Christian A. Young's Dimlight Archive

Aaron Sorkin: 1, Casual Lexicon: nil

tobyI've been aware of The West Wing for a long time. I've even seen a fair bit of it here and there, but I've never seen all of it, nor watched episodes in order, and so when I noticed the whole series had finally gone streaming on Netflix, that was it.

Decision made. Mainliney bingewatching behavior engage.

Well, mostly I'm hitting it a couple of episodes at a time, mostly in the evenings or on weekend mornings when I've got a couple of hours to have downtime and knit, and it's so good for me in these weird, unpredictable ways.

Case in point: the word "okay" is now in my secret fannish lexicon. It started with Danny Concannon (whose lines in S1 are about 97% basically just this word, I think) and has branched out to every "okay" in the universe.

Which is to say, Sorkin has managed to make the most bland and invisible of words a Glowing Goddamn Beacon to my brain. "Okay" is like "said." It should essentially be invisible under normal operating conditions. Instead, it is now a Thing in my skull. Like, every time I hear the word, I wonder what the subtext is. Every time I say the word, I get a little zing of nerd happiness, like I'm secretly communicating a thing.

I am probably not communicating a thing.

I am pretty sure I don't care that I'm not actually communicating a thing.

It's tiny. It's ridiculous. Like, this has to be one of those writer things that doesn't make sense to the rest of the planet, because I never hear people having this problem. And, predictably, I am enjoying it immensely because language is fun and weird and the way human beings relate to language and character and media is so unpredictable, and that this tiny thing keeps lighting up my brain is so beautiful.

Things like this are why I fell in love with language.

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This morning I noticed…

...a piece of black duct tape on the light switch for our back porch. Given that I live with four other people, I figured one of us must have had a good reason to do this, and that I'd eventually find out what that good reason was.

A little later, three of the roommates were heading out for breakfast while I was making my second cup of tea. They asked me about the tape. I told them I didn't know, but that we should probably switch the tape out for something that wouldn't leave sticky residue on the switch plate.

They left, and this short showed up on one of my social media feeds:

Well-played, Roommate J. If you are still alive, that is. Me, I'll just be covering myself in glow sticks and covering the walls with LED tap-lights.

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This is My Raygun.

raygunThis is my raygun. There are many like it, but this one is mine.

This has been an interesting week. DST is still the enemy, though I think I've finally cleared the hump. Trying to ease in last week by getting up at 3:30 instead of 4 for a few days did basically nothing on the getting to sleep on time front. If anything, it may have just prolonged the agony. By Sunday night, the body was not even remotely interested in going to bed. At all.

It wanted to go onto its own native schedule, which looks a lot like what I do anyway except it wants to do it in GMT. Late nights and even later mornings, you know? Especially since the weekend is the only time during the week that I nap freestyle (i.e. "Oh, it's mid-morning and I've got free time...") and so by Sunday I was well-rested and didn't even twig that I should be considering losing consciousness until about two hours after I should have.

Basically pain.

Combine that with a weird burst of impostor syndrome and the way my current writing-related projects are not playing well with one another at the moment, and I hit a serious low around Tuesday this week. Doubt, frustration, anger, depression -- really every negative feeling I could be having came to a head in the most miserable way.

For my birthday, my friend Chloie (who is a hell of a writer, and has amazing taste to boot) gave me a Mystery Box. The Mystery Box lives on my desk, and is full of odd trinkets and packets of tea, most of which are wrapped like wee gifts. I am allowed to use the Mystery Box as I see fit, obviously, but in general I use it as a reward system when I feel like I should get a treat, or as a kindness dispenser when I need something wee and shiny to improve my life.

Not that I really believed it would help on Tuesday. Which was ridiculous given that I'd not only sold something in the night from my Etsy shop, and I was doing paid work and blah, blah, blah. Feelings aren't rational. But any port in a storm, right? Plus, the fun thing about friends and gifts is that they seem to derive enjoyment when they give you things, and I derive enjoyment from my friends' happiness. So. Mystery Box it was.

