I need to circle the zero from a different angle

I must rethink my schedule for writing Iterations of Zero.

The reason I need to do this is that writing IoZ is interfering with the speed of my fiction writing, and fiction is my primary utility function.  Unfortunately, since I write my fiction in the mornings, and do my original blog on Thursday mornings, writing this blog on Tuesday mornings (as I am now) further interrupts my weekly fiction flow.  I have one day on, then one day off, then one day on, then one day off, then one day on for fiction during the working week.  When I go into the office on Saturday mornings, I also write fiction then, and that’s good as far as it goes, but skipping days during the week slows me down and breaks my flow.

Of course, I’ve said to myself, and to you, my readers, that I could write at least a page of fiction on Sundays, as well.  I said that writing fiction on Sundays would be easier than producing an IoZ post on Sundays, and I still think that’s true.  Unfortunately, “easier” is apparently not easy enough, and I’m not getting much writing done on Sundays, if any.  I aspire to the Stephen King/Ray Bradbury ideal of literally writing every day, of course, but when one writes in one’s spare time while also working full time, with a long commute…well, the time takes its toll on one’s will, and on Sunday mornings I tend just to want—perhaps need—to vegetate.

If I were writing full time, and only writing, then I think I could swing it, but unless and until I achieve that blessed state, I need to adjust.  “Know thyself and act accordingly,” great Socrates exhorts us, and I try to comply when I’m able.  Obviously, I don’t quite know myself as well as I should, because if I did, I wouldn’t have to keep reassessing and changing things, but hopefully I’m getting to know myself a little bit better all the time.

So, if I must prioritize, I will choose my fiction over my nonfiction, heartrending though that can be.  I need to maximize the continuity in my fiction writing, with as few instances of “day off/day on” as I can.  Therefore, at least tentatively, I’m going to switch away from writing IoZ every Tuesday morning.  That way, I’ll at least get in a good four to five days of fiction writing a week instead of three to four, even without Sundays.

There are, however, still numerous topics on which I want to express my thoughts, from politics to philosophy, to science, to math, to mental health and the lack thereof, and every random, walk-in topic in between.  Though the list of my stories waiting to be written is long, the list of potential Iterations of Zero posts is even longer (though the total volume of work will no doubt be much shorter).  I need to work out some method of getting it done without impinging on my fiction.

The inspirations for IoZ posts can strike me nearly any time, (though, amusingly, they often occur when I’ve had large doses of caffeine—I don’t know if this is a good thing or a bad thing overall, but it at least gives me useful knowledge of one possible trigger that I can squeeze when needed).  In the past, I’ve jotted these thoughts down in the notes section of my smartphone—the list has lasted through three successive phones, growing as it’s gone along—and I need to get back into that habit.  Writing down article ideas both stores them and makes them concrete.  Then, when I review these ideas frequently, with new thoughts occurring as I do, the articles compose themselves in my head as I go along, usually making the eventual writing much smoother.

All of this would be easier to accomplish if I could just master the art of getting enough sleep.  I’ve always tended to be an early riser, even when I was a teenager, but waking up at one or one-thirty in the morning—after going to sleep at perhaps eleven, and sometimes later—is just ridiculous.  It’s clearly not the case that I’ve simply had all the sleep I need; if that were so, I’d feel rejuvenated and enthusiastic when I wake up at those times, whereas normally I groan inwardly and curse my perverse sleep cycle.  I’m usually able to sneak in at least a little more sleep before morning, in fits and snatches, but it almost never feels like enough.

<sigh>

Oh, well.  No one ever promised that this “life” stuff would be easy, did they?  At least, no one ever promised me such a thing, and I suspect that if someone promised you such thing, they were trying to sell you something, tangible or otherwise.

I would welcome any advice, recommendations, personal experiences, etc. that might point me in a good direction with respect to writing my IoZ posts on a weekly basis without interfering with my fiction.  Any advice on getting better sleep would also be welcome, but remember:  I don’t really have trouble getting to sleep, just staying asleep.  Maybe I should simply meditate on those occasions when I wake up early…but thinking to do that requires a presence of mind that I often don’t have at such moments.

