Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Back On Track

Here's a bit of the studio to which I periodically refer. I need to get on the stick -- ol' Glendon and I have discussed the idea of doing a big thing on creative working spaces. This brief glimpse should be give you some idea of the informational density of the Oaf's environment.

Since I kinda hated the lighting in the initial snapshot, I gave it a five minute cleanup. This one is more crafty than the one I did of Amanda a few posts back -- since the lighting varied over the room I used four adjustment layers and airbrushed their masks to tone down the contrast between the light and dark areas. I think I'm gonna like photography.

So I'm in a much better mood. Last night's Homework Club meeting left me feeling pretty good. Allison's home, Warren's decided to make fiction more of a priority, Rob is going great guns on his spy novel. He also brought me a big box of Swill.

And they made me feel a lot better about my own novel. Seems that I panicked and over-reacted. The early chapters are not without grab. But it took that kind of abject terror to force me to make some changes that will make the whole book a lot more readable -- dumping scenes and characters, downplaying some of the protagonist's pity parties and making his strengths more obvious to the reader. I've figured out how to do the latter in ways that strengthen both plot and theme -- and part of this comes from realizing that at the stage in my life that I'm portraying, I had more going for me than I gave myself credit for.

Fuck it; I'm a drama queen and there's nothing to be done but endure it.

Allison and Warren are giving me the message that my skills are of a professional level and I could be making money both as a designer and a writer. If I had contacts, a track record, etc, etc. But you know what? Fuck a bunch of trepidation. Everybody starts somewhere and I don't want to die in the fucking gutter. Anyway, I'm a hell of a cheap pet. It doesn't take a lot of income to keep me content.

This is shaping up to be a hell of a nice week, as well. Gonna see friends tonight, music tomorrow, a hike with Dad on Friday (and I think I'm gonna bring the camera for the first time) and then in the evening I'm gonna see my old boss/buddy Kamau Bell perform at the La Pena cultural center. Saturday afternoon I'll be meeting up with another old boss/buddy at Triple Rock for snacks and adult beverages. (Really looking forward to seeing Megan -- she's the one who got me serious about writing, taught me the rudiments, steered me into a writer's group, and got me a lot of work back in the day.) The missus is going out of town this weekend, but hey -- I'll spend Sunday lazing around in a stupor, which I enjoy from time to time.

Gonna try and get Swill into another store this afternoon. Both of my hats have become disgusting social liabilities, so I'll probably catch a nice sunburn on my shiny bald head. The things we do for art...

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Evopunk Lives! Stones, Episode Two

He saw something silver glittering between the greenleg’s eye and earhole.

A Magpie control blob. What kind of maniacs would use those on big dinosaurs?

Okay, enough moping around. I decided to take a little holiday this morning and knock out a new chapter of the evopunk serial Stones.

Here's the deal. I am not going to be devoting myself to this in a serious fashion. It's playtime for me, no rewrites, no revisions, no serious plans, no more than a couple of hours writing any given episode. This is just for fun. And part of that fun is having an audience and getting a response.

You know what made me want to do another chapter? People asked. (Hey, Glendon! Hey, Peter!) And I got hits. The more interaction I get with this, the more interested I'm gonna be in continuing it. The Stones story could go on for a while -- but I'm also wide open to suggestions and requests. In the short run, is there a critter in the Morrison formation you'd like to see? Or another place, another period? A mystery you want resolved? More information on the Transit Authority? Some real aliens, or some more alternate time-line type aliens like the Magpies? Want to know why Skinner and Duke are refugees? The more you give me to bounce off of, creatively, the more fun I'm gonna have and the more episodes you're gonna get.

And just to sweeten the pot, how about a contest?

The first person to figure out the origins of Skinner and Duke's names gets an 8.5" x 11" signed print of any dinosaur image from my Picassa gallery.
(Click here to peruse!)


click here for episode one


Skinner, perched on the carcass of the dead saddleback, felt exposed. An oxbow river to the right, with a riparian forest of cedars and redwoods bordered by cycads, but all around him was fern prairie, a rough terrain where it was hard to run and harder to hide.

