Brainstorming the Next Story

Moving on…

I’ve known for a while that I want to write something that’s a bit more cyberpunk. I’ve been hungry for more, good cyberpunk stories for a while. I play Cyberpunk 2077, I recently rewatched Bladerunner 2049, and I’ve acquired some cyberpunk audiobooks to consume in the near future.

Why am I fascinated with cyberpunk? I don’t know for sure, but I have some theories.

To start with, I like a lot of the aesthetic. It’s future tech with dirt on it. It has noir in its veins. The characters in a cyberpunk story drip with pathos. I don’t want to live in a cyberpunk world, but I wouldn’t mind visiting one.

That brings me to my next point, which is that cyberpunk stories feature dystopia, and we’re living in one. The cyberpunk hellscape we were promised in the 80’s featured punk rock, neon colors, and Asian influences. It also promised a world dominated by corporate greed, where the everyday person works as a wage slave in service to a capitalist, unfeeling machine, and everyone is connected through technology. Look at your cell phone. Think about the oil companies and Disney. The aesthetic may be off, but we’re living in a cyberpunk dystopian world already.

I like to explore big ideas that are relevant to real life. In Spin City I dealt with alcoholism, the longing for home and family, and restrictive immigration laws. In Synthetic Dreams, I explored the entire human condition through characters that aren’t even human. In this next story, I want to touch on redemption and the evils of capitalism.

So what do I have so far? How does one start a story like this?

I’ve finished three novels, so maybe I can look at how I started each of those.

The Repossessed Ghost came right after I’d binged most of the Dresden Files books. I knew I wanted my story to be light and fun like Dresden, even going so far as to be an Urban Fantasy. In the back of my mind lived the character, Mel Walker, that I played in a roleplaying game many years ago. I knew his voice and his mannerisms, and I thought he might be perfect to star in a story like Dresden. For 2013 NaNoWriMo, I launched into Mel’s story and made it to the end. Since I wrote the story in first person and I already knew the character’s voice, writing The Repossessed Ghost was relatively easy.

Spin City is a little bit different. This is another one that I started with NaNoWriMo. I wanted to win that year, and I thought the only way I could do it was to write in first person. So, again, I reached back in time and pulled up a character I knew from my past. Spin City is basically the adult retelling of The Arthur Kane Stories that I wrote when I was a teenager. I even kept several of the plot elements from the old stories, because they were fun, and this novel is essentially a love letter to a version of myself that no longer exists.

Synthetic Dreams is another one that I started with NaNoWriMo. Yes, there is a pattern here, but we’ll ignore that for a moment. When I wrote Synthetic Dreams, I wrote it in third person, and I wrote it with two alternating POV characters. This was not a retelling of any story I’d previously attempted, and the characters were new to me. I did some practice writing in the world in 2017, just before I wrote Spin City for NaNoWriMo that year. Later, I dusted off my notes, finished the outline, then wrote the novel over the course of two years, finishing it just before Covid hit. I finished the first revision of Synthetic Dreams just a few weeks ago.

It’s time for me to start this new project, so how do I use what I learned from the previous novels?

First, let’s address something. I don’t need NaNoWriMo to write this. NaNoWriMo provides a small amount of pressure I need to get going. NaNoWriMo acts as the perfect excuse for me to blow off other things in order to focus on writing. However, I kept writing and working on my last novel long after November ended. NaNoWriMo is useful to me, but I can write without it.

Something different about this novel is that I’m not launching into it after being struck by inspiration. The kernel of the idea that became Synthetic Dreams came to me while I was in the shower. I got out, dripping wet, hurried to my kitchen table, and scrawled a few sentences down on a piece of paper.

This time, I’m feeling it out. It’s not a flash of lightning, but thunder rolling through my heart and mind. I have no doubt I’m going to find this story and give it the life it deserves. It just might take me a while, because it’s not close enough yet for me to see it clearly.

I’ve jotted down several ideas across multiple pages in OneNote. Hopefully the next time I talk about this story, I’ll have an outline.


Getting Personal: Feeling Empty

Tonight, I want to really open up. No outline. No preconceived notions about which direction this is all going. I just want to talk for a little bit, and it may or may not be writing related.

I feel empty inside. I don’t know how I’m still going.

What does that mean? What am I talking about? Can I be more specific?

It’s loneliness, and hopelessness, and a sense that everything I care about or that I’m trying to accomplish will amount to nothing in the end. That all of my efforts, all of my life, will be forgotten when I’m gone.

