Categories
general

Film, memoirs, rollovers

I just got back from another walk around NAS Alameda with two of my film cameras, the Vivitar point-and-shoot and the Canon QL-17. Nice weather for a walk, although there was some event going on and the west side of the island was far too busy for me. I should probably get used to that, because at some point, they’ll tear down the old barracks and put in live/work condos and it will always be this busy.

Shooting with that Vivitar is always weird, because sometimes I forget it isn’t the same one that I bought in 1993 and had back in the 90s. When I’m walking around the Bay Area with it, it’s a strong memory hole back to my first trip to California in 1996.  Looking at grainy, faded analog pictures (like the one above) reminds me so much of that trip, and the late 90s San Francisco, and it makes me wonder what it will be like in 2045, looking at 20-megapixel DSLR images on whatever crazy 3-D 200K screens we’ll be staring at by then. (Provided I still have vision in 25 years. And will still be alive.)

I made a vow to not buy any more film until I shot everything I have on hand, and I did that today, minus the 20-some shots of black-and-white still in the Canon. I’m expecting some crazy supply-chain stuff that’s going to completely throw that off, though. I haven’t bought any film since 2018, and I’m sure things have changed. I’ve got a dozen rolls waiting to be processed, so maybe when I drop those off at Mike’s Camera next weekend, I’ll see what they have in stock. Or, it’s off to eBay.

* * *

Writing is still going nowhere. This week, I was revisiting a book I started writing in 2012. I’ve tried a few times writing a book that is basically a Summer Rain prequel, that takes place in the summer of 1989, between high school and college. I’ve had at least two false starts totaling maybe 100,000 words between them, and they always die about halfway through. I started a very Raymond Federman-esque book in ’12 that was about the attempts to write this book, and the problems therein. It came from reading Double or Nothing too many times.

I thought I’d revisit it, thinking about how I look back at that era as a 50-year-old, and all of the problems I have now with nostalgia. And maybe a meditation on the need to write a memoir, and why it’s a bad idea, or has been distorted or changed in recent years. I think when I was living in that era, and a bunch of stuff happened that summer, I always thought, “this would make a great book,” because it all lined up so exactly with the traditional novel plot curve, and the events were so extraordinary or traumatic or whatever. That was before I considered myself a writer, and back then, writing a book was a giant, insurmountable goal, like climbing a mountain or running a marathon. The idea of “getting published” was such a high bar, a lofty thing, and I always thought maybe someday I would.

Now, I’ve published so many books I can never remember how many and have to look it up any time someone asks. (It’s seventeen, more or less.) Anyone can publish their own book in five minutes. And the national zeitgeist isn’t about publishing a book, because nobody even reads books anymore. It’s about going viral, making a fifteen-second video that catches on, or whatever. Old man shakes fist at air, I know.

The other main reason I need to put this down is I know I have some deep, unsettled trauma about those years. It’s not like Trauma trauma, like I watched my parents get killed after going out to a movie and had to become a crime fighter dressed as a Chiroptera. But there’s some heavy unresolved something there, something that’s best left alone. Nothing specific, just generalized. I don’t want to spend my time going back anymore. But it’s a problem that when I’m faced with a blank page and no ideas, that’s where I go.

* * *

Nothing else. I wasted about half of today trying to figure out how to roll over an IRA from Schwab to E*Trade. That place I worked in Denver got bought by McAfee a long time ago, and I had like a month of 401K stuck there, which got moved to an IRA, and they mailed everything to my old address and it got lost. After much phone tag, I found it sitting in an account at Schwab, then promptly forgot all about it. I just remembered, and 25% of it is gone because of fees. I thought transferring it would involve actually finding a fax machine in 2021, but it appears they take a PDF by email. Fingers crossed.

Categories
general

videos, writing, programming, pocket computer

I am sort of done with the Random Life project. There are 100 videos there now. It was fun digging through some old stuff, but I got almost zero reaction from anyone out of it, and maybe it was a dumb idea. Oh well. Maybe in two or three years, I’ll look at it again and it will be interesting.

Been insanely busy with a big work release, and that’s finally done, but I haven’t been back on the horse with anything writing since then. It’s the time of year where I start to panic about not getting a book published this year, since the last year I had nothing published was 2010. But I’m in a weird place right now, where I am having a lot of trouble writing anything cohesive. I am just repeating myself at this point, and I really don’t like what I’ve been doing the last few books. And a lot of people agree, based on my sales numbers. So who knows what I will do. Maybe I will pull something together in the next 96 days. Or maybe I will pick up this writing thing after I retire. I really don’t know.

* * *
For whatever reason, I started programming again. One of the three projects I always take up when I think I’m going to learn programming is writing a Zork-like game, a text-based RPG. Yes, I could just use Twine or some other game engine to do this. I mean, I could just play Zork. This is mostly just a dumb hobby for me to do because I can’t write, I don’t want to spend two thousand dollars on a gaming PC, and I am not about to start playing golf.

So I started writing this game in straight vanilla C, with nothing but the standard library. I still know a remarkable amount of C, given that I think I learned it thirty years ago. What I didn’t remember is that C is such a pain in the ass to work with. Every data structure that isn’t an integer requires you to either write or steal a library to do it. Dynamic arrays? DIY. Binary trees? You’re on your own. It all involves pointers and malloc’ing memory, and every time I would write ten lines of code, I’d think, “well, that’s going to break in actual use” or “that’s completely insecure.” I got a few hundred lines into the thing before I decided to switch to using Ruby.

