I begin most days at the kitchen table with my youngest. She picks at her breakfast, and I write or read while encouraging her through her meal. Some days are uneventful, but others she indulges in fantastical adventures. Those are my favorite.
The other day, she turned our table into a rocket ship. Inbetween bites of waffle and cherries, she described our journey to the moon. It was apparently a rough flight. We landed safely next to the desert, which she was quick to explore. Off to the snowy plains of our living room, she constructed an entire family of snow people comprising our own family. My job was to help carry these heavy sculptures back to the ship so we could return them safely home. Moon snow is quite heavy, you see, and I am strong enough to help.
This interaction filled me. I’m overjoyed that my kid trusts me enough to share her alternate reality unfettered. As a child, I was terrified to expose too much of my inner world. Even at her age I had the concept of “reality” reinforced enough to know that private space would not be a welcome guest. I stuffed down my imaginary friends and my desire to be a firetruck and pursued “normal”.
Fortunately art, drugs, and music cut that pursuit short. A couple thousand micrograms of LSD does a damned fine job of hammering the weird back into you (though I don’t recommend it *wink*). Art, music, and literature abound in our lives, and we keep the odd and silly knobs turned to eleven.
It is vital, I think, that we foster a passion for silliness while we seek to guide our tiny humans to adulthood. To be creative, wild, and imaginative is as important as being focused, driven, and tenacious. It frightens me to think of the interior lives of those denied or deprived of silliness. A constant barrage of worry marked only by a desperate clamber for acceptance fills their actions.
The future holds many more trips to the snowy desert of the moon. One day she will learn the facts, be she already knows the Truth: her world is what she makes it, not what she is told. And while some may chirp, “that is unrealistic,” I say, “Good.” She’s four: realism can wait.
[NOTE: I really don't recommend large doses of any drug. The decisions I made as a youth were not particularly smart. Be safe out there.]
This is a big anniversary week for me, so I’ll be brief and get back to work on my stories. Five years ago, I moved back to Georgia to be with my partner in crime and best friend. One year ago saw the dawn of Artificial (Part One) and the foundations of the Antitopia Universe sprang to life. I cannot express my gratitude for either event with enough passion to do them justice.
We have a home. Having spent a decade without one, that is tremendous to me in itself. I still have a difficult time believing the roof over my head and the human by my side are not part of an elaborate prank. The constant sense of “the other shoe dropping” feeds my anxiety, though I know better. If it were hellish, it wouldn’t be worth fighting for, and it is definitely worth the fight. We struggle at times, but things even out. Well, we work towards that, anyway.
We have a family. It is hard for me to feel included and always has. But these kids are everything, and most of the time I even think they like me. There are fights and friction, but in the end I’m overjoyed that I get to play a role in guiding them to better humanity. Moreso that they play a role in guiding me to that same end.
Antitopia continues to grow and bloom. While much of it is inspired by my time with no home and no family, it is more and more informed and affected by these amazing humans I get to spend my time with and near. They play and giggle and fight a few yards away from my writing spot in the kitchen. Sometimes their banter finds its way into the narrative and dialogue. Other times their personality quirks guide my character development. As much of the story evolves in my head, so too does it grow outside.
I am thankful beyond words for my little world. In such odd times as we find ourselves, it is important to celebrate victories. As the world heats up (literally and figuratively) we must find the morale to push through. My life presents me many victories where once I found only loss. I owe much to Fortune, I only hope that every word and step repays that debt. Best of Fortunes to you, dear readers, and thank you for being part of my journey.
This week, Aida was interviewed by Bill Monroe on "No More B.S.!" the World News syndicated and award winning talk show. Here is the interview, from the studio in Center, North America.
Bill Monroe stared into the camera, one eyebrow raised, his face flat. He said, “Storm Killer. Robot. Tyrant. She has weathered many names and public outcries, but tonight we sit down with her. Please welcome tonight’s guest and head of the World Council, Aida.”
“Thank you, Bill.” Aida blinked. “I’m happy to be here.”
