Extra Large Turing Test with Fries

Extra Large Turing Test with Fries
by Andrija Popovic
(C) 2017 Andrija Popovic

[Excerpt from artificial drive-through attendant Turing Test with Miss Rosa Mirella, 26, of Gaithersburg, MD. In this test series, subjects are randomly exposed to either a human attendant or an artificial one.]

INTERVIEWER: Miss Mirella, just to review, prior to the very end of your experience in the drive through of your local [REDACTED] franchise, you had no sense this was an artificial individual?

R. MIRELLA: Nope. Honestly, I was completely fooled in the beginning. I mean, he had to confirm the order because the speaker was shitty, he forgot to put in extra ketchup packets, all of it. He even looked sweaty. I didn’t think you could do that with fake people yet.
 

INTERVIEWER: But at the very end, as you were reviewing your food, you definitively flagged the attendant as artificial.

R. MIRELLA: Oh, yes. Because of the soda.

INTERVIEWER: The soda?

R. MIRELLA: Yeah.

INTERVIEWER: I don’t understand.

R. MIRELLA: OK, so, you know when you get a soda it has those little dots you push in? The ones that say if it’s Diet, Iced Tea, Root Beer or Other? Well, I ordered a diet Coke and a Dr. Pepper, you get me?

INTERVIEWER: I think so…

R. MIRELLA: So, when I got the drinks, the diet had the little Diet thing pushed in, right? And the Dr. Pepper had the Other thing pushed in.

INTERVIEWER: Yes, we saw that. And that’s correct.

R. MIRELLA: Have you ever been through one of your own drive-thrus? Or worked in one? No one ever just hits the Other button. Everyone pushes all of the buttons in on the lid.

[Extended pause as the Interviewer stares blankly at Miss Mirella.]

R. MIRELLA: What? I did it when I worked there. Only a robot does shit exactly like the manual.

[Interview was then terminated when Interviewer picked up notes, walked out of the interview room, and began to spew out a large number of obscenities in view of the observation team.

[Complied results and recommendations can be found in memo: “How Do We Get AI’s to Act Like Frustrated Employees?”]

[Excerpt ends.]

END

Loyalty is a Flaw

I grew up watching Airwolf like a lot of other kids. Either on NBC, or later on syndication on Channel 20. There were a lot of episodes I gravitated towards. But one in particular still sticks with me: “Severance Pay.”

The plot focuses on Larry, an operative and analyst with the FIRM (Airwolf’s CIA stand-in). The day of his retirement, he discovers there may be a mole in the FIRM and dutifully reports it, as he’s done for 20 years. Imagine Robert Redford’s character from 3 Days of the Condor if he’d had an uneventful career. He and his partner, Joe, go to get their retirement checks and bonuses from the pension office. But, the FIRM still has them classified as ‘temporary’ workers. They are due no retirement bonuses. Worse yet, Joe has a heart attack at the pension office and dies in Larry’s arms. We later learn it Joe’s widow isn’t getting anything from his death: as far as the FIRM is concerned, they received medical benefits they were not entitled to and need to reimburse their former employers. No dignity, even in death.

Larry does what any reader would do: he goes to war against the FIRM. The plot escalates and involves the mole, and a termination order. But the part that always stuck with me was the questions of loyalty, and hard work, and how in the end it got them nothing. That’s what sticks with me.

The stories we tell about work, about how it’s supposed to make us feel, about what we expect from it in the end, say a lot about who we are and what we hope for in the US.

While it’s aimed at a cold, unfeeling bureaucracy I honestly see “Severance Pay” applying to corporate thinking, especially in the days since the philosophy of “Shareholder Profits Above All” took root in America. Employees are not assets, valued and given fair treatment for their work. They’re used and disposed of, with no reward for the uncounted hours spent on its behalf. One good visit from a ‘management consultant firm’ and suddenly, your experience and knowledge base is gone. The American Dream was, from what I understood, the fact you could find a good job you enjoyed, work hard, get due promotions, and then be able to retire with comfort, knowing you’ve earned it.

The American reality is very different. A worker is a liability. You have to pay them a salary, give them benefits, and the longer they stay, the harder it is to give them less and less. When a company needs to make profit expectations but sales are not up, people go. Overhead, cut from the bottom line. Then, of course, the pension funds are raided for more money back. Everyone is asked to do more with less. People start working multiple functions and when their work degrades, they get fired. More money back for the company. By any means necessary, the quarterly numbers must be met.

