07/28/21

Like I’m Running out of Time

Why do you write like you’re running out of time?

Write day and night, like you’re running out of time?

Lin-Manuel Miranda

Earlier this week, I was training one of our new hires with another of the senior programmers in a virtual meeting. We were looking at the way the application deals with Holidays, which is to list them all out in a database so they can be tied to pages by an ID. It’s a limited, inefficient approach, but that’s not important right now. The holidays are metadata for this system we were working on, and it was our job to update the metadata in a separate system so that it stretched out to 2036.

One of the people on the phone said to the young trainee, “In the 30’s, it’ll be your job to update this.”

He responded, “You don’t think you’ll still be here?”

The person on the phone said, “We’ll be retired by then. Millionaires. Buhl will be a Best Seller.”

Trainee, “Then I’ll just call you up.”

I said, without thinking, “Oh, I’m sure I’ll be dead by then.”

The person on the phone laughed. The trainee said, “What? That’s just a few years from now.”

I laughed and played it off and we kept on with the training. For a moment, I let something slip. It would have been a really awkward conversation at work, but maybe I can unpack it a little bit here.

For some reason, I’m casually convinced I’m not going to live all the way through my 50s. It sounds morbid and depressing, but it’s something I just accept as a given. Tomorrow, the sun will rise in the east and set in the west. My family will still love me. Social media will still be one of our Big Mistakes. And sometime in the next 6 to 8 years, I’ll stop being alive.

What convinced me of this? It’s not one particular piece of evidence, but more like a collection of ideas that collectively feel like a dark prognostication.

Let’s start with genetics. I don’t have any information on the biological, paternal side, but I have some on my maternal side. My Mom, my biological grandmother, died when she was 68. Not super young, granted, but she was sick for years before that. She spent most of her last few years in and out of hospitals, getting treated mostly for heart issues. She held on to 68 out of sheer stubbornness.

Leslie, my Mom’s 4th/5th (it’s complicated) daughter and my biological mother, died in 2010, I think. I found out well after it happened. She lived in Israel at the time, and we weren’t particularly close. That means she died when she was between 53 and 55. I don’t remember exactly what killed her. I remember she had a tumor on her liver. I think she also had a tumor in her brain. I really don’t have many details about her death, and I’m not sure who I would ask to find out more.

Monica, my youngest biological half-sister, died around 20 years ago. I don’t remember the exact year or date, or even how old she was. Young, though. She had an inoperable brain tumor that lead to multiple strokes. She powered through those and recovered. For some reason, the doctors had to operate and remove the tumor. She was fine for a time after, but then died from complications related to the surgery. Those are as many details as I can remember.

Based on that patchy family history… it’s not a death sentence, but none of that is good news. Still, the source of half my genes is a mystery. That alone shouldn’t convince me I have a short mortal thread. What else is it?

The other reasons are less scientific and more poetic. My Dad died when I was young. His death was one of those moments that forced me to grow up and be my own person. When I look at my kids, I feel like I’m doing them a disservice by lingering. It’s like I’m holding back from them some key experience they need.

I just wrote that, and I know it’s bullshit. My kids would much rather have me around and alive, just as I wound have preferred to have more years with my father. But maybe in 5 or 6 years, when they’re getting closer to 30?

The other ideas that make me think I’m going to die in my 50s are even flimsier than the last. I’ve said for a long time that I’m never going to retire. That I’m going to keep working, right up to my last day. That feels like a true statement, every time I say it. It doesn’t mean I have to die in my 50s, but coupled with the other things I’ve talked about, it makes sense.

Laying it all out like this sounds depressing, and that’s not what I’m going for. The genetics may or may not mean anything. Not having any sort of retirement is just something my whole generation has to look forward to. And the idea that I might be doing my kids a favor by dying… that’s just weird.

When I was joking with my coworkers about not living into the 2030s, I wasn’t being melancholic. It’s just some idea I’ve grown to live with and accept.

Aside from being a source of morbid humor, it alters the way I think about some things. I think about how I was born a very sick baby, and how every year I’ve spent in this world has been a gift and an opportunity to do or say something. The clock is running out, so I need to make the most out of what time is left.

Neither of my kids seem interested in being parents, so what else can I do to leave something permanent behind? That sounds like hubris, like why should I be so special as to make a mark on the world when so many people are forgotten, but it’s not. I’m the result of an unwanted teenage pregnancy in the early 70s. I fell into the lap of a couple in their later years. My arrival in this world disrupted lives. If I don’t do or say something, then how can my life be considered anything other than a huge, cosmic mistake?

I write like I’m running out of time. Maybe I can conjure a story that will say something that outlives me. Maybe I can write something that will make up for all of the harm I’ve caused just by being born. If I’m going to do it, I’ve got to hurry. Because some part of me is certain I don’t have much time left.

07/21/21

On Loki and Surprising a Writer

I want to talk about Loki. But before I do, I’m going to talk about what it’s like for me experiencing stories as a writer. Then I’m going to talk about the MCU in general. Finally, with enough warning about spoilers, I’ll talk about Loki on Disney+ and what I think about it.

