Mythmaking

They say that sometimes the earth will grow dark, for a great wolf tries to eat the sun.
They say there were once giants, who walked the land and would eat those that smelled overmuch like Christians.
They say there was once a boy born who never grew taller than a hand is long, but that he made up for his size with cunning and bravery.
They say there was once a cat who was smart enough to talk and wear clothing like a man, and that is why cats are so much harder to cow, teach, and intimidate than dogs.
They say sometimes a star will fall to earth, and it grants a wish to the one who throws it back up into the heavens.
They say barriers of running water and sunlight will keep all supernatural monsters of ill intent away from you, and keep you safe.
They say that under the ice of Antarctica there is a secret tunnel where you can go and meet the strange and alien people living within the earth, down below the oceans.

Mankind has created all manner of myths, sparks of imagination and passion, fire and smoke. Every myth has its origins in truth, too. Even if you choose not to believe accounts from the days of the Romans, or the detailed memories of the oral histories and runestones of the Northmen, or the writings of Catholic monks, dragons can be believed from dinosaur bones at least. All kinds of stories have grown over the years, whether they are silly like the Easter Bunny or serious like how nations are made of laws instead of people who share heritage and language; fish stories are the least of our troubles and tangles with mythology!

I’m a firm believer in knowing your foes, and mythology the most pleasant and entertaining of foes to a truth-seeking and civilized soul. Join me today in writing a myth about why February has fewer days than the other months—it need not be long or drawn out! Here is my story…

Chronos, the great master Time himself, had given command of the shining days of the future to twelve of his children: The first, Janu, was an anxious boy and eager to please, so he kept his hand tight about the days and lets them go one by one, each much darker than most other months. His older brother Decem also holds onto the days and so they are dark, but that is because he is lazy and does things at the last minute. Jul and Aug were boistrous twins, young and happy, and in their hot energy they fling the days away into the hot rays of the sun rapidly so the days are very long in the summers. The oldest boys June and Octo are the most mature and sensible, so they are very balanced in sending out the days. Mara, April, and May all try to measure up to their oldest sister Sept, who is most beautiful, but they are always trying so hard and excited that they never quite capture her level of grace. Februa, the youngest girl, felt she could never ever do so well as her sisters or her brothers, and so towards the beginning she lost heart and went down to the pond to sulk, putting her days out one by one and watching their reflection in the water. She was absent, thinking sad thoughts in her little heart, and before she knew it a big fat frog had eaten up two of her days by mistake. “Oh no, you bad frog!” She cried, and tried to catch him, but the frog leapt away. She hasn’t stopped feeling sorry for herself and so each year the frog snags a few of her days, but sometimes she does catch him; that’s why in leap years we get an extra day in February!

Did you enjoy the myth? How did yours turn out? Share it with someone, or put it in the comments below!

Practice Writing Through Short Stories – Beta Exercises

Extra post with the promised writing exercises I had promised the class attendees. Each is designed to help focus on a different aspect of writing.

Color writing – Choose a color, and write down the first physical thing and the first abstract thing which comes to mind; such as ‘yellow,’ ‘flower,’ and “sadness.” Begin writing using these elements. Throwing words down onto the page and freeing your mind from planning to tap into your momentary inspiration is the key here, building the discipline to take a moment of inspiration and turning it into an actual bit of writing. This is practice making the words flow when you turn the spigot. It might be messy and that’s ok. The discipline of writing when you sit down to write, putting words on the page, is vital to saying the phrase, “Yes I can write.”

Circular writing – Take a common phrase or a sentence, something familiar to you, something a friend just said, something you overheard; this will be the first and last sentence in your story. Fill in the middle in a meaningful way. This is an exercise in exploring the nuance and meaning in even small details, and the condensation of ideas.

Symbol walk – Go for a walk and deliberately experience everything you can while on the walk, then come back and write your experience, then turn the walk into a story by personifying different elements. This is an exercise to improve your writing’s pacing and arcs, seeing and making patterns out of experiences. If you’re having trouble on with this one, focus on one thing: The clouds, the trees, the grass, the sounds of people or cars, etc. Focus your personification or interaction or internal process on that one symbol. Add more to practice complexity, which is difficult even for the seasoned.

Inside out – Choose one element of the place where you are writing, then build the story outward from that. Take, for instance, a red pencil, and then go from there. This is an exercise to fuel links in your imagination and improve detail-work in your writing.

