All the Lonely People

Chase just posted this little gem, and a link to this article in the Washington Post.

I’m not sure why any of it hit me so hard, but not everything can be explained, I suppose. I’ve been thinking about imagination lately. Writing up little pseudo-biographical stories in my mind of how my day would go if life were more interesting. What if, driving to work, I had to make my way around a volcano? Or maybe a kung-fu warrior broke into my apartment, and I had to fend him off with nothing but the dirty frying pan in my sink?

I’ve finished two of my Goodwill Sci-fi reads. One of them was basically fluff, and the other was an Earthsea novel, and I was pleasantly surprised with its quality. Other than that, though, I’ve been reading very realistic things: essays by John Leax and Leslie Leyland-Fields. The dark, worldly poetry of Susannah Childress. The incredibly real fiction of Chughes, who is my latest online discovery.

All of it is so good–I would never speak a word against any of these fine folk.

Nevertheless… I wish there was a modern James Barrie. Sometimes, when I’m reading about the normal lives of normal people, I have a sudden wish for pirates to burst in. I want dragons to be swooping in the skies where we see blue jays and ravens. I want elves to sneak in at night, and curdle the milk and steal the butter.

I suddenly want magic. And I want it badly–like I haven’t in a long time.

I think I will be able to write tonight.

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Sitting in my Panera, June 24, 2007

Lunch today was a cinnamon crunch bagel with hazelnut cream cheese spread. It wasn’t particularly healthy, but I had eggs and milk for breakfast today, so I was simply making up for lost time.

The days here seem eerily long. It is because, no doubt, I’m not waking up at 1:00 in the afternoon I think. Still, it seems odd to me that those few hours in the morning can lengthen a span of time by so much more than that. Already today, I’ve started work on a short story, managed my E-mail, done my shopping, and I have yet to even eat dinner.

After stopping by Meijer, the local Walmart knockoff to look for appartment stuff, I want to Goodwill and stocked up on some fun little single-afternoon sci-fi reads (one of which is a novelization of Titan AE, which makes me exited) for two bucks. I’ll likely spend the rest of the afternoon snacking on those, and then work a little more on Grace is Where I Live. Dinner will be cereal.

I might decide to go swimming in the evening, or on a walk again. I perused the grounds of my apartment, and found them much nicer than I thought they were at first. There are birds everywhere, and many different kinds of trees. I’m going to see if I can’t find some sort of book so I can actually learn what they are–knowledge I have no excuse to not have now. My fellow tenants seem nice, although I can’t be sure because not many speak English very well. They seem pleasant though. There are tennis courts populated by Koreans, who are much better than I am in any case. The pool skips from Spanish to Scandinavian hourly. It’s fun to hear so many languages, even if it does make me uncomfortable to speak to people. I think that if I weren’t to get out of my apartment, I could go without hearing a word of English all day. I think that might be good for me, every once in a while.

The silence of my apartment startles me, sometimes. There’s no words there unless I’m putting them on the page. I normally have a habit of speaking to myself, but I haven’t had done that so much since moving in. Once I close my door, the only thing I hear is the scribbling of the pen, or perhaps the hitting of keys on my computer. The whirring of a fan and the gentle rise and fall of NPR over my clock-radio don’t count. They fade into the white noise of my mind after a time. It’s only when a particularly interesting piece of music comes on that I tune in again, and listen. I haven’t played anything but choral music on my ipod since I’ve gotten here.

It’s refreshing to be able to hear myself write. It brings a certain concreteness to the process, as if I’m actually doing something important. Well, that’s the feeling I get, even though it is (like most feelings) untrustworthy. For the most part, I want to believe my writing is just a fair bit of silliness that worms its way on to the page, which is exactly as it should be. I sometimes think I get too serious in my musings, which really isn’t how I want them to come out. I’d like to avoid playing the part of the angsting modern writer.

The comic preposterousness of this world deserves just as much attention as its gravity.

