Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013: Year in Review

For those interested, here's a look back at my writerly-related 2013.

Books

The following are the books, or plays, I finished reading, or rereading, in 2013, 25 in total. I was hoping for thirty, but I greatly surpassed my goal for short stories and that makes up for the books, I think - and I was finishing up my master's thesis! Some of the books were read for school, some for pleasure. Some books I read this year that I didn't finish and so are not listed. (Underlined is my favorite book of the year. I wrote a post about the "experience.")

Exodus (Bible)
Origin of Species by Darwin
Maggie: A Girl of the Streets by Crane
My Ántonia by Cather
The Great Gatsby by Fitzgerald
The Crying of Lot 49 by Pynchon
The Sun Also Rises by Hemingway
Dispatches by Herr
Billy Budd by Melville
Beneto Cereno by Melville
Red-Burn by Melville
Moby-Dick by Melville
Murder in Amsterdam by Buruma
Choice Theory by Glasser
Norwegian Wood by Murakami
Hamlet by Shakespeare
I, Robot by Asimov
Leviticus (Bible)
How We Decide by Lehrer
Macbeth by Shakespeare
Animal Farm by Orwell
Kokoro by Sōseki
To the Lighthouse by Woolf
Middle Passage by Johnson
The Word for World is Forest by Le Guin
A Scanner Darkly by Dick

Stories


I greatly exceeded my number goal for stories this year: 30. However, being how most were for school, by classmates, I won't list them. Instead, the following are the other stories, or famous papers/letters, I read, or reread, this year, about 21. (Favorite story, obviously doesn't include non-fiction, is underlined.)


"Computing Machinery and Intelligence" by Turing
"Beautiful Boys" by Goss
"Pale Horse, Pale Rider" by Porter
"Cock-a-Doodle-Doo" by Melville
"Letter from Birmingham Jail" by King
"Nightfall" by Asimov
"Ceiling" by Adechie
"Refuge" by Stumacher
"Robbie" by Asimov (I, Robot)
"Runaround" by Asimov (I, Robot)
"Follow that Rabbit" by Asimov (I, Robot)
"Reason" by Asimov (I, Robot)
"Liar" by Asimov (I, Robot)
"Little Lost Robot" by Asimov (I, Robot)
"Escape" by Asimov (I, Robot)
"The Evitable Conflict" by Asimov (I, Robot)
"Mastiff" by Oates
"Coming Sun. Mon. Tues." by Delillo
"The Adjustment Team" by Dick
"The King of Norway" by Oz
"Town of Birds" by Monley


Writing

I wrote a lot poems. In fact, I recently self-published a chapbook containing nineteen previously unpublished poems entitled Remember Me like This. I wrote several stories. Currently, there are two under consideration by editors. One recently got accepted. And still others need revising, thanks to the comments received in workshop my last semester. I'm still working on my first novel. I will have a completed forth draft this year and who knows? In addition, I have a second novel I've already written the first quarter of (the first draft).

Readings

I did one reading, my first, this year. It was for Say What! Productions. It was a great experience. Another classmate (not former classmate) was there reading, too, coincidentally. I read my story "I Love You More," which is a rather creepy story about a guy who loves his mom, inspired by a news article. Everyone seemed to have liked it. "Haunting" was a word I heard a lot. 

Predictions

For fun, I like to do this and demonstrate how, sometimes, just guessing works. I do this in honor of the SGU, who promote skepticism.

Last year's predictions:
  • Celebrity death (old): Clint Eastwood
  • Celebrity death (young): Seth Green
Both are still alive, unfortunately. :( That means I was wrong twice.
  • Realistic prediction: Another substantial terrorist attack in Europe
  • Unrealistic prediction: Absolute war between the US and Iran.

Luckily, I was wrong about the second one. Actually, we are moving closer to peace as of late, which has certain Republicans really upset. As for the first prediction, unluckily, I was right. The recent terrorist attacks in Volgograd, Russia confirm this. (Volgograd is west of the Ural Mountains, which traditionally separates Europe from Asia.)

Final score: 1 out of 4. Given how people tend to remember hits and forget misses, I think I did really well.

This Year

I want to read at least forty books.

I want to read at least thirty stories.

I want to do well in the GRE Literature test.

I want to write a fourth draft of my first novel. Finish at least two stories. Write, say, at least half a dozen poems. Maybe a complete draft of my second novel. Then explode like Murakami unto the literary scene with the publication of my novels!!

