This topic was suggested by my mother-in-law, Janet Mueller!
I am not a therapist, counselor, or a psychologist, so I don’t know if I’m qualified to write this post with any authority. So I’ll write with without authority, and you can just accept that.
First, an observation. When I was doing an image search for the term “self acceptance” to use as the header of this blog post, I found a LOT of clip art featuring women, and only one or two featuring men. I don’t think that’s deliberate; I think that there’s still a lot of stigma surrounding the improvement of mental and emotional health, and that stigma hits men particularly hard. Real men don’t go to therapy. Real men don’t need to self-actualize. Real men don’t have to take anti-depressants or anti-anxiety meds. Real men work through it all; heck, I saw a Twitter X post from a “REAL MAN” (in his bio, along with the fact that he was a God-loving Christian) who proudly stated that when his father died, he didn’t even go to the funeral; he went to work. Is this healthy? I’m going to say no.
The point, though, is that I had to dig a bit to find a bit of clip art that I thought was gender-neutral enough to include at the top of this blog post.
Self acceptance is hard. We talk a lot about having to accept our limits when we consider our dreams and our fantasies about what we want to do and about the changes we want to make in the world, and this too is considered “self acceptance”.
I think it’s important to accept your limits, of course, but it’s also important to realize where your limits are. And they probably aren’t as nearby as you think. I probably won’t ever win the Nobel Peace Prize, but I may, if I try hard, be able to write a novel that features a post-scarcity, post-colonial civilization that is intent on making reparations to the peoples it has harmed. This is pretty ambitious. I’ve actually been thinking about this for several years as part of a Big Secret Writing Project that, unfortunately, never got off the ground. It still percolates in the back of my mind, but it probably won’t get written anytime soon.
So: accepting yourself means not just accepting your limitations, but also your possibilities. Acknowledge the things you can’t do, but also bear in mind those things you might do, if you wish.
As Marianne Williamson wrote, in a passage frequently misattributed to Nelson Mandela:
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate,. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn’t serve the world.
This, I argue, is what self acceptance really is: the acceptance of your possibilities, not just your limitations.
Follow me for more wisdom!
Today’s recommendation is the movie Zom 100: Bucket List of the Dead. I’m talking the live-action film on Netflix, not the anime or the manga. Jennifer and I saw this movie recently, and it delighted us both, and I loved its themes of self-acceptance, of friendship, and finding meaning in life, even in a zombie apocalypse. Plus, there’s no stupid love triangle or romantic subplot to distract from the zombie-squishing goodness! We saw the English dubbed version, but you can also watch it in Japanese with English subtitles. Highly recommended!
This topic was suggested by Lynne de Bie. Hi Lynne!
Like most people, I don’t remember all my dreams, but I do remember plenty of them. And the ones I do remember are often pretty intense, both in imagery and in emotion. I remember one dream I had before I was ten years old which featured an evil floating carrot. I remember a dream I had a few years ago which featured time traveling pirates constantly asking, “What era of human history is this?” Last night I dreamed of a cafe I used to work at and the people there (more on that some other time).
Sometimes I have hypnogogic hallucinations, which are weird brain events that happen while you’re drifting off to sleep but haven’t quite made it there yet. Usually, I just hear three knocks on the wall behind me or at the door. I did a little research into this, and it turns out this is pretty common; so common that there’s folklore and superstition surrounding it. If you hear three knocks as you’re drifting off to sleep, it’s an omen that someone is going to die. I don’t believe in omens, but I do find it interesting.
Sometimes I have hypnopompic hallucinations, which are the opposite: weird brain events that happen as you’re waking up but haven’t quite exited the dream state and your body is still paralyzed from sleep. In these events, scary things can happen; I remember vividly having a ghost with a mirror for a face climb into the bed next to me and terrifying me. Usually when these happen, I spend a few seconds trying to talk but being unable to, until I’m finally able to let out a scream or incoherent words and startling both Jennifer and the cats awake. I don’t think they’re impressed.
Sometimes I will post my more vivid dreams on Facebook, recreating the people, places, and events to the best of my recollection (which isn’t always very accurate). Usually, a friend suggests that these dreams would make a great story or novel or at least a twist in my work in progress. And often I agree.
