All posts for Uncategorized / General in January 2023

Out, I Say! Out!

On escapism too often vilified instead of understood.

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2023-01-28 21:00:00 No comments

From this article:

Some people call Second Life escapist, and often its residents argue against that. But for me, the question isn’t whether or not Second Life involves escape. The more important point is that the impulse to escape our lives is universal, and hardly worth vilifying. Inhabiting any life always involves reckoning with the urge to abandon it—through daydreaming; through storytelling; through the ecstasies of art and music, or hard drugs, or adultery, or a smartphone screen. These forms of “leaving” aren’t the opposite of authentic presence. They are simply one of its symptoms—the way love contains conflict, intimacy contains distance, and faith contains doubt.​

Emphasis mine. I have tangled with this same concept in these pages before time and again — the idea that "escapism" is too often regarded as some component in a morality play, instead of being just a component of the lives we all lead. It's not about whether or not it exists, but what it's there for, and how we choose to make it a part of the rest of our lives. Vilifying it — to use the article's entirely fitting word — tells us nothing about it or why it exists.

Mention of this subject typically brings back to mind Jack Finney' superb short story "I'm Scared", about a man who's spent his life documenting incidents where time seemed to have come out of joint. In the concluding grafs, he blames this on the growing human need to escape from our moment in time, that the pressure of all those minds demanding escape from the modern world is somehow triggering this. But the more I mulled the significance of this proffered conclusion, the less I liked it. Is the lesson here that the urge to escape is ipso facto bad, or that it's only bad when it's not paired with an equal or greater urge for (to use the article's words) reckoning with the urge?

As someone else put it, escapism isn't the opposite of life, but a symptom of it. Many of the things we have taken for things in themselves (e.g., depression) turn out to be symptoms of larger things (e.g., genuinely crummy and intractable social circumstances). Escape is no different. It's what's under it that matters more than the thing itself, and it's where it's directed is more important than where it comes from.

If we must have escape, and it seems inevitable that we do, then let us make the most of it. Let's not settle for mingy little escapes; let's have them as bold and colorful as we can make them. The better to make us want to bring all that boldness and color back to the world we created them in contrast to.

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Tags: escapism psychology sociology

The End Of Words

A meditation on when, and how, Dashiell Hammett stopped writing.

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2023-01-22 21:00:00 No comments

Here's an admission to break hearts. In 1957, four years before his death of lung cancer, and long after his career had gone into its sad extended twilight, Dashiell Hammett told an interviewer, "I stopped writing because I found I was repeating myself. It's the beginning of the end when you discover you have style."

Hammett felt trapped inside the thing named "Dashiell Hammett", as Robert Polito noted in his introduction to a collection of Hammett's novels for Everyman's Library. He barely wrote a thing after 1934, and even the whirlwind events of his life after that date are difficult to accept as the reason for such creative desolation. He had run out of things to say, and he knew it, and somehow nothing that happened to him from '34 on gave him something new to say.

When I read those words "I found I was repeating myself", I could only think of what I myself have felt time and again: I too fear repeating myself. I never wanted to write the same story twice if I could help it, or write another story in a previously used setting or with previously used characters. Starting entirely fresh each time gave me the most freedom to do justice to the ideas that came, it seemed. It meant the least amount of legacy weight holding me back. Two of my SF idols, Cliff Simak and Philip K. Dick, had operated in this mode, and the great lesson I'd learned from both of them was how each story could be its own self-contained "sandbox" for your ideas.

I too have feared that one day I would find I had nothing left to say. But each time I've come close to such a feeling, I was able to veer away from it by digging into a new place within myself and saying, "See? You haven't touched any of this yet." I have, I hope, not yet become too bricked up in myself to see what else is possible. With any luck I won't ever be. Maybe because I share with Luis Buñuel the sentiment that the worst thing about dying is not being able to read tomorrow's newspaper. Somehow, somewhere, there is always something new to be said.

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Tags: Dashiell Hammett writers writing

The Book Where No One Eats Spaghetti

And where almost nothing else happened, either, save for people talking at each other. A case study.

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2023-01-20 21:00:00 No comments

Some time ago I had the opportunity to read a novel written by a friend of mine, someone a good deal more worldly and well-traveled than I. The book made use of his time in the military as source material, and could have been described as a political thriller. It wasn't terrible — you should see some of the self- and indie-published "political thrillers" out there — but it had what I felt was a major, overarching flaw: Nothing happened in it.

By "nothing happened", I mean this: Everything that did happen consisted almost entirely of someone going into a room with someone else and telling them about something. All the details of the story amounted to A telling B and talking to C and C responding to B and so on. All of the actual action in the story, everything that had consequence, took place off-page. Even worse, the book failed to evoke any sense of place, physicality, character, or presence with its material. You've heard of White Room Syndrome; here's White Universe Syndrome.

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Tags: criticism fiction storytelling

On Writing As Folk Art

Those who create because they want to, the way they want to, are not children of lesser gods.

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2023-01-17 21:00:00 No comments

Sometimes I think the hardest part of being a writer, apart from the job itself, is not succumbing to the romanticized images we have in our heads about what this job means — in particular, what it means to be creative, and to what end.

People have weird ideas about what writers do and how they do it. They've always had such misconceptions, if only because anyone who has no idea what's involved in a particular line of work has delusions about it. (I can't imagine what most people think software developers do all day, for instance.) Most such delusions revolve around fame and fortune, but for me the most pernicious ones revolve around what creativity is or where it comes from — or what it's ultimately for.

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Tags: creativity creators writers

Profiles In Failure

On the anatomy of a discarded story.

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2023-01-08 12:00:00 No comments

For every story I've written, I've probably contemplated and discarded a dozen others at least. One of those discards came back to mind recently, along with a better understanding of why I'd discarded it.

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Tags: creativity postmortem

Rogress Preport January 2023

Welcome, after a long hiatus, to Rumor Control once again. Here are the facts of what stories I'm working on in the new year.

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2023-01-02 12:00:00 No comments

Welcome, after a long hiatus, to Rumor Control once again. Here are the facts.

These are the projects I'm now currently working on. Some have more definite dates or progress indicators than others. Other projects I mentioned in the past aren't off the list entirely; these are just the ones currently getting the most time, attention, and mojo.

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Tags: Absolute Elsewhere Charisma Infinimata Press Pavilion 7 Rogress Preport Shunga-Satori future projects

See previous posts from December 2022