More Social Distance Streaming Recommendations

We’re halfway through the third week of shelter-in-place here in California.

It’s starting to feel almost normal, this staying home and avoiding other people thing. Natural to move aside when walking on the sidewalk to avoid passing within six feet of someone else. Odd to think about leaving the house.

But then I think about going out for coffee and donuts, or driving out to the bookstore, and I remember. What we’re doing, and why. And what we’re trying to prevent.

I hope you’re own stay-at-home is going as well as it can. That you’re safe, have enough food, and don’t have to worry about being kicked out by your landlord.

Here’s a couple more shows to keep your mind occupied while we wait for the viral storm to pass:

Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist

I didn’t want to like this show. True, it’s about a programmer, which should immediately draw me in, but it gets everything about being a programmer at a startup wrong, right from the very first episode. It’s the equivalent of the lazy “enhance” trick we’ve seen on too many shows, drawn out into an entire plot point. It rankles me, every time.

And the lead is….let’s say bland, shall we? The main character is the least interesting part of the show.

But the rest of the cast is phenomenal, the musical numbers are both weird and fun, and it nails the mix of guilt, hope, and love that comes with caring for a terminally ill family member.

So I’ve been gritting my teeth through the software-world bits, and enjoying everything else.

Source: Hulu

Birds of Prey

Ok, not a TV show, but have you seen this movie? It’s currently battling it out with Thor: Ragnarok in my head for the best superhero movie of the last ten years, and I thought nothing would ever get close to Thor.

It’s got goofy comics action — one scene has Harley shooting people with glitter bombs — fantastic fight scenes, a crazy sense of humor (wait till you see what Harley will do for a breakfast sandwich), and incredible sets (one scene takes place inside multiple rooms in a fun house).

The cast is phenomenal, with the exception of the kid playing Cassandra Cain (but she’s young, so can be forgiven).

My wife and I found ourselves watching it twice in a row one night (the second time with the director’s commentary on) and I didn’t even mind. It’s that good.

Source: Online Rental

Keeping Score: March 27, 2020

I think at this point I can admit to myself (and to you) that I’m not tracking how many words I write each day. There’s just too much going on, too many distractions, and it’s all I can do to get the words out, then to stop and try to remember how much I added this paragraph today or edited on that page.

But I am writing, and tracking that writing time. Inspired by one of V.E. Schwab’s tweets, I’m using a habit tracker to look at how I’m spending my time. I’ve got a slot for “Write for 30 minutes,” and I try to hit that every day, taking time in the morning, before the day overwhelms me.

And so far, I’ve hit it every day this week. My current streak is 17 days long, and I’ve no intention of breaking it.

Tracking time spent focused on writing lets me feel better about the times when I need to think through a plot more before writing down a scene, or outline a piece before revising it. That’s writing, it’s just not producing words immediately.

I am producing words, as well. I’ve got a new author interview almost ready to go up, and I’ve been drafting the last four pages of the comic I started for Gail Simone’s ComicsSchool.

So that’s what I’m focusing on, right now, while this lasts: putting time in the chair, counting each finished project as a win.

What about you? Has anything changed in your writing technique since the pandemic started? Have you adopted any new tools to stay motivated?

A Few Streaming Recommendations for Social Distancing

As we enter the second (or third, or fourth) week of hunkering down in our homes, I thought I’d rattle off a list of shows I’ve been watching to distract me from everything that’s been going on:

Locke & Key

Loved the comic by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez, so I thought I’d check out the new series.

The show is very different from the comic, both in the way the characters are represented and the pacing of the story. But it preserves the core idea of the comic, and damn, it’s good. Even when the characters are making obviously dumb choices, it’s compelling.

Fair warning, though: It’s a bit intense at times. At several points in the season, I could only do one episode a night, because it was just…too much, right now.

Source: Netflix

Westworld

The new season is out! So I’m going back and re-watching Seasons One and Two, both to refresh my memory and to give them time to release more than just a few episodes of the new season.

I’m impressed by how well Season One is holding up, even after I’ve watched it multiple times. I’m discovering new depths to the performances of the actors playing Bernard and Delores, and seeing things that link up with future events that missed the first few times through.

