I've been a member of the same peer speculative fiction writing workshop for decades now. In addition to the usual stories and novels, we've commented on plays intended for the stage, plays intended for historic sites, essays, and other forms of prose.Read More
I became interested in history almost as I became interested in anything. It's hard to point to anything in my early childhood that led to this interest, and it is not shared by anyone else in the family. Or among most of my friends, for that matter.Read More
For many people, insomnia involves not being able to get to sleep. Mine, when it manifests is in the form of early morning awakening. Its incidence comes in waves. Sometimes I have no problem for weeks at a time. Then there will be a period when I do wake up at 3 am or so, but fall back asleep almost immediately. Then comes a period, such as the one I'm going through now, when I wake up at 4 or 4:30 am or so. My usual wake time is 5:30.
So, this week, I've been hitting the writing chair way early. That can be great--I can get my fiction stint in, then turn to client work, and not have a time crunch later in the day when exercise bumps up against other required tasks.
But sometimes it also gives me an excuse not to work. "I have an extra couple of hours!" I, for some reason, say. "That means I deserve to goof off." It doesn't help that self-control is lessened when I haven't had enough sleep--and willpower is not something I have an oversupply of to begin with.
I do have a project I want to get done before I go on vacation (a revision of a novel about my detective, Sere Glagolit), so today, Saturday, I've been working since about 5. And I'm ready to take a break!
So, using the time makes it valuable, giving in to temptation and goofing off makes it a curse. You might think that decision would be easy.... But if you are realistic, you know how hard it is.
Being a jerk seems to be some kind of survival mechanism--and everyone seems to be struggling for survival. I'm confused as to why.
A few weeks ago, the guys on one of my favorite podcasts, Slate Money made some kind of mild joke about vegans. The result was rage, denunciation, and resolutions to stop listening to the podcast. Jordan Weissman had to take some time in the podcast a bit later make a point of apologizing for angering everyone.
Then I read an article on Clean Eating.
Before we go any further, some calibration: I find almost all dietary schemes weird and annoying. I have good friends who are paleo, or vegetarian, or what have you. They are invariably really careful not to impose their notions on others, to work with the food available, and to be good friends and colleagues rather than whiny pains in the butt. I recognize that food has implications far beyond nutrition, and speaks to our social selves, our bodies, and our relations to the living world. I do get that. But like everything else in modern society, it seems to have been weaponized.
Anyway, now that you know not to listen to me, that clean eating article had some delightfully typical interactions in it.
The article, Why we fell for clean eating, provides a nice summary of the issues, so read it. Clean eating, like many self-improvement-through-activities-that-don't-actually-demand-you-improve-yourself schemes, is promulgated by clean-scrubbed beautiful young women.
One such woman, Jordan Younger, found herself having health problems on a pure vegan diet, so backed off of it a bit by eating fish. She came, um, clean about that choice. A subset of her Instagram followers (many people seem to have a lot of time to scroll through pictures of other people's food) became enraged.
She lost followers “by the thousands” and received a daily raft of angry messages, including death threats. Some responded to her confession that she was suffering from an eating disorder by accusing her of being a “fat piece of lard” who didn’t have the discipline to be truly “clean”.
Bee Wilson, the article's author, had a debate with a clean eating author at a literary festival, enraging the audience, who had come for spiritual succor and got a discussion about how nutrition actually works, something they in no way wanted.
On Twitter that night, some Shaw fans made derogatory comments about how McGregor and I looked, under the hashtag #youarewhatyoueat. The implication was that, if we were less photogenic than Shaw, we clearly had nothing of any value to say about food (never mind the fact that McGregor has degrees in biochemistry and nutrition).
It's startling how pretty much everyone who wants to disagree with a woman has to find a way to insult her personal appearance. This is as true on the left as the right, and as true among women as among men. Orthorexics are the worst in this regard, because they feel that in some way the right food consumed in the right way enables them to transcend the body altogether.
Anyway, as I said, this has not hit me in my personal life. Despite what you might here, pretty much everyone around here (Cambridge, Mass) enjoys food, but does not obsess about it, and those who have specific dietary requirements do their best not to make it seem that their strength is your weakness. So I go online to get outraged by things. And to come up with clickbait headlines.
I've mentioned it before, but I'll say it again: vaccines and not pooping in our drinking water may account for most of the gains of modern medicine, but dentistry is an interventionist treatment that actually works, and is constantly undervalued.
Over last weekend, one of my rear molars started to hurt. By Sunday night it hurt so much I could barely sleep. Fortunately, my dentist could take me Monday morning. He examined me, found that the molar had cracked, and sent me off to an endodontist that had a slot for me in the next hour.
There the endodontist examined the tooth, determined that it was worth saving, shot lidocaine into my gums and went to work.
This was my first endodontic procedure (root canal). It's extremely anxiety provoking. You're leaned all the way back, your face is covered with the rubbery blue sheet of a dental dam, you can't talk, you can barely breathe, and you see the mist of abrading tooth enamel, as well as hearing and feeling the work of the drill.
But it didn't take long. It's now packed with a temporary filling. She will take a look Monday to determine whether, in fact, it is salveagable. I couldn't tell if she was naturally optimistic, or giving me a real read on the probabilities.
Two things about this.
One: the cost. I'm a freelancer, and don't have dental insurance. The cost was almost a week's earnings, payable in advance. I put it on my credit card. And that's not the end of the expense, because if it is indeed saved, I need to get a crown on it. I have no idea how much that's going to cost.
Bad teeth are one of the real horrors of being poor. Consider this NYT story about a three-day open-air free clinic. It starts with a man grateful to have 18 teeth pulled. He's been in pain from untreated cavities for years. I have some savings, but this one hit me pretty hard. Many people have a lot less flexibility. If I hadn't been able to afford it, would I just have gone home, suffered, had the tooth eventually crack all the way through, and then, finally, gotten it pulled?
In discussions of healthcare, dentistry is very much in the background, as if it was some kind of cosmetic thing, or a "nice to have". Because a bad tooth won't immediately kill you? Most of healthcare is not about preventing imminent death, it's about helping you live without pain, without impairment, without increasing weakness. I'm not even really sure why dental work is not regarded as "healthcare".
Second. I asked my endodontist about something I'd heard: that endodontists get specific calluses from their work. I thought it might be in along the forefinger or something, but she said they did, on the thumb and forefinger, from using their delicate instruments. Then she became very self conscious and remarked that she also overdue for a manicure. This transformation from competent but warm healthcare professional to individual with some personal vanity was quite startling, and more than a bit charming as well.
Then I had to bicycle home a fair distance in the pouring rain (the endodontist was a fair way from my dentist in a direction away from my apartment), take some pain killers, and have a nap. I've been tired all week, whether from this tooth adventure or just general malaise.
Note, apropos of the cost: I don't expend healthcare to be free, and don't think it should be, save for the poor. I went from a person in agony from a cracked tooth to someone without pain, and with the potential of a repaired tooth, in short order, after some work from a skilled professional. Sure, I feel like I spent a lot of money to just not get quite back to the state I was in previously. But guess what: that's pretty great! Pretending it shouldn't cost any money seems to be a mistake, to me.
The other night I saw the movie A Monster Calls at a friend's house. It's about a boy, maybe 12 years old, whose father has left and whose mother is seriously ill. He's bullied at school, drifts through is days in his imagination, and eventually ends up living with his emotionally distant grandmother in a house where he is not allowed to touch anything. Oh, and he's visited by a talking tree man from the nearby churchyard who says he will tell him three stories, and then wants to hear one in return.
Everyone else was deeply moved by the movie, and several people were weeping near the end. Afterward, others talked about the good the animation of the tree man was.
I felt like an inadequate human being, because I really hated this movie.
Every story the tree man tells the boy, Connor, comes complete with explanatory apparatus that makes clear what wholesome and psychologically empowering lesson the story imparts. Two are vaguely fairy-tale-like (one about a royal family with major communication problems, the second about a rationalist and therefore inevitably tragedy-bound parson, and a sullen apothecary with a failing business), the third just a nub to incent action in the story. And they aren't even stories, really. Without the excess commentary, they are just situations. And they rely a great deal on some nice watercolor illustrations--which Connor, the boy, can't actually see, because he's being told the stories, not watching them on the screen, making his experience even less adequate.