I was not expecting something as perfect and ridiculous as the ray gun. It is so tiny as to be unweildy in my adult-sized human paws. It makes little noises. It lights up.

In a culture that can't decide whether it wants to buy all the guns and take them absolutely everywhere or punish anyone who so much as considers simulating a weapon, it feels subversive in my pocket. It pushes all the buttons in my head where my not-entirely-factual idealizations of classic sci-fi tropes live, and gives me the same tingle I used to feel when I was very small and playing Star Trek out in the yard with my cassette recorder tricorder, or running around with the glow-in-the-dark She Ra sword the neighbor kid eventually broke because he was a jerk who broke everything, or the toy lightsaber I had that went "vwoom" because it was open at the end.

Oh, and I can use it to shoot doubt in the face with extreme prejudice.

It could not be more perfect. The more I think of it, the more sure I am that even the timing was perfect. I'd be enchanted by it, sure, but getting it in precisely this way at exactly this time?

That's what makes it a talisman. That's what makes it magic.

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Friday Linkdump was using that hour, damn it.

chainMost mornings, my alarm goes off at 4. I get up, I work -- writing, editing, etc. -- I shower and dress, and then I get into my car to go do different work for the rest of the day. About two or three times a week I do something else (e.g. meeting up with friends, going to org meetings, projects, etc.) before I come home, veg out for a little bit, and then shuffle off to the soft, dark place for a few hours.

A couple of days ago, I realized that DST starts this weekend. I moved my alarm back to 3:30.

The idea is that two little shifts would be less bad than a whole hour. If I'd been really smart I'd have started a couple of weeks ago, and bumped back to 3:45, 3:30, 3:15, etc., but so far this is working okay. I am unlikely to want to die on Monday when that hour I am using disappears out from under me. I may not even notice.

I'll tell you what, though: the idea of 3:30 is almost a little much. Like, I say I'm not a morning person, and that what I'm really doing is getting up in the middle of the night, but I'm still having to balance that with a diurnal life, and 3 AM is perilously close to what is probably a red line in terms of making that work. So.

At least I get that hour back at the end of haunt season.

And now, links:

30 Cats And Dogs Losing The Battle Against Human Furniture
I dispute that all of these animals are losing a battle, and not all of the human objects are furniture, but this is still magical.

10 Things That Every Brand New Creator of Science Fiction Should Know
I was surprised how good this list is. I'd also challenge that it's only for "brand new creator(s) of science fiction," since a lot of it is applicable to fantasy as well. And literary fiction. And so on.

Snake vs crocodile: A dramatic showdown
This is not a SyFy original movie. This is a thing that happened at a lake in Queensland where people swim. Australia: kind of amazing.

Ghosts of the Tsunami
Describing this essay as an account of the relationship between the living and the dead after the tsunami that cased the Fukushima disaster hardly does it justice. Longish, so set aside some time.

YouTube channel: Mahafsoun
Belly dance plus metal. Commentary should be entirely unnecessary, right? Beautiful stuff.

150 Journalism Cliches
I remember one of my teachers in high school had a list of bad writing habits to avoid, written in such a way as to demonstrate each habit in the instruction. "Avoid cliches like the plague" was one of those gems. Personally, I think we should use this list to make cable news bingo cards.

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What I Read in February

BooksAs I mentioned in January, some folks expressed an interest in my New Year's resolution to (mostly) only read books by women. To review, here are my rules for what I can read in 2014:

All books should be written by women, with the following exceptions:
- Books already in progress prior to January 1, 2014 may be finished regardless of the author's gender
- Books in a series I am already reading may be read regardless of the author's gender
- Books needed for a class or specific project may be read regardless of the author's gender

I realized this month I needed rules to accommodate anthologies and books with multiple authors and/or editors:
- Anthologies edited by a woman are acceptable even if the collected authors are not all female, but books with 50% or better representation are preferred
- In the case of multiple authors and editors, a single woman will suffice, but books with 50% or better representation are preferred

So! With that out of the way, here's what I read in February:

Midnight Blue-Light Special, Seanan McGuire
This is the second of the InCryptid books, and pretty much entirely pleasure reading. I don't click with this series as deeply as I do with McGuire's Toby Daye series -- I don't really identify much with Verity Price -- but McGuire does a good job of making the interpersonal relationships interesting to me. Plus, you know, urban cryptids and secret societies. So.

