Epiphany, Redux

As per usual, I’m sitting here in front of my computer with no idea what I’m going to write about. No title, no germ of an idea, nothing. I’ve been sipping coffee and scrolling through the Hellsite trying to find motivation or inspiration and nothing is coming to me.

But the whole point of my ongoing exercise is that I need to write no matter what. It’s not about “finding motivation” it’s about momentum and habit. Which is why I’m just typing this out instead of floundering around trying to scrape together some genius idea I can riff off of for 1000 words or so.

My apologies, as always, if you find your interest in reading this flagging. I just have to get something down on paper. Well, not paper, but pixels and electrons. Same thing, these days.

So… what’s on my mind? Oddly, it’s my old me.

For some reason, my blog software registered that someone was reading a very old post of mine, titled “Epiphany”, which, in my defense, I wrote over a decade ago (posted 18 September 2008); eleven years and 3 days ago as I write this. So, of course, I re-read it. And, wow, it’s a lot to take in.

The tone is entitled and bitter and angry. I’m basically tearing my friends a new one for them not treating me like I wanted to be treated. What an awful, dark mental place that was. I can remember writing that post, and the reactions of my friends to it, and having to defend what I wrote as “this is how I’m feeling lately”, but it was not a good take. I can’t imagine writing it today. Today I am grateful for my friends, and I appreciate them for sticking with me.

“Epiphany” reminds me of all the shit I’ve been through, and how I had to work very hard to keep it from turning me even more bitter. I had to express those feelings, get them down in words and sentences, translate the hurtful black clouds blocking my brain so that I could see and heal from whatever pain I had inside.

But out in the open, seeing something like this:

When I suggest, through indirect language and hints that probably only I can understand, how they can help me, they don’t hear me.

…I see the Inner Negative Voice being channeled and it makes me realize that that is what the voice says when I feel I’m a terrible friend. I see myself having en expectation (why don’t they hear me?) and a strategy (if I say it subtly will they notice?) and I’m creating a fucking test for people to pass or fail and then judging them when they don’t respond as I expect them to. It’s a horrible, transactional way to be.

The rest of the post goes on and seems a bit more reasonable. I try to make the case that everyone is doing the best they can with what they have, and that’s true, but I still come across as bitter about not getting my own needs met. How could I, though, if I wasn’t expressing them? I was hiding in a corner and hoping my friends would come and find me when they didn’t even know we were playing Hide And Go Seek.

Much better to come clean, to ask for what I want, and to accept whatever answer the universe gives me (and by “universe” I mean my friends and family, of course; the universe, my universe, personified in the form of real human people doing real human things with and without me).

Honestly, I’m still tired of going through the motions of my life, repeating the patterns. Anyone reading these posts should be able to see that. But I’m doing my best to break the patterns myself. And, again, honestly, I don’t even know what I would replace it with. What do I want? My therapist and my friends have asked me that in recent days, and I have no answer for them. Whatever epiphany I had, it did not reveal a new path. Just a rejection of the path I’ve had up to now.

My future is contingent on the choices I’ve already made, so it’s not like I can become someone completely different. I don’t want to stay here, though. I need to move forward.

Ugh. Movement. There’s a part of me that would much rather hide away than seek something new. Not sure if that’s the Inner Negative Voice or just the scared quiet child-Brian who was trying to protect himself in what felt like a random and dangerous world—the kid whose inaction and missteps created the Inner Negative Voice in the first place.

Maybe admitting I don’t know what I want is a good first step, though. Before I can move, I need to figure out where I’m headed. In the meantime, I can pay attention to where I am, and what I’m feeling, right now. That is enough.

For now, that is enough. Hello, and thank you for reading my confused thoughts. Happy Saturday.

Trying Not to Be Poor, Again

It feels later than it really is, but that’s because I’ve been awake since earlier than I normally am. It’s 10 PM, give or take, as I write this but it feels like it’s after midnight. Luckily for me and my self-imposed goal, it’s not after midnight because then, technically, I would be in violation, having not written 500-1000 words on Friday.

I’ve been awake since before my normal waking up time because, in one of my pre-alarm wake-ups, I rolled over, checked my phone, and for some reason checked my bank balance, only to discover it was much lower than it had been before I’d gone to sleep. I won’t give you the exact amount but it was enough to make me worry that I might not have enough cash to get me through until the next paycheck.