Beware of stories with explicit morals. Stories can bring us through conflict to resolution, but they allow us to do at least some of the work ourselves. At the end Connor is forced to bark out his realization of how he is coming to terms with his own frailty in the face of tragedy.
The tree man...oh, and the animation is so hyper-realistic there is nothing at all magical, ambiguous, or even disturbing about this big piece of shrubbery at all. Anyway, the tree man is voiced by Liam Neeson, who does a good job with some pretty wretched lines. I kept imagining him barking at someone who indicated some doubt about one of his stories, "I will find you, and I will explain it to you!"
And he's a yew tree, which finally explains a mysterious verse from my childhood.
As if the over-explained stories weren't enough, there comes a point where two characters who have been in conflict hug each other in the face of tragedy as "This is a big emotional moment, folks!" music rises.
Well, now I'm just being kind of mean. But this kind of thing takes all the fun out of...well, pretty much everything.
But I do have to emphasize that mine is a clearly minority opinion, among critics as among audiences. I am allergic to overt authorial manipulation, but many people welcome it. But that's an essay for another day.
Writers aren't exceptionally mean, even to other writers, but it does somehow seem that way, because of the way we leave our egos exposed. No wonder others are tempted to at least give them a good swift kick now and again.
"How's the novel going?" (unless you know the writer is a demon of productivity, in which case there are other ways of getting their goat) is one of the great questions. It seems to come out of genuine interest, maybe really does come out of genuine interest, but a certain passive aggressiveness that leads, when deployed appropriately, to dismay, depression, and defensiveness. Well played!
Yeah, I asked a couple of people that at Readercon. You may ask why, if we treat each other so badly do we hang out with each other? First, it's because many of us are genuinely entertaining, at least to each other. Second, by the same token, no one else finds us as entertaining as we do.
And I did have a great time last weekend, and had to take a long nap the day after to recover.
Last week I did a guest author stint at the great Odyssey Writing Workshop, held at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, NH. Odyssey is kind of a bootcamp for people honing their skills in all areas of fantastic fiction. For six weeks, 16 writers write, read, think about, discuss, eat, and sleep fantastic fiction, under the stern yet kind direction of Jeanne Cavelos, who created the enterprise.
I envy them. I never did anything like this earlier in my career, which might really have helped.
Jeanne likes to have a writer or editor come in every week, to talk about the writer's life, and help critique varius students' work. Since writing is very much a part-time enterprise for me, which I anticipate for most of the students, I focused on how to manage that, and what to expect.
I'm not a writing teacher. It's just not a topic where I think I have an enormous amount to add. And it takes me forever to come up with something useful or interesting to say. This year my topic was literary SF, which is just crazy as a topic. Usually I do plot, which I can kind of fake. But it was kind of fun researching, thinking about how literary fiction differs from commercial fiction, what writers should pay attention to, and how to have fun with it.
After a couple of weeks drafting my lecture, writing critiques of a bunch of manuscripts, giving my lecture, having individual conferences with students, and in general talking about writing for a day and a half, I was exhausted. I came home and slept much of the weekend.
Jeanne does this all day every day for the entire session. It's really her baby, she knows everyone is depending on her, and she is enormously present for everyone at all times. I just can't fathom it.
This is about as much instructing as I can manage with my limited energy and even more limited neurons, but I do enjoy it, and end up meeting a lot of interesting people. I worked with some fine writers, and hope to see them in print soon.
I will be at Readercon again this year, July 13-16. If you want to catch me, go ahead, I'm not that fast. Otherwise, these are the panels I will be on:
Thursday July 13
Friday July 14
Saturday July 15
Every commentator notes how partisan the American public has become. Positions seem continually more extreme, blue is bluer, red is redder, and no one is interested in what the other side has to say.
This may well be true. I live in a genteel blue area, and do know a lot of people with predictable doctrines (and many women I encounter specify adherence to these doctrines as a prerequisite for dating them), but no one seems particularly enraged at their opponents or uncomprehending of their positions.
So that leads to the natural question: what would the period after the Council of Chalcedon have been like if someone in Late Antiquity had invented Twitter?