Remnant – Choose a favorite world or story of yours, and write a short scene or story for that work. This is different from fan fiction, because you are aiming to match the tone and not changing anything about the world or story: You are mimicking and seeking to learn by following. This is practice making your writing more varied and marketable, as well as polishing your consistency of setting.

Devil’s Advocate – Choose a social issue you feel strongly about, then write a short story that justifies the opposite stance, or portrays characters with the opposing view as right or correct. This will help you improve your handling and writing of characters.

Precision – Write a story with only thirty words. Write the arc from setting the scene to the finish, and practice combing through your work to communicate as deeply as possible with each word. The better you can get your point across with fewer words, the easier it will be to capture your readers’ attention.

I will periodically post more, and I will also let you guys know when I have reworked the workshops. Thanks for showing up, I hope you all are excited about continuing to develop your writing talents. Feel free to let me know when you write something that you are proud of, I’m always excited to see someone happy about their work and play.

Workshops!

My wife and I traveled to Tucson recently for the Festival of Books put on by the Arizona Daily Star. Good show, large and busy convention grounds on the University of Arizona campus. Plenty of booths for books and all manner of non-book attractions as well.

While I was debuting my book Spring, I had the pleasure of attending a few of the free workshops and book-signings. Some were very good, some were a writer using a platform strictly to shill for their book, and some were very basic. On the whole, it was only the middling writers that were ignorable: Several of the significant names gave very good talks at a high level, and several of the new authors were possessed of the shine of excitement that makes me pay attention. The midline writers were the ones for whom convention appearances were just another checkmark, and the ones I saw just did not come with much enthusiasm and moxie. I look forward to going again next year.

After the two-day festival, I held two writing workshops that I am in the process of building into courses. The target was for younger students, and I had to cut down the time by almost half—I had intended to do full-day workshops but did both in the same afternoon and evening. They went fairly well, though I am of course improving them and going over the recordings with a fine-toothed comb.

One of the main failures was not having a handout for the various exercises that we did, or to assist with the takeaways—I am now convinced that every workshop should absolutely have a physical takeaway in addition to any notes or activities you participate in. People come to workshops with the takeaway in mind, and want something to carry back. In the modern format, you need to be better than an online video or a blog post for people to be willing to come to meet you on your schedule. I really look forward to doing another Beta-level run of these two courses in the Wichita area alongside a new one, “Sex Ed Through Shakespeare” that is aimed to help people navigate the sociosexual marketplace of modern times that is often confusing and deeply hurtful when not merely intimidating. It will not be the birds and the bees, kids, go talk to your parents for that.

Shakespeare is timeless because his works deal with the inherent issues of our inner man. Jealousy, doubt, schemes of ambitious and selfish individuals, the rise and fall of families and the fleeting mists of power that men constantly grasp at. While I was reading the jaw-droppingly beautiful Venus and Adonis I was blown away by how useful the clear marching out of unrequited love and passion danced through the stanzas, and how much it could help anyone who is confused by the increasingly deadly dance of love. So look forward to that coming up soon!

Published!

The goal of so many dreamers, who stake their hopes upon it.

Well, let me tell you now, young heart: Being published is extremely easy. It also has never mattered so little. Everyone has a book, nowadays. There’s a global competition to write one in a month every Autumn.

What most people do not discuss when they reveal their desire to write a book is that they really crave attention. They want to be approved of, to get the rush of affirmation that being published gives. To see your creation, your thoughts, your work and skill in someone else’s hands, to see them pouring your energy into their very core through the grimoires that you authored. It is something that easily lights a young heart, especially in a creative one.

So if getting published is easy and means very little, you now have to change how you think and redefine your goals, young writer. If you really want that, there are a thousand simpler and easier ways to get it. Go volunteer. Get skilled at something and offer free classes. Or do the hard part and write a book and do the time and invest the energy to get it published and popular. It takes a lot of doing, especially the traditional way, and the publishing industry has its many dirty secrets about just how fair it really is hidden just as deep as Hollywood did before this last year. Money and power go to every system’s head until they break down, and then someone forges a new system and it repeats. Let me give you the best piece of advice I ever got: Don’t publish to be published, publish when you have an effect you want to see happen.

I wrote a full three-hundred thirty-five page book in high school, and had storyboarded another one in middle school and written many of the scenes. I could have attempted to publish either of them, and likely could have gotten enough support and knowhow to succeed and see them up online or in my local bookstores. I did not. I chose not to, even after all the hours typing away, reading fastidiously and fretting over a comma. The only thing it would have done is stroked my ego, because my work was garbage even though the ideas and characters and stories still hold up well to my eye. Just trash. If I had them published, I would have to marry that work as the starting pieces of my writing career.