Predictions:
  • Celebrity death (realistic): Miley Cyrus 
  • Celebrity death (unrealistic): Chuck Norris (unrealistic because, really, he can never die)
  • General prediction (realistic): Worst hurricane-caused disaster (in monetary terms) ever (because global warming is real!)
  • General prediction (unrealistic): Obama tells the American people that the current doings of the NSA are unconstitutional and ensures that measures are put in place to prevent suspicion-less surveillance on everyone (phone calls, texts, email, Web searches, Web use in general, you name it). Oh, and he stops spying on world leaders.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Publication: Remember Me like This

So I published via Amazon KDP a chapbook containing 19 previously unpublished poems, called Remember Me like This. It's free for Prime members. The first few poems are free. It's my first book. It really obsesses over death, which might be weird considering I'm relatively young, still in my twenties. But because of personal problems and a hermetic habit, I've been looking at writing a lot more like living beyond my years. Michelangelo said something like, I've wasted my youth on these stones. Yes, but those stones extend your life. All writing is a epitaph of the author.


Thursday, December 12, 2013

Post-Semester Post: Fall 2013

I. Am. Done. Actually, it felt like I was done as soon as the final week came. But I soldiered on. And now, today, I can say I am done! I have finished all my work. I have handed in my mater's thesis. I feel like celebrating. Of course, there's still much work to do. A chapbook to publish. A novella, as well. Some stories. And a new novel to write. I'm studying for the GRE Subject Test. I need to apply to get my PhD. I need to apply for a teaching job. A lot of stuff. But I must celebrate. Somehow. Don't know yet.

Fiction Workshop

I submitted a version of my story "Imitating Life," which actually needs more work than I'd hoped. It's a story about my particular alienation as a light-skinned Hispanic estranged from his Hispanic culture. I also submitted two experimental pieces: "Island" and "Chosen," one about science and the other about religion, respectively. They're short, so I did them together. The feedback is always awesome and overwhelming. There's so much to fix that I question whether I can do it. But I've learned not to worry about perfection. I CAN NEVER MAKE A PERFECT STORY! This should be the mantra of every writer. Stop trying to write perfection. Do your best. Rewrite and rewrite and rewrite. Take your time. But I don't think a story is ever "finished"; it's let go, and you move on, as in life.

Past, Present, and Future

A very cool class focusing on how time is used in narrative. We've read a couple of SF pieces and everyone wrote their own SF piece. Really, just great stuff. I'm stunned at how many good writers there are at CCNY - and really, by extension, there must be in the world. I submitted an excerpt from my new novel (an introductory story and three chapters), nicknamed Alternatives, inspired by I, Robot in a sense. People really liked it and I'm very hopeful about where I can take it. Out of all my attempts at writing a novel, this one has come along the easiest and most natural, #WriterGrowth. I'm guarding details about it, obviously, sorry.

Thesis

So my thesis is a combination of my novella (the third draft), codename Notorious, and the excerpt of my new novel, nicknamed Alternatives. Altogether it's about 115 pages or so. Both things I wrote entirely within those two years at City. And they would not have been possible without everything that I've learned. It might sound cheesy, but the MFA experience has taught me a lot about writing - I've really grown and matured as a writer. I've learned why I write. My stories, all my stories now, mean something special to me. And as far as craft is concerned, while there is always room for improvement, I feel like, just by looking at my writing at the beginning of the semester, I've improved immensely.



Now, I'm on my own, as it must be for my kind, the writer specimen. Everything I write is primarily for me. I hope you enjoy it, but I'm very selfish. Life is short. I write what I like and feel I should write, and I hope you take something away from my experience/philosophy written into narrative. But if you don't, and I know I did my best and that it means a lot to me, well, then I don't care. This is, I think, how we should live regarding what others think of us. When we write or experience life, we explore ourselves, and there is no end to that journey but death. So we must endeavor to honesty explore ourselves (whatever your method) along the journey because "the unexamined life is not worth living."

Monday, October 21, 2013

#29

I had a birthday not long ago. I haven't forgotten. But I'd like to write something here. So here goes.

How about what I've learned and/or how I've changed over the course of a year.

I've learned one important thing, certainly: living for the future means not living now. Often, especially given a difficult situation, we put things off. For instance, a lot of people want to be rich or have a lot of money so they live meagerly lives in the present, afraid to spend any money. OK, having grown up poor, some of that applies to me. But, you know, you only live once (YOLO, mother f-ers!), and you should really focus most of your energy into enjoying the present because, really, it's all we have. Neural scientists talk about how we live in a 3-second bubble of "now." That is, we aren't living so much in a continuum as we think, but rather are changing all the time, which makes sense because I (now) would probably slap myself at 16, say, for the stupid stuff I did and said and wore (I was goth, for a while - in the Bronx).

