1,022 Days (or “But I Need to Suffer for My Art!”)

I don’t wanna belabor the point, but this tweet got me thinking:

Part of the reason this story took so long to go from this first longhand page to hitting newsstands was because, over the course of the winter that followed that tweet, I was steadily loosing my mind

Since my adolescence I’ve always had seasonal affect issues, my mood steadily sinking until February—I’m from Michigan; Bob Hicok famously characterizes us as “a people who by February / want to kill the sky for being so gray“—then rebounding with the thaw.  Lots of people are like that, especially here; no big.  But that year the mood never rebounded; it just sank and sank and sank.  I ate more sugar and drank more coffee and skateboarded as much as I could, and soldiered on.  But by summer the hole was too deep.  Once I’d slam a coffee and another coffee, eat some cookies, skate hard, and be OK.  But by July I’d skate so hard I was seeing stars and woozy, and 20 minutes later feel like crap and be desperate to go back to the skatepark.  My speech was getting slow and ponderous, my behavior erratic.  I got in a fight with my wife over something—I can’t even recall what, something our son had done—and lost my temper.  I don’t remember what I said, just that I was in the backyard screaming, my chest collapsing, so angry I was dry-heaving and chanting “I’m sick; I’m sick; I’m sick.”

I didn’t want to be alive any more, but I couldn’t stand the idea of being separate from my children, and the thing running constantly in my head was how I could get careless enough to be killed in an accident where my life insurance would still pay off.  Then my family would be on easy street and not burdened by me; my kids would be able to afford college, my wife would own our house outright, and I wouldn’t have to be me anymore, because I wouldn’t have to be at all.  And being, it had become apparent, was my core problem.

PRO-TIP: If you need to quickly diagnose depression that has become dangerous, just ask them:  “If you could push a button and have never existed at all, would you do it?  No pain, no trauma, no one mourning you, just *poof!* and you never were.”

If the answer is “Yeah, sure,” then that person needs to talk to a doctor very, very soon.

At any rate, by the time I had that screaming fit I had already made an appointment to talk to a doctor—something that I’d kept a secret for reasons I can’t really explain any more, because they make no fucking sense; I’d made that appointment under false pretenses, telling my doctor I’d re-injured my ankle—the whole point is that nothing I was doing then made a lot of sense.

But part of that logic had to do with this poisonous, murderous goddamn myth we have that taking meds for your psychiatric illnesses is somehow “weak” or “unnatural” or damages the purity of your artistic fucking whatever.

I wrote 50,000 words of stories while my brain was collapsing that just aren’t much of anything.  I sat on revisions of my novella “Where There is Nothing, There is God” (which was in Asimov’s in 2016, and was a finalist for the Asimov’s Award) for a goddamn *year.*  I’d sent it around, got feedback from Ann VanderMeer at Tor and C.C. Finlay at F&SF—really good advice, advice that ultimately made it the strong story it was—and then did nothing for a full calendar year.  I wrote “There Was a Crooked Man…”, put it through my writing group, got great feedback, and then just sat on it.

And I have no idea why. 

Or, more to the point, I know precisely why: Because my brain had drifted from doing a fairly crappy job of managing serotonin to not really bothering to manage it at all. 

I started taking 50mg of Sertraline every morning about two years ago (with the ongoing support of a psychiatrist).  It’s cheap, I haven’t suffered major side effects, it’s been really good for my personal relationships, and has spared my wife and children having to plan and attend my funeral—and it’s done fuckall to harm my “art”:

This story, “There Was a Crooked Man…”, saw the better part of its Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, July/Aug 2017revision after I went on meds.  The last three pieces I’ve sold—Expiration Date, “Whatever Comes After Calcutta” (forthcoming in F&SF) and “In the Sharing Place” (sold to Asimov’s)—were entirely written on anti-depressants.  These latest pieces are among the best work I’ve done, precisely because (*SPOILER ALERT!*) it’s a lot easier to do good work when you aren’t struggling to keep being alive.

If you need help, please get help.  Needing psych meds is no more a moral failing than needing a cast when you break your leg, and seeing a therapist isn’t touchy-feely “snowflake” BS any more than seeing a physical therapist after you wreck your car is touchy-feely bullshit.  Your brain got injured, you need some medicine and therapy to get it back on track; that’s fine.  Go do that thing.  Don’t waste ~300 days that you could spend Getting Things Done or hanging out with your kids or having a beer or reading or playing video games.  Go get well; if that’s not possible (because, the fact is, it often isn’t), at least get better.

OMFG awesome things are happening in Rustbelt hiphop!!!

  • Tunde Olaniran: OMFG, Tunde Olaniran!  From the sadly infamous Flint, MI, Tunde Olaniran is superfantastically trans-everything.  Go listen to Transgressor and then buy it and then listen to it again and again and again.  I seriously absolutely equally love every single track on that album.
  • iRAWniq: Another Michigander, she has a fun mixtape, but I’m sorta preferring her more polished EP Black Girls on Skateboards, and the single “Cunt”
  • Passalacqua: I’m still exploring these guys, both from Detroit; been loving everything I’ve tried by them. This mixtape is a low-risk place to start, but I’m leaning more toward their albums CHURCH and Passalacqua, and the Banglatown EP.
  • Noname: This poet/rapper from Chicago is awesome, the natural inheritor of the crown Lauren Hill dropped after releasing The Miseducation of Lauren Hill.  Noname’s Telefono mixtape is absolutely mandatory listening.  Go grab it now!  Hell, at the very least go right now and listen to track number one (“Yesterday“) and tell me you don’t absolutely love Noname without reservation.  GO!

