Beyond The Pale

OEF XVIII Begin

One of my great goals during this deployment was to get back into the blogosphere. Nearly two months into the deployment, and not having yet written an entry, it’s time to get started if I want to make anything happen along those lines. For once, I have a couple of good reasons for not having started back up writing, such as lack of internet access and new emphasis on OPSEC along with some violations within the unit’s wife community that has caused enough backlash to make me want to steer clear of anything that could cause hiccups, at least until my promotion goes through two months ago. Yes, apparently we can time travel in the military, but I’ll discuss that in a later post once everything has been resolved.
Part of the issue is that I have been legitimately busy. Last year, anything that I didn’t do was the result of being lazy. This year, at least so far, because of where I’m currently located, I’m able to spend a lot of time setting up training and making contacts that will help me as the deployment continues, and I’ve been taking advantage of those opportunities because I don’t know when I’ll find myself sitting in a mud hut somewhere in the middle of a minefield with no hope of leaving there until October. Maurice Lednicky used to say, “The opportunity of a lifetime must be seized during the lifetime of the opportunity,” and while I didn’t agree with much that he said, it’s certainly true that the work that I can do now, if I don’t get it done within the next several weeks, will never happen at all.
So yeah, I’m busy. But everyone I know besides Aria is always busy. That’s part of the modern condition. Primitives had all the free time they wanted and no food; we have all the food we want and no time to enjoy it. But we always make time for the things that we find important. People who don’t have time for their family, but have time for a fantasy football league are probably saying more about their priorities than they are about their schedule. And I’m sure that Poor Scribbler, Linden Mueller, and All the Blessed Things all have just as hectic of lives as I do.
But what have I been prioritizing? Well, even though it hasn’t been making it into the ever so important blogosphere, I’ve been writing pretty much constantly. I’m on volume four of those big black journals that my meatspace friends see me carrying around all the time, and I’ve noticed a significant increase of production since about a month before Aria showed up, though that’s been tapering back just a little bit lately because I don’t like to write in that journal in the rain. I’m also learning to play the guitar. I didn’t think that would have much bearing on the amount of free time in my day because back when I used to play the piano as a kid, practicing for so much as thirty minutes was literally the LONGEST time in history. Agonizing pain in the brain resulted from a single scale. I figured that if I forced myself into fifteen minutes per day of guitar practice, I’d be doing better than I had any real reason to expect, and I’d still progress, however slowly. Instead it turns out that unless I have something going on that forces me to quit, if I pick up my guitar, I’m probably not going to put it down for forty-five minutes to an hour. Who’d have thought it?
Finally, I’ve been putting in a fair amount of time into two kinds of reading. First, I’ve been catching up on the novel reading that a year long attack of “need to game” caused me to miss. I’ve cut video games almost completely out of my life, but that space filled up immediately with everything from The Forever War, to Anne of Green Gables, to A Hero of our Time, all excellent books, by the way. The second kind of reading is Spanish. I’ve been working as hard as I can to get my Spanish back up to where it should be because I know that this Seventh Group, you-live-in-Afghanistan, thing is going to end eventually, and then I’ll still be expected to hold proficiency in my language. It turns out it’s a good thing I’ve been doing this, but I’ll have to explain why in my next post.
So this post isn’t really for readers. It’s for me. It’s my way of telling myself to get to work on the things that are being forgotten, and to keep at it on the things that I’ve been doing well on.

February 28, 2012 Posted by | Army, Censorship, Uncategorized | | 4 Comments

On Solitude, An Image of a Mind at Rest

To those of you who read my blog regularly, I owe an apology for the recent spate of poetry. I get the poetry bug like many people get the flu, which my roommate is currently fighting, and I promise that as long as I stay away from any mood regulating drugs or strong drink, it will pass quickly, allowing me to get back to my slow-history of life as a weird kid in a weird family, leaving nothing, perhaps, besides a dark stain on the sheets from where I’ve had to sweat out the built up toxins of life. Alas.

I’ve been hearing my voice ever so clearly for the last couple of days, and I’ve come to the most narcissistic of realizations: I’m my own muse in the dark. When I divorce myself from all the other voices, from Stephenson and Foster, from Arrenofsky, from Plato, from Blue October and Snow Patrol, I begin to feel the tide of other’s words receding from the shore of my mind, and I leave my notebook up on the dunes and creep down along the beach to pick through the detritus, the flotsam and jetsam, the seaweed, the slowly suffocating sea urchins to see what treasures those waves of voice have left in the sand of my mind. But this tide plain is long and flat, like the fields surrounding Mont Saint Michelle, and as I find myself alone on this quickly drying desert, I’m presented with a decision. I can chase the retreating tide, looking for ever more precious jewels cast up from the depths of time, or I can turn to stare up into the mountains and listen, for the first time in weeks, to the sound of the wind and the birds in the trees.

I turn inward and begin picking my way back toward my leather bound journal, its pages turning in the wind, gathering tiny quarts and obsidian sand bits in its binding, which will cause me all kinds of trouble making ink stick to page, but will also give the book a heft that I will choose to think of as character, and I begin to hear a different movement of water, not the pounding of wave after wave of great thinkers on my mind, but the trickling of my own thought coming down in small rivulets from the mountains. These are the streams that have been flowing unheard, untasted all along. It’s a sound that I must chase with quiet serenity lest it be lost in the racket.

I pick up my journal in passing and kick off my sandals, seeking this sound of my thinking like I seek the feeling of dry sand between my toes until I find myself sanding in the cold water of the stream of internal monologue, and I dip my hands into the water, think better of such an approach and fall on my knees, burying my face, eyes open in the liquid crystal. I taste such sweetness. Taste my own thoughts, belonging to no other. Rising from this cleansing, this refreshing, I wade to the bank where the roots of a Beech tree have been eroded around to provide the perfect hammock seat, and I open my journal, blowing dust from a blank page.

I uncap my pen and begin to write.

November 1, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Running, A New Book Idea

I’m back. Suffice it to say that I’ve had a dirty month. This morning (12 October) I took my second shower since the last time that I updated this site, and it was wonderful. During the last month, I’ve spent a lot of time writing, reading, and thinking. Most of what I’ve been writing, I’m not going to post on here until I get back to the states because it was immediately autobiographical and needs time to stew for perspective. My thoughts, on the other hand, are available for immediate discussion, but it’ll take a while to unpack them. In the last month, my I’ve rambled the mental gamut of physics, ontology, eschatology, scatology (lots of that), political science, critical theory, buggery, creativity, theology, perspective, my own personal need to practice book reviews, sophistry, aesthetics, and why processed sugar tastes so unreasonably good. Rather than just upend this suitcase of issues, and make a mess in the process, I’m going to go about taking each piece out of my bag and placing it in its place on the shelf in an orderly manner, which my wife will attest is far from my typical cleaning method.

Imagine my surprise when I got back from my business trip—ahem—and, to continue the metaphor, I found a bit of laundry on the floor before I got around to even unlatching the fasteners on my suitcase of ideas. Specifically, I actually have an idea for a book, of a type that I had decided that I wouldn’t ever write because I’ve lost some respect for the genre over the last several years. P.T. Anderson has William H. Macy’s character in Magnolia say “We might be through with the past, but the past isn’t through with us.” Well, I might be through with Science Fiction, but maybe Science Fiction isn’t through with me.

Enough equivocating. The morning that I got back, I was out running around the compound, listening to the introductory minutes of my audiobook of Dan Simmons’, Hyperion, when Josh Tarsky went riding past me on his Hond (a cheap Pakistani knockoff of Honda) motorcycle. I waved.

“Gotta love it,” came his response, one of two favorites, the other of which isn’t appropriate for a blog that my parents read (Hi Mom!). I chuckled and thought of the daily ritual Josh and I had for the last month-plus. I’d jump off of the roof where I slept, and say good morning. He’d raise his eyebrows.

“Well, I think there’s one thing we can all agree on,” he’d say. “Morale is low.”

My morale wasn’t low, and I don’t think that his was either. After all, we didn’t have to deal with the inconvenience of toilets, showers, or beds. My hygiene consisted of daily brushing my teeth with filtered water and occasionally rubbing a bar of dial on my face, armpits, and hair before sticking my head under the water of a hand-pumped well. I was never really clear on if this left me cleaner than I started, however, because the general consensus was that the well was about the same depth as the hole that we used as a toilet. If I’d have forgotten my toothbrush, I’d have been as happy as a pig in muck.

Thinking along these lines, I rounded the first corner of the compound and saw Josh perched on the top of a burm, trying to start his bike. As I ran by, I asked him if he needed any help.

“No help.” He hollered between ineffectual kicks of the starter. “I just need a manclass on how to ride a motorcycle.”

Josh has a degree in theater from Yale, so of course the only thing that keeps him from being the biggest fag Uncle Sam has ever had the misfortune to employ is the fact that he is married, and that only counts for so much (If you can’t see my tongue planted firmly in my cheek with this entire sentence, don’t bother commenting, just go read someone else). Thus, Josh receives daily manclasses from other guys on his team, everything from naming constellations to motorcycle lessons to exhortations to kill any non-republicans or small mammals in sight. Just so you know: men don’t drink cappuccino, neither have they ever worn Birkenstocks or dreadlocks.

As I passed the burm where Josh was rabidly cursing out his motorcycle, I realized that I had been listening to my audiobook for almost a quarter of an hour, and I had no idea of a single word that had been said. I would have to start over, so I reached into my pocket and pulled out my Zune. In the time between pulling my Zune from my pocket and hitting the stop button, I had the entire plot of a science fiction novel come to my mind with enough detail and character development that I could immediately start working on it and let the details fill themselves in when I needed them. I have no idea if that is how it normally happens or not.

