All posts for October 2017

Kicking A Habit

A mission for the coming seasons: Read more current SF.

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2017-10-31 12:00:00 No comments

One of my big problems as a reader is finding new work to get excited about, especially in science fiction and fantasy. I tend to wait a few years for things to shake themselves out before diving in, because way too much of what's blasted out onto shelves just doesn't seem worth the trouble. (An easy rule of thumb: Almost anything with a major book award attached to it can be safely skipped with minimal FOMO.) But at the end of the day, the responsibility for just flipping up my nose remains squarely on me.

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Tags: authors reading science fiction

Give No F**ks But Plenty Of Damns

How not to let self-determination turn into a mission to merely offend.

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2017-10-29 22:00:00 No comments

The title of this post is hoisted from something I saw in passing on Twitter. I don't spend a lot of time there; my idea of "interacting" with Twitter is opening it long enough to deal with whatever I can only deal with through its interface and then getting the hell out before it eats me alive. But Twitter has a way of forcing you to notice a whole month's worth of gossip in two minutes, and one of the things that did catch my eye on the way out last time was a post with that text in it: give no f**ks, but plenty of damns.

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Tags: creativity motivation psychology

The Discomfort Zone

Ta-Nehisi Coates is not here to make you smile, so stop asking him.

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2017-10-28 12:00:00 No comments

One of the more troubling things I've seen lately is the number of people, all of whom really should know better, trying to get Ta-Nehisi Coates to act as if he needs to stop being such a Negative Nehisi (couldn't resist, sorry) about things. I cannot think of any discernible reason to do this other than to silence him.

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Tags: Ta-Nehisi Coates history racism

A Passionate Mediocrity

On an author with a worldview that is more arrested development than substance.

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2017-10-27 23:00:00 No comments

Everyone who reads has, I'm sure, a cadre of authors they get hooked on when young, and who in time turn out to be valuable not because of what they wrote but because of how you learned to outgrow them. Not in the sense of a Dr. Seuss book being baby stuff (and let's face it, Geisel was writing for all ages, not just the playpen set), but in the sense of an author with a worldview that is more arrested development than substance. They are what I call "passionate mediocrities" — people who may have great technical skill or some great, thumping ambition at work, but it's all in the service of a sense of life that is minimally nuanced.

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Tags: Charles Bukowski Henry Miller William S. Burroughs talent writers

Methods For The Radness

"Whatever works" is not the same as "anything goes", and other insights.

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2017-10-22 12:00:00 No comments

A Writer's Life: Method To Your Radness - Steven Savage

You have to actively look to understand what methods of writing work for you. I don’t care if it’s exactly like mine or something I think is ridiculous; if it works, for you and good works get made, fine. As long as it’s not unethical, go for it. Being a writer means actively understanding what helps you write better. Take the time to review methods, study theories, and try stuff out. In time, you’ll get better – possibly in ways you never expected.

All this reminded me of something. I dug back into some old notes and found a few pointers that seem relevant here.

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Tags: creativity discipline writers writing

A Reason, Not An Excuse

Creative motives matter.

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2017-10-21 12:00:00 No comments

At one point in an interview, David Fincher talks about how he wanted "a reason to make a movie, not an excuse to make a movie."

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Tags: David Fincher creativity movies

Ignorance Of Others Can Be Bliss

“You have to worry about your own work and ignore what everyone else is doing.”

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2017-10-20 12:00:00 No comments

Feynman’s Breakthrough, Disregard Others! | Steps & Leaps

Feynman virtually dove across the room to show me the notepad on which he’d been anxiously doodling while I read. There he had written one word, which he had proceeded to illuminate with drawings, as if he were working on some elaborate medieval manuscript. The word was “Disregard!”

“That’s what I’d forgotten!” he shouted (in the middle of the night). “You have to worry about your own work and ignore what everyone else is doing.”

Richard Feynman always struck me as a good model to emulate, both for his humility and good humor and for his best practices. I've written before about his habit of keeping crucial things in the back of the mind and letting them bubble up as needed to stimulate inspiration on crucial projects. But I like this bit of advice as well. Worth drilling into, since it also seems easy to misinterpret.

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Tags: Richard Feynman creativity psychology

A Workspace Of One's Own

A few notes about creator's personal voodoo.

