I believe in a Creator. A lot of people of various faiths and backgrounds do. I am of the Judeo-Christian tradition in that I believe that humans were created in the image of the Creator.
That doesn’t mean that God has a body with 10 fingers and 10 toes, but this “image” can be thought of as one of make-up or overarching disposition. Specifically, one way we bear God’s image is we yearn to create.
Humans create. We build things. We develop tools. We construct buildings. We write music. We write poetry. We knit. We cook. We run races. We create and give awards. We celebrate accomplishments—creating memorials and days of remembrance.
And this is all well and wonderful. But you will notice a subtle change when actually examining artists, musicians and artisans as they create. Human creators, when speaking about their work, are often tortured souls. There is a tension and sense of sacrifice when an artist gives birth to a creation—and even that analogy—giving birth—brings up images of pain and blood in the ushering in of new life into the world.
Sometimes, when listening to artists as they describe their projects, I’ll hear phrases like, “I poured my soul into it” or “I gave it everything I had.”
Is this healthy? Should we creators feel so connected to what we create?
I’m not saying there should be no connection, but perhaps less? Naturally, God feels some connection to his creation—he gave his son at great sacrifice to reconcile it and loves us immeasurably. That’s another topic entirely. But have you ever considered that God is not defined by his creation? Love it as he may (and does), God’s identity is not bound to creation. When creation succeeds or fails in terms of expressing the larger good, God is still God, regardless. Our acceptance or rejection of him doesn’t make him lose sleep. Our failure to treat others with justice and compassion doesn’t make him less just or compassionate.
So, as amateur creators (amateur in compared to the Almighty), should we, as we create, feel as connected to our work as we often do? As I write this blog, or work on a novel, or pen an essay…should I allow myself to feel such elation or utter defeat when it is praised or denounced in public reception?
Because, let me tell you, one of the hardest things I had to do as a teacher of journalism was to instill in my students the idea that my rejection of their stories was not a rejection of their person. I can’t tell you how many times I saw students deflated and beaten down when I had to tear apart their work. I did it out of love—an editor who needed to correct the grammar and structure of a burgeoning writer’s first steps. Correcting spelling and grammar was necessary for success in their careers. However, it was very surprising how personally most of my students took my criticism.
They put too much of their identity in their work. They lived and died by the praise or criticism of their teacher. And I don’t think that’s healthy. That’s my point. I don’t think it’s good that we “pour our soul” into things or “lose ourselves” in things. It’s too much. What we make doesn’t define who we are.
As a journalist, I had to develop thick skin. Editors hated my work. Readers hated my work. Hell, I was called and cursed out by dozens of parents of high-school athletes, commanders of misquoted units, organizers of misrepresented events. On and on, there seems no end to the vitriol in responses to stories I’ve written. At a certain point, I had to distance myself from the things I created. So much so, that now when I run into rejection, be it romantic, social or professional, I’m much faster in my recovery, because I try to cultivate a distance between what I make and who I am.
I think that creation is sacred. I believe that when we create, be it a love letter for our significant other, a house as a part of our job, or a blog post—I believe any of those things are ways we express our being made in the image of God. I believe it’s really awesome when we make stuff and when we can join together in celebrating others when they make stuff.
But, I think we should be careful to not tie ourselves to our creations overmuch. What we create shouldn’t define our identity. And in keeping that distance, we actually liberate ourselves to create more freely, more naturally, more consistently.
And it’s a good thing, because if this first book I’m writing ends up terrible, I need to feel good about myself, afterwards!
November is National Novel Writing Month! (Link)
I love NaNoWriMo! I’ve been participating since 2009…well, that’s a lie. I didn’t last year. I was too busy working 4,000 hours a day in 2012…whew! Glad that year is over.
For those who don’t know, NaNoWriMo is a fun, casual writing exercise. People from all over the world pledge to write 50,000 words during the 30 days of November. That’s it. Simple.
