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The Stereotypical New Year’s Resolution Post

She slimed meI’ve jumped into the stereotypical slop of the new year. I have it hanging all over me, like the coagulating goop from a Nickolodeon game show. So while I’m sitting here reveling in my ooey-gooey goodness, I figured I better write out what I hope to do with  myself in 2013.

These goals are largely to help me motivate myself against the reigning monotony of everyday work-life. Before I go any further, I had a moment this morning after reading a damn, fine passage in “Boy’s Life” (on break at work, of course), where I saw myself growing old behind these cubicle walls. It’s not exactly a revelation, but more of a fact at this point. We need money to survive and I do love my job. So, if I’m going to be sitting enclosed by gray fabric walls for the next couple decades, I might as well have fun doing what I love outside of work, and also step up my game while behind those crushing gray plates.

Goal number one: Write more. As a personal hobby, writing has become less and less a part of my life in the past five years. That changed a bit in 2012, as you’ll notice from the blog, but I want to write a bit more seriously. And, I’ve given up on the novel for the time being. I’m called to the short story form, and that’s OK. I’m not in it for money, prestige, or fame, so the short story vehicle works for me and my voice. I’ll stick to it and write more often.

Goal number two: Exercise. As I mentioned, I have the newness of 2013 coating me right now. I’m feeling newborn alive, screaming and wailing against the very things that oppress me. That and I’m fat. I went to the gym two years ago and cut 20 pounds. I’ve re-upped my subscription to a gym closer to home and cheaper by $10 a month. It’s on. Going to start on the 1st. Goal is to workout three times a week.

Goal number three: Quit smoking. Some of you may not know this, but I’ve struggled with smoking for the better part of the last five years. I’ve quit numerous times, only to return to the dark habit out of fear, loathing, you name it. 2013 is going to be different. I shall quit the thundersticks once and for all. Boom.

Goal number four: Read more novels. I did decent this year. Che and I stripped television out of our lives like a deadbeat tenant who was behind six months on rent. I only watch the occasional television show nowadays, clocking less than five hours a week in front of the glowing god. In it’s place, I’ve read a few books this year. I really want to step it up. I’m going to try for 36 books this year. I’ll be doing the Goodread’s challenge, so you can check up on that goal if you so desire.

Learn a programming language, you damn ape!

Learn a programming language, you damn ape!

Goal number five: Learn a programming language (python or PHP). I don’t have to be expert status on this by 2014, but workable understanding would be good.

Goal number six: Enjoy my family and nature. Last year we took our first family camping trip. We headed to Lake Shelbyville and had a heck of a time, save for the nasty lake virus Aleah brought home. This year I would like to camp in Tennessee for a weekend, a few state parks, and just have a good time with my wife and daughter.

American Gods, A Review

American Gods

Neil Gaimon’s American Gods

I finished reading American Gods. The book by Neil Gaimon has garnered a fair bit of hype since it was first published in 2001. It’s won the hearts of fantasy readers and could be a bit of a genre-breaking book too, as its gained much attention from mainstream readers.

There are spoilers in the coming paragraphs…don’t read them if you don’t want the plot ruined for you.

The story begins by introducing us to Shadow, a prisoner closing in on completing a three year stint for what turns out to be a robbery gone wrong. Shadow is a big man, an imposing figure. He’s also got a love of his life, Laura, waiting for him on the outside, and a decent job from a good friend. But then something terrible happens, Shadow is called into the Warden’s office and told his wife has been killed in a car crash. This occurs days before he was to be released and reunited with her. He’s devastated. As a result of her death, the prison lets him go early.

After his release and on his way to attend the funeral of his beloved wife, a man by the name of Wednesday tries to employ him, and this where the book takes off. Wednesday wants an errand boy, a driver, and someone to give his eulogy should he die. What he doesn’t tell Shadow is that he’s an old god, one of the greats, and his latest quest is to save the old gods from extinction.

The story gets a bit weird here. Shadow ends up joining up with Wednesday and meeting a whole cast of characters, old gods, new gods, and some fickle characters in between. It’s a romp in a fantastical realm, where old gods once conquered the hearts and souls of men, but now fight for their survival.

The story pits the old gods against their modern counterparts. The new gods of the internet and public relations have no interest in keeping Thor or his historical brothers in the world. They’re working against them to try to stamp out their existence.

