Wednesday, February 6, 2019

I Just Read Daytripper And This is How I Feel Now


I spend so much time thinking about the past, and so much time thinking about the future. And very clearly now do I see that living in the present is the most tenable, yet realistic place to be.

I'm 30 years old. And it's taken me this long to understand that.

Jesus once said the following:

 “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?  Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?  And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.  But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble."

The idea that the bible is carved up into chapters, passages, and verses, was a later development in Christianity. It was done to make referencing easier to do. And, I imagine, when the laymen and women could read it helped them to find their places during mass/service/sermon. But the problem with numbers and codices and cross-references is that these words, that Jesus spoke to us, are no longer words of conversation, but teachings and practices. Christianity was never meant to be a process, or even an experience, it was meant to tell us that everything was going to be okay.

This is the trouble of living in the past and the future...

In the past, we look back and wish we could have done things differently. We feel guilty of not taking chances when we had the opportunity to be young and stupid. When you're older, you feel regret for doing all those stupid things. In the future,  telescoping dreams and concerns set expectations and plans in order, all for it to fail (in the eyes of the past self).

The trouble of living in the present, is that uncertainty awaits and the moment before is now a memory. It is this reason why I sometimes believe that "sin" is not just choosing to live a life apart from God, but that sin is entropy.

Sin is time.

It is my hope that Heaven is here and that time no longer passes. Let the heat death of the universe be averted so that we can explore it completely and witness the majesty of what God has made.

Sunday, February 3, 2019

The Process (Of Writing a Book)



For the first time in a long while I have nothing to do this weekend. My wife is currently looking at my second draft, while I am on child duty until she completes. While it would be nice to catch up on my personal reading, I’m not sure if that will happen or not. I seem to have less and less time for that these days, unless I’m on vacation. I mean, there’s certainly time to do all these things, but binge watching Star Trek: Enterprise has monopolized our evenings. Everyone likes to shit on that series, but it’s great. When I imagine a speculative fiction of the first years following warp space flight, Enterprise embodies what I would expect to occur: cultural tensions between alien races that are trying to be helpful, humanity’s own immaturity, and the collective mustering of human potential for the better of tomorrow. Ideally, a Star Trek property should encourage us to be explorers, to be understanding, to be open to learning new things, and more than any other, Enterprise exceeds that vision.
                So maybe when that is over I can start reading in the evenings again, especially while my kid is still content on going to bed at 7pm every night. She’s like her dad. She sleeps like a rock and we are very grateful.
                While I’ve written about this before, most of my older posts were archived permanently post-rebranding. I wanted to revisit and share again the process by which I write books. It’s probably my personality—well, definitely—but I never have issues getting ideas on paper. Many times I’ll read something that self-referentially talks about the writing process as this creative struggle. Personally, I don’t get what the big fucking deal is. But it only recently occurred to me that maybe my “system” has a lot to do with the way I lay out everything and then fill in the gaps
                Usually I’ll get an idea, a two sentence extract, and start with that. It’s concise and purposefully focuses on conceptual details rather than specific characters or settings. That’s “part one-and-a-half” of the recipe. The second part of this is really the expansion of the extract, which I call a “concept bible.” Any ideas relating to the story are put in this document, almost as if it was a wiki entry all spread out. See below for screen shots from the Concept bible for my third book:

Usually my wife writes a few notes on the first chapter so that I know I am going in the right direction. This is followed by a plot extract, detailing the full overview of the plot from start to finish.

Usually if my book has a central philosophical point that I want to explore or rediscover I have a section dedicated to this. My next book explores  the different facets of artificial intelligence, hence the above.
I like exploring different languages so usually I will create a fictional language and explain their rules so I can remember
them later. Also, main characters get a large paragraph with a full explanation of their visual appearance and motivations.

Any characters that appear in the book, even minor characters, I write bios for. This is helpful because, it helps me keep track of details like their visual descriptions and any characters I might forget about and never feature again. 

Every book will have minor subplots that affect the main plot. Sub-plots can get lost in the writing process and become non-sequitur, off-hand references, so I write them down to keep track of them. Some notes don't fit with other categories. World building details like population size, laws, cultural values, go here. As you can see above, I wanted to invent different types of drugs at one point. 
The above are only screenshots of a large document. By the time the book is finished, this document balloons in size. But I can’t even say how many times this document has saved my ass and helped Alyssa track all of my thoughts.