Also Maeve. Who doesn’t enjoy watching more Maeve?

Source: HBO Now

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel

I discovered this one late, so shame on me. But Seasons One and Two were awesome, and I was worried about Season Three.

I shouldn’t have been. Not only is it still damn funny, but I didn’t need to re-watch any of the earlier seasons to dive right into the latest one. The characters are all there, sniping and helping each other, like always.

Just intimidatingly good writing in this series. Something to aim for in my own work.

Source: Amazon Prime

Keeping Score: March 20, 2020

What a difference a week makes.

Last Friday, I still felt okay going out to my local coffeeshop for coffee in the morning. I thought this week would be much like any other week, that we’d have to take extra care to make sure people that felt sick stayed home, and not congregate in large groups, but that’s it.

But then they closed the schools where my wife works.

And people started posting pictures of empty grocery store shelves.

Now everything is closing down: pubs, restaurants, coffee shops, the zoo, bookstores, publishers, everything is either shutting down or going remote-only.

It’s a frightening time, and I’d be lying if I didn’t confess that it’s made it hard for me to focus.

So I’m not sure how many words I’ve written this week.

I’ve worked on something, every day. I’ve gathered statistics that I’m going to use in a blog post for next week. I’ve been working through Gail Simone’s ComicsSchool, which has been fantastic, and should result in my first complete comics script by the end.

But I haven’t come back to the short story I was editing. Or made any progress on the novel.

I will do both, though, and soon. But for now, I’ve just…gotta work on something a little more low-key, to leave room in my head for processing everything that’s happening.

I hope you find the head space to keep working, whatever your project is, and that give yourself the time to feel the cocktail of emotions this thing is putting us all through.

Happy Post-St Patrick’s Day!

Me, all dolled up for the celebration

Since moving to San Diego, my wife and I have had a tradition: On St Patrick’s Day, we go celebrate at a Mexican restaurant, and on Cinco de Mayo, we celebrate at an Irish pub. We’ve discovered that both kinds of restaurants celebrate both holidays, but while the Irish pubs are standing room only on St Patrick’s Day, the Mexican places are empty (and vice-versa for Cinco de Mayo). We call it St Pedro’s Day (in March) and The Fifth of Mayo (in May). We usually rope a few of our friends in, too, and always have a blast.

Well. Going out this year was off the table. But we still did St Pedro’s right, mixing margaritas at home and joining a group video chat so our friends and we could all hang out virtually.

And it was still fun! (photographic evidence offered above).

Hope you and yours are safe and well, and that if you celebrated yesterday, you found a way to connect with those you love.

Sláinte!

Keeping Score: March 13, 2020

Got 1,224 words written so far this week.

Those are spread out over different projects. I added a little to the novel, started drafting several new essays, and decided to go back and edit a short story from last year.

The story was easy for me to write, but it’s been hard to edit. It’s quite personal, pulling something from my childhood and turning it into a horror story. It’s the first story I’ve written about where I grew up, and as such is hard for me to see any other way than how I’ve written it.

So it’s taken me counts on fingers about six months to digest some beta reader feedback I got on it, and figure out what the story needs.

And I think I do, now. I can see a hole in the story, a gap in the POV character’s motivations that I tried to paper over with his personal flaws.

That might work for me, or for someone who also grew up in the kind of town I did, but it doesn’t work for communicating that character’s perspective to everyone else. That’s a failure on my part, a failure of craft, and — hopefully — it’s one I can fix.

What about you? Have you ever had a story — or a novel — that you simply couldn’t edit into shape until after a lot of time (and maybe some leveling up in your writing skills) had passed?

Free Markets vs Capitalism

The other day, I friend of mine tweeted something about Rage Against the Machine that tripped my political-philosophy sensors:

real talk, the Rage Against the Machine ticket pricing is unfortunate for many of their fans (esp fans in demographics their songs are about). but they’ve been on a Sony imprint since the early 90s. their per-show guarantee is easily in the six figures. they’re capitalists.

