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February happenings…

Haven’t gotten much done this week. I’m adjusting to a slightly new work schedule with a bit more hours (which is good for the paycheck), plus some chest congestion has been keeping me from getting to sleep, and I keep waking up with headaches. So I haven’t been very good at finding large chunks of time to do any very focused work.

Anyway, I’ve been a bit torn lately between competing interests: should I work on my fiction writing, or my music software? Whenever I commit to one, I feel the pull of the other. Ultimately, though, I think I’m going to focus on programming my music software for a while. I’m excited about its potential, plus it would be awesome if I could turn it into a business and be self-employed with it. Not that I’m not arrogant enough to believe I could do the same with writing with more work and patience, but music software that’s like nothing else on the market (as far as I know) probably stands a better chance.

We’re not in Heaven yet…

I had a dream in which I was reading a book (and I very rarely read books in dreams). It was some guy’s autobiography. He wrote that he had met a spirit on his front lawn and that it “convinced me there was a God in Heaven who flicked all life into existence.” And then something I can’t remember. And then, “Every human soul is wise enough to remember that flick.”

One of the classic arguments for atheism. “If God exists, he must be evil to allow such suffering.”

Firstly, as I’ve blogged about before, the argument depends on a misunderstanding of the concept of God, separating God into two parts: some conscious entity who supposedly has magic powers to create the world and allow or disallow suffering as he sees fit, and an objective “right” and “wrong”, “good” and “evil”, that transcends God and which is then applied to God. And if God is judged to be “evil” by our standards, he can therefore not exist. Can you see the logical problem? The problem with negating God’s existence with an objective understanding of evil is that an objective understanding of evil can therefore not exist either. And if that doesn’t exist, you’ve lost your means by which to negate God’s existence.

In other words, your sense of “good” and “evil” is your sense God Himself. So judging God to be evil for allowing suffering does not negate his existence; rather, it reveals a paradox in your understanding of his will. The problem lies in our understanding. Why does God allow suffering, especially suffering that is not our fault? It seems so unjust! It is true enough that turning to atheism may seem to relieve the problem, but it hardly justifies it on a logical level.

And does atheism really relieve the problem? Does “banishing God” really make the suffering of the world any better? Now the suffering is OK because there is no grand entity to blame for it? If an atheist still holds that there exists, even if only in the mind, an ideal world in which there is no suffering, a sense of justice and a division between a moral right and wrong, an understanding that there is an objective difference between suffering and non-suffering, is he really an atheist? Or is he a theist who has lost hope and is angry at the God he blames for his suffering, and tries to relieve his guilt for that by calling himself an atheist?

But what about the suffering?

I’m afraid I don’t know why God allows all the suffering he does. I suspect we cannot know the reasons in this lifetime at all; it is something we may only be able to understand when we are able to see God face to face in Heaven. But it takes no more faith than a young child can conjure to believe that there is a reason, a good and perfect reason, and that it all works out for the good in the end. And even if I had no faith, this is the only logical conclusion there is, lest I abandon all sense of “good” and “evil” with God Himself.

I also suspect the reason has something to do with Free Will. The recognition that God allows suffering is at the very heart of faith; what faith would one need if there were no suffering? What faith would one need if we were all just born into Heaven? The entire point of the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden is that mankind is estranged from God; every son and daughter is estranged because their parents were estranged; that we are born estranged from God and that the life we live now was never what God ultimately intended for us; that there exists perfection (God) and that we don’t have it yet. The entire point of the story is a recognition that, hey, guess what? There’s suffering here, and we’re gonna feel it. And when you feel it, you can do two things: Turn to God, praying and hoping and striving and working to get back to his perfection. Or give up.

One thing you cannot logically do, however, is blame God for making you give up. That’s all on you.

Why does a child suffering from bone cancer stir the human heart? Why feel something for that child? As cheesy as it might sound, if you are having trouble believing in God, start there, with the feelings in your own heart. The easiest place to find God is in your natural desire to love. I do not mean your desire to love is evidence of God, I mean it is God Himself. The purity, perfection, omnipotence, omniscience, and forgiveness of God can all be found there, in your heart, in what you know as love. It is the portal to Heaven.

And it’s not just a one-way portal.

