staring into a person’s neck hole can be a form of intimacy

(For those of you just joining our show, this story is part of an ongoing series of stories based on titles given to me by people either here on the blog or on my Facebook page. For more info, see this post.)

dedicated to Kris, the namer of this tale

His name is Matthew and he was an architect and he loved to collect PEZ dispensers and he was beautiful and kind and his younger sister idolized him and he made the best omelets I’ve ever had in my life and he loved the sound of rain on a tin roof and his eyes were a gentle brown and he knew all the words to Lyle Lovett’s album Pontiac and he once told me that I was the most precious thing to ever come into his life after which he kissed my eyelids and wept silently until he fell asleep and right now I am cradling his head in my lap as he dies.

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The Devious Astrolabe, Part 2

Part 1

Our story continues . . .


Jorgee was utterly lost. This section of the city seemed deserted, full of hulking industrial buildings interspered with a few sullen one-story pre-fab rent boxes.The dome of the city was a hazy web of light. Enough so he could see clearly, but making everything look black and white. His limbs were sore as his intoxication oozed out from his elimination glands and his head was beginning to throb in pain. He tried to bring up a map on his iPod, but this section of the city was under a data blackout for repairs. Probably, he thought, had been under a blackout for years by the looks of this place.

Occasionally he’d hear a sound behind him: a soft scuffling sound, but when he turned he saw only shadows and rotting plastimetal. Fingering the new pins on his uniform, Jorgee realized that he might very well be in trouble. His father’s voice snickered in his head: “Not a very auspicious start there, Grenthy boy.” Jorgee’s father had never called him by his preferred name, always by the nickname he’d been stuck with as a boy. In his language, a grenthy was a slow moving lobster-like creature that had a propensity for walking into any traps set for it, curling up and going to sleep.

“No, Father,” he though, “It’s not. Now go back to sleep.”

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The Devious Astrolabe, Part 1

Dedicated to Joya, the namer of this tale

Jorgeegrenthalu d’adr’tt Krendatel-5 (Jorgee to his friends) stood tall and tentacled, a terrifically handsome specimen of his race with large headbumps, peircing black eyes, and a sharp beak. Normally he was quiet and reserved, his movements always formal and highly controlled. Tonight, however, he had lapsed into movement patterns that were casual, bordering on intimate. His voice was slurred, and his normally smooth skin was covered in the orange bumps of serious inebriation. He’d spent the night celebrating his promotion to Navigation Lieutenant 4th Class on the good ship Speckle’s Pimple with crewmates, but had lost them somewhere along the way and he found himself in a part of town he’d never visited. The copious quantities of fermented methane had lent a romantic, rough-and-tumble charm to his current surroundings and he found himself buying the patrons of the Sailor’s Last Stop Saloon, a round of drinks without noticing just how closely those patrons were eyeing his wallet, 310 Gen iPod, and even the trail of gemstones that tattooed one of Jorgee’s tentacles in the pattern of his family dynasty.

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Inspiration

A quote for you:

Creative work is not a selfish act or a bid for attention on the part of the actor. It’s a gift to the world and every being in it. Don’t cheat us of your contribution. Give us what you’ve got. – Steven Pressfield (via Creativityist)

In fact, trying to get attention or making something as a selfish act are easy compared to true creativity. I am becoming more and more aware of how much humility it takes to submit to your work, to let go of ego and desire and let the story become itself. That is not to say that the creative act is akin to automatic writing or that creativity doesn’t require dedication and considerably training in the medium of creation. A truly generous gift requires commitment and sacrifice. Artists that give of themselves, that offer their gifts to the world with generosity and humility, will create work that, even if it fails on a technical level, makes the world a richer, more interesting place.

Entropy is Easy

I waste time. Lots of it. I waste time by surfing the web, making sure I am caught up on the latest status updates on Facebook, reading blogs, watching shows on Hulu, tinkering with my computer’s desktop and settings. If there’s a television around, I am good at wasting time by channel surfing and watching nothing in particular. All in all, given that I’m not working right now and have my days free, I should be making better use of my time than I have been. Significantly better use of my time, damn it!

I have always had a great deal of trouble focusing as a writer when I don’t have my very own space to hole up inside. Even as a child, I used to love taking a large cardboard box and moving all my toys and books inside of it. My mom tells me that when I made a “den” like that I didn’t want to leave it, and that, if left to my own, I probably would have slept inside the box rather than my bed. So yeah, doing the basement living thing and not having my own space doesn’t help.

As much as that might be a valid reason for my lack of focus and productivity, it doesn’t even come close to being a good excuse. Additionally, my proclivity toward procrastination doesn’t disappear when I have my own place, my own “room with a view,” so to speak. I am trying to be more mindful of the ways in which I waste time and attempting to change my habits, especially while sitting at my computer, in order to make better use of my time. The following are a few ideas that I’m trying out or planning on implementing in the near future.

Offloading content to my iPhone

Because I want my computer to become more of a tool rather than a time-waste, I am shifting some of my daily digital consumption to my phone. To start, I’m changing my rss feed reader. While I’ve been using Newsfire (and quite liked it), there is no way to sync it with the iPhone. So last night I switched to NetNewsWire and signed up for the free account on Newsgator. This way, all my rss feeds are synced to my phone. What if I see something in my news feeds while on my phone that I want to blog about or send to someone? The app allows you to “clip” a post or email a post. If you clip it, the next time you open NetNewsReader on your phone, that post will show up in a folder called, oddly enough, “clippings.” Too often I find myself using the mental excuse that reading my news feeds is important and so I should do it whenever I have the slightest mental pause or block regarding what I’m currently working on. I hope that by shifting my news to my iPhone, I won’t give in to the digression of constantly updating news feeds.

Related to this strategy is to make sure that I have subscribed to all of my friend’s rss feeds and then deleting the bookmarks to their blogs on my Safari bookmark bar.

I just opened up Safari and deleted my Facebook bookmark. Sure, accessing it is as simple as typing “facebook” in the address bar, but I also logged out and the next time I log in will not check off the “keep me logged in box.” While I will still have to log in to create notes or post links, I can simply use my phone to keep up on my friends status and postings. The iPhone app is quite good and allows me to perform most of the functions I use on Facebook (status updates, posting photos, sending messages, chatting, reading posts) on a regular basis. Of course it remains relatively easy for me to pull up Facebook and log in and waste time, but I think that by adding some steps into the process I will become more mindful of when and why I’m going to the site. Mindful is good. the iPhone app is quite good and allows me to perform most of the functions I use on Facebook (status updates, posting photos, sending messages, chatting, reading posts) on a regular basis

Desktop Strategies

Really, if you are a Mac user and want to increase your productivity or streamline your workflow, you should take a close look at Quicksilver. I have just set up QS to act as my portal into web searches. So now, instead of opening up Safari and entering search terms, I simply invoke QS, type “goog” hit the tab key twice and enter my search terms. This isn’t about saving massive amounts of time (although it probably shaves a second or two off searching the web), but keeping my focus on task so that when the internet appears before me, it does so for a specific reason. For info on how to set this up, go here.

For several months now, I have been cultivating the habit of closing Mail and iChat in order to mitigate against random distractions. Overall, it has been helpful, but I’ve just decided—literally as I write this sentence—to move Mail off my dock. Seeing as I have Quicksilver, I can open the program just as quickly (if not more so) than using the dock icon, but I find that if I have a momentary pause in my work flow and the Mail icon is right there, staring at me as if to say “open me, open me now to see if you have new mail so you can be reassured that people like you, they really really like you.” Out of sight doesn’t really equal out of mind when it comes to checking email, but maybe it will help me check my mail less obsessively often.

The introduction of “stacks” to OS X Leopard, was a mixed bag for many people. In one of the recent updates however, Apple returned an important function that they left out originally: allowing you to “drill down” through folders to find a file. For example, here is my “In Progress” folder using the grid function: Picture 2.png The problem with this is that if I click on one of my folders, it opens in Finder and I still have to continue searching in order to find the file I want. In list view, however, Picture 1.pngI can navigate easily and directly to the file I want to open. The point here is to get to your task directly.

Of course, Spotlight can also be used to open documents directly,1 and there is no longer the need to keep myself locked to the file folder metaphor. In fact, using Spotlight, you don’t even have to remove your fingers from the keyboard to open up the proper file. I should be using it more often than I do and, starting now, will make a concerted effort to do so.

