A Random Collection

This quote attributed to Herakleitos has long been my guiding principle in all things “creative” => “The most beautiful order of the world is still a random gathering of things insignificant in themselves.” I never start to write a story until I have at least three of these “things”, three completely separate and independent ideas or facts or notions (whatever you want to call them). The job of the story is to bring them together, and by “the job” I mean “the work”, because it is work to gather random things together. Most recently this year I had the ideas of “big data” along with “detective” and “a super group”. These turned into the Abnormalities stories, of which I’m fond while knowing they could be (could have been, might still be) much better. I’ve been feeling like I let them down, in some ways, just as at my job I know I could always classify my effort as “needs improvement”. I’m never satisfied, and usually with good reason! What I’ve done is often simply not good enough. I still want very much to write a fifth Abnormalities story, although at this point I want to rename the whole thing “The Outlier”, because that really conveys the central notion I had in the first place. The problem is that so far I haven’t had three random ideas. Also, I’m tired of writing and it’s been months since I wrote any fiction at all. It’s not writer’s block since I’m not even trying. To me November is still NaNoDontDoThat. I write when I have something to write. I don’t believe in discipline or perseverance or “honing my craft” (a phrase suspiciously reminiscent of “choking the chicken” or “pounding the pontiff”). Maybe that’s why what I do is simply not good enough!! I won’t deny that possibility! On the other hand, things come when they come. Living by the ocean now I’m reassured by the simple fact that the waves never stop coming. They don’t care if it’s day or night, warm or cold, a good day or a bad day – it’s all the same to the waves.

“Big Data” – it’s a phenomenon which also happens to be the field of work I’m currently engaged in. So there’s something there, even if it’s only heap sizes and garbage collection. There’s something about all that data, and who trusts who with it, and who shouldn’t trust who. (If you ask me I’ll tell you that no one should be trusted with it. All of the data generated really ought to be funneled directly to a secret organization, massively secure and encrypted to hell and gone, and no one should be able to get at it without a damned good reason and a very strict protocol!) In my stories, that organization is the AllDat Corporation. They own all the data in the world and they don’t just give it up to anyone, not to any government or any company or any individual. There’s more to be written about the principles guiding the AllDat Corporation and its elderly founders, the grandparents of my detective.

“The Detective” – he’s part Freakonomics, part Doctor Who, part Metrosexual and part Sherlock Holmes. He’s very very good with his intuitions and his mental map/reduce algorithms, ridiculously able to find nonsensical correlations among the most random and incoherent sets of data. He’s not using eigenvectors. He’s not doing any matrix arithmetic or differential calculus. It’s all absurdity all the time with this guy. Superstitious and reclusive, he firmly believes that the outfit he wears on a given day is his best tool in solving any logical problem.

“The Super Group”. When I was a boy I loved the Doc Savage stories. Doc Savage by himself was basically Superman with a super tan – strong, brilliant, indestructible, perfect and literally golden in every way, and yet he wasn’t enough. He had to have a team. The team was even more outlandish. They were creatures with superior intelligence and physical prowess and each one was the leading expert in one scientific field or another. It made no sense and that was the best part. In the super group of “The Outlier” stories, there are the chauffeur, the secretary, and the grandparents. It’s about the most opposite group to Doc Savage’s that I could think of, and I love them all. There’s more to be written about all of them too.

When I started writing these stories, I envisioned there would be dozens, but I haven’t lived up to them yet. There are stories still waiting, and yet I’m not writing them. I’m not ready. They take a certain spirit, a certain light-heartedness, and I’m just not feeling it these days. I’ve had too much else going on, too much work, too much stress, too many changes, too little time, too little space. I’ve been doing other stuff as well – more exercise, more music, less reading, less art work. I often wonder how I ever get any stories written at all.

I just watched an episode of the Foo Fighters’ documentary on HBO (Sonic Highways, this week in Nashville) where a songwriter named Tony Joe White (of Poke Salad Annie fame) reached me when he said, looking back, to remind yourself that “you wrote it. You did it.” So that’s what I’m reminding myself of now. I saw that Orange Car with Stripes and Missy Tonight are (still!) currently #2 and #3 on Kindle’s Free Bestseller list under Atheism and that brings a smile. They may not be good enough, but I still love those stories and I’m certainly glad that I wrote them (especially Missy Tonight, which I think will make a darling Netflix original comedy movie sometime in the 22nd century)


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