Sharing, February 26, 2019

Stuff I’m doing:

Fixing a cataract: I’ve had a slow-growing cataract in my left eye for at least three years and it’s finally reached the point where (perhaps) it’s time to get rid of it.

My cataract is almost certainly just a symptom of age. The way I understand it is that the lens in your eye is made of transparent fibers which should lie tightly side by side. As you get older, the fibers loosen up enough to allow small gaps between them. Not only does the lens have more difficulty focusing, but light can get in through the gaps which has various effects. In my case, if I look at a single point of light, I see three points (or sometimes six, depending on the size of the original point).

Luckily, my right eye is still good, and with my glasses, it’s 20/20. This means I can still see fine for driving. However, I’d love to have two working eyes again. As it happens, eye surgeons prefer not to deal with cataracts until they’re bad enough—cataracts can develop very slowly, in which case there’s no reason to jump the gun. At long last, though, my optometrist says that it’s time; so I now have an appointment with an eye surgeon to see if he agrees.

What I’m reading: The Mister Miracle graphic novel by Tom King. Mister Miracle is a lesser known DC “superhero” created by Jack Kirby. I put “superhero” in quotes because MM doesn’t fight crime, and he seldom gets involved in standard superhero shenanigans.  Instead, he’s the greatest escape artist of all time.

The graphic novel is essentially about MM having an extended bout of depression. It’s not played for laughs (although there are plenty of humorous moments). It’s very human and highly recommended.

What I’m playing on the computer: Dragon Age: Inquisition. I don’t know why…but on the weekend, when I looked at the list of games I have on my computer, DA:I is the one I clicked on. (I’ve played DA:I from start to finish at least four times. I guess I might be making it five.)

What I’m writing: In the mornings, I’m working on the novel I’ve designated PROJECT TECH-BRO. In the afternoon, I’m working on a short story I’m tentatively calling “The Red Wolf Canto” (although that might change). It’s a combination of Little Red Riding Hood and Dante’s Inferno. Because they belong together.

(Seriously, on the very second page of Dante’s Inferno, Dante meets a wolf in a dark forest. So hey, it’s a gimme.)

PLR Day

Today I got my cheque from Canada’s Public Lending Right program, so I thought I’d say a little about how great the program is.

Public Lending Right (PLR) is a way to compensate authors for the use of their books in public libraries. Libraries are absolutely wonderful, but for writers they have one drawback: if someone buys a book, the author gets a royalty; but if someone borrows a book from a library, the author doesn’t get paid.

Now of course, libraries do buy their books in the first place, so the author gets a royalty on that purchase. But once a library buys a book, the book may be read by dozens of people, and the author gets no more money.

PLR attempts to balance the accounts, at least a little. The details differ in different countries, but the basics are simple: the government allocates a pool of money, then divides that pool between authors in proportion to how much their books are “used” in the country’s public libraries.

In Canada, this is done by checking computer records in a representative set of libraries across the country. They don’t count actual check-outs; they just count how many copies of an author’s books each library has on the shelves. In Canada, only Canadian authors are compensated. In other countries, other policies may apply.

The money isn’t huge, and there’s a maximum payment cap for each author. According to the Canadian government’s web site, payments run from $50 to $4000. Still it’s a nice gesture, and the cheque always brightens up my February.

(By the way, if you’re an author, it’s worth checking to see if your country has PLR. The U.S. doesn’t, but many other countries do. Once you register, you’ll get a bit of money every year, with almost no work on your part.)

Sharing: February 18, 2019

A rundown of what I’ve been up to recently.

What I’m Reading: The Percy Jackson books by Rick Riordan. They’re fun middle-grade books about the demigod children of deities in the Greek pantheon. Percy Jackson is sometimes painfully slow on the uptake—I’m on Book 3 (The Titan’s Curse) and he still hasn’t got it through his head that EVERYTHING HE ENCOUNTERS IS SUPERNATURAL…but because these are middle-grade books, I’ll cut him some slack.