I guess Ruby is now an inherently uncool language. All the cool kids use Rust, or JavaScript, or maybe Python. I first started messing with Ruby in the context of Rails development in 2006 or 2007, and spent a couple of years doing a ton of it, on a brief  sabbatical from tech writing. Haven’t done much since then, but I thought maybe I’d do this game in Ruby, no Rails, no ActiveRecord, no crazy gem dependencies. I think it took me about 25 minutes to redo the couple of days of work I did in C.

It was easy to get lost in this, but I also ran into a few issues. The first is the constant though of “nobody uses Ruby anymore.” The other is thinking that some bit of code is a very un-Ruby way to do things. I started reading more about Ruby, and it sort of drove me nuts because the Ruby way to do stuff is usually inherently unreadable. It’s neat and cool, but in my mind, doing a “if this thing is nil, do something else” is more readable than “do something else unless this thing is nil.” I realize I’m probably losing all of you non-programmers here, and I’m being pedantic, but I have some basic fear of writing this thing, publishing it on GitHub, and then having a seasoned veteran look at it like I’d look at a Reddit DIY post about some idiot who proudly enlarged their living room by removing every load-bearing interior wall in their house.

Also I get to the “why are you even doing this?” point. And the fact that I’m relaxing after a dozen of hours of hacking away at unreadable garbage in the Atom editor and pushing it to GitHub by spending a few hours hacking away at unreadable garbage in the Atom editor and pushing it to GitHub. So, yeah. How much does golf cost?

* * *

I bought this “Pocket Computer” – a Sharp PC-E500S. It came out in 1995, and has 32KB of memory. It’s roughly half the size of an iPad lengthwise, about 9×4 inches, maybe 3/4-inch thick. It has a 4×40-character display, LCD, and more or less a full QWERTY keyboard, except plastic little keys like a calculator. You can write BASIC programs in it, but it also has a bunch of crazy engineering software in it, so you can do integral calculus or pull up a periodic table of elements. It runs forever on four AAA batteries.

I don’t really know what I’ll do with it. I won it on a lark – made a hail mary offer on it on eBay, and the seller accepted. It has a serial port that uses a connector I’ve never seen, and a cartridge port for proprietary memory cards that are impossible to find. It is slightly more useful and interesting than the Casio FX-7000GA I have from 1990, which currently spends its time in a storage container in my closet. I need to keep in mind that buying things doesn’t really give me the joy I think it will.

* * *

The helicopter picture above is apropos of nothing. It’s from my Alaska trip in 2006. I think I’m at the point where I want to go back to Alaska, and I’m currently stuck with a bunch of Alaska Air credits I can’t use, but who knows when it will be safe to get back up there. I sometimes think it would be cool to go further north, head up to Fairbanks, but I don’t know the logistics of it. Maybe at some point.

Categories
general

Tired, the nolo dumpster

index cards

Spent an obscene amount of money yesterday on new car tires. That’s the exciting point of my month. I got the factory-stock Michelin tires and a full alignment job at a place in West Berkeley. The car had a horribly shimmy, the steering wheel vibrating and always pulling a bit. The whole thing took about two hours, and it now drives like new.

I think this was the first time I’d ever paid full price for an entire set of new tires with all the fixins. On my Yaris, I did get a set of four tires from this semi-shady place in West Oakland I used to go to every time I needed a tire patched. They were some oddball name of tires, and probably cost half as much. I think I traded in the car a year or so later, and the shop got arsoned for insurance money. Way back in Seattle, I had two blowouts in my old Escort, and bought one-off tires, but not a new set. And when I was a kid, I would go to Discount Tire or a gas station and buy used tires, try to find something with decent tread for five bucks each.

Actually I take that back, I did get new tires on my VW Rabbit back in 1997 or 1998. I went to a Sears auto center in West Seattle, which I’m sure is long gone. I remember this clearly because I pulled an all-nighter the night before and then left work early, in a near-hallucinatory state where nothing was real, but everything was forever burned in my brain.

So when I bought this Rabbit, the person before me had cut the springs to lower it (as if a Rabbit is not low enough), then put giant rims on it, maybe sixteen-inch and way too wide. The tires, some low-profile racing thing, were nearly bald, and getting the car above fifty on the highway was absolutely harrowing. I decided the car needed to go back to stock, and I had a bonus check hot in my pocket, so that’s what I did.

There was a junk yard in West Seattle that was nothing but VW and Audi parts. I always had lots of fun wandering around that place, looking at turbo motors cut out of Quattros. I’m sure it’s also gone, built up into condos. Anyway, I got a set of the steel thirteen-inch rims for ten bucks each, brought them to Sears, and got them to throw a set of stock-ish tires on for maybe forty bucks a tire. They mounted and balanced everything, then found out I didn’t have the right lug nuts (VW steel wheels use those tapered or flared-end ones) so I had to drive back to the junk yard. The dude at the counter reached in a bucket, pulled out about two dozen of the lugs, and said no problem, on the house. With the new tires, the car drove 100% better. I got back to Pill Hill, ate some lunch, and slept until dinner, when I got a quart of sweet and sour chicken in a plastic container from the Chinese restaurant on the roof of the giant new QFC in Cap Hill, and worked on my writing for the night.

* * *

Been trying to get some big writing underway, running into the usual problems. I don’t like to get into this stuff, but I’ve got a book that’s probably 100,000 words, and I’m very unhappy with it, and not sure how to land it. I had a big idea to shift around things a bit, and that kept me busy for about a week, but it’s fizzled out since then.

