Without Caveat – Being Yourself

Without Caveat – Being Yourself

Photo By: Ilze Lucero

I was raised by parents who were very into ‘new age’ culture. If you aren’t familiar, think things like keeping amethysts around for their healing powers, belief in any of the zodiacs and their descriptive and predictive power, spiritual healing, burning incense and all manner of now frowned upon behaviors for being not-fact-based. I’m not saying my parents believed in all of those things, I’m just trying to give you a frame of mind for the culture. Of course, in his defense, my father is old enough that he had genuine claim to the title hippy without being a hipster about it. Far out. If it weren’t for this sort of eclectic upbringing I think I would have been a lot more vulnerable than I already am, by virtue of being a human being, to group think.

Why do I have that opinion? Because despite abjectly finding the idea of the healing power of crystal points humorous, I very much like how they look. Actually my youth started a life long obsession with mineral specimens in a Kantian disinterest sort of way. I like how incense smells, I don’t think it’s going to help bring me to some higher plane of thinking over some light meditation. As for the zodiac, that’s a punchline I’ll get to later.

Image result for blue crab

I actively hid these things about myself for a long time during and after puberty. I enjoyed these things, but not in the same sort of way my parents enjoyed them, and the sort of people my parents were, was being made fun of. Those are a few critical years of trying to fit in with your peers so I carefully considered answers to questions about my interests. Joke was on me though, I never ended up fitting in anyway. That was an easy lesson I somehow managed to ignore. Hiding my interests didn’t change me from being the sort of person that would be interested in them, and that person wasn’t particularly popular in high school.

I had actually managed to spend so long denying my interests that I forgot about them for a period of time. Love of minerals was one standout survivor but even that was kept pretty low key, that is, until I met Emily and started buying her jewelry. Emily seemed surprised I was so interested in buying these things for her. I mean, while the diamond necklace I had snuck into her high school on valentines day was a shock, it was also sort of expected, they’re diamonds and it was valentines day. I however, also bought her a range of earings and necklaces ranging from rubies to opals, a full gamut from precious to semi-precious. I had an outlet. It was however, something I still kept from most people.

The culture that really buys into those things seemed to be getting weirder and weirder. Colloidal silver and tinctures and anti-vaccinations had entered that area and I really didn’t want to be associated with them by having too many similar interests. I don’t despise those people, as seems popular to do these days. I would like it if drunk driving were met with half the energy devoted to the publicly acceptable shame and outrage, alas that still seems to be an angry-behind-closed-doors sort of thing. Still, I didn’t want to be associated with that crowd, and I thought expressing my interests in quartz points, tea, and incense would have left me defensive over it.

Then my daughter arrived. She got older. She turned three. Some time during that third year, by chance encounter, I stumbled upon one of those new age stores. They were having a moving location sale. My daughter and I were alone in the mall, which was a rare event. I think I was explicitly taking her on a date. I remember having reasons for it. Ah, that’s them. I will save those for a future post, they’re worth a future post. Daughters man, there’s something magical and frightening about them. Anyway, we were on our date and I see this relic from my own past, changing locations, deep discounts, meaningful ones, like half-off minimum. It was a liquidation. So we went in. After much looking around, my daughter fell in love with this sphere of gypsum. That’s all it was, plain jane ball of polished gypsum, it must weigh 3 pounds. It has a cats eye feature in it, and she absolutely fell in love with it the moment she set her eyes on it. That in turn, brought back memories of being in these sorts of stores with my parents, and that made me even more in love with her.

After I explained to my daughter that it wasn’t a toy, that she could easily break it, and that it was mostly going to be for looking at and having agreed to those terms, I purchased it and we got some ice cream and set back out for home. I took her shiny paperweight and set it up in a prominent position in her bed room so that she would see it all the time. Then I thought about myself and where I’d been the last decade or more. Out came my rose quartz candle holders, my oil fragrance burning apparatus, the tea candles that go with, I ended up going back and buying a wooden incense holder for the stick variety and ended up getting plenty of things to burn in it.

As chance would have it I was conversing with one of my older friends and somehow the subject of the zodiac came up. It was a gaming related context. Our group had been crustacean themed for some years now, and in the back of my mind was the information that I was a cancer, but until then that sort of thing was met with derision even from me. The song making fun of horoscopes by Weird Al was something of a favorite of mine growing up. But then we looked into it, and boy was I ever a cancer. I know I know, astrological sign descriptions are supposed to be vague to the point of applying to everyone, but this thing was dead on in ways that even surprise my friends. That doesn’t mean I “believe” in the zodiac, but the entertainment value given the theming of my gaming group was and remains high. Point of fact, neither of my wife’s signs—cusp baby—describe her in the slightest.

