what I’m doing now | virtual book

what I'm doing now

#journal #life #books #writing #coding #software #movies #tv-shows

Muze Radio, Stephen King, Poor Things, and more.

Life

Finally filed Z’s green card papers. Phew! Now we wait.

Whereas I was enjoying the fall, I’m not really enjoying the winter. Winters are so gray here, in the Pacific Northwest. It’s making Z and I fantasize about living in a place with sunnier winters.

Visiting my mom and sisters in Victoria. Spending lots of time in my favorite coffee shops – Hey Happy, St. Cecilia, Discovery Coffee. We’re not staying for long, so I probably won’t see many of my friends. Our cousin is with us, visiting from Spain.

Z and I have been socializing with friends and family a lot in the last couple weeks. Luckily, we both have a need for periodic “alone time”, a term I learned from her. We support each other in our routine quest for it. I’ve been realizing that I’m quite introverted. I think it’s taken me a long time to realize because of how social Mexican culture is.

I think I lost another 4ish pounds, but I’m a bit skeptical of my vintage bathroom scale that I bought at Goodwill a few years ago. Can my weight really fluctuate 8lbs in 24hrs?? Z googled it and apparently it’s possible. I confirmed by weighing myself on my mom’s bathroom scale (also vintage) while visiting Victoria. Apparently it’s true! I’ve lost ~17lbs since mid-June. At this rate of 2.8lbs per month, I’ll hit my goal weight by October 2024.

I’ve had fewer chances to play soccer recently. Looking forward to playing in January. I went to the physio and got some exercises to address a recurring issue I have with my right hip/groin. I’m not diligent with the exercises though, never have been. I find it hard to keep to scheduled or pre-determined activities.

Coding

I didn’t end up working on this site. I’m bad at adhering to plans, even my own. Instead I tend to follow

my impulses

how to progress without planning

#essays #time-management #decision-making #work Mentioned in how to choose your next book, what I'm doing now

The other day I picked a bunch of books from my library and tried to start each of them. I had

energy and free time

. None stuck. Until one did. That’s the one I read.

Instead of forcing order, I let impulse lead. I have dozens and dozens of unread books sitting on my shelves, but for my next book I often buy a new one. If I’m currently interested in a particular topic or author, I follow that. Curiosity and appetite, though they may take you in new directions, make for great fuel. Working by willpower, on the other hand, drains you.

Unsupervised impulses can lead us down paths not worth pursuing. I try to guide myself gently onto one of various directions I’ve consciously chosen. I move in unpredictable bursts but I move freely. I make progress in uneven quantities but I make progress.

.

Instead of working on this site, I started a new project: a web app I called Muze Radio. It’s a new and improved version of Muze Player, a web app I made in my last year of university (2018-2019). The code is here and the beta version of the app is available here. I started on the new version on a whim and ended up obsessed for several days.

As my obsession gives way to a healthier interest, I am very happy to have published a functional version of the app. Ever since I read this article in 2016, whenever I work on a project, I dutifully remind myself: if you want to build a car, build a skateboard first. Then a bike. Then a car. At the end of each stage of the development process, you should have something that is not only an improvement on the previous version but also useful by itself. This prevents wasted effort and enables incremental improvement. If I suddenly stop working on this app and return to it in a year or two, I will find a minimal, functional app. I could pick up where I left off without having to first fix a bunch of half-implemented features. If instead I returned to an ambitious but incomplete prototype, I’d be (rightfully) tempted to scrap it and start over instead of trying to salvage it.

Reading

I ended up reading all of Stephen King’s

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

On Writing (2000)

A Memoir of the Craft

by Stephen King

#reviews #books #memoir #nonfiction #writing Mentioned in what I'm doing now, where do ideas come from?, where do ideas come from? #2, Stephen King's writing advice, what I'm doing now

Half memoir, half advice for aspiring fiction writers. Both good.

I enjoy and mostly trust his

writing advice

.

This is yet

another

book that should be made

virtual

.

It consists of three distinct parts: a memoir of King’s life; advice for fiction writers; and a vignette about King’s near-death experience. (Really, it consists of two different types of writing: memoir and practical advice.) King claims that he included the memoir to contextualize his fiction, but I don’t buy it. I suspect he set out to write this book without a coherent vision for it. In fact, that’s how he usually writes!

I am glad he wrote all three parts. And they don’t go terribly together. But they’d go better with many other things, too, including things written by other people.

The simplest way to make this book virtual is to publish it digitally as three separate pieces that readers can choose to consume as they see fit. This is already an improvement. Aspiring writers could jump directly to the second piece – the one that is actually King’s thoughts “on writing” – and King’s fans could hear about their beloved author’s background and personal life without having to hear his opinions on grammar and diction.