This brings me to another point: appreciate what you have. It's an old, simple concept. But the way our brains work is that we often compare ourselves unfavorably with those who have more than we do, which is called relative depravation. It explains why rich people don't think they're rich or why, despite having so much more than others, they're miserable and want even more money. Look, seriously, there are people being killed, tortured (say in Gitmo, many of whom we, the US gov't have declared innocent), harassed. People are living in war-torn countries. Woman are raped and then bullied about it (such as with the Maryville rape case). There are people born with conditions and/or diseases that make their lives incomplete or inherently unjust, such as with quadriplegics or those with Progeria syndrome). You're life is probably not that bad. Instead of those movie stars or celebrities that have so much, why not compare yourself with the average of your socioeconomic status? Better yet, think about those with less and be thankful, if not for your own sake, then for theirs.

Also focus on yourself. That is, make sure that your number one priority in life is not others, though admirable, but yourself. My argument is that no one else has your best interest at heart at all times. (That's true for most people, I think.) You are the one who has to make sure you're happy and healthy. No one gives a fuck if you're going through a hard time. If you act in a negative way to a situation because you had a hard day, no one is going to know or care. No one is obliged to think about you when you are not around.


And lastly, I don't want to make this too long: be happy. I think that's our purpose in life. It's short and then you grow old and die. It's important to learn things and to do good and help others. But again, if you don't make it a priority to be happy, no one else will endeavor to make you happy all the time (if you're most people). Besides, life is hard and when you are happier, you make better decisions, and therefore live a better life.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

An Embarrassing Moment

When I was little (about ten), my dad took me to the pool. I remember being the only light-skinned person there. I was a very shy kid and kept to myself. Then as I was getting out of the pool, my underwear (yes, I was wearing underwear at the time) was showing. A girl saw it and immediately started making fun of me; I had forgotten I'd chosen for that day to wear the Power Rangers underwear.

"Ha, ha!" that bitch said. "He's wearing Power Rangers underwear!" She pointed and laughed and tried to get everyone to notice. I was beyond embarrassed but pretended not to hear. That was impossible. I might have ran out of there, but then this kid said, "So what? I like Power Rangers." (I was a couple years older, so, for them, Power Rangers wasn't uncool yet.) I played it off like there was no big deal. So we made her look like the weird one!

Lesson: plan your underwear very carefully. (It actually wasn't the first time people saw my Power Rangers underwear. Apparently, I really liked it.)

Sunday, September 1, 2013

The Syrian Question


Assad's regime has been massacring its people since March of 2011. The US government is making the case that, indeed, Assad's regime has used chemical weapons against his own people (which have long-lasting health effects). (However, the government has been wrong about this sort of thing before.)

Some say don't interfere. It's an Arab thing. It doesn't concern us. I disagree. When innocent people are being massacred by their own government, it's a humanitarian issue - i.e., a human issue. This is our planet. We are humans. And I don't think we should allow senseless killing to occur against innocent people.

Of course, it isn't that simple. Quite sensibly, several countries are anxious and resistant to the idea of US intervention. We have been known to interfere with foreign politics (elections, governments, coups, etc) in the past, to say the least. Furthermore, invading Middle Eastern countries tends not to work out for us in the long run - or for the indigenous peoples.

But we cannot simply watch while innocent people are slaughtered. That is out of the question. The question is what do we do?

Unilateral action, the US acting alone, I wouldn't recommend. I do not believe the US, even as arguably the strongest military power on earth, is the world's policeman. I do believe foreign nations' sovereignty should be respected and we should not interfere with their governance or try to pick and choose who we want to rule other countries, as we've done. However, something, obviously, should be done. The problem with going it alone is that it's not our place. It is not our sole responsibility. We all, as humans, share in the responsibility of helping those who can't help themselves when we can do something about it.

Bilateral action is what I'd recommend, a collective action, involving several nations, that demonstrates the transcendence of this issue beyond politics or imperialism. If this can be done through the UN, great. If through some other union or alliance of nations, that's great, also.

But what exactly should we do?

Diplomacy is certainly preferred to violence, but I remember wondering, watching Kofi Annan talking with Assad, before Annan had to resign as special envoy to Syria because of the futility, what they were talking about. I mean, how exactly are you supposed to talk a brutal dictator out of massacring his own people? "Um, Mr. Assad, could you please stop killing your people?" "No, thanks."