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2017-10-19 12:00:00 No comments

Philip Pullman (His Dark Materials et al.) apparently has some ritual sorcery associated with his writing routine:

Arranged on [his] desk are various objects of mystical significance. “I write more easily, more comfortably, with less anxiety if I’ve got my various magic bits on the table,” he said. The magic bits consist of a piece of scientific apparatus used in the search for dark matter, a magnifying glass and his “special pen.” Pullman has three special pens — Montblanc ballpoints — one in his study, one in his bag and one on the table downstairs for letter writing and signing books that people bring to his door (“which sometimes happens”). There is special paper, too: “I started ‘His Dark Materials’ on the sort of paper you could get 30 years ago, A4, narrow-lined, with two holes. Then they started making paper with four holes, and I discovered I couldn’t write on that.” He acknowledged with a brief apologetic glance the lunacy of this statement.

Most writers, and most creative types in general, have some degree of personal mysticism or fetishism (not in the erotic sense) associated with their work. That inspired me to look around and take some notes about what I cling to and insist on in this workspace:

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Tags: creativity writers writing

No Laughing Matter

On the devolution of Zen into a bad joke.

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2017-10-18 12:00:00 No comments

I mentioned back during my discussion of Zen And Dinking Around With Bikes And Stuff how one of the things I hated about the book was how, almost without trying, it trivialized Zen in particular and Buddhism generally. I don't blame the book specifically for that. It's more like the book was one manifestation, one of the most obvious ones to be sure, of the way Zen and Buddhism have been turned into bad jokes.

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Tags: Buddhism Zen religion

If You Really Cared About This ...

Why the morality-play view of personal responsibility is bogus.

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2017-10-16 12:00:00 No comments

Recruiting for privilege – Tobbe Gyllebring – Medium

THERE’S NOTHING WRONG WITH WRITING CODE OUTSIDE OF WORK. But I no longer consider it, by far, a reasonable expectation in a hiring context. What changed? I came to realize that a expectation of sustained free labour was a horrible criterion. It dawned on me that it’s ideas like this one that’s responsible for much of the mess we’re in. I’ve now come to view that view as symptomatic for the brokenness of tech. So what do I think follow from that expectation? It excludes anyone not in various ways privileged enough to have substantial free time that can be spent practicing or contributing, for free. That excludes a whole lot of people that aren’t young and from fairly well off backgrounds. It excludes those with other hobbies and/or families. It’s an expectation that essentially forces emotional and household labour to be taken up by a significant other. What seems like selecting for “passion” ends up being selecting for privilege. ...

What the meme of the midnight oil burning, all-night-pushing ever productive coder ought to signal, apart from being a reflection of our love for lone hero mythology, is that many environments are not conducive to learning, does not provide a challenge. It’s also virtue signalling, it’s taking what’s actually a joyous delight and trying to frame it as something moral. ...

True passion then prioritize self-care, knowing that it’s consistent effort over time that matters. Not that spikes of furious effort and heroics aren’t useful. They are, and at times they’re necessary. But passion gets up each morning, goes to work and realizes that the journey continues tomorrow. Passion arrives rested. Passion takes the long view.

First emphasis theirs; second and third emphases mine.

Among the many pieces of advice given to aspiring creatives, one of the most annoying is the idea that only people who care about their chosen creative thing above all else in their lives will find success in it. This isn't advice; it's an incarnation of survivor's bias.

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Tags: creativity creators psychology society sociology

Captains Of Our Souls

“The premise is not ‘I have you what you need, let me give it to you.’ It’s ‘You have what you need and we’ll find it.’”

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2017-10-15 12:00:00 No comments

This piece is worth an end-to-end read, but I want to chomp out these bits and focus on them.

The scientists persuading terrorists to spill their secrets | News | The Guardian

... Miller argued that counsellors were having precisely the wrong kind of conversation with their clients. Addicts were caught between a desire to change and a desire to maintain their habit. As soon as they felt themselves being judged or instructed, they produced all the reasons they did not want to change. That isn’t a pathology, Miller argued, it’s human nature: the more we feel someone trying to persuade us to do something, the more we dwell on the reasons we should not. By insisting on change, the counsellor was making himself feel better, while reinforcing the addict’s determination to carry on. ...

Implicit in Miller and Rollnick’s critique of traditional counselling was the uncomfortable suggestion that counsellors should turn their professional gaze upon themselves and question their own instinct to dominate. Instead of thinking of himself as an expert sitting in judgment, the counsellor needed to adopt the more humble position of co-investigator. As Miller put it to me, “The premise is not ‘I have you what you need, let me give it to you.’ It’s ‘You have what you need and we’ll find it.’ The patient must feel “autonomous” – the author of their own actions.

Emphases mine.

For the first year or so when I studied Zen Buddhism in a serious way, as opposed to just reading about it, I took the time to learn about the difference between Buddhism (and Zen) as it was actually practiced vs. the pop-bullshit version of B(&Z) that everyone thought they knew. It was ... well, I was going to say enlightening, but that's the easy joke. It was sobering, is more like it.

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Tags: Buddhism Zen psychology

Other-Upsmanship, Continued

More on why "I could do that, too" is an impulse to grow past.

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2017-10-14 17:00:00 No comments

I mentioned last time how it's hard to learn how to write first and foremost for yourself, and in a way that isn't itself another form of justification-finding.

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Tags: creativity creators inspiration


I started writing, why? Because "I could do that, too."

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2017-10-14 12:00:00 No comments

It would be nice, I suppose, if I could say that I started writing because, as Hubert Selby, Jr. once said, I did not want to die having done nothing with my life. That's a motive I stole from him; when I was old enough to understand what words like that really meant, I reflected on them, and realized there was a part of me that was like that, too.

But it didn't really start there. If it started anywhere, it started because I wanted to one-up my older brother.

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Tags: creativity psychology writing

Forward Ever, Backwards Never

Who turns around and starts over in the middle of a first draft? A case study.

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2017-10-13 12:00:00 No comments

This was bold:

The Blog - Steven Savage

I got to the halfway point on “A Bridge To The Quiet Planet” and realized I had lots of notes, things I wanted to improve and tweak, and so on. In general I wanted to “tune up” what I had and improve my plot outline. So I did something kind of ambitious: I decided to review the entire first half of the book scene by scene, both adding and rewriting, as well as fleshing out the plot outline.

I don't normally recommend doing this, but the key word here is "normally".

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Tags: rewriting writers writing

I Just Can't Help Myself

"Good films are made, because the person behind the camera had to make them."

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2017-10-12 23:00:00 No comments

Martin Scorsese on Rotten Tomatoes, Box Office Obsession and Why 'Mother!' Was Misjudged (Guest Column) | Hollywood Reporter

Good films by real filmmakers aren't made to be decoded, consumed or instantly comprehended. They're not even made to be instantly liked. They're just made, because the person behind the camera had to make them.

Emphasis mine.

Much of this piece is about Rotten Tomatoes and the way Darren Aronofsky's mother! was thrown, rather unfairly, into the RotTom trashbin. I haven't yet seen the movie, so I can't come down for or against it, but the sheer level of vitriol aimed at it makes me suspicious; it tells me most of the people who saw it simply didn't know what they were getting into. What I want to focus on, though, is the part I bolded above.

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Tags: Martin Scorsese Rotten Tomatoes creativity creators motivation

The Justice League Project(ion)

If my theories about the movie prove wrong, I can make hay from them. I've done it before.

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2017-10-09 23:00:00 No comments

I have mixed but not necessarily negative feelings about mainstream entertainments. Some of them, I enjoy tremendously without guilt or explanation (Fast & Furious); some of them, I dig things out of them that are pretty personal and that don't map to what everyone else gets from them (TRON); some of them, I just shrug off (most of the Marvel pictures). But some of them, I treat like ... how to put it? ... research projects into the way my approaches to creative things can work.

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Tags: Justice League comics creativity creators inspiration movies superheroes

Watts's It

On reading, at long last, Alan Watts's 'This Is It.'

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2017-10-08 23:00:00 No comments

Purchase on Amazon

I finally got around to reading Alan Watts's This Is It. Or maybe I should say I got around to reading it properly, since I have the nagging feeling I did read it ages ago and forgot it. I suspect any reading of such a work before I had my own experiences with Zen would have passed right through me and out the other side without leaving much of a trace. It's a short book, short enough to read all in as single sitting, as I did, but meaty enough that it inspires a lot of returning-to and reflecting-on.