I keep thinking about Rumored, and the struggle to finish that one. I thought I finished the first draft of that thing in maybe 1996, and struggled to get it really swinging for the next six years. The photo in this post is a failed attempt in maybe 2001 to print summaries of each section, so I could rearrange them… or something. (This didn’t work.) This was when I wrote the whole thing as one giant text file in Emacs. Now in Scrivener, I’d just drag and drop the various pieces, but back then, it was an arduous task. The problem still remains though: the definition of done. I never know when the story makes enough sense to ship it. This current book is something I thought would be done in 2014 or 2015, and every year, I wasn’t sure if I was 80% done or 20%. I’m still not sure.

* * *

Took a long walk, maybe an hour and change, while they had the car up in the air yesterday. This was West Berkeley, and I decided to do the walk without headphones. It’s a very quiet area on the weekends, lots of pharma companies and art studios, with a few old houses that remind me of many of the off-campus houses in Bloomington, like the sixth street house where I finished up my last year in town. There’s always a nostalgia about those places, but many are vanishing, being replaced by a ten-unit condo crammed onto the same size lot.

One building that I didn’t know was a thing until it closed in 2018 is the old Fantasy Studios. This was “the house that Credence built,” a record studio where a ton of famous records were recorded. Journey’s albums Escape and Frontiers were both made there, as well as key releases from Green Day to Primus to Europe (yes, The Final Countdown was done there) and even Santana’s “Smooth” featuring Rob Thomas. It’s a fairly nondescript building, and is now mostly offices, although I guess a few floors of it still do film production.

An odd bit of reverberation here – although he didn’t record there, when Joe Satriani used to live in Berkeley back in the early 80s, he was in a pop trio band called The Squares, and they rehearsed at a building a block over from Fantasy. One time after practice, he was looking at a pile of remaindered books by a dumpster. Nolo books was in the building — they still are, actually — and in the pile of legal how-to books was one on how to start your own business. This was a period when he couldn’t get a record label to even answer his mails, so he decided screw it, paid the twelve bucks at the courthouse to register a business, and Rubina Records was born.

Anyway, it’s weird to me to think about how in 1987 or so, I was listening to a tape of his first album in my car a million miles away, and I imagined Berkeley as this mystical, mythical place that I didn’t even think was on the same plane of existence as my small Indiana town. And thirty-some years later, I’m walking around his old stomping ground, looking at the same gritty warehouse buildings he used to practice in when he was probably making less money than I used to pull in at Taco Bell back then.

* * *

Anyway. Day off today. I should probably leave the house and find something to do.

Categories
general

1/9

  • Been hard to write this week for obvious reasons. I guess I blew that “post every day this year thing” about five days in.
  • Started writing a big diatribe about that, but I can’t get into it right now. Maybe later.
  • I did not step foot out of the apartment for about nine days. I think I went downstairs to get the mail once. They put a new keyfob on the garage last Monday, and I didn’t know about it until Friday.
  • I’m on this new diet or whatever, because of the various cardio stuff last year. I wish I could be eating an entirely plant-based diet, but it’s hard for me. Getting protein but keeping a low-fat diet is the big issue.
  • (I know, “eat more good fat.” I can’t. That doesn’t work at all. Fat is fat for me. I know, some Keto magazine says it should, and it works for you. It doesn’t for me. I took a DNA test that proved this, so stop hassling me with the eating sticks of butter thing.)
  • I have been getting food delivered from Thistle. It tastes pretty good, and the delivery service is decent. It’s not cheap, but neither is a heart attack. If you’re really interested, here is an affiliate link.
  • I am not a Vegan. I’m eating basically 18 or 19 meals a week that would be considered vegan, but cheating on Friday and Saturday night, and maybe Sunday.
  • Even if I ate entirely plant-based meals 100% of the time, I would not say I’m a Vegan. This isn’t a political, environmental, or belief-based thing. I don’t give a shit what you do. There’s going to be times when I need to have a pepperoni pizza. Also see the first line above about how well I keep resolutions.
  • (I did start the Thistle thing two weeks into December, so it’s not entirely a new year thing.)
  • I went to fly the drone today at Treasure Island. First flight this year. It was also the first time I flew over water, which scared me a bit.
  • Flying a drone in the Bay Area is problematic. There’s lots of airspace you can’t fly in. You can’t fly in any East Bay, California, or National parks. The Karen situation also makes me want to stay away from people, and there are people everywhere here.
  • Treasure Island problems: birds, lots of low power lines, I’m not supposed to fly over the Bay Bridge.
  • My drone has ADS-B, which warns me when a manned aircraft is nearby. It’s a great feature, but Treasure Island is peppered with little Cessnas zipping over at low altitude, so lots of alerts. Also, every time a helicopter takes off in SF, I get a warning.
  • I don’t know where to post my pictures and videos. Most of them are not that great. I’m still getting used to flying. Also, I’m technically not supposed to post them on YouTube because I don’t have a license.
  • I bought a test book for the Part 107 license for flying drones. It’s funny because you need to know so much that is not applicable. Like 30% of the test is answering esoteric weather questions, and the rule for drones is “do not fly in any weather conditions whatsoever.” You also have to know every detail about airport traffic patterns and how to read signs on runways, but you’re not allowed to fly anywhere near an airport.
  • I’ve been trying to write random stuff each day. I’ve done this regularly, for the last few years. I sit down and try to automatic write at least 500 words. Then I sift through it later and see what to glue together, what to expand and turn into stories.
  • It’s very hard to think of stuff to write for these. It’s even harder to think of new things a million words later. And no, those writing prompt web sites don’t work.
  • I think I started doing this 500-word thing with Atmospheres. So that was six or seven years ago, seven books.
  • I think this system doesn’t work well anymore. It fulfills the need for creating every day, but it’s harder and harder to think of ideas. And then at some point, I have to stop and somehow collate things together.
  • Basically, I need a new system. I don’t know what that is yet.
  • I also feel like I need a new hobby. The drone thing isn’t cutting it, because it’s so hard to get out and do regularly.
  • My previous hobby I never focused on (no pun intended) was photography. Maybe it is pun intended, because I am losing my eyesight, and I’ll be damned if I can ever manually focus a picture. If I can see the subject, I can’t see the viewfinder, and vice-versa. And I can never see that little screen, especially in daylight.
  • I keep thinking about building a PC for some reason. I recently looked up prices, and it’s impossible. Video card speculation is rampant. You can’t buy a $200 card from four years ago that’s completely obsolete for $600 online, never mind a current one.
  • (I just checked: a $699 RTX 3080 is going for $1400-1500 on eBay.)
  • I wish I could draw, or had the patience to get back into music.
  • Maybe I should paint Warhammer figurines. Although I have no interest in fantasy games. And see above about eyesight.
  • I collected stamps when I was maybe 10. There probably won’t be a post office for much longer now. I also went through a coin collecting phase maybe twenty years ago, but we’re in a coin shortage right now. And people hoard gold.
  • I’ve been watching this Ewan McGregor thing where he’s motorcycling across all of South America on an electric Harley-Davidson with his friend. I also re-read that Neil Peart book where he rode all over the continent on his motorcycle.
  • The McGregor thing is very cool because the photography is amazing, seeing Machu Picchu and Chile and Argentina and whatnot. Lots of drone shots, BTW.
  • One weird coincidence they did not mention: they spent some time visiting some kids at a UNESCO site or something who Quechua people. In the Star Wars movies, the Huttese language that many on Tatooine spoke, including McGregor’s character, is based on Quechuan.
  • I could not get a motorcycle. I would get killed in fifteen minutes flat. I don’t have the balance to ride a regular bicycle. I’ve broken my arm twice on a regular ten-speed.
  • I’m still a bit freaked out that I turn 50 in a week and a half. Yes, I’ve priced out new Corvettes. I don’t even know where I would park a Corvette, let alone drive it. It would be a matter of when and not if on it getting stolen.
  • Big things happening on my birthday nationally, but once again, not ready to write about that, either.
Categories
general

