Archive - Oct 2013


October 31st

Salon, Authority and Twenty First Century Bullies

From the NaNoWriMo group on Facebook, I found the following comment:

Here's an interesting steaming pile of anti-NaNoWriMo dreck from

Yes, like other's my attention gets drawn to train wrecks, accidents along side the highway and other disasters, so I slowed down and took a look. The author admits that she doesn't write novels, and goes on to say,

NaNoWriMo is an event geared entirely toward writers, which means it’s largely unnecessary. When I recently stumbled across a list of promotional ideas for bookstores seeking to jump on the bandwagon, true dismay set in. “Write Your Novel Here” was the suggested motto for an in-store NaNoWriMo event. It was yet another depressing sign that the cultural spaces once dedicated to the selfless art of reading are being taken over by the narcissistic commerce of writing.

As I read this, I pondered, what would make a person write such a screed? Is it insecurity in her own writing? Is it some haughtiness about being a 'real' writer, instead of just some inspiring hack? Are they two sides of the same coin?

'The narcissistic commerce of writing…' She, as, I presume, a paid writer, seems to be in an odd position criticizing the commerce of writing. Perhaps the narcissism she is complaining about is her own. Perhaps she is concern that she will be eclipsed by some great writer that emerges out of NaNoWriMo, moves through writers conferences, and writes the next great American novel.

So who is Laura Miller? Her bio says

In 1995, Laura Miller helped to co-found, where she is currently a staff writer. She is a frequent contributor to the New York Times Book Review, where she wrote the Last Word column for two years. Her work has appeared in the New Yorker, the Los Angeles Times, the

Wall Street Journal and many other publications. She is the author of "The Magician's Book: A Skeptic's Adventures in Narnia" (Little, Brown, 2008) and the editor of "The Reader's Guide to Contemporary Authors" (Penguin, 2000). She lives in New York.

Oh yes, there s that nasty little bit of the commerce of writing slipping in. Be sure to buy her books, not. Her articles are mostly reviews, which based on her screed against NaNoWriMo I didn't see any reason to read.

Her article has received many great comments. Perhaps the best starts off like this:

Well aren't you just the Queen of Everything

Good gods, Miller, what crawled up your ass and died? What do you care if people take a whack at writing a novel or not? Who are you to tell them what is and isn't a "waste of time"? It's their time and effort, and if they want to spend it trying to write, let them. How exactly is it hurting you?

While you're at it, why don't you write a column on what a huge waste of time it is to collect stamps? Or crochet doilies? Or bone up on football stats? How about making birdhouses; THERE'S a fucking waste of time for you. And let's not forget scrapbooking. Damn, think of the millions of man hours (or woman hours) wasted on pasting ribbons and gewgaws and pictures in cutesty books. It's disgusting!

If this were just another self-righteous narcissistic professional writer sneering at all the people who still write for the joy of it, I would be tempted to glance at it and move on. However, I believe this reflections a much bigger issue in the world of writing, the idea of authority.

It is a topic that has been explored at many great conferences on the future of media, so I'l just give a quick summary. Here in the twenty-first century, where anyone can write a blog, and now, for that matter, anyone can self-publish, how do we determine what is of value? How do we find the authors that write with true authority.

It used to be that the publishers and the book reviewers were the gatekeepers, the guardians of authority. Yet now social media and crowd sourcing take the change in authorship one step further. An author can write a great book, self-publish it, and get enough critical praise from the hoi polloi to make the book a commercial success. Wither authority?

Ms. Miller also wrote a couple articles recently about Goodreads changing their moderation policy. She talks in these articles about the role of bullies at Goodreads. As we think about the changing nature of authority in the internet age, I have to wonder how much the apparent rise in bullying is a result of people trying to find their way in this new media landscape and acting inappropriately out of fear of their own loss of status.

Perhaps this provides a better insight into why Ms. Miller has chosen to publish an inflammatory attack on a wonderful hobby of people seeking to improve their ability to communicate in the twenty-first century.

October 20th

The Third Gender and the Fourth Estate

Can a writer effectively compose a first person narrative story but from voice of their opposite gender?