Stories through a Writer’s Eyes

I’ve written about this before, but the more I write, the harder it is for me to enjoy stories. A story is essentially a magic trick where the writer misdirects and distracts their audience while setting up twists and turns designed to create an emotional reaction. When you know how the trick is performed, the impact is lessened.

You don’t always have to be surprised in order to enjoy a story. Sometimes the adventure is enough. Some stories are full of beauty, or the characters are endearing enough that we want to spend more time with them. These are the stories I revisit over and over.

The Formula of the MCU

We open with our protagonist, a flawed human being that’s attractive, quippy, talented, and not necessarily a nice person. Our protagonist’s main character flaw gets them into trouble and they’re forced to see who they are and how they’re affecting the people around them. They reach their lowest point, then after working to overcome their greatest weakness, come face-to-face with a villain that is in some way a twisted reflection of who they are. After a climactic conflict, our protagonist comes out on top, still flawed, but also changed for the better. They see themselves in a new light and in the end, they are determined to do better.

Which movie am I describing? When it comes to the MCU, I’m basically describing all of them. There are exceptions, and I’m leaving out a lot of nuance, but the MCU movies are borne from the same DNA.

I’m rarely surprised by an MCU movie, and yet I love them. These movies are full of characters I want to hang out with while they go on their colorful adventures.

I want to be surprised by these movies, but it’s okay when I’m not. Avengers: Endgame delivered quite a few surprises. Black Widow didn’t surprise me, but I still left the theater satisfied. In my opinion, it’s a solid movie. It follows the MCU formula, but that doesn’t matter because I enjoyed all of the characters on display.

Loki and Disney+ Shows in General

I mentioned Black Widow and gave my general opinion, but I didn’t go into any spoilers. I’m about to go into spoilers for the Disney+ shows. If you have not watched them, go watch them and come back. I’ll wait.

*** Spoilers for Disney+ Marvel Shows Below ***

I’m going to start with Falcon and the Winter Solder. As much as I love Sam Wilson and this series in general, I think this series is the weakest of the three. It’s still very good! I really love it! But I think it could have been better, and it was the least surprising of the Disney+ shows.

While it is interesting and a little surprising to make Sharon Carter the Power Broker, it doesn’t make a ton of sense if you scrutinize the details too closely. If one were feeling particularly uncharitable, one might describe it as a character assassination. I think it’s fine, but I think it could have been handled more gracefully. For example, if she’s The Power Broker, it makes no sense for her to put an armed Zemo in the same room as the person developing her super soldier formula.

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier went places I did not expect a show to go on Disney plus dot com. They explored what it means to be a black superhero. They touched on the injustice black Americans experience regularly. They showed a faux Captain America kill a man with his shield. The creators of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier were bold in the story they delivered, regardless of whatever criticisms I might have about this being a somewhat predictable Marvel offering.

Now let’s go back to WandaVision. That show surprised me continuously. It kept me entertained every week while opening up more and more questions.

I loved WandaVision. This show looked different from any other Marvel product. It dived deep into grief without flinching. As weird and fantastic as the show could be, WandaVision delivered a very human story.

It gave us what may be the most profoundly beautiful sentence the MCU has ever stated: “What is grief, if not love persevering?” The Internet may have turned that phrase into a meme, but I’m still moved by it.

Speaking of The Internet, they did to WandaVision what they often like to do, which is come up with theories, then become insolent when those theories don’t pan out. Evan Peters playing Quicksilver in WandaVision did not mean we were starting the multiverse and bringing in the Fox X-Men characters. And, even though the comic books have a strong association between Agatha Harkness and Mephisto, we were not shown Mephisto as The Big Bad after 9 episodes of no direct mention of him.

So now let’s talk about Loki.

Loki captivated me. Loki actually, legitimately, surprised me. And I loved it.

This show took a pre-redemption Loki, a villain that just tried to take over the world, and truly rehabilitated him, even beyond what we saw in Thor: Ragnarok.

I loved the relationship between Loki and Mobius. I loved the relationship between Loki and Sylvie. I loved getting to explore all of the Loki variants in Episode 5, especially when Classic Loki proved to both the audience and protagonist Loki that they were more powerful than they believe. Powerful enough to change from their selfish, broken ways and sacrifice themselves while Ride of the Valkyries played over an illusory Asgard.

And then we got the final episode of season 1, and I was shocked.

They never actually gave his name beyond He Who Remains, but that was Kang the Conqueror. There were lots of subtle hints pointing at Kang leading up to the last episode, but it seemed like another Mephisto situation. They weren’t really going to reveal that the man behind the curtain is a character we haven’t seen at any point throughout the rest of the series, right?

That’s exactly what they did. Since we witnessed so many Loki variations, my theory was that we were going to see another Loki variant pulling the strings. The Loki that Wins. It would explain why Loki timelines in particular seemed targeted for pruning. My theory fit with everything else watched up to that point. I saw the Kang hints, but didn’t think the showrunners would actually go there.

