which I employ every annoying ass recipe blogger technique I can fit in a block of text because of the number of times I’ve had to suffer through that crap over the last couple days trying to figure this crap out.

I had that idea yesterday while walking around through Kroger.

Down here (in The South) they have a thing called Sausage Balls that seem to emerge at office pot-lucks (where I first encountered them) and other holiday events. For reasons known only to God and perhaps native Southerners, they don’t seem to appear at any time of the year other than November, excepting the obligatory offering in the frozen section of the stupid market.

The standard Sausage Balls recipe makes, in the way of such things, absolutely no pretension to haute cuisine. Instead it has that down home “toss it together” quality that I seem to come across all over the place in the south as an expat of The Heathen North; most notably characterized by a complete disregard for any pedigree of “scratch cooking.”

Though to be honest it seems that there are two levels of recipes down here:

– One is the conglomeration of mostly premade off the shelf mixes with a couple unintended ingredients (in The Heathen North this is a faux pas of the highest order. You either “made it”, i.e. from scratch, or you didn’t.)

– The other is those elusive secret generational recipes that include things made from scratch as well as things made with “that one special trick only meemaw knew and never passed on.” Which half the time is probably “Oh honey I just use canned soup concentrate” or something.

But I digress. Sausage balls consist of three cups of bisquick or other “pre-made biscuit mix”, a pound of sharp cheddar cheese and a pound of sausage. I like to use the Tennessee Pride hot. Mix that all together (don’t use pre-shredded cheddar. That shit has literal fucking sawdust in it) form it into little golf-ball sized balls and bake it at 300 for a half hour and change.

But I’d been walking around in Kroger engaging, as I implied yesterday, in some serious people watching when I found myself standing at the sausage display.

I’d been thinking it was getting time to actually bake something, get my chops back. Pretty frustrating thing, that. Some of the hand art of baking leaves me every year once the season ends since I usually just drop baking cold. I love to do it but the fruits of my labor go right to my fucking gut, so a couple experiments every fall is what it costs.

As such things happen I wondered suddenly if it would make sense to add bacon to sausage balls or if that would just be screwing with perfection. But…sausage balls, good as they are, are pretty far from perfection. They’re dry and chalky, begging for a dip or sauce no one seems to have figured out yet. Hell, maybe some bacon and bacon fat would pull things in the right direction?

Then…as brains are wont to do, certainly mine, I thought “well…what about maple bacon?” By which I didn’t mean use “maple bacon” bacon. But to actually add maple syrup to the thing as well as bacon. Could end up with that “salty + sweet synergy” they’re so fucking obsessed with down here. Who knows.

I texted the brain trust, who I could all hear salivating all over middle Tennessee as they got the messages.

So yeah. Bought bisquick, a couple blocks of less than half-priced irish cheddar and a couple 1 pound blocks of hot sausage and a couple pounds of bacon. I went back this morning for medium/mild sausage. I prefer hot but I figured that if I was going to be experimenting with it, medium would be the way to go.

My thinking was that I’d make one normal batch as a control and bake that while I mixed up the second batch.

Thing about that recipe is that there’s nothing real precise about it. It’s really just “sausage and cheese with enough bisquick to bind it together” so after mixing up the first normal batch I figured I’d just dump a bunch of crap in the experimental one then add enough bisquick to get roughly the same consistency.

I premade (and damn near fucking burned) and drained the bacon. And no, I didn’t use all 2 pounds, though I did cook it all.

Made the first batch, the control batch, mixing it in the kitchen-aid with the dough hook, then put it in another bowl and mixed a second batch.

To the second batch I added a couple handfuls (really, I didn’t measure it.) It probably ended up being a cup and a half of crumbled bacon. Then to add in more deliciousness I poured in a few (4?) tablespoons of bacon grease. Then I poured about the same amount of maple syrup in. Turning the mixer on I realized it was a bit too…gummy or so, so I added another half to 3/4 of a cup of bisquick until I had it about the same consistency as the other batch.

Oven preheated to 300 I balled them up and baked them for somewhere between 35 and 40 minutes, not the 30 it says in the recipe, which pisses me off to no end.

