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2009.04.10 identity crisis*:

* "Crisis" is definitely overstating it a bit, but nevertheless…

Earlier tonight, I told an old friend that "I couldn't be happier with where my life has led," and, of course, that is true. What i've been struggling with the last few years has been the "where."

In high school, i wanted nothing more than to start my own business, be my own boss, stay in the hick town where I grew up and be a "computer consultant" (whatever the hell that means.) I knew that I would a) be awesome at it, and b) be totally happy with my life. Instead—when i realized my father's brain would melt and my mother's heart would flop right out of her chest if I didn't—i went to college.

In college, i met some awesome creative people, broke out of my mold, and made sweeping plans for taking over the world with the most profound art, music, and literature the world had ever seen, together with this band of misfit geniuses in whom I'd found a family.

Then the 'net happened and I found another niche. I was going to carry this empire of sight, sound, and word into the year 2000, and become the best damned webmaster this side of the Mississippi. I was going to shift paradigms, set trends, and lead the denizens of the 'net to the next level. Not that I could see what that next level was yet, but that was my plan.

Luckily, I landed a job that let me do the only thing that I'd really want to sit still long enough to get paid for. Unfortunately, i discovered that it wasn't always possible to innovate on a deadline, for the kind of clients a high priced web firm dealt with. That, and I didn't have the base skills to really push the envelope. I was, after all, entirely self-taught.

As technology progressed, I collected plans and hoarded them for "when I had time." My work, psycho ex-girlfriends, the internet, and my plans themselves sapped my energy to the point where little got done. Occasionally, I'd have a burst of activity, and accomplish something neat, or push a pet project a little farther up the hill. Then I'd go back to the news feeds, or the game of Dune, or whatever.

I was going to be a first-rate poet, the next Kerouac, a top notch photographer, a musician, a publisher, a record producer, a freelance web guru, a gallery owner, a coffee shop owner… the list goes on.

It's taken me a few years, but slowly, I've realized that I can't do it all. And those grandiose plans I made years ago—the empire I built on dreams—depended on that family of friends as a static, unchanging unit with infinite reserves of energy and patience. To meet my dreams, my friends would have had to stay just as they were.

What I've come to realize is not that I can't count on my friends (because I know they'll support me in whatever I choose to do), but just that my friends have their own lives, and plans, and dreams. I can't package them up into mine, any more than they can package me up into theirs.

So I have been converging on this point, where I have to figure out two things: what I want to do, and what I can do. With all these grandiose plans I've made, which are the feasible, workable notions, and which are the pipe dreams?

These were the thoughts that, late last year, and early this year, brought me to re-dedicate myself to my writing. I still have lots of plans, little things I'd like to do, but, when push comes to shove, my writing comes first. Someday, perhaps I'll be able to expand my arena again, but right now, I have to seize my opportunities and focus on a smaller set of goals.

To a certain extent, the old Coffeemonk Design Flaws empire is seeing a sunset. The name "Coffeemonk Design Flaws" was always Bob's thing anyway, and without his participation, it has long felt hollow.

I'm still working out the details in my head, but very likely, coffeemonk.com will become my writing oriented blog, and Savant-Garde Press will finally emerge from it's long stasis to stand on it's own. I'm also planning to launch a personal blog at matt.rasnake.info (eventually), and will continue to maintain bipolar as well.

This, then, is not as much an identity crisis, as it is an identity acknowledgement. This is the happiness to which my life has led me…

2009.04.09 a house is not a home – a work of flash fiction

another flash fiction story, this time a straight fiction piece. hope you enjoy.

He and Sam had lived in this house for almost 30 years—bought it when their youngest was six, and their oldest was graduating high school. They'd had lots of great times in this house, him and Sam, their three kids, their various pets and pet projects. No doubt about it, this house was well loved.

Maybe I'm not the best handyman around, Troy thought, I never quite got those shingles repaired properly, and the downspouts were always loose. But I've taken care of her, I suppose.

