All posts for February 2018


Typing With Both Fists

On blogging while angry.

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2018-02-27 22:00:00 No comments


It's hard not to, it really is. In the morning, I pour coffee, log into my computer, and the first thing that greets my glazballs on the screen is appalling stupidity and corruption and political disgrace that hasn't been seen in this country since the years of the Teapot Dome and Tammany Hall. And my impulse is to ball my fists and write thousands of words about the burning handbasket we're now in.

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Tags: politics society

The Royal We And The Singular I

On what we do with the discovery that we're not things, but processes.

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2018-02-26 13:00:00 No comments


Deric's MindBlog: Our microbiome challenges our concept of self.

Microbiome science has the exciting––the important––potential to catalyze the breakdown of the anachronistic barriers between the natural and the human sciences and enable a truly integrated understanding of what it means to be human, after the illusion of the bounded, individual self. The human is more than the human.

That blurb is rather hyperbolic — the blog post around it less so — but the core idea is worthy of mulling over.

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Tags: Buddhism personality philosophy psychology science

I Am A Rock, I Am An Island

People aren't flowers, of the hothouse variety or otherwise, and neither are artists.

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2018-02-25 01:00:00 No comments


How Fiction Authors Write – Evgeny Volohin – Medium

My writer friend often says: “I want to move to Switzerland, live in a small village near the snow-covered Alps and do the only thing — write my books”. Later he usually adds: “It is because I can’t write in this country, I feel absolutely no inspiration here”.

... The truth is that if you really want you can write and create whenever and wherever. ... You are nothing as an author unless you can write beyond the greenhouse conditions.

Emphasis mine. I really like this term, "greenhouse conditions"; the image summoned to mind is of delicate flowers that can't bloom except under the most rigidly controlled circumstances. But people aren't flowers, of the hothouse variety or otherwise, and neither are artists, and we need to not let that delusion perpetuate itself.

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Tags: artists creativity creators inspiration

The Characters Who Don't Do Anything

Don't write stories about "people waiting for their lives to begin."

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2018-02-21 22:00:00 No comments


I had two different writing professors in college. One was far more direct and practical — do this, don't do that. The other was more freeform and gentle — what happens if we do this? (The latter was the one who introduced me to Peter Elbow's Writing Without Teachers.) I think — although I'm not totally positive about this, so forgive me if I've attributed this to the wrong person — it was the first of the two who offered us the following piece of advice: Don't write stories about "people waiting for their lives to begin." And if you see similar wording on the jacket copy of a book, run.

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Tags: characters writers writing

The Critic-Proof Story

Spoiler: It doesn't exist.

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2018-02-18 18:00:00 No comments


There's this tendency, one I don't yet have a word for, that I've noticed in myself and in other writers — one that's hard not to succumb to, but worth resisting to some degree. It's the tendency to try and make everything in a story watertight, at the expense of also making it overblown and exhausting..

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Tags: audiences readers writers writing

Doomed To Repeat It

In re Parkland.

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2018-02-17 13:00:00 No comments


For two straight days I have opened up a blank blog entry and tried to say something about the Parkland shooting that was not just tearful gloom or white-nosed rage.

But it always came down to one of those two things, because we have been here before, literally hundreds of times, and the scenery is never any different. A lonely, angry guy (typically a white guy) kills a bunch of people with an all-too-readily obtained arsenal of weapons. People grieve, and make sensible and constructive suggestions, and it's all swept under a rug of Thoughts And Prayers and "this is not the time to politicize this tragedy" and all the rest of the comfortless thought-terminating nonsense that is always trotted out in the wake of one of these incidents.

Because, really, what else is there to say? Even the most rudimentary of common-sense measures, like not letting obviously deranged or violent people acquire massively destructive weaponry, never makes it out of committee for one idiot reason or another, or is pooh-poohed for being unworkable, and so it happens again. People cling against all evidence to the contrary to the romanticized idea that more weapons automatically means a safer world, and so it happens again.

You see why I don't choose to talk about this much. It just leaves me furious and drained, and most everyone already has their mind made up about it, and whatever they hear from me about it isn't going to get them to budge — if anything, it's just going to make them all the more resistant. And in the end I can't think of anything that hasn't been said endlessly elsewhere anyway. But you at least deserve to know where I stand on all this.

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Tags: society violence

Movies: The Lift

A dopey dud: a mix of satire and horror that doesn't manage to be either funny or scary.

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2018-02-15 13:00:00 No comments


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"Take the stairs, take the stairs, for god's sake take the stairs!!" begged the tagline on the posters for the Dutch cult movie The Lift. In theory, this horror-comedy about killer elevators should have been fun. I like it when movies use wit and ingenuity to compensate for small budgets, especially when they're products of a country with tiny domestic film industries. Problem is, the movie doesn't know whether it wants to be a) a droll, cheeky satire of horror movies, or b) the real thing. Like the victims in the movie itself, it ends up stuck between floors.

Somewhere in the Netherlands, there's a fourteen-story commercial office building that recently had its elevators renovated. Unfortunately, they're starting to act a little flaky, as in the opening scenes where a quartet of drunken revelers from the restaurant on the top floor almost suffocate when the elevator breaks down between floors. In comes elevator repairman Felix (Huub Stapel), who peers into the wiring and doesn't see anything askew.

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Tags: Huub Stapel Netherlands comedy horror movies review

Walkabout, Workabout

"...if we think of “done” as a point we navigate towards, tacking here and there, we can embrace change."

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2018-02-13 22:00:00 No comments


Agile Creativity - Principle #2: Embracing Change - Steven Savage

... we have to accept that many of our ideas of “done” are often the enemy. We think something is “almost done” and is thus a solid thing, immutable, unchangeable. When a change comes it offends our sensibilities of “done.” But, if we think of “done” as a point we navigate towards, tacking here and there, we can embrace change. That late change means it becomes “done better.” By accepting “done” isn’t as solid as we’d like, we can find ways for the actual “final” product to be more what the customer wants.

Emphasis mine.

The point Steve is making in this piece, and especially in the above passage, complements a metaphor I've used often for how working on a book can unfold: the open-ended road trip.

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Tags: Agile creativity plotting writers writing

The Attention Thieves

Boredom's not a burden anyone should bear.

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2018-02-12 13:00:00 No comments


There’s a war for your attention. And you’re probably losing it. - Vox

Today, boredom is an option. To the extent that boredom is a lack of stimulation, we have cured it, and this isn’t necessarily a good thing. If you can endure boredom, you can devote yourself to deep and serious projects. If you can’t endure boredom, how do you write a book or enter into reflection?

Some of the "war for attention" discussed in the piece revolves around things like advertising, but also encompasses social media, which has been turned by its creators into an attention thief — the better to monetize you.

One of the boons of practicing meditation is that you become far more conscious of when you're "just spacing out" — sitting there idly scrolling or clicking with no specific purpose in mind. You educate yourself forcefully in the flavor of this feeling, and so you become all the more aware of indulging in it. I still have an idle half an hour here and there where I paw through whatever YouTube thinks I find interesting — and their guesses are hilariously wrong, I have to say — but I think I'm a lot less distractable than I was even five years ago.

Meditation was a big part of it, but another significant slice came from acclimating myself to the understanding that social media was designed to be like a slot machine, and that no matter how many times I jerked that handle, my life wasn't going to magically become any more interesting than it already was.

I think a lot of our need to struggle against boredom would evaporate if we stopped dreading it with the intensity we reserve for death or crippling illnesses. I don't think this means we would all suddenly become content to do nothing but look at walls all day long, though. I do think that it means in situations where we have no choice but to do that, we'd be a good deal better prepared for the experience than we are now.

As someone else once said, "It's not like anything has to happen. That's just us."

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Tags: meditation psychology social media sociology

Get On With It

On not over-documenting creative work.

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2018-02-09 22:00:00 No comments


Agile Creatives: The Agile Manifesto - Steven Savage

... you want to get to a result because it speaks for itself. A rough draft gets you feedback. A wearable if safety-pin laden costume can be tried on. Getting something done matters, even if you know it’s a draft or will need feedback to improve.