Back to Never Never Land

Well, I’m officially a member of the Castle Bluff community of Grand Rapids now. The apartment is nice, except for it’s lacking of a few things. Like friction on the bathroom floor. It’s slippery in there, so I’ll be picking up a little floor-mat first thing.

Other than that,  things are going well. I have no internet in my appartment, or TV, which is a blessing. I do have radio, but I only listen to NPR, which is the only thing really worth listening to in any case. I wish they would play more choral music, instead of orchestral, though. Oh, well, it’s not the end of the world.

I’m writing from the local Panera Bread, which has wireless internet. Hearafter, I declare this Panera Bread to be my Panera Bread, as it will be my primary source of communication with the outside world. I’m going to try to find a coffee shop as well, and I think I remember where a nice one is. In any case, I have a particular passion for Panera Bread because they give me Broccoli Cheddar soup in a sourdough bowl, plus a baguette for less than five bucks. Possibly my favorite meal, ever. It just lacks meat, which I will make up for tomorrow.

In any case, I aught to be leaving soon. I have much shopping to do before Prairie Home Companion comes on, and I must get it done.

I will hopefully have something insightful to post soon. Wait for me until then.

And establish thou the work of our hands…

I worked outside today, for the first time in quite some while. I’m not a physically active person, especially during the summer. I often prefer to spend my days sitting, either talking with folks or working on small projects of my own. Nevertheless, Dad needed help outside today, and I was more than happy to help him out.

Dad is a musician by trade, but enjoys working with his hands a fair amount. A few years back, we had a mammoth oak taken down in front of our house, and the wood from that tree has been lying under a tarp off to the side of our house since then. I awoke this morning to the sound of hammer and pneumatic drill, and wandered outside only to get hauled into a significant wood moving project that involved worming my way under our house-side deck, putting in supports, and then stacking some thousand dollars worth of good, red oak underneath it to protect if from the elements. Dad hopes that one day, when he retired, he’ll be able to haul it out and begin to work with it, turning some nice furniture for mom. I recommended that he make a good writing desk for me, someday.

In any case, the work wasn’t terrible: only a few hours worth of labor. Anybody who understands manual labor will certainly recognize that a few hours of lifting wood is no real significant task; I certainly do. But to someone who is unaccustomed to heavy-lifting type work, it was just enough to get some good exercise, and create a not-unpleasent burn in my limbs. I’ll sleep well tonight.

I’ve been reading Leax’s Grace is Where I Live, and the first essay speaks on physical labor.  John Leax, who teaches at Houghton, lived in a hand-made house for a fair part of his life. He helped to build it as a child, with his parents. He is a man who understands physical labor, as he is fond of saying, not just with his mind but in the soreness of his body. Even now, he owns a spot of woods he has deemed Covenant Acres, and is laboring to blaze a prayer trail through it. He has no gas stove, and finds his own wood for heat in the winter. Physical labor is a common element in his work, and I can’t help but wonder if there is something necessary about it.

At the end of this day, I can’t help but feel a sense of accomplishment that I haven’t felt in a long time. I’m a writer, and as such work in a never ending process of refinement. The thought that I could wake up in the morning, start a project, and have it done and finished by the time I put my head back down on the pillow is foreign, but also very attractive.

Of course, in Grand Rapids I will have no wood to haul or decks to work under. Nevertheless, I feel that it would be good to find some way to work with my hands. Maybe I could find some wood myself, and take up whittling.

I could make a chess set.

I leave for Grand Rapids either tomorrow or the next day, and then I start significant work. I’m nervous, I admit, that the internship won’t go well. This is completely unbased, of course. I’ve been told I’m a good editor thus far, and never otherwise (not since fifth grade, anyway). Nevertheless, I’m, as always, nervous.