Without taking aim, Skinner scanned the ultralight soaring overhead, his spex feeding the acquisition information directly into one of the rounds in his gun, a stop ‘em — a Self-Targeting Plasma Missile. Under the circumstances, it wasn’t quite overkill.

“If you shoot him without probable cause we’ll blow our contract,” Duke said.

“He’s here,” Skinner said. “That’s probable cause.”

“Not enough for the TA.”

“Shit,” Skinner said, and wheeled. There was something big coming across the prairie. His spex brought it into focus – it was a greenleg, one of three distinct local species whose skeletons would have been classified as Allosaurus fragilis if found fossilized. They were middle-sized, averaging around thirty-five feet long, and they roamed in small prides out in the open. It was strange to see one alone. But that wasn’t the only weird thing about the greenleg.

It had riders. This was something new. A howdah made of heavy nylon over a tube frame was slung across its back and fastened with thick straps, forming a nest on each of the big predator’s flanks. There was a passenger in each nest; they were both carrying guns. Guns aimed at Skinner.

Skinner threw himself back, putting the bulk of the saddleback between him and the incoming. A wad of something white, soft, and sticky hit the spot where he’d been standing. A hypersonic crack came from overhead, trailing the round that had been meant for Skinner.

Skinner didn’t have to look; he just pulled the trigger and let the stop ‘em do its work. It was a gyrojet round, essentially a capacitor hooked up to a rocket engine. It took a moment to get up to speed, then its course twisted skyward. Skinner kept moving; another round of glue smacked into the ferns behind him.

When the stop ‘em got to the ultralight the capacitor discharged, turned the round and the air around it to a globe of plasma so hot the aircraft and its pilot were vaporized. The only debris left were particles of grit and flakes of ash blowing in the breeze.

“Something’s coming out of the forest,” Duke said.

Skinner glanced over; the fat man had put down his chainsaw and picked up his rifle. He was aiming at something out of Skinner’s line of site. Skinner took a moment to scan the area with both his spex and the cameras mounted on his gun. Two more greenlegs with passengers, converging on them from different directions. They moved more quickly over the broken terrain than any man-made vehicle.

Duke’s rifle went off once, then once more. “Go for the riders,” he said. “Once they’re down —”

There was a smack and Duke grunted as a wad of glue slapped against him, fastened his right arm to his side, made him drop his rifle.

Skinner didn’t waste time taking out the passengers. Instead, as more glue rounds splattered against the wall of meat behind him, he dropped, braced his rifle against the ground, and used its railgun function to launch a four-ounce iron sphere at the closest greenleg. It hit the allosaurid so hard the beast turned into a giant meatbomb, flesh and bone and blood blasting a red fan across the ferns.

Duke cursed as another wad of glue hit him, then dropped to the ground. The glue must have been drugged.

There was a thump, and waves went through the saddleback. Skinner looked up and saw the head of the greenleg coming over the curve of the saddleback’s ribcage. He saw something silver glittering between the greenleg’s eye and earhole.

A Magpie control blob. What kind of maniacs would use those on big dinosaurs?

“Fucker,” the woman on the right side of the howdah said, and aimed her gluegun. The moment froze like a photograph and Skinner took in the green bandana on her head, the T-shirt with a grinning cartoon alligator and the cowboy cursive under it: Gatorheads.

No time to load the railgun; Skinner let loose with a burst of three nine-millimeter rounds. The woman’s face was still recognizable. Barely.

The greenleg didn’t flinch; he was remote controlled. Skinner couldn’t see whoever was in the other side of the howdah. He started to prep the railgun when he felt something punch his back hard enough to bruise, and that was it.

He was glued.