Sanctions are a good start. Economic sanctions (such as those employed by the EU early on) I think, are the best way to persuade dictators. Morals may not move them, but money likely will. (They tend to live pretty lavishly, after all.) If the sanctions are significant enough, involving as many nations as possible (preferably with Russia and China) and being immediate and serious, we might see some attempt at being reasonable on the brutal regime's part. Otherwise, power concedes nothing.

But what if the killing continues? Then we need to gradually escalate the seriousness of our collective action. People are being killed. There is no time to waste. The sanctions ideally would become more severe until they reach their limits of usefulness.

Military action would have to be taken if, after exhausting all peaceful methods, people are still being killed. I also think this should be done on a gradual scale of increasing intensity. A no-fly zone is a good place to start at. Then, if that doesn't work, possibly arming the rebels. (The US promise of arms has yet to reach the rebels.) Then air strikes. And if all else fails, which I don't think would happen, troops on the ground. We must protect the innocent if we protect anyone. (However, the rebels themselves have been accused of wrongdoings.)

We need a precedent, a plan of action when these things occur. This is not about Iran. It's about innocence. We cannot afford to wait while innocent people are being massacred, especially when chemical weapons or weapons of mass destruction are being used. We also need the courage to commit to such action.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Nothing from Something


The universe has always existed. At least, that's the sole logical conclusion I came to after having watched the 2013 Isaac Asimov Memorial Debate, which was about nothing, no really; the subtitle is The Existence of Nothing.

I'm not going to go over the details of the debate. That's not what I want to talk about. I want to talk about how I came to this conclusion.

Much of the debate, or a substantial portion of it, involved journalist Jim Holt (Why Does the World Exist?) debating with physics professor Lawrence Krauss (A Universe from Nothing) about what nothing is. Really. Or more accurately, as Krauss put it, what something is. We understand nothing, basically; it no thing, not even space or time or atoms. But then there are some arguable "things": such as the structure of empty space or the laws of physics or fluctuating energy such as in quantum particles. Holt was unsatisfied with any of the propositions of nothing given, and Krauss provided three so-called flavors of nothing. Holt just doesn't believe nothing, as defined by the physicist, could have created the universe because there was still always something in all of the theoretical nothings: be it energy or random fluctuations that birthed the universe.

And I have to agree - philosophically. Nothing has no potential. It never changes. It can never change. It cannot really be imaged. (Panelist J. Richard Gott, astrophysical sciences professor, described it as the indescribable "thing" behind your head that you can't see and has no shape.) In fact, nothing, I think, is merely a philosophical idea. The opposite of everything. We can try (if to a limited degree) to imagine it. But we don't know whether it has ever existed, whether or not it's real.

And yet if it has, it still must exist. It's timeless. And nothing can affect it because there is nothing to affect.

Let me try other words. If nothing has no potential, we can never get something from nothing. The universe would have nothing from which to be birthed. There would be no laws or energy or random existence of anything. (My idea of nothing does not allow for random genesis for no reason; even biological mutation depends upon cosmic rays from the sun, as I understand it.)

So if we were never nothing, we have always been something; the universe must have always existed. The original idea was called steady state theory, which Einstein, among others, handily demolished by scientifically supporting its opposing theory: the big bang. (I'm not actually arguing against the big bang. That would be stupid and unscientific and better left to the anti-evolution people. What I'm saying is that whatever process generated the big bang, ultimately, it is timeless. This is not in contradiction, actually, with string theory, which suggests that there could be a multiverse where genesis happens all the time and has been happening since, well, always.)

But the idea of the universe always existing is mind-boggling, to say the least. I can't really understand that. And it's a bit disturbing. How can things always exist, even if its an endless cycle of birth and death? But perhaps this is better than believing in something from nothing.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Pre-Semester Post: Fall 2013

Last semester! I actually find myself somewhat sad. A part of me wishes that this thing we call the MFA program would last a lifetime because, really, learning to write takes a lifetime. Cliched, I know, but true. And it will be a while before I get to teach creative writing!

I'm taking three classes.

Past, Present, and Future

Really cool because this is the first time the professor is teaching the course. This experimental course is a critical practice, essentially part lit class and part workshop. We'll read two "historical" books and two science fiction books and some steampunk stories (see reading list below). The course, like steampunk, examines how we look at time from our own temporal (or present day) lenses.

We'll read five books and write one short story or novel excerpt and critique those of others.

Here's the reading list:

- To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
- Middle Passage by Charles Johnson
- The Word for World is Forest by Ursula K. Le Guin
- A Scanner Darkly by Philip K. Dick
- The Mammoth Book of Steampunk edited by Sean Wallace

Fiction Workshop

I took a fiction workshop my first semester and I thought it would be fit to take one my last semester and gauge how much I've improved. I already know I've learned a lot because I've looked at my bad writing from when I came into the program. People were being really nice when critiquing me!

