A Writer’s Book of Days – 27 June 2016

“What will die with me when I die…” (After Jorge Luis Borges)

What will die with me when I die?

Is it worlds? A hundred thousand imaginary realms populated by yet-unmet characters and powered by yet-unmade magic dancing through a million yet-untold stories.

No. For even those that make the trip from my head to the page will still be unrealized. Nothing ever turns out as we expect, even when we are the makers, seemingly in control of all our actions.

And even still, we craft imperfect representatives to carry our visions to other minds.

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A Writer’s Book of Days – 23 June 2016

Write About a Haircut

He ran his hand over his face, feeling the bristle and scruff of his beard scratch against his palm.

“Yeah, you’re looking pretty werewolfish,” she said as she set the towels on the chair in the corner. “Though the rest of you is in great shape.”

He felt his hair as it clung to his neck and face, greasy and slick. His shoulders slumped.

“Oh, stop that,” she said. She crouched down in front of him and set a hand on his knee. “We’ll get you in a presentable state in no time. Relax. Be glad you’re alive.”

He nodded.

She patted his knee and stood up. “Good. Now lean back.”

Continue reading “A Writer’s Book of Days – 23 June 2016”

A Writer’s Book of Days – 20 June 2016

The Last Stop Before Arrival

The van pulled up to the gas station and rumbled to a stop.

“Last stop before we get home,” Mr. Carlton said, turning around in the driver’s seat. “Anyone who wants to stretch their legs should do so now. It’s gonna be another coupla hours before we get there.”

The girls and I hopped out, leaving the boys to continue napping in their seats.

“They could sleep anywhere,” said Patricia. “It’s not fair.”

“My dad always tells me ‘Life’s not fair,’” I said sheepishly.

“So does my mom,” said Wanda. “All the time.”

“Well, they should both lighten up.”

Patricia led the way into the convenience store, where the usual cluster of dozens of colors assaulted our sense. Candies, chips, sodas, CDs, magazines. Carefully placed products leapt off the stands in an effort to grab our attention, and our dollars.

Continue reading “A Writer’s Book of Days – 20 June 2016”

A Writer’s Book of Days – 17 June 2016

These Are the Stories of My Father

Dad always wanted to work on houses. He went to school for architecture and studied it for years. But he never finished.

Instead, he went into the ministry. Spent decades caring for the immortal souls and moral fiber of children, teens, and adults. But the housing bug never quit him.

He and mom have bought and rented houses for as long as I can remember. Old houses, cheap houses, houses in disrepair. Houses that needed some love. And, over time, they gave those houses that love.

My siblings and I would help out from time to time. I have memories of pulling nails and tearing up carpet from when I was eight years old or so. The wham-wham of a hammer and the taste of dust filling the air.

Continue reading “A Writer’s Book of Days – 17 June 2016”

A Writer’s Book of Days – 15 June 2016

Inside the Circle

And the bubble theme continues?

Unlike being in a bubble, being in a circle implies other people. A trusted camaraderie. Inclusion.

Sure, it’s possible to use “The Circle” to exclude people as well. “Sorry, you’re not part of the inner circle. We have nothing to say to you and no reason to listen.” But stepping back from that sentiment to look at the upside, a circle is generally formed to gather advice and input.

Make your bubble into a circle? Circle the bubbles (like a toddler’s activity book).

Inside the circle implies a freedom that being in a square does not, for some reason. Edgeless exploration. That’s what a circle is. Eternity, even if it repeats itself. Whereas a square has stopping points. End points. Sharp turns where one route halts and the next begins.

Circles are inherently magical in implication. Inscribe a circle in the ground to create a loop. Draw a circle in the air to begin your spell. Form a circle with your arms to complete the circuit.

Dresden. Full Metal Alchemist. Both of them use circles prominently in their magic systems, which is probably why I’m so drawn to using circles in mine. (I’m sure I’m forgetting one or two other examples of magic circles in popular fiction. Fate/Zero? Maybe. D&D? Yeah, sort of.)

So what other properties of circles can we explore? What does it mean to be “Inside the Circle?”

Repetition. Continuity. Inclusion. Unbroken. Unique. There’s no other shape like it. All the others have points and angles. A circle is soft, smooth. Weak? Perhaps, in raw form. But it is elegant as well. More robust. So harder to get right, but then harder to counteract. Is that so? Then why is breaking a circle in Dresden so easy? So that’s why magic is so tenuous, if you want a tenuous magic system, because it’s built on circles. But it’s also easy to argue that circles are not tenuous. Isn’t it?

