Take a Machete To It: Lessons From Gardening

So, I’ve mentioned on the home page that I’ve gotten into gardening this year.  And I love it.  You still mess with plots.  You create actual life (sort of), and you nurture it, and you’re rewarded with better air, maybe some food, something beautiful, and you’ll feel smart.

There are people out there who know that writers need work, and that writers need to live their lives.  You can not be a 24/7 keyboard jockey and expect perfect manuscripts.  For me, living life well and thinking about it deeply is the key to destroying writer’s block.

Well, I’ll wager that gardening is perfect work for most writers.  Let’s put the money thing aside, and just focus on the labor aspect, because I’m confident it synergized with edits I’ve made on my biggest and best manuscript so far.  And here’s why:

  1. Meditative.   It DOESN’T take all your mental energy to make life with dirt.  Maybe there’re parts where you have to concentrate, but compared to some of the money-making positions I’ve worked, from being an excel jockey to bartending in the weeds, it lets your mind wander.
  2. Biology.  Because biology.  Humans were meant to enjoy the color green, dang it.  The exercise involved, the daylight you’ll absorb, and even certain bacteria in the dirt that you’ll inhale all trigger one thing: a flood of monoamines — especially serotonin.  And that keeps us happy, and thinking.  They just did another study verifying that depressed brains age faster, and the corollary of that is, brains that feel good live harder.
  3. Dishapwine.  If you want to turn a hole into a garden, you have to keep at it regularly.  And it gets easier. And I got a bigger take-away than just the green that I was expecting.

I’ve got to imagine that new writers, so often, put too much in their first drafts.  I also know that new gardeners might put too much in the dirt.  Hey, when seeds are 50 cents, it’s tempting to GROW ALL THE THINGS.

But that means you’re going to need to thin plants (or do what I keep doing, and give them to neighbors.)   The act of thinning is an act of editing.  You have to choose the strongest that you’ll let survive.  You have to get a little merciless, and decide which seedlings won’t make it (or again, are going next door.)   You have to accept that sometimes, to get your roots strongest, you’ve got to kill your darlings.

This is tough for anyone who is doing something new, working with a lot, and excited about it.   But I don’t think America is in an age where people want to read your 200k word first draft.  I don’t think every story needs a HAPPY ending.  I do know, every story’s important characters need to bloom, or get out.

This is what gardening teaches, too.

So I’ve got a manuscript with so, much potential.  I know this deep down in my soul, just like a panda knows it likes shoots and leaves.  And this relates to how any plot has potential, because before I could get to work growing, I had to clear it.  (Let’s just say, when I moved in, the place had a scummy, dismal vibe.)  I needed to take an actual machete to the overgrowth before I could even get that dirt fertile. As a result, the machete’s become my favorite tool, and that’s not because I’ve got a sword fetish.  It’s because machetes are dang useful, and the destruction they’re capable of can make needed room.

So again, if you’re an aspiring writer, if you’re looking for something to do that isn’t writing, but’ll bear some transferable elements to your writing, try gardening.   Try potted plants.  Grow some basil and enjoy how much better they’ll make your eggs.  Get good at it, and I’d bet dollars to beans it’ll make you a better writer, too.

One month later: borage, tomatoes, kale, lime tree, squash, lettuce, basil, parsley, oregano, beans, POPCORN, beets, honeysuckle, yarrow, larkspur, dandelions, marigolds, cosmos, and it’s all alive.

Agents Aren’t Gatekeepers

And if especially you’re a writer who believes or feels they are, you’re probably doing it wrong.

Here’s why:

I’m approaching that time where I get to anticipate calling myself an old fart, so when the term ‘gatekeeping’ was first getting thrown around I had to double-check what people meant. And honestly, I liked it.

It references behaviors which are exclusionary towards group inclusion.

(At times, it’s also a very loaded way of saying “discretion”)

The word rang a bell, it sang out with every time I’ve been at work and encountered b.s. that really, seemed in place in order for someone’s progress to be hindered. Impractically.

These things happen. I’ve worked enough jobs to know these things are possible no matter where you are.  There are also places where you need filters. I don’t want to get into how Greek life in colleges involve gatekeeping by nature. I don’t. It’s just cool to be aware of when people are being exclusionary, and why.

And maybe it’s because of where I come from, but every time I hear that word, the background of my mind also yells “KEEPER OF THE GATE!” like some Monty Python heckler.