Our Vampires, Ourselves, Nina Auerbach
I actually bought this in around 1999 when I was working for a textbook warehouse. I saw it on the shelf and was so delighted by the title that I knew I needed to read it. It's probably my favorite scholarly analysis of vampires in English-language literature and film, and deals with everything from pre-Stoker (e.g. Polidori and Byron) up through the Reagan years, ending more or less with Near Dark. This was a re-read -- it's relevant to some things I'm working on at the moment -- and very satisfying.

Spooky South, S.E. Schlosser
This is a collection of short folk stories from the Southern US as retold by the author/compiler. Schlosser's a folklorist, and I probably had higher hopes for this one than it was able to deliver, in part because I'd kind of hoped for a bit more context -- think liner notes, if you remember what those were -- when really the Spooky series is kind of like Scary Stories to Tell In The Dark for grown-ups. Lighter than I like, which is less a fault of the book itself than a mismatch of my tastes with the text. Still not a bad value as impulse buys go.

Weaving Memory, Laura Patsouris
My "Not a Book Club" book for February over at The Land, Sea & Sky, and probably not of interest if you're not into the idea of ancestor reverence as a part of one's spiritual path. You can find my full write-up here.

That puts my counts for 2014:

- 12 books finished
- 9 read in their entirety
- 2:10 ratio of men to women

My plan for March is kind of opaque at the moment, but if my latest trip to Village Books is any indication, fiction will be at least half of my reading load.

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Friday Linkdump is awash in documentaries, and possibly ram’s blood.

chainSo it's True/False time in Columbia, and everything is beautiful.

I've got about twelve films on my list this year, the first of which (Jodowrosky's Dune) I caught last night after work. It was, I think, an auspicious start: beautifully made, full of heart, and exactly the thing my heart needed this week. I had to laugh at the timing, too, given that I finished the last Dune book all of a few weeks ago, so the idea was fresh in my mind.

If you want to see a story about what may be the happiest and most influential creative failure ever, go see this. It's apparently going to have relatively wide distribution in coming months.

Tonight is a longer haul, with films at 6, 8, and 10. I follow that up on Saturday and Sunday with four films each day. The range of topics is going to be intense, from particle physics to human trafficking to Nick Cave, so I'm anticipating going into Monday a little bit exhausted and a lot incoherent.

Oh, and very satisfied and happy. Yes.

And now, links:

- 100 LGBTQ Black Women You Should Know: The Epic Black History Month Megapost
A fantastic post about women who deserve more visibility in history and modern media than they get. Definitely great for starting a list of media to check out if your horizons need some expanding.

- Stanford scientist unveils 50-state plan to transform U.S. to renewable energy
This is not my area of expertise, but it seems to be a fairly comprehensive challenge to status quo. If I were Warren Buffett rich, I'd seriously consider working with this guy on making at least some of this happen.

- Muslim, queer, feminist: it’s as complicated as it sounds.
I've spent some time over the last couple of years intentionally making time to learn more about Islam, and I think this woman is a fantastic example of how people within that faith challenge the expectations most of us have based on media coverage of Muslims. High five, awesome Internet stranger!

- Inside Amtrak's (Absolutely Awesome) Plan to Give Free Rides to Writers
I love this idea like burning, even if I'm not sure it's for me. I'm kind of Internet-dependent when I work, partially because I benefit from additional stimulation when I'm writing, but this also looks like the kind of novel experience that would teach me a lot of interesting things. I like the cut of Amtrak's jib right now. Yes I do.

