In Defense of the Mainstream Media

 

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Photo by 5demayo @ Morguefile.com

 

One of the things that I learned about journalism when I started is that the media is a very different entity than what the public makes it out to be. I have learned quite a lot in the past two semesters.

I was spurred to make this post due to seeing a post on the Blogging Meetup by fellow blogger Steven Sawyer. Now, internet drama is the domain of my friend Maggie but I suppose she’s rubbed off on me in some ways. But unlike her Facebook posts that are designed to stir the pot, I am going to take a moment to address something that is actually important to me.

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Fifty-Thousand Words of Mist

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As of the time of this writing, I have officially come to victory. I have finally made the 50k word mark, bringing NaNoWriMo to a close. In exchange, I will be donating a sum to the organization and sending the manuscript to an editor for revision. I am taking every measure to make sure this gets published.

While my word count is sufficient for NaNoWriMo, I am approximately halfway through the book itself. The recommendations for such a young adult novel have been presented to me as between 55k and 90k. While there’s no hard limit, I want to work firmly within that guideline for reasons that I will make clear later on.

This is my third attempt at NaNoWriMo and so far my only success. My previous attempts were “Cloudrunner” and “Dissolution”. In both cases before, both books quickly ran out of material before I long. I found that I was unable to write not because I had writer’s block or something similar, but because there was literally nothing left to write about.

One Hundred Days of Mist came about as a merger of a bunch of incomplete projects. In truth, it began as a horror screenplay called “Eternal Candle: An Unseen Light”.  The protagonist of One Hundred Days of Mist, Dan Hathaway, is an evolved and fleshed out form of the same Dan Hathaway in that screenplay. Some character aspects have remained unchanged, but the setting is very different.

In Eternal Candle: An Unseen Light, the plot reads as a combination of the video game “Silent Hill 2” and the TV show, “Lost”. I had successfully completed the first draft of those screenplays but I never went anywhere with it.

However, many years later, when I was trying to communicate what depression was like to my friends, I created a text adventure that bears the same name as the novel I am currently producing. It was much closer to my actual experiences and took virtually no liberties.

But I was at a crossroads at a certain point, I needed to solve a very specific problem. I had to make an engaging to explain complex cognitive processing that the main character was undergoing. One of the things that I learned in psychology class is that our brains actually process a lot of information while we sleep. So I created the concept of “Nightmare”, a persistent dream state that is influenced by the protagonist’s waking life.

It was around this time that I realized that Eternal Candle: An Unseen Light and One Hundred Days of Mist were very similar in terms of the story, and because I don’t like telling the same story twice I merged them together.

My recommendation is to save your old, incomplete work. Even if you never finish it you can still take pieces of it and put it into something new.

But there are several reasons I also believe that things worked out better. The first is that I had experience writing short stories before for one of my writing classes. Getting used to writing a story with a clear beginning, middle, and end and completing it was a good experience.

Additionally, Dungeons & Dragons has instilled me with an interesting storytelling methodology. The game is highly improvisational, so I often only plan a single session in advance and keep it in broad strokes because I have no idea where it’s going to go. As it turns out, this is easily transferable to novel writing. I keep an extremely vague idea of what I want to happen throughout the novel, but each scene is built one after the other instead of being plotted out meticulously. This solves one of my old problems, which consisted of transitions between scenes.

Most importantly, though: I cheated. I spent several days in advance writing. There was a good reason for this. In previous attempts, I followed the rule to the letter. I would not start until the very day. This was a mistake.

Why? Well, because life doesn’t stop when you begin NaNoWriMo you inevitably lose a day. I’ve observed that if you don’t have a cushion your brain subconsciously slides into apathy. After all, you missed one day, what’s one more gonna do? Having a cushion that you can go back to once life inevitably comes up is invaluable. This is doubly so for students like myself.

Momentum is extremely important. You need to build yourself up into a rhythm, this means writing whenever you can. Make your word count, exceed it when possible.

Some people can work well alone in their room. I actually find that this is a pretty terrible idea for me. I have too many games, too much stuff to distract me. I found my refuge in Starbucks, surrounding by other people who were working. Additionally, I joined a local writer’s group, giving me a collaborative atmosphere.

Also, make sure your friends and family are behind you with this. It’s very encouraging to have them read your work and give a thoughtful critique of it. Make sure one of them belongs to your target audience.

When you do sit down to write, make sure you are prepared to not interrupt that time. That time is blocked off and you will not have it interrupted. What this really means is taking care of time-sensitive obligations in advance.

With NaNoWriMo, you always move forward. Never go backward or otherwise, you’ll be stuck tweaking something. Save that for when NaNoWriMo is over.

