Facial Expressions 01/06/20

A few things happen when I stop drinking. The first is that I have more time on my hands than I know what to do with. It takes a few weeks to fill up the moments with proper leisure time. Usually I’d just make myself dumb with Ultras, then listen to Korn on Spotify or something. Not drunk, listening to Korn on Spotify sounds less interesting, at least less frequently.

The second thing is that I become very, very weird. If you thought I was weird when I was boozing, just you wait until you see me sober. I break into song, speak in tongues, stand on my head. All kinds of bonkers shit.

Anyhow, I am still plugging away at the editing gig. I’ve moved on from the last job, which the client was very pleased with. I’m on to the next one, as Jay-Z would say.

This one got me thinking about how writers convey the feelings of their characters. It’s often important to them that the read knows at all times how everyone in a given conversation feels about something. And they show that through facial expressions.

The reason for this is obvious: we were all mostly raised on TV. The standard American television show largely consists of the soap opera shots, and by that I basically mean the human face. Translated into novels, that leads to a lot of descriptions of facial expressions. Frustration, amusement, wryness. Is wryness a word? I’m an editor, I promise.

There is a problem with this: it becomes very tedious to constantly read about people’s facial expressions, because there are only so many (although some writers are very talented at finding new ways to indicate someone smirked). It’s not the worst thing in the world, and some readers even like it, but I often recommend that a writer go back and delete all of these reaction shots. Instead, they should include things going on in the ambiance. Let’s say two people are having a drink at the bar, and one of them admits to the other that he’s been sleeping with the other man’s wife. The cuckold could turn red, could grip the bar til his knuckles turn white, could frown. Or, the music on the jukebox could stop. The classic record scratch. That does the trick, and you don’t even have to look at their faces.

It’s a novel, folks! You can do anything you want with it. If that is including a lot of close-ups, I can work with that. But I’d challenge you to get next-level with it. How do you describe something like this without describing it directly?

There’s so much going on in a reader’s mind. The imagination is a powerful thing. How do you gently direct their attention without yanking them around by the collar?

Again, unless that’s your thing.

Baker 01/05/20

All-time great novelist Nicholson Baker recently wrote a piece for NY Mag about covid. It is 12,000 words. Baker interviews smart people who know what’s up. He tells a story, giving background to the long and sordid history of viral manipulation in the US and abroad. At one point in the text, Baker speculates as to the origin of the virus. His thinking goes like this: Wuhan has labs that experiment with bat viruses. The first people (that we know of) to get sick were in Wuhan. Therefore, is it really that crazy to suggest that the outbreak occurred in Wuhan?

I don’t think this is all that interesting to think about. At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter where the virus came from. At this point, it doesn’t matter how deadly it is, how transmissible, or even whether or not asymptomatic spread is “a thing” (signs point to “no”).

None of that matters because we, collectively, as a people, have dug our heels in about this thing. Instead of approaching an essay like this in good faith and going “huh…something to think about,” we immediately start talking about how this or that idea is “dangerous” and shouldn’t be published. We’re taking our ball and going home. And we’re canceling our subscription.

Look, do whatever you want, but from an outside perspective (I have thought from day 1 that the measures we took to “combat” the virus were doomed to fail and plunge a significant portion of the world into starvation, but hey) this is becoming a little scary. I peeked at Twitter. As expected, it’s right down the line. On the one hand you have conspiracy people enraged that they were berated eight months ago for suggesting this very thing, and on the other you have snarky shitlibs sneering at Baker (who is better than them) and NY Mag (which could go under for all I care).

The typical petulant teenager snark goes something like this: “Oh, um, I like, forgot that Baker was a virologist.” It’s clever, right? Because he can’t possibly know anything about the science behind the virus’s origins. He’s not properly credentialed.

Except there are some people who are very properly credentialed who would agree with him. But playing this game is destined to fail. At one point, I saw a tweet that dismissed one of the credentialed scientists because they’re a microbiologist…even though that microbiologist’s entire career has been devoted to studying viral proteins. Throw em in the dustbin!

