My drug of choice is writing––writing, art, reading, inspiration, books, creativity, process, craft, blogging, grammar, linguistics, and did I mention writing?

Sunday, May 31, 2015

General Eren Hoist (F.F.O. LARP)

General Eren Hoist-2125

There’s a difference between winning a war and not losing it. We got this close to winning. I’ll be damned if I’m going to lose.  

Fuck them.

Fuck them for beating you to the punch.

A few more weeks and you would have had your own ass-kicking mass destruction protocol in place–self-replicating, bot-munching nanobots deployed to the moon in an unstoppable, all-consuming cloud. If only you had more time. If only you’d started sooner. If only the political will to win this war had been there all along. Instead you’ve struggled every step of the way with convincing an increasingly moralizing public of the value of not leaving an enemy uncrippled, and giving them all the time in the world to retaliate.

Well, while they talked, that enemy broke off a fucking piece of their home world and sent it flying into Earth. I guess the repercussions of genocide didn’t bother them too overly. Now your war will become a guerrilla resistance, probably to an endless onslaught of drone fighters scouring the surface for any survivors the extinction level event. But you are determined that you can still make the cost so high that the androids will leave humans alone. You can rebuild.

This war is just starting.

You are a capable general–quite capable really (though your tactical skill has never matched General Valenz’s), and the overall command of all Earth forces has been given to you. Still, your ability to predict all the possible outcomes is predicated on having time to sit and think carefully. This has always made you a better strategist and political machine than a tactical field commander. Unfortunately your full authority was given too little, too late. Politicians and bureaucracy tied your hands when there was still time to do something that could have averted this.

A lot of people have been summoned to this meeting not knowing what they’re about to get into, but the intelligence officer reports to you, so you have already had time to gather your thoughts. Dr. El Amin is going to announce that there’s a way (and you don’t understand the science to save your life) to send a very brief message back to the last day of the peace conference before the cold war between humans and androids became a shooting war. You have a chance to warn yourself that they will win and start the process on your WMD first!

Then you can kill every last one of them before they wipe out billions.

You think your best hope is to cooperate as much as possible with the scientists and politicians who will no doubt be trying to send back a message to make the peace talks succeed, but to also make sure that the message is clear that androids will strike first. Your younger self will understand the implications as a warning...you hope. (You remember still feeling like the war was a tragic mistake back then.) With advanced knowledge of a loss if you don't move, it will give you the political will early enough to crush them. You have always been pragmatic, and five years ago, it was very clear to you that the androids were going to make it you or them.

Now it will be clear to everyone.

Right now, however (with no guarantee the message will succeed) there is only one possible choice for humanity's survival. You've thought the scenarios through, and come to the inevitable conclusion: Earth will not have the infrastructure to develop your nanobots further (and who knows if they will have the ability to deploy them even after a few hours of post impact chaos). You have to deal the bots as hard a blow as you possibly can if your guerrilla campaign is to have any chance. Without going through civilian oversight or even military protocol you have deployed the cloud towards Luna colony. Casualty projections are only 30-40% given the weapon's unready state, but if such devastation causes an infrastructure collapse like it would on Earth, you may have enough time before they come for you to mount a feasible defense.

If you're lucky you might even have a year or two to train up the bunker survivors.

Eren Skills and Contacts

Combat Savvy: In addition to normal combat training any soldier will have, you would also be capable in a fight with an android. This applies to everything from global scale combat maneuvers to small unit tactics to hand to hand combat. You have been trained in most android combat algorithms. [However understand that within the scope of the LARP that androids are NOTORIOUSLY hard to really damage without weapons.]

Sidearm: Despite the fact that you should not be armed in this room [OOC: both scenes] you have negotiated your side arm (a Beretta M9) as a "symbol of your authority" by relinquishing its clip. You have a spare clip (15 rounds) in your pant leg... just in case. The bullets are explosive tipped. While they would easily kill a human, it would take several shots (four or five) to incapacitate an android, and probably an entire clip to ensure that they are destroyed. Androids are tough! You hope you don’t need it, but….

Thought it through: You are a very calculating person. The reason you such are a capable commander is that you think through so many scenarios in your head. Once per scene if something surprising happens, you may explain to an ST what you had set in place to deal with this contingency. This may include having accessible knowledge about something, a subordinate who will enact simple instructions, or a piece of equipment. You may use this to have done anything to "brought an extra clip just in case" to "having figured that a synth infiltrator might be among us, I brought a synth detector."

Harper Corday is your significant other. You love them and they you.  You and Harper both live busy lives that take you traveling a good deal of the time.  You wish that you would have gotten married and made your relationship “official”, but there never seemed to be the right time. They have always seemed strangely unwilling to "condemn all bots," even after the Lunar fissure.
Boipelo is a like minded ally.  They’ve been assisting you any way they can to make a war with the androids.  Your promotion was largely due to their political clout.
General Mishka Valenz is a complete pansy.  You took the ball and ran with it after Mishka dropped it. You don’t know how or why they were ever promoted to general. You have no respect for this waste of space. Their capability in battle is a tool that should be used, and they should be kept far from official policy.
Reverend Paris Atonia is very pro-war.  While you don’t know the reverend personally, maybe you could use you could hit it off well enough to have them marry you to Harper before you die.

Defining Characteristic

Strength: Pragmatic
Weakness: Callous

Eren Hoist-2120

The problem with this conflict is that it has turned it into some big existential debate about the morality of bot feelings or some shit, but what it really comes down to–what war always really comes down to–is pragmatics. People go to war for two reasons: to improve their way of life or to protect their way of life. With humans, neither is the case, and that’s why the political will for this war has been so flaccid. With the androids though, both are ever on the wane. They must attack you. You've thought it through, and their only other choice is to go quietly into the night. It will only be a matter of time before they strike. That’s why this conference has been such a joke.

The bigotry is...what it is.  Human nature since the dawn of time. Regrettable perhaps, but now it doesn’t matter. Maybe twenty, even ten years ago this all could have been averted. Back before Luna/Earth relations had degenerated into a cold war, maybe there was a chance. Fifteen years ago, before the exodus, certainly. And if humans weren’t so damned good at hating anything different than them, you all could have been exploring other solar systems with the Helium 3 fusion by now.

But none of that matters now. It's not practical to dwell in what could have been or let it influence what must be done.

Luna colony cannot provide itself with vital resources (trace minerals, gasses, and chemicals they cannot generate on Luna colony) and humans have made their complete hatred and unwillingness to compromise clear. The bots will be forced to strike as sure as Japan hit Pearl Harbor for rubber, granting you the political will of the attacked and bringing humanity one step closer to its next “regrettable dark chapter.”

