The words accrue as I work moment by moment and minute by minute. I’m on track for the end of the month. Then I will have some room to open it up in March in time for my first draft deadline of the 30th.

Does this become just chasing a number? Yes, of course. Anything to spur this onward.

Dear Apple, have you heard of this company called Nike? When you order something, they make it and then they ship it to you promptly. Check it out.

Currently reading: The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa 📚

500 Words - The Counter Narrative #8

This is a series of stories, a counter narrative from the future, numbered in sequence. If you’re a subscriber, you will receive them in order. If you’re not, and you’ve found them online, then start at #1 and read up. Today is the final story in the series. It is about powering down.

Powering Down

“I like hearing his voice,” the daughter said. She held something in her hands. Her brother tried to see it. She pulled it away.

“You’re having second thoughts?” her brother said. He was a builder, a maker, and he was the younger and he liked to mock her. She gave him the look she always gave him when he teased her. He turned down the volume on the voice coming from the glowing device.

This created a sudden silence. The daughter said, “No, no second thoughts. I don’t want them to fine us or do something worse. They called him inessential.”

Inessential. The word hung in the air around them.

The other two children were there, but so far silent. They looked at the glowing object that represented their father and tried to see it for more than an object. All four of them were together again because it was important to meet now. They had a decision before them.

Only three of them had met their father. The youngest only knew him by the glowing object. Having never met the actual man, he wanted more. He reached for the volume knob and turned it up all the way.

There was a moment. Then their father’s voice filled the room.

“Listen to the parts of the music that other people can’t hear.”

The third child, who rarely spoke, let out a giggle and said, “Listen like a dog? To the high parts?”

They all laughed and all spoke at once. “Not like a dog!” “Well, if other people can’t hear it…” “A sound only dogs can hear…” “It’s too high…”

They let their jokes dissipate and waited for the glowing object to say something else. They each had their own memories of him. The daughter, he showed her how to work cameras. The maker son, his father would take apart music for him like it was a beautiful machine. The third son died before they would exchange words, but he returned for these meetings. The youngest only knew him from this glowing orb. He looked up at its light and said, “this isn’t life extension. This isn’t really him. When we power it down, there won’t even be this thing.”

The glowing machine spoke again. “Don’t always listen to the hand playing the melody. Listen to the other hand.”

With a sigh, the maker son reached for the volume knob and turned it down. To soften the blow for his sister of silencing their father’s voice, he said, “Dad said his soul was free.”

“His soul was free,” she agreed.

“A procedure. That’s all it was,” said the youngest.

“But it worked!” said the maker son. “He helped solve a lot of problems for the world. He left the world a better place.”

“Now you’re the one having second thoughts,” said the daughter.

“I am not!” It came out wrong. He backed off. “He would understand what we are trying to do. What we have to do.” The machine before them understood it had to be part of its own demise.

In it, they had all the information they needed about him. They had his love for their mothers. They had the instructions for creating The Reversal. They had a step-by-step plan to lead the resistance. Still, they could not know the man. They needed contact with a person. This would be the next mountain to climb. They had saved the Earth. Next, they must save themselves.

The machine had not spoken again. It was waiting for them while they were waiting for it. A special kind of a moment passed. There was a tiny click that maybe nobody heard.

“I am going to power it down,” the daughter finally said. She pressed a button and they waited.

There was one more Polaroid. She held it in her other hand.

My composition is greatly aided both 20 years’ worth of mnemonic slurry of semi-remembered posts and the ability to search memex.craphound.com (the site where I’ve mirrored all my Boing Boing posts) easily.

A huge, searchable database of decades of thoughts really simplifies the process of synthesis.

– Cory Doctorow, Pluralistic: 13 Jan 2021

Screenwriters Getting It Wrong About the Climate Crisis

Screenwriters are getting it wrong if they want their work to help us take action to address the climate crisis.

Writing in The New York Times Magazine, Peter C. Baker argues for a multi-dimensional approach to dramas showing the climate crisis. As he has it, and I think he’s right, is that writers usually focus on the flaws of a few individuals trying to cope with the climate crisis and assume that their individual problems will extend to the rest of us. In movies like George Clooney’s The Midnight Sky, we zoom in on “pathos and small moments of acceptance” instead of describing actions and solutions to the real problems that face us now. Baker calls up Elon Musk, who dreams of leaving this planet to go live on another before we fix our problems here. That sounds like more fun to most of us. It’s easier to write another zombie movie or focus in a man-against-the-system heroic drama. Looking at the interrelationship of bureaucracy, corporate greed, climate justice and race, and the collective good winning out over individual agency — winding all that together into a narrative is harder.

