The Battle

Neutron Stars Rip Each Other Apart to Form Black Hole

They can’t live at the same time, in the same place. They vibrate at different frequencies, but they both resonate, and there’s only so much room. This town, as they say, isn’t big enough for the both of them. It would be fine if they would just learn to take turns like nice polite unformed bundles of energetic potential. But they’re not nice, and they’re not polite. Each of them is insistent that they have to go now, that they cannot wait, and that I will only ever have the energy and inspiration required for one of them.

It’s difficult to stop talking about them in the abstract because they are so abstract. That’s part of the problem. It’s hard to even pin down exactly what they are, but I’ll try, or else that first paragraph is never going to make sense to anyone but myself.

They are novels. Or rather, they’re the ideas for novels. No, that’s not right either. They aren’t ideas in the sense of premises. I have no idea what either of them is about, or rather, I have lots of ideas. Most of my many potential novel ideas–and half-written novels–are composed of wisps of one or the other. Or both, which is its own problem.

They aren’t genres, either. The closest I can say is that they are styles of novel. That’s accurate, but it’s a different use of the word “style” than is usual.

How about I describe them. Maybe that will help. They’re enthusiastic about that. Right now, in my head where they’re constantly fighting, they’re getting excited. Or rather, the first one is getting excited. The second one doesn’t do excitement, as such. That will make more sense in a minute. But yes, describing them is the best idea. Or rather, I’ll let them come out and describe themselves.

The first one I’ll call KAPOW! KAPOW! is big and bright and vibrant. An explosion of a novel. It’s definitely fantasy, or science fiction, or science fantasy, or science fantasy horror dread-punk post-post-modern psuedo-apocalyptica. It can be any or all of these things, because whatever it is, it’s a lot of it.

KAPOW!’s defining trait is that it bursts with ideas. It slams the reader with new, intriguing, fascinating, original concepts and twists of reality and imagery on every page. It uses a lot of adjectives, especially in describing itself. Think China Meiville. Think Planescape. Those are the obvious examples because they play so freely with setting, but I also include such works as John Dies at the End and–get ready to disagree with me–Harry Potter. Okay, Harry Potter isn’t all that original, nor is it trying to be, but it throws new bits of magic and wizard society and whatnot at you will obvious and infections glee, and that’s the point.

KAPOW! isn’t necessarily super-fast paced high adventure, but it does lend itself to that kind of storytelling. Those are the kind I generally come up with when I plan a KAPOW! novel, whether I want to or not. But they’re not critical. The important point is that the work scours the vast reaches of creativity.

The second novel style we shall call Masterwork. Masterwork is a piece of literature. It is contained within what is colloquially referred to as “genre,” as all of my interests lie therein, but it should not be sullied by associations with pulp or other forms of fiction intended merely as entertainment. Masterwork strives to tell a story about characters, about themes, and to impress upon the reader that such things can be meaningfully explored amidst the workings of the otherworldly and the supernatural.

Masterwork is quiet, at least in comparison to KAPOW! When composing an idea for Masterwork, I eschew such concepts as adventure and engagement. It’s a stretch to say that it is an attempt at Art. To say such a thing would be highly pretentious. However, should someone else partake of Masterwork and use such a word, Masterwork might not be taken upon to dispute the assertion.

Peter Straub’s Ghost Story is a good example, as is Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle. Or Watchmen. Steven King writes a lot of novels that sit comfortable in this range. It’s not necessary for a work to be considered literature by the sorts of people who care about that sort of thing. I’m not one of those people. It’s enough that fans of the genre would label it so.

These two styles, KAPOW! and Masterwork, these are the novels that I want to write. Both of them have a lot of room inside. The problem is, they don’t play together. Sure, a Masterwork can have KAPOW! elements, and a KAPOW! can have compelling characterization and quiet moments. I honestly wouldn’t be interested in writing either that didn’t contain some of the other.

But at their foundation they are different. So different that to start one I have to press down all of the forces inside of me urging me to write the other. This is usually pretty easy, since I’m both obsessive and fickle. If I just read something KAPOW!y, I probably want to write a KAPOW! Which is great. For a few weeks.