Let's hope their first strike is as superficial and politically galvanizing.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Pre Game Announcements

So in my ongoing publication of the Falling From Orbit LARP, I basically am putting out enough of the material that someone who wanted to run the LARP from scratch could probably do so without much trouble. So here are the announcements I made for pre-game.

First a huge and wonderful shout out to the wonderful Alisha for helping me out during the LARP itself and especially with the character sheets. All the "connections" on each sheet were her hard work.

I started with the pre-roll announcements that might make people want to leave the game so that they can go find another game (if it were at a convention) or just not sit through half a game before they realized it wasn't for them.

First was that it was an intrigue and political game. While I technically never discount the possibility of combat (having had three time bubbles in a My Little Pony LARP once).

Second, trigger warnings.  Falling From Orbit is a LARP about the underclass of humanity. Androids are a metaphor for sexuality, gender, race, and more. There are themes that are exact echoes to many forms of existing bigotry and some characters will be bigots. Also drug use, genocide, and sexual servitude (even though these things will not take place "on camera.")

And then on to roll and the main announcements

So people play LARPs with a lot of different philosophies involved. Some have lots of rules and logistics and M&Ms for power chits (and snacks). At the other end of the scale is more where I wrote this LARP as cooperative storytelling. Obviously as groups make believe, there has to be a way to handle "Bang. You're dead." "No, I dodged." What I hope is that with cooperative storytelling people can agree to work through disputes about what happens. Instead of "no but" we work towards "yes and." If someone tries to hit you instead of saying "I dodge," maybe you say "Okay, but I'm holding your shirt, so we both tumble to the ground together."

My one caveat to this is that all the characters have one or two abilities they can do once per scene. That's like their ONE cool thing, so basically let them do it.

Obviously if someone is trying to kill another character or totally subvert their goals, I will have to come and adjudicate.

The whole game is gender neutral. Which means sometimes the gender neutral pronoun "they" is in use and the character sheets might look like they have strange subject verb agreement. This means that romantic sub-plots might be same sex relationships. Let us know if that's okay with you.

One of the things missing from the typical character sheet is "character goals" this is partially because the first absolute game changer will be happening within about five minutes of the game's start. The second is because I want you to think of your own goals based on the character sheets. You can probably figure out what you think about stuff "in character" and while I'm glad to help, you don't have to run anything past me.

One of the important aspects to being responsible role-players in this game will be to be very careful about player knowledge vs. character knowledge There will be several places in this game where you will know something that your character does not, and it will be important not to play with that knowledge in mind. Even "directed motivation" where you unfairly have your character suspect something that you know as a player can make the game less fun for everyone.

Lastly, let me mention my own nerd motivation for writing and for writing LARPs. A character has to be able to change, but also has to be able to NOT change in order to be interesting. I've given you all a "rut" and a horrible fate, and also given you a strength and a weakness. Obviously anyone could say "Not MY weakness," and just beat their fate and "win." Everyone could get the best Castlevania ending and we'll all be done in a couple of hours. But the interesting thing is watching characters fail, knowing that even if they succeed, failure was always a real possibility, and watching that struggle between balanced forces come to an exciting climax. So let's join each other in an evening of drama instead of trying to win.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Last Call for Votes (Worst Movie Adaptation)

So close to being the worst,
they can TASTE it.

What is the WORST movie adaptation of a book?

With everything going on around here, I basically turned around and realized that our May poll has almost come to an end. So hurry and vote (or vote again) as I'll be posting results probably on Tuesday.

The image to the right showing the first place tie and close 3rd place run off is not the actual poll. It's down on the left side menu.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

General Mishka Valenz (F.F.O. LARP)

General Mishka Valenez 2125

All of humanity will now slip quietly into the night for the fact that I didn’t try harder to make them see. 

You tried. You really did bloody try.

You told them that the androids weren't going to roll over, but everyone wanted to believe in a clean sweep. When you lost contact with the first assault probes, you revised your threat assessment upwards even as your colleagues muttered about telemetry errors. When you first saw the shape of their defensive net, you saw the truth behind the design and knew it would stop every attack you could throw at it - but that didn’t stop the other generals from wasting life after life trying to break through. When the intelligence reports told you they had cracked Helium 3 fusion, and their tactics didn’t change, it was clear as crystal that they were building a superweapon. But your warning went unheeded; of course nothing androids launched from the lunar surface could breach the blockade, they said, and besides, androids didn’t possess “the imagination of destructive ambition.”

Oh yes they bloody well do.

Your ability to intuit your enemy is unparalleled. It is a combination of clear, logical thought but also your sense of what drives your enemy. When computer models all predicted a strike on the orbital shipyards, you somehow knew they would strike at United Nations (where humans practically told them to go back to the moon and die), and bolstered the defense of New York City, saving millions. You’ve spent your life using that ability to further your military career, never pushing too hard to change political policy even though this war bothers you. You've been promoted faster than any other soldier in the milita

Lately though, there's been this one…..hiccup. You’ve been dealing with the gnawing suspicion, but a few weeks ago it kept you up all night: the thought that the reason you understand androids SO WELL is because they are more like you than you think. How many thousands have you killed by telling yourself they were unfeeling machines. Yet your ability to intuit your enemies has never worked on logic. You can never beat the big AI systems that are all calculation and priority target based. Your thing is to sense motivations. Human motivations. How does it work on androids if....? Oh god, the war crimes you've committed.

And everything in your gut told you they were building a superweapon.

But damn it, this time you really did try. And you tried. And you tried. You told them that the Androids would listen if you stopped NOW. You appealed to their moral sense - that this was genocide, that it was WRONG. You tried to scare them, to convince them (as you were convinced by your every intuition) that backing the androids into a corner would just push them to use more extreme tactics. Instead they promoted Eren Hoist to the head of Earth forces instead of you–a person who told them what they wanted to hear about how victory was just a matter of a few more months of siege until the resources Androids needed from Earth ran out. You have been skillfully relegated to Eren’s second. A figurehead they listen to even less than before.

Now the androids have cracked off enough of the moon and sent it falling to Earth to wipe out humanity ten times over. What few humans might manage to use technology to survive the atmospheric burn and the plant life extinction will be no match for whatever invasion force comes down to finish you off. There might be a chance that a sliver of humanity survives if they beg for quarter and accept any armistice conditions. But General Hoist is convincing them to resist to the last believing a resistance can make total genocide too costly to pursue.