Build the kingdom

Maybe think about it this way: There is a kingdom in which there is no suffering. Some people left the kingdom in order to expand it, to build it in places it wasn’t before. Of course, outside of the kingdom there is suffering; it is painful to be outside of the kingdom. In this exile, the builders have children. The children, by nature of being born outside the kingdom, also experience suffering. But they were all also born with pieces of the kingdom, portals to bring the kingdom to where they are, and an assurance that they would never be disconnected from the kingdom (lest they knowingly cut that connection themselves).

Does it make any sense to blame the kingdom for the conditions experienced by the exiled children? “How dare the kingdom not already be here!”?

Movies with Oculus

I thought this was pretty exciting. A little too exciting. So exciting it makes me a bit sick with desire.

I’m definitely saving up for an Oculus dev kit… of course, by the time I can afford it (and the new computer I’ll need to use it), a consumer-oriented Oculus will probably finally be available. Still worth it though.

January projects…

A lot of people (as in one person) have asked me what I’m doing with myself these days, especially now that my novel Son of a Dark Wizard is indie-pubbed and garnering much acclaim and success, in its own slow way. So here’s what I’m up to, or at least what I’m trying to be up to:

  • I’ve started writing a new fantasy novel, which I blogged a little about on my writing blog.
  • I’m reading books and watching movies and playing video games (occasionally updating my media consumption log). This is for research of course.

Here are the other projects I hope to be working on soon as well, for the rest of this month and into February 2015:

  • Continue working on my co-writing projects.
  • Continue working the musical score for Son of a Dark Wizard. (I have an overflow of musical themes and ideas at this point, but I still want to keep experimenting with some things before I start actually writing the tracks.)
  • Start working on that long-dreamed-of web-comic.

The web-comic will be based on the children’s animated series proposal I put together a few years ago, about a young programmer who teams up with aliens to defeat galactic villains. Rather than your traditional web-comic that features a daily panel, I think my comic will be more like storyboard panels that must be viewed one at a time, preferably in full-screen; the user need only to click a button to move to the next panel. Though that sort of format may limit the comic in certain ways, I think it might also allow for a more immersive experience, especially if viewed in full-screen. I just have to figure out how to actually program that, and how I might be able to integrate it into WordPress. And then I have to, you know, actually draw all the panels. So this isn’t going to be finished anytime soon, but I figure I can go ahead and get started.

My 2014 favorites

Here’s another year’s worth of favorites! As usual, for books, the nominees are books I finished reading for the first time in 2014, regardless of their publication date. Movies and film scores must have been first released in the USA in 2014.

Hope y’all have a great 2015!

Year’s best live action film:boyhood

Year’s best animated film:boyhood

Year’s best film score:boyhood

Year’s best nonfiction book:boyhood

Year’s best fiction book:boyhood

Orson Scott Card on creativity and education

Here’s an interesting talk from author Orson Scott Card on creativity and education!

Individuation and the meaning of stories

From The Portable Jung by Carl Jung, pages 122-123:

Self-alienation in favour of the collective corresponds to a social-ideal; it even passes for social duty and virtue, although it can be misused for egotistical purposes.  Egoists are called “selfish,” but this, naturally, has nothing to do with the concept of “self” as I am using it here.  On the other hand, self-realization seems to stand in opposition to self-alienation.  This misunderstanding is quite general, because we do not sufficiently distinguish between individualism and individuation.  Individualism means deliberately stressing and giving prominence to some supposed peculiarity rather than to collective considerations and obligations.  But individuation means precisely the better and more complete fulfilment of the collective qualities of the human being, since adequate consideration of the peculiarity of the individual is more conducive to a better social performance than when the peculiarity is neglected or suppressed.  The idiosyncrasy of an individual is not to be understood as any strangeness in his unique combination, or gradual differentiation, of functions and faculties which in themselves are universal.  Every human face has a nose, two eyes, etc., but these universal factors are variable, and it is this variability which makes individual peculiarities possible.  Individuation, therefore, can only mean a process of psychological development that fulfils the individual qualities given; in other words, it is a process by which a man becomes the definite, unique being he in fact is.  In so doing he does not become “selfish” in the ordinary sense of the word, but is merely fulfilling the peculiarity of his nature, and this, as we have said, is vastly different from egotism or individualism.

Now in so far as the human individual, as a living unit, is composed of purely universal factors, he is wholly collective and therefore in no sense opposed to collectivity.  Hence the individualistic emphasis on one’s own peculiarity is a contradiction of this basic fact of the living being.  Individuation, on the other hand, aims at a living co-operation of all factors.  But since the universal factors always appear only in individual form, a full consideration of them will also produce an individual effect, and one which cannot be surpassed by anything else, least of all by individualism.

