Stupid Scenarios #1: Duran Hits the Liquor Store

I’m currently in a headspace where I can squeeze out just enough words to keep momentum going on my current project, but don’t have much more, so I’m forgetting about regular blog updates for a while. One thing I’m doing, to keep my head in the story when I can’t squeeze out actual story because it’s become a thick glue-like paste and clogged up my brain tubes, is putting my characters in hypothetical situations. It’s a great exercise because you should know your characters well enough to know what they’d do in any situation, no matter how unlikely. I’m writing them synopsis style (third person present tense) so I don’t waste too much writing energy on them. I figured I’d post them here, because why not. The first is my take on the prompt: how would your main character go grocery shopping? Since my main doesn’t eat human food, I had to improvise.


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Merry Kitchmas!

First, I would like to riff on last week’s post with a video of Alton Brown reviewing some ridiculous single-purpose kitchen accessories. Shining above the rest in how much it it makes us shout, “Whyyyy?” is rollie, because someone actually thought, “You know what would make my life better? If all my food came in tubular form.”

This year I’m baking a cheesecake, a recipe my mother modified to use dark chocolate making it a hundred times more flavorful than anything I’ve had at the Cheesecake Cafe. (I’ll add the recipe to this post along with pictures later.) The last cheesecake I baked was one of my best, due to the pizza stone I shoved in my crappy old oven to help regulate the temperature, as well as the crust I made from scratch.

I used to use Oreo crumbs, as everyone else does, but when I dug the box out of the back of my cupboard I noticed its best-before date was sometime in 2012. Good thing I tasted before using them, because they no longer tasted like food at all. The desiccated crumbs tasted of nothing but bitter chemicals that made my lips slightly numb. I was damned well not going back to the store, nor giving Nabisco anymore money for that crap, so I spend over a couple hours trying to find a substitute recipe online.

It was ridiculous. Almost every recipe out there calls for pre-made cookie crumbs. I wasn’t about to spend a bunch of time making chocolate wafers only to crumble them up then add extra butter and sugar to bind them together in another form. As I said, it took a couple hours, but finally I found this recipe. It turned out better than any cookie crust I’ve ever made. It’s funny how it’s called a “mock” cookie crust, seeing as cookie crusts probably started out as mock crumbles. But, as I said, cookie crusts are now so ubiquitous it’s difficult to find a recipe for making them from scratch.

As a final note, the complete antithesis to what I’m doing has to be this miniature hamburger kit from Glorious Nippon. It’s another video that makes me go,“Whyyy?” It probably takes twenty minutes to assemble, in meticulous detail, this tiny abomination they dare to call food. I can see a kid enjoying it exactly once and, after tasting the first flavored playdoh hamburger, letting the rest dry out to become proper play food instead of trying to pass it off as something edible.

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Pier 1’s Tasting Spoons are an Abomination

I’ve had this misshapen lump of inert matter shoved in the back of my cupboards for a few years, after receiving it from people I didn’t know who were hosting a Christmas dinner and felt they had to give everyone something. It would have been better if they’d given us nothing – they’d already served a nice dinner after all. Why spoil it by foisting junk on people? I admit I didn’t receive it well, with a quiet exclamation of, “Tasting spoons? What the hell?” It was an obvious regift, bought by the kind of idiots who buy idiot junk for other people thinking, “I’m sure they won’t have this!” Yes, I’m sure no one would have set of “tasting spoons” because it’s possibly the dumbest fucking idea ever conceived out of a brain-diseased foodie’s asshole.

I’m going to sound like a total ingrate, because we’re all supposed to receive gifts gracefully no matter how ill thought out they are. No matter how much of a burden they’re inevitable to be, cluttering our cabinets while serving no function other to annoy us with their existence. My hatred for this shit can’t be measured in magnitudes of any scale. There is no hyperbole large enough to contain it. If you share with me the idea that all things should be either beautiful, useful, or otherwise consigned to the scrap heap, join me on my joyful rant as the yule tide floods us all with more crap we never knew we didn’t want until it lands in our laps with a shiny bow and dares us to confront the void of brain-dead consumer spending and the society that pisses away people’s lives to make literal garbage. Fa la la la la la…


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Wastefulness: the Eighth Deadly Sin

The movie Bedazzled (the original with Peter Cooke and Dudley Moore) had a scene where the devil complained of his lack of creativity since the old days in coming up with new sins, listing advertising as the only one he’s come up with after the last seven. I can think of one more, and find the absence of wastefulness among the originals disturbing. Besides greed its one of the greatest sins destroying us today.

