Dammit, Jim, I’m A Writer, Not A Thinker!

When did we forget how to think?

No, seriously — I just read a story about Google. The CEO was lamenting the fact that it was very, very difficult (read: impossible) to “teach” an algorithm to recognize “fake news” when both sides vehemently believed what they were saying.

No shit.

That’s what human brains are for, goddammit!

Why on Earth would you ever expect — why on Earth would you ever want — a computer program to determine “truth” for you?! That is utterly and completely asinine.

One of the hallmarks of being ostensibly intelligent, self-aware beings (besides opposable thumbs, and shit like the Kardashians) is the ability to…you know…judge for yourself.

That ability, that judgment, is both privilege and burden…which is as it should be. Anyone who expects someone else to lay it all out for them, to tell them what and who to believe, deserves the empty shell that their life has become.

Now, look: I know I’m an old, cranky bastard — shit, the fact that I actually remember the Ewok Christmas special is enough to tell you that! — but I simply can’t be alone in this. Do people no longer learn to assimilate information, weigh the evidence, and make their own judgment? C’mon, it ain’t that hard, folks!

The real problem, unfortunately, seems to be the same for people as it is for Google: when people disagree, it is hard to decide. Unfortunately, far too often “we” (as a people, not us in specific) tend to shortcut the judgment-thing and just go with what our “team” says.

“A conservative Republican/liberal Democrat said it, so it must be true.”

And of course, the converse: “those (other) evil bastards believe it, so it must be a nefarious plot…”

It goes back to something I harped on over the summer (while avoiding most of this crap by living in the wilderness): we, as a country and a society, are so polarized, so split and torn-apart, that we can’t agree even on a common set of facts. Black and white no longer have the same meanings to people on different “teams”, and 1+1 only equals 2 when it benefits one side over the other.

*sigh*

This is, by the way, how societies die: not in great, thunderous wars but in the pathetic whimpers of blind, narcissistic parochialism.

Those voices howling alone in the wilderness? Those voices trying to stand against the tide and scream “No More”?

Yeah, those are the voices of those trying to hold it all together. The voices of common sense and the good of all above the good of self.

The voices of those losing the fight.

Now a philosopher, or a profound thinker, would have a list of prescriptions and advice to try and address this problem. Me? I just want to slap the shit out of most of these folks.

“Wake up!” I want to scream. “Wake up and use your fucking brain!”

Hrm, didn’t seem to work…

Back to the wilderness, and to my solitary howling, I guess.

You Morality Is None Of My Business…

…and mine is none of yours.

Look, to reword and rework a tired, old phrase: morality begins at home. Morals and belief systems, as well as the personal behaviors to which they lead, are…well…personal. They are — and should be! — the intimate, immediate decisions only of the individual involved.

No one else need have input. Hell, no one else should have input. My morality — or the occasional lack thereof — is none of your business, thank you very much.

And that “no one else” goes double — goes ten freaking times — for the government! It is no business of the government’s what, or who, I do. Or how…or why…etc… Fill in your own damned blanks on that one.

Okay, let me back away from the confrontational and shoot for the rational…

I am a pretty moral guy. Yes, I drink too much. Yes, I cuss too much. Yes, I’m a cynical asshole. But…I don’t do drugs (anymore), I don’t steal, I don’t lie (much…and no, those pants DON’T make your butt look big!), nor do I rape, pillage or otherwise live a pirate’s life.

My stories aside, I’m actually pretty fucking normal.*

*My definition of “normal” may differ pretty significantly from yours, but…no harm, no foul.

But I live that “normal” life from choice, not because someone told me to. Hell, just about every time someone TOLD me to do something, I did pretty much the exact opposite. I’m not, it should be said, a terribly good follower.

I choose to be good, to be — in most senses of the word — moral. I make a choice to which I am neither commanded nor compelled. I CHOOSE TO.

And that makes a difference.