Chalcedon, in 451, established the Orthodox definition of the nature of Christ, the same definition used by modern Orthodox, Catholics, and Protestants. But some found this an unwelcome compromise. Their position was known (I gather pejoratively) as Monophysitism. Their descendants are Coptic and Oriental Orthodox churches, including the Ethiopian, Armenian, and Syriac churches.
Christological wrangling seems to have fallen out of fashion (I gather it really requires Greek to be clear enough to fight about), and I won't go into the details they were squabbling about here. But they really did take it seriously, and the more heavily Monophysite areas of Egypt and Syria were always in conflict with Chacedonian Constantinople, Asia Minor, and Balkans. They would denounce each other, riot against each other, depose each other's bishops, and write endless screeds against each other.
Periodically, an Emperor would try to do something about it. Zeno came up with the Henoticon, which tried, unsuccessfully to paper over the differences by being unclear about what they were. Anastasius, a pious Monophysite, had no patience with extremists and exiled both overzealous Monophysites and Chalcedonians, finding them both tiresome. Justinian, who knew everything, tried to persuade everyone to an elaborate compromise position involving the Three Chapters (something else probably not worth the effort to understand), but even this late antique Woodrow Wilson was unable to achieve his goal. Justinian's Empress, Theodora, was a fervent Monophysite, and never compromised either.
Anastasius, by the way is one of my favorite Emperors. He took office at age 60, ruled for over a quarter of a century (491-518), and left the Empire (the Eastern Roman Empire by this point) prosperous and with a huge cash surplus, which unfortunately enabled his overactive successor Justinian to finance his endless wars. History tends to overvalue the flashy Justinians and undervalue the "how about we focus on reestablishing coinage with consistent value and stay away from overheated rhetoric" Anastasiuses.
When the Arabs invaded in the early 7th century, they conquered the Monophysite areas, which has been atributed to the inhabitants' hatred of Orthodoxy, but I think this is mostly a matter of geographical chance. It's just that they failed to conquer the Orthodox heartland.
The conflict between Chalcedonian and Monophysite wasn't all in good fun, but it wasn't a civilizational fissure either. Both inhabited a unified empire, honored the same Emperor. and got on with things. If they had spent their days tweeting about consubstantiality, they might have ended up hating each other enough to break up the Empire long before it finally fell to overwhelming force.
So, yeah. I'm with Anastasius. Sure, think those people are clueless idiots, and their doctrines are abhorrent. But we have a nation to run, jobs to do, food to cook, and beaches to lie on with our dates or our families. Dammit, did that seagull just steal my sandwich? That's what I really need to worry about.
A few months ago I listened to Tyler Cowen's conversation with Fuchsia Dunlop on his podcast, Conversations with Tyler. The conversation takes place over dinner and includes one of my favorite economics/food bloggers, Megan McArdle as well as Ezra Klein and several other interesting people.
Well worth a listen. It makes me realize how often I'm just not paying attention to my food.
The podcast led me to purchase Dunlop's book Every Grain of Rice, subtitled Simple Chinese Home Cooking, also recommended. I don't usually read cookbooks, but this one has interesting information about Chinese food, its history--and its ingredients.
Here I discovered fermented bean curd. It comes in at least two varieties: red and white. Her main recipe is for spinach, but I went online and found one for cauliflower.
I popped down down to H-Mart in Central Square and grabbed some Laoganma brand (people seem to love The Godmother, and the somewhat mournful lady on the logo was allegedly a real person).
I bought a lot of other stuff too. It's a great market, though the one out in Burlington is way bigger, almost intimidatingly so.
I think I prefer the red to the white, but both are good. Salty and full of umami, the cubes are kind of cheese-like, and melt into the vegetables, giving them a distinct tang. I've never even been a huge fan of cauliflower, but the simple dish above is now in regular rotation, because it's so damn fast, easy to make, and delicious.
Anyway, its now a staple here. Give it a try.
Reply All is one of my favorite podcasts because it entertainingly explains all sorts of internet memetic activity in a way that even someone my age can appreciate. They've long had a segment called Yes Yes No where the boss comes to the two hosts (Alex Goldman and P J Vogt) with a mysterious tweet that he con't figure out, and that always turns out to be a deeply multi-referential deep dive into what the soul of the internet looks like that week.