Wastefulness is so commonly chided, it’s surprising not to see it listed in any religious texts (so far as I know). It’s related to greed or gluttony, but it’s not quite the same thing. Greed means accumulating more due to excessive want, but wastefulness is the lack of want. It’s not giving a shit about the things you have. Gluttony is closer, when it means over-consumption, but again it seems to assume you actually consume all you take rather than acquiring it only to throw it away.


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Bad Game Design: Limiting Play

There’s nothing I hate more, when playing a video game, than being railroaded. When a game tries to force me along a set path at a set rate, I only go kicking and screaming. Being cattle prodded is not fun to me, and what else would I be playing for? (Well, besides pain management, because gaming is something I only do when I feel like utter crap – it’s an easy way to crank up the endorphins.) The worst form of railroading is setting a ticking clock to artificially create a sense of urgency. It’s fine for casual games like Bejeweled, because there’s nothing to focus on but a few shiny tiles, but in a game where the devs built an interesting world to explore, rushing the player through it is bullshit.

The only thing I bought from the Steam Sale this year is a package of all the old Fallout games for less than ten bucks. I was feeling nostalgic, but one thing I wasn’t nostalgic for was the time limit on the first game in the series. My brother bought it back around its time of release, and I wouldn’t touch it for that reason. I played the second, which didn’t have a time limit, and enjoyed the hell out of it. I only went back and played the first after they removed the time limit in the patch, because by then the game developers realized how much it was a bad idea.

For you see they added all this cool crap you could get as you gained levels, but the original game wouldn’t let you get much past level 12 before the entire game world went up in flames due to a hidden timer that destroyed one town after another as you wasted time, you know, having fun playing the damned thing. They originally designed the game for the type of player who burns through the main quest and doesn’t give a crap about anything else. Then they realized, after tons of people complained, that there was a whole other type of player who likes building a character, exploring, and generally dicking around. These were the people who enjoyed it as a game rather than an interactive movie where you get to shoot things on the screen until the credits roll.


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Taking Out the Trash

I dedicated myself to getting rid of all my useless physical stuff earlier this year. I think now (though this could just be a symptom of general frustration) it’s time to take out the mental trash.

Desperate to come up with a blog post this week (because of course I waited until the last minute in the current state I’m in), I went through my idea bin and found almost all of it crap. Every stray idea I had to write down, yet didn’t feel compelled to elaborate on at the time, has less worth than a penny – that is, it took more resources to generate than it was worth. I took the time to write this crap down. Should I waste more time going through those ideas and deleting most of them? What’s the point?

I suppose writing the dumb ideas down in the first place helped me get them out of my system, so it saved my brain more energy than if I’d let them idle in my mental parking lot. Going through them now has also been enlightening, because I can tally up how many ideas I turned into something worthwhile and how many lingered unformed because they’re utter crap. I could work out a ratio of garbage to good ideas – and I don’t know what the point would be other than making myself feel better.

Going through my idea bin, chucking things out, feels as therapeutic as doing the same thing with physical junk. Maybe this is what the end of the year should be for. Why not? I spend way too much time feeling guilty over such compulsions, telling myself I’m dicking around, when maybe I have this compulsion for a reason. I suppose, for a week (no more), I’ll follow it and see where it goes. If I find my mind lighter after cleaning out my files, I’ll consider it time well spent – and then get on with more constructive things. Stupid brain.

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Clash of the Obsessions

Octavia Butler once wrote about “positive obsession” – something constructive you do because you just can’t stop yourself. It completely takes you over. For her it was writing, and led to a great career. But what do you do when you have more than one, and they keep wrestling with each other?