Putting Kang aside, the episode delivers in other ways. Throughout the series, we saw Loki developing relationships with Mobius and Sylvie. We saw him confront his own absurdity and the lies of his “glorious purpose.” Loki grew throughout the series, but it ends with the ultimate test of his rehabilitation. He’s separated from Sylvie, the person he just told, “I just want you to be okay.” If that’s not the purest expression of love, I don’t know what is.

Further, he’s back at the TVA, where no one seems to know who he is. He built a friendship with Mobius and now that appears to be gone. As Lady Sif predicted in a previous episode, Loki is alone, whether he deserves to be or not.

Final Thoughts

Marvel excels at getting the characters right and making their audience care about them. Most of the time, that’s enough for me. Loki, and to a lesser extent WandaVision, showed me that Marvel is capable of going a step further. It’s good storytelling, and it’s fresh and exciting.

Writers can learn a thing or two from watching these shows.

07/10/21

Message From my Future Self: Do What You Love

Last week, I tried to record a new VLOG. I wrote the script and recorded about 20 minutes of footage. After editing, that would probably have become a 10 minute video.

I wound up deleting it. The good and valid reason to trash the footage was because my recording used the wrong microphone, so there were a lot more audio artifacts than usual. The less good and valid reason… it was a very sad and depressing entry.

I try not to censor myself here. However, I try not to put out too much depressing content. I have written many blog posts that I never clicked Submit on because they were too dark. In spite of my dalliances with political topics on this blog, this has always been about my journey as a writer.

To be a writer, you must have endurance, and you must be able to withstand the points in your career that turn dark. One of the best ways to do this is to embrace optimism when you can, and root out pessimism when you have the strength to do so.

You cannot make it as a writer if you let the despair overwhelm you.

I’ve been so close to giving up, especially over the last year and a half. Even this last week, I’ve been feeling really down.

This morning, something occurred to me, and I want to share this in case you need encouragement the way I do.

I woke up late and took a long shower. As I breathed in the steam and the smell of soap, I began to daydream. I imagined myself leaving my body and transporting into the past. I inhabited someone else’s body in 1995, but I still remembered everything.

In this scenario, I wanted to make the world better. But how could I overcome the Cassandra problem? What could I do to convince the people in power that the information I carried truly came from a possible future?

I went to the military. I convinced them to hook me and the Brian Buhl of that time up to lie detectors and record our reactions. I would ask my younger self deeply personal questions, things only I could know, and the people observing would be able to read the reactions from both of us.

The daydream continued after the interrogation. Young Brian was thoroughly spooked and distraught after going through that ordeal, so I spoke to him to help him out. This is what I said:

“Keep writing. It brings you joy. Whether or not you succeed, it doesn’t matter. It’s a part of who you are. It keeps you sane and stable, and it’s something you’ve always loved doing. You’ll lose sight of that for a while, so I’m warning you now so you stay on it. Also, start attending writing conventions sooner than later. You’ll meet people that will change your life.”

I came to my senses, shampoo in my hair and my eyes stinging for a different reason. I realized the message I wanted to carry to my younger self applies just as much to me today.

The reality is that I probably won’t have the writing career I want. Is that the reason I write, though? No. It isn’t. I write because I have stories to put on the page. It’s who I am and it’s what I do. It would be nice to be paid for my work and to sustain myself with the stories I tell, but that’s not why I do this.

I should not allow publishing fears and concerns dissuade me from doing what I love.

Are you doing what you love? What’s stopping you? If you could go back in time and tell yourself one thing, what would it be? What do you think a future you would tell you today?

06/27/21

The Repossessed Ghost — Publishing Indecision 2021

It’s Sunday, which means I’m in a Starbucks getting ready to spend half the day working on writing projects. Today, I’m starting the day by talking about my “first” novel, The Repossessed Ghost. Actually, I’m going to talk about self-publishing, good versus good enough, querying, and a few other publishing related thoughts.

A Few Words about The Repossessed Ghost

I have talked about this story before. If you want to know about the story itself, the inspiration, and my writing process when drafting The Repossessed Ghost, please click the link at the beginning of this section. I’m sure I will talk about the story again, but not in this post.

Last weekend, I finished what I think of as the 4th draft. I had no intention of working on that story again unless I saw a path forward to publishing it. Recently, I decided to pursue self-publishing, which prompted me to look at the story with fresh, critical eyes.

The 4th draft did not involve a lot of major changes. I corrected a lot of passive voice and weird sentence structures. I fixed a few squirrelly bits at the end, paragraphs and sentences that didn’t quite make sense after I rewrote the ending. I punched up the prose a little bit and applied some of the lessons I’ve learned the last several years.

I think the story needs a prologue and an epilogue. If you scour the online writing community for any amount of time, you’ll find a lot of strong opinions about prologues and epilogues. Some people are absolutely vehement that they have no use. Other people are less passionate about it, but still suggest you take what would be the prologue and make that chapter 1.