Each of the three pieces could be divided into smaller chunks. The piece about writing, for example, could be broken down into King’s thoughts on dialogue, his thoughts on grammar, on character depiction, plot design, etc. The book is already organized into chapters, but they cannot be consumed independently of the book. If the chapters were designed to exist independently, they could be easily linked to by other works: books, articles, websites, videos, etc. King’s book would be only one of many pieces that contained his memoirs and his thoughts on writing.

. Really enjoyed it. Many of the recent posts on this site reference it. In his book, King was entertaining and insightful, but he struck me as somewhat narrow-minded in an interview he did with Charlie Rose. I understand that King was one of many blind to the brilliance of Kubrick’s adaptation of The Shining, but I was put off by King’s unwavering confidence in dismissing the film as a failure.

I got curious about Stephen King’s fiction and started The Green Mile, which is supposed to be one of his best, but I lost interest. The audiobook’s cheesy narrator didn’t help. My impression is that King is a capable pop fiction writer, but not a literary standout. Maybe I’ll give The Stand or The Shining a try later on.

I’ve been loving audiobooks on Spotify. I can’t believe my luck. I started listening to Bruce Springsteen’s memoir, but then thought of Mark Lanegan’s memoir,

Sing Backwards and Weep

Sing Backwards and Weep (2020)

by Mark Lanegan

#reviews #books #memoir #addiction #violence #music #rock #seattle #washington Mentioned in what I'm doing now

My

second attempt

to review a book while I read it instead of waiting until I finish it.

This book’s average Goodreads rating is 4.33, which is high. But 40 ratings (which amount to less than 1% of the total) gave it only one star out of five. Many of these folks complain that Lanegan portrays himself as an ultimate macho man, beating betas on his way to seducing any woman he pleases. To me this seems like a crude interpretation of Lanegan’s tone. I suppose these readers didn’t stick around until the end of chapter seven, where Lanegan gets explicit about his patheticness:

My only way to deal with what I deemed an attack (and I might deem anything an attack in those days) was to attack more aggressively in return. The level of hostility in my offensive depended on my level of fear. Fear of being caught, fear of having to tell the truth, fear of being exposed as the lying, cheating fraud I was. But it was the fear of showing my true heart, at times either so full it might burst or so empty I could cry, that hounded me most viciously.

There had been a perpetual war between myself and the costume of persona I’d donned as a youngster and then worn my entire life. Petrified that someone might discover who I really was: merely a child inside the body of an adult. A boy playacting as a man. My lifelong hard-ass exterior and, underneath that, ironclad interior were all an intricately constructed, carefully cultivated, and fiercely guarded sham. I was, in reality, driven by what I’d heard referred to in rehab all those years ago as “a thousand forms of fear.” Sadly, somewhere deep in my soul, I knew that was probably me.

There are many such cases throughout the rest of the book. But I think it is obvious from the beginning that the tone is not boastful.


The book closes with a chapter called Psychic Storms, Epiphany, and Rebirth. After years and years of using and peddling drugs, Lanegan escapes Seattle for rehab in L.A. with help from Courtney Love, Kurt Cobain’s widow. He sleeps and vomits through multi-day withdrawal and emerges from the sick haze in clean clothes and cut hair into a brilliant California day. There, sitting on a lawnchair, he begins to laugh.

I marvelled at my incredible good fortune. I smiled and began to laugh. Then laugh maniacally. I had escaped, I had survived. They had failed to destroy me and I had woken up here in paradise. “I’m still here, motherfuckers, you can’t kill me!” I howled hysterically at the sky. Before my sick crowing had even receded, an unwelcome truth lodged itself in my head: Anything that happens next can only be worse than before. That degree of suffering was beyond my imagination.

My manic laughter turned instantly into uncontrollable sobbing. I hadn’t cried in a long time. It felt as though the tears were being ripped from inside whatever I had that passed for a soul. Clawed out from that lifelong aching place. I moaned and gasped, unable to catch my breath. Suddenly, spontaneously, out of a moment of abject despair, I said out loud: “God change me.”

I had never believed in the traditional Christian god or in any supreme being. I had hated sitting through midnight mass, Catholic weddings, Catholic funerals, especially those torturous Wednesday morning masses at the mission I was forced to endure before getting in line for soup and sandwiches. I didn’t know who I was calling out to, but the second I cried out for mercy, I was nailed by some invisible but overwhelming force, as powerful and sudden as a shotgun blast. A surreal, instantaneous sixteen-hits-of-acid epiphany, as though I’d pissed on an incredibly powerful electric fence.

I was knocked from my chair and my life flashed before my eyes. My wasted childhood, my arrogant youth, my anger and obsessions, crime, delusions, self-loathing, paranoia, hopelessness, fury, and the sad junkie downward spiral. I’d heard that cliche a million times, “My life flashed before my eyes,” but I finally understood what that meant. In that single instant, it had been powerfully, intensely true. The most authentic experience of my entire life in one second, on the lawn of a Los Angeles psychiatric hospital.

Lying there, sobbing in the grass for the for first time ever I stared directly and honestly into the mirror of my life. In an instant, I saw that my entire life’s way of thinking and behaving was the corrupted opposite of what it should be. My morbid thought process was the wrong side of right.

I had grown up believing you took whatever you could from whoever you could, and always looked out for number one, screwing anyone and everyone in the process. From my earliest childhood memories, I had been a thief and flagrant, transparent, non-stop liar and cheat. Music, which I’d loved, which I’d lived for, which I credited with giving me a life, had long ago become just a means to an end: sex, money, drugs, a place to crash, a bargaining chip, a free ride, whatever I could milk from it. I’d been a rank nihilist who lived every day with an obsessive, burning need to pay back twice as hard anybody who fucked me. I spent hours in my mind digging the graves of my enemies, real and imagined.

My extreme, retrograde sickness had cut me open and left me eviscerated. I had asked to be changed and now, in a second, I was changed. Maybe not by anybody else’s god, but by some very real force that intervened in the life of one sad piece of human roadkill the moment it was asked to. In order to survive, in order to move forward, I would have to change every single fucking sorry thing about myself. I would have to start over again, clean.

I am compelled to think that what Lanegan experienced in a flash, in a sudden deluge, is not divine, but deeply human: empathy. Empathy for himself from within and without, and by extension empathy for others.

, which is supposed to be great. I put that on instead and it gripped me instantly. It reminds me of

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1971)

by Hunter S. Thompson

#reviews #writing #books Mentioned in what I'm doing now

An incredibly entertaining read, full of absurd, shocking, and sometimes unbelievable scenes. An awesome example of writing as craft. The material is varied and funny, the pace never lets off, the dialogue is very engaging, the repetition of certain words throughout the book – rotten, filthy, fear, loathing – really drives home the paranoia and insanity of the two treacherous beasts (I think those two words also appear often) that stumble and pillage their way through Las Vegas.

I didn’t feel that Thompson really tackled the question of whether the American Dream is dead, like many seem to think or assume… he muses on the hollowness of drug-centred self-actualization and the evil of Nixon’s America, but to me this seemed more like commentary rather than the big claim everyone sees.

I optimistically assume that the awful behaviour of the characters are not condoned. But it’s hard to be sure because this is supposedly based on true events.

, but is much bleaker and written in a conversational voice. More on this book forthcoming.

A hundred pages into

Infinite Jest

Infinite Jest (1996)

by David Foster Wallace

#reviews #books #fiction #literature Mentioned in what I'm doing now, Sing Backwards and Weep (2020), what I'm doing now

My first attempt to review a book while I read it instead of waiting until I finish it.

YEAR OF GLAD

Main character: (new) Hal Incandenza, reading savant and tennis prodigy.

I’d actually listened to this chapter on audiobook years ago. My friend Jon told me about this book long ago, before I knew of its literary renown (or its notoriety as a status symbol for intellect-signalers.) I remembered it being funny and very absurd. Indeed it is.

Wallace’s descriptions are inventive.

..the air of the room, the bits of dust and sportcoat-lint stirred around by the AC’s vents dancing jaggedly in the slanted plane of windowlight, the air over the table like the sparkling space just above a fresh-poured seltzer.

Another bit stuck in my mind is his description of the conference room being “double-windowed against the November heat.” It’s late fall in the US, but it’s hot? This is said in the third sentence of the first chapter, laying down the first brick of mounting absurdity. Or maybe I just don’t know US climate that well.

My only problem with this chapter is that it’s hard to keep track of all the characters and names. I prefer being able to picture the correct number of people. I don’t think quantity is the problem though, because I am quite content, for example, keeping track of the dozens of characters in The Sopranos. I am much more comfortable doing it with visuals.

YEAR OF THE DEPEND ADULT UNDERGARMENT

Main character: (new) Erdedy, isolated man with marijuana addiction.

I enjoyed this chapter more, I think because it was much easier to follow, but also probably because I read it when I had a lot of mental energy.