I want to make the world a better place and fill it with a little bit more love. But I’m shouting into the wind. Whatever seeds I plant will be crushed before they can take root. Perhaps by accident, perhaps by malicious intent. Whatever the reason, I cannot do enough. I will never do enough, no matter the merit of the thoughts or ideas that manifest in my brain.

That just sounds like depression, right? Something a great many people are going through after the last couple of years. With the news of the all the shootings, it’s natural for sympathetic people to feel down. Right?

The thing is, I have always felt the need to do something to try to make the world a better place. Draw. Sing. Write. Perform. Be a good friend. Spread love. CREATE.

The need has never diminished, but the hope has faded more and more over time.

I don’t think anything I’m saying is particularly unique to me. In fact, the way I’m describing this, it sounds like a noble purpose, right? Make the world a better place through art and love. That would be a life well spent.

Tonight, I’ve been trying to analyze the need a little bit more. It’s not entirely selfless. I’m not that perfect. Some of it is ego, for sure. I want to be remembered. I want to leave a mark on the world. That’s selfish. Who do I think I am to deserve to be remembered? Billions of people are born and die, and most of them disappear like smoke in the wind. Why should I be any different?

I think I just want to feel loved. I want to feel like I am known, and that when I’m gone, it’s my presence that is missed, and not just the things I do for people.

There are people that love me. Melissa. My kids. Michael. I have some friends. But I keep walls up. I keep some distance from everyone, and I try to make the people that are near me happy by listening, paying attention, and giving.

I’m intuitive and perceptive, and when I pay attention to someone, I can really, truly know them, sometimes better than they know themselves. In my mind, that’s what it is to love someone.

I don’t think I let people love me the way I love them. I want to be known, but I do not open up. I don’t share like that. I want to, but I don’t know how anymore.

That’s why I don’t make new friends. Friendship is borne from trust, experience, and time. I don’t trust anyone enough to allow myself to be vulnerable anymore.

So who am I? What is it that I don’t let people see?

Those are the wrong questions.

I’m not particularly special. I’m smart, perceptive, and talented. There are lots of people like me, some of which are smarter, more perceptive, more talented. I’m not actually a sealed book, nor am I always silent. I’ve been telling people all my life who I am. Showing them.

The question isn’t about what I’m hiding, or how I’m keeping people at a distance. The question is, why don’t people pay attention to me the same way I pay attention to them?

It must be who I am, and what I’m saying. The fault must be in me.

I’m a broken, flawed, desperate man. Is that all it is? In order to be seen, do I need to hide myself more? That’s counter-intuitive, but maybe there’s something to that.

I honestly don’t know. I don’t have any answer or wisdom to wrap this up into a nice, tidy little message. This is my open journal. Ostensibly, it’s my journey as a writer, but who knows if I really have a future there. I’ll keep writing, even when hope is gone, and I’m tired and hungry for attention.

If any of this got you down, I apologize. I’m probably just being maudlin. I needed to write something tonight to try and make sense of my feelings, and hopefully feel better.

Do I feel better?

I don’t know.


Keyboards, Offices, and the Next Story

Where has the time gone?

I sat down to write a blog post about a fancy new keyboard I built for myself. It has a 3D printed base, Gateron brown switches, and it’s all hand-wired and soldered. I found some resources and guidance for how to do it, and then I did it. I’m using this fancy keyboard right now to type this post.

In the picture, it looks like the keyboard is missing a couple of keys. All of the keycaps are present now. I had to be a little bit creative to get some of them to fit.

I wanted to dedicate an entire post to talking about this thing I made, because it’s awesome! I did a thing! And it works, and I love it!

As I was writing that post, Melissa got a call from her Mom. She asked, “Is there anything keeping you from going away for a couple of days?”

I started to answer the question before I realized she was nearly in tears.

That was the night her Dad died. I packed up some stuff and we drove to Oregon that night, and I didn’t think about that post or my blog or anything for a long while.

Melissa is doing better now. She and her Mom are driving around the country, visiting family for the next month. It’s been hard, but Melissa is going to be okay.

So now, after some time getting our lives back in some semblance of order, I’m writing blog posts again, and talking about the things I’ve been working on.

I learned a ton making that first keyboard. I learned enough to launch into a new keyboard for Michael, for his 50th birthday. His keyboard came out even better in terms of aesthetics, though it seems to have some reliability issues. A few keys fire too often. When we both have some time, we’re going to get together and I’ll fix it with him. We’ll have some friends over and play some board games and make an evening of it.

I have plans of making another keyboard, which I’ll donate to the Writing Excuses Retreat so they can give it away. I bought the PLA for it and I have the controller board. Once I’m done with my next project, I’ll start printing the parts and put it together.