But it rarely happens. I mean, I’ve never written a story that features an evil floating giant carrot, I’ve never written about time-traveling pirates, and I’ve certainly never written about a ghost with a mirror for a face. I’m sitting here now and trying to figure out why I don’t do this.
Part of this is that dreams are often derivative. Time traveling pirates who ask at each destination “What era of human history is this?” reminds me of Terry Gilliam’s fantastic 1981 movie Time Bandits crossed with the Futurama episode “The Late Philip J. Fry”.
I have occasionally dreamed of writing itself, though such dreams usually involve being unable to find a particularly brilliant story that I have written. How tragic! And some of those stories have magical abilities, too, such as being able to heal diseases in the people who read them.
So all in all… There isn’t much of a connection between my writing and my dreams that I am consciously aware of, though I am sure one exists.
Today’s recommendation is a television show, and it is a Korean action series called “Zombieverse.” It is about a bunch of reality TV stars who are trapped in a zombie apocalypse in Seoul and have to survive. It can be annoying at times, but on the whole I enjoyed it. Currently it is streaming on Netflix.
Another topic suggested by Brian C. E. Buhl! Hello again, Brian!
First of all, a big welcome to the readers who came here from the Just Keep Writing podcast newsletter! And a huge thanks to the hosts of Just Keep Writing for linking to my blog! This podcast, in case you aren’t aware, is a great one for writers, with a diverse set of hosts and a wide array of topics. A few months ago, they did a read-along of Charlie Jane Anders’s wonderful Never Say You Can’t Survive; currently, they are reading along in Matt Bell’s Refuse to be Done.
You may have noticed that I don’t necessarily blog about writing every single day. Yesterday’s post on my favorite sandwich wasn’t about writing. I’ll do better at finding ways to bring writing into the day’s topic.
In today’s post, I use a lot of terms familiar to old-timey gamers, like Player Character and Non-Player Character, that may not be familiar to non-gamers. If you find yourself faced with one of these terms and want to know what it means, just ask me here or on Facebook, and I’ll do my best to enlighten you.
Gaming, when I was in high school and college all those years ago, meant primarily table-top role-playing games, such as Twilight: 2000, Call of Cthulhu, Boot Hill, and, of course, the giant in the playground, Dungeons and Dragons. If you were a gamer, you probably played one of these, or maybe you played a Steve Jackson card game like Car Wars. These days, if you’re a gamer, you probably play video games, either on your PC or on your console of choice.
I use the first definition. I’m an old-time gamer. I started playing Dungeons and Dragons in my junior year of high school, occasionally DMing a game, occasionally playing, but none of us really knew what we were doing. I really got into it in 1986 in my first year of college, with a couple of friends who were also heavy duty gamers. I started my first campaign in 1987, and ran it for many years; I’ve run several campaigns in Dungeons and Dragons, and later Pathfinder, since. Most of them were in the same campaign setting which I detailed in meticulous notes that I still have a thick black binder. My current game is set in the 18th century Caribbean and features pirates.
So, that’s the perspective I think of when I think of gaming and writing.
I know that lots of writers credit role-playing games (RPGs, or TTRPGs — Table Top Role-Playing Games) with learning the craft of writing. Playing a character in someone’s campaign can give you deep insight into that character and how characters in general are created and how they work, while running a campaign can give you the same insight (since you’re probably playing a bunch of NPCs —Non-Player Characters), as well as a deep dive into worldbuilding and story generation, especially if you run a homebrew campaign instead of a pre-made module.
For me, though, things were a little different.
My DMing style is what like to call “Reactionary Improvisational”, which means that I pretty much make up the storyline and the ongoing world in reaction to what the players do during the game and the questions they ask. I may create a puzzle without a solution, for example, and simply trust when I’m running the game that there would be fix or six smart players who would come up with a solution that I think works. Or, as my friend Dezzy once put it, I might have an orc in a battle with a halberd, and when questioned about it I would not only give a detailed and interesting answer, but I would by the next session have a detailed culture built for the orcs that includes their using their halberds as weapons of honor in certain types of battle.