Before you think the non-profit world is any better, talk to someone who worked there. “Non-profit slave” is bandied about quite a bit. You’re asked to give up so much time and effort for no pay to help the cause. “We work until the work is done.” And never mind the consequences. It can create an atmosphere where people break themselves. I wonder how many non-profits run on the backs of people who don’t realize they’re being under-rewarded for their work.

In the US, we turn work into another kind of faith, thanks in part to the Puritans and their beliefs. Work and success are signs of divine grace. If one is poor, or sick, or mentally ill, it is the Lord casting down judgement on their sins. This flows into the prosperity gospel, which John Oliver took on. Success means god loves you. Only the wealthy will enter into heaven. So if you aren’t doing well – if you are not succeeding at your job – it’s your fault. It’s a character flaw. It’s inherent sin. Never mind you may not like, or be suited for the job you’ve been thrust into. Never mind your career progression path has been so chopped up you’re not sure where you’re going. You, and only you, are responsible for your success or failure. No one is ever set up to fail. And those who have grasped success, they deserve admiration, no matter how they did it.

Chuck Wending wrote an amazing Twitter/Storify essay on his father, and how he related to the bosses in his business. I really encourage you to read it, because it captures how the narrative of the American work ethic, and the truth of how American capitalism and ‘merit’ work run in stark contrast. It also shows that when the narrative we’re fed as children does not turn out they way we wish, it’s easy to push the anger on others. And not on management.

These narratives make it easy to blame workers for terrible working conditions, workers in other countries for lost jobs, and anyone but folks who actually make these conditions. When, for example, a new manager comes in and begins assigning people to jobs they are not trained or suited for, and they don’t do well – it’s obviously the worker’s fault. After all, if they were good hard workers they would be successful.

When workers are laid off in favor of technology – it’s not the corporate managers who decided they were not getting a good RoI by giving folks a living wage. It’s foreigners. It’s the workers who asked for too much, like health care or the ability to work with pride. They asked for too much. They could not compete. If only those workers had gone into real jobs, gotten business degrees or… you get the picture. These narratives enable exploitation, and more.

So, how do we change things?

We need to change the narrative. We need to tell different stories. Maybe ones where we don’t value wealth over humanity? Or maybe stories about people finding jobs they’re good at, and being allowed to work there and improve, without having to jump to another position they hate. Is the idea of being paid well for a job you love so strange?

On the same day I re-watched “Severance Pay” I also saw the film Your Name. At the very end one of the protagonists, Taki, is job hunting. In the interviews, he explains he wants to be an architect because he wants to create places in Tokyo which bring warmth and good memories to people. And as I watched, I hope he would find a good place that let him do just that, and appreciated what he wanted to create.

I’d like to see a story where someone, in the modern world, finds a job that they can appreciate, and can appreciate them. But maybe that’s why we call it the American Dream –  we have to wake up at the end and face reality where the workers we admire, the ones we put in our highest office, are these guys:

 

All Politics is Local

All Politics is Local
by
Andrija Popovic

(c) 2017 Andrija Popovic

“Ms. Deveroux, give us a straight answer.” Duane Jefferson, seventy years old and elder statesman of the Groveton city council, crossed all four of his arms. “Is the waste water disposal system for the oil wells causing our inter-dimensional issues?”

Thea Deveroux, an occult seismologist with Oklahoma Geological Survey, tucked one of her antennae back against her pointed ear and replied:  “Yes.”

A storm of growls and keening laments rattled the town hall. Duane just shook his head. His membranous wings, black as his bald head, flapped irritably.

“Order! Dammit, order!” Alicia Sears, new mayor of Groveton, banged the gavel with a cilia-covered hand. Her six eyes were heavy and dark with exhaustion.

Chad Michael Rimer – representative from Halithon Pandimensional Petroleum and the only baseline human in the room- spoke: “Please. Everyone, settle down. Look, we all knew there may be minor environmental issues with this new fracturing and disposal process…”

“What?” Duane clacked his talons. “Look, we know the drilling boosted the economy. And we knew there would be risks. But when y’all came here, you didn’t mention gates to chaos realms on Henderson Drive!”

