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Author Archives: ianmdudley

About ianmdudley

Writer, lover, reader, father, taxpayer, husband, and son, though not necessarily in that order.

And This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Chairs

Ah, there’s not quite anything like taking your dog for a walk early in the morning.

Cool and refreshing outside, always appreciated during the summer.

Birds flitting about and singing and generally spreading good cheer.

The drone of cars zipping down the road blessedly absent.

All the other morons living in the city are still in bed, for the most part, so I don’t have to interact with them.

That last one’s the most important for me. Sure, there’s still the occasional early bird out and about, walking their dog or just exercising, but the numbers are low and that makes life more tolerable for an introvert like me.

I’ve been getting up early and walking the ol’ poocherino for a couple of months now. All part of the “build a better, healthier me” project – regular exercise, consistent sleep cycle, occupying the dog so she doesn’t go insane with boredom, collecting chairs.

I was ruthlessly surprised by these fearful chairs

A sampling of the chairs I have encountered in my wanderings

Yes, collecting chairs. People leave their unwanted chairs out on the curb, as one is want to do, and I collect them.

I’ve got quite a few four-legged buttock-bearers crammed into the former man-cave turned abandoned chair warehouse, just waiting to get called up and moved inside. I find it’s prudent to have backup chairs for when the inevitable structural failure strikes an in-use, indoor chair. When a leg buckles and you have a guest on the floor, nursing a suddenly bruised backside, you want to have a replacement near at hand.

So yes, things were going swimmingly with my new routine. Couldn’t possibly be better.

And then things got worse. Much much worse.

You see, I had been naively strutting up and down the neighborhood streets, a big goofy grin slapped on my face, gawking at the birds, wheeling freshly found chairs on my dolly, and relishing the light morning breeze. Not a care in the world weighed down on me. In fact, I’d never felt more care-free.

But the cats ruined it.

Cats ruin everything.

You see, one day not too long ago, I was staring at the clouds and soaking up the bird song while pushing an ottoman in front of me when I suddenly and unexpectedly came to a stop, the hand holding my dog’s leash violently yanked back. The ottoman and dolly continued a few feet, rolling into the street before falling over.

I followed the length of the leash to the dog and discovered she had planted herself on a lawn, lips smacking and jaws snapping.

She was eating something.

That something, upon investigation, turned out to be a cat turd.

My dog, that licks my hands, arms, and face at every opportunity, was eating a cat turd.

When I tried to pull her away, she resisted. Fiercely. Eventually, after much snarling and barking on my part, I managed to separate my dog from the feline fecal matter and, much chagrined, I continued our walk.

But it was too late. The damage was done.

So unnerved was I by my dog’s choice of early morning repast that I could no longer enjoy the breeze, listen to the bird song, or relish the silence of the wee morning hours.

No, I had to watch my dog and make sure she didn’t try for a repeat performance.

Which, of course, she did.

Sure you want to move that rook there? You'll need to wipe it off on the grass if you do...

She was always at least five moves and one quark ahead of me the whole time

As much as I believe my dog is an idiot, I have to concede that she’s a wily beast too. Preventing this unauthorized diet quickly turned into a battle of wits.

A game of chess.

Transdimensional chess.

And I was losing.

Much to my horror, I discovered that this fecal ‘treat’ wasn’t a one-time experiment for my dog. It turns out she actively seeks out and attempts to eat these terrible ‘tootsie rolls’.

Was it possible I’d simply been so enamored of my peaceful “dawn’s early light” surroundings that I failed to notice.

I say attempts to eat because now that I’m watching, I stop her. But I can’t help but wonder, over these past few weeks, how much of her diet was being supplemented by this…unorthodox protein.

SHUDDER

The soothing therapy of my morning walks has become a waking nightmare. No more quiet. No more birds singing. No more chairs.

No, now it’s all turds. Turds all the way down.

I tried walking at night instead, but that just makes it harder to see what she’s trying to eat (like I need to see!). And I can’t judge the quality of the chairs encountered in poor lighting.

I tried walking without the dog, but she’s gotten it into her head that she’d entitled to these morning walks and blocks my every attempt to exit the house without her.

My dreams are full of cat turds, dogs with cat turds in their mouth licking me, and chairs with cat turds stuck on the bottom of each leg.

Life has become a living, cat-turd filled hell.

And to top everything off, that nice ottoman that rolled into the street?

Hit by a car.

What are the odds?

 
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Posted by on 18 July 2022 in Angst, Life, Sheds

 

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A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Clues – ‘new’ radio play and, it turns out, Bob Ross revival piece

I quit social media about nine months ago and I haven’t felt more alive and empowered since…well, since I started using social media.

So it goes without saying that I highly recommend dropping it. You’ll be much happier and think more highly of your IRL friends once you can no longer see the nonsense they post online.

But there is a drawback. At least for me.