But I’m fickle. Oh, so very fickle. It won’t be long before the urge to write the other starts to tingle. I’ll become dissatisfied with my current outline or treatment or manuscript, and long to start the other. What’s the point of writing a cross universe heist story about a team of thieves who all possess a different form of immortality? That’s trying way too hard. Instead I should write about the development of two people’s relationship over seven winters, while strange things walk through the drifting snow.

Many writers have problems that keep our productivity down, and this war in my head is one of mine. There’s only room for one at a time, and matrices of possibility don’t like to take turns.

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Red On The Tip of My Pen

How well I could write if I were not here!

 

I don’t know how this happened. I think about it a lot. That gets me nowhere.

“I’m writing a new novel I’m really excited about,” I said to Maya on the phone the other day. That’s my mom. I call her Maya.

“Oh, great!” she said. “What’s it about?” I heard the apprehension in her voice. She knew what I was going to say.

“It’s a horror novel.”

“Oh.”

“Yeah. You wouldn’t like it.”

“Right.”

“I don’t know where this comes from,” I said. “I never liked horror movies as a kid.”

“I know. That was your brother. Do you like them now?”

“Yeah. Kind of. I mean, I really like them. Some of them. It’s weird.”

“You’re weird,” she said, with the kind of unconditional affection wrapped in mild insult that is the hallmark of mothers everywhere. At least, the good ones.

As an adult, I love horror movies, but it was a long time coming. I’ve loved horror fiction for a long time, but something about movies put me off. I remember sitting in the finished basement where I spent almost all of the free hours of my childhood. My brother and I were both stuffed on the love seat with the brown flower pattern that used to be my grandmothers, watching our tiny TV. Mostly it got used for Sega Genesis games and Saved By The Bell after school, but it was the weekend, and either it was my brother’s turn or I didn’t have a game I was playing. He had the remote, and he flipped from channel to channel.

He stopped on a shot of a boy with wide eyes. Creepy music in the background.

“Change it,” I said. “This looks stupid.” He didn’t change it. An awful owl puppet showed up on screen, and something scary happened.

“Ooo, a bad horror movie,” my brother said. “I love bad horror movies.”

“I’m going outside.”

I didn’t love bad horror movies. I still don’t. I love good ones. But not all of them. When I talk to people about horror or browse horror websites like Bloody Disgusting I feel alienated. Because I love scary. I love creepy. I crazy love unsettling.

But I don’t like gore. Blood and guts both disgust and bore me. They’re supposed to do one, but not so much the other. Furthermore, I don’t even understand why people find them appealing. I mean that literally. I consider myself highly empathetic, and I don’t bat an eye at the fact people have different preferences than me. I don’t like raw onions, but it’s not weird that other people do. They have a different mind, different senses, different reactions to the same stimuli. So I accept that people dig sprays of blood on the screen. I’m just not sure why.

It’s more true for me than it is for other genres I don’t like. I’m not a fan of romantic comedies, but I completely grasp their appeal. Human connection, the fantasy of idealized romance, the warm, beautiful feeling that real love is out there, possible, never even that far away. But with gore? I just don’t get it.

Which makes the next part weird. This novel I’m writing, that one my mother will be sad that she can’t read if it somehow gets published? It’s pretty gory. There’s blood. There flesh flying off of people’s faces and splatting against the wall. At some point, someone’s head pops clean off and lands amidst a pile of Doritos. I’m less than 10,000 words in. And my other novel? That was pretty gory, too.

It’s not that I hate blood and guts. Not enough to turn me off of a horror story or movie that otherwise appeals to me. Sometimes it’s even the whole point, but everything else is so conceptually interesting or well written that I love it anyway. Kill Bill is one of my favorite movies. One of my favorite short stories is Clive Barker’s Midnight Meat Train, which is not about cooking steaks on an electrified third rail. Although I should totally write that story.

When I read bloody, visceral descriptions of blood and viscera, I always wonder what the writer is thinking. Do they find this kind of thing appealing? Are the just totally unfazed by it? I used to think the answer had to be yes. Now I’m not so sure. Because I don’t find it appealing, and I am definitely fazed by it. But not while I’m writing.

