Untitled Introspection.

It seems a lifetime ago when, having gained radio privileges in boot camp, a young Seaman Recruit stood looking down aisles of perfectly lined up aisles of bunks when Pink Floyd’s, “Welcome to the Machine” started playing on the radio. It was one of those moments when everything came into focus, where the mirror and the self have no boundaries. There are moments like this throughout our lives, but there’s a reason I picked this one.

While I’ve not been publishing everything online, puzzling over the various narratives that have impacted me and whether they were worth keeping or discarding. In discarding things, I found myself floating, trapped sometimes not by narratives but by a lack of narrative to guide me through wherever I was transitioning to, if even I was transitioning at all. Trapped

When you start peeling away the narratives, you start peeling away the destinations those narratives provided. In the simplest form, narratives get us from point A to point B. It’s more complex with interactions of many things, but at their core, that’s what narratives do – they give us a way to get somewhere, even if that somewhere isn’t really where we want to go, or the end result is to be someone who we don’t want to be.

We’re born into them, we build other narratives on top of them, and even what we can imagine later on because we’ve been guided by narratives. This is not a bad thing – but it can be. When there is a sense of being trapped, there’s something that’s wrong. For me, I don’t know that there wasn’t anything wrong. I found that to push beyond the boundaries, I needed to find where they were and why they were there in the first place. It takes time, honesty with one’s self, and lots of time because we’re almost never honest with ourselves.

Frank ZappaBut when things do go wrong, we do need to look at that. When we factor in other people who have other narratives, as has happened with globalization combined with the social media explosion, tempers flare, cracks begin to show, and we pretty much have the world as it is today – an unapologetic mess of battles of narratives, flaring here, simmering there, and ice elsewhere.

Now, if you’ve never heard of Frank Zappa, he has a great quote where he talks about decorating a piece of time, in the context of a guitar solo – but it’s something we all do with our lives. There are the beaten paths of life that society presses upon us, and then there are the parts of life where we find ourselves making paths. Some people stick to the beaten path more than others. Speaking for myself, the beaten paths rarely fit – if ever.

Decorate as we wishIf there’s a book on it, it’s either a beaten path or may become one. It lacks originality, that shiny luster, after a while – either it succeeds or fails as a narrative based on the number of people who subscribe to the narrative. Tolkien made Hobbits, Dwarves and Elves cool, and all that followed – as original as some of it may have seemed – was from a beaten path. What Tolkien did was borrow from other things to make something original, compelling, and even a message of hope in camaraderie. And this is one of the reasons, aside from the personal, that I started unraveling my narratives.

Somewhere along the way I sort of got lost, which I expect is par for the course. A lot has happened in my life, and I expect yours, and if you have the luxury of time to unravel everything it can be uncomfortable since these narratives have been the things pressing you in this direction and that to take you to where you think you’re supposed to go.
a-person-trapped-in-a-prison-of-their-brain-thumb
This seemed all very new to me – maybe it was the lack of humanities in my formal education when I was younger. In secondary school, the options were ‘sciences’ or ‘modern studies’, and the science path chose me more than I chose it, and the English Literature fell by the wayside. The nuances of humanity, which we all need to know better, are best described in our art – not our science.

Did I ‘find myself’? Nope, I think that ‘finding yourself’ stuff is bullshit. But I got to see more past myself as I figured out what was behind myself – and I found a point where I needed help, so I started seeing a psychologist and it has helped me find things I didn’t see before. The right questions can help us see things anew, the right observations can give us insight and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with enlisting a professional to help with that.
With a bit more confidence in knowing my own biases and understanding why I trod my paths.

And merging with the rest of the world in moments.

Interlude Coddiwomple

48388230_1869156783210491_5540500364366708736_nI have been writing, I swear it. It hasn’t been cohesive, notes all over, messy, post-it markers in books, at one point I even had notes on the bathroom mirror because of an idea I had in the shower, but… well, water marker is not good on fogging surfaces.