Taking a critique is hard for me. Not because I can’t take it, but because I take it too hard. Someone points to a mistake and my immediate reaction is “nuke manuscript”.  But this is a bad move.There are several little things that made writing all the more worthwhile. The first

There are several little things that made writing all the more worthwhile. The first of those things was when my manuscript got too big to be stapled. The second was when someone told me that they could relate to what was happening in the story.

Don’t be afraid to really feel the things that happen in your novel. There were several scenes that I wrote that made me tear up, and I’m glad that they’re included.

I was able to juggle my school life, my social life, and writing this book fairly well. I did , however, end up doing one thing that so far I haven’t heard much discussion about. I spent a lot of money.

I got some books about writing, which is a good idea. However, I made the mistake of purchasing them shortly before NaNoWriMo, meaning that I would only have time to read them after I finished.

But what I spent enormous amounts of money on is food. One of my flaws that I will spend the next month trying to correct is that I’m really bad at making meals in advance. I can cook, but often I only do that when I’m about to eat. I don’t do advance meal preparation well at all. This meant eating at fast food that was nearby. Food and dining totaled $459 according to my budgeting program. It also left a -$271 cash flow on my account, necessitating dipping into savings.

Those who have followed me for a while will also connect the dots about this. All of the work that I did getting my weight down has been undone. The next month will likely be about fixing that.

However, all things being considered, I consider it invaluable for not only the experience of writing something as long form as I did, but also it taught me about the soft skills that I learned that made this possible when in previous years it didn’t.

Now begins the long journey to finishing the novel itself. I have made it halfway and after a short hiatus, I’ll be back in the saddle. Everything seems to work out, somehow.

The Real Frights Came on Election Day

 

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Photo by Dylan Greene

 

Perhaps more so than previous elections in recent memory, the placement of Election Day shortly after Halloween seems appropriate. If one emotion has been omnipresent in the political discussion it has been fear. This fear does not come without reason as many frightening things have been said and done. However, there are deeper implications to this climate.

The current political context is the most polarized the nation has ever been since the Civil War, according to Pew Research. Political views can be reasonably determined in aggregate from getting an individual’s opinion on a single issue, even if the relationship between those views is tenuous or nonexistent. Unlike Obama’s election, which predicated itself upon themes such as “hope” and “change”, the 2016 election is a grand display of cynicism and frustration.

The cross-party dialogue is reduced to a crawl so slow that it may as well be stationary. Those who wish to stick their guns in terms of political ideology over pragmatism attempt to find solace in third-party candidates. Others have expressed a desire for an external event to save them from the situation at hand. Bumper stickers calling for a catastrophic meteor crash or some other world-ending event are now commonplace. No one really stops to examine the implications of this.

However, this is the perfect climate for high-pressure and radical groups to thrive. When the public at large is searching for an easy answer, there is the potential to be manipulated by people selling political ideologies as if they were magical cure-alls for society’s ills. This is can be extrapolated to its logical conclusion, the fear that is felt among the public can be used to justify putting other people in harm’s way. It can be written off as just a necessary part of the steps to the utopia promised.

Shortly after the stock market collapse in 2008, there was a rise in survivalism. Doomsday preppers, convinced of their righteousness, began to seclude themselves and their families. They would be the survivors once the foundations of modern society had collapsed. A keen example of this was the film “Collapse”, which is an extended interview with peak oil guru Michael Ruppert. While the film itself does not necessarily side with him, he briefly enjoyed the limelight as a result. This, however, did not last, as Ruppert shot himself after his fifteen minutes of fame had passed.

That flame seems to have burned out, largely. Preppers may still be out there, but most of them have likely understood that the world has not fallen apart at the seams and have gotten back to their daily lives. This is hopefully going to be the same after this election. However, Vox Media has laid out a distinct possibility in regards to Trump specifically. They speculate that Trump is not the last candidate of his kind, as the contingencies that led to his rise to power still exist.

This of course has further implications. If the same cycle that the nation is currently is repeated once more, there is also the possibility that this could be amplified. Given the tension that has surrounded Trump’s campaign, how much further could the envelope be pushed? The nation may be able to get through 2016, but can it get through 2020?

This question was answered on the night of the election, though perhaps it was the most ominous answer of all “We don’t know, and we don’t know what the cost will be. But honestly, it doesn’t bode well.” Almost immediately, social media blew up with accounts of people who were scared, mourning, in a state of shock and disbelief. Once that initial sentiment wore off, it was replaced with a gruesome display. People began sharing stories of atrocious hate crimes committed in Trump’s name. From people who revealed their racist beliefs to their minority neighbors, sexual harassment against women that was justified by Trump’s previous behavior, Muslims being threatened with deportation and forced to forego their hijabs out of fears for their safety, and even elementary school children chanting “build the wall” at their Hispanic classmates. The posts go further, with all sorts of nastiness that can be directly attributed to Trump’s victory.

