Bumper 12/18/20

I’ve been getting into roguelikes again. For a period of time, The Binding of Isaac became my favorite game. I logged into Steam for the first time in three years. Looks like I played a sum total of 4 hrs. Again, not a big gamer.

Dark Souls drew me back in. The difficulty appealed to me. I’m terrible at video games, but for some reason I always want to play the hardest ones I can find. I probably logged about an hour of DS per day for a while there. Then I lost my charger for a few months and didn’t play anything. Such is my way.

I’m feeling drawn back to videogames based on the opportunities for storytelling they possess. Can anyone point me in some good directions for new and inventive storytelling in games?

Skin in the Game 12/17/20

I’m thinking today about ideas and what rights we have to them. This is on the heels of a great podcast recording with Kelby, where we discuss all kinds of edgy stuff. Great fun. Anyhow, during the conversation we talk about Kelby’s life experience. He’s a dude from the Houston area with face tattoos, who ran in some scary circles growing up, and who has a relaxed view of social politeness, to say the least.

On the podcast, we bring up this one time on Twitter (yech), where Kelby chimed in on a touchy racial argument with a reply to the effect of “this is how x normally happens in the hood.” To which a black woman, educated at fantastic schools, wealthier than Kelby has ever been, mocked him for saying “the hood.” As though she had some better idea? This is his lived experience.

I want to move away from the racial element for obvious reasons (people get mad at you for these things), and focus instead on this concept of skin in the game. It’s Talebbian, I know, but I think his books have a lot of worth. At what point are ideas simply fun diversions? At what point are we engaging in punditry? At what point does our lived experience become at odds with the image we project?

I’m reminded of prominent Twitter socialists, who almost without fail end up being rich kids. I know it seems like a tired argument, but it’s hard to square rich people getting richer, all the while professing to believe in an ideology that would take those riches away. I personally kind of admire the grift of it. I hope they enjoy that money. None of my business.

It’s not just rich kids. We all run the risk of taking on ideas for fun, with no skin in the game. People align themselves with sports teams, to the point that they’re willing to fight in the streets over the outcome of a game. Football hooligans, Raiders fans, etc. We do this with political ideas, as well. Say what you will about the Republican rich (they’re lizards), at least they are coherent and consistent with how they feel money should work (they should get to keep all of theirs and fuck everybody else). Democrats tie themselves in knots, especially if they themselves are rich.

You just can’t square an ideal with a lifestyle lived in complete opposition to that idea. Gray areas exist, people should enjoy themselves, but if you have literally zero skin in the game, then you’re wasting everybody’s time. Your community, your friends, and most importantly, YOU. If you don’t develop a coherent internal ideology, you’ll spend your life butting up against a wall, trying to get some kind of law passed that you actually deep down don’t want passed.

We see this all the time in the lit community. It makes me physically ill. The way you gain a following is by recycling liberal talking points from the past five years, and posting those again and again and again. You end up with a race to see who can be the most boring. Ideas don’t have to be exciting, though, they just have to be yours, demonstrably yours. You have to prove it. Think about this: when a rich white author talks about how there needs to be more black voices, what they’re really saying is “there needs to be more black voices, and also me.” That, however, isn’t coherent. You could potentially spend your time and energy giving the opportunities presented to you to a person of color. This is a thing you could do. I knew a guy who used to do it.

My friend Isaac (RIP) lived his principles. He believed in elevating the voices of black and brown people, and so he spent his life doing just that, arranging readings and concerts, constantly hyping other people up online, literally giving his opportunities to POC, etc. He spent his spare time at the border, leaving out water for immigrants. That was a person who had skin in the game. Of course, he ended up pissing off most of the book industry, because he called them on their hypocrisy. He was the only person I’ve ever known who could do it with a clear conscience. Without being a hypocrite.

The hypothetical white author who loves to talk about racial justice, and maybe even occasionally retweets a book by a black author, has no intent in giving up any of their status, or even their real time, and as such they are talking out of their ass. But nobody really cares in that community, because it’s a circular firing squad of ass talk.

In closing, I’m not suggesting that we all go live in a monastery and give all our money to the poor (because that’s not what I believe in), I’m suggesting that we do some real inner work to find out what it is we really want, anyway (which is what I do believe in), so that our goals and the things we talk about can be aligned. There’s great power in that. And you know what? It gets scary. You’ll go to some dark places. But if you don’t, you’ll end up being Miss America wishing for world peace. Toothless ideology isn’t a good look on anybody.

Scam 12/16/20

Remember how yesterday I said that I was busy, could really blog, because a lot of “cool” things were happening? Well, all it turned out to be were scammers. Sure they asked to do their interview over Skype and sure their questions were full of typos, but I was there to be a proofreader anyway, right?

When they wrote “we’re going to get you a computer and printer for the job, all we need to do is send you a check, then you deposit it…” all I could do was sigh. Again? Really?

There were a few telltale signs other than the ones mentioned above. Looking back on it, their “acceptance letter” came from Nexgen Flouride, a company based in India which is decidedly not the company they said they were. But you know, when you’re excited about a new job…you just kind of read the e-mail on your phone and go, hell yes.

I also ended up going and taking a look at the company they claimed to be. They’d said they were DotDash, and if I’d done even a little research, I’d have known they were full of shit. DotDash used to be About.com. It’s on Forbes lists and Fast Company articles, and these motherfuckers had the audacity to use the CEO’s picture as their Skype profile (btw, fun fact: their user IDs were like cid1345870123723, lol). When I looked at that website, my heart sank. What I thought was a grimy, semi-professional little startup (willing to pay…not excellent, but well enough) was in fact a joke. Like that, a little bit of comfort, a small piece in the freelance business I’m building (to the tune of $30 an hour for 10 hours a week) evaporated.

But I’m telling you, when you’re desperately looking for these things, and busy with getting everything ready for a baby, and also juggling five other freelance projects, you want to just hustle things in. You want it to be true, and so you plow forward, despite the red flags.

The first time I got scammed like this was about fourteen years ago. I was eighteen and had just moved out of the house. Living with Rios, she got approached at Bath and Body Works by an older couple who asked if she and I would like to go to lunch with them at Souper Salad. The food tasted like dog shit and cost too much, but we sat there for an hour while they told us all about the opportunities.

I asked how much we got paid, and they said, “Hah, there’s no payment, but you get a commission for every X you sell, and every person you bring on to sell X.” (I’m not typing in “X” to protect them or anything, I just honestly don’t remember what it was.) I said, “This is a pyramid scheme.” They said, “This is not a pyramid scheme.” Then I got really pissed off and they left before finishing their dinners.

I wish I could have these scammers in front of me so I could yell at them, or do worse.

Most of all, it just feels bad. Before looking into any of it, I had clicked on the “acceptance letter” in my email and unthinkingly messaged my wife to tell her that I’d gotten another freelance gig. This time at $30/hr. She texted back that she was proud of me. Imagine an hour later, me with my tail between my legs. Humiliating!

She’s kind and told me she loved me. I felt worthless. For one moment, I thought maybe I am worth $30. You know? Because you go through this mental thing where anyone offering you money feels suspicious. Growing up poor, you don’t trust shit like that. I let my guard down a little, and let myself feel worthy.

Scam.

I’m over it, though. Back to the grind. I have managed to procure several (legitimate) freelance gigs through Upwork, and the Reedsy editing continues apace. If you’re interested in any of that, holler at my Reedsy profile or message me here. Oh, and I do want to get that ghostwriting stuff off the ground! Maybe you need a little collabo help, getting over a plot problem or some such thing? Holler at me!

Knight of Coins 12/14/20

This is the first day of a three-day fast, and I’m realizing how many snacks there are in this house. Living with a pregnant woman, you learn to always have food on hand, and a glance around bears this out: a rolled-up bag of chips on the nightstand by the bed, snacks near the TV, the kitchen cabinets full of choices. I normally get home from dropping her off and set into those cabinets, but not today. The grehlin is giving me a hard time.

On that note, let’s return to a random tarot card for today’s blog direction.

1 – THE ROAD WARRIORS

Just my first thought when I see spiky shoulder pads.

2 – NIGHT OF COYNES

This alternate spelling led to some interesting google search results:

What an absolutely awful texture that is. Wonder of wonders that people can be so different, look at this thing and not get their teeth set on edge. Yikes. Could be a good album, though? I will never listen to it.

Cool bioluminescence shot by Patrick Coyne.

This “night of coynes” search turned up many articles about the most famous Coyne of our time, Wayne of The Flaming Lips. They’re local celebrities, with Coyne’s Womb Gallery being one of the neat artistic staples of OKC. Here’s an article with his basic thoughts about basic things. It’s a wonder people ask artists questions like this. Just make the music/art/whatever!

This one is giving me major “Throne of the Third Heaven” vibes.

3 – BALALAIKA

This word caught my eye on page 15 of searching “night coynes”. I’d never heard it before. Turns out it’s a traditional Russian stringed instrument. A quick search for the term brings up this “balalaika metal” song that has 640,000 views.

