the frenzy begins

Of course, last time I tried to participate in one of these crazy Write For a Month things I failed miserably. And it ended up destroying my blogging career for two months (see here and here).

But, foolhardy soul that I am, I’ve decide to try and redeem myself by participating in Script Frenzy! The goal: 100 pages in one month!

I’ve decided to write a stageplay. You’ll probably get to read it when I’m done. I may even post some excerpts here while I’m working on it. In fact, excerpts of my stageplay may be all that I can manage while I’m deep in throes of creation.

I’m not alone in this. In fact, three out of four flatmates are doing it (I’m including myself in that count). Here are the other participants, just moments into the first frenzy of typing:

We had a great dinner before starting. Rice, with sweet potatoes (fried in coconut oil with cardamom):

And Phoenix’s homemade hummus:

Then, once I’d written my first scene, I made us all chai:

No doubt about it, this will be a well-fueled frenzy. Something like 23 pages between the three of us, tonight.

If you want to join in, add me as a writing buddy. I’m flyingturtle.

Happy Frenzy!

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my viewpoint

Where I’m coming from lately:

Human beings are storytellers. Animals communicate all the time. Humans communicate too, all the time. But we have this special thing that we do, in addition to normal, straightforward communication: we tell stories.

There’s something interesting about a story. Telling a story isn’t about communicating a need or desire. We can use a direct request or statement to do that. Stories can be used to that effect but it’s not the important or singular thing about them. When we tell a story we are communicating needs, but experiences. In telling a story we try to relate our own experiences.

Storytelling is about taking an experience that I have had, boxing it up in a verbal or other format, and then transmitting it to you. When I tell you a story, I’m trying to show you how it feels to be me.

That’s a fairly powerful tool. It’s a powerful experience. When I tell you a story I reach out to you and try to let you be me, for a short time and to a limited extent. This is a human thing that we do. It is incredibly important.

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Breakfast: oatmeal

Breakfast was quiet oatmeal, leftover from yesterday, with milk and butter and a single date mixed in. I love oatmeal because:

  • It is warm.
  • It is filling.
  • It is easy to make.
  • It is simple.

I used to have oatmeal with maple syrup (or other sweetener), cinnamon, coconut, cream/milk, butter, and raisins. Now I usually stick to three additions: milk, butter, a little fruit (a date, or some raisins, or half a banana). The meal is actually more interesting when simpler. I can focus on the tastes more carefully, isolate each one and then really pay attention to their harmonies. And the lack of sweetener (other than the dried fruit) is very helpful. Previously, the taste of oatmeal was cloaked by the sweetness. Now, it stands out on its own, and the delicious but rare bursts of sweetness from the fruit are the more potent because of their rarity.

Of course, unadorned oat porridge would be simpler still than my meal, but what’s life without a little spice (or milk, or butter, or dried fruit)?

By the way, here’s my recipe:

Mix 1 part oats with 1 part water and a spoonful of yoghurt or raw milk. Sit at room temperature overnight. In the morning add 1 additional part water, heat till the porridge attains a desirable consistency, let sit for a few moments (covered), then serve with desired adornments.

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Taking a break

I’m going to have to take a break from posting here, probably for about a month. At the very latest, I’ll be back on March 22.

The reason: I’m in the middle of two heavy projects right now, and I’ve reached the point in each at which all my resources need to be focused. The two projects are: preparing for Hamlet and redesigning Harvest to Market.

I may stop in from time to time, especially as we get into Hamlet rehearsals. But don’t expect to see much of me till late March.

I’ll miss you all!

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story games

I was able to play a roleplaying game for the first time in a long time last night. We played Fate, which is a storytelling-oriented RPG. RPGs started with Dungeons and Dragons in the 70s, but I think this relatively new hobby is starting to recognize its own nature as part of the much more ancient activity of storytelling. There are a lot of roleplaying games being published now that emphasize more heavily the act of telling a story, and deemphasize the wargaming roots of D&D.

Fate is one of these. It’s a system of rules (just like any game) where the rewarded behavior is good storytelling. It’s played in a group, with one player acting as a kind of referee. The group as a whole is responsible, rather informally, for “judging” good storytelling. Each player (not just the ref) is explicitly (in the rules) tasked with telling some part of the story. Usually each non-ref player has their primary character that they play, just like an actor plays a single character at a time on stage. The ref helps to create the background against which these characters act by narrating the setting and the supporting characters. But in a game like Fate the non-ref players are given control over some narration within the sphere of influence they’ve assigned to their character.