The maple bacon batch was split (as was the control) in to two separate trays. On the second tray I also drizzled some maple syrup over the top of them.

In the end, the control batch came out a little undercooked. But the bottoms were nearly scorched so I didn’t want to risk baking them for much longer. I’m going to have to figure out how the hell to tweak that.

The second batch, was not undercooked, which I found a bit perplexing. The tray I had drizzled maple syrup over were really close to burning on the bottoms, as the sugar couldn’t handle the heat for that long. Both trays were a fair bit darker colored once baked. So I’m calling that the caramelization of the maple syrup.

Now for the taste test: The normal batch was delicious as fuck, of course.

With maple bacon batch I could taste the bacon and that was really good. But the maple, when I could taste it (I may have had to have more than one sample to insure consistent results) really clashed hard with the rest of the flavors. I suspect it MIGHT be because there wasn’t enough to really present itself, which might sound a little hipsterific. But I couldn’t quite take its measure otherwise.

All in all it was a worthy experiment, and a bit of bacon fat, and likely crumbled bacon as well is absolutely going in all further batches of sausage balls. But I’m going to have to play around with making tiny batches, one to five at a time and run experiments on a small scale.

There’s a lot of upside here, I can feel it. But I just haven’t found it yet.

Just a scene, and sausage balls

Y’all can’t be any less sick of this than I am. But I’m only a third of the way through this exercise.

Went to Kroger this afternoon, it being the first cold day of the year. Yesterday I was sitting out front of Smokey drawing up plans for fun projects with a charcoal grey EF LAMY Safari on a simple Walmart dotted notebook, in that weird seasonal state where I can’t quite imagine what the other seasons feel like, despite having gone through more than fifty of each.

But I slept like a mountain last night owing to the cold, my heater kicking on once it got into the low 60s in the house.

I realized as I climbed out of the depths of hypnogogia that it was time to begin my seasonal consumption of that most unholy of medicinal hot beverages, the demonic sludge that is

coffee.

I hate it. I hate it SO much. But I won’t argue against the fact that it absolutely works. And…don’t. Just don’t. “You need a french press with coffee beans they fish out of cat shit.”

So off to Kroger for a couple pounds of Cafe Bustello and a container of Coffeemate, because that’s the least bad combination I’ve come up with. Yep. Plain old coffeemate. Not milk, cream, vanilla caramel hazelnut whateverthefuck. Nope. Coffeemate.

Busy day up the hill. The store wasn’t QUITE a mob scene. But it was certainly a scene.

The supermarket fascinates me. Unless you’re from such a high economic bracket that you’re just flat out not going there then it’s an exhibit of a pretty reasonable cross-section of the regional fauna.

The man in his 50s, over six feet tall, huge, shaggy and downtrodden, jeans and a worn flannel shirt, lumbering over the cart behind a woman on a scooter we all know is actually for fat people who spares him nary a glance as she picks and pokes indecisively through aisle after aisle of something like food. I realized after seeing the pair of them three or four times that I wasn’t sure if she was his wife or his mother and I was less sure which would have been worse.

And now, in 2022 I can say this with no irony at all: The moms in their mid 40s wearing high-rise jeans who light up like a Christmas tree at a kind word.

The black girl tutting through brands of bread wearing a…not quite corset, looked more like a lifting belt strapped on like a corset over a t-shirt in what appeared to be an attempt to maximize proportional ratio, coming across as a bit of a cartoon, complete with hastily applied fake eyelashes.

A skinny little goth kid with what looked for all the world like four inch platform doc martins, a completely ink black outfit with enough layers that made the individual articles of clothing largely indiscernible, dangling silver cross earring, a black cloth covid mask, and a half ounce of muscle tone to his name, transported right out of a 1986 Sisters of Mercy concert in Manhattan into the next century to stand in front of the eggs in middle Tennessee, wondering no doubt what the fuck he was doing here.

A couple just hitting the stride of their mid-30s and their mid 200s, he in his best ball cap, she with her best lip fillers, both seeming to see what they used to see in their reflections in the freezer case, trying to decide between the selection of Hungry Man dinners for the next week; a poor man’s meal prep.

I ended up walking back and forth through the store half a dozen times trying to remember why the fuck I left the damned house to begin with, my cart getting a little more thoroughly stuffed on every lap, Count Dorkula never moving the whole time.

