That Big Gap in the Middle

That old novel idea has been bubbling around in my brain again. The idea has been with me for a long time, years now. I’ve made at least two attempts at it but I’ve never been able to write it all down, start to finish, so I hesitate to call my previous attempts “drafts”. I have spent a lot of effort on it, though, and I have tons of notes and character ideas and themes… but when I try to think of the actual plot, as in the series of events that happen over the course of the story, my brain just kind of fuzzes out.

I spent some time in the last couple of weeks stuffing clever people’s ideas about premise vs. plot into my head, and I came to the decision that I will write down everything I think needs to happen, and then see if that will tell me what I need to work on still.

So I did.

That big gap in the middle… that’s the problem.

Each color represents a different main character, although I have a couple of other characters I still need to add. But seeing it all laid out like that… you see that big gap in the middle-ish? That’s the part I’m struggling with. I don’t really know what happens there.

Turns out it was helpful to write it all down. I can spend some time thinking about that gap and figuring out what needs to happen to connect the beginning and end.

And, honestly… maybe it’s OK for the protagonist (in blue) to be simply reactive to what the antagonist is doing in the early part of the story. Maybe that leads to a breaking point where they have to push through their weakness, the one that keeps holding them back, and be more proactive.

I really identify with them right now. Time to be more proactive…

Learning to Be Bored Again

Discovered this article, and it made me want to… write about it:

Do Not Disturb: How I Ditched My Phone and Unbroke My Brain – by Kevin Roose.

I, like the author, don’t want to give up my phone entirely; I just want to use my phone but get back all the habits I had before I got one, like reading books, watching movies, and talking to my friends without interrupting myself by poking at the digital tit (that’s a bad metaphor, I know, don’t @ me).

This quote, in particular, stands out to me: “If I was going to repair my brain, I needed to practice doing nothing.” And that cuts right to the core: if I feel even a momentary, tiny amount of boredom, I reach for the phone, because it offers so many distractions from boredom.

But when I used to get bored, that’s when I would think about my life, my friends, story ideas, or just whatever was going on around me. So I guess my next step is to start identifying those urges to relieve boredom and see if I can deprioritize the phone and try something else instead.

I’ve done this before, or at least taken a step or two in this direction when I would practice reading with no internet time; an internet-free zone, if you will. I kept it up for a while but then the excuses for not doing it piled up to the point where I was back on my bullshit.

Like any habit or any skill, it’ll take time to get better at it. The first step is noticing, and then putting it into practice. Here I go again.

Yes, This Was a Real Dream

Just woke up from a dream
where I was telling my mom about
the time I decided to take the bus
downtown,
and got asked by a woman on a run
for a stick of gum
(which I didn’t have)
so I offered to buy her some
at the convenience store down the street
so I ran back into my apartment
to get some change from my change jar
and discovered my front room was a bar
with people wandering around
because the bar was having an open mic
but not until later (the bar opened at 4 PM)
so I shooed them out
and locked the door
and had to crawl out the window
to walk to the store
jingling the coins in my hand
and counting them over and over
to meet the woman
and buy her some gum.

Interactions of the Slow Decay of Physical Objects and Stress-induced Depression

Months ago, during the cold rainy late winter/early spring, my driver’s side window stopped going up just after I had gotten to work and shown the guard my badge. Having no time to deal with it on a cold rainy morning, I covered the window with a handy piece of cardboard and went to work.

That evening after work I drove my car over to my dad’s house, where he helped me with the initial diagnosis: the window switch for the power windows. I bolted the window closed, left the inside door panel off because I figured I’d put it all back once I had the part, and drove it that way for a couple of days.

But when the switch arrived, it turned out to not be the faulty part. Nope, it was the motor and regulator. Once more to search online for a cheap replacement, and another few days driving my car with the guts of the door exposed until the motor showed up.

But at the time I was going through a wearying game of not being able to pay my rent, and fighting with my landlord about it, and all my mental energy went towards two things: trying to keep my job so I’d at least have some money, and hoping I could land a better paying job so I could keep the apartment I had lived in for 19 years. I had no more energy for fixing a functional but decaying car.