“The damn hounds mauled my cattle!” John Murphy stood, frills red and agitated. “Protective runes cost money and blood. How the Hell am I supposed to keep out seven dimensional predators without bankruptcy?!”

“I appreciate your concern. But, we don’t know enough about what’s really going on in the dimensional subsurface to know how to mitigate some of this risk,” said Rimer. The pandimensional wards sewn into his Alexander Amosu Bespoke suit gave it an oily sheen. “HPP is continuing its studies. We feel there is no direct correlation between our processes and the regrettable phenomenon–.”

Mayor Sears interrupted.”And the report?”

“Our in-house teams will be releasing a full rebuttal. We disagree with the hasty and ill-evidenced conclusions–”

Howls from the audience overwhelmed Rimer. Deveroux looked moments away from bludgeoning the HPP representative with the six hundred page report.

Duane slapped his wings. “Madame Mayor, I motion that, based on Ms. Deveroux’s testimony and the report submitted, we consider Ordinance 193 and halt this method of waste water dumping.”

Citizens and town council-members alike growled, snarled and slapped their shells in approval. Rimer glanced at the runes dancing on his tablet. “Point of order!”

Silence, and then Rimer said: “The council cannot take up this ordinance.”

“Mr. Rimer, it is well within our jurisdiction to regulate how business is conducted in our town. Especially if it impacts the well being, and pan-dimensional stability of its residents.” The Mayor rattled her spines, annoyed.

“Not anymore.” Rimer placed his tablet into his briefcase. “As of twenty minutes ago the State Legislature voted on, and the Governor signed, HR 193. This blocks local governments from regulating energy operations in the state. If you want to shut us down, take it up with the legislature and the Governor.”

Everyone dove for their tablets as Rimer made his exit. “Thank you for your time,” he said. “Our legal team will be in touch.”

Order was abandoned. People swarmed the council members. Others mobbed Thea Deveroux, demanding answers. Alice had to stand on her chair and let loose an unearthly howl before order resumed.

But no one was in the mood for further business. Motions were tabled, and everyone filtered out. Only Duane and Alice remained in the meeting hall.

“We can’t let this go on, Alice.” Duane stood up, one set of arms folded behind him. “I mean, look at this. We’re barely human anymore. Haystacks of tentacles roam Memorial Park like it’s their back yard. And what do we get out of it? The blood magic expenses eating away at the money HPP brings in. We’ve got to do something.”

“You know my grandfather was from West Virginia?” Duane shook his head. The Mayor clicked her secondary mandibles in thought. “Yep. Coal country. When I was young, he told me how the mining company cut safety gear costs by using outdated masks. Or how botched coal ash storage contaminated the aquifer with heavy metals. Then, he lost his best friend to methane explosion. The mine could have prevented it if they weren’t in such a hurry to open up new seams.”

“Every now and again, someone talked about suing or getting the government involved.” Alice stared at the text of the bill scrolling down her tablet. “No one ever did, though.”

“Why’s that?” Duane tilted his head and antennae.

“I asked my granddad. ‘Why they put up with it?’ He always told me to stand up to bullies when I grew up.” She packed away her tablet, notes, and documents into a messenger bag. “He said, ‘What else are we going to do? That’s just the price you pay for having a job.'”

“Do you believe that?”

Alice laughed. “Fuck no, Duane. I love my Grandad, but he spent his off hours crawled into a bottle of cheap beer.” The Mayor picked up her bag. “I’ve got to get to work, start making a plan to overturn this bill. Maybe go to court. I’ll be in early tomorrow. Should I expect you there?”

Duane smiled. He tucked his wings along his back. “Yep. I’ll be here. See you tomorrow, madam Mayor.”

“See you tomorrow, Duane.” She haded out. Duane turned off the lights, closed the door and locked the town hall behind him.

In the distance, green and purple flares jetted from the drilling wells dotted landscape. The tentacled mounds in the park stood in a circle, undulating around the statue of the town founder. A pair of hounds, lean and barely in this dimension, howled at the moon. They serenaded him all the way home.

Duane hoped they’d hush up, or find a rabbit to chase. Tomorrow would be another long day in local politics.

This Was Not the Corporate Dystopia I Was Promised

The other title for this post is “We Need The Punk In Cyberpunk Now.”

