The World is Basically Neuromancer Now

I’m probably the last blogger in the world to write about this. The United Federation of Charles already posted a list of signs that we’re living in a cyberpunk future. During the election, people were noting the similarity between the political turmoil in the US of 2016 and the political turmoil of the US in Transmetropolitan. Penny Arcade has even been making jokes about how our video games have caught up to what Gibson envisioned.  But that’s only the tip of the iceberg. Several of the biggest news stories right now are all about how we’ve created a digital dystopia for ourselves.

I don’t think I need to brief anybody on the whole Cambridge Analytica situation. That story is as ubiquitous as it is terrifying. The prospect of all your social media posts being used to profile you and even influence you in a certain way is ridiculously scary. That is an incredible amount of power for a corporation to have. But almost as horrifying is the ransomware attack in Atlanta, in which a small group of hackers is keeping an entire local government’s data hostage, forcing city officials to do all their work without the benefit on online records. This, of course, mirrors the ransomware attack in the UK last year which rendered many hospitals unable to treat their patients.

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All of this is having a conflicting effect on my writing: it’s making me want to write a cyberpunk style story while at the same time making me wary about doing so. I know that’s an incredibly self-centered take on the whole thing, but I can’t help but think about it. I am often inspired by what’s going on in the world around me when I write, and the world around me is currently dominated by the misuse of technology for personal gain. At the same time, I wonder if writing a cyberpunk style story about the future of a world that is basically cyberpunk already makes any sense. Conceivably, I could do a story about a hacker exposing corporate greed and corruption in the present without stretching willing suspension of disbelief at all. But the specific story I have in mind requires some technology that doesn’t exist yet.

But maybe this isn’t such a dilemma after all? Hell, William Gibson himself always said that his writing was more about the present than the future. And A Scanner Darkly was most definitely a reflection of the drug culture and police attitudes of the time when it was written. In any case, I’m sure there is still room for near-future science fiction in such a technologically saturated world. Perhaps what I really need to do is just have more faith that my ideas are good and worth reading. Feels like I’ve touched on that on this blog before, though…ah well, it’s not easy to be confident when you have a mood disorder.

P.S. – Stack Skills emailed me about a deal on a White Hat Hacking bundle. I am in no way affiliated with them, but I thought I’d pass the link along in case anybody felt like doing something more constructive about our cyberpunk nightmare world.

Would You Like to Work for Free?

It’s been a while since I posted anything on this blog, so I’ll start with an update on my economic situation.

I have a job. It’s a minimum wage job, and it was supposed to be temporary, but they’ve kept me on longer than any other temporary employees. However, they still can’t give me an answer on whether or not they’re gonna keep me on on a more permanent basis. To top it off, they’ve steadily been decreasing my hours at work. When I started, I averaged around twenty-five hours a week or so – a steady, part-time gig. There was even a week where I got up to forty hours. Last week, I only worked eight hours. This week, I’ve got one four-hour shift.

So, naturally, I’ve been applying to other jobs. So far, not many have been calling me back. One did a few weeks ago, though, and eventually I was able to schedule an interview. It was for a tutoring position at a local community college. They pay rate was good, just under fifteen dollars an hour, and it would be part-time. I felt that I was pretty qualified for the position, as well. I went to the interview and talked with the professor for a good long while. I felt a represented myself well.

Today I received an email saying that the college is looking for someone with more experience tutoring. Normally, such an email would end there. However, the professor took the time to tell me that she knows how hard it is to get experience in the current job market, and so she also extended and offer to me to do some volunteer tutoring. Essentially, I would be doing the job that I applied for, but for free, with the possibility of eventually being hired being dangled in front of me like a carrot the entire time.

I know someone in a similar situation. He has a Bachelor’s degree in Parks and Recreation management, and has been volunteering with the Cleveland Metroparks for years, trying to get his foot in the door there so that he can get an actual, salaried position. It’s never happened. I’m also reminded of all the people I see who ask my artist friends to draw something for them for free or for exposure. Again, the chance of that exposure translating into more paid work is being used like a carrot in front of a donkey to try and get them to work for free.

This seems to be a perfectly acceptable tactic in today’s society, and it boggles my mind how that can even be. Proponents of capitalism say that workers should be paid exactly what their labor is worth. But so often that doesn’t happen, and the capitalists shrug and say “if you’re willing to work for it, it must be enough” and “if you don’t like it, work somewhere else.” But I’ve looked everywhere for paying work and it’s either paying shit or you can’t get your foot in the door. So eventually you are forced to compromise and give someone your work for less than what it’s worth just on the off-chance that doing so can build your resume enough that you get a better job. And I just don’t think that’s fair.

P.S. – To clarify, I’m not ragging on the concept of volunteer work. If you have some extra time in your schedule and you want to help out a charity or community fixture such as a library, that’s perfectly acceptable. I’m upset about the idea of free labor being a lead-in for paying work. I feel it’s a disingenuous, slimy cop out.

New Year, New…Something

Well, I said I would write a general blog post sometime soon. It ended up taking me until the new year, but here it is. And what a new year it is! 2018 is truly shaping up to be…something. Not sure what, yet, but definitely something.

A lot has happened to me since I last wrote a blog post. First of all, my solid state drive quit on me, which is part of the reason I haven’t written a blog post. I’m currently writing this on my parent’s computer. On the plus side, I ended up getting rehired at the college bookstore I worked at in September, so I have an income! For now, anyway. It’s another temporary position. But I am waiting to hear back about an application to a local web design company.  The application is for a position as a content writer, so it would be right in my wheelhouse. Oh, and I got my hair cut and grew my beard out.

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In writing news, I got a fountain pen for Christmas and have officially switched from typing my first drafts to writing them out by hand. And I’ve got to say, it’s really improved my productivity! It’s so much easier to block out distractions when you’ve got no computer to distract you. Now if I could just stop obsessively checking my phone…

I’m not making any New Year’s resolutions this year. Every year, I resolve to write a novel, and every year I fail to do it. I’m starting to think it might be easier to write a novel if I’m not in such a rush to do it. I mean, I don’t even have a contract with a publisher yet. No one is holding me to an arbitrary deadline, so why should I hold myself to one? It will take as long as it takes.

That’s really all that I wanted to talk about for now. Hopefully it won’t take me as long to get to my next blog post as it did to get to this one.

Net Neutrality

Hello Internet! I’m going to write a more standard blog post in the next couple of days, but today I want to focus on Net Neutrality, an issue that is especially near and dear to me. It’s likely that you already know what it is, considering that everyone is talking about it right now. But if you don’t, Net Neutrality is a serious of protections that basically keep every site on the Internet more or less equal. Your ISP cannot prioritize one site over another. My blog gets exactly the same treatment as any other site. However, the FCC is voting to repeal Net Neutrality in a couple of days, mostly because ISPs have been campaigning against it. They want to prioritize access to sites that make lucrative deals with them, and sell you certain sites as part of packages, as if it were cable TV.

Naturally, this is really bad for anyone who makes a living on the Internet, which these days is a lot of people. There is no way a site like, say, Topatoco.com can compete with Amazon when it comes to getting the best deal with the most ISPs. In fact, it’s likely that a lot of independent sites could even get blocked, so that ISPs can direct traffic to there preferred partner.

If this upsets you (as it should), you still have a couple of days to act. The vote is on December 14th. As I am writing, it is currently the twelfth. That means you can still call your representative tomorrow, or participate in the internet-wide protest going on right now. Head to battleforthenet.com for more information. And make sure to let your Congressperson know that if the repeal does end up passing, that you will be keeping their actions in mind next year when midterm elections roll around.

Sometimes it’s Fun to Be Scared

I’ve found myself really getting into the Halloween spirit lately. I checked out a horror novel from the library and have been enjoying reading it, and when I’m finished with that I’ve got the digital edition pf The Exorcist on my Kindle. Most importantly, I’ve been working on writing a scary story that I hope to submit to a magazine sometime in the near future. Yes, it’s safe to say I’ve gone head over heels for spookiness this season. But sometimes, when I talk to people, I feel like I’m in the minority this year.

When I’ve talked to people about Halloween and horror lately, I’ve gotten a lot of comments to the tune of “The world’s so scary now, why make it scarier in fiction?” Indeed, there seems to be a lot of people who’s normally be all about the scares but who just can’t seem to get into the spirit right now. And it’s true: the world really is a scary place, especially recently. I can completely understand why someone would not want to be scared this year, or would be having trouble finding the fun in horror. But, somewhat paradoxically, the scariness of the world has made spooky stories all the more fun for me.

See, part of the thing that makes horror fun, at least the horror that I personally like, is that the scary monsters and ghosts aren’t real. Oh sure, they can stand in as metaphors for real things, but they are still impossible beings that only exist in our imagination. And what I’ve found is the more I’m beings scared by these things, the less scared I am about the state of the world. Horror functions as a kind of escapism for me, allowing me to exchange my real life fears for things that are made up. And this is important, because it helps me keep going.

So if you’re having trouble getting into the Halloween spirit, this is my advice to you: find a spooky movie to watch. Make it one of your favorites. Put it on the TV. Turn the lights off. And just focus on the experience for a while. Tune everything out except for the movie. And, just for a little while, stop focusing on the horrors of real life and allow yourself to be terrified by the illusions on the screen.