Because I no longer check out Facebook, Twitter, and the like, I missed an important post a few weeks ago.

A Picture is Worth A Thousand Clues, a Marlowe and the Spacewoman radio play in two parts, was released by the KFJC Pandemic Players. It aired on KFJC on June 1st and June 8th, but because I missed the announcement, I also missed the opportunity to hear it live and, even more devastatingly, to plug it to you, my loyal readers, before it was broadcast.

(OF course, given I’m no longer on social media, I’m not sure how much plugging I could have done even if I had known).

That said, an archive of the broadcast is available online here (just scroll down to the entries for it and you can download Part 1 and / or Part 2, depending on how linear (and complete) you like your audio adventures to be.)

This radio play has it all – mystery, Bob Ross, murder, social media influencers, art critiques, francophone musical assassins, and, in Part 2, at least one (non-Batman) penguin gangster.

Title notwithstanding, you don’t need anything but your ears to enjoy the story.

While my first radio play for the Pandemic Players was an adaptation of a chapter from my Marlowe and the Spacewoman WNSMIPLBIL (Work Not So Much In Progress Lately Because I’m Lazy) Luck Be A Spacelady, this script is a new stand-alone story written exclusively for radio and, more specifically, for the Pandemic Players. I had a lot of fun writing it, and I hope you guys enjoy listening to it.

Even if you won’t see any posts from me on social media alerting you to this WordPress entry or the radio play…

 

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Hey you crows! Get off my lawn!

It’s no use denying it any longer: I am old.

I’d like to say it crept up on me and came as a complete surprise, but that wouldn’t be true (and I’m now too old to have time for lies). No, I walked right into it, loud and proud, and there is no one else to blame but my wife.

Yup, it’s all the Missus’ fault.

She’s the one who led me down this path to the Final Destination of aching backs, stiff limbs, and an inability to hear people clearly in a loud room.

She’s the one what done it.

You see, a few weeks ago the Missus had the ‘brilliant’ idea that turning off our electronics and going to bed at 9pm would be conducive to both our mental and physical health. That infamous ‘blue light’ emitted by LCD panels would stop disrupting our circadian rhythm and the over-the-top insanity and blatant stupidity of social media would stop riling us up and eating away at our peace of mind.

It seemed like a great idea at the time. Just because we were in bed at 9 didn’t mean we had to turn out the lights and go to sleep. Only ancient people go to sleep at 9pm, and I’m not there yet! No, we could do other things, such as read, meditate, converse, and re-center ourselves, all to recover from the day that had just passed.

In her defense, I wholeheartedly embraced this plan, blissfully unaware of the dire consequences that awaited me. 9pm? Phone is off. Tablet is dark. Teeth are brushed. And I am under the covers, holistically experiencing myself and the current book I’m reading until such time that I can’t keep my eyes open, and the book drops to the floor while I blindly reach out to turn off the bedside lamp.

The change this new routine introduced was remarkable. In the span of a few days, I went from a charming, avowed night owl to a bright-eyed, worm-catching early bird that is the envy of the murder of crows loitering around my front yard, eyeing me angrily as I deprive them of a food source.

It didn’t take long before I realized I was in trouble.

I had became my parents, who I can’t call after 8pm because they’re in bed by then. And my grandparents, who I rarely had occasion to call when they were alive but definitely, when I did call, did so before 8. Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.

And, you know, old.

Unfortunately, with this transition to old age came inevitable, soul-crushing wisdom. Wisdom that helpfully reminded me that I am mortal and felt compelled to continue by pointing out that old mortals are closer to death than young mortals. Knowing Death is now just around the corner had a moderately deleterious effect on my mental well-being.

In other words, it freaked me out and left me in a panic to find ways an old fogie such as myself could delay that inevitable intersection between myself and the Universal Adversary.

I started to exercise. Not in some vain attempt to improve my physique and impress the fairer sex. Oh no, those days are long gone.

I was exercising solely for my health.

Keisters. They're the first thing to go.

Promotional poster for the Oscar-winning movie, “Ass”

So now when I involuntarily wake up at 5am every gorram morning, I check my pulse (yay, still not dead!), drag my wrinkly, sagging ass into the bathroom where I take all the anti-inflammatory medications needed to reduce the mobile island of pain my body has become to something closer to a tolerable, unending ache, followed by the anti-diarrhea pills that counter the side effects of the anti-inflammatories, get dressed, and then, and only then, submit myself to the dragging and pulling by a large, disgustingly youthful dog that wants to walk faster than I am capable of.

Much faster.

Actually, I do this twice. By evening, the pain of my morning exertions has faded enough that my fear of dying rises to the forefront again and I repeat the dreadful process. Except instead of starting by getting out of bed, in the evening I finish by getting into bed and the circle of hell life is complete.

I call these walks, but really, when you become a man of my advanced years, it’s more of a halting shuffle.