Which led to this video about a “theorbo.”

Buster Sword ass instrument

4 – SIR GAWAIN AND THE GREEN KNIGHT

The story begins as King Arthur’s court celebrates the New Year for fifteen days. The lords and ladies of the court are having a great time dancing and feasting. The story describes the lavishly served feast with all the trimmings. Each guest is free to partake in the royal meal. However, King Arthur will not eat on such a high holiday until someone tells a fascinating or adventurous tale.

Illustration from The Sphere Magazine Illustration by William McLaren titled Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

After a year has passed, Sir Gawain must prepare to leave for his journey to the castle of the Green Knight. The other knights are sad to see such a good friend and stellar knight meet with such a bitter blow. Gawain’s answer to the concerns of his fellow knights demonstrates his bravery: “Why should I tarry? In destinies sad or merry, True men can but try.“

The poem describes Gawain’s armor in detail. He carries a red shield that has a pentangle painted on its front. The pentangle is a token of truth. Each of the five points are linked and locked with the next, forming what is called the endless knot. The pentangle is a symbol that Gawain is faultless in his five senses, never found to fail in his five fingers, faithful to the five wounds that Christ received on the cross, strengthened by the five joys that the Virgin Mary had in Jesus (The Annunciation, Nativity, Resurrection, Ascension, and Assumption), and possesses brotherly love, pure mind and manners, and compassion most precious. The inside of the shield is adorned with an image of the Virgin Mary to make sure that Gawain never loses heart.

From Maypole of Wisdom

Goldeneye/Snow 12/13/20

Started off the day with a cup of bone broth in one hand and matcha green tea w/ ashwagandha & gotu. The snow came right on time, even if it was mostly slush.

Took a morning walk to Gray Owl coffee. It’s been in Norman for what, ten years? It’s a great store, but I worry about their $$ during These Capitalized Times. If you’re in the Norman area, patronize this establishment (none of the picture I took are actually of Gray Owl, btw).

Maybe I’ll take more morning walks. I probably would have thought a lot more if the wind hadn’t been blowing the sleet and snow directly into my face. Rios thinks I’m strange whenever I go out into the elements. Makes me feel like Calvin’s dad.

Just me and some transient folks out and about at this time of day. They announce themselves loudly. Cars swish through the slush. The sky was this magnificent slate gray, like the sky in Goldeneye.

Or maybe it’s just the whole color palette of those first few levels.

I always used to murk these guys. What good is having a license to kill if you don’t use it to murder scientists?

Thinking about Goldeneye now. I used to watch the movie over and over, and the game took up near-permanent residence in my buddy’s N64.

It seems like there’s a remake in the works, or there was until the fan-made Spies Don’t Die got slapped with a C&D.

Hopefully technology gets so fast and so awesome one day that a game like this could exist after a week of development, and fly under the radar long enough to embed itself deeply in pirate sites, before any legal action can be taken. That’s the dream, right there. Of course that more than likely comes along with things that are Terrifying and PKDickian, but perhaps we could have a neat Goldeneye remake.

Incredible tree.

Maybe it’s not the game that I’m remembering so much as the geography of Germany. Neubrucke means “new bridge” I think. A huge hill in front of our apartment building led down to the playground/school. Behind the school there was an old pillbox/bunker thing graffiti’d with swastikas and Very American slurs, if you catch my drift.

Anyhow, the sky turned this kind of gray for most of the winter, there. Nearly twenty-two years apart, two places across an ocean are linked by memories of a James Bond video game.

Didn’t intend for the N64 nostalgia to come on so strong this morning, but I’m glad it did. That’s what I’m finding so interesting about blogging. I am able to follow threads in my mind, and present them in a semi-organized format. The atomized doom porn of The Bird Site completely kneecaps this ability in the average person, leading to reactive kicking and screaming rather than cozy little Sunday blog posts about a cold walk and an old videogame.

Sound 12/12/20

1 – SCULPTURE

“The Wave” by Villu Jaanisoo
Kunstraum Bernsteiner

2 – TASCAM

My Tascam DR-05X came in the mail yesterday. I could not be more excited to play with this little field recorder. I’ve become interested in sound lately, and how you can play with different levels of quality and “reality” in a podcast setting.

It’s also a beautiful object. It’s got these two blunted devil horns coming out either side. Like it’s picking up sounds that it isn’t supposed to catch.

3 – CITIES AND MEMORY

Cities and Memory is a global, collaborative sound art and mapping project that remixes the world, one sound at a time. The project covers more than 100 countries and territories with more than 4,000 sounds, and more than 750 contributing artists.