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Tags: Alan Watts Buddhism Zen

Xanax For The Anxiety Of Influence

The other night, in discussion with friends of mine, it came up that most every generation of creators seems to be influenced by whatever happens to be in popular culture at the time. Previous generations were influenced by Star Trek or Star Wars; the last generation or so was influenced by the first wave of anime crashing on American shores; the current generation is surrounded by Harry Potter and now love-triangle YA dystopias.

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2017-10-07 17:00:00 No comments

The other night, in discussion with friends of mine, it came up that most every generation of creators seems to be influenced by whatever happens to be in popular culture at the time. Previous generations were influenced by Star Trek or Star Wars; the last generation or so was influenced by the first wave of anime crashing on American shores; the current generation is surrounded by Harry Potter and now love-triangle YA dystopias.

I would need to do more detective work to confirm this, but it seems about right. What I find most important, though, is how any given generation of creators is able to take what they're surrounded by and transcend it. It's easy to create something in the mold of what you and your audience were reared on, but most of the time the end result is self-limiting and forgettable. It's far harder to look around, ask "What is everyone not doing and why?", and come up with a memorable response.

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Tags: creativity creators influences

Science Fiction Repair Shop: I've Seen Things You People Wouldn't Believe!

On 'Blade Runner 2049': All these moments in time must be kept, like tears from the rain.

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2017-10-06 23:00:00 No comments

Purchase on Amazon

When I first heard word that a sequel to Blade Runner was in the offing, I rolled my eyes. The book sequels to Philip K. Dick's own Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? had been ... passable, I guess (if nothing else, K.W. Jeter mimed Dick's writing style with unnerving precision), but I always felt there was no particular reason to try and follow up something that was sui generis.

I didn't want a sequel to Blade Runner. I wanted something entirely new that would provide the same electric jolt as the original.

But we got a sequel anyway. And, to my surprise, the decisions made with it along the way began to turn my head.

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Tags: Blade Runner Denis Villeneuve Philip K. Dick Science Fiction Repair Shop movies science fiction

Grindhouse Vs. Arthouse Vs. My House

On schlock being useful without the love of it becoming its own snobbism.

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2017-10-03 23:00:00 No comments

My Stephen King problem -

Serious, sensible critics sometimes come to the defense of schlocky, splashily violent blockbuster sorts of novels (and films) — the kind of “entertainment” that, as the film critic Pauline Kael put it, has “plenty of plot but no meanings” — on the theory that we all (even intellectuals who make their living writing criticism) need an escape from life (or from thinking). Much slack is cut for the somewhat better samples of schlock. (“If the story moves,” Arthur Krystal says in a recent New Yorker piece about genre fiction, we’ll forgive everything else that may be weak or bad.) It will even be said (if not by critics, then by the money behind the schlock) that some second-rate piece of writing (or moviemaking) has more “life” in it than any number of “ambitious” high-modernist books of fiction. This is absurd — as if “life” consisted of production values or hokey premises or unearned, happy endings — but for those of us who believe that we have developed antibodies to schlock, it is useful to remember that we may sometimes err on the other side, praising certain pieces of high-modernist writing that are actually boring.

Emphasis mine.

Most bad work, and a good deal of successful if middlebrow work, is fairly quaking with life, but it's life of the kind that we only recognize as life because we have no patience for the real thing. The usual comeback to such an observation is that art and entertainment aren't meant to be the "real thing"; they're meant to be fiction, invention, fantasy, larger than the life that gives rise to them.

Fine. But there's more than one way to be larger than life, and the more positive examples of that we have to draw on, the better. The more starting points, the more endpoints, as long as the endpoints are on higher ground.

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Tags: art criticism critics entertainment

Where's The Rest Of Me?

Me, minus a little of my mouth.

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2017-10-01 12:00:00 No comments

This is the first time I've had a tooth extracted, and so while I wasn't sure what to expect, I figured it would be an unpleasant experience. In that sense I was absolutely not let down, as even under anesthesia, feeling them tinkering away inside your mouth is creepy and weird. A day later, I'm still sore, although the "nesbit" (the little plastic piece they provided for me to put in place of the missing tooth) is actually more a source of soreness now than the actual extraction site.

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Tags: psychology real life

See previous posts from September 2017

See future posts from November 2017