Here’s some poppy Tunde to play us out:

FREE READ FRIDAY: The first three chapters of EXPIRATION DATE, and more!

Looking for that perfect comic-dystopic-romantic sci-fi beach read? ExpirationDate You’re in luck: The first three chapters of my novella Expiration Date are now available online (in both slick-as-hella web versions, and some pretty damn fine looking PDFs, perfect for offline, ebook, and tablet reading—just clicking on the “Print” button to open and save the PDF for that chapter.  As an example, here’s the chapter 1 PDF.) And don’t worry, this isn’t a cheap tease: All nine chapters will be released, free to read, one each week for the rest of the summer.

If you want some inside-baseball about the novella, you can check out this interview with Gabie at Tea End blog.

Your EXPIRATION DATE has arrived! **UPDATE**

(UPDATE: Same great post, now with the correct date for the event: June 28, 7pm)

ExpieDate-banner

Good news, everyone:  My latest novella—Expiration Date—is available free online this summer!  Here’s the official blurb:

This science fiction “till death do we part” story follows young Lizzie and Bram in a relationship on fast-forward. Armed with the knowledge of her scientific discovery, Granny Gin burdens the couple with the question “What would you do, if you knew your end was near?”

First chapter went live early this morning; check it out!  New chapters every week.

But wait!  There’s more: The official book-release kick-off party is next week:

  • WHEN: June 28 @ 7pm
  • WHERE:  Ann Arbor District Library Pittsfield Branch, 2359 Oak Valley Dr, Ann Arbor, MI 48103
  • WHAT: A reading, some chit-chat, free tea and snackies from the sponsors, Arbor Teas, and free high-fives from me! 
  • DETAILS: Expiration Date Book Launch Event

See you there!

SKATEBOARDING LESSON 0: The First Noble Truth

Sideshow Bob: [chuckling] Mr. Simpson, you are forgetting the first two noble truths of the Buddha.

Homer Simpson: I am not!

For those who slept through Buddhism 101—or failed to see The Simpsons Episode 8F20 (season three, episode 21, first aired April 9, 1992)—the First Noble Truth of the Buddha is this:

There is suffering. 

Which isn’t such a revelation at first glance, but like a lot of things with the Buddha, the big reveal isn’t in what he’s said, but what he’s omitted:

The First Noble Truth is not: There is suffering because you’ve done bad things.

     nor is it: There is suffering because you didn’t try hard enough.

     nor is it: There is suffering because you are a screw-up.

     nor is it: There is suffering because man is born of Original Sin.

     nor is it: There is suffering because God is dead!

     nor is it: There is suffering because God is a jerk!

     nor is it: There is suffering because there was never any God!

There is no “because” at all.  It’s a simple statement of fact that should be obvious, but which we all deny on a daily basis: There is suffering.  There just is.  Often with no one to blame.  Often for no reason at all.  And that’s fine; stop beating yourself up over it (which, handily, brings us to the Second Noble Truth—Suffering is born of craving and desire and clinging to How Things Should Be—which is important, but not really germane to skateboarding).

I bring this up because I need to share something with you:

If you are an adult person getting on a skateboard,

YOU ARE GOING TO GET HURT.

Full stop, no ifs, no becauses, no unless, no provisos.

If you are really careful… YOU WILL STILL GET HURT.

If you always wear your pads… YOU WILL STILL GET HURT.

If you are lucky or unlucky, careless or stupid, cautious or clever…YOU WILL GET HURT.

It might be minor or major, might land you in the ER or sit you on your sofa for an afternoon with ice on your knee, but one way or the other YOU ARE GONNA GET HURT.

… and that’s fine.  If is fine and just and right that you will be injured, because, as the Buddha and Sideshow Bob remind us, There is Suffering.

Every time I start talking to someone my age about the fact that I returned to skateboarding at 36, they voice admiration, and then something like envy, and always lurking around is the sentence “I’d break my neck if I tried that!”

And the thing is, while you will certainly get hurt, you probably won’t break your neck.  There is, as it turns out, quite a distance between hurt and crippled, and even a further reach to dead.  I’ve seen folks take tremendous falls and pop right back up, I’ve seen—and taken—minor falls that have turned out to be sprained ankles and broken wrists and concussions.  I’ve seen—and worn—bruises every color of any Michigan sunset in any season.  I’ve seen plenty of broken bones, but not a single death or black out.

So let me share with you something my doctor told me when I told her I’d taken up with skateboarding—on the visit I scheduled as a follow-up after a trip to the ER:

“Good.  Keep it up.”

