And they wondered what the secret was

Gaining traction–getting attention–on the internet is an opaque process for the most part. If, like me, you aren’t doing a frequent deep dive into how your content is getting served to the public then you probably have very little idea why something you post does or does not get clicks. To try and game social media algorithms is to play against masters of obfuscating data trails. Certain enormous retailers are equally secretive about how they intervene in the relationship between buyer and seller. To the liars fall the spoils, we must say in this situation, because the retailers and media corporations both hold the majority of the power and make a substantial amount of the money.

The joke to me is that the harder I try and use the interlaced nature of the internet, the worse my reach is. This blog for example: if I embed a video, if I use the scheduler, if I use the auto-repost function, my content goes unseen. Not just zero likes but zero views. This is, in a word, bullshit. We built the internet to be interconnected. Isn’t that what it’s a short form of, interconnected network? It’s like we built highway interchanges then put brick walls across them. What’s the point of the internet if every node on it savagely protects itself from all other nodes?

I didn’t know what this post was about when I started writing. Only that I wanted to test my theory above. I needed a post, and now I think what it’s about is to say that:

The point of the internet is not to make the shareholders of social media corporations rich. It’s to connect across a network.

Seems obvious, doesn’t it? Much rarer in practice.

A week ago I joined a Discord server hosted by one of my favorite authors (It’s invite only so don’t even ask, IYKYK.) It is one of the finest instances of people being quality on the internet: the encouragement from other members, the positivity everyone exudes, the ethical durability of the group rules, all at a time when I was kind of starved for human interaction. It is however a very select group. Small numbers seem important when maintaining the quality of social groups. I will be curious to see this group evolve, and I’m glad that I joined in the first days.

All relationships begin with unknowing. To get to know a person is to train your brain, to construct a reality within it that contains that other person. I’m maybe not sufficiently afraid of strangers, which is a gift of my race and social class, though statistics leave no one unharmed. But I like strangers, new people, potential. I like reaching out, even if now and then I get my fingers bitten. Haven’t lost one yet.

WHAT RUINED ME Ep 10: #historybounding

Chat show interviewer: so what do you sleep in?

Zach Pinsent: a bed.

As an old person (nearly the age of a Golden Girl, for reference) I often miss out on what young people are doing.  Sometimes that’s ok (Tide pods) but sometimes the next generation are doing really interesting things.  Sometimes, I want in.

I stumbled across Zach Pinsent a few years ago after watching a funny video by his friend Karolina.  I watched a few more historical costume videos, mostly slating films and tv for doing a really bad job.  A few weeks later, I wanted to learn about tying a cravat. 

There he was: so spry, so gleeful about the once very ordinary and now vanishingly rare act of starching his collar.   In a matter of seconds he explained a knot that I’d been unable to tie, and completely won my heart.

My aesthetic heart, I mean.  Thirst traps aside (and he shares those with the world so nbd) he just seems like a person that would be delightful to know.  If he came to the party, it would be an endorsement.  I went to England on his advice and was thoroughly delighted with his every recommendation.

Including the unintended endorsement of historical dressing.

Which has ruined me (the clue is in the title) for ordinary clothes. I’ve struggled with modern fashion for years.  Most of it makes very little sense to me, the women’s clothes in particular.  Pants don’t fit, nothing lasts, pockets are fake, and half of it is made by de facto slave labour in Chinese sweatshops one foreman’s cigarette butt away from a Triangle Shirtwaist Factory disaster (if you have safety standards at your job, that’s why.)  And the fucking polyester gauuuuggghhh.  I’m generally compassionate, but whoever said “let’s make 100% polyester bedsheets” a.k.a. microfiber, needs to be taken out behind the woodshed and dealt with.

All of that goes away if you dress differently.  I am a dedicated thrift-shopper and have made some miraculous finds  (from cashmere coats to Gaultier, you name it, my fingers will pluck it from the rack.) Add in my background in sewing and I can safely say I may never need to buy new clothes again (we’re making an exception for underwear, at least for now.)