When I wrote, ‘Narratives‘, I was already going a bit down the path but hadn’t really done with the idea. Deconstructing narratives in anything you’ve lived your life in is hard – deciding which ones should be deconstructed… and the older you get, the more you have to work on. Fortunately, if you’ve been paying attention, you know what to work with.

I gave into it, letting my mind wander, imagining different worlds in my mind, re-imagining this world, then exploring fictional worlds.

Amazon’s masterful “Rings of Power” has been fun doing it with, because what started off as a children’s story (The Hobbit) grew into a world with languages, scripts, different peoples, different cultures… all from a children’s story… and while we who know Tolkien’s works better than average may find some things not particularly what we agree with, it’s good fiction that is definitely a good story that helps explain the world of Middle Earth. The characters, wow.

Do I have a theory about the Stranger? Sure. It makes no sense telling you because I like the ability to be surprised, and it isn’t something I’m invested in. If you pay attention to what he does, he looks like a young Radagast. Could be one of the blues, but you know what? I would, if I had a book, read to the next page to find out – and good writing is more about that than being accurate because the story isn’t read if it doesn’t have that. Writing stories no one would read is senseless. Go find a government job writing permits somewhere.

Worlds are rewritten all the time even if we think it looks wrong. Oh, and as far as colors of cast – well done, well done.

I do believe that Tolkien also once wrote through one of his characters – perhaps Gandalf – that every good story deserves embellishment. Embellish away, writers of Rings of Power, I’m not so emotionally attached to the canon that I will take umbrage at some revisionism.

Will I like what they do? I have so far, and I feel attachment to key characters. That’s also good writing, and I suppose in video, good acting, special effects, etc, etc. I don’t know that process and won’t pretend to.

Now, compare that to House of Dragons. People are comparing them here and there and they are apples and oranges. To me, Game of Thrones and it’s House of Dragons is more of a soap opera in a fictional universe, where Rings of Power and Tolkien’s works are an epic that started off as a children’s story.

Two different types of taste. I don’t intend derision when I describe House of Dragons that way, some people like that sort of thing and enough people do that George R. Martin has sold more books than me by a few bazillion. He’s good at what he does, the show is good at what it does. The story just isn’t as appealing to me, and I imagine there are those in another camp who don’t like Rings of Power for similar reasons. To each their own.

This is all why deconstructing narratives is so interesting and I daresay important. If we can do that with the fictional universe, what about the narratives we live within?

Doesn’t it seem like we need a bit of embellishment these days? Well, not ‘talking heads’, but ‘characters to inspire and who do important stuff against really crappy odds’. Who is today’s ‘Rocky’? No, not the sequels, the original where you can tell Stallone put everything into it with the tenacity of his character.

So this was a bit of a coddiwomple through things, and also to remind myself to publish more often while I’m off lost in other worlds and building at least one new one.

Wear Eye Protection

Goggles WWII Flickruser SDASM archives public domainI suppose some writers will run their fingernails over their keyboards, caressing it like an old lover. What’s disturbing about that is that their fingers are between their brain and your eyes, and in an odd ways, this is sort of like poking your eyeballs. Gently, I hope, but if you see someone wiggling their fingers at you it’s best be safe.

Eye protection is important.

When you consider things like that, the world is viciously funny.

Two people fighting on social media are basically waving their fingers at each other, probably emphatically. On computer keyboards, they probably get good rhythm going, their thumbs using the space bar for percussion as they beat out their thoughts to someone who is likely not even going to read what they wrote. Even as they are typing, the other person is already working on their next response.

Dueling Keyboards. It would be a lot less intense if they got on a video call and just waved fingers at each other. How ridiculous would that be?

It might also be fun to stick them on some good gamer keyboards – something we older folks remembered as ‘standard’ with the IBM PC, XT and AT. You could hit people with it all day, use it to open a beer, maybe even chop wood with it and still use it. That’s something IBM made that few did in the early days: Bulletproof keyboards.

I used to go through a keyboard a year. Really. I stopped writing as much, and these keyboards I have have lasted… too long. A real writing session makes your fingers cramp, and that’s when you know when to stop.

But carry that with you as you go – that people are just wiggling fingers at your eyeballs, and you’re just wiggling them back.