Yes yes, I know, November is already Mo’vember (link), but point of fact in the US it’s also National Aviation History/Child Safety Protection/Drum/Adoption Awareness/Epilepsy/Model Railroad/Native American Heritage/Sleep Comfort Month too…so we’ve already overbooked a bit. Why not toss one more in there?
NaNoWriMo meant to be as serious as an individual wants it to be. The site and organization that promotes it is hardly serious. Even the name is goofy. Yet if individuals want their words to count toward a serious piece of literature, or instead have it be a collection of fart jokes—no matter!—so long as you hit the word quotas.
The one thing I try and encourage people to do is NOT EDIT during this month. If you don’t like the flow or arrangement of your paragraphs, or don’t think this day’s work is really that good, who cares?! Keep going. Keep writing. Hell I don’t care if you put in two or three versions of the same paragraph back to back. Hit that quota. Fix and rearrange later.
Writing is the art of addition. Editing is the art of subtraction. If you try to edit while you write, you’ll end up with nothing. You’ll spend 20 minutes on your first 10 words, get frustrated and give up.
Most of my journalism students never listened to me on this point. They’d edit while they wrote because they knew if they just fussed and tweaked this sentence a bit more, it would be…just…well…maybe?…ugh!
Sure enough, they’d end up stuck and missing deadlines because a writer must first write, finish, and stop being a writer. Take the writing hat off. Then he or she can look over the work as an editor.
Now, 50,000 words seems like a lot. It is. It boils down to about 1,667 words a day, which seems like a lot too. Yes, you would be correct, it is. Any way you slice it, it’s a lot of work.
Cranking out 1,700 words a day usually takes me about two hours—a big time commitment for our perpetually consumed lives. Lots of people give me that “I can’t do that” face when I explain it to them.
Here’s the thing, though. For me, I can’t not do this. It’s not that I absolutely love pushing myself to write more than I want. I don’t…I often get to 200 or 300 words and want to stop. But, I view this just like I view physical exercise.
Rational people don’t love going to the gym/waking up early/being sore/etc. It’s true that people love the results of going to the gym, thereby believing they love the gym itself. However, if there was a pill or gene splice to get the fit and sexy results without the gym part, trust me, people would skip the gym.
Writing is no different. People say they would love to be better at putting their thoughts into words. People would love to say, “I wrote a book.”
Well, that’s going to take work. Even in our current age of unaccountability and ease, becoming good at a skill like writing still hasn’t been app-ified. Google won’t write novels or essays on its own just yet. For me, NaNoWriMo is a chance to refine my skills and develop my sense of self expression.
Now there are plenty of people who say “Ugh! Great, NaNoWriMo, the month of terrible amateur fiction!” I’ve been surprised to see some of the backlash on Facebook and other sites as the cause continues to pick up steam and attention. I flip the bird to these people. These are the same nay sayers and critics that have hounded me all my life. They are just louder voices echoing the ones inside of me that tell me I suck and I’ll never be anything because I’m not anything.
Screw that. Most of being extraordinary is first being ordinary. How about that for some trite little quip? You can’t be spectacular at something without being terrible, so why not pump out some bad fiction now? Now, when it’s fun and no body really expects life-changing words from us?
Because maybe—just maybe, the practice now will get us ready for when it really matters. Like when I’ve got to write a review on Amazon or something.
So, the novel is coming along. Will have it done by September, then off to the editor…cover design, formatting…copyediting back and forth…then shoot to have it out by Christmas on a Kindle near you. That’s the plan, anyway!
Since people are awesome enough to regularly ask how it’s going, I wanted to share a preview of what’s down on paper in the first portion of the book.
It’s sci-fi, so there’s that. I wanted to see if the opening chapters could explain what the heck is going on without a lot of prologue, so let’s see if it works here by not giving any intro. You’re welcome!
It’s raw at this point. And you might find a couple of typos or poorly written sentences. We’ll consider those proof of your genius if you can catch ’em all!
All rights reserved and all that lot.
Eve laced up her boots and sat on the table in her assigned examination room of the infirmary. After a few hours of tests, questionnaires and waiting, she was running thin on patience. However, the leisurely chatting of the civilian attendants in the hall told her she’d have a little while longer to sit.