- Op-ed: Coming Out As An Evangelical Pastor
As someone who lives his life in a lot of fear some days because of the political force of the US Evangelical movement, I hurt when I read this. I hurt for the people who are struggling in these environments, and I hurt because the people who most need to take these words to heart are more likely to ignore them than any other group of people.

- The Blood Harvest
This article about the biomedical industry's harvesting and use of horseshoe crab blood is both mindblowing in its own right and full of sentences I had no reasonable expectation of encountering. Like, this is information I literally could not have known I wanted. Wow.

- Your Spirit Animal Is Here To Take You On Your Vision Quest
This is making the rounds again, and it's both funny and near to my heart in terms of respecting the spiritualities of others.

And now, pants.

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Friday Linkdump is late to the party on account of community microbes

chainLast night I started feeling pretty rough. I chalked it up to the tail end of travel fatigue, popped two Aleve, and went to bed. This morning, I was like, "Man, I'm glad I took that Aleve, because I still feel kind of meh, and this would be so much worse if I hadn't!" and tried going to work. By 11 AM I was back home in my pajamas, trying to stave off chills and aches by curling up with the nearest dog.

And then I fell asleep for most of the day. As one does.

I'm pretty sure this is the non-influenza viral thing my roommates have been passing around since last week, but there's a chance it might be Billie Piper's flu. Or what my friend V had on the last day of Gally. Or something I picked up somewhere else.

I mean, I don't want to have flu -- I'm immunized and everything! -- but come on. It could be Billie Piper's flu!

(Please don't let it be flu.)

And now, links:

Stone Towns of the Swahili Coast
This? Awesome. We never learned about African history in any depth in public school, and I never had an opportunity in college.

How Single Photographs Are Saving The Lives Of Shelter Animals Across The Country
It seems obvious that better photos of shelter animals -- photos that make them seem dynamic, fun, and individual -- would make people more interested in adopting them, but the difference in before v. after is so striking. I'm glad this is a thing that people are doing.

On The Gay Thing
One of Dragon Age's lead developers talks about the challenges inherent in working toward better representation in games without it becoming a Thing. I hadn't realized that anyone on that team was part of the LGBTQ population, but that game (and its sequels) grabbed onto my heart in ways like the anonymous fan commenter's, so it's nice to see a post about it from the development side.

"Tainted Love" played by floppy disk drives, now with Marc Almond vocals
Because sometimes the Internet is magical.

Grenada Underwater Sculpture Park
Does exactly what it says on the tin. Unsurprisingly, a lot of the art is both beautiful and alien, thanks to being submerged in a live environment.

Arizona lawmakers pass controversial anti-gay bill
Gee, I can't wait to see what the gays-only drinking fountains, lunch counters, and toilets look like! (Hint: People tried using Christianity to defend racism too. Stop it. Religion isn't a license to treat people badly.)

Floating in Space
Fun with depreciating space suits! Also, kind of scary if seeing something that looks like a human floating around untethered makes you tense.

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Writing Through Paralysis

bearAnxiety is a Thing for me.

When I say it's a Thing, I mean to say that it's a significant obstacle to my ability to function. When the volume is high, I kind of explode into a bundle of coping mechanisms, most of which are essentially different flavors of procrastination. If I need to do a task that tenses me up past a certain threshold, I'll do almost any other task instead. This isn't always a bad thing -- I benefit from having an up-to-date to-do list and a clean desk, and would rather be doing something than nothing -- but the problem with running away is that sometimes you end up cornered against a fence.

Those are the times my brain likes to go limp and play dead.

"Task paralysis" isn't quite the right term, though the experience of competing tasks does contribute to the "man, it's so loud in here" effect. It's more like a certain volume kicks my process into a state of full-on tonic immobility, which may or may not be bracketed by distracting numbing/soothing behaviors like rearranging stuff, social networking, tasks I can pretend are useful and important, etc.

