Just Write

“To gain your own voice, you have to forget about having it heard.” —Allen Ginsberg

“We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.” —Ernest Hemingway

“Making people believe the unbelievable is no trick; it’s work. … Belief and reader absorption come in the details: An overturned tricycle in the gutter of an abandoned neighborhood can stand for everything.” —Stephen King

Oh Calliope, muse of writing, where art thou? That has been my lament for some time now. Sadly it is no fault of the muse, but my own blind eye turned away from the page. Writing is easy; or the act of writing, as an exercise, is easy. When I am responding to questions, or stating an opinion, or a point of fact, I can pontificate profusely — and as my work colleagues would confirm, I typically do. I find delivering words through my fingers onto the keyboard a quite liberating action. I can pepper my prose with the appropriate humor, or deliver the: one, two, three punches as bulleted lists with relative ease.

But, and you knew there was a ‘but’ coming… to write, as in to write creatively, is oh so hard. Ideas aren’t the problem, those typically flood my mind, seeping into every crevice; no it’s that instantaneous editing, guidance, and shepherding of the plethora of ideas into the least nauseating prose I can set down into the bits on my computer that is the real issue. I sit at the keyboard and wonder — and yes Jethro Tull, often aloud — how this plot should proceed, what should this character say, I’ll mutter “show don’t tell” under my breath incessantly. I’m sure I’m a comical figure whilst writing: I talk to myself and make the necessary facial expressions as I answer; I’ll exclaim, “no, no, no” when I’ve made a decision in plot or character that I realize was wrong; and finally throw my hands in the air as I start up a game of solitaire — draw three, Vegas rules of course. A truly agonizing experience, and I’m sure a horrible sight as well; sorry work colleagues.

When I know I should write, I will make every excuse in the book. I have been known to avoid eye contact with my computer when I know I should be writing. I honestly think I’d rather clean than even sit at my computer. But then comes the perfect storm of ideas and decisions. Calliope has spoken. I look at my computer and whisper breathily, “oh hello you.” With only the slightest hint at digital foreplay and I am on a roll. I’ve corralled the creative juices into something that is cohesive, and maybe even just a bit entertaining or enlightening… then I am in bliss. It feels amazing, the pouring forth of prose that every alcohol-soaked brain cell died for; some sort of culmination of the essence of me, of my personality… of the cerebral WhoIs of me. Yes then it is all worth it. When I’ve typed out a few hundred words, hell maybe a thousand or possibly more, I will get giddy, cocky even. I’ll laugh and mock myself for stupidly procrastinating. Swaggering around in my own mind, I’ll make commitments to “do this every day”. It’s always easy to revel in success, even if the success is confirmed by only you. Such a great feeling, and it is what I dared to begin writing for in the first place.

But then begins the editing process. Oy!

Peace and love.

Marv

Music and writing

“Music is your own experience, your own thoughts, your wisdom. If you don’t live it, it won’t come out of your horn. They teach you there’s a boundary line to music. But, man, there’s no boundary line to art.” – Charlie Parker

“Without music to decorate it, time is just a bunch of boring production deadlines or dates by which bills must be paid” – Frank Zappa

“Playing the flute is like writing a book. You’re telling what’s in your heart…It’s easier to play if it’s right from your heart. You get the tone, and the fingers will follow.” – Eddie Cahill

“After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music.” – Aldous Huxley

I love music. I listen to music every day, and I can’t imagine not having some form of music in my life. I think it’s genetic. My grandfather, a farmer back in the day, would relax in the evenings by picking out tunes on the banjo; a banjo he traded a pig for by the way. He didn’t have Pandora, or iTunes, or MP3 players, but he still got his music fix. I read somewhere once that some paleontologists think that human speech developed first through group singing. I think I can picture that, actually it is highly reminiscent of a hipster concert. (Although the hipster concert would most certainly be hairier.)

My choices of music vary as to what task I’m performing. As a software designer by trade, I tend to listen to ambient, or other sorts of music whilst coding. If I listen to something like Nine Inch Nails, I tend to write mean code. None of us want mean code. If I’m cleaning the house… No honest I do. Sometimes. But if I’m cleaning the house, I like to listen to something a little more upbeat. For a long trip I love putting on a huge playlist of my most favorite songs, or maybe listen to a couple of comedy albums. Nothing like some Mitch Hedberg to get me through the doldrums of interstate whatever.