What’s the next project? It’s my new office!

We helped Bryanna get into her own apartment a couple of weeks ago, which means I’ll finally be able to come in from the garage. I’ve repaired and repainted the walls, ripped out the carpet, and I’ve prepared the floor for receiving new wood-laminate. It’s going to look great and feel comfortable.

A lot of this renovation is a trial for some of the work we’re going to do through the rest of the house. After a couple of rambunctious kids and incontinent cats, the carpet is in bad shape throughout the house. If the office turns out nice, we’ll start doing the same sort of thing in other rooms.

Finally, let’s talk about writing. My critique group finished Spin City after 20 months of submissions. Whew! It’s quite a milestone for the group, and I think they genuinely liked it. The ending is really strong. It probably would have hit even better if we hadn’t taken quite so long to get through the whole thing, but that’s okay.

I finished the first revision of Synthetic Dreams and I started reading it to Melissa. She’s enjoying it. I truly believe Synthetic Dreams is the best thing I’ve ever written. I have no idea how I’m going to query it, or what comp titles I’ll use for it. I don’t think it’s quite like anything else I’ve read or seen.

With revisions done for those two novels, I want to work on something new. I’ve had a hankering for a cyberpunk story for a while. At first, I wanted to run a cyberpunk game. Now I think I want to write a cyberpunk story, using this fancy new keyboard I made with my own hands.

I have ideas for it. There’s some imagery in mind, and I have a page and a half of notes regarding themes I want to consider including in the story. Technically, I’ve started an outline, but there isn’t much in it yet.

The trouble is that I have this fear around starting something new. I don’t want to have yet another novel completed that I’m in love with, that I have no way of getting out in front of an audience. It’s an emotional weight that interferes with the excitement and creativity I need in order to launch into a brand new draft.

I need a critique partner. Someone that is hungry for my stories. Someone that writes stories that delight me, too. With a solid critique partner, it would feel less like I’m trying to do this all on my own.


The Batman, Growing Fears, and Politics

I’m not setting out to tie all three topics together. But maybe I will at the end? I just wanted to talk about several things without making them separate posts.

The Batman

I saw this movie recently and I think it’s great! The performances, cinematography, and script are all outstanding. I remember reading the Year One comic, and this movie felt like a sequel to that. This was a good story that has me thinking about the movie days later.

Growing Fears: War

The Batman gave me the break I needed from watching the news. I have no ties to Ukraine, but I’m following the invasion and watching how the rest of the world reacts. It’s both fascinating and terrifying to watch the different political parties quarrel over how to deal with this particular powder keg.

We’re sliding into World War, and I’m afraid we’ll be as effective in stopping it as we’ve been at stopping Covid. A lot of conservative voices are calling for hostile actions that would lead to more aggression. We do need to do something, but whatever we do should deescalate tensions rather than raise them. The world needs to save as many lives as possible while pushing back Putin in such a way that he can save face. Even if we do not respect him, we have to respect the power he wields, which means more talking and less fighting.

This is not to say that Putin should face no consequences. He absolutely should. But we should put that aside until after we’ve stopped him from bombing hospitals and killing civilians in Ukraine.

I’m genuinely happy to see so much of the world rally around Ukraine. I’m even happy that China has remained neutral on the war. I wish China could bring itself to rebuke Russia, but that’s asking too much of that nation.

Growing Fears: Pandemic

I’m happy to see the number of infections and deaths going down. I want the pandemic to be over. I don’t want to have to wear a mask everywhere. I want to go back to writing in a Starbucks once or twice a week. I want to go back to in-person conventions, and I want to stop being afraid of being the one that gets someone else sick.

Mask requirements are dropping, and people are trying to get back to normal right now. At the same time, there is a spike of BA.2 growing in Europe. There’s some sign that we’re starting a new wave. No one is going to want to face those facts, and we’ve already had a problem with people denying science and reality. That’s why this pandemic just keeps going and going.

I’m trying to keep my hopes up. If we don’t see signs of another wave, I’m going to sign up to attend some conventions this year. If there is a spike in cases, however, I’ll have to reevaluate.


I don’t want to spend a lot of time talking about Republicans or Democrats or any particular figures in any of those parties. I want to talk about politics in more general terms, because I had a dream recently and it felt like I’d gained some kind of perspective.

Let’s talk about progressives and conservatives, and why we need both at different times.

To be progressive is to tear down and replace institutions that are imperfect, and that do not serve the highest ideals. To be conservative is to value the culture and ideals of your society. These are not completely polar opposites, but they’re opposite enough that it is difficult to find compromise.