Now, they've added "Why Is Everybody So Mad And Do I Have To Be Mad Also", about figuring out what everyone else is so outraged about online, and then whether that outrage makes sense. Using "also" instead of "too" is a stroke of genius, giving it slight fillip of dorky formality.
For me, no, it never makes sense. I don't actually think I'm particularly busy during my day. I do have work to do, things to accomplish, something even something fun to do. But the amount of work is certainly not overwhelming. But no matter how uneventful the day, I don't have enough time in it to generate outrage over something I see online, forward it to others, post it on Facebook, and comment on it.
It's not that I don't get exasperated at some of the bits of flotsam that the internet floats into my mind. I have one kid in college and another heading there, so what happened at Middlebury College really did disturb me. So when I have beer or coffee with a friend, I will discuss some of the issues on my mind. Don't worry, I can view with alarm with the best of them, and speak fluent harrumphish. It's just that I prefer to express my outrage in person. And with an good IPA or dark roast.
I guess that's it. If I am not consuming a hot or cold beverage with someone else, opinions are just meaningless.
I am the mercy of my internal astrology. I have some decent organizational structures, essential for a basically disorganized person who has a lot of things to get done.
But sometimes they work a lot better than other times. For instance, recently, I've been catching up with stuff. I am doing nothing different, making no particular effort, but big chunks of stuff that were hanging around, punks with cigarettes dangling from their lower lips, ominously refusing to leave, have suddenly realized they had somewhere else they needed to be, and have cleared out.
I really wish I knew what conjunction or trine or whatever of my interior solar system led to a sudden burst of work.
But what then? Some people track things about their lives, like how much they sleep, how many hours they spend in REM, etc. To me, unless that information enables you to make a decision, it's just data, like counting the number of birds that land on a phone line outside your window.
I guess if the metaphor of internal planets is accurate, I could plan major life tasks for when they are in the right positions, and invest more effort in my external organizational systems when the planets tell me I'm going to be a useless load.
Because I sure don't see any correlation with anything else in my life. These moods of productivity come and go. I figure successful people feel productive a higher percentage of the time than I do. I envy them. I really do feel good when I'm writing well, producing for my clients, paying bills on time, and meeting my personal obligations, all without have to strain and torment myself. I wish I felt that way more.
But I guess I'll just have to be satisfied with feeling that way sometimes.
Most of us writers need to make money, since few of us make enough from fiction to buy lunch, much less support ourselves (much less support ex-wives, college-attending children, expensive tastes in alcohol, etc.) So we have day jobs.
Mine is freelance marketing writing. I really like it, and regularly recommend this line of work to fellow writers with an inclination for it. It involves a lot of the same skills, in addition to the writing part: understanding motivation, creating suspense, leaving things to the imagination.
It's also got the feature that your clients can suddenly need what you're working on more than anything. One of my clients suddenly got a lot of pressure to generate a huge amount of marketing content, all at once, and with ridiculously short timelines. So she wrote me an email with lots of caps in it, got me a purchase order, had me invoice, and put me to work.
I have no idea why my client's higher ups only figured out they needed this stuff two weeks before it had to be in the hands of the sales team, but if you've ever worked at a large company, particularly one that has recently acquired large numbers of other companies, you know that everyone is barely keeping their heads above water, much less calmly looking ahead a few quarters to see what they'll be needing to get things over the line and make their numbers.
On the other hand, if I write fiction, someone will read it, but no one is really breaking my door down for it. So I won't lie: it's nice to be wanted.
And, as always, doing high quality work on deadline is the only thing anyone will pay for. Mediocre crap turned in late is somehow not a hot commodity.
But the fiction is still the first thing I do in the morning. I just have to give it a bit less time when deadlines loom. And the book is going pretty well. I should write about that at some point.
I took my daughter Faith to London for school break, and it's taken me awhile to get back on schedule. We were absolute tourists, all the big sights you would expect. So don't expect any undiscovered gems or anything. Thought February was a great time to go, not too cold, not many other tourists. A few highlights:
Faith is a big politics fan, so we saw sittings of both Commons and Lords. The Commons chamber was destroyed during WWII, and is kind of bland, but Lords still has the elaborate 1834 Gothic Revival interior. Faith saw Boris Johnson in the Central Lobby--I saw the back of his head.