"Help." he said, meekly.

Yeah, it was a good house. And it's a great little neighborhood, for sure, despite those noisy planes. It just meant that they were able to get a bigger house, to fit the family a little better, and not get in over their heads with the mortgage. There was the great big backyard that the kids loved to play in. He'd built them a sandbox, a swing set, a tree house—and not from a kit either. He'd drawn up the plans, bought the lumber, cut it, drilled it, assembled it, dug it in, and made sure it was sturdy. All those things were still back there, still being used by the grandkids. Still standing, still safe.

At least… I think… are they still back there? he wondered. What was I…

"Can anybody hear…" his throat felt dry. He was a little thirsty.

Some of his buddies back at the office had tried to talk him out of it, of course. Tried to tell him he wouldn't like living that close to the airport, even if it was just a little one with only a single runway. He had assured them that it would be alright, he had it on good authority (the previous owners, and his real-estate agent) that after a while, it would hardly be noticeable. The noise would just blend into the background. Maybe that was never quite true, but it had certainly been livable. There were pretty much no flights after 9pm, and none before 6am, and that suited him pretty well. The kids hardly ever complained, and Sam never said a peep… at least, not to him. She was quite a woman, Sam. When they first moved in, the kids would play in the backyard, and she'd sit on the deck watching. She looked like a queen. A radiant vision with shoulder-length hair as black as night. It was his favorite memory of her.

Where is Sam? She should be home soon, shouldn't she? he panicked for a moment. I hope she doesn't…

"help." his voice was thin, faint.

He had actually gotten to the point where he could identify the planes flying overhead by the sound. Eventually, he'd even taken some flying lessons and gotten to know some of the private pilots there. In fact, he was pretty sure that was Chuck Kleiser he'd heard approaching the house a few minutes ago. If he was out in the backyard, he could hear the prop and engine noise, figure out exactly which plane it was, then look overhead as it passed just to confirm it. There goes that Cessna, that Piper, that Beech, that other Cessna. It was mostly the same planes, though occasionally a new one would come in, an out-of-towner here on business, or some rich youngster with his new Socata 850 or Piper Meridian. Tony didn't much care either way, but he got a kick out of the old-timers griping about the new guys with barely concealed contempt and carefully subdued envy.

Did I hear Chuck's plane? Tony struggled to remember. His engine didn't sound well.

"sam."

Of course, now some of his friends were pilots, and the planes flying overhead every day meant that those TV and newspaper reports about planes crashing, running out of fuel, not making it off the runway, bursting into flames… all those things had started to hit home—become personal. He saw a report like that and immediately wondered where Frank was tonight, or Jody. He'd look out the front window just to make sure there wasn't some giant pillar of smoke rising over the neighborhood from the direction of the runway. He'd see on TV some demolished house with a demolished plane sitting in the living room, and he'd wonder about the occupants. What were they thinking when that American Champion landed on their couch?

Need to close a window, it's too cool in here. Tony enjoyed the light shining into the house, but felt… Is that… blood?

"samantha." Tony whispered his wife's name.

He'd been doing something… what was it. He'd gotten up to… he'd gotten up to fix himself a sandwich.

But I'm not hungry. he thought.

He'd gotten up from the couch to fix himself a sandwich. That was when he'd heard Chuck's plane coming up over the neighborhood. Chuck's plane coming up, but not sounding quite right. Sounding unsteady. Then, yes, then as he was listening, hearing Chuck's plane coming up, then hearing nothing. Hearing nothing, and then… then everything. So much noise. Noise and light and dust and dark. He'd opened his eyes, and the dust had settled. That seemed strange, that the dust should settle that fast. Then there was all this blood, that certainly didn't seem right. And there, there was the nose of Chuck's plane, in his living room, crushing his couch like it was waiting for football season. He thought he saw Chuck, in his plane, but that wasn't Chuck, not really.