In a perfect society, progressives are more likely to be unfair and unjust, because they seek to tear down and replace institutions that are working. Society is perfect, so any changes you seek to make can only serve to make society worse.

In an imperfect society, conservatives are more likely to be unfair and unjust, because the culture they value and seek to protect is unfair and unjust.

I do not believe we live in a perfect society. We do not have equality for everyone. We have racism, misogyny, ablism, and fiscal inequality. We are not living up to our ideals, and we are actively valuing money over human life. Our systems are not working to protect those that need protection. Our systems are allowing an unscrupulous few to take advantage of the many. The systems need to change.

To be conservative at this point in time is to turn a blind eye to all the injustices we’re living with, which is why I can’t be a conservative. When I was younger, I was. As I’ve gotten older and become more aware of what’s going on around me, I can’t.

In Conclusion

The Batman was really good. He uses fear to try and make a change in his world, to make sure what happened to his family doesn’t happen to someone else. In this recent depiction of the character, he learns that fear is not enough. He learns that fear is a clumsy weapon, usually used by villains and bullies, and he must become something more than that. He must become a figure of hope, because it’s hope that helps us rise up when everything is crumbling around us.

Bruce Wayne, a wealthy and famous individual, would seem like someone that should be conservative, enjoying his inherited wealth and turning his back on the world. Instead, he puts himself in harm’s way. He’s a broken person, just like so many of us are broken, and what makes him truly heroic is that he takes action when so many of us would remain still.

In the end, the action he took was to shine a light and lead people to safety. Looking around at the world today, maybe we could learn a thing or two from The Batman.


I Fixed Something

The TL;DR today is: I fixed my water heater and I feel very good about it.

Now for the longer story…

The last couple of weeks have been pretty rough for me. It seemed like I broke everything I touched, and I just couldn’t fix anything. The video card was the biggest blow. My soldering iron died recently, and I purchased it less than a month ago. Projects at work suffered, but nearly as much as have suffered in my house the last 2 weeks while the water heater refused to work.

PG&E is in our neighborhood, replacing gas lines probably, and the day they showed up was the day our shower only produced cold water. It seemed like a remarkable coincidence, and I had PG&E come out to the house to look into it. We had gas, but the water heater wouldn’t keep its pilot light lit. The tech from PG&E couldn’t do anything about it, and recommended I call a plumber and have them take a stab.

I called a plumber and gave them our information, and they said, “Your water heater is 10 years old. We are not repairing it.”

“Ballpark, how much would it be to replace it?”

“Staying with the same size tank, around $3600.”

I told them I might call them later, but I knew I didn’t want to pay nearly 4 grand to get this work done. The tank wasn’t leaking. We could see the pilot light catching flame. The sensor in the gas valve just wouldn’t keep it lit. The problem had to be with the gas valve.

The internet gave me the information I needed to order a replacement valve. YouTube showed me a video of how easy it is perform the repair. I could do this. I didn’t even need to buy new tools. I just needed to wait for the part to arrive and then the Buhl house would be rich with hot water again. Easy.

We spent nearly two weeks doing what we could to stay clean. Bryanna went ahead and took cold showers. I tried that once but didn’t last more than 30 seconds. I am not Harry Dresden, apparently. Melissa filled the tub with boiling water, because baths work for her. I need a shower to feel clean. I wound up getting a bucket of hot water and scrubbing with a washcloth and a cup in the shower. It worked well enough, but it meant I couldn’t shave.

The part arrived yesterday. After finishing up work, I set to it. I tried to drain the tank. When water stopped dribbling out the hose, I started loosening and remove plumbing so that I could remove the valve.

At this point, you already have a pretty good idea what happened. No part of this repair was as easy as the video made it out to be. The pipe going from the valve to the thermocouple was stainless steel. In the video, the tech bent that out of the way. Impossible in my situation. In the video, they were able to easily rotate the valve off the tank to unscrew it. It popped right off, then the new one went on in its place in hurry, because they knew they didn’t need to empty the tank first. I had no plans of being in a hurry or messing up. That’s why I drained the tank.

This is foreshadowing.

I couldn’t just unscrew the part from the tank. The release valve was in the way. In order to get clearance, I had to remove all of the plumbing surrounding the valve. These are old pipes crusty with age. They defied me. They laughed at my pitiful efforts to loosen them. In the end, I persevered, but it left my hands bruised and raw, and it burned a lot of time.

With the intricate gas plumbing out of the way, I unscrewed the gas valve from the tank. It resisted, but after what I went through with the plumbing, it was easy. It didn’t stand a chance. I defeated the next part of this challenge, and it popped off.