The shock of that was enough to kick off my anxiety, and I went through the transactions in my account trying to figure out what had come out that I had not expected. My last couple of months have been spent carefully trying to plan ahead and set aside the money I need for my bills, using what is basically the envelope method of budgeting: setting aside groups of money for utilities, rent, gasoline, and food. But nothing seemed out of place. The envelopes had the right amount of money for future bills, but the “safe-to-spend” was just… lower.

That anxiety kept me from just rolling over and going back to sleep, unfortunately, so eventually, I stood up and went about my otherwise normal routine. Once I was showered and had breakfast, I sat back down at my computer and went over my future budget. I will be OK, but it will be tighter than I had originally thought.

I hate the roller-coaster, the feast-or-famine, of my current financial situation. I mean, I haven’t overdrafted my account in several months, so that’s good: my bills all get paid and I’m not bleeding money. But I cut it pretty close. My bank balance the night before my last paycheck was a buck and change. I hate this so much but at least I’m doing better than last year, where I must have given my bank several hundred dollars I couldn’t otherwise spare in NSF fees.

I have gas in my car and food in my fridge and cupboards. My bills will get paid, and I’ll make it to work, and I’ll have food to eat. But anything extra is just going to have to wait. I have a roof over my head, the lights are on, and the internet is working enough for me to keep on typing and surfing and streaming.

What would life be like without the stress of micromanaging my money? I can’t remember ever not fussing over every penny. It’s a fantasy, much like delving deep into an underground tomb looking for magical items and shiny gold coins. Life is dreary at the base of Maslow’s Pyramid of Needs but someone’s got to be down here.

I told Terry I couldn’t make it to happy hour after work, and he offered to buy me a beer. I was honest and he was generous. I feel more than a small amount of guilt for that but I didn’t ask; he offered. I guess that’s what friends are for? I would do the same for him if our situations were reversed. I just can’t see it ever reversing. Life stretches on.

I only had one beer, plus a cheap happy-hour burger that was delicious (it had jalapenos!), and then Terry and I wandered into a conversation about life and capitalism and being driven to change things for the better (me) and feeling helpless to make any difference at all (him) and it was a good conversation about deep and important topics. We agreed to disagree, as we always do, even after the talk continued while we wandered the streets outside the bar and sat on a bench and watched cars drive too fast down a narrow crowded street while pedestrians drunkenly crisscrossed in and out of headlights.

We didn’t solve anything except cementing our positions as Luke Skywalker trying to take on the whole Empire himself (me) vs. Han Solo just trying to look out for himself and his crew and spend the reward he got for risking his life (him). It’s a tale as old as time.

One of the touchstones of our conversation is the idea that if we met now, while we were adults, we would probably not become friends. We have a lot of differences that would likely repel each other. But we’ve been through a lot, and we bonded when we were much younger and less set in our ways, and that friendship keeps us in each others’ orbits. Do you have friends like that? I hope you do, because it’s the best feeling.

Is it even possible to bond like that with someone anymore? I look at the world online and the people around me, and I don’t really think it’s possible. If it is at all, it’s incredibly rare. How would that even happen? Surely not through Twitter or Facebook or Instagram. Surely not.

At any rate, I am tired and there’s still plenty of writing to be done this weekend, so

good night.

Aspirations

To help me re-focus on getting out there and seeing my words published (and paid for!) elsewhere, I’ve been following along with Nicole Dieker’s article A 7-Day Plan for Starting Your Freelance Writing Gig.

The hardest part for me was during Day 1: coming up with five publications I’d love to have bylines in. I’m not sure if it’s modesty, insecurity, or simple ignorance, but it took me the longest time to think up, and write down, five different publications where I would be proud to see my work.

I say “simple ignorance” because I’m just not aware of a lot of different journals, magazines, or publications. Especially so in the last few years, where I tend to read articles online that I gather from Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr, and I rarely connect those individual articles with their overall publisher or publication. Which means I need to start doing that, again, with an eye towards “places I might want to pitch”.

But there’s also the underlying fear of “am I good enough?” and “they wouldn’t like me or my work” to deal with.