Every time a government — any government, take your pick from history — has tried to legislate morality, it has failed spectacularly. And it always will fail because normal, everyday people know and understand just what the limits should be, and those limits do not include telling us what we should and should not do.

Now, what got me to thinking about this?

Yep, you guessed it: more Roy Fucking Moore (again).

Beyond his need to grope teen-age girls, that asshole — judge or not — threw aside any semblance of legality and liberty with his statement that homosexuality should be illegal. He went so far as to imply that gays and lesbians should, beyond just jail, potentially face the death penalty.

What are we, Saudi Arabia?

Look, I’m a straight white guy: I have nothing to fear from people like Moore. But, many, many friends (and relatives) DO have things to fear from people that want to deny them their rights and their liberties. Hell, people that want to deny them their lives.

From a religious point-of-view I get it, I really do. Religious folks, especially Evangelicals, have very real problems and reservations in this area.* Fine, no problem. Your beliefs, like my morals, are your business. BUT, when you decide to start inflicting those beliefs on other people, THEN we have a problem…a very real, and very serious, problem.

*I understand these — I don’t agree with them in even the smallest way, but I do understand.

Then again, those folks seem to have all kinds of problems that they want to “help” with, things like: drinking, dancing, listening to music, watching movies/TV, science, history, education, the list goes on and on.

Honestly, I am NOT attacking these folks. I have far too many friends and family members to whom the label “Evangelical” applies to condemn them, just like I have far too many LGBT friends and relatives to condemn THEM. All I ask is that both sides let the other live in peace.

That, in the end, is the bottom line of my libertarianism: you leave me alone, and I’ll leave you alone. Call it the Revised Golden Rule for the Truly Cynical.

Now, that does cut both ways: when the LGBT folks attack those Christians who do not toe the line, it can be just as bad as what the Evangelicals want to do to them. Neve forget that tolerance is NOT the same thing as approval, and it never should be.

To put another spin on it: I’m a slut. I’ll sleep with any girl that will give me the time of day. My relationships have all ended as major disasters anyway, so why bother with the whole “get to know you” thing? Now, I don’t ask anyone to approve of my lifestyle — hell, I’m not sure I approve of it! — but I damn well do expect you to tolerate it.

See the difference?

Evangelicals: you don’t have to approve of anyone else’s lifestyle, of the “sinners”, but you damn well DO have to tolerate other individuals’ right to live the way they choose.

“Sinners”: YOU don’t have to approve of the Evangelicals, but you DO damn well have to respect TREIR right to live and believe what and how they choose.

It’s called Freedom of Conscience, folks…and it means a great deal.

Folks who have been reading this blog for a while know I have a real problem with how regular folks lack voices and input into society today. To be blunt, about the only control we do have is in our own lives, and how we choose to live is far too important to let someone else — anyone else — dictate and control.  That applies to other individuals just as much as to governments.

Focus on your own choices, and your own life, and let everyone else live theirs.* That is the foundation of a free and just society.

*And, no, I am not an absolutist in any sense of the word — there IS right and wrong in the world. Rape, violence, and the corruption of power (power of all stripes) ARE immoral and wrong from ANY perspective.

Random, Pointless Post O’ The Month…

**Warning**Warning**Danger, Will Robinson!**Random Post Incoming!**Danger**Danger**

Speaking of Alec Guinness moments…

My God, what have I done?

I killed off my Amazon Prime subscription…the Prime subscription I’ve had since the damned program began.

Keep in mind, I’m “that guy” who spends more on books than most people do on rent. Who spends far too much, I should clarify.

Between the “free” express shipping and the streaming service, how could I not use my Prime to fullest advantage?!

Because it…well…it actually kinda sucks.IMG_0951

Do I really need to get my copy of A Great and Terrible King in two days?

Do I really need to binge watch old 80’s game shows?

Because those two things are about all Prime actually has. Ugh…a hundred bucks a year for shipping I don’t need, and shows I don’t watch?