I’ve noticed that my brain sometimes writes jokes I find distasteful for demographics I don’t identify with. The frattiest of frat boys, or the reddest of rednecks. Jokes I think would be legitimately funny to people in those groups, but that I don’t find amusing at all. Maybe generative creativity goes isn’t about the appeal to the brain that generates it. Maybe writers don’t always write for themselves, but for the ages.

Or in this case, ages 13-17, mostly male, parental permission required for entry.

 

Caffeinated Mindfulness

Mocha !

I take a sip of coffee, dark roasted into anthracite of Arabica, swirled with the luxurious tropical tang of coconut cream. It rushes into my bloodstream, into my senses. I can’t tell the difference between the chemicals blocking adenosine between my neurons, or the psychosomatic reaction of my hot wet love affair with the aroma, with the taste, with the feel of it on my tongue.

My third eye snaps open. It was asleep. It’s usually asleep. But it’s forced open by the thunderclap of caffeination outside its window, blasting through sleep paralysis, it jolts up in bed and stands at attention. I close my other two eyes. I take my first breath. I begin my meditation.

I take my second breath. They are the long, slow, deliberate breaths of the practice. The same ones that I take when I am calm. What do I look like, to the bodhisattva ghosts that haunt the space around me? Do I look at ease? Do I look rested, because I breathe normally, and because I am not moving? Can they see the thousands upon thousands of lightning bugs that rest upon my skin, waiting to burst into action and light up the night?

I am not rested. I am not calm. There is more to peace than stillness. If nothingness is the true state of perfection, then perfection is flawed. I am a bundle of bundles of charged wires of a hundred different polarities that only exist in the dreams of electrons. Instead of a place without thought, drifting like leaves on a stream, the inside of my skull hosts so many thoughts, so many sensations, in such a reckless state of effortless agitation they are indistinguishable. They are white noise. My mind is a serene cacophony of beautiful tension.

I realize there is no such thing as silence. There is only deafness. In the quietest room in existence, there is still the background radiation of the infant universe. The scream of it’s birth. Not a scream of agony, but an agony of triumph. An impossibly massive explosion in an impossibly small instant, bursting outward from a single point of infinite inertness to a furiously rushing sea of endless potential. The loudest shouts that could ever be, so distant when they reach us that they have become a caressing whisper. If we cannot hear them, it’s because we lack calibration. Because our ears are too small.

It swirls around me, within me, throughout me. These thoughts and this noise are me, and they are not me. They are larger and vastly more important, and smaller than the Planck scale. Less relevant than a single crumb of food that cannot feed a mouse so small it suffers wave interference when it tries to pass through two slits in a scientist’s lab.

It is exhilarating. It is exhausting. It lasts forever, but when it ends, as all things end, it has written a poem in prose in my head. A distant reflection in arbitrary symbolic representation of the chaotic, tranquil, nasty, perfect glory of the experience of trying to meditate after my third cup of coffee. But I will share it anyway.

More Than Just Fear

candyman

 

“Candyman’s not as scary as Freddie,” Alexis said, leaning on her desk.

“He’s much scarier,” said Gene. “Freddy’s not scary.”

“Freddie kills anyone. With Candyman you have to say his name three times in front of a mirror. Who’s gonna do that?”

“Well, yeah, but with Freddie you have to say ‘Kruger Kruger Kruger.’ So it’s the same.”

I watched the conversation with abstract anthropological interest. Or at least, that’s how I describe it now. As nerdy as I was, even I didn’t see myself as a pop-culture anthropologist among my peer group in sixth grade. But I did find it fascinating to listen to people talk about their passions, even those I didn’t share.

This conversation further cemented something for me: I hated horror movies. After all, they were all about making you feel scared. That was their entire purpose. Who would want that? Fear is terrible. I spent enough time frightened of dark and impossible things as it was. Adults wax about they miss innocent joy and belief in the fantastical children possess. But they forget about the fear.