Now that I’m trying to write more, writing fiction or essays that is, I tend to be quite selective in the music to accompany the type of story I’m writing. For instance I’m writing a short story about a young man from a place in the south, who is on a bus ride back home to attend a funeral. I can’t listen to Bebel Gilberto, she’s much too worldly. No I choose something to put me in just that right mood. Maybe the soundtrack to True Blood, or maybe the Legendary Shack Shakers. I want something that gets me into that gritty ‘70s Burt Reynolds southern exploitation frame of mind. Shakey puddin’ anyone? Now when the  protagonists mother calls him an “ungrateful little shit”, I can really feel it. I hope all of you do too. Well, when you read it that is. And I hope it’ll be published sooner rather than later, I have a few thoughts for publishing, and I’ll keep you all in formed. (Had I been listening to some southern grit music: I’ll keep all y’all informed.)

Peace and love.

Marv

Huntsville, Alabama

I’m going to Huntsville! Yup. For five wonderful days. Umm Why am I going to Huntsville you ask? Well, let me tell you… I’m going to Huntsville to write. I have made a decision to write more, and you can’t write more without writing. So I’m trying to figure out just how I can create the right environment to encourage myself to sit and tap out those profound words that keep bubbling to the surface of my consciousness. Okay, it just so happens that I’m staying at a Hotel/Spa, so I’ll get a massage too. But writing, that’s why I’m going to Huntsville. I know from painful experience that it’s difficult for me to sit on the couch with the television and Netflix beckoning to me so raucously to think that I can just lounge on the couch and write. Wrapping my head around the word processor page is much more difficult than putting my fingers on the keys, but once I get in the flow I can churn out some Hemingwayesque prose. (Yeah only in my mind.) Okay fine,  the hotel has a Ruth’s Chris steak house in it, so a massage and a steak or two. But also writing. Yep that’s why I’m going to Huntsville. It’s not far from the house, and though I’m sure it’s a fun town, it’s not a beach town, and it’s not a huge tourist draw like New York City, or filled with tourist attractions such as Washington D.C. (I could spend five days just in the Smithsonian Air and Space museum.) I would like to find a couple of places to which I could flee for a few days, or maybe even a week,  every quarter or so. All part of my nefarious plan.

So after the massage, and a steak or two, and maybe just one visit to some of the NASA attractions nearby. Man I am gonna write!

Peace and love.

Marv

To Infinity… And Beyond!

“It calls back a time when there were flowers all over the Earth… and there were valleys. And there were plains of tall green grass that you could lie down in – you could go to sleep in. And there were blue skies, and there was fresh air… and there were things growing all over the place, not just in some domed enclosures blasted some millions of miles out in to space.” Freeman Lowell (Bruce Dern) Silent Running 1972

In a previous post, Message In A Bottle, I blogged about Voyager I on the cusp of leaving the solar system, and that it was inconclusive whether or not it had actually left yet. Unlike smaller things that we can see and touch, the boundaries of some things are very hard to determine. Probably one of the most difficult constituents of determining the boundary of something like our solar system, is actually defining what that boundary really is. Fortunately there are a lot of very smart people who have made all the technical decisions for us. And now it’s just the waiting game.

Well, the wait is over! According to this article, Voyager craft exits the Solar System, by Jonathan Amos, our baby is all grown up and has left the nest.

Confirmation of the probe’s exit from the heliosphere – the bubble of gas and magnetic fields originating from the Sun – was confirmed on Tuesday in a release by the American Geophysical Union

These are exciting times for space exploration, and in NASA‘s case, we accomplish so much with so very little. I am amazed by how much bang NASA can get for the half a penny per tax dollar. These women and men are doing wonderful things. Add to that the incredible accomplishments made by other folks such as SpaceX and we catch a glimmer of what our human minds are capable of. Me, I’d like to up that spending a bit, I would love to watch the first human walk on Mars.

However, hearkening back to Voyager I, I can’t help be feel a little melancholy at the thought of the solitude where she is at. It reminds me of the movie Silent Running, where a craft is sent off into the unknown. An unknown future with an unknown outcome. Voyager I could suffer from an incalculable number of deaths, yet for every second she lives on she is sending a message for us, “We are here, and we come in peace.” I hope we can live up to that. Now back to our regularly scheduled carnage at seemingly every location on the globe.

Peace and love.

Marv

The Franklin Planner: You’re A1 baby, A1.