Education Daydream.

So, for no particular reason, I was thinking of a story regarding sentient beings – not people – evolving on a moon rather than a planet.

Because the planet has it’s own rotation around a star, and because the moon doesn’t match the speed of the orbit of the planet, life is very different. To become a sentient being on such a moon would mean first of all counting what we think of as days. Days of light. So they’d have to figure that out – which to this day we humans have gotten down to leap seconds, but generally speaking our society is off.

This got me to thinking about how the education system would evolve, and what I came up with is this idea that everyone dislikes education systems. The administrators want to change it, the teachers want to change it, the students want to change it. Then you have the smart ones who know how to improve the system, the average ones who like it as it is, and the stupid ones.

Now, the stupid ones aren’t necessarily stupid. They’re just interested in stuff that’s not in the average curriculum and/or their talents lay elsewhere and/or they just don’t like having stuff they don’t like to do, and/or they have trouble at home, and/or… well, you get the point. Some are just dumb, too. The trouble is that the educational system doesn’t know the difference, so they’re all treated as stupid in society. That’s their lot in life. No bachelor’s degree? Clearly stupid.

So now these sentient beings came up with a political system that is best described as democracy, except these beings don’t get elected. It’s accepted in society that every group of 7, out of the 7, they decide one who will represent them. Now when those 7 get together, they do the same and form a new tier. So as the population grew, they gained quite a few tiers, and when the number wasn’t divisible by 7, 7 to the power of x people were excluded and they had no process for that. Messy. Like Democracy, but not binary.

The top tier of less than 7 made the decisions. This caused a few problems with population booms because the beings hated the deadlocks of even numbers, and that rare occasion when beings stopped having kids when they did not want to create another tier. Very much interested in 7, these beings.

So anyway, when it came to the education system, this odd democratic-like… system… would decide what changes to listen to, etc, and they were made up of – you guessed it! – the smart, the average, and the stupid (as explained).

What I didn’t explain was all the problems with being ‘stupid’ were the same with ‘smart’ and ‘average’. There were some absolutely stupid people who snuck into the smart and average brackets.

So these people, who were somewhere between smart and stupid, and who were really somewhere else between smart and stupid based on the education system, would listen to educators and administrators that had the same issue… and they made adjustments to the system.

If the true intelligence of this was high, the system would eventually improve.

If the true intelligence of this was low, the system would devolve.

Since it’s a mix, it’s more complicated, so we talk about the average true intelligence. Or you could call it true average. Whatever floats your boat. But then we get back to the above:

If the true average intelligence of this was high, the system would eventually improve.

If the true average intelligence of this was low, the system would devolve.

And then the true average shifts between generations. One stupid generation can do generations of evolution. Or a really smart generation could improve everything and they’d make large leaps.

Look how complicated education really is.

Sunday Lost, Sunday found.

Sunday LostIt had started the night before, when a friend asked me to stop by where he was, and so I did. He was visiting his inlaws, and through a twist of fate I ended up driving him home Saturday night which of course meant I would take him back on Sunday to celebrate his 12th wedding anniversary and his nephew’s 9th birthday. I would try to escape early, I decided, so I could get some writing done.

Of course, it wasn’t a straight path back on Sunday morning. There was the need to pick up balloons, beer, and associated paraphernalia, and a desperate and unfruitful search for ribbon.

I have never looked for ribbon in my life, but I know what it looks like and know we didn’t find any.

Along the way, the food was talked up quite a bit, as well as all the good things about the family members. We arrived, and I found myself employed with a Coleman blower, probably for an air mattress, that I held to allow for the inflation of balloons, dutifully holding one as the second of matching color was blown up in what seemed like a never ending stream of balloons. The seemingly unending supply of balloons was important to my friend. He wanted this to happen, so despite my inner protestations of temporarily filling rubber with air, I did it because it was important to him. He was quite the taskmaster on this, insisting later not to point the blower this way or that for fear of causing balloons to rub against walls and explode.