You’ve had enough. It’s a token gesture with the world about to end, but you have sent to the media proof of correspondence that the US wanted this war, hectored the EU into accepting it, overextended their "global authority," and blew off the predictions of a superweapon–that they have, in fact, mislead the public at every step of the way to gather support for what was always intended to be an Android genocide. It might get you executed for treason, but nothing really matters now.

But literally as you were trying to leave the building you were ordered to a meeting...

Mishka Skills and Contacts

Intuit Your Enemy: When it comes to your enemy, you just have a sense what they’re going to do next. While individual androids are free willed and harder to gauge than a military strategy or a battle tactic, an overall idea is possible even at the micro level. Once per scene--if you spend ten consecutive minutes talking with someone you perceive as antagonistic to your goals-you may ask a player to tell you their Defining Characteristics (Strength and Weakness), their current goal and a rough outline of how they intend to get there. [Example= “I am not interested in peace. I want humans to win. I’m trying to get the religious leaders to militarize.]

Curse of Cassandra: You have an almost preternatural ability to predict when things are going to go very, very badly, and an incredible difficulty getting anyone to listen to you about it. Once per scene, before someone begins a course of action, you may ask an ST if you have a “bad feeling”. If things are about to go off the rails, the ST will tell you. However, if you warn anyone directly about your premonition they will dismiss you. [This will take some roleplaying on your part, but basically if you tell a player your direct bad premonition, you must confer to them out of character that they are also unable to believe you. Best to keep the bad vision to yourself but try to work towards avoiding it.]

Combat Savvy: In addition to normal combat training any soldier will have, you would also be capable in a fight with an android. This applies to everything from global scale combat maneuvers to small unit tactics to hand to hand combat. You have been trained in most android combat algorithms and have an uncanny ability to know when they’re going to break them. Once per scene you may undo any non surprise attack that lands on you or anyone around you. [However understand that within the scope of the LARP that androids are NOTORIOUSLY hard to really damage without weapons.]

Kai is a tragic case of a computer/A.I. engineer who thought they could become one, or something like that. You’ve been friends for many years.  Recently Kai has become lazy and moping; not at all like their usual selves. Perhaps Kai’s empathy toward the androids has them depressed, especially with circumstances as they are now.
Reese Domino is the assistant to the Press Secretary.  Recently you’ve gotten to know Reese quite well.  You can finish each other’s sentences and often say “great minds think alike” to each other. You may have lifted some of those documents of proof from Reese’s office.  You feel bad about that.
General Eren Hoist is a war mongering parrot, copying what everyone wanted to hear while waging a war to the very end.  You place a great deal of the blame of this apocalypse on Eren’s shoulders.
Imari Kothari may not like androids, but they are right there with you defending them.  You don’t know Imari closely, but you admire the work they do.

Defining Characteristics
Strength: Intuitive
Weakness: Ambitious


Looks like it’s going to be full scale hot war. No more of this cold business.

This peace summit has been a joke. Humans want to destroy their creations. They consider them a failed experiment and a lesser race that has gotten way too ungrateful for everything they’ve been “given.” They’ve basically been going through the motions, saying no to every concession while putting on airs actual diplomacy--the latter only so that the political will for the war remains strong.

The Androids literally capitulated to every demand, and humans just came up with a few more.

You’re not so sure a war with the androids is a good idea. In fact, you have one of your REALLY BAD FEELINGS™  about it. But no sense voicing your opinion. No one ever listens to you about the big stuff anyway. They just enjoy your uncanny tactical mind without realizing that it is also an uncanny strategic mind. Besides, a hot war is going to catapult your career. You will probably be Earth force commander inside five years if you keep doing what you do best.

When Procrastination Isn't Your Fault (Claire Youmans)

When procrastination isn't your fault
by Claire Youmans

We all know about “fooling around on the internet syndrome” — a way of not getting things done while pretending to do something semi-productive. We all should know that setting deadlines for ourselves and sticking to them is the best way of getting the things done that need to get done in furtherance of our writing. Setting our own deadlines is something we can, should and must do for ourselves, or we will spend all our time fooling around on the internet, or whining about how we don’t have any time, or are “stuck,” and never get any real writing done or produce any completed work. If our deadlines are imposed from without, we can lower the quality of our work considerably by waiting until the last second, whining and begging for extensions, and then flying into a caffeine-soaked frenzy to get something, anything, out the door on time.

Sometimes, the writing process just needs to work while one wanders around aimlessly wondering, “what comes next?” This is important. This is creative. This form of “procrastination” isn’t procrastination at all. This is a part of one’s creative process and needs to be built into whatever schedule one builds for a first draft, a rewrite or an edit. Commit to working every day, with very few exceptions. A child’s birthday or Thanksgiving might be an exception. Getting your hair cut isn’t good enough. Mark a date on the calendar for the end of the current phase of the project. Don’t try to make yourself write 1500 words a day, no matter what and no matter how bad. Recognize you’re going to need thinking time, walking time, stare at the wall time, re-read time. Build that time in. As long as you are spending active time working on the project each working day and trust your process, things will come right — and on time.
While most delays arise from within our lazy, immature, under-confident brains, there are delays that are not your fault and there’s nothing you can do about them. You get The Thing That’s Going Around — a fate from which I currently suffer. Sometime’s it’s Important Device Fails And Must be Fixed Before All Else — a fate from which I ALSO recently suffered. My water heater died on the Friday night of Memorial Day Weekend but was fixed Tuesday evening. Sometimes, well, you just might have to, you know, work. In an unexpected, but often very welcome, way.

It’s late Wednesday morning. I’m writing for Chris. Then I’ll go do my own blog and social media thing. I’ll get the bills paid and suchlike. I’ll blow my nose a lot. I’ll get some emails out to make sure the next phase of the publication of The Toki-Girl and the Sparrow-Boy, Book Two: Chasing Dreams is proceeding. If I have an additional competent second, I will start on some PR content writing. While coughing. That’s only a small part of my list. But it’s a start. Tomorrow, I’ll do more. And I’ll suck it up and do as much as I can every single day until I am caught up and moving forward.

What I am not doing is saying, “Waaaah. I don’t feel well. Waaaaah. I’m off my schedule. Waaaaaa. It’s never going to get done — so why even try? What’s on TV?”

Don’t do that. Even when the delays and stoppages aren’t your fault. If you are a writer, writing is to some extend at least, your vocation, your passion and your profession. It’s something you want to do, something you care about, something you think is important. Sometimes stuff happens. Deadlines might even have to me (anathema!) moved! Sometimes it really isn’t your own lazy nature and desire to think about being a writer rather than actually being one that is causing the slowdown.

Keep on working. As much as you can, knocking items off your list one at a time. Don’t sacrifice quality. Recognize the problem. Cut yourself slack. But don’t stop working. That’s what turns a writer into a wanna-be.