So here I am, years later, with a book I am proud to have published and out on the market. It is published under a brand that was eager to have it, and I am thrilled to be writing the rest of the series now, one for each of the four seasons. Once I find a place where I want the two stories I wrote in my teenage years to strike for effect—be it money, brand identity, audience-building, teaching, some higher purpose than my own ego—I will go back and rewrite them with the skills I have sharpened and developed and forged anew.

So practice, and never fear being strict in your criticism. Compare yourself with the people who are out there, making money and visiting their rabid fan clubs and signing books to loyal readers. Young heart, curate your future and take your time making sure the foundation is thick and strong and placed upon solid ground.

You will never regret it, and some things cannot be undone or redone as easily as a manuscript. Guard your name and reputation, for once you put something in writing it stays.

The Goal of Education

One of the overlooked luxuries of the modern times is that all first-worlders pay lip service to the value of an education: Our cities are filled with schools and colleges and specialty education, our poor are offered “free” education, many businesses prioritize training and have benefits and prioritizations for employees who further their education, and public libraries and arts buildings are common.

Sadly, lip service is not all they pay: The US public schools require an enormous amount every year, which means that the taxpayers pay it even though about ten percent of them choose to spend even more money to receive a private education. I have experienced the four primary types of education available in the current market—traditional homeschooling, public schooling, traditional private schooling, and classical private schooling. My general insight from this hybrid experience as teacher, student, and now parent is that there are very few people in education who understand the purpose of education at all, so the few who accomplish it do so either by accident or the almost-brutish intuition that comes naturally, and is often waved aside by highhanded educational jargon.

Modern education’s history is extremely well-documented, with modern public schools having been designed to produce bureaucratic drones and factory workers that would keep the great wheels of increasingly distanced and specialized economies turning. The vast majority of private schools fail to depart from this model, only being slightly more efficient in their education, or offering more interesting electives or a safer environment. Classical education is a reversion to the earlier hopes of mass-producing good citizens to participate in the modern polis. Homeschooling of various stripes is mostly about organic learning and jumping through State-mandated hoops and getting kids free from these programs so that their minds and mental energies do not have to suffer through their most expansive period fitting into one mold or another. Vocational schooling I have not experienced, but it too is an older model that was not stamped out by the inauguration of public schools; truly the trades will continue on eternally. These systems will remain almost exclusively in these metrics; their formats might vary slightly but they will have great difficulty deviating from the foundations on which they are set.

So what is the point of education? Is it to create good citizens that can sustain a stable and safe monocultural Democratic Republic? Is it to prop up the great gears of industry and trade? Is it to bypass the greedy hands of the aristocracy and prevent us from falling into slavery of mind or hand? Is it to gain the skills to build things and be productive on our own?

Education today all misses the point, though the Classical model gets closest to the mark—being based upon the giants that have dominated Western thought for millenia, as opposed to the belaborings of disturbed Industrial-Age thinkers, it is no surprise. The point of education is not the absorption of facts and figures; perhaps at one point this was vital, but all State-required math and science and history and language skills are accessible through the internet at a whim now in the Information Age. It is not as though we are teaching strong long-term memory skills anyway! Facts can be found more easily than ever, and while it is good to be able to double-check the calculator now and then the focus on the processed facts comes at the expense of two fundamental needs for a person to become educated.

First, the person must come to know their inner self, and what is common to all mankind. They must know where they have come from, the history of their people and the land in which they live, their animal passions and the wave pool of emotion, their physical limitations, and their skills. They must know who they are to take their place and to acknowledge the place that others will take around them as valid. Much of this is learned in spite of schools, which stringently separate age groups and deny putting the old and young together with a strange sort of fear that their petri dish of little drones will be corrupted with exposure to actual knowledge of their personal power.

Second, the person must come to know Disorder. This is the ultimate enemy that all good and all good work comes against. The instinctive spiritual leaning of a child toward Order and away from Disorder is obvious from a baby’s first cry at discomfort; moving this urge from a self-serving attitude outward to encompass all the universe around the person is key to preventing problems, finding solutions that actually solve the problems they will face, and make them able to work with others to mutual benefit instead of the violent side of competition that self-centeredness breeds.

Much has been said about schooling, and the bottom line is that our modern methods are such incredible failures at producing an educated student: After our highest education Socialism is thought to be noble and effective by many despite its abject and devastating real world examples, and literally sending a child out to pasture to be Unschooled deliberately is advancing them through the hoops and standardized tests faster by the end of the process, with sixteen and seventeen-year-old Unschoolers regularly meeting eager acceptance at the collegiate level well before their peers are ready and able to readjust to the complex world outside their rigidly-controlled “fact playpens.” The closest two options available now—apprenticeship or trade and vocational schools, and the Classical model—are simply reversions to the past. Surely there is a way to move forward and take advantage of the information available in a better way! Ultimately, our world is in a state of cultural and technological shock that has us all spinning; historically, a lot of blood, sweat, and tears will flow before we stabilize enough to find the right path all together.

I will put a stopper in the cornucopia of my thoughts today, and point out that there cannot be a better teacher than experiencing the real world; all educational attempts are efforts to distill out that essence and accelerate the process of learning from reality. I pulled the two fundamental needs above straight from a Chinese philosopher born centuries ago, and the “school of hard knocks” has been recognized as a true place by colleges and professional organizations alike. Education must show us the real world, and extremely quickly and accurately if it is to beat the perfect accuracy of true experience by artificially removing the learner from it. That there can be a system that fits all sizes is still up for debate at all, despite a hundred years of attempting to make it so. In this modern age, the professionals we most trust have taken for granted the value of education in marrying their efforts to outdated platforms and methods, and most of the efforts to advance this area of human experience are attempts to shore up these platforms instead of moving forward.

We have forgotten our purpose in doing the task, and simply are trying to carry on the traditions of the past, Chesterton’s famous “democracy of the dead.” Just as in all tasks, carrying on in the way we are going instead of understanding the purpose and setting our feet deliberately from the first principles will only make us lost and waste much effort and time.

Education is vital. Do not let any teacher fool you by substituting what he does for the real thing; remember what it is and what the goal of your learning is. This is something worth fighting for, whether it is one against a hundred or ten against ten thousand.

Freedom of Visualization

I am nearly done with Scarcity, a game which will be free to download when you sign up for the newsletter. There is plenty to say about it, and I am rather proud of its simplicity and ambiguity of optimization—it is so dynamic, even I cannot figure out the best way to win! Of course, it is not designed to be competitive but rather an experience which can be used to visualize different scenarios.

I began crafting it as an homage to the Great Plains of North America, where the city I grew up in was named after one of the local area tribes and a massive statue stands at the juncture of two rivers to appeal to the heavens that the old ways and the new would flow together in peace and accordance with nature. The flow of the Native American way of life, with its conformity with their resources and deliberate purposefulness and lack of waste, contains so many examples of virtue and prudent habit for the young to learn from and has the benefit of being deeply evocative to the imagination as well. Perhaps we have spaghetti Westerns to thank for that, but it remains there just the same.

In the end, though, Scarcity improved the more I backed off on the deliberate themes from Kansas and Native American culture; why? Strong theme is important for attachment, and you need something to stimulate the brain’s sense of commitment, but why did making it generic make it better both for educational purposes and as a game?

With the lack of clear background, it is easier to discuss many different cultures and historical events and peoples. When I focused my design on one, I limited the capacity for teaching the virtues I was interested in making visible in favor of the details and minutia of a single specific time frame that is easily left in the past as a mystical and long-dusty age. I deeply appreciate that age, but I chose to blur it and leave it out so that the focus can be on the universal, the True, and the useful.

Ancient peoples did not have the luxuries of our infrastructure or our advanced communication practices and the ease and luxury we have in sharing our knowledge. They had to be focused more on what was at hand, taking advantage of windfalls and practicing against privation and disaster. Their constructions frequently could not stand a decade of time much less the centuries of modern architecture, and they needed to pour their energies into rejuvenatory tasks instead of the high-minded explorations we so often find ourselves caught up in. With that came a certain razor’s edge that cut at the unlucky and the pridefully vicious alike: Things like planning ahead and developing mastery and evaluating the capacities and propensities of neighboring tribes were necessary skills for surviving to see the next sunset, some days!

We live our lives full of safety nets, but sometimes when we look too closely for role models or heroes we can miss the powerful story of what our ancestors sacrificed and worked for: to leave for us this wonderful present, this legacy, this now in which we find ourselves. Whether it is the Founding Fathers of our nation or the ancient Stone or Tool Age peoples, it is in looking to the pasts’ virtues that can most help us understand how to live today by identifying what those virtues look like so we can see them in the modern context. While there is value in looking at a specific example, the larger the True thing you are hunting, the further back you must step to see its footprint.

I look forward to hearing you comment on the game when it is released, and to see how you put it to use for fun and profitable engagement with young and old hands alike. Soon!