So, if you as a player decide that you want your character to be involved in stories about, say, The Questing Beast, you can at some points in the game claim narrative control over details about the Beast’s description, its habits, the habits and personalities of those who Quest for it, etc.

In Fate the sharing out of narrative duty is mostly accomplished by a barter economy. Each non-ref player gets a number of Fate Points, which they can spend to gain narrative control. Usually the control defaults to the ref, but if a player thinks the story is wandering into their character’s purview, they can pay the ref a Fate point to gain control and dictate some positive circumstance for their character. On the other side of things, the ref can offer a player a Fate point in exchange for that player narrating a negative event that happens to their character.

In Fate you decide what kinds of stories you want to be in charge of by ascribing Aspects to your character. A simple example might be an Aspect of “Strong as an Ox.” So, the character Oswald is “Strong as an Ox.” What does this mean? Well, first, its only a description, a bit of color, until someone pays a Fate point to make it have an effect on the story. If the player controlling and portraying Oswald pays the ref a Fate point, then that player can narrate how Oswald is able to use his astonishing, ox-like strength to lift a wagon off the man trapped beneath it. Later on, when Oswald is handling a glass art piece favored by the girl he’s trying to impress, perhaps the ref offers Oswald’s player a Fate point and says: “You know, an ox is known to be somewhat clumsy.” We the see Oswald’s player take the offered Fate point and narrate how Oswald drops the sculpture, shattering it and putting his relationship in jeopardy.

Of course, you don’t need rules to create a shared story. But the rules do offer an explicitly stated framework for the players to refer to in deciding how to divvy up storytelling duties. We do the same thing (create a rules system) when we say “Okay, we each to tell a sentence of the story. We go around in clockwise order.” Storytelling games like RPGs are a little more complex but it’s the same basic idea.

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a woman, once under a tree (part 3, draft 1)

Previous: part 2

Currents change in the firmament. Bright paints, melted, they roll together.

She walks on beneath. Red hills begin to spring up. Between the hills, strands of an ancient forest. The trees, not tall, but thick and old, with leaves darkest green. Night light makes them ghost shapes, shadows, without distinction. But she has walked in the same forests before; she knows their look.

Once she hid in the branches of a similar tree. For hours she was not found. Cringing at every sound, eyes straining, she saw nothing. Twilight began to settle. The shadows grew. Only when she realized that she might never be found did she climb out of the tree. She ran home. The game was long over.

A faint smile dances at the memory. Fear and anger of childhood hold happiness for her now. She sees it as a simpler time, a time well worth returning to in memory and thought.

The path rises. It curves, and she passes between the arms of two hills, into the forest of her youth.

Perhaps it is the dark. Perhaps there are other memories hidden here she has not wandered through in nostalgic play. Perhaps this forest is a little different, not what she’s used to.

She is seized by fear.

Behind every tree lurks a presence. There, in the dark, waiting in anticipation. She cannot turn around. Right behind her it waits, wishing only that she would turn, face it, and be consumed. She stairs straight ahead. Her gait grows stiff. She focuses on the path, but as she steps deeper under the trees the path seems to narrow. Her view of it shrinks as darkness enfolds her. As if her vision is fading and she will soon fall.

She shudders on, trying to laugh at childish fears. Only a child fears the dark in this way. It is unreasoning, ridiculous, the remnant of deep memories. Nothing more than the body’s reaction against an unfamiliar situation, the deprivation of the senses, the unknown shapes of trees.

Here is the path. Before her it stretches out, its climb steady, its way strangely straight. She has but to follow the path. Her destination is at the end. She gives up choice when she steps onto the path. Where it will lead her is none of her concern, she only knows that it will lead her there. And that is where she should be. She sets her mind on the destination, disregarding all but the path leading onward, onward towards its end. There are no trees, there is no dark, only the beaten path beneath her feet.

There is a sound. Where at first the night and the forest had been silent, there is now a sound. There it is again. Like a scrape, or rustle, off to the left. She forces herself to keep her pace steady. She does not speed up. Her walking stick is held in both hands now. She does not know when she shifted her grip.

There it is again, off to the right. But it can only be a creature of the forest. A squirrel, or an apsis. The sound seems larger than it is. It is a tiny creature, harmless, afraid. Once more she hears it, off to the right, farther away.

And then silence.

There is a little clearing off to the left, lit momentarily by the light of the firmament. Perhaps the bed of a stream is there, for she is slightly above, and she thinks she hears water running sleepily. A cricket sings somewhere in the grasses.

The night is quiet. She walks on.