Water gushed from the release valve. It sprayed out the hole in the tank where there once had been a water valve. I was not prepared for this.

This is all taking place in my garage, not far from where I have my office setup. The only silver lining of destroying my graphics card is that had it been in working order, it would have been drenched in that moment. If I hadn’t destroyed my computer before, the water from the tank would have taken it out.

I grabbed a chunk of rusty plumbing and jammed it into the hole in the side of the tank. Then I scrambled for a flathead screwdriver to stop the release valve. This took an uncomfortably long time. My garage began to smell of southern Louisiana.

The next step was to put everything back together. I screwed in the new gas valve, took a trip to Home Depot to buy more sensible gas tubing, and hooked everything up. Before turning on the gas, I noticed a hissing sound coming from the gas valve. It made me very concerned.

Gas flowed into the system. I could smell it a little, but that’s normal before the pilot light is lit. I pushed the buttons to give it the spark, checked the window in front of the thermocouple, and I saw a flame! A few seconds later, the ready light flashed on the valve. It was working! I fixed my water heater!

Sort of.

That hissing sound never stopped, and after running it for a few minutes, Melissa and I could both smell gas. Very faint, but present enough to get us to shut the whole thing down. I had confirmation that I replaced the right part, but when I went to bed, I didn’t know if it was going to be dry or wet.

This morning, it was wet. Water continued to seep down the side of the tank all night. I had more work to do.

I knew what I had to do. I drained the tank, properly this time. It took about 5 hours. Then I took everything apart again, applied more plumber’s tape than before, used more force tightening things down than before, and tried again. When I turned on the gas, I couldn’t smell it at all. I waited several minutes before sparking the pilot light.

No more leaks. No more strange noises. No smell of gas.

A few minutes ago, I had my first hot shower in 2 weeks. I shaved and washed my hair. I stood in the hot water, just letting it soak into my muscles, luxuriating in the bounty of my labor.

It felt good to save a bunch of money on this. Including the cost of the gas tubing, this repair cost about a tenth what the plumber quoted for a new system. That feels good, but something else feels better.

I fixed something. I used my hands and my mind to solve a problem. My confidence is bolstered. I didn’t just repair a 10 year old water heater in my garage. I fixed some of my self-esteem, even if it’s only for a short while.

The next time we have a problem with our water heater, though, we’re going to upgrade to tankless.


The Death of a Gaming Computer

A few minutes ago, I tried to bring the system back to life. Because I use red coolant, when the hastily affixed tubing failed, the system sprayed fluid onto me, my desk, and the closest wall, like arterial blood spurting from an open wound. That was the breaking point, for both the system and myself.

Let me start from the beginning. Some of this I’ve talked about before, but I think I need to go over this again just to give myself a little bit more closure.

At the beginning of September 2020, I decided it was time to start building a new gaming computer in anticipation of Cyberpunk. I built the previous system most of a decade before that, so it was well past time. With everything else going on that year, I needed the new system.

The 30 series of RTX cards were just about to come out, so the timing seemed right. This was before the card shortage hit, so I didn’t know what kind of an undertaking it would be to build this new system.

Like everyone else, I ran into bots and scammers and chip shortages and online stores that liked to bait and switch. I found an online vendor that looked like you could get in line, and months later, they canceled my order only to put up the same card for fifty bucks more.

In February of 2021, I finally found the card for my system, but there was a catch. It came with a water block already on it. To use this card, I needed to build my first custom loop.

I went for it and started reading everything I could on water cooling. I watched a bunch of JayzTwoCents videos. They were particularly useful and entertaining, and I’m still watching his channel on YouTube to this day. It’s good stuff.

My first attempts at getting the loop going succeeded, but in weird ways. I went too cheap on the pump and radiator, and though it kept the card at 60C under load, it looked like hell. The pump and reservoir didn’t fit in the system, so I had tubes hanging out the back. Then after a month or so, the pump died and I had to replace it.

The next pump lasted a little while longer, but still didn’t fit in the case. Noise issues bothered me, and I wound up replacing all the fans. The filter in the second pump melted and destroyed the pump, so I replaced it again.

I started with basic distilled water with an additive, then went to specially bought coolant, pre-colored and ready to go. The newest pump, the XD5 from Corsair, actually fit in my system and looked really good. My gaming system started to look like something to be proud of.

The temperatures started going up, though. Under load, the GPU sat at 88C. Not good. So I continued to tinker.