Recent events has me thinking on a big influence on my formative years: the literature and the aesthetic of cyberpunk. While many grew up with images of the space age, with (white, western) humanity cementing its manifest destiny among the stars, I grew up when a certain generation of authors looked at the great space wheel of 2001: A Space Odyssey and wondered how many of the components were built by globalized companies using third world labor.

This was a world were the buds of the modern internet first took root when we started connecting home computers into telephone lines, then immediately used it to trade porn and complain about movies. Cell phones first hinted at the idea we wouldn’t be tied to cables and trunk-lines forever. And corporations grew, adopting a “Shareholder Profits Shall Be the Whole of the Law” attitude which still rules today. Conversations like the one ceased to be dialog out of Alan J. Pakula thrillers:

“We can make tones of money using these quick-term stock scams and hiding the results overseas. Now it’ll crash the economy-”
“What about the quarterly profits?”
“Oh, we’ll see a massive spike before total devastation.”
“We can blame the immigrants. Do it, and we’ll be rich enough to not care.”

And instead became standard operating procedure for every global company out there.

Take all of the above, mingle onto it the visual aesthetics of Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, the paintings of Patrick Nagel, and Michael Mann’s visual palette from Miami Vice, and you have the birth of a neon-drenched corporate dystopia where the wealthy live in technological splendor, while the same technology alternately imprisons and liberates those scrambling to survive day in, day out. The tools of the oppressors became ways we could give them a massive “Fuck You.”

But while we have cyberpunk’s technology for the most part (No wicked cybernetics, but re-read Bruce Sterling’s Islands in the Net. The book opens with someone killed by a drone strike, folks), and we certainly have the ever-present corporate domination (Get and watch the Max Headroom collection from Shout Factory. Check “Grossberg’s Return” for the shocking idea of the media creating news, not reporting it –  *cough*InfoWars*cough* – while “Lessons” talks explicitly about education treated as a commodity to keep it out of the hands of the poor), we are missing some things.

The aesthetics for one. I think Starcadian best expresses this longing for a familiar vibe in the video for “Chinatown”

The other part we’ve lost – and some would argue never really had – was the punk part. That rebellious growl at seeing our future stolen, at dehumanization, and at the abuse of power. The part of the aesthetic born from folks like Stiff Little Fingers. Listen to “Suspect Device

They take away our freedom
In the name of liberty
Why can’t they all just clear off
Why can’t they let us be
They make us feel indebted
For saving us from hell
And then they put us through it
It’s time the bastards fell

Don’t believe them
Don’t believe them
Don’t be bitten twice
You gotta suss, suss, suss, suss, suss, suss
Suss, suspect device

Tell me that’s not the punk part of the equation in a song?

This is what we need in the world right now. We need the punk side of cyberpunk. We need our Suspect Devices. We need our Edison Carters, though these days he’d be working for ProPublica, not Network 23.  It’s out there, but right now it’s controlled by people who think swatting a lady for not appreciating the dick picks you sent her after seeing her Steam profile. We need to take it back. We need to use what we learned from our CyberPunk forefathers to take this world and cast it into ugly, sharp relief. We need to channel the growling anger of punk and it’s children, and focus it on the folks who’d take away our freedoms in the name of liberty.

When I see an article posted about how our new administration is taking pages out of Totalitarianism 101 (Say, by de-legitimizing a free press or picking targets for ‘true patriots’ to rail against), I don’t react with a sad face. I use the angry one. And I tell them exactly how they can fight – Maybe not with their fists, but with dollars, votes, and showing up at a town hall meeting with a ZIP code on your chest while getting into a legislator’s grill.

I think anyone writing contemporary SF who felt something shiver inside when they watched the opening minutes of Blade Runner, saw Synners spelled in a unique way, or heard the sky described as television tuned to a dead channel, should do the same.  Or as Henry Rollins put it:

henryrollinsjoestrummer

So, borrowing from Joe’s bandmate, Paul – when they kick down your front door, how you gonna come? With your hands on your head? Or on the record button of your cell phone, streaming live and direct to the world?

It’s cyberpunk time.

The Most Hated Creature in Known Space

The Most Hated Creature in Known Space
by
Andrija Popovic

(c) 2017 Andrija Popovic

On our first day the instructor shot our valedictorian, William Robert “Billy-Bob” Rossmount, in the crotch with a burner bolt. Billy-Bob convulsed, wet himself, and fell onto the faux linoleum floor. The woman beside me murmured, “Holy fuck.” Meanwhile, the best of us shit his pants and quivered on the floor.

“Listen up, all of you!” The instructor holstered the burner under his jacket. “You’ve signed up for the toughest training course in known space. I have a waiver for every one of you which says that all you bastards are mine now! You will refer to me by one name only: Chief Instructor. Or, Sir, if you are out of breath.”

He pulled a kerchief from his back pocket, expanded it to the size of a towel, and draped it across Billy-Bob like a shroud.

“You will be pushed to your physical, emotional and psychological limits. We will trigger the worst in you. We will show you the worst in everyone else. And none of this will be exaggerated.” The Chief paced, back and forth, like a guard dog eying prisoners. “Everything we will send you through is real, tested, and true.”

The Chief pointed to the door. “The exit will always be open. But once you walk out, that’s it. There is no coming back.” He checked the time. “You have fifteen minutes to decide. That should be enough for Billy-Bob to change his shorts.”

***

Three people left right away, including “Billy-Bob” Rossmount. I stayed. I thought I knew what I was in for. We all did. But we were wrong.

We didn’t expect the physical exertion. Not just the training for high, low and null gravity environments but dodge-ball, of all things. The Chief Instructor, when he was feeling generous, would randomly throw cricket balls at us, cursing the whole time. “My first day, I had a five-star general throw an ExoArmor gauntlet at my head!  You’re getting off easy!”

Then there was the abuse. Not physical, but verbal. We would try to work the day’s exercise while he flayed us with words read from a stack of transcripts he kept on his tablet.

“Samantha Tien, are you a complete fucking retard? Do you understand what the fuck I’m saying, you stupid slut!?” The Chief’s face grew darker when he yelled. The veins around his eyes popped up, and his pupils shrank into needle-sharp pin-holes. “If I wanted your so-called expert fucking advice, I’d fucking rip it out of your fucking ass! Give me a plan for bombing the fuck out of these shit-suckers and then I’ll listen to your fucking advice, you miserable cunt!”

Lastly, there was the actual training: PsyOps and PsiOps warfare, social engineering, micro-expression interpretation, psycholinguistic manipulation, marketing – the dirtiest of dirty warfare became our bread and butter.

By the end of the first week, exhaustion claimed two more. The rest of us learned to lose ourselves in the moment – think about the mission, focus on the objective, and cover your team-mates. I stopped seeing rivals around me, and instead saw other survivors. We learned to support each other, cover for each other, and conspire with the best of them. Damitra Williams, who stood beside me and gaped as “Billy-Bob” Rossmount voided his bladder that first day, kept standing by me.

But we were still human inside, and vulnerable. On the second week, I had a breakdown. Damitra knew I needed room, space outside the dorms just to let go. She got me into the gym one night after lights-out. I found a quiet spot by the null-G pool. In the dark, I watched the clear sphere of water hover above the full-G pool like an errant planet. I didn’t swim. I just sat and saw the water bounce and ripple.

“Guess I’m not the only one who finds this relaxing.” I jumped to my feet. The Chief Instructor walked out of the shadows. Light, reflected and refracted through the hovering pool, danced over his dark skin like smoke. “Now, sit yourself down. I’m not here and neither are you.”

“Yes, Sir.” I sat back in one of the poolside chairs, re-shaping it so I could lean back. The Chief just stood and watched the water sphere ripple.

“You know, it’s only going to get worse from here.” He kept his eyes on the pool. “You’ve got two more days of prep, followed by intensive simulations. First person, face to face.  You’ll be as close to the front lines as we can make it. And when it’s all over – you’ll have to deal with the exact same nightmare for the rest of your career.” He turned to me, almost sad. “You sure you want to go on?”

“You don’t think I can make it, Sir?”

The Chief shook his head. “It’s not a question of making it. It’s why you’re trying. Stubbornness? Insanity? Bone to pick with someone?”

“Because it means something,” I said.

“How’s that?”

I looked the Chief dead in the eyes; something I’d never do if we were on the clock. “I know this is not going to be pretty. I’ll be walking straight into Hell wearing jelly gasoline and a smile. But this means I can help one person, save one life, keep one world from turning into living nightmare, it’s worth it.”

