Category Archives : Connor’s Journal


Going Places: Probably Closing Up Shop Soon

Hey Readers,

Well, I’ve had some good times with MNiC, had a couple viral articles, experimented with various ideas, and so on. Made some neat friends, angered scores of random people, and just a had an all around great time. Really, it’s been a blast, but I’ve got some other projects in mind, and I don’t have time to focus on this blog. Something similar will come along, I promise.

In fact, that’s why this blog is going on (probably permanent) hiatus: I have new goals that I need to focus on.

My writing site will still be up, and I’m hoping to make real headway with that in the next couple months, while I gather up a bit of headway on my new site. I’m not just going to fold this site up and go home, mind you. Some of the articles are going to move, and the whole site should stay up for a bit.

Why am I moving on? Well, this place never really found a particular reason for existing. It was my place to try stuff out, and I’ve tried that stuff. I want to try new things.

What sort of new things?

Well, that’s a surprise, but I will give you hint: We’re going places, you and I.

And, just by the way, thanks to everyone who’s made this site worth doing over the past couple years. You’re awesome!


Nothing, Arizona, Here, to See

Nothing, Arizona

I’ve written the actual text for the blog post regarding my most recent long drive, but I haven’t had time to edit and resize all the pretty pictures that are going to go in it yet. So for now, there’s Nothing to see here. Literally. I went romping through West/Central AZ last week, and it was really a surprisingly nice drive. Lots of weird stuff, which you’ll find out about in later blogs. For the moment, I’m still visiting family in Las Vegas–hitting up the Bay Area next week–although I’ve been told I shouldn’t refer to Travis AFB as part of the Bay Area by locals.



Nothing-AZ-Arizona

Nothing to see here.

There’s a cell tower.

g nothing az for sale

Nothing for sale.

 

Nothing is technically a ghost town. Though it’s really just a convenience store . . . so it’s a ghost station, is all.

nothing at all

Nothing at all.

There used to be another sign here, that said:

Town of Nothing Arizona. Founded 1977. Elevation 3269ft.
The staunch citizens of Nothing are full of Hope, Faith, and Believe in the work ethic. Thru-the-years-these dedicated people had faith in Nothing, hoped for Nothing, worked at Nothing, for Nothing.

But no sign of it remains.

Nothing, nevermore.

Nothing, nevermore.

This raven watched me walk around, croaking and cawing. Apparently, Nothing is good enough for him.


Red Rocking It

This is going to be a short one. It’s getting late, and it’s almost dinner time. I am hungry and tired. I was going to put something together from either my fun time at Burro Creek on the drive from PHX to LV, or from the drive itself, but I spent all morning working on switching the theme over on my professional blog, and then, this afternoon, instead of writing about adventures, I decided to go on one.

f Siblings

My sister and I did a trip out to Red Rock, west of town. We hiked Calico Tanks. I took a lot of pictures, but you only get the few I’ve had time to cut down to blog page size as of now. It was a fun hike. Aside from the sibling thing, and despite way more people than I like to share a trail with, there was cool weather, and pretty much everything that does bloom was.

Including these trees which had always seemed quite lackluster the rest of the year.

f pretty purple large f pretty purple tree

 

 

The end of the trail has a really nice view of the Las Vegas Valley. On a clear day you can stand on the sheer red cliffs and see clear to Lake Mead.

f las vegas view

And of course one of the perks of having an archaeologist for a sister is that she knows where all the cool hidden stuff is.

f petroglyph

 


Religious Freedom, Business Owner Rights, and Basic Human Decency 2

MNiC Feat RF Right

Religious Freedom, Business Owner Rights, and Basic Human Decency

There’s been a lot of attention paid, lately, to the “religious freedom” bill in Indiana, and a similar one in Arkansas. I’m neither gay, nor religious, so it seems like I don’t have a horse in this race. However, I am a small business owner, so stupid reactions to this do hold a certain danger to me. I have some thoughts.

This is a complicated subject, so I’m trying to give every aspect its due.

Everybody Directly Involved In These Situations Is a Bit Dumb

question man

Maybe that’s being uncharitable, but it’s definitely my gut reaction to this. I’m not looking to step on anyone’s toes, but subjects like this always involve a bit of walking on feet . . . so I’m just going to call it how I see it throughout.