He looked out, where his front window had been, and he saw… he saw the huge pillar of smoke rising over the neighborhood, rising up out of his living room. He couldn't lift his head anymore, but he could see blood on his hands. He thought about his kids and how much fun they'd had in this house. He thought about Samantha on the deck, her long hair, black as night, blowing ever so slightly in the breeze. She should be home soon, but he hoped she wouldn't… wouldn't find him like this.

- 01:06 am - PL ::
categories ::  Personal Projects - Writing

 

2009.01.27 delivering resistance – a work of flash fiction:

Considering my recently renewed drive to become a productive writer, I decided, tonight, to write this piece of flash fiction—a super-short sub-1000 word complete story. It may not be terribly original, but I'm pleased with how it turned out. Also, i'm pleased I was able to knock out almost 1000 words in one two-hour stretch. Much better than the almost 1000 words I managed over the whole of the past weekend. Lastly, as you may guess from the above, this is probably roughly first-draft quality. I had the idea last night, wrote it between 10-ish pm and 12-ish am tonight, then did a 5 minute read-through and polish pass, and posted it here. I hope you enjoy it.

delivering resistance

My Pop–that's what I call my grandpa–was a mailman. Oh, he'd retired years before I was even born, but from the time I was able to sit up on my own, I'd sit at his feet and listen to him tell stories. It didn't matter what he was saying, of course, I just loved to hear him talk. As I got older, I kept asking him to tell me the same stories. I kept sitting, and he kept talking. It was always summer when we'd visit Pop, and i remember the warm tingly sun on my back as I'd sit there and listen, or lay there, playing with my toys.

About 10 years ago is when it started. I was 14, sitting at Pop's knee, listening to his stories, and Mom came in crying. She could hardly get words out.

"It's just awful!" She'd said, a look on her face like nothing I'd ever seen, like she was stuck, like she was trying to pop her ears at the top of a mountain. That was the day our government had declared martial law in the name of a foreign power. Just like that. No warning. Entire metropolitan police forces either complied and joined up, or were massacred on the spot. 15,000 officers died within 30 minutes on the eastern seaboard alone. Of course there was chaos, but the military and ex-cops detained or executed looters, protesters, and demonstrators by the hundreds, until no one who resisted was left. Or at least, no one who resisted openly.

I think that day was the last time I felt the sun.

My dad was a scientist, apparently a somewhat important one, not that I ever paid much attention. He was hardly around, and when he was, he always had his books or his papers, and a concerned look on his face. But on that day, he yanked me up from Pop's floor, and shuffled me, Mom, Pop, and my sis into our little 4-door, and drove way out in the middle of nowhere to some kind of run-down hunting cabin. There were some men inside, and they took us to a tiny little cave, which led to a series of caves, which lead to a great big cave filled to the stalactites with whirring machines blinking and steaming in the tepid air.

That night was the first night of the resistance, though plans had been in place for decades (scientists love to anticipate problems), and for the next five or six years, we lived right there in that cave. I'm not sure where the food came from, or how any of the rest of that place worked, all I know is that I hated it. Maybe that's a little too strong. I certainly liked the IDEA of living in a cave, and I loved being able to go exploring–especially once i got to go alone–but the only books we had were science books, and the only computers we had were dedicated to their specific tasks. The moms tried to setup a classroom, but we could pretty much only study math, science, and stuff they remembered or made up. There were no video games, very little music except what we could make, and not really even any girls. Well, there were three who were infants when they got there, and two who were a bit older than me, but one died of pneumonia our second year, and the other was just too annoying to be near for long. So there we were with nothing to do but schoolwork and make-believe. But Pop was there, so when he wasn't trying to make himself useful as a guinea pig or a button pusher for the scientists, he'd sit and tell me all those old stories over and over again. Sometimes, he'd make up new ones, just to keep it interesting, but I could always tell.