It ain’t the useless insanity that my cable bills used to be, but it’s pretty damned close.

Especially when I can nerd-out on anime with CrunchyRoll and binge watch actual good shows with NetFlix and iTunes…

*sigh*

What has my life come to when this is the major event of my week?

When the hell did I start weighing the pluses and minuses like an…err…adult?

When the hell did I turn into my parents?!

I gave up adulthood when I gave up “business casual” attire and life as a sales & marketing weasel…

Look, I’ve got no kids — no dependents of any kind — and a complete inability to make any romantic relationship work*. Hell, I don’t even have a freakin’ goldfish, let alone any ties that, well, bind. In no sense can I be considered “grown up” or responsible. Quite the opposite, in fact…and I don’t give a damn what the grey hair is supposed to mean.

*I might be the only guy in the universe for whom the phrase “It’s not you, it’s me” is 100% true. If all my relationships fail, and I’m the one common element in all of them, well…even I can do that math.

But still adult behavior sneaks in…

I’m so disappointed in myself.

I have a choice, right now: go do something responsible and intelligent, or go to the brewery…

Hammerschlagen, anyone?

IMG_0952

A Hint Of Food Porn

You don’t really realize just how satisfying it is to cook for yourself until you have to eat someone else’s cooking — every single damned day — for better than five months.

*sigh*

I love to cook. I love to cook…and I’m pretty damned good at it.

By now, I’ve made decent progress through the list I had in my head of the stuff I wanted to make when I got back. From basic steaks, to Thai green curry, to jambalaya (simmering away as I type this), the list goes on and on.  Now, it turns out, I’ve been sucked into a food & beer cooking/pairing contest.

Oh, not a real contest — just a group of friends, doing a beer-themed dinner. Except, like everything else we do, there has to be an element of competition to it. Of course it has to be a freakin’ contest — we’re the jackasses that would make a game of goddamned hopscotch competitive!

Okay, so the set-up: everyone drew randomly out of three hats for their course, for the protein they have to use and for the beer they have to pair and cook with.

Please, please, please…just not dessert, beef and IPA. Please, God, anything but THAT!

Nope, the universe (for once) smiled on me. I drew the third course (out of seven). Now, keep in mind: in a full, formal multi-course meal, that should really be a fish course…but not this time. Nope, this time I got pretty much everything I wanted from the universe. So, the dish:

Hand-made ravioli, stuffed with venison and mushrooms in a cherry lambic sauce.

Oh, shit, did I win the damned prize with those draws! I can feel my friends’ hate right now — it’s keeping me nice and warm…

And to the poor bastard who got the salad course and stouts? HAHAHAHAHA!!!

Err…sorry about that, got carried away for a moment.

Now, why do I like cooking so much? Well, aside from the fact that I absolutely love food (and, yes, beer), there is a bit more to it.

Cooking, you see, is in some ways a lot like music…and like writing. The common thread to those pastimes is simple: in almost no other profession/calling do you take a bunch of unrelated bits and pieces and create from them a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.

Now, I’m not much of a musician.  In spite of my love of listening, I pretty much top out at playing chopsticks on the piano*. But I am a cook…and a writer. There is, when you get right down to it, very little in this world more satisfying than sitting down and making that all, well, just work.

*And, yes, Mom…you were right way back when: I really do regret giving up the piano when I was 11!

To take “Characters A & B”, mix them with “Plot Points X, Y & Z”, bake them in “Setting N”, then come out the other side with a good story? That’s freaking magic. As a reader it’s magic, but as a writer it’s even more so.

Just like taking the worst cuts of meats you can find, and coming out with a charcuterie dish that makes everyone fall all over themselves for more…

Yep, I’m Late…Again

Normally I get the week’s blog posts written early. I like to have two or three ready to go so, when the time comes to actually get something up, I don’t have to worry about it.

This ain’t one of those days.