                What I started doing for this book—and I think I will continue doing so—is that I created a character mythology. Every main character follows a journey (ie. Heroes’ Journey) that demonstrates how they grow and change over the course of the narrative. Immaturity to maturity. Child to adult. Unknown to known. I wanted to start keeping track of these details because I felt like my books didn’t demonstrate enough internal character development. Similarly, I create artificial rules for the narrative before I begin writing, which I just call “Book Rules.” Whereas a character mythology is written after I receive feedback for the first draft, book rules serve to, from start to finish, ensure that certain technical practices are consistent throughout the story. For instance, if I create an artificial language for my story, I write down the proper syntax in this document so that both Alyssa and I adhere to these rules throughout the entire book.
                The first draft feedback, like my first novel Spirit of Orn, was provided by my best friend Desmond White. This document I rely on is invaluable. Good feedback is critical in tone, which helps in two ways. First, good feedback is humbling. I laughed so hard when I read the feedback for Spirit of Orn, that I was crying. Desmond lays into my books and points out all the inconsistencies where my ideas are pompous or overcooked. The second thing that’s valuable about feedback is the substantive additions that come from the reviewer. Desmond, for instance, suggested that I read Brave New World and Notes From Underground to supplement and further some of the compelling ideas I was exploring in Spirit of Orn.
                The last document that I keep around is the “cut” document. Most of draft one is rewritten for draft two, and sections that are conceptually valuable, but no longer suitable for the story, I cut and paste to a separate document. Draft two of my upcoming book has the same word count of my previous draft, but my cut document is 21 pages long. I’m never sure what I’ll need or return to, so this document is a backup of old (and mostly bad) ideas.
                The process that I use works for me. I like the structure. I’ve always been very good at visualizing the grand narrative, but the minutiae is so hard for me to keep track of. I’m always encouraged by hearing from others about their way of doing things, so I hope that this is just good perspective.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

15 Years Later, Still Christian, Highs and Lows


My life everyday.


It occurred to me, while walking home from my usual writing on the weekends at Starbucks, that I have been a Christian for approximately 15 years. I was “saved” (in common evangelical parlance) when I was 16 years old, on September 21st 2005 at Emmanuel Faith Community Church, in Escondido, California. (All these dates are speculative.) I was thinking about the past today, as I find myself in a period of renewal in my life (something that I thought I’d never say again). 
                What Christianity means to me has changed markedly over this period of time, which covered the formative years in my young adult life and my college/post college years. (Somewhere in these later years I became an adult. Not sure when…) When I was younger, Christianity was an almost inexhaustible source of social validation. Before being a Christian I had no peer group, no close friends. I was not technically a “nerd,” or some other social strata of untouchable, but someone with social anxiety acting out because I wanted people to love me unconditionally. It made me unbearable to be around. It made me tease and sometimes sexually harass women that didn’t like me the way I liked them, all while enduring the same treatment and abuse from “alpha” males and burning anger in me like a furnace. The saving grace (no pun intended) of joining a Christian community—much to my future self’s amusement—was that, by being a member of this community, no one could justify turning me away. Of course—much to my, then, present amusement—most of the people that had, over the years, viciously teased me or made fun of me, were members of the High School group. I had essentially found a community that would accept me, more or less, because it was doctrinally mandated.
                Another thing that I didn’t appreciate at the time was the culture that the evangelical community had ingrained into my peers. Nor did I fully understand how pervasively uniform evangelical culture was. Everyone went to the same summer camp. Everyone went to the same church. Everyone watched the same films. Everyone read the same books. The creative and critical freedom of this culture was completely absent. If anyone went to a different church, those members of the community were considered “the other,” as if the “body” (a term that conflates multiple people groups of orthodox communities into one global entity) could be dissected into splinter cells and organizations.
                Much of my difficulty progressing in Christianity at the time was the woefully inadequate preparation I was given, in anticipation of going to college. Once I got to UCSB, I found myself at constant odds with different cultures and groups, only realizing after the fact that the only way to continue was to either forsake God and the church, or adopt a ridged and conservative worldview, one without any room for new ideas, people, or competing worldviews. As I will later illustrate, the church that I had gone to, Emmanuel Faith Community Church, had constructed a worldview that included a false dichotomy where non-established and experimental ideas constituted an attack on biblical principles. (I later discovered this idea was endemic across all of Escondido, that many churches existed in fractured and disparate associations with one another.) I had taken these ideas to college, creating a theologically black and white outlook on the world, causing me interpersonal pain and anxiety.
                The subsequent years was a rollercoaster of different ideas, even including a phase where I subscribed to Reformed Theology, which was becoming popular during the late 2000s. But what really made me want to write this today was after I found myself listing different things I took issue with in the current Church culture that trouble me, and cause me anxiety. I wanted to share this list, and therapeutically refute the points. I do this for myself, but I also encourage any of you to do the same. And if you aren’t necessarily a subscriber to the saving work of Christ’s resurrection, maybe you can appreciate the insanity of our current day along with me…