One day, we got word from the resistance, nothing special really, but it was one of those days I was making an effort to show interest in my dad's work, so I asked how exactly we were getting messages back and forth between groups of people who were trying as hard as we were to stay hidden.

That was when he told me about the mailmen.

I was astonished. Pop's mailmen had been gone since before i was born, a casualty of the new global economy, the internet, and the fact that, in the end, the only things being mailed were things that nobody wanted. There were still a couple major consumer-oriented package shippers, but the day of the mailman was long over. Nobody had paid to deliver something as simple as a paper-stuffed envelope in 20 years! But dad assured me that encrypted messages were being carried back and forth from enclave to enclave every night. There was a clandestine resistance postal service.

Pop's been gone now for 4 years, and the cave was apparently raided a couple years ago leaving no survivors. But since that night when I learned of the mailmen, i have been training and moving, carrying the messages of hope and news of the resistance. I know that my Pop was proud of me, 'cause he told me as much in the last letter he would ever write. And when I set out each night, to my next destination, his stories echo in my head, and I know that I will have the strength to go on, no matter the circumstance or weather–as Pop said "in snow, in rain, in heat, or gloom of night"–but never in sunlight. No, I suppose I won't ever feel that warmth again.

- 01:55 am - PL ::
categories ::  Personal Projects - Pleased/Like - Pop Culture - Writing

 

2009.01.09 concentrate:

Aside from my preternatural skills of procrastination, one of my biggest obstacles to writing is focus. Sometimes, you run across a piece of advice that speaks directly to you, and this is one of those times.

Don't research
Researching isn't writing and vice-versa. When you come to a factual matter that you could google in a matter of seconds, don't. Don't give in and look up the length of the Brooklyn Bridge, the population of Rhode Island, or the distance to the Sun. That way lies distraction — an endless click-trance that will turn your 20 minutes of composing into a half-day's idyll through the web. Instead, do what journalists do: type "TK" where your fact should go, as in "The Brooklyn bridge, all TK feet of it, sailed into the air like a kite." "TK" appears in very few English words (the one I get tripped up on is "Atkins") so a quick search through your document for "TK" will tell you whether you have any fact-checking to do afterwards. And your editor and copyeditor will recognize it if you miss it and bring it to your attention.

from a post by Cory Doctorow

I've not done much actual writing (mostly outlining and, more often, NOT outlining—see procrastination, above) but when I was attempting to write that sci-fi novel I started in 2005, I was horribly horribly derailed by researching the position of mars in the night sky, from the mountains of northern california. In my defense, it gave me dialogue i might not have otherwise had, but still… distracted! The above is great advice for countering this, which I hope I can actually put into practice.

- 04:30 pm - PL ::
categories ::  Cool Links - NaNoWriMo - Personal Projects - Pleased/Like - Writing

 

2009.01.03 windblown review:

Windblown World: The Journals of Jack Kerouac 1947-1954 Windblown World: The Journals of Jack Kerouac 1947-1954 by Jack Kerouac


My review


rating: 4 of 5 stars
It was always somewhat unclear, in the works dealing with Kerouac's life and methods, just how much he was beholden to classic literature and literary theory. The most famous story, of course, was always about the benzedrine, caffeine, and nicotine fueled three-day writing binge that resulted in "On The Road." And Kerouac himself, with his later works, and his articles and essays about writing, became a vocal proponent of "automatic" or "stream of consciousness" writing, further muddying the waters of his influences. In reading many of the biographies about Kerouac, we can get something of a feel for his abiding love of literature, and his almost reverent regard for certain writers who most inspired him.

In this book, a collection of journals–in whole and in part–taking the form of a mixture of working writing journals, and personal diary-type entries, his interests and desires are made clear.

Especially in regards to his first novel, Kerouac is keenly interested in creating a work of import and gravity, to be held among the works of his admired influences. He discusses the great efforts to maintain his momentum, and to edit and re-arrange his work. His fluctuating emotional connection to his own work sees him moving from the depths of despair that he will never be able to finish to his satisfaction, to the height of narcissistic belief that it will be a greater work than anything else in his time. This journal enlightens us to his struggles just to *be* a writer–which is a far cry from that image of Kerouac as the mindless typist cranking out words in a drug-fueled haze.