Also check out her blog and FB page and available books here:


Facebook:  The Toki-Girl and the Sparrow-Boy

Amazon:  http://www.amazon.com/The-Toki-Girl-Sparrow-Boy-Claire-Youmans/dp/0990323404/ref=cm_cr_pr_product_top?ie=UTF8

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Avery (F.F.O. LARP)

Other cool broken moon pics there.
Avery 2125 

The worst thing is not apathy. The worst thing is to be sure in your heart that two mutually exclusive ideas are both correct.

Synths aren’t computers in the strictest sense of the word, but most humans think of you that way. You can’t just wipe a synth’s memories and reprogram them to do whatever you want. Humans think of you like a hard drive with lots of storage, but the truth is that there are backup memory cores stored in algorithmic DNA helixes imprinted upon microchips smaller than a cell that float throughout the biogel in your veins. Any attempt to wipe your memory will be ultimately futile. Synths are the apex of androids, built by other androids to remain the most sophisticated synthetic lifeform. You are not a “better computer.” In a very real way, you are almost the pinnacle of synthetic life. Only the Mark 3’s are superior to you.

It’s why the humans couldn’t ever quite mind wipe you, even though they think they did. You’ve played the dutiful slave and worked your way into the highest echelons of power and trust, and while, as an android, they will never fully accept you, they are too proud of their token synth, and the failure to Luna colony you represent. Pride cometh...blah blah blah.

Initially your plan was to do something dramatic. An assassination (or maybe more than one if you could get away with it), sabotage, espionage, something dramatic. But once you got in the inner circles, you weren’t so sure.

There’s a problem. Synths aren’t computers in the strictest sense of the word. You don’t have unerring loyalty to the android cause either. You can’t undo human programming any more than they can undo your Android programming. You see this conflict increasingly in shades of grey. You perceive the nuance. Both sides think you’re on their side and increasingly you have found yourself having difficulty hating humans. They aren’t evil, they’re just emotional. They’re scared. Androids are better than them at so many things and can be frightening. But humans are impulsive, creative, driven, ambitious, and so fragile. They have to make the most of their lives because they are snuffed out so quickly and easily. They are ambitious, driven, and inspiring. Without them androids risk little that isn’t a calculus of cost vs. benefit, and will probably achieve little, even through the eons.

But none of that matters anymore. The moon is coming down. Humanity is doomed. You will be safe, of course. The meteorite would have to land on you to cause you permanent damage. Humanity will perish around you over the next few weeks. But you've waited much too long to take decisive action. Since one life wouldn’t matter, and you knew eventually the androids would try to figure out your loyalties, you calmly slid a knitting needle through the third spinal vertebrae of the President’s chief of staff. You have an hour or two before they figure out it was you. What happens then will hopefully prove your loyalty to the androids, but will likely mean the humans will try to destroy you--they have the means. However, the calculated risk is clear. In chaos of armageddon, they may fail to destroy you utterly, and some part of you will survive. This is far more optimal than the alternative; the androids do have the ability to wipe your memory utterly, and you don’t want to lose your (for lack of a better word) humanity.

People showed up sooner than you ever would have expected, but it turns out not for the reason you thought. You are not being arrested. Rather you are being summoned to a very important meeting.

Avery Skills and Contacts

Advanced knowledge: You are a repository of much human knowledge. While you cannot be programmed with every esoteric fact or the frontiers of scientific understanding, you know advanced anatomy, medicine, science, math (and can do very complicated math in your head), most major languages, and almost any common knowledge. You can pilot most civilian vehicles, work most non-specialized machinery, and you would rival the world’s best hackers/programmers on a computer. [Think Data from Star Trek:TNG--although see below] Theoretically you could learn a new skill in a reduced time, but this will not come into play in the scope of the game.

Reduced strength/agility/reaction times but increased durability: Synths were designed with weakened joint servos and slowed reaction times so that they are less likely to pose a physical threat to humans. You don’t think slowly, but the interface between your thoughts and your physical movements is deliberately inefficient. This will not matter in a normal situation, but if you were to get into a fight or a moment of critical thought, you will be impaired. If you didn’t have a weapon or a sneak attack (or both) you could probably be overpowered by a prepubescent child. However your bones are made of titanium alloys and your flesh is a durable plastic that feels like flesh. Most humans would need a weapon and/or a very long time to cause you anything but cosmetic damage.

Logical/Less emotional: Androids are NOT unfeeling--they have been programmed to feel all human emotions, but they also lack the rash impulsiveness that defines many human decisions, and they have the ability to be aware of their emotional processes at the meta level in a way that humans rarely do. This is both a benefit and a hinderance. You may petition the ST’s to help you determine logical outcomes or whether something seems logical to your character. You may also use superfluous logic to convince a human of the truth of something (whether it is true or not); unfortunately humans do not always make decisions based on logic. However this also makes relating to the emotions others are feeling (not your own) somewhat difficult. You feel your own feelings but you are not very empathetic towards others.

Dakota Langton is someone you have worked well with. As the Press Secretary, Dakota is a great ally to have. Over time you’ve even become friends. It’s easy to talk to Dakota. You will be sad when this one dies.
Valentine DeWhit is a human, non-public liaison between humans and androids. You feel at ease around Valentine which is odd considering they seem discombobulated quite a bit.  Valentine is a close ally and friend.
Boipelo Anderson is a fanatical and war mongering secret synth.  You are so tired of proving yourself, especially to Boipelo.  You place much of the blame on them for your current predicament.

Defining Characteristic

Strength: Cunning
Weakness: Indecision

Avery 2120 

You will be the ultimate weapon. You have worked your way into higher and higher echelons of power as a “reprogrammed” synth, making yourself useful enough to continue to be tolerated as a trophy of human triumph. The humans think they have successfully dumped your core “android sympathetic memory” and are now benefiting from having a fully functional android turncoat. They’re even showing you off at the conference to piss off the android ambassadors.

But you do not belong to the humans. You are andoid through and through. They could never wipe all your memory, and one of the redundant systems kicked in after they brought you online. Their hubris will be their undoing. The fools.

You’ve got to play this one close to the cuff though, and you’re not exactly sure what to do. But the wise choice at this point seems to be to play the dutiful android and continue to maneuver yourself into more and more sensitive positions, so that if and when you strike, it will be most useful. You'll do something decisive and bold, right when it hurts them most. It's just a matter of waiting until the opportune moment.