Unfortunately, I didn't get to finish some pieces I planned to write during the summer. I wished to have more newer stories. I only finished one new story, I think - due to a new novel in progress. Luckily, I have a lot of stories, though.

Thesis Tutorial

So the requirement is basically 150 pages of a substantial work of fiction. I unfortunately chose to write something that is a bit short, so I'll have to write another short novel and combine the two to meet the requirement.

All this is a lot of work! I'm scared and excited, as always, before the start of the semester.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

How to Live in a Post-Privacy World

Ignorance is bliss, they say. Perhaps that's the best way to deal with our loss of privacy, which many of us had already known about but Edward Snowden's revelations confirmed. Sure, you can pretend that no one is watching you, that the US government is full of "good guys" who would never take advantage of such previously classified programs as PRISM or X-KEYSCORE, programs that record virtually everything you do when using a phone or computer. (Apparently, Obama, as stated in his recent press conference on topic, was going to reveal all of this to us eventually. It's just that Snowden did it before he got the chance.) But it's kind of hard to ignore the revelations - think about every phone conversation you've ever had or Web site you've ever visited or Google search you've ever made or picture you've ever taken with your phone or email you've ever written (sent or not) or ...

But maybe you trust the government. Howard Dean recently said in an interview with Breaking the Set that he trusts Obama with the NSA surveillance program more than he would Bush. I would, too. But why do I have to trust the government, again? Aren't there supposed to be checks and balances so that we don't have to trust the government? Well, proponents of warrantless mass spying by the government against its own people argue: if we don't give up all of our privacy and invite the government into our living rooms and bedrooms and chatrooms, we'll suffer more terrorists attacks. They ask: do you want privacy or safety?

Both, please. It's a false argument. Sure, giving up all our privacy would make us safer from terrorists attacks, hypothetically. (Though, in reality, they are more likely to make us less safe since they create a haystack of irrelevant information the government has to comb through to find the proverbial needle. No one here is arguing against focused, purposeful, lawful [i.e., with a warrant] surveillance against suspects. After all, that's what the Fourth Amendment says.) But I suspect we don't have to give up all of our privacy to stay safe. Many say that they, the extremists, hate us because of our freedoms. If the government takes them away, then don't the extremists win?

But at least the mass espionage is not illegal. The secret Federal Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) has to grant warrants to NSA officials who want to examine the content of an individual's data. And how many times has FISC turned down a warrant request: 11 out of 33,949 (33 years)! Or 0 in the last three years (out of 4,976)! (Source.) No check. No balance. Just power.

But they're not looking at the content. They're just recording, just in case one of the 200 million or so Americans is a terrorist. But if it's being recorded, then all it takes is a perfunctory warrant request.

But I'm not doing anything wrong - I have nothing to hide! So? This tool can be used against political opponents or just people some people don't like just as it can be used against alleged terrorists. Snowden covered this in his interview with Glenn Greenwald. Anyone, given the plethora of information that is recorded, can create a false narrative of anyone (with some creativity). Using your "virtual you," you can be made out into a racist, a pedophile, a sexual harasser, gay, a thief, someone who hates his family, etc. It's all about leverage. That's how the spy game is played. If "they" get something on you that you don't want out, that's called leverage. And we all make mistakes (i.e., do embarrassing things we wouldn't want others to know). But in some cases you don't even need to do something embarrassing, let alone something illegal because with this technology one could easily give the impression of wrongdoing by combining the data from different mediums and from different times and, as Snowden put it, "derive suspicion from an innocent life."

How do you live in a post-privacy world? You don't. The trick is not to find yourself in one. Snowden said, "I don't want to live in a world where everything that I say, everything I do, everyone I talk to, every expression of creativity, or love, or friendship is recorded." I don't either. But all hope is not lost. Congress came within 7 votes of limiting the NSA's surveillance program, the program most of Congress had no idea existed. Considering the self-preserving instinct of Congressmen not to oppose the establishment and that many were bribed by the defense industry, I think that's pretty damn good and a hopeful sign.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Writerly Update: 8/2013

Here's a quick update to keep my loyal fans, Noguereros (if they exist, I'll call them this), happy and informed:

Short Novels

I have recently finished the third draft of a short novel, which I'll call Notorious for reference purposes. It's part memoir, part roman a clef - about the harassment I've faced at the hands of some truly sad individuals who call themselves cops. This novel will form part of my master's thesis. Unfortunately, it's a bit short and I'll need another long fiction piece to comprise the required 150p-length.