I believe prologues and epilogues should exist if they have a purpose. What would a prologue do for The Repossessed Ghost? It would allow me to use a framing device to say a few things about the story on a meta level. Specifically, it would allow me to organically state that the story takes place in the early part of the 2010’s. This is important because a surprising number of things pertinent to the plot have changed in the last decade. For example, people don’t really talk about hurricane Katrina anymore, but it was still on people’s mind back then. Marijuana became legal in most states since I wrote the first draft. Cell phones became even more ubiquitous. The radio may still be playing music from 10 years ago (or 15 years ago, or 20 years ago… that’s an entirely different topic) but things are different enough that rereading The Repossessed Ghost now makes it a little bit strange, especially if you assume it it takes place today.

Also, the entire novel is written in first person which for some readers, lowers the stakes. First person means that the person telling the story survives to tell the story, right? In this prologue, I can artificially re-raise the stakes because I can establish that the story would be told whether or not Mel survived.

To Self-Publish or Not Self-Publish

This novel is the first I wrote that might be commercially viable. It is good! I’ll talk more about that in a moment.

Why self-publish now? I made it clear many times on this blog that I’m not interested in self-publishing. I want a team backing me that understands marketing. I can take the time to learn the marketing and business of publishing, but that’s time spent not writing. Also, being one person with a finite amount of resources, it is unlikely I’ll do as well marketing my book as a team of people with experience and access to information beyond my perception.

There are a few reasons to self-publish The Repossessed Ghost. First, I have an unexpected fan: my mother-in-law, Susan. Melissa shared her print out of Spin City with her and ever since, she’s asked about more books from me. I could probably print The Repossessed Ghost the same way I printed Spin City, but I think Susan deserves a real book.

Also, a number of people have asked me where they can buy my books. I tell people about my short story in Tales From the Goldilocks Zone, but it’s not the same. If you search Amazon for my name, it does not land on that book. I’m not paid for any of those sales and I have no idea how many copies of that book have sold. It’s great that it allows me say I’m a published author, but in all the ways that matter, it feels like The Goldilocks Zone is someone else’s book. I want one of my own.

Self-publishing makes sense for The Repossessed Ghost because it is an urban fantasy, and I have heard over and over again from agents and publishers that new authors are not landing contracts for urban fantasy. That subgenre has been gobbled up by indie publishing. If I want to see The Repossessed Ghost as an actual printed book, I will probably have to do it myself.

But is it Good Enough?

If you ask a writer about the quality of their work, you will get an answer that is a reflection of the author more than the work itself. It takes a tremendous amount of ego to create something like a book, a form of entertainment that requires a commitment of time and energy for the reader to consume. From that standpoint, one would think a writer will always say their book is good enough. In practice, many writers lose sight of what makes their story great in the first place, and will describe their books as trash or unworthy. Even Stephen King occasionally speaks in derogatory terms about his own body of work.

Is The Repossessed Ghost good enough? It is not the best thing I’ve ever written, but that doesn’t mean it’s not good enough. Logically, a writer should continue to improve with each story they craft, so their earlier work shouldn’t be their best. I’ve written two other novels and dozens of short stories since The Repossessed Ghost. It would be very disappointing if my first novel was my best.

It’s good enough to get positive feedback from the people that have read it. Those were earlier drafts, so most gave me feedback for how I could improve the story. The first 10,000 words made the top 10 in the Ink and Insights competition of 2019, in the master’s division. It’s generally well liked. With a good editor, I might be able to make it excellent.

Querying and Other Considerations

My story is probably good enough to publish, but is it the best story to start my career as a novelist? It’s a fun urban fantasy story, but most of what I write are intellectual SciFi, with an occasional dabbling in fantasy. If this is the first impression I give people of my stories, it might be the wrong impression.

On the other hand, my authorial voice is as present in this story as it is in my other stories. When you read a Chuck Wendig book, you get Chuck Wendig’s storytelling style, whether it’s a Star Wars book, a book on writing, or a story about people caught up in a wandering pandemic.

If I get past the idea that publishing this story will somehow setup my brand incorrectly, the next thing I have to consider is cost. I’m not going to just take this draft and toss it up on Amazon and hope for the best. I’m going to be a professional and hire professionals to help me make this the best book I can make. That means hiring at least one editor. It also means hiring an artist for cover art. It may mean paying for other services, some of which I haven’t discovered yet. Being the publisher means I am putting some financial risk into this story. How will I react if I lose money on my first book?

This last Wednesday, I wanted to work on my self-publishing plans and after taking all of these thoughts into consideration, I wound up searching Manuscript Wish List instead. I even found a couple of people looking for urban fantasy, so I sent off a query.

I’m not holding my breath on getting The Repossessed Ghost traditionally published. It’s a good story, but I believe the people that told me there is no traditional market for it. Then again, people told the author of Harry Potter there was no market for a story about a wizard school, so maybe the experts don’t always know what they’re talking about.

Final Thoughts

I still need to work on my self-publishing plan. It will take me a little while, so whatever querying I do this week has time to be rejected. I might get to the end of this pursuit and determine that it is too risky to spend the money on being a publisher. The future is uncertain.