Sure there are some grumpy people, as distinct from the busy people (of which there are a shitton.) But most people in a supermarket in middle Tennessee don’t think who the hell they are.

If you (read: I) just start talking: “Huh. Ground beef at $3.99 is highway robbery.” I’m at least as likely as not to get someone walking by to chime in with at least a “you ain’t kidding” and perhaps with a “well, it was $2.49 a pound a couple weeks ago” which launches into a small talk conversation.

Walking past the meat counter I heard a woman say “I’m old enough that I don’t much care about what other people think. I’m gonna say what I’m gonna say.” with a smile.

I chuckled and said “that’s not a bad way to be” which elicited a couple chuckles from bystanders.

“Yep. I’m enjoyin’ it.”

“Me too.”

I got into a little exchange with a couple old black women on scooters, right out of central casting, shopping in Kroger together, having their “day out”, both wearing wigs made of some substance that hasn’t grown organically since it was part of a dinosaur. I gave them the recipe for sausage balls (tomorrow’s escapade) with they dutifully listened to and didn’t write down. Of course I didn’t realize that ‘til later.

I finally decided, after having had that interaction, that it was time to start screwing around with Sausage Balls.

For those of you who don’t know, sausage balls seem to be to be a uniquely southern fall food thing. It’s nothing fancy, just bisquick (or something similar), a pound of sausage, and a pound of cheese. Mix ‘em, roll them in to little balls and bake them.

They’re delicious out of all proportion to what it takes to make them. A few years ago I was all proud of the fact that I’d discovered them and made them at my sister’s place over thanksgiving. I might have been the only person who had any. I couldn’t figure it out. No idea. It made and makes no sense to me. It’s not like it’s particuarly exotic. Whatever.

But what I’m thinking is that I’m gonna try adding some bacon (because duh, bacon) and maybe even a little bit of maple somethingorother, just to see what happens. I’ll probably have to beef up the amount of biscuit mix I put in there. But that’s what the experiment’s for.

At least I remembered the coffee.

Friday Night Rambling: Resistance to Flow

That expands upon which you focus.

Despite (or, perhaps “given” is a better word if I’m being strictly honest) the amount of workshop hardware I’ve acquired (to say nothing of the amount of fucking money I spent on it) in the last few months, my head has suddenly taken renewed interest in…

programming projects.

The Personal Knowledge Management System which I’ve been affectionately calling the Huge Honkin Console for the last 20 years (and yes, holy shit, it’s actually 20 years) is actually starting to move forward.

The cyberdeck has taken residence in the front of my mind again as well. But I wrote a bit about that a few days ago.

Today I headed down to smokey and actually did some design work on that project. Physical module layouts, device breakdowns, internal infrastructure (which will be considerable, consisting of at least two routers, a switch, a couple usb hubs and several little microcontroller development boards with a gps radio, and…other stuff.)

I took a hack at the white-board of the software connectivity among all the components. What’s going to talk to who and how. Am I going to be able to switch out modules and have the system auto-adapt to whatever attachments might actually be in the little ecosystem (yes.)

Another settled question is whether the thing will have and/or be a wifi satellite that’s location aware enough to be able to “know” it’s home or at the cigar lounge and to behave differently based on its location. For instance, if I pull in the driveway and the thing is in the truck under power it’ll know the home network is within range and it’ll do things like dump any data collected since last time out to the home network to help avoid data loss.

And yes, there are other things it’ll do to help that across a network connection and such.

But that’s been jazzing me up lately.

One of the problems I’m having with the amount of time I’m spending at the cigar lounge isn’t the time itself so much as that it’s REALLY fucking up my creative process. I actually need a day or two without dealing with any other humans, aside from perhaps at a checkout counter, to get myself rolling. So these “I’ll take off for a couple days” that lead to “yeah okay, maybe I’ll go for one” really fuck with my mojo something fierce.

I’m not sure what to do about that. But I’m gonna have to do something about it because this can’t stand the way it is. My current crop of friends are the best humans I’ve known, and it’s tough knowing that what I should really be doing for me is just not hanging out with them as much as I do.