Therefore, I've started to plot a short novel (I really tend to write shorter works, but it's early and, who knows, it might develop into a novel). I'm calling it Solutions for now. It's about the upcoming technological singularity. Perhaps I've been reading too much Kurzweil. I've been doing a lot of research, unfortunately. (My research philosophy is: do as little of it as possible; it gets in the way of the story.) I don't want to give away too much. And it's early. I'll just say that, at some point, a nuke may go off.

Chapbook

I'm putting together a poetry chapbook, which I'm calling Remember (working title). I actually have to prepare for the upcoming semester, which will be my last. So this is a bit of a distraction. However, I have about 18 poems I want to group together. They cover life, death, forgetting, and remembering. They're honest and mean a lot to me. I care more about meaning than language.

Poems and Stories

I finished a draft of a story called "Cry" (working title), which was fun to write. It's my first work of fantasy (as opposed to SF) and comments, to say the least, on religion.

I've sent out numerous poems and a few stories throughout the summer but editors aren't picking them (so I haven't published anything this year despite putting out way more, and better quality material, than last year, in which I published two stories and poem, my firsts). I'm doing and will continue to do my best - that's all I can do.

I have some other stories either drafted or ready for the upcoming semester, in which I will be taking a fiction workshop, work on my thesis, and take a Critical Practice course on steampunk/SF. That's what I'm focusing on mostly.

Reading

I will be doing a reading in September. But it has yet to be announced and I'm unsure of the appropriate "etiquette" in this case, so I will say no more - except it will be in New York and I will read my short story "I Love You More" (unpublished), about an unlucky man who loves his mom, maybe too much. I may do a few more readings this year.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Top 5 Reasons Why Bob Beckel Is Fucking Nuts

Sometimes crazy/stupid people on TV just make us feel so damn better about ourselves, and sometimes they make us feel embarrassed to be human. Bob Beckel is more of the latter kind.

Here are the top five reasons, with the pertinent links to the videos (clink on numbers), Bob Beckel is full on crazy:

1. Wants to cut off student visas (but reasonably says only temporarily) for people who come from Muslim countries (even though he admitted that most Muslim probably don't want to commit acts of terror!).
2. Is against capital punishment but, on TV, called on the gov't to "illegally kill" Julian Assange.
3. Said Obama is "the greatest economic president since FDR.
4. Said that rape doesn't happen on college campuses.
5. He calls himself a liberal.

To his credit, though, I think he's on the right side on the NSA scandal, consistent with his views under the Bush administration. It was weird to listen to him and agree. He's not Ann Coulter crazy.

Friday, July 5, 2013

On Trying and Failing to Write Novels

I've written before about my experiences, really my difficulties, with learning my writing identity, or what writing means to me. I'm still not sure exactly. It means expressing myself in ways that are difficult in person, living beyond death, leaving something behind, and giving others the pseudo-experience we get from reading fiction that often has more insight than actual life.

I've tried and failed several times to write something I imagined would become a novel.

11 yo

The first book I remember trying to write was a murder mystery game book at age 11 or so. It was a complete ripoff of the movie Clue but was also a game book so you can choose which suspects to follow, etc. I'd recently read a game book and loved it. I wrote the story out in a black-and-white marbled notebook I kept with me at all times. I wrote and drew in such notebooks. I had a ceaseless imagination. I still do. But, alas, those notebooks, I had many, were lost to time and I have no proof I ever made such an endeavor. You'll just have to believe me!

20 yo

Around this age I remember reawakening the idea of writing I'd lost for, well, a decade. It was a silly thing called Nightmare of the Apocalypse. About a girl falling in love with a vampire, unknowingly of course. Now that I think about it, that bitch Stephanie Meyer stole my idea! Anyway, the girl has a nightmare of the world ending, a premonition, that precedes a battle between Satan and God. When you're young and know shit about writing and watch a lot of TV, this is what you write. It was long and I strived to make it longer. I wasted pages upon pages describing room decor and crap like that. Luckily, my computer crashed and I lost this work.

24 yo

The next one I'll call Island. A half-baked SF novel about a group of people who find themselves stranded on the same ship and on the lamb. Some are enemies, lovers, etc. Set in the future, of course. I wrote 25,000 words of this damn thing, still the longest thing I have. It was a New Year's resolution. Well, before the year was over, I luckily realized it sucks. Every now and then I think about reviving it, but for now and the foreseeable future this stays in my "failed" folder (subset of "FICTION" folder).