“Let’s talk about the pyramids. Hundreds of millions of people now live in these massive structures. How do you justify—”
“I justify nothing. The pyramids and the consolidation are necessary for the ongoing crisis. Rampant consumerism has taken a toll on the environment. It is a miracle humanity has survived this long.”
“Humanity. Speaking of humanity, you’re not exactly human, are you?”
“Strictly speaking, no. I am composed of trillions of sub-microscopic automatons.”
“So you are a robot made of robots?”
“I and the others are independent entities. Every aspect of our existence is identical to physio-typical humans.”
“Except you don’t age, right?” Bill sneered at his guest. “You’re an emperor for life that never dies.”
“We age on a slower scale. Everything dies and fades eventually, Bill. I would like to address—”
“You won’t die or fade in my lifetime.”
“Probably not. Now I would like—”
“So you can see where some folks think you’re a danger to humanity then? You’ll outlive everyone watching this and you’re setting things in motion no living person will see the outcome of. The pyramids? The overhaul of the voting system?”
“Democracy has long been a goal for humanity. For each person to determine their fate through clarity of their voice. There is no fear of repercussion—”
“Yet.” Bill smiled and stared down his nose.
"—for stating their opinion. What do you mean, ‘yet’?”
“I mean it is more likely that repercussions will arise as time passes. People can live in the pyramids, but if they don’t make that choice their tax rate skyrockets. People can choose not to vote, but if they make that choice we exclude them from the credit system. How do you—”
“The majority voted for those things.”
“Did they, though?” Bill smirked. “How can we be sure the system’s not rigged? I mean, you’re robots. You could have easily—”
“If the old system was rigged, humanity did the rigging. That’s what was used to pass these resolutions, after all. But thanks to the new system, every vote is visible. Absolute transparency.”
“Well, I don’t know about that. We need to take a commercial break. When we come back, we’ll have more from Aida on the climate crisis.”
When the camera light switched off, Bill turned to Aida. “So am I hitting the right notes? I don’t want to come off—”
“You’re great, Bill. How’s the suite?”
“Oh, the husband loves it. Great view of the mountains.”
“Wonderful. So he’s painting again?”
“He still has some trouble with his arm after the accident. It’s a learning curve.”
“I’m happy we could help. It took me a while to get used to, well, existing. The nanobes are very efficient, though. I’m sure he’ll be back at it soon.”
The director waved at Bill and held up a finger. He nodded and adjusted his tie, then turned to the camera. “Welcome back. If you’re just tuning in, we’re speaking with World Council leader, Aida. Aida, you recently made some comments about the climate crisis. What are you proposing we do?”
“We inject small, reflective particles into the atmosphere, which will reduce the accumulating heat from solar energy. The part which will take some work is the population issue.”
“Oh, come on. You honestly believe people are going to— that humanity will volunteer to cut itself in half?”
“Not in half, and not by being cut. We need to limit the number of humans being born. We achieve this through education, contraception availability, and access to surgical options. There are fifteen billion humans on our planet. We are outpacing resources, even with the switch to cleaner fuels and low-process food sources.”
“That brings me back to the first thing. Won’t these tiny particles reduce solar efficiency?”
“Not enough to be of consequence. Calculations show anything greater than ten percent efficiency would compromise the energy grid. Our plan only reduces it by five percent. That will lower temperatures worldwide ten to fifteen degrees. The equatorial states would be liveable for the first time in a century.”
“Imagine that,” Bill nodded, “When we return, we’ll have champion soccer captain, Karl Brosser with his take on this year’s world cup standings. Thank you, Aida.”
“Thank you, Bill. It’s always a pleasure.”
The recording light went off, and Aida removed her microphone. She stood and shook Bill’s hand. He smiled and said, “So when does the vote go through?”
“Next week. The numbers look good for the whole proposition, with minor hesitation about the ZePoG initiative. It’s enough to pass, though.”
“That’s fantastic. Let me know how it goes, yeah?”
