Two shitposts about Twin Peaks S3

tired: “having a mid-life crisis”
wired: “just got out of the Black Lodge”

tired: David Lynch’s characters react to situations in ways which are often inappropriate or distressing
wired: David Lynch’s characters react to situations in ways which are psychologically realistic but outside the spectrum of “normal” reactions established by the conventions of mainstream film and TV

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NaNoWriMo 2018

The week after our holiday, I thought, “What am I going to do for NaNoGenMo this year?” and then thought, “one of the reasons I do NaNoGenMo is to avoid thinking about why I’m not doing NaNoWriMo when I’ve wanted to write a novel for almost my entire life”. So I did.

Screenshot 2018-12-03 21.44.13

I went into this without any real plan, just a daily word target and a couple of ideas I’d been thinking about for a while. The first week I spent writing a short story about addiction, recovery, schoolboy crushes, religion and maths; for the rest of the month, I was writing an irregularly-shaped mass which, with some expansion and redrafting, could become Autodidacts Anonymous, a short novel about a self-help group for cranks and internet obsessives, which I’ve been thinking about for a couple of years.

I’ve never attempted to write fiction on this scale before. Here is what it felt like.

ME [for several years, to myself]: “why, X would be a good subject for a novel!”

MY WRITING TARGET [every day, for a month, in SpongeBob SquarePants’ most annoying voice]: “HEY DO YOU STILL THINK X IS A GOOD SUBJECT FOR A NOVEL? WELL DO YA? DO YA?”

If you have an idea for a novel, and you think the answer will ever be “no”, don’t start. Other things I noticed:

  • Writing at this scale has momentum, which is kind of relaxing, but also means that it has a wide turning circle if it goes somewhere you weren’t expecting. But that’s fun, too.
  • Budget for 2,000 words a day, even if your calculations say 1,666. Because there will be days when you can’t write.
  • Scrivener is good software.
  • I didn’t sign up or do anything on the social/official side of NaNoWriMo because that seemed like a distraction.
  • November is a bad month in which to write a novel, at least in Australia. Day jobs get that weird blend of panic and torpor as accounting deadlines loom, people go on leave and the schedule fills up with parties. And it’s too hot.
  • The only people I know who know what NaNoWriMo is are online people so explaining it to other friends and family got repetitive.
  • It’s good when someone asks you for the elevator pitch.

I’m really glad that I did this: now the question I ask myself is no longer, “can I write a novel?” It’s “can I write a good novel?”

Fuck.

Appendix: four procrastinations

Everywhere Dense (2014)
Neuralgae (2015)
Annales (2016)
Formations (2017)

The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis

A man in our town is so fond of the short stories of Lydia Davis that he never wants to see a photograph of her. He explains that for him, she is a texture of words, and if asked to elaborate will explain that the composite portrait offered by her overlapping and exactly-sketched characters, which are almost certainly no more or less autobiographical than those of other writers but which somehow, due to the concision and clarity of her style, seem to embody a consistent presence, is more satisfying than any mere mechanical reproduction of her physical appearance could be expected to be.

Shoal Bay, Nelson Bay, Newcastle

 

Top to bottom: Tomaree Mountain at the mouth of Port Stephens; a blue-faced honeyeater; WWII history in Mermaids, the breakfast cafe at the Ramada Resort we stayed in; a puffer fish we found on the track halfway up the mountain; view from the top; two photos of the WWII gun emplacements; a bizarre sloping mall at Nelson Bay; view across the Hunter from the Newcastle foreshore

Here Comes Everybody

So literally the day after blogging about being off Twitter and #WhyIStayOnMastodon, a big crowd of Australian left twitter, including most of my mutuals, showed up in the Fediverse. So much for my plan to ease off the compulsive Mastodon checking.

This isn’t the first wave of birdsite refugees to hit Mastodon and it won’t be the last, although there are signs that we’ve reached some sort of threshold where the new arrivals start finding enough to talk about that they stick around. But I thought I should post a few things about what I’ve noticed about the place, and how it is, and isn’t, like Twitter.

It’s not just Mastodon. There are different types of software in the federated social media sphere which can federating with one another using the OStatus and ActivityPub protocols, one of which was developed for GNU Social, which came first. There’s also Pleroma, which is younger than Mastodon. And there’s drama.

There’s also drama within Mastodon, most interestingly about how the project is governed. This is normal and healthy, and how free software should work.

There’s no one Fediverse. This has always been true of Twitter, which is what phrases like “X Twitter” imply: different slices of the thing have their own cultures. It’s even more true in the fediverse, where each instance has its own moderation policy, and (sometimes) its own topical focus and (more rarely) custom software modifications, as in oulipo.social, which rejects all posts containing the letter ‘e’, or its anti-instance, dolphin.town. Mastodon’s culture of strong local moderation and content warnings — and its reputation as a safe haven for furries, people of colour and queer and trans folk who were fed up with Twitter’s miserable efforts at countering abuse — can give the impression that it’s trying to be one big earnest safe space: as can the anti-Nazi policies which most instances, particularly the ones in EU jurisdictions, are happy to enforce. But some instances are, or have been, a lot more 4chan-like. Any fediverse server is free to block federation from any other, and in late 2017 and early 2018 there seemed to be some kind of instance block war going on, although I wasn’t paying too much attention to it. I think it reached some sort of equilibrium, but a mass influx of shitposters from political Twitter is just the sort of thing which could fire things up again. Conflict of this sort is inherent in the federated model, and there’s no telling what will happen if things are really snowballing.

Actually, content warnings are good. If I were asked to sum up the difference in ethos between Mastodon and other services I’ve used, I’d say that it tries to give you the most explicit control about what you let people see, on the most granular level. That’s why the privacy settings for individual posts can seem over-the-top, but actually make sense, and it’s why content warnings are a really good way to communicate to your readers what a post contains or is trying to do. Spoiler alert: it’s about letting people not read your post if it’s not relevant to them or would harm them, or give them spoilers. And when used properly, they can add the crucial dimension of timing to a good shitpost. (Apparently, Pleroma calls them ‘subjects’, so I guess someone was triggered by the term ‘content warning’).

Irony still works here. As do the usual range of shitposting strategies. (People were trying to get ‘pooptooting’ happening, but it never took off.) I’ve seem people say things like “will there be weird Mastodon like there was weird Twitter”, as if the whole lifecycle of the platform will recapitulate itself, but social media is Heraclitus’ river where the water is made of terrible memes and references to 90s culture, and you can’t step into it twice, nor would you necessarily want to. But Mastodon has been evolving its own vocabulary of in-jokes, because it’s full of clowns like you and me.

Earnestness works too. It still feels like it’s at the stage where you can make connections with people about shared interests, and the communities haven’t gotten too hidebound. It’s still absurdly friendly, if you’re used to Twitter. It can also be really long-winded and obsessive.

It has its problems. It’s still got too many straight white blokes who work with computers on it, and if anything, the recent Twitter influx seems to be making that worse. I don’t know what we can do about that other than to follow, pay attention to and boost other voices as much as possible.

Oh, and retweets are boosts now, which is what they always were. I’ve always thought that the best Twitter filter would be to block everyone who has a ‘RT ≠ endorsement’ disclaimer in their bio, and Mastodon has made it explicit: if you spread something around, you’re helping it, whether you like it or not.

If you give it a go, my primary Mastodon account is @mikelynch@icosahedron.website

Various moods

There are now two disposable razor blades on the sink, because my son started transitioning two months ago and the testosterone gel is working.

When something uniquely stupid happens in Australian politics, the feeling of relief that comes when I remember that I quit Twitter. This even makes the Clive Palmer billboards easier to handle. It seems clear that Twitter is never going to fix its problems: corporations don’t often change their characters, any more than people do, and Twitter’s personality has always been one of mealy-mouthed neglect. At this stage, harassment and abuse are part of their business model: each time nazis or fans chase someone off their platform, each time the President has another meltdown, it’s more publicity for them. They’ve made the political crisis part of their business model, a way to position themselves in the market. I really miss it but they’re just grifters and they don’t deserve the communities which have formed there, or any more of our trust.

I took on a bit more extracurricular work than I could manage last month but it’s all finished now. I’m still enjoying the feeling of not having to work on code after dinner most nights. I can just tune out or write or watch TV.

Seeing the five naked-eye planets lined up from horizon to horizon. Mercury’s not visible any more but you can still see Venus, Jupiter, Saturn and Mars every clear evening. Both Venus and Mars are spectacular right now.

The flipside, in a way, of Twitter regret, is compulsively checking Mastodon, even though I’ve only made a few and fleeting connections there. Somehow, compulsively checking something which I’m not that invested in seems healthier, more mindless, like worry beads. There was a hashtag going around on it a couple of weeks ago, #WhyIStayOnMastodon: I said because I wanted to see where it went. There isn’t going to be “a new Twitter” because this whole thing is still in a state of constant flux, platforms come and go on this thing we call “the internet” and act like we’re old hands because we’ve seen its first few decades. So many people will tell you all about what it represents but I don’t think we know that yet. Mastodon can seem like the early days of the web, probably because the programmer-to-normie ratio is still very high, but it’s also something new and evolving its own culture. It’s healthy to not know where this particular part of it is going or if it will last.

Also, there are heaps of trans folk there. Most of my irl trans acquaintances are my son’s friends, it does me good to connect with a wider community.

There’s another whole blog post in how I feel about JavaScript right now, in the final stages of a long project where I feel like I’ve spent too much time trying to code in a language which I’ve always defended but which honestly has a lot of flaws. I’ve had moments lately where I worry that my ability to code is going away with age, or, what’s worse, that I’m too old to be learning new things. This is a symptom both of depression and of mild burnout on the stuff I’ve been working on, and I’m trying to wait for it to pass.

Diaries

I told myself, and I wrote here, that I was going to blog more, about a month ago, and nothing much has come of it. For a while now I’ve been trying to write five hundred words each day, which sometimes is fiction and sometimes essays which end up as blog posts, either here or on mikelynch.org, but which is mostly a diary.

There have been other times when I’ve been going through troubles that I’ve written regularly. After a spell of frantic and introspective journal-keeping after getting divorced in 2003, I went off it, because it didn’t seem to help with my depression and in some ways made it worse. I felt like I was just rolling around in my problems and not doing anything about them. The ritual of putting pen to paper was comforting, but the actual writing wasn’t amounting to anything, and it meant that the most creative activity which I did was also concentrating on all the reasons why I was sad. I’ve still got an envelope somewhere containing a thick wad of foolscap which I sealed away when I decided to stop keeping that journal. I haven’t ever been tempted to open it.

My daily writing now has felt more productive, even if it’s not that much more worth reading. Every now I’ll go back over it — the fact that I’m doing it on a laptop rather than a notepad makes this easier — and it’s sometimes embarrassing to see me write down the same insight, something I’ve figured out in therapy or while running that struck me as particularly helpful or wise, months apart, often using almost the same words, with no self-awareness that I’d already been over that ground. Maybe the lesson here is that keeping a diary is more useful if one re-reads it, so that things don’t get lost.

There’s another reason for this kind of delayed stutter, and that’s fear. Mostly, the repetitions I’m thinking of are writing about, or writing around, something which I need to tell someone or do with someone, and which I’m afraid of. Writing about it is, in a way, a delaying tactic. Instead of getting up the courage to have a difficult conversation, I can write five hundred words about it. It is a useful way to put my thoughts in order, but it’s also a sop: I get the satisfaction of having done something, and ticked off a daily self-care task, without the danger of actually doing the thing which I’m afraid of doing.

I do, eventually, mostly, get around to doing these things, and I shouldn’t be hard on myself about the slow and repetitive nature of the process. There’s far more repetition in my head, where I worry about these things and have imaginary versions of the conversations which I’m delaying. By turning them into something that’s a little more concrete — even if it’s the evanescent form of a text file on a laptop — I make them more real, something I’m less likely, even if only marginally, to forget about or put off.