Let’s get one thing straight, right out the gate: If you refuse service to a gay person, you’re stupid. Your job is to provide a service; don’t overcomplicate it. If you’re a gay person and try to force someone to provide a service, you’re also stupid. Smart people take their money to someone who isn’t a dick, tell their friends not to shop there, etc., but, come on here, if you force someone to bake you a cake under penalty of legal response, it’s going to be a crappy cake. And, if you’re really lucky, that last statement will only be metaphorical. Besides, forcing someone to do something they don’t want, regardless of whether or not their reason for not wanting to is unfair and stupid, is always a little bit of a dick move.

More to the point, the law or its lack has little practical weight. If a florist doesn’t want to, uh, florafy(?), a gay couple’s wedding, with the law in place, they can say, “No, sorry, it’s against our beliefs.” If the law is rescinded, or even if it isn’t (if the florist isn’t a few roses short of a dozen in the brain bouquet) they’ll say, “Oh no, I’m so sorry I’m booked/vacationing/restocking/doing my taxes/whatever that weekend, but I can put you in touch with someone else.”

So, practically speaking, this a fairly pointless hullabaloo–the issue’s going to come up only when a hyper-religious, unprofessional, business owner who’s too stupid to lie well meets an extremely pushy gay person who’s very insistent on giving a homophobe his or her money–however, there is the principle of the thing, and principle is important.

Before we go any farther, though, we need to look at one important point of contention.

The Moral and the Legal

business, law, rights

We conflate these things often. We’re encouraged to, by the media, because it drives ratings, and the politicians, because it drives people to vote, but it’s a really bad habit. Legally speaking, the government exists to protect all the people equally. As far as I’ve been able to tell from researching it the Indiana law is neither as insidious as its detractors claim (or anywhere close) or as benign as its supporters claim (or anywhere close). The law cannot always be moral, and legalizing morality is intrinsically terrifying as a concept.

I think discrimination based on race, gender, etc. is morally wrong. And crazy stupid. However, discrimination is an important part of life. Actively discriminating between people is how we get things done. Every job interview is an act of discrimination, every date, and so on. The problem is simply which criteria it is morally okay to use as the basis of discriminating.

Clearly, most of these decisions are based on personal preferences and innate moral codes, making laws regarding discrimination are naturally problematic, practically and ethically. Practically, because discrimination is an act of intent inherently difficult to prove (How do you know if didn’t get the job because you’re a woman, or because the other guy just nailed his interview?), but also often unconscious as we all have biases we fail to adequately examine–it’s entirely possible for a woman not to get a job because her interviewer unintentionally let her gender color his (or her) subjective interpretation of the interview. Ethically, because legislating morality is essentially the majority enforcing their core beliefs on top of those of others; ironically, the exact same process which led to laws against homosexuality.

This isn’t to say the laws are not necessary, at times–life is not kind enough to provide for a every problem a perfect solution–simply these sorts of laws tend towards historical drift and general messiness.

The Business Aspect

squish humans pyramid

The problem, for me as a business owner, is also morally subjective: I don’t think people should be discriminated against, but I also have a hard time warming to the notion that anyone should  be forced to provide a service to anyone they don’t want to, whatever their reason. Really, both those things are pretty bad, aren’t they? There is not act which is not trampling on someone’s ability to live their life the way they want to. Ideally, we’d not need any legal recourse at all, and it would be handled morally. That would be great, if that road didn’t lead to color-coded separate drinking fountains, because people are jerks to each other.

The problem is, you can’t legislate people into not being dicks to each other. There’s always a way around it. Personally, I’m inclined to be nervous of a government opinion either direction. Laws intended to be legally clear-cut can be applied in ways unintended, and sometimes they squish people.

The Flipside Issue

chef, scenario, mirror, dual

Let’s look at two scenarios:

1) A gay man, Gary, asks a religious bigot baker named Bob to bake him a wedding cake, complete with two grooms on the top, and Bob refuses. Does Bob have the right to do so?

2) A bigot, Jeff, asks a gay baker named Bill to bake him a cake for his “Burning a Gay Guy in Effigy” party, complete with burning gay man on top. The baker refuses. Does the Bill have the right to do so?