To combat that fear, here’s the list I finally – finally! – put down on paper. I would be happy to see my name on a story in any of these five, whether in print or online:

  1. The Portland Mercury – Portland’s best independent newspaper. Covers politics and local topics with a liberal, irreverent edge.
  2. Mother Jones – Also a liberal bastion of politics and current events. My anti-corporate skepticism and empathetic view of people would fit in very well here, I think.
  3. Wired – I’ve been reading Wired since the first month it came out. It’s where I honed my views on technology and the culture that surrounds it.
  4. Atlantic Monthly – In my mind, it’s the classiest place for narrative non-fiction.
  5. The New Yorker – Pretty much the pinnacle of prestige for writers of all stripes. They don’t normally accept unsolicited work, though, so I need to work my way up to this one.

I can think of a few other places but those five are a good target for my aspirations. Perhaps as I work on this, and do more research and reading, I can find more. There’s a whole world of paying publications for writers these days.

Right?

 

The mystery of Mason Parker

I have two pen pals that I need to send something to. One is in New Zealand and the other is in Massachusetts. I don’t know a lot about them. I was connected with them via a Slack group for a local art/tech festival I volunteer for, XOXO.

Not knowing much about them I figured the first thing I should do is tell them something about myself, because maybe they’re thinking the same thing on their end of the connection. I was pretty sure they had been to Portland, my home town, but they probably had never been to Sellwood, the neighborhood I live in and love.

I have three or four pieces of artwork by a local artist, sketches of different corners and streets in Sellwood, and two of those pieces are on greeting cards. I bought them a year or two ago in a boutique, called Fuchsia, just a few doors down from where I often drink and eat myself into oblivion.

I met the artist himself at a charity art show, in fact, where I purchased two of the four prints I own. I had gone there with some friends and had joked that I would only buy something if it was about my neighborhood, and that is exactly what I found.

And then earlier this year, I had seen him again, sitting with his easel on a sidewalk across the street from a breakfast diner I love far out of proportion with the quality of its food. He was sketching that corner, which in addition to the diner includes a dive bar and two different auto mechanics.

Yesterday, in the delightful gray rain, I put on my coat and fired up a podcast on my iThing and walked to that shop to pick up some more cards, to send to my pen pals. It’s an easy 20-25 minute walk.

I walked in, said hello to the lady behind the counter, and wandered around the greeting card aisles; when she asked me if I was looking for something specific I told her about the cards.

“Oh,” she said, her face falling, “we can’t get those cards anymore. The artist passed away.” She couldn’t remember the name of the artist and, sadly, neither could I.

Unsure what to say beyond that this was sad news, I ended up buying some cards of a different local artist, although these cards were not of my neighborhood. I still have to write in them and send them, which is the important part of being a pen pal with someone.

When I got home yesterday I looked at the signature at the bottom of the drawings I own. Mason Parker. I clicked around the site, a basic WordPress blog, and found that he had completed the painting of Bertie Lou’s (see above), and that he had artwork showing in Portland through December. That page was updated on 19 October 2015, in fact, just 10 days ago as I write this. There’s a list of stores that sell his cards and art–notably, it does not include the shop in my neighborhood. Did he really pass away?

Mr. Parker has a phone number listed and a P.O. Box and a PayPal link to order his art. I can’t tell if he’s not actually dead, or if his death was so recent that the site just hasn’t been updated.

Today, I’m going to call him just to check. I’m not going to wait.

How much do I need to know before writing a chapter?

Instead of actually writing the chapter (for now), I’m going to write (and think) about writing the chapter.

The scenes I’m working on in my not-yet-finished first-draft novel are pivotal ones. They’re intended to introduce two characters from previously unrelated storylines, and that meeting is going to affect almost everything that happens afterward. I know these characters and, once they’re introduced, I know, the way any writer or storyteller knows, how they’ll react and what bits and pieces of themselves they are willing to share with each other. I am not nervous at all about the interpersonal part of the scene.

The two characters are: a 3 term US Congressman who is facing an increasingly tough re-election campaign, someone who has a code of honor about his civic duty but might be willing to break some rules “just this once”; and a heart-broken woman serving in the US Army under DADT who regrets leaving the love of her life behind because she felt she had no other options for a career.

The parts that are giving me pause in writing are all the details of the setting in which they’re meeting: in and around, to the north and the south and the east and the west, of Baghdad, Iraq, during the height of US occupation.

All I know about the area is what I’ve seen in movies, and on TV. I don’t even really know much about military structure. What ranks would be doing what work? Who would she report to? Who would be there to meet the Congressman and his staff? How much leeway would each of them have to actually have a face-to-face conversation?