I had all weekend to write. I had all weekend to focus and concentrate. I also had all weekend for Halloween events.

Well, for Halloween events and hangovers. There may even have been some drunk texting…and all I’ll say about that is that, for the next zombie crawl & party, I’m locking my damned phone in the car.

Ahem.

‘Nuff said.

People who know I write love to ask, “What are you working on now?”

I hate that question.

I hate that question because the answer is always either insufficient, or confusing. Or both.

Responding with “Same book” just results in people looking confused and asking why it isn’t done yet. But God help me if I mention that I’m also exploring an idea for a completely different story.

Then the questions start: “What’s the plot?” “Who is the main character? The antagonist?” “What’s it all about?”

I don’t know, yet: THAT’S WHY I’M EXPLORING, DAMMIT!

And Silence isn’t done yet because, well, I’m having a hell of a time getting my focus back. I’m at the point in the plot where things are, err, “muddled”. I need to go back and clarify a number of points, as well as add a handful of scenes to play up a specific arc and theme I want to address.

Until I get all of that thought through and finished, I’m stuck.

It is times like this, of course, that I meet or hear about those writers out there who finish two or three books a year. Yeah, because hearing about that really helps! Look, I’m a one-story-a-year guy, and that ain’t gonna change…no matter how guilty and insufficient those “speed-writer” types make me feel.

Really…am I the only who feels that way? And when the hell did writing turn to the “faster is better” dynamic, anyway? Isn’t, uhh, ”better is better” the way to go?

Crap, this is why I need to bury myself and just go back to writing…thinking too much makes my head hurt.

Wait…Who Said You Can’t Go Home Again?

I’m not sure if being away felt immensely long, or passed in the blink of an eye, but if ‘my’ brewery is anything to go by, it was more blink-y than immense.

A couple of times I’ve been in since I returned. How much writing have I done?

Err…

Well…

I know all the regulars, you see…

Okay, okay: none. Not a bit.

I’ll tell you what, however: the week-long welcome home has been fantastic. It is easy to get so focused on what I gained up in Yellowstone that I forget what I left behind. The camaraderie and brotherhood is different, but no less strong.

As much as I loved the Taiwanese kids up there, as hopeful and happy as they were, do I love the Wal-Mart contingent down here…as bitter and cynical as they are.

Add in John and his dogs the size of horses…and Rob and his inability to admit just how big a nerd he is…Aaron’s vampire-like inability to tolerate sunlight…Don’s constant shit-eating grin now that he’s found real love…Travis’ beer-centric nerdism that still makes me jealous…

It was like I’d never left. Surely, it couldn’t have been almost six months since I’d been here..could it?

Yes, it was…and don’t call me Shirley.

Couldn’t stop myself – sorry about that.

Bad jokes in reference to old(ish) movies? Yep, I’ve come home alright.

I love everything I lived up in Yellowstone, from the park to the people to the insanity of the whole thing. I loved it, in fact, enough to commit to returning next year…but there is a very good reason why this place is still home.

The traffic sucks…the prices suck…the mobs of people suck…but it’s home nonetheless.

By the way, you’ll never really know you’re home until you have a 135-pound Great Dane get so excited to see you, she turns again into a tiny puppy. And, yes, I do indeed have the bruises to prove it…

Video Games As Art

Sooo…I’m trying to convince this raven that, even though I’m not at the top of the food chain up here, I’m higher than he is.

It ain’t working.

Damn this bird. He’s reminding me just how little control I have over the critters around here…

At any rate, as you can guess from the late posting today, I have once again failed to go with my “Yellowstone Practical” theme.

Nope, not gonna do it today, either. Ah well, so goeth most of my plans…

I was watching podcasts last night with a friend of mine, and I got to thinking. As a general rule, “getting to thinking” is dangerous for me.  I should probably add, these were video game podcasts…and, yes, my friend (Billy) and I are very much nerds-of-a-feather.