It’s that last part that bothered me. RATM are well-known advocates of socialism; are they really so hypocritical as to be capitalists?

After thinking things over for a while, I don’t believe they are. Wealthy, perhaps. Well-paid, certainly. But capitalists? I don’t think so.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to call my friend out here. But his tweet made me realize there’s a lot of misconceptions in the US about the differences between socialism, capitalism, and free markets. And the case of RATM makes a good jumping-off point to discuss the real relationships between those three concepts.

Because wanting to make money from their music, and specifically from their performance of music, does not make RATM capitalists.

F– the G Ride, I Want the Machines That are Making’ ‘Em

First let’s clarify something: Socialism doesn’t mean the end of money, of private property, or getting compensated for work.

Socialism, strictly construed, only requires one thing: the common ownership of the means of production.

What does this mean? Let’s break it down, going from back to front.

The means of production is just a fancy way of saying how things are made. It can be a factory churning out cars, or a recording studio putting out records.

Common ownership means there’s no one person (or CEO-controlled corporation) that controls a thing. Sometimes this can mean government control — like our public schools — and sometimes this can be a co-op or community organization, like the urban gardens that have sprung up in some cities.

Putting these two together, it means in a socialist economy, no one person controls how things are made. Meaning they can’t force you to pay for access to how things are made.

In other words: Socialists can’t make money by being gatekeepers of some valuable resource, like time in the studio or the use of a 3-D printer.

But they can — and must, since it’s the only way to make money in a socialist economy — make money from their labor, and from the fruits of their labor.

Going back to RATM, when they perform, they are generating value — entertainment value — via their labor. And they own the end result of that labor (the music itself, and any recordings that are produced), which they then sell to people.

To a socialist, this is how things should be, everywhere. People work to create something, they own that thing, and then can sell that thing to others and make a living off of it.

Now I’m Rolling Down Rodeo With a Shotgun

So if charging money for their work doesn’t make RATM capitalists, what would?

Capitalists, in contrast to socialists, believe the means of production should be privately owned. This control over the means of production is what allows capitalists to exploit the labor of others. Because if you can own a factory, and claim ownership over every car produced there, then the only thing its workers can own is their labor, which they have to sell to you.

Do you see the difference? Capitalists don’t make money by creating things. They make money by owning things.

So the investor that funds construction of a new building, and then claims ownership over it, so they can start charging people rent, is a capitalist. They didn’t design it, they didn’t build it, they didn’t paint it or make any of the furniture that goes inside. But they still claim they have the sole right to make money off of it.

In Rage Against the Machine’s case, in order to become capitalists, they’d have to go from being music makers to record label execs. People that don’t make music themselves, but instead profit from the music that others create.

And more importantly, profiting because they claim ownership of the music (or at least, the recordings) that are wholly created by other people.

The Sisters are In, So Check the Front Lines

To make a more fully-fledged analogy: What would a music industry organized along socialist lines look like?

Well, the means of production would have to be held in common. So recording studios could not be owned by individuals or corporations. They could be government-run, they could be owned by a community association, or a co-op.

More likely, they’d be owned by artist collectives, who would rent space from a builder’s association that constructed a suitable building. The artists would pool their funds and procure the recording equipment, and any instruments they’d like to keep in the studio. They’d each then have access to the studio, without having to pay someone else.

Individual recordings would be owned by the artists who performed on them, and any sound engineers or producers that helped make the recording. Again, if you put your labor into something, you own a part of it.

Distribution would be handled either by the artists’ collective themselves, or by a co-op that specializes in distributing music (either online or via physical copies).

At no point would anyone that helped the album come into being be cut out of their partial ownership of said album. At no point would control over the album or the music be held by an entity that’s beholden to remote shareholders.

That’s not to say that everything would be free, or that any old album someone wanted to make would have to be recorded or distributed. Because the people behind and around the musicians — the engineers, the mixers, the producers, etc — wouldn’t want to contribute their labor (in other words, take partial ownership of) something they thought wouldn’t sell. Their ability to make a living would depend on the end product selling, after all; more sales means more for them via their cut, and fewer sales means less.

