Metaphor Monday: Breath of the Fall

Looks like Metaphor Mondays just come on Tuesday now. I guess that’s just the way it’s gonna be.

Fall feels like it’s arriving late this year. Seems like the summer, like a bad movie, has gone on and on and on — hot, sticky days without end. Days without a breeze. Weeks without rain. Doldrums. Ennui. The itch slowly settling in.

And then, one night, like magic, it changes. The damp, drab air gets swept unceremoniously out the door and in rushes that cool, chilly sting. You leave the windows open at night and wake up shivering. You leave for work in the morning bundled up in a sweatshirt you’re going to leave at work because it’ll still be eighty degrees when you get out. The summer’s not gone yet, but it’s on its way out, and the morning tingles with possibility.

Even the night skies get clearer as the haze dissipates. Stars hidden from view for months pop back into being: diamonds on a velvet backdrop. The air is cleaner, lighter, sweeter.

You step outside in the morning and you feel alive. You breathe it in and it lifts you up. You shiver, whether with cold or anticipation, and it really doesn’t matter, does it?

I like fall.

But there’s no telling when that first breath of the fall is going to come, is there?

I mean, sure, the seasons come more or less on schedule every year (but if you don’t like the weather around here, just wait five minutes, AMIRITE?). But you don’t get notice; you can’t mark it on your calendar: actual fall weather starts here. Circled in the ombre of falling leaves and scented with pumpkin spice deodorant. It doesn’t work like that; it’s rather more like the crappy toy on the back of the cereal box that you saved up for as a kid. You dutifully tore off all those UPCs, stuffed them in an envelope with your greedy, gooey kid fingers (seriously why are kids’ fingers always so gooey, brb buying stock in Purell). And you waited. You knew that, some day in the future, your prize would arrive, but there was no telling when — one day, when you’d almost forgotten about it, your dad would walk in with a weird little brown package, toss it on the table, and say “who the hell is sending YOU mail?”


Which is basically how inspiration works.

Inspiration, I find, is largely a load of horse puckey in the commonly understood sense. Writers (and artists of all ilks) don’t wander around in fields holding radio aerials hoping their new ideas will strike from the heavens. The ones really getting inspired are the ones slavishly returning to the page day after day whether they feel inspired or not. You have to work for it. You have to sweat it out. Languish in the doldrums. Ripen and rot under the unforgiving summer sun…. and after a long enough sojourn into the word mines (as CW would put it), the lightning strikes.

And when it does: well. It’s like the first frosty breath of fall on a mid-October morning under a sky full of sapphires.

Chilly out there this morning.

Makes me hungry for the blank page.

May the Fourth Be With You (And Also With You)

Know what I like best about the “religion” of the force in Star Wars? It doesn’t take sides.

I mean, let’s be honest, the Force is religion. This guy or that girl or some other dude or your long-lost father is strong in the force for reasons never stated and certainly not comprehensible (and you can GTFO with that midichlorians sharknado). If the Force is on your side, you can perform straight-up miracles, like levitating your Orange Crush across the room because you’re too lazy to go get it during the commercial break in Coruscant’s Next Top Jedi, or force-choking your idiot friend who won’t shut up about how Han shot first.

The miracles are cool and awesome and super. But what I actually like best is that the Force is an equal-opportunity personal savior. The Force is perfectly happy serving Darth Vader or Luke Skywalker or Kylo Ren or Rey WhoTheHellKnows. Everybody and anybody can call on the Force to bless themselves or anybody else.


“May the Force be with you.”

Ben Kenobi says it. Anakin Skywalker says it. Emperor Palpatine says it. Princess Leia says it. Yoda says it. Darth Vader says it. Even Han Solo says it, and he is an explicit non-believer on the subject.

It doesn’t matter if you’re a tree-hugging freedom fighter, a power-crazed space slumlord, a half-insane cave monkey or a floppy-haired debonair space ace, you can call on the Force to help you out, and if you’re lucky, it just might save your ass.

What does this mean?

Well, if the Force is an explicit metaphor for religion, I think it shows that religion, faith, belief, are much like a lightsaber. Be it red, yellow, green or fantastic purple, it’s just a tool. It isn’t intrinsically good or bad. It just is, and whether it’s a symbol of good or bad depends entirely upon the person wielding it.