I’m going to keep showing up and writing. I have lots of stories I still need to tell. As discouraged as I feel sometimes, I keep going, writing and pushing even when I’m not feeling very hopeful.

One of the best things I can keep doing is updating this blog. As an author platform, it is a full record of my writing journey over the last decade. As I put fiction in places where people can buy it or read it online, I can keep updating the links at the top.

In other words, if you’ve been watching this space already, keep watching. If you’re hungry for the kind of stories I have to tell, I will feed you more soon.

05/30/21

Catching Up and Moving Forward

When I don’t write, the depression gets me. I’ve known this for a long time, and I’m sure I’ve talked about it before. With everything that happened last year, I froze up and stopped writing. My mood became darker and darker, my emotions more erratic. It got bad.

But now I’m writing again. A couple weeks ago, I finished the first draft of a project I was supposed to finish by May of 2020. I’m editing it now, trying to get it under 14,000 words.

I want to start blogging again. I want to get back to feeling like myself.

In no particular order, here is a list of accomplishments and changes that help me return to the person I want to be:

  • Got my 2nd Moderna shot on May 4th
  • Returned to working 4 days a week at the office
  • They gave me an actual office at work
  • Writing at Starbucks on Wednesday evenings and Sunday mornings again
  • Finished the first draft of Dead Weight: Air Superiority
  • Continued to contribute to a writing group borne out of Writing Excuses Alumni
  • Committed to the Writing Excuses Retreat later this year
  • Lost close to 15 pounds since the beginning of May
  • Walked so much on the treadmill that I burned out the motor

I’m leaving out a lot, but you get the idea. I’m moving forward again.

Once I finish this edit of Air Superiority and pass it on to Michael, I’ll need to figure out the next project. There’s a short story I outlined while on the cruise that I’m a little bit excited about. There’s a fantasy novel I tried in 2011 before I had the skill to see it through. I still need to work on the 2nd draft of Synthetic Dreams. I’ve also been thinking strongly about looking at The Repossessed Ghost for self-publishing. As an Urban Fantasy, that’s really the only way it’ll ever get published.

This is going to be a busy summer. I hope I have more good writing news to share soon.

01/12/21

Building a Game to Rebuild my Sanity

It’s been a while. I didn’t want to write a recap for 2020 because everyone pretty much covered that. I didn’t want to make my first post of 2021 about politics because, quite honestly, the topic is as exhausting for me to write as it is for you to read. This isn’t to say that I won’t talk about politics soon. We did just have an attempted coup, after all.

Tonight, I’d like to distract myself by talking about the activity I’ve been using to distract myself. I built a game, and it is successful.

Don’t get too excited. This is not likely to be the kind of game you’ll want to play. It’s entirely text-based. It’s slow paced, dependent on old technology, and it doesn’t attract a wide audience anymore. I built a MUSH.

I started playing on MUSHes in August, 1996, and I continued playing regularly until 2003. The main MUSH I played was the original Star Wars MUSH. It’s still up, and I could connect and play there right now, but it’s not the same. Not because the people have left. Most of them have. I don’t want to play there because it’s full of ghosts, and memories, and a kind of nostalgia I neither need nor want right now.

Here is a web page with all kinds of information about the game I made, Companion Cresh. It includes directions for how to connect, as well as information about the setting, character information, and logs.

Why did I start working on this? For starters, I needed the distraction. I wasn’t writing any fiction at all. I kept trying. I put my butt in the chair, my hands on the keyboard, and it just hurt. I felt pain while not writing and agony when I tried to force it.

Then my friend Donna asked me to re-host a MUSH instance, and I said sure. I fired up an old backup, connected, and saw that it was missing a number of systems vital to making it playable. Then I went into what can probably be described as a coding fugue. For weeks, I connected to this fledgling MUSH and wrote systems.

I thought I was building sandcastles, or carving intricate ice sculptures. I wrote code for the Star Wars MUSH for years, but this new code came after spending a couple of decades as an actual programmer, and it was good.

The reality of writing a game like that, using technology over 2 decades old, struck me as masochistic. At one point, I looked at the brand new character generation system, and the modifications I made to the space system, and all of the other intricate systems I created and installed… and I despaired. I didn’t believe I was digging a baseball diamond in the middle of a corn field. It felt more like the Winchester Mystery House, a construction wrought by my madness, with hallways and stairs and passageways that would never know proper use.

In October, I started writing the code. By the beginning of November, I finished enough of the game that we could start inviting people to try it out. Donna worked on the web page I linked above and she found ways to advertise the game. And then, miraculously, we had players.

I stopped treating it like a feverish coding project. It became a place where I exercised my other creative writing muscles. I created two characters and started playing. The words flowed.

A MUSH is almost a perfect game for a writer because you are forced to use all of the skills you use when working on stories. Dialog, characterization, voice, plot, setting… you have to do it all at once, all the time, and in tiny sprints. Like Exquisite Corpse, you take turns with other writers to craft scenes together, only they’re generally more coherent. And FUN.

