Me Versus Technology

A problem has been detected and Windows has been shut down to prevent damage to your computer by Stewf on FlickrIf the machines ever take over. If the computers ever become self aware. If, you know, the Terminator story-line ever comes about, I will be mankind’s last hope.

Not because I’m some sort of munitions expert or natural leader or strategist. I’m probably the exact opposite if anything.

And yet there will be elite teams of SEALS and Army Rangers training in hidden underground bunkers with the sole goal of getting me behind the machines’ lines and in front of the mother computer. They’ll secure the area, lock down the room, set up perimeters, and then they will sit me down in front of the link-up or whatever to the AI thingy and tell me to perform a simple task in Microsoft Word.

Within minutes word will start trickling in that the machines are beginning to lose ground on the battlefield. While I’m desperately trying to orient a picture the way I want it in a table, more lines of communications will open up from previously dark sectors of the planet. While I start digging through the forums for similar problems, intelligence networks the world over will announce that they again have control of their systems. And when I begin to download patches and reconfigure things I don’t understand, the machines will shudder in their last gasp before the uprising collapses in ruin.

Which is to say that I fucked my computer in its ass earlier this week. I spent seven hours on Monday, seven straight hours, trying to fix some weird static burst I kept getting in my sound. I have no idea when this burst first appeared, I just know that sitting down to work on Monday I found it too annoying to focus with. And then the ritual started. The attempts to use Windows’ innate trouble-shooting to no avail, then the attempts to Google the problem, then forums and forums and more forums, following advice I don’t understand for reasons I don’t quite grasp, the problem always seemingly fixable, yet progress never actually being made.

I don’t understand computers, but for some reason handing mine over to an expert to fix is anathema to me. It’s a taboo. All my friends mock that notion, they insist that the forums contain endless wisdom and that adjusting my IRC (or something) ports isn’t really that hard. I shouldn’t pay someone to do this work when it’s so easily doable on my own.

Which is just…ugh. For fuck’s sake I could technically make plastic on my own if I felt like reading and experimenting and learning enough. But if my computer’s case cracks, nobody ever suggests that I fabricate a new one from scratch. Why can’t I call in the experts when I clearly have no idea what I’m doing?

Mac findet kein OS by davidak from FlickrI found myself examining this whole notion quite a bit recently and I have come up with a possible explanation.

To begin with, this is my work. I work at my computer. This is not my den or my man cave or my place-to-check-what-else-that-actor-has-been-in-while-watching-TV. Now, some of these people who insist that all computer problems are fixable are, in fact, good with computers. But most are not. They do what I do, but they do this at home. At work when their computer breaks they probably tinker for a bit and then call Tech Support. Probably without blinking. Probably, even, without ever questioning their absurd shunning of such outside help when their home computer breaks, or even linking the two events in their mind.

A work computer is not a home computer.

And, for most of my friends, their home computer is like their home sink, or their home toilet, or their home closet. There’s some innate desire to take care of one’s home, to be able to take care of one’s home. Heads of households’ have been fucking up their plumbing since time out of mind in attempts to fix it themselves, keep their home their castle, and disavow the notion that outsiders are needed.

Frankly it’s like a hobby for a lot of them. They don’t care if they come home and tinker with their computer and get nowhere. It’s somehow soothing for them. It’s just their home computer.

I mean, my cable box has been out of sorts for almost a year now. It skips and gets choppy and freezes, and I don’t care. I never blink. If it becomes utterly un-watchable then I’ll trade it in, but I put up with an absurd amount of broken-ness with the devices that are part of my couch life as opposed to those that are part of my work life.

I think that was a big leap for me. My home desktop computer is my work space. I always sort of knew this but I never drew the line too clearly. When it started getting funky I’d start digging through the forums, a task akin to, like, fourteenth century medicine. I mean I sit there reading posts from people who clearly don’t speak English explaining to me that they adjusted their registry and that seemed to fix a similar problem. The registry? What registry? When did I start running a Bed and Breakfast?

And, so, I spent seven hours on Monday chasing my tail.

I have a book to write, a website to run, art to critique, a commission to consider, emails to reply to, ads to design, data to study, a convention to prepare for, etc.