The perks of being a blocked writer

Okay, in my last post, I alluded to being stuck between two places writing-wise, and I didn’t get into that.  So, now I will.  But of course, I’ll go off on another tangent first.

I saw the movie The Perks of Being a Wallflower this weekend, mostly because I heard Cloud Atlas was a disaster.  I wasn’t entirely sure I would like the movie, partly because I thought it was completely out of my demographic, and partly because I’ve read the book at least twice and don’t remember a damn thing about it.  But I went, and I actually liked the movie a lot.  I liked it so much, I came home at ten at night, picked up the book, and plowed through the whole thing before I went to bed.  And then, as I went to bed and after I got up in the morning, I felt… I don’t know.  Maybe a mix of depression, nostalgia, enthusiasm, and dread, the emotional equivalent to when you get a fountain beverage and randomly fill it with a mix of every flavor, a Pepsi-Mountain Dew-rootbeer-orange-Sierra Mist-tea.  And it’s hard to describe it, because there were a few different things going on, and I’d have to explain every one of them to cover this.

First off, Perks had the typical high school coming-of-age tropes in it, opposites-attract, she’s-out-of-my-league, grass-is-greener, self-medication with drugs, rock-will-save-us-all, early-90s-are-the-new-80s, and about 17 more.  It’s all weaved together well, and maybe I feel bad for liking such commercial dreck.  It did contain enough emotional context that linked to my own teen experience, though, that it made me really enjoy and envy it.  The envy part is the big problem.  The reason I avoid reading these kinds of books now is that when they’re good, I want to write them.  And I’ve proven to myself that I can’t, and I shouldn’t.  But should I?

My last three books have all been a sort of mix of lowercase-b bizarro and absurdist humor.  I think they’re pretty damn close to my voice, and I think any of you who have read these books and have known me in person would agree.  Throw Rumored at the front end of that trio, and you’ve plotted a glide slope that pretty much defines who I am or who I will be as a writer.  It’s a solid 750 pages or so of work that very much describes what’s going on in my mind and sets the pace for what my next books should be.  After I finished Sleep Has No Master a few months ago, the plan was to write a Rumored 2 of sorts, maybe a different structure or gimmick, but a full-sized, nonlinear hunk of absurdity that did what Rumored did ten years ago.  I’ve even got a publisher that’s basically waiting for me to write the next book, so they can put it out.

But then, I sort of locked up.  Part of that is the reception of the last book, which has been piss-poor at best.  I think it’s a damn good book, but it’s been sort of lost in the mix.  Maybe the title and cover make no sense, or it’s the fact that it just doesn’t easily plug into a genre.  But it hasn’t sold, and it’s always hard to get working on something new when the last thing didn’t entirely work out.  There’s also the fact that I essentially put together three books in a period of just over a year, and the well is kinda dry.  I really wanted to push and get another book done by the end of the year, but I’m finding myself stumbling on ideas.