Using and learning keyboard shortcuts can be a big help. They aren’t just about accomplishing tasks faster than using the mouse or trackpad. As a writer, the less I have to take my fingers off the keys, the less distraction I have from accomplishing my immediate goal. I use keyboard shortcuts more than a lot of other people I know, but not nearly as much I as want. To use them effectively, you have practice and actually take the time to lose focus in order to learn the shortcut. In the short term, trying to learn keyboard shortcuts can be frustrating, but once you know them they can really help keep your focus on the task at hand. Focus is good. There’s a cool widget available for Macs called “xCuts” that provides a comprehensive list of shortcuts that you might find helpful.

Other Ideas

Sit up straight. Really, sit up straight. As I’ve been working on this post, I’ve been sitting at a desk, my feet on the ground and my back straight. My focus has been exponentially greater than the past few weeks when using my laptop on a futon, or reclining in a chair with my feet up.

If you find yourself losing focus, take a few deep breaths. Oxygen is good for the brain.

If you are working at a computer and need a break from the task at hand, take a break from the computer itself. Walk, stretch, read an actual book or magazine, write using a pen and paper, do something to clear your mind and refocus your energies. I don’t think reading your email or checking your blogs will be as effective for refocusing your energies as doing something that doesn’t involve a screen.

Don’t give in to distraction when you have a mental pause or block. Close your eyes, or look out the window or walk around for a moment and then work through the block. Basically, don’t let your mind trick you into relaxing instead of focusing. Otherwise you will find yourself distracted on a regular basis when your mind figures out that it can unilaterally call off your concentration with the proverbial “hey look at that shiny, shiny object/weblink/YouTube video/blogpost/LOL Cat.”

Find ways to separate your computer-as-tool from computer-as-entertainment. One idea that I just had is to set up a profile that I switch into when I know that I will be using my computer strictly for entertainment. This profile would highlight the web as well as games and media on my computer. If I could get into the habit of turning to this profile whenever I wanted to watch a movie or surf the web or basically waste time, then I might be able to be more mindful of the tool/entertainment distinction.

There are as many remedies and strategies for addressing distractions and procrastination as there are distractions and ways to procrastinate. As Merlin Mann points out in his post “Time, Attention, and Creative Work:”

Except inasmuch as it can help move aside barriers to finishing the projects that you claim matter to you, “productivity” is often a sprawling ghetto of well-marketed nonsense for people who really just need a ritalin and a hug. So, for myself, random tips and lists that aren’t anchored to solving a real-world problem for a smart but flawed adult with a mind are dead to me.

The ideas and strategies I have proposed here are definitely geared to my productivity, my creative processes. I hope, however, that some of them might be useful in your own battle against the dissipation of your time and energies. Entropy is easy. Making things is hard. I know that I need every advantage I can get in my struggle for the focus and discipline that I need as an artist and so I will try to follow the ideas I have proposed here, but I would also love to hear some of your own ideas about how to avoid wasting your time.

  1. for documents that you know the name of it is, I think, even better than Quicksilver []

What the Heck is a Drabble Anyway?

A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words that is presented on Norm Sherman’s fiction podcast, The Drabblecast. Yours truly will be having his drabble, “Allergies,” published on the podcast this week. If you like listening to stories, especially stories of the weirder variety, this is a podcast you should be subscribed to, regardless of my brief contribution. Mr. Sherman has a very good reading voice, an excellent ear for sound and ambient effects, and publishes some delightfully odd tales.

The show should post this Wednesday, so head over to The Drabblecast to check it out.

Miscellaneous NON-Political Odds And Ends

I’ve been an a political kick the last couple of weeks what with all the convention folderol and elephant dung-slinging that’s been going on. But there are other parts to my life . . . like being a geek. Here’s my current desktop arrangement:

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(GeekTool is showing my current iTunes song, the background is “Surreal wallpaper 2” by ltripley, and my dock customization came from Superdock site.)

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I’m doing a lot of reading on my iPhone these days, as it has replaced my old Toshiba e755 (which gave up the ghost about a month before leaving NYC. I’ve been using two programs for this. Stanza and eReader.


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(Stanza)

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(eReader)

Now, I know that some people can’t imagine reading books on a screen, much less a small screen like an iPhone, but I have gotten used to it and while I will probably buy the actual physical book of Anathem, for my “light” reading, the screen has become almost transparent to me and I can easily find myself engrossed in the book itself. eReader is a commercial site, although they will allow you to upload content to your bookshelf on their site and then sync that with your iPhone, while Stanza works with a desktop program to convert a large number of file types and then do a wireless sync over a wi-fi network. Stanza is the more flexible of the two, especially if you have a library of ebooks in different formats, but if you want to do right by authors and pay for your ebooks–although with the recognition that drm is involved–eReader has a large selection and their iPhone reader is top notch.

Both programs are free.

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500 Words for 50 Days Update:

I’m 20 days into this challenge and I have missed my 500 mark twice: once I didn’t quite make 500 words and the other time I didn’t write anything. That was a day after major insomnia and I hadn’t slept until after 6 am and the whole day moved like thick molasses for me. The good news is that I’m regularly exceeding my word count.

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This is my new homepage for my browser.

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The Clogs are one of my new, most favorite bands (along with the Rachel’s).


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Oh, and I’m moving back to Rhode Island in a couple of weeks.

Writing When Stuck

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As part of my 500 words for 50 days, I need to make sure I meet my goal even when I’m stuck on whatever the main project is at the moment. Currently I’m rewriting a horror story about NYC subways and just couldn’t get my mind and fingers around what needed to happen next. Rather than sit for hours and beat my head against the metaphorical wall, I decided to just write something, anything. Got out a pad of paper and began. So, for the curious or curiously bored, I’m posting tonight’s writing exercise. I plan to continue with this character on those days when I get stuck on other projects and so it will be aimless, idiosyncratic, possibly funny, most certainly nonsensical and, maybe in small doses, mildly amusing to you:

I am in a room. I walk along one wall in 12 paces. Another in 16. A third in 9. The forth in, again, 16. If asked, I will swear that the lengths stay the same but sometimes it is the 1 wall that is nine, another is sixteen, a 3rd is sixteen as well and the 4th is twelve. Or visa versa. On the shortest wall, regardless of which one it is, there is a door that is barely distinguishable from the wall. Both door and wall are a pale and off-white with the merest hint of yellow. Like stained teeth, that color is. In the door is another small door that can open or close. That door is the width of both my hands outstretched, from pinky to pinky and the same height. Through that opening (when it is, indeed, opened), slides a plate of food and, following a moment thereafter, a jug of water each and every afternoon. I say afternoon because the food (as you will see) is not breakfast food.

The plate of food varies some, though not by very much. I can usually count on some sort of protein that is most often a meatloaf, though sometimes I may receive a piece of chicken and, even less often, white and flaky fish seasoned with butter and lemon and pepper. The meatloaf is often too dry and is always bland. Like it is pretending to be a meatloaf and failing.

“You, Mr. Meatloaf, are like a bad comedian on stage that nobody laughs at,” I sometimes say to it as I spear a piece with my fork, bring it (tines facing down like I saw rich people in a movie once) up to my eye level and, winking at it, I then bring it to mouth level and pop it in: chewing and, if it is a dry day, swallowing hard to get it down. Of course I only say that on days when I feel exceedingly silly. Which is to say: not very often.

The chicken is usually better. I guess because they have less chance to make it poorly. I must admit, however, when the chicken is made poorly it is even worse tan the worst meatloaf. The poorly made chicken is usually rubbery and undercooked. I don’t believe that they are deliberately trying to give me trichinosis, just that the person(s) making my food that day are not very competent. I don’t ever say anything to the chicken.

The fish is always perfect: flaky but moist, prepared simply but the butter, lemon and pepper are all balanced perfectly well. I greatly enjoy my meal when it is fish and will, once in a very long while say, “Thank you Mr. Fish for being so very good.” Only, and I must stress this point, once in a very long while.