BUT, to do that I have to immerse myself in my own environment, break the habit-groove that’s forming of heading down to Hendersonville to have a cigar more days than not and let that first day, which is about as bad as a first day of fasting, just kind of burn off so I can get down past the clutter.

Funny to me that I just realized how much it seems to be the same phenomenon for writing, fasting and other habits and pursuits.

Seems that there’s always a bit of what I call cruft on my head when I write, that torturous first day of a fast (which is on my mind as it’s been a bit too long since I’ve done a good 4-6 day), and yeah, even getting rolling on my own projects creatively. I my brain needs buffer time to get through the nonsense and actually get rolling.

Without that…burnoff time it’s really strange what happens to my perception of my pursuits, hobbies, and projects. They all seem to be far FAR more distant than they really are. I could go downstairs right now (and I’m fucking NOT) to screw half a dozen eye bolts into the ceiling and thread some aircraft cable to hang the dust shield (long story) up. I’ve been dodging that for a week, having all the stuff sliding around the back of my truck, for no reason at all.

Yet another point tangental to mental and creative context I suppose. It just keeps coming up. At some point I’m going to have to tie all this shit together and see if there are breadcrumbs through out it all that I haven’t yet picked up on. Wait, no. I’m going to have to tie all this shit together and find the breadcrumbs that are no doubt strewn throughout it that I haven’t yet picked up on.

But back to the topic nominally at hand: It strikes me that it’s the same phenomenon as the front end of getting yourself sat down to get some work done, differing only in scale.

And if so, does it imply that the notion of the Flow State or being in “The Zone” is a phenomenon that has large and small scale waves to them?

People talk about being in a Flow state in purely binary terms. But past a certain threshold of resistance I don’t really see any reason it should be so. The problem (well, a problem) is that the nature of a flow state makes it very tough to actually come up with metrics about…I think. I suppose there’s some kind of test or observation you could come up with that would tell you “how flowy” you were being. But that’s definitely beyond my ken. Plus, I can’t see how something like that would be resistant to being gamed, owing to its seemingly subjective nature.

So now that my brain is going back and forth across this idea, it also starts to sound like it dovetails pretty well with the resistance involved in procrastination. The artificial resistance that creates that notion that a task is somehow far more onerous than it actually is, a mountain made of a molehill.

It does give me some clues as to how to get a hold of things that seem to be quite intractable though.

See, now it’s midnight and I’m rolling, rather exactly to the fucking point I suppose.

More questions than answers again I’m afraid. But it does get it down such that I can let myself think about it on the back burner a bit.

A little trickery

Dammit I’m not done with that topic.

Now that I’ve got what vaguely passes for a clear head and a full night’s sleep I’ve got a couple thoughts.

The problem with the kind of, what the hell did I call it, synthetic creativity? I don’t know. Gotta go read my old post so I can see if I can at least keep a consistent taxonomy throughout what’s gone from brain dump to a series (consisting of a brain dump over time.) Yeah, Synthetic Creativity. That kind of creativity that doesn’t really seem particularly creative and is instead just a slight stretch on top of an existing…err…thing.

I was talking to Frank for a couple minutes out front of the cigar lounge, where he’s reading a book… The Gothic Enterprise I think it was, about the building of cathedrals. He made an offhanded comment about how interesting can a book about architecture possibly be.

I chuckled and described, however briefly, Christopher Alexander’s Pattern Language books and the peculiar cross-disciplinary effect (affect? I don’t fucking know anymore) they had on the software development field and the utterly unanticipated (I assume) way he literally changed the world.

It provides frameworks within which a certain kind of synthetic creativity can flourish.

What Alexander did, however unwittingly, was provide buckets of ideas and, at the risk of getting heady, ways of thinking and solving structural problems that amount to a giant catalog of “paint by numbers” pictures that could be filled in with whatever colors were appropriate to the project at hand.

Now, when I say that, what I DON’T mean is individual patterns themselves, but the style of doing things that his work actually enumerated, to look for existing patterns that exist at a level of abstraction slightly above a level that can be literally “cut and pasted” all over the place, in digital parlance. But to see that database access of a certain sort or sending objects over a network or any of a thousand thousand things exist and are suggestive of a common approach.