I bought a 360mm radiator and hard tubing to replace the soft tubing. I learned to bend the tubes and use the new fittings, and again, the system started to look more impressive. My hopes were that the changing in tubing would allow greater flow, and the radiator would grant more cooling capacity. It shouldn’t have been necessary, since there was only one device on the loop. All that work reduced the temperatures about 5 to 6 degrees, but only sometimes. It was still running too hot.

After replacing everything else, I looked at the water block on the GPU. It didn’t have a backplate. It didn’t seem to cover all of the components on the card. In the last rounds of updates and upgrades, I’d taken the block apart and cleaned it, but that had no effect. I decided to replace the block with one from Corsair.

The block arrived yesterday. I took the old block off, installed the new one. Everything seemed fine. I had to bend new tubes because the holes on the new block were about half an inch off from the previous. I anticipated this, and I had the tubing on hand, ready to cut and bend.

Everything fit back together. I added fluid to the system. No leaks. It was ready to hook up and post.

For about twenty minutes, I felt like I accomplished something. The system came right up. Everything looked good. I put the card under load, trying not to hope for too much. I wanted to bring the temperature down 20C so that it would sit in the 60’s again.

I used Valheim as my test app. For some reason, it demands nearly 100% utilization of the GPU at 4K. I ran around on screen, with FPS higher than I’d seen before, and temps lower than I dared to hope for. The temperature never went about 44C.

I did it. I spent all of that money and time and effort, and it finally paid off. I had the gaming system I set out build, satisfying a quest I started over a year ago. With my own hands, I put this beautiful system together, and I was happy. Amazed, and happy.

Then I saw strange artifacts on the screen. Then it went entirely green. Then the system began to hang.

I reset, and the desktop came up for a little bit. But then the artifacts again, and the green, and then nothing.

For a little while, Windows recognized the card but refused to use it. Since I recently upgraded to Windows 11, I thought there was a possibility that the upgrade messed up the drivers, so I completely uninstalled and reinstalled them.

At this point, I knew what happened. During the process of putting on the new water block, I did something to the card itself. Maybe a string of thermal paste from the previous block draped across some components on the card, creating a short. Maybe I touched something I wasn’t supposed to. I don’t know what happened exactly, but as I went through all of the software solutions, I already knew in my heart that this was a hardware problem.

I did a clean install of Windows, installed the latest NVidia drivers, and nothing changed. Windows recognized that the card was there, but it wouldn’t use it. There was a problem with the card and no amount of tinkering with the software was going to fix it.

When I woke up this morning and decided to take the block off again and try to clean the card more thoroughly before putting it back together and trying again. I used a dry brush to remove left over gunk I couldn’t clean last night. I went over the whole card thoroughly. I didn’t see anything burned out. It looked good. I started to build up some hope again.

I told myself not to hope. Hardware problems like this are rarely so easily solved. Yes, I cleaned it, and yes, it looked right, but I needed to keep my expectations in check, because I didn’t want to break my own heart. I’ve been struggling enough as it is lately. Confidence issues. Depression. My faith has been in tatters. I’m tired all the time, thinking dark thoughts more often than light, and I did not want to hope for this because I did not know how I would handle the disappointment.

Faith, hope, and love. While talking to myself, saying not to hope, I thought of Corinthians. Basically, when all else is lost, we still have faith, hope, and love. But my faith is ruined. Hope feels like breathing shards of glass. And love, I don’t feel like I deserve.

When I took the card out to clean it, I had trouble getting the fittings loose. When I put the card back in the system, I tried not to tighten them as much.

I did not dare to hope too much, so I did not spend as much time making sure the fittings were seated as properly as I usually do. I never had a problem with leaks before. Why would I have a problem this time?

Without putting the front glass back on, I put the system in its place, hooked it up, and turned it on. I wasn’t going to have it on for long, anyway. I had no hope of the card coming back to life.

And then the system bled everywhere, as I described in the beginning.

I didn’t log into Windows. I shut it down, then went and sat in a chair, wishing I could cry, but unable to produce even a single tear.

This is a loss. There is a hole in my life. There are many holes, actually. This one’s just the freshest, and its painful because of how much it cost, and how I have no one to blame but myself.

Before sitting down to write this, I cleaned up all the fluid. The system is sitting on my workbench again. I cleaned it as well. I don’t think any of the other components are damaged. Maybe someday, I’ll get another video card and bring it back to life. Maybe I’ll wait and start a different system when there isn’t a chip shortage.

I don’t know. I’m very sad right now. Writing this all out helps. I’m still very fortunate in a number of ways, and I should count my blessings and keep my chin up, and all that. But it hurts, and I think I need to sit with the pain for a little bit before moving on. I need to give myself permission to feel sad about this.