And if the Force isn’t religion, well, that’s okay too, because it’s still just a tool. Like the hammer collecting dust in your garage, it doesn’t have a stake in whether your house stays in good repair or if it crumbles to dust. It’s there to bang on some nails if you want to, or to go smashing up some drywall if that’s your thing, or, hell, it’s even happy just hanging there watching dust motes swirl in the stale air.

*makes the jump to lightspeed without plotting coordinates first because that’s the way we do it in the new era of Star Wars*


Comparison Shopping (or, Dirty Writer Secrets)

Writing is like running, I think. If you’re doing it, you’re winning.

Sounds cliche, but I believe it. For a couple of reasons.

First of all, there is no way to actually “win.” In running, the fastest person in the hundred-yard-dash won’t be able to hold a candle to a marathoner’s pace. And a marathoner won’t be able to touch the explosive energy of the sprinter. He who wins a marathon this year will get edged out next year. There is no “best.” So it is with writing. There are bestsellers, sure, but they rotate as quickly as the windmill blades on that damn mini-golf hole that you can never score less than seven strokes on. And there are popular writers within genres, but the question of who is “best” is always a matter of personal preference. So, in both endeavors, you win by simply doing the thing to the best of your ability.

Then, of course, there’s the fact that by and large, running is an individual activity. Okay, on race day you might meet up with 1000 of your closest friends to pound the pavement in your town, and maybe you run with a group on the weekend, but most of the time it’s just you and your shoes (if shoes are your thing). So, too, with writing. At some point you bring in readers, and if you’re at a certain point you might have editors or agents or reviewers, but most of the time it’s just you and the computer. Or typewriter. Or notebook. Or yellow snow.

And there’s really no point in comparing yourself to anybody else, right? I could compare myself with Meb Keflezighi (yep, I definitely had to google to see how to spell that), but what would be the point? He’s been running his whole life, and I will never perform at that level, so why beat myself up about the fact that I won’t be winning any marathons? Likewise, it’d be pointless to measure myself by such yardsticks as Stephen King, or Douglas Adams, or Jasper Fforde, or Neil Gaiman (and I’m just now recognizing that I need more female authors in my go-tos); I might as well be an ant shouting obscenities at the boot descending toward my segmented thorax.

So you run for you, and you write for you, and if you’re doing those things, and doing them well enough to feel good about what you’re doing, that should be good enough, right?

Well, that’s true. But there’s something else in us, I think, that makes it impossible for us not to compare ourselves to others. We may not mean to, we may actively try not to, but, come on — can you look at the person with a bestseller credit and not feel a little pang of, “man, maybe one day?” Can you watch Meb crossing the finish line and not think, “if only I could do that?”

I think the focus, in writing and in running, should be inwardly-focused. Your concern should be yourself and your improvement, and if you can say that what you did today was better than what you did yesterday, then you’re doing all right.

But. (There is always a but.)

I have a dirty secret. I like to compare myself to those lower on the ladder.

Right? Makes me feel good to see the people struggling with things I no longer have to struggle with.

Okay, so, when I drive around and see people out slogging it in the heat, running at a pace barely above a shuffle, I gloat a little inside. Poor sap, I think. Look how hard you’re working, for so little return. I think about how much faster I am, or how much farther I can go, and I feel better about me. I get a thrill if I pass another runner when I’m out on my own run, no matter what the situation, because in that moment, I’m better.

And I’m no different in writing. In fact, I’m worse in writing. I know a blogger/writer much in the same vein as myself, an aspiring novelist working to get his/her feet on the ground (or off it, choose your metaphor). I read his/her work semi-regularly. And he/she is just awful. Every story turns to over-the-top melodrama. Every character is an unjustified badass. Every turn is so heavy-handed and abrupt that I feel thrown into a narrative ditch while reading. The grammar errors could bleed an old typewriter dry. The spelling makes me want to punch kittens. (No, I won’t name the writer. Or link the blog. I am relatively sure he/she is not a regular reader of mine.) I read his/her work and I think, man, I’m so much better than that! And it makes me feel good about my little pile of turdlets I’ve amassed in my swampy corner of the internet.

I know I shouldn’t. I feel bad as soon as I catch myself doing it. But just like reaching for one more Nacho Cheese Dorito, I just can’t help myself. Because I want to feel like I’m making progress. I want to feel like I’m, if not the best, at least better than somebody.

And I think it’s worth remembering that, while it’s true that there will always be somebody out there who’s better than you, there will also always be somebody out there who’s worse than you. That goes for writing, running, filing your tax returns, animal husbandry, and crocheting. I am probably, for example, worse than you at crocheting.