I spoke with Cameron today, as well. I’m forming an idea for a novel (which is a daily occurrence for me, but I actually think this idea has some merit) and finally have a goal for the summer as far as my writing goes. In addition to propagating this blog, I’m going to be working on a few short stories, to flesh out some characters I’m thinking on. I’ll post the ones that are appropriate for my readership. I’ve been wanting to post some fiction in any case. I’m trying to avoid having overt violence and vulgarity on my website for the moment, and sometimes both of those are unavoidable with fiction. If you don’t mind either, feel free to contact me or just leave a comment mentioning that you’d like some reading material, and I can E-mail you the documents.

I’m about to go to bed, feeling accomplished. I could get used to this, if I could only the discipline to keep it up.

Thoughts on The Diamond Age

The Diamond Age

Government has failed. This is the first thing you need to know about The Diamond Age. In some cases, it was simply destroyed through public revolt. In other cases, through economic systems that made taxes both impossible and impractical. Still others through outright disintegration. Whatever the reason, government is dead, and it isn’t coming back.

But, no matter how bohemian folks claim to be, nobody really likes anarchy, and so rising up to take the place of government is big business, catering to the law society and security that customers demand. Say you’re a white, Christian, right-wing conservative: well there’s a community for you. It’s a hyper-advanced gated community called a burbclave, guarded by microscopic defense robots called mites. Perhaps it’s run by Walmart, or Microsoft or some other megacorperation. Well, you show up at the Walmart burbclave. You pay Walmart money, and they let you in the gate, give you a house. You live in that burbclave, until you feel like leaving. You pay Walmart, and Walmart supplies you with gas and electricity and utilities. They have their own police force, that patrols the burbclave and shoots the people who don’t have permission to be in there. But it’s not just Walmart who has burbclaves. They have burbclaves for everyone.

If your a hippie, there’s a burbclave for you. If you want to be immersed with fellow spanish-speakers, there’s a burbclave for you. If you’re in the KKK, and hate everybody but white people, there’s a burbclave for you. And each one is a sovereign nation, which might be split in to hundreds of individual franchises scattered all across the world. If you’re a citizen of the Uncle Joe’s Chinatown in Kentucky, then your a citizen of Uncle Joe’s Chinatown in England, and in China as well. They’re all one nation, owned by good old Uncle Joe.

It’s a world where you can go shopping for whatever culture happens to float your boat, and with no government and, by and large, no law outside of these burbclaves, nobody can criticize you for it.

This is the world that was presented to us in Snow Crash, a book by Neal Stephenson that came out slightly before the Diamond Age. It’s important to talk about this, because in many ways, The Diamond Age is a sort of indirect sequel to the previous novel. It takes place in the same world, some fifty to sixty years later. The plots of the two books aren’t connected, and it doesn’t really matter which order you read them in, but Snow Crash came first, and the world setting in that novel is sort of a stepping stone over to culture in The Diamond Age. And believe me, the world that’s thrown at us in The Diamond Age requires a stepping stone to fully grasp.

The Burbclaves are still present, although toned down somewhat with time. This isn’t the primary cultural icon of The Diamond Age, though. Franchise Nations are old hat in this novel. The that has completely revolutionized the world is an invention known as The Feed, which catapulted humanity out of the space age and into the diamond age, from which the book draws its name.

The concept behind the feed is that nanotechnology (that is, machines that work on a very, very, very tiny scale) has come to a point now that we are able to construct things a single atom at a time. With the birth of this technology, diamond, which is really just a whole lot of carbon atoms stacked on top of one another in a very simple way, becomes the cheapest and most common substance in existence. The feed itself is a massive storehouse of atoms, containing all the different elements on the periodic table. People use Matter Compilers (MCs for short) which are hooked up to this feed.

Want a hunk of diamond? Go over the the MC, hit in that you want a hunk of diamond and wait a few minutes. Then, like getting heating a cup of coffee from a microwave, you open up the MC and theres a diamond, probably in a cube a few inches square, sitting there.

But why would you want diamond? It’s cheap and worthless. Even glass is more valuable. There are millions more uses for the MC than just diamond.