In my mind, they do that anyway, but this was important to him so I went along with it. It didn’t hurt me to avoid the potential cataclysms he saw in the carnage of exploding balloons. My experience taught me that they had a tendency to do so regardless of how much care goes into them. It wasn’t as if I were wielding pins and needles. Balloons are unpredictable.

He was quite micromanagerial about this, speaking more to his need to have the balloons last than in having them last. I’ve seen balloons made. It’s about as precise as you can get, but when the whole point is to blow up a piece of rubber so that you can see through it, it seems to me that all bets are off. People like balloons, they buy balloons, they blow them up, they balloons either leak slowly or disappear violently, transformed into hurtling fragments of rubber.

Balloons are suspended violence. If they were human, I would consider them passive aggressive and volatile.

This, then, called for refreshment, because filling balloons with a blower is hot work. We organized the area, sitting around and relaxing as time ground to a halt. I spoke to the dog, a Husky, and he spoke back. I don’t know what we were talking about, but he certainly did love the subject. He came untethered at one point and had his owner wandering around after him with a food bowl. At 1.5 years old, he was still very much a puppy, intelligent, and looking for fun in what his family considered ‘all the wrong places’.

I wasn’t writing. This ground on me throughout the day, but I pushed it from my mind and just lived the experience. At 3 p.m. or so, the food showed up and it was great – some curried alloo, chicken with a side of roti. There was curried crab, but my body decided at the age of 47 that shellfish were no longer a part of it’s menu.

All day, not much happened, but I was in my own way, listening, the interactions of arguments between people probably the highlight. I generally found myself agreeing with others rather than my friend, but I sat it out mostly. Underneath, the tensions seemed high, while there was a comfort between people that allowed them to exist. An odd but predictable balance. This is how they communicated. They were comfortable with it.

Time went by and the need for me to get back to writing was getting stronger. There are things I want to get out of my head and into little pixels. I had told my friend that morning when we left that I would not be hanging around long, and yet I had spent 6 hours already, and while people were beginning to show up from wherever they were freshly showered and dressed, I felt sticky and tired.

Finally, excusing myself after another friend showed up, I headed home, showered, and fell asleep only to wake up early this morning. I had written nothing yesterday, and this bothers me, but I have no regret of the time spent yesterday with friends and newer friends.

Writing about life without experiencing it is senseless, and what is writing anything but writing about life, be it fictional or otherwise? This sounds like an excuse, and maybe it is, but I know too how much I yearned for the solitude of my mind at points yesterday and I know, gentle reader, that it’s not an excuse.

AI and Writing

physicalwritingI’m ramping up on my writing, as the last few days have shown, partly because of the stuff I wrote about in Procrastination Complete, and also because I have clear goals regarding RealityFragments and myself. Not every piece has to be ‘perfect’ to me.

I’m also working on a book in the background, which is of dubious value since it is about the world today and how broken it is, why it is so, and maybe a better way to look at the problem(s) and thus come up with solutions. It may get abandoned, it may not, but it gives me a focus. Every day, I try to write at least a page, but it does get… well, it doesn’t feel that productive at times.

When that happens, invariably, we humans look for ways to boost productivity, which is a tyranny unto itself because we spend time being less productive to become more productive. As part of this procrastination strategy this morning I came across this article in Slate, “The Great Fiction of AI“, which circles the drain about how awesome some people think SudoWrite is. Curious, I checked the pricing for SudoWrite and found 3 options: $9/month (10,000 AI words), $29/month (50,000 AI words per month), and $99/month (200,000 AI words per month).

Considering the revenue one gets from writing, which isn’t that much, I boggled. We have this habit of buying things to help us become more productive that don’t, we have a tendency to spend money on tools that may not pay for themselves, and I’m not sure that I’d be willing to spend if I’m not going to see a return. So I did an experiment. There’s a free trial, so why not give it a shot?

I fed it the text from the above paragraph. It gave me two more descriptive options:

* Considering the revenue one gets from writing, which isn’t that much, I was taken aback. We have this habit of buying things to help us become more productive that don’t, we have a tendency to spend money on tools that may not pay for themselves, and I’m not sure that I’d be willing to spend if I’m not going to see a return. So I did an experiment. There’s a free trial, so why not give it a shot?