So use me. Because I’m using you. If I think you’re better than me, I’m using you as motivation; I want to get what you’re getting. If I think I’m better than you, I’m using you as motivation; I want to make sure you don’t catch up to me, or worse, pass me. Because even though I may think I’m better than you, and you may think you’re better than me, we are all better than the folks who always say, “man, I would really like to take up running,” or “I want to write a novel someday,” but still haven’t gotten off their donks to actually try it.

I can’t be the only one that thinks like this. Come on. Admit it.


It’s a little-known perk of writing that writers get to do something truly remarkable. I’m not talking about the godlike power to create empires of the mind, to breathe life into characters and to spawn images in the minds of our readers. Nor am I talking about the Herculean ability to overcome the blank, intimidating expanse of the blank page. I’m talking about a quieter power, but a greater one.

Writers get to invent words.

This is a subtle power, one that can’t and shouldn’t be waggled around like a magic wand in a seven-book epic about teenage wizards (if ever there were a metaphor). It’s a power that should be practiced with care, delicacy, and great reservation. It’s the power to change the way people think and communicate, if you use it right.

Imagine where we’d be without words like “schadenfreude?” (The Germans are really good at this.) “Kerfuffle?” “Google?” Seriously, imagine your life without Google and try to tell me that the power to create words isn’t incredible and earth-shattering.

Sure, English is chock-full of words already. Good ones, too. Great ones, even. Still, there are those times when you’re casting about for just the right word, one that perfectly encapsulates the thing you’re talking about, one that leaves no room for confusion, one that immediately creates meaning in the mind of your reader, even if they’ve never heard that word before. And the problem is, as broad and expansive as the language is, we just don’t have words for every situation. ‘Twere impossible to have a word for every situation locked and loaded in our memory at any time. Sometimes you just have to make one up.

I do this all the time, and most of the words suck. They’re good for one use only, and once used, they disappear down the gullet of memory and are never seen again. Once in a while, though, you hit on a winner: a word that’s useful, memorable, and catchy enough to merit use by others. Because communication is a two-way street… it’s no good making up an entire lexicon of new words here in my lair if nobody else sees fit to use the words, too.

But today, a breakthrough. A word that might — might — catch on.

I didn’t even make it on purpose. I was just trying to alliterate, and I accidentally created a word that’s already resonated with two readers here in my sphere. Maybe it’s resonating with you, too, and you don’t even know it.

A thing I do a lot here at the blarg is ramble. I have a way of overstating and overthinking things, and I end up going on at length… possibly longer than is necessary. I own that. It’s a fault, but it’s fun for me, and this is my sandbox. I also love to complain, again, probably more than is necessary or healthy. And what do you get when you combine the two? A rant? Sometimes, but not always. I don’t usually rise to the level of anger characterized by a rant. A gripe? Well, a gripe is quick and small-scale. No, when I complain at length it’s like those rumbles in your stomach leading up to a really unpleasant excursion in the restroom. They go on forever and leave you feeling cranky as your innards get all twisted up in knots. The only remedy is getting it out of your system. A grumbling ramble. A “gramble.”

I recognize that this word sort of describes the thing that maybe your grandfather might do about the state of his retirement checks, or that your cranky English teacher might do about the work ethic of his young, irreverent students. As such, it’s not a particularly glamorous addition to a lexicon. But it’s a good one nonetheless, because sometimes you just need to bitch and moan about this one thing specifically, perhaps well beyond the point where the average listener feels sympathetic to you. You need to gramble.

So it’s time to start a movement. You read a blog entry from some guy going on and on about how long he had to wait in line for his driver’s license? Call him out for his gramble. You need to spout off about your boss’s idiotic cornflower blue tie and how ridiculous it makes him look? Fire up the gramble. Kids kept you awake all night and it’s all you can think about or talk about at work the next day? Ask your co-workers to pardon your gramble.

You know this is a word you need in your life. You know you’re dying to use it. Do it. Embrace the dark side, and embrace the raw creative power of language. It’s time to make this a thing. Go get your gramble on.


We Are the Grid

What if memory were a saleable commodity?

I think this idea must have been implanted in my grey matter sometime around the time I first saw Total Recall when I was, I dunno, 15 or so, but I think it’s not so far-flung an idea as it perhaps seems on the surface.  When you consider the exponential growth of technology, and the fact that you now have a device in your pocket which can measure your caloric intake, sleep cycle, physical activity or lack thereof, and sharknado, probably even your bowel movements during the day, is it so hard to imagine a future wherein memories can be added to your hard drive for a fee?  Or deleted?

Terrible childhood keeping you from living up to your potential?  Not anymore.  Erase those awful parents and replace them with the Stepford Wives version of your mom.  All aprons and chocolate cakes and hot dinners and high heels.  Dad used to smack you around?  No, he didn’t.  Your dad was the perfect, pipe-smoking, newspaper-reading, catch-playing, allowance-giving Leave-it-to-Beaver dad.  (Truth time, I never saw a single episode of Leave it to Beaver, but that’s what it was about, right?)

It feels like science fiction, but it isn’t.  In the short space of my lifetime — and I got started in the eighties — we’ve gone from the height of technology being a little black box on your belt that can receive phone calls but not place them, a hulking computer which could choke when reading a floppy disk — an actual floppy disk that was actually floppy — to almost everybody in the US owning a computer that fits in your pocket.  Oh, and that computer is connected — by fargoing magic, it would seem to our selves from twenty years ago — to a series of computers around the world which give us access to any bit of information we might want, from local movie times to the phases of the moon to the entire history of ancient Greece to entire catalogs of movies and television shows.  Oh, and this computer also makes phone calls.  AND LETS YOU TALK FACE TO FACE TO SOMEBODY ACROSS THE GLOBE.

The cover of Time magazine a few months ago featured the next step in “Smart” technology — a glowing heads-up display embedded in the forearm.  Smart Watches are all the rage at the moment; there are no fewer than dozens of models being hawked in magazines and tech websites now, and you may be getting one for Christmas.  Google Glass, much though it’s stumbling and crashing into the furniture in its infancy much like my two-year-old son, is here and refining itself and not going anywhere.  In a few years, we will hardly remember a time when the computer chips were on the outside of our heads; when conducting an internet search required interfacing with a keyboard and a digital screen rather than the automatic firing of neurons and the insides of our eyelids.wrist-cover

There will be arguments about whether real or “artificial” memories are superior, though it will hardly matter, because the artificial ones will feel so real we’ll be unable to tell the difference.  There will be debates about whether the tech should be usable in certain situations — I can foresee a scandal wherein a kid who’s never cracked a book in his life wins the National Spelling Bee over all the geniuses through the covert use of his neural implants, but nobody will be able to prove it.  The moment you meet a new person, their vitae will be displayed in searing neon text inside your brain, with the option to view a full background history for a small fee, you need only “glance right” and the money will automatically be debited from your account.

There will be no such thing as “off the grid” anymore, because we will be the grid.  You won’t be able to “unplug” anymore, because the stuff will be plugged into you.

I wrote a short story some months ago about a society wherein nobody was able to lie anymore because everybody had a device implanted into his head which blinked if they told a lie.  Make lying impossible, and the ability will disappear.  Except the world needs liars, so naturally, scientists found a way to bypass the very tech they had created to make lying impossible.  Not my best story, to be sure, but it seems relevant to the topic at hand.   At any rate, I go back to that story because it’s science fiction… except that it’s not.  We’ve had technology for years which, through a simple reading of your blood pressure, pulse rate, or even the dilation of your pupils can tell if you’re lying.  How much of a stretch is it to imagine a world where they just hook that stuff up to you at birth to cut out the middle man?

Sure, this means that we’d view everybody as an inherently deceitful and disingenuous person.  But hell, Sam’s Club checks your receipt before you walk out the door, and you pay for the privilege of shopping there.

When we can implant memories — and remove the ones we don’t want — what will happen to the idea of identity?  What will happen to the idea of being a unique person?

I’ve never climbed Everest, but I could easily implant a memory that I had.  And if I remember it — if I can smell the snow and feel the thinness of the air and see the panorama of distant mountain peaks and the world far below — is it not real?  For that matter, if something happened to me in my life and I can’t remember it — did it ever really happen?  Are we not all, at the end of the day, brains in a vat?

Believe it or not, no psychotropic substances were involved in the writing of this rambling blarg post.  Only a deep-seated paranoia about our collective cybernetic future.  I for one would like to preemptively voice my whole-hearted endorsement of our prospective robot overlords, and ask that when they plug me into the Matrix, they make me believe that I am a freaking ninja with a boat and a talking dog.  And a hoverboard.  Because yay, hoverboards.

This post is part of SoCS.  Typed with no editing at all, only spellchecking.  Which I’ve already had implanted in my brain.