Say you’re hungry. Hop to the MC, and order some rice: it’ll pop out seconds later, and if you were smart about how you ordered, it’d be steaming, ready to eat, and in a disposable bowl. Or say you needed a place to sleep: go find an MC big enough, and crank out a mattress, maybe along with some pillows and a comforter. Not everything is free, of course. Rice doesn’t cost anything, effectively solving world hunger, but if you want a shiny new laptop, you’d have to pay for that.

This is life in The Diamond Age. You live in your prepackaged burbclave, and eat rice that was constructed, not grown.

Enter Nell, a 4 year old street urchin who doesn’t even know what letters are. She has a mother, Tequila, who jumps from abusive boyfriend to abusive boyfriend like a child playing hopscotch. Nell also has a brother, who tried his hardest to protect Nell from the walking emotional land mine that is their mother, and the string of attempted rape and beatings that come from her boyfriends. She has four children, consisting of a stuffed dinosaur named Dinosuar, a stuffed duck named Duck, a stuffed rabbit named Peter Rabbit, and a doll with purple hair named Purple.

Also enter John Hacksworth, a nano-engineer from a neo-victorian burbclave who is working on a very important project for a very important little girl: a princess named Elizabeth, in fact. The project is a book. Not just any book, in fact, but the Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer. This isn’t a normal book, made of paper and bound in leather. The pages of this book are made of countless nano-machines, constantly observing, processing, and calculating information. It is through coincidence that the book doesn’t end up in the hands of Princess Elizabeth, but instead the hands of young Nell.

When the little four year old, not even able to read, opens the book, her life changes forever. This is Nell’s first experience with the Primer, which reads aloud to her, because she cannot read herself:

~~~~~

Once upon a time there was a little Princess named Nell who was imprisoned in a tall dark castle on an island in the middle of a great sea, with a little boy named Harv, who was her friend and protector. She also had four special friends named Dinosaur, Duck, Peter Rabbit, and Purple.

Princess Nell and Harv could not leave the Dark Castle, but from time to time, a raven would come to visit them…

 

“What’s a raven?” Nell Said.

The illustration was a colorful painting of the island seen from up in the sky. The island rotated downward and out of the picture, becoming a view toward the ocean horizon. In the middle was a black dot. The picture zoomed in on the black dot, and it turned out to be a bird. Big letters appeared beneath. “R A V E N,” the book said. “Raven. Now, say it with me.”

“Raven.”

“Very good! Nell, you are a clever girl, and you have much talent with words. Can you spell raven?”

Nell hesitated. She was still blushing from the praise. After a few seconds, the first of the letters began to blink. Nell prodded it.

The letter grew grew until it had pushed all the other letters and pictures off the edges of the page. The loop on the top shrank and became a head, while the lines sticking out the bottom developed into legs and began to scissor. “R is for Run,” the book said. The picture kept on changing until it was a picture of Nell. Then something fuzzy and red appeared beneath her feet. “Nell Runs on the Red Rug,” the book said, and as it spoke, new words appeared.

“Why is she running?”

“Because an Angry Alligator Appeared,” the book said, and panned back quite some distance to show an alligator, waddling along ridiculously, no threat to the fleet Nell. The alligator became frustrated and curled itself into a circle, which became a small letter. “A is for Alligator. The Very Vast alligator Vainly Viewed Nell’s Valiant Velocity.”

The little story went on to include and Exited Elf who was Nibbling Noisily on some Nuts. Then the picture of the Raven came back, with the letters beneath. “Raven. Can you spell raven, Nell?” A hand materialized on the page and pointed to the first letter.

“R,” Nell said.

“Very good! You a clever girl, Nell, and good with letters,” the book said. “What is this letter?” and it pointed to the second one. This one Nell had forgotten. But the book told her a story about an Ape named Albert.

~~~~~

And thus begins Nells education. The story is a bildungsroman about Nell, wherein she travels from an ignorant street urchin to, transformed by the nurturing of the primer, a brilliant lady capable of studying and comprehending subjects like advanced nano-robotics without any more than a few pages of scrap paper (which the primer is always ready to supply).