And I look amazing.  I’ve always been an eccentric dresser, at least compared to my friends, but this has taken it to a whole new level.  My dopamine-starved brain loves the attention.  The better I dress, the more compliments I get, from friends, family, complete strangers.  I like standing out, and the idea that I might be the most interesting thing someone sees that day. I’m not however throwing as hard as Pinsent, who dresses exclusively in historical fashion, mainly from the early 19th century (see above) 

My fits are not nearly so historically accurate, as I approach the game of historybounding with the attitude of a time traveler from the past who finds themselves in our world, granted all our opportunities but still retaining their taste for the aesthetic of earlier times.  This means a lot of waistcoats but no sock suspenders (because socks now stay up on their own.)  Neckties, silk scarves, cravats, yes, but no detachable collars or cuffs (because I’m too lazy to make any and washing machines exist.)

Curiously (or not if you study the pendulum of fashion history) classic style is starting to creep back into the public aesthetic.  Casualness reached a peak in the pandemic, and some people are looking for more than hoodie-sweatpants-crocs.  I mean, you do you, wear what makes you feel most like yourself.  As for me, I would wither and die if that was my only choice of apparel. 

I mean, I call it apparel, for fuck’s sake.

Clever Soup

Alphabet pasta letters in a spoon spell out "SOS"

A holodeck and a human actor: a best-case scenario for AI filmmaking. Human actors reacting in human ways to whatever scenario the filmmaker invents, which is not much different from what goes on now.

The thing is, you can’t fake human, and maybe it’s not worth trying.  Everything else in filmmaking—sets, props, locations, eldritch horrors—can be represented artistically and therefore generated with digital imaging.  It’s the people you can’t fake.

Consider: we pay people to do nothing but be good at emoting.  Certain people emote i.e. act more skillfully than others, and we make them millionaires and give them gold statues and big parties and all our attention.  One individual, idiosyncratic human with their asymmetrical face and personality quirks and gut biome, singular among all other humans currently alive, can win the hearts of millions.  You’re telling me a calculator (which is what a computer is, writ large) is going to be able to fake that any time soon?

AI research has over the years taken up billions of dollars, and we’re still nowhere near faking people.  Maybe it can’t be done.  A computer as intricately modeled as the human brain might need to be either the size of a mountain or be an actual biological brain, grown in situ.

We are clever soup.  But we are like nothing else.  We’re cheap to make, easy to teach, endlessly inventive.  Why bother trying to mechanically replicate what’s already so abundant?

Compassion, but can we eat it?

Everyone goes on about the human/cat and human/dog relationship.

What about the human/chicken relationship?

Simply, put those bastard bustards are delicious.  They’re tamable, foolish, and delicious. But if you as a paleolithic human have the patience to not simply eat every one you catch, they will make you endless protein in the form of eggs and more chickens.

I expect this was a major development in human awareness. When we attained the sense-knowledge that compassion and care lead to better outcomes than surrendering to base appetites.

I know from personal experience: you can cuddle chickens.

Perhaps we underestimate one of our most valuable animal companions.

After all, there is a certain humility to be found in the act of making friends with something you will eventually eat.

Photo by Rowan S on Unsplash


A mysterious box decorated with gold Chinese scrollwork with an ornate clasp sits on an antique leather desk-top

this is the magic of the fear-not ritual

this is why ritual is

so that when you place your hand in the box and

the pain is indescribable

when your fear says: pull away, save yourself

questioning this fear, you remember everyone before who passed this test

generation upon generation who did not pull away

who asked this question: why?

remember this like your own name: pain and fear are two separate things

distinct, divisible, neither inevitable

we mistake them for each other

the experience of one produces the other

but they are separate things

when, from pain, you experience fear

ask it: why?

some pain simply happens

or maybe all things

happen simply

what we call fear is a reflex

the animal retreat

hate is the choice to not question your fear

(July 2022)

On your marks, get set, go: the writing sprint

In the foreground a silver pocket watch stands open on a wooden desk before a writer's journal and a glass of rich red wine

The art (and business) of being a writer is frequently a solitary path. Even when you collaborate, you spend a fair bit of time with your head down and mouth shut, hoping no one talks to you. If there’s anything I miss about being in a workplace that isn’t in the same building as  my bed, it’s other humans in all their oblivious weirdness, and those rare gems I’ve gone so far as to befriend (spoiler: that’s like two co-workers ever so don’t get your hopes up.) How can I reclaim that collective spirit, that, dare we say, camaraderie when my work demands solitude but my brain craves human contact? 

Enter the ‘writing sprint,’ a brief but focused session where one throws the words down as fast as possible without editing anything. They are an excellent way to kick start a daily writing habit, and best of all they’re fun to do with a partner.  Not to write the same project together, but just to write together, in person or online, which is how I’ve been doing it for the past two weeks.