The truth is there’s ambiguity here. You’ve got an opinion, and the moral choice isn’t difficult–but what about the legal one? The legal answer to both those questions is going to depend on the laws in place. A law that protects Gary in the first example could easily force Bill to bake the cake in the second. Or, alternatively, a law meant to protect Bob and Bill’s rights of free bake choice could leave Gary and Jeff both in the waiting room of the same civil rights lawyer after getting turned down. It’s entirely possible a poorly thought out law could leave all four of the men unhappy.

The point is, a law leaning too far towards protecting the business owner’s freedom of action, or the patron’s right to be served, could easily mess up life for both bakers and/or both patrons.

This does possibly affect me directly. If, say (and this is unlikely) Arizona passed a law that was too harshly geared towards the right of the patron to be served, might I find myself legally forced to write a book for someone? Let’s say someone hires me to write, Cooking With Queers: A Gay Cookbook, and then I find out it’s a book containing recipes for actually cooking gay people–would I find myself under threat of being sued for backing out? Am I stuck with it? As sure as I am that I do not want, and morally should not, write, Learn How to Juggle Babies in Ten Easy Steps, The Idiot’s Guide to a Really Great School Shooting, or Why You Should Definitely Vote Along Party Lines, I am even more sure that there are people out there who would love to see them written.

The Road Ahead

MNiC RF Road

These are, uh, extreme examples, but my point is, I worry about emotional people overreacting and then passing laws which really screw me over. And other people. But, mostly me. I think it’s pretty clear Indiana’s law isn’t going to last the year, one way or another, and also that the underlying problem that caused it isn’t going away for awhile.

When in doubt, though, I place my trust in the third item in the title: Basic Human Decency. Social change is a matter of reaching out to those who haven’t made up their minds, and, let’s face it, outliving those who have. Still, the long-term resolution to all sides of this issue can only rest in the moral world. Legal measures pushing people in either direction are, at best, a temporary band-aid, and, mostly, just an incitement of the louder and less thoughtful voices across the board. Most gay and religious people already coexist in relative peace because they understand the simple fact that people can not like each other and still treat each other with some reasonable facsimile of respect.

The truth is, people deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. The truth is, people deserve as much right to choose as possible, and sometimes there are conflicts. I’m not sure there’s a one size fits all solution to this. Like I said, life doesn’t always provide the option of perfect solutions. What I am certain of is that if we let anger, hyperbole, and deliberate miscommunication rule the debate, it’s going to screw over a lot of perfectly nice people on behalf of a handful of asshats acting under uncommon circumstances.

So please, regardless of where you fall on the issue, let calm and poise rule the day on this one. And have a little faith in basic human decency . . . and when in doubt, just don’t be a jerk.

 

 

 


Should We Let People Control Their Own Taxes? 7

MNiC Feat Taxes 2What if we had personal control over our taxes? Or, alternatively, we had to pay them, but had nominal control over where they went? I asked this of my friends, and got some really interesting feedback. It’s a good starting point.

First, there are pretty clearly three, or three-and-a-half tiers to consider here.

The Basic Options

Full Voluntary Tax Burden

In this scenario, everyone would choose what they paid in taxes. This is unlikely to be feasible, but one interesting thing I noted was that my liberal friends seemed to think they wouldn’t pay taxes if they didn’t have to, and my conservative friends seemed to feel people would. I have no idea what to make of that, really. In any case, it doesn’t seem especially workable.

Fixed Burden, Control of Funds

In this scenario, you’d still pay your fixed tax burden, but you’d have control over where they went. For example, if you owed ten thousand in taxes, you could send five to the National Parks Service, two to the Department of Education, two to the Military, and one to Medicare. And so on.

There are some really great pros and cons to this. The cons are pretty clear; how much funding do you think the IRS is going to receive? The pros are quite powerful, though; try to imagine a world where American citizens have direct control over how their taxes are spent, but the Veterans Administration can’t afford healthcare for returning soldiers, NASA doesn’t have a space shuttle, and the National Parks Service has to close for a couple weeks. Can you? Because I can’t.

Fixed Burden, Hybrid System

The fact of the matter–and there seems to be a wide agreement on this point–is that some things we need to spend money on just aren’t sexy enough to fare well in a popularity contest. This leads to the third system, which is the hybrid. Herein, a certain amount of tax money is not discretionary. It is down to elected representatives to decide how this money is spent.

The rest of the money is held in the hands of the taxpayer. This is the system we’re going to explore, because it seems like the one that might actually work, and we’re going to do so on several different scales.