What I’m Listening To: Audio versions of the Goddess Wars books by Kendare Blake. You might consider these a dark YA counterpart to Percy Jackson. These books too feature characters from Greek mythology, including gods and heroes, but in a much grittier context. Gods are slowly dying in horrific ways, and those who still survive are at war each other. Interesting but nasty.

What I’m Playing on the Tabletop: One reason I’m reading the above books is because I’m running a campaign of Scion (Second Edition) from Onyx Path. Players portray the half-human/half-divine children of gods; our group includes children of Thor, Loki, Kali, Lugh, Winonah, and Cheeby-aub-oozoo. This is part of a continuing campaign that’s been going for more than ten years, having spun through multiple game systems including D&D, Ashen Stars, Mage: The Awakening, and more.

I’m also part of a group play-testing a tabletop RPG that I can’t talk about. Maybe eventually…

What I’m Playing on the Computer: Sunless Skies, a game where you fly a Victorian locomotive through otherworldly landscapes. I’ve reached the point where I don’t die too often, and therefore can follow the story-threads of my crew. It’s an odd but compelling little game. I got it on Steam.

What I’m Writing: The novel I’m calling PROJECT TECH-BRO, and a short story for an anthology that will be published in 2020. I will definitely say more about these in the fullness of time…but not yet.

Meditation

Okay, here we go: my take on meditation.

First of all, I’ll note there are many types of meditation, arising from many religious traditions. Furthermore, individual teachers may have their own homegrown approaches to meditation, based on whatever they’ve found helpful or even approaches they’ve invented themselves. Many people think that meditation is always just sitting quietly, but there are forms of meditation that involve walking, lying down, chanting, running, yoga positions, and lots of other activities.

But let me talk about the forms I know best. These forms do one of two things:

  • Either the practice is intended to focus the mind on something in order to shut out external and internal distractions. This means quieting the mind.
  • Or else the practice is intended to open the mind to observe whatever thoughts and sensations arise.

Often in a meditation session, you do the first type of practice for some length of time to calm the mind and make it less busy. You focus on your breathing, or chanting, or a mental image, or a phrase. Then you move on to the second type of meditation form.

A phrase used to help you focus is called a mantra. It may or may not make sense. One of my teachers taught us a particular mantra saying, “I’m not going to give you an English translation. That’s not the point. Just focus on the sounds.” This illustrates an important principle: meditation isn’t an intellectual exercise. It’s not something you figure out or think your way through. In fact, it’s the opposite—it’s designed to quiet the talkative intellectualizing part of your mind and to get you into a more non-verbal state.

The second type of meditation practice is basically watching your thoughts and body sensations. You do this after your mind has settled down enough. Notice that you pay attention to your body, not just your brain. Ideally, you get out of your head completely and just make note of whatever is happening in your entire realm of experience. But you don’t make that a goal. You don’t make anything a goal. You do nothing except observe.

That way, you see what you see, moment by moment. You aren’t trying for a result, you’re just observing. Why? To get past your mistaken ideas of who you are, to get past your habits of ignoring the truth, and to see what’s real.

One last note about meditation: I strongly recommend you find a teacher. Meditation is hard, and it doesn’t get easier with practice. In fact, once you accumulate some experience, it’s embarrassingly easy to find yourself just going through the motions and not really paying attention. You get in the groove…and that means you start ignoring your mind and body again because you’re doing what you did before and you think you’re “there”. A good teacher will keep you honest, and help you stay awake.

The Three Poisons

Recently, I’ve been thinking about the causes of bad behavior. Given the way that things are now, how can anyone not think about the causes of bad behavior?

In the Western tradition, this kind of thinking can go two ways: talking about psychology, or generalizing about evil. But Buddhists look at bad behavior from a different angle.

Why do people act in ways that increase their own suffering and/or cause suffering in others? The Buddhist answer is that people are affected by the Three Poisons: the three roots of unhealthy behavior. These three are translated into English in various ways, but I’m going to use craving, aversion, and ignoring.