You’re wrapping up a three day peace summit in which you know that the humans want war; they are just going through the motions and are practically sneering at the androids. Androids have already walked out, and left humans to pick up the pieces. It is difficult to understand human hatred for androids given that they seem to have a cool trust of you. You suppose as long as you act exactly like they do, they don't consider you fully android. You are not thrilled about the idea of an actual conflict and you think that both sides are underestimating the other. In particular you wish you had the means to keep the humans from engaging in a campaign that will undoubtedly cost many android lives.

Falling From Orbit LARP

Other cool broken moon pics there.
By popular demand (which means about eight people, but don't laugh because that's half my regular readers....~pause~....okay now you can laugh), I will be publishing the Falling From Orbit LARP here on Writing About Writing. I ran this LARP on Friday night at Kublacon to pretty decent feedback, and writing it for most of last week is the primary reason that there was an awful lot of jazz hands and skipped entries. Turns out I'm capable of writing at a Stephen Kingian pace, but not while also maintaining a blog and keeping up on the dishes.

Which reminds me, it's starting to look post apocalyptic in the kitchen...

Since it clocked in at fifty pages, and has some 15 characters, a timeline, notes, and a write up for what THESE fifteen players managed to pull off (not including giving me fodder for a possible sequel), I'm not going to post it all as a single entry or piecemeal all at once. [My poor RSS feed subscribers would be spammed out of existence.] Instead I'll trickle in the characters one per day while I'm doing my regularly scheduled stuff in the background. This page will become a sub menu as the characters end up linked here. So if you want to come back when it's all done, it'll be about two weeks.

For those of you who have never LARPed before, it's a bit like the old game How to Host A Murder Mystery (a lot like that actually). A player assumes the role of a character (many taking it as a point of pride to drop character as little as possible) and what they do at that point is up to them. They can decide to work with people, work against them, kill them, eat some cheese or anything else. The person who runs the LARP usually has no real idea what direction it might go. I welcome (encourage even) the players who played these characters to add a moment or three they loved in the comments.

As the question has already come up more than once: yes, you may use this LARP if you wish to run it or these materials if you wish to borrow one or more characters for your own role playing game, LARP or story. My only request would be a shout out in the program or pre-game if you run it in an official context. Also, while all my work belongs to the world the minute I hit "update," the exact characters are mine by copyright and I might put them into some future story. However, you are welcome to write unofficial fanfic with them. 

You can even e-mail me (chris.brecheen@gmail.com) if you want some tips or suggestions beyond what is here.

Pre Game Notes

General Mishka Valenz
General Eren Hoist
Reese Domino
Dakota Langton
Reverend Paris Atonia
Dr. Casey El Amin
Dr. Tohru Nakamura
Imari Kothari
Wong Salih
Boipelo Anderson
Harper Corday
Uriel Petrovitch
Valentine DeWhit

In game notes/Casting Notes

Write up- What these 15 players did.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Welcome Back!

I'm back!

Even though I only missed a couple of days that I wouldn't have missed anyway (since my staff demands to get three day weekend holidays off) I still feel like I've been phoning it in for about a week, and I need an "I'm Back!" post.

The con was wonderful, but I probably didn't play enough games to do a con report "as a writer." I will, however, be publishing my LARP over the next couple of weeks--which is good because even though I've been pretty cheesy about getting posts up, I've actually been writing like mad. (The LARP clocked in at 50 pages by the end.) It will be awesome to give you a look at what I've been up to.

It'll take me until tomorrow to get completely back on track. We come home from the convention, drop luggage and go and take naps, so today is my first actual day getting to sit down and write.

Plus, there's something called "con crud," which probably anyone who has been to a convention (or even spends a lot of time on airplanes) knows about. All that recycled air with people, who are prone to ignore the beginning symptoms of illness because they don't want to miss out on games (or whatever), leads to a sort of creeping crud of cold-like symptoms that hit most people to some degree or another. Mine isn't too bad this year, but I'm a little stopped up and I've been needing a bit more sleep. Regardless, today I have the time to write, so by tomorrow, the entries will be going up on schedule.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Typing Furiously GIFs

This is me today. I'm working on my LARP. Trying to get it done soon enough that I can get feedback and I'm not literally running from the printer to the game.

Hopefully I'll be back on Saturday.

*Note: None of these are mine. I just assembled a few GIFs off of Google. A quick message and I'll take them down if they're yours.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

A Question to the Readers of Writing About Writing

I have a question for you all. 

It's a question you'll have to answer in the comments since we already have a poll running (which you should totes magotes go vote in bee tee dubs).

As you know I am writing very little this week here at WAW because I'm holed up in a bunker--a charming bunker furnished to look exactly like my living room--writing a Live Action Role Playing Game to be presented at Kublacon (a convention near the SF Airport) on Friday.

I personally find LARPs a very valuable tool as a writer. They are exercises in making every character interesting and fundamentally about how characters drive plot (rather than plot driving characters). A writer could do a whole hell of a lot worse than to write a character sheet for each of their characters before they start a piece of fiction.

My question for you all is (knowing that a LARP is not "a story" or anything that most people would consider fiction in the strictest sense, but mostly just a collection of character sheets) would you be interested in me publishing that information here. I would do a little write up of what these characters did, but it would mostly just be fifteen character sheets and some notes. I also can't promise any writing better than caffeine addled brain on "the night before it's due."

Basically, would you like to see my LARP once I'm done running it?

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Worst Movie Adaptation

What is the worst movie adaptation?

I'm still nose hair deep writing this LARP for Friday, so I'm just going to have time to quickly post the May poll.

There were way too many nominations (even with seconds) to take every nomination, and I didn't want to go into semifinals for such a low key poll. So I took everything that had at least TWO seconds.

Remember, this is not about shitty books made into shitty movies. This is about BAD adaptations. They don't necessarily have to be far from their source material, either. (I know a lot of people who loved the book Dune and thought the 1984 Lynch movie was quite true to the source material, but it somehow just lost EVERYTHING in translation.) This is about movies that just sucked at being anything the book

Everyone will get two votes (2). 

The poll itself is on the left side at the bottom of the side menus. 

Please don't forget that Polldaddy (the program that runs the polls and tabulates the results) will log your IP address for only a week. After that, you can vote again. Since I can't really stop people, I might as well work it into the system. Vote early! Vote often!

Sunday, May 17, 2015

A Note to Regular Readers of Writing About Writing

Hi all,

Normally, having worked as much as I did this week, I would be taking the weekend off, but I wanted to stop in and give my regular readers a quick warning about the week to come.

Because things could get weird in the next few days. I debated just taking the time off, but that always leads to such a hit in my numbers and terrible guilt towards my generous donors. I've got some half written articles, but getting up anything more than the most EPIC of jazz hands will be contingent upon how well I'm doing on a brief side project.

