sometimes youtube recommends me good stuff

I’ve always loved youtube for all the weird things that people upload on there. And my youtube history is often a bizarre odyssey through word association spiraling down a hole into some very niche corner of the internet, where I start learning about blacksmithery or Russian popstars who remind me more of aliens than anything I’ve ever encountered or how to make a bow and arrow from a sapling or where people load hour after hour of surreal skits. I think the best thing I’ve stumbled into over the last year is this:

I can’t even explain how funny that is to me or how hard I laugh every time I see it or think about it.

In anycase, the things youtube recommends me are often times pretty strange and I usually ignore them, but sometimes I get something awesome. Which is how I discovered Francis and the Lights yesterday.

This video popped up on my recommendations and, I mean, how could I turn down something that has Kanye West and Bon Iver involved?

So I click over and find one of the strangest and most delightful music videos I can remember. Having no idea who Francis and the Lights was, I had no concept of who this strange, hawklike man standing in a white room with Kanye West could possibly be, but I was into it, if only for how weird it is to do a single shot video of a white wall that pans over to Kanye West just slightly bobbing to the beat while looking at the ground, not even pretending to be singing the song. And as you watch, it just keeps getting weirder, because this skinny guy with awful hair starts strutting in the background, then sits on a ladder that serves no purpose, and then suddenly he’s dancing, and the way he dances is just so absolutely gleefully bad. It reminded me immediately of all those 90s comedians who built a career on describing how terrible white men are at dancing.

It almost seemed like it was the visualisation of all those Sinbad jokes that used to make me howl with laughter when I was a kid, staying up late on school nights.

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But it doesn’t stop there either. He just keeps dancing once the chorus hits again, and who’s there? Justin Vernon! The man behind Bon Iver, someone I still have trouble imagining dancing because he seems like the last person you’d expect to be able to move with any semblance of rhythm, and then this video kind of proves that that’s the case.

Maybe what makes it strangest of all is that you see that this is choreographed! They spent some amount of time practicing these moves! There’s something both hilarious and amazing about this. That they could invent this dance, then convince a camera crew to film it. And Kanye West, we finally see, is just standing on the sidelines watching, maybe approving.

Anyrate, I really dug that song, and I love love love the video, so I of course clicked onto the related video, which was similar but with Chance the Rapper, and then I clicked another, and another, and I was intensely amused but also completely loving the music this guy makes.

And he has a strange visual aesthetic for his videos.

The beat to this song is so simple but it fits right between my heartbeats. And then his vocals are sort of Phil Collinsy or Peter Gabriely, but over beats that seem more like Jamie xx or even a milder Daft Punk…or something.

Whatever it is, I like it, and I like these strange single shot videos. Following in a tight frame right behind him as he walks through some city is weirdly engrossing, especially when the only sound is that electrodrumbeat and his haunting synthed out vocals.

And then he starts running while the song slows down only to handspring into the street and backflip as the song crescendoes down our ears.

What I’m trying to say is that I really dig this Francis and the Lights. He’s kind of amazing, and I could imagine him being a pretty big hit. There’s nothing about his music that screams pop sensation, but there’s also nothing about his music that seems offputting to a larger audience.

Big hooks, infectious beats, and a clear vocal style, and enough energy and self possession to make his awkwardness seem endearing, or even like a confident statement.

I mean, look at this goofball spend three minutes dancing in a field:

And then, through some kind of alchemy, this all reminded me of Kesha’s new song that I happen to hear on the radio because sometimes I hate my life just enough to listen to top 40s radio instead of whatever else I could be listening to as broadcasted from my phone.

But I was driving to pick up Chelsea and this song came on that began kind of small and simple, but rose into this emotional level that I don’t often expect from the radio. I was thinking to myself, This is a great song, and when it was over, the DJ said it was Kesha and I was kind of flabbergasted.

Kesha?

My knowledge of Kesha is, admittedly, almost nonexistent. She made a lot of music I found intensely offputting and annoying that I would hear out in the world at restaurants, stores, and so on. But I never gave her much though until I heard about the terrible things that were done to her by her producer.

I won’t go into it or even link to it, because it’s one of the most vile things done to a person that I can think of.

But that was a few years ago, and I probably had not thought about her since whenever I read that stuff about her producer assaulting her.

I don’t know. People who paid attention to Kesha probably always knew she was talented, but I was pretty blown away by her.

And after watching a bunch of Francis and the Lights videos, I looked up her new one, and it was…well, it’s right here.

I’m mostly struck by how passionate and bewildering the video is. The imagery is caustic and gaudy and fairly spiritual, but there’s also a sort of nightmare quality to it, and then a seeming ambivalence towards all the iconography that she jams onto the screen here. Because at a certain point here, you’re not so much watching her perform as feeling her perform a song that directly addresses the awful things done to her.