The aim of individuation is nothing less than to divest the self of the false wrappings of the persona on the one hand, and of the suggestive power of primordial images on the other.

From Thou Art That: Transforming Religious Metaphor by Joseph Campbell, page 91:

That mythological motif of the atonement with the father, which has come down through the Christian tradition and has been read chiefly in historical terms, is given the sense of an actual experience that anyone of us may have and must have if we are to break past ourselves.  It comes, however, in and through a personal relationship, for only in relationship to another can this experience, with its human costs, occur.

It is in human relationships that the operation takes place—the relationship of me to you, of you to another, of you to your job, of you to Earth—relationship is the field where the individual is in process.  In marriage, for example, when one sacrifices, one is not sacrificing to the other, one sacrifices rather to the relationship.  In the relationship both participate, so you are sacrificing an aspect of yourself in relation to another, and there is no psychological development outside the relationship.  That is what we have in the center.  It is the form of a cross.  Relationship and yielding.  Dark and light together.

Now from a book on screenwriting, My Story Can Beat Up Your Story by Jeffrey Alan Schechter, page 44:

Your hero starts the film as an Orphan.  A crisis arises, throwing your hero’s world out of whack, and he or she leaves or is forced out of Orphan status and begins to wander in order to learn what is needed to answer the central question [of the story].  Around the midpoint of the story, your hero becomes a Warrior and fights with all of his or her might and cunning in order to answer the central question, even to the point of his or her near-death or the near-death of someone close.  And still it isn’t enough.  The central question remains unanswered.  What action is missing for your hero to take?  What more could he or she possibly do?

Sacrifice his or her own life, that’s what!

Your hero must be willing to die and not be reborn in order to answer the central question.  He or she must be willing to be a Martyr, to give up everything for a greater good.  Only by willingness to lose it all can your hero win it all.  Only by giving up what your hero thought he or she wanted can your hero be rewarded with what he or she needs.  Remember in Chapter 3 where we discussed what your hero is wrong about at the start of the story?  It is at this point where your hero must confront and overcome that wrongheadedness.

From another book on screenwriting, Save the Cat! Strikes Back by Blake Snyder, pages 62-63:

And that Dig-Deep-Down point, that “Use the Force, Luke!” beat, is what we’re all looking for whether we are writers of the story or the audience for it.  Yes, this way of looking at the ending of any story also works when the hero or heroes are “Defending the Castle” as seen in the finales of Saving Private Ryan, Shaun of the Dead, and Blazing Saddles—or in “Escaping the Castle” as seen in Alien, Free Willy, and Defiance.  Whether your team is on the offense or defense, the lessons of friendship, teamwork, selflessness, and nobility are the same, and the Dig-Deep-Down moment is key.  No matter what the permutation of your tale, it’s the dynamic we seek, for the need of any story boils down to being touched by powers unseen.

Special effects are fine, great set pieces are wonderful, funny jokes and unique characters are vital.  But if you take me to the divine in your story, I will tell all my friends about it.

That’s what storytelling is really about.

Finally, maybe even a Bible verse, eh?  Jesus speaking, from Matthew 10:39 (New American Bible):

Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

Go forth and meditate on all this!

November happenings

Here’s a journal-ish update of what’s going on here…

Job

At the end of October, I got a part-time night-shift job with the local newspaper printers, so I’ve been adjusting to that. It’s a nice stress-free job in a nice place with nice people, and the income it provides, even if small, is much appreciated; I’m still paying off a stupid college loan, and it’s always nice to have a little bit of spending money. It has some weird hours; I start at 11:45 PM and get off whenever the work’s finished, which is usually around 2:30 AM or 3:30 AM, but sometimes as late as 7:30 AM. My sleep schedule is usually already wired to those times, so that’s not a big deal. It’s just that I still haven’t quite figured out how to manage my time before and after in terms of meal-eating, working on my creative projects, and studying films (a more academic way to say “watching movies”… but I do try to pay special attention to story structure and filming techniques… I still want to make an indie film someday, even if it’s a short film). So I haven’t been getting much done creatively for the last half-month.