(I can’t help it. Life is funny.)

Alright, so remember that thing I said?

About how “gatekeeping” can be a very loaded way of saying “discretion”?

Great. Because here’s an embittered message I think most agents will get through the course of their careers:

I’m lucky enough to live with a non-fiction agent, and I can tell you something I see first-hand:

These people are busy. These people aren’t foreign to stress.  These people, especially when they’re good, are SWAMPED.  (In fact, if an agent were to read this right now, I suspect there’s a good chance they’ll be like “Wait, what’s SWAMPED, should I be familiar with it?” because I said it in caps.)

That’s because these people need to rep to eat. I’m not the best pro, but that’s got to be a good thing.

Because it means they want your book to be good. They want their time spent slogging their slush, requesting partials and fulls, and going through that, to be time well spent. Maybe authors can say they want it more, but that’s a dumb discussion.

What isn’t dumb is knowing that agents want to rep good stuff.

I’ve been playing a query game for a small while. I can assert it is a roller coaster, if roller coasters took a minimum of three weeks to reach some sort of a climax. (Ok, actually yes, that works.  Querying is a roller coaster where you’re going up so high, so goddamn high, so goddamn slowly, that after a point you forget what’s happening and then everything either levels off, or goes wheee, or you let yourself quit the ride.)

I have to say this, because when you query, and when you get passes, theres a whole spectrum of emotions authors might feel. You can be one of those big babies who go through all the stages of grief (although my opinion? Maybe you put too many eggs in one basket.)
You could be elated, because non-replies are sometimes the worst replies.
Or you could take it like you’re being REJECTED, and, if you send a dumb message, acting on that, well you might be like the writer who inspired the above tweet.

But let me point out why I think going “ooh, gatekeeping!” is an abuse of the term:

meet one of the O.G.’s of gatekeeping.

Image result for asgard gatekeeper

That’s right. Idris El-I mean, muh-fuggin Heimdall.

You uh, you notice anything interesting about that image?

I do.

Heimdall doesn’t have to like you. Heimdall is more concerned with if you respect his sword, than if you guys get along. Heimdall doesn’t need you to eat. Heimdall needs you to buzz off.

That’s a gatekeeper.

This doesn’t correspond to good agents.  If you feel like an agent is being too much like a sensitivity reader well, maybe that’s on you, or that specific agent, I don’t know. But they’re not all like that. No matter what you write, I’ve got to believe if it’s good, there’s someone who’s willing to help themselves, by helping you rep it.

It’s a partnership.

Gatekeepers only want partners in gatekeeping.  And that’s some stupid garbage logic to be applying to publishing, so I’m not going to humor it.

Maybe I’m going to put the rest of my leg in my mouth by believing this, but you know what I see an agent much more like?

Image result for friendly usher

Ok? They’re not going to do all your work for you. But they might help you figure out where you can sit your butt down.  Ushers NEED you to want to sit down to make their living. It’s ridiculous if ushers are going to bully you, they just want to see your ticket.

And, authors, that ticket, comes in the form of good writing, a platform, and not being a nut.

 

Hey, I’ve been fortunate enough in my query game to draw requests for my MS more than once. I’ve been on the ride. I’ve also been passed. It happens, it’s a burgeoning sense of hope that makes you take a good long look in the mirror and evaluate what you’re really doing.

And from that I’ve realized this: maybe I can make a ticket, and just haven’t found my seat. (Yes I know that’s corny, but bear with me.)

Broadway logic helps here, a lot.  Knowing ushers won’t seat anyone without a ticket helps, and that you have to be in their section. And they have to want to work that section. They have to know the chairs available, and know if your ticket works by them.

This works because, who gets angry when an usher says sorry? Who tries to dominate ushers? If anything, that relationship’s got to be more symbiotic, where everyone appreciates what everyone’s trying to do.

And, if anything, appreciable writers keep working to write that golden ticket.

Awesome Science #7

Above: the color of a galaxy through our eyes, vs the ACTUAL colors of the galaxy with no light filtered. (Hydrogen = red. We’d be able to see a lot less if our eyes were big enough to absorb the big red waves H emits on a cosmic scale.)

 

 

Other great stuff:

Researchers in India are currently experimenting with nanomotors which can map, track, and even force cell motility using magnetism. This has interesting advantages over chemical, surgical (and sonic?) techniques we already use, and can even mess with DNA via gene silencing. Implications with everything from general research, to cancer treatments, to gene modification.  No small fry.