The other issue is that I don’t entirely know where I fit in.  I said lowercase-b bizarro because the more I read from the Bizarro movement, the more I think I don’t slot into it very well.  Most Bizarro is this sort of Troma film horror-comedy stuff, and I don’t really do that.  But I also don’t fit into the experimental or absurdist worlds, either, which seem to be the PhD-dominated academic community.  And forget the mainstream scifi community.  I probably spend too much time thinking about community and where I fit in and all of that shit, and I guess I’ve always worried about that, even before I was a writer.  But I can’t shut it off, and I don’t have easy answers, and it can become enough of a distraction to block me.

And… sorry, another tangent… okay, I read this biography of David Foster Wallace, and it talks about how he thought Mark Leyner was the antichrist because his satiric writing wasn’t sincere, or something like that.  And when I read that, it sort of pissed me off, because I love Leyner’s writing, and it made DFW sound like a blowhard.  But with all of this stuff in my head, it started to make sense.  I love writing the stuff that I have written in the last couple of years, but if I had to capture and dump the emotions I felt during this film and book, I think it would be completely out of scope of this absurdist humor thing.  I mean, I could start to throw down a coming-of-age tale, but it would be about a kid who goes to high school to learn how to anally insert DMT into zoo animals from his teacher, Lyndon LaRouche.  (Wait, gotta write that down in the idea book…)

I’ve tried this kind of sincere, modernist, realist writing.  I’ve had some success at it in short stories; if you’ve read my story “Burial Ground,” I think that’s pretty spot-on of what I can do.  And some of you (okay, three of you) may have read Summer Rain.   I have two other books up on blocks in the yard like the trailer park Trans Am with no motor or wheels, one about high school, and another about college.  Summer Rain was the best of the three; the other two, there’s about 150,000 words of nothing.  Every now and again, I think about going back and trying to duct tape enough crap onto either of those manuscripts to get them out there, but Summer Rain itself isn’t selling.  I think I’ve learned a lot more about plot and character since I tried writing these other two books, and when I see them, I do see what’s wrong with them, and think about how I could restructure or rewrite them so they would fit.  But part of me thinks this would be a huge step backwards.  And it’s a tough wall to beat against.  It’s also depressing to think that even if I did manage to turn out a stellar coming-of-age book about growing up in the 80s in Indiana, I would have a tough road ahead of me in the marketing and sale of the thing.

So, caught between two worlds.  And this is why practicing bass instead of writing has been very helpful lately.  I have 40,000 some words written of this Rumored 2 project, and it makes absolutely no sense right now.  I know I will have to eventually knock back into it and come up with a structure and get the thing done, but it’s tough.  Playing major scales against a metronome until my fingertips look like ground hamburger is much easier.

 

Categories
general

Back to bass

Me and my Carvin fretless bass, freshman dorm, 1990.

I have not been writing.  I’m sort of stuck between two places.  More on that in a bit.

I went into my usual writer’s block mantra of “I wish I did something other than write”, which motivated me to go to our storage locker and pull out my bass guitar and amp.  Before I put pen to paper, I used to play bass.  I sold my first bass when I left Bloomington, and in a strange act of serendipity, I saw a used bass exactly like my first one the week I left Seattle, and had to buy it.  I think I played it a total of five times before it went into storage forever, because I was too busy writing books and had all but forgotten how to play.

And I’ve dragged the thing across the country 19 times or whatever, and have not touched it since probably 1999.  But like I said, I had this urge to go buy a guitar or learn to paint or draw or do anything other than write, and I had this thing sitting in storage, so I brought it home, and thought if people who have strokes can re-teach themselves how to talk at the age of 80, I can re-teach myself how to play bass at 41.  Right?

I have this Cort headless bass. A cheap cousin to the Steinberger bass, it screams 1980s in a way big hair never could.  It’s got bad tone and a little fret buzz and the pickups need to be adjusted and I can’t get them right, because the E string is way louder than everything else.  But it’s still in once piece, and it works, and it was a number of Franklins cheaper than going to Guitar Center and buying a new one.

My original Cort was actually my second bass.  My first one I bought from the JC Penny catalog towards the end of my senior year of high school.  It was all plastic and China and stayed in tune for about seven minutes in a row, if you didn’t touch it.  My high school graduation present to myself was this Cort bass, which I saw used at a store in South Bend on a day I happened to have all of this graduation money in my pocket.  The electronics were stripped out of it, just the pickups and bare wires, no back cover and three holes where knobs were supposed to be.  I never really got the thing wired well, and always had problems with RF interference.  I got it refretted when I was a freshman in college, and traded that JC Penny bass for the fret job from a luthier student named Dorian.  (Never asked if he had brothers named Mixolydian, Locrian, etc.)

I’ve forgotten almost everything about music.  And my fingers are doing even worse.  I started trying to play scales and whatever little riffs I could remember, and my digits are nowhere near close to being in the right places.  Every other note is early or late or buzzing or uneven.  I wasn’t really sure how to proceed, so I started googling, and got information overload.

When I first learned to play the bass, it was 1989.  We did not have youtube.  I can now pull up instantly any number of instructional videos and pause and rewind and watch these guys explain and play and theorize and show off.  We had VHS back then, but that sucked.  I had a dub of a Stu Hamm instructional video, but one of my sisters recorded over it, and you couldn’t pause and rewind like you can now with DVDs.  I think our old VHS was one of those pieces of shit where hitting pause and then rewind took 19 seconds, and it made all of these clunking noises like a big block chevy running with no oil in the pan.  That’s all changed.