Craving and aversion are familiar moral “evils”, even in Western thought. Craving is wanting something in an unwholesome way; it lines up with the Christian deadly sins of Greed, Lust and Gluttony. (I’ve talked about the deadly sins before.) Craving is the urge to fulfill our desires even when we should realize it’s going to be bad for us or someone else.

Aversion is the flip side, corresponding to deadly sins like Wrath and Envy. We hate or fear something so much that we go to extremes to reject it: fight or flight.

The third poison is the one I’ve been thinking about the most: ignoring. We cause suffering to ourselves and others because we ignore things.

We ignore our own feelings and the feelings of others. We ignore the probable consequences of our actions. We ignore the real consequences of our actions. We ignore how other people have different experiences and viewpoints than we do, so their reactions to our behavior will differ too.

Although I’ve translated the name of the third poison as “ignoring”, another common translation is “delusion”. If we’re ignoring significant aspects of the world, we aren’t seeing things as they are; we’re deluded. And if we’re deluded, it’s no wonder we make bad choices. How can we get things right when we’re seeing things wrong?

This leads to one of the major reasons for meditation: to pay attention to what’s actually going through your head. If you learn to pay attention to your mind and body, you start to notice when you’re ignoring things: when you’re in denial about something, or skipping over inconvenient truths. The more you notice that you’re ignoring things, the less you’ll let yourself do it, and the less you’ll poison yourself and others.

On that note, I’ll step off my soapbox…but sometime soon, maybe I’ll talk a bit more about meditation.

“Friends” in SPAAAACCCCE!

The Bundoran Buddies Bundle offer ends soon, so if you haven’t already grabbed it, snap it up fast! In the meantime, let me talk about one more story in Organisms, my contribution to the bundle.

John Joseph Adams is a great editor who currently heads up Lightspeed magazine and Nightmare. He has also edited a number of story anthologies, including Federations. He invited me to submit a story to Federations and the result was “The One with the Interstellar Group Consciousness”.

Adams wanted stories dealing with large interstellar societies like the Federation in Star Trek, or the many many empires that are found in a gazillion works of science fiction. When I heard what he was looking for, my mind immediately leapt to the idea of telling a story about such a society itself, not about people living in such a society. The story would be told from the society’s communal viewpoint, ignoring what might happen to any of its citizens. People may come and go, but groups have a life of their own.

So what kind of story could I tell about an interstellar society itself? As the title of my story might suggest, I wrote a sitcom. (Side note: the episodes of the sitcom Friends were never given names on screen, but the scripts were always given titles like “The One Where Ross Got High”, “The One with the Boobies”, and so on.) So my story, “The One with the Interstellar Group Consciousness”, is basically a silly sitcom episode, except that the characters are vast societies rather than individuals.

It’s a love story. It ends with a wedding. And the Borg.

Sharing: Booklife

For the past week, I’ve been reading Booklife by Jeff Vandermeer. I’ve been aware of this book for quite some time—it was published in 2009—but I didn’t get around to reading it until now.

I deeply wish I’d read it earlier. It’s full of so much valuable advice on managing a writing career, it would have helped me immensely with things like PR, career planning, time management, maintaining one’s sanity, and much more. It’s already spurred me to tweak my writing process in several useful ways, and it will certainly inform my future publicity activities.

Even though it’s now a decade old, the book is hardly dated at all. Partly that’s because the writing life hasn’t changed as much as you might think in the past ten years. Some of the balance has changed—MySpace has sunk while Twitter has risen—but the issues are still the same.

What’s a good use of your time and resources? What isn’t? How should you think about interacting with the public, no matter how you end up doing it? Those are the types of questions that Vandermeer looks at. They’re important and relevant to whatever media ecosystems exist now or in the future. Specific details will change, of course, but if you think things through systematically, you can cope with whatever comes along.

So I strongly recommend Booklife to anyone who’s thinking of a writing career. It’s not a how-to-write book, although it includes some useful tips and references. It’s a how-to-handle-a-writing-career book…and as I said, I wish I’d read it a whole lot sooner.