Nov 22 2018

Okay, this is hard!


My Internet fast is far more difficult than I thought it would be.

One reason is that I spend so very much time at my office.  It’s not just where I write; it’s where I do pretty much everything, except sleep at night and have breakfast in the morning.  Writing, reading, finances, correspondence, research, phone calls, social media and even general chilling out — all of that gets done at my office.  I keep my guitar there as well, and do most of my practicing there, after normal business hours.  Very useful, given the amount of noise I can generate, including vocal exercises that are no fun for those listening, and the endless repetition necessary when learning a new and demanding guitar lick.  It’s cruel to inflict those on housemates and neighbors.

But being there for so long every day now means being disconnected for that whole long day.

It’s really surprising how often one (or at least this one) generally accesses the internet. Admittedly, I don’t need to look at Facebook or Twitter as often as I had been.  And even though, of course, I do so not merely out of social curiosity, but for legitimate writerly business reasons — well,  it’s still easy to slide from biz to social without even noticing.

And aside from that, there’s a sort of casual info-checking that I do automatically.  You know: how a particular word might be spelled ; where Albania is really located as opposed to where you think it’s located (I actually did need to know that the other day); that news the other day, about the black hole at the center of our galaxy, now where’s that article located again?; and really,  how many calories are there in a cucumber?

It’s a sort of off-site memory storage.

And I find myself a bit dubious about that lately.

I don’t want to sound like Socrates arguing against the usefulness of writing things down; but I sometimes worry that it’s become too easy to look something up instead of, say, learning it.  There’s a significant difference between knowing where to find something, and actually knowing it.  Especially if your intention is to create something new.  You can’t manipulate a fact or a principle in your imagination if it does not reside in your working memory (at least), or your long-term memory (for best result).

But if you’re a nerd like me, you love finding things out.  Every now and then, I’ve caught myself allowing the fun of finding information to replace the satisfaction of acquiring it; like picking flowers, and then tossing them over your shoulder so that you can go pick more flowers.

But despite all the above — damn, the internet is a godsend, isn’t it?   You know: information on your medical condition that your doctor doesn’t have time to explain; research into esoteric subjects; beauty, beauty, beauty;  inspiration; that book you’ve wanted all your life but couldn’t find, oh, there it is!; instant support from your far-flung friends when you’re down in the dumps and no one around you really understands; witticisms and wonders.

Well.  I feel I’m coming to appreciate the internet even more, now that it’s not always available.  As well as recognizing more clearly how easily it can steal time.

And in case you’re wondering: allowing myself to become bored is starting to pay off.

In other news: I mentioned briefly last time that I’d seen the movie First Man, and really enjoyed it.

I found the style particularly interesting.  The director (Damian Chazelle) made the decision to keep the camera, and thus the viewer, very close to Armstrong’s own perspective.  It’s immediately evident from the opening scene, where Armstrong is test-flying the X-15, and our point of view stays inside the cockpit.   We get to experience the events as  Armstrong did. It’s quite a different approach from other films about the space program.   As much as possible, a close perspective is maintained through the film.  And when it can’t be — say, when portraying events Armstrong did not see for himself — the film still employs a version that close style.  This leads to the sort of understatement that can make some things come across even more powerfully than if they were highlighted and stressed in the usual sort of way.

(Thinking of one scene in particular, but I can’t tell you about it without spoiling the power of the effect.  Yes, I know: it’s impossible to spoil the events because this is history.   Lots of you out there — space-program fanatics like me — will be following along in indelibly-graven memory, word-for-word.  But naming the scene would still spoil the effect.)

And the close-focus effect works particularly well because this is not a film about the space program.

It’s a film about Neil Armstrong.   It’s specifically about his experience, and it’s a portrait of the person he was, and how he lived within the world as it existed at that time.

And you know… I had completely forgotten how really oppressive it was to be a guy in the 1950’s.  We tend to talk about how hard it was for women (and damn, it was), but the guys had it rough in a whole other way.

And sure, things got loose & wild in the 60’s — but not for the mainstream, folks.  For most people, it was basically still the 50’s.

So:  a very good film, in so many ways.  You should see this.  Even people indifferent to the space program should see it, because of the excellent character exploration.   And hey, you’ll probably find yourself with some time this weekend, what with hanging with family for the holiday, and running out of things to do.  A good opportunity to drag ‘em to the movies.  Although, small children would not be able to relate to this, I think; it’s probably too nuanced.  But that’s why multiplexes were invented!

Now, if you want something that is about the space program, that really explores, explicates and celebrates it — you want this:

From the Earth to the Moon

12 hours of brilliant, brilliant presentation.  Great actors, great writing, and it looks at how we got ourselves to the moon, from every possible angle, including angles that you did not know existed.  Produced by Tom Hanks — hey, with Tom Hanks involved, how can you go wrong?  I could write reams and reams about how wonderful this miniseries is.

But I’ve said enough.  Time to post this thing and get back to — well, I’ve actually taken the day off to catch up on home tasks, internet tasks, and general home-style chilling out (including TV — have you seen Netflix’s Bodyguard yet? Wow).

I hope your Thanksgiving was great, and full of good food, good friends, and dear family.  Or equivalent other things that you want to spend time on instead!

Nov 12 2018

Internet Fast!


No, I have not lost all sense of syntax; nor have I, for the sake of brevity, decided to communicate for the immediate future entirely in tabloid-style headlines.