I limped by with the window still bolted in place for another couple of weeks. The car’s state matched my mental state: just holding on but clearly falling apart. I couldn’t roll down the window, and with the inside door panel still not replaced, I had to pull a lever to open the door. But it was OK for now. And I thought I was OK for the moment, too.

Weeks later I did get the motor installed, and for now, the window went up and down. I was dismayed to find out, however, that the window still got stuck sometimes about halfway closed. I had to pull at it, or push it up from underneath, to get it to close completely sometimes. Not always, but often enough that I just stopped rolling down my window unless I absolutely had to.

I stopped rolling down the window when it was nice out; I’d just run the a/c. I didn’t roll it down for the security guards at work; just pressed my badge against the window. At gas stations, I’d open the door to give my credit card to the attendant unless I felt really lucky. I noticed that the window got jammed less frequently on warmer days, more on colder or wetter days.

But my stress and depression kept increasing, which led to me taking at least a day off every week, which meant I didn’t get paid (I’d long since used up my paid sick time), which meant it was harder and harder to pay my rent. A classic downward spiral.

Letters from lawyers began to arrive, and I had to do something, so I admitted defeat, packed up most of my stuff, and found a room with family I could stay in temporarily until I could find cheaper living quarters.

One day, I was getting out of my car, and the metal rod that opened the door got caught on a pocket of my pants. It tore my pants and snapped the rod out of place. I tried to see how it went back in but was too frustrated to really try.

Again, rather than fixing the mechanical problem, I just adapted to the new normal. I’d roll my window down to reach outside and unlatch the door that way. But I wouldn’t roll it all the way down; just to the point where it wouldn’t jam. And even then, sometimes the window needed a little push or pull to go all the way back up.

There I was, driving around with the guts of my door in my peripheral vision. It reminded me every time I drove that I was failing. Was my mental state causing me to give up? Or was I giving up and causing things to fail? I knew that the window jamming in the channels was causing strain on the motor, and it would all eventually fail. But for now…

It all worked… just barely. I could live with it. I had to work on finding a more permanent place to live. I had to keep my job. I had to focus on other things.

This past week, the window stopped going up and down again.  It made nasty grinding sounds. It happened when I was on my way to a drug test I had to pass to get a potential raise at work (long story made short: I would still be a contractor but there would be one less middleman taking a cut of my pay). I climbed over the center console and out the passenger door and realized I had let things slide too far.

I told no one about this until Saturday morning. I knew I had to repair this car. And I had the mental energy to do it because I had gotten the raise. I was fixing my financial life. I could fix my transportation, too.

I texted my friend Ken to ask him if he had any time soon to help me fix the window and the door latch and put it all back together. I needed help.

His reply:

Bring it over.

No questions asked. Just bring it over. I knew he had his kids this weekend and he loves his kids very much. I felt a bit of panic. Right now?! I asked him if I was interrupting any plans he had.

Meh. It’s fine. I miss my friend and need some normal interaction time.

I drove it over there and we disassembled the window again and found the broken part. A drive out to the U-Pull-It junkyard on a pleasant summer day, a hunt for the part, and then back to his garage. When we got it assembled, I pointed out it still was slow or sluggish at the same point and felt resigned to defeat.

Ken messed with the window a bit and pointed out that there was a way to adjust how the regulator was angled, and just like that, the window went up and down as smooth as butter.

Then he dug around in the door and got the metal rod back in place to open the door from the inside. All I had to do was replace the inside door panel, and it would be back to the normal level of old car, and not Millennium Falcon level of open panels and exposed wiring. I didn’t do that there, at Ken’s house, because the parts were all back at my house. But I instantly felt better.

Tonight, I got the door panel back on and took the car for a little spin before bedtime. I actually enjoyed driving it, instead of the dread and regret I felt for having neglected it for so long. It’s working now just as designed.

Did I fix my car because I am fixing my life? Or is fixing my life helping me get the things around me fixed, too? I had to ask Ken for help, something that has been very difficult for me, and I assumed he wouldn’t be able to. He, however, like most of my friends and family, was immediately ready to assist.

I didn’t have the capacity to ask for help these last several months; in fact, none of my friends even knew my car wasn’t working right. But now, knowing I’m getting paid more for the same work, I could ask.

Which part is cause, and which, effect?

Skyrim Memories – Coda

View post on imgur.com

As of today, about an hour ago, I collected my last achievement in Skyrim. Not even the Special Edition. Oldrim, the original.

Paid a guy online to transfer my saves to PC, bought a second copy of the game, and kept going. I’ve played stealth archer builds, magic-only builds. I’ve played it vanilla, I’ve modded it. I thought I’d done it all. I always assumed I was in it for the story and the immersion and that I didn’t care about being a completist. Figured I just had some Hearthfire achievements to get and didn’t care.

When the Special Edition came out, I started another whole playthrough, too, so there are another 150+ hours on a brand-new character.

When the Special Edition came out, I started another whole playthrough, too, so there are another 150+ hours on a brand-new character.

But… a couple of weeks ago I decided to see what achievements I still had left to get. There were 12: two of the College of Winterhold quests (despite me having done that whole quest chain at least three times; not sure why those were in there); a couple of crime-related ones like having a 1000 septim bounty in every hold or escaping from jail; fighting a legendary dragon, which, again, I am almost certain I have done several times on my highest-level ‘toon (level 81); craft something from stalhrim; and the aforementioned house-building achievements.

I’m done. But that doesn’t mean I’ve spent my last hour in Skyrim. I will return.

I love this game.

No Ghosts but What We Imagine

View this post on Instagram

No ghosts but what we imagine.

A post shared by Brian Moon (@lunarobverse) on

Went out to get some dinner, stopped at the library to pick up a hold, then didn’t want to go straight home. Saw the full moon in the deep indigo sky, yellow and unfocused by the high thin clouds, and just drove around and sang along with a favorite playlist.
 
And everything around me had a memory attached to it. I’ve lived in this patch of the world for so long now.
 
That song reminded me of a similar dark night in a different car a long time ago.
 
Drove through downtown Milwaukie and remembered seeing a movie with an old friend at the theater there on a similar cold night.
 
That back street? In high school, my friend with the car would drive up and down it, very fast, too fast. How did we never crash?
 
There’s the street corner I would wait for the bus when coming home from my girlfriend’s house.
 
I’ve lived here, in this little corner of Portland, in this 3 square mile patch of Oregon and America and the world, for so long now. I’m surrounded by ghosts, except I’m an atheist, so I call them memories.
 
I’m feeling sad and lost, and eager. Ready for change, and yet tired of changing. Rootless but grounded.
 
Goodbye old year. So long, farewell, see you never again.
 
Hello new year, hi, welcome, ready or not here I come.

A Simple Trick: Disabling a Specific Key

Most of the time, I learn something new because I have a problem to solve. I’ll tolerate some annoyances as long as they’re minor but if they go on for a while or start becoming worse, I go looking for a solution.

I’ve been playing Fallout 4 a bit lately. I know I’m not the most dextrous gamer around. I am, however, far more comfortable with mouse and keyboard than I am with any controller. So when I get into a combat situation and I start flailing around on the keyboard trying to shoot the super mutants, I have found myself hitting the Windows key, which pauses the game and drops me back to the desktop.

Supermutants are simple. Here, Strong tells us its entire character arc.
Super mutants are simple. Here, Strong tells us its entire character arc.

The first few times I just groaned, alt-tabbed back to the game, hit ESC and carried on. But it kept happening. I knew there must be a way to just turn off the Windows key entirely, at least while I was playing. Trouble is, I use that key regularly when I’m not playing. What about a more elegant solution?

Enter AutoHotkey (AHK). It’s a scripting program that runs in the background, waits for keyboard input, and then uses that to trigger actions. I use it as a text expander already: when I type “sphn”, for instance, AHK will expand that to my phone number. Super handy!

And as it turns out, there’s a way to get to have specific key combinations tied to specific programs. So I could have it just ignore the Windows key, but only when Fallout 4 had the focus.

I went looking, and found that I only had to add the following lines to an AHK script I’m already using:

#IfWinActive, ahk_class Fallout4
~LWin Up:: return

The first line tells AHK to only run the next line if the window that’s named “Fallout4” is the active window. And the next line is what I want to happen: do nothing at all when the Windows key is released.

Now, no matter what flailing I do when feral ghouls attack, I won’t take myself out of the game by tapping the wrong key, letting me stay in the moment. Much better!

There’s probably plenty more uses for this trick, like re-mapping all the controls (or just the annoying ones) in a stubborn program. Thankfully, AHK is well-documented. For now, though, I’m happy I went looking for the answer to this question.

Books For Free

I spent Monday with Terry, going through a house on his street, basically looting with permission of the owners. 

The owner has sold the house and moved out, leaving behind lots and lots of stuff. The house is going to be torn down and something new built on the lot. The owners are pocketing a nice profit. Such is Portland these days. 

But the reason Terry and I were interested was the fact that the owners were big fans of sci-fi and fantasy, and they had a lot of books. I recovered 19 titles, plus a blank pocket sized journal, some of which I’ve read long ago, most of which I have not. 

A big pile of books.
A big pile of books.

I already have a nice pile of “to be read” books, though, so who knows when I will get to any of these. But more books are always welcome. They’re less trouble than taking in stray cats, for sure. 

Dad Stories

My dad is a natural storyteller, and I’ve long wanted to capture some of them on video. Finally got a chance to test the waters. Here’s a short teaser.

Want to see more?

Focus Training Day

I did it. I spent the entire morning completely unplugged. I woke up around 7:30 AM, turned off my phone, turned off my computers, made some breakfast, wrote in my journal, and then read through two full, honest-to-Sagan, paper books.

No computer screens. No teevee showing a binge of YouTube or Netflix. No taking breaks every few minutes to see what was trending on Facebook or  Twitter. I didn’t even really know what time it was, exactly; the only clock I have that isn’t also a computer is on the microwave in the kitchen, and I only went in there to get more coffee.

I woke up and wrote a page in my journal, longhand, just organizing my thoughts. I haven’t written in my journal since October last year.

I’ve felt distracted and despairing that I would ever be able to read a book in a reasonable amount of time ever again. Every time I’ve tried, recently, I get nervous and distracted and eventually give up, even on “easy” reads. Even on short books.

I’ve had Charles Bukowski On Cats on loan from the library since August last year. I’ve renewed the damned thing over and over again. It’s barely 120 pages, and it’s poems and short-short stories and vignettes and drawings. And still, I haven’t been able to finish it. This morning, I read through it while making breakfast (scrambled eggs, bacon, garlic hashbrowns, English muffin, coffee), and then while I was eating breakfast and then finishing it.

I finished it. And it was still early. I had planned to stay offline until noon, if I could manage it. I sat in my office and looked out the window and felt the pull to turn on my computer, if only to update Goodreads, tell the world I’d finished this book.

Instead, I got up, put the sheets in the laundry, and pulled down another book on my “to be read” pile: Hunter Stockton Thompson’s Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas. Sat down on the couch and started reading. Got to about page 40, flipped ahead to see that the whole thing was only 200 pages, realized I could put a serious dent in this before my self-imposed screen jail time had elapsed.

When I reached the end of Part One, almost exactly halfway through, I got up, stretched, pulled the sheets out of the dryer and put them on the bed, and noted the time: 10:30 AM. I could finish this book in one sitting. Like I’d done in the distant past. I actually had the focus, the drive, the attention span to read a whole novel in a few hours.

I can’t tell you what a revelation and what a relief this is to me. Once I got into HST’s prose, I stopped worrying what was trending on Twitter. I no longer cared what arguments were happening on Facebook. I did, briefly, wonder if my friends or family were trying to reach me, but I allowed myself to feel that anxiety, then kept reading. I’d be available all too soon. I can catch up. The world can wait for just a bit longer.

And I have returned. I feel calmer and less stressed. Reading is meditative. Having the words of someone else in my brain lets me soothe the fears of my own inner voice. I’m recharged, and ready to return to the global consciousness.

Take a break from the Internet from time to time. It helps.