“… It’s not how you feel, it’s how you look. And you look marvelous.” (Fernando) Billy Crystal

I recall working at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, long before gmail, and outlook on the web; and phones were anything but smart. How in the world did any of us know where to be, when this meeting was, where that meeting will be? The answer is paper. The heady days of living on paper; and Franklin Planners were the king of paper organization. You weren’t anyone unless you had the familiar Franklin Planner tucked under your arm and were heading somewhere with purpose. Actually you didn’t even need a purpose, the Franklin Planner exuded purpose. The epitome of fashion over function. You didn’t need to be organized, you only had to look organized. Okay, showing up on time was a tad important too, but that’s trivial. I finally convinced my bosses that I really needed a Franklin Planner, and they finally gave in. Quitters.

Along with the Franklin Planner, I was also able to attend a half day seminar on using the it. One thing I specifically recall from the seminar was that the Franklin Planner system had certain methods for effective organization, the primary method was to rank every entry with a two character designation. This designation was designed to communicate how important this task was, and how you should prioritize it in your day. The components of the designation were a letter, and  a number. The first character, the letter, could be: ‘A’, ‘B’, or ‘C’. The ‘A’ designation was for something extremely important; had to be completed as soon as possible, and had the most impact on your success. The ‘B’ designation was still important, but was not as earth shattering. Lastly, the ‘C’ designation was where all those things that weren’t so vitally important were relegated to languish and eventually die. The second character in the designation, the number, was used to prioritize items within the particular letter category that had been assigned. To truly prioritize things, you should have the numbers be unique; meaning there cannot be two A1 entries. However I recall no such limitation, so you could in fact have as many “1” priorities as you wanted.

A great system. On paper (pun definitely intended) it works like clockwork. Sadly, human nature creeps, very quickly I might add, into this process almost from the get go. First of all, if you are writing something down in a Franklin Planner, then it is obviously important.* Or rather… If it is part of your life, then by all that is holy it is obviously important. You do nothing trivial in your life, now do you? Sorry, rhetorical question. Of course it’s important. So when Jessica** wanted to have drinks with you, well hell that’s a ‘A’. What if Jessica sees your planner? Remember the speed dial incident? You know the one time when you stupidly wrote your speed dial list on that little paper card you stuck it in your phone handset? On second thought maybe that was a good thing, you haven’t gotten a fruit cake from your sister in how many years?! But I’m digressing here, of course Jessica is an ‘A’. But then so is your dental appointment, and that meeting with the department head, and… well you get the picture. The number part should be obvious, chronology should be one of the key elements in that decision, but alas the speed dial delimma rears its head again. So whether it really should be done first or not, you go by your gut. And what does your gut say? (see the sentence marked with a ‘*’)

Pretty soon, you have a task list littered with things all categorized as A1. Okay you might be that one person who was able to conjure up a ‘B’, or wonder of wonders and actual ‘C’, but really now, who really wants to empty the cat litter.

But man don’t you look good carrying that thing around?!

You’re all A1 to me!

Peace and love.

Marv

 

* The names have been changed to protect the innocent, the guilty, and me.

Things That Make Me Say Grrrrr

What do I hate? Let me tell you. I hate “foot flushers.” To be more specific, it’s the urinal foot flushers that I hate the most. For those of the female persuasion, or who for any other reason don’t understand what this means, allow me to elaborate. As you may or may not know, the urinal is a wall-mounted device to collect the liquid waste from a man type creature, a bipedal man type creature that is. Being a wall-mounted receptacle, the flushing handle is then located at about chest level. Now since the biological mechanism that a man uses to relieve himself is what could be described as an “outie” it should be obvious that in order to complete the bathroom process, a typical man has to, in some form or fashion, hold his “outie”. So, the obvious question is begged… How does one most sanitarily flush the urinal? At least one, but possibly both, hands are now contaminated. If you care about those coming after you, you can flush with an elbow, or possibly a forearm. But generally we can all just flush with a part of our hand that is least likely contaminated. All well and good, we can all go about our day happy and whistling. Oh but now the “foot flusher” enters the picture. There’s those guys who I suppose can’t stomach the mere thought of having a part of their body coming contact with anything that may have touched another guy’s “outie.” So the obvious answer is to muster up their best Bruce Lee and lift a foot and whack that flush handle.

Before I continue, allow me to digress a little about boys (and sadly men as well). Any of you out there who happen to have that Y chromosome, or have lived with someone who does will know of the poor aim many men have. Many factors can play into this: age (young and then old), animated conversation, and of course alcohol consumption. The British use the phrase “pissed” to describe drunk, and that is an apropos word here. Sadly, men tend to aim poorly and dribble.