Eve looked around the room for the ninth time, looking over the posters warning service members about the dangers of STDs, the upcoming flu season and being watchful for signs of suicidal thoughts.
Three young corpsmen slowed their walk as they passed her room’s open door. They looked up at the sign that said ‘Pre-Deployment’, then to Eve.
“Afternoon, chief,” one of them said, smiling.
Eve forced a smile and wave. They continued on, watching her as they passed. She couldn’t tell the rank—couldn’t tell if the men outranked her. She didn’t care. Neither did the medical types, usually. They seemed pretty casual around each other, a welcome break from the more hard-nosed components.
A nurse came in with a data pad. Eve sat up. The nurse walked straight over to the room’s terminal, entered in some commands and walked out again. Eve breathed deep and sighed. The air was freezing and odorless—almost unnaturally so.
The rooms were bright with dingy light from the fixtures. The whole infirmary seemed old and worn out. Floors seemed musty. Shelves looked a bit dull and worn. Eve remembered when the clinic first opened, it was after her third deployment—maybe fourth. She wasn’t sure.
“Afternoon, Chief Technician…Roel? Is that how you pronounce it?” a woman said as she entered the room, her eyes fixed on a data pad of her own. She wore the uniform of a doctor and Eve was able to spot rank, thankfully.
“Yes. Afternoon, ma’am,” Eve said, sitting up.
The doctor walked over, sat at the terminal and faced away from Eve as she scrolled through the data.
“I’m sorry things have been taking so long this morning,” she said vacantly. Eve was sure she wouldn’t hear any response. “Looks like we’ve been putting you through all the paces this morning,” she continued.
“Pre-deployment screens, yes,” Eve said.
“Exciting, yes?” the doctor turned around and smiled wide-eyed. “The reason we’re here and all, right?”
“Sure,” Eve said.
“No no, I’m serious,” the doctor got up and closed the door, then returned to her terminal chair and looked Eve in the eyes. “We are honored every day for our part in service to our dronemasters.”
“Dronemasters?” Eve asked with a slight laugh. “Command is back to calling techs dronemasters again?”
“Look,” the doctor leaned in. “I spend most of my days dealing with people trying to get on light duty or out of muster or recovering from something they picked up from a one-night stand. It’s good to have a real reason to come in to work. People notice when we send a technician off to the fight. There’s a buzz in the air. People go out to see the carriers launch. Reminds them why we’re all these billions of miles from home.”
The doctor slapped Eve’s knees and spun back around toward her terminal. “So live it up a little. Soak in the hero worship. You’re the only one of us who will ever get close to actual combat.”
Eve had heard this speech before nearly every deployment of her career, each from different doctors saying it as though it was the first time. There had been other adoring stares and curious onlookers then too, whispering about deployment and all. But it was more for them than for her—this feeling like they were doing something that mattered. To Eve, it was another deployment. One closer to the end of her conscription. Nothing more.
“It looks as though your brain scans came in…” the doctor said, her voice drew out in to a strange echoing. “Who ordered those?”
Eve caught a shiver and noticed the cold again. She was always cold these days. She wondered why? And the echoing? Sounds often seemed to echo into nothingness. Eve looked at her hands. The scene faded in and out slightly as if she was about to faint.
Was something wrong? She seemed to feel fine apart from the cold. Was she sick? She looked to the doctor, but the scene had slowed, like a vid playback on half speed.
Was this cryo? It might be. Yes, yes it was. Eve remembered it now. She was in cryosleep, on the way to another deployment. Moreover, she was dreaming in cryosleep—something that was not supposed to happen—something the doctors always said was impossible because of the temperatures—about processes and brain waves. But Eve had been dreaming in cryo for several deployments.
She had tried to talk about it during checkups and pre/post deployment tests, but no one seemed to take it seriously.
“…I’m sorry?” Eve said, back in the dream, noticing the doctor had turned as if waiting for an answer.
“Yes, I see you do drift off. Does that happen often?” the doctor asked, eyes back on the screen.
