Saturday, March 22, 2014

Change Reaction

Photo by Open Democracy .  licensed under
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic
I've blogged about this before, but sometimes I get a terrible feeling of restlessness.  My greatest desire in these moments of anxiety is to change something.  Part of me yearns for a sense of adventure that seems lacking in my life.  But adventures are usually risky, and I am in a risk averse period of my life right now.  But this feeling or force in me keeps searching for an outlet.  Will I give in to the urge and make a frivolous purchase or take an unwise action for the sake of making a change?

There's a buzz that goes along with novelty.  There is a line from Frank Herbert's Dune that describes the importance of change.  "Without change something sleeps inside us, and seldom awakens.  The sleeper must awaken."  The trouble is I'm not sure if I'm asleep or awake!  I used to enjoy the risks of startup tech companies, but it seems like life is fraught with peril in today's economy--especially as a middle aged worker.  I'm also not big on risking my life in dangerous sports.  I'm a father and I have a responsibility to stay alive.  So thrill seeking is out.

They say organisms have a natural tendency to grow and expand.  But unchecked growth and expansion can kill an organism.  Organisms can exceed their environment's ability to sustain them or encounter unexpected predators.  Is the most difficult thing in modern life to try and control the impulse to always expand?  Or perhaps the trick is to focus the expansion and growth inward and away from the material world?

I am someone that prides myself on being somewhat wise, but I am constantly surprised by how misguided I am.  The anecdote about wisdom leading to humility must be true.  We are all like spinning tops bumping around on a table.  We lurch back and forth between life's events.  The choices are bewildering and our spins carry a lot of inertia.  Plus we're all scared to fall over--but we all do in the end.

This world is so chaotic that I think a person needs to be their own psychologist in order to stay on an even keel.  I suspect the people that seem to be the most together in this life are the people with the greatest level of self-awareness.  Maybe that's the real meaning of Herbert's quote.  The awakening he refers to could be awakening into self-awareness.  Our daily routines tend to dull our self-awareness.  If I can't make large scale changes to my life then maybe I can make a lot of small ones.  I do notice that I'm usually refreshed by doing something different.  Perhaps that's the key.  Making changes in small, manageable ways and staying refreshed and renewed in the process.

The current word count on the Hemlock Book IV manuscript is about 18,000.  I'm feeling good about the story and staying productive within my writing routine.  I'm getting to some exciting scenes that I'm dying to talk about but can't.  I'm also having additional ideas about existing scenes and that's always rewarding.  These are the ideas that take a solid scene and make it noteworthy.

I'm still planning to continue my posts on gaming as a metaphor for life.  I decided to just write this blog post by the seat of my pants instead of doing something more regimented.  But I will continue that series very soon.  I hope you are having a wonderful beginning to spring!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Losing Control and Gaining Sanity

Photo by kurokayo .  licensed under
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic
We lost power last week and I had an interesting experience roughing it.  When we first lost power, I spent several hours setting up the small generator we have and running extension cords into the house.  I had a devil of a time starting that generator.  I eventually had to get some ether to turn it over, but I didn't figure that out until I had tried a couple hundred pulls and injured my shoulder in the process. But I got it going, and then I had a space heater running in one room.  That one room was tolerably warm, but the rest of the house was very cold.  There's nothing quite like sleeping in a cold house to put things in perspective.  And getting out of your warm bed and going out into the cold, snowy night to check on a stalled generator at 4am puts an awful lot of things into perspective!

I know a lot of people hated losing power, but I found the experience to be oddly cathartic.  It was a break from the normal routine and it imposed some physical hardship that re-focused the daily pleasures we take for granted.  When the power came back after about thirty hours, I felt renewed and refreshed.  Every part of my normal (warm!) routine was now a joy.  Alas, this feeling of bliss only lasted about a week.  But, on the bright side, we may lose power again tomorrow.  I look forward to the incoming "Nor'easter" storm with a mixture of dread and anticipation.  I don't really want to lose power, but my soul might need to.

Maybe this positive take away from losing power is telling me I need to plan some camping trips or other outings to get away from modern civilization and its myriad of tempting and mind-numbing conveniences.  I'm still parsing the whole experience (and there may be more data to collect tomorrow), but this is my early conclusion.