26 yo

Then there's what I'll call Guardian. A novel about the human response to the technological singularity, long predicted by futurists. This is the time when machines become smarter than we are and what happens next. I wrote it before my MFA experience and now I can appreciate how bad it is. It has good qualities, too (it's pretty funny), but I'm glad it's unpublished. I don't know if I'll resurrect this piece, but if I do, it will have a radically different vision.

So that leaves me with no novels published! I'm working on that. (Like my FB page to get updates.)

What I learned about all these "failures" is, sometimes you change your mind. Hopefully, you grow as a writer. Even though I didn't publish any of these and some were lost or left unfinished, they mark my growth. I've realized that time spent writing is my time. Being a writer is very selfish, actually. Because most of one's time is spent cherishing the self through expression and imagination. If you write for others, good for you. But I write for me. If no one sees what I write, it doesn't take away the time I spent discovering who I am and have become. Maybe someone will see someday.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

On Hastings and Snowden

The problem with the "surveillance state," a term Michael Hastings used, and one in which, given the current NSA scandal, is that even if Michael Hastings' premature death wasn't a conspiracy, and I don't think it's absurd to use the term when discussing the FBI or CIA, if you know the history of these organizations (Chile, anyone?), you're liable to wonder if it was. I mean, when we have to really stop and contemplate whether or not our government secretly murders an American citizen while he's driving, we are in a bad way! It's like being in a relationship where you suspect your partner is cheating. If you don't trust your parter, you probably shouldn't be dating him/her. (Advice for all the girls asking, "Should I leave him?") However, our relationship with our government is not as easy to break - to say the least.

I don't know if he was assassinated or not. We know he stated shortly before his death in an email that the FBI was investigating him, though they have recently denied so doing. (Read more about the conspiracy theory here. Also, please note, conspiracies do happen. Read the email here.) I don't think the FBI, for instance, is beyond killing American citizens without a trail. (Our government has done that a number of times using drones.)  A more obvious assassination is likely the shooting of the Chechen immigrant linked to one of the Boston bombing suspects on May 22. (Law enforcement officials revealed the suspect was unarmed and the victim's father makes a great point that "there was no reason a handful of trained officers could not subdue a lone young man without killing him," cited from here. But don't worry, the FBI is investigating the FBI.)

But that's not the point. The point is it's difficult today not to be fearful and/or suspecting of the government if you are a reporter or just a regular person, knowing they have your whole life essentially recorded and all it takes is for you to (knowingly or unknowingly) piss off the wrong person who has access to your "book" in the "library" of data the NSA collects from everyone. Edward Snowden, the NSA whistleblower, made a brilliant point in his Hong Kong interview. It's an opinion I've shared for quite some time. To paraphrase, it does not matter whether or not you have done or will do anything wrong. The people who say "I have nothing to hide" do not understand the power of the government with regards to this "library." Everyone has something to hide. It's called being human. Even if we don't do anything wrong, there are some things that we, nevertheless, don't want everyone to know. That's why we all (OK, most) take a shit with the door closed. And say you're Jesus and haven't done anything wrong. It is not difficult to imagine how a false narrative may be created. It is not difficult to, say, make you out into a racist because of some stupid joke years ago or make you look like you're cheating on your significant other by having a phone call or email to a past lover or current friend taken out of context.

This deception can be used against whistleblowers, journalists, or even political opponents. If there are no checks and balances to this immense power, then, since power is corrupting, it is very likely, I'd say absolutely certain, it will happen. (Obama, and others, have stated that a warrant is necessary for the NSA to access a specific person's "book," his/her life online. However, in 33 years, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court has denied only 11 surveillance requests of 33,900. (Read more about this here.) More simply, there is no check to the NSA's power! That is what should scare you shitless. If it doesn't, I'm afraid you don't understand. That is not to say that we should live in fear, only that we can't help it.

The reason why Hastings and Snowden did what they did, oppose who they felt were tyrants, their own government, is that they wanted to encourage public discourse; "the public needs to decide whether these policies are right or wrong," Snowden stated. Everyone would have to agree, I would think, that it's hard to decide whether or not you agree with what your government is doing (regarding your privacy or killing Americans or unidentified people abroad, say) if you don't know.

So I think to show support to and solidarity with these brave men, your job is to talk and think and when you have something to say, say it. And, lawfully, "stand up and fight to change things."

Friday, June 21, 2013

What/How I Read, 3.0

Welcome to the third installment of What/How I Read! As stated in previous posts, I don't like to read one thing at a time but rather read multiple books (e-books, book books, fiction, non-fiction, etc) according to categories. These categories, the number of them, and how many books I read per category are always subject to change, either because I've discovered a better way (hopefully) or life circumstances have changed and changing my reading habits has become necessary.