“We’re not doing this for the money. Or the education. Or the travel.” I stood up and compacted the chair back into a cube. “We do it because we believe. Goodnight, Chief.”

“Goodnight, Ms. Tien.”

***

The Chief did not lie. It got worse from there on out. The simulations held nothing back.  Staffed by veterans, they started in the middle of the night, with Klaxon calls and cursing and half-dressed students trying to function. We found ourselves bellowed at by a room full of trainers with over a century of combined field experience.

Three people dropped out that night. Over the next two weeks, seven more filtered away. From an original starting class of forty, only fourteen remained. I survived. Damitra survived. We became tighter than sisters through the fight. Everyone in the class did. Before the end, we exchanged personal contact information. No matter where we were deployed, we would stay close.

You don’t forget folks who stood beside you in the Inferno.

Finally, Graduation Day.  We dressed in our best –  clothes cleaned and pressed until the creases could slice throats. We walked onto the stage, received our diplomas, shook Chief’s hand, and sat as we listened to his final words. I still remember them. I carried those words with me with me in the days that followed, and they helped keep me sane:

“Don’t expect a long speech here. I’ve got to get this placed cleaned up for the next set of inductees. But I will say this:  you entered into this course naked as babes. Since then, you have learned to arm and armor yourselves. Now, shields and swords in hand, your truest test awaits you. Out there, all this is meaningless. Out there, you are the most hated creature in all of known space. And you must own this, for it will protect you more than any training we can provide.”

“Welcome, everyone, to the Federated Systems’ Diplomatic Corps. Now, go out there and save humanity from itself. Good luck.”

Sharing The Orphans

This artwork comes from ALIEN ARTIFACTS, the largest publication credit I have to date. It doesn’t mean the short story therein is the only one I’ve written, of course, but it is the one that has gotten any kind of broad release recently. I do have others out there in the world – submissions to other anthologies, and to various publications – but there are a few which have been tucked away for now. I haven’t found a home for them, or they are just not ready for prime time. 

But this little backwater of the internet isn’t prime time. So, I think I’ll post a few of the stories which didn’t make it through the submission grinding process here.

What of Metaphysical Grtaffiti? I’m putting that to the side for a while. I need to rethink the structure and my ultimate goal with the book. I also need to work on a few more world elements. Some aspects are not quite falling into place just yet.  Given I’m not in danger of getting a book deal anytime before the end of the Trump administration, I’ll be OK resting it, and coming back later.

But, for now, I’ll throw out a few of my abandoned short stories and flash fiction pieces. Hopefully, folks will enjoy them. Do let me know what you think.

I’ve Seen The Future, Brother, It Is Murder

I couldn’t help but bring Leonard Cohen into this. He’s one of the many artists whose loss gouged great wounds in our hearts. But Leonard’s poetry will live on in everyone he’s touched, and in every story he’s inspired.

This month’s post is about the future. It’s about two different futures, though. One is personal – my hopes and ambitions for the coming year – and the other is about a dominant theme for 2017 in my opinion.

Let’s talk about the big things first:

An image from when my corporate cyberpunk dystopia also was stylishly designed and beautifully filmed. Alas, we know it’s a dystopia by the fact only the worst will come and we won’t have any of the cool features. If you don’t believe me, check out the new Ghost in the Shell trailer. It had me running back to my copies of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex for the definitive adaptation of the material.

But as I was watching, and thinking about the themes of the series, especially the second one, I started to feel how it would impact our world in 2017.

The first series, dealing with the Laughing Man, introduced the idea of a Stand Alone Complex but the second series brought that idea to a more terrifying place: the idea that the phenomenon could be harnessed, with the right manipulation, to political ends.

As I watch it now, I realize this is rooted in something deeper I’ve been touching on in other entries: narrative control. Our world today, moreso than any previous time in our history, is vulnerable to active and directed efforts at narrative control. Information is spreading so fast, and people accept it so readily, one can use this to easily control a post-truth world.

We’ve been seeing this building for many years. But what once were ‘whisper campaigns’ or coded statements have become very open attempts at narrative control, and misdirection. The atmosphere has become so permissive, that people will shoot up local DC pizzerias based on deliberately created lies.