There are a lot of interesting questions people struggle with in the NaNoWriMo Facebook group, and this is just one of them. Most of the responses are fairly predictable. "Yes… I can…I'm told they're accurate, too, from my male readers….There is more difference within genders than between…."

The discussion drifts off to sexuality.

I added my two cents with

Wow! I came at this from a very different perspective than most of the other people on this thread. My first thought was, "It all depends on whether you are cis or trans".

This, of course, led me to thinking about gender being socially constructed. If we are creating new worlds, we can also create gender constructs as we please.

I wonder how many of the forum participants get the reference to "cis or trans" or "gender as a social construct".

On Wednesdays, I speak with my eldest daughter who is teaching in Japan these days. Recently, she went to a conference on gender equality there. During our discussion of her experiences, I mentioned an interview I had recently listened to where the speaker identified herself as being in a third gender. She was a western woman in a strongly patriarchal Muslim country. In the country, there were acceptable roles for men and for women. Yet, she, as a western woman, could participate in activities traditionally reserved for men as well as in activities traditionally reserved for women.

My daughters and I often speak about social constructionism and I've been planning to weave the idea into my novel for NaNoWriMo. As my mind wanders along this path, I bump into the Constructivism philosophy of education, and I start thinking about social constructivism. Writing a novel is a great opportunity to experiment with challenging social constructs. How do writers create or reinforce social constructs? What role does the fourth estate play in shaping the third gender?

I must admit I've always had problems getting past Orlando "slicing at the head of a Moor which swung from the rafters". Yet the idea of Virginia Woolf's Orlando has alway intrigued me. At this point, I don't expect to have an Orlando like character in my novel, but we shall see.

October 19th

#NaNoWriMo - Breaking the Transhuman Apocalyptic Singularity Filter Bubble

We are less than two weeks away from the beginning of National Novel Writing Month, #NaNoWriMo. The goal is to write a 50,000 word novel during the month of November. Just straight through writing. You can save the editing for later.

The first year I did NaNoWriMo, I wrote a mystery in Second Life, and made the goal of 50,000 words. Subsequent years, I've started off on story ideas that were not clearly thought out enough, were too close to home, or I just didn't have the time. I've tried various variations on NaNoWriMo and am preparing for this year's attempt.

I've been thinking of writing some sort of psychological political philosophical treatise pulling together thoughts on aesthetics, politics, the genome, the biome, great awakenings, transcendentalism, transhumanism, the apocalypse, the singularity, social constructs and social contracts, neural networks, group therapy, attachment therapy, filter bubbles and a bunch of other ideas.

The starting point I've settled on is a campaign for State Representative. I will draw from my experiences running for State Representative last year, as well as experiences with other political campaigns, but I need to remind everyone that what I'll be writing is fiction, trying to weave together a lot of different ideas. If you find that a character sounds a lot like you, attribute it to good writing and not being a commentary on you. If you have ideas you want to share, make them about ideas and not your thoughts about different people.

With that, here is the general idea: In a fictional district, based loosely on the area I am from, there is a long time incumbent State Rep. His twin brother is a mayor in one of the towns in the district. His father was a Congressman. No one wants to run against the incumbent, so a political philosopher decides to run, but a completely different kind of campaign. No lawn signs, door knocking, palm cards,, advertisements, or any of that sort of stuff. Just discussions. Discussions about anything and everything. Discussions aimed at bring people with different viewpoints together, modeled on Chicago dinners, and aimed at breaking filter bubbles.

One of the towns in the district is a suburb where many college professors live, so there are lots of chances to talk about the genome, the biome, social contracts and social constructs.

I have a lot more ideas built into this, but I'll save some of them for November. Now, here's my ask: what sort of things would you like to talk about at a filter breaking dinner discussion organized by a long shot candidate for state representative? What points would you like to see gotten across? What conflicts would you expect?

As you can see by my comments about transhumanism, singularity, and the apocalypse, this is wide open. Let me know your thoughts!

October 14th

"A Nice Place to Visit"

There is a Twilight Zone episode from 1960 entitled "A Nice Place to Visit" where a thief dies during a robbery and ends up in this other world where all his whims are met. He can't understand why he has ended up in this paradise, but eventually gets bored and says,

"I don't belong in Heaven, see? I want to go to the other place."