Children spend so much of their time afraid, because they Believe. How can they not? We only know that the world is round, that certain mushrooms can kill us, that there used to be a thing called the Roman Empire where they spoke a language no one speaks anymore except the Pope and some Catholic school teachers, because someone you trusted told us, and we believed them. To a children, the world is full of dark, hungry things. They are just as real as Santa Claus, life after death, and the Boston Tea Party. Things that are never seen or touched, but that, in the right moments, cannot be doubted.

I just watched Candyman for the first time the other day, more than twenty years after Gene and Alexis made me never want to watch it. It sprang to my mind because I saw Tony Todd, the actor who plays Candyman, in two separate episodes of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Playing two separate characters, although in their defense one of them was a Klingon. To many people I’ve known, Todd is and always will be Candyman, no matter what other roles he plays. Seeing the actor made me realize I’ve never seen the movie, and that was a gap in my knowledge. Because now, as an adult, I love horror movies.

I love them in a way I never could as a child. There are two major reasons for this. The first is that I came to realize that my middle school classmates had a very unsophisticated view of the purpose of horror. They were after what might be called “popcorn horror.” Popcorn horror is all about the fear. It’s about the thrill of being scared, decontextualized from any exploration of themes or interesting narrative or character work.

A friend of mine, writer and filmmaker Evan Alexander Baker, summed it up perfectly with the following quote:

As a lifelong horror fan, I ABSOLUTELY DO NOT prioritize being “scared out of my wits.” I watch horror movies because I want to be confronted with interesting, resonant images and ideas relating to the abject and the uncanny.

I am not there for a “thrill ride.”

Are there some genuinely scary horror movies that are also masterpieces of the genre? Absolutely. Are they masterpieces of the genre BECAUSE they are scary? Nope; they’re scary as a byproduct of their ideas and imagery.

When filmmakers set out, first and foremost, to be “scary,” they produce hollow technical exercises.

It took me years to appreciate that it’s not horror that I don’t like. It’s cheap horror. A lot of people gauge horror on the “scare” scale–like it’s a love-tester with “love” replaced with “fear”– and there’s nothing wrong with that. Popcorn horror has its place, for the people who like that kind of thing. I’m just not one of them.

I still don’t exactly enjoy being scared, but I love being unsettled. I love engaging in the vast landscape of imagination that exists in the places of the human mind that make us uncomfortable. My favorite kind of horror is the type that makes me doubt my view of reality and the world.

I love it for the same reason that I love really fantastical fantasy like China Meiville or AD&D Planescape setting, or conceptually experimental science fiction like the works of Philip K. Dick or John C. Wright. I love them because they are mind-expanding. At its best, horror is even better at this than any other genre, because it is unafraid to stretch your worldview until it breaks. Until it bleeds. It expands the mind in a way that is both intellectual and viscerally primal. Cartesian radical doubt for the senses.

The other reason I love horror as an adult, when I could not as a child, is because I can take it. I no longer Believe. Not the way that I did. I still get scared walking into the basement in the dead of night, but it’s not the paralyzing dread it was as a child. I can grit my teeth and make myself do it, because this basket of clothing isn’t going to wash itself. Hopefully. When something is frightening enough, it is real. As a child, you might understand intellectually that the shadow on cast by the door doesn’t contain a smiling beast with teeth for eyes. But emotionally, you know it is there. In your brain you feel it as strongly and completely as if you had seen it walked across the living room floor.

Adults have this kind of fear, too. You can see it when a parent loses track of their child in a crowded grocery story. They might go into complete panic until they find them. The odds that the child has been abducted in those three minutes are very small, but the fear is so real it feels like a certainty.
As we grow older, we learn what the world contains and what it does’ t. We come to rely on these patterns. They’re comfortable. The world becomes a safer place because we’ve seen its shadows enough times that our belief that they are harmless is stronger than the monsters. I can watch horror movies now, even though they still frighten me, because that fear is no longer the threat that it once was. It won’t slip under my skin and whisper in my blood for years, the way it did when I was small.

But it still frightens me, because I still Believe. Not as much as I did, but it’s still there. I dread the person I’ll become if I ever lose that entirely. I don’t think humanity will ever fully understand the world, and so there are places for the things that live in the cracks and lap at the wounds of our nightmares. I did not find Candyman to be that frightening, but I’m not going to say the name out loud. Because I just don’t know. And even now, as I write these words, I’m happier than I like to admit that there are no mirrors in this room.