Her rationale: If you are an adult American, than it is almost certain that you aren’t getting nearly enough exercise.  And—Noble Truth alert!—you aren’t likely to start getting more exercise as you continue aging.  So, in the absence of everything else, the choice here isn’t between taking a risk by jumping on a skateboard and playing it safe by not doing so:  Not getting enough exercise absolutely guarantees a shorter life with degraded quality.  Absolutely, with no exceptions.  Full stop.

Getting on the skateboard?  You’ll get hurt, but you won’t die.  And, hell, I regularly hang with a 70-year-old dude at my local skatepark.  Does he tear it up?  Nope; he cruises around, carving on the transitions, working on dropping on.  But he’s having hella fun, and I’ve seen him take big falls and pop right back up.

Continue reading “SKATEBOARDING LESSON 0: The First Noble Truth”

Experience the Power of the Slinky Sound Forest at Penguicon 2017

I’ll be at Penguicon again this year (April 28–30).  But instead of just sitting on a few panels and mooching a lot of free drinks, I wanted to do something extra special.  So this year I’m spending the entire weekend building something extra special for you to experience and interact with—and for the Slinkies to finally be heard.

Won’t you join me—and the Slinkies—before it’s too late?

Continue reading “Experience the Power of the Slinky Sound Forest at Penguicon 2017”

Simple DIY Guitar Stompbox Demo: Seeing is Believing; Be Hear Now (pun!)

A reader recently asked for audio samples of a few projects from my first book, so I made this quick lil video:

(Daaaaamn does that fuzz tone wail—and it’s literally ~$5 in parts!)

You might need headphones to hear the detail on the straight tremolo, but the throb becomes really pronounced at the end when I chain the two effects together.

In the process of uploading that demo video, I stumbled across this guy’s build of the Single-Chip Space Invader synth from my most recent book.  Oh, man, do I love that Star Wars lunchbox he used as a case! So rad!

Any of this look rad?  You can download a “jam pack” of complete projects drawn from both books. Click here now to get your free Junkyard Jam Pack PDF!

Handmade Synths from Junkyard Jammers!

I love, love, love(!!!) seeing and hearing the projects my readers build, and sharing them with folks thinking about how they want to tackle these same projects.  First up is Jason Jaknunas’s take on the Bleepbox 8-Step Analog Sequencer (Project 16 in Junkyard Jam Band)—which is easily the best version of this I’ve ever seen (it totally leaves mine in the dust, and I designed the damn thing!)

Everything is just so sweet and just-right here: the knobs, the brushed aluminum label, the wood cheeks, the grommets padding out the LEDs, the labels—but also the little things, the visual balance among the elements, the use of different sizes of knob on different functions.  Give it a look, then give it a listen.  So rad!

An absolutely lovely Bleepbox built by Jason Jaknunas
An absolutely lovely Bleepbox built by Jason Jaknunas

Arthur Lacomme in Brussels, who I’ve linked before, sent me a link to a rad lil Single-Chip Space Invader (Project 15 in Junkyard Jam Band) he built. Click thru to hear this bad boy; such chiptune joy!  Arthur and his pals have plans to hit an upcoming “wild carnival” with some noise-enhanced clothing.  I look forward to seeing and sharing video!

Single-Chip Space Invader by Arthur Lacomme
Single-Chip Space Invader by Arthur Lacomme

Keep seeking out the Good Noise!  Keep sharing what you find!

A Grab Bag of Human Music Technologies

Girl totally rocks the original “Super Mario” medley (complete with coins and power-ups!) on a sheng, sounds like she totally belongs in the Mos Eisley Catina Band:

A robot plays a pop hit (I love the rhythmic element that the robot’s motors and gears bring to the song):

Props to Arthur Lacomme for pointing me to this one featuring “Mr. Curly” (which is the instrument, not the dude playing it).  I love that watering-can clarinet Pollack demos around 1:45! 

(Arthur also recommends the open-source Rakarrack software package, which he uses when he rocks his Mr. Curley.)

This one is pretty interesting if you stick with it; what you no doubt initially take to be a precursor to the 8-track is playing cartridges loaded with ribbon-based analog records(!!!).  The macro-lens bit at around 5:20 gives you an example of both the sound (pretty damn solid) and the mechanism (OMFG! Wünderbar!)  Hilarious remote control, too.

And then there’s this guy:

chordophone-lyre-plucked
My beautiful picture

(FYI, that caption was Wordpress’s suggested—and I love it!!!)

o_O  The thing that makes this one, for me, is how the strings are anchored in the eye sockets(!!!)  The Met has several of thesefrom different generous donors and almost certainly different artisans—and they all use the eye sockets and brow ridge as a saddle and bridge.  Humans, amiright?

N.B. that, according to current expert opinion, this thing—which is indeed from Central Africa, where it was crafted in the 19th C by a native artisan—was produced for no other purpose than to sell something fantastically “primitive” and “savage” to European tourists/anthropologists (and thus inform European opinions of these nations and, in all likelihood, form the foundation of the moral justifications for brutal colonialism).  I invite the reader to meditate on their own how this might mirror our current situation with imported polarizing/fake news, and who the greater savage might be: The supplier who makes the ersatz evidence, or the customer who furnishes the demand and shells out the cash?