I've been reading some varied books lately.  I've read books about alien abductions, men in black and government conspiracies.  I've also read a book about the American campaign in western Europe in World War II, and now I'm reading a medical drama set in east Africa.  It's a diverse set of topics.  The modus operandi here is people give me books as gifts and I read them when I need a break from my usual genres.  I am enjoying the variety.  And it's nice to read something unusual and outside my normal comfort zone from time to time.

Work on Hemlock book four is proceeding at my usual slow but steady pace.  This novel will hopefully be the Magnum opus of my writing life.  Actually, it may end up being the Magnum opus of my life.  It's hard to see past this book and this series.  I have a couple of book ideas waiting in the wings, but the Hemlock books are different.  In addition to being pure adventure stories, they represent nothing less than a distillation of the sum of my total life experience up to this point.  And by that I mean there is a spectrum of ideas from the various epochs of my own evolution as a person "baked" into these tales.  I think the first novel has parallels to a figurative representation of my teens and twenties.  That book was like a creative explosion of writing energy built up over decades of dormancy.  The sequel was still frantic in parts, but it was more measured and thoughtfully constructed--maybe like my thirties?  The third book is too soon out of the gate for me to put a finger on where it will fit.  I think it's the first book where I had to start weaving the story toward a conclusion as opposed to introducing new elements.  Is that a parallel to middle age?  This fourth book is bringing it all home, and it's building toward pivotal scenes I imagined many years ago and will finally be able to write.  The melody from "Thus Spoke Zarathustra" (the theme from 2001: A Space Odyssey) comes to mind.  This is probably hubris but it's no coincidence.  I'm swinging for the fences on this one!

The next installment of my "Gaming as a Metaphor for Life" series should be posted soon!  Thanks for reading!

Friday, January 10, 2014

Gaming as a Metaphor for Life


Photo by Mild Mannered Photographer .  licensed under
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic
The following is the first post in a blog series I'll be writing about the parallels between real life and video games.  I used to be a big gamer, and I applied many of the concepts I learned in games to advance myself in real life.  How, you ask?  Read on!
 
I used to be a person that was crippled by social anxiety--a person who was more comfortable interacting with machines than other living, breathing people.  I loved video games--probably to a fault!  I still love them, as a matter of fact.  But my love for them is now as much sentimental as it is based on current experience.  I've evolved into a different place in my life.  Games don't hold the same meaning for me anymore, but I do still love them!

When I played video games as a kid it felt like I became everything I wanted to be in the real world.  I was bold!  I was powerful!  I took risks and they paid off!  Even though games were comparatively crude in my formative years, they still managed to be incredibly immersive to me.  This was an era before I fully understood computers.  Somehow, as the years have gone by, my understanding of the nuts and bolts of computers has diminished my sense of wonder about them.  But, back in my youth they were the stuff of dreams.  These plastic boxes created virtual realities, and in my mind they were boundless.  I had no sense of the constraints of the simulations.

As I got older something about the games began to bleed over into my real life.  I realized that the power I felt in video games could become power in the real world if I was able to properly direct my thoughts.  The decisions I made in the games were made in the absence of the crippling anxiety I often experienced in real life.  If I could be cold and calculating in a game, could I learn to be that way in real life?  I began to suspect that I could!

One of the immediate effects of this "transformation" was that I started to become bolder in real life.  I began this process by mapping certain stressful situations into video game parallels.  This taught me to do empirical risk analysis in the real world.  I learned that I could apply the same cold logic I'd apply to a battle in one of the old gold box RPGs to a decision about taking a risky new job with a big increase in salary.  Before I crossed this chasm of self doubt, I probably would have been too fearful to risk a voluntary plunge into an unknown scenario.  But I became confident enough to take a chance, had a few successes, and suddenly realized that I loved the freshness of new experiences.  The fear of change left me completely.