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pre-morning

Young and old
they race for the top of the hill
in silence
save for boots through the grass,
glancing
and smiling
they cling to each other
half sleeping, holding bed’s warmth in
against
the cold of night.
Laughing and skirting they race
for the top of the hill, crying

Dawn breaks through the dewed grass.

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Driving

Part of a series on community and solitude.

I have two friends who live a life that looks idyllic to me. I’m looking at their life from the outside, of course. I don’t live their lives and my viewpoint is superficial. But from what I can see there is much to desire. My two friends live in a beautiful house, alone, out in the woods. They are some miles down the road from anything in particular. They have near-perfect privacy. They have solitude.

Yet these two friends do live vibrant community lives. They are involved heavily in the growth and functioning and community spirit of the nearby community. It’s just a short drive down the road.

Which brings me to my somewhat mundane topic. There’s a certain exercise that draws me physically towards a house set in a community rather than outside of it. This is a physical draw rather than an emotional or intellectual one. As such, its pull is powerful but low-level, and I can disregard it in my plans and dreams when I want to. It’s still there staring me in the face when I am off my guard, however.

I’m talking about driving. I hate driving.

To say I “hate” driving is a little bombastic. Most of the time I don’t actually hate driving. I just don’t like it at all. It’s boring. It’s repetitive. It seems a waste of time. There are certainly things I could do that would put that time to use. I could learn a language from a CD or listen to books on tape. I use driving time to memorize lines. But often (for me) driving requires enough concentration that other activites pursued simultaneously lose their effectiveness. So all in all, there are better ways I could be spending my time than driving. I could be memorizing my lines on the porch, in the sunlight (in warm weather). I could be learning a language from a CD in front of the fire. Why do I spend so much of my time wasting my time or using it suboptimally? Please don’t answer that question. My time-wasting goes much deeper than driving. Back to topic.

Of course I have to drive, don’t I? I live in a state with hardly any public tranportation. I live out in the middle of nowhere. I have a career that requires me to search far and wide for employment and to take it whenever I can, even if it requires miles upon miles and hours upon hours of driving.

So really the reason I spend so much time in the carseat is this: I’ve made stupid choices in my life. The consequence of my stupid choices is that I have to spend a significant amount of my life trapped in a relatively flimsy cage of metal hurtling forth above very hard substances for hours on end, surrounded by possibly less flimsy hurtling cages that seek to destroy me whenever their nominal guidance systems decide to send a text message or put on their makeup.

Make your choices, suffer the consequences. And if you don’t like the consequences, make new choices.

Living in a little town, or within walking distance of one, holds such appeal partly because there’s this little chance that I would be able to drive a lot less. Of course, true termination of my car addiction requires other choices, beyond just moving into a town. I have to choose to visit family and friends less. I have to choose to get my food locally. I have to choose to be stuck with the people in my town. And I have to choose to find a job that’s closer to home!

Which probably means I have to make myself a job, if I want to stay in my current profession.

Of course, there are plenty of good, productive people who live their lives effectively, despite the vast distances they have to travel. There are a lot of good, productive people who drive a lot more than I do and don’t whine about it so much. I don’t mean to offend anyone who is effectively living their life, at peace with their car and with the miles. What I’m trying to do here is really for me (of course it’s for me, it’s a blog): I’m trying to take a hard look at the consequences of the choices I’ve made, and at how they jive (or don’t jive) with the life I’d like to be living. So far it’s just looking, examining, ranting. But maybe someday you’ll all get to hear me say: “I made a new choice.”

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Where to Live

Part of a series on community and solitude.

I need to think about where I want to live.

There are two desires in me. One is for solitude, the other for community. These are not necessarily conflicting desires. I can have solitude and community, if I’d like. I need to set these as the ends of a spectrum and decide where I want to place myself between them.

Perhaps a start would be admitting how much I want solitude. This is a part of my character that I haven’t thought about for several years. But it goes deep. When I dream of a perfect life I often see the wilderness, and a self-sufficient situation. I imagine quiet unbroken except for the sounds of family and the occasional guest. Somewhat inexplicably, farming and writing are my pursuits in this particular dream. I’ve never seriously followed either of those paths. I don’t know if I would enjoy them so completely when idea becomes reality.

In my dream, a house stands on the side of a hill in the sun, miles from anything. In the yard are gardens and goats, chickens and perhaps a little cow. I sit in the sun looking out at my little kingdom. Or I’m out in the garden, or herding the goats from one tiny field to another.

And of course, when I say solitude, when I suggest that I am alone, I really mean that myself and my family are alone. And every once in a while a guest or three shows up at the door, perhaps in the evening when light is streaming from the windows of this little house. We share a meal and a song in quiet solitude. There is no intrusion that is not invited.