This all came to a head very recently when someone started criticising me for using an astrological sign to describe my personality. “Consummate cancer”, I told them. They droned on and on about things I already knew and didn’t care about. The lack of scientific evidence that they were efficant and blad-de-blah science I know. This person seemed to take it personally that I could find joy or entertainment in something not based on science while possessing the knowledge that not only was it not scientific but that it was a bunch of bullcrap. This interaction happened in the same culture that’s made Harry Potter a global phenomenon and devotes precious electricity and compute resources to making fan-theory videos about all sorts of fictional characters and universes. Hey, at least amethysts actually exist.

Seriously guys, why? You do you though.

Then it hit me. Our culture has become one where we are hypersensitive to our differences, rather than what we have in common. I’ve learned to turn these interactions around with my own sort of pointed ridicule. I don’t know what sort of joyless planet liking shiny rocks or freshly crystallized bismuth is frowned upon on but please leave mine. Anyway, the crux of the problem is focusing on the wrong sort of thing. Now there’s all sorts of reasons and causes for this. We know through our studies of social media that these platforms directly encourage social signaling and outrage culture in their participants. Heck, I left Facebook over the obviousness of that phenomenon, among other reasons.

So that sorta brings me to my main point, and the title. I think it’s pretty important that we do what we can as individuals to get over minor differences of opinion when faced with the temptation to socially signal about it. On the other end, and I’ve seen a lot of people do this and I’m just as guilty, don’t frame your likes behind caveats, justifying your likes isn’t something reasonable people should be asking you to do, though there seems to be plenty of that going around. Now, social signaling serves an important function, don’t get me wrong. Social signaling helps us determine our societies overarching values and guiding principals as a whole and it is key to doing so as a social species. Social media however has allowed us to start micro-managing social signalling into areas that don’t really matter, and that needs to stop, or at the very least be sharply reduced. Try and be aware of what really matters when tempted to judge or dog pile people. Though, a few internet memes sums all these words a little more succinctly.

XKCD
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Derailed

It’s only been since the weekend when I last wrote, but that feels like far too long. I’ve been quite distracted over the last several days by a confluence of personal and professional road bumps. Interactions with some of my earliest creative writing courses in junior high taught me that when you really need to get something out and can’t seem to focus that the roadblock itself can often become the subject. Though, this far more easily applies to journaling and blogging, sorry fiction writers it doesn’t help you as much though it still could.

Though distracting for many reasons a bulk of the source of the personal speed bump is actually amusing from a distant viewpoint. Emily and I are struggling getting used to her having periods again. It’s just been that long. Between being pregnant and nursing we’ve had a good 5 years or so off, straight. Things that may have once been obvious no longer are, like sudden changes in behavior and mood. Oh yes it’s that time again, but the expectation that there should be a ‘time’ takes us both by surprise in ways that leave Emily inadequately prepared to spot and govern the changes in her own behavior and me inadequately prepared to temper my responses to them. That’s just going to be a thing that gets better with conscientiousness and time.

Professionally there were some set backs that are really nothing more than the logistics of having to work harder for an extended period of time. We hit a roadblock involving short maintenance windows and things that didn’t go wrong until load testing. This caused a missed deadline and it’s about a month and a half until the next possible testing period, so great efforts are being made to make sure that one isn’t also wasted. It’s no big deal in the grand scheme of things, just necessary extra strain.

See, I can feel my head clearing already, though the thing I really wanted to write about was just covered in essence by another blogger I follow so that’s kinda a bummer eh? I mean that’s understandable, expected really, when you’re trying to stay abreast of current events but the subject I’m tackling next has nothing to do at all with current events and that was a bit of a surprise to see. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still going to cover it, there’s more than one perspective on any given issue and especially when it comes to life lessons but, eh, I think other bloggers especially know the kind of feelings that occur when you see that happen.

Of course, perhaps my old at least every-other-day schedule just was never sustainable in the first place. Back then I wasn’t even bothering with featured images, I was barely watching my tags at all and you know, just not really doing the things outside of the actual writing that ought be done. On that note, I’m headed down to Orlando this Saturday to check out a special place in person, and that ought to be a treat, but I may not get my normal weekend content up in a timely fashion. No, it’s not house of mouse, you’ll just have to wait and see, it’ll be fun.