“Sure thing. Tell Randy I said, ‘hello.’”
We have a vegetable garden that is more of a random collection than an intentional structure. I stroll about in it every day, plucking dead leaves or flicking the occasional bug. Tending the tomato plant draws me in. I feel an affinity to Mr. Stripey (the kids named it after its variety) with its chaotic branching and mottled fruits. It reminds me of how I write.
I was training the plant (teaching it to grow in a specific manner) and needed to prune a few branches. Most were small and below existing fruit, but I snipped one by accident that had two tiny tomatoes swelling. I mentioned it to my partner in crime and she stuck it in some potting soil. Tomato plants can sometimes grow roots from a branch, so we crossed our fingers and have been watering it. Today I looked out at the garden and the wayward branch had full, firm leaves, the fruits were bigger, and the whole plant looked taller. A snippet from another story, removed in haste, blossomed into its own. New life from remnants.
Therefore, writers and other creators (almost wrote “creatures” which is also accurate) so often hoard their stories, amassing a wealth of segments: we never know when something cast-off will find a perfect fit somewhere else. I’m drafting a short story about a VR prison, and I spliced the idea from an early draft of Artificial. When I went through it the first time, the whole concept seemed silly and out of place. I clipped it and tucked it away in a folder I labelled “compost”. I dig through the folder, usually when I’m in a rut, and read these half-formed, mostly bad, ideas. Occasionally one of them sparks in my mind and I plant the clipping in new soil.
Stripey Jr. is doing well for a clipped branch. We’re managing our expectations, but two healthy tomato plants would be nice. I hope the same for my story.
When you’re stuck, or when you’re overwhelmed with ideas, dig into the compost bin. You never know what wonders you’ll find, what clarity you’ll gain, or what magick you’ll cast.
Thank you for being readers!
Today is Juneteenth, the celebration of the end of slavery in the United States. It is a wonderful thing to celebrate, and I am happy that codified, legal, chattel slavery could finally end. My friends have parties and feasts to acknowledge the slaves in Texas, who were not told until two years after when Union soldiers came to the state, and their method of rejoicing at their liberty. It is great fun, though somber.
It also serves as a reminder that slavery has not ended. For-profit prisons make up one of the largest political lobbies in the country. They lobby for more expansive criminality, threaten communities if their walls are not filled, and profit from the labor of unpaid and unwilling workers. The argument is often, “if they didn’t want to go to jail, they shouldn’t have committed the crime.”
As a pale person, I have been stopped rarely. I had a van I was in tossed once (we were in a small town and dressed up for an LARP) while in possession of… well, a considerable amount of LSD and pot. They put both on the dash and replaced them in the glove box when they finished. The only thing they had a problem with was the foam weaponry and the make-up. Had we been persons of color or had one with us, I fear the outcome would have been much different. There is a disproportionate application of the law, and the swelling of the prison walls shows its result.
And in these prisons, every day costs more, the expectation is that prisoners financially cover the cost of their incarceration. Every hour of labor nets them pennies, but every product manufactured profits only the investors. But you get to buy a hat with a “Made in the USA” tag affixed.
In 1868 the governor of Georgia began using “convict leases”, renting out labor to private companies and individuals. The first one-hundred such convicts cost $2500 dollars for one year. Each were african-american. Sixteen died under the watchful eye of William A. Fort. By 1873 the state began leasing prisoners for up to twenty-three years, a deal which brought the state $500,000 over the course, and with an admonition to “treat the prisoners humanely” due to the abuses suffered at the hands of the lessee. Private prisons, those which profit from piling human labor into their walls, have never been for the rehabilitation of people.
Inmate population levels need to be high (90-95%) in order to cover costs and maintain profits. CoreCivic (Formerly, Corrections Corporation of America) contributes millions to politicians and action committees with the express purpose of generating more and stricter laws. It is one of the largest anti-marijuana lobbyists. While doing this, 40% of their facilities don’t provide any adult education programs and less than half provide drug addiction counselling. There is tremendous profit in locking people up, keeping them uneducated and addicted, and making them work their way out of prison.