This makes me want to learn more math. So I can find fundamental truths to create narrative causality.

A circle is a source. A well.

A circle is empty. A depository.

A circle is continuous. Unending. Infinite.

A circle has utility for building momentum. It is a tool. Useful for some purposes and not for others.

A circle is an icon. A symbol. An emblem. A marker. It represents many things and can be adorned to represent many more.

A circle is a journey. A route. A pattern. A day. A year. An hour. An era. A cycle of both season and computation.

***

“So you mark the circle first and place the charge within it so the energy can build, perpetuated by the cycle.

“After that inscribe your rune within the circle. You’ll want to start toward the center, with the smallest part of the rune. Otherwise, if you connect to the circle too soon, you could route its energy into an incomplete rune.”

“What’s wrong with that? Won’t it just short out and misfire?”

“It could misfire. Sure. And depending on what kind of rune you’re building, a misfire could cook your whole hand. Or worse. It’s also possible that you’ve inscribed a perfectly valid rune into the circle and you don’t even know what it does. There’s a lot that can go wrong when you’re working off of a circle.

“Now watch right here. Once you’ve finished inscribing your rune inside the circle, you need to make sure you have two things in place. First, a clear access point. If you yourself don’t know where to connect your rune to the circle, you’re going to have a hard time getting it to do what you want. Every rune activates in sequence, with a clear start point and a clear end point. The energy created by the circle follows the instructions laid out by your inscriptions without changing a thing, but only if you know where to start it.

“The second thing you need is a clear shutdown point. Unless you want your rune running forever, and I recommend against that, you need to have a protocol in place whereby the energy is dissipated from the rune. Otherwise it’ll feed back into the circle, recharge, and start the whole cycle over again. Understand?”

A Writer’s Book of Days – 14 June 2016

“When I lived in ____”

Ignorance? Bliss? Hawaii? The city? London?

***

When I lived in London, I felt the whole world was more open to me.

Travel beyond what I knew was easier, because everything was new so everything new was close. Each experience, no matter how mundane, was imbued with some greater meaning to me, merely by context.

Getting groceries was an epic adventure (especially when I insisted on walking). And meeting domestic necessities made for an accomplishment all on its own.

Knowledge of other cultures and perspectives came to me more easily as well. Being outside of the United States cast into sharp focus just how much it dominates discussion at home, and how much more there is happening outside.

It goes back to being in a bubble. Whether that bubble is a family or a nation, it’s so easy to assume that what is happening inside your house is the most important thing happening anywhere in the world.

And to a single person, that’s true. Each of us cares more for our self than for the collective. As is only natural.

But that doesn’t mean that other selfs don’t exist. Outside your house are more lives and selfs and communities than you can count. Knowledge and experiences that you can only begin to imagine. And that’s without leaving your front yard.

From an anthill to a bird’s nest to the family across the street, we all live in self-contained and interconnected bubbles, like some luxurious bath.

Choosing to look outside our bubble is a challenging thing. And this is where the metaphor breaks down.

Sure, your bubble might pop. But that doesn’t make you unsafe. It does make you vulnerable, but vulnerability isn’t a bad thing. It’s a part of how we grow and trust.

And it may seem easy to look outside a bubble. It’s metaphorically translucent, after all. But again, the metaphor is stretching thin (rather like my bubble).

The point is, when you live in a single context for too long, you creat an artificial echo chamber. Your thoughts go out and come back unchanged. Maybe a little muffled and so they seem to be new. But they’re still the same ones you had before, because you’ve surrounded yourself either in person or online with people who think as closely to you as possible. Whether intentionally or not, as time goes on, this becomes more likely.

None of us wants to be uncomfortable. None of us wants to be vulnerable. It’s all in the interest of self-preservation.

Unless I consciously work against it, the more and more time passes, the more and more I let the interesting, dynamic, challenging, intelligent people in my life fade into the background. They fill the periphery of my life in such a way that I can pretend they’re still there, but the truth is I’ve pushed them out of sight and thought in all the ways that matter.

It’s human nature. And unless I actively work to bring those people, or others like them, back into my life, I will continue to coast along in my relaxed, unchallenged, complacent state of being.