Image result for nanomotors

 

 

American researchers just came up with a new compound that can probably rebuild tooth enamel at the molecular level.
(Knew holding out on my dentist was a good idea.)

 

 

AI has helped researchers invent a new type of metallic glass, and they’re saying its machine learning helped them make this breakthrough 200x faster.

Image result for machine learning

 

 

Last one: a method of creation that I made up and have been using in a work-in-progress has just been transferred from science fiction, into reality.

illustration of two atoms

(Wait a year and a half more, and Sophia will probably have a book out praising it.)

 

Edit: I WAS RIGHT.

 

I’ll say it again and again: anyone who writes science fiction and wants its science to be realistic but futuristic….well, some things still are just a matter of time.

Suggestions from the back of my head to its front:

Maybe read War of the Worlds for a sci-fi appreciation of what-was (and language that’ll turn your tongue into a roller coaster track in a fun way.)

Check out the tech in the Starship Troopers novel again, and ask again how much of it’s untested today.

Or maybe, enjoy you some star trek, while looking up show facts on your mobile.

 

Meanwhile, never underestimate how much butt dedicated humans can kick. We make nifty things.

Well Grandma also taught me black

I stumbled into a folder I’ve managed to preserve for over a decade.  According to the time-stamp, this poured out exactly 11 years and 11 months ago.

It’s a little special, cause I meant it. It’s a bit personal and about how my grandmother helped me shape my ethnicity by being herself, and for me, quite a bit more. I was rambling on the internet back then, this’s approaching 2008? It’s  a bit raw.

But the heart’s still there:

 

“I once saw this interview on the Colbert report, where the lady interviewed called Senator Barack Obama’s blackness into question as soon as he got on the campaign wagon. Her argument was, because he wasn’t a descendant of black slaves, that he isn’t really a black american, and only deserving of the label “African-American.”

At first, I thought that was the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard, so I found it elating to watch Colbert confuse her a new one. I mean cmon, Obama’s clearly not white, he’s not arab, he’s no indian or puertorican, he’s not asain, wtf is he? He’s black. He’s Black! What was this $*(#& trying to accomplish through taking away the man’s essence of black? Pidgeon-hole “black” into an MTV genre that undeniably black? Fuck, don’t pidgeon-hole black into 50 cent. Don’t you dare pidgeon-hole black into 50 cent!

But the lady had a point. And she wasn’t really a $#@$.

Later, I watched an interview (although it was more of a conversation) between Dave Chapell and Maya Angelou in her home. In looking at her grace, her points, and her stories, and looking through her pictures and the art she’s collected, it resonated.

This country has a rich black history as a part of its past and present, and it would be a huge blunder to throw just anyone who’s not white indian tribal american latino asain etc, into black. But still, be careful, don’t pidgeon-hole black into 50 cent.
Anyone passing any culturally decent American elementary school in the month of Febuary should be familiar with a bunch of names which help textualize black american history. Textbooks only have a few of the many, many African-American’s who’ve made it despite absurd obsticles. These names connote survivors, pioneers, scientists, artists and rebel reformists. There’ve been many people with spirits that make the lyrics to songs such as Amazing Grace and We Shall Overcome much much more than cliches. Out there are Million Man Marches, real Philip Banks, George Washington Carvers, Malcom X life stories, Toni Morrisons, MLKJs, even a Dave Chapell’s walking away from 50 million dollars due to the fact that it was getting in the way of his having something to say
But knowing a black america doesn’t have to be done through such public pedestals. Obviously there’re black people who can provide another very real black and very alive black that’s out there. For example, take a certain Benjamina Hillery.

My grandmother is a nut. She’ll ram well intended advice down your throat, she’ll call you fat then wonder why you won’t drink whole milk (“You work it off”), and she’ll ask visiting grandsons to spend an entire day out of their short, short vacation just to clean her toilet because she’s old. And I love her very much for it.