The novel is set in the Hong Kong/China area, and is heavily influenced by Confucian thought. The quote from Confucius I posted a few days ago was pulled directly from the text of this book, in fact. It delves into matters of education, and where the duties of rearing a child belong, along with the power of technology for both advancement and destruction of culture and society. The characters are original and believable. The plot is, 95% of the time, coherent and educated, and while the book is a dense read, there isn’t any need to drudge through it.

Stephenson is a masterful writer of fiction. He understands humanity and people well enough to come up with good characters, and he understands how dialog works well enough to write quality conversation. He manages to explain the technology in enough depth to satisfy the sci-fi buffs out there, but does it in such a way that even the most technologically inept could follow along. On a level of both linguistics and storytelling, this is certainly worthy of a read.

Now that the praise is over, there needs to be a few warnings. First and foremost, this is a work of adult fiction, and deservingly so. It is very, very good adult fiction, but adult fiction nontheless. If you are queasy, not up to dealing with mature themes, or under the age of 17-ish, don’t try and read this. Second off, there are passages of this that get very surreal and hard to follow. The society that the novel takes place in is for the most part followable, but there are times when it gets weird enough to throw even the most avid readers. I had to read these passages through several times, and even now they’re still hard to follow.

The last warning, is that Stephenson seems to have a little trouble with his endings. In this particular case, I like the ending. You might not, though. There are a lot of little side stories that don’t get resolved, and compared to the sheer scale of the story (it ranges over 14 years, and has a huge cast of characters) the end can seem underwhelming or abrupt.

Despite these few hitches and warnings, though, the book remains fantastic. Neal Stephenson is a good author, and one can never really go wrong with him. I highly recommend you give this one a read, along with Snow Crash, as soon as time permits.

Finished Diamond Age

Finished The Diamond Age, and also finished Akira, within 24 hours of each other. I’m currently on the biggest sci-fi trip that has been known to man. Both of these are very bizarre, dense, and confusing stories. I’ve got enough of a grip on The Diamond Age to give my thoughts on it, which’ll probably be up tomorrow. I’m going to give Akira another read through before I post anything on it, because it requires at least that much just to get the story.

Planning on starting a book of spiritual writing next. Maybe Grace is Where I Live or something similar.

~DK

Added ‘Akira’ to the reading list

I mentioned before that I wanted to add a graphic novel to the reading list. Well, I found one: Akira, by Tatsuhiro Otomo. I’ve heard nothing but good things about it. At 2000+ pages, it’s huge, but I’m beginning to work my way through it. It’s one of the greatest works of graphic novella to come out in recent years, and possible the quintessential Science Fiction work in that category.

I’ll post again once I finish.

Also, added a link to Cassie’s new blog, Oeuvre to the list o’ links. It’s a new blog, and doesn’t really have anything up yet, but Cassie’s a good writer, and I’m sure it’ll fill up with good stuff in no time.

Narrative on a Walk, June 12, 2007

I went on a walk today. Two, if we are to be technical, because I went out earlier this evening with Cameron to discuss a bit of cyberpunk plot that was running through my head. The walk we are to be speaking of, though, happened later at night, and was less talkative.

I left the house thinking to see stars, turned down Centerville Rd, and walked until the lights and houses petered out, leaving me alone in the dark. As I had thought, the sky was beautiful. It was a new moon, I think. Either that or the lunar circle was hidden behind the trees. The sky was dark except on the edges, which were a navy blue, and the stars had come out to play–not too bright, and the Milky Way had stayed behind to watch the celestial house, but the little dots in the sky were in full bloom.

I found what few constellations I knew (the Big Dipper in the summer. I can find Orion, but he hides when the whether turns warmer. Maybe he’s an eskimo?), but was surprised when another dot of light appeared right in front of my face. Distracted from the sky a moment, I looked around.
About half a mile up the street from my house, the woods and street lamps and houses give way to a big field populated by tiny evergreens, the occasional apple tree, and very prickly grass, and it was here I had ended up. Firefly, I realized as I turned myself about, blinking as the afterimage of the flash receded in my sight.