It’s all improvisational, in other words. I mean, I learned much about worldbuilding, and happily created worlds and scenarios for games of all sorts. Did I learn about plotting and character? That’s a difficult question for me to answer, since everything I’ve ever done was pretty much improvisational. My games were led, plotwise, primarily by player actions, instead of having the plot guide the characters (but never forcing them onto a particular path, which is anathema to DMs). Thus, in my stories and novels, I tended, for a long time, to have passive characters who reacted to events around them rather than initiate them. I’ve definitely gotten better at this since it’s been pointed out to me by members of various writers’ groups and other readers and editors, but it’s something I still struggle with.
This is not to say that I regret in any way all that time I spent playing TTRPGs. I have friends I’ve known since high school that I wouldn’t have made without gaming, and I know that most people who played my games had a grand time (you can’t please everyone of course, and some people didn’t like them, which was always fine with me). And, of course, I have plenty of dear friends of over twenty years that I bonded with over our love of Dungeons and Dragons1, and I regret none of that. It’s also been pointed out to me that some of the puzzles I created for my sessions were deeply philosophical or moral ones, and the players really enjoyed solving them and learning from them.
So. Worldbuilding, yes. I learned a lot about that from my years playing TTRPGs. Characters with agency and plotting? Probably not so much.
Today I finished reading Kindred: Neanderthal Life, Love, Death, and Art, by Rebecca Wragg Sykes. I’ve always had a fondness for our Neanderthal cousins, whose DNA many of us share, and what the world was like for them. At many points it a dry read, and somewhat slow, but I recommend it highly if you’re at all interested in that sort of thing.
This topic was suggested by Chris Fairborn. Hi Chris!
First things first. Sorry I did not post yesterday; I had the best of intentions, but I wasn’t feeling well. If you followed the link on Saturday’s post to the Weird Al video, you know that I have a bad hernia, and sometimes it hurts like a bear. A big bear with sharp teeth. I’ve had it for awhile, and my doctor says there’s really nothing that can be done about it unless I lose a significant amount of weight.
Ahem. I may have a stern conversation with her at my next physical.
Anyway, on to the topic!
My favorite type of sandwich? Gotta be turkey. I love turkey sandwiches, even though my stomach has issues if I eat too much turkey in one sitting (let’s not go there). I especially love turkey sandwiches on sourdough rolls with plenty of lettuce, tomatoes, and mayonnaise. Maybe pickles. But plenty of turkey. My favorite purveyor of turkey sandwiches right now is Mr. Pickles, which I know is silly; it’s a chain restaurant, after all. But why not? The bread is fresh, the turkey is oven roasted, and so on.
I’m also fond of the vegetarian burgers they serve at Fox and Goose, so I’m not totally irredeemable.
But the best sandwich I’ve ever had was actually a hamburger. I get salivatey every time I think about it.
In 1995 or so, my girlfriend and I along with a mutual friend of ours journeyed to South Dakota in my girlfriend’s Toyota 4 X 4 pickup. We got into an accident just outside of a campsite near Yellowstone (aye, thereby hangs a tale, which I’ll tell some other time) which damaged the truck’s axle, leaving the truck pretty much undrivable for very long. A makeshift temporary repair later, we were able to make it to Cody, Wyoming, where the insurance company of the guy who hit us paid for our hotel stay and food and all that. We stayed in Cody for a few days while the replacement axle was shipped up from Denver, Colorado.
And that burger I mentioned?
I don’t recall the name of the hotel we stayed in, and I have no idea if it’s even still there, but it was across the street from a little restaurant whose name I can’t recall either. That restaurant served a HUGE burger. Half a pound of Angus beef, dripping with condiments, loaded with veggies, perfectly cooked to medium rare and seasoned with all kinds of just the right seasonings, and served up on a delicious Kaiser roll.
As I said: salivatey. Is that a word? It is now.
If I could go back to Cody and that restaurant and back in time to 1995, I would have another of those magnificent burgers. It may be more delicious in my memory than it actually was, but I’m not going to think about that. It was truly a transcendent sandwich.
There were other things that happened on that trip; it was the summer Jerry Garcia died, and it was the summer that saw the first airing of the infamous “Cornholio” episode of Beavis and Butthead. But the burger.
Excuse me, I’ve got to wipe the drool off my keyboard now.
Today’s book recommendation is The Drowning Empire trilogy: The Bone Shard Daughter, The Bone Shard Emperor, and The Bone Shard War, all by Andrea Stewart. And I won’t hesitate to drop names and say that Andrea is a friend of mine, and we go back years and years. I plan on riding her coattails when I finish my novel. Anyway. Go read these books. They’re fantastic!
This topic was suggested by Leigh Dragoon. Hi Leigh!
One of the reasons we fell in love with our neighborhood when we were fixing to leave Dixon was the huge elm trees lining the streets of the area. In particular, the trees in front of the house we bought were particularly lovely.
Over the past couple of years though, since February 2021, I have determined that our trees are jerks.
Take, for example, the incident in February 2021, when this happened:
Here’s a daytime image:
Yes, that huge branch fell off the elm tree to the right of our house, and totaled two cars! Bastard! And we had just gotten the red Prius to replace the old Honda Accord that we had donated to the SPCA. We had to buy a new car; fortunately we are in a position where could afford one, and the car insurance paid for it.
Now look at this jerk:
This isn’t the tree that dropped a branch on our cars. No, this is a different tree, but it is one of the two in front of our house. And while I was at BayCon over fourth of July weekend, Jennifer sent me these pictures:
Yep, the tree dropped a huge branch that extended across the street. Fortunately, no humans, houses or cars were harmed in this incident, but still. Jerk.
The city — because the trees technically belong to the city, not to us, thank God — came by and determined that the tree had to be cut down. Our neighbor was dubious and had an independent arborist come out and double check; and yep, the tree definitely had to come down.
To which I say, Ha!
Because once again, trees are jerks.
Here’s the stump of that tree:
Look at that heart rot! The rot at the tree’s heart! No wonder it hated us. I mean… Look at it.
In spite of the tree’s generally jerky behavior, we were sad to see it go. Its leaves spread all over the front of our house and provided valuable shade during the diabolically hot Sacramento summers. Now our AC runs more often and we end up closing the thick curtains over the living room window in the late afternoon.
I just hope the other trees in our neighborhood don’t get any ideas.
Today’s book recommendation is Little Witches: Magic in Concord, by my friend Leigh Dragoon. It’s a fun retelling of the old Little Women book by that badass Louisa May Alcott, but with magic! It’s not my usual fare, but I enjoyed my signed copy, and I recommend it to you.
This blog topic was suggested by Brian C. E. Buhl. Hi Brian!
I hesitate to dispense writing advice on this blog, since I’m not the most widely-known and widely-quoted of writers myself. Plenty of writers are out there, giving plenty of writing advice, and who am I to add my voice to the chaos?
And writing advice is so subjective as well. Chuck Wendig says that all writing advice is bullshit, after all. Though he’s written plenty of books on the craft of writing, it all, he says, boils down to two things: Writers write, and they finish what they write. So I guess that counts as the best writing advice I’ve received: Writers write, and they finish what they write. All the rest is bullshit and dross.
Nevertheless, there’s other advice out there that’s good and that’s bad, so let’s look at a couple of those pieces of advice.
Show, don’t tell. This piece of advice basically says that you should always show what’s going on in your story, showing the characters and their feelings, and so on, rather than simply saying it. So, for example, instead of saying, “Rob felt angry,” you should write, “Rob felt hot rage stir through his body” or something like that. But is this always the best approach? I argue that it is not. There are times when it’s best to simply state what’s going on in a scene, and move on. To show in detail every single aspect of a scene can become laborious and difficult for the reader.
Write what you know. This piece of advice is a cliche, and a dangerous one at that. It’s also a cliche to hate on this piece of advice, and to dismiss it entirely. When I was a kid, I was told I should pass on writing my epic fantasy trilogy and stick to writing “what I know”, but I wasn’t sure what that was supposed to be. I was in junior high at the time; should I have therefore written about junior high kids and the struggles they went through? I didn’t think so, because what I was going through at the time was pretty dull, in my opinion, and didn’t make for interesting reading.