What I find especially interesting about this song–besides that Kesha made it–is how beautiful it is. Most popmusic has a strange kind of viciousness to it, I think. It’s often accusatory, especially when it’s about a relationship, romantic or adversarial. I think of Taylor Swift who’s basically famous for accusing people of treating her poorly and then proudly declaring that she’s better than them, or that they’re unable to hurt her because she’s strong and independent. Or something. I don’t know much about Taylor Swift either, so this is kind of my impression of her music that generally only glances against me every once and a while.

But it’s not just Taylor Swift. I even wrote a long thing about Justin Beiber last year that’s kind of about this same thing. There are probably a lot of examples that come to mind when someone mentions a song about a jilted lover or a cheating lover or a friendship that soured.

In all cases, there’s a clear antagonist and protagonist, and these are generally put in opposition.

You did a bad thing and now the world will know.

Or at least that’s how I think of them when compared to Kesha’s song.

Kesha’s doing something more interesting here, I think, and it’s something that’s much stronger than simply moving on or calling someone out.

She’s saying You did a terrible thing to me, and I forgive you.

It gives me chills even to write that, knowing what was done to her.

She’s not just moving on from the horrors inflicted on her by another person, she’s picking up the weight of that trauma, shouldering it, embracing it, and making it a part of her life, a part of who she is. She’s moving on, but not forgetting. She’s not starting over or beginning as a new version of herself.

At the same time, forgiving someone doesn’t mean that you forget what they did or excuse what they did. Those scars will always be there, but she’s accepting them, and instead of attacking the man who scarred her so, she’s hoping that he’s asking more than just her for forgiveness. Because the trauma we inflict on one person is never just contained by one person. The violence you do to a single person is always felt by a family, a community, the whole world.

It’s one of the most interesting things I think a popstar has done in a long time. At least to me. It shows a kind of strength we’re unused to encountering.

But, man, listen to those drums come in while she’s singing.

It’s big.

if you respond to national tragedies with personal anecdotes, you’re evil

People died this weekend fighting Nazis.

No one cares how you felt when you saw pictures of a bunch of Nazis carrying tikitorches on buzzfeed news.

Violence that happened to other people isn’t an invitation to tell us about that one time you felt uncomfortable.

The tragedy that happens to others is not your tragedy.

Support the anti-racists injured in Charlottesville.

some dumb thoughts that are maybe important

I see a lot of accusations levelled against the new season of Twin Peaks by David Lynch. The more mild being that it’s dumb or unintelligible, and the more interesting being that it’s incredibly misogynistic.

Both seem to get the response that the person saying this doesn’t get it.

I have no strong feelings about David Lynch beyond that I hated Eraserhead and Blue Velvet. They made me so insanely uncomfortable that I can’t even imagine watching anything else by him, and so I haven’t. I did like The Elephant Man, though. Either way, I think Lynch is basically incredibly talented and maybe a genius, but the things he makes are things I hate. Kind of like Nine Inch Nails or Tool.

So I haven’t actually seen any of the new Twin Peaks. Nor have I seen the original. But because I have no intention of seeing any of this stuff with my own eyes, I have no problem reading spoilers and whathaveyou, which these critical articles tend to contain.

Granted, my experience is heavily biased because of this, so I’m also going to mostly ignore my own feelings about the work and just focus on the accusation of misogyny.

And I guess what I’m really going to talk about is people’s reactions to the accusations.

A lot of the responses tend to be, like I said, that the accuser doesn’t get it, as if that makes it excusable. The rest of the responses seem to be along the lines of he’s from a different time or that it’s somehow unintentional (which is maybe the take I have the most issue with, since it’s clear to anyone who’s ever seen anything Lynch has made that nothing in it is unintentional–seemingly nonsensical or vulgar, certainly–or some byproduct of thoughtlessness on his part, especially given how much creative control he has over his projects).

This is actually pretty normal behavior, though. It’s something that I probably always understood but never really clicked this way until I saw so many people who consider themselves to be progressive or feminists or radicals basically dismiss what seems like a critique that’s worth taking seriously.

I think it’s why Bill Cosby is still best known as a comedian and not a serial (alleged) rapist.

When you trust an artist–or anyone, but especially someone you deify, the way we tend to deify artists/celebrities/politicians–it’s hard to see them objectively or even with unbiased eyes. It’s why so many people are still defending Cosby against his accusers. Why people like Dave Chappelle have incredibly troubling takes on Bill Cosby’s alleged crimes. It’s why Dick Cheney can shoot someone in the face and get away with it, why Caitlin Jenner can kill someone with her car and have no repercussions, why Donald Trump is president, why Woody Allen still rubs shoulders with feminist icons, why so many Democrats omit or overlook war crimes done by the Obama and Clinton administrations, why Republicans and every pundit in the US cheers when we shoot missiles into the air or drop bombs on children half a world away, why Casey Affleck and Johnny Depp are still Hollywood powerhouses, Ronald Reagan is seen as a hero and not a savage maniac tottering on a throne made of bones, why every athlete who’s killed or beaten or sexually assaulted a woman has never had to own up to what they did.

It’s weird, but it happens way too often in the exact same manner for it to be anything except a part of how humans see the world.