Those Ideas

ONE up mushroom : tshirt painting, san francisco (2013)Another 37, day 12

The other day as I walked out of work I saw a neat looking mushroom on the grass. I was extraordinarily tired on this particular day because it was the morning after Daylight Torture Time day, an alternate version of Daylight Savings Time day that overlays the usual version and has exactly the same effects, except that it can only be perceived by those of us cursed to work Sunday mornings. I assure that on that day we hate all of you. Also probably other days? We’re an angry people, us Sunday workers.

I was also tired because, despite working Sunday mornings, I always go out Saturday night. Hey, you’ve got to live, even if your version of living involves Saturday Dungeons and Dragons where you play some kind of elf ninja assassin who is the scion of a fallen magical kingdom. Not that you would ever admit such a thing on a blog. Anyway, the point here is that I was very tired, but I was also in a very good mood because I was walking out of work, which is the desirable direction. Also we gained a level in the game the night before. Hypothetically.

I was tired, in a good mood, and I saw an interesting mushroom. Lately I’ve been doing a lot of writing—for evidence see…this blog post– and during those phases my brain generates a lot of story ideas. Sometimes they are passing fancies, and sometimes I fixate on them long enough to come up with an actual narrative. But they almost always seem at least mildly amazing during the moment of conception. I like to think that my brain has a filter where it only lets the good ideas through. I like to think a lot of things.

As soon as I saw the mushroom my synapses lit up and got to work. What if there was an entire region composed of just these mushrooms? Wouldn’t that be fascinating? A whole kingdom. Some kind of…mushroom kingdom! The idea danced around in my mind, and I got all the way to my car—a good, embarrassing 45 seconds—before I realized that “Mushroom Kingdom” wasn’t a new idea. Did I mention I was tired?

Not all fiction writers come up with a lot of ideas. Not all writers are even interested in coming up with a lot of ideas. People have different writing superpowers, and idea generation is just one of them. It’s one I happen to have, but I’m honestly rather jealous of people who have fewer ideas about crazy stuff and, I don’t know, naturally write rich dialogue or distinctive characters. Their grass always looks so much purpler than mine.

I don’t know what it’s like inside of the minds of other idea-writers, but I have a feeling it’s just as messy and ridiculous as it is the chocolate factory perched atop my own neck. The thing is, an awful lot of being good at something is just about caring about it. Research into expertise shows that the best violin players aren’t the ones with the most natural talent, but the ones who practice the most. Studies of genius show that the most intelligent people are always deliberately learning; they don’t just suck in information, they fixate on it. Likewise I find ideas intoxicating for their own sake, so I think about them; I pursue them. I’m sure I’m not alone.

On the other hand, coming up with a lot of ideas means coming up with a lot of bad ideas. And being fascinated by them. Certain ideas pop into the mind and seem amazing, but are either really stupid or too nebulous to articulate in a way that is even a little interesting. I make lists of my ideas so that I can come back to them later, and whenever I read through those lists I have to conclude that one of the anthropomorphic beings sits in the abstract representation of my brain and runs my creativity is, in fact, a dumbass. He probably wears a stupid hat.

Right now I’m combing through a list of horror story ideas for a horror comic I’m going to be working on with a friend. There are some pretty cool ideas in there, but there also a few that are…less cool. Here are a few of my favorites, copied exactly as they appear in the file:

  • Creepy wooden doll that is creepy in some way.
  • A horrible church, where everyone gets up to horrible things.
  • Something about a statue? Like, maybe an evil…statue. Ugh.
  • There’s something here about fog. A really good idea. About fog. I don’t quite have it.
  • A man who hates trains.

I don’t remember the moment I came up with all of those. But I can assure you that each of those ideas seem to me, for at least one, crystalline moment, utterly brilliant.

Grapes, Zombies, and The Complexity of the Universe

Blue grapes

Another 37, day six

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: never start your blog post with a cliche.