What does this have to do with Juneteenth? Though we should absolutely celebrate the end of chattel slavery, we must also remember that it remains intact. At a wage between $0.17-$0.50 per hour, no amount of labor can be considered “willing”. While people outside of prison struggle on $7.25/hour and fight for a living wage, prisoners are worked hard for less than a dollar. There are two-plus-million people in prison in the United States and more than half are African-American and Latinx.
Please dance and feast and sing today, but tomorrow, get busy working to remove slavery from our system. Pay attention to where your representatives get their money. Pay attention to whom your politicians prop up. Pay attention.
Thank you, as ever, for being readers.
I am in the midst of heavy rewrites for submission. It's stressful stuff, and instills a load of self-doubt, but it is absolutely worth the time and effort. When writing the first draft, everything flows and splatters upon the page. Deliberation is an impediment and leads only to nitpicking. Thus you vomit upon the page each word no matter how malformed or ill-suited.
And then you read it. I pick up my drafts after a considerable wait and often say, "What the hell is this?"
Thus we rewrite. The original is buried and left to rot as the compost for the new version. It is much slower, more calculated than the first draft. The blighted garden of draft one stands as a frame, new seeds are planted, and with any luck the fruits will swell. Usually it needs another go, but there is always progress.
And so, I get back to it. I want this story to bloom and swell. Be well, and thank you for being readers!
It takes a lot of practice not to edit while writing. New writers and those returning after hiatus often complain that their writing is “bad” while half-way through the first page. The urge to pick and poke at the words leads to great procrastination, and worse, it leads to a belief in self-criticism.
One exercise I find helpful in leaving this habit behind is the “stream of consciousness”, a non-stop flow of words written for a pre-determined time (usually fifteen minutes for me). This gets me in the habit of not checking my work as I go. It is difficult at first because we have an internal censor telling us, “Oh, but you can’t write THAT!”
The censor can go copulate itself with a rusty iron poker. It is a liar and should be beaten. The censor cheats us of ideas, denying us the irrational discourse which makes a story thrive. Even worse than telling us what we can‘t write, it has the audacity to tell us what we CAN, and that is unacceptable.
Back to the stream: let the words flow. Any words, it doesn’t matter; they don’t even have to make sense. You are intentionally writing one word after another without checking to see if the idea is good or bad. Fifteen minutes, once a week, every week, and letting the words flow will become second nature. Hell, two minutes is fine if that’s all you have. The same is true of all writing. You can edit only what exists, and it won’t until you put it on the page.
Now, get busy.
When humanity inevitably dies off, kudzu will finally win its long-waged war against the southeastern United States. With no one to mow it, chop it, or burn it away, it will stretch its vines across yards and houses, crawling and climbing its way to the pinnacle of the tallest skyscraper. It will be a beautiful and slow march which few will witness. The last vestiges of humanity will revere the vine as both monster and food source, digging up its massive root to roast for a starchy feast for a dying village.
I love watching kudzu. Though it insists upon trying my watermelons and starving the wild raspberries at the edge of our small plot, its rapid pace and natural violence is a wonder to behold. Its broad leaves are a cruel weapon, designed to hide the plants below from their precious sunlight and slowly choke them so they enrich the soil below for the sprawling monster. As autumn comes, and the vine rests, the area it has consumed resembles a zombie movie set of brown and grey leaves.
It is a memento mori I don’t have to explain to the police. I know that when I meet my inevitable fate, the hungry vine will devour my place of rest. While I am above ground, however, I continue to fight the beast and let it inspire stories of the long-abandoned city of Atlanta in the far-flung future of Antitopia. I can’t wait for you to meet my characters among the vines of the ruined city. Like the vines, the story grows rapidly, changing its course as needed to thrive, and killing off that which struggles beneath it. The Deadlands await.
That’s it for this week. Thank you, as always, for being readers.