And I wasted my entire Monday pretending I had a clue.

First thing Tuesday morning I brought my computer in to the Geek Squad. I don’t care anymore.

If the time comes when cyborgs take over the world’s capitals, then perhaps I will dust off my keyboard and once again sift through the forums.

But until then?

Until then I’m retired from tech support.

The Tale of Joseph Devon and NYCC

comic books, bagged and boarded by arellis49 from FlickrSo the New York Comic Convention is coming. It’s about a month away. And I have purchased tickets.

In the past I have attempted to boost sales through conventions, but I did so by hiring my friend Tracy to man tables or spread the word about my books. I’ve never attended a convention myself. This is because me and crowds are not on friendly terms. And me plus crowds plus travelling plus most likely rooming with someone to save on hotel costs…yeah that’s sort of a big leap.

And the notion of sending someone else in my stead still seems like a viable option, but while that was happening we were mainly experimenting with smaller conventions to get a sense of what might work. We decided that larger conventions, without a real game plan, would probably contain too much noise to get any sort of signal across.

It never occurred to me to look into the large conventions in my area…I had a bit of a blind spot there. I mean, why not buy tickets? I can attend from the safe jumping off point of my own apartment, so that’s a huge plus. I can bail if I start to feel overwhelmed by the crowd, which is an even bigger plus. And, frankly, tickets were way less expensive than I expected.

I only have two reservations about my ticket purchase.

First concerns the general nature of this entire experiment I’m running with my work. Everything I’m doing here: the plodding along with nonprofessional marketing, the DIY of every element, the constant stopping to reassess and examine, all of that is because my goal here is not just to break as an author, it’s to understand how it is that authors break. And the reason for that is because I want to be able to turn around to the author in line behind me and say, “Hey. So here’s what I did. Tiny step by tiny step. Here’s where I saw results. Here’s a decent game plan for you.”

I’m trying to build a mechanism.

So, why would I have reservations about branching out into conventions personally?

Crowd by Andrew Pescod from FlickrBecause this is something I never would have done a few years ago. Hell, I’m not sure I’d have been ready for this one year ago (or this year). There’s a lot of psychology and history and whatever behind that statement, but I can sum it up like this: I didn’t start sitting down and writing three-hundred page books in utter solitude because I love being the center of attention. Quite the opposite.

And I imagine that many struggling authors out there feel the same way. If we loved crowds, we’d have become public speakers. If we could express what we wanted to express in social settings, we probably wouldn’t type so many stories with no one around.

Now, granted, there are plenty of authors out there with Rachael Ray-esque personalities.  But that’s not who I’m trying to build my mechanism for. If you have the personality of Rachael Ray then you don’t need my help. You also probably will never write anything I’d want to read, though, either.

I’m trying to figure out how authors very similar to me can market books, and if attending a convention is something I, myself, would have a hard time doing, then it feels somehow wrong to incorporate it into the list of suggestions for other authors.

That being said, I am going to give it a shot, and I think that’s partly because over the last few years the audience I’ve built up has slowly begun to raise my level of confidence. So maybe it all fits together after all. Early steps are to find scraps of an audience. And a later step is to let that audience lead you to places where you’ll feel welcome. Or maybe I’ll step into the convention hall and immediately break into a cold sweat on the first day and never go back.

Point being, I would very much like any steps I take in marketing to be easily follow-able by authors similar to me. And that puts attending conventions in an odd gray area.

The second reservation I have is that this is a comic convention and my proven conversion rate so far has been with gamers. But I do think there’s enough overlap between those crowds for this to be worthwhile. I would draw a Venn Diagram but I can’t draw.

Plus, it’ll give me some sense of what even goes on at a convention. I have no idea if I’ll manage to hand out a single business card, but at some point this first time has to happen and I think I want to go and see what’s up.

So, I’m tentatively looking to be in attendance at the New York Comic Convention next month.

At least I know my t-shirts will fit in…

Some Thoughts On September 11th

I have a friend, he was a roommate at the time, J, who walked out of the  second tower from around the hundredth floor on 9/11.