When I used to want some tab to learn new songs, I would have to walk to the music store (uphill, both ways) and get some shitty Mel Bay book that would have tab for “When The Saints Go Marching In” or whatever.  Now, there are a million web sites that have tab for days that you can download and print at home.  And there’s a site that plays the tab like a player piano, playing the guitar and drums so you can practice along with it.

The internet has also changed how you shop.  Nothing beats going to a guitar store and trying everything out, but when I was a kid, the music stores in Indiana were shit, and had the bare minimum of stock, all marked up to hell.  When I had to get strings for my headless bass — it takes strings with a ball on each end — I had to drive to Chicago, and pay something like $50 for them.  Now, Amazon, one click, done.  In and out for $25.  And ebay — jesus.  Put “Fender Jazz” into ebay and see where all of my time on the couch in front of the TV is going.

I can also plug my bass into my computer now, which is freaky.  It used to be you would save up a paycheck or two for one of these PortaStudios, which were really finicky about what kind of tapes you used and how often you cleaned them, and would lose quality after each generation of recording, and you still had to deal with a running tape and punching in at the right time and all of the hassles of analog.  Now, I fire up garage band, drop in some loops, and click to my non-linear heart’s content.  It’s very amazing.

Things are slowly coming back to me.  I’m obsessed with practice.  I’ve promised myself that for every hour I practice, I have a dollar to spend on a new bass.  I practiced five hours yesterday, and my left fingers are hamburger.  My technique has a long way to go, but I’m remembering theory, slowly.  It’s been a lot of fun.  It’s a lot more fun than banging my head against the wall because I can’t write.

About that, I guess I mentioned at the beginning of the post that I would talk about that.  But I’m out of time and this is a thousand words already, so maybe next time.

 

 

Categories
general

Force

I’m trying to force myself to write daily, not just the fiction writing, but some kind of post here, to keep the momentum going, but also to get out of my system this sketching, the rote description of the past and the present, which isn’t the kind of writing I do for stories and books, or at least it won’t be anymore.

That thing to the right, by the way, is the Claremont resort, where we went for Thanksgiving.  The inside reminds me of the hotel in The Shining, although it’s been so long since I’ve seen that flick, it might look completely different in comparison.  Other things I am reminded of include the extended family of Carter on ER, and all of the various athletic clubs I’ve visited in the past. I also feel slightly insulted that they haven’t nagged me about a membership yet.  I figured I would have been spammed to hell and back to pay a monthly fee roughly the same as my mortgage payment to use the tennis courts and rub elbows with the 1%.

So, force.  I never get stuff done.  I have a huge collection of books with the first 15% written.  Lots of books on the shelves with a bookmark at the page 43 mark.  I have this bad habit of skipping around, too.  Like if I have 20 chapters to edit, I will edit the first, second, get bored, skip to the last one, and then start playing video games.  A couple of years ago, at work, I started forcing myself to do stuff from start to finish.  It has convinced me that I never could have written a book in the analog days of the typewriter.  But I sometimes get results when I power through stuff like that.  It’s harder to apply to creative work; sometimes I can create, and sometimes I can’t.

I’ve also found that if I time myself, start a timer with 60 minutes on it, disconnect the internet, and force myself to either type in a buffer and get word after word on the page, or stare at the screen and do nothing, I’ll eventually start moving forward.  I guess if I burn through an hour on the timer and do not get word one on the page, that’s at least more of a victory than if I sat in front of the tube and watched an episode and a half of Chopped.

I have this book essentially done, but all of the stories need to be renamed.  I thought about going on fiverr and paying somebody five dollars a story and doing it that way.  I hate coming up with titles.  Was it Emily Dickinson or e.e. cummings who never titled anything?  I also thought about pulling a Peter Gabriel and naming my next six books Jon Konrath, except I’m sure that would somehow fuck up Amazon and all of the books would overwrite each other in some last-one-wins scenario.

I also wish Amazon listed stuff alphabetically, because then I would name it like locksmiths and bail bondsmen come up with names, something like AAAAAAA.

What else?  Closed on the house.  Bought two pair of glasses for an insane amount of money.  I am now farsighted enough that I need a second set of glasses just for reading.  This is the beginning of the end.

Categories
general

Changing Gears

I haven’t been writing.  Probably haven’t put word to paper in at least two weeks.  Normally, this would have me freaking the fuck out, going to see shrinks, getting pills, doing exercises, buying books, studying courses, dissecting plot and premise and buying a flashcard system with 20-sided dice and spinners and software designed to Specifically Help You Write Your Novel in 14 seconds or less.  But I haven’t even thought about it.

I have not been writing because I have been coding.

I knew I would get this horrible postpartum depression after I finished my last book.  I knew nobody would buy it, no matter how hard I pimped it out.  I knew I would not be able to get another project going, and I would enter the downward spiral of over-examining all of my thoughts and ideas, mixed with going to the Amazon royalty page every seven minutes to see if anyone bought the damn book.  Same with the lulu royalty page, and the Google Analytics page to see the hits on this site.  That’s become the ritual; it used to be that the first thing I’d check, first thing in the morning, was my bank account site, to see if various checks had cleared and I would be able to scrape together seven dollars for some TV dinners to last until payday.  Lately, the glass pipe has been that site usage dashboard.