What’s less valuable is trying to document all of this. Sure, you might need to do some documentation, but don’t make it the most important thing. Do you need a giant list of possible color swatches? Do you need twenty pages of outlines explaining five pages of story? Do you need a Powerpoint to explain another Powerpoint? Do you need all this extraneous stuff?

Probably not. You need enough to do your job so you can make something. Produce something that speaks for itself so you can get your hands dirty, learn, and get feedback. Besides people relate better to something solid.

In fact, with creative works, which often have infinite potential, comprehensive documentation is a trap. You can never be complete. You don’t have time to document fifty ways to do a training video when you need one.

Bold emphasis mine. Steve's post is the first in a planned series of same that looks promising, and has a lot of immediate relevance to both my day job and the creative work I document here.

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Tags: Agile Flight of the Vajra TiddlyWiki creativity plotting wikis writers writing

Content, Content Everywhere

On the desire to turn everything into a franchise.

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2018-02-07 22:00:00 No comments


Disney’s greatest strength is about to become its biggest weakness - Polygon

Pop culture has a problem with death; our nostalgia refuses to let cherished relics die. We brought Star Wars back to life — same with Marvel, the Harry Potter universe, and even Shrek. The desire to turn everything into a franchise and change the lore to add in more details isn’t just manipulating the audience, it’s also emotionally exhausting. It’s getting more challenging to care about a new Star Wars movie or Marvel TV series because not a month goes by that I don’t have access to some kind of Star Wars or Marvel experience.

My objection to all this comes from a different direction. Franchise mania sends a signal to creators, one that's very hard to ignore, that the only kinds of things worth creating are franchises in these molds. Not individual stories, not things that don't lend themselves to sprawl.

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Tags: Disney Marvel Comics Star Wars fandom franchises media ecology

The Mashup Men

On making something new from a whole lot of somethings old.

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2018-02-06 13:00:00 No comments


I re-read the previous post about creating a new, albeit tiny, programming language, and realized a lot of my ambitions in miniature for such a thing were patterned after the way I've approached many other creative projects. I look at what's out there, and I ask myself: what are the best things from all that I like, and how could they come together to make something new?

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Tags: creativity programming software technology

Breakin'

These past couple of days have been a cavalcade of non-stop technical and mechanical failure.

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2018-02-05 22:00:00 No comments


These past couple of days have been a cavalcade of non-stop technical and mechanical failure. To wit:

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Tags: real life technical difficulties technology

In Over My Head Again

How the heck did I end up starting to create my own programming language?

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2018-02-01 22:00:00 No comments


I spent most of the last couple of weeks embroiled in a project for work that provided me with a magnificent (or maybe terrible) distraction: building a toy programming language. One I'm deluded enough to think might be more than a toy someday.

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Tags: programming projects

But Who Am I To Be Critical?

When you look at something, you have to be willing to not pretend that it needs to be great in order to justify anything.

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2018-02-01 13:00:00 No comments


Ben Yagoda: The reviewer’s fallacy: when critics aren’t critical enough.

... critics fall prey to a sort of hermeneutic Stockholm syndrome. They experience so much bad work that they get inured to it. They are so thankful for originality, or for a creator’s having good or arguably interesting intentions, or for technical proficiency, or for a something that’s crap but not crap in quite the usual way, that they give these things undue credit.

... When a reviewer goes on about a brilliant performance, or cleverly transgressive lyrics, I think of Paul Reiser’s bit about a friend who shows him a picture of his extraordinarily ugly baby. Reiser finds there is nothing he can say except, “Nice wallet!”

I've encountered this at work in my own reactions to things, and only recently began to police myself against them. A good critic can make a sensible argument for what it is about something that works, in their purview, but in the end you have to part with them and find out for yourself what the deal is. And when you look at something, you have to be willing to not pretend that it needs to be great in order to justify anything.

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Tags: criticism critics

See previous posts from January 2018

See future posts from March 2018