The Salient Points

The Prediction Problem

One of the biggest pitfalls of this system is that it will make it very hard to predict budgets . . . at first. How can you accurately project longterm costs and expenditures if they are at the whim of the capricious public?

I think this will be a huge problem . . . at first. After a few years, it will likely be more predictable than the current system, since what gets funding won’t be at the mercy of special interests and political brinkmanship. Public opinion on many subjects is very stable, and it’s unlikely, barring major changes that would necessitate budget changes in any case, that wild swings would occur.

One of the strongest objections to this whole idea was summed up by one of my friends as, “You think balancing the budget is hard now?!” I would counter that we haven’t had a balanced budget in a decade-and-a-half, an official budget from either controlling party since 2009, and we’ve failed to even keep the current budget operating once, nearly three times, in the past two years. The argument that we shouldn’t replace a broken system because the new one might break seems . . . hollow.

The Flexibility Problem

Even if the system does reach stability, there is the possibility that it will be too slow to react to a major crisis, such as a war, health crisis, or financial drop, and this stability may be a real weakness, if it produces a system which cannot easily respond to any incoming emergency. Of course, we might avoid such timely and retrospectively wise decisions as countering the military threat of Iraq in 2003 or giving several trillion dollars to bankers in 2009. All snark aside, there is a certain level rapid response required, and some method of actionable response to crises is critical to any (long term) functioning government. If there were permanent voting centers, the Senate calling an emergency authorization vote would work. I’m sure there are other possible protocols which would circumvent the problem; it simply must be acknowledged so that one of them can be implemented.

The Apathy Problem

People don’t care about the issues. Right? I mean, I don’t care, that’s why I’m writing this, and you don’t care, that’s why you’re reading this, and the nation at large doesn’t care, that’s why there three huge television news channels running 24 hours a day. That’s why, in the last election, only (slightly less than) seven out of ten eligible voters took time out of their day to go vote.

That’s the main reason we still need people who do care to go and do the work: if people cared enough to research the issues and vote, we could just phase out representative democracy entirely in favor of the direct form. Sadly, that will never happen, because no one cares. Our elected representatives don’t agree on much, but they are unanimous in that, at least.

Sure, but I’ve caught a suspicion, or maybe a blind hope, that people will care a little more in a system where caring matters. And if I’m wrong, we can account for this by making the discretionary aspect default to the elected representatives in absence of direction, e.g. if you want to give one thousand to the military, and don’t specify where the other nine goes, it goes into the general use pool.

In other words, the people who don’t care go on as they always have, and the people that do care have a say in the system. Besides, it’s been a long time since I’ve seen evidence that most the people in power of a vested interest in more than staying in power. Even an apathetic idiot has more of a stake in fixing Social Security than your Congressman who’s drawing from his own special system.

Public Control

I think the biggest advantage to this idea is obvious: the increase in control this gives individuals. In our current system, if 51% of the people in your district disagree with you on what tax priorities should be, since their guy holds the purse. For example, there are five million voting conservatives in California, and three million voting liberals in Texas–how much say do you think these people have in how their taxes are spent?

Under this system, the winning side would still have more influence, but individuals would have a say in how things are spent. An environmentalist in a coal mining district could still put money towards alternative energy research or environmental improvements. A conservative man living in a liberal district could still direct money towards paying down the deficit, or military research, and so on. Better yet, a person who isn’t a cardboard cutout of a focus group could put her money towards alternative energy and paying down the deficit.

The problem with greater control by the people is, of course, less accountability, and the potential to be influenced by ad campaigns and PR. I think the last is a moot point in the Citizens United age, but multiple people brought it up in discussions, so it deserves mention. The lack of accountability is the main concern I see.

I’ll go one step further than that, however: Yes, this system involves trusting average people to do research, care, and make smart choices. However, when you trust your elected representative to make a decision, you are, in fact, just trusting the people who elected her or him to have done the research, cared, and made the smart choice. You’re in the same boat either way; only this way, you have a hand on the tiller.

A Step Towards True Democracy

This is a step towards greater democracy of a sort that was impossible at the founding of this country, but technology has rendered feasible.

You need representatives in a world of horse drawn buggies, and two month mail delivery times. That’s a fact. It’s either that or anarchy. Today, though, we could have permanent polling stations, and democratic control of most issues. We would still need representatives, and experts to draft the legislation, but we could–in principle–run this entire country, easily, without them. I don’t mean to open up debate on whether that would be a good idea, just that it’s technically feasible.