I assume Wallace’s obsessive personality and problems with addiction helped him create this very vivid scene where Erdedy meticulously arranges another “final” binge of marijuana, junk food, action movies, and masturbation. Wallace uses

transparent narration

and stream-of-consciousness to put us inside Erdedy’s head. It feels like we have access to the character’s thoughts because they flit between subjects without transition:

He had not sat down and outright bold-faced lied to her, it had been more of an impression he’d conveyed and nurtured and allowed to gather its own life and force. The insect was now entirely visible. It was on the shelf that held his digital equalizer. What looked like its reemergence might just have been a change in his attention or the two windows’ light or the visual context of his surroundings. The girder protruded from the wall and was a triangle of dull steel with holes for shelves to fit into. The metal shelves that held his audio equipment were painted a dark industrial green and were originally made for holding canned goods. They were designed to be extra kitchen shelves. The insect sat inside its dark shiny case with an immobility that seemed like the gathering of a force, it sat like the hull of a vehicle from which the engine had been for the moment removed. It was dark and had a shiny case and antennae that protruded but did not move. He had to use the bathroom. His last piece of contact from the appropriation artist, with whom he had had intercourse, and who during intercourse had sprayed some sort of perfume up into the air from a mister she held in her left hand as she lay beneath him making a wide variety of sounds and spraying perfume up into the air, so that he felt the cold mist of it settling on his back and shoulders and was chilled and repelled, his last piece of contact after he’d gone into hiding with the marijuana she’d gotten for him had been a card she’d mailed that was a pastiche photo of a doormat of coarse green plastic grass with WELCOME on it and next to it a flattering publicity photo of the appropriation artist from her Back Bay gallery, and between them an unequal sign, which was an equal sign with a diagonal slash across it, and also an obscenity he has assumed was directed at him magisculed in red grease pencil along the bottom, with multiple exclamation points.

All throughout, ideas branch off in unorganized directions.

The redundant descriptions – like the insect’s dark, shiny case and the woman spraying perfume up into the air – suggest what the character is focusing on, in his head. Particular details like these make their corresponding images more vivid not only for the reader, but also for the character whose mind we are seeing them through.

The excerpt above is only a fragment of a paragraph four pages in length, which follows a paragraph almost five pages in length. These two uninterrupted streams of thought have the effect of submerging us in Erdedy’s neurotic consciousness as he waits for and obsesses over an expected delivery of marijuana.

1 APRIL – YEAR OF THE TUCKS MEDICATED PAD

Main character: (recurring) Hal Incandenza, reading savant and tennis prodigy.

Another funny and absurd scene featuring Hal. Confusingly, in this one, he is articulate and witty. There is reference but no evidence of his being nonverbal.

Following his dad’s instruction, Hal meets with a self-proclaimed “professional conversationalist”, who is obtuse and confrontational and who turns out to be Hal’s dad in poor disguise.

A slightly annoying aspect of this chapter is that it jumps between seemingly random topics with no apparent point.

Hal’s dad says something about his wife cheating with lots of people.

For some reason, Hal calls his dad ‘Himself’ and his mom ‘the Moms’.

In this chatper there is first mention of some topics that come up in later chapters, including a medical attaché and Byzantine erotica. There’s also mention of Quebec, which, unless I’m hallucinating, is also mentioned once, in a throwaway comment, in the first chapter.

9 MAY – YEAR OF THE DEPEND ADULT UNDERGARMENT

Main character: (recurring) Hal Incandenza, reading savant and tennis prodigy.

Hal packs his tennis bag in the darkness of 6am. The phone rings and wakes Hal’s brother and roommate, Mario. A brief, mysterious phone call from Orin (new character). Hal seems unbothered.

YEAR OF THE DEPEND ADULT UNDERGARMENT

Main character: (new) medical attaché, special ear-nose-throat consultant to the personal physician of Prince Q—-, the Saudi Minister of Home Entertainment.

Another funny and absurd chapter. Our anonymous main character’s job is tending to the yeasty sores that regularly break out on Prince Q—-‘s face due to his compulsive consumption of Toblerone. The doctor earned his post because he’s so skilled in dealing with the condition:

A veritable artist, possessed of a deftness nonpareil with cotton swab and evacuation-hypo, the medical attaché is known among the shrinking upper classes of petro-Arab nations as the DeBakey of maxillofacial yeast, his staggering fee-scale as wholly ad valorem

His work, however, is so exhausting that every night he follows the same decompression routine – an unsettling variation on the familiar TV dinner routine – that his servant-wife orchestrates.

He reclines before the viewer in his special electronic recliner, and his black-veiled, ethnically Arab wife wordlessly attends him, loosening any constrictive clothing, adjusting the room’s lighting, fitting the complexly molded dinner tray over his head so that his shoulders support the tray and allow it to project into space just below his chin, that he may enjoy his hot dinner without having to remove his eyes from whatever entertainment is up and playing.

This chapter and Erdedy’s earlier chapter are my favorites so far. (Maybe I enjoy detailed scenes that focus on a single character?)

PS – This man must be somehow relevant to Himself’s mention of medical attachés that the Moms supposedly had affairs with?

YEAR OF THE TRIAL-SIZE DOVE BAR

Main characters: (new) Wardine and (new) Bruce Green.

It consists of two, unrelated vignettes of unfortunate people living pitiful lives.

First vignette – Wardine is a teenage girl who is being horribly abused by her mother and uncle. The characters in this vignette are coded as being black and from a poor area. They talk in really basic pidgin English. It’s uncomfortable to read.