To-do lists around the house continue mounting as the days get longer and spring sets in and that energetic cleaning phase really gets off to an earnest start. Things need mowing, fixing, organizing, purging, you know the drill.

On top of all of that I’ve been dealing with the emotional fallout from a traumatic event from January. I’m not sure how many of you can relate to this but though the event is long over there are residual waves of it that come back to bother me every now and then and the stresses of this week just happened to expose those. It’s like throwing a hefty rock into a pond. There’s the initial splash and disturbance of the water but as the waves hit the edge of their confined space they bounce waves back towards the center like an echo. Those waves meet up again and cause a smaller but definitely there disturbance.

That makes it a little more difficult to watch my weight, which I’ve been struggling with since puberty really. Lately, I’d say the last 2 years or so I’ve actually been very on top of that and remain so, but boy do I reach for the chocolate quick. Like so many of us, I’m a stress eater.

I think of all of those factors, nah, definitely more than all of those other factors it’s the ripples in the pond that most impede my creative process. I’m looking forward to the day when they bounce their last bounce off the edge and the surface smooths again. That could take months, it could take years, but I’m looking forward to it. As for the blog, it’s been going fine since January and things have been getting better for me personally and emotionally since so it’s not like there’s any threat to my activity, there’s just been a disturbance this week and I expect that to pass soon. You’ll hardly notice.

Anyway, the main point is, I’m hoping some of you can relate to my troubles whether that’s personally, professionally, or creatively, and at the very least if I can do nothing with all these distractions and the amount of time they are stealing from otherwise productive thoughts I can at least affirm the experience of anyone else that’s had to deal with them.

Until next time.

Convincing Characters

It’s late Sunday evening and the time change has me less tired than I ought to be. So I’m sitting awake late with not quite enough time to do another adult review and I lack the motivation to get into serious relationship stuff this late. So we’re going to do something new tonight and we’re going to be doing something bookish. Yeah that’s right, it’s been a while since I’ve tackled a book related topic on the blog and those got me some of my earliest followers. So this is for you guys, cuz we’re getting into fiction.

Hey Henry, how the heck does this have anything to do with relationships? Well it don’t really, I mean I could connect those dots longways and say better, more convincing characters from today’s creators are better books for tomorrows children, but let’s not get too into that sort of pretension, this is just a fun diversion I got to thinking about when I was extolling the virtues of the character writing in Wakfu. So without further ado, some tips on creating convincing characters in fiction.

Show Me.

This is a good tip for veterans and newbies alike. When you want me to believe your character is capable of doing a thing, I need to be shown that thing. Trying to convince me your antagonist, protagonist, or support characters are awesome by having ‘extras’ talk about it through exposition or some similarly because-I-say-so literary device is yawn inducing and not credible. I’m going after some heavy hitters here with my examples, no one is too famous or too high budget to avoid this mistake as a matter of course. It’s something you need to be thinking about. A fair few of these examples will involve television or cinema. Remember that screenplays and TV/Movie characters are written too. We’ll go through some direct this/not that at the end of this section just to drive it home anyway.

One of the most popular examples of getting this wrong I can think of is Voldemort. Yeah we’re going there. To be fair, in the latter half of the series Rowling corrects this, but for the first entire half of the series we’re supposed to respect the danger of a person whom many believe to be dead, is nonetheless severely crippled, and had his magic death abra kadabra bullets reflected back on him via something as common as a mother’s love for her infant. Seriously, I’m not sure what sort of household Rowling grew up in, but the idea that sort of love is uncommon enough in the wizarding world that Lord Voldemort was able to amass a large army, take over the government, and start a genocide in earnest before he encountered it is awful concerning, and it wasn’t something that impressed me a bit as a consumer of the greater fantasy genre. The only guide we have at this point in the series that he’s anything to fear at all is exposition and here-say. Total yawn villain. Wakfu’s Nox is far more frightening and it’s entirely because he does stuff on screen. In fact, in the Wakfu world, no one really knows who Nox is when he shows up. He’s not famous, he’s not wizard Hitler, and he’s got no fan club spitting exposition at the cast about how dangerous he is. Seriously, go watch it if you have trouble writing convincing villains.

On the protagonist side of awful we have Doctor Who, particularly during the reign of Matt Smith’s doctor and on. I know I know, a lot of you love the goofball but the difference between what he was shown doing on screen and how other people in the universe described him was immersion breaking at best. There’s a scene that really grinds my gears where he meets Amy again for the first time in one of the season openers and he’s being accosted by some eyeball spaceship that he ultimately gets to go away by telling it a speech about how awesome he is because of all this stuff he did off screen(this is an annoyingly common threat resolution technique in new-who in general). This is not how you diffuse tension. It’s certainly more camp, and we really didn’t seem to know how to run a TV show back then, but the show writers for the old series, and particularly for the run of the fourth, really knew how to show The Doctor’s competence on screen and he was a much more convincing character for it.