Watching myself do this is kind of like watching a mouse trying to scramble its way out of a fishbowl, except that the mouse doesn't exist; it's the fishbowl trying to get out of the fishbowl.

Knowing this happens isn't the same as being able to fix it. Recognize it, yes. Try to hit the reset button, yes. Many days, I keep the volume to a healthy, dull roar and just take a little break now and again to stay oriented. Some days, the best I can do is try to control the damage by channeling things so that I come as close to hitting a target as I can. Other days, I'm hitting the reset button every fifteen minutes because everything -- including things that should help, like lists -- makes things worse.

The best fix I've found for this is probably the least appealing: keep going. It's not the advice I want at my nadir, because when I'm down there all I want is for things to work instead of overwhelming me so much I lose the ability to focus, but it's the only thing I've ever found to work. It might not work the same day -- in fact, it sometimes takes me a few to get back on the horse if things are especially tense in other areas of my life -- but sooner or later the rhythm of things begins to assert itself again. As for motivation, I'm possibly lucky in that I appear to be someone who believes that not trying is at least as bad as failing, only without the potential for success.

(And yes, I can think of scenarios in which a good choice results in something even more catastrophic, but I'm able to do that in almost every single arena of my life because my brain is unpleasant like that. I'm also smart enough to decide to draw a thick line between being kind of neurotic and pessimistic and being profoundly self-destructive. So.)

This week has been interesting. This morning was a multi-reset day. I'm not sure about the rest of my week. I'm hoping the weekend will be kind. Really, as long as I can keep myself from wedging myself under the furniture, I'll call it a win.

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Friday Linkdump is in California. And you aren’t. Unless you’re also here in California.

chainI'm traveling at the moment -- or rather I have traveled, and will be here in LA for a couple of days both working (yay, writing and editing!) and playing (yay, Gallifrey One!) until early next week, when I will travel some more -- but my laptop is here. And the Internet is here.

The Internet is always here.

Amusingly, I'm also traveling phoneless. This has been a source of amusement (and logistical trouble) for my friends and I, because while I'm happily doing what I'm doing right now with a technology that didn't exist before I did, the rest of what I'm doing is looking a little bit early 20th Century in terms of interpersonal communications. Given that I've been going without a mobile phone for several months now, some of this is easy for me. On the other hand, conventions are a space in which being able to text the person you're trying to find is Very Helpful Indeed.

It is what it is, and I like interesting experiences. So there's that.

Yesterday was Adventures in Los Angeles With Friends Day, which mainly involved a phenomenal brunch at Basix in West Hollywood, buying macarons and dog toys in Beverly Hills (less expensive than it sounds because I'm clever), and exploring Our Lady of the Angels before hitting Trader Joe's (for groceries) and In-N-Out (for delicious burger goodness and an ill-considered but still delicious milkshake).

So yes. It's been a good trip so far. Yes.

And now, links.

- Old Mexico lives on
Fascinating map from The Economist that demonstrates just how ridiculous the way we construct the concept of "American" as being primarily ethnic Western European is, and the persistence of boundaries even after they've been redrawn.

- Here's the first recorded instance of the F-word in English
Remember, kids: words survive in language because they are useful.

- Florida Ordinance Makes It Illegal For Homeless To Use Blankets
Fuck you, Pensacola.

- "A reason to hang him": how mass surveillance, secret courts, confirmation bias and the FBI can ruin your life
Short version: this is why the Fourth Amendment matters, and why the argument that if you're not doing anything wrong you have nothing to be afraid of is wrong.

- 1,000 Bodies Found On University Of Mississippi Land Thought To Be From Old 'Lunatic Asylum'
I confess, I get angry and cynical about stories like this, mostly because of the intersection between our uncomfortable histories in America with regard to the lives and rights of others, the fact that those bad, old ways never quite died out, and my strong distrust in the myth of progress. I want more for someone with the means to come advocate for the dead.