“Shelly? Shelly?” The man’s voice came from the other side of the greenleg on the saddleback. The predator’s eyes seemed dreamy, unfocused, and it stood still, just shifting its weight enough to stay balanced as its claws sank into the saddleback’s meat. Skinner saw a blonde head with a red face come across the greenleg’s back; the man screamed when he saw what was left of Shelly.

Behind Skinner, he heard the other greenleg approach through the underbrush.

“I told him we should just kill these shits,” someone said. “Jesus, what a fucking balls-up.”

As Skinner’s vision went glassy and then rippled, he noticed the man above him wore the same T-shirt that Shelly had. Gatorheads?

The man spat, hit Skinner in the face. “Fuck you,” he said. “Mr. Big Johnson’s gonna make you wish we’d just shot you. Just you wait.”
To Be Continued!

Monday, July 27, 2009

So I Was Sane This One Time

So there was this one time I was sane. Lemme tell you about it.

The missus has twice put us on the same diet at the same time. Now I'm of the opinion that diets are bunk, and that the thing to do is exercise a little more and eat a little less. It's worked for me in the past; this last year, though, my personal habits have been dreadful and I'm paying the price...


This one time the diet was an exquisitely sophisticated one called The Diet Cure. It involved altering mental states by using amino acids as precursors to neurotransmitters, enabling one to fine-tune one's brain chemistry. (Please keep in mind that my experience with this strongly indicates that my brain chemistry is pretty fucked-up, so your mileage may vary.)

I was interested, partially because I'd used the idea of amino acids in that capacity in a science-fiction comic script I'd written back in the mid-eighties, when cyberpunk was still fresh. It was my first shot at long-form writing, and the script hinged on a couple who used genetically-modified bacteria to produce cocaine. They modified their coke by including the precursors to the neurotransmitters that coke releases in the brain, so one dose of coke would prepare you for the next rather than burning you out. (The twist was that it caused the users to become allergic to their own neurotransmitters, causing a Parkinson's-like effect. Turns out I was on to something.)

(Also interestingly, I modeled the lead character on Margaret Cho, who at that time was still in high school. She was a pal of my brother's. In fact, she mentions us and my sister in her first book, believe it or not.)

Back to the story. Going on The Diet Cure meant taking a lot of pills. A whole lot of pills. And you had to take them on an empty stomach, and each amino acid had to be taken separately in order to function. So all of a sudden my life was completely dominated by this arcane set of rules.

And make no mistake, these things were psychoactive. They have a very perceptible effect. Tryptophan, the one in the bottle at the top of this post, spikes your serotonin levels -- a dose of Tryptophan on an empty stomach gives you the effect of a Prozac-type drug within an hour or so. But this effect won't happen if you have any other amino acids in your stomach when you take it.

At first it didn't seem useful, but once I started modifying my doses way beyond what seemed reasonable all of a sudden something interesting happened.

I had no mood swings. I slept a solid nine hours every night. The chronic pain from my back bothered me less. I was mildly upbeat all the time.

But for eight months I took pills and cooked for me and the missus and read and played my bass a couple of times a week and that was fucking it.

No writing, no art, no new songs. Nada. Zilch.

And the price of the pills? I mean, I was taking something like sixteen L-Tryptophans a day, with vast quantities of the other pills to balance it out. Right now if I were to take four or five of 'em I'd be narked out and miserable. I mean, I probably should have counted the gelatin in the capsules when working out my diet.

And I gained fifteen pounds.

So Karen decided she couldn't afford to buy the pills for me, I lost the weight, went back to being crazed, and became artistically productive again.

Go figure.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Back To The Psycho Mines

I've recently been through one of the most pleasant runs of mood I've had in my life. I went through weeks of being stable, happy, and productive. But the last few days have seen me back on the roller coaster. Not in a serious way, but enough to throw me for a loop and worry the missus.

And then this morning I ran across this book on our kitchen counter. Started reading it in the bathroom, took it back to bed. Didn't set it down until I was done. It took me three hours to read and much of that time was spent in thought. It is a wonderful book and I'd recommend it to any interested party -- but this isn't a critical piece.