“Does what happen?” Eve asked.
“Daydreaming, your mind going somewhere else, does it happen to you a lot?”
“Sometimes yes,” Eve said.
The doctor started typing something. “How often?”
“What did the brain scans say?” Eve asked. “Is there a problem?”
The doctor kept looking at the screen away from Eve.
“Is there a problem?” Eve repeated the question.
“What?—Oh, nothing you need worry about. Nothing that will stop the mission,” the doctor said.
“It’s the Gloom isn’t it?” Eve asked.
“What?” the doctor seemed surprised. She turned around from the terminal and looked at Eve.
“I’ve been in service what—21 years? About nine or 10 of it awake. I’ve heard the rumors about the old techs—how the Gloom erodes our brains, slowly burning us out.”
“What rumors?” the doctor laughed, “Who here have you talked with?”
Eve sighed and stretched her legs a bit. “No one here. Techs don’t see much of each other. But I’ve talked about the it before—“
“—Yes, it’s been noted in your records that you’ve brought it up—a preoccupation about this ‘Gloominess’ or whatever the fear mongers are calling it. There’s nothing to it. Quantum interfacing is harmless with the right equipment and medications.”
“But I dream.”
“What?” again, the doctor was surprised. She looked a little shocked, like Eve had mentioned something off limits.
“I dream in cryosleep, and it reminds me of the Gloom. There has to be a connection,” Eve said.
“Nonsense. It’s impossible. Nobody dreams in cryosleep. The brain can’t achieve the levels of—“
“—Enough!” Eve raised her voice. “I don’t see the damn point of all this talking, all these questions, if no one ever listens to what I have to say! I go through this before every damned mission. I answer them the same, I answer them differently and nothing changes. All I get is looks from you people and the same pills.”
The doctor’s eyes narrowed a little. “You have been taking your pills, right? Because that might explain why—”
Eve put her hand to her forehead, the headache was back. “—Yes, yes, blue pills for the implants, yellow pills for my synapses. Yes. But they don’t stop these damned headaches.”
Silence. Eve took a second and calmed down. “I’m sorry, ma’am, I didn’t mean to get angry.”
“It’s alright,” the doctor said. “Nervous about the deployment, I bet. Well, and ready to get out of the infirmary too. Ha!”
The doctor didn’t seem phased at her outburst. Eve sat quietly while the doctor worked, then asked, “About the headaches…the headaches are worse too.”
“You find a boyfriend during this in between time at the expedition station?” the doctor asked, ignoring Eve’s comment.
“What? No,” Eve said, annoyed. “Techs don’t mingle much with the troops. You know that.”
“No. Some do. And it would be good for you to find a good lay while you’re here. Plenty of guys would be putty in your hands after some war stories.”
Sex? The doctor was pushing Eve to have sex? She frowned and shook her head.
“Or women, if that’s your thing,” the doctor continued.
“You’re kidding, right?”
“Every body needs some body, as they say.”
“I’m fine,” Eve said.
“Look, the scans say there’s nothing wrong with you…,” the doctor paused. “Headaches happen. Just keep taking your anti-rejection pills for the implants and the synapse invigorating medication for the best data throughput.” She paused, then said, “…But I do think it would do you good to find some companionship. Being on deployment out there alone with naught but drones would be taxing for anyone—even just once—let alone for however many deployments you’ve been on.”
“Seventeen,” Eve said. “I’ve been on 17.”
“Quite right,” the doctor smiled.
The scene seemed to fade out slowly. Eve remembered this happening many times before. Much of dreaming in cryo was slow and plodding. Dreams seemed to build themselves up in parts so that the light then colors then shapes then voices all arrived separately, as if thawing out from her mind.
Eve wasn’t quite sure how long she had been in cryo. Transit times to and from deployments could be anywhere from several weeks to nearly a year. While in the dreaming scenes, time seemed to move along normally, the interim periods of darkness and muffled light and sounds could very well have been days or weeks for all Eve knew. In fact, it’s how Eve supposed those first few years of her non-dreaming cryosleep passed. But somehow, her mind grew around this long slumber and adapted to expressing itself while in cryo—like her implants allowed her mind to adapt to perceive the Gloom, the workspace of the quantum technicians.