Benjamina Hillery, also mixed, is a black woman. She knows how to make a real mattress and quilt from scratch because that was a practical skill for her if she wanted to sleep comfortably growing up. She refuses to touch email but insists that snail mail is an awesome form of communication, always signing her letters formally in the way she picked up. She was a schoolteacher who believes strongly in the value of education. She raised 3 obnoxiously egotistical strong brash children, and survived. She stood by a husband most of you would walk away from because it was important for the household, and because of that I’m able to be where I am today. She’s got family, she’s got connections, she’s earned her place as an elder. If you could look at her house, if you could just look at all the meaning in her house. . . screw money, she’s rich. And in considering how she’s been an active part of family to me and in helping me define family, she’s given me privilege to some very strong American roots.
Benjamina Hillery lives in her own house in bedford stuy in brooklyn. It’s the same one she’s raised her household, as well the household of my chinese “cousins”. It’s a rough neighborhood that home is in, frankly I don’t like the vibe of the area. Shit has gone down across the street enough times that it feels like I’ve seen the police there 1/4 times I visit. Yet, she lives in her own home right adjacent, and she’s an undeniably black woman.
Benjamina AKA Mumsy AKA Dolly, has grace (also her daughter’s name, but that Grace lives blocks away). She has values  she lives by because she thinks those values would benefit society, and she when she does it smoothly, it gives her a dignity. She’s gone around the world cause it seems like something to do. Believe me xanga, I could issue many other sentences about her beginning with “she” and ending in noble and worldly actions, but by now have I communicated the idea? She’s a real woman. And, while I don’t often see eye to eye with her, any casual disregard of her will that sometimes occurs, it makes me angry. She’s an elder in my family. That means she gets to define a lot. She couldn’t help it.
Benjamina Hillery raised her black children to know self respect. She raised them to define the self with a connection to family, those “family values” things. She raised them in a rough area, yet taught them these values which didn’t give them a chance in hell of only coming out thuggy. Actually, I don’t think it occurred to her to move to a “nice” area. She made a nice area in her neighborhood and called it home cause that was her will, and with that kind of sight she did what she could to make other areas nice too cause, that was her will.

I’ve seen my grandmother be real, real charitable. I’ve seen her be so nice that people take advantage of her. And I’ve seen her not get how and why she’s been taken advantage of, because, what was important to her was to be a decent person. My grandmother has also lived through what is so far perhaps our nation’s harshest internal civil rights movements, and she’s, not, bitter.
Benjamina Hillery is a great black. Show me anyone who can descend from any vein of slave history and become a multi-homed landowner in nyc and not be a selfish cut-throat for it, I’ll see dignity.
And this that I hear about the Cosby Show and Fresh Prince of Bel-Air being a loss of black culture via whitewashing it, bullshit. The values are there:

This, definition of black as “not white” that’s real, bullshit.
This, irresponsible selfish hustler immediate life die young stereotype? Real bullshit.
Poetry, song, dance, and pictures? Black has that.
Strong backs to do backbreaking labor and still have a soul to party in your own style afterwards? Black has that.
A culture inspired enough to fuse into others, a mind to be able to stand up (or not) when the time is right? Black has that too.
And grace enough to see life for what it is and rise from under all the crap to be able to stand up and smile and say “hello child”? My, there’s some of that there too, what a great ebony!

Cmon – does it hit you yet?
Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t some racial awakening where I’m proudly standing up and solely identifying “I’m black!” – I’m mixed. (My great white mom is sleeping on the other side of the house right now.)
But I’m writing this because my grandmother is fading away, and I needed to preserve her importance somewhere.
So regarding the intellectualizing tangent implication of what it would mean to call Obama black, “In Dreams from My Father, Obama describes his experiences growing up in his mother’s white, middle-class family. His knowledge about his absent black Kenyan father came mainly through family stories and photographs. Of his early childhood, Obama wrote: “That my father looked nothing like the people around me—that he was black as pitch, my mother white as milk—barely registered in my mind.  The memoir details his struggles as a young adult to reconcile social perceptions of being multi-racial. He used cannabis during his teenage years, Obama wrote, to “push questions of who I was out of my mind.” ~Wikipedia.

If you give a shit, decide for yourself.

But, my point: America you’ve got a great black niche in you. One that’s adoptive and strong and there, it’s diverse enough to breed new life within, it’s powerful, and I’m here because of it.
And if you ever really look closely in rough black culture areas, people like Benjamina Hillery and others are allllllll over the hood to contrast with the black thug stereotype you might also see (they’re way more obvious to the tourist eye)

And it could all be there because black is diverse and comes with multiple layers. Black is a heteroglot of culture and history.
Black is not just the black-washed nonsense 50 cent vibe.
Black is not just anyone with an alternate skin tone. It’s not a game, or a way of speaking, or a way you flaunt your thingy.