Second vignette – Bruce Green is a high school student who manages to attract the attention of a “fatally pretty” classmate, Mildred Bonk. He gets her pregnant and they drop out of school to live in a housetrailer with their baby and three other people, one of whom keeps “several large snakes in unclean unconvered aquaria.”

The most unexpected chapter so far. Inexplicable by itself.

YEAR OF THE DEPEND ADULT UNDERGARMENT

Main character: (recurring) Hal Incandenza, reading savant and tennis prodigy.

Hal chats with his older brother Mario. Even though Hal is younger, the dynamic is palpably reverse. Mario asks lots of questions and Hal calls Mario Booboo. Mario asks Hal why he doesn’t believe in God if he is so good at tennis. Hal says:

God seems to have a kind of laid-back management style I’m not crazy about. I’m pretty much anti-death. God looks by all accounts to be pro-death. I’m not seeing how we can get together on this issue.

Mario then asks why the Moms didn’t get sad about Himself’s death. Hal tries to persuade Mario that she is sad, but Hal doesn’t seem sure of it either.

The chapter ends with reference to the medical attaché, who is watching an unmarked video that was delivered to him seemingly by mistake.

OCTOBER – YEAR OF THE DEPEND ADULT UNDERGARMENT

Orin. Perhaps he lives in the same condo complex as Erdedy?

. We’ll see how far I get. Read up a bit on the cultural lore around this book. The New Yorker article How to Read “Infinite Jest” was one of the highlights.

Continuing with Jane Jacobs’s The Death and Life of Great American Cities. Over two hundred pages in, still great. She’s not afraid to follow up her criticisms of orthodox city planning with concrete criteria for good city planning. She values concreteness and reality above almost all other things. She routinely and smartly derides “abstractions”. What matters are real people, real places, real events.

Started Bird By Bird by Anne Lamott. Did not grab me. I suspect I’d have to push or skip through a bunch of content that I’m already familiar with to get to the new and thought-provoking stuff. This is to be expected, considering I’ve read a lot of

books

Several Short Sentences About Writing (2012)

by Verlyn Klinkenborg

#reviews #writing #books Mentioned in how to coordinate metaphors, how to revise a sentence, I'm Glad My Mom Died (2022), what I'm doing now, what I'm doing now

This is my second review of this book. I have to say – it won me over, big time. This time I read a physical copy, and it was worth it. The spacing and formatting of the print gives the book a mysterious aura. You feel you’re conferring secretly with the author about a strange magic that hides in prose. He reveals what he’s learned about teasing this elusive substance into the right configurations. In the same words he explains to you and shows you. Some books about writing are sterile and tedious, but this book is on the other end of the spectrum.

Some of its advice has lodged into my writing brain:

Keep the space between sentences as empty as possible… Most sentences need no preamble - nor postlude.

Avoid writing your sentence. Play with it in your head. The range of possible sentence structures narrows after every word you put down.

Don’t be afraid that you’ll forget a good sentence or a good idea. Trust yourself. If it is important, you’ll remember it.

Lots of worthwhile ideas, many of which aim to loosen rigid rules and challenge habits taught in school. Are transition words and sentences really necessary? Do you trust your reader so little? You can get anywhere from anywhere. It also challenges conventional wisdom regarding “inspiration”, “natural” writing, and “flowing” writing. It gives interesting writing exercises like putting sentences each on their own line to compare structure, length, and rhythm.

I realized on second read that the author asserts in the introduction that this book is not dogma, but a collection of starting points. Also, my prayers were answered: the book contains a healthy share of sample prose.

Very glad I came across this book.

about

Wounds of Passion (1997)

A Writing Life

by bell hooks

#reviews #books #writing #poetry #relationships #abuse #trauma #memoir #feminism #misogyny #racism Mentioned in what I'm doing now, what I'm doing now

Really beautiful. Poetic. A bit repetitive. Experimental – written non-chronologically and in two voices. More about bell hooks’ “emotional landscape” than the trajectory of her life.

Small picture: Persistent omission of commas. Little-to-no dialogue.

Topics: feminism, misogyny, racism, intersectionality, childhood trauma, abuse, the craft of writing, poetry, aesthetics of life, relationships, “free love”.

Related works in my eyes: Just Kids by Patti Smith and

Educated

by Tara Westover. Like Patti Smith’s Just Kids, this book tells of artists building and mutually nurturing each other’s lives as artists. Like Tara Westover’s Educated, this book tells of the labor of carving out a woman’s career in academia and the related development of her intellect and personhood; of journeying towards the light of independence and self-actualization out of the shadow of childhood trauma.

writing

Draft No. 4 (2013)

On the Writing Process

by John McPhee

#reviews #writing #books #memoir Mentioned in what I'm doing now, what I'm doing now

Any aspiring non-fiction writer should read this. If you disagree, please please please share with me the other books that somehow make this book redundant.