I haven’t written this much in months.

After half a year of spinning my wheels, creatively and mentally, I can’t overstate how much this means to me. My friend and I don’t even read each other’s work.  All that matters is that someone else is there on the front line with me, shoulder to shoulder, sweating it out. Moaning for more coffee or a backrub, but keeping on regardless.

We sprint weekday mornings 8:30 to 9:00 EST.  Admission is free, but don’t talk during the session. We hate that shit.

Is there such a thing as a blessed ride on the swings?

For the past few years I have been going to bed so early it’s a problem. I’m missing time with my family, and I’m waking up at 3AM local time for no reason other than I went to bed at 8:30 the night before and I’m a person who does best on 7 hours of sleep.

Why is this interesting?  Because lately I’ve been trying to stay awake longer. So after dinner I walk to a local park and ride on the swings until I can’t bear it, then walk home. this is a peculiar aim, given my tendency to get motion sickness from, like, every conveyance I’m not piloting myself. The big swings at the amusement park? Big ol’ yuck (don’t ask me about the pirate ship, me hearties.)

At any rate, there I was, walking across the park at dusk. As I neared the swings I noticed a woman with a rolling walker, doing laps around the playground with the determination of someone told by their doctor to “use it or lose it to amputation.” Someone struggling to stay active in a world that seems bent on her senescence.

With a smile I passed her to claim a swing, where I sat facing the sunset, pumping my legs, riding aloft on a drum and bass playlist that never fails to energize me. I don’t count it a good go on the swings unless I see over the crossbar. One of my characters whose book has yet to be published wrote a poem about swings. In it he writes:

One day you will let go

At the top of the arch of the swing

In spite of the lake and the cliffs and the sky and the steel

You will let go and she will be there

To catch you

I always swing until I see the sky above the crossbar. It was no different tonight, as I leaned into each swoop of the parabola, kicking my legs to arc higher, squinting into the cotton candy summer sunset. Wanting the wind in my hair, I tossed aside my hat, and as the woman with the walker bent to retrieve it I told her to leave it be, that I didn’t mind, that I’d come back to it.

She circled me again, two or three times, before she brought her walker over to the handicapped swing. Then got on the swing and swung along with me.

Was this something she did all the time?  Or did my swinging somehow give her permission? I couldn’t have asked.  My heart was too full.  From her complexion I might guess she wasn’t born in my country, but to say a word about what we were doing felt wholly unnecessary. We swung, me kicking myself as high as I dared, her reclined in a seat made for comfort, made for those to whom swinging might otherwise be a luxury, an impossibility.

When she’d had her fill of the swing, she resumed her circuit round me. When she reached my fallen hat, she bent to pick it up, then tossed it to me.

I just about caught it.

Maybe ADHD really *is* a super-power

Am I serious? No more or less than I ever am. But the similarities are intriguing…

1) I didn’t ask for this shit.

One of the most frequent characteristics of empowered beings is that none of them intended to get so dang powerful. Shit Happens, and the superhero ends up with peculiar powers they almost certainly don’t want. Powers which isolate them from other people, which can’t always be controlled, and which define their lives from the moment they’re discovered.

2) With those powers comes great responsibility. Sucker.

It doesn’t matter how much you wish this shit away, you’re stuck with it for life. If you let it consume you, villainy awaits, which when you’re a plebian with an odd brain means things like divorce, unemployment, homelessness, substance abuse, and all the other social diseases.  

The neurodivergent mind certainly does have certain powers, like deep knowledge of the arcane, or the ability to make rapid and startling leaps of intuition. But as with all powers, these must be used wisely, and not to soothe your own ego i.e. to win arguments at parties. That way lies madness.

3) The rest of the world makes no sense.

For a species that prides ourselves on rationality, we act like drunken monkeys far too often.  To a mind which prefers, at times craves logic, other humans can be an acutely painful experience, as you watch them act in direct contradiction to both their stated intentions and their best interests. All you can do is mask your difference and carry on, alert to the next stunning blow.

Given all this, how to proceed? As I was, but with greater intention. With an explanation for my strange impulses, and an understanding that I had better learn to use these powers of mine before they overwhelm me. An imperfect plan, and there’s a chance a city or two will get blown up, but people pay good money to watch movies about that, so what have I got to lose?