Adoration of the Snowman

Adoration of the Snowman, originally uploaded by bradipo. Photo by Philip Brewer. Snow sculpture by some neighbor kid, I assume.

I almost captured the posture in this picture—the snowman leaning back, face turned up, arms spread wide. He looks like there’s nothing in the world more interesting than the apartment building across the path.

Creative Commons License
Adoration of the Snowman by Philip Brewer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License.

Applications open for Clarion

If you’re a writer of speculative fiction, you’ve probably already heard of the Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers’ Workshop—and probably already spent some time wishing you could go. At least, that was my experience. I first heard of the workshop in the late 1970s; I didn’t manage to attend until 2001.

For me, Clarion was a purely positive experience. I learned a lot about writing, wrote several stories (one of which got published in a good market), met a bunch of great writers (both teachers and fellow students), and generally had a blast nearly every day for six weeks.

If you want to know what Clarion was like for me, you’re in luck—I kept a journal of my time at Clarion. (Other possibly useful stuff I wrote about Clarion include my article How I Learned at Clarion, which talks about my surprise at discovering that the activities that I thought would be more or less useful turned out to be just about backwards, and my page on Clarion Costs, which talks about my Clarion expenses.)

But what’s more important is what Clarion will be like for you, which is something that you can’t read about—it’s just something that you’ll be able to write about, if you go.

Here’s the official announcement.

If the idea appeals to you, there’s a button at the bottom of the Clarion page that you can click to start your own application.

Website revisions

I’ve made some revisions to my website.

  1. I’ve updated to a new theme that includes support for “asides” (brief posts like this one) and thumbnails (pictures to be featured when only an extract of the post is shown, such as on the category and search pages).
  2. I’ve removed the “sticky” post that had my picture and text about me, and replaced it with an abbreviated version at the top of the sidebar.

What do you think?

NaNoWriMo ends

As NaNoWriMo ends, I’ve taken down my progress bar. It topped 15,000 around mid-month, but hasn’t moved much since then. I’ve re-learned a lesson I’ve learned before—I can only produce around 1000 words of fiction per day on a sustained basis.

At the end of the first week I managed a 2300-word day to get back on track, but then only hit 300 words each of the next two days. That pretty much put paid to the notion of hitting 50,000 by the end of the month—and the related discouragement made it all the harder to be productive over the second half of the month.

However, I’m by no means giving up. At 1000 words per day, I should be able to finish this novel in just another couple of months.

That’s my plan. I may even put up a non-NaNaWriMo progress bar.

Even with the failure to produce a novel in a month, I’ve found the process to be useful. Two things in particular stand out:

  1. I had a boatload of new novel ideas that I’ve had to push aside to keep working on this one. They all seem particularly shiny. I’m looking forward to picking one of them to work on next.
  2. I’ve learned a lot about structuring a novel, which is very different from structuring a short story. I’ll have more to say about that in the future.

I spent most of the morning making minor revisions to my outline, based on insights into how the novel should be structured. There’ll be some more of that this afternoon—but also, hopefully, some new text generation as well.

The moderately grim truth

Via Dmitry Orlov, I happened upon America: The Grim Truth, which I think is worth reading, even though I disagree with both the forecast and the prescription.

It’s worth reading because I think it’s actually pretty good descriptively—it nails the split between the reality of the current situation and the average American’s perception of it. I am persistently amazed at the things that Americans just accept.

On food:

Much of the beef you eat has been exposed to fecal matter in processing. Your chicken is contaminated with salmonella. Your stock animals and poultry are pumped full of growth hormones and antibiotics.

On education:

In most countries in the developed world, higher education is either free or heavily subsidized; in the United States, a university degree can set you back over US$100,000. Thus, you enter the working world with a crushing debt. Forget about taking a year off to travel the world and find yourself – you’ve got to start working or watch your credit rating plummet.

On wealth:

America has the illusion of great wealth because there’s a lot of “stuff” around, but who really owns it? In real terms, the average American is poorer than the poorest ghetto dweller in Manila, because at least they have no debts. If they want to pack up and leave, they can; if you want to leave, you can’t, because you’ve got debts to pay.

On freedom:

Why would anyone put up with this? Ask any American and you’ll get the same answer: because America is the freest country on earth. If you believe this, I’ve got some more bad news for you: America is actually among the least free countries on earth. Your piss is tested, your emails and phone calls are monitored, your medical records are gathered, and you are never more than one stray comment away from writhing on the ground with two Taser prongs in your ass.

Even though I agree with just about all of that, I disagree on the prospects for the future.