“But all that’s just pissing in the wind” – Wintermute

The reason I bring it up is to reference what I was grasping in the dark for yesterday.

The difference between kinds of intelligence and perhaps levels of creativity as they cross paths with other idiosyncratic personality traits fascinates me to no end.

So let me take the theory I posited yesterday: Perhaps it is thus that I’m not particularly creative, yet have the intelligence and predilection to be very good at solving problems.

Well, that suggests a certain kind of “thinking inside the lines” or, said another way “working within a particular frame of reference, boundaries and rules of a sort.

In the immortal words of Rob Van Winkle “If there was a problem, yo I’ll solve it.” I work VERY well within frame, when rules are in place. It’s why I’m as good as I am at solving software problems. I know that world cold.

But put me into something that I perceive as a purely creative pursuit and I’m completely fucking lost.

So what I was thinking about on my way down here, 2nd red bull and nodoz percolating through my brain chemistry was that I might be able to play a trick with myself, hinted at yesterday (even to myself. I wasn’t being intentionally subtle so much as just groping around in the dark.)

I might be able to set myself up with a truly dizzying number of constraints and thereby turn what I perceive to be an open-ended creative task into a problem solving task.

As I mentioned last night, I bought on my way home, a few books of cultural myths/fairy tales from different cultures. There’s a series that Barnes & Noble had that looked pretty interesting, so I bought the Norse, Native American and a catch-all. They each take a bunch of stories and bundle them together by category, worldforming myths, trickster stories etc.

So why don’t I make an exercise out of taking one or more of those (let’s start with one there, caffeine boy) and just rewriting it in to a new setting? Make no pretensions of it being a new work or anything particularly creative, just a translation of surface genre.

I really like the idea. Seems like as simple a solution as I could possibly come up with.

And hell, maybe that’s what people are doing. Maybe that’s just the way it’s actually done, to some extent.

Thing is it’s not like I grew up in an environment that fostered any kind of creativity at all. I recall with twitching clarity the admonishment against musicians, artists, and authors growing up “yeah, it beats working for a living.”

So it may just very well be that I’ve got to find my way around the creative process not even realizing that such a thing actually EXISTS, much less how to go about it.

After all, when I started in the world of programming, and in fact with every new technology, tool or toy I use, I started the same way: Let’s take a piece of software someone wrote that’s doing or using what I want to familiarize myself with and tweak it while I figure out what those tweaks actually mean and do.

Then take that process and iterate it until I’m familiar enough with whatever IT is then I can use it to create new things.

It’s just so much easier with software because with software, something that just doesn’t work just doesn’t fucking work. The compiler will fail, the results will be wrong. It’ll puke all over the place until you get it right and the tools themselves will tell you what you did wrong, more or less.

So creative writing doesn’t have QUITE the same kind of strictures of system in place. I mean you can write crap and it can just exist. There’s not really much in the way of objective verification that can happen. It’s a much softer process, though I’m not at all sure I’d consider it a less objective one.

Things that work actually work, be they artistic or engineering.

So yeah. Maybe some day this weekend I’ll make a practice of trying to work something like that out. Hell, if I’m really feeling masochistic I’ll post it here.

And won’t THAT be fun.

Untitled Rambling Nonsense (or, I’m tired but I said I would)

Problem is I waited ‘til 20:45 to even start typing. So you get what you get. As I said on twitter, maybe I’ll trip over a topic in the next 966 words. But I wouldn’t count on it.

I’ve been watching/listening to a lot of Jordan Peterson clips. I’ve wanted to get my shit together and watch his whole “Maps of Meaning” course lecture series, or a couple of them. It’s just fascinating shit. I never did get all the way through the audiobook though. Fuck is it a slog. That’s the kind of thing you need to read in dead tree form. That’s just a bit tough to do while driving.

I find that people who have “a problem” with Jordan Peterson just about always do so on some ideological nitpicky point that they feel gives them permission to throw him out entirely, which is a pretty bitch ass approach. I’m surprised at the level of intelligence deployed in that kind of off-handed dismissal. I swear it reeks of the abdication of thinking.

But I digress.

He talked in one of these little snippets about creativity.