Okay, gag, the sentimentality is choking some of my more pragmatic readers. My hermit vision may be practical in some ways — for instance, I have placed a heavy emphasis on sustainability and self-sufficiency in my dream — but it is selfish and antisocial nonetheless.

I’m not above being selfish. And of course I’m selfish accidentally all the time. What I mean is: I’m not above being selfish intentionally. As long as I have some time to think it out and understand as many of the consequences as I can. A bit of selfishness on my part is not going to mean the end of world.

But my preference is to be Not Selfish. My preference is to be Good. And it seems clear that the other end of this spectrum, the Community end, is the Better end from the point of view of the human species, the life on this planet, the universe.

I have another dream. Perhaps this one is less directly appealing, perhaps it is less primal, but it is a dream nonetheless and I can easily yearn for it if I turn my mind towards it.

In this dream I live in a small house near the center of a small town. I am a short walk from all my needs, so my garden is smaller. I am a short walk from immersion in a thriving, vibrant community. There are people here, within walking distance, who are scientists, artists, tradesfolk, people who make a difference and people who are heavily invested in this small community. I teach here, and I am steadily, strongly, daily involved in the shaping and guidance of the next generation’s people; not just my own children, but all those of the community, and by example, the world. This is a dream in which I sit in a cafe in the morning and have conversations there with people in my field or outside it — conversations about collaborations or conversations to broaden my viewpoint. This is a dream filled with buzz and activity, and while much of it is uninvited, most of it is welcome.

Between these dreams, somewhere, is a little house on a hill, with gardens and goats, perfectly located just a short walk from the center of town and the thriving community, the schools and libraries and parks. It’s not inconceivable, especially around here, to find such a perfect little place. Come looking for me in a few years, and that’s where you’ll find me, in all likelihood.

But the solitary extreme still calls to me, powerfully. It says: Just think of it — to go weeks, months at a time, without hearing a sound but the call of the wind, the soft movements and noises of the animals, the rustle of the grass and the earth underfoot, the quiet clinking of the dishes in the sink by the window in the sunlight.

To be continued…

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enthusiasm

Yesterday I experienced enthusiasm!

Perhaps the above statement makes it sound as if I’m incredibly boring or emotionally stunted. Well, I am fairly boring and slightly emotionally stunted, but I do suffer from enthusiasm on a frequent basis. Yesterday just seemed particularly enthusiastic, and I wanted to share it with you.

Enthusiasm Number 1: I spent some time with my beloved RPGs. First I set up a new wiki for recording the Fate-based rules system I’d like to play a game with. The wiki is at: http://games.deepeningdays.com/fate/

Actually, if you’re interested, feel free to register. I could use some help in some sections of the site, compiling or brainstorming rules. Its a wiki afterall, and wikis were made for collaborative editing.

I also spent some time fiddling with the Game Master’s Helper. For those not familiar with the lingo, in an RPG the Game Master (often just called “the referee”) is the…well, the referee. The Game Master is usually responsible for planning storylines and for playing all the characters not played by the other players.

Game Master’s Helper is a little TiddlyWiki file which I’ve customized to serve as a GM’s notebook. If you’re running an RPG you can keep notes on your setting, storylines, and characters in the wiki. It also rolls dice for you, which is very handy!

After the blistering enthusiasm of the RPGs I was ready to get to work. And I did get to work! In fact, I delved into two (admittedly basic) areas of website programming that I’ve never worked up the courage to tackle before.

I started to get more familiar with jQuery. It’s a Javascript library. Basically that just means that you can make your websites do pretty things, like fading or hiding or sliding, etc. I’ve played around with it a bit, but I’m working on a larger project now and its going to take some jQuery just to get the interface working smoothly. So…dive in I did!

And after that I took another swandive, this time into MySQL manipulation with PHP. “Blah blah blah, what is he talking about?” It’s not as mysterious as it sounds. MySQL is a database, and a database is really just a spreadsheet (like OpenOffice Calc or MS Excel). PHP is a language to write web-based programs. Basically, you can pull data out of the rows and columns of a database and create a website out of it! It separates data from presentation, which is a nice thing to do. I’ve always been afraid of MySQL for some reason, but with a little guidance I was able to crack the shell on this one. I’ve generated a dynamic page from a database query! I was so excited last night that I looked up to find it already passing midnight.

It may be that I’ll disappear into these new web discoveries for a few days. Our deadline on this project is fast approaching, and I need to spend most of my time on it to get it done. But I’ll try to write every day anyway! Don’t despair: Mr. Turtle shall return!

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