In keeping with the politics theme, we went to the Garrick and saw This House, by James Graham, a wonderful play about an unpromising subject, the hung Parliament of the mid-1970s, with the two party deputy whips as the main characters. Watching the procedural infighting, sly tactics, and confict between principle and practice might seem to show how arbitrary procedure is, but really shows how the structure provided by procedure keeps passion within bounds and focused on meaningful ends. Harrison, the Labor deputy chief whip, says, at a climactic moment, that all he ever wanted to do was work in the engine room. I also liked that MPs were always referred to by their constituency, particularly "Finchley" (Margaret Thatcher).
I kept away from huge museums, which can be tiring, but we both enjoyed the Enlightenment Gallery at the British Museum, which is kind of a museum of the museum's origin, just the right size, and full of interesting oddities.
The Palladian Queen's House at Greenwich is startlingly elegant, with impressive maritime art, including a portrait of the older Pepys, long after his Diary, which placed him right in his day job--and an impressive day job it was, too.
Lots of Hawksmoor churches, one in Greenwich, several along the Docklands Light Railway on the way back, and Christ Church in Spitalfields, where I took Faith afterward to rummage through the vast number of vintage clothing stores there. Faith got tired of Hawksmoor. I did not. My interest him no doubt stems from the Peter Ackroyd novel Hawksmoor which I remember being impressed by when I first read it, but I'd like to think I have my own aesthetic response to his stagy facades.
John Soane collected more things in his house than I would be comfortable with, but I'd still like to liver there. And you can always go right across Lincoln's Inn Fields to the Hunterian Museum to see the skeleton of Charles Byrne, the Irish Giant, whose biggest fear was that John Hunter would get hold of his body after he died and put his skeleton on display in his museum. There is something so wonderful and awful about the tangle of love of knowledge, obsessive completism, and showmanship revealed by the incident that I hope well-meaning spoilsports never give the long-gone Byrne the funeral at sea (in a lead coffin) that he was desperate to have. Science is never an emotionally neutral endeavor.
I'd forgotten what a theme park of the war against Napoleon St. Paul's Cathedral got turned into: aside from Wellington and Nelson, it's piled with the overblown monuments of forgotten generals and admirals. And Nelson's black marble sarcophagus (lowered through the cathedral floor to the crypt during the funeral ceremony in what must have been an extremely stressful event for the engineer) was originally made for Cardinal Wolsey, then taken by Henry VIII for his own tomb, but never used (perhaps not large enough....) and then knocking around royal palaces for 250 years, never quite matching the decor, until George III finally figured out a use for it.
And we went on the Millennium Eye. I'm from Chicago, so it takes more than a leftover from the Columbian Exposition to impress me, but it's got a good view. Still, I'd advise spending the money on beer instead.
Well, that's enough. Give me beer and a lot of old crap to look at, and I'm happy.
From Song of the Vikings, by Nancy Marie Brown:
They brought home bright-colored cloaks and tunics and hose in the brilliant scarlets and leaf-greens of the alum-fixed dyes that were all the rage in twelfth-century Europe; an ell of scarlet wook sold for six times the equivalent length of undyed gray.
Alum is what is called a mordant (a lovely word that, according the Griffin Dyeworks, comes from the French "to bite"): something that gets dye to actually stick to the fabric. I love the detail because it relates to culture, fashion, and technology, and, of course, status, which depends on all of those.
The "home" here is Iceland. The subtitle of the books is "Snorri and the Making of Norse Myths". It is a biography of Snorri Sturluson, the 13th century literary and political genius who seems to have given form to a lot of what we now accept as the standard Norse myths, even as his political machinations contributed to chaos in Iceland, his murder, and the eventual loss of Iceland's independence and its rule by the King of Norway.
His era, called the "Sturlung Era" after his family, is when family and regional sagas were written down in the form we now know--13th century views of events and personalities in the 10th and 11th. Snorri seems to have written Egil's Saga, one of the longest and best known. A story does not tell itself. It says something about both the teller and the listener. The people of the contentious and threatened Sturlung Era looked back to the Saga Era and tried to understand how they had ended up where they were.