Oh yeah, here it is. I’ve no idea how the fuck WordPress will render this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1RLBBsVTGUw

It’s worth 8 minutes and 1 second. Or maybe you’re one of those people who’ve dismissed him out of hand, in which case go fuck yourself. I’ll not condescend to intellectual cowardice.

Actually, I should probably write about that. Eh. Goes in the card file for later.

ANYway…

He talks about the stabs they’ve taken at measuring creativity and I noticed that every time it comes up it brings to mind a couple of my really bad Achilles’ heels and I finally started putting two and two together.

It may simply be true that despite all inclination to the contrary, I might just not BE very creative. It sounds strange to me. But go watch that video (I know exactly zero of you did the first time. Don’t worry, I wouldn’t have either.)

The “name all the things this makes you think of” exercise really leads me to very pedestrian lists of things. I’ve tried the experiment myself, even given myself sneaky cheating lead time and I just draw a nominal blank.

I remember an in-school exercise the school psych, whatever the hell he actually was, did when I was little…maybe 9, 10. It was me and, likely coincidentally, my antagonist. The exercise was ostensibly very simple: Write a story. Anything. No grade involved. A few paragraphs.

I sat there, staring at the empty page, anxiety through the roof, absolutely unable to come up with anything at all. And I mean anything AT ALL. The other kid blasted out half a page and left. He gave me what felt like three straight days, sitting in that little wooden chair, before telling me I could go.

A couple minutes ago I was all set to plant my flag in “not particularly creative,” cement it over and just

So I don’t know how to tell, now that I’ve gotten that far, if it’s actually a lack of capacity or a bog standard performance based anxiety. I can solve a problem easily enough. I can work quite well within a framework, out to the very edge of the thing, explore and even push its boundaries. But to come up with something new? I very nearly don’t understand what that means, almost literally.

To get past derivation to creativity. I guess I’ve landed back in this same place about a month and a half after this tangential post: http://iwilson.net/faking-creativity-and-higher-thinking/

This is yet another one of those fucking topics that feels like endless drain circling to me. It’s one of the very few topics of inquiry that is not resolved in any direction by merely writing about it, usually my most reliable exit route from a brain tight-loop.

I suppose after all of this horseshit it has to come down to an experiment. I’m clearly doing with my own head what I was complaining yesterday about doing with fiction; trying to map out the whole thing in my skull without offloading anything on to the page, or externalizing it in any way at all.

So I have to figure out what the fuck THAT actually means. How do I run an experiment of I know not what from I know not where?

I don’t fucking know. It’s 11:00 and I’m at 75% of my total committed word count and if it weren’t for the fact that I fucking said I would I’d bail, hit publish then let you all wonder what the hell I’m actually smoking today.

In an attempt to try and wrestle with the problem of getting started on a piece of fiction of whatever stripe, I went out yesterday to Barnes & Noble and treated myself to one of those little bullshit “100 writing prompts” books. But my reaction to that when I flip through it is to immediately get short of breath and start sweating.

Now that can’t be good. But by the same token it can’t be allowed to stand either. So I may just have to take the fucking horse pill and get one of these little hypotheticals done, even if it’s just for the sake of monitoring my own head while I do it to see if I can see what I can see about what the shit goes on in there when I get past the point of actually starting (to say nothing of finishing.)

Today as well, while I was sitting in Smokey listening to the guys talking about the election it occurred to me that it might be fun to take some fairy tales or classic myths and rewrite it set in a fantasy or scifi setting just as an exercise. So I stopped in to Barnes & Noble again (not that I love going there so much, such a shadow of its former self) and picked up a couple nice (looking at least) mythology collections of various kinds.

Anyway I knew this was going to be a ramble. I really have to stop waiting ‘til 9 something to start writing. My brain is, as you can no doubt tell, completely fucking fried.

Oh yay, and tomorrow’s fucking Thursday so I’ll be at Smokey for something moronic like 11 hours.

At least I’ll get ahead of things there.

o7

Engineering Fiction?

Writing fiction is one of those things I’ve always fantasized after. Not for glory or riches, to be sure. (Not that I’d say no, to be equally sure.) But just to create wonderful stories that do for others what great stories do for me.