I’m certainly not giving up.  I mean to solve this problem or die trying, so I expect I’ll figure out something that works.  In the meantime, of course, you could all help by buying and spreading the word about my works and increasing their popularity to the point where I’m an international best-seller and can write full time.

That’s not too much to ask, is it?

IS life pain?

I recently bought a tee-shirt bearing one of my favorite quotes from the movie, The Princess Bride.  The shirt reads, “Life is pain.  Anyone who says differently is selling something.”

This quote got me thinking, specifically about its first sentence.  Obviously, I bought the shirt because its message resonated with me, even if only as an expression of dark humor.  But really, on a deep, objective level, is it accurate?  I concluded that, depending on how one defines “pain,” as well as how generous one is toward poetic hyperbole, the quote expresses a useful insight into the nature of all living beings that are capable of action. Continue reading “IS life pain?”

A cosmic perspective in everyday life

It can be intimidating to consider the size, scale, and scope of the universe in space and time, and to compare it to the size and length of our everyday lives.  It can make many of our daily concerns seem not merely small and trivial, but utterly irrelevant on the scale of all that happens.  If we’re not careful, it can even drive us into nihilism, or something close to it.  On a cosmic scale, nothing we do ever really matters or seems at first glance to have an impact.  This can be daunting and disheartening.

While I think it’s not useful to go so far as to conclude that everything that happens to everyone is truly meaningless, I do think that taking a larger perspective—even a cosmic perspective—can be both illuminating and useful and might even make us approach life more rationally and more productively. Continue reading “A cosmic perspective in everyday life”

The “supernatural” does not, and cannot, exist

I might have written about this before, but I think it bears repeating, if only because it’s a point of personal irritation:  there’s no such thing as the “supernatural.”

Don’t misunderstand me; I’m not necessarily saying I think there are no such things as spirits, magic, deities, psychic powers, or the like.  I strongly suspect that none of these things does exist, but my point is about categories of thought and terminology, not about the reality of proposed phenomena, and the term “supernatural” is inherently pointless. Continue reading “The “supernatural” does not, and cannot, exist”

Never hate your interlocutors

There’s a moment in “The Godfather: Part III” when Michael Corleone says to Vincent, Sonny Corleone’s hotheaded illegitimate son, “Never hate your enemies; it affects your judgment.”  These may be some of the most useful words in that whole excellent movie series, words that apply to the world and to human interaction generally, perhaps more than ever before in our modern world of politics and social media.

Anyone who has spent a significant amount of time on social media, at least when dealing with political and social issues, has seen the face of the problem this aphorism addresses.  Anyone who has followed politics has also seen it.  We tend to address our issues and disagreements in the real world as though they are zero-sum games—contests in which there can be only one winner and one loser, where any gain by the “other side” is a loss for “our side.”  Perhaps as an automatic defense against the distress of having to face our fellow humans in such a contest, we demonize our “enemies.”  Unfortunately, this approach quickly becomes counter-productive, because—as Michael Corleone rightly points out—to demonize others, to hate them, impairs our judgment.  If we see another person as inherently reprehensible, then to give him or her any ground, at any level, is to seem to reward what we perceive as evil and, given the zero-sum assumption, to penalize the good. Continue reading “Never hate your interlocutors”

The good/evil number line

During the last presidential election (some of you may remember it) occasional memes floated through social media making pronouncements to the effect that choosing the lesser of two evils (e.g. Hillary Clinton vs. Donald Trump in these memes’ cases) is still choosing evil.  These memes often came from first hopeful, then frustrated, Bernie Sanders supporters, but it’s a notion that’s by no means confined to such groups.  Ideologues of all stripes, from the religious, to the political, to the social-scientific and beyond, fall prey to the classic mental fallacy of the false dichotomy—the notion that the world is divided into two absolute, opposite natures, and that if their own ideas are pure and good (nearly everyone, on all sides, seems to believe this of themselves), then any choice other than the pure realization of their ideas in all forms is somehow a descent into evil.  Many people implicitly believe that even to choose the “lesser of two evils” is somehow to commit a moral betrayal that can be even worse than simply choosing evil for its own sake.