And this:

* Writing was not a profitable endeavor, but the lure of becoming a bestseller lured me in. I did not have the knack for it, like my mother, who had packed grocery bags with her self-published books and sold them for a dollar to people on the street and in bookstores every year. The thought of making a living from my passion had always been a mirage in my eyes. One day, however, I had learned that someone got rich from writing children’s science fiction novels. Since then, I had wondered how one goes about doing this. There were new age ideas that might help: office spaces that look like science labs and visual tools on the walls and houseplants to make us feel relaxed. I was close to shelling out two thousand dollars for one such office when I read about a free trial. I had almost forgotten all about it, but here was this sign, telling what time the free trial started and gave me the website address.

The first one made sense. The second one was… what the hell is that anyway? The first one simply replaced ‘boggled’ with ‘was taken aback’. That would seem more reasonable to me, and may even be easier reading for some, though I think it takes away the emotional level of being boggled, which in my mind is not as mundane as being taken aback. A style issue, really.

This lead me to question what the AI had been trained with. I found it in the SudoWrite FAQ:

“The underlying models were trained on the entire crawl-able internet (historically from 2011-2019) and tens of thousands of books. In other words, a large chunk of available human text.”

This means that it was trained on what was available on the Internet between 2011 and 2019 plus digitized books. There’s an implicit bias in that, with whatever was available on the Internet during those times and whatever books had been digitized – a problem of technocolonialism in that what is omitted is also omitted. I also have to wonder what happens when an AI is trained on what another AI writes, because we’re getting to that stage as well.

I’m not sure AI is ready to replace writers. It can augment them, as it looks like SudoWrite does, but Sudowrite does require at the least some words to get started. Is it worth the money to use? I honestly don’t know. I’ll have to experiment some more.

(If I use it on a blog post for the trial period, I’ll point out what SudoWrite was used to add.)

Procrastination Complete

webTruncationTobagoSpeysideThese past few weeks I’ve been writing various starts to some ideas I have had related to civilization, colonialization, biases, and so on. The trouble is that every paragraph seemed to deserve another paragraph which deserved another paragraph… and so on.

Meanwhile, I’ve been reading The Second Swim, a substack that caught my attention when I followed the author, Iona Italia, on Twitter. Being of mixed descent herself, and being a writer who has me wishing I had written some of her stuff because it’s great, had me considering Substack.

But here’s the rub with Substack: You need subscribers, and honestly, I simply have not been writing as I should because my time has been split with some volunteer work I have been doing, and even that is an excuse as I have had the time and not used it properly. I’ve gotten… lazy. So I need to get back into a rhythm. There was a time when I wrote more than one entry a day about a decade ago. I also don’t write about one thing other than the one thing being what I feel like writing about.

Iona’s piece, Time’s A-Wastin: The Perverse Seductions of Procrastination hit this nail squarely on the head. I have been using Twitter quite a bit because of some of the stuff I have been up to, even perversely so. For the past months, since February 24th, I have been catching updates on Ukraine, the United States, and global trends, as well as researching and learning new things about colonialism from around the world.

I’d wake up in the morning and find myself drinking my cup of coffee as I leafed through Twitter and finding the updates that happened while I was sleeping. This was supposed to be my writing time, waking up fresh and hitting the keyboard, tapping out messages to the world that might be useful, might be entertaining, and perhaps even worth keeping and referring to. There’s so much to write about, and much like a child that is told that they can be ‘anything they want’, it’s hard to pick a direction at times.

Paralysis.

After pushing out a shelved book into OpenOffice a year or so ago, and having reread it and seeing I could do better, I balk in the hope of finding that mystical one thing in an ocean of many things. The world refuses to stand still; when I start researching a topic it’s hard to know when to stop because it will take me laterally to something else. In Twitter spaces I find myself connecting things I would not otherwise connect, and the paralysis continues under the guise of being busy.

So now it’s time to focus on the writing again, and to push myself back into the discipline of writing often.