We want heroes. We want them to be infallible. We want them to stay heroes.

We absolutely love to tear them down and watch them suffer, but only if their downfall is drugs or narcissism or some kind of mood disorder.

No amount of violence–sexual or otherwise–will lower these people in our estimation.

I don’t mean to say that making potentially misogynistic art is anywhere near the same thing as any form of active violence.

That’s a ridiculous position to hold, especially since I’ve never even seen the work of art in questions (and probably never will).

But I do think there’s a very strong tendency to look at the world–and especially things we love–uncritically. It’s why so many progressives are easy on Bernie Sanders when he pounds his fist for war or why so many Democrats refuse to see anything even remotely problematic about the Clintons or why so many Republicans will support Trump no matter what, while still arguing that they don’t like him, see him as a vulgarian or whatever else (for conservatives it seems to have a weird sense of loyalty to the party, even as that party shifts farther and farther away from what it was when they became a member).

This is especially true with art.

Art is in our blood, our lungs. We need it, and it shapes us. It makes us who we are. A work of art, a story, a song–they’re more than just those words. They’re a reason to live. A reason to get out of bed. A reason to love and laugh and find meaning.

So when someone who has routinely made art we love for years or decades, when their art has helped shape and define our worldview (or at least our view and understanding of art), it becomes incredibly difficult for us to take a step back and see that this man or woman is just that. A human. Maybe a garbage human doing unspeakable evil in the world. Maybe just a blundering buffoon.

I think it’s worth examining your heroes and the institutions you feel attached to. Do it regularly.

There’s a tendency to behave as if any critique on something you’re attached to is a personal attack or outrageous libel about all that you hold sacred. But, really, the things we should be most critical of are the things that we hold most dear, the things that are most woven into ourselves. Whether that’s a political party, figure, artist, or singular work of art, you should be relentless with your critiques.

While it’s good and fine and wonderful to critique the things you hate or despise, it’s not really going to get you anywhere because those things or people or institutions don’t care that you hate them. Why should they?

But when you truly love someone or something, and it disappoints you, you should let them know. You should let them know exactly how and why they disappointed you.

It might make them better, next time.

It might make them change.

But, yeah, just some idle chatter here.

obsessive

Sometimes, I teach creative writing to the youths of the nation (high school kids) and the advice I always give them, no matter what, is to write your obsessions. To give into them. To chase them. To follow where they lead. Because whatever you’re obsessed with or consumed by will come out in your fiction eventually, whether it’s sex or pokemon or baking or art deco or frayed jeans, and it will make your fiction better.

It’s something that held me back for a long time. I thought I needed to write a certain way, and about certain things. I grew up on SFF, but then fell deep into experimental and avant garde literature, and that meant writing in certain modes and about certain things. But even when I was deep into this stuff, my heart was still with SFF. It’s why even my most experimental novels involve invented cultures and peoples and mythologies.

Like a lot of arrogant and angry young men, I thought that art had to be a specific thing. I thought, as an artist, that I had to be a specific kind of artist. Those things mostly held me back, and they led me to discourage my own impulses and obsessions, which made my writing worse.

Since coming home to the genres that defined and shaped me, I’ve felt much freer and just better. I mean, me being a better writer isn’t just because of the genres I now write, but it’s helped. I’ve written in dozens of genres and styles, but I think my home is in the fantastic and surreal.

Anyrate, I think about my obsessions a lot, because they repeatedly come out in my fiction, even when I was actively trying to bury them.

Things like dust and wolves are everywhere. Ravens too, and a recurring dream I had for about a decade. Then there are all the people missing a hand, missing an eye, and all the characters who just never say a single word.

But the bigger ones are totalitarianism,  systemic violence, cultural clashes, shared stories, theology, Taoism, and cooking.

Most of those have always been present, to one degree or another, but cooking is a new one. I love cooking. It’s one of my favorite things to do in life. And it’s recently found it’s way into my fiction. Three of the last four novel(la)s I’ve written have cooking as a major component. Two of them involve the invention of boardgames, like chess or go.

Weirdly, these little things are making my fiction better.

The big themes are fine, and the small details are good too. But what I’ve found is that specificity adds a lot. At least, this is something I’ve found from my own reading. A character in a novel can be working a loom, and while I have no interest in such things, it’s really obvious how much the author cares. And that level of care and all that specificity just makes the utterly mundane utterly fascinating.

And so I suppose that’s what I really mean about chasing your obsessions. It’s no good to just list things you enjoy doing. You need to dig into the meat until you’re grinding on bones, breaking through to the marrow. If you want to make the reader care about the mundane things your character does, you need to really care about those things.

A scene about cooking is worthless if you don’t care about cooking, and your ambivalence will come through. Too, why would you write a scene about something you don’t care about?

