27 March 2020

Writing at the End of the World

Hobbit Desk | The hobbit, Hobbit house, Writing space
I tried to find a post from earlier years to copy and paste here, as it sometimes seems I've been repeating myself for a decade or so now.

We are on lockdown here and it could be worse, and yet it could be a deal better. There are schedules and rolls of toilet paper and many foodstuffs and time spent outside in good, pollenated weather. But the uncertainty of the time is quite unsettling. And yet I still hoped it would make for calm times in which to get some writing done. That hope is, as yet, rather fruitless.

On the one hand I have neglected my own advice, that being to keep up one's writing habit as much as possible. With no flourishing of ideas or prospects on the horizon, conjoined with the general difficulties and preoccupations of this middle class life, I haven't done much writing in the last year or so. So when I sit down to perhaps reinvigorate an old podcast or crack away at a HOMES sequel there is little enough energy to get more than a few words out.

And yet this cannot be simply attributed to atrophy. There is much going on to distract me. Besides vague anxieties, times being what they are, I'm going through a rather delicate season of intense therapy. All my guards have been stripped away and so slipping into despondency is a regular habit. As such, at the behest of my counselor and good conscience, I'm cutting myself a fair deal of slack. Even though I know exactly where the HOMES sequel needs to go, if I can't get the words out I'm not going to force it too much.

From that forward on lies a trap of my own making. "You're a writer, man! Write through the pain!" Such false narratives of identity can be helpful in motivating sometimes, but I am choosing to keep them at arms' length out of care for myself.

So like the weight lifter who's taken a year off, I must go back to less-heavy lifting. Hopefully that means this blog will see some life as I build up some tolerance to the lactic acid being produced by my writing muscles. LOTRO remains ever-present and there are some things there worth putting to page, even simply from a game design standpoint. Then, depending on how long this damn situation endures, maybe I can get back in the habit of lifting heavy things like novels and games.

12 March 2020

We're all just afraid

The Church Fathers (I think it was Gregory?) describe the Fall as human beings becoming subject to their animal nature. We are the only things in the universe that are both Spirit and Animal (or physical) in nature. When we lost our way, our spiritual selves was made subject to our animal selves.

If you get my poor explanation this is not so hard to believe. We, all of us, are capable of high-highs and low-lows. As Solzhenitsyn tells us, "the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being." When the pressure is on and we are unaware or unable to access the things of the Spirit, we cave and begin acting like cornered animals. This manifests itself in different ways because we are novel creatures. Some people furiously tap on their phones, finding someone to blame; others will raid the grocery store and stock their fallout shelters; some may hunker down and load their guns and await the end of the free state; many become part time conspiracists.

If you can't tell yet, I've been disappointed in our response (as humans) to COVID-19. I do generally expect people to mess up and do the wrong thing, but somehow the last month has been like my favorite sports team suddenly having a terrible season when they have all the skills they need to win. All the fear and control-mongering creates a climate that is damaging to the whole. As a teacher, I feel especially frustrated that some of my colleagues are caving to anxieties and thereby creating a school environment that causes students to experience fear rather than safety.

The fact that otherwise reasonable people resort to calling the virus a bioweapon, despite evidence to the contrary, or that it's a mutant zombie pathogen, despite that it appears (at least right now) to be less deadly than the flu virus, points to something greater in us. Our pathos, our deep sense of existential dread, our genuine lack of control perhaps means we have within us the lingering presence of deep, horrible fear. We exist in perpetual, spiritual poverty, beaten down without end by our broken selves, and we take every opportunity we can to push that unutterable feeling aside so we can function.

Right, we don't know the full deal with the Wuhan coronavirus. It could be the apocalypse. It could also prove to be another SARS or Zika that will leave the world relatively untroubled.

Repression may be the greater pandemic. We keep our fears and worries down in the name of functioning in polite societies, those of us who are able to anyway. But those feelings come out sideways, perhaps when we weep over a sporting event or when we seek to justify plain old fear with fear of the "deep state." In truth we don't take care of ourselves until we have to, and then we're not capable of taking care of ourselves in a healthy, regenerative fashion. It's triage and not ministration and I'm the worst of us all.

If you'll excuse me, I need to go wash my hands.

14 January 2020

LOTRO Revisited

That meandering stream of attention has veered itself back around to PC gaming in the last few months. I attribute it to difficulty in rejoining my writing habit, in addition to the general stressors of life seeking that sweet, sweet escape of hobbyism. As is per usual, that veering lands me smack dab in the gaming Middle-earth, preeminently in The Lord of the Rings Adventure Card Game. I even (surprise!) got a blog going on the subject. It's fun and it scratches a lot of itches. The stream shoved on, though, last week when we found out the game is going to cease development.

Simultaneously, or perhaps consequently, I started looking for a new RPG to enjoy between Pathfinder sessions. Elder Scrolls Blades was alright, but the lure of The Lord of the Rings Online piped up again. It's funny to be able to go back on the blog and see my frustration and general emotion over a game, and even funnier to see I still have some of the same feelings. All of those concerns, over focusing on alternate characters instead of a main, the general "waste of time" of such sweeping games, thoughts on what gaming means in general, distill down to a central question: how do I best enjoy this game world?

Not "How did I enjoy this game 10 years ago," which I did immensely, but how do I best enjoy the game world of a beloved piece of fiction here and now, today.

I found a really thoughtful review of the game from late last year from a fellow who had a similar experience. The game was his life some years ago, he dropped around the Rohan expansion, and wanted to come back but was afeared over the game not living up to the nostalgia. And oh there is such nostalgia! Now we're growned and more objective and with different needs. Can LOTRO live up? Well LOTRO is a game. So no, it can't. But as a game, can it be a place where I go for entertainment?

So far the answer is yes. I feel less obsessed and rushed with the game and able to take my time and (please God) focus on one character instead of six. Most of all, LOTRO is about mucking around in Middle-earth. And if that's worth squeezing in a few hours a week for at the expense of catching up on shows I should've watched 10 years ago (probably while I was playing LOTRO) then I think that's okay.

The long and short of it is, who can say? My heart is human, and so fickle. My leisure time a closely penned field in which I allow myself to bop in ADHD fashion from whim to whim. The rest of my life is scheduled and mandatory; fun stuff, even MuMORPuhGers, get to be subjected to the worst of the remaining adolescent hyperactivity of my person.

Maybe I'll blog about it some more, as that is much easier to cover than theology or fiction these days Maybe I wont.

04 December 2019

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

I have a way of stymying my Yuletide affections until the last minute. Halloween passes. "Daddy, can we listen to Christmas music?"

"Not yet!"

The Nativity Fast begins and I twitch, but hold the line.

Santa shows up at the end of the Thanksgiving Day Parade and I'm all in. Nat King Cole on repeat.

Close enough.

Getting the tree setup this year, I had a thought that demanded elaboration. Soon Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings, Narnia, and so many other "Christmas Magic" movies will hit TV screens across the land. Why have these pieces of popular culture become so affiliated with the Christmas season? What gives?

It's because this is the only time of year we (some of us, anyway) allow the world to be enchanted.

29 November 2019

Good Heart Kickstarter is almost over!

My current publishing project ends on Monday morning! But you've still got time to pickup your copy.

Good Heart is the story of a cowboy who finds himself  a stranger in a strange land (North Africa, to be more specific). There he retrieves what he's sure is something special, a necklace he was paid to lose. Soon thereafter, though, he's pursued by dark strangers who know his name, who know the orphan girl in his unlikely charge, and threaten the life he is trying to build for himself with the first woman he's ever allowed himself to love. And somehow in the midst of it he believes it is something to do with a spectacular horse he calls his own. 


25 April 2019

The Red Angel and Symbolic Compression

We finished season 2 of Star Trek: Discovery this weekend and in discussing the episode with my wife a lot of things popped up, secondary to the show itself. The finale itself, as an episode of television, was quite good. We got one of the more clean and interesting looking space battles I've ever seen, certainly the most interesting of any Trek battle sequence. It tidied the show itself up quite nicely, putting a bow on this season and the various discrepancies the series has posed between itself and canon. A lot of the relational subplots were equally completed and the entire series is now positioned for a fun and weird third season. The plot points the show brought to close, however, did not and do not often make a lot of sense, but is that the important bit?

What I first thought of in reflecting on the DISCO finale was the series finale of LOST. I gave my own thoughts on that bit of television almost ten years ago, and I think it's a fine parallel for our friends out there on the U.S.S. Discovery. Because, I refer now to another quote I included in my LOST review, Discovery isn't really about space ships or Klingons or the end of all sentient life; it's about people. It's about the characters, the crew of the ship and their relation to one another.
Image result for disco red angel

I can't imagine having to split my time in the writers' room in creating careful character pieces interwoven with interesting scifi. It seems too much. It is, indeed, too much as any critic of the show will tell you; Discovery does not hit the balance perfectly at all. They veer heavily on the relationship side as is evidenced in just about every. single. episode. Because each episode has at least one tearful intercharacter moment. The finale had several. And none of them made sense in context.

"We have two minutes to save all sentient life! Let me spend all of it telling how you've changed me and are my family!"

A lot of criticism was spent pointing this out and shouting it down. Those same dissenters employed the same tactics with LOST, because who cares about how characters are connected on an existential level when their are polar bears to account for? What's the use of Spock and his sister reconciling on a deep relational plateau when the glass on the blast door of the Enterprise withstands a nuclear-level explosion?

As we discussed this further, it hit me: we're not just talking about two views on how to watch science fiction; we're edging close to two views on looking at the world.

One view sees the bigger picture, the interrelationships, the connection, the oneness of the message. The other view is focused on "facts" and forensics. The contemporary world, living in the wake of the scientific revolution, has gotten very good at caring about the facts, the physical actuality of things, possibly at the cost of the former (of course I mean this in a larger, societal way; not in a complete sense, that would be stupid).

This brings us round to something Jonathan Pageau refers to as "compressed symbolism". I don't know if he's the first, but he's the first I've found to talk about the Bible as compressing narratives and stories. This makes sense. As stories get passed around the big themes are the things that should stay apparent, that are still poking out, when the forensic details get lost. He talks about the creation story in this fashion and refers to the story of the Magi in this way. The Creation story may not literally be completely true, in fact it's probably not. But in it's symbolism and poetry and "compression" it's trying to tell us something. The same can be said about the Icon of Pentecost.

Pentecost Icon, Kirillo-Belozersk Monastery (c.1497)

The Icon of Pentecost has two immediate glares that should alarm anyone looking at the world forensically: St. Paul is there, as is some dude we call Kosmos. The inclusion of St. Paul is alarming enough -- this image is not depicting a historical event, as the Holy Apostle Paul, at the time of Pentecost, had not yet had his revelation and had not yet begun serving the Lord. Seeing a bearded figure representing all peoples (in the figure of the cosmos) is then the red flag; we're not talking about "literal" scientific facts.

So what are we to do about this? Get all huffy that this image isn't lining up with reality as we see it? Perhaps we can take it on the same terms the author created it by. And perhaps we can do the same for fiction.

Now this is tricky with something like Star Trek. Trek has, at once, a well-established scientific background that all its subsets must adhere to. Simultaneously that background is only "scientific." Some of it is more factual than the rest, especially as series have spanned generations of advancement in our knowledge of how the universe works. So it's all loosey-goosey anyway. The rule by which we measure how flimsy Trek science can be varies from person to person and series to series.

So if we see Discovery more about the people and less about the science...well then, more's the better for us viewers. Because then we can actually enjoy the ride and find the message, rather than getting hung up on our own inconsistent needs for consistency.

26 February 2019

Beatsie Boys Book

I recently finished the Beastie Boys Book (thanks, Justin) and was struck by a number of things that I choose now to share with you.

Foremost in my brain is just how lucky these dudes were. The entirety of the Beatsie career, almost, was predicated on right place-right time: growing up in the birthplace of hip-hop? Check! Being born into permissive families so you can roam NYC clubs at a young age? Check! Finding and befriending the biggest and best early hip-hop group, and their manager? Check! Finding a label during the age of record labels that would give you creative control and a bunch of money? Done deal!

There are more examples, but these guys seriously got a lot of breaks. They were basically just music nerds with the audacity to find and use the resources and talent to make a career out of this nerdery. And that's not a dig; all the breaks and opportunities don't mean a whole lot if you don't latch on to them with both fangs, or have the musicianship to make something worthwhile, which brings me to another observation: MCA.

Even though I consider myself a (quite literally) life-long fan of the Beasties, I had no idea just how important Yauch was to the process. It should've clicked with me after he died, as all of their projects basically stopped with him. But MCA was the dreamer and the doer of the band. He was always pushing them on to the next thing, finding a crazy idea and then actually following through. All three of them wrote a lot of music (Adrock especially, it seems) but in terms of direction and momentum, it was all Yauch. As Adrock and Mike D emphasize time and again, he was the type of person who found wild notions and then actually followed through on them.

Most impressive of all, to me anyways, was the relationship they had with creativity. They always seemed very comfortable with their creativity, with taking risks and running with whatever insane notion came to them (I recall, quite distinctly, after Hello Nasty came out, seeing an ACTUAL infomercial on the ACTUAL paid access channel that they produced to promote the album). I'd say this comes from: (1) starting on a path of professional creative output at an early age and (2) having each other as editors from the beginning. The three of them, along with the rest of the crew that came and went over the years, was like a petri dish of cool ideas and musical freedom and it didn't go wrong because they didn't allow it to go wrong. Because there were three of them. When others got famous and surrounded themselves with enablers, the Beastie Boys had a trinity, a triumvirate, that kept them each grounded and doing what they were supposed to be doing.

Final point: while I don't think Mr. Adam Horovitzt or Michael "Sweet Lou" Diamond are done making things, this book feels like the logical conclusion, the capstone, to the Beatsie Boy legend. As a product in the marketplace it's beautiful and Beastie-ish, full of funny essays, excellent and rare photos, playlists, gear list, and sundry else. As a bit of writing, it's heartfelt and touching, most of all for us nerds who grew up alongside these guys as the cool older brothers we never actually had.

If anything it stands as a monument to a different time and to a different people in a different stage of life when things were simpler.