This isn’t the end of my regular writing. I feel like what I’m doing on the MUSH is akin to physical therapy. It’s like a runner rebuilding the strength in their legs after a terrible accident by working out in a pool. I don’t feel the same kind of weight when I’m writing on the MUSH as I do when I’m trying to write a regular story.

It’s probably going to be a little while before I get back into a regular writing rhythm again. Not being able to get out of the house and hang out at a Starbucks twice a week killed my schedule. Feeling all of the pain and disappointment with what my country is going through, from the pandemic to the politics, has wounded me in other ways.

But I’m still going. I’m still here. I’d be lying if I said I still had the same faith in my dreams, but I’m still a writer. Writers write. And so I do.

11/8/20

Post Election Malaise

It took less than a day for my happiness at Trump losing the election to fade. Perhaps Alex Trebek’s death darkened my mood. Maybe I’m just in the habit of feeling gloomy after everything else that’s happened this year. My garage is getting colder and I’m getting grumpier.

I still don’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. We’re as divided as we ever were and Mitch McConnell is still in power. At least two of the nine Supreme Court justices are supremely unqualified for the position they hold. The pandemic is surging, with disturbing news about a mutation through minks bad enough that Denmark is killing all of the little creatures they can find.

We still have systemic racial injustice. We still have greedy corporations acting without accountability. We still have more problems than solutions, and people are dying.

I think Biden is probably a good and decent man. But what can he do?

Let’s face it… the run-off elections for the senate seats in Georgia are a long shot. This is Georgia we’re talking about. The same place where Stacey Abrams had her election stolen from her.

Biden is going into power with his hands tied. The GOP that produced Donald Trump is still in power and they will not allow Biden to do the things necessary to right the ship. The GOP will continue their hypocrisy, their blind war against progressive idealism, and the mess will continue to pile up.

The problem, at least for me, is a matter of hope. I just can’t bring myself to hope anymore. Yesterday, DoomScrolling was replaced with HopeSurfing, and I could only ride the wave for so long. In my experience, to hope is to set yourself up for pain in the form of disappointment or worse.

Hope and hurt are both 4 letter words.

It’s a bleak, secret truth, but it’s not the end. Whether there is hope of success or not, we keep trying. We write the next chapter. We clock in and do the work. We keep going in spite of hopelessness.

We have to continue paying attention and calling out racial injustices. We have to hold the people we elect accountable. We have to remember that black lives matter as matter as much as white lives, and that “all lives matter” is a lie as long as anyone is put in danger based on the color of their skin.

We have to remember that trans rights are human rights.

Different is not the same as lesser. Different is just different.

We have to keep doing the work, even if there is no hope of changing the world. Even if the work is just pouring your heart into a blog that hardly anyone reads. It’s not about hope. It’s about doing what’s Right.

10/23/20

The Deep Calm

I keep putting off writing.

It’s not that I don’t have anything to say. It’s not that I don’t want to write. There’s just no wind in my sales. All the old tricks I used to use aren’t granting me forward motion. The waters of my mind are still and deep. And I haven’t wanted to talk about it because we’re all depressed enough.

There is a lot going on. I don’t want to talk about any of that, either. You all have access to the news the same as I do. A pivotal election, perhaps the last free election we’ll ever have in the US, is almost upon us. It is a lot.

At this moment, I should be attending a panel at the online Surrey International Writer’s Conference. I attended one earlier today, but I kept thinking, “Yes, I know” and “I will” and “Yup, got it.”

The panel wasn’t bad! The conference is good. I’m just in a terrible headspace for it. I feel like a soccer player sitting in the stands, watching the rest of my team run through practices while I’m trying to recover from a serious leg injury.

I’m not in the game right now. I’m not sure when or if I’ll be in the game again.

It actually isn’t that complicated, now that I’m thinking about it. Writing makes me happy. I normally want a career as a writer because I’d be adding stories to a world that always needs stories, and that type of activity makes me feel fulfilled and happy.

I write because it makes me happy. Maybe I’m not writing right now because I don’t want to be happy right now. Not with everything else going on.

Maybe taking vacation time to attend an online conference was a mistake. Maybe I should have just taken vacation time in order to take vacation time.

Going back to the analogy I used to start this post, the wind will blow again. The calm can’t last forever. I will try to be patient with myself and get through this difficult time.

Quitting isn’t an option. Maybe I can wait it out.

08/2/20

Death, Actually

Since my last posted essay on Money, I’ve written a couple of other posts that I did not publish because they were just too depressing. I want to chronicle my journey as a writer and include all the highs and lows, but if what I’ve written is simply too dark, I try to spare you all from it.

So let’s talk about death.

Before I dive in, let me say that if you have lost someone recently, I am very sorry for your loss. I’m not writing this because I failed to read the room during a global pandemic. I’m writing this because death is common, painful, inevitable, and writing about painful topics is one of my coping mechanisms. If you’re grieving, what I have to say here may not provide much comfort, but I will happily listen to you and offer sympathy in whatever medium best serves you.

In this essay, I’m going to talk about what it means to die, and I’m going to give my real and non-religious thoughts about the afterlife.

The Human Soul

If humans are endowed with a spark of the divine, then the part of us that remains after our bodies have stopped serving us must be our immortal soul.

I want to believe we are spiritual beings, and that there is more to us than just the meat we are made from. Objectively speaking, we have nothing to support the existence of the soul. We cannot detect it with any of our senses. It cannot be measured. If we are to believe that we have a soul, we can only do so by faith.

If you have such faith, I will not try to dissuade you. I often share in that faith. In order to maintain such belief, it is important not to ask too many questions.

For example, what part does the soul play in a person’s life? Identity? Conscience? Personality? All of those aspects about you change over time. For most of us, the changes are slow, a natural part of aging. But some people are subjected to severe brain trauma that can drastically change aspects of who they are in such a way that they become unrecognizable from who they were before.

There are people surviving COVID-19 that have had their personalities reshaped as a result of severe illness. Some of these changes may be permanent.

If our memories and personality can be so altered by the modification of our brain meat, what must happen to us when that gray matter stops functioning altogether?

I want to believe I have a soul, but I cannot help but doubt. Did my soul exist before I was born? If so, what was I like? What purpose did that soul serve? What good is my soul doing me now? Why should we believe the soul will have greater utility once we no longer have a body and cannot affect the world?

The parts of me that I think are beautiful, unique, and rare are the parts crafted and balanced within my brain. My identity, my perspective, my rational processing of the sum of my experiences. If all those aspects of self disappear when the brain stops functioning, I don’t think it matters if I have a soul or not. I will be gone, and there won’t even be enough of me left to know the loss.

The Act of Dying

Let’s put aside the philosophical for a moment and get practical. What is it like to be dead?

What was it like before you were born?

It was nothing. Neither pleasant nor unpleasant. Not some endless, cold void like being lost in space. You did not experience temperature or light. You experienced nothing. You were nothing. You did not exist.

When our brains stop processing signals, we will experience nothing. No pain. No joy. No worries or delight. Just as before we were born, so shall we become.

Nothing. That’s what it is to die. That last trip isn’t into some great unknown, because we have a taste of it every time we fall into the deepest, dreamless sleep. Our consciousness and our thoughts disappear, and we cease to be.

A Pause to Reflect

These do not have to be depressing thoughts.

It is sad when someone we love dies because the world that remains is not as bright. The laughter and love they brought to the world is no longer with us, and it is right to mourn that loss. Not for them, but for us that remain with the capacity to feel.

For them, there is no more pain. There is no more loss. If they suffered illness or pain up to the end of their life, then death itself is a relief. The suffering is done and gone. Their legacy remains with those that knew and loved them.

It is tragic when the young die because the potential of their life is cut short. It is sad when an old person dies because their wisdom and experiences are lost, and all we have from them is what we managed to record and incorporate in our own lives.

Those that are dead do not experience happiness or sadness. The tragedy and loss cannot touch them any longer.

Life is precious and fleeting because it is only during life that we are able to experience anything. It’s during this time that we matter. What we do matters. We cannot affect the world after we are dead anymore than we were able to affect it before we were born. It’s the time in the middle that’s important, so we should do as much with it as we can, while we still have such agency.

Heaven and Hell

We have no evidence that our consciousness will transport to some other place after death. If you have faith in a heaven or hell, I will not try to dissuade you from that faith. I have shared in it in the past.

The ideas of heaven and hell are meant to persuade people into certain behavior while they are alive. If you are only doing something because you think it will get you into heaven, are you really a good person? What kind of person are you if the only way to keep you from doing something truly evil is to threaten you with fire and damnation?

When I was younger, I asked a pastor what heaven was supposed to be like. The first answer was a cop-out. “Beyond anything we can imagine.” I asked another time, and the answer wasn’t very satisfying. “You’ll be with God, endlessly singing His praises.”

If I am no longer myself, does it matter if I go to heaven or hell? In either place, the bit of me that is unique and special is gone, either in endless supplication to a higher power, or in mind-blasting torment at the hands of the greatest evil.

When I think about my Christian faith, it comes down to this: the message of Jesus was love and forgiveness, and I will continue to live by that message to my dying day. This means empathy, compassion, and kindness while I’m alive. Whatever comes after does not matter, and what I know about heaven and hell is insufficient to change my mind.

Ghosts

Of all the afterlife options, I find ghosts to be the least appealing.

I don’t believe in ghosts. I wrote an entire novel that included ghosts and the afterlife, and that’s where I think ghosts belong: in fiction.

If somehow some bit of our consciousness manages to survive the destruction of our brain, how dreadful would it be to linger, unable to affect the world?

I won’t challenge your other beliefs, but I will tell you that ghosts aren’t real. If a ghost can pass through doors and walls, why don’t they fall through the floor? If they are unaffected by gravity or matter, what is keeping them from simply passing through the world and drifting off into space while the Earth continues to spin around the sun on its cosmic journey?