All these questions are nagging at me. I don’t want to fuck this up. I’m confident about the emotional elements of the story; the military and setting details, however, scare me. I don’t want to write things so poorly it kicks people who do know these matters out of the story.

I remind myself, however, that this is a first draft. I just need to get something down on paper (well, pixels), and when it’s done, I can have more knowledgeable eyes go over this (and every) section and tell me how to fix it. First draft is a long way from finished book. I can just focus on the parts I know.

Fingers, fly! Time to write.

Prepare for ads

Sometimes when you visit here, you may see an ad down at the bottom of the page. These ads are placed by WordPress, because I am currently on a free hosting plan. Maybe someday, after HBO buys the rights to the book I haven’t finished yet, I’ll be able to pay for actual hosting and avoid those ads. In the meantime, they should be unobtrusive; that’s what WordPress says, anyway.

In the meantime, however, I may be placing ads here myself. The current theme I’m using, Ecto, isn’t really a great one for ads, since the only place I can place ads is in the Sidebar, which is hidden away under a menu. So I’m looking at other themes that will allow me to put another ad or two on the page somewhere. Or there are plugins that allow me to inject ads into posts, but, man, that doesn’t really sit right with me. I may be just unaccustomed to advertising, however.

In any case, stay tuned for ads, but not a lot of ads, and with any luck at all, good targeted ads that aren’t racist, sexist, right-wing, or otherwise horrible.

If you ever see an ad here that’s offensive, please let me know, hopefully accompanied by a screenshot. I will do everything in my power to make sure such ads don’t appear here.

Thank you for reading. I appreciate you all.

Flash player is needed, except when it’s not

Earlier this week, I got the following pop-up message from Safari running on Mac OS X 10.11.0 El Capitan. I don’t now recall what site gave me the message.

View post on imgur.com

Using Flash as a Mac user has been annoying and sometimes even dangerous; there are exploits out that use Flash’s security holes to attack our computers, on top of the normal performance draining behavior of Flash. Apple and Adobe’s Flash have been in conflict for a good long while now.

“Most modern websites will work without Flash if you turn it off” you say? OK, sold. Gone. Goodbye, good riddance.

For the three days following that message and my response, I have noticed no significant difference in use. Honestly, I forgot about it. Until just now, I followed a link from the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Twitter feed with a sneak preview of next week’s episode (linking to the picture of the page because spoilers if you’re not caught up on the third season).

When I got to the ABC website, the page was overtaken by a banner that took up fully a third of the window. The banner read:

You either have an old version of Adobe Flash Player or do not have Adobe Flash Player installed which is required to use this site. Please install/upgrade Adobe Flash Player.

Which brought me back to that earlier Apple dialogue box. Am I going to have to re-enable Flash? Do I care about what happened to Simmons enough to do that?

What happens if I just click that play button?

What happens is… the video plays just fine.

But that damned banner is still there, telling me it won’t work.

Which is hilarious to me.

I feel as if I’m watching a contest between titans, the corporate persons who shape our daily lives. Apple, Adobe, ABC/Disney, flailing around, each defending their turf, and all I can do is stand and watch and laugh, because nobody really knows anything.

Tech is weird, y’all.

What criteria does Oregon use to determine independent contractor status?

Oregon Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian released an advisory opinion today stating that “sharing economy” taxi services Uber and Lyft drivers are employees, not independent contractors. Therefore, the drivers should be afforded the protections offered by law, such as being paid for each hour worked, safe working conditions, and remedies for discriminatory practices, among others.

It’s important to note that this opinion is simply advisory. The Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries hasn’t actually had to review a specific case, with specific details. The Commissioner is simply reviewing what is already known, primarily based on California administrative and court cases, and stating what they would decide based on that information. The Commissioner says that Uber’s practices in Oregon are “substantially the same”. New information may change BOLI’s opinion, of course.

So what are the criteria BOLI looked at to get to this opinion? Be sure to read the whole memo yourself; it’s in clear English, with very little legalese and jargon. But it boils down to the fact that drivers for Uber do not run their own business; they’re dependent on Uber for infrastructure, marketing, and for finding customers. Drivers can’t even set their own price, which would let them manage their business to avoid loss and gain profits. Uber reserves the right to screen, hire, discipline, and terminate drivers; drivers don’t work on a project or time-based contract, but indefinitely.