It’s something that I think fantasy does better than literary fiction. Literary fiction is generally less plot driven, but I also often find the characters weaker. And it comes down to these obsessions. If your characters aren’t obsessed with something, then they feel weirdly alien. Inhuman. And while fantasy gets derided for favoring plot over character (which I generally disagree with), I’ve found that fantasy is often lethargically paced (why else would it take three or ten books to tell a story?) but that it remains a page turner, whereas the literary genre is just a slog.

There are a lot of reasons for such things and unbelievably numerous generalizations to make, but I’ve found that genre fiction tends to allow their characters to be obsessed. To have them dig into the minutia of things.

Like, I just read Lonesome Dove, which is often considered the best western ever written (for good reason!), and so many of the characters are just obsessed with…something. Horses, guns, drowning, gambling, whoring–it really doesn’t matter.

Obsessions are good.

But, yeah, follow your obsessions.

Luckily for me, mine change often, so I always have something new to write about.

Right now, it’s extinction and witches and blacksmithing, which will reveal themselves in my next two novellas.

I guess I could’ve captured all of this just by saying that obsessions are good.

witches and poetry

So it’s been a few months, yeah?

I’ve been meaning to post all kinds of things since my last post about the Tao Te Ching. I really enjoyed doing a post a day about the Tao Te Ching, and you can just keep scrolling on the homepage to find a bunch of them. Or you can click here.

Anyrate, I’ve had essays I wanted to write and share about politics, art, love, life, my cat, and other stuff, but I seem to’ve sort of lost the habit.

It’s something I’ve been thinking about. The tendency to share and how it becomes habitual or ritual. Over the last couple years, I’ve been using social media less and less, and it’s sort of like I’ve been weening myself off the incessant sharing that happens online. There are all kinds of reasons, but mostly it’s just that social media isn’t good for me, personally.

But because I don’t really share much online these days, it seems less and less important to share anything online. It always seemed like the point of starting a blog was to do more long-form sharing of thoughts and so on. Then facebook came the place to share all my dumb thoughts, so I used my blog less, and then when I began using social media less, I thought I’d use my blog more.

The opposite has mostly been true. Like I said, sharing online is kind of like a habit or ritual. Once I broke the habit, it no longer seems to matter whether or not I share anything online.

Anyrate, there is some news to talk about.

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My first poetry collection is coming out from Hawkline Press. There’s an announcement on their site.

Obviously that’s the cover and title up above in that amazing image.

I wrote it a few years ago. I think it was 2014. I wrote three poetry collections that year. All of them over the course of their own individual weekends when I had fevers. I wrote like 600 poems that year, but haven’t done much with them.

Still, very excited to have this coming out. It’s about 130 poems, most in the ryuka, tanka, and haiku, and then a final freeform series that might be my favorite poetry I’ve ever written.

The collection is inspired by the life and death of Yoshiya Chiru.

The collection is dark and weird and simple.

It’s funny to have a my first poetry collection come out as my fourth book, since I used to primarily think of myself as a poet. Obviously I’m not, and probably never will be, but I’m proud of the poems I wrote, and I hope you like them.

I’ll probably talk more about them in the future.

witches

I also just wrote this novel. Or, not just now. I’ve been writing it for a while. I was hoping to have it finished before May, but then I spent all of April and May not writing. It was a weird deadline to put on myself, since I began this near the end of February. It’s about 130,000 words right now, though it’ll almost certainly balloon a bit once I do edits/rewrites.

It’s a big complicated novel about terrorism and imperialism.

Also, it’s a fantasy novel.

There’s a lot to say about it, really.  The novel is mostly about four people: a student, an activist, an immigrant, a 200 year old poet, a 500 year old teahouse owner, and a factory worker. They’re all elves, which is funny to me, since I never really ever intended to write about elves or other standard fantasy creatures.

But the novel is really about race, culture, religion, terrorism, aspirations, systemic violence, totalitarianism, and whistleblowing.

This novel really is a reaction to basically everything I love and hate about fantasy novels. For example, most fantasy novels treat races and cultures as monochrome. All elves are the same culture, all dwarves are the same culture, but humanity gets thousands of shades. So I decided to give my elves all kinds of shades, and so the novel is really about how cultural purity is an invention, and a dumb one. But also it’s about how systems of power crush people.

I’m really happy with it, but it’s also one of the darkest novels I’ve written, which is kind of saying something, considering how many times I’ve written apocalyptic books.

But, yeah, this year’s doing well. Last year I wrote a giant novel and two short novellas. This year I’ve written two novellas and a reasonably large novel. Next I’m going to be writing a western novella, then a pirate novella, and then a novella about burning a witch at the stake.

But that’s not for a while.

It’s a relief to be finished writing this book because now I can get back into all the other things I want to do! Like read books, play videogames, and just not have the weight of a huge book on my shoulders.

That’s all for now, though. I’m going to say that I’ll keep updating things on here, but that’s a lie.

Mostly I’ll just be taking pictures of my cat.

I’ll see you when I see you, followers of this dumb blog.

three articles about russia

There’s a lot I’d like to say here about how absurd the american center has become with regard to Russia, but I’ll leave it to Masha Gessen and Matt Taibbi.