Fifteen minutes later, I stopped my audiobook at the same place that I had stopped it before. I would have to listen to that first quarter hour a third time before I ever figured out what was going on, though when I finally did, I would realize that those first fifteen minutes where pointless, either a poor introduction or a poor reader—probably why I had trouble with them in the first place.

I find myself with a conundrum. Separate as I am from other writers and the people I used to share fiction with, I have no clear vision of what I should do with this story—aside from writing it. In the last five days (16 October. Yes, you just experienced real-life time travel while reading the last 900 words), I’ve written approximately forty pages worth of exposition of characters, universe, and plot, and I’m far from running out of steam, though I don’t relish the work of transferring that material from my paper journal (everyone should have one, if only to give their grandkids the difficult decision of trying to decide what to do with volume and volume of painstakingly crafted detritus after their expiration). I find I’m at a loss as to what to do. My mom is useless (Sorry Mom, I’m your literary blindspot) because she thinks that whatever I poop out and smear on the page is just wonderful, as is my wife, who has impeccable taste but absolutely no willingness to criticize. Jonathan, my dearest friend, is an excellent evaluator of prose and poetry, but his experience with science fiction is meager (this stems from his having wasted his time reading real literature—bah!).

I’m stuck weighing in the balance the options of either making my work much less publishable because it has been posted on my blog as I write it or making it much less publishable because it sucks from lack of intelligent criticism. My current inclination: wait and see. I haven’t finished my first chapter yet, let alone I first draft, though I’m pretty pleased with how it’s coming along. I think I’ll know what to do with it when it’s ready for me to do something with it.

By the time I got back around to where Josh was fighting, and losing, with his motorcycle, I was starting to wonder when blood was going to start spraying from my lungs and thinking something along the lines of the last paragraph, only with “word” in the place of “chapter” and “chapter” in the place of “draft,” but I was happy with the muse stroking my brainstem (kinda tickles) and couldn’t wait to get back and get to work.

“Hey Josh,” I called. “Everything ok? You want me to push start that thing for you?”

“No. I’ll get it.” He replied. “You’ve got to admit though: morale is pretty low”

October 16, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Yet Another New Blog.

I’m starting yet another blog.

Why? Why would I put myself through this yet again? Why give myself the guilt of having a blog and not actually posting anything on it, even though there is no reason for guilt because there usually aren’t any readers?

Well, I’m reading yet another book by Malcolm Gladwell. This one is called The Outliers, and  of course I was immediately intrigued when Kaitlyn suggested that I read it because I have been fascinated by the title “outlier” ever since the first time that I read Cold Mountain sometime in 2005.

I believe that I live on the outskirts, the fringe of society in many ways. I don’t know if this has always been true, but I guess I have always perceived myself as an outsider, and if I wasn’t, then I wanted to be. This is why I was drawn to the humanities, an undervalued discipline full of socially awkward people who don’t usually feel like they have a very functional place in the modern university (even if they feel like their part should be more important than most).

Gladwell takes a different approach in his book than I have in my thinking. When he talks about the outlier, he talks about the hyper-successful, the ones like Bill Gates or Steve Jobs, professional Hockey players. I’m sure he would have talked about Michael Phelps if the book had been written a little later. The primary question is: where do people like this come from?

I’m only a little ways into the book, but Gladwell is already settling into a holding pattern around one basic idea: they practice a lot. According to Gladwell, the difference between the best and those who are only average is simply the number of hours that they have put in. Revolutionary isn’t it? I was looking for some panacea, some cure to the miasma that I fall into as a writer, and his response is, ” why don’t you just get to work?”

I always objected to Steven King’s comment in his book On Writing where he said that if you don’t have 4 hours a day to dedicate to writing and another 4 hours to dedicate to reading, then you shouldn’t even bother trying to be a writer, and I still do, but in the light of Outliers, even if the quantification isn’t valid, maybe the principle behind it is.

I needed this reminder as a writer because I easily get frustrated with my inability to make a certain story come out the way that I see it in my head, and I quit writing for a while. Gladwell says that an Outlier is created essentially by a magic number, the number 10,000. This is the number of hours of practice that it takes to make the best of the best in whatever, from Ice Hockey to computer programing to…writing. Every time that I get frustrated and don’t write a story for a couple of months, every time that I get distracted from working on a paper and instead spend the evening watching movies or surfing the Internet, every time that I take a couple of days off from writing in my journal, I cost myself precious time that I can’t afford to waste. If I were to write for 2 hours a night, 5 nights a week, it would take me 20 years to reach that magic number. I don’t think that it would be productive to time every bit of writing that I do, but I do think that it bears keeping in mind that writing, just as anything else, is a skill that only develops with time.

February 20, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment