Outside The Cocoon Dept.

"In this cocoon, the working class is something to make money from..."

In re a comment about the new Clooney/Roberts/Foster flick Money Monster:

Three Sentences About the Cocoon | Mother Jones

Back in the day, plenty of screenwriters and film directors came from working-class backgrounds. Today they all have degrees from the USC film school and live in Silver Lake. They get their news from Variety and the LA Times, not drive-time radio and People. In this cocoon, the working class is something to make money from via transparently condescending TV shows, not real people with real problems.

That business about "bringing what you have into where you go" is something I've touched on before, and I used Hollywood as my original go-to example. When Tinseltown was brand spanking new, so new they didn't even have color or sound, people came into it from pretty much wherever, not just vaudeville and the stage. The idea of going to school to study any aspect of filmmaking wasn't something that would be invented for decades.

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Tags: books creativity creators literature publishing writers writing

Bigger Fish To Fry Dept.

"My problems are bigger than yours" is always a bad argument.

It's generally a bad idea to tell someone their choice of struggle is a waste of time, and that they should do something More Important. By way of Orac:

John Horgan is “skeptical of skeptics,” or: Homeopathy and bigfoot versus cancer and the quest for world peace – Respectful Insolence

... there will always be issues more important or more impactful than what any of us does, with rare exceptions. Pointing to them and using them to denigrate someone’s efforts as pointless, which, make no mistake, is what Hogan [sic] comes across as doing, is not constructive. Rather, it is a very old strategy to denigrate that which you consider unimportant.

I came across Horgan's piece by way of Peter Woit's blog, and I am not happy to report that Woit, whom I normally consider wise, wrote approvingly of Horgan's porridge of nonsense. I suspect it's a case of Woit seeing some things he agreed with on face value and then letting Horgan do the rest of the thinking for him (a phenomenon I'm all too familiar with on my own). The article is depressing for a lot of reasons, but mostly because its central argument boils down to wagging a finger at some population and saying: Why aren't you doing what I like?

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Tags: morality philosophy science skepticism sociology

Kill 'Em All And Let George Sort 'Em Out Dept.

On GRRM's dead pool (lower case, haha).

Game of Thrones author says not killing off major characters is 'cheating' | Polygon

"We've all read this story a million times when a bunch of heroes set out on adventure and it's the hero and his best friend and his girlfriend and they go through amazing hair-raising adventures and none of them die," Martin told the magazine. "The only ones who die are extras."

My objection here is to the way GRRM doesn't seem to think framing or selection matters in storytelling, or that it's naïve, or something to that effect. His answer to the romanticism of fantasy (something that had actually been pretty heavily deconstructed by the time he came along) was to make it impossible to invest ourselves emotionally in anyone in the story, because it's even odds that anyone could get killed at some point. At that point you don't have drama; you have soap opera at best, and a dead pool (lowercase, haha) at worst.

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Tags: fantasy Game of Thrones George R. R. Martin writing

You Are Not Your F***ing Khakis Dept.

And you're not your desires, either.

Meditation for Success? | Hardcore Zen

Selling meditation as a key to success destroys meditation. If your meditation is directed at achieving goals, you’re only strengthening that part of you which is forever unsatisfied, forever seeking outside approval, forever chasing after money and power. You’ve discovered an even more effective way to ensure that you’ll never be happy, never be balanced, never have any kind of peace.

Brad is specifically chafed about the way meditation is now being sold as yet another Think And Grow Rich. I always felt like the audience for such things consists of two kinds of people: those who already have everything most people could ever want and yet it isn't enough, and those who want to be in the first category.

The only thing meditation can teach you, from what I've experienced, is that you are not what's in your head, that you are not the sum total of your desires, and that you need constant maintenance (read: meditation) to keep that in perspective.

Your desires are lying to you. That's their job. Your job is to not let them delude you, because your real business is elsewhere. Your desires are part of that elsewhere, but they're not the whole of it. Not even close.

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Tags: Brad Warner Buddhism meditation psychology Zen

Solo Act Dept.

Having a larger audience helps, but not at the cost of creative latitude.

First off: I had no idea Bookslut was closing its doors. Second off:

RIP Bookslut, 2002-2016 — Vulture

I see young writers all the time who are overwhelmed by the need to brand themselves, to get their career going, to build up to respectability. I don’t think that’s healthy. ... There’s always space to do whatever you want. You won’t get as much attention, but fuck attention. Fight for integrity. ... This weird conformity just takes over as soon as the possibility of money or access or respectability comes up. That’s disappointing.

I feel weird talking about this — am I going to jinx myself? that kind of thing — but here goes. I've been trying to find representation for the last book I wrote, but I'm also attempting to not take the process very seriously. In other words, it's nice if it does happen, but I'm not going to make a concerted effort to recenter my entire career (such as I have one) around it if that's the case.

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Tags: creativity publishing writers writing

Green In The Face Dept.

It is hard not to be jealous of other people's successes, and maybe it ought to be hard, because that teaches us something.

It is hard not to be jealous of other people's successes, and maybe it ought to be hard. The act of fighting that feeling teaches us something we might not have garnered any other way.

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Tags: creativity psychology

All The Wrong Lessons Dept.

Why bad video game lore is a lot like bad pop culture: it embodies the wrong lessons.

Why is video game lore so awful? • Eurogamer.net

... video game creators are prone to making two erroneous assumptions about what constitutes a deep narrative. The first is that volume equals depth. In the classic tradition of epic science fiction and fantasy literature, studios will craft thousands of pages of backstory, often involving many hundreds of characters and vast intergalactic wars. Sometimes it seems as though, early in a narrative meeting, one writer will say to another, "okay, let's set this in the middle of a war that has been running for a 100 years"; then their colleague replies, "No wait, how about... a thousand years?" And then everyone agrees this is exponentially deeper. It isn't, it's just an extra nought on the end of a conflict that, without context, pathos or human tragedy, is ultimately meaningless.

Emphasis mine. Sound familiar? Wait, there's more.

The other problem is the belief that obfuscation equals depth. In the Final Fantasy and Metal Gear Solid franchises for example, the timelines, relationships and plot structures are so tortuously complex, so shielded within arcane terminology, that it's almost impossible to engage on an emotional, empathic level. Yes, Kojima makes lots of super smart postmodern jokes and references throughout his games, but they are buried beneath narrative labyrinths that feel inaccessible, not because they're intellectually complex, but because they don't make a whole lot of sense. This doesn't feel like great story-telling.

My friend (and video game journalist) Eric Frederiksen talked about this the other night, and noted how in gaming these kinds of mistakes manifest somewhat differently than they do in other entertainments. But a lot of the net effects are the same: they make for bad examples to follow, even if they're successful commercially.

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Tags: culture storytelling video games writing

A Narrow Beauty Dept.

it isn't political unpalatability that makes for bad art, but the narrowing of the mind that often goes with it.

Can a Book With Bad Politics Be a Good Book? - The New York Times

When politics — of the good or the bad kind — mess with our enjoyment of a book, it’s usually because the author’s proselytizing impulse has muted whatever is interesting or particular about his way of seeing. Tolstoy’s novella “The Kreutzer Sonata” is a bad book, I think, not because it is the work of a nutty Christian ascetic, but because its nutty Christian asceticism has stamped out everything generous and curious and noticing in Tolstoy’s imagination.

I've read "The Kreutzer Sonata", and I agree that it's one of the viler things I've seen stamped with the name of an author whose works I have otherwise enjoyed.

My own personal "good read, bad politics" experience actually falls into roughly the same vein as Tolstoy's Folly: Yukio Mishima's œuvre. For a guy whose writing was luscious to read, his sensibilities veered between being impenetrable and insufferable — and it was enlightening to discover that his fellow Japanese, both authors and countrymen generally, rolled their eyes at him too.

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Tags: politics writers writing Yukio Mishima

We Put The 'Cult' In Culture Dept.

Modern fandom of the fantastic is transformative, not passive.

'Game of Thrones'? More like waste of time - LA Times

Hollywood has been working a long time to herd everyone toward the more predictable tastes of a 14-year-old boy — "Star Wars," "Star Trek," "Lord of the Rings," "Harry Potter" and the ongoing plague of super-fantastic-avenging-iron-bat-X-people-movies. "Thrones" only assists Hollywood in further emulating the corporate strategies of Coke and Camel — hook kids when they are young and trap them in a lifetime of addictive regression. ...

Popular culture was meant to be momentarily distracting and entirely disposable, not a cult handed down from parent to child to grandchild and beyond. We already live in a world where there's a company making "Star Trek" diapers and another making "Star Trek" coffins. How many more generations must we lose to this nonsense?

Emphasis mine. Without sounding like I'm coming out on the side of the culture nags, I want to dig into this and see what comes up. (Most of you know by now I'm no fan of Game of Thrones myself — it appeals to me about as much as the smelly fishbelly skin found under a Band-Aid left on for too long — but the attack on the show mounted here seems entirely in the wrong spirit.)

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Tags: creativity culture entertainment fandom

Flight of the Vajra: The Duke, The Prince, And Me Dept.

How David Bowie and Prince jointly inspired a character of mine.

Selfish as it might be to say this, I feel motivated only now to say something about the deaths of David Bowie and Prince because of the way I based a character on an amalgam of them.

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Tags: characters David Bowie Flight of the Vajra Prince

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