In what is probably the most under-appreciated scenes in movie history, we have one of the best damn examples ever of introducing a new villain by showing what he can do to the old villain. In Star Trek: The Motion Picture we are treated to an opening shot of three Klingon battle-cruisers shot from a dominant low angle making a slow approach to a new threat. Three battle-cruisers by the way are the unwinnable scenario in the very next movie. Extra care is taken to make the models look extra threatening(this is pre-CGI in case you forgot—or never knew). As they approach one of the battle-cruisers prepares to open fire, and the front of the ship opens up in a marvelous red hue that looks and sounds like some sort of space volcano. These guys mean fucking business and the entire scene lends credence to it. Then they get absolutely annihilated. The Klingons are given new threatening theme music just for this film, their character makeup is completely redesigned to be more threatening, but none of that would have really made you care about their casual destruction like their history in the show to that point. They planted bombs, enslaved worlds, kicked space butt, and were always taken seriously, and always on screen. To treat that sort of one-up-manship with the care it deserved the scene takes five glorious minutes to unfold.

So how do you apply this to your writing? Just remember, if you want me to believe your character can do something, show me! Don’t write me a paragraph by the narrator about how intimidating this new guy in the office is, show him successfully intimidating people he really ought not be able to, like the supervisor. Better yet, build up the supervisor first and then do it. Your office tyrant just killed the Klingons. If you’re trying your hand at a Voldemort like bad-guy who is the villain just because he’s unrelatably evil it might help you to familiarize yourself with the real evil in the world first, which will help you devise scenes where such a character convincingly executes evil atrocities. You can tell Rowling isn’t familiar with that by the way she handles the unspeakable curses. The torture curse is evil because it tortures, and we know it tortures because the book says so. Don’t do that. In fact, that gets us to our next rule.

Write What you Know.

This is just good writing advice in general. When you write about things sufficiently outside your area of expertise it will show and it will show quickly. When writing characters it helps if you focus on characters that you could convincingly role-play yourself. It will keep their motives relatable, focused, and well communicated. If you find that narrows your character breadth too much, it’s time to meet some new people, or at least read about them. Grab a historical biography of someone close to your character, an auto-biography if it’s available. Autos can be the less accurate biographies but they absolutely will show you the line of thinking, and that’s really what you’re after. This is especially important in the case of evil villains and tyrants. If you aren’t sufficiently in touch with actual evil, your villain will come across as a bit Disney. If you write a protagonist that you don’t relate with their actions and motives may not match to the point of being incomprehensible. Heck, I keep this rule in the non-fictional world of my blog. I don’t give marriage, relationship, or sexual advice to the LGBT community for instance because I have no fucking clue what that’s like and it would show awful quick. At best I’d be giving dangerously naive advice from a position of ignorance and at worst be incredibly offensive. Don’t turn that situation into a character!

Learn What a Mary Sue Is.

And then don’t do it. This goes double for fan-fiction, and wish-fulfillment writers—which is actually where the term comes from. A lot of people have tried to define exactly what a Mary Sue character is and isn’t, but everyone knows one when they see one. I’ll try to define this from a perspective that’s easy to absorb from the point of view of a writer. A Mary Sue is a character that begins the story with no room available for character development. In other words they’re already perfect and there’s no real story to tell, just a timeline of events to describe. A lot of people will correctly warn you that a Mary Sue has no character flaws, but if you just leave it at that you can lead people into a trap where they write in flaws but those flaws then turn out to only help the Mary Sue character instead of hinder them. When you plan out your characters flaws make sure that they significantly hinder the character in the story, otherwise growing out of them is meaningless. Just to flip the tables on the pattern I’ve set in this post so far, I’ll say Snape, and Neville Longbottom are a good examples of a character that isn’t a Gary Stu(that’s the male Mary Sue). Wakfu has an exemplar treatment in this regard. Ruel has to overcome his personal greed to defeat a monster that consumes gold, overcoming this flaw to accomplish this task allows him to act more selflessly when the situation calls for it. Tristepin starts the series battling an inner demon that he cannot control. It helps him out of a few pinches but always comes with a cost, and that cost ends up becoming high enough to alienate and exile him from his friends and he’s forced to do battle with his demon, with the help of his god, and win(literally). Examples of Mary Sues abound but I think some of the worst ironically come from the Star Trek series itself in Deep Space 9. Several members of the supporting cast are Mary Sues but particularly Dr. Bashir and Dax. One Gary Stu of particular interest to me is Paul Atriedes of Dune. I don’t know how he does it but Frank Herbert manages to weave genuine tension in his story despite his flawlessness. I don’t know if that’s the praise it should be or more of a backhanded compliment than it should be but that’s a truly impressive thing to do.