His guide replies, "This is the other place!!"

The thought came to me, as I read the latest news of the intransigence of Republican leaders in Congress as our economy careens towards an economic apocalypse and my daughter sang along to Imagine Dragons latest song, "Radioactive"

This is it, the apocalypse

Some of my friends expected some cataclysm as part of the Mayan Apocalypse in the end of 2012. Others expected a rapture.

In Christian eschatology, there is talk of a time of tribulation and a belief that the rapture occurs either before, after, or in the middle of the tribulation.

Another popular discussion about the end times, more common among the environmentally active is the story of the boiling frog.

Has the apocalypse happened? Are we in the middle of the great tribulation of boiling frogs, where the rate of climate change has reached escape velocity, spawning more and more storms, famines, riots and political change? Has God hardened the hearts of political leaders such that they cannot see the harm they are doing?

With all of this, how should we live? Perhaps no differently than we should otherwise. To borrow from the WESTMINSTER SHORTER CATECHISM,

Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.

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October 13th

From Transcendentalism to Transhumanism as a Participant Observer

I am starting this blog post Saturday evening after a long day. I got up at about 5 AM, or about 16 hours ago. I put up a blog post and checked in on social media. I drove to New London for an enrollment fair. I was weary and ambivalent about having such a busy Saturday scheduled, but it was a beautiful fall day, a little on the warm side. Along the way, I stopped to play a little Ingress and balance out work and fun.

There was a lot of positive energy at the health fair. I took some good pictures which I will share later. From there, I drove up to Middletown where folks from CHC were helping with Habitat for Humanity. They are in the process of renovating a really beautiful house. I took a bunch of pictures and headed off to the next event.

One of my co-workers teaches archery with 4-H. The archery club was at the Portland Fair and I agreed to show up and take some pictures. I posted a few of them on Facebook and hope to share more later.

Finally, I arrived back home, took a nap and watched a little H+ with Kim.

NaNoWriMo is just a few weeks away, and I've been wondering, will I have the time and energy to write? In the evenings, my mind is just too tired for such activities. Perhaps, I can build a schedule to get up early, write, and then head off to a normal day, gathering experiences for my writing.

I've been thinking more about approaching life from a participant observer stance. It seems to me, that to write well, you need to work, hard, on your craft, yet at the same time, you need to be in the world, gathering experiences to write from.

I'm especially interested in this right now, in terms of trying to get a better sense of the people around me, how to create more compelling characters in my stories, and not just flat, two dimensional caricatures.

As I look for depth and complexity in life, I'm struck by the contrast between Thoreau and Ginsburg.

The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation. … A stereotyped but unconscious despair is concealed even under what are called the games and amusements of mankind.

Too many people work hard all day, come home exhausted, and veg out in front of the TV; the modern day amusements of a mankind leading lives of quiet desperation.

From Thoreau, I go to Nietzsche.

I TEACH YOU THE SUPERMAN. Man is something that is to be surpassed.

and from there I go to Ginsberg,

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked,
dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix,

How does one surpass the men of quiet desperation without ending destroyed by madness? How does one adopt the stance of the participant observer, without ending up on the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix?

My mind drifts back to H+, transhuman. From transcendentalism to transhumanism. H+ the web series, is complex. It is the sort of entertainment that I enjoy, challenging my mind.

Yet too often, I just don't have the energy to watch a few more episodes. So, perhaps, they will wait for rare weekends, and I'll try to come up with a schedule of writing in the morning, participating and observing the lives of quiet desperation during the day, trying to consolidate thoughts and then dig into additional material, as I have time and energy in the evenings.

On Sunday morning, I slept a little later than usual. I've been thinking more about what our Facebook posts say about ourselves and if there is any relationship between Nietzsche,transcendentalism, transhumanism and what is going on in the polarization of current U.S. politics. And, with my interest in health disparities, I'm wondering how all of this relates to culturally and linguistically appropriate services and multiculturalism.

There are probably several blog posts worth exploring in this, but it is time to wrap up this post, get a little webwork done before heading off to church and a couple family events. More later...

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