Russia, Trump, and Flawed Intelligence

Despite its brevity, the report makes many repetitive statements remarkable for their misplaced modifiers, mangled assertions, and missing words. This is not just bad English: this is muddled thinking and vague or entirely absent argument. Take, for example, this phrase: “Moscow most likely chose WikiLeaks because of its self-proclaimed reputation for authenticity.” I think, though I cannot be sure, that the authors of the report are speculating that Moscow gave the products of its hacking operation to WikiLeaks because WikiLeaks is known as a reliable source. The next line, however, makes this speculation unnecessary: “Disclosures through WikiLeaks did not contain any evident forgeries.”

Or consider this: “Putin most likely wanted to discredit Secretary Clinton because he has publicly blamed her since 2011 for inciting mass protests against his regime in late 2011 and early 2012, and because he holds a grudge for comments he almost certainly saw as disparaging him.” Did Putin’s desire to discredit Clinton stem from his own public statements, or are the intelligence agencies basing their appraisal of Putin’s motives on his public statements? Logic suggests the latter, but grammar indicates the former. The fog is not coincidental: if the report’s vague assertions were clarified and its circular logic straightened out, nothing would be left.

It is conceivable that the classified version of the report, which includes additional “supporting information” and sourcing, adds up to a stronger case. But considering the arc of the argument contained in the report, and the principal findings (which are apparently “identical” to those in the classified version), this would be a charitable reading. An appropriate headline for a news story on this report might be something like, “Intel Report on Russia Reveals Few New Facts,” or, say, “Intelligence Agencies Claim Russian Propaganda TV Influenced Election.” Instead, however, the major newspapers and commentators spoke in unison, broadcasting the report’s assertion of Putin’s intent without examining the arguments.

The Russia Story is a Minefield for Democrats and the Media

Hypothesize for a moment that the “scandal” here is real, but in a limited sense: Trump’s surrogates have not colluded with Russians, but have had “contacts,” and recognize their political liability, and lie about them. Investigators then leak the true details of these contacts, leaving the wild speculations to the media and the Internet. Trump is enough of a pig and a menace that it’s easy to imagine doing this and not feeling terribly sorry that your leaks have been over-interpreted.

If that’s the case, there are big dangers for the press. If we engage in Times-style gilding of every lily the leakers throw our way, and in doing so build up a fever of expectations for a bombshell reveal, but there turns out to be no conspiracy – Trump will be pre-inoculated against all criticism for the foreseeable future.

The press has to cover this subject. But it can’t do it with glibness and excitement, laughing along to SNL routines, before it knows for sure what it’s dealing with. Reporters should be scared to their marrow by this story. This is a high-wire act and it is a very long way down. We might want to leave the jokes and the nicknames be, until we get to the other side – wherever that is.

Russia: The Conspiracy Trap

Russia has become the universal rhetorical weapon of American politics. Calls for the release of Trump’s tax returns—which the group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) hopes to have subpoenaed as a result of its lawsuit alleging the violation of the Emoluments Clause—are now framed in terms of the need to reveal Trump’s financial ties to Russia. And the president himself is recapturing the campaign debate’s “No, you are the puppet” moment on Twitter, trying to smear Democratic politicians Charles Schumer and Nancy Pelosi with Russia.

The dream fueling the Russia frenzy is that it will eventually create a dark enough cloud of suspicion around Trump that Congress will find the will and the grounds to impeach him. If that happens, it will have resulted largely from a media campaign orchestrated by members of the intelligence community—setting a dangerous political precedent that will have corrupted the public sphere and promoted paranoia. And that is the best-case outcome.

More likely, the Russia allegations will not bring down Trump. He may sacrifice more of his people, as he sacrificed Flynn, as further leaks discredit them. Various investigations may drag on for months, drowning out other, far more urgent issues. In the end, Congressional Republicans will likely conclude that their constituents don’t care enough about Trump’s Russian ties to warrant trying to impeach the Republican president. Meanwhile, while Russia continues to dominate the front pages, Trump will continue waging war on immigrants, cutting funding for everything that’s not the military, assembling his cabinet of deplorables—with six Democrats voting to confirm Ben Carson for Housing, for example, and ten to confirm Rick Perry for Energy. According to the Trump plan, each of these seems intent on destroying the agency he or she is chosen to run—to carry out what Steve Bannon calls the “deconstruction of the administrative state.” As for Sessions, in his first speech as attorney general he promised to cut back civil rights enforcement and he has already abandoned a Justice Department case against a discriminatory Texas voter ID law. But it was his Russia lie that grabbed the big headlines.

woolf waves

I’ve been listening to Max Richter’s glorious new album. It’s inspired by the work of Virginia Woolf. Specifically, Mrs Dalloway, Orlando, and The Waves. It’s tremendous, as are all things Richter does. The final movement–and perhaps his most emotional piece in years–is in the above video. It begins with the reading of Virginia Woolf’s suicide note, which I’ll copy in full here:

Dearest,

I feel certain I am going mad again. I feel we can’t go through another of those terrible times. And I shan’t recover this time. I begin to hear voices, and I can’t concentrate. So I am doing what seems the best thing to do. You have given me the greatest possible happiness. You have been in every way all that anyone could be. I don’t think two people could have been happier till this terrible disease came. I can’t fight any longer. I know that I am spoiling your life, that without me you could work. And you will I know. You see I can’t even write this properly. I can’t read. What I want to say is I owe all the happiness of my life to you. You have been entirely patient with me and incredibly good. I want to say that – everybody knows it. If anybody could have saved me it would have been you. Everything has gone from me but the certainty of your goodness. I can’t go on spoiling your life any longer.