For most writers, turning out a script for an apocalypse movie turns on telling the story personally. Writers know to bring the narrative down to the personal level. It’s about survival, heroism, and regret. We, the audience, rarely get to learn anything about how the Bad Thing happened and why. As Baker has it, “it’s all too easy to imagine how the end of the world might work.” We can skip over the hard parts.

It’s not working anymore. We need something better. We need to see the next step in movies, television, and audio dramas, and that step would be showing us characters who face up to what we’ve done wrong to land where we’ve landed and to show us what to do about it now.

Dix Pour Cent / Call my Agent on Letterboxd Worth your time for some escapist viewing. The real stuff about agents and fun takes on Paris.

Analog and Digital Note Taking - One Method

I like the tactile feel of a good pencil. Writing in notebooks is how I remember things. I especially like scribbling in a good notebook while on the phone or on a Zoom. It’s so much better than tapping things out on a screen while trying to talk at the same time. When I want to remember the conversation, I will always refer to the notebook with the notes about it. Seeing my chicken scratch brings back the conversation.

Then something started to happen. I had so many notes I couldn’t find them all. My memory device was capsizing under its own weight.

The solution was Leuchtturm1917. The table of contents at the start of every notebook was my roadmap. At the end of each month I would be sure it was filled out.

It was beautiful for a while. Until Notebook 9. Too much information.

I am a dedicated user of Bear. I came to Bear from Evernote by way of Agenda, Todoist, and lots of other content management systems. When I learned that one Bear note could link to another Bear note — well, that was the game changer for me. Simply typing two open brackets and a subject or title while in a Bear note would bring up a selection of notes. I started making an index for active projects and an index for my monthly daybooks.

These are, of course, searchable. If I have a phone call coming up, I can find the conversation easily. These wiki indexes go one better than Leuchtturm tables of contents. Since they have links, they literally connect the dots.

I spend less time hunting for things now. There’s the added benefit of looking over the month at the end of it to understand what I did. I still have the pleasure of notebooks. So far so good.

Democracy

Quoting from Daring Fireball, quoting in turn from The New Yorker

E.B. White, writing for The New Yorker in July 1943:

We received a letter from the Writers’ War Board the other day asking for a statement on “The Meaning of Democracy.” It presumably is our duty to comply with such a request, and it is certainly our pleasure.

Surely the Board knows what democracy is. It is the line that forms on the right. It is the don’t in don’t shove. It is the hole in the stuffed shirt through which the sawdust slowly trickles; it is the dent in the high hat. Democracy is the recurrent suspicion that more than half of the people are right more than half of the time. It is the feeling of privacy in the voting booths, the feeling of communion in the libraries, the feeling of vitality everywhere. Democracy is a letter to the editor. Democracy is the score at the beginning of the ninth. It is an idea which hasn’t been disproved yet, a song the words of which have not gone bad. It’s the mustard on the hot dog and the cream in the rationed coffee. Democracy is a request from a War Board, in the middle of a morning in the middle of a war, wanting to know what democracy is.

Yum. Black Flies. Fermented meat. Greenhouses everywhere.

Do you think black flies will make a good source of protein? Or that we will use fermentation to create a new form of meat? Or that micro-greenhouses will make everyone a micro-greens connoisseur? Brian Wang looks to the future of food in the latest episode of The Future of Food

My young son knows all there is to know about Charlie Brown and especially Snoopy.

Masterclass in speaking on the TEDx Stage

My wife is running a free masterclass about how to speak on the TEDx stage. She’s taught hundreds of woman to do this, so maybe it’s your turn?

Masterclass in Speaking

Workflow

500 Words- The Counter-narrative #7

This is a series of stories, a counter narrative from the future, numbered in sequence. If you’re a subscriber, you will receive them in order. If you’re not, and you’ve found them online, then start at #1 and read up. Today's story is about soul decalcification.

——

I opted for soul decalcification. It will be available to you in 15 years. It worked faster than meditation and a good thing for that. I was in a hurry. People were pinging me on the networks: Get out in front of this thing! I didn’t know how until after the procedure. Slight muscle stiffness the next day and peed blue for a little while and then fine.

I wish I could tell you everything I learned after my soul was free. I know what will happen to me next, so I need to talk fast: just the essentials.

Young people will not have your wisdom, but their experience of the world is deeper than yours. Listen openly. They will tell you the networks you use now are not the ones you will need. Decades ago we learned to hate social media and destroyed it. Remember when it all went dark? Didn’t last long, right? Couple months. Then, one by one, small networks sprung up. Private Discords. Small-audience Slack channels. When small they are hard to track and nobody is harvesting the data. That’s what you want. Be invisible from search.

Resistance is sand in the gears. Small things are effective. Back when you were young, you could go on Etsy and buy a GPS jammer for $69. It’s a federal crime, so don’t say I told you do to it, but in my time, unless you take action, there will no longer be a federal government. You want to stop that from happening. Try, at least. Don’t panic — it’s not as big a job as it seems.

In my time, we became sick of violence and needed another path to the future. We tried so much. With friends, I formed human chains across the highways. I put sand in the gears of the oil refineries. I led protests at the pipelines and got arrested. We jammed cars so they stopped, becoming dead microchips on wheels. (Wait five years in your time. Etsy will sell what you need to stop any car.)

The Youngs showed us how to care about the world. They approached legislation with passion, voted out the Olds who turned their backs on the planet, and they peacefully protested in significant numbers.

Yet you — you, my friend, have to start small. Walking instead of driving sounds small. Riding a bike instead of walking sounds like it won’t matter. Remember that yours is the mind you have to change first. Then other people will see as you set an example.

I gave a lot of speeches to big crowds, always arriving on a bicycle to make a point. People laughed. Then they started arriving on bikes to make the same point. You can block off a big city with enough bicycles in the street. We make the resistance of small things, and the smallest of all, at least to start, is your faith that things will get better. You have no proof of this. You have to meditate your way there. The soul decalcification process brought me there overnight. (Sorry, the procedure is coming; keep meditating. Some people pee purple for a while after the procedure, but that’s normal.)

It will be hard for some people to walk away from the Big Lie. You won’t be able to convince them that fossil fuels are death. Don’t worry about it. Keep riding your bike. Build small networks. Collectivize for peace. We all hated social media, but after we blew it up, we brought it back out of necessity. I tell you that from the future and it’s true. There is one more thing I must tell you. It must wait until next time.

Working music

Current Mood

A good morning writing the novel. 949 words. Will get to 65,000 this week toward my initial goal of 75,000.

Currently reading: The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison 📚

We might be re-upping this in California. Maybe not the go-to-jail part. But finally the authorities here are talking about a $250 fine for people who don’t wear masks. Photo from 1919 or thereabouts. Bettmann Archive.

500 Words - Counter Narrative #6

Forget the Details

This is a series of stories, a counter narrative from the future, numbered in sequence. If you’re a subscriber, you will receive them in order. If you’re not, and you’ve found them online, then start at #1 and read up.

I kept a special taser handy to take down my neighbor’s drone. He often piloted it to my window, annoying me as he prospected for water.

For a long while, I had a good supply of water because I bought one of the early home desalinators from Amazon. Mornings, I would go down to the ocean, scoop up as much seawater as I could carry in repurposed water jugs taken from the supermarket trash, and carry my bounty home in a big red Kelty backpack to conceal what it was. I dumped the seawater into my little Amazon X-50 and after a two hours of processing I had enough fresh water for the day. It worked like a dream until one day it broke.

My neighbor didn’t know that, however, and kept buzzing my apartment with his drone. He didn’t know, either, that my drone taser wasn’t very good. It was an Amazon Model 6, prone to misfires. But when aimed at his drone, it looked serious. He saw what I was up to and piloted it away to search for water elsewhere. His drone was valuable, a red Amazon Z-5000, one of the early water-prospecting models. If my cheap taser worked and took it down, it would be a big loss for him.

My children were unhappy about the water situation after the X-50 broke. I explained how we had to leave California because it wasn’t livable any more.

Californians are famous for their powers of denial. A pandemic can rage and they won’t wear masks. Earthquakes and fires will take away their homes and they will rebuild them just where the tragedy happened. What’s that definition of insanity? I can’t remember, but I know that societies can collectively manifest illusions. These are belief systems, a signal in the sky or a net under which we all crawl, and they eventually define us. We look up, see only the delusion instead of the sky, and come to our own conclusions.

I made that Polaroid one August when my neighbor’s drone was prospecting for water. It’s the sixth picture in this series, so there are only two left to show you. Palm trees look good whatever the season, even when the seasons sped up or got mixed up. Winter lasted two weeks. Summer lasted forever as we smothered under a blanket of heat. After the electrical grid broke, we all worked by the light of our cell phones. We fired up the generators to watch the last episode of American Idol. Paula Abdul was a hologram by then. The real Paula was finally too old to dance.

When our batteries ran low, we jumped on bicycles to charge the generators or we worked in darkness or waited for the heat of the day to see if the heat exchangers worked. That’s how we watched the last episode of Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve with Ryan Seacrest. The heat exchangers gave us just enough power to flicker the screen to life to see the Seacrest hologram walking around a mockup of Times Square. The real Ryan was too old to go outside, and the producers of the show were too young to know who he was. They spelled his name Brian Seacrest.

In 2019, we waited for rain for a year. Just a sprinkle arrived. Then the winds came and California burned. I remember being soothed by the roar of air tankers crossing the sky. They scooped up seawater and dropped it on the flames, then returned to the sea.

We looked at the blackened woods that once held our houses and said, “Let’s rebuild.” As the oceans rose, the houses with the best views peeled away and dropped into the sea. “It’s the risk you take for a view like that,” we said. As the ocean invaded, paradoxically, there was less water to drink. Do you remember when you first went into a market under the freeway to buy water at prices you couldn’t imagine? We did it for our children. We did it for the people we loved. At night, if the heat exchangers worked, we looked forward to watching the last episode of The Batchelor.

We waited as long as possible to join the great migration. When we left, only the poor and elderly remained in the bottom half of America. Everyone else went to where it was cold. Detroit. Albany. Rochester. Toronto, if the Canadians would let you in.

If you have a moment, look at a piece of mail addressed to you. If you’re not living in Albany, or Rochester, call your broker and ask if there is land up north. Get a house on the coldest river that you can find. Cold is what you want. Not three bedrooms. Not a lawn. You want a root cellar. Just move to where it’s cold and wait. It will be green there soon enough, and you’ll avoid the water riots. You won’t have people knocking on your door with empty jugs begging for water with crying children in their arms. Try telling them that your X-50 is broken. Shout “Cheap Amazon junk!” through your door and be glad you don’t have to look at their eyes. Crawl out from beneath the net of illusion and leave for the north. Or stay and join the Reversal. I can get you a front-row seat. For a while, I was one of its leaders.

Slack is down to start the new year, reports the NYT.

Possible signal to start calling people again and having conversations that last longer than a minute?

Slack, the popular messaging platform used by millions of people worldwide, experienced a major disruption in service on Monday as many employees in the United States returned to work after the holidays.

That Dream Project? Partner to Get it Done

It’s January 1. Have you started procrastinating yet?

I bet you’ve experienced it. The start of a new year, particularly this new year, can feel amazing. You wake up on January first with great energy and a sense of purpose. There is a tomorrow and a tomorrow after that, but they look manageable from the vantage point of today. The trick, as you know, like with so many things, is to get that feeling of purpose to last through tomorrow and tomorrow and beyond.

Brush the crumbs from your intentions list from last night. Take a look at it. You may have resolved to get your TEDX talk presented. Or write that book that lies spread like a magnificent ruin across your notebooks and to-do lists. It’s aching to come together. The world is calling for it. You might even have made a fresh try at it today. It felt good, didn’t it? But what about tomorrow? What inner voice will urge you to pick it up again and keep going?

Then there’s your blog. By now everybody pretty much knows that regular blogging is good for the soul. You can work things out, reach a friendly crowd, experiment. Having your own words on your own platform is a special pleasure. But when you look at the last entry, it’s in June sometime. What happened?

Your to-do list might have a podcast on it or a curriculum for a workshop. It’s all there and it’s all in your head. The people who need it aren’t in your head, though. They’re out here in the world.

So what’s stopping you? There’s a gap you need to jump. It’s so small, really, and also enormous.

What is your procrastination made of? Getting started on that list will be an easy one. Not enough time. Feeling stuck. Overwhelmed. Knowing there is a beginning somewhere but not knowing where it is.

Great things are inside you and not finding a voice — and the solution is surprisingly simple. You have to ask for help. You need a sounding board, an accountability partner, someone to shape your ideas for the rest of the world.

To get your project started at the beginning — not in the middle where there are multiple paths forward, not at the end where it seems to peter out fast — but at the beginning, when the novelty gives you the energy boost you need and the road ahead is visible — well, that is often only possible with a friend, an editor, or a coach. Asking for help can be hard. But when you sit down with someone (on Zoom!) you see the trail into the woods of the project. You have someone by your side with a compass saying, at just the right time, “that way.”

I’ve had people like this throughout my life and they have all helped me beyond measure. What about you? Scroll through your address book, look at those holiday cards on the mantelpiece. Maybe the name is there among them.

If you are a feminine change maker with a project that needs to get out of your head and be in the world, I have a recommendation for you. My wife teaches a five-week one-on-one leadership coaching program that has what you need.

Going it alone has its satisfactions, like setting your own agenda, workflow, and pace. But for getting started and keeping on, you need a partner. Dream projects need a doula.

Happy New Year to all you wonderful micro.bloggers. Let’s try another trip around the sun. Be well.

500 Words - Counter-Narrative #5

The Selfie Ruined Civilization

This is a series of stories, a counter narrative from the future, numbered in sequence. If you’re a subscriber, you will receive them in order. If you’re not, and you’ve found them online, then start at #1 and read up.

We used to have a concert grand, but the only image I could find was this one of a toy piano that belonged to my youngest son. It fits this post that is all about large things getting smaller.

I don’t know how to break this to you gently, but the selfie ruined civilization. We all started playing smaller pianos. Clicking on the minutiae of life turned us away from master practitioners in all fields. “No worries,” we said. “I got this” About everything. It was a small step to create self-referential communities sealed off from all the others. “The world is how I see it. Here’s another selfie.”

A world tuned only to your own tastes is an incurious world. You already know that, but found out too late. So sorry! Why don’t you self-soothe with another selfie?

I write this from the future, so I apologize for sounding smug or like I know everything. But I do know everything. I have seen your world happen to its end. I have witnessed the missed cues, the incremental slide, the tiny bad things that became one big bad thing. I can tell you, with authority, that the trouble began when we all started playing on smaller pianos. When you lose vision, you lose it all. Remember movies on a wide screen viewed with hundreds of other people? Or subways connecting everything filled with all kinds of people who had to deal with each other every day? Remember when people held their phones in landscape, the way the eye saw things when it was taking in the grand vista of life? Sadly, I bet you don’t remember any of that.

When landscape mode was outlawed in 2024 there was barely a protest. People didn’t care. They were already shooting everything in portrait mode. Soon after, it became illegal for solo practitioners to profit by selling music, or pictures, or words without an Amazon license. You could get in trouble with the authorities for calling it digital sharecropping, but after all, we didn’t own the land we digitally farmed. It was a collective failure. It happened slowly, like the Earth’s transit around the Sun in 365.256 days.

Let me suggest, from my position in the future, having seen what will happen to you: Turn your camera outward to go inward. It’s what they used to call a paradox. Speaking a paradox aloud was outlawed in 2026, but I can write it now. I am an Uploader. I speak from a device, and anyway my children are talking about powering it down. Imagine an Alexa and your parent is in there talking and talking all the time. That will help you imagine what my kids are going through: A strange, warm hell that is sometimes pleasant but mostly not.

While I still have time, let me share a trick. If you’re reading this from Mars, sorry that the colonization didn’t work out so well. Emperor Elon might change his mind about the rules you didn’t know you had to follow when you signed up. (Always read Homesteading Terms of Service all the way through before clicking your consent.) If you’re reading this from Earth, congrats. We’ve all completed another trip around the Sun. Even though it seems like one day has melted into the next, in the past year we’ve traveled 584 million miles. Lot of miles! We’ve made some actual progress, even though it doesn’t always feel that way.

When you flip through the book of your memories, I ask that you try something. I ask you to look for the big picture in the little pictures. Choose a bigger piano when you can. Savor a few paradoxes before the consistency police arrive. Enjoy a picture of another person’s reality. Life is complex. Let it be so. And just to show that I’m a good sport, go ahead and snap a few selfies! Spread some glitter around. (I hate glitter.) From my lofty position in your future, I can see that small joys do matter on the day to day but go with the bigger piano when you can.

Around here, you have to write like you are being chased by a pack of wild dogs, stopping only to pee, and often there is not time for that.