A Final Thought

I’ve talked mostly about the practical considerations here. This will help blunt the influence of big money and Citizens United. This will alleviate the practical issue of all-or-nothing districts where nearly half the participants are rendered voiceless each election by the larger group. This will make our massive democracy more sophisticated in reflecting the interest of individuals than two party platform rule could possibly hope to. And so on. In theory, all taxes are voluntary, and our budgets are determined by people representing our interests . . . so this whole change would simply be a streamlining of the system.

There is an ethical component as well. I am not a pacifist, but I think not forcing pacifists to pay for wars is the ethically superior option if possible. I am not against abortion, but I think not forcing people morally opposed to abortions to pay for them is the ethically superior option if possible. We live in the real world. Sometimes, we need people to pay for things they don’t want . . . but I believe the United States should emphasize ethical responsibility in government, something it has been failing miserably at for awhile now.

The simple truth is, money is power, and any time we, as a people, have the chance to give more power to the people of this country, we have an ethical responsibility to consider this. I maintain the burden of proof should not be on the side of those asking for more freedom, but on those who say it doesn’t belong to us–that they are better than ordinary men, and so we must surrender our own right to choose.

What I’m saying is that the question’s not, “Should we let people control their own taxes?” so much as, “What is the overwhelming reason we would deny them that right entirely?”

If the powerful want to keep that right exclusively, let them prove that this system is flawed. Of course, the only way to do that is to allow it to be tested in the real world–but hey, if it’s going to be such a miserable disaster, they won’t have any trouble getting us to give that power back, right?

What do you think? Good idea? Bad idea? Got a way to make it better?

 

 


Silver Linings and Bad Hike News 3

John Muir Trail News

Well, we didn’t get a slot for a hike on the trail, which is a huge bummer. We’ll probably still do some sort of hike, but we won’t have a chance to set any kind of record or hike a major trail. I’m a little bummed out and stuff.

Only a little, though. True to predictions, I did an incline bench press with 500 pounds. Now, to be clear, that’s not exactly hulk territory (the guy who used the machine before me had 540 on there), but here’s the thing; it’s the strongest I have ever been. And it’s a huge jump in just three months. I followed that up by doing 220 calf raises with a 220 barbell on my shoulders, in sets of 30 (one 40), interspersed with sets of 8 squats using the same weight.

Again, that’s mediocre-ish for a guy my size, but if I’d tried that in December, I would have passed out and/or killed myself. I turn 28 this Saturday, and I’m the strongest I have ever been. That’s a hell of a silver lining.

And, of course, there are other trails out there.

We’re still planning on doing some sort of hike, but I’m not sure exactly which one yet. I’ll keep you updated!

No Monday Cities of the Mind

I took a Day Off yesterday. Mostly because my sleep schedule has been bonkers lately–an interesting new sort for me. I’m usually either Awake or Asleep. Which, I know, is normal for humans, but I mean that if I’m having sleep troubles I’m awake for 24-30+ hours then out like the dead for 12, then rinse and repeat. My states of wakefulness have, for lack of a better description, oodles of inertia. I don’t have trouble staying awake, and I once slept through a car crashing through my bedroom wall. The last few nights, I’ve been sleeping in 2-3 hour bursts, and tired the whole time. Even melatonin hasn’t been able to impact this particularly.

Strange stuff, right?

Anyway, that’s all there is for me at the moment, have a great week,

Connor

 


Stairmastery

MNiC Feat Stairmastery2

Stairmastery

2 AM, the gym is almost empty. Everyone in the place is there because they’ve got a good reason, or because they’ve got nowhere else to go. I’m one of the former, I hope. I’m training for the Big Hike. Any time you’re on a Stairmaster the metaphor is there; you know, walking and walking, going nowhere. Working so hard to go nowhere.

Then a thought strikes me, Stairmasters are everywhere, someone became a millionaire by inventing this. 

So, that’s kind of interesting, right? I mean, things don’t pop up everywhere unless there’s a need for them. Even AoL could only pull that off for a few years. So that breeds the question, Why is there an overwhelming need for a way to climb stairs, without going anywhere, in a particularly compact manner?