I don’t think two people could have been happier than we have been.

It’s always struck me as a profound and devastating statement of love and illness.

I don’t have a lot to say about it, really. Or, I do, but I’ve said it before in a dozen other blog posts over the seven years I’ve had this site.

I’ve been writing my novel to this album. It’s a completely normal thing for me to listen to a Richter album on repeat for days, and he’s been the soundtrack to more than a few of the novels I’ve written. I don’t know if my work is capturing anything as well or as beautifully as Woolf or Richter, but I’m very pleased with the words coming out of me lately.

I feel fortunate that I’ve managed to avoid any serious bouts with depression over the last years, and it’s certainly what’s allowed me to be so productive.

I’m nearly 40,000 words into the new novel. I’m hoping to have it finished before May, which seems doable, even though the novel may balloon up to about 200,000 words.

As is almost always the case, I sort of saw this as a short novel, but I quickly grow comfortable with the size of this novel. I said that I’d keep it underwraps this time, rather than share the process of writing this novel while I write it, and I think I’ll keep to that.

I will say, though, that every chapter presents a very difficult challenge. It’s the kind of writing I simply was not capable of writing even a year ago. It’s the kind of writing that is exhausting, but ultimately rewarding. Complex yet simple. Dangerous yet loving.

I want this novel to be a surprise, and I think it will be. I think I’m doing something that is rarely, if ever, done, and that pleases me. I’m also writing in a mode that I’ve never written in before. In many ways, I think it’s my most daring and most normal novel, and I like that juxtaposition quite a lot.

 

writing and offlining

I’ve been feeling good for a few days now. Maybe especially since finishing the novella I was writing, though the title has already changed since writing that post. But I’ve been feeling good and positive. Chelsea’s parents are here, which is a good time, and my cat’s just being my cat, so that’s always awesome as well.

Been reading a lot of poetry, something I basically did not read at all last year, which is sort of odd. But I suppose I’m making up for it this year.

Don’t know what to say, really. Just feeling good, happy, productive.

I started a new novel today, too. Just finished the first chapter, even. It’s about terrorism and systemic violence and systemic power. It’s inspired a lot by the Tsarnaev brothers, oddly. I read Masha Gessen’s excellent book on the Boston bombing and it really got me thinking about all kinds of things, connecting the treatment of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and especially the way the FBI treated his friends or people he barely knew, to the way governments treat minority groups, dissidents, and certain demographics when they commit a crime. Also reminded me how much that event influenced my writing back in 2013. I think I wrote three stories directly because of that bombing.

It’s going to be a tricky novel. A very complex and complicated one. It’s going to require a lot of thought and planning. Speaking to Kyle Muntz about it this morning made me realize it’s definitely a novel, and possibly a very long one, and not a novella.

So I know I talked about my next project being about anarchism, but I’ve had pretty good luck with these recent novellas. So I’m deciding to just jump into the shiny new idea, rather than sit on it for a few months, like I used to.

And so I wrote the first chapter, and I’m extremely pleased with how it came out. Gives me more confidence to tackle this project. Also, I’ve decided not to share a whole lot of information about it while I’m writing it, which is sort of atypical of me, since I sort of use this site, in part, to dump extraneous thoughts about what I’m working on while I’m working on it.

Sort of unrelated but also kind of related, I’ve uninstalled the twitter app from my phone, so now the only social media on my phone is instagram. This is probably a dumb thing to talk about, but I did the same thing with the facebook app when I decided to cut down on my facebook time sometime last year or the year before. It was successful, since not having easy access to social media in my pocket will create enough of a barrier of access that I’m unlikely to devote a lot of passive time to it, which was all too easy when it was just a few thumb taps away before. Along with that, I’ve logged out of facebook and twitter on my computers, because, again, that little barrier of access (insignificant as it seems) is typically enough to keep me from spending a lot of passive time on either site.

Because passive time is kind of my disease. Probably most people suffer from it a bit. Instead of just not doing things, we’ll tab or thumb over to facebook or twitter and just start scrolling. Hours can get used up that way. I’ve mostly found it makes me less happy, which is not ideal.

I found, too, that when I cut down on facebook, it usually just means I spend more time on twitter, so this is kind of a symbolic way for me to back off both social media sites.