If you are a young gamer, I want you to think about how you behave when you play video games.  I'm not talking about killing spree/rampage games like GTA, here.  I'm talking about games with tactical and strategic elements that require care and planning for success.  Realize that your life isn't that much different than a game like this.  Sure, it's a bigger stage, so to speak, but many of the behavioral concepts are similar--especially when you have to devote a real world resource like your precious time to achieve an in-game goal.  Empirical risk analysis is one of the key parallels, here.  When a decision presents itself in the real world try to take a step back from any emotion you may feel.  Pretend you have a re-spawn in your back pocket.  What would you do?  If your answer surprises you, then take a hard look at the risks associated with that course of action.  Are you young?  It's best to take risks when you are young!  But they should be calculated risks!  And you need to understand the risk/reward associated with any risky decision.

This isn't the full story, of course.  You'll want to read about my next parallel between gaming and real life which is that real life is like a level grind.  Watch this blog for the next installment of this series!  Thanks for reading!


Friday, December 6, 2013

Asterisk

Photo by Steve Snodgrass .  licensed under
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic
What is the origin of the creeping malaise that continually conspires to prevent me from making blog updates?  I guess you'd have to call it sloth.  I've been waiting to be inspired, but at some point it becomes obvious that one simply has to write something or a blog ceases to be a blog and becomes something more like a requiem.

Ah, here's a thought.  OK, wait.  First off, rest assured that my work on Hemlock IV is significantly more inspired than this blog post appears to be.  That's the good news.  OK, back to this thought I just had.  Wait...  Can you believe it?  It's gone already.  That's crazy.  At some point a project ceases to be revelatory and descends into drudgery.  But there's no shame in that.  Every worthwhile thing I've accomplished in my life has needed some in-glamorous elbow grease to get it over the finish line.  So why should this blog post be any different?  Oh, right.  I was going to tell you about my writing process.

My writing process is to take my laptop and go to a local fast food place.  It's one of the supposedly healthy fast food places.  Somehow I doubt it is really healthy, but it does feel lighter and less toxic than the burger places.  And I've hit a groove at this place.  I write every other day.  I don't write for very long because I don't have time to.  But it's a nice little block of time where I write and re-read what I wrote the previous session.  I make light edits and then forge ahead.  I always thought writing a novel would be difficult, but it's really not if you approach it this way.  Just establish a writing routine and you will finish a novel.  But I shouldn't leave out a caveat...a veritable asterisk that should be slammed down over this blog post by a big white Roger Rabbit cartoon hand.

These writing sessions are totally reliant on a story outline I've prepared.  I've got the first seven or eight chapters of the new novel outlined because I simply can't keep all of the plot details straight without it.  My memory certainly isn't my strong suit.  It's not like the prose is incredibly intricate when you read it, but writing a climax to a series does require a lot of plot juggling.  It should fall together naturally for the reader, but that artificial harmony is the product of a lot of mental simulation, note taking and sessions of imagining.  I get a lot of ideas in the shower.  I used to get a lot on the lawn mower, but now that season has passed.

This may be the worst blog post I've written so far.  I apologize for that.  Maybe I need to blog during breakfast...incorporate it into my routine.  I suppose I should take my own advice.  But I'd be groggy...  I'd probably write about sugary kid's cereals and clumsy yoga.  Writing at lunch does provide the theoretical advantage of being at peak wakefulness.  Unlike this post which is probably incoherent because I'm so tired.  Time to fall asleep at the keyboard**************

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Virtual Inspiration

Photo by Bill Strain .  licensed under
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic
What have I been up to lately?  I've been working on the fourth Hemlock book.  Progress is slow but steady.  I recently finished reading The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett.  I think it was perfect timing for me to read that book as I'm facing the challenge of completing the finale of the Hemlock story.  In The Pillars of the Earth, Follett masterfully weaves together the tales of many characters over an epic story arc.  I studied this book as I read it, and it taught me a few things about creating interesting conflicts and keeping the reader engaged with many different characters.

I've been taken with a new tech toy I recently bought: an Oculus Rift VR headset.  I don't use the term VR lightly.  I've been waiting for legitimate virtual reality for over two decades now.  I briefly owned a true VR setup in the 2000s.  It was made by a company called Division, and it took a computer the size of a small refrigerator to run it.  The headset was the size of an American Football helmet and the computer tech was from the 90s.  But it had good field of view (percentage of your vision it covers), good head tracking, and it was easily the best thing I'd seen before or since--until Oculus Rift, that is.  The Oculus Rift is the real deal.  It is VR fully realized in a small and convenient package.  It fits on your head like a ski mask and it covers nearly your entire field of view.  The resolution isn't amazing, but it's good enough.  The head tracking and 3D effect are first rate.  You feel like you are in the virtual space.  And that's a very trippy feeling (sometimes literally if you manage to lose your bearings in the real world while wearing the mask).  I think VR is going to be the future of gaming.  If you think online games are addicting now then you ain't seen nothing yet.  This is a game changer (pun intended).