Aesthetically, ghosts are not pleasing, and it would be horribly boring to be a ghost. I don’t know why people are into them. They are fun to write about, though.

Final Thoughts

Life is precious and short. Too short to worry about the things we cannot change, and too important to waste on petty squabbles.

We should not worry ourselves over death unnecessarily, nor should we shy away from it when it is time to face it. We were not taught how to be born, and no one needs to teach us how to die. All of us will experience both.

It’s what happens in between those events that matters.

07/3/20

Money

Before I jump into this alluring subject, let me tempt you with this: read all the way to the end to find out how to make money by wearing a mask.

Now let’s talk about money.

Time is money. Money is power. Money is the root of all evil. Mo’ Money, Mo’ Problems. Money. Money. Money. Can’t get enough of that god damned money.

Living in a capitalist society, one that values money over actual human lives by way of for-profit medicine, I have a lot of thoughts on money.

Let’s begin with a hypothetical.

I built a space ship and loaded it with 20,000 people with diverse backgrounds and skills. Me and my 20,000 closest friends leave the Earth, bound for a distant star. We sleep for a thousand years and wake up on a brand new world that is rich in natural resources.

We brought with us incredible technology and in short order, we want for nothing. We have adequate shelter, sustainable food sources, and all the non-sentient robots we could ever need. The needs of humanity on this brand new world are completely met.

That sounds nice, right? An entire population of equals, free to pursue whatever it is that drives them. Art. Science. Exploration. Whatever activity an individual wishes to pursue, they are not constrained by the “day job” or money. The moment we got off the ship, any currency we had from Earth became worthless. We have no money, and we are all equal.

Eventually, Sam the Scientist realizes that he needs help with an experiment. There is a geological phenomena Sam is trying to study, and in order for them to collect the data, they need volunteers to spread out at a particular time of day, observe, and push a button at the right time. The non-sentient automatons won’t work because this task requires intuition and judgment beyond the capabilities of these simple robots. Sam needs 1,000 people, or this experiment will not work.

Sam puts out the call for volunteers, but only 50 people respond. That’s only 5% of what Sam needs. What is Sam to do?

How do you get a large number of people to sacrifice their time and energy for a single cause? How do you compel individuals to work as a team, to accomplish something none of us can do on our own?

How do you make this?

NYC's supertall skyscraper boom, mapped - Curbed NY

Before we build skyscrapers, we built wonders.

The Great Pyramid of Giza Is Actually Lopsided

It took a lot of human hands to build the pyramids, but those hands weren’t free or equal. Humanity has a long and unfortunate history of turning people into property, putting them in chains and forcing them to do the bidding of others.

On the backs of slaves, great and terrible structures have been built. The American economy was built on top of Black lives, and Black lives are still paying the cost to this day.

But this scenario isn’t (directly) about racial inequality. We were talking about a scientist on a distant world trying to get 1,000 people to work with them. Not to build a pyramid or a skyscraper, but just to stand, observe, and push a button at the right time.

How will Sam get the help they require? If this took place on Earth, Sam would use money. They would raise funds and pay people to do the work.

Why? What makes money so compelling that people will sacrifice their time and attention in exchange for it? It doesn’t even have to be a lot. If I told you I would give you $1 and all you had to do was wear a mask every time you went outside, you would do it. A buck isn’t worth that much these days, but it’s an easy dollar, and it’s an activity you should be doing anyway.

Money works because we believe it has value. We have faith that when we have enough money, we can use it to buy all that we need and desire. We believe we can exchange currency for goods and services that are real and tangible. American dollars, by the way, are not real. They are not backed by gold or silver.

Money only has value because the society we live in says it has value, and that value is based entirely on faith.

I don’t know how Sam gets their volunteers. Perhaps some of the 50 that originally responded are charismatic enough to sway more people to the common cause. Perhaps Sam finds something of value to offer the volunteers, like a big party afterwards to celebrate the completion of the experiment.

Or, Sam could lie. Sam could send another announcement to the community, telling them that the stability of their home depends on the successful execution of the experiment. It’s unethical and wrong, but it’s an option on the table.

Money itself is a lie, and its what we trade in every day. It’s what we use to compel people to do things that they wouldn’t normally do on their own. It’s how we get people to continue to show up and perform jobs.

And, of course, I lied to you. I said at the beginning that I would tell you how to make money just by wearing a mask.

Here’s the truth: COVID-19 is out of control in the US, and if you have to be paid in order to wear a mask, you’re a special kind of idiot. The truth is, a simple cloth or paper mask is probably not going to protect you from catching the virus. It will, however, keep you from spreading the virus to the people around you.

There are a lot of people infected and they don’t know it. You may be one of them.

The truth is, the virus doesn’t care about money. It doesn’t care about politics or the economy. It’s invisible, it’s real, and it’s spreading.

We need to remember that lives are real, money is a lie, and we need to prioritize accordingly.

Do your part by wearing a mask, staying home, and staying away from people for their sake as much as yours.