In fact, I’m not attempting to comment on the speed of my wifi connection at all.  The key here is: which word is the adjective, and which is the noun?

That’s right: I’m going on an Internet fast.  For the month of November, I have no wifi access at my office.

You know how easy it is to be enticed away from the task at hand when, right there on your desk, you have instant access to everything currently known so far about entire universe and everything in it, including all the possible opinions on every aspect of it.  And oh, five minutes from now?  There will be more new stuff and opinions that weren’t there before!

Well.  What red-blooded nerdy kid-at-heart could keep away from that bag of Haloween candy?

Of course it’s easy to stay on task when things are running smoothly and are themselves lots of fun.  But when the going gets rough, the frustrated look for diversion.  And that can be counterproductive in more than one way.

It’s not just that random googling, rabbit-hole researching, virtual window-shopping, Facebook-checking, Twitter-quipping, what’s-my-ex-doing-these-days-holy-frakkin-A-he’s-bought-himself-a-Tesla eats up time; it actually can steal from you one of your most valuable creative assets.

That would be: boredom.

I’ve been re-reading Manoush Zomorodi’s book, Bored and Brilliant. Zomorodi is the creator and host of the podcast Note to Self, and the book is a compilation of and expansion on a series of participatory experiments and investigations that Zomorodi ran on the podcast.  That’s where I first encountered the material, and found it all very illuminating.  I was glad to hear that she put it all together in a book.


Bored and Brilliant: How Spacing Out Can Unlock Your Most Productive and Creative Self

Don’t let the cheesy blurb put you off.

The idea is that we’ve become so addicted to immediate diversion and entertainment via our devices and apps that we’ve lost touch with the constructive aspects of boredom.

Basically, when we have nothing to do, we think stuff up.

Our current hyper-connected lifestyle too often doesn’t permit even the briefest empty moment — we fill it immediately with a game, a glance at social media, a swift scan of the news.  And that ability is available to us all the time.  We turn to trivial entertainment, using up time and bandwidth, and eroding our ability to focus.

Zomorodi doesn’t just make assertions and collect opinions on the subject: she’s investigated previous ideas in the area, and checked out the current scientific research on what our brains actually do when we think they’re doing nothing.

Her prose style is not always to my taste… there’s a bit too much fake-casual chumminess, in the modern pop-psychology self-help-book style.  But the content is not pop-psych at all, and I don’t think you’ll find it all gathered in one place anywhere else.  (I preferred the the podcast’s presentation of the info, but I can’t seem to find those episodes any more.)

Now, I won’t (as Zomorodi’s experts suggest) get rid of Facebook and Twitter.  That’s how I stay in contact with far-flung friends, fans, and colleagues.  They’re social tools, but they’re also professional tools.  (That time that Anita Sarkeesian tweeted that she liked my books, my sales went through the roof.)

Plus, they help me understand what’s on people’s minds out in the real world.  But I do not have to look at them so many times in a day!  Honestly.

So: lack of office internet should help to keep the whim-searches under control.  I do have my phone, and I  have access to the Internet through that — but I don’t have an unlimited data plan, so I have to keep my access down.  I’m mainly using it for email, just in case something urgent comes through.

One hardship is the loss of streaming music via Pandora or Amazon Prime Music.  I do have plenty of mp3’s on my computer, and I can set them running.  But sometimes I rather like not knowing what’s going to play next, and the possibility that it might be something that I’ve never before heard in my life.  Alas, what to do?

Then I remember this thing, called — what was it now? Oh, right: Radio.  Turns out I had one in the back of my closet and by golly, it works!  I found a local classical station, and it’s quite lovely.  Also good for the news.

This is an experiment, for the month of November (and if I feel like it, December), and it only holds at my office (where I do spend most of my time).  I still have Internet access at home, and my morning ritual includes breakfast surfing, news sites, and Facebook — rather the way my Dad would read the newspaper over breakfast when I was a kid.

And should I need to do some heavy-duty research or downloading in the middle of the day, the library is just down the street.  Also, Starbucks and Dunkin’.

And as for blogging– well I wrote this offline and uploaded it when I got home.  And my email sends me a notice when anybody posts a comment.  So, we’re covered!

Now, from all this, you might have discerned that I’m planning to be especially focused on the book this month; and in this you are correct.

My tradition has been to head off to some undisclosed location over the Thanksgiving week and weekend, and have a bit of a writing retreat.  Being in an unfamiliar setting can be refreshing and invigorating.  But this year, I can’t afford to actually go away.  So, I have to refresh and invigorate myself by sheer force of will!

An Internet fast can’t hurt.

In other news: Saw the movie First Man. with my sister, and our pals R. and J. (You know who you are.)  Loved it.  I’ll say more later (this is getting too long), but I wanted to say right off that if anyone tells you that the American flag is not shown on the moon, don’t believe them.  It’s right there, in several shots.  What’s not included is the specific moment of planting the flag.  But the flag is there, despite what other people might be telling you.

I’ll say more in a couple of days; I’ve run out of time tonight.

Nov 6 2018

Hey, I voted!


You should, too.

Haven’t done it yet?  Are your polls still open?

Go do it now.  Seriously.

If you don’t vote, you let other people make important decisions for you.  Are you sure you’re going to like those decisions?  Do you think that all those other people, the ones out there voting right now — do you think that you’d agree with them all? Are you okay with the choices they’re making for you?

For you?

Instead of you?

Please.  If you haven’t yet, go do it.  Vote.

and you get a cool sticker.