Great if you’re interested in learning about the profession of non-fiction writing.

Interesting anecdotes. Great tips on the writing process from a hugely experienced writer. Lots of inspiring and thought-provoking reflections on the craft of writing.

recently

On Writing (2000)

A Memoir of the Craft

by Stephen King

#reviews #books #memoir #nonfiction #writing Mentioned in what I'm doing now, where do ideas come from?, where do ideas come from? #2, Stephen King's writing advice, what I'm doing now

Half memoir, half advice for aspiring fiction writers. Both good.

I enjoy and mostly trust his

writing advice

.

This is yet

another

book that should be made

virtual

.

It consists of three distinct parts: a memoir of King’s life; advice for fiction writers; and a vignette about King’s near-death experience. (Really, it consists of two different types of writing: memoir and practical advice.) King claims that he included the memoir to contextualize his fiction, but I don’t buy it. I suspect he set out to write this book without a coherent vision for it. In fact, that’s how he usually writes!

I am glad he wrote all three parts. And they don’t go terribly together. But they’d go better with many other things, too, including things written by other people.

The simplest way to make this book virtual is to publish it digitally as three separate pieces that readers can choose to consume as they see fit. This is already an improvement. Aspiring writers could jump directly to the second piece – the one that is actually King’s thoughts “on writing” – and King’s fans could hear about their beloved author’s background and personal life without having to hear his opinions on grammar and diction.

Each of the three pieces could be divided into smaller chunks. The piece about writing, for example, could be broken down into King’s thoughts on dialogue, his thoughts on grammar, on character depiction, plot design, etc. The book is already organized into chapters, but they cannot be consumed independently of the book. If the chapters were designed to exist independently, they could be easily linked to by other works: books, articles, websites, videos, etc. King’s book would be only one of many pieces that contained his memoirs and his thoughts on writing.

. I might listen to Bird By Bird some more, but I have a few other audiobooks waiting in my Spotify library:

  • Rick Rubin’s The Creative Act: A Way of Being
  • Temple Grandin’s Visual Thinking: The Hidden Gifts of People Who Think in Pictures, Patterns, and Abstractions
  • Rose Hackman’s Emotional Labor: The Invisible Work Shaping Our Lives and How to Claim Our Power
  • Peter Attia’s Outlive: The Science and Art of Longevity
  • Bruce Springsteen’s Born to Run
  • Maria Bamford’s Sure, I’ll Join Your Cult: A Memoir of Mental Illness and the Quest to Belong Anywhere

I saw Rick Rubin’s book displayed in a store window for $40 or something like that. It was a pretty book, but $40, really? I checked Spotify and sure enough the audiobook is included in Spotify premium. We should resist the invitation to view books as commodities. When you feel the impulse to buy a book, ask yourself: How excited would you be if the cover was ugly or stained or if the book was used but in fair condition? That is, do you want it for its substance or its aesthetic?

Writing

I am happy to see, looking back at the past month, that I’ve written several small pieces:

  • how to chart moods

    how to chart moods

    #essays #moods #time-management #energy Mentioned in what I'm doing now

    Learning to pick between

    productive and absorptive

    activities based on my current mood and energy level has helped me notice, for example, when I should try to write instead of reading.

    ← productive                                                                                                                                 absorptive →


    It occurred to me recently that there are many other dimensions to consider when picking an activity. An obvious distinction is active vs passive activities. It is similar to productive vs absorptive, but it’s possible to be absorptive both actively (e.g. reading) and passively (e.g. watching, listening).

    ← active                                                                                                                                               passive →


    Are you in a mood to expend energy or do you need to refuel? The same answer will have different implications for different people. For introverted people, having “expensive” capacity at a given moment offers an opportunity to socialize.

    ← expensive                                                                                                                               regenerative →


    After determining that you want to watch a movie – a fine choice when one is feeling passive-absorptive-regenerative – you can figure out whether you want to do your passive absorbing alone or with other people.

    ← individual                                                                                                                                             social →


    While going through this exercise, you don’t have to pick a point on each spectrum. I think it’s unlikely you’ll have answers for all. (Ah yes, I’m feeling productive-active-social-regenerative, that’s the word I was looking for!) But with every choice, you filter down many possible activities into the ones best suited to your current mood.

    Are you in a social-regenerative mood? Meet with friends to do something that nourishes you. Or are you feeling social-expensive? Do something that you’re not easily motivated to do but that your loved ones want to do with you.

    I always try to choose activities based on how I’m feeling so I can evade the taxing experience of forcing myself to do something through willpower alone. But you can’t always wait for the right mood to come. In life, you have to do some planning, and you can do that better if you learn how your moods and energy levels fluctuate.