This dream space was very similar to the Gloom, dark and cold. Perhaps it was the similarity that made dreaming possible.
The Gloom was unofficial nickname for the never used official yet unwieldy term: Mentally Constructed Visual Representation of the Quantum Space. It was where quantum technicians went to perform their repair duties on the intricate and evolving data centers of modern combat drones—a sort of trance-like state where technicians would use their implants and visors to peer into the circuits and hardware of drones to “see” the pathways of electricity and information as patterns and structures of light and color held aloft in an infinite cold black world.
It was where techs like Eve spent much of their time during deployment, repairing and pruning down the reasoning functions of the always-evolving intelligences of modern drones. Where machines could repair many aspects of themselves—replace limbs, weapon systems, armor plates, they could not, by design (and thankfully by the limits of their nature) fix or alter their programming.
Interfacing with the quantum space to fix the drones’ quantum algorithms required a human mind. Machine programming would break down and scramble when brought into the data stream of the quantum space.
As if by accident, the human mind, when properly implanted with processing nodes, could not only make sense of the raw chaos of data of the quantum space, but also rendered it with poetic simplicity. Light and color in patterns against blackness. Order, and chaos. Data and information, flowing in streams and structures, like blood through veins and organs. Technicians would “see” a program in the Gloom—see its structures and its components, and with the help of attendant drones and tools in the real world to aid the tech’s sluggish physical responsiveness while in the trance, could perform feats of unparalleled technical panache.
Quantum technicians were the only reason any human was required near the front lines of the Former United States’ galactic holdings at all. The need for repairs in the Gloom was the only thing that kept humans in the game.
Where most of the FUS citizenry didn’t care where its drone militaries gained their victories, so long as it kept their domination of space intact, those who paid attention knew that quantum technicians were the key.
Some considered this human inclusion in this advanced technological process providential—nearly divine. Techs were a sorts of shamans of technology—highly trained, undergoing years of painful training and implantation, to become amongst the most celebrated professions of the new age.
Techs were responsible for crafting the programs and data structures that kept the FUS world-dominating AI-managed economic organizations running. Techs shaped and molded the very natures of the algorithms of these entities. They tended to do very well for themselves—at least the ones heralded as war heroes did.
But Eve was a conscript, forced into service along with thousands of others too poor or convicted of too many crimes to be of any use to the emergent FUS corporate and national governments.
Eve’s crowning achievement was in her long fight to gain acceptance into the quantum technician program. The price was a much-extended term of service and constant disdain from her more nationalistic superiors. But she was confident in a more comfortable life at the end of it all—if it ever ended.
She seemed to drift for a while more in the blackness. Perhaps for days…weeks. Some dim steams of blue shimmered in the distance. It might be the beginnings of the next scene. She put her grasp of seconds and minutes out of her mind, pushed out the constant cold and just was. She’d become very practiced at being at peace here. She smiled, the frozen air biting at her teeth as she breathed deeply.
Another scene never came. After a period she opened her eyes in the dream again, some flashes of light came through in the distance.
But something was different. She could feel herself being slowly pulled toward the flashes.
She was waking up.
Many of you probably know, I’ve been writing a book. It started last November as part of the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), which is an annual contest where people agree to produce 50,000 words in 30 days. It’s meant to be a fun exercise—people can take it seriously or just use it to create anything, really.
I took it seriously enough and was able to hit 50,000 words in the allotted time, but the book wasn’t done. I set out to keep writing. Time is as it is, however, and I neglected the novel for a couple of months. It sat and languished on my desktop while I moved on to other life projects. I was nearing the end of my time in the military, after all, and I needed to focus on completing the last few work-related projects before I continued. Ok that, and I started playing my video games again. Darn those pixels are so enticing!
So now that I am actually nearly complete with my time in the military, I am looking forward to spending the next month finishing up the manuscript. I have nigh but a college class and some random out-processing appointments to compete with my intentions. While the out-processing process may sap more of my strength than intended (more on the latest paperwork debacle later), I have made some boasts about how the book will be finished in 30 days. That, and no more video games. Not good for the soul.
The book is a first novel, so it’s no masterpiece. That’s what’s sort of liberating about the whole thing. Many people seem to get caught up in trying to make their first work some seismic event. It reminds me of what I went through in journalism school and, now that I’m an instructor at said school, what my students go through with their assignments. No matter how many times I try to tell them the exercises they undertake while at the training school won’t be seen by anyone except God, them and I, many of them still slave, stress and freak out to make it as perfect as possible. Many do a passable job, but, as novice journalists, the stories are at best, passable and at worst, trite.
I fully expect this first novel to be one of those options. Hopefully, realizing that a first novel will hardly cure cancer, I want it to be a badge I can sew on my life sash and move on—perhaps to another novel, or to another chapter in life altogether.
Writing a book is one of those things, you know? It’s in movies, it’s in the introspective conversations of men and women at retirement parties—writing a book is one of those things, like a college degree, that can prove to someone, maybe one’s self, that we have the discipline to stick with something long enough to create something cool. It’s like having kids—not the sex part, that’s easy, but the 0-18 year mark of a person’s life. Except it’s not THAT much of a commitment and, in the end, if I screw up a novel, it has eternal, but not as severe consequences as would a life ill-raised.
So here we go, wish me luck, or a broken pen—whatever writers wish on each other. I shall now push out again from shore after a few-months-long picnic of sorts, and continue down the river.
There it is. May. Last post…February. Wow, how about that?
WordPress has grown more svelte. Nice little buttons and do-hickeys on everything. Looks like they’re continuing to expand their features, which is awesome, considering it’s all free.
A lot of things have been going on in and around Josh Salmons. I won’t get in to everything, suffices to say I needed a break from blogging, obviously.
There’s an interesting dynamic when people around you begin to absorb your blog. I fancy book authors experience this on a deeper level, yet more infrequently. Running into a random person and discussing the intricacies of the kitten in chapter four or the choice of detail on the sunset before the protagonist suffered a setback…that sort of thing; verses having a blogger who just has people pipe in daily and drop a few sentences, constituting a “yea” or “nay.”
In Iraq I was spoiled, concerning readership. No one around me cared about the blog, so only those searching for either my name (friends/family) or for keywords surrounding content found it. Here, students, coworkers and an expanding litany of family, church friends of family, and family of friends all send emails, asking about things.
And that’s great, albeit a little stifling. Have to keep things PG. Can’t really talk about anything that would remotely offend anybody who might remotely be on the RSS feed. For a cynical SOB like me, that limits things to a discussion concerning my choice of a lunch venue.
So, as the winter continued, I allowed the blog to fall asleep. Not that I’m trying to shake loose unwanted readers—everyone is welcome. I just needed a break.
Once or twice I caught the itch—even wrote a couple of posts in the interim. The first tickle of desire came at a traffic light, the second one day at work. Though I hashed out some sentences, it never grew into anything more than a few paragraphs of nothing.
I was worried I had lost the fire.
I heard an author on NPR the other week. She was finishing her fourth or fifth novel—romance writer, very popular and unorthodox, considering she’d just decided one day to become an author. The host of the show read some submitted comments and asked for the romance writer’s feedback. One comment was from a person who was a technical writer (someone who fills the pages of all those operator manuals no one ever reads). The commenter was asking how he could break out of his doldrum routine into create writing. The romance author said she thought this guy’s job was perfect, despite the drudgery of it. His job taught him to produce coherent work, despite whatever his disposition or feelings were for that day. Regardless, he had to write.
There was something to that. And something to this blog, despite itself.
So, here we are, those that are left 😉 We’ll keep at it.
Roommate Adrian just purchased his own copy of some Adobe toys, which is inspiring me to dig out my own. Maybe I’ll start incorporating some Photoshop creations on this thing. More artistic expression will probably be what I need to get out of the rut.