This is all research for the book I'm working on. It is not set in Iceland, but is definitely inspired by it. Brown does mention, among things, that Iceland's climate does not allow honeybees to survive. I definitely have bees in my book (growing out of my story "The Forgotten Taste of Honey"), so there you go: not Iceland.
Some writers are able to think of stuff while they write.
I sure can think of stuff, but it is almost always clever, glittery distractions from whatever it is I am trying to accomplish. Pointless flashbacks, cool devices, elaborately describe artworks...name it, I've done it.
In order to actually write a scene, something unified in space and time that has a structure and focus and conflict and a decent ending that kicks you into the next scene, I have to already know all of those things before I actually write it. I've learned this through long experience.
And all that is hard for me, and takes a long time. Sometimes I start writing, with a good amount of planned material, and tear through it, and run out of plan. It really is like driving a locomotive off the end of the tracks. No progress, and a lot of frustration.
So I always have to make sure I've excavated, distributed the ballast, built bridges across particularly perilous obstacles, dropped the ties, and nailed the rails on before I get going.
I'm working on a novel just now (a hefty expansion of my recent novella, "The Forgotten Taste of Honey") and ran out of rails. I got to a location, looked at my notes, and realized they were entirely too vague, lacked conflict, and in general were lazy generalities. Who wrote this crap?
So I just spent almost two weeks (I'm not fast) really getting into it. Now I think I have what I need to get through it. Can I actually work ahead in enough detail to keep my locomotive from burying its nose in the mud again?
I'll let you know.
I never used to write about politics. I didn't feel that I had anything particularly useful to say about it--no more useful than most people, anyway. But things seem...odd. Almost science fictional! So maybe my profession does give me some specific skills in viewing our current situation.
Which, no matter how things work out, people in the future will study earnestly. If nothing else, my statements here will get fed into some gigantic opinion parser. "What were the people of what was then known as the United States think on the first day of February, 2017?"
Well, here are two articles and one blog post full of useful observations and good advice for those who find themselves in this era, don't quite know how they got here, and wonder what best to do to get through it.
We live life day to day. All of us. We go to the store, we read stories to our children, we have dinner with friends, we rest our heads on someone else's shoulder, we get irritated with our clueless boss. That's what we do. Normal tyranny becomes...normal. As Tom Pepinsky says
The mental image that most American harbor of what actual authoritarianism looks like is fantastical and cartoonish. This vision of authoritarian rule has jackbooted thugs, all-powerful elites acting with impunity, poverty and desperate hardship for everyone else, strict controls on political expression and mobilization, and a dictator who spends his time ordering the murder or disappearance of his opponents using an effective and wholly compliant security apparatus.
Oppressors in movies and books wear snappy uniforms with ominous symbols on the collar. They are easy to spot.
Don't get used to things. I think that's probably the most important lesson. Remember what life in this country is supposed to be like, and hold to it.
Venezuela? Seriously? The lessons, sadly, are pointed.
Andrés Miguel Rondón describes here the many mistakes the sensible middle class made when trying to combat Hugo Chávez. Our befuddled and self-regarding left is already making the same ones with Trump.
Don't give up on democracy, because a lack of democracy will never be your friend, even if the voters seem crazy. Don't become hysterical and tell people all sorts of terrifying things that are not really the things anyone really worries about:
But a hissy fit is not a strategy.
The people on the other side — and crucially, independents — will rebel against you if you look like you’re losing your mind. You will have proved yourself to be the very thing you’re claiming to be fighting against: an enemy of democracy.
Know why you're doing what you're doing, and what you hope to accomplish by doing it, both near-term and long-term. Are you just expressing your rage, despair, and befuddlement? Stay home, breathe deeply, unplug, and don't go back online until you know what the hell you are trying to get done. Have solid goals you can communicate to others? Move toward those goals, step by explicit step.
Leftists are actually arguing for political violence. Aside from the fact that is just wrong, it's also futile: do leftists think they have some kind of advantage when it comes to the use of violence? Do they own guns? Have they served in the military? Do they have a ballistic nylon bugout bag in the back of their 4x4? Do they even deadlift?
Fredrik de Boer has lost patience with these people, and he's an ardent leftist who has put in the time and paid serious dues. I never had any patience with them to begin with, because I'm a hardshell centrist. Don't Tread On Me, Vibram sole or not.