In short: if we only write what we know, we won’t have stories about spaceships, elves, talking trees, and so on. Lord knows that snippet of advice stopped me from writing my story about a mad scientist who traveled in time in a time machine created in a VW bug, twenty years before Back to the Future.
Still, I think it’s worthwhile to unpack this bit of advice. Write what you know. Does it make sense to write about a serial killer when you’ve never been one? Well… We’ve all felt the sort of anger and rage that have led us to hate someone, even if that anger and rage haven’t extended to the desire to kill that person. Could we extrapolate, though, from our own experience and emotions to something entirely outside of our own experience? I think we can. I think it’s possible. And I think it’s important, as writers, that we do so.
So there you have it. The best advice I’ve gotten, and the worst.
I’ve only had twenty minutes to write this blog post. Let’s hope tomorrow’s is more coherent.
Today’s book recommendation is Station Eternity by Mur Lafferty. I loved this book, and Mur is an excellent writer and mentor. This novel, which is touted as Murder, She Wrote meets Babylon Five, is a genuine delight. Get your copy now!
This topic was suggested by Kat Templeton. Hi Kat!
Why do I write?
For the glamour, the fame, the money, the groupies!
And now that you’ve taken a moment to stop laughing, I can tell you that I don’t really know why I write. I don’t remember not wanting to be a writer. As a kid, I wrote a lot of stories, sometimes involving the detective Fizziwinker (was that his first or last name? No one knows!), or monsters, or weird aerial phenomena. I know that my mom has at least one of my first “books” in her cedar chest at home. And I don’t remember how old I was, but I’m pretty sure I was in junior high school that my mom gave me a typewriter of my own to write my stories with. Said typewriter looked something like the one above.
I know why I write what I write, which is “contemporary comedic fantasy with elements of cosmic horror”. I wrote a blog post all about it a few years ago, in which I basically said that I write these stories to help me come to grips with the trauma of having seen too many scary movies when I was a kid. That’s not the only genre I write in, though; I’ve written straight horror (as in “Who Remembers Molly”) and what I think of as mind-benders (as in “Trying to Stay Dead”) and a genre I like to call “Northern California Gothic” (as in “Burying Uncle Albert”).
I guess I write because it comes naturally to me. I like to read books and stories, and I like to write them. (I used to draw comic strips too, but we won’t talk about that any longer.) I’m never going to get rich as a writer (hardly anyone does), and Jennifer’s enough groupie for me. I am of the opinion that I am a pretty good writer, and I certainly want my efforts to be known and recognized, as most writers do, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
Anyway. On to the next topic!
Today’s book is The Repossessed Ghost by Brian C. E. Buhl. I’ve already talked about it in my BayCon report, but I wanted to re-recommend it. I had the opportunity to read an earlier draft, which was very well-written, and this final version is excellent. Go forth and read!
Please note, this post is based entirely on my own understanding of “AI” and the modern controversies surrounding these tools. It’s one of the topics I was given when I solicited topics for my daily blog posts.
AI in general
I am not a fan of what has been popularly called AI, as perpetrated on us by companies developing tools like ChatGPT or Midjourney or Dall-E or any of their equivalents. For one thing, the term “AI” — or “generative AI” — is a misnomer. There is nothing intelligent about these tools. They are not self-aware. They do not create anything. They do not feel anything. They are good at generating text or images based on large — I mean, HUGE — amounts of input. But intelligent? No. These tools are properly called “Large Language Models”, but that term is not precisely correct. It’s correct enough for my purposes, though.
One term that I have seen bandied about for such tools is “stochastic parrot”. 1, a term which basically means what I have just said above: they take large amounts of data and churn out predictive text. Another term I’ve seen online (usually in Facebook memes) is “plagiarism machines”. That’s certainly an appropriate term, because these tools are trained on, basically, the entirety of the internet, which includes a great number of copyrighted texts, and while OpenAI, the company that created ChatGPT, may have restrained their own tools from using these copyrighted texts, other corporations or open-source creators may not. Indeed, the issue of copyright for these tools has opened up a number of lawsuits and legal troubles. How will these issues be resolved? I don’t know. I can tell you, though, that the high court of Japan has ruled that copyrighted texts published there are fair game for LLMs.