Why does our society place such an emphasis on stairmastery? The answer, of course, is that the need to prepare for mountains significantly outpaces the occurrence of actual mountains. I’m not working hard to go nowhere, I’m working hard to that, when I get to somewhere, it won’t kick my ass.

The problem with mountains is that when they are there, they are there, and they’re not moving. The only way to be ready to climb the big ones is to climb small ones, or fake ones, whatever you can climb to practice for the push that really matters.

A lot of life is like that. We go through the boring (algebra, comma rules, etc.) so that we are ready for the things that matter. I wish people made that point more often, or earlier, or maybe just louder when I was younger.  Maybe I just wasn’t paying attention.

The reward is pretty fun. I can climb half again as many stairs a third faster than I could when I started training. I did 40 reps on the inclined leg press with eight 45lb plates on it last week, and it wasn’t especially difficult. My 28th birthday is next week, and I’m pretty sure I’m going to break past 500 pounds before then — and not that thing people do where they bend their knees five degrees, and then call it a rep. The full motion. I’ve never, in my life, been at a place where I can move a quarter ton with my legs before. I still don’t feel like I can do it when I look at the plates all stacked on there. I mean, that’s lifting myself, plus another of me on each shoulder. But the math works out.

On a (thematically) related note, I’m now a member of the team over at First Site Guide. I make actual money blogging as Connor Rickett. There were a lot of blogs I didn’t get paid for leading to this moment. And a lot of blogs I did get paid for, floating around out there with other peoples’ names on them.

So anyway, what I’m getting at is that it’s not about the journey, and it’s not about the destination, it’s about developing the necessary musculature and endurance to decide on whatever journey or destination you want.

 

 


Shatter

Shatter.

I don’t know if everyone has favorite words, or that’s a writer thing, or a me thing, but I that’s one of mine. It’s been since sometime in my teen years, floating around in my head, rearing up in odd moments.

I love the way it sounds, I love what it means; it encapsulates more than breaking. Violent, presumably irrevocable destruction is implied, yet, also, a breaking out of proportion with the act from which it sprang.

Shatter has so many possibilities.

When I was young, I loved LEGOs. I built spaceships with them. They had stories. They had personalities, histories, and, as a child, I was invested in them. They were precious things to be protected. They were also, periodically, knocked to the floor.

A crash, and the pieces would scatter across our wood floors, clattering as they slid improbably far. Even then, some part of my mind was caught up in the fact that a fall of three feet could send something ten feet across the floor and under a bed.

Shatter was the beginning.

Reaching beneath the furniture, consulting with the encyclopedic memory of youth, the process would begin of tracking down every broken piece and returning them to their position.

Shatter is irrevocable, though, and the ships never came back together quite the same way. Instead, they evolved. The destruction opened up new possibilities. In this way their stories moved forward. These ships with names, and their crews. From alien worlds they rose, different than before. Sometimes two ships became one. Sometimes one became several. Either way, in destruction there was rebirth.

One trip back from college I took one of those shatterproof bowls from my car, and demonstrated to my dad how unbreakable it was by dropping onto the concrete.

To my chagrin, when it hit the ground, it shattered.

It broke energetically, pieces flying out every which way, in long, curving shards, nearly a series of concentric circles. I kept the largest piece for half a decade before it broke again. I still have a piece of it somewhere. It’s still one of the most oddly beautiful things I’ve ever encountered. See, it broke in concentric rings, shattered along the lines of the resonance within it; destroyed by its own strength. The largest piece looked like nothing so much as a crown, high and spiked, austere and lovely. If Aris had a crown, it would have been made from this broken bowl.

It’s a process that repeats today. I finish a story, even a book, and I drop it. . . to see if it shatters. I rebuild it from the pieces, some words lost, some kept. . . some of the best stories I’ve ever written were lost. I’d remember them, and go back to find them, only to realize they died with a site membership or a hard drive.

Diving into the crevices of my memory in search of all the little scattered words I go. Little-by-little the story comes back together, different, better, more than it was. Sometimes they crash together, combine, sometimes they split. Everything I’ve ever written has been broken and rebuilt over and over.

And we, we’re the same. Sooner or later we all shatter. No matter how strong we are, something is too much, and all the pieces go everywhere. So much of our lives, our happiness, is not determined by any events but by how adept we are into finding all the best pieces of ourselves and building them into something new.

I like it, it’s a good word, shatter. 