Later entries shine a light on his most famous novel "On The Road" that it rarely receives–showing "On The Road" as a careful work, which goes through several conceptual changes, not to mention numerous drafts.

Much of these journals are also notes from the journeys that actually appear in the finished novel, so we are able to see, in a way, how Kerouac captures his raw material.

These journals are a fantastic opportunity for Kerouac fans to get an internal glipmse at the reality behind the fiction we've come to love. For those who aren't fans, but who are interested in the act and art of writing–and of *creating*, in general–it is a window on the extraordinary struggles of a man attempting to leave his mark.

View all my reviews.

- 07:33 pm - PL ::
categories ::  Cool Links - Pleased/Like - Writing

 

2008.12.17 when things go bad:

Ben: bukowski, huh?
Me: sure.
Me: he's a bit fucked up.
Ben: oh yeah
Ben: but in an awesome old and shitty way
Me: hehe.
Me: yeah.

Me: basically, if something happened to sara, and i'm left a childless widower, i see that as being a possible outcome for my life.
Me: just go down that road.
Me: fuck it.
Me: lonely drunk friendless whoring writer.
Me: hm. that sounds pretty bad, actually.
Ben: yeah
Me: maybe just drunk writer.
Me: that's a little better.

- 04:50 pm - PL :: 2 Comments
categories ::  Drinking - Writing

 

2008.06.29 every little bit:

as you may remember from waaaay back in 2005, i was attempting to participate—or procrastipating—in that year's NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month "competition." i managed to get a whole 1900 words or so written (out of 50k) before the month was up.

well, i'm back in the saddle, once again trying to make some progress with this thing. i haven't made a ton of progress in the "torrential flow of words" department, but i have managed to finish the first chapter and throw down a few notes about ideas and events in the novel.

and i also managed to finally, after three years, get a basic outline hashed out for the thing.

so, i'm not going to hit my goal (set at the beginning of this week) of an additional 3000 words by monday, but i have made some progress in other areas, so i'm pretty happy.

- 02:44 am - PL :: 1 Comment
categories ::  Happy/Love - NaNoWriMo - Personal Projects - Writing

 

2005.11.15 posterity & procrastination:

in the interests of complete and total procrastination on the novel-writing front (2640 words), i have undertaken a massive clean-up operation here on bipolar. at least, on my side of things. i've changed the permalinks to link to the individual post pages, rather than the monthly pages, and i've gone through every single one of my old posts to bring them in line with some of the better ways i've figured out to do things since we started. javascript new window links are now "accessible" (which just means they should work for people *without* javascript as well), all self-referential links point to individual post pages instead of monthlies with a hash anchor.

i've found quite a few dead links, and have started treating them in a standardized way (when i can't find a replacement or updated link)…

oh, and the big thing… all those posts in the "Old Posts" category from before we moved to movable type have now been gone through and assigned actual relevant categories. "Old Posts" (is/are) no more!

i also did a little jimmy'ing with the categories page, so now the categories are sized (and weighted) a little more sensibly.

the last thing i need to do is go through each post and hunt for linkrot. i've done a little already, but i've skipped around a bunch, so i'm sure there are more to be found.

all that stuff, and i've set up a new machine at home and installed SuSE linux on it. too many toys, too little time!

now, let's see if i can procrastinate on my procrastinating and get some work on on that novel…

2005.11.09 prologue:

The firelight flickered in Mel's eyes as she lay looking up at the stars. There had been a few moments in Old John's life with Mel in which he truly understood what it meant to be a father–to be responsible and proud. Seeing Mel like this, her face awash in contentment, warmth, and love; and remembering all his struggles to help her to this point in her life, he felt proud, not just of her, but of himself. Daniel gently stroked her hair as she leaned back against him, his back on his backpack, supported by the large boulder near which they had pitched their tents.