    Notice which activities are expensive for you. Make time after those for your regenerative activites. Whether you’re more introverted or extroverted, take note of how often you need social interaction to keep a healthy balance. Whether you’re a morning person or a night owl, dedicate your expensive mood to

    meaningful, important work

    . If producing is important to you, dedicate time to absorbing as well. As Stephen King writes in his book On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft:

    Reading is the creative center of a writer’s life.

  • where do ideas come from?

    where do ideas come from?

    #notes #writing #subconscious #creativity Mentioned in what I'm doing now

    Don’t come up with the plot of your story,

    says Stephen King

    .

    Plotting and the spontaneity of real creation aren’t compatible.

    The plot isn’t yours to invent. It’s yours to discover:

    My basic belief about the making of stories is that they pretty much make themselves. The job of the writer is to give them a place to grow, and to transcribe them of course…I believe stories are found things, like fossils in the ground…Stories are relics, part of an undiscovered, pre-existing world. The writer’s job is to use [their] tools…to get as much of each one out of the ground intact as possible.

    Other prolific writers agree. David Lynch fishes his ideas out of the depths of his subconscious:

    Ideas are like fish. You don’t make the fish, you catch the fish.

    Or in the words of Cormac McCarthy:

    Writing is like taking dictation.

    On this topic, Karl Pilkington echoes both McCarthy and King:

    If you just talk, I find that your mouth…comes out with stuff.

    If you sit there and try and use your brain to do it, it doesn’t work the same. Just – just keep talking, just keep your – keep your – keep your mouth talking…and eventually, it will come out with something pretty good.

    If what these accomplished men say is true and we don’t come up with our own ideas…

    who does?

  • where do ideas come from? #2

    where do ideas come from? #2

    #notes #writing #subconscious #creativity #problem-solving Mentioned in what I'm doing now, what I'm doing now

    There was this little voice whispering to me that the book was really good, and if I didn’t finish, I would regret it forever.

    In his book

    On Writing

    , Stephen King recounts how he broke through the writer’s block he encountered 500 pages into writing his book The Stand:

    I started taking long walks…looking at the same old trees and the same old chattering ill-natured jays and squirrels. Boredom can be a very good thing for someone in a creative jam. I spent those walks being bored and thinking about my gigantic boondoggle of a manuscript. For weeks, I got exactly nowhere in my thinking. It all just seemed too hard, too fucking complex. I had run out too many plot lines and they were in danger of becoming snarled… I circled the problem again and again, beat my fists on it, knocked my head against it. And then, one day when I was thinking of nothing much at all, the answer came to me. It arrived whole and complete, gift-wrapped, you could say, in a single bright flash. I ran home and jotted it down on paper…I was terrified of forgetting.

    Fellow American novelist Cormac McCarthy and many other creatives tell

    similar anecdotes

    of receiving a solution to a conundrum from an invisible source inside their mind. Consistently, the conundrum was something the person had been mulling over in their conscious mind before their subsconscious found the solution. Tech entrepreneur Paul Graham talks about the importance of keeping the right conundrum at the top of your mind.

  • how to coordinate metaphors #2

    how to coordinate metaphors #2

    #notes #essays #imagery #cohesiveness #writing Mentioned in what I'm doing now

    Here’s an example of coordinated metaphors, something I wish

    other writers

    used more often. It’s an excerpt from

    how to work #2

    , my essay about choosing your next activity based on your current energy level:

    Adapting to the ebb and flow of your capacity makes you not only more efficient, but happier. Your efforts bear more fruit because you know when the moment is ripe, and you learn to savor small victories when nothing bigger is within reach.

    In the second sentence, I try to create a single, fluid image in the reader’s mind by coordinating the metaphors bear more fruit, moment is ripe, savor small victories, and within reach.

    But, to be fair, I am biased. I wonder how many other readers enjoy it like I do, and whether any feel tension between the other images in the excerpt. Does ebb and flow in the first sentence clash with the fruit imagery in the second sentence? To coordinate the metaphors across the two sentences, I could replace ebb and flow with something about seasons, for example. But that might shift the reader’s attention too far from what is said to how it’s said. The second sentence alone risks this by including too many coordinated metaphors, but stays in bounds by not forcing or contriving them.

    The goal is not to say to the reader, hey, you see how clever I am? but instead to put satisfying images in their head, preferably without them thinking too much about how they got there.

    I think ebb and flow, as another image from nature, complements the fruit imagery. This works especially because the third sentence in the paragraph also contains natural images:

    Adapting to the ebb and flow of your capacity makes you not only more efficient, but happier. Your efforts bear more fruit because you know when the moment is ripe, and you learn to savor small victories when nothing bigger is within reach. Gone is the guilt of “being lazy” when your energy dips because you know it’s just a phase in a cycle, a valley in a range of peaks.