Somewhere out there, someone hates me. I’m the villain in their story, the antagonist whenever I show up in their life. I don’t know who they are, but I hope they find out about this moment I’m going through. I’m miserable, feeling utterly defeated. I hope this low point can at least be the high point of their day.


The Inexplicable Hate for the MCU

I just watched the Honest Trailers for the Hawkeye series, and I can’t say that I loved it. There were a couple of jokes that made me smile, but I think I’m tired of people shitting on the MCU just because it’s the trendy thing to do right now.

Am I a biased MCU fan boy? Probably. But I don’t think the criticism thrown at a lot of MCU properties are fair or compelling anymore.

For example, I see a lot of criticism about all MCU properties being formulaic. This makes me pinch the bridge of my nose and sigh, for two reasons. 1) That’s just Hollywood, baby. 2) Aside from Shang Chi and Eternals both using special effects, there’s not a lot in common between the two, and they came out one after the other.

If you like movies, you don’t really care that the MCU tends to follow a formula, which is the 3 act structure. Seriously. Look at movies both financially and critically and you’ll find that the 3 act structure dominates the box office. It’s comfortable, and there’s nothing wrong with that. There is room for stories that don’t follow this structure, but those rarely make money. Not all art has to make money.

But while I’m mentioning art, let’s talk about the MCU. The way the MCU works is, there is an overarching plan and a color palette to keep everything in the same universe and coherent. The color palette is how you can have Black Widow and Guardians of the Galaxy in the same series. Though it can make things look similar, it still allows for moments of breath-taking beauty, like what we see in Thor: Ragnarok and Black Panther.

There is an overarching plan and a similar color palette, but then vastly different directors are allowed to make the movie they want to make. Kenneth Branagh and Taika Waititi are extremely different directors with vastly different visions, and they were able to make completely different Thor movies. You can say that Waititi’s vision is the superior one, and I will agree that it was more fun, but you cannot tell me with a straight face that these MCU properties are all the same. They’re not, even when they hit the same beats.

So why is it common to hate on the MCU these days?

It’s because it’s easier to tear down than to build up.

It’s because controversy gets clicks. More people read about Trump than they read about Biden because Trump is a train wreck, and we’re all gawkers. You’re more likely to click a link talking about how the MCU sucks than one which heaps praise on an already successful franchise. The former is controversial, because it is counter to the critical and financial success of the movies. The latter is just marketing.

I think the people that make their money off of media, the Screen Junkies and critics and media influencers, are out of interesting things to say about the MCU that isn’t a tear down. If there was a sports team that won 85% of its games, fans would stick with it for a while. Then they’d get bored, because the outcome is predictable, and then the only thing you’d see about the team is how much they “suck.” People would write articles about how this team only won by 9 points instead of 20 in their last game, or how they always use the same plays to win games.

Quick side note… you may have noticed I stopped writing the blog every day. So much for that New Year’s resolution, right? Well, the resolution wasn’t about writing every day as much as it was about writing. I had a few days where I didn’t have anything interesting to say, and I was distracted with other cool projects, which I’ll talk about later.

I’m going to keep trying to post more frequently. This is the only “new” writing I’m doing right now. Once I’m done with the revisions of Synthetic Dreams, I’ll consider starting something else. I have no idea when those revisions will be complete, because there’s really no reason for me to rush and get it finished.


The Critique Group Boost

If you’ve been reading my posts over the last week or so — you haven’t been, but that’s okay — you might have seen a tendency towards depression and negativity. I’ve just been feeling so down. I prefer to be honest and fair, so whatever I’m feeling in the moment is going to influence the tone of these posts.

This is the main problem with writing a post every day. Normally, when I’m feeling like my post is going to be less than positive, I can choose to not post anything. This can go for days, weeks, or even months. If you’ve ever looked at my archive and seen huge gaps, it’s mostly because I didn’t want to post something negative.

Now I’m feeling quite a bit better, so this should be better.

One of the reasons I’m feeling better is that I’ve been really active on a couple of projects. I’ve printed most of the large pieces required for the next keyboard, and I’ve ordered the switches and wires and the microchip which will run the whole thing. I watched some instructional videos, so I know how to wire this up. I’m prepared! When it’s all done, it may not be the prettiest, but it will be the most personal.

Also, I realized that if I ever write an actual cyberpunk story, this completely custom keyboard is the instrument I’ll use to write it. It makes me excited.