You can compare my first and second reading posts to see how I have evolved, transhuman in the making!

Literary Fiction: Kokoro by Natsume Sōseki

I nice book so far. Very simple, direct language. I'm a fan of Japanese lit, Japanese culture/history/language really.

Genre Fiction: I, Robot by Isaac Asimov

Not as good as I'd hoped. But written a very long time ago. I consider this research for something I'm thinking of writing.

Philosophy/Science: The Singularity Is Near by Raymond Kurzweil (a long book!)

Endlessly fascinating, though I'm starting to doubt Kurzweil, as brilliant as he is, is sane.

Self-Help: How We Decide by Jonah Lehrer

Self-help books have improved the quality of my life. I am a fan! This one is as practical as you can get. It's about making decisions - that's all life is really about!

Other: Bible by ? (a long book! I stopped reading this for some time but now plan on finishing it)

A little boring.

Then there's biweekly readings. These are in addition to the weekly reading above; and they alternate so that every week I'm reading from one of the two lists:

Week 1:

  • My Read Later folder on Instapaper
  • A read later pile I have of magazines, handouts, etc


Week 2:

  • Google News articles
  • An alternating choice between: digital subscriptions and short anthologies
  • A few pages from a writing book; currently reading: The Craft & Business of Writing edited by Lauren Mosko


As you can tell, I'm still reading some books even from a couple of years ago. From these, I've been reading a few pages at a time.

You can also check out my Goodreads page and friend!

Friday, June 14, 2013

On "Experiencing" Murakami's Norwegian Wood

WARNING: SPOILERS!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Murakami has stated in an interview, sorry can't remember where and am paraphrasing, that he can't relate to people who only read books, not experience them. Fitting, because this is how I felt reading Norwegian Wood (2000; the translation since I can't, yet, read Japanese).

I think the first person narrative, which Murakami is proficient in, helps the novel be more immersive, for obvious reasons, as opposed to third person. But really I struggle to articulate why NW was more an experience than a read.

Certainly, the characters are all realistic, interesting, and quirky: Toru, Naoko, Midori, Nagasawa, Hitsume, and, especially at the end, Reiko. (Kizuki isn't really developed for an obvious reason - he dies in the beginning.) My favs: Midori (as a reader), Naoko (as a writer).

I really wanted Toru to be with Naoko in the end. Apparently, according to this Paris Review interview, I'm in the minority. Toru was in love with Naoko, and while he later falls for Midori (he "chooses Midori," as Murakami states in the interview), honestly, I don't buy it - in the sense that I don't think his feelings are equal with those he felt for Naoko, which he displays and explicitly describes throughout the novel. Midori is nice (sensual, outgoing - really all that Naoko isn't), but Naoko is who Toru fell hard for and for whom he obsesses over. (Let's also not forget that Toru could easily masturbate thinking about Naoko but could not when thinking about Midori.)

But I think also the focus on human relationships and concerns (death, friendship, love) helped me experience the novel.

On the negative side, I think Toru, especially when interacting with others, is too passive, not showing much, if any, emotion. I found myself often surprised when he showed an emotion or preference when talking with others because I wasn't getting that sense at all from him.

Most memorably, and most symptomatic of experiencing the novel, I found myself crying in bed thinking about Naoko's death, the helplessness of Toru. Poor Naoko suffers for the entire book, trying to heal, trying to love, and then Toru falls for someone else and she kills herself, never to be "violated" again. I felt horrible, really. And that's when I realized I was taking this book way too seriously.

Definitely a great book, gave it five stars on Goodreads for the straightforward writing, human concerns, great characters, and one very sad experience. In fact, I'm not sure if I forgive Murakami yet for killing that poor girl Naoko.

Favorite quotes from the book:

"I want you always to remember me. Will you remember that I existed, and that I stood next to you here like this?"

"Don't feel sorry for yourself. Only assholes do that."

"'How much do you love me?' / 'Enough to melt all the tigers in the world to butter.'"


Saturday, June 8, 2013

Poem: 26 / You Exist


26 / You Exist

I confess
you exist
I don’t always let you know
sorry
I’d like to forget
you smoke
I breathe
you chase
I live
we’re meant to be
you decide
when I’ve served my time
you can
you know
I can’t
hide
fight back
treat you
like you
don’t matter
detain you
enforce my will
for a change
take you away
like you do
too many
I wish I could
teach you
shame
make you
realize
you were never really here