I don’t know when I decided this, but right around when I sent off the PDFs and Kindle files for the book, I decided I really wanted to write an iPhone game.  I realize I’m about three years too late to the party, but I felt some sudden urge to dive into one of the game frameworks and write something crazy, or at least do what everyone does and write a tetris or asteroids or pac man clone.  I know nothing about this, but I also know too much.  When I worked at the big S, we spend a lot of time looking at other developer programs and SDKs and tools, and I knew a lot about what didn’t work.  (Side note: there’s nothing more horrible than being locked in a conference room with a dozen middle-aged guys who know nothing about games or social networking sites, who have never played WoW or Mafia Wars and have never signed up for Facebook or twitter, and being forced to come up with million-dollar ideas for patentable games and social networking sites to be produced with no budget and no manpower.)

I downloaded GameSalad and after ten minutes decided that was a stupid system, so I hit the main vein and grabbed XCode and downloaded that giant multi-gig archive of Apple fun.  Then I dove straight in without looking, immersed myself in howtos and tutorials and O’Reilly tomes and FAQs.  I beat that Hello World like it owed me money and got locked into the Cocos2d framework and started that damn Pac Man clone.  Then I found out about tilemaps, and realized it was absolutely imperative to start that strategy RPG for the iPad.

I haven’t checked my royalty crap or web site stats since.  I used to hit facebook constantly, and now I’m barely on there, except to log in and delete a bunch of the bullshit academic lit journals I used to add in some hopes of finding readers.  I’m still on the web, but instead of picking fights with idiot teabaggers, I’m looking up how to output sorted arrays of keys from an NSMutableDictionary.  I have mixed feelings about this; I think my online time makes up some void that results from working from home and not being around people all day.  But there’s also been more than a few times where I thought about following some link to read about the latest idiot trying to run for president or whatever, and I thought, “I could either do this, or I could try to figure out which TouchDispatcher has handlers to read multitouch input.”  The latter wins every time.

I haven’t worked with C in a while.  We mostly use Java at the day job, and there’s some occasional C# and C++ out there, but my usage is limited to finding some function and unfucking the doc comments so the autogenerated API help is readable.  It’s been a long time since I sat down and tried to really hack out any kind of C code, but I realized that it was 20 years ago I started learning C, and it all came back fast.  What was more amazing is how the Objective C stuff gave me crazy flashbacks to 1992, back when I took C490 and we worked on the NeXT.  I spent most of my time in that class beating against Motif and C++ on the Sun workstations, so when I went to the NeXT and used Interface Builder, it was like showing RoboCop to a 14th century farmer.  The Objective C syntax seemed really foreign to me at first, but then I started getting the :s and [s and ]s in the right places.  I also ran into the usual C barrier of “is this a struct or a pointer to a struct or a pointer to a pointer to an object, and is it getting released here or do I need to retain it” stuff, and really hit the wall with it last weekend.  But I think I’m past it, and making some progress.

There’s also a certain nostalgia in writing a game in general.  I spent a lot of time way back when with graph paper, filling in squares to make bitmap fonts or maps of dungeons or designs of sprites.  Back then, there was only 64K of memory, and stuff like pointers did not exist as far as I knew.  (Yes, they did, but not to a 14-year-old in Elkhart, Indiana with no modem.)  Now I’m working with a thousand times the clock speed and 4,000 times as much memory, but the core thought process still remains.  I’ve got a lot more control over program structure than GOTO and GOSUB, but you still need to think about how those damn ghosts run around the maze by themselves.

There’s a small part of me wondering about when I will write again.  I mean, in a practical sense, I keep thinking I need to start a new blog so when I do find out that you can’t dynamically change tiles in an empty CCTMXLayer without crashing, I can write it down and not have to re-research it a month from now.  But there’s that bigger question of if I need to get back on the horse and write more books, and if it’s worth it to write books, and if anyone even reads books anymore, and if I want to write books that people want to read, and a flurry of other bullshit I don’t want to think about anymore.  I still do have the occasional flashes where I see something and think it would make a great short story.  But I’m waking up every morning and immediately thinking about what to code next, and that’s a good feeling.

Categories
general

Automatic writing

I haven’t been writing in a while. I still feel like my last great writing project was Rumored to Exist, which shipped in 2002. Everything since then has been a greatest hits or a remix or a collection or something that I started and then watched die on the vine. I’ve managed to get a few good short stories hashed together in the zine, but it starts and ends there.

And in the last year, forget about it. I haven’t been able to spend more than ten seconds in front of my home computer, given my work schedule. I thought about a lot of different book projects, and would chip away a few words here and there, but I think in the last year, I’ve managed to write maybe a few thousand words. I did finish one short story, and I sort of dicked around with a few ideas for books, but never committed. And like waking up one day a decade after college and finding oneself fifty pounds overweight, I simply do not write anymore. It might be like riding a bike to some people, but I think it’s a perishable skill, and if you don’t sit down and work on something every day, it goes away. I now flip back to some of my old writing, the books or even stuff on here, and I’m amazed at how much better it is than anything I’ve tried to do in the last few months. And it’s because I used to write every god damned day, and now I write about as much as I go to the gym, which is basically never.

I’ve been talking to my friend Michael about this, and finally came to the conclusion that I just need to man up, wake up earlier every day, and pound out some writing every day, even if it is not for a project. That was the original intention of this journal, to give me some practice every day before I got to the actual writing. But there are a lot of political reasons I can’t just dump anything in here. I’m always afraid of who will read it, and I want things to have a start and a finish, and I want to match a certain theme, and blah blah blah and then I end up paralyzed by fear and unable to write anything. But I need to write SOMETHING.