Then there’s the issue of AI “hallucinations”, which is an entirely wrong term. AIs don’t hallucinate, any more than my cup of coffee does. They simply generate bad information. When I asked ChatGPT to tell me about myself, Richard S. Crawford the writer, it told me at first that I had written a number of stories and listed a couple of my publications; but then it also listed the number of awards I’d earned, and the fact that I lived in the Bay Area with my wife and children and a dog. All of this is, of course, false. I haven’t won any awards, I certainly do not live in the Bay Area, and while I do have a wife, we have no children, and there are definitely no dogs. This leads me to wonder what the point of ChatGPT even is, if I have to fact-check every statement it makes; and when people encounter “facts” that ChatGPT hallucinates into being, how many of them are going to bother fact-checking anyway. You thought the internet was bad at spreading dis/mis-information now, just wait until Google’s top results in its searches are AI-generated articles with no human intervention or fact-checking.
There are other problematic aspects of LLMs and the companies that create them, from the environmental resources required to keep them up and running (and you thought cryptocurrencies were bad), to the hordes of Kenyan workers paid at sub-subsistence levels to keep the tools from becoming Nazi parrots. But I’ll let other people address those issues. And I’ll only mention in passing the way AI grifters are using ChatGPT to scam Amazon’s KU program for money.
AI and Science Fiction
This is a topic I’m less familiar with, mostly because I don’t read a whole lot of science fiction. I know that there have been plenty of movies that feature AIs or self-aware computers — 2001: A Space Odyssey comes to mind — and most of the time, these tools are portrayed as dangerous and, well, not necessarily fans of the human race. HAL, in 2001, killed off all the crew in that movie, and attempted to do in Dave Bowman who figured out how to turn it off by removing its memory cores. And who can forget Skynet, the AI in the Terminator franchise, that started a nuclear war between Russia and the US? And finally, let’s not leave out the intelligent machines in that vastly silly Matrix series of films2.
On the other hand, the Pixar film Wall-E features an intelligent, presumably self-aware robot that basically saves the human race from itself. Or something. To be honest, it’s been at least a decade since I saw that movie.
I’m even less familiar with AIs in novels, but I do remember that in Becky Chambers’s truly outstanding Wayfarers series of novels, there are plenty of AI characters who run the gamut of ethical sensibilities, from benevolent to less so. The second book of the series, A Closed and Common Orbit, one of the best science fiction novels published in recent years, features an AI on a quest to find out what its own personhood means.
In short, AIs in media are more likely to be true artificial intelligences, sapient, self-aware, capable of emotion, all of that. LLMs are not that. They may seem it, but they are not. HAL is sapient, as is Skynet… LLMs, not so much.
Will the science fiction view of AI ever come into being? This question has been hotly debated by philosophers and technologists for decades. I remember reading John Searle’s essay in which he argued that a thermostat may be intelligent, simply because it “knows” what to do when climate conditions change3, and that was in 1991. A consensus has never been reached.
Personally, I don’t think so; at least, I don’t think we’ll ever see a human-equivalent AI. This is based on arguments I recall from college philosophy and psychology classes that human intelligence is not just a brain phenomenon, but a whole-body one; in other words, our sense of self-awareness is based not just in the brain, but takes input from all over our body, all our senses, all our organs, even the microbiome that makes up the population of our guts4. Unless we can build a human body from scratch and imbue THAT with an artificial intelligence, maybe we’ll see something human-like.
I feel like I’ve drifted from the topic. What was it? Oh yes, AI and Science Fiction.
Artificial intelligences were a part of the worldbuilding in Dune, as I recall (though it’s been decades since I’ve read that book). However, there was a “Butlerian jihad” which destroyed the AIs and made them illegal because they tried to take over and kill the humans.
In summary, I believe a Butlerian jihad may be just what we need right now.
I’ve decided that I’m going to recommend books I’ve read as part of this series of blog posts, and for this one I’m going to recommend the Hugo-award winning Wayfarers series by Becky Chambers. Start with The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet and go from there. You won’t regret it, I promise. And as I mentioned, while all these books are excellent, in my opinion, the second one, A Closed and Common Orbit, is the best.