Now I've always scored high on Asperger's/autism tests but I always figured that was because they don't distinguish between autism and misanthropy. But reading this book, I was startled by the number of traits and behaviors I had in common with the author and her fellow autistics.

I ain't autistic. The two most obvious symptoms of autism are difficulty with verbal thinking and lack of empathy. In these areas I'm aberrant in the opposite direction; I was conversational on an adult level by nine or ten months, and my empathy is of the kind where it is frequently difficult for me to distinguish between my emotions and those of the people around me. (This makes it really, really easy to get me to do what you want if you really, really want to.) And while I have difficulty socializing, I've always treasured and desired human contact in a way that's quite alien to the autistic.

But over and over again I found myself recognizing the way she viewed life and the way she dealt with it. She talks about how autistic people benefit from the application of physical pressure to their bodies; until I moved away from home I slept with sixteen old-fashioned wool blankets on my bed because I needed the pressure in order to sleep. (During the summer I'd roll them up and stick them in our upright freezer during the day so they'd keep me cool at night.) Even now I can't sleep unless I have a pillow over my head. And a lot of my childhood play involved confinement in close quarters, which always soothed me. Even my preference for soft, heavy women seems to reflect this tendency.

The way she had to construct her social skills deliberately and intellectually. Again, this was and is very true for me. I don't have any intuitive sense of how people are going to react to me. I'm continually refining my public behavior based on incoming information. And there are aspects of my behavior which I don't even notice until they're pointed out to me -- the way I blow my nose loudly, for instance. I have no idea how many of those idiosyncrasies are still unknown to me.

Ms. Grandin wrote of having to study people in order to be able to interact with them effectively. I was utterly baffled by people until I watched a Jane Goodall special on the National Geographic show and I realized that if I were to get by in the world I'd have to do with humans what she did with chimps.

Autistic people can have trouble filtering input. Oh, man. Noises other people would never notice can prevent me from sleeping. I can't listen to more than one conversation at once -- if someone tries to talk to me when I'm on the phone I'm overtaken by a brute rage. I can't filter sensory input -- but on the other hand, if I'm focused you have to yell at me for a while before I'll notice you.

Autistic people have trouble deviating from routine. Again, guilty as charged. If there's any variation in my routine I can start losing my shit. And self-injury as a way to soothe oneself via endorphins? All my best scars are self-inflicted, and my rule of thumb is that if the number of minutes I've spent pacing is multiplied by the bleeding bite-marks on my cuticles is greater than one hundred, it's time to take things seriously.

It went on and on. Even small details like having additional difficulties during the fall and the spring seemed to be similar to my own experiences.

There are a cluster of mental conditions like schizophrenia, depression, autism, OCD, etc. that seem to be related to and interactive with one another and I live in that zone. While I've been diagnosed with agitated depression and tentatively diagnosed with borderline schizophrenia, I really don't fall neatly into any diagnosis. My symptoms range all over the place and every so often something new will crop up unexpectedly and then fade away.

(I was particularly grateful that the mean-talking voices in my head were a one-off. Living with that shit would be too much.)

When I know my role, when there's an emergency or a job to be done, I have no problem functioning. That's when I shine. People I work or go to school with tend to think of me as able, amiable, and confident. It's only people who don't know me at all or who know me really well who understand that the boy's got issues.

This book got me wondering if I should reconsider the possibility of counseling and medication. Which doesn't help put me in a good mood. Last time I tried that it was a fucking disaster. Medication made things worse (seems that they no longer prescribe anti-depressants for agitated depression), and I wound up depressing my counselor. And god only knows I don't have the money, so the point is moot -- but there are the counselors at school, but would they be capable of working with a headcase of this magnitude?

Ah, well. The mood will pass. It's actually not as big a deal as it sounds. I'm doing pretty well for a crazy person. And all of the best parts of being me are the light side of that shadow. C'est la fucking vie, you know?