I hope to explode this notion as the destructive claptrap that it is. Continue reading “The good/evil number line”

Remember the reason for the season

As we in the United States prepare to celebrate the 4th of July, also known as Independence Day, I want to remind my readers to think about the real reason behind the holiday.  This has a bit of the character of a devout Christian enjoining everyone to remember “the reason for the season,” at Christmastime, and I’m far from embarrassed by the comparison (though we have more immediate reasons to connect the 4th day of July with this celebration than Christians do with December 25th).

The celebration of the 4th in modern America—and for some time longer, as far as I know—tends to center on the launching of fireworks, nominally in recollection of the battle commemorated in “The Star-Spangled Banner,” and on the celebration of the flag itself.  While I have no deep problem with enjoying those symbols, I am impatient with the fact that the flag has become the center of that celebration, and the focus of American patriotism, as well as with the blind and thoughtless idea of American exceptionalism, especially in the era of “Make America Great Again,” and other such vacuous statements.  We have become a people that, on the surface, seem to think of America as exceptional for reasons of fate, or Divine Providence, or some other mere happenstance.  But if America is great, it is not great in any set of its current circumstances, but in the ideas upon which it was founded.

I encourage everyone to reread, on the occasion of the celebration of the birth of the United States of America, The Declaration of Independence, and preferably also the United States Constitution, especially the Bill of Rights.  These are the ideas at the heart of what America really means, and if America is ever to achieve the greatness made possible by those ideas, in any durable and important way, it will need to do so by commitment to the principles there described.

The key sentence of the Declaration of Independence is the second one:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”

These were revolutionary concepts, though they had their roots in the Enlightenment principle that the purpose of government is to serve the people governed.  In this they are very different from traditional “Judeo-Christian values” (despite those frequently being claimed as our government’s basis), for those ideas are inherently authoritarian and dogmatic, while those of America have more the character of the scientific method.  Governments are a means of solving problems, and must always, in principle, be open to revision and improvement.  This is perhaps the most important, the most crucial aspect of the Constitution:  not the famous division of powers, with its various checks and balances, excellent though those things are, but the idea that the Constitution is amenable to continual and constant revision and amendment, as new, hopefully better, ideas come to the fore.

The first ten such amendments are the Constitutional framers’ attempt to codify more fully the notion of “unalienable Rights,” as described by Jefferson in the Declaration, and are sensibly called The Bill of Rights.  They are the explicit statements that, no matter what expediency might seem to justify it, and even if a majority desire it, a government has no business infringing the rights of the citizens, even be it one individual whose rights would be infringed.

The very nature of American government, as it was founded, contradicts any notion of blind patriotism.  The nation, the law, the government, these are not ends in themselves, but are means to an end, and they serve the rights and well-being of the citizenry.  Government derives its just powers from the consent of the governed, and when it fails to protect those governed, it is the right—many would say the duty—of the citizenry to make changes, for an infringement of the rights of any individual is a threat to the rights of every individual.

The United States is only great to the degree that it strives to live up to these ideals, which are still probably best expressed in its founding document.  This is what we should remember and celebrate on this anniversary of the birth of the nation:  not a flag, though the flag is nice; not a song, though the song is stirring; not fireworks, though they are fun, and the battle they recreate was no doubt impressive.  The United States of America is not a place, but an idea—the idea that government exists for the sake of the individual citizens of the country, not the other way around.  It is the duty of the government to protect and nurture the rights, the liberty, the pursuit of happiness of the people it serves, and dissent should not merely be allowed but is a fundamental duty.

Read the Declaration on this Independence Day.  Read the Bill of Rights.  Participate fully in your local, state, and federal government.  Vote.

And by all means, if you disagree with me (or with your government) feel free to say so and to do something about it.