Archive for category General

Last Shuttle Now Departing

It doesn’t seem so long ago that I was lamenting the end of Battlestar Galactica, and now I suddenly discover that the episode of Caprica I just watched is in fact the series finale. I had no idea that the show had been shot in the head, though I can say with conviction that it was a far better bow than Battlestar had.

Caprica has been a show that featured an incredibly talented crew of writers, actors and actor/directors — in particular Jorge Montesi, a fellow who’s responsible for a significant amount of very frustrating work I had to do on Andromeda and is also responsible for one of the finest quotable quotes I’ve come across, which was “I light my way by the bridges I burn!”

And if I’m going to single folks out, I have an obligation to reference Jane Espenson doing her usual brilliant stuff. So sorry that gig has come to an end, Jane. Hoping you’re part of the next incarnation in the Battlestar mythos.

Caprica had enormous promise. It started off with a literal bang and then spent lots of time and energy delving into a debate about the validity of religious beliefs. While I think this is admirable and awesome, I suspect it’s also why the show ended up being resoundly rejected by a vast majority of its potential audience. Lots of North American viewers were probably alienated by the discourse that was taking place – the idea that monotheism was aberrant probably scared a whole lot of folks away, and may equally have confused those who don’t ascribe to any theistic beliefs whatsoever.

Plenty of reviewers have complained that the episodes aired earlier in the season were “confused” or “lacked direction”, but I don’t think that’s the case. I never felt adrift in the story – what I saw were people being confronted by complex issues, each maneuvering through difficult waters in order to achieve a short-term goal that might (or might not) supply the reward they were eager to achieve. The characters had complicated responses to complicated problems. It was bloody smart writing and bloody excellent execution.

What’s more, and what saddens me the most, is that unlike Battlestar the producers and writers clearly had a vision and direction that they were pursuing. The tragically short montage at the end of the final show is far more coherent and encapsulating than the conclusion to Battlestar (even if you toss in “The Plan” DVD that attempted to wrap things up post series – not pointing fingers here, Jane, you did the best you could with the backstory you were working with). These folks knew where they were going, and there are hints at an astounding number of fabulous stories that will now only live as sketches.

This makes me sad.

I really wanted to watch these stories unfold over time, to see Eric Stoltz demonstrate his tremendous talent on a regular basis, and *feel* for these characters as they coped with their messy reality.

Sadly, the rest of the audience voted with their feet and tuned into the latest episodes of Survivor or Hell’s Kitchen or whatever. Well written, complex, challenging TV is yet again trounced by digital gruel.

The same fate is apparently on the horizon for “Stargate: Universe”, which similarly has not been able to capture a massive audience – another show that is smart, dark, and awesome, but has been abandoned by the “we want fuzzy bunnies” crowd and has remained off the radar of the “we like good shows” bunch. Dammit, people, I read endless laments about the lack of ‘good’ shows out there, and yet none of you are watching and/or supporting the handful of well written and dramatically intense programs that are being produced.

Wear the damn colors. Support the good stuff. Or else.

Otherwise, your entertainment is going to consist entirely of Dr. Phil re-runs and brand new episodes of “Survivor: Los Angeles”. You have a vote here, and that’s to decide to watch stuff that’s worth watching. If you decide that “Wet T-Shirt Extravaganza” is the height of creative entertainment then that’s what you’re gonna get. And nothing else. If you decide to spend an hour or two a week watching smart, difficult, and uncompromising storytelling then perhaps there’s hope for us yet.

But I don’t think you will.

You’ll probably spend you precious eyeball-hours on the lascivious crap that the bottom feeders are producing. You’ll decide that watching Helen throw Stacy under-the-bus is much more entertaining than the moral dilemma of deciding to kill a hated enemy vs. uncovering the information that would save thousands of virtual lives.

You’re not interested in stories. You’re obsessed with gossip.

You need to realize this, and think about it, and decide if that’s the person you really want to be. A person who respects a good story, or a person who thrives on bad things happening to others. I know where I stand in that debate.

UPDATE: And so “Stargate: Universe” has now been officially canceled. We’ll never get to find out where the writers might have taken us. We’ll never know how things might have developed in that story. And at this point, I’m not sure if it’s the fault of the viewers who didn’t tune-in, or the broadcaster who tried to be clever with their scheduling decisions. Either way I’m disappointed. Shame on all of you for not supporting an honest creative effort. Shame on all of you for participating in the death of a worthwhile endeavor. Enjoy your Dr. Phil and WWE reruns.

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What’s Wrong With This Picture?

Amazon Studios is only two days old, but already it’s being pounded on by a lot of people who either work in the film industry, or are at least reasonably informed about it. As of a few minutes ago, there are over seven hundred projects that have been created within the last forty-eight hours, all of whom have agreed to Amazon’s contest contract.

Haven’t heard about this yet? Head over to the Amazon Studio site and have a look around.

The handful of folks who’ve made an effort to actually understand the legalese of the contract (and yes, kids, it really is a contract, not just an entry form) have generally concluded that it stinks in that special way which only the most vile and moldering corpse can. I’ve read most of it and I’m inclined to agree. For those who enter, that contract guarantees that any intellectual property submitted will essentially remain susceptible to Amazon for the rest of eternity, not just those initial eighteen months. Subsequent revisions or contributions by others automatically cede all ownership and copyright to Amazon forever.

No professional writer will likely ever touch it, other than perhaps submitting something that’s lying in a trunk and which would otherwise never be looked upon again. I suspect there will be a few of those, but not many. At least one of the projects already posted claims to be a Nichols’ quarter-finalist, though I wonder if the writer realized how bad Amazon’s deal potentially is while rushing to post the screenplay.

The people who will dominate this arena will be amateur writers that have a lot of time available. Other attempts to create collaborative on-line screenwriting sites have all suffered from people who spend a lot of time up-ranking people in order to get others to up-rank their own material, and taking out the competition by down-rating anything that might possibly be better than their own stuff.

More than anything, the way Amazon Studios presents itself seems to paint a very clear picture that the company has done little or no research into those established collaborative sites, nor have they thoroughly considered the likely outcome of their “anyone can revise a project” philosophy.

Aside from the personality-focused circle-jerk community that will certainly rise to dominance, there is going to be an absolute rush by truly inexperienced amateurs to attach their names to the most popular scripts by providing rewrites. I wonder what that almost-award-winning script will look like after some fifteen-year-old in Sudbury has finished improving it. I will grant you there is a chance, a fractional-percentage-point possibility, that the results might genuinely be better. But let’s be honest. Folks, I’m not placing any bets on that horse, and I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t either.

In fact, my money’s going on this prediction – the entire thing will descend into a massive clot of rubbish from which it becomes nigh impossible to find the handful of promising scripts. The most popular projects will be those that most closely resemble existing, successful, and widely seen feature films. As someone else has noted about this (though I didn’t think to bookmark the page, but it’s too good an analogy not to use) if you crowd-sourced the invention of the perfect hamburger, you’d inevitably get something that was feature-identical to a Mickey-D’s Quarter Pounder.

Being original is hard work.

At the present time, it seems that about 2,000 films are produced annually for Western audiences, and about 450 of those are made in North America. That’s every movie, folks, not just Hollywood. The major movie studios produce far less than a hundred, though a precise figure is not easy to come by. Anecdotally it seems that studios only produce about one out of every hundred scripts that they option, and that represents only a fraction of the number of scripts that are actually pitched or submitted on spec.

And Hollywood is trying very hard to find product. Hundreds of people work as professional readers, slogging though piles of scripts so that a handful can be perused by time-challenged agents and producers. The kid in Sudbury wouldn’t even be able to get his script inserted into one of those piles – unsolicited scripts are legal nightmares waiting to happen, so if you’re not a known commodity, you’re not getting past the front door. This is, by the way, one of the reasons Hollywood seems like such an insular community to writers – were the floodgates opened to the 50,000 scripts that are registered with the WGA every year, there simply wouldn’t be enough time to read and review every last one. And let’s face it, those registered screenplays represent just a fraction of the total number of scripts that are out there right now. Folks, there are literally millions of un-produced movies sitting on dusty bookshelves around the world, and now there’s a place to show them.

With all the effort expended by studios to make profitable films, we see barely a handful of original movies come from within the ivory towers. Innovation is for independent production companies – studios have shareholders they must answer to and are fundamentally risk-adverse. Heck, the majority of those ‘original’ properties aren’t even being conceived by writers. They’re projects spearheaded by the studio to create product that fills certain niches. Writers are hired and told what the studio wants.

I suspect that the number of projects at Amazon Studios will quickly grow into the thousands, then the tens-of-thousands. Since they are apparently trusting the denizens of Teh Interwebz to determine the best stuff, the winners are all going to look a lot like that cheeseburger.

Warner’s isn’t going to be interested in cheeseburgers. Oh, and for those of you who don’t understand what a “First Look” deal is, it means that the studio gets the chance to look at projects before the creator/owner takes them elsewhere. Studios usually make First Look deals with extremely talented people who’ve made them lots of money already so they can call dibbs on that person’s new project. They usually pay a lot of money for that opportunity.

I doubt Warner’s is paying Amazon a dime – and if they are, they’re foolish to do so. Amazon gets to tout the deal in a way that makes it seem like a winning screenplay is absolutely going to get made. What it really means is that the script will manage to make its way into the pile of other scripts on an anonymous reader’s desk, a reader who already has to eat a lot of cheeseburgers every single day.

The only consolation for the writers is that Amazon probably won’t forward the rejection slips. Unless they post them in the project…

So can any good come of this?

Maybe, but not in any of the ways that Amazon is presently anticipating, unless they’re really as evil as some folks seem to think they are. There are plenty of horrible thoughts that have occurred to me, but rather than conjecture I’ll leave it to you to consider the possibilities.

I think it’s very unlikely that Amazon Studios will be taken seriously by Hollywood, but it does shine a brighter light on the kind of crowd-sourced productions that are starting to flourish. There are independent documentary filmmakers out there who, lacking the budget to travel, are eliciting the aid of others to film footage for them. Even the BBC adopted this model for portions of the doc series “Virtual Revolution” that aired early in 2010.

What differentiates these efforts from Amazon’s is fairly simple but fundamental – all of them are helmed by a “Benevolent Dictator for Life”, someone who has final say on the productions as a whole. Amazon’s biggest error is to allow users to force changes on others’ projects, rather than providing originators ways to moderate changes selectively, or focus the crowd’s efforts on specific areas that need work.

The Open Source software movement works this way, and it works well, primarily because of the tools that developers employ while cooperating. Systems exist to manage and approve changes, to give programmers varying levels of access, and to create virtual managerial hierarchies for large projects. If Open Source developers were forced to limit themselves to the tools that Amazon provides, the entire movement would be toast within a week.

Message to Amazon – Phone Google right now. Those folks have been working for years to build on-line collaboration tools, and you might want to consider licensing some of their technology before things have spun completely out of control.

Message to Google – Don’t answer that call from Amazon. Build something yourself – a toolset that can be used for Open Source art projects – anything from a sketch to a movie. Hire a bunch of those underpaid Hollywood readers and get them to cherry pick the best projects, then broker those projects to major studios for a cut. Heck, at some point you’re going to need content for that YouTube premium service. Think of it as an investment in your own future.

For Amazon Studios to succeed, it needs a way for project owners to manage their projects and the communities that will grow around them. I actually believe that a committee might be able to come up with something far greater than the sum of its parts given strong leadership and direction. But the only thing Amazon is currently providing is a big bin to dump stuff into.

I already have one of those – it’s under my desk and it’s not where I put things that are important to me.

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The Story is Important

AUTHOR’S NOTE: I originally wrote this nearly eight years ago, and while I’ve made a few tweaks to it the intent is, to me, astoundingly unchanged (though some of the details are freakin’ archaic at this point). I’m publishing it now because it still reflects my opinions. Don’t waste time pointing out that we all have broadband these days – when I authored this piece broadband was still reserved for the fortunate few.

– – – – – –

I may not be a professional writer but… I write a lot… You’re probably thinking, “Duh!”

But I didn’t always. Even into my teenaged years, I had no skill at manipulating words into sentences, and was even less able to form a meaningful thought into a paragraph. I managed to pass my grade-twelve English course only by submitting a collection of poetry I’d written over the preceding year. My teacher declared that I was either a genius or “severely disturbed”, and was happy to be rid of me in either case.

Got a passing grade. Worked for me.

Interestingly, even by this point in my life I was a voracious reader, chewing through seven or eight novels a week. I’d often spend my meager income at the local “used” bookshop and lug home a shopping bag full of the darned things. While I’d initially been focused almost exclusively on science fiction, I began branching out somewhat as I grew older.

Discovering that my Uncle had been reprimanded as a student when caught reading “War and Peace” in an art class, I was inspired to do the same, but for my own subversive reasons. I loathed art class, believing I had no talent. Ironic when you consider that I now do art for a living. My frustration drove me to seek interesting ways to confuse my teacher, a middle-aged woman with a Valium habit who was eventually fired after repeatedly seducing teenaged male students (no, I wasn’t one of them).

So I started bringing Dostoyevsky to class, and kept it open on my desk. I wasn’t so bold as to read to the exclusion of all else, but I turned a page every five or ten minutes. It wasn’t until day-three of this exercise that teacher finally demanded to know what I found so interesting in the book I was reading. I flipped it over, exposing the cover, and asked if she’d liked the book as much as I did when she’d read it. Humming and hawing, she asked me in an overly polite tone to please read outside of class, and then beat a hasty retreat.

The thing I’d already figured out even then was that while virtually everyone has heard of “War and Peace”, generally only people intent on becoming English scholars actually read it, and even then I suspect that far more reliance has been made on Coles notes than the actual text itself. In our modern era, reading “War and Peace” for personal pleasure is fairly rare. However, admitting that you hadn’t, particularly when you worked in academia, was verboten.

The thing is, I really did like it. Certainly the stories it tells were hard to follow, and I recognized the political leanings of the text. But it struck a chord deep within me. I sought out other works in a similar vein and discovered the “holy trinity” of existentialist literature: Camus, Kafka, and Sartre. I went through their entire bodies of work over several months, and while I never declared myself an existentialist, I had one teacher who admitted that he believed I was the only real one he’d ever met.

I have since recovered.

But for all that, I still didn’t write anything except free-verse poetry, with my few efforts at prose falling decidedly flat after a page or two. Perhaps I just lacked confidence in myself back then.

Things changed when I was sixteen. I got my own computer, an Apple II clone, and a few months later discovered a thing called a modem that would let me dial into places called bulletin boards. We’re not talking about the Internet or e-mail; this is a time before either existed. We’re talking about one computer calling another computer, reading and posting a few messages, and then signing off so that the next person could log in and have their turn. The maximum speed, a whopping 300-baud, was approximately 200 times slower than the bottom-end 56K modems that people with dial-up connections still use these days (circa 2003). Graphics? Ha! At the time, the hardware to do this cost about $200. That’d be close to a grand in the current (’03) era.

The systems were so restrictive that posted messages were a maximum of eight lines of text, with a limit of forty characters per line. That’s 320 characters, or about half the size of the previous paragraph. Further, the maximum time limit on the system was thirty minutes a day – after all, other people needed a chance to have their turn. Typically you called in, read the new posts, logged off, considered your reply, and then only logged back in long enough to add your two-cents worth.

As with many other people who have trouble handling social situations, I took to this new medium like a duck to water. The boards were anonymous, you picked a handle and nobody had to know who you really were. I enjoyed being able to discuss the topics that I found interesting (there were perhaps two-dozen “chat rooms” on a given board, compared to the sixty-thousand-plus available through Usenet today). Nobody cared who you were or where you were from, it was just a place where people “talked”.

But it’s not like you could ramble on endlessly the way folks do now. Those size and time limits were pretty tight, especially if you weren’t a fast typist. No “offline” mode in those days, either. So you had to be concise, and quick, or you’d be unceremoniously logged off mid-sentence.

So, in the midst of trying to express myself something happened. I got concise, and I got quick. And one day I sat down to write something and the words just started to flow. Paragraphs, pages, documents in their entirety, came easily. A year or two later I decided I wanted to write a screenplay for a movie, and I finished the entire one-hundred-twenty pages in just five sleepless days. It wasn’t a masterpiece – anyone reading it would probably contemplate using it to line a gerbil cage. But what a revelation it was to be able to drop something on the floor that I’d written and hear it make a resounding thud.

You might suspect those early explorations in digital communication would have evolved as the Internet did, and that I’m probably a Usenet and chat-room junkie. But that’s not the case at all. I haven’t bothered posting a message on a public board in years.

Back in the “olden days”, the community of users was small, and all of them local. Nobody was interested in paying long-distance charges to access a system, so geography gave us something in common. Further, there were plenty of folks who got together in the real world on a regular basis, so you could always head out for a mixer and actually meet the people on the other end of the terminal.

It kept us honest.

The technical skill required to set up a modem in the first place was a fairly daunting barrier-to-entry as well, and virtually insured that other users were intelligent and at least somewhat articulate. Additionally, the system’s owner moderated every forum. That was an easy task when the sum total of the contributions to the system was equal to about two typewritten pages a day. SPAM was still canned meat.

In short, things have changed. Go take a wander through a Usenet group. For the uninitiated, Usenet is “the other Internet”, a system with a huge number of “rooms” in which anyone on the planet can read messages and post some of their own. It’s not real time, so any user typing a message has the opportunity to make at least a minimal effort at editorializing its text, to present their thoughts, and therefore themselves, in the best light

Nope. Take a look at any Usenet group with a “specialized” focus, like game design. Though there are perhaps several hundred professional game designers working these days, you won’t find a post from any of them (exception for Derek Smart, who wrote some real doozies). What you will find are messages from a hoard of desperate “wannabe” designers who ask the same questions over and over again – “How do I break in?”, “Can you help me make my game for free?”, etc.

You’ll also find something far more annoying. A small subset of the crowd are poseurs, pretending to be pros, who get some pathetic ego boost by soliciting the fanboys to ask questions, and then dispensing wisdom based firmly in the fantasyland they inhabit. Generally, their advice is just plain wrong. Worse yet, these folks are the most prolific of the individual posters, and they treat the groups as if they were personal territory. Any contradictory point of view prompts an immediate flame war.

Flame wars are a cascade of messages in which all relevant discussion on the topic at hand is replaced by a cacophony of insults, slurs, obscenities, and the eventual and inevitable comparison of one of the participants as a member of the Nazi party or genetic relative of it’s leader. This is referred to on the Net as “Godwin’s Law”, and it usually causes the thread to terminate, with the author of the offending comment being deemed the looser. Don’t believe me? Look it up for yourself.

The bulk of Usenet traffic (aside from the inevitable SPAM and porn) is generated by a slew of dysfunctional personalities who have nothing better to do than rant at each other day in and day out. The toxic quality of the conversations, along with the despairing lack of anything approaching grammar, spelling, or intellect, drove anyone interesting out of the venue years ago.

Then there’s real-time chat, where you discover that people have reduced the English language to an obscure collection of short-form slang expressions (“ROTFL” equates to “rolling on the floor, laughing”) that have become the only accepted use of capital letters. It’s like hanging out with the cast of “Dude, Where’s My Car”, none of whom can actually type more than four or five words a minute.

Even a one-on-one e-mail conversation tends to be unsatisfying. I regularly write letters that are two or three pages long, and my pen pals will almost inevitably respond with two or three paragraphs — or lines — or words.

It ends up feeling like too much effort for too little reward, though I realize that most people don’t write as easily as I do. I wish they could – our society has lost the skill of writing letters, and I think that’s a sad thing. We came to know many of our famous historical figures from the letters they crafted, words they considered before committing them to paper. Future generations will only know the people from our time as sound bites that were recorded for CNN, and were often written by someone else.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t begrudge the people who use and delight in the multitude of online conversation systems. Plenty of folks benefit enormously, and there is no reason they shouldn’t continue to evolve a method of communication that suits them. It’s just a pastime that I don’t have any interest in.

But I digress…

The point is, I don’t do the random-public-exposure thing any more. Instead, when I write it’s either for work, or for myself. This place is a case in point. You might think that I’ve just gone and assembled a bunch of monologues that were kicking around and stuck them here for your review. In that you are correct. This blog *has* started out (rather late in the blogging game) as an aggregation of material produced over a period of decades. Everything here was previously available only as privately scribbled e-mails, or as material that had never been read – like this particular piece.

People change and grow, and one of the best ways to see it in the way they write. Some folks keep journals or blogs. Me? I write essays about myself. Sometimes they’re for public consumption. More often they aren’t, and you won’t find those here. I’m not gonna air my angst-ridden inner demons for public consumption. That would be too easy, and frankly rather annoying.

Does any of this explain why I write? Nope. The truth is, I don’t really know. Certainly it’s a way to clear my head and express my feelings, but I could do that in a dozen different ways that would involve a lot less work. The easiest way to put it is that I write because “I can’t not”. It doesn’t matter if it’s a technical paper, computer code, a movie or a monologue. When I write, I feel content, and if I don’t write for a protracted period I feel frustrated.

I write these days for the sheer love of assembling words and conveying thoughts, even though I don’t think much of what I write is all that great.

But it’s good enough for me.

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But Honestly Monica

“But Honestly Monica…”

Those words, e-mailed to Monica Gaudio on November 3rd by “Cook’s Source” magazine owner/editor Judith Griggs, were the start of an Internet hate fest that has seen the magazine’s Facebook page flooded into submission. Griggs name has been Google-bombed into popular slang – to ‘griggs’ is to steal copyrighted material for your own profit.

But at the same time as the mob were doing this, they were launching a denial-of-service attack at the magazine’s website host. They also began e-mailing and calling the companies that advertised in the magazine.

What became apparent very quickly was that the majority of folks posting vitriolic flames on the Facebook page had no knowledge of the actual facts about the situation. They’d just heard that one of their own had been ripped off and jumped into the fray, spewing random hate at whatever targets presented themselves.

Now before I go on, here are the facts.

“Cooks Source” is a free magazine. It’s the kind of thing you see stacked on a table near the entrance in small shops and eateries. It’s a local rag, one that gets read by no more than a couple of thousand people a month. It’s a one woman show, with Griggs literally going door-to-door trying to drum up business. Some of the owners that paid to advertise are now allegedly claiming that Griggs pressured them to buy space, and at least a few of the shops on the magazine’s ‘list of advertisers’ have claimed that they paid once, weren’t happy with the results, and haven’t bought an add since.

But they’re still on that list. And it only took a few minutes for the addresses, websites, e-mail addresses and phone numbers to become widely known. Along with the advertisers, the mob also got their hands on a similar list of all the locations where the magazine was being distributed.

These aren’t evil mega corporations, they’re small town shops, family run. They support their community. Out of a list of a hundred and fifty shops that made the magazine freely available, the only recognizable chain was a single Starbucks, and it’s unlikely they were even aware it was there.

Not a single advertiser could possibly have known that the content filling “Cooks Source” had been purloined. The distributors even less so.

But the mob assumed they deserved to be killed anyway.

As of this writing, it seems that the advertisers have been slammed by hundreds, if not thousands, of e-mails that range from pleas for support to vitriolic rants that have quite possibly left completely innocent bystanders scared and confused. Some claim to have received over a hundred phone calls. None of them have any intention of ever advertising in the magazine again.

And yet the hate keeps coming.

Laura, owner of a small bakery, has spent the last two days posting on the magazine’s Facebook page, pleading for people to stop harassing the advertisers, reposting the same message again and again because the flood of posts drives it off the main page within minutes.

The thing is, there’s a significant number of real head cases out there who can’t figure out that they’re actually causing real harm to innocent people – store owners who’s businesses are being seriously disrupted.

This is even more tragic when you realize that the mob had been completely successful in their quest to destroy Judith Griggs by noon on Thursday. The moment they discovered the origin of the stolen content, they leapt to the aid of the mega corps and contacted people who would insure a civil and possibly criminal investigation. The theft is so pervasive and obvious that Griggs will almost certainly loose everything, possibly even her freedom.

The mob won.

And still it wasn’t enough.

The cries for reason are shouted down. For the most part the people doing the shouting don’t have a clue, often referring to these mom-and-pop shops as ‘evil corporations’, almost as often not even being aware of the perpetrator’s gender, nor for that matter the victims’.

Three days later and there are still angry shouts that the magazine needs to fire the editor and issue an apology…

Oy vey.

What makes me sad is the irony. Monica Gaudio’s sole compensation for her work being purloined will likely be the year of blog hosting that an anonymous individual paid for. The net worth of Judith Griggs, along with a portion of the meager living she scratches out for the rest of her life, will be divided up between Disney, OmniMedia, and a host of other ‘evil empires’.

Meanwhile, a large number of completely innocent shop owners will have had their lives disrupted and loose hundreds, possibly thousands of dollars as a result. It’s possible the net cost to these businesses well exceeds the value of Griggs’ assets. They won’t get a dime.

And as of this very moment they’re still being harassed. Laura reposted her plea again just a little while ago.

In a few days the mob will burn out. In a few weeks they’ll have forgotten about it entirely.

But for families and friends of the affected businesses, this is an event they’ll remember unhappily for the rest of their lives – the time the Internet burned them without a second thought.

UPDATE: Well, it seems that some good may have come out of this after all, at least for a few of those local businesses. Now that the mob has started to thin out, there are a lot of good folks who are going out of their way to support the shops that were getting unfairly flamed. Business is brisk, and the short term boost will probably offset the losses from both the money paid to Griggs and from the disruption. My faith in humanity in general and the Internet in particular is restored… For now.

UPDATE REDUX: This. Interwebz, I love you.

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The Amazing Instant Blog!

Many years ago I spent a brief stretch of time blogging routinely on the Suicide Girls website. Yeah, that place, back before anyone had actually heard of it. Unfortunately, I got rather busy around that time, and my nascent blogging career was overwhelmed by what seemed like more important stuff. That was my year in Los Angeles, which I’ll get around to talking about at some point.

Nine years, a huge number of life changes, a lot of insight that comes from passing the forty-year-old-mid-life-crisis gauntlet, and a growing level of self understand and being comfortable with who I turned out to be, has resulted in taking up the part-time vocation of blogging once again. Terrifying though it might be to some of the people who know me…

While this particular blog has sprung into existence on a fine overcast November day, a lot of my old posts along with innumerable e-mail rants are going to end up here retroactively. So if you’ve stumbled across this place because of some article and are asking yourself why you’d never run across it before, it’s because it actually wasn’t here.

Now, I have an awful lot of material that needs to be sorted out, so I’m not going to get all clever and amusing with this first official entry. I’ll save that for some time soon.

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The Source is Not With You

Google “Cooks Source Magazine” if you want the gory details, but let me sum it up for you…

Last night someone noticed a distressed blog entry that described how the blogger’s work had been “appropriated” by a for profit publication without notification or payment. Not a pro blogger, just another one of those “hey, I wrote this thing for anyone interested in reading about it” folks.

The magazine is just one of those little local free papers in central Massachusetts that gets distributed at various shops and restaurants, reaching maybe fifteen or twenty thousand readers. A friend of the writer had contacted her to congratulate her on being published. The writer, thinking it might be an honest mistake, contacted the owner/editor of the rag. She politely asked for a printed apology and a donation of $130 to the University of Columbia’s Journalism department.

Then the editor made the mistake of responding poorly, refusing to pay, claiming that the victim should be happy about it, and that if anyone deserved to be paid it was herself as she’d had to edit the article — her editing consisted of butchering transcriptions of fourteenth and sixteenth century English into modern – completely missing the point of the article.

The quiet sigh of distress from the victim got noticed, and as the majority of content on the interwebz is *written*, you can imagine how outraged the professional writers got when this came to their attention. Hell, the girl wasn’t even asking for money herself.

By eight AM this had gone wide enough that well-read bloggers had picked it up. By nine AM Neil Gaimen had tweeted his 1.5 million followers. Wil Wheton tweeted it to his. At 11:30 it had been picked up by at least one national news organization. I expect it’ll make Fox News this evening.

See, it turns out that pretty much the entire content of the magazine is lifted from the web. And the editor didn’t restrict herself to unknown bloggers, she’s been swiping stuff from The Food Network, Paula Deen, and Martha freakin’ Stewart. Oh, and there’s also some infringement of stuff owned by a little company created by some fellow named Disney.

What’s astounding is that she reposted the entire magazine on a Facebook page, and it took folks about thirty seconds to start pasting paragraphs into Google and locating the originals. Deen has already confirmed that she’s unleashed the lawyers. Others are surely following suit.

The magazine’s source of income, the local businesses who advertised in it, have been e-mail bombed into submission, expressing justifiable outrage that they’ve been taken advantage of. These are the editor’s neighbors and possibly even former friends. The woman’s business is toast. Her social standing has been demolished publicly and internationally. If any of the major players sue (and they likely will, because we’re talking about print here, not just some ephemeral bits) then she will be financially ruined. Add to this that copyright violation is a US Federal offense, and she is absolutely screwed.

The Internet has effectively destroyed her life in a matter of hours, and she could have avoided it if she’d just been polite and anteed up $130 dollars.

And you know what? Based on her actions, her contemptuous response to that unrewarded blogger, she’s one of those people you run across occasionally who really deserves it.

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To 3D or Not to 3D

Warner Bros. has just announced that they are *NOT* initially releasing the next Harry Potter film in 3D. While they still intend to do a 3D version, it’ll be released at a later date (this translates as “in theaters never” to those who may lack an understanding of studio-speak). This is a major reversal in that they’ve been actively promoting 3D releases for the past few years – though one must keep in mind that they’re the studio responsible for the abysmal “Clash of the Titans” 3D release — methinks they may have learned their lesson.

What does this really mean? Well, 3D has become a value-add in the past few years. But audiences are rapidly coming to the conclusion that it doesn’t enhance the theatrical experience beyond the novelty value. Films which exploit 3D for shock value are cool. Films which push 3D to its practical limits are cool. Anything else is kinda lame. So if you’re not making “Piranha” or “Avatar” then you need to treat 3D as an “extra” rather than a key selling point.

In fact, releasing a film in “3D” is probably a kiss-of-death if the production doesn’t fall into the aforementioned categories – in order to be acceptable the show must showcase 3D as a key component of the viewing experience. Just “tacking it on” is going to be perceived as an insult to viewers and a good reason to NOT participate in a theatrical viewing. I think this is already happening, but it’s damn hard to interpret box-office receipts given the deliberately confusing numbers spewed out by studios. Six months from now, however, it’s likely to be considered common knowledge. I suppose we can only hope.

I’m going to stick with the assessment I’ve promoted for some time now – that 3D is neither essential nor game-changing in the theatrical world. The rise of widely distributed, independent low-budget productions in 2-freaking-D has far more impact on the entertainment industry than adding that extra dimension.

Meh – that’s where I’ll leave my sentiments for now. /rant ends.

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Would Someone Please Kill the Cat

I was reading something earlier today in which someone made yet another inaccurate use of the Schrödinger’s Cat analogy.

The cat. The damned cat. Why does everyone fixate on the cat?

Schrödinger did a terrible thing when he imagined that scenario – he made it seem like the question he was positing could be framed in macro-world terms. And a whole lot of people have since latched on to it and think that they have an understanding of quantum physics as a result.

The cat is a lie. Even more so then the cake, but that’s another issue entirely.

What Schrödinger was trying to communicate was a much more complex and confusing notion by way of the cat, and the cat just doesn’t do it justice. We all know (er, well, anybody who might be interested in reading this at any rate) the story of the cat. You put it in a box with a vial of poison and a trigger that can be tripped by sensing subatomic activity. There’s a 50/50 chance that the activity will occur, and thus the cat can die without warning.

However, as per Schrödinger, if you haven’t observed the subatomic activity (or the consequences of it) then it hasn’t actually occurred. Thus, until you open the box the cat is neither alive nor dead – it’s in an unspecified state because it has not been observed. The moment that the box is opened, observation takes place and the state of the cat becomes fixed. It’s either going to be alive or dead.

The analogy is nonsense, and that’s pretty much what Schrödinger intended it to be. He was presenting an allegory that was supposed to illustrate how absurd the then-new notions of quantum mechanics were, and in effect was trying to undermine them. Unfortunately (for him, though fortunately for us) he instead invented a popular physics-Koan. For scientists, the whole point of the cat is to illustrate how wonky the sub-atomic regions of reality really are.

It’s a thought experiment, but it’s as close to a metaphysical experience as you’re going to get from physics unless you devote a decade or two to its study. The cat actually made sense to a great many people, even though the understanding was fundamentally misguided. The notion that the cat could be both alive and dead was actually comprehensible to many people who didn’t have a lengthy education in physics (and to whom the details of quantum mechanics would cause exploding-head-syndrome). “Yes,” they said, “I get it. The cat is neither alive nor dead until I observe it!” But they take it literally.

That’s not how it works.

If you actually performed the experiment as described, then the cat would live or die regardless of observation. Probabilities always collapse into a singular outcome… well, unless you subscribe to the Many Worlds notion – in that case the each possible result will generate an entirely new copy of the universe – and while I’m not about to dismiss the possibility of that entirely, it seems improbable given the energy requirement of duplicating the entirety of space-time whenever anyone makes a decision about what they’re going to have for dinner.

What makes quantum physics so disturbing is that it suggests that nothing is real until it is “observed”, yet plenty of stuff became “real” long before there was a sentient creature available to make observations. So while quantum probability may be subject to change as a consequence of observation, it does not change the fact that probabilities will collapse into a result state regardless of observation.

What that means is that for most things, the likelihood that a quantum event will result in the observed outcome of a particular particle in a particular place is so near to 100% as to be not worth arguing. An atom of iron in a red blood cell in your body is going to exist there upon observation because it *must* exist there regardless of probability. Hunt long enough and you might find a missing molecule where you’d otherwise expect to find one, but it’s pretty damn unlikely.

However, while the probability of that occurring may be 99.9999% it doesn’t actually guarantee that the particular confluence of sub-atomic particles that *should* be found at a given location will actually be there. Until we look for it, or until it *needs* to be there in order for some subsequent reaction to take place.

But now we’re entering an arena of near metaphysical science that has no clear ground on which laymen can stand – the venue occupied by super-string theory, many worlds theory, and so forth.

Frankly, it’s not that I understand any of it, it’s just that I’m really tired of hearing about that damn cat.

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The Perfect Deception

Douglas Addams flippant writings about the scientist who proved that god exists, thus causing him to vanish in a puff of logic, is perhaps the most significant and under utilized argument against religious *belief* as can be had, and yet I never seem to run across it in my admittedly limited reading about the issues related to religion vs. science, and particularly in view of attacks on science such as “Intelligent Design”, which has been so embraced by religious individuals.

It seems to me that the basic issue is not about whether science is right or wrong; it’s about faith.

There is, I believe, a well established theological principle that in order for a religion to function it’s primary tenants (the existence of a god, the voracity of its commandments, and so forth) must be based entirely on *faith*. Faith is emphatically NOT to be confused with *belief* – belief falls strictly into the realm of science and proof. To remain meaningful, items of faith must forever remain “un-provable”, though most of the strongly religious folks out there seem to think that faith and belief are identical concepts. This, of course, drives scientists bonkers.

The conundrum is this…

The fundamental choice presented to human beings by religions is to believe or disbelieve – this is often (and wrongly) expressed such that it is considered equivalent to making a choice to be good or evil. Systems of belief which are not characterized by this black/white, either/or mindset generally cannot be characterized as religious, and in any case seldom evoke the schisms that occur between different binary belief systems (though the practitioners of these non-religious systems are just as likely to be victimized by the determined proponents of the all-or-nothing beliefs).

Individuals who align themselves with a particular religious view are prone, wrongfully, to say they *believe* the information that they have embraced as truth, though what they must actually say if they are to honor their religious views is “I have faith”.

In the dominant religious systems (and I am, again, being forthright in stating that I am in no way a scholar of religion – I’m simply observing what I have experienced and learned in a mostly informal manner) the most important aspect of religious observance is choice – every individual chooses to have faith or not, to be good or (again by inference) evil.

And that’s a problem.

Religious conviction cannot exist without faith, and faith must exist without belief. If there was even a shred of actual proof in the existence of a higher power, then faith would be denied. If a deity is a de-facto, real entity, and IS watching your every decision and action, sitting in judgment, then you no longer have choice. You’re either sucking up to ‘the guy upstairs’ by being a good-little-follower, or you’re defying ‘his mightiness’ and deserve some ultimate punishment for it — though I think an interventionist deity would simply wipe you from the face of the earth in a sort of divine “three strikes and you’re out” policy rather than waiting for you to conveniently die of old age or in an unfortunate scuba-diving accident. After all, the supreme being who is proven to exist has no reason to “work in mysterious ways”.

We must then agree that the existence of an ultimate deity cannot be proven. Proof denies faith. Without faith there is no choice. And without choice, the entirety of Abrahamic religious systems falls to pieces. Having no choice means that the biblical god knowingly allowed Adam and Eve (however metaphorically) to eat the apple. I’ve no doubt that there is a large body of written material that debates this scenario, since it seems improbable that the omnipotent/omniscient god could have failed to foresee or intervene in that situation. Was he taking a nap?

Science, conversely, is about belief, based on rigorous study and analysis, and that makes the religious types rightly nervous, but perhaps not in the way that they should be.

There is no way to make science go away – science is a tool that we use to understand the most fundamental processes that govern the operation of the systems that make up our universe. Through science we advance ourselves and the species as a whole. Heck, we have the ability in this age to instantly communicate with virtually every other human being on the planet – how magical is that?

Whenever I come across Intelligent Design, I am forced to smile ever so slightly to myself. ID is a tremendously amusing idea, insofar as it is one of the most anti-religious concepts that the religious types have ever managed to come up with, and the fervor that many of them endorse it with serves only to prove how short-sighted and unthinking so many of them are.

The argument for ID is that some aspects of nature are too complex to have come into existence via the well established system of evolution by way of natural selection – they are irreducibly complicated (I will point out at this juncture that, when pressed to investigate, scientists have yet to find an actual instance of irreducible complexity). Anything which can’t be explained must have been “created” by an “intelligent designer”. For the religious members of the audience, ID is wonderful because they automatically insert their respective gods in the role of master engineer. They insist that failure to adequately describe the precise origin of any natural system is therefore proof in the existence of their higher power.

But that’s not the case at all.

Proof of Intelligent Design would disprove, for all time, the existence of supreme being. Period. Full stop. End of story.

If our existence were facilitated by an intelligent designer, then that designer cannot be a deity, because we would have PROOF that there was a designer. Proof denies faith – ergo, the designer is not a deity. The next step would be, by those inclined to belabor the point, to say that the designer was the product of a deity, and we are simply one step removed. But that doesn’t work either, because it simply places the burden of faith vs. belief on the theoretical senior designer – arguments amounting to “the designer is an intermediate directed by the supreme being” are simply infinite regressions into the same scenario. One must ask at that point if we are so distanced from this theoretical supreme being as to no longer be anything more than an unanticipated side effect.

ID is not science by any stretch of the imagination – it is at best a wild conjecture invented by ill-informed individuals in pursuit of justifying their particular beliefs. But as a tool to prove the existence of a divine creator it is downright dangerous to their very beliefs, simply because there is some small possibility that it might be correct.

As an aside, while I do not for a moment believe that life as we know it is the direct consequence of intervention by an entity that exists external to this universe, I can easily conceive (though it is a concept that lives entirely in the wildest science-fiction conjecture) that there may come a day when humanity is capable of creating entirely new universes, perhaps fulfilling the role of intelligent designer ourselves. We might even live within a created universe, though if we do I very much doubt the creator is even aware of our existence, nor would such a creator likely care.

And so ID fails religion in every conceivable way. Any individual or group that pronounces “proof” of the existence of a divine being, through any means, immediately denies its right to be called a religion.

Thus we come to the argument that SHOULD be embraced by every religion, the simple and elegant argument for “The Perfect Deception”.

It goes like this…

If there is a divine power, and if that deity is omnipotent and/or omniscient (one or the other of these qualities is a fundamental requirement of godhead), and we choose to have faith that this deity created the universe, and this world, and us; then that creator also gave us the ability to use tools, and ultimately science.

This supreme being, having granted us the means to examine and understand the physical world, must therefore have known the consequences of providing this ever flowering “tree of knowledge”. The deity would therefore be forced to make the entire universe “internally consistent” in order to insure that there no physical proof of its existence could ever be uncovered – again, without faith there is no choice, and without choice there is no point in religion.

What is the consequence of this? It means that every aspect of the created universe must behave as if it were not created – it must appear to have, on even the closest examination, an explanation for its existence which does not require a deity. It must, in every way, be The Perfect Deception – designed to fool those who can turn even the most sophisticated investigative tools upon it.

For an omniscient creator, this is doable, because that creator can see all outcomes in all futures, and can insure that the evidence required to “fool the yokels” into believing a natural cause for all things is strategically placed where it needs to be right from the beginning. The scientists always find the proof they seek, because it’s there when they go looking for it.

For an omnipotent deity, this is doable, because that creator can instantaneously alter things so that observers simply see what they would expect to see in a “naturally evolved” world. This results in an endless series of “reverse miracles”, a deity working tirelessly to conceal the existence of itself.

If we are to accept either of the two previous statements, then what is the consequence to our scientific exploration of the natural world?

Absolutely nothing. Nada. Zip.

The result is that you either believe a theory such as evolution by way of natural selection because it is scientific truth, and a deity had nothing to do with it. Or you have faith that it is a system that was put in place by a higher power to insure that humans did not accidentally prove the existence of a supreme being, and thus deny faith.

It doesn’t matter whether we evolved from lesser species or not – either we did, or a higher power made sure if we looked closely enough that, for all intents and purposes, we would have no choice but to come to that conclusion.

And what does this mean to the faithful? It’s pretty simple really – there is no point, and there has never been any point, to arguing the validity of science. For the religious individual, the only answer to the ever growing scientific knowledge of our species is “our creator made the world in such a way as to never allow the existence of our creator to be proven”.

And if that’s the case, then the world (and indeed the entire universe) must behave in a way that is entirely natural, and entirely explicable in human terms. Science exists entirely separate from religion (though quantum uncertainly feels uncomfortably close to “faith” in some ways).

If there is a higher power, then that deity has insured that whatever examinations we make into the universe will not reveal a creator’s hand in its creation or continued existence. If there is no higher power, then the universe operates in a perfectly deterministic manner.

What is left, then, for those who are drawn to faith in a deity’s existence? Well, to put it bluntly, faith. The religious individual must choose faith above all – the job of the pious is not to argue the validity of science, but to embrace it with a calm shrug of the shoulders and say “well, that’s all well and good, but I still have faith that my creator made it that way”.

We cannot all be scientists (as much as I wish that were not so) and perhaps religion in this context remains a valuable component in our society, giving those without the depth of understanding a simple way to understand and come to terms with the world around them.

Sadly, I do not believe that any of the world’s major religions have the capacity in their current forms to “turn the other cheek” to science, and I know the fundamentalist variants are utterly incapable — fundamentalists seek proof and belief, attempting to deny faith, and I suspect that very pronounced schizophrenic desire is what drives many of them seem so bonkers – they simply lack faith, so try at every juncture to substitute proof by ramming their beliefs down the throats of everyone around them.

And anyone who doesn’t agree? Well, they need to be strung up and made an example of.

Silly, silly people.

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Inadvertant Essayiast

I’ve spent the past thirty or so years obsessively pounding on typewriters (wow, is that dating myself or what), tapping on keyboards and scribbling in notebooks, trying in vain to somehow resolve my passionate desire to write with the grim fact that my forays into fiction, screenplays, game designs, and technical texts have always terminated with a desperate desire to ram a steel spike through the resulting manuscript while holding said manuscript firmly against my skull. The only outlet that has ever given me slight enjoyment was a brief and unromantic fling with Blogging – and it always felt too stream-of-consciousness to satisfy my rampant literary urges.

However, over the past decade or so I have, with the emotionally lubricating aid of whisky and wine, embraced e-mail as a medium through which to launch missives that provided self-justifications, demands for acknowledgement, and the blow-by-blow of at least one minor nervous breakdown. Most members of my small circle of friends have thus been trapped at their monitors when my emotionally laden thought-bombs exploded from their in-boxes, much like a briefcase nuke covered in happy-face stickers. They probably thought “Oh goody! A message from Nick,” only to become buried in psychological rubble comparable to ground-zero at the World Trade Center by paragraph five.

So it feels surreal that I find myself writing something personal that is intended for an audience of more than one. You see, I learned a new word just a couple of weeks ago – Essayist. For me, this is a profound word, one that gives sudden and cataclysmic meaning to what I have until now considered my guilt-ridden little rambling indulgences.

But let me provide a little bit of background before I go on.

As a teenager, I was as capable of forming a coherent paragraph as I was of performing neurosurgery. Given my poor academic performance, the only upside was that my lack of skill was unlikely to endanger lives other than my own.

What changed?

It seems to me now that there was an unstated but nevertheless iron-clad rule within my family home that “Thou shall not create!” — add an Olympian thunder-clap here for emphasis. My father was unconsciously determined to crush even the slightest artistic aspiration – I’ve never forgotten nor forgiven him for saying, when I first dropped out of Film Studies, that he’d always thought I “wasn’t creative in that way.” I’m certain he believed his words were supportive; a statement meant to comfort his artistically-autistic son. Way to go, pop.

Perhaps my dad is simply incapable of making a positive statement without adding some form of qualification. Inevitably comments begin with “It’s all right, but…” My childhood efforts were thus doomed to be harshly critiqued and quickly judged inferior. At the age of twelve I recall plagiarizing song lyrics for a poetry assignment because by then I -knew- that I wasn’t capable of writing worthwhile words. This, it turns out, is a common practice, and I can count myself fortunate that my taste in music was suitably eclectic to avoid detection.

But writers seem to have no choice but to write. It’s like breathing – trying to stop will kill you. With sufficient time, distance from my dysfunctional biological family, and the support of my carpet-bombed-via-e-mail friends (my real family — sorry ‘bout all that), I finally reached a place where a small talent with language started to mature.

What has this got to do with the magical word Essayist? Well, a bunch of things happened over the course of the past few years…

First, while enduring my self-imposed sentence in the city-sized mental institution known as Los Angeles, I came to the conclusion (in my companionship-starved-and-only-semi-coherent mind) that the reason Internet dating had been such a thumping, dramatic failure for me was because it’s impossible to box myself into a five-hundred-word canned biography. I’m lousy at marketing myself, mostly because I know just how complicated and screwed up I really am. I decided to take a different approach – writing a series of articles, each one focusing on a different aspect of who I thought I was. My plan was to post them on a web site where potential mates could experience a more complete representation of moi.

I never did put the articles up. I stopped abruptly after spending a Sunday afternoon writing about my fascination with BDSM (for the less sexually informed, that’s the kinky stuff with whips ’n chains). I finished espousing on this favorite, but socially-taboo topic, and then I read what I had written.

It scared the hell out of me. I can’t recall my exact reaction, but it was something like “This isn’t me! I must be lying about this! If I’m lying about this, then everything else I’ve been writing is probably a lie!” And that was the end of the website plan. In retrospect, I’m fairly certain I was simply confusing the intellectual fascination with the whole idea vs. any sort of need to pursue it – the appeal was in the structured and formalized nature of personal interactions within that “scene”, a subject I’ll get around to some time or another.

The next incident on my mountainside-high-speed-no-brakes drive to enlightenment took place after I’d returned to the safe sanity of Vancouver — My Uncle, a playwright of some renown in the UK (and probably recognized by a half-dozen ardent theatergoers in a handful of American cities) published a book. It wasn’t a novel – it was more akin to an autobiography.

I read the paragraphs he had written. There was none of the casual wordplay that had permeated his prior fictions. These were the remorseful ramblings of an aging man who wished he’d made vastly different choices throughout his life. He called it a diary, and perhaps that’s what it is best described as. But I learned more about my Father reading that single book than I have in a lifetime of not knowing him.

There is no significant social statement to be found in the recounting – just personal and family history. No issue of global relevance is subject of the discourses. It is, at most, his singular subdued voice asking, after so many years, “If this is what I have done, than who am I?” And while I can understand my own fascination with his oft-dark musings (so many relate to my own father and thus my own life), it has occurred to me only recently that most everyone who has read the book has not the slightest connection to the events described therein. Yet a great many people have read it, and apparently liked it.

Wondering idly in a momentary aside, I ask myself if dear-old-dad ever compared his life to that of his father’s. I know now that they are alike in many ways, and it strikes me that he thoughtlessly followed the template of his upbringing while raising his own children, if for no other reason than it never occurred to him that their might be alternatives. Trapped within history, unable to look beyond it, one is doomed to walk the same path and make the same mistakes. But I digress, as I am often prone to do.

The third thing that happened was a recent (but very minor) psychological breakdown (edit – it was actually more properly an ‘autistic meltdown’, but that’s stuff I’ll cover elsewhere). I’ll leave the details of the actual event aside, since it warrants an entire essay of its own. However, out of it came a clarity that I had lacked – a willingness to see the things that I had done while trying to turn myself into someone I was not. Finally, I began to accept who I am, which led me back to the things I had written in LA, and the realization that I hadn’t lied about a damn thing after all. The real lie had been the fiction of pretending to be someone I wasn’t, pretending to not like or want the things that were important to me.

Are we there yet? Almost…

The last piece of the Chinese puzzle I’ve been trying to assemble throughout my life came from the most unlikely of locations – the “Special Extras” packed in with the DVD release of “The Incredibles”. On the second disc is a ten-minute video essay by Sarah Vowell, who performed the voice of Violet in the film. My jaw dropped when I saw it – here was a woman I felt an instant affinity for, though it took me a bit of reading to understand why.

It turns out that Sarah Vowell is, among other things, a highly regarded political essayist. While I have no interest in politics (or most other forms of societal self-mutilation featured on CNN) I found myself absolutely riveted by her words. Insightful, sharp, flippant, sarcastic, self-deprecatory — it is a style and manner that I have aspired to in my own meanderings, though I certainly don’t suggest that I have the breadth or skill she exhibits.

But, because of her, my words suddenly felt legitimate. What I had written, and how I had written it, were not entirely the mad scrawls of an untrained/skill-challenged/wannabe author — and while there might not be gold-in-them-thar-hills, there was perhaps a bit of silver.

Click… Click… Click… It goes together like this (in the James Burke-ian fashion): Personal journals + Uncle’s diaries + Clarity of mind + Essays are legitimate = YOU ARE AN ESSAYIST, idiot.

It simply never occurred to me that there was acceptability in a written form that was, from my perspective, relegated entirely to scholarly critiques and sadistic school assignments (though by the time I was in my second round of Film Studies I had taught myself to excel at the later, and actually enjoyed writing the damned things). In short order (thank you, Internet!) I found dozens of compelling contemporary essays that were musings on humanity in general and the authors’ relationship to it in particular. Who would have thought that people would be interested in other people… Duh!

This is what I have come to understand…

The things I write do not need to be relegated to the void. While my opinions may be nothing more than potentially ill-informed speculations, there is no reason that I should refrain from expressing them. And though the format that works for me may not be acknowledged in the same manner as a novel or screenplay, it is the way that I write, and more importantly it is the way that I truly enjoy writing.

That’s why you’re reading this – my essay about discovering that I like writing essays. I hope you found it a little entertaining, though not perhaps as drenched with ironic observations as it might have been — I’ll save those for subsequent acts of self-expression.

Oh, and all those essays I wrote in LA? Well, they need a bit of work, but I’ll get around to publishing them here eventually.

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