    These images coordinate not only between themselves but also with a key idea of the essay: there is peace in respecting and abiding by rules of nature.

    But, again, I may be at odds with potential readers of

    how to work #2

    . I suppose the feeling comes also from the literal images of nature I included in the original version I posted on Medium.

As I mentioned above, many of these reference Stephen King’s book

On Writing

On Writing (2000)

A Memoir of the Craft

by Stephen King

#reviews #books #memoir #nonfiction #writing Mentioned in what I'm doing now, where do ideas come from?, where do ideas come from? #2, Stephen King's writing advice, what I'm doing now

Half memoir, half advice for aspiring fiction writers. Both good.

I enjoy and mostly trust his

writing advice

.

This is yet

another

book that should be made

virtual

.

It consists of three distinct parts: a memoir of King’s life; advice for fiction writers; and a vignette about King’s near-death experience. (Really, it consists of two different types of writing: memoir and practical advice.) King claims that he included the memoir to contextualize his fiction, but I don’t buy it. I suspect he set out to write this book without a coherent vision for it. In fact, that’s how he usually writes!

I am glad he wrote all three parts. And they don’t go terribly together. But they’d go better with many other things, too, including things written by other people.

The simplest way to make this book virtual is to publish it digitally as three separate pieces that readers can choose to consume as they see fit. This is already an improvement. Aspiring writers could jump directly to the second piece – the one that is actually King’s thoughts “on writing” – and King’s fans could hear about their beloved author’s background and personal life without having to hear his opinions on grammar and diction.

Each of the three pieces could be divided into smaller chunks. The piece about writing, for example, could be broken down into King’s thoughts on dialogue, his thoughts on grammar, on character depiction, plot design, etc. The book is already organized into chapters, but they cannot be consumed independently of the book. If the chapters were designed to exist independently, they could be easily linked to by other works: books, articles, websites, videos, etc. King’s book would be only one of many pieces that contained his memoirs and his thoughts on writing.

. I love letting my activities overlap like this. Let what I am reading feed into what I’m writing, what music I’m listening to, what movies and shows I’m watching, and vice versa.

TV

How To with John Wilson, season three. Didn’t realize this was the last season until I casually finished watching the last episode.

The Last of Us, season one. I loved the ending of the season, although it also broke my heart. Brave, truthful writing. (Regarding Joel, at least. It’s ludicrous that the other characters gave him the opportunity to do what he did, though.)

Severance and Westworld, both season one. Both have really interesting premises, but neither grabs my attention. The writing in Westworld feels a bit off-the-mark. And Severance is a bit slow-paced.

Movies

Poor Things, Yorgos Lanthimos’s new movie. One of my favorite movies of recent times. More thoughts

here

Poor Things (2023)

#reviews #movies #writing #story-telling #feminism Mentioned in what I'm doing now

One of my favorite movies of recent times. Funny, and full of social commentary with feminist overtones. Great acting from Emma Stone. Aesthetically glorious – playful cinematography; an incredible, unorthodox score; enthralling costume and set design. Subtly reminiscent of Wes Anderson in its dryly humorous dialogue, explicit chapter headings, and tableau-like sets. The movie’s use of expressionism – “art in which the image of reality is distorted in order to make it expressive of the artist’s inner feelings or ideas”, according to this post – is great because it conveys meaning subtly and makes the movie even more visually engaging.

However, I don’t think this movie is perfect. For one, the crappy British accents are distracting. And I think the writing has some flaws. Like why should Max be in love with Bella, and in a healthy way, apparently? Also, I think the writing is sometimes a bit too direct or explicit about its message. Like when the evil lord says that he loves to amass property and Bella is just another piece of his estate. We didn’t need to be told, we could already sense it from his character and the context. For me, the story-telling spell breaks momentarily when I feel like the writers are trying to tell me something. It reminds me that I’m watching a fiction designed by storytellers. But I’m a bit picky about this. I had a similar problem with the writing in Barbarian.

.

Promising Young Woman. Second watch, this time with Z. She’s right that the movie is disappointing in its treatment of such a serious and important subject. It pulls every punch. Instead of rage and vengeance, we see wrist-slapping and finger-wagging. Poor Things promises much less and delivers much more feminist catharsis.

Catch Me If You Can. Turned it off. I’m realizing Spielberg is not my favorite. Maybe he’s like the Stephen King of movies. Several weeks ago I started watching The Fablemans on the plane and it felt a bit ridiculous, had to turn that off, too.


What’s next?

Keep losing weight. Get back to playing soccer regularly.

Go snowboarding with friends. Go on a weekend trip with Z to a hot springs resort.

Keep reading, keep writing.

Continue working on Muze Radio. Recruit my friend Isaac for help. Get my younger sister Dani to design me a favicon.

Spend time with friends.

Get back into the groove of work after the holidays.