In addition to the meatloaf/chicken/fish, there is almost always—and by “almost always” I mean 999 out of one thousand meals—a starchy food like rice or potatoes or yams. The rice is always white and sticky, the potatoes always mashed and with plenty of butter and salt and pepper, the yams always cubed. Funny story: when I was a child and when asked what my favorite food was, I would say, defiently even, “mashed potatoes.” Now? Well, I would just have to say it is a toss-up between the mashed potatoes and the fish. The fish really is very good. Cod I think, but it could be haddock. Even though I lived in New England, I can’t say I was a connoisseur of fish. I never really distinguished between the different kinds of ocean white fish. Don’t, please, misunderstand, I can tell salmon from tuna from swordfish of course. That is easy. But cod from haddock? Well. I suggest you try and get back to me with your results.

. . .

. . .

. . .

I apologize. There was no call for me to get “huffy” as my Mother would have said. “No need to get all huffy she would say to my Father. Though why she insisted on saying that when it always, from my perspective—my admittedly limited perspective as a child—made my Father more “huffy,” I don’t quite, to this day, understand. Be that as it may, and letting us let sleeping dogs lie, I again reiterated that there was neither call nor cause for me to get huffy.

As well, I had thought myself finished with the fish which is why I moved on to the potatoes. I will attempt to be more linear in my presentation of my life.

500 Words for 50 Days

When I was in MD a couple of weeks ago, I spent some time with Jo Cose and at one point I was urging him to just sit down and write the book he’s been wanting to write for a number of years. I said, “500 words, just make time for 500 words a day. It’s not much, it might still be hard some days to get 500 words, at most it’s about an hour of time. If you want to do more, do more, but 500 words is very, very doable.”

I don’t know if he took my advice, but I decided to take it myself. So I’ve made a pledge to write at least 500 words a day, every day for the next 50 days. No breaks, no days off. If I want to write more, I do. But I have a minimum goal to reach. And writing for the blog doesn’t count. I’ve chosen to only count creative writing. I started on August 18 and am doing pretty well for three days. To help me keep on track, I’m using the “Seinfeld” calender technique–which was not invented by Seinfeld, but as a meme, it’s been mostly attributed to him:

One night I was in the club where Seinfeld was working, and before he went on stage, I saw my chance. I had to ask Seinfeld if he had any tips for a young comic. What he told me was something that would benefit me a lifetime…

He said the way to be a better comic was to create better jokes and the way to create better jokes was to write every day. But his advice was better than that. He had a gem of a leverage technique he used on himself and you can use it to motivate yourself—even when you don’t feel like it.

He revealed a unique calendar system he uses to pressure himself to write. Here’s how it works.

He told me to get a big wall calendar that has a whole year on one page and hang it on a prominent wall. The next step was to get a big red magic marker.

He said for each day that I do my task of writing, I get to put a big red X over that day. “After a few days you’ll have a chain. Just keep at it and the chain will grow longer every day. You’ll like seeing that chain, especially when you get a few weeks under your belt. Your only job next is to not break the chain.”

“Don’t break the chain,” he said again for emphasis.

[From Motivation: Jerry Seinfeld’s Productivity Secret]

I have had some good success with using this technique in the past and need to use it more often for certain things (like, ahem, working out) because it definitely seems to work on my psychology. Instead of printing out a calender, however, I decided to make my own using Numbers and filling in the sections instead of using and “X:”

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I’m also keeping track of how much I do actually write each day, but with the clear understanding that anything over 500 words is great but not necessary.

This ties in with another friend’s recent blog post:

“Fake it till you make it”
“Become the change you want to be”
“Just do it”
Dopamine production is kicked off by sex and drugs and rock & roll. Or any other exciting activity.
I am sure there are dozens of similar cliches, but what clicked in my head after reading that article is your lifestyle becomes reinforcing on a neurological, chemical level.
So, if you want to get in shape, force yourself to do it for a while. Your brain will become addicted to running/swimming/biking.
If you want to be a painter, keep painting, etc.

[From Pensives & Ruminations]

So yeah, if I want to be a writer, I write. Daily, habitually.

Although I’m not sure if I get the same kind of dopamine rush from writing 500 words that I might from sex, drugs, or rock & roll, I do think it has already begun to make me feel a bit better. More . . . well, more myself. Rewiring your brain isn’t easy, but it’s also not complex: you simply have to cut some new grooves by leading with your body and actions. The brain will, rather quickly, catch up and settle into new habits and new patterns. It’s getting the needle out of the first deep groove that’s the hardest part of the process.