The book does a great job pulling together all these mythical characters and breathing quality, non-cardboard cutout lives to them. The book sheds light on how we worship new technology, just as our ancestors worshiped their mythical sky creatures.

My favorite part of the book came by way of asides to the main narrative. These after-chapter jaunts into a god’s singular creation seemed to be the best written part of the books. We see a brother and sister sold into slavery in Africa, travel to Barbados and the US respectively, and transform into god’s among their people there, leading a revolution in Barbados and healing family in the US tale. There are other asides throughout the novel too.

I’ve not read any other Gaimon, and American Gods is a good ten years old. But I think it’s worth a read if you’re at all intrigued by the old gods.

How to check which version of Ubuntu server you’re running

I ran into this issue today. I wanted to see the Ubuntu version on my VM. The -uname -a command showed the machine name, but not the distribution info. So I found reference to a file in the /etc/ folder. Try reading the content of this file if you need the distribution version info:

/etc/lsb-release

The American Quest

Alex’s breath fogged in the cold night air. The sweatshirt he’d grabbed from the back of his chair smelled like old milk or cheese. Alex checked the pocket and pulled the lint out, throwing the tuft into the bushes. By two-ish in the morning, the streets had died. Earlier, pangs of hunger had set in, and Alex didn’t want the last package of noodles, crunched and broken on the cupboard shelf. He deserved a treat.

The corner-store was less than two blocks from his single bedroom flat. The neighborhood was built in the 1970s and had gone into disrepair due mostly to landlords hording money against unsung bullshit. No one really knew the state of things anymore, especially with how much the politicians garbled. For Wall Street things were fantastic, thought Alex. For the out-of-work, code monkeys, not so much.

Alex walked through the intersection of Derby Street, dimly lit against a flickering streetlight. He could see two figures standing next to a parked car, their hoods pulled over their heads, creating a single, large shadow behind them. He figured they must be kids, probably breaking into cars. He watched as one guy slapped the other’s arm with the back of his hand and pointed towards Alex. For a moment, Alex thought of the game he’d just left. Maybe they were players too. He always wanted to meet fellow gamers in the wild. He’d love to talk to someone about the loot he’d collected or the secret dungeon he’d crawled through for the fiftieth time, all for a random chance at a glorious riding mount. He’d been trying for half a year.

“Hey, you got a light.” One of the hooded men asked as he came shuffling up the sidewalk. He held a bent cigarette between two fingers.

“No, man. Sorry.” Alex looked down the sidewalk.

“You got a few bucks then?” The guy turned toward the corner store, shouldering next to Alex as he walked. The other guy pushed lightly on Alex other shoulder with a hand as if to say he was repeating the question. Alex kept walking. He thought about the night he’d won the crown jewel riding mount off the six armed beast, Death Strider. The mount was coveted by players throughout his server. Many farmed it after the weekly reset, because that was the best time to defeat the boss and get the mount — the statistics gathered from thousands of playing hours suggested as much. Fourteen had been found dropped within an hour of server reset.

“I don’t have any extra money. I’m heading to get a few slices of pizza,” Alex’s voice cracked. He was sorry he’d said it. Why would he tell them what he was doing?

The only time Alex saw the mount, the raid leader, a goblin named Chugbugoo, had pocketed it for himself, even though Alex’s character, Teemo, was the one who rolled the highest. The mount was rightfully Alex’s. He’d filed a petition and waited for redemption, logging in at odd hours to see if his request had been fulfilled by Sky Support. Then the green check-mark had been ticked and Alex saw the stupid response. Loot rules needed to be said upfront. A master loot raid was up to the discretion of the leader. Alex then knew the dice rolls were for show — the true power was held by the raid leader. After that, he’d always forced the lead to announce loot rules in chat.

The guy behind Alex said, “Why don’t you just give us your wallet and we’ll go in there and get what you wanted?” He said it like the offer made sense, like he was talking to a fourteen year old girl looking to buy Schnapps, not a guy who hadn’t seen the Death Strider mount in fourteen weeks, a guy who only wanted to buy a few slices of pizza to push down the bile gurgling up his throat.