First of all, the current situation is still an improvement over most of US history. Through our whole first century and a half, the average American lived a life just as dangerous, just as precarious, and just as vulnerable as the one described above. And if the average American didn’t owe just as much money, it was only because he didn’t have access to that much credit.

My point is not that things are okay now, but rather that the fact that things got better serves as an existence proof that getting better is something that can happen.

Second, although the situation in the US is very bad for someone who has gotten caught in the wage-slave/debt-slave trap, it remains possible in the US to opt out. It’s actually pretty easy, as long as you avoid debt. And avoiding debt is pretty easy: just don’t let yourself be sucked into the consumer lifestyle. There’s an awful lot of crap for sale—don’t buy it. There are plenty of big houses for sale—don’t buy one. You can live in a bigger, nicer apartment if you’re willing to live an hour’s drive from where you work—but if you live where you can walk to work, you don’t have to buy a car. With the money you save, join the rentier class.

I think we ought to change things, and I think it would be great if we could get the government to set rules that would encourage those changes—require uncontaminated food, prohibit predatory lending, protect workers from abuse, etc. But individuals can actually make those changes in their own lives without needing the government to act.

So I don’t see a need to flee the country. But that doesn’t mean that I think things are okay—which is why I think that’s a post worth reading.

On the ethics of submitting to airport security

I don’t want to say that I’m never going to fly again. I’d fly—if it were necessary to hurry to the bedside of a sick relative or to rescue someone. I might, just possibly, fly in order to take the vacation of a lifetime. But routine flying? I’m done with it. I’m simply no longer willing to participate in the system.

Megan McArdle hits almost the right note in this piece in the Atlantic: Dear Airline, I’m Leaving You. She seems to get the ethical aspect of being a willing participant in an immoral system, although she plays it for laughs.

Through most of the past decade, I flew on business a couple times a year. I got to watch as airport security became more and more a kind of shamanistic ritual better suited to deflecting blame in case of a terrorist incident than actually preventing one.

It always annoyed me—the pointlessness, more than the actual inconvenience. But even more than that, the fact that I submitted to it was a blow to my self-image. I take security seriously—all those business trips were for my work on Bluetooth security. As a person who takes security seriously, I really hated my role in the mock security at airports. Each time I submitted to it, simply because it was the only way to get where I needed to go, I thought less of myself.

I also worry about the TSA agents. Where I was only playing a brief role in the security theater, they were doing it as a career. How soul-destroying must it be when your whole career is performing pointless acts of mock security?

And spending your working life doing mock security is nothing compared to what those poor TSA guys and girls are doing now. Spending your days staring through the clothing of the traveling public? Getting paid to grope a steady stream of tourists and business people? No one with good moral character could do the work—which means that any such people will be quickly driven out of the job. Soon the only TSA agents left behind will be degenerates who don’t understand why what they’re doing is wrong.

And that is what I refuse to participate in. It’s not that I worry about people seeing me naked, nor about someone touching me inappropriately. It’s that the whole system is wrong. It mandates behavior that is uncivilized, unethical, harmful to everyone involved.

If I fly again, it will be because I’m doing something so important that it outweighs the harm of participating in the degrading system of mock security our society has foolishly bought into. That’s a pretty high standard.

[Update: After posting this I discovered TSA Enhanced Pat Downs : The Screeners Point Of View, which shows pretty clearly that many of the screeners know what they’re doing is wrong.]

Feeding the soul

I was feeling kind of glum yesterday. It was just brain chemicals, I think—the result of a gray day when I was already feeling a little discouraged about my progress on my novel. (My recent post on how I’m not suffering as much from seasonal affect disorder notwithstanding.)

Poster detail showing loom setup

Poster detail showing loom setup

I was feeling kind of glum yesterday. It was just brain chemicals, I think—the result of a gray day when I was already feeling a little discouraged about my progress on my novel. (My recent post on how I’m not suffering as much from seasonal affect disorder notwithstanding.)

I was already feeling better today (it’s sunny), but decided to do something cheering anyway. So, I went to the Krannert Art Museum, which turned out to be showing an exhibit of turn-of-the-century poster art. I’m a big fan of poster art and art deco, so it was full of wonderful stuff. By merest coincidence, I’d earlier in the day happened upon this Art of the Poster 1880-1918 site, so I got a fun double dose of poster art.

Plus, one of the posters featured a loom, which I thought Jackie would appreciate.

There was also an exhibit of student art in the lobby outside the art museum that was much more interesting than 90% of what was in the museum itself. I couldn’t find a link, which is too bad. There was a lot of good stuff—some pretty, some funny, some thoughtful.

When it comes to dealing with glumness, I think it’s basic things that really matter—nutrition, exercise, getting enough sleep, spending some time out in the sun whenever there’s a sunny day. Once I’ve got that covered, though, the best short-term response to short-term glumness is to fit something cheerful into the day; preferably something that’s not just cheerful, but also meaningful in some way. For that, I particularly like going to museums. Something that’s merely cheering is worth doing. Something that’s cheering and also feeds the soul is even better.

Less SAD

Sunset SilhouetteThis used to be a pretty bad time of year. Already the days have gotten dark. Already dawn comes too late to get me up on time to go work at a regular job. Worse, the solstice is still six weeks away. That means it’s going to be twelve more weeks before things are even this good again.

It used to be that I’d start obsessing about the coming dark days only a few weeks after the summer solstice. July was usually fine, but sometime in August I’d start thinking that summer was winding down. I’d dread the prospect of getting up in the dark—something my brain chemistry thinks is profoundly unnatural. Shortly after that I’d be not merely getting up in the dark, I’d be heading off to work in the dark—and then coming home in the dark as well, since the sun would set before 5:00 PM until late January.

By now, despite a brief respite with the end of daylight savings time, I’d no longer be merely dreading seasonal depression, I’d be actually suffering from it.

The last three years have been much better. Not only am I suffering less during the depths of winter, I’m also much better off through late summer and early fall, because I’m not spending that time dreading the winter.

A lot of it, I think, comes from not having to work a regular job. Not only can I sleep until dawn (which is when I tend to get up even during the summer weeks when it means getting up before 4:30), I have more flexibility to take advantage of what hours of sunlight there are. Perhaps equally important, my depressive thoughts used to center on work: Because I was depressed, I’d have trouble getting things done. Because I was not getting things done, I’d worry about keeping my job. And then, in a classic spiral, worry over keeping my job would make me more depressed.

So, not having to work a regular job is win on both fronts, and is the main thing I credit with my improvement these past three years.

I did do one other thing that may have helped: I started taking vitamin D. I take 1000 IU daily from October to March, figuring that I get enough sunlight to make my own during the other months of the year. (It doesn’t take much.)

(I also now understand people who use tanning booths, many of whom have told me that they don’t do it because they want to have a tan, but because they “feel better” when do. I have no doubt that many are treating themselves for a vitamin D deficiency.)

Back when this was more of a problem, I experimented some with full-spectrum lighting, which some people find helpful. It never seemed to help me. One thing that I never tried—because the apparatus tended to be expensive—was a dawn simulator. I might have been really helped by a timed light that started out dim and then brightened over the course of thirty minutes to something akin to early morning sun streaming through the window.

I should say that my seasonal depression was never severe. I never felt I needed to seek medical treatment, for example. I handled it informally with the ordinary, obvious stuff—trying to get enough exercise, trying to get enough sleep, trying to minimize stress, adding some more fun stuff to my day when I was feeling out of sorts.

That was enough to keep things under control during the dark days of winter. But it wasn’t enough to keep me from spending late summer and early fall worrying about the dark days of winter.

Progress

A productive day today.

Thursday is my busy day—lifting weights and Taiji in the morning, lunch with friends, and then the weekly Esperanto Club meeting in the evening—so I hadn’t hit my word count that day. On top of that, I’d fallen slightly short on Friday as well, so I got up this morning some 500 words off the pace.

One long day of writing today, though, and I’m back on track with just over 10,000 words. And that progress was despite some minor restructuring of the stuff I’ve already written.

I often find it hard to go on when I’m writing stuff that won’t mesh with what I’ve already written. It helps a lot to take an hour or two and get the earlier stuff to match my current conception of the story. Of course it’s better when I don’t spend my time that way, but sometimes it’s just faster to go ahead and do it than to try and keep track of what I need to fix.

Not only that, but I also finished up a Wise Bread post which will probably go up tomorrow or the next day.

Toby on NaNoWriMo

Tobias Buckell’s analogy of NaNoWriMo writers being like the crowd of guys with new gym memberships on January 2 is very good. But I’d like to qualify it just a bit. As a year-round gym user, I like those guys.

Yes, the gym is a bit crowded for a few weeks, but they’re mostly gone by February—while the dues those guys pay help to keep the gym open the rest of the year.

Maybe the analogy breaks down at that point, but maybe not. Anybody who tries to write a novel in a month is going to learn something about being a writer. Maybe they’ll learn it’s hard work, and come to have a little more respect for the people who succeed at it. That’d be good. Even better, maybe they’ll find it’s easy and natural, and the world will gain another great writer.

Whatever they learn, I expect the world is a better place for them having learned it.