No, wait, that’s not what I was going to say. What I’ve said before is this: the universe is too damn complicated. The quest to understand everything is hilarious futile, because it’s almost impossible to understand anything at all. I’m not talking about broad reaching fields like mathematics or botany. I mean any single thing. Like a grape.

If, for example you had a particular grape, you could spend your entire life studying it and you’d still leap into your grave at the age of 115 unable to take with you everything there is to know about that grape. It’s history, the complex web of relationships between the bacteria feasting on its sugars and the yeast bloom on its skin, the exact position of the electrons in the outermost valences of its outward-facing skin molecules that give it it’s specific color. And, of course, if you spend your whole life studying it you would never know what it tasted like, because the moment you popped it into your mouth your studies would end. It’s the quantum observer effect, grape flavored.

What does this have to do with coming up with blog post ideas? I’m glad you, the hypothetical Perfect Reader, asked. I get hung up on complexity when I think about almost anything, but most specifically about everyone’s favorite subject: me, and the contents of my own mind. Just to clarify I mean that everyone’s favorite subject is they themselves and their own minds, not mine. I’m not quite enough of an egomaniac that I think everyone is sitting our thinking about Jesse. I am enough of an egomaniac to believe, with little to no evidence of course, that they might be  better off if they did. I, at least, find myself fascinating.

I’m also enough of an egomaniac to write this terrifically self-indulgent blog post. Isn’t that what blogging is all about? The answer is no, of course not. Dale Carnegie wrote a very famous book you’ve definitely heard of about how to get people to give a toss about what you are saying, and nearly every piece of advice boils down to this: people care about themselves, so get your head out of your ass and start talking about stuff relevant to them, you twat! Except he wrote the book in 1936, so he didn’t use words like “twat” and most of his examples involved hollyhocks.

So I try not to write about myself too much, and I end up doing it mostly when I don’t have any other ideas. It’s a piece of advice given to writers with writer’s block: if you can’t write anything, write about how you can’t write anything. I don’t exactly get writer’s block, but I do get stuck in idea-vacuums. Which is weird, because I think of myself as an idea person.

And I am. Ideas bloom out of my head so fast I can’t trim them down before they overgrow my face. It’s been known to delude those people with psychic idea-vision into thinking I actually have hair. Magic, flowery, idea-hair. It’s a think. I have a lot of ideas, but here’s where the complexity comes in: the ideas are always bizarre. I come up with a lot of ideas for stories. Weird, out-there stories about crazy things.

Put me in a room with ten well-educated and intelligent but otherwise random people and have us compete in a contest for who can come up with ten original non-humanoid sentient races that are all different from each other the fastest, and I’ll stand a very high chance of winning. If that sounds like an interesting skill to you, then I thank you for the compliment. If that sounds like a useless skill, then I applaud your practicality and I might need to borrow some cash if you can spare it. If those same ten people are engaged in a contest for something simple and practical, like screwing screws into a piece of cork board, I will probably come in last.

My skill at idea generation diminishes the further it moves from the abstract and fantastical towards that other thing. What’s it called? Right, the real world. I don’t exactly believe in the real world, but it seems to believe in me, so I guess I have to run with it. Even coming up with blog post ideas strains me. It would be easier if I had fewer restrictions of myself, of course. I tend to find restrictions restricting. It seems obvious, but a lot of people find it easier to come up with ideas when they have parameters. I tend to go the other way because my brain is so abstract. I mean that literally. Cut open my head and it looks like a damn Picasso in there.

So here I am. I’m out of practice, which is part of why this is so hard. But even when I was blogging every day it was a struggle. Ask me to come with, I don’t know, some new explanation for zombies we haven’t seen before, and I’m all over it. Here’s one: a plane with a shipment of chips designed to interface with victims of paralysis and restore their functionality crashes into the Amazon. Over the course of a year a parasitic microscopic fungus grows over the wreckage and grows into the circuitry, where its filaments spread and learn to ape the structure of the chips. When humans come to investigate the shipment, the fungus infects them, and since it has learned to emulate a structure that can interface with the human nervous system, it takes them over. Now the humans are motivated by the same thing as the fungus, consumption, infection, reproduction, and the fungal-human-computer zombies spread and continue to grow in complexity, maybe as a hive mind the way some fungi form large integrated groups?