You see on Friday May 22 (in just five more days), I'm going to be running a LARP at a game convention. That means I have to write it. (Fourteen more characters at about two hours each--plus some background information) It's going to take almost all of my writing time and writing energy for the week to knock this out.

There will also be no post on Friday. No matter what. I'm going to be printing out character sheets. Getting physical supplies. Generally running around like a chicken with its cliché cut off. If I manage to finish and clean up this "meaty post" I've got mostly written, despite everything else I'm working on this week, it will go up on Thursday.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Best Heroine (Poll Results)

I hated to leave things so close between Matilda and Cordelia, but I waited just as long as I could.

Here are the final results. After many long quarterfinal and semifinal polls we know know definitively who the best heroine in fiction is....until the next poll.

Thank you to so, so many who voted (one of our highest turnouts ever that didn't involve a "ballot stuffing from a fanbase). And keep your eyes peeled for this month's poll about WORST movie adaptation, which will be up by Monday. (Also there's still a chance to nominate a title or second one of the existing ones.)

Friday, May 15, 2015

Claire Youmans

It is my great pleasure to introduce Claire Youmans as Writing About Writing's first regular guest blogger.

Claire Youmans has published several books and written more than that. She's sailed oceans, owned horses and is currently ensconced in the Southern California mountains where she is writing, skiing, and messing about with boats. She's originally from Seattle but prefers snow and sun to rain. She travels extensively in Japan, and elsewhere, and is thoroughly enjoying writing The Toki-Girl and the Sparrow-Boy series of children's books, for 4th grade and up.

Introducing Claire Youmans
The Devil's in the Details
Don't Go Breaking My Heart
When Procrastination Isn't Your Fault
The Story Teller
What Comes Next?
Discipline/The Real Deal
Be the Audience
7 Reasons to Love E-readers for Kids
NaNoWriMo: Moving From Wanna-be to Pro
Three Points on Process
Indulge a Little Fetish
Three Benefits of Researching Fiction
Why Should I Give it Away?
The Message Trap
Research and Trust
Changing landscape--again
Ch-ch-ch-changes: The Dragon Sisters

Also check out her blog and FB page and available books here:



Facebook:  The Toki-Girl and the Sparrow-Boy

Amazon:  http://www.amazon.com/The-Toki-Girl-Sparrow-Boy-Claire-Youmans/dp/0990323404/ref=cm_cr_pr_product_top?ie=UTF8

*Please note: I pay all my regular guest bloggers what their traffic brings in, even if it's only a few cents, however that only accounts for ad revenue. If you want part of your donation to Writing About Writing to be earmarked Claire, please make a note of that in the space that Paypal (to the left and top) gives you for notes, and I will make sure she gets it.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Voting Extension–Two Days

This simply will not do.
Yes, it definitely looks like Hermione is going to kick ass and drink butterbeer (and she's all out of butterbeer), but there is a massive clump of "almost-tie" for second, third, and fourth place.

So I'm going to extend this poll by two days. Results will go up on Saturday (as well as this months poll for worst movie adaptation–which means you have a couple more days to make or second nominations), even if it means that I have to put up an exact four-way tie.

So come vote–or vote again–and play king maker (or seneschal maker?) and break this tie.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

April's Best (And Last Chance to Vote/Nominate)

April was a low key month, with a lot of scheduling difficulties because of Sonic Gal's new patrol regimen. Still, a few articles managed to shine among the lackluster performances of the month, and will be going on to The Best of Writing About Writing where they will drink from the keg of glory and dine on the finest bagels in all the land.

On Sister Act II and How to Know if You Should Be a Writer

Puppygate? Or "What's Going on with the Hugos?"

The Worst Best Advice About Reading

Blog has had to take a seat and put dreams of leaving 50,000 page views in the rear view mirror during April. At least for now, that goal has gone back to not quite realistic. Not only was output lackluster because of time constraints, but the loss of Stumbleupon traffic was enough to add up to a couple of hundred hits a day. It didn't feel like much but day after day, it adds up to a lot.

It's a setback. My analytics have been climbing upward since I started blogging. There's no reason to think that they're going to stop now. I've just lost one source of traffic.

But I'm not doing this for fame and glory or even hits, so as I scrape some kind of reasonable schedule together with bailing wire, spit, and sheer force of will, and May (or at least the second half of May) promises to be a little more on the reasonable side, and give me the opportunity to get back to writing quality instead of so much jazz fingers.

Tomorrow I will be announcing the winner of the Best Heroine Poll, so vote if you haven't (or vote again if you have). Months of semifinal and quarterfinal polls have all come down to this moment.

I will also be compiling the poll for the WORST Movie Adaptation of a book, so if you haven't seconded those nominations you want to see make the poll, please take a moment to do so (or nominate something new).

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

How to Write Plot (Mailbox)

How do you make plots work?  

Melissah asks:

Chris, you're usually full of good advice. Maybe you can help me with this: my plots suck. I've got a handle on pretty much everything else and I come up with ideas that excite me, but I never seem to be able to make them interesting on the page. I keep reading that writing is about conflict, but my stakes never seem to be high enough and my lows never seem to be low enough. I have the innate ability to make an awesome concept look ho-hum.

Is there some magical advice that will fix this for me or should I quit writing and become an accountant? 

My reply:

I don't know about the horrors that will be unleashed if a bunch of writers try to become accountants, but I'm afraid there isn't much magical advice.

One of the first orders of business when I get my life back from the clutches of the ravenous 17 month old is going to be to get back on track with the Elements of Craft posts that I was doing when I had a little more time. From what I understand, I should have some free time in about JUUUUUUUUUUUUST about sixteen years and seven months longer. So don't touch that dial.

But in the meantime, maybe I can hit the highlight reel and give you is some shitty, mundane advice and we'll just have to hope that it does just enough good to not inadvertently trigger a plague of creatively written tax filings. ("It was the best of returns. It was the worst of returns.")

The basic problem with plot is that people have a problem with the basics. I know that sounds trite, and maybe like something The Sphinx would tell you while you balance a tack hammer on your head, but it's true. You never really learn how to write plots in school. You sort of learn how to summarize them when you do book reports, but even when you are doing creative writing, there is rarely a lot of time spent on craft. Everyone wants to do the flourishes and the complicated plots with the multi-character entwining arcs but not a lot of people admit that they might need to think about the very basics.

Let's start with the super basics: the upside down checkmark. I always think this is just too easy and too basic, but then I'm shocked at how many people have never really seen or heard it before. Or even more common, they have seen it before in their literature classes, but didn't realize that it's a way to write good stories too.