After a couple of weeks, I found I no longer had to force myself to hit the sheets at 9. Instead, I find that when this witching hour arrives, I’m genuinely exhausted and eager to retire. Sure, the anxiety that Death may come for me while I slumber colors my dreams, but it isn’t enough to keep my broken body awake.

Not that my night owl progeny respect this new schedule. Oh no. They don’t start stomping around and shouting at their computer games until 9:30, and they get progressively louder from there.

The Missus is almost as bad.

That’s right, the Missus. She’s not in bed with me at 9 as part of the routine she came up with. Oh no. She’s still up because it turns out the “screens off at 9” policy didn’t agree with her, she needs the blue light to combat some sort of vitamin deficiency, and apparently all the interesting news and social media posts happen late at night.

On other words, she decided to stay up late and remain young at heart.

Which only further cements my senior citizenship. Because of my altered and offset sleep schedule, I am now alone just like most other old people and, to add insult to injury, when I’m trying to sleep, annoyed by all the racket made by everyone else, just like most other old people.

I cry and wail myself to sleep because of the loneliness, but everyone else in house is making too much god damned noise to hear it.

Bastards.

It’s just not fair. Though I really shouldn’t be surprised. My diabolically loud offspring are just barely into the double-digits when it comes to their years on this Earth, and the Missus, well, she is 2 years younger than me.

I just have to be patient (and not croak over the next 24 months) and then she’ll be old too and at last I will have my revenge (and some company in the early morning hours).

Unless I’m ancient by then. If that happens, who knows when my schedule will overlap with those of the living.

Now if you’ll excuse me, there are some neighborhood crows milling about on my lawn that need yelling at.

 
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Posted by on 21 June 2022 in Angst, Life

 

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The Nostalgia Is A Lie OR What Was I Thinking???

I’ve been into retro computing for quite a while. I’m not hardcore, like some folks, but I have a few machines I’ve collected over the years.

The first computer I bought with my own money (after having worked an entire summer to save up enough) was a 286 desktop clone. So when I got into the retro habit, I started with the familiar x86 line: a 286 luggable. But that got old fast (pun only partially intended) and I felt the need to upgrade from 16 bits to 32. That lead to a 386 luggable. Of course, both of those had monochrome displays and I had a sudden hankering for low resolution color graphics, so naturally that led to a Compaq Pentium laptop.

Actually, in the cases of the 286 and Pentium, I bought two machines each, one to use and one for parts.

As a result of (and/or perhaps feeding) this interest, I’ve been enjoying some of the retro computing channels on YouTube – LGR, RMC, and the 8-Bit Guy to name three of the big ones I regularly watch.

But like with all drugs, eventually the initial hit isn’t enough and to get that high, I found I had to not get more of the same, but go further back.

All the way back, it turns out, to my very first computer. A Timex Sinclair 1000, which my parents bought me for Xmas one year.

The Sinclair range was built to be inexpensive and boy did they ever manage to do that. The computer was slow, unstable, and lacking in just about everything (color and sound and memory and a proper keyboard being just a few of the major shortcomings).

But there were peripherals you could get to improve them, along with games, and that’s what I started getting for Xmas( and birthdays. Well, one peripheral, the 16K RAM pack, and a lot of games on tape.

No, not IBM mainframe computer tape. Cassette tapes. The older among you know what I’m talking about.

The games took forever to load and often required more than one (or two or three) attempts before you got them running.

Good times!

One year I got two text adventure and one graphics game as gifts from my parents. The text adventures were Shark’s Treasure and Space Commando. The graphics game was Mazogs.

8-bit adventuring: just as violent as 16-. 32-, and 64-bit adventuring!

The monster is on the right. Or is it? After all, who’s the real monster here?

Mazogs was awesome. By Timex Sinclair standards, anyway. You ran around a maze, searching for treasure and trying to avoid the spider-like monsters. Past adventurers, imprisoned during their failed attempt, could be called upon to help you.

I really liked that game. And so did my kids, when I set it up on an emulator for them.

But I have a distinct memory of complaining to my parents about how crummy the two text adventure games were in comparison.

I think my expectations for computer games in those days were colored by the computers my friends had – Commodore VIC 20s and Commodore 64s, primarily, and the graphics-heavy games those came with. Text adventure just didn’t qualify as a game in my mind.

When my retro itch pushed me further back, I remembered those games and complaining to my parents and, well, I felt guilty. Guilty for dissing a gift from my parents.

So I got it into my head that I would unbox the old TS1000 from storage, hook it up, and finally, properly play those games.

This is where the Retro Computer Industrial Complex rears its ugly head.

First was the games. I went looking for Shark’s Treasure and found it on eBay, sealed in the original packaging, for $150.

WTF?

Turns out that retro games, especially in their original format, is part of a collectables racket and the Retro Computer Industrial Complex is there to cash in!

Now I wanted to play the game, but not part-with-$150-to-do-it wanted to play the game.