Except there wasn’t just the one. As I looked around, making the shift from watching for static points of light tracing the moving flashes, I saw the fields around me littered with the little things. I took to watching them, remembering how as a boy I would run out during summer nights with a jar and catch the bugs, making myself an improvised lamp that might (if the fireflies were lucky) have holes in the lid. I caught one for old time’s sake, cradling it in cupped palms. It was a boy, I think, because it made quick, rapid flashes. The girls make slower, sexier flashes, and they try to find one another like that. But then, I might have the genders mixed. In any case, after a few minutes of exploring my hand, the firefly realized I wasn’t particularly bug-shaped, and thus not a potential mate, and flew off to in search of a more pleasurable companion for the evening.

I watched them until a jet passed over the horizon, flickering it’s lights, and in a sudden moment of confusion I couldn’t tell the field from the heavens and back again, and all I could hear was the blending of the plane engines with the croaking of a big bullfrog who was loud enough on his own to echo off the trees on the other side of the field. It was a wonderful sensation.

I stayed out there, waddling back and forth on the pavement or just lying on my back in the middle of the road until the barking of the neighborhood dogs who, despite being half a field and three houses away, could still detect my presence and still thought I was worthy of attention.

I walked back to the house and, after informing my parents that the fireflies were out and that they should go see, began to write in the new journal that dad got me. It’s a nice black one, with clean lined paper that I feel bad marring with my chicken-scratch hand writing. It’ll be my personal journal this summer. I’ve opened it with the quote from Confucius that preceded this post. I’ll document a search for wisdom in that journal, and only report here when I make significant breakthoughs. Who knows when, or even if, that’ll happen though.

Tomorrow I want to go back out for another walk. I’ll take a glass jar with me, and make sure I have holes poked in the lid.

Words of Wisdom from Someone Besides Me

“The ancients who wished to demonstrate illustrious virtue throughout the kingdom, first ordered well their own states. Wishing to order well their states, they first regulated their families. Wishing to regulate their families, they first cultivated their persons. Wishing to cultivate their persons, they first rectified their hearts. Wishing to rectify their hearts, they first sought to be sincere in their thoughts. Wishing to be sincere in their thoughts, they first extended to the utmost of their knowledge. Such extension of knowledge lay in the investigation of things… from the Son of Heaven down to the mass of the people, all must consider the cultivation of the person the root of everything besides.”

~Translated from Confusius

Summer Reading List

1. The Diamond Age, by Neal Stephenson

2. Thirst, by Mary Oliver

3. Cryptonomicon, by Neal Stephenson

4. Zodiac, by Neal Stephenson

5. Piano in the Vineyard, by Jean Janzen

6. Jagged with Love, by Susanna Childress

7. Surprise Child, by Leslie Leyland Fields

8. Grace is Where I Live, by John Leax

9. The Task of Adam, by John Leax

10. Otherwise, by Jane Kenyon

11. Amazing Grace, by Kathleen Norris

12. The Genesee Diary, by Henri J. M. Nouwen

13. Nightwatch, by John Leax

14. Country Labors, by John Leax

I’m currently working on the Diamond Age, and am a few bits and pieces into several other works. I’ll have these on a separate page on the blog as well, and cross them off one at a time as I get finished with them. I’ll probably even post some thoughts and recommendations as I finish them. I still need to grab a decent piece of fantasy for the summer, and am also planning on picking up a graphic novel or two, plus some Neil Gaiman to hold my interest. I’ll be impressed if I manage to get this all finished by the end of the summer, but I’ll definitely be able to try.

I’ve got access to a great bookstore called Schuler’s in Grand Rapids when I go back. It’s got a sort of Borders/Barnes&Noble feel to it, but it’s not a chain, and subsequently doesn’t have novels like “10 Ways to become a Latino Queen” in the literature section, while Tolkein wastes in the sci-fi/fantasy section.

In any case, this is me, heading off to reach the halfway point in Diamond Age.

G’night.

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