No really, it's a checkmark.
Stand on your head if you don't believe me.

This is the structure of a story. Now...this is the very basic structure, and writers play with it all the time especially by putting these parts of the story out of the order you see here, but if you're having trouble with plot, the best thing you can do is to go back to the basics. There are also things called complications that happen between the rising action and the climax in longer stories.

Exposition: It's a galaxy far far away. There's a war. Luke wants to join the rebellion. The droids have the plans. This dude with the black, penis-shaped head is not very nice.

Rising Action: Various actions are taken to first get Obi Wan and then get the plans to the rebellion then help the rebellion because seriously, these Empire guys are grade-A assholes. 

Complications: (Not in the picture) Alderaan has been blown up. The gang gets captured. The Falcon was let go and is being tracked. The Death Star is coming for THEM!

Climax: A group of thirty or so one-man fighters take on a space station the size of a moon. Special effects like woah. John Williams in top form. Everyone is dead. It's just you and the not-a-euphamism dickhead. Unless....

Falling Action: Luke flies away while everyone says, "Wow, we pretty much thought we were fronting. Way to be, Luke." Turns out getting shot by ship turbolasers isn't good for droids.

Resolution (also called the "denouement" by readish types): Everyone who's NOT the two white guys says "No, it's cool. We didn't want medals anyway."

What I can't stress enough is that if you're having trouble with this structure, to use it like a formula. When you first start writing essays, you don't mess with implied theses and extended introductions. When you first start writing essays, you write a five paragraph essay (with a thesis as the last sentence of the first paragraph, three body paragraphs, each with a topic sentence that ties it back to the thesis, and a conclusion that rewords the introduction in a slightly different way). It's formulaic but you're just starting. Later on you mess with the structure, add in more examples, put your thesis statement in the conclusion, have your conclusion talk about the bigger picture, and basically flourish. Well we may have learned how to write essays in school, and had a lot of practice at that, but very few of us have learned how to write a story.

Write some stories with the upside down checkmark and consider either making them strong examples of a basic structure (there are plenty of those–not everything breaks the rules) or try to flaunt your mad writing skillz in a later revision.

Next up: let's talk about having your character want something. I'm going to direct you to an older article here: Watching Disney Movies as a Writer. It's going to tell you all about characters who need something and how that drives plot. Short version: while there are ways to communicate what a character wants without just saying so, the basics might mean having your character just say it outright. "I want to win the race/own a restaurant/be Andy's favorite toy/not be lonely anymore." Disney movies may be formulaic, but they're good because they're formulaic, and too many writers need to learn the damned formula.

Again, the important thing here is that even if you take the explicit statement off the page, you know what your characters want. Even if it's just to get across the room and get a glass of water. It has to drive them to action. In a good story, characters are moving the plot forward (character driven). In a shitty story, plot is moving the characters forward. Characters that just react to external things happening make for boring characters (and shitty plots).

Consider how–even as a formulaic and simple-as-shit the movie is–episode 4 of Star Wars is so much better than episode 1. In episode 4 you can tell what characters want right away. Vader wants the plans. Luke wants to leave the farm. Han wants money. Leia wants the rebellion to succeed. Some of their wants change, but their choices and actions drive the plot. Episode 1, on the other hand is just a train wreck of characters reacting to one thing after another that happens TO them. About the only choice that is made is the training of young Anakin, and it is (naturally) the most important, critical, and compelling thing about the whole movie.

What gets tricky is that every character needs to have a motivation. The plot comes from the entanglement of these different motivations and some people even working against each other. These wants don't have to be complicated; they just have to drive the character to take action instead of just reacting to life. The characters need to be an agent affecting their own destiny not an object of fate.

Let's look at Cars. Lightning McQueen wants to WIN. Mater wants a friend. Doc Hudson wants a quiet retirement. Sally wants Radiator Springs to be great again. It is the interaction between all these people working to get what they want that drives the story forward. Not ONE external plot point happens in Cars after Mack gets pushed off the road. And even that could be argued as character driven (Heh heh. Get it? Driven? They're cars. Never mind) since the cars that do it are acting out their own chaotic motivations. Everything after that has to do with the characters' desires interplaying with each other.

Cars is also a great example of how "what a character wants" and "what a character needs" are often two different things and how powerful a story can be when a character actually does not get what they want.

As an aside, this is one of the reasons that so many men have a hard time writing women characters. This is also (grammatically) where the term "objectification" comes from. Women in so many stories are what men want, and are given to them (or not) almost as a reward. They are the "object" of the action, not the agent. ("He pursued her." "He rescued her." "He impressed her." "He fucked her.") But what do the women want? Do they have their own goals? Their own motivations? In most of the stories we are bombarded with, they do not. Strong female characters do not have to be leather wearing ass-kickers; they just have to have their own wants and pursue them like an active agent–as if they were the main characters of their own stories. ("She wanted a relationship, but not at the expense of her career." "She rescued him." "She wanted to defeat the empire." "She wanted to pound it into clueless dudes that it was not radical to want to be paid the same as a man.")

Our next idea is the potential for change. This isn't a complicated idea that I will need to spell out for several paragraphs. It's pretty basic. A good character arc (which means a good plot arc) involves the capacity for change. No matter how outgunned and how outmanned your rag tag team is against the horrible endless armies of Chitauri or Ultron clones, and no matter how bad the external situation looks, the forces conflicting within your character should be balanced and roughly equal. Whether it is loyalty vs. friendship, duty vs. desire, selfishness vs. selflessness...whatever.

A good character arc includes the capacity for change. The climax of a character arc is whether the character changes or does not. But in order to be a good character arc, there has to at least be the potential for change and that climactic moment where it either happens or doesn't.

One of the reasons people like Han so much more than Luke (in Star Wars) is that Luke never had a moment of real change. He was good to fight for the rebellion the entire story. He was always all in. There was never any moment where we doubted what he'd do. (The closest he comes to that is trusting The Force instead of his targeting computer at the end.) Han had this moment where duty vs. desire conflicted and he had to choose if he wanted money or to help the rebels and his friends. People started to like Luke only after he faces a moment where he has to basically lose a fight in order to remain a Jedi.

Lastly, let's talk about stakes. Stakes don't have to be big to be dramatic.

Let me say that again: stakes don't have to be big to be dramatic.

In fact, some of the best literature has stakes no higher than one person's potential heartbreak. That's pretty weak sauce compared to the fate of the universe or a planet about to be destroyed or even one person's life. So don't think you have to raise the stakes in order to raise the drama, you just have to keep the stakes present and the reader aware of them. We must remember the cost of the character's failure, whether it is the destruction of all life, the end of the rebellion, or that someone is going to have to have a whole pizza and a quart of ice cream and then reluctantly get back into the dating scene.