Besides that, Baker also isn’t a military historian, or an expert in WWII, and yet he wrote one of the most powerful, complex books on the subject that I’ve ever read. You see, what a novelist might be good at (if they’re a good novelist, of course), is compiling a timeline of data and reporting on it in clear, elegant prose. A good novelist is looking for the complexity of any given subject, so they might deal in things like subtlety or whatever.

Apparently, journalists, novelists, and other writers can’t report on things they’re not credentialed in. They’re also incapable of independently researching the issue, in order to better understand it. The flipside of this, of course, is that people who are credentialed (and who agree with us) are the only ones allowed to talk about it. Except they’re busy doing science. So we get a few lines from a person in a suit, and then we set about to wishing death upon anyone who disagrees with the person in a suit.

As usual, the cries of the information being “dangerous” is this permanently frustrated caste of losers doing a little something called “projecting.” The idea is that pushing a certain idea can lead to civil unrest, racial violence, and even war. Which is of course deep down what they want…just in their own way, on their own timeline.

The fact is that war and civil unrest only happen with the go-ahead from the higher-ups. It’s controlled within an inch of its life, allowed to continue so long as it is beneficial. Then the cheeto monster sends in the white vans. An article is just going to make each side of an argument angry, which will lead to clicks. Happy advertisters, happy life, as they say.

Then I’ll write about it here on my blog. The circle of life.

Ideas are free. You’re allowed to pose the question “where did this come from?” You’re allowed to be wrong. Science can prove that the virus did not in fact come from China, but honestly I don’t think we’ll ever know for sure. I remember the story of the rogue scientist putting a block of infected dry ice on a vent in a city street in Wuhan. I also remember pictures of people falling out in the street, and people being welded into their homes. All of that served its purpose: to royally freak people the fuck out. Then you can pretend none of it happened and move on. Fake? Real? Who cares? It’s not going to move the needle one way or the other. It’s JFK status at this point. Most of the virus narrative is.

From the very beginning of this, I have been alarmed by how intense the backlash is for anyone questioning the narrative. As though you can “control a virus” in a country of people who have built their lives around doing whatever the fuck they want. People who are armed! We’re talking paramilitary-grade armed. It’s impossible.

It’s okay to think about stuff in the meantime. The machine rolls on.

Chainsaw 01/04/20

Someone finally moved into the house next door. Not the abandoned one. They hired a tree trimmer to take down a big pin oak in their backyard. It makes sense, considering the ice and snow we’ve been getting this year. No one wants a branch or even an entire tree falling on their new home.

The chainsaws have been going all day for two days. I forgot how charmed my position was: I mostly don’t hear anybody. I mostly get to keep to myself. My life moves along. Back in El Paso, we lived next to people who would party until all hours of the night, every night. They’d park in our spots and this one guy would routinely cough his lung up on the back porch. Nothing but the smell of weed and cigarette smoke if we wanted to keep the windows open.


After that, I made a promise to myself that I’d never live directly next to people ever again. I need at least thirty feet.

So hey, a chainsaw isn’t all that bad. I should be up and doing things, anyway.

Also, I quit drinking. I’m done. Forever. Mark it here. I’ve got to win this thing, and there’s only one thing holding me back. Let’s fuckin go.

Friction 01/03/21

The universe moves in patterns of creation and destruction. It abhors stagnation. Movement is important, to always be moving, always be adding, subtracting, experiencing. That’s how one should live, I think. It’s more valuable to push against narratives than to accept them. It’s important to always be fighting, as much as you possibly can. You get nothing out of accepting except stagnation. You get nothing out of pushing away discomfort but more discomfort, and a kind that feels worse.