It’s always eluded me though. As I’ve said more than a couple (hundred) times, I give great vignette. But the practice of putting things together into a larger whole eludes me entirely. A part of the problem, if not most of it, is that I try to think it all through from beginning to end from the start, including not only the stories, subplots, characters and settings, but all the allusions and fun little metaphorical devices and allegories I’d not be able to stop myself from including along the way, in whatever ham-fisted way I’d end up doing it.

I was thinking about the sheer impossibility of such an approach this evening, while writing about my first intended topic (250 words that took me two hours before being no doubt permanently relegated to the half-assed bin of “things I’ll totally get back to some day half past never” before starting this) and something occurred to me, in my shame for the very first time.

I’ve been writing software for 45 years. Granted the first few of those years was pretty damned stupid. But whatever. In a thousand years it would never occur to me to try and actually cobble together a piece of software out of whole cloth in my head and then code it up from a blank editor and have any expectation that my original plan was going to do anything but derail spectacularly with in the first 50 to 100 lines of code.

No. What I’d do is draw out some big diagrams with a very few boxes, then selectively drill all the way down on one aspect or another. Now, decades of experience has familiarized me sufficiently with the way software systems work that, once I have a big diagram on a white board I can generally sniff out what might be likely to have a problem. Armed with such knowledge I can dive straight for the pain points and try to work those out.

But even that can sometimes be deceiving, as I can get that wrong. Well, no big deal, happens all the damned time. Then I just take the Sterling Archer approach of just coding up the easy stuff and waiting to see what ACTUALLY becomes an issue and dealing with it once it hits me in the face, not bothering to worry about things before they actually become a problem. (See, there really are some incredibly valuable life lessons that can be learned from cartoons.)

So why don’t I at least take a shot at writing fiction the same way?

And don’t get all fucking “ackshually” on me. I know the metaphor of building a complex system falls apart. All metaphors do or they wouldn’t be metaphors.

Ideas like componentization and compartmentalization, library management and particularly Design Patterns, even down to some of the more severe examples of the late 90s Patterns frenzy (some other than I would call them excesses), Pattern Languages just seem like they’d translate just about perfectly. Not the patterns themselves, of course. But the very concept maps about perfectly. After all, the whole Design Pattern movement was translated wholesale out of some really great writing from the architect Christopher Alexander. If you’ve got any interest in the organic design of systems I’d highly recommend giving his work a deep dive. Brilliant guy.

Take things like Jungian style myth forms, plot structure, character interactions and the role of settings. Most of what can be looked at behind the scenes of a literary work seems to me to abstract in the same way with strangely easy analogs.

Well okay. So what does that mean? What would “writing fiction like I write software” look like?

The first thing that springs to mind is to have libraries of components and techniques available. Certainly in narrative as in software, very little can just come off the shelf rather than serve as a template or blueprint. So I’m not really talking in terms of dropping things in or creating some system that permutes a library of known concepts for me.

But to have a library of characters with which I’m intimately familiar. Well, sure I know buckets of people and have read hundreds if not thousands of novels. Not the same thing. I’d need to really break them down and create dossiers of varying degrees of depth depending on the intended breadth and depth of an individual character’s utility.

Well why not do the same thing with settings? The places a character haunts or remembers. But again they would have to exist in some greater depth than what simply appears in the work. In order for an object to be well utilized the author needs to know more about it than is revealed to the reader (says the expert who’s never finished a narrative anything over here. Gimme some rope.)

I think the idea has some legs.

And it’s as likely as not that some of the ideas for stories kicking around in my head will both spawn entries into these little catalogs and that the fleshing out of some of those entries will in turn spawn skeletal structures and threads of narrative on their own, wispy as they might be, trailing off into the unlit expanses of my imagination.

I’ve got this overwhelming sense that I just need to get the first one done, blaze a single small trail and that will be enough to get me rolling, if at a snail’s pace. It’s funny because I feel an embarrassment of beginnerdom that I generally don’t get when starting something new, perhaps because I’ve got so much in my mind riding on it.

But that’s half the fun. I just have to resign myself to the fact that I’m going to produce a whole lot of words that just suck completely.

Not like I’ve been doing that for the better part of a million words, you know…here.