That Daniel was here at all was a secret pleasure for John. Daniel's work took him away from Mel so often, it seemed to John the two spent more time apart than they did together. And with the child on the way, John worried–too much, as she often told him–about Mel being alone without Daniel's assistance at the ready. Mel was headstrong and could take care of herself, he never questioned that fact, but knowing her abundant resourcefulness and self-sufficiency did little to ease his mind. But now, they were together–relaxing and enjoying each other's company, and John was just glad that he was still able to play his part in her life.

John raised his arm and pointed a finger to the night sky. "Mars." he said, "Look there, just above and to the right of that tree. It's just crossing Pisces–see those four bright objects there, like a 'v' with an extra dot on the right." He saw they were looking, saw the lines around their eyes relax when they'd found it–or when they'd given up. Either was fine, really, he was just talking to make noise.

"It's amazing to think that there are actually people living there now. A family, no less." Old John had been following the CNSEA effort to "colonize" Mars when it was big news a year ago after the family's capsule had touched down and immediately gone dark.

"Families have been living on the moon for almost a decade now, John, it's not like it's THAT big a deal." Mel's smirk betrayed her intentions.

Read the rest of this entry »

- 01:08 am - PL ::
categories ::  NaNoWriMo - Personal Projects - Writing

 

2005.11.05 NaNoWriMo:

Not even going to attempt to explain the long hiatus. Needless to say, time is a precious commodity, and one must prioritize one's life.

Now however, i have thrown priority, precaution, and most things of a precious nature to the wind and decided to attempt participation in NaNoWriMo–National Novel Writing Month. Thus far, four days into it, i have a grand total of 82 words written.
**Update: 968 words as of 11/7 — 1 week in, just under 1/50th of the way there.**
**Update 2: 1359 words as of 11/8 — I'll post the prologue soon.**
**Update 3: 1840 words as of 11/8 — prologue posted**

I tried to do some leg-work prior to the start of this thing, and the result is a potentially unfortunate predictor of the remainder of the month. I did some work on a character sketch (yes, "A", meaning singular), but didn't quite get it finished. It did help me to think through and flesh out some of the backstory for this character, as well as some of his supporting cast, but the actual fiction portion remains incomplete.

Nevertheless, i thought i might post it to solicit feedback, and to wade on into the water by telling the world at large (i.e. those three obsessed readers who still persist in checking bipolar on a weekly basis) what i'm up to. Perhaps if i wade straight in rather than continuing to dangle my toes, it'll help pressure me into making some real progress.

Anyway, without further ado, here's the unfinished character sketch:

 

Old John Hoffstead was a fat little man with a generally pleasant disposition. Right now, however, Old John's brow was creased, and his outstretched arm was waggling a finger in the air.

"Young lady, you get down from there before you hurt yourself!"

A petite blonde with an almost comically round belly glared down at him from the top step of a 4-foot step ladder.

"John, seriously. I'm not a baby, and I'm not an invalid. I'm here to work, and I'm going to work, and you're going to just have to get used to that."

John lowered his finger, and his hand rested on his waist.

"I know that Mel, I just wish you'd be a little more careful, is all. It's not good for a woman in your condition to be exerting herself too much, or putting herself in danger. Why, my June, when she was carrying our 2nd, climbed up on a step-stool at home and nearly broke her damn neck. Damn near lost the baby too."

"But, she didn't do either. We women and these little parasites are a little more resilient than you apparently give us credit for."

Mel handed down the item she'd grabbed off the top shelf, and carefully made her way down the ladder, taking the hand John offered.

"Oh, I grant that you ladies can be pretty tough, but little babies are still pretty fragile… unless that really is just a big rubber ball you've got under there like some of the cashiers have been saying." He winked at her.

Read the rest of this entry »


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