Happy Halloween, everybody.

Adventures in Microfiction

Hey Internet! Long time no see! How have you been? I’ve been great. And by “great,” I mean, it depends. Some days I’m relatively OK. On others, I have to fight to get myself out of bed at all. My mood has been suffering lately, and if you guess my employment situation had something to do with it, you’d be correct.

When I last wrote on this blog, I had just secured a temporary position as a bookseller in a local community college bookstore. I was originally hired just to help out with the fall rush, but I worked really hard and was eager to please my employers because I thought that they might keep me on as a permanent hire if I did a good enough job. Alas, this was not the case, and so four weeks after starting my job I found myself unemployed once again. Since then I’ve continued to apply to different places, including a greeting card company that is actually looking for a writer (fingers crossed for that one). And now I have retail experience, so I’m a more attractive prospect, especially to bookstores.

I’ve also stopped using Facebook. I’ve had too many stupid arguments about politics on it. Using it has just lead to a lot a frustration and anxiety on my part. A Facebook argument, especially with someone I know in real life, can really exacerbate the symptoms of my mood disorder. So I cut Facebook out of my life (with the exception of auto-sharing my WordPress posts and using messenger on my phone), and I have to tell you, it’s made a huge difference. I feel so much more relaxed knowing that I don’t have to worry about stupid arguments getting out of hand.

What I really haven’t been doing that often, though, is writing. I’ve talked before about being intimidated by the size of the things that I set out to write and how it’s kept me from getting work done on larger projects. Well, lately my mood has been such that even finishing a short story of a couple thousand words has seemed to be too daunting of a task. Luckily, though, I seem to have stumbled on a solution.

A few days ago, I sent the following tweet out to my followers:

I received a few likes. Not that many, mind you, but enough that I got a good thread going. Here are a few microfics from that thread:

 

 

The stories were surprisingly fun to write. They didn’t take a huge amount of effort on my part, mind you, but they got my mind working and helped me to feel like a writer again. All in all, the thread was a fun little experiment. So I think I’m going to continue tweeting out microfics occasionally. I don’t know if they’ll always be in a thread, but you can definitely expect more coming to you on my twitter feed.

Hopefully I will work my way back up to writing longer things. In the meantime, hit that sidebar link and give me a follow on twitter if you want to see more microfics or even just keep up with what’s going on in my life.

The Lunch Break From Hell

Yesterday as I was exiting the parking lot at my job I hit the curb and blew a hole in my tire. I was coming out of a roundabout that leads away from the campus parking lot and turned to sharply. I felt the car hit the curb for a second, and when it came back down I felt something give and heard a flapping noise. When I eventually turned out into the road, the flapping of the tire became more audible and I cringed. I pulled into the next available parking lot: a small playground next to the community college campus at which I work.

Now, this may come as a shock to you, as this is usually considered one of those things that all adults know how to do, but I have never changed a tire in my life. So, like a boy scout who doesn’t know how to light a fire without hurting himself, I called my dad to see if he could help me out. Just as we had worked out a time after both of our shifts where we could get everything settled, I noticed a sign near where I had parked in a hurry. It read:

Parking for Playground Only
No College Parking
Tow Away Zone

My dad, still on the phone, told me that I should try calling the city police and explaining my situation, because I did not want to have to drive on the rim if I could avoid it. I did so, and the police officers were, fortunately for me, very understanding. I just had to leave a not in case any officers who hadn’t gotten the memo happened by, and I should be safe from having my car towed. I didn’t have any paper on hand, so I tore off part of an old McDonald’s bag and wrote on that.

By the time all of this was finished, my lunch break was already over, I was late getting back, and I hadn’t actually gotten a chance to eat anything. I explained all this to my boss, who was very understanding, and finished off the day, then immediately went back to the spot to find that my dad was already there and that he had already changed the tire. All I had to do was help him load the old tire back into the trunk of my car.

As I was getting ready to leave, my dad told me that I might get an alarm about the pressure in my tire since I was driving on the spare. I nodded and proceeded to drive home. As I was driving the car began to rattle and vibrate and a loud dinging came from the dashboard. I assumed that the dinging was the alarm my dad was talking about, and that the rattling had something to do with the spare tire, so I just took it slow going home and tuned them both out.

When my dad and I got home, my dad told my mom all about the particulars of what had happened while I chowed down on some reheated leftover chicken. Suddenly, my dad gasped and exclaimed “I left the emergency brake on!” I looked up from the drumstick I had been eating, finally realizing that the rattling hadn’t been the tire. I had driven the whole ten miles home with the emergency break on.

And that was how I ended my first week at my new job.