  • I was taught that the homeless deserve to be homeless. That they did something wrong, or currently do something wrong that causes them to be homeless. But if all have fallen short of the glory of God, why do we separate homeless people into this separate category, as if to say our poor decisions do not equate to those made by the homeless? And why do we have so much confidence in ourselves as to imagine that we are somehow immune to the circumstances that befell them?
  • I was taught that Jesus was/is a conservative, that established ideas are more reasonable because they are accepted by the majority of the dominant culture. But what then do we make of the Great Schism of the Orthodox Church rejecting the Principles of the Roman Catholic Church, considering that, at the time, the Roman Catholic Church was integrating itself with politics and making doctrinal decisions to consolidate personal wealth and status among heads of state? What then do we make of the “liberalizing” of the Roman Catholic church, when Martin Luthor called for a “Reformation” of church practices that harmed believers, encouraged them to be illiterate, and not exegete text for themselves? What then do we make of abolitionists, who fought for the rights of those that were forcibly removed from their homes, to work without pay, to be treated as livestock, when they too were made to bear God’s image and glorify God. What then do we make of the controversial policies made towards immigrants, where we justify the separation of children from their parents, forgetting so conveniently that Jesus, Mary, and Joseph were victims of a cruel regime persecuting families for their political and religious affiliations, not unlike Slobodan Milošević’s ethnic cleansing against Serbian Muslims and France’s persecution of Jewish community during the Dreyfuss affair?
  • I was taught that extra effort should be spent towards disenfranchising the LGBTQ community, for their embrace of relationships that are condemned in biblical teachings. But what then do we make of the absence of legislation that prohibits Atheist’s, Hindus, Muslims, Agnostics, and Buddhists from getting married? Why are the LGBTQ community included in social, philosophical, and political policies that inflict harm on their constitutional right to “Life Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness,” when even the New Testament encourages believers to “Love your Neighbor as yourself,” which in context was a splinter group of Judaism corrupted by indigenous, pagan beliefs that the Jewish community went to great lengths to avoid and disparage?
  • I was taught that belief in Christ inherits a responsibility to politically ally with any candidate that is considered conservative. But what then do we make of Donald Trump, president of the United States and protector of our national secrets, who fails the test of leadership presented in 1 Timothy 3:2, where even the most simple pastor must be “…above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach”?
  •  I was taught that gun ownership is patriotic and the defense of property is categorically “American.” But when, as the bible teaches in Luke 6:29, “To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either,” how can we justify the death of a home invader, the taking of a life, when we believe that God is sovereign over history and time, that all things that come to pass are his will alone and cannot be overridden by our intervention?

I could go on…
                So many of my friends from over 15 years ago have forsaken Christ for some of these ideas, and while my younger self would have zealously blamed them for not being able to see past the faults of people, whose fallibility is a basic tenant of Christianity, I cannot blame them now. While I can accept that doctrinally, it is impossible to lose the favor of God, that we are constantly regenerated and made better by the Holy Spirit, I can also appreciate the absolute slog that affirming belief in Christianity can become, when so many of your peers seem to profess, outwardly and adamantly, ideas that irrefutably oppose the Gospel in theory and practice. Sometimes you feel alone and isolated. Sometimes you think the world has gone mad. But other times it is necessary to remember that humanity was never good in the first place, that there was no “golden age” of Christian orthopraxy, or otherwise. But like death and taxes, I can only conclude, with great certainty, that Christ continues to be king and that our hope in the gospel is sure, and that the actions of a person or nation cannot, will not, compromise the integrity of Christ’s death and resurrection and the implications of the aforementioned.

Here’s to another 15 years.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Speculative Living


How I feel irl
One of my co-conspirators, Melissa Milazzo, at Sequart Organization released her book (which was really cool) this past week. Please buy it if you can! I remember her first few articles exploring the series and they were absolutely incredible.

Concerning the above, I don’t get to see this often enough, that is, the completion of a long term project. I know myself that the second draft of my second novel should be done next week. This has been a long time coming and I am ready for a break. Specifically one long enough to read my back log of books. These last few months have been stressful. Holidays, certifications, stress management training, et al. All I really want to do is curl up on my couch and finally finish Umberto Eco’s Inventing the Enemy. (Holy shit-balls! Buy it you plebians!)

This past month, I received as payment for passing my first major IT certification from my boss the Absolute Transmetropolitan Volumes 1-3. The pitch of Transmetropolitan alone is enticing, but the execution is really cool: in the distant future a gonzo journalist cover the sprawling subcultures in a pan-continental future city, known simply as “The City.” The series emphasizes the strength of the speculative fiction genre, which revolves around the dissection of current issues, juxtaposed to multiple hypothetical settings. Even though Transmetropolitan ran from 1997 to 2002, the series covers a multitude of issues affecting us, the American people, as we speak. Its execution is almost prescient! Though the ending was anticlimactic, the sum of its parts highlights the beauty of society and its vastness. That there could be such a thing surprises us, but it’s always nice to be reminded.

That is why we (Desmond and I) started Rune Bear. The truth lies in the weird and the strange, truly. Everything is so bedazzled in consumerism and commercialism, that "reality" has become fake. Globalism, for all its goal of unifying people, only means (practically) that our goods are made by slaves that we cannot see and wars are localized, compartmentalized, and spectated. Speculative fiction uncovers the disparities at work in society. The City of God is so far away, while the City of Man is on fire and gilded with rancid Trump Steaks.

Desmond and I have fun though. Weird is fun.

I think the joy we make of it comes from the implicative nature of the stories we receive. Seeing the world as it could be forces us to reflect on the present and ask the poignant question, “is this how it has to be?”

Recently, I should announce, I was able to go an entire week without taking my clonazepam. It's a huge milestone for me and it feels good to not have to rely on my "get-out-of-jail" pill to weather the anxiety storms. Someday I hope to stop taking Zoloft also, but I'll cross the bridge when I get there.

New Year. New Life. Exciting things are afoot and I can't wait to share them with you!