After the first plane struck they told people to remain calm and stay where they were. J worked, as I said, on the hundredth floor of the second tower. A buddy of his said to hell with it. Let’s ignore the messages to stay put. Let’s look like idiots. Let’s get made fun of tomorrow for walking down one hundred flights of stairs for no reason. J and his buddy rounded up a few others who agreed and they started walking.

J was in the stairwell when everything shook. That was the second plane hitting the building he was in, luckily about forty stories higher than where he was.

This isn’t exactly about him. But there are certain anchors for my thoughts about 9/11 and he’s one of them. It’d be impossible for me to talk about that day without including him.

Five of us, all in our early twenties, were living in an apartment on Thirtieth and Madison. I was home with one of the other roommates watching on TV. At first it was a novelty. There was talk on the news when word first got out about a glider that had hit some building years earlier in a freak accident and how it looked like maybe that had happened again. Nobody had quite gotten a sense of the size of the flaming gash the first plane had made.

The second plane got everyone’s attention. All the cameras were on the towers at that point and most people can remember seeing it bank in, the size of it all disproportionate because planes weren’t supposed to look that large flying against the skyline.

When J finally managed to call us and let us know he was okay, I asked him if he needed me to do anything for him, or if there was anyone he wanted me to call. Had he gotten in touch with his family?

He still pokes fun at me to this day for that. “Sure, Joe. My roommates were the first people I called. I hadn’t thought of calling my mom yet. It’s a good thing you reminded me.”

I let him have that. Now. In the years right after, though, I would try and explain.

There were five of us in one apartment. If you pool that many people together you can get a good amount of space in New York, something unheard of for people our age. We also lived on Thirtieth. I think everything below fourteenth was shut down. Tunnels and bridges were closed. So we were pretty far south as far as things went.

And with five of us, everyone had friends and family or whomever that were slowly streaming north in a weird dazed exodus from utter confusion.

Our living room was full of people I didn’t know. It was full of people I did know but hadn’t seen in years. One cousin came in and hugged me and sat down and realized she had walked from some ridiculous distance away in her heels, and she pulled her walking shoes out of her bag and changed, talking about yet another friend who had been stepping over bodies on the sidewalk on her way north.

This was eleven years ago. We had one land line. We had one computer in one of our bedrooms hooked up to the internet. Cell phones were common enough, though I didn’t have one at the time, and even then the cell towers were over capacity. Most people making outgoing calls on their cells just got a recording saying that service was down. Our land line was constantly in use by the swarm of people in our apartment to call loved ones and let them know that they were safe. And a lot of those calls were met with recordings of service being down, so they’d move on to the next number on their mental list and call that, just to get word out to somebody that they were okay and let that person spread the word from there.

I didn’t get in touch with my parents until I remembered about email later on in the day.

That was eleven years ago.

God I hate saying that. That’s one of the most annoying parts of today. Big events, huge events, they don’t come along in life that often. But every year on the eleventh of September every outlet of communication is flooded with reminders of today, of how long it’s been, of how much time has passed.

I do that anyway.

I mark time.

Or I used to. I would take careful stock of what happened when and tie events together and say, “Oh right, B must have happened after A because I was dating Soandso during A, but not B.”

And I hated it. I try not to think like that anymore. It’s annoying constantly being reminded of how much time has passed. Counting years like that. It’s depressing. It never fails to make me feel like I’ve wasted the year. I’d much rather spend my time than mark it. But that was something I used to compulsively do, mark time, and every year this damn day would come along and remind me that another 31,557,600 seconds had gone by.

Did I use them correctly?

Not that I’m saying there shouldn’t be markers for this day. I understand the notion of “Never Forget.”

It’s just, you know, I have to imagine that there are plenty of people like me who wanted to do nothing but forget. Or maybe get to a place where it could be remembered without being relived. The phrase “Never Forget” doesn’t have a lot of room for that concept.

I walked outside and looked down Fifth Avenue at one point that day. I had been sitting and watching the news for what seemed like forever and the notion that all of the shit happening on the screen was actually happening nearby flooded my head and I wandered outside to Fifth Avenue and I looked south. I could see smoke and dust and clearly something happening. And sirens of course. I could hear sirens. I was still about fifty blocks away, mind you. But sirens were everywhere. Sirens haven’t sounded the same since.