The parts I need to buy to build the keyboard are on order. Also, the parts I need to finish upgrading my gaming PC are on order. Multiple projects are moving forward at the same time, which feels like momentum. It feels like I’m doing stuff.

Beyond all of that, I had a really great meeting with the critique group on Saturday. It isn’t just that they said nice things about my story. They did say nice things, but I think getting to be part of a community hit me like medicine.

I’ve also been attending the Shut Up and Write groups, thanks to Mike Baltar. During yesterdays’ meeting, I worked on the revision of Synthetic Dreams. I really want to get that to the point where I can share it. Then I can move on to the next story. Maybe that cyberpunk story. Maybe the fantasy story I tried writing in 2011.

I’m feeling better. Hopefully this is a trend and I’ll feel good tomorrow, too.


Dreaming of Getting Better

I don’t usually remember my dreams, but the one from last night hasn’t completely faded yet. Something happened in the world and people were given something that granted them the ability to regenerate. Death and sickness should have been a thing of the past, but I became sick anyway. I struggled to breathe and move around while people all around me looked on with concern. Towards the end, some decision was made. Surgery? Burial? My family was going to move on without me? I don’t remember the exact detail. I just remember hating it. The anger rekindled my will, and I forced myself up. I went to a sick and made myself cough up all of the things filling my lungs. The large particulate matter refused to disgorge. I stuck my fingers deep down my throat and grabbed strings and mud and bits that aren’t supposed to be in the body and pulled it all out. The last foreign object I removed was a near perfect gray and white feather. As I looked at it in the sink, I breathed easy.

Then I began stomping around the room, forcing strength back into my limbs while my family watched with concern. I shouldn’t have been able to do that, one of them said. “The regeneration didn’t take, so how is he regenerating?” someone else said. I heard their doubts, and that just made me grit my teeth and stomp harder. In the end, I emerged from the house and started stomping around the world, which did not seem ready for me.

As I was writing this recount of the dream, I wondered if this had anything to do with the pandemic. When I first woke up, I thought this was more about what I’ve been talking about lately, which is the depression and anger with myself. Maybe the dream is about fear of getting sick, but I think it’s more about knowing that I’m already unwell in my head. Everyone else in the world has something given to them that helps them, but it doesn’t help me. I have the ability to get better on my own, but I have to choose to do so. If I don’t make that choice, the world will move on without me.

As I slept, the first piece of my new custom keyboard finished printing. Each of the main pieces will take 6 hours. The second piece will be finished around 3PM. We visited Home Depot last night just before they closed, to make sure there were fewer people there, and I picked up a new soldering iron and a heat gun, the tools I need for the keyboard and for the liquid cooling in my gaming PC. Progress is happening with both of those projects.

Tomorrow, I’ll talk about writing and the critique group from yesterday.


Running on Empty

Yesterday’s post felt honest, but mean. Not all truths need to be delivered with force. If someone asks if their dress makes them look fat, you don’t have to lie. You can say, “It’s not flattering to your figure” or “it’s not my favorite outfit you’ve worn.” You can say yes without making it a personal attack.

Feeling a little bit more rested today, I committed a personal attack on myself. Not a whacky, zany kind of thing like Jim Carrey in Liar Liar. Not even an ironic scene like in Fight Club.

I’m just… empty. When I reach inside for self-compassion, I don’t find any, just like I’m not finding much in the way of creativity or cleverness. I feel tired all the time, even when I’ve had a good night’s rest.

Today, writing the daily blog post is hard, because when I look for something to say, I’m not finding anything profound or useful to put into the world. Just echoes of the stuff from yesterday, because I’m cavernous and hollow inside.

I’ve tried playing my instrument a few times. It’s like finding warmth from a struck match. It’s momentary and painful if I try to grasp it. There’s nothing to kindle to flames, so the moment burns out and I’m cold again.

Editing Spin City for the critique group is good. There is some really clever dialog in that story. The story itself is clever, and I wish I could go back in time and give it to my younger self. It’s the kind of story he wanted to write. But then I look at the business of writing and I think of what it would take to get the book in other people’s hands, and I get that hollow feeling all over again.

3D printing and gaming. Replacing the custom water loop in my computer. Cleaning up parts of my garage. These are all short term solutions to a long term problem.

I don’t know how to refill the well. I don’t think it can come from outside. I don’t think anyone can give me a few choice words and rekindle my inner fire. I have to find the answer myself and then do the work.

The challenge is that I don’t want to do anything. Everything I am doing right now is an act of will. And there’s only so much of it to go around.

I finished this post, though, and I’m attending the critique group soon. After that, I’ll probably start the print of the new keyboard I want to build.