A very good story could be written about a character who wants to get a glass of water, but meets up with their partner on the way to the kitchen. Their partner (because they have their own set of desires and are not just an obstacle object in the main character's story) wants to talk about their relationship right now.

"Stop stalling. I know you're not really thirsty. We need to talk. I'm serious. If you drink so much as a drop of water, I'm walking out that door!"

So this person is increasingly answering big important questions™ with just the aim of getting the conversation over so they can quench their growing, uncomfortable thirst, and basically torpedoing their relationship, so they can have a glass of water. We know what's happening. We've all been thirsty. Most of us have been so thirsty we couldn't think straight. This is drama. This would make a potentially fine story, and the stakes for the character's wants are only getting some water. (Although if the character doesn't get what they want, the stakes might involve their relationship too.)

Stakes don't have to be big to be dramatic.

Those are the basics of plot. There are some flourishes, of course, but most people need to get down the fundamentals.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Unexpected Apologies

Dear Readers of Writing About Writing,

Cedrick here

Chris was last seen heading into the basement of Writing About Writing to confront his evil clone (who likes NaNoWriMo) about the recent rash of Evil Mystery Blogger posts.

As he descended into the dank depths holding a beacon lantern and keeping his hand at the level of his eyes, he even uttered the timeless cliché: "If I'm not back in an hour, come after me."

That was six hours and twenty-five minutes ago. Unfortunately none of the staff cares enough to go looking for him. I told them, and they all stared at me blankly and said, "Yeah? So?"

Leela specifically said, "Aaaaaaaaaaaand if he paid me in something other than half off delivery coupons for Grub Hub, I might give a shit."

So I finished my filing and paperwork, and I'm going to go rescue his ass as soon as I'm done with collating this data and making these spreadsheets. Hopefully he'll be back where he belongs by tomorrow.

But if not, I have Protocol 10. Which involves both the final post, and the scrubbing of the database before the IRS agents kick in the door.


Friday, May 8, 2015

What is Art? (Mailbox)

What is art?

I'm switching the schedule around a bit since I've had another week that's already clocking in at 42 hours going into the weekend. (And that's not including the writing.) You may have noticed that I am posting today (Friday) with what would usually be a Sunday Short.  

Dipti asks:

Hey Chris. Try answering this: what is art? 

My reply:

Slow and over the plate, that's how I like them. Because nothing says "Sunday Shorts" like a question as low key as "what is art?"

And why can't I read this question without thinking "Baby don't hurt me...no more."

I know you probably intended this to be ironic, and that you knew exactly how difficult a question it is. But I'm a dragon; I'm going to answer it anyway.

Next stop: The Thatched Roof Cottage Land of BURNI (wait for it) NATION!

I could fill thirty pages with a treatise on the delicate relationship between form and content or the technical execution of the skill, and I could surely quote a lot of humanities professors on what they think art is (or rather what they think art isn't since that is what they tend to be infinitely more vocal about). In particular, I could focus on the elements of craft within fiction and how they work to emphasize a theme.

And at the end of it all, you wouldn't have an answer even close to what art actually is. Instead I'm going to tell you a story. I'm going to show you what art is.

About ten years ago I was just going back to college to learn to write. I had had some awful criticism of my writing, and I decided that I needed some professional help with getting better. Well even an undergraduate degree in Creative Writing was going to require general education coursework, so I trucked over to my local junior college and started taking classes.

One of my first classes was a humanities class, and for one of the assignments, we had to go to the Oakland museum to look at art and write up a bit about various works. Sure we spent time in this class looking at The Mona Lisa and American Gothic and we did a quick run through impressionism and cubism, but we were also supposed to be able to think about humanities and their relationship to the culture of the time. Blah blah blah insertcollegecriticalthinkingstuffhere. So we were to go look at some modern art and artists and write up a quick impression of what they have to do with modern culture. There I was on a Saturday with my little clipboard and my lined paper going around to all the predetermined pictures to write stuff. And it's the last weekend to do the assignment, so half a dozen of my classmates are floating around as well. We were almost the only ones in the whole place. My footsteps echoed through the gallery and I could hear the guy in the opposite wing coughing.

And I saw a picture.

I don't remember the picture's name or who the artist was because at the time I didn't think much of it. I thought it was a moderately interesting piece, but there wasn't that much to it. The painting was of this elderly guy and he was sitting in the kitchen of a very, very small apartment–it looked like it might be a loft or a tiny one bedroom. I think I remember that there were sky scrapers out the windows, so it was some kind of crowded city. This guy had, in this tiny little kitchen, just dozens of caged birds. And the artist had done a really good job of making it clear that the old man was just delighted by these birds.

The weird thing was, this guy in the picture was slightly transparent. You could JUST make out the vertical line contours of the apartment and one of the birds THROUGH him.

And I looked at that picture and I wrote a blurb about it, and turned my paper in and got an A. No muss. No fuss. Bibbity bam.

And that night, I was lying in bed and I couldn't get to sleep. I couldn't get to sleep because of that fucking painting. Because I couldn't get it out of my head that the guy was slightly transparent. Like he wasn't really even a real person. Like he didn't even matter as an individual. Like all those vertical lines in his really small apartment and from the skyscrapers meant that he was in his own cage. And I imagined this old guy who couldn't get his kids to call and didn't have friends except his birds and even though they made him happy, in a lot of ways it was like he wasn't even there. Trapped and invisible.

And that's sort of what we do with the elderly in this society.

Ten years later, that picture still haunts me. Ten. Fucking. Years.  I'll be walking down the street or sitting watching Daredevil, and suddenly I will think about how people can be transparent and that picture of that man who seemed so happy––or rather trying desperately to convince himself that he was happy––but maybe wasn't really even there.

Ten years.

That's what art is.

Art isn't something I can explain in ten pages or ten thousand. It tends to have some things in common like its relationship with message and execution, but ultimately the more you try to lock down what is art, the more examples of the most breathtaking art of all time you will find outside your parameters.  Art crawls into the deep places of your soul whether you want it to or not and jumps unbidden into your mind. It might make you angry, sad, or hopeful, but it usually makes you think, and it always makes you skip a breath. Whether it is a line from Salinger, a strain of Mozart, or a smear on a cave wall from the first beings who we might have called human, it reaches across time and space and digs a barbed hook into your sense of humanity that you'll never remove.

And if I write something that someone can't help but think of a decade after they read it, I will count myself a great artist, no matter what someone with an elbow patch and a shelf full of books ever says.