Good News and Random Thoughts on Writing 3

Good News and Random Thoughts on Writing

I guess I might be doing paid blogging under my own name soon. How about that? I’m excited! And maybe a bit introspective.

I’m not going to lie, it all still weirds me out sometimes.

I write. I don’t make new words, I don’t, generally, make new thoughts. I just take old ideas and old words and add new packaging. Sometimes it seems absurd to be paid for this. Not in the least because I did it for free, for years. Hell, most the writing I do is still for free. Everything, the paid, the free, it can be compressed into a few gigabytes, and be stored, transmitted, or duplicated as quickly and often as you please. Everyone who reads this gets their own copy delivered straight to their screens.

DING! ORDER UP!

It’s not art, though. Really, it’s not. Writing is not art. Sometimes I feel like I’m the guy in the Emperor’s New Clothes who’s convinced everyone he’s making something wonderful, and they just can’t see it because they’re not clever enough. “Oh yeah, I write things, professionally. You should totally pay me, because you couldn’t do this.”

I guess what I do for money is more like the Pied Piper, though, isn’t? I make my money by taking people’s minds in a direction. And you know what? That is a serious skill (and you should always pay the Pied Piper) but it’s all a bit intangible. I say intangible, but there’s a science to it. There are ways to craft sentences, present blogs and writing, times and places to present it to get certain responses and reactions. I don’t always do them, mind you, but there is a reason for what you see on the internet, what you like, and so on. It follows relatively predictable patterns. That’s what you have to remember about it all.

If everyone’s a writer, I suppose the good ones are professionals at looking through other peoples’ eyes. If that’s true then, of all the careers I ever could have picked, this might be the one I’m least suited for. Genes made me smart, genes made me big and strong–I, and the people who raised me, have put considerable effort into amplifying and encouraging those predispositions, but I had just about finished college before other people really worked their way into me. It happened a little at a time. There wasn’t a moment of epiphany, it was a slow process, and at the end of it I had a lot friends I cared about, a lot of people who actually cared about me. I moved from a world of black boxes to a world of relationships.

That’s what I have to tap into when I write. Even the mundane things. That understanding that all of us–though I do not even believe in God–God are we lights in the darkness. We are just this mess of fiery want and need and hope. Hopes and dreams and love . . . many people, maybe most people, are small, but there is an intensity to people nothing in the world truly matches.

I have been wrong so many times, and failed in so many different ways . . . and yet here I am. It’s easy to forget that the people we meet, though they exist in that instant for us, each have an existence like ours, different in length and path, direction, but it’s there, ahead and behind. But, if you want to influence the direction they’re headed, you have to remember that.

It’s the difference between good fiction writers and bad fiction writers, too. Good ones get that the fake people they’ve created are creatures in motion, confused, overwhelmed, unsure of their fates, and presented by the same choice we are: Die, or keep going.

There’s the other side of writing, mind you. The flow of words to build, create, push and change. Creating worlds that never were to change the way people see the world that is. That’s beauty, and power, and, maybe, art. The greatest moments, though, are in describing the world as it is, in a new way. Sometimes–maybe most of the time–changing perception does more than changing the reality. I suppose that’s a nonsensical idea, that changing the perception of reality changes reality more than actual changes to reality. Better to say that perception is the fulcrum which we move to change our reality . . . the strength to change reality from its course outright is largely beyond us.

There is frustration in it, too. Seeing the shape of something, almost there, and yet not. There is no greater curse than nearly the right words. Creation is a hungry thing, though. Living is a hungry thing. Life devours. The act of devouring is living, and nothing lives like us.

And nothing shapes our lives like the words which determine our perceptions of the world.

I think that’s enough babbling for now. There will be more, later, of course.

Regards,

Connor


Life Less Than 30

MNIC Feat Less Than 30

“Less than thirty.”

“It can’t be that small,” she said. Technically, since we were talking about length, it wasn’t small, it was short. Oh, the insecurities of youth, right?

Normally, letting that pass without comment would have been about as possible for me as licking my own elbow or singing opera. This time it went by without a word or even a snigger, because I was concentrating on something.

I’d just done the math in my head, so I was seriously entertaining the thought that I’d made a rounding error; I was checking it by doing an easier problem:

“One hundred times three-sixty-five-point-two-five is . . . thirty-six-five-twenty-five. It’s right. Less than thirty.”