Laptop woes

For the last month or so, my laptop has been giving me increasing troubles with blue screens of death, crashing programs, and a hard drive that’s making ugly noises that it shouldn’t. So I’m guessing the hard drive is having issues. I don’t quite have the funds for a new computer at the moment, so I’ll probably have to replace the hard drive soon. Not looking forward to that. Fortunately I think all my important data is backed up, so I shouldn’t lose anything besides time and money. For now, I’m putting it off until I just get a little too fed up with the crashing or until the drive just dies completely… but I’ll probably have to replace it before the year is out. Maybe in a couple weeks when I get my next paycheck.

Book on melody

Yeah, I had hoped to release that book on melody by November 25th of this year, but of course that ain’t gonna happen. I’ve done hardly any work on it, and now I have some more ideas I want to try in terms of creating a program that generates entire symphonies.

Son of a Dark Wizard

I’ve started posting chapters of my upper middle grade fantasy book on Morrowgrand.com, and I mention my ambitions with this project (and my method of self-publication) on my writing blog. Most of my creative energy is currently focused on writing a music score / companion album for the book. I’m hoping to have the score finished sometime next month; it’s a lot of fun to write, and I’m experimenting with more chromaticism than I usually employ. Rather than the happy fanciful flying about that Voyage of the Dream Maker featured, this score is dark, moody, and mysterious. At least, that’s what I’m going for.

Lacking the proper funds to commission a pro artist, I’m probably going to try illustrating the cover of the book and companion album myself… we’ll see how that goes. (If I ever do have the funds, I’ll commission a pro artist for a more professional-looking edition later.) But for now, my focus is on the music.

Other writing projects

I’m still co-writing several projects, on which productivity is slow as usual, but I don’t feel very bad about that considering the circumstances. Anyway, I do hope to start another solo writing project as soon as I can, as I hope the creative energy that will give me will aid the productivity of the co-authored work. I’m still stuck on plotting the intricately woven storylines of Stormground, but I have some smaller-scale ideas that I’m going to try fleshing out.

Pope says shocking things about science!

I thought it was funny to see the Pope in the news for talking about science. (Google it and read a few articles if you don’t know what I’m talking about.)

The notion of God-creation has always transcended any explanation of how it physically happened. That is, how it physically happened doesn’t matter. Looking to physical explanations misses the point of the belief; after all, without a conscious entity that intends for certain things to happen, nothing ever happens for a “reason to be fulfilled.” Creation is an inherently metaphysical thing.

This is an imperfect comparison, but let us say that there is a child playing with LEGOs. He builds a small house with the LEGO bricks. Where did the house come from? Did it come from the child’s mind, or from the LEGO bricks?

To answer that the house came from the child’s mind is not to deny that the house is made of LEGO bricks.

Of course, what’s really ridiculous is how the media likes to portray the Pope’s words as being anything special in the first place, as if there is some gap to fill between science and Catholicism in the first place, or as if the ideas of the big bang and evolution ever conflicted with anything in Catholic teaching at all, or as if previous popes haven’t said similar things.

I may have blogged about this before, but I think some of it stems from a misunderstanding of science especially. Science is often used as an excuse to reject anything religious (because them Christians is weird and them organized religins is the devil!) with the assumption that if something is “science”, it can be “proven” with some sort of materialistic evidence, which could be found in some science journal somewhere. Of course, this really isn’t “science” in the traditional sense; this is the Science! of the modern man, the Science! that saves us from being obligated to defend or argue for any sort of morality. Disagree with a religious person about anything, and never fear, because Science! is on your side!

But the physical sciences never actually prove anything to be completely correct, nor do they somehow auto-generate any explanations for anything. Rather, we humans come up with explanations based on observations and predictions, and science gives us a means by which to disprove the explanation, so that we can form a more accurate explanation. That’s what science mainly is: a method by which to disprove explanations.

So firstly, science depends on the metaphysical; it makes no sense trying use it to reject the metaphysical. And secondly, there’s no “gap” between science and theology. Theology doesn’t make “scientific” claims in the first place, anymore than someone saying “I love you” to someone else is ever meant as a scientific hypothesis.

Fake geeks

On tumblr, author Neil Gaiman was asked: What’s your opinion on there being “fake” and “real” fans/nerds?

Neil Gaiman goes on to not really answer the question. He says, “I think all people, not to mention fans, nerds, geeks and suchlike are real.” OK… but that wasn’t the question. The question was about fake fans/nerds. Not fake people. He goes on to say that he tells people at his book signings that he’s glad they read his book, no matter their self-proclaimed level of fandom. I think any author with any business sense would do the same. But, again, that really wasn’t the question.