That’s just the kind of thing my brain does. I’m not claiming that was a brilliant idea or anything, but that exact kind of idea generation isn’t much of a struggle. But come up with simple article ideas for a writing blog? It’s like climbing a mountain. So it’s hard to say to myself whether I am idea person or not, because, after all, the universe is too damn complicated. And now I want grapes.

Writing, With Guys Named Dave

Dave...... to Infinity!!

Another 37, Day 4

This is harder than it looks.

I remember that, about doing regular blog posts. Aside from the fact that a 500-1000 word post takes about 90 time as long to write as it does to read, it’s surprisingly difficult to find something to say. Normally I’m not comfortable with just rambling out whatever is on my mind. I realize a lot of my blog posts amount to that anyway, but I at least try to make them about something. I don’t just sit down at a keyboard and write whatever comes to mind. That feels pointless, as if somehow blogging about my  deliberately uninformed theories for how they manage to squeeze all that air into a compressed air canister is so much better.

But this is harder than it looks. Why is that? I spend most of my time thinking about or, on those occasions that I can get someone to listen, talking about the kinds of pointless-but-interesting things that so characterize existence for the modern overeducated and under-utilized denizen of the developed world. Which is a term I hate, by the way, because it implies that we are somehow finished, while the developing world hasn’t gotten to our state of completion yet.

Maybe it comes from a desire to actually be a good writer. I’m not saying that everyone who blogs doesn’t have that desire. I’m just saying a lot of people who blog aren’t focused on craft, and wouldn’t cringe at, say, that last sentence I wrote, or consider taking it out. I did cringe, and I am considering its removal, but then the two sentences after it wouldn’t make as much sense, and I’m fonder of them. Except for that use of the word “fonder.”

There’s a big difference between actual stream of consciousness and a structured article that has the appears of stream of consciousness. They look similar, but one is rambling, and the other is, or at least can be, art. This, right here, this is actual stream of consciousness. It’s something that I usually avoid because I think it’s less compelling and it doesn’t take as much effort as a writer. Like anything else, if you want to improve as a writer your practice has to be not just extensive but deliberate. Just writing words down isn’t going to make you much better.

It can be pretty hard to identify the difference between the two. Some writers telegraph it more than others. Some Dave Barry articles are written to sound like he’s just saying funny things as they come to mind. But the embedded structure and writing techniques are obvious if you even kind of know what to look for. On the other hand, if David Sedaris’s technique is something other than pounding on a keyboard on the way to the kitchen to indulge in some late-night chicken wings, I sure as hell can’t tell. Which is not necessarily a condemnation of Sedaris work. But writing like that, funny or engaging or otherwise, looks a lot like a Jackson Pollock.

I’m sure a lot of that is jealousy on my part. I don’t have the skillset or the patience to write something like Game of Thrones, but I could write about getting nervous about going to the dentist with my boyfriend. Although I suspect my wife would have a few questions.

But that’s the point. Just because I think I could write like David Sedaris doesn’t mean that I could match his success even if I had all of the same opportunities. I couldn’t necessarily hit those exact notes of humor and relatability. I might publish a million words and never strike the same chord in my readers that allows him to make a living over dissing the way his father treated him when he was a kid. I definitely couldn’t do it if I continue to rely on clichés like “strike a chord.” Jesus Christ, what was I thinking?

Writing always looks easy because we all know how to do it. Most of us couldn’t even start to build a microprocessor or translate that as-yet untranslated Aristophanes play about cheese balls. But we can put sentences together. It’s part of why so many people think they could be great actors or football stars. It’s doesn’t look out of reach because the basic elements are accessible. Because every dreamer can perform the easy version of those tasks, and so it makes sense that with a little elbow grease they could perform the hard version. I don’t know if there’s as much of a gap between “See Dick Run” and Infinite Jest as there is between legos and a microprocessor, but I know that you won’t have a serious idea of how many rockets you’re going to have to attach to your skateboard to leap over that ramp until you actually sit down and start jesting.

Because, after all, this is harder than it looks. Which is why, sometimes, for my own sanity, I just have to sit down and blog.