Two things I miss up here, more than just about anything else: cooking and games. I love to cook…I live for cooking…and yet I have to eat three meals a day prepared by other people. I already have about three weeks worth of meals planned for when I get back…

Just below cooking, however, comes video games. I miss playing games…especially good games.

So, at any rate, Billy and I got to talking about games…and especially about games that mattered, games that had something to say. And, to those of you that scoff, I’ll reissue a challenge I gave a year or so ago: go play This War of Mine. Better yet, go play That Dragon Cancer. Only after that can you try and tell me that games don’t have anything to say. The first of those made me well-and-truly uncomfortable (in the best literary sense of that word), while the second made me cry like a broken-hearted six-year-old.

Now, look…I know that most games are mindless trash. I know that most games have no message beyond, “Me mash button…me kill…rawr!”  But – and this is the important bit – not ALL games are that way. In fact, as a writer, I have to admit that there are things a game can do that a written story cannot.

There is an immersion to games that no book, no matter how good, can match. With a book, you (the reader) are simply too far removed from the circumstances. In a game – err, in a well-made game – it is very much a personal, intimate thing. Think about it: as writers, we use dialogue and action to carry and move the story. Hell, most of the time, we use them for exposition and set-up just as much as we do for action.

In a game, however, you can use many, many other things to carry that message. Lighting, “set” design, color scheme, character design…

“But, but, movies!” I hear you scream. Nope, not the same. Think about it: in a movie, we need movement and action and dialogue in order to create tension.

Try this exercise: imagine a scene with one single, lone character walking down a dark hall. Pretty simple, when you get right down to it. In a book, I would need to have certain things happening in order to create tension. Whether those things were internal, like flashbacks or internal thoughts/monologue, or external like noises or movement, it would be something that was NOT integral to the scene itself, something “beyond” the dark hall.

In a movie, that problem gets nothing but worse. I would have to have a great deal of “external” stimuli in order to maintain the audience’s interest. Whether those stimuli were music, or dialogue with an off-screen companion, or sound effects, it would have to be (like the book) something external to the dark hall.

But in a game…but in a game…but in a game, I could put you walking down a dark hall and, if the perspective and set-up were right, do nothing else. With the intimacy and immediacy of the player experience, the simple tension of walking down a dark, unknown hall can make the experience terrifying.

I have, I should add, written for video games in the past, so I am not completely objective in this discussion. I love long-form writing. I love, especially, novels. Shit, you all know enough about me, by now, to know that I’m a wordy bastard, so novels are about the only way I can really sink my teeth into writing a story. But, and this is a big but, the options and imagination that game-writing opened for me were some of the best training I have ever had.

Apologies to all of my professors from college (err, both colleges), but I learned more about writing from those times I wrote for games than I did over all the years it took me to earn two liberal arts degrees.

Got paid better, too.

And, yep…if you haven’t guessed…we’re well into real-time, drunk-bloggin’ at this point. Just deal with it. I haven’t done one of these in a loooong time, and I needed the outlet. Returning to the the real world is right around the corner, and I’m pretty fucking sure I’m not ready.

Seriousness and business and work? Paying attention to shit over which I have no control?

I would much rather be heading off for one of my solo, off-trail hikes. When I’m off-trail, I own everything. Which, in the end, really just comes to the most simple of facts: if I survive, I did it right. If I die, I fucked up.

When you get right down to it, that’s what life is all about…isn’t it?

The Social Event Of The Season

It’s the end of the season up here. We’ve lost half the staff already. Over the next week or so, we’ll lose just over half of those who remain.

We’re pretty much gonna be down to…well…not enough people after that. I think I’m gonna have to start cooking for everyone…

We opened the season with some, umm, interesting evenings, so it’s only fair that we close it with one. With the best party of the year.

Now, keep in mind, in the dorms alcohol is technically allowed only inside the individual rooms themselves. Not in the halls, not in the lobby, not even on the pseudo-patio outside. And, no, please don’t get me started on the futile insanity of that particular regulation. Suffice it to say, that little rule is not the most well-obeyed one in the universe.