Paradoxically, seeing it on sale for $150 only made me want to play it more.

Fortunately, more searching found another seller with the game in a sealed package asking only $20. While still steep, all things considered, it seemed like a bargain compared to $150.

The past is prologue! The future is...a lot better and easier to use than the past, to be brutally honest.

I don’t remember so much cursing when I originally used this, but I’m pretty sure that’s just poor memory.

So I ordered it and turned my attention to the computer itself.

Funny thing about really old computers from the 70s and 80s that hooked up to your TV: they don’t work with modern monitors.

Not to worry! Big Retro is right there to cash in.

I bought an RCA-to-VGA adapter, $20, only to discover the TS1000 has an RF output, not RCA (despite the plugs being similar).

Returned that and ordered an RF-to-VGA adapter, $65. It arrived with the menu system defaulting to Chinese, the ‘manual’ a mish-mash of unrelated, oft-mispelled English words smooshed up against pictures of menu screen shots, and a steeper than expected learning curve.

It took me 5 minutes to figure out how to turn it on, and another hour of randomly changing configuration settings before I was able to get my TS1000 to display on the monitor.

At last, success! Time to load a game!

It's mint in box! At least, until I opened it...

My own personal ‘Rosebud’

Well, my Shark’s Treasure hadn’t arrived yet, but I had a big fat manila envelope containing a number of games I’d gotten as a kid. So I popped it open, dumped out the contents, and there, at the top of the pile?

Shark’s Treasure.

Oops. But it was just the tape and not the packaging or the picture card with instructions that came with it, so I’m still gonna come out ahead.

Right?

Ha! Because when I popped the tape into my Marantz PMD-430 portable tape recorder and hit play, I made another discovery.

The tape recorder didn’t work any more.

So that went off to the specialty repair shop ($85 for an assessment and, oh yeah, a 6-8 week wait time due to other vintage recording devices ahead of mine in the queue!).

I’m telling you, if there was a single stock I could buy to invest in Big Retro, I’d go all in, bet the family life savings.

At this point, I’m getting desperate. My hands are shaking, I’ve got a flop sweat that won’t quit, and I really, really need to play that game. Or any text adventure game for the TS1000.

They have emulators. I’ve used one before (to show my kids Mazogs). But that’s not running on actual hardware, it’s not the same thing.

But I needed my fix so bad I swallowed my pride and downloaded an emulator.

Of course, without a functioning tape player, I couldn’t translate the tapes I had into .wav files that I could ‘play’ into the virtual TS1000.

But no worries. People have already converted a lot of these tapes to a file format that can be loaded by emulators.

Huzzah! I’m saved.

Except no one bothered to do this with Shark’s Treasure.

I looked.

I really, really looked.

Let’s just say that the problem is so bad that once this blog goes live, if someone types “sinclair shark’s treasure” into Google, my site will most likely make the first page.

(Leave out the “sinclair” and you’ll get a bunch of hits about some B movie.)

Think this is hard to read? This is from the emulator, which allows you to turn OFF the RF distortions.

Even the opening screen has a bug in it!

I did, however, find Space Commando. Since I have that tape too, I didn’t feel too guilty downloading a copy of a nearly 40 year old tape-based game published by a long defunct game company.

And I played it.

And that’s how I discovered that the nostalgia is a lie.

The big, fat, back-stabbing mother of all lies.

Now I still enjoy the YouTube channels and playing on my other, slightly more modern vintage computers (because unlike the TS1000, you can actually do things on them).

But the Timex Sinclair 1000 experience? It’s terrible.

Don’t get me wrong. I knew that going in. I remembered how horrible the membrane keyboard was, and the constant crashes when you bumped the computer and the 16K RAM pack slipped, and hunting for the right volume on the tape player when trying to load a game (which took ~5 minutes each try).

I remembered that.

But it seems nostalgia and time take the edge off all bad memories, and I had forgotten just how terrible the experience of using the computer was.

Even when I set the emulator to run at 32x the speed of an actual TS1000, it was glacially slow. The whole screen flashes with each key press, and the computer cannot handle a typing speed greater than about 20 characters per minute.

(This typing speed limitation isn’t quite as apparent when using the original membrane keyboard because three quarters of the time it wouldn’t register the key press.)

But worst of all? The game sucked.

All that guilt about complaining to my parents decades ago?

Totally justified. The game was unplayable. No proper instructions. Horrible text parser. Glaringly obvious bugs. Minimal description…IN A TEXT ADVENTURE GAME! Not to mention the very linear game play: given a choice of two directions in each room, the wrong choice always leads to immediate death. When you could figure out the correct command, you couldn’t help but feel shepherded.

And, in retrospect, all of these shortcomings were entirely predictable. This machine was cheap, so it’s functionality was severely limited. The real miracle is that there were games available at all.

Which doesn’t explain why I still kinda sorta wish I could play Shark’s Treasure…

So I’m over the Timex Sinclair ‘reboot’ though not, sadly, before I ordered a replacement ‘cheapo’ vintage tape recorder while waiting for my original unit to be repaired. And now I’m stuck with an RF-to-VGA converter that I’ll probably never use.

But that’s OK. I’ve been reminiscing about the first printer I ever used, a dot matrix machine that made a lovely grinding sound as it printed, and I’m watching a couple of them on eBay.

The nostalgia may be a lie, but it is extremely addictive.

 
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Posted by on 27 September 2021 in Angst, Life, Retro Computing, Technopocalypse

 

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Of all the times to be happily married!

I just discovered the secret to dating, and damn if I can’t take advantage of it.

Yes, I have learned the key to meeting women, but the Missus will do me grievous bodily harm if I try to take advantage of this knowledge.

Which isn’t to say I want to! I’m quite happy with my current matrimonial state, thank you very much.

But boy is it galling to know this now and not, say, when I was in my late teen / early twenties, miserably lonely, and terrified of (meeting) women.

Now I could turn this into a best-selling self-help book for lonely hearts, but that sounds like a lot of work and frankly, I have enough unfinished writing projects on my plate right now.

So instead, I’ll just tell you for free. If this technique leads to a happily ever after for you, all I ask is you drop me a note thanking me for my advice and maybe put me in your will?

If getting a lawyer involved is too much trouble, I also take cash.

What exactly is this ground-breaking miracle approach to attracting women?

(Sorry, don’t know if this works on men, but if I had to guess, given men are all heartless jerks, probably not.)

Four words:

Wheels on your dog.

Carrying the jack around in case of a flat gets really old

Gentlemen, we can rebuild him. We have the technology. Better…stronger…faster.

Unfortunately, I paid a steep price for this knowledge, a discovery precipitated by very personal, very bad news.

My dog can’t walk any more unassisted.

The vet says he’s not in any pain but hobbling along on three legs wasn’t working out too well so we got my ol’ buddy a set of wheels.

To make them cooler, I tried to paint flames on the sides of the frame. But that didn’t work out: my cowardly dog is deathly afraid of fire.

The jerk.

Let me tell you, dorky looking or not, every time I take my dog and his training wheels for a walk, I get stopped at least once by a passing, cooing over how cute he is and asking what’s wrong with him.

Sometimes it’s even, get this, a group of women!

And then I get the watery, sympathetic eyes look.

If ever there was a moment to get all weepy and in-touch-with-your-emotional-side and confess how hard it’s been to deal with your best friend’s failing health and if only you had someone to commiserate with over a coffee at the nearby Starbucks (there’s always one nearby) say this Friday at 7, this is it.

What can I say? He can’t help himself – this bewheeled pooch is a chick magnet.

Now to be clear, I’m not saying that getting a puppy whose breed is predisposed to joint issues in their old age and then waiting for nature to take its course is a winning dating strategy.

Unless you like playing the long game.

But I’m also not telling you to slap a pair of wheels on a healthy dog and then drag him or her around the neighborhood looking for phone numbers. Because if a serious relationship develops from that, well, she’s gonna find out about the fake wheels at some point or you’re going have to start bribing your vet.

Which I guess means you do have to play the long game.

Well crap. I guess my dating secret isn’t all that practical after all, and certainly isn’t going to move a lot of paper in book form.

At least I’m already in a happy, healthy relationship. I guess that’s the silver lining?

Look, I’m not some creepy guy trying to take advantage of his dog’s failing health to meet women.

And I’m not some creepy guy trying to live vicariously through you as you do the above.

No. I’m a good guy. Really, I am.

You see, I’m just trying to be relevant and provide useful advice to folks. It just turns out I’m terrible at it.

So just forget about this post. The sooner, the better.

Unless…

Unless you do already have a dog.

A dog that needs wheels.

That you haven’t been walking regularly.

If that’s the case and you’re looking for love, well…now you know what to do.

I take tips, mentions in wills, and five-star reviews on Amazon.

 
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Posted by on 13 September 2021 in Angst, Life

 

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Treading Carefully: Social media is more mine than field lately

This bellows, like the internet, is filled with a lot of hot air. Rancid, putrid, toxic hot air.

I wouldn’t put my lips on that mouth either

Like political party affiliations, social media isn’t all evil.

However, what evil does exist is hardcore and overwhelming. The amount of good I’ve encountered online has been dwarfed by the deluge of anger, hatred, sanctimony, vigilantism, arrogance, and presumption, to name but a few.

Along with irony. Such as the irony that some will interpret my above view about people on social media as itself being angry, sanctimonious, arrogant, and presumptive. And probably bigoted too.

Most of these people will also be the source of my problem with social media. Eff ’em.

You can no longer have an opinion online unless it’s the ‘right’ opinion. And one person’s ‘right’ opinion is sure as shootin’ another person’s ‘wrong’ opinion.

Where once disagreement was tolerated and maybe even vigorously (but respectfully) debated, now the vast majority of disagreements are treated as proof you’re evil by many who disagree (the “How dare you!” crowd).

Say the ‘wrong’ thing and you can lose friends. If a large enough audience sees it (or is made aware of it via screen cap), you’re barraged with distributed messages of hate. You can end up run off social media (with many smugly saying, “Good riddance”) or, in what are becoming less and less extreme cases, threatened with rape or murder and being doxxed or even swatted.

When did people’s closely held, ‘undeniably true’ beliefs become so fragile they couldn’t withstand frank discussion?

When did a difference of opinion become a hate crime? When did the words “I disagree and here’s why” become hate speech?

When did civility become verböten?

When did “You’re wrong!” literally become equated with “You deserve to die!”?

No matter what I say, I know that speaking my mind will upset someone.

So for a long time now I’ve been keeping my head down and my mouth shut about certain topics because I have no idea who might be offended or how they’ll react.

But lurking on social media doesn’t protect you from seeing what’s happening to others.

People piled onto. Bullied. Threatened. Even driven to suicide.

Angry mobs jumping onto the latest outrage bandwagon without knowing all the facts because the perceived transgression is so antithetical to their belief system that even checking the facts is considered giving too much ground to that damned dirty other side.

It is shockingly easy to think this is OK at first, when your beliefs and the mob’s are aligned.

Until the mob moves into territory you think is hallowed ground, or at least neutral territory.

Then you begin to perceive the danger to yourself. Or possibly experience it directly.

It’s exhausting and disturbing to witness, even when I don’t support the attacked belief or statement.

So I’m stepping back from social media. Have already, in fact. I’ve gone cold turkey for a week now, and so far, my hands are steady and I don’t miss it.

The lunatics are running the asylum. They can have it.

 

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It’s the End of the World and Everyone Is Mad at Me

2020 came and went and somehow, miraculously, against all expectations, the world didn’t end.

At first, I felt relief.

Well, as much relief as anyone surviving 2020 can be expected to muster.

Which is not a whole lot, to be honest.

But then the new year rolled in and, as the weeks and months passed, I realized that 2021 is actually 2020’s way of saying, “Ha ha, you thought the worst was behind you? Eff you, the end is still on, baby, it just wasn’t bad enough by December 31st. But no worries, we’re just about there now!”

2021 has not been a great year. And most of what’s been horrible about it is down to people.

People being angry.

I see what you did there and it upsets me greatly...

Don’t make me angry. You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.

Livid.

Apoplectic.

Rabid.

About everything.

Long gone are the days of stoic fatalism where people suffered in silence and just got on with life.

Remember those days, when we understood that life is hard, and the universe doesn’t give a crap about being fair?

Ah, so nice and quiet.

But now I can’t go anywhere (online or in the real world) without someone getting in my face about something.

Maskers, anti-maskers.

Vaccers, anti-vaccers.

Left, right.

Serial comma users, non-serial comma users.

Frankly, it makes me kinda hopeful that we’ll return to lockdowns.

(Oh yeah, lockdowners, anti-lockdowners.)

Because at least then I can stay home and avoid the real-world confrontations without people judging me as some sort of crazy recluse.

Crazy recluses, (somewhat less?) crazy extroverts.

Honestly, if there is anything that has contributed to my complete and utter lack of interest in fixing anything, it’s the current climate of universal, mutually exclusive outrage.

There is no dialogue anymore, just screaming matches and doxxing and death threats against those that fail someone else’s purity test.

I’m sick of it.

I’ve got people mad at me for my refusal to be an activist. I’m told I’m not ‘good’ enough and I need to try harder and I owe it to them to be on their side.

By different people who, incidentally, happen to vehemently disagree with each other.

Talk about damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

And yes, I’ve lost friends over this.

So congratulations, world. All that screaming and yelling has finally succeeded in normalizing something for me, though probably not what you were hoping:

Indifference.

In today’s social environment, caring is a lose/lose proposition so I did the only rational thing I could:

I stopped caring.

I don’t care about causes I opposed a few years ago.

I don’t care about causes I supported a few years ago.

I don’t care about causes I was already luke-warm to.

I don’t care because I’m exhausted.

With the smug self-righteousness.

The hubris of folks thinking they have the monopoly on ‘Truth’.

The irrational, spitting-mad fervor.

The sheer volume of the noise.

The people on one side of an equation thinking the above critique applies only to the people on the other side of that equation.

So I give up.

I cede the battle for the world to the nut jobs, and I fervently hope they wipe each other out so when the dust settles, the sane people can dig out and go, “Finally, the global temper tantrum is over, the world as we knew it has ended, and now we can rebuild a better, kinder world that recognizes there is no such thing as absolute truth and a difference of opinion isn’t a declaration of war.

Yeah, I’m angry too (clearly). But I’m just venting, not trying to convert anyone. To do that, I’d have to care, and as should be abundantly clear now, I don’t.

In the meantime, I’m going back to what I’ve been doing for months now: retreating into my TBR list and losing myself in a good book.

Turns out I do still care about good books, so maybe there’s hope?

Ha, who am I kidding?

 
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Posted by on 7 August 2021 in Other Blogs

 

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Oh yeah? Well I heard different!

Until recently, I used to think that upon reaching a…ahem…certain age, I would see the evolution of my writing process level off and stabilize, a sort of “We’ve arrived, darling, so you can relax now!” moment where I could rest on my laurels and, at the very least, not get actively worse.

In other words, I would transition from the very rough and immature writing that is the (extremely self-evident) product of my inept youth to the more mature, polished writing that comes with life experience and practice.

Lots and lots of practice.

Ultimately, my expectation was this evolution in my writing would hit ‘peak’ maturity (or as ‘peak’ as my maturity allows) and then I’d be settled in and have very little left to learn or add to my repertoire.

And as with just about everything else I think about life, I was wrong.

Recently I was asked if I’d like to adapt some of my written work into a radio drama. I’d never written a radio drama before, the closest I’d ever come to it being writing a couple of plays in college many years ago.

Many, many years ago.

I remembered listening to “The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy” and “The Empire Strikes Back” radio programs even many more years ago, and I had nothing but fond memories, so naturally I said yes.

I’m glad I did.

Writing for a book (or short story) is a very different process than writing for a radio program. There’s the oft-repeated old saw applied to writing that you must “show, don’t tell,” which is basically an instruction not to dump a lot of boring exposition into your prose when you can describe the events instead.

To wit:

“He was so angry with himself for eating the whole pizza in one sitting.”

vs.

“Reginald stared hard in the mirror, disgusted with the weak-spined man, if ‘man’ was the right word, staring back. Even his internal organs couldn’t hide their disdain at the selfish act of desecration his dining choice represented – his heart burned with the fire of a thousand suns and his stomach quivered and heaved with the sort of restless fury that could only portend a long, violent session on the commode. A commode that, Reginald realized with shame, he didn’t deserve. ‘What was I thinking!? A whole pizza? And with pineapple on it!?’ No, there was a special place in hell for Reginald, and he would make no effort to resist his well-deserved journey there.”

This is also good advice if you are being paid by the word.

But paradoxically, writing for the radio is literally telling, not showing. The medium precludes showing the audience anything.

OK, I know, technically the written word also imposes this same limitation, but you can have picture books and there is an accepted convention that you can describe events and people’s thoughts outside of your characters’ dialogue. So it’s easier to ‘show’ in a short story or novel without sounding all stilted and overbearing.

Yes, you can just have a narrator explain the unspoken bits in your radio drama in-between stretches of dialogue, and there are examples of radio shows that do just that. But I didn’t like it. It felt like taking the easy way out.

Well, I say I didn’t like that approach. Not entirely true. My disdain for the approach wasn’t strong enough to prevent me from trying it (I’m a big fan of the easy way out), but the feedback I got for that draft of the script was, to be blunt, that it flat out doesn’t work. No doubt this reflects more on me and my writing than on the technique itself.

Denied the easy way out, I was forced down the more arduous path of “figuring out what the hell to do to make this damned script work.”

At first, I felt limited by the different requirements for a radio script. But I slowly came to discover that the constraints of radio weren’t limitations at all. In actuality, they opened up new possibilities and pushed me to expand my understanding of storytelling.

It was a journey of self-discovery, and while an unwilling passenger at first (“Wah! I don’t wanna go! I’m already a mature writer! Wah!”), in the end I’m glad I stuck with it.

Where did this journey lead me? To a heretofore unknown-to-me tool to add to my writing arsenal, a skill not just limited to crafting radio dramas, but something which can also be applied and is essential to improving my prose in general:

How to show while telling.

What is showing while telling?

Well, it isn’t flashing your second grade teacher while tattling on a classmate about his nose-picking addiction.

It’s taking into account that a radio story is conveyed through actual sound waves moving through the air and physically striking the listener’s tympanic membranes, not photons bouncing off words on a page and being silently absorbed by the reader’s eyes.

It’s embedding narrative information in dialogue without sounding (too much) like the dreaded ‘info dump.’

(I have to admit, it’s really hard to avoid the ‘info dump’ feel, but I actually like that about some of the older radio dramas. So for me, at least, a little bit of over the top exposition adds to the charm. A little bit.)

It’s revealing needed details via the flow of action and events instead of a character saying it.

(In my case, I turned a letter read by the main character in the book into a barbershop quartet that sang the content while interacting with the main characters (by which I mean they got punched a lot). And I liked the result so much, I fully intend to back-fill that change into the book!)

It’s including audio effects in the script – like the sharp crack of a bullet striking a car windshield followed by squealing and the violent roar of the car crashing into a wall – to further convey information that just can’t be reasonably worked into the dialogue.

(Do you really want to hear, in the heat of the action, a character say, “Oh no! A bullet just hit our car’s windshield and broke it! I can’t see! Oof! We just crashed into a wall!”)? No. You don’t.

It’s also hard and I’m definitely still learning.

I discovered, in other words, that I have a lot more evolving to do.

Can you hear me now?The drama of which I write herein, a chapter from my in-progress novel, Luck Be A SpaceLady, was one of four produced this year by the KFJC Pandemic Players. Social distancing was observed at every stage, which makes the final result all the more impressive. I encourage you to check them out, but especially (because I’m a selfish attention-seeker) their production of my script, found here in MP3 format.

 

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I Have No Life, and I Must Scream

Thanks to the power of image editing, I not only have all my teeth, but they're shiny white too!
The Missus, kiddos, and neighbors 
don’t like it when I scream. 

I burn for something.

Crave it.

Got a fever for it.

But no, not for more cowbell.

It would be easier if I knew exactly what it is I need. But I don’t.

Instead I’ve read at least twelve books in the last month, with another currently in progress.

Binge-watched multiple shows on various streaming services.

Logged into work on off hours and days.

Taken the family on long hikes through the Redwoods.

And done other…more shameful…things to fill the void within me.

(Like stoop to writing…gasp…a radio play, to name but one.)

I think the pandemic has finally gotten to me.

Spending more time at home, enclosed within the same encroaching walls, dealing with exactly the same pets and identical family members day in and day out, I’ve struggled to feel …productive.

Whole.

Relevant.

I started with the streaming services, the gateway vice into maddness. Looking back, I can’t even tell you everything I watched. Despite being within the last thirty days, it’s all faded into a blur.

I mean, yeah, it’s a pandemic month and therefore technically longer than that, but still.

I do remember some Classic Doctor Who, snippets of Marvel movies and shows, and the first season of True Detective (good, but I really wish that was one of the programs I can no longer remember!). There was more, I just know it, but my memories of them remain hidden behind a facemask of inordinate size and opacity.

And I can count off twelve of the books I read (the last four Murderbot books, a Jasper Fforde fantasy series, some on-offs not worth mentioning), but I’m pretty sure there was more than twelve and I just can’t remember the earliest ones.

Like the radio play, the hiking, and working during my time off, they have all been ways to fill the void. Maybe escapism?

Though if the world of True Detective, Season 1, is an escape, how bad must reality be?

Turns out, pretty bad.

I’ve watched as people around me sank lower and lower as the pandemic stretched on and on.

I was doing OK until recently, or so I thought. I chalked up my resilience to being an introvert. Assumed I was handling things so well because I didn’t need or miss the social interaction suddenly yanked from all of us.

And the people I yelled at at home and work? They deserved it. Or so I told myself.

But I was wrong.

I have a problem. I crave input. Stories with, if not happy, at least satisfying endings.

Hello, my name is Ian and I’m a content addict.

A baleen whale trawls for krill and zooplankton by opening its mouth, swimming forward, and hoping. I think I’m doing the same thing, only my mouth is open to scream and my version of moving forward is taking advantage of Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, and thriftbooks.com.

My biggest problem, of course, is that unlike this pandemic, books, TV shows, movies, and even hikes all come to an end. And while my vices soothe me in the moment, I’m painfully hollow after they conclude.

Leaving me dangerously vulnerable and looking for the next hit. And in that moment, during that profound, bottomless low, I’ll take anything to fill the void and feel whole again.

Cat memes.

Opinion pieces.

Reddit threads.

Anti-vaxxer websites.

Even…[shudder]…fan fic.

So I’m ready to get vaccinated. Ready for herd immunity and parties and writing in coffee shops again. Ready for things to return to some semblance of normal.

Ready to have more in my life than just books.

Read that last sentence again.

One more time, slowly. Really let those words sink in.

Ready to have more in my life than just books.

The fact that I just wrote that sentence speaks volumes (no pun intended) as to the condition of not just my mental state, but our entire world right now.

We need help. All of us.

Though I suppose all of this could be down to flat panel displays. No, really, I read a thread online about this. WFH and binge-watching has resulted in me spending a lot more time in front of screens and the unnatural amount of blue light they expose us to. Maybe the 450-490nm wavelength emissions are what’s leaving me empty inside.

Perhaps the solution to all my woes isn’t a vaccine and hanging with people and coffee shops. Maybe it’s as simple as taping a sheet of transparent red plastic to my monitor and filing a class action lawsuit against the manufacturers of said displays.

If nothing else, a lawsuit gives me something to do.

Hmm…

OK, maybe I need just a little bit more help than the rest of you.

 

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