I recently came up with a saying that I kind of like: "depression is unrealized inspiration."  Now, when I discuss depression I don't necessarily mean chronic (clinical) depression because I've never experienced that.  I refer to the more conventional type of down feelings that everyone experiences from time to time.  I've noticed that when I start to feel down I typically end up being very inspired about something soon after.  It's a mysterious phenomenon.  But, after some introspection, I think it's like a stream of creative energy is flowing up toward my conscious mind but getting obstructed somehow. And, paradoxically, it seems like the pressure of that unrealized inspiration can create a feedback loop where the pressure itself begins to become an obstruction to the creative flow.  It seems to queue up, and the pressure builds until I finally achieve some kind of creative release.This personal realization may change the way I look at depression.  Instead of wallowing in it I'm going to try to think about creative outlets and things that inspire me creatively.  I'm going to listen to more music and watch films I love.  And I'm going to spend more time talking to people that inspire me--positive people. 

Thanks for reading, and I hope you are enjoying a wonderful fall (if you are in the U.S., that is).  We're gearing up for Halloween in the United States.  Halloween seems to be a holiday on the rise.  I think that's because it allows for safe exploration of the greatest mystery of our lives: death.  But that's a topic for another blog post.

Monday, September 16, 2013

The Spice Must Flow! And Pass the Chips...

I recently went to a small convention featuring 70s and 80s pop culture.  It was pretty neat.  There was the whole cosplay thing, which I'm really not that interested in--but I do have to admit that the people in costume add to the overall ambiance quite a bit.  And then there were the vendors peddling ancient artifacts from these lost decades.  I purchased a few items.  First, I bought a box containing someone's old Dungeons and Dragons collection.  I only intended to buy one book, but the guy insisted on selling the entire box together.  I looked over everything in the box and made a reasonable offer which he accepted.  It was a pretty good haul with some nice 1st edition books, a really nice 1st edition DM screen and even one of those character folders with the blue adventure logs.  I suppose I could auction off some of the stuff, but at least D&D books don't take up a lot of space.  I also purchased some Dune snack plates that were clearly a tie-in to the 1983 David Lynch film.  I love Dune, so I found the idea of Dune snack plates to be strangely irresistible.  "Father, the sleeper has awakened!  And he wants some Doritos!"  They were even in shrink wrap that appears to be original.  Looking at the fine print on the plates I can see the image was licensed from the Dino De Laurentis company and the plates were produced by Merchandising Corporation of America, Inc.  The power of the Schwartz at it's finest!

On the writing front, I've started working on the next Hemlock book, but I'm taking it relatively easy.  I need to build up some writing "mana" after the push to finish Book Three. 

I'm currently reading "World Without End" by Ken Follet.  It's a pretty good book so far and I admire his writing a lot.  My only comment is it reads a little bit like an HBO series screenplay in that there's a surprising amount of graphic sex popping up at regular intervals--more than in any book I've read in recent memory.  OK, so maybe reading history books and books about finance and mathematics mean I lack perspective on what the sexual content of a modern novel is like.  And I haven't read 50 Shades of Grey or anything like that.  Still, it's surprising me a bit since I didn't recall that type of content in the book's predecessor ("Pillars of the Earth").

I'm sorry about the short post this month.  I will try to post more frequently as time and inspiration allow.  And thank you for your support of my new release: "Hemlock and the Dread Sorceress"!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Hemlock and the Dread Sorceress released!

I'm very excited to announce that Hemlock and the Dread Sorceress, Book III in The Maker's Fire series, has been released!  It is available via the below links.

Smashwords
Amazon - US
Amazon UK

The book will be available on other sites like Barnes and Noble and Apple as soon as Smashwords distributes to them.  This process may take a few more weeks.  I will post an update when it is complete.