Intentionality is something Chelsea and I talk about a lot, and we’re both trying to be better about it. We want to be more intentional with our time and activities, since it’s so easy to just sit on a couch watching netflix while I have a laptop open and I’m scrolling through whatever. It’s not like it’s a terrible thing, but it often makes me feel like I lost time by being so passive about my evening, just letting various screens dictate my time.

And so this is part of it. Trying to avoid the passive scrolling and use that time for anything else. Like drawing maps, learning origami, writing, reading, or just actually watching the shows we put on netflix, instead of just creating a background noise to our passivity.

But, yeah, I’ll probably be offline a bit more.

You won’t miss me, because how many of you are even reading this? A blog is like a silent cry into a void! And mine’s no different.

Anyrate, I’ll be writing about terrorism for a while. Hopefully it doesn’t blow up on me the way Songs of my Mother did, but I do think it might be around 100,000 words, which is a lot of words to write.

I’ll let you know when I finish.

a burning green

Last night I finished this new novella, which I discussed a bit just the other day. I didn’t expect to be finished so soon, since I thought I was taking kind of a relaxed pace to this, but I finished it in about eight days. Which, I guess, is pretty relaxed for me, since I’ve finished novels three times this length in roughly the same amount of time.

The first draft is around 21,000 words, and it feels oddly satisfying to already have two novellas finished this year. I thought I’d be taking a long break from writing after finishing Songs of My Mother, but that seems to’ve unintentionally instilled some kind of work ethic in me, or at least a writing habit.

So hopefully I can keep this up, though the next idea I have is for something quiet a bit longer. Perhaps 100,000 words. It’s going to be sort of my largest statement about anarchism, in that I’m building a continent like Europe that will basically just be a bunch of functioning anarchic states.

It should be fun.

But this new novella, it had a pretty unpleasant name during the writing process, but I’ve landed on Born Under a Burning Green for now. It might change, and it might change often, but I like it right now, and it’s pretty appropriate.

It’s about 90% dialogue, really. Most of it is funny to me, though that might just be my own preference. But these two women with pasts that are only ever obliquely alluded to just talk about the world and their place in it. Sort of a pseudophilosophical text in a fantasy world. In many ways, it’s meant to mirror the standard epic fantasy quest storyline while also removing everything that makes that a typical story. So there is a quest, but the reader isn’t really aware of what it is. There are great actions taken, though many of those are left undescribed. And in most stories, these two would be villains, since they do little more than murder humans and monsters alike.

So it’s a black comedy, I think, but also kind of an aggressive text, in that it’s pretty unfriendly. Brutal characters who are, essentially, living in a peaceful world. They don’t so much fight other humans. They butcher them in an often gruesome manner, though a lot of that is left to the imagination. The only things they fight are the monsters which roam the continent. Strange, foul monsters.

But, yeah, weirdly proud of this, partly because of how peculiar it is, but mostly because it’s a very peculiar thing for me to write, and it’s told in a manner that’s unusual for me as well. There’s very little outside of quotation marks. So the whole narrative and world is given through dialogue, which is just kind of a wandering, fun, accidental experiment.

But, yes, it’s finished. I hope you get the chance to read it someday. And I hope you love it.

quiet breaths

I was feeling pretty down earlier today. Pretty down for the last week, plus a few days. I probably don’t need to tell you why, but a lot of it has to do, I think, with how often I kept tabbing over to facebook or twitter.

I’m forming bad habits again. Unhealthy, stifling habits. It’s something I’m actively trying to prevent: spending so much time online.

Tonight I’m going to play Final Fantasy XV, maybe try some origami or draw some maps, or maybe write some more of this novella I’m working on.

The current title is vulgar and only a placeholder, but it’s about two women in a pretty traditional fantasy world. But instead of going on a quest or fighting for some cause, they mostly walk around and talk. Both of them have no education and very little understanding of the world they live in. They know kings and gods have a place but they don’t understand any of it, so much of the novella is made up of philosophical discussions between these two incredibly ignorant characters as they make sense of the world and try to sort it out to one another.

The dynamic is pretty interesting to me, because the novella is about 85% dialogue with very little extraneous descriptions. Because of this, it has kind of a meandering and hopefully naturalistic feel.

The other 15% of the novella is them killing monsters and other people.

So it’s a very violent text, but weirdly fun to write, and endlessly amusing to me. Not the violence, but the conversations. I might even just toss a short section of it in here to give you a taste:

The girl said, “There are no gods. Everybody knows that.”

“Then what is the Tesha?”

The girl shrugged, “Don’t know. Probably just some guy. Who cares?”

Her companion gestured to the dead bodies, “Priests.”

“Priests work as much for the king as they do for the Tesha.”

“What king?”

“What?”

“You said—”

“The fucking king! Shit,” the girl threw down the bone she was whittling. “You know,” she whirled her knife as if the gesture encompassed the whole world, the bracelet of teeth clacking, “the fucking king. Everywhere’s got a king.”

“But which king?”

“Shit, I don’t know. Wherever we are.”