Field recordings from the Sistine Chapel, a bat cave, and Yakushima forest.

CHECK OUT THE WEBSITE HERE (via The Outline)

Spark Access 12/10/20

These thoughts stem from a recent article by Jay, titled “Early Access Artists.”

I’d recommend reading that before continuing.

Now: can this apply to the novelist? Could a novelist release unfinished chapters out into the world, or perhaps even snippets of ideas, or perhaps books with entire sections condensed to a small note (“chase scene here”) with the “chase scene” sent out at some later date. Or how about this: a novel that is written publicly every day. Revised, too. Added onto. Like this blog. Perhaps I will start doing that.

The question becomes: how important is it to a reader that an author hands them a set-in-stone offering, a static and final thing? Is that some of the appeal of reading an author in the first place?

I’m thinking of two divergent strains of music-making. On the one hand, you have the album model, in which a band or an artist or a team of songwriters coops up in a studio for however long, records the album, mixes it, and then presents it to the world. In pop records, the album is expected to be as polished as possible. When you listen to a well-produced album, there is something to it.

Now think about Soundcloud rappers. They might not even have mixtapes. I have followed Spark Master Tape for years. At one point, I really wanted to write a book about him. (I contacted someone on Twitter who seemed to be affiliated, in that he had “insider info” on Spark, and the man himself often retweeted him. I wasn’t interested in outing the guy, I just wanted a sitdown so I could pitch my book idea. That person ended up using their account to sell THC vape pens. Bamboozled again! Anyhow, I digress.) Spark hasn’t put out a proper mixtape since 2017. But he has steadily released songs in that time. About 16 by my count. And when you add them all to a playlist…it’s not cohesive in the way an album should be, but you still have the content there.

So is that just as good as an album? Is the schizophrenic nature of the various tracks, recorded separately and over time, enough to rule them out from being a proper body of work? Could we compare this to a short story collection? Maybe, maybe not.

What would this mean for a novel in progress? What is it about having the novel fully finished that separates that mode of production from that of a TV show, or one of these Soundcloud pages? It’s an ongoing, fresh development of content. A TV show doesn’t even have the whole thing written out, usually.

Anyhow, I’m going to experiment with writing a novel in this way. I’ve talked to Kelby about it recently, and I think it’s an exciting, slightly different way of presenting material to people, and one that is much more functional with regards to my own style of writing.

Barry 12/09/20

I’m thinking about my recent exit from social media. I ended my Twitter run with a quote tweet of the author Tod Goldberg. He made some lame, easy Trump joke couched in the amazeballs Wendig-style of “something made of bees” that I despise so much. If this sounds like a schizophrenic typing at the moment, you’re not far off.

Twitter is a disease.

I thought about the time that I did a panel at a writing convention with Tod’s brother, Lee. We were up on a dais, talking to a room of mostly septuagenarian mystery fans. Me there to promote my burgeoning crime press.

I was there with my friends Johnny Shaw and Barry Graham. I wonder how Barry is doing these days.

That day created a schism in our relationship. See, I had forwarded the e-mail that the moderator of the panel had sent to the myself and the other panelists. In it, he said that he wanted to keep the panel simple, because the audience would be too stupid to get anything outside of very basic shit.

I showed that to Barry, and he flipped. Barry’s a Buddhist monk, crime writer, and Scottish psychopath, and when I moved to Portland he became one of my very best friends. An absolute iconoclast, Barry had alienated nearly everyone in the crime writing scene, which generally looks down on people who call you on your shit.

Barry also has a somewhat sordid history with his various ventures into creating monasteries in the US. He’s got, shall we say, negative reviews. I still love him.

He wanted to stand up in the middle of the presentation and read the e-mail back to the moderator. I became very nervous about this. I told him that I would prefer that he didn’t do that. He said “okay.”

But that wasn’t the end of it. In Barry’s eyes, I was compromised from that day on. Our conversations and meetups for beer continued apace, but something had shifted. Finally, one day we got into an argument about that day. I said, “I didn’t want to compromise my career.” Barry said, incredulously, “Your career? You were scared about what these fucking people thought of you because of your career?”

I felt a great shame when he said those words back to me. He went on: “I think that you’re a coward. I think that you don’t believe anything that you claim to.”

There was booze involved, sure. But he was getting to something.

Do I actually believe in anything? Am I just a coward? I poke at these structures of power, these things that I find worthy of fucking with. Do I believe it, though? Will I take that extra step?

I think about this often.