So I think the Internet needs my opinion on the subject, because I am a blogger, and this is what bloggers do: write opinions nobody asked for.

(On a side note, if you Google the term fake geek, you seem to get a lot of stuff about a meme called Fake Geek Girls. I had never heard of that, and don’t really know what it is. This post is only about the idea of “fake geeks” in general, or “wannabes nerds.” As franchises long considered geeky have become mainstream in the last ten or fifteen years or so, and as media companies cash in on the popularity shift, there seems to be a bit of a culture war regarding who’s turf these geeky franchises belong to. This post doesn’t really address that either, though certainly this shift has given rise to a modern epidemic of “fake geeks.”)

Yes, there are “fake geeks.” These are people who claim to love something, but really only want other people to think they love it. It’s nothing new; vanity of this sort has existed since the first caveman lied about how many wooly mammoths he’d slain. (He was a fake wooly mammoth geek.)

The true geek is like Donkey from Shrek; he might be really annoying, but he’s happy with himself. The fake geek is like Shrek, at least the Shrek at the beginning of the first Shrek movie. He puts on a tough-guy act, pretending he doesn’t care what anyone thinks about him, but he’s actually very insecure. (That is why a “fake geek” cares about the label at all.)

Fake geeks care too much about their reputation. You can spot these sorts of people because they care more about showing other people how geeky they are than actually geeking out on the subjects they claim to geek about.

For example, you cannot claim to be a chess geek if you don’t know what en passant is. If you truly love chess as much as you claim, you’d know the rules. That said, it’s OK to be a chess beginner. As Gaiman says, everybody starts somewhere. It’s not snobbery that’s keeping chess geeks from accepting anyone among their chess geek ranks. But the geekdom has to be earned; you don’t get to bestow it on yourself after your third chess game.

And, again, that’s OK. True geeks are out there and ready to help you rise to true geekdom. True geeks love being paid their geeky dues. But you have humble yourself before your geeky interest, and you have to be honest about wanting that true geekdom, because you’re going to have to work for it. If you want to be a chess geek, but don’t actually want to put in the long hours staring at a chess board, reviewing Bobby Fischer’s games, and reading Vladimir Vukovic, no geekdom for you.

If you truly love it, that shouldn’t be hard. True love leads to true geekdom.

But if you’re just in it for the perceived social glory, forget it. You are a fake geek.

“Fake geeks” can be a problem for real geeks because fake geeks are incapable of geeking out about their supposed topic of geekery. When you claim to be a geek just to impress people, but then can’t engage in a geeky conversation with a true geek, you’ve just wasted that geek’s time. That true geek spent a lot of time earning his geekdom, and he’s starving for some deep geek conversations and geeky social bonding. When you claim to be a geek but then can’t actually geek out, it’s tantamount to slapping that geek in the face! How could you be so mean to a geek?

A “geek” is like a “genius”; it’s a subjective label we give to others based on our own impressions of them. Sorry, but you can’t come up to me, proclaim to be a genius, and expect me to be instantly impressed (even if you truly are a genius, which you’re probably not if you feel the need to tell me about it). Similarly, if I am not impressed by your apparent shallow knowledge of a subject, I’m not going to consider you a geek. You don’t get to decide for me how impressed I’m supposed to be by your fandom. But, as I said, it’s subjective. If you claim to be a quilting geek, I’ll probably take your word for it, as I know very little about quilting. But if you claim to be a SpongeBob geek and can’t recite the FUN song, I’m seriously going to doubt that you truly love SpongeBob.

(Even worse is when people claim to be geeks about what you love, but then claim to be offended about what they don’t like about it, as though you too are obligated to be offended with them by virtue of your shared interest. True geeks know what I’m talking about.)

As I’ve said before on this blog, when you truly love something, you don’t care about what other people think anyway. So anyone who’s truly concerned about being labeled a “fake geek” is most likely that very thing.

Now, all that said, this isn’t the perspective from which Neil Gaiman is speaking about the topic. If you’re selling something, the last thing you’re going to care about is a customer’s level of geekery. A dollar is worth the same amount from anyone. Probably 95% to 99% of his sales come from non-Gaiman-geeks, including myself, and he’s savvy enough to not upset us. I’m not saying his views aren’t genuine. I’m saying they come from the perspective of someone who’s selling a product, not a true geek who’s been blatantly lied to by a fake geek.