Black is a cultural spirit, it’s human, it appreciates a good history, and when it hears all this, it’d recognize something dead serious and very real.”

 

TBH: I get a little choked up when I realize grandma’s never going to process this side of her grandson’s noggin’, because I never shared these thoughts the way  I could have.

But maybe this has meaning for someone else who’s thinking about the boxes, too.

Some Freakishly New Biology

Humans will be living a lot longer.

Stem cells, the nakedess cell there is, have amazing potential when it comes to healing, transplant surgery, and way more. In a way, they’re ancestral cells from which the rest of our cells proliferate.

Japan was leading the way in stem cell research, but it was a little scarier (and Resident Evil-ish, if you want to take it there) in that their research breakthroughs involved viral mechanisms to break down the programming of skin cells – that is to say, the stuff that tells the skin cell to be a skin cell – which degenerates them back into a stem cell.

(Resident Evil just also adds some t-virus lore that makes horror-mutations possible. In real life? They’re just super likely to form tumors. No big deal.)

But now we have something better, thanks to Australia:

They’ve got a group of researchers who’ve shown the ability to develop stem cells FROM BONE AND FAT CELLS. As I’m a yankee, I have a hard time believing that’s something we have in mega-short supply. They’re also able to do this without viral loading, but with two chemicals (I believe one is a catalyst, and the other’s a hormone: 5-Azacytidine and Factor-AB for geeks who want to be specific) which follows a similar (but different) transition course which, over weeks, tells those cell to revert back into a specialized stem cell that’s just so goddang flexible. Science press articles might as well start calling it “Body putty” cause results (called iMS cells) are sold like you can slap these cells into your spine, and presto-chango! Instant nerve repair.

It wont work exactly like that, but still, frikkin amazing.

And my silly way of thinking makes me wonder, if we learned about viruses and turned ghouls into zombies…
What’s next?

Because every year, in terms of scientific capability, it’s still fair to say that humans are advancing faster than ever. So just how many science fiction stories will need to find a new category?

I had a dream last night that I was getting into the marathon again.
It was the night before.

I used to, but don’t dream often anymore. As a kid, it was so reliable that whatever horror movie was watched that night, was going to be a very vivid nightmare just a few hours later. There was lots of horror.

(Today, I love horror, and don’t dream in my sleep as often.)

The fact that this was a dream about having the night that repeated a trial from years ago, all over again, surprises me less. There’re two reasons)

1) Saturday meet-up with old friends = people talking about it. (In 2015 the night before the nyc marathon was halloween, which lead to what was for the lack of a better phrase: an epic party.)

2) Writing a new book.

I don’t want to be too cheesy, but I mean it. The special thing that marathon running and novel writing has in common for me is there’s a prep period, a go period, and a review period. But right before and during that go phase, there’s another kind of “I’m doing it, and this might be effort that gets halfway there and for some reason lands me on my ass, but I doubt it.”

The real threat of these things is usually doing it, and then being dissatisfied with your result. If you’re strong enough, the negatives are usually temporary and you’re even able to really enjoy yourself at certain points.

There is a certain mindset that comes into knowing, and expecting of yourself to do the insane thing. It resonates when you want to do the long thing right your way.

Anyway, good dream.

“Isn’t it a little messed up that you love writing at 4am? Don’t you want to change that?”

“Well yeah, if I had a choice it’d be like this all day.”

Really.

Tonight is editing though. Some MUCHO NEEDED editing. Right now I’m looking at a thing, and realizing some scenes feel great, but some feel like I’ve forgotten to clean the front yard.

Fun fact: No one cares about your living room when there’re skeletons in the front yard.

The Theory vs The Observable

I’ve got a buddy who believes that America is becoming schismed into 4 different echo-chambers of ideologies.

And, after looking at trending topics…can’t really disagree! Now this fellow’s an interesting guy, and believes this is a foundation for true civil unrest that can escalate. I wouldn’t take it that far, but it’s interesting enough for a talk about it no?

I think so.

Normally, this would turn into one of those long-haul conversations. But not today.

Today, for some reason, all I could do was respond with Karl Marx gifs.

Special Interest Video That’s Randomly Great

Just a very odd idea, but I loved the teacher and didn’t expect to enjoy the whole video.  What a (painful, but awesome) move!

 

You’ve got to love how people are practicing uncomfortable things and happy to, ’cause heck, if it’s every useful, it could save a life. No big deal.