Writing The Balance

15125228371_8d48671870_wWhen writing for the public eye, I have this odd need to mention both sides and even advocate both sides. Thus, when I wrote “The beauty of a cell tower“, even though with my background I do not personally believe there are issues with cell tower radiation, and I heard people who were voicing opinions and sharing information that were plausible and coherent. Realistically, no one has come out and said there are no issues because they can’t. We don’t know. At least some of us believe not, and at least some of us believe so. Who is right? I do not know. I acknowledge I can be wrong with my personal opinion; it is an opinion after all, and so I explored what could be researched.

As I told a friend recently over a drink, “I don’t think that there is a danger, but I imagine if I had a pacemaker in my chest I might view things differently.” That I do not have the fear does not make someone else’s fear less real. And as I sat with my morning coffee this morning and considered perspectives around me, people reaching for solid answers on a topic, it seems to me that this is a lot of what is missing in social media, and even between peoples sitting across from us. 

What was most amusing to me was that someone said the article was misinformation, when in fact there is no misinformation in there – sources are linked, and a topic explored that probably could afford to be explored more. If there is no risk with cell towers, why then doesn’t the Trinidad and Tobago Ministry of Health say something on the topic?

It’s an inconvenient topic. As I mentioned in the article, there is a balance between progress and concerns that must be addressed and while I have an opinion, and while everyone else has an opinion, what we lack are facts. So do we become paralyzed about it? No. We should not be.

But that’s the trick with trying to present something that is balanced. People with strong opinions that cannot acknowledge that they might be wrong will accuse writing of misinformation, even gaslighting (such a popular term these days though few seem to understand it when they do it). To dismiss the fears of others without addressing them also fits ‘gaslighting’.

Vaccines are another example. I believe in general that vaccinations have value. Others are worried about what’s in vaccinations – some out of profound ignorance, some out of informed opinion, but it’s inconvenient to address both for some so they… gaslight. Rather than address the concern through knowledge and rationality, it’s easy to simply gaslight and make someone question their reality. 

Balance has value. There is room for more than one perspective on anything that we think we know or that we believe.

Inner Critic

In every sentence I find a judge

A jury

An executioner

A basket at the end

of

each

period.

Meanings

flayed

dismayed

lenses, light, bend

and suffer

a flurry

In every sentence I find a judge.

Writing and Technology

We are stuck with technology when what we really want is just stuff that works.
                 Original image by me.

It happens to me far too often. I’ll have an idea, head to a keyboard – there are a few around my place – and something will interrupt my flow of writing itself. Last week, I logged into my Chromebook only to find out that Google had decided that they weren’t supporting it anymore and that they would nag me forever if I used ChromeOS. This was easily beaten sinceI had Linux Mint on it already from years ago, but to remember the login information… update the Linux apps… what was I writing about again?

I shopped around for a replacement to carry around should I be out and about when there was something I needed to do. I can do most everything with Linux, but there is a convenience with ChromeOS for some things I do while out and about, so new equipment was needed, but not too much. I wanted a simple process for, as an example, writing posts like these.

Back in the days before the Internet, younglings, there were standalone word processors that allowed one to simply write. Before that, typewriters – Stephen King wrote about balancing a typewriter on his knees in the laundry room of a trailer when he wrote ‘Carrie’.1 Before that, there was pen and paper, and so on, and so on.

Things somehow still got written.

I ended up with a Samsung Tablet, a simple A7, with a bluetooth keyboard this time around, and was using it to write this –  only to find out that the WordPress.com app does weird things with my keyboard (no other app seems to), which sent me down the rabbit hole on that. And, I’m sorry, I hate the WordPress.com app as much as I have the whole block thing. I just want to be able to write, not do a bunch of blocks of content.

This is why I often do drafts by hand, still, surrounded by all this technology, a somewhat former software engineer that writes. I’d mentioned that to someone yesterday, about my process of writing starting by hand. They looked at me funny, offering tech solutions to a problem I have wrestled with for years.

I shook my head and smiled. I just want to write, not fiddle with tech.

1 Stephen King, “On Writing: A Memoir of The Craft (2002).