That’s when I decided I needed to dump more into automatic writing. I’m not talking about the spirit world trance writing bullshit; I mean sitting down at the keyboard, starting with a thought, and just typing, dumping thoughts straight into the buffer with no concern about plot or structure or underlying anything, just brain to hard disk, trying to capture a scene or a feeling. I don’t know the history of this method; I guess Kerouac was pretty hip to it. But my goal was to sit down at 5:30 AM, eat my bowl of cereal, and speed-type down a thousand words a day of something.

I dropped this into my .emacs file:

(defvar write-directory "~/writing/automatic-writing")
(defun writing ()
  (interactive)
  (find-file
   (expand-file-name (format-time-string "%Y%m%d.txt" (current-time))
                     write-directory))
  (goto-char (point-max))
  (newline)
)

(global-set-key "\C-c\C-w" 'writing)

Now I can hit Control-C Control-W in emacs and open up a text file with today’s date, and type away.

I’ve been doing this for the last two weeks, and it has been amazing. I’m just writing stupid stuff, memories of old computers and cars and places I’ve lived, bits I’ve vaguely forgotten and have never put into stories, or things that don’t even make stories but have some good potential for description. I think of an idea in the shower, then without thinking too much, start hacking away. I’ve really been able to knock the rust loose, and I feel like my ability to write is coming back. I am not assembling together the next War and Peace or anything, but it’s something I’m thoroughly enjoying, and I look forward to doing it every day.

My next goal is to (maybe) try to get up a hair earlier, and see how I can work on actually getting the next book going. Or maybe I need to actually focus on a list of vague topics, and see if I can eventually knit together a hundred days of this stuff into something more substantial. But for now, a thousand a day, until I can do it in my sleep. (I sort of am doing that already…)

Categories
general

Writing about work

I just read Stephen King’s On Writing, not because I’m a huge fan of his writing, but because I needed some kind of kick in the ass because of this writer’s block, and usually looking at some other writer’s process gives me a bit of a boost. The book is about 70% good and 30% “no shit, sherlock”, so I liked it in general. One thing that stuck with me was that he said people like to read about other people’s work. I guess that’s true, since a lot of the stuff I read online involves police blogs and ancient tales of inventing old computers and airline pilots and the like.

My current career probably isn’t that interesting, though. A blog full of details on how I edit pages and check them in to CVS wouldn’t exactly blow your skirt up. But I do enjoy writing about old jobs. And I’m always surprised that most people have never worked in a factory. Maybe it’s because I’m in a blue state, but most people I know here can’t even fathom the idea of working on an assembly line. Yet I grew up in Elkhart, Indiana, where almost everybody works an industrial job. Four of my summers (well, 3.5, really) were spent inside prefab corrugated steel buildings with concrete floors and high ceilings, wearing eye and ear protection, and doing the same thing over and over for eight or ten hours. I couldn’t bear to do it forever, but it was better than working at Taco Bell, and paid two or three times as much.

There’s not much to say about the work. I spent a half-summer before college silver plating clarinet keys. The next two summers were at two different factories belonging to the same company, making and packing plumbing fittings and faucets and stuff. The next summer, I temped a few places (UPS warehouse, a place that painted the boards that go into prefab Target bookcases), and then got a gig working a punch press at an RV factory. Factory work is mundane, but it isn’t that hard. The worst part of it is most of these box-packing jobs are at rate, meaning somebody has measured exactly how long it takes to do each movement, from picking up the box to putting on the sticker, to picking up a part, to putting it in the box, to sealing the box, to putting it on a skid and getting a forklift to take the skid of 768 boxes of 984 parts off to the truck. It’s almost always impossible to make rate, but if you go above it, you make more money. I never did. I was too lazy, and I couldn’t shut my mind off and move my hands in the exact way it had to happen without dropping a piece or fucking up a box label or something.

One time I DID make rate, actually. I had to take a hollow tube, maybe an inch around and a foot or two long, lock it in a special vise, and then drill a bunch of holes in it with a drill press. You had to stop halfway through, flip it over, and re-fasten it for another set of holes on the bottom. According to the rate schedule, you were supposed to raise the drill all the way up and go all the way back down between each hole. Fuck that! I didn’t back that drill up more than two microns each time I moved it to another hole, and was doing parts four times faster than rate. I worked on the machine for two and a half days, and made like 468% rate for like 20 hours. Every full-timer there was pissed as hell, and they shut down the machine and re-rated it. Next time I got on it, you couldn’t make rate if you were The Flash.

Most of the full-timers hated college kids. The first summer at the plumbing parts place, that was actually the factory where my dad worked. The people there were nice, in the sense that my dad worked there since I was an infant, so they remembered me from the company picnics and whatnot. But they didn’t get me. Instead of sitting around talking gossip or whatever, I usually brought a book to lunch, and almost every day, someone would asked me why I was reading. I remember reading the Richard Rhodes atomic bomb book that summer, and everyone kept asking me WHY I would read a book that was three inches thick. I don’t know, it’s not as if the people were bad in any way, they just had different goals. Everyone had to struggle to feed kids and pay bills and everything. People with some tenure bought pools or bass boats or fixed up old Mustangs or added to their houses. Some people put a kid through school, but some had their kids come in at 18 and start work on the line. I guess I got to see both sides of the story.

Anyway, some of this stuff came up while I was writing on this new book. I need to capture it a bit better sometime, although there’s no real plot to ten hours of wiring down saxophone keys to plating frames. I spent every hour of every day wishing I was back in school, back with friends, back with whoever I was dating at the time. I drank a lot of Cokes and took a lot of “allergy medicine” to make the hours pass faster, but I still took in a bit of the culture.

OK, I ate during the update today, and now I’m ready for a nap, but I’ve got to get back to work…