This is a great interview between two of my faves (who’ve both been on my podcast, by the way!). One of the major takeaways I got from this is Gordon’s distinction between “collecting thoughts” that you use like Yu-Gi-Oh cards and developing tools for thinking itself. I often find myself in conflict with the groups I’m a part of, because I think the most important tool for thinking is the hammer. Smash it all down to pieces and start putting it back together again. End every train of thought, as Phil Ford of Weird Studies puts it, with banishment: “What a bunch of bullshit.”

What do the people I see who spend their whole lives dunking on their Twitter enemies and gassing up their Twitter pals get out of agreeing with the same people over and over again? Where’s the fun in ignoring the obvious plot holes in the story we’re telling ourselves? Where’s the integrity in not taking a deep look at yourself and realizing the hypocrisy and emptiness at the center of your existence? I find a lot of value in doing this. I experience moments of heartbreaking beauty and crushing despair. I try to lean into all of these things, the ugliness and incompleteness of my being, because I’m the most afraid person I know. There’s no other way out for me. I have to take the ice cold shower, to walk through snow in bare feet, to jump out of planes, on and on and on because the only way I can live with the fear and sadness is to lean into it.

It’s friction that lights the world.

Enugu 01/02/21

This amazing set of photos by Pieter Hugo taken in Enugu, Nigeria in 2008 exemplify what I look for in art. I love the surreality of poverty. What I try to explore in my books are grounded people just trying to get by juxtaposed with highly Lynchian imagery. There is something weird about being poor, in a different and more interesting way than the weirdness of the rich. The humanity shines through in these portraits.

2021 01/01/21

I woke up this morning to a beautiful blanket of snow. I immediately went around the side of the house, got my ladder out, and started beating snow off of the branches around my power lines. Not losing heat this time!!!

I tried some Wim Hoffing for a few minutes outside. The cold really doesn’t bother me that much after nearly a year of cold showers, although I’ll admit my feet started to hurt after a bit. Well, they ached at least.

This year, I’d like to work on my credit score. I’m realizing, finally, in my thirties, the value of having a line of credit, namely that you can get something today, and put that thing to work today, making you more money to pay it off tomorrow. If used properly, credit is an extremely powerful tool. I wish I hadn’t spent the entirety of my twenties not giving a shit about credit.

If I was sitting at a cool 810 or so, I could easily get a line for one of these vlogging cameras:

I’m torn between the Sony ZV-1:

The Canon G7X:

And the Olympus OM-D E-M10:

All of which cost a cool $800 or so.


End of the Year 12/31/20

It’s the last day of 2020. This has been the most frustrating year of my life, and I think I share a lot of other people’s sentiment when I say that it was incredibly long. It is nuts to me that in March I was working at Adventures in Learning. We had trips planned. Work scheduled. Then it ended abruptly.

This year has given me the deepest insight into the human psyche that I could have ever hoped for, even deeper than I really wanted. I watched helplessly as people descended into insanity. Absolute insanity. Which then compounded. I saw a woman walking in to Walmart the other day wearing goggles, two masks, and latex gloves. 2020 broke a lot of brains.

People are motivated by fear. Everything else is really just a smokescreen. They can make claims that they care about XYZ, but they’re afraid. It was an ugly, nihilistic rabbit hole to go down. I came out of it, went ahead and quit social media, and now I feel much better.

I moved to Oklahoma from El Paso. I got my shit together. I started editing full time again. I’m going to be a family man! All of that is wonderful, and exciting.

But yeahl…I’m not sure that I have much more to say about this year. Maybe I will in five years.

Have a good one, folks!

Editing 12/30/20

Light rain today, then a little bit of snow. It’s beautiful and overcast. Going up a hill at 6:30 this morning, I saw the brake lights of parked cars reflected in long stilts of rainwater streaming downhill.

I’ve been editing a book all day yesterday and today, still on this crazy schedule. I was getting worried about halfway through the novel, which was moving along at a decent pace. The book was good. That’s a nightmare for an editor, when you are just enjoying yourself. You’re getting paid to find out what’s wrong! What if there IS nothing wrong…scary stuff.

Thankfully the book completely fell apart right at that halfway point. Just completely. It felt like a different writer, at that point.

And that made me think of the importance of getting an editor to go in and smooth things out for you. I am constructing a document as I move through the edit, and at the end of the day I’ll have character development suggestions, possible plot structures, and what to look out for to avoid bad prose. It will be helpful, and the writer (who clearly has talent) will use it to plunge back in.

Team sports. Art is a squad thing, now. Writing will probably be the last one to go, but the early adopters can take a page from comedians:

At a certain point, Schulz talks about how there’s a whole team behind his comedy show. Which makes sense, and has been “a thing” since comedy shows existed. It’s bizarre to me, however, that more writers don’t take this approach. To most, it’s a solitary activity. You get feedback from beta readers, maybe. But the process of writing a novel is not collaborative, doesn’t involve a team. Why not?

Something to think about.

Drinking 12/29/20

Around 6 pm I start to get a hankering for a nice, cold brew. The crack of the tab, the first cold sip…it’s amazing. After I’m done with that beer, I am a little out of it, but mildly and pleasantly so. I figure why not another? The second beer is bliss. I wonder what so-and-so has been up to recently? I phone them up. Chatting away, beers going down the hatch, until I get a bit stumbly and head to bead.

I wake up every day at 6 am. I’m used to peeling myself out of bed. Quick sip of energy drink. Drive Rios to work. Back home. I feel like shit. Except I don’t, really. Not enough to stop me. In fact, I have a new theory about light hangovers: they actually increase my drinking?

Why would this be the case? When I’m in the shower letting the cold water do its thing, I’m thinking you stupid motherfucker, you wasted all that time, and now you’re going to waste today because you kept going, you have no self-control. You motherfucker.

What does that do to a person who grew up in a Southern Christian tradition?

It absolves him.

Negative self-talk helps to perpetuate the fun thing that is fucking everything up. I realized that if I don’t drink one night, and therefore have no hangover, I’m actually significantly more likely to not drink the second night. This is lindy until about a week in, when the more innocuous one beer and a movie couldn’t hurt creeps in and starts the cycle.

I’m not an alcoholic, but I do drink too much. The reason for this is simple: I enjoy myself when I do it. For a bit my chronic brain disease fades into the background and I’m in the present moment of bliss. I’m chatting with pals and the ideas are firing off. Laughs are had. And then in the morning I give myself a good beating so that I’m ready to do it again.

The beating serves two purposes. On the one hand it’s the fire and brimstone preacher, telling me that I’m going to hell. That taps into an animal side of my brain, or at least a side from when I was much younger. The second is that the mild depression that follows it leads me to believe I had a tough day, when in fact I did not. But I believe it, so down the hatch goes a Michelob.

I realized this in the shower today. I hadn’t had a beer in about three days before last night. I recorded the podcast with Kris, and again, the ideas were firing off. Once it was done, I’d had enough 8 oz mini-cans to be a little stumbly. Went to bed at 9 pm. But this time when I woke up, I told myself I wasn’t going to take a shit on my decisions. I wasn’t going to praise them, either. I’d just move forward.

Whether or not this is successful, or even needs to be is up in the air. I’m assuming that once my son is around, I won’t want to drink, seeing as how I’m paranoid enough as it is. This recent questioning of my negative habits comes specifically from the influx of editing work I’ve received recently. I’m trying to schedule them tightly, as I’ve realized that the only way to make a decent living in this mode is to do more work. Funny how that works. I need to finish a developmental edit on a 70k-word novel in the next three days, so I can proofread an 80k-word novel right after that. There’s a 100k novel scheduled for mid-Jan, with a 90k-word novel at the end of the month.

And I’d like to pack even more into that.

So I have to be squirrely, sharp, at my best. I can’t get bogged down by negative thoughts or negative habits, which feed off of each other. I have to focus.

Which means, in a paradoxical way, I have to relax.