I’ve struggled with this for ages. I keep bouncing back and forth between one art and another. For a while, one takes over – and I’m driven to do nothing but. It feels great, but at the same time I neglect my other passions when I’m fully immersed in one of them. I can’t seem to find a balance.

This is why I’ve had a problem finding a career, because a professional has to focus on what pays, and keep doing it even when it’s a chore. Instead, when I’m feeling unchallenged, or over-challenged, or bored, I jump into something else entirely and get all caught up in it.

I’ve read all kinds of advice like, “Write down five things you love to do. Now figure out the one you want to do most and AVOID THE OTHERS LIKE THE PLAGUE FOREVER.” Maybe that’s the only way I’ll ever be a pro writer, if I give up all other art forms completely – but it feels like I’d be losing a richer life. I don’t want to be single-minded. I want to have hobbies as well, but it’s a little like having dessert before a fantastic feast. You fill up on the guilty pleasure and have no room for just-as-tasty food that’s good for you.


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Pain Brain

I’ve had a terrible time concentrating on writing this past week. In fact, this is the first thing I’ve written in days because I feel I have to. I’ve done no editing, outlining, or even writing about why I haven’t been writing. It’s not that I don’t know what to do next. I have a plan, I just haven’t started doing it yet. So what’s holding me back? Well, I’ve been in pain all bloody week, so it’s probably that.

Last week I got a new computer chair, because my old one is so big I can’t sit properly in it. It’s been killing my back and shoulders for years. The new computer chair actually supports my lower back and forces me to sit upright. I’ve been watching my posture all week. I’ve been stretching and exercising every single day, no flaking out on that. So what’s the problem? I’m not used to sitting properly! It hurts. I ache so much, so constantly right now, that I can hardly think.

And it’s been affecting everything. Today I hastily introduced my nose to a can of tuna by accidentally dropping it on my face. I’m not usually that clumsy. I’ve also been forgetting plans, letting my phone die, forgetting to phone, text, or email people. I’ve been a mess all week, and I finally realized it’s all because my neck and shoulders are killing me. I wake up with burning stiffness all the way from my clavicle to my acromion process – I almost typed “acrimonious” process because boy is it ever. Anyway, I have to stretch every morning just to breathe.

To top it off, I’ve been particularly stupid because my default activity when I feel like crap is to distract myself with computer games. So here I am self-medicating with regular dopamine hits from blingy crap on a screen, where I continually sit at the computer making my shoulder worse, because the stupid monkey in my head keeps saying, “Don’t worry about the pain, the answer is to keep clicking on these shiny pixels. That’ll make you feel better. Woo!”

So, that’s what I’m not up to. Ugh.

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How Important is Backstory?

I’m currently wrestling with this question because I have on my hands over sixty thousand words that don’t fit in the novel I’ve been trying to write. One of the many reasons the creative life is fraught with angst: you can work hard for months only to have to scrap everything you did. After keeping a steady word count for months, I have to stop, have a good look at what I’ve done, and possibly retool.

Not knowing where to start with my current novel, I decided to write my character’s story from the beginning and see where that took me. I started with his early life and, after fifteen thousand words, figured out that story wasn’t right for my novel. So I jumped to the next bit and spent a whole month writing twenty thousand words that could be something, but still wasn’t right for the novel. I did the same again last month, writing twenty five thousand words and – nope, still not my novel. Dammit! At least I can take heart knowing Mark Twain did the same thing.

I’m at a crossroads where I can either keep going with this exercise, getting all my character’s backstory written until I eventually stumble into the novel, or I can cut it off here and spend a month plotting to figure out what stories actually need to go in the novel and only write those. I’ve already weighed the pros and cons of both, so I’ll sum up:

If I keep going with the backstory, I’ll have my character’s whole prior life to draw from, probably enriching the main story in ways I can’t foresee. But I also know I’m stalling because I don’t feel ready to tackle the novel – is that a good or bad thing? It’s not like I have concrete deadline. Any stories I do include in the novel will have to be rewritten completely because it will be colored by the context of his current experience. Continuing along these lines means pumping out more verbiage for the scrap heap. However, a few of these stories might be worth turning into novellas, so it’s not all wasted effort.