This upcoming year, I see Narrative Control becoming a key battleground for the spirit of the world we live in, but it will be done in tandem with something I’m calling ‘narrative distribution control.’ It’s not enough to create a narrative and set it lose in the world, then back it up. You’ve got to suppress counter-narratives or, even worse, actual facts.

I heard a description of a small mid-west rust belt town from a former resident. He said everyone listened to specific radio stations, which carried specific songs and messages. Listening to anything else got you odd looks. You only believed certain information sources. Challenging those would get everyone looking at you, saying ‘your education is showing.’ And Gods help you if you deviated from the norm.

It honestly sounded like descriptions of North Korea, except in this case the narrative control, and the choking of information to ‘approved’ sources, comes from the community and not the government. What’s more terrifying? A government imposing a narrative on you, or your own neighbors doing so?

So how do we stop this? How do we prevent us from becoming a less colorful version of The Village?

Do not not be pushed. Start small rebellions. Find these communities and the dissidents within. Let them know they’re not alone, that you know the narrative they’re being fed is not the whole truth. Create alternate narratives and find ways to deliver them to occupied areas.

We need to become the pirate radio station intercepting and countering the control narrative. We have to speak the truth, with proof and citation, and sneak the truth under the wire to those who need it. Learn from those fighting authoritarians elsewhere. Fight them here.

And don’t be afraid to yell “You lie!” when needed. They were willing to do so to support easy falsehoods, you have to do so to support the complicated truth.

Now, on a more personal note…

As with all years, I discover a bit more about myself as a writer, and then immediately get angry at college me for not realizing this. Time is the biggest enemy. But here is what I have learned:

Comfortable structures work best: Now, by comfortable I do not mean ‘comfort zone’ or anything similar. I mean finding a structure that works like a good hammer, or a pen that’s just the right size so it doesn’t dig into your hand the wrong way.

In this case, the comfortable structure is the one I was first trained to use: Screenplay outlines and treatments. During November, I cranked out several short stories at a speed which surprised me. And I realized the key was not only having a good old Syd Field outline for the story and writing up a treatment with scene breakdown beforehand.

I’m still working on how to scale this up, and start layering it for multiple plots, but the focus it conveyed contrasts heavily against the way I wandered around on Metaphysical Graffiti. Even using a plot outlining structure there, it lead to a lot of bloated beginnings and boring middles. I’m going to have to tear down the whole project at this point. But I think it’s for the best. I’m still unsure if I am ready to write this book yet.

Short Stories vs Novels – the battle continues: These days, with the limited time I have, my energy has gone into short stories and the submission grind. I’m still working on novels – still developing long form projects – but they are not my sole focus at this point. Right now, short stories are letting me further development my craft and try to get them out in the world. I won’t pretend I’m the second coming of Ted Chaing or Aunt Beast, but the chances of me getting stories published and developing a name is still greater than my chances of getting a novel subbed at this time.

Speaking of novels…

Generating Stories: Here, I come back to the great question – what stories do I want to tell? What do I want to read? I’m developing bits and pieces of backgrounds, thinking about the stories I want to tell, but finding the right voice for them proves difficult. I know the feeling I want to generate – a feeling I can’t get elsewhere – but grabbing onto it is taking a while.

But I’ll keep working on it. Can’t do much else – the stories aren’t being quiet.

Give yourself time: If this November taught me anything, I need time. Concerted, focus time where I can write. During this November’s write-ins with my group, I was able to put down words at a rate I can’t manage when sneaking out time after work, or in the wee hours before my job drains me of everything but anger.

The hardest part? The part of me, brought from a very Slavic upbringing, that says this isn’t real work, and I should be spending this time on the weekends fixing the fireplace. I think the biggest issue I have to overcome is the continued, nagging sense that this is not a worthwhile activity, even though I’d probably go mad if I couldn’t do it….

So, what am I going to do in 2017?

  • -Continue to write short stories, at least one a quarter, and keep pushing them out into the world to see who grabs onto them.
  • -Work on adapting Screenwriting structures to plotting
  • -Find characters and settings that will let me tell the stories I want to tell.
  • -Fight the part of me that won’t give time for writing
  • -Work on connecting with others and building a support network.
  • -Re-plot Metaphysical Graffiti
  • -Brainstorm the type of stories I want to tell and find characters within them
  • -Anger is an energy. Use it.

Talk to you all in the future
-> Andrija, Dec 2017