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Linkdumps are frequently secretly fond of each other.

chainFor a week in which I essentially had two weekends -- this week's storm shut things down pretty comprehensively around here for Tuesday and Wednesday -- I feel surprisingly overwhelmed and ready for another weekend.

Like, seriously? How does this happen?

Part of it involves a project is rolling into a more active phase at the same time as some social obligations ramp up. I'm frantically trying to prepare for Gallifrey One, the beginning of the month is the busiest time for my local Grove, and so on. Lots of things going on more or less all at once can be really energizing for me, but the flip side of that is that I wind up really excited and then wonder how to cram all of it into the time allotted.

Given that I didn't feel this way before I went back to my 4 AM wake time, this all suggests that putting myself back on farmer's hours is Super EffectiveTM. The tingle means it's working.

Given that I've been focusing more intensively of late on eating whole foods, I should not be in love with the idea of Soylent. But I am. Not because I look at this and think, "Oh hey, convenient complete nutrition!" but because I look at it and think, "OMG SPACE FOOD SHUT UP AND TAKE MY MONEY."

Share this with all the schools, please
"We talked about shaping little hearts to become contributors to a larger community – and we discussed our mutual dream that those communities might be made up of individuals who are Kind and Brave above all." People, my heart grew three sizes. Go read this and then go hug a teacher.

Ghosts of Murdered Kings
Look, if I can't link to documentaries about bog bodies, what is the Internet actually for? Gods bless you, PBS.

Compassion, Transformation, and the Power of Community
The Wild Hunt is a site that focuses on Pagan topics, news items, etc. Of late, however, it also seems increasingly focused on how ordinary activism works as enacted by members of that community. Alley Valkyrie's piece about working with the Whoville settlement in Oregon is an incredibly solid look at what works with homlessness and what doesn't in terms of helping to build stability and wellness for those on the fringes, including reducing the amount of time they spend bouncing around in the legal system.

How to: Make a DIY Modern Concrete Fire Pit from Scratch
I see this and think two things. First, that I am not allowed to have this knowledge. Second, that I will never need to buy an outdoor flower pot again.

1980s New Wave Major Arcana
Look, I know I just had a birthday, and that I don't read a lot of tarot these days, but...well, I suspect I know what I'll be spending some money on when I have properly disposable income again this spring.

Inside the Iron Closet: What It's Like to Be Gay in Putin's Russia
"Elena Kostyuchenko knew she would be beaten. It was how hard she went down that surprised her. Not immediately. When the fist connected with her skull, she fell, yes, but then she stood again and raised her rainbow flag. The crowd was silent. Their mouths were open as if screaming, but there was no sound. Her hearing was gone. Then the police grabbed her, and Elena's first gay-pride parade was over."

Too Insane To Ignore: Marjane Satrapi On Her Fascinating Sundance Horror-Comedy 'The Voices'
I have never wanted to see something with Ryan Reynolds in it so badly in my life. This is a very strange feeling indeed.

Living Without Lights (or water, or electricity…)
This was interesting to me for several reasons. While the post itself is mostly just instructive, I found myself thinking about the strange trend of my generation toward extremes of more and less, and how only a portion of us actually choose less, and how uncomfortable the implications of the whole thing are. Like, yes, I am "interested in simplicity" and I sometimes daydream about living in a tiny house. I am also able to say these things because of my privilege as an employed, able-bodied, male-passing, white person with friends kind enough to make him part of their household, not someone experiencing genuine privation in the dead of winter. To some extent we may need to recognize the simplicity movement among people from traditionally privileged groups as possibly being both a symbol and a symptom of increasing inequity.

Meet Terri Conley: The Psychologist With an Alternative Theory of Hookup Culture
"In a series of papers published in 2011 and 2012, Conley’s lab put forth an alternative explanation: Women were passing on sexual advances out of fear of being judged as promiscuous and doubt that a one-night stand with a new partner would be pleasurable. When her researchers controlled for these factors, the casual-sex gender difference evaporated." Fascinating stuff. Her lab is currently researching consensual non-monogamy.

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