If I quit writing backstory and get on with the novel, I do have a couple short scenes in the framing story to use as a jumping off point. Everything I write from there will be more relevant and automatically shaded in context. It means less work rewriting, but I also risk losing depth the story could have if I knew all the backstory lying below the surface. Not doing that groundwork also means potential continuity issues, because the novel demands being told in a non-linear fashion. The original reason for writing the story in its proper order first was so every puzzle piece would fit together when I mixed them up later.

So now I have a big choice to make. Do I make the big leap into my novel in a desperate attempt to crank out a first draft by the end of the year, or do I continue plodding along until I reach my novel naturally? Part of my anxiety comes from running into more than a plot hole – a great big information gap in the linear story that I’m scrambling to fill because nothing I write later will make sense otherwise. I could shrug and say who cares, but – no, actually I can’t. My brain won’t let me get away with that. I guess I’m stuck filling the gap and writing a crapload of exposition for my story bible until the world I’ve created once again makes sense to me. Sigh…

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The Zen of Boredom

Boredom has its uses. For one, it can be the perfect way to wind down an uptight brain – if you know what to do with all the nothing stretching in front of you. Last week I mentioned how I used to come home after a long, dreary day brimming with ideas. This month I experienced the opposite: having so much time I couldn’t fill it.

I dedicated this month to writing, getting 25k done on the novel and more. I achieved that writing only 2 – 3 hours a day. Next month I might try to stretch it to four hours, but I’ve realized I can’t stretch it well beyond, into the 8 – 12 hour mark, because its burns out my brain. In all the time I didn’t spend writing I exercised, visited friends, and watched stuff on Netflix. But mostly I read articles, novels, and short stories. I filled my brain with prose.

It proved to be too much for me. I’d get to the end of the night and my brain would be so tired I’d zone out until I decided to say screw it and go to bed early. I spent so much time creating and consuming narrative I could barely daydream about what to write next. I was antsy. I was bored. So I decided I really need a hobby, a different pursuit – one where I can zone out for an hour or two.

I took up modding again – in extreme moderation. I started with the most tedious job sitting on my mod’s to do list. Sitting at the computer clicking on the same menu over and over to replace one object with another. Its particular tedium is similar to data entry. And it felt so good. It was the exact kind of zoning out my brain needed. One where attention is required but it only takes the slightest amount of thought.

I’ve identified a few kinds of boredom, some good and some bad.

Antsy boredom: the bad kind of boredom. You don’t know what to do with yourself. Maybe you just finished something and don’t feel like you have enough time to start something new. Maybe you’re just burnt out. Whatever it is, this kind of boredom is a gaping yawn across an abyss of ARRGH.

The solution is to do something. Plan the next thing, go for a walk, distract yourself with mindless entertainment. If you can’t muster that, maybe nap or go to bed. Do anything but sitting around feeling miserable. I find it easily cure by…

Mindless activity: many people think this kind of boredom is bad as well, but it’s actually rewarding. For one, you get stuff done. It gives your brain a break if you let yourself zone out and concentrate on the task. Even a useless mindless activity can sweep the cobwebs out of your brain.

A friend of mine used to blow up a blank page in MS Paint and color it in one pixel at a time, and while chatting we all used to watch. Does that sound like the most boring thing ever? Well, it is! It’s funny how interesting a boring task can be. Mindless activity also leads to the next effect of boredom…

Daydreaming: what happens when you’ve reached a moment of zen. Even the people who push “mindfulness” as the secret to fully living neglect simple daydreaming. “Stay in the moment,” they say. How about no. If I’m staring at the clear blue sky and a new scene for my novel bursts into my head in full color, I’m sure as hell not pushing it out of my mind. Half the time it’s the reason I let myself zone out.

I’ve fought all my life for the personal space necessary to nurture my inner self. The question, “What are you doing?” when it looks like I’m “doing nothing” infuriates me. I tell people, “I’m thinking,” and they look at me like I’ve grown a second head. Then they wonder why they have all their good ideas in the shower, and the daydreamers say, “Duh.”

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