It should be obvious, to even the most casual of observers, what the floors around a urinal are like. That foot. Lifted in preparation for a foot flush. Oh the unspeakable horror of disgust clinging to the sole of the shoe, just waiting to be deposited on the flushing handle… The flushing handle that is waiting for me, singing to me; like a Siren call: “come flush me”. I shiver with revulsion just knowing that “foot flushers” exist in this world. And they compel me to eye every manual-flushing urinal with suspicion and loathing.

Oh “foot flusher” how I despise you. And peaches. I hate peaches too.

To Be Or Not To Be

“The good thing about science is that it’s true whether or not you believe in it.” – Neil deGrasse Tyson

“On Friday the 13th, April 2029, an asteroid large enough to fill the Rose Bowl as though it were an egg cup will fly so close to Earth that it will dip below the altitude of our communication satellites. We did not name this asteroid Bambi. Instead, we named it Apophis, after the Egyptian god of darkness and death.” – Neil deGrasse Tyson

“[L]et us not fool ourselves into thinking we went to the Moon because we are pioneers, or discoverers, or adventurers. We went to the Moon because it was the militaristically expedient thing to do.” – Neil deGrasse Tyson

“There’s no greater sign of the failure of the American educational system than the extent to which Americans are distracted by the possibility that Earth might end on December 21, 2012. It’s a profound absence of awareness of the laws of physics and how nature works. So they’re missing some science classes in their training in high school or in college that would empower [them] to understand and to judge when someone else is basically just full of it. Science is like an inoculation against charlatans who would have you believe whatever it is they tell you.” – Neil deGrasse Tyson

We must explore.

It’s more than simple fear mongering; evolutionarily speaking, we are a wondering, and wandering species. But not without a reason it seems. Changing weather patterns, changing food supplies, just two of the many factors that would make our ancestors consider what was over that next ridge. They were ignorant. Ignorant of so many of the things that we take for granted today, the whys and hows of the things they faced were as foreign to them as exactly what is at the center of our galaxy is to us. They may have had in inkling of their situation, as we have an idea of that black hole at the center of the Milky Way galaxy, but in no way did they know what to do. But things happened to make them realize they had to do something. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather not wait until that planet-ending asteroid is hurtling towards our dear sweet mother earth to think, “well huh. Maybe we should have funded NASA a bit more.”

Sadly there is no reason to not spend money on extra-terrestrial exploration. So many of the detractors will cry foul that we should spend the money on different things. It’s like during the 2012 presidential when one of the candidates mentioned, as a talking point, that public television should be cut. This point raised during the debate of budget problems. Perhaps public television broadcasting isn’t something to fund with public money, that’s up for debate, no the problem is that as a talking point it was absurd. It was absurd because the amount of money, as compared to the budge deficit, let alone the budget en toto, is so minuscule. It is short-sighted thinkers who decide on government spending on space exploration; short-sighted, and not hind-sighted as so many advancements have come out of NASA research and development. Advancements that continually to affect the health and well-being of all of us.

Why spend the money on research? Well, there is a universe of reasons for space exploration. (Pun definitely intended.) Every problem we encounter in our endeavors in space can be translated into a useful something, or somethings, here in our every day life. And maybe, just maybe one day we can have a life raft that will take us off the planet before a catastrophe. Our one and only means of preserving and continuing our species. And if evolution has taught us anything, it’s that the driving force is the continuation of our species. Makes us really want to see what’s on the other side of the hill. I’d just rather not be driven by fear, but be compelled by wonder.

 

Peace and Love

Marv

Fire meet Iron, Iron I’d like to introduce you to Fire, you can join your friends there.

“When you are asked if you can do a job, tell ’em, ‘Certainly I can!’ Then get busy and find out how to do it.” – Theodore Roosevelt

“One of the things I learned the hard way was that it doesn’ t pay to get discouraged. Keeping busy and making optimism a way of life can restore your faith in yourself.” – Lucille Ball

“Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy.” – Dale Carnegie

“It is not enough to be busy. So are the ants. The question is: What are we busy about?” – Henry David Thoreau

“He, who every morning plans the transactions of the day, and follows that plan, carries a thread that will guide him through a labyrinth of the most busy life.” – Victor Hugo

“Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans.” – John Lennon

In regards to my most recent post about getting organized, I’ve been thinking recently of one of my traits. I loathe sloth. Not sloths, they are odd looking but definitely ecologically necessary creatures; no, rather the act of doing nothing, wandering about, even whilst stationary, aimlessly and with little or no purpose. And just to let you know, if you ever see me sitting around doing nothing, you couldn’t be further from the truth; I am in deep, very deep, concentration, and most likely concentrating about something vitally important. No really, I am. Anyway, this trait that I am alluding to is that I tend to get many things going at one time. And typically these things are from a myriad of topics. I love this, and I love having so many different things going, but the problem is that I tend to fill myself up. And not just mostly full, but I tend to fill myself to the brim. You know how when you go to a coffee shop and get a delicious cuppa, and the server, oh excuse me, Barista, asks you: “room for cream?” Well, I tend to, more often than not, neglect to consider the need for room for cream in tasks and activities. So although I will consider just what I can pack into my schedule, I may not consider about the fact that I will need some downtime as well, but also I neglect to consider what about all the little surprises that the chaotic universe throws in our path. And this is what happens: my life machine is humming along at a nice pace, but something unplanned, but not necessarily unbelievable, happens and the whole thing comes crashing down. Imagine the breaking sound of all those formerly spinning plates crashing all about hapless little ol’ me. Don’t worry I’m not throwing a pity party, but believe me, you’ll all be invited.

Rather, and the point of this blog, is that I am trying to identify, and hopefully correct, just this one of my traits that are in dire need of the 120,000 mile maintenance. Though you wouldn’t know by looking at my desk, and my house, and my laundry room, and my car, I do enjoy organization and having things in a place. It’s just that my mind doesn’t instantly go to that organizational place. For years, I’ve developed a mindset that allows me to live in a “by the seat of my pants” sort of living. Such that I would tend to eschew putting things in order to experience the excitement of letting things happen. Because without keeping things straight, almost everything is a surprise. I’ve thought so many times that routine is deafeningly boring, and I would not want to have a “suburban” routine in my life for love nor money. But seriously, my lack of routine is really a routine if you think about. I tend to do the same things over and over, what I do when I get up, and what I do when I arrive at work are all consistent. And that my friends is a routine. And this is nothing to be ashamed of, we humans are creatures of habit, it’s all in our brain’s wiring. But I inherited the genetic “rebellious” trait from somebody. And in a way I’m glad I have it. It’ll tend to lead me to an exciting life.

Recognizing you have a problem is the first step to solving the problem. And the reason I have this problem, this “too many irons in the fire” problem is that I like having these diverse activities available to me. Reading Victor Hugo’s quote, and then John Lennon’s quote is a great dichotomy (or so it seems) of thoughts, but I don’t think so. I can plan and still allow life to happen. Sometimes I do like surprises. What do I do? I’ll tell you what I intend to do, I intend to continue enjoying my diverse interests, but I will strive to manage them, not allow them to manage me. So yeah, I’m going to organize that French Scrabble game on meetup.com, and am going to move forward with the writer’s group. I’m going to continue with my fitness goals, and my plans to move to a better place to live. But all with room for cream thank you very much.

Peace and love

Marv

Getting Organized

“Two minutes, get your sh*t together.” – George Carlin (on what if there were a two minute warning in life.)

I have so many aspects to my life, and only a portion of them are organized. My desk is a mess, my house is a mess, and although I do tend to get things done, it is most often haphazard. I haven’t learned everything in life, but I have learned a bit; one thing I’ve learned is that everything you do in life must be sustainable. Let me explain what I mean by sustainable. Consider the person who decides that he or she really needs to “get in shape”. So off to the gym we go. Of course, everyone knows “no pain, no gain” so this workout is excruciating; “pickin’ ’em up and puttin’ ’em down.” The interesting thing is that we all share the same response, our bodies (you know the out of shape thing that looks back at you in the mirror in the morning) do the work, but boy you know about it. So how does this work out? Well he or she may go to the gym a couple more times, but generally that’s about it. Too hard. However, if one makes a decision to get into better shape and then integrates new habits that are repeatable into his or her lifestyle, then success, though not guaranteed, will be much more likely.

This is the phase I’m in now, trying to get certain aspects of my life more in order. But I’m trying to do it in a sustainable way. We had a saying when I was growing up, sometimes someone would “flare up and flit out.” And that is what I don’t want to do; Flare up and flit out. I would like to change, subtly, some of the things about my life, and find my new normal baseline.

I may or may not keep you posted. Depends on my flare and flit factors.

Love.

Marv