The seeds of the next four years have already been sown. Those who have been the most impacted are beginning to form support networks with each other since now the institutions that they placed trust within can no longer be trusted to serve their interests. This polarization will deepen and the situation will continue to escalate until a crescendo occurs. What that looks like is anyone’s guess, but what can be known is that for many Americans in 2016, Halloween did not arrive until November 8th.

A Number of Things

 

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Photo by alice10 @ Morguefile.com

What’s this? A post on Election Day that isn’t political? Don’t fret, there will be one tomorrow once the results are in! In the meantime, however, I will leave you with a somewhat humorous and interesting anecdote. I decided to get this out of the way before I chug on my doubleshot Espresso and hunker down in order to crank out words for NaNoWriMo. Luckily, I am four days ahead, so this is not something that requires urgency.

 

Let’s talk about numbers. Numbers are fun stuff. No, you don’t need to be a math major to enjoy this post, there’s something for everyone here!

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Return to My Heart, Dear Aletha!

 

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Photo by adwinda @ Morguefile.com

Recently, I got an email from someone that I thought was rather intriguing.

 

Hey Dylan

its me Aletha Deaton in Pikesville.

phone my cell-phone –

seven two 4 9 zero three one four 3 five .  if you have a minute.. I miss ya sexy

The uninformed reader may believe that this poor use of grammar, sentence structure, and the completely out-of-the-blue nature of this email was the result of a spammer that somehow got around the filter. Indeed, they may also believe that it would not be a good idea to contact this number, as it is likely an attempt to phish information out of me.

How wrong they are. I knew Aletha and this email reminded me not only of the good times we had together, but also awakened a desire within me that I had not felt for a long time.

My story with Aletha began in preschool, and we remained classmates for a long time. Much to the chagrin of her English teachers, she was raised in a religious cult that held in its doctrine that grammar was a tool developed by evil forces to enslave letters. The so-called “Lettertarians” believed that human-letter relationships could be improved by discarding the notions of grammar in its entirety.

I was invited to her house for a playdate, which quickly turned awkward when I brought along a Dr. Seuss book to read. Her father threatened to burn it, freeing the letters from their torment at the hands of a cruel author who was more interested in wordplay than the well-being of the letters on the page.

Yet, I always knew that she was good in her heart. As we grew older, our time spent together consisted of awkward stares and the constant struggle of her having to articulate in a language that she was programmed not to speak or read. Everyone else became so exasperated with her, merely stating “Are you out of your fucking mind?!” But they could not understand the bond that I shared with her. It was a bond beyond words, one that I hoped would be understood but sadly wasn’t.

Aletha’s family was not only Lettertarian, but they were also under the belief that photographs were created by evil people to control the minds of those they photographed. To them, photographs could be used to manipulate one’s desires and will. As such they had no photos in their house. Though I am doing this without permission from her or her family, I have found a reasonable facsimile of her.

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Yes, I remember the days in which she would let me run my fingers through her curly brown hair. It was a texture that I thoroughly enjoyed, the soft silky feel was something to be retained. Though, perhaps an incredulous reader might point out that this could be anyone since it’s just an avatar. But this is how I remember her, including the fact that she was literally two-dimensional.

As we reached our adolescence, my friendship had blossomed into something more intimate. We walked along the Gunpowder trail, searching for small beige colored rocks for her cult rituals. We would skinny dip in the water when we could, taking our youth as an opportunity to transgress boundaries. This was fully realized one fateful evening when we manifested our love for each other underneath a running waterfall. While more discerning partners would not have appreciated her abysmal grammar in the context of the throes of passion, I was enthralled by it.

However, as I grew older I learned that Aletha had enlisted in the Army and was sent to Vietnam, sending me the single email “i iz goings on this wars. shooting peeple for countrie.tell prents loove theim.” I thought her all but lost. Her family had decided to disappear off the face of the planet and retreat to a Lettertarian enclave where they could engage in an illiterate utopia.

But now she has returned to my life, and henceforth my heart. I brought it up to my therapist and she responded with “Dylan, what the fuck are you talking about? You’ve never known anyone named Aletha, there are no Lettertarians, and you didn’t have sex on Gunpowder trail while you were a teenager. Vietnam was over decades before you were even born. How the hell do you come up with this shit?”

But she will not understand. Aletha and I have something special. We will marry in the spring, according to Lettertarian customs. We will be dipped in India Ink and smeared all over a giant sheet of blank white paper to symbolize approval by the letters.  The love between me and my illiterate-by-choice, two-dimensional cult member fiance will just be something that society will have to accept. My friends have come to accept this as real, though it’s always preceded by an awkward silence. But Aletha, I wish to thank you for coming back to me. I feel much more like a complete person because of you. That is a love that I will always appreciate.