So people would be free to say no to projects, just as they’d be free to say yes. The knowledge that whatever they invest their time, their labor, their talent in, becomes theirs, makes them more responsible, not less. And that responsibility would itself become a market signal, as people flock together to make and distribute music that’s popular locally, and still work to make music that’s popular globally.

So a socialist music industry would actually be a freer market than a capitalist one. Free of the constraints of work-for-hire, of laboring on something and then seeing it enrich someone else. And free of the power wielded by single individuals at the top of corporate hierarchies.

Who Controls the Past Now, Controls the Future

By now, I’m sure you’ve guessed which side of the capitalist/socialist divide I’m on 🙂

But even if you think our capitalist system is better, my central point stands: Making money from the things you create doesn’t make you a capitalist. In fact, doing so is more compatible with socialism than the alternative.

So RATM aren’t capitalists. Just musicians looking to claim their just piece of the value they create.

Keeping Score: March 6, 2020

Got back to exercising this week. Back to holding to a schedule in the mornings. Back to allowing myself time to outline, when I wanted it. Time away from the novel.

And it’s working! I’ve written 1,540 words so far this week 🙂

The new scenes in the book are coming together. I’ve finally got things mapped out in my head enough that I can sit and write them out again.

Still might end up throwing them away, or heavily editing them. But at least I can get the raw material out now, to work with later.

I’m even allowing myself to start thinking about revising some short stories that I’ve had sitting on a shelf since the move. Time to get back in the habit of submitting.

So March is off to a good start. Here’s hoping it continues.

I Voted! Spring 2020 Edition

We’re mail-in voters, but between the move and everything else, I ended up heading to polling station yesterday anyway.

I wanted to be sure I got in, because San Diego holds its local elections on the same day as the primary. So I got to vote for mayor, some state reps, judges, etc, as well as some voter-sponsored initiatives that got on the ballot.

Oh, and I got to vote in the Democratic Presidential Primary 🙂

Confession time: I really, really, seriously enjoy voting in California.

They send us a little booklet before the election, where every candidate who agrees to accept spending limits can issue a statement, laying out their case. (Naturally, I only vote for candidates who issue such a statement). It’s also got the full text of the ballot initiatives, plus pro and con arguments, and a fiscal impact analysis for each measure.

It’s homework, but it also means I feel much more informed going into the election than I would otherwise. Not only from reading the booklet, but using it as a jumping-off point for further research.

The last election we spent in Arkansas, I felt so disconnected and lost. No booklet. No easy-to-navigate state-gov-run website to look everything up. Nothing.

What does your state (or country!) do, to make sure its voters are as informed as possible before heading to the polls?

Keeping Score: February 28, 2020

Sometimes what feels like a really good week is followed by a bad one.

For example, this week, in which I’ve only written 329 words.

It’s frustrating. Just when I felt like I was getting back in the groove of jogging, writing, and work, two things brought progress to a shuddering halt: I got injured, and I switched from editing back to writing new scenes.

The injury was relatively minor. I had a planter’s wart on the underside of my big toe that my dermatologist finally had enough of and burned off. Worth it, for sure, but that put a crimp in my jogging schedule.

And the new scenes are…maybe a mistake. There’s a sequence towards the end of the book where the POV character travels from one of the station to the other, witnessing the disaster that’s just befallen it.

She’s mostly on her own, in the original sequence, which made it easier to write, but didn’t feel as realistic to me. I mean, the chance she’s going to go from one end to the other without seeing anyone are small.

Plus, I think it drains the whole stretch of a bit of tension. If most of the danger has passed, including the danger of discovery, then what’s going to pull the reader through the passage?

So I’m trying out a version where she does get discovered, and has to talk (or trick) her way out of it.

I think it’ll be better, but it means I’ve got to invent three new characters, their personalities, and enough of their backstories to make them believable. Oh, and also make up what they were doing when they discovered the POV character, and how they go about it.

Not to mention getting the POV character to tell me how she escapes from the mess she’s now in.

I’m telling myself that it’ll all be worth it once I’ve got the new version done…But until then, it’s slow progress each day, as I spend more time outlining now than setting words on the page.