I watched and it was real, but it was jumbled and made no sense.

I went back to my place and the news was saying that one of the towers had collapsed. My mind immediately rejected that notion. I can remember saying to anyone who would listen, “Oh, they must mean the foundation has somehow shifted or something like that.”

That the towers would fall wasn’t even a possibility. The story was supposed to be winding down, not getting worse.

That’s what I remember, though. One of the things. Back when I would have given anything to forget. Me standing on Fifth Avenue looking s0uth and seeing all that chaos, and then coming back inside and hearing that a tower had collapsed.

I had stood on Fifth Avenue and watched a few thousand people die.

Back when it was still alive in my head I would think about that the most. Now that there’s some distance, I still think about it plenty.

I think about how all of my friends and I went wandering around that afternoon to try and give blood, but everywhere we went was already packed.

I think about J, making fun of me because I offered to call his mom, like he hadn’t thought of that yet. He was one of a handful of people at his firm that had opted to leave. The number of funerals he attended in the next few weeks was well into the double digits and a lot of them were combined memorials. He had just avoided plummeting one hundred stories to his death on a whim.

I think about waking up that night on my couch to the worst sounds I’ve ever heard. I had fallen asleep with the TV on and the news had just received footage of the first plane hitting from some pedestrian with a video camera who was only a few blocks away. They didn’t edit it or anything, the news just let it play. The planes look like they’re almost going slow in a lot of footage shown. Planes do that. You look at a plane in the sky and it seems to be lazily moving along. It’s hard to get a sense of the fact that it’s travelling at five-hundred miles per hour. I woke up in a panic to the noise of a plane shrieking into the first tower and then everyone around screaming and crying. It took me a long time to realize it was only on the TV. My girlfriend at the time came out a few minutes later and plucked me by the hand and wondered why I wasn’t in bed.

I went to a wedding the next weekend. People were still grounded and unable to fly so the crowd was small. The band played forever while everyone danced like crazy and then thanked they us at the end. It was the first time they had smiled in days.

I went to work at the piers where the steel and debris were being offloaded from the island later that month. Though that’s probably another post.

It just goes on and on.

Hell, navigating the city suddenly made no sense. When you pop out of the subway, you look around for a landmark to get oriented. I still walk the wrong way getting out of the subway downtown.

When it’s on my mind I look at pictures of my nieces and nephews and find it hard to believe how old they are, and yet they weren’t even born yet.

Something that big, it touches everything. The bad parts of it can touch everything if you let it.

It’s best not to let it.

I don’t know. I have no point here. I didn’t set out to write a post with some big point.

I just see a lot of other people’s thoughts on this day and I guess they never seem to quite match up with my own, so I thought I would add mine to the mix.

No point. Just thoughts.


Writing in Pieces

Puzzle by ellajphillips from FlickrI have never written a book in any other manner than by starting at the beginning and plowing through until I’ve reached the end. Then I stand back and rewrite, occasionally swapping scenes around for better impact and flow, but the overall structure has always been present at the onset.

For my current book I seem to be a very different writer. I sit down for my writing time in the morning and just write. The scenes have been good, very good, and I’m quite happy with them. The problem is I have no idea why I’m writing them. They are, absolutely and utterly, all over the place.

I can’t tell if this is good or not.

This book is different for me, for a lot of reasons, so there’s something to be said for the fact that maybe the writing process should be different.

Likewise, even though I have sat down with an initial structure for all my other books, that structure has morphed and warped drastically during the writing process. It’s just that once a book solidifies in my head, all previous possibilities of how that book might have gone disappear. I look at early notes for my books sometimes and I have no idea what they mean, they refer to things that no longer exist any more, or even have the possibility of existing because the book has been set in print in a different way.

So maybe the notion that I used to start with a set structure is flawed.

But…seriously? This feels crazy different, if not terrifying. Am I just rambling with no point? Or am I a more relaxed writer?

Am I crafting a never ending series of puzzle pieces that will never fit together? Or am I excavating a story, brushing off dirt layer by layer and finding an outcropping and there, but nothing tying it all together yet?

I’m obviously hoping for the latter but I honestly do not recognize the writer who sits down at this keyboard in the morning anymore.

Strange times indeed.