Context comes from people and places both. A new landscape, socially or locally, can serve to reorient the bubble of ignorance.

A Writer’s Book of Days – 11 June 2016

Lighting the First Lamps

Opening for the day, we light the first lamps on the stage. We welcome in the audience, the performers, and the caretakers of our lives. As the show goes on, and the curtain falls, we then extinguish the lamps at the close of the day. Saying goodbye to all that has occurred.

What are “the first lamps?”

Are they icons of illumination? They show us how we should behave. They mark zones of knowledge by chasing away the clouds of ignorance that once filled such space. They are truth.

Truth. Knowledge. Anti-ignorance. Pretty words and powerful forces.

What is truth? Is all knowledge valuable? Is not ignorance bliss?

Truth is incontrovertible. Truth is relative. Which is true? How do we define our reality?

With questions?

Questions define our line of thought and guide our reasoning. But they reflect our assumptions just as much as the lead us to answers.

Assumptions. Expected answers. When we think we know how things are and will be.

But if we don’t challenge our assumptions, if we don’t invite the unexpected, then we never grow. As a species, as a nation, as a culture, as a person.

“It can’t be done” is the most powerful and motivating set of words in any language. Because it defines for us what needs to be done.

For me, these words hold less power than they should. To me, so much has been done already, that I assume those things still to be done are a forgone conclusion.

Mars? We’ll make it.

AI? It’s coming.

Robot cars? Already on the road, only a matter of time before we all have them.

Even the areas that depend on shifts in the culture are assumed ends. To me, such changes are no-brainers:

Smart guns that lock when out of the owner’s hand. Duh.

Widespread acceptance of transgendered, bisexual, and multiethnic individuals in positions of leadership. Of course.

Nuclear safeguards and deproliferation. Obviously.

Compassion for those struck by crisis and forced to flee their homes. How could you not?

Getting rid of the penny. Right? There’s really no argument against this.

But in my optimism, I recognize that I live in a bubble. To my mind, which focuses on a subset of the population both dedicated to and vocal about such technological and social developments, it seems like the whole world is trending in that direction.

Except it’s not, save for the efforts of hard-working people.

If not for researchers, programmers, investors, businessmen, and policy-makers in a variety of fields that I can’t even begin to name with any semblance of authority, technological development in this world would stall right where it’s at. With iPhones, Spotify, and Uber.

If not for brave, vocal individuals speaking out and standing up for their rights to equality, shaping the conversation locally, nationally, or globally by the way they live their lives, we would easily continue to ignore the plights of those different from us.

Because it is so easy to live in your bubble.

When I was younger, I lived in a bubble of my family’s making, as we all surely do at first.

It was easy for me to assume, like a child, that everyone was similar to me. That my life’s experiences were representative of the world’s life experiences. That Sunday-morning church, Saturday-morning cartoons, and family dinners were how everyone spent their time.

It’s a pretty picture, and one that led me to think little of the differences between boy, girl, black, white, child, or adult when I was growing up. To me, we were all people, so we should all get along.

Except my idea of people was what I saw within my bubble.

Now I live in another bubble. One of technology, and self-assertion, and social justice. And it is just as easy today to fall into the trap of assuming the world is trending in my direction. That each person is slowly undergoing the same awakening toward acceptance that I myself have undergone.

But the reality is very different. Because the reality is that we each have our bubbles. And my idea of how the world is and which way it is moving, even if it is correct, is going to be different from your idea of how the world is and which way it is moving.

And that vision will be different from each and every other person’s vision.

It will differ from the student meeting diversity for the first time on a big town college campus.

It will differ from the bigot clinging to ideals passed down by a parent or learned through a poor encounter with the Other.

It will differ from the victim searching for justice or holding onto hate, both as a means to explain their experience.

It will differ from our leaders, who are trying to strike a balance between doing their jobs and keeping their jobs while listening to hundreds of thousands of opinions under an ever-expanding halo of pressure and derision.

It will differ from our children. As they learn from our examples and someday grow to challenge our ideals.

No matter how open or closed our minds may be today, there are always voices on the outside of our bubble, daring to push their way in and pop our pretensions so we can expand our awareness and see a wider view of the world.

No matter how many lamps we light upon our life’s stage, there will always be darkened corners of the theater to explore.