“No.” Alex stopped walking, his hands hanging dumb at his side. “I’m not giving you shit,” He looked at each of them. He saw their scrawny faces, the sprouts of hair under their chins, acne scars, bloodshot eyes. He saw terror curtained behind a drugged veneer.

“Now leave me be.” The one guy laughed, and the other followed with a snort and a short squeal. “We’re just giving you the rub,” the other parroted the same, but Alex didn’t care. He was going to get his reward.

New Additions to the Site

I’ve updated the site, as you may have noticed. I’m using the Genesis Framework built with the Minimum Theme. No secret I love WordPress (sorry, Drupal). One thing I do love about Drupal is the ability to add custom content types. There’s numerous reasons to have this functionality  so color me surprised when I realized I could perform the same thing in WordPress.

Custom content types did not just appear. They’ve been around a long while. But I’ve realized I can use them to great affect. For instance, my site now has a “Stream” section where I can post anything small that doesn’t necessarily warrant a full-fledged blog post. It uses a custom content type.

Fixing a Leaky Memory Problem

I’m not talking about brain cells being sapped. I’m talking about forgetfulness. You see, I like to read. I love to read short stories, but I often find that the location of said story eludes me. I might know I read it in the New Yorker, but not the year or anything more than I read it there. Sites like GoodReads and LibraryThing fill the memory gap when it comes to novels, but I haven’t found a site that lets you catalog the short stories you’ve read.

So I created a custom content type.

You can see the type in action on the site here: http://jasonfrye.com/story/ The SSLOG allows me to keep track of the where and when, and the written-by-who? Great, right? I think so. If there’s any interest, I can draw up a tutorial on how to do it.

But, tonight, it’s my birthday. I’m going to get off the computer and go read American Gods for a bit. No work tomorrow, so we’ll see what happens then.

My New Kindle Paperwhite

I got my Kindle Paperwhite today! Coming from the second generation Kindle, this thing is really great. The touch screen is surprisingly one of the better features. I didn’t realize how clunky the four way navigation was until I used the touch screen. Browsing through the online store takes much less time, as does most other tasks.

The screen on the Paperwhite is the biggest attraction though, nice crisp contrast. And I can use it while Che sleeps. Great for those marathon reads into the wee hours of the morning.

Che’s going to use the Kindle Keyboard model for now, until we decide the next step. Heck, the touch version is only $69 right now. We might get her one of those if she enjoys reading on the Kindle.

Are you a writer?

I was reading this article on Forbes titled “Why You Shouldn’t Be a Writer.” The article got me thinking, and, maybe a bit defensive.

You shouldn’t write if you’re not called to it. Do you hear the siren song? Writer’s bear a burden. They must write. I do agree, to an extent, but human virtue tends to be a bit more prickly-by-appearance yet smooth-to-the-touch.

Consider that life itself can change priorities and attitudes about what can and won’t be done regarding a dream. A person may have to build a crib, install a car seat, and change diapers in the middle of the night. All the while knowing they could be writing if they just had time. Life does happen and can take us away from our passions.

Mental challenges can also hinder the creative process. Disabilities, diseases, and other cases of illness can dampen the creative spirit. For others, they choose to write through the pain and suffering. And that’s really the message. Take the time, make sacrifices, but write.

You were not a writer during those down times. I was there myself for quite a while. Am I back? Yes, I would say so. But to really know if it’s for real, we need to dig into ourselves, find that core desire, and see if it has any life in it or does it feel brittle, aged, and cracked?

There’s no “magic secret”; writing is like everything else; ten percent inspiration or talent, and ninety percent hard work. Persistence; keeping at it till you get there. As Agnes de Mille said, it means working every day—bored, tired, weary, or with a fever of a hundred and two.

MARION ZIMMER BRADLEY

My distance from fiction was largely due to time constraints and lack of discipline. For the past several years, I’ve been plugging away at articles that stifled my creativity. I wrote about insurance, student exams, US cities, Brazilian wood, armored cars, RC planes, dentists, restaurants, sofas, children’s bedroom furniture, and dozens of other topics. Each tap on the keyboard brought me one step closer to creative suicide. Think DFW’s brilliant story about the IRS auditor, Wiggle Room.

Of course, I had motive for going the article writing route. I needed to keep my lights on. My passion for writing wasn’t burning bright enough to light my house or filling enