All posts for January 2020

Of Dark Days

None of this happened overnight. Neither will overcoming it.

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2020/01/31 17:00

From Josh Marshall:

... even if Trump is not reelected we will still have the very same people now helping to finalize Trump’s cover up either running the Senate or in sufficient numbers to block its action if they don’t get their way. We’ll have a judiciary that has been stacked over the last three years to perpetuate GOP political rule.

There’s no simple turning back the clock. Trump is much less the issue than the political environment in which he has thrived. He might be booted next year but the climate and bases of support that made him possible won’t have gone anywhere.

I know this all sounds like kind of a downer. It’s not meant that way. It’s simply to note that perseverance is one of our most necessary, basic, indeed essential tools.

A vital point and one worth repeating. None of this happened overnight; the suddenness of its onset is only because it was building for so long just out of sight. Overcoming it doesn't happen overnight either.

I think this is also worth mentioning in light of the way Trumpism is referred to as a cult, and one of the characteristics of cults is a charismatic, singular leader. (Charisma is subjective; what matters is that someone knows how to draw in others by some means.) Remove the leader and the cult falls to pieces. Fine, except that the pieces remain, and nothing prevents them from empowering another cult figure. Cultism, not cult leaders, is the problem, and it spreads wherever people are driven to dissatisfaction, whether real or imagined. And a mindset — nebulous, universal — is far more difficult to fight than an organization.

Václav Havel comes to mind as well, as he does often in these days:

...we never decided to become dissidents. We have been transformed into them, without quite knowing how, sometimes we have ended up in prison without precisely knowing how. We simply went ahead and did certain things that we felt we ought to do, and that seemed to us decent to do, nothing more nor less.

Maybe the one characteristic of a country is the tenor of those who are most willing to fight for it, whoever they may be and however they may do it, as opposed to those who are simply most willing to take it as it is. On a practical level, everything beyond that fades in importance.

Tags: politics 

Possibility Paralysis

What do you do when you want to do everything?

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2020/01/30 08:00

Most of you know about "decision indecision" or "decision paralysis", where you stand there in the supermarket and waste an hour trying to figure out which of 32 different kinds of toothpaste to buy (most of which are actually not different in any significant way except for the flavor). Creative people sometimes have a first cousin of the same problem: they look at all the different possible projects they could work on, and they vapor-lock. Or they look at the encyclopedia-ful of characters and situations and things and possibilities they could include in their new work, and they have no idea which end of that sandwich to begin biting into.

Too many choices are as bad as no choices at all, because they amount to the same thing: no real agency. Bad enough when we're buying toothpaste or pulling voting levers; far worse when it's something we're supposed to have agency over in the first place, our own creative works.

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Tags: creativity  creators  writers  writing 

The Builders And The Finders

At first people think creating things is more like discovery than construction.

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2020/01/24 17:00

The more I think about my encounters with other creators just starting their own journey, the more I notice how some of them begin with one notion about the process and — if they're lucky — evolve to another one.

Early on, they tend to have this notion of the creative work as being something that exists intact in some other realm, and all they have to do is discover it, like unearthing something from the bottom of a closet, or getting good reception on a radio station by twisting a coathanger around the antenna.

Later on, again if they're lucky, this view is replaced by the notion that they have to actually build the work — that it doesn't exist at all in any form, that they can't just blunder across it, and that it actually has to be created by them. No Shortcuts™.

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Tags: creativity  creators 

From Inside Out, Pt. 3,276

Spiritual advice don't mean a thing if it don't come from within.

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2020/01/22 08:00

Tibetan Buddhist teacher Pema Chödrön has books titled The Places That Scare You and The Wisdom Of No Escape. The titles are big hints about what she believes, and for that reason are potential turn-offs for some (for reasons I'll get into shortly). One of her main streams of thought is teaching yourself how to not compulsively resist the bad things in your life or compulsively cling to the good things, either — how to look at them both with equinamity, how to let both good and bad be your teachers.

My own lesson on top of this is how those mean nothing if you don't treat them as inner directives instead of outer ones. I'll explain what I mean, but first some buildup.

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Tags: Buddhism  Zen  society  sociology  spirituality 

The First One Is Meant To Be Thrown Away

Each work is a bridge to the next one.

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2020/01/21 08:00

The first novel I ever wrote, I wrote during the summer of 1992 when I was a temp worker at a company in New York City — some kind of fund-management outfit, I think. I essentially warmed a chair and did the occasional bit of word processing. My computer had a copy of Microsoft Word, and I had a copy of Microsoft Word at home, and so I took a floppy disk in with me and started filling my lunch hours (and then a bit more than that) with something that I eventually called The Wolves Among Us. It wasn't good. It was ambitious, but it wasn't good. It was something I'd written every word of myself from beginning to end, but it wasn't good. It had some wonderful characters in it and some nice writing, but it ... really ... wasn't ... good.

Still, I knew then I'd found something I wanted to stick with for the whole of my life. Even if what came out was sheer junk, the pleasure of doing the thing itself was unparalleled. I just had to figure out how to write something that wasn't bad.

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Tags: creativity 

What It All Means

Zen's influence on my work.

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2020/01/20 08:00

We — meaning the circle of creative-minded friends I'm in — got to talking about influences the other night, and I mentioned that one of mine was Zen Buddhism. Influential in the sense that once I started to take my study of it seriously, it altered the way I saw and thought about everything, and that in turn changed the kinds of stories I wanted to write.

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Tags: Buddhism  Zen  creativity  creators  writers  writing 

The Pleasures Of Eating Your Own Dog Food

No, this isn't about pets; it's about making the tools I use for my creative work.

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2020/01/19 08:00

Software developers have a phrase for using the software you build for others: eating your own dog food. Testing such software is "dogfooding". For the past week and change, I've been dog-fooding my new software tool for writers, a personal wiki for project organization. It is still far too feature-tool and bug-ridden to be useful to anyone but li'l ol' me, but even in that state it's still valuable. Both for how it helps me write Fall Of The Hammer, and how it helps me enforce the discipline I need to improve it.

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Tags: creativity  software  writing 

The New Needs Friends

The new needs friends, not evangelists or apologists.

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2020/01/13 17:00

There's a line from, of all places, the Disney movie Ratatouille.

In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little, yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face, is that in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so. But there are times when a critic truly risks something, and that is in the discovery and defense of the new. The world is often unkind to new talent, new creations. The new needs friends.

(Last emphasis mine.)

The new needs friends because, to whip out a line I'm fond of, the genuinely new thing is a terrible pain in the ass. It needs friends because by itself, on its own, it will almost certainly end up out in the street. But how you're a friend to the new makes all the difference.

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Tags: Buddhism  Zen  aesthetics  creativity 

A Time Now Gone

On letting an old domain name roll away.

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2020/01/11 10:00

The other day I allowed the domain name I once used for my personal blog to lapse. I had not used that domain in over ten years for anything; it just auto-directed back to this place. But all the same I'd kept renewing it in the thought that someday, someday, I'd do something with it. Well, here it is, a decade and change later, and I've still done nothing with it. Out it goes.

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Tags: Internet 

You May Begin To Feel Overload

On art as the alleged antidote to life -- although life is no illness, is it?

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2020/01/07 08:00

There's this sample floating around the musical ether — Hive used it in their song "Ultrasonic Sound"; and I think they got it from Crass's "Bomb plus Bomb Tape": During these films you may begin to feel overload ... There are times when, I imagine like many of you, I just sit there and feel crushed flat by the weight of everything going on. The little stuff and the big stuff alike. Feels like there's no difference between the threat of annihilation and the misery of a friend; they both just hurt.

What makes the pain bearable, what turns it into something that's at least not quite so painful, isn't running away from it or throwing one's self headlong into it, but something in between — being able to look at it and understand it. It's the Václav Havel quote I come back to so often: hope isn't optimism, but the certainty that things will somehow make sense. And so we tell stories in the hopes that they will help us make sense of things, even if those stories aren't about anything that actually happened.

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Tags: creativity  creators 

One Year Later...

Kicking off 2020.

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2020/01/06 08:00

Sorry about the silence on this end — long holiday break, lots going on. Allow me to turn your head away from the burning world on your TV and enlighten you about new doings in Chez Genji.

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Tags: Shunga-Satori  The Fall Of The Hammer  TiddlyWiki  real life 

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