Twenty-seven is an important year, though we don’t really notice. That wasn’t the bit she was commenting on, though—and no, it wasn’t that bit, either. She was commenting on what I’d said moments prior, “Less than thirty.”

The math there wasn’t really too hard to do: Twenty-four thousand, plus four thousand eight hundred, plus four hundred, plus twenty, equals twenty-nine thousand two hundred twenty. Less than thirty.

It can’t be that short.

And it does seem short, doesn’t it?

Most things, they seem smallest when lumped together into a few large aggregates, but eighty years seems so . . . vast. There’s a lot of time in eighty years. Time to change, time to do the things you’ve been putting off, time to go back, time to go forward, time to dream and to fail, and fail, until you succeed, and time still then to enjoy that success. Time to recline and bask in a life well-lived, even though we haven’t yet found time for the living.

27

Like I said, twenty-seven is an important year. I’m twenty-seven. Twenty-seven is young. Old enough to have watched friends die and watched friends have children of their own, but young. Twenty-seven is the year you turn ten thousand, and ten thousand days, that’s old, when you probably won’t see thirty.

Somehow, thirty thousand is less than eighty. It works by months, too; you probably won’t see a thousand months pass you by. Suddenly each month is a tenth of a percent of your life ticked off with each turn of the calendar page.

Like most people my age, I think, I see myself as independent, adventurous. I take risks, and I’m willing to sacrifice in the pursuit of future goals. I move a lot. I mean, I’m the guy who dropped out of chemistry grad school to live in his car, travel, and write. Wanderlust is my defining feature.

On the second day after I left, I stopped at a waterfall—well, actually, I drove past a waterfall—in the Rockies. Then I turned around on the shoulder of the road, stopped to talk briefly to a guy who was rollerblading across the United States (he’s still the only person I’ve ever seen with calves bigger than his quads), and drove about a mile back to the fall. I parked in between an army of RVs, most with little Jeeps being towed behind, like remoras. I walked down the trail through a sea of retirees, and stood for a moment at the barricade with them. Then I walked past it, up a narrow trail, mossy and slick from the mist, and climbed up along the side of it. The roar was defining, the rocks were sharp, the water everywhere, and so cold I was sure it wasn’t water at all; it was just ice that needed to be somewhere in a hurry.

I looked back, and I saw them down there, little white heads behind the barricade. People who had worked their whole lives so they could afford to view life from a distance someday, safely behind the railing. That was the last time I had a single doubt about whether leaving grad school was the right choice.

That was then. It’s harder to justify that view staring at 10,205 days, gone. I . . . what have I done worth noting, really? Here I am, probably staring at a third of my life in the rear view, and do I actually know who I am, or where I’m going?

Stop.

I just stopped writing this to talk to a college friend who walked into this random Starbucks—small world—and he’s doing physical rehab now. He was another chem guy back when we were in school together. As he put it, “I know what I want to do, it just took me six extra effing years.”

Serendipity is the best part of life. I was going to write about the difficulty of plotting a path. That was stupid, and my friend reminded me why.

See, I’ve got that much figured out. We’re lots of people, each of us, and we’re going lots of places. It’s not a lack of paths which besets us, it’s a lack of inner certainty. Our lives are nothing but paths tangled all over one another.

Life is a buffet where they serve everything but you only get one plate; it’s easy to be paralyzed by the decision.

Let’s be clear, here, it’s not about fear of where we’re headed, for most of us, it’s about fear of missing what’s on the other path. It’s easy to lose sight of the fact that standing there, staring at the fork in the road sign costs us both paths. There’s a you down both paths; the question is, Which you would you rather be?

Most of life is not finding answers, it’s finding the right questions, and I think that’s the right one.

Is the me who stays here the me I want to be? Or is it the me who goes there?

The truth is any one path can get you almost anywhere. They overlap, over and over. You can scale cliffs and slide down slopes, cut across trails, and duck under railings. Pick a direction you like, and take whatever trail will take you there. If don’t know which direction to go, go see what this one or the other looks like, you can always work your way around.

There’s that stupid old saying, “Wherever you go, there you are.” Well, screw that. Wherever you go, there you’re going.

You’ll get where you’re going. Just—you know—walk, because you’ve only got thirty thousand days to spend getting there. Life is short, but that doesn’t mean it’s small.

At the end of the days, it’s not really about how many days you lived, it’s about how many days you loved.

 

MNIC paths