But, for our party, we decided to obey it. Hell, we decided to build the evening around it!

Six rooms, each featuring two or three different cocktails…and a whole lot of people who have lived and worked in close proximity for five months now.  And, no, I didn’t serve beer…well, not just beer.  Nope, I channeled my old bartending days and made limoncello bellinis.  It was a good decision.

Now, as to the party – there are pictures. Worryingly, there are pictures. There might even have been a “dick-wand”.

Ahem.

It’s back to work today, with a surprisingly mild hangover. Worse, it’s back to the real world in less than three weeks.

I’m not sure I’m ready for it.

I’ve written less than half what I wanted (let alone needed) to write up here…I’m just plain freakin’ done with tourists…I want real, honest-to-God internet in the worst way…I miss my friends and family…and…and…and I don’t really want to leave.

Hey, I’ve told you before, consistency is not one of my (many) failings!

Real life? Real cities? People? Traffic? Bills and the stress of everyday living?

Gah…I need to go on another hike.

Pop-Tarts & Beer

I had an eye infection today: I just couldn’t see doing anything.

Now, keep in mind, my normal “I Hate Humans” Monday involves a hike of somewhere around 16 or 20 miles. Occasionally, more.

Today?

Today, I went four miles and stalled out for a picnic lunch. Sat in the shade and stared at a meadow.

I even pretended to write for a while.

Then pretending to write began to feel too much like work, so I decided some napping was in order. Remember that backpack hammock I mentioned a couple of posts ago? Yep, in that. Hey, if I can’t see the bears, they can’t see me…right?

Now, I’m sitting in front of the store to do some actual — err, well, semi-actual — writing. And, yes, I did extend the hike a bit…but ten total miles is still more of a stroll than it is a real hike.

But, and this is important bit, I have to call it a hike…if ain’t a hike, I don’t get my favorite post-hike snack.

And, if you’re wondering, today’s snack is strawberry-flavored, washed down with a nice pale ale. The people behind me are having granola bars and water…I feel so much better about myself as a human being!

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some pretending to do…

Knob Polishing: Or, How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love Norovius

“Honey, how was your day at work today?”

“Just peachy. I had to polish everybody’s knobs.”

Okay, so I probably shouldn’t find this as funny as I do. Ah, hell…who am I kidding? I found today hilarious…mostly because I was off work and didn’t have to actually experience any of the miserable crap.

A bus load of tourists, you see, came in carrying norovirus. Now, if you don’t know that particular little bug, it is…umm…pretty damned unpleasant. Take Montezuma’s Revenge and strip away all the fun and laughs and you start to get a picture of the results of norovirus. An optimistic picture.

And apparently this thing is passed by, well, pretty much everything. Just touching a surface can pass it to the next person who touches that surface…

So, today, every single employee at the store has been basically bathing in hand sanitizer from head to toe every two-and-a-half seconds. In between those baths, they’ve been wiping down every square millimeter of the store…including having one person clean every single latch and door handle in not just the store, but also the dining room and the dorms – hence my (juvenile) joke above.

I should point out that I took a random, extra day off today. And, yes, I did schedule it before this whole thing hit…even I’m not that cheesy!

As soon as my boss came into breakfast wearing gloves, and telling the kitchen that they had to go to “norovirus protocols”, I grabbed my pack and decided to go spoon with amorous bears instead.

I’m a goddamned history major, what the hell do I know about “protocols”?! I’m pretty sure the guy who does the prostate exams is a protocologist…and I don’t need that, thank you very much.

Keep in mind, I’m also the idiot who ignores common sense, and perfectly good trails, so I can go see what’s on the other side of that big hill over there… That means, of course, that I am currently sitting out in front of the store, at a public picnic table, and typing away.

I think tomorrow might suck…