Basically, Uber retains control of the business; drivers don’t.

I can’t wait to see what Uber and Lyft say in response to this, beyond the one quote I’ve seen that they dispute this finding.

Your move, “Sharing Economy”.

Star Wars: Uprising

I did it. I gave in and downloaded Star Wars: Uprising for iOS.

Look, I’m a big Star Wars fan. I saw the Holy Trinity in the theaters before George Lucas started modifying and altering them. The last iOS game I became obsessed with was also a Star Wars franchise game, the Farmville-like Star Wars: Commander. The hours I lost there… When I heard that there was a new game that was more of an RPG, I resisted. Right up until a couple of friends mentioned that there was co-op play. I’m a sucker for doing things with my friends, even if it’s online. So I installed it.

I spent a half-hour launching the game, messing around with the character creation, and then closing it again, until I settled on my alter-ego: Lunar Strongarm, a smuggler who’s bumbling and brash and snarky but also eager to please his bosses.

Lunar Strongarm, eager but snarky smuggler, my character in Star Wars: Uprising
Lunar Strongarm, eager but snarky smuggler.

Here he is at Level 11, wearing some of his leveled-up gear. I like that the game classifies him as “sentient.” Good to know.

The time frame for the game is immediately after the events in Return of the Jedi. A crafty Imperial Governor named Abelhard has enacted an IRON BLOCKADE around Anoat System, preventing everyone within from learning of the destruction of the second Death Star and the death of Emperor Palpatine. Smugglers are struggling to move shipments in or out, and that’s where the players of the game come in.

I haven’t played a modern computer RPG in, like, forever (Skyrim doesn’t really count, does it?) but there’s a lot to learn in SW:U. Special abilities that use touch-screen gestures to activate. The ability to spend currency in the game to level up gear. Any gear you find, even that lowly cloth-and-twine backpack you find. And the amount of gear available seems overwhelming to me. My impression is that it’s similar to Destiny, in that you’re supposed to go look up what all this stuff does when you’re not actually playing the game. That helps with immersion, I suppose.

There’s several different kinds of currency, and they are all spent on different things. Crystals for upgrading equipment. Scrip for buying random junk gear. And credits, which are used in addition to the other kinds on everything. You can, of course, purchase more, trading real-world cash for in-game currency. What free-to-play game wouldn’t have that, these days?

There are many different kinds of missions, too, and they have you jumping around between worlds of the Anoat Sector, which location, if you’ll recall, didn’t much impress Princess Leia. It does, however, include the familiar worlds of Hoth and Bespin, and the new-to-me worlds of Mataou and Burnin Konn. There are story missions, daily and repeatable missions, and Sector Battle missions, which allow players to influence the Galactic Empire’s influence over each system.

My favorite mechanic of the game is sending my crew off on their own missions, though. That’s a nice way to keep gaining in-game currency for a casual player like me. And I finally joined a cartel today, which will let me play co-op and give me access to more experienced players for advice. I want to make a cartel with just my friends, but maybe after I’ve learned more about the game.

If it sounds like I’m skeptical and cynical about this, I am, a little. But overall I’m having a lot of fun. The Star Wars universe, even now, is like an old home to me, and any chance to play around in it is worthwhile. Even if it means distracting me from this pile of work I should be doing…

No one’s read the whole thing

I know reading about other people’s dreams can be terrible and boring but bear with me. Mostly I’m writing it down for myself because I thought it was funny, and maybe I can use it in one way or another down the line.

In my dream I was… somewhere… and these two men showed up. They were both wearing all black nylon/Kevlar tactical gear, helmets, bandoleers, night vision goggles, the whole set up. Stompy black boots. Carrying huge assault rifles. They were both doughy, pudgy middle aged white men. And they demanded I stop what I was doing, whatever it was (I don’t remember).

Me: You’re from the government, aren’t you?

Them: We don’t have to tell you that.

Me: Show me your official government identification or I’m going to keep doing this.

Them: <awkwardly looking at each other> Uh…

Me: You have to. I’m a citizen and it’s my right under the Patriot Act.

Them: It doesn’t say that!

Me: Oh, look at these guys! They’ve actually read the Patriot Act! OK, wise guys, tell me where it doesn’t say that and I’ll back off. You can’t, can you? That’s because nobody has read the Patriot Act! For all you know it could be in there! Now show me your IDs, stat!