[Quick plug: If you have a moment, head over to my Campaigns page (https://www.antitopia.com/campaigns.html). I'm in dire need of a non-dying laptop and your support will help me get there. Thank you, and feel free to spread the links around!]
I am a “pantser”. This is one who writes “by the seat of their pants”, or without a specific plan. There are many methods for writing, and proponents of each, but I have found that there are none which meet my needs. This works well for me because I prefer the story be in control rather than me. I don’t trust myself with a plan. Others like the “plotter/planner” idea, which I can understand. It is alluring to know with precision where and what will happen, to whom, and why.
My experience with planning is that I get bored. For me, the story has already unveiled itself and there is no sense in putting it down. I do, however, use a few planning methods. I never plan to the end, and the amount of planning depends on the size of the story. The three main stories of the Antitopia universe would become overwhelming to track with no guidance. I am using the “world-building leviathan” which comprises 52 questions/steps to glue your world together. It brings things to mind which you might not consider, and those are the interesting parts for me to plan. They have little to do with the main story, but they give me resources to draw from when I get stuck on something.
I can only drive a quarter of the way through the process before boredom sets in. Who wants to write about how the direct predecessor of the Artificial Collective developed the credit system used by the AIDA units? I don’t, and I don’t want to read it, either. But having that information available has helped me form a better relationship with my characters, especially those within the Collective.
The larger problem with writing methods is they become fidget spinners. If I play with them too long, I get nothing done. With a universe as massive as Antitopia (it spans several billion years and uncalculated galaxies) I have to use some planning. I don’t want Brian Tate showing up next to an AIDA unit on the third earth or something silly. Knowing when to leave the details alone is a craft without which I would continue spinning and balancing until I lost interest.
I want to know how my stories end. Though I know how I would like them to resolve, I never know until the story is in your hands. And so, I write until the story tells me it is done. No matter the method or plan, the words flow. Thank you for being readers.
I have suffered from tinnitus for my entire adult life (a few years of my late teens as well). This interminable ringing makes concentration improbable and conversation a violence. It is a struggle to hear and comprehend, so there are a lot of “huh?” and “what?” tossed about. There is a cloud of self doubt that covers me, and I often feel dumb. This leads to depression and anger when I try to articulate myself. Because I don’t want others to feel like I do, I try to speak clearly and concisely, and to think about what I will say before I do so.
When people stumble over the middle of a sentence, mine or anyone else’s, it becomes impossibly frustrating. As I mentioned, concentration is improbable, so the sentence interrupted becomes a mangled thing. I struggle to find the point originally being made and follow the new focus of attention. All while being bombarded by a screech that originates in my head. It is less than ideal.
Mornings are the worst. I rise from dreams to the endless “EEEEEE” in my ear ten times louder than it will be the rest of the day. Every sound amplifies the ringing in ways that distort my perceptions, my vision twitches, scents once pleasant revile, my skin crawls at the contact of sheets and clothes. The last thing I want or need in that few minutes is human contact, and yet I crave it. To hear my toddler chirping in my ear without pain, to feel my wife‘s loving hand on mine without the confusion of senses, to smell my dog’s stinky popcorn feet without nausea, these things would be divine.
I will never know silence, though I remember it fondly. The best I can hope for is a few minutes of calm in which I can forget the screaming monster in my ear. I’m aware that won‘t happen often (if at all) and that I should somehow remain stoic, as I cannot change it. My failures at stone-faced glaring at the pain and noise make me feel more dumb and more muted than I should.
I’ll live, of course. There is nothing life-threatening about my condition. But that doesn‘t mean I have to be happy about it. I will miss the nuances of my daughters’ musical performances. When we were young (and I could hear), my wife had this soft lilt that coated the high range of her voice. I have no idea if it is still there. And I’m mad about it.
There are more pressing things going on in the world, and they are worthy of our attention. Sometimes, however, I just need to blow off the steam and focus on my griefs and gripes. Now that that‘s done, I’ll get back to bringing about the end of the universe. Thank you for reading!