Competence Please.

This is going to be a short one and specifically targeted at YA writers. Please have your characters competent enough that you don’t have to turn your supporting cast into clueless morons to make your main character look good. You’ll see this all the time in media for children—hence focusing on you YA writers—where the main driver of the entire plot is “the adults are stupid”. Rowling is guilty of that one too, but I won’t tell you why this time, see if you can spot it on your own. Every Disney channel show I’ve ever seen does this too. You can run afoul of this one in adult writing just as easily though and you’ll find this most often rears its head when you’re breaking the talking outside your experience rule.

Well, that was fun, but it’s late. Hope the time change treats your sleep better than it’s treating mine. I envy the people in countries smart enough to not do this anymore. Happy writing!

Apple’s FaceTime Exploit – You won’t learn from this one either.

Alright everyone, pull up a chair, get a hot cocoa and buckle up, we need to talk about the latest privacy exploit you’re going to ignore. Parents, you especially need to sit down a moment. I do IT by trade, I have some confessions to make, and you need to hear them.

I’ll admit, it’s been a while since I was in the hardware repair sector of the IT world, but I was there long enough, and things haven’t changed much aside from the hoops companies are jumping through to kill right-to-repair. This month it’s Apple’s FaceTime app giving everyone some all too temporary jitters about what exactly all those sensors on their phones are doing. First, let’s set up everyone reading this into their 2 necessary camps. Camp 1, you guys seriously don’t care if naked pictures or your sex tape ends up on the internet for some reason, who’d recognize you anyway? Camp 2, everyone else, maybe you have some pictures you’d rather the world didn’t see, or you’d be concerned if you thought your phone microphone was listening to you when you thought it shouldn’t be. Camp 1, we solid, you guys know the score and you can stop reading here.

Camp 2, take a sip of that cocoa. You need to stop getting shocked about these sorts of things. You need a new axiom. That dude that puts the sticky note over the webcam on his laptop, he’s got the right idea. Dell and HP certainly seem to think so, they’ve been installing physical ‘off switches’ for their webcams when they’re built into their computers for years. They’re just plastic sliders that go over the lens. Consider your cameras on, and your microphones open, all the time. Not to scare you, but to keep you conscious about what you’re putting on your devices. Camp 1 has the right idea, they know everything that goes on their devices can end up on the internet and they’re at peace with that.

Here’s another thing that hasn’t changed much in the repair industry; technicians that comb your computer over for porn and other compromising pictures. I’ve worked for a couple really strict and ethical shops, one, a national chain at the time, went under. Other shops aren’t so mindful about that sorta thing. I remember one shop that ran an off-grid file server to store images of unsuspecting co-ed customers. Apparently MacBook owners were the most likely to have home movies of themselves. Technicians at that shop also collected pictures of illicit drug use and anything else they considered salacious from customers that thought they were getting a better shake. It seemed to me more laptops had this content on them than didn’t, all told, by the time I got out of that sector of the industry. Dad’s I have some bad news for you. More girls have pictures and movies of themselves stored on their devices than guys have pictures of them, or at least if they do the guys are smart enough to erase them before sending their device in for repair. Surprised? I was too, but maybe we can chalk that up to the availability of that content from anonymous women through pornography.

We’ve seen a lot of high profile data breaches over the last couple years. Facebook had a few breaches by itself. Is it any wonder revenge porn is the problem it is when people just can’t come to grips with the idea that the internet is forever. Well, that’s only halfway there. Uploads are forever, your camera is always on, your mic is always hot. Accept it. If it bothers you, change your habits, if not, congrats you’re Camp 1 now, but stop getting surprised every time this happens and then fret about what might have made it out into the wide web.

Apologies for the tone of this article, but this is a decade long frustration at this point, and y’all need a wake up call bad. I’d love to hear from other technicians or former technicians on this. Drop some truth in the comments if the mood strikes you.

Have a comment or a question? Is there a topic you’d like discussed? Let me know through my¬†contact page.