“If we don’t know what he’s king of, what makes him king?”

The girl slumped where she sat and sighed, “You’re really pissing me off.” She picked up the whittled bone and went back at it with the knife, the teeth bracelet rattling with every stroke. The scrape and grind of blade on bone vibrated up her wrist to the elbow.

Across the fire, her companion flayed the head of one of the dead priests, “Don’t see what there’s to get mad over.” Struggling with the skin on the nose, she gave up and sawed through the cartilage and let the severed nose fall to the dirt. “Who says there’s no gods?”

The girl snorted and shook her head, “Everybody.”

“Everybody don’t mean shit. You mean Alton and his family.”

The girl blew the bonedust from her hands and examined the blade she was making out of the bone. Her jaw clenched on one side and she reached down to her feet and groped for something with her eyes still on the bone in her other hand. Grasping at nothing, she looked down and then around her.

“What?” Her companion paused what she was doing.

“There was a grindstone here.”

Her companion whistled and when the girl looked up, her companion tossed it to her. The girl went to grinding the boneblade smooth. “What’re you making?”

Her companion giggled, “Don’t know. Thought I’d make, like, a guitar.”

“With a skull?”

Her companion shrugged, “Not sure I know what a guitar looks like.”

“It’s like,” the girl paused, then giggled along with her companion, “like a thin thing and a hallow thing,” her words collapsed into full on laughter and her companion laughed with her.

The night wore on and the fire burned down to embers.

Her companion said, “Should we add more wood?”

The girl shrugged, “You tired?”

Her companion shrugged and tossed another log onto the embers, then a second. They sizzled, popped, and eventually lit.

“What got the wood wet?”

Her companion shrugged, “Blood, probably.” She was deboning the leg of one of the dead priests. “If there’re no gods, then why is there a Tesha?”

The girl sighed, “Same reason there’s kings, I guess.”

“Why’s that?”

“Shit, I don’t know.”

That’s how the novella begins and it continues in that manner. So it’s a mix of comedy and brutality that’s sort of oddly therapeutic to write. It helps me breathe easier.

It’s interesting to me what I’ve written since completing Songs of My Mother last year. I’ve written a novella inspired by Greenlandic cuisine, Taoism, anarchy, and pacifism, and now I’m writing something that is, in many ways, its opposite: a violent, meandering, chaotic text with ignorant characters who have an undescribed past.

I don’t know what inspired me to write this current novella. In the Greenlandic novella, I was seeking to find an answer to the violence I see in the world. In this, I can’t say I’m looking for anything. Maybe I’m running from something, or trying to explain bits of reality to myself, bits of america to myself. Because I see how the recent frustrations, fears, and concerns are playing out in this short, brutal, comedy.

But, yeah, I’ve also written a handful of poems about Trump. I’m collecting them into a collection titled The Golden King. Maybe it’s a form of resistance or a way for me to write out my greatest fears for the future, but it’s a pretty unpleasant text so far. It’s draining to write those poems and so I’ve only written five, but I think the rest of the collection will be from a different kind of perspective, and hopefully those will give me a sense of hope and peace.

Which is what I’m seeking, first in my own life, and then in the world. It’s why I’m going through the Tao Te Ching every day.

Trying to breathe and live quietly.

Which is not to say passively.

It’s difficult to be at peace right now, to find balance, and sometimes it’s making me feel hopeless, since I see no balance to this. But, ultimately, it’s helping me. Allowing me to step back and see the world with cleaner eyes. Eyes less stained by the brutality of the present.

And I need that. I need to remember that the world is still a beautiful place. That resistance is more than shouting loudly online. Resistance is a complex, multifaceted thing, yet it can be as simple as clearing your thoughts, playing chess, or folding laundry.

Resistance is persistence.

I saw an interesting thread of tweets by an Iranian responding to americans on twitter. He highlighted how Iranians live and enjoy life, even though they live under a brutal theocratic regime (and he reminds us that the US toppled a liberal, democratic government to put the theocratic dictator in place).

It gave me a quiet sense of hope. That life goes on. That even when things seem hopeless, even when life is at its darkest, people still find beauty and love and laughter. They dance, and they sing.

That’s resistance. It’s the kind few talk about, but it’s a terribly important form of resistance: to persist. To love. To live. To laugh. To create art and collaborate with other people. To build friendships.

And it’s inspired me to act on some long-standing plans. Like hosting monthly gatherings (this is in the planning stages, but Chelsea and I have some simple ideas) and then I have some other ideas that require a lot more planning and some funding, but we’ll get there. Even if it takes me years. We’ll get there.

I guess what I mean to say is that it’s important to remember to enjoy life.

So take some quiet breaths and look away from your screen at some point every day, and just talk to another human. Not about politics or current events, but about what interests them, or what interests you.

Maybe just have a beer with friends or take a walk by yourself with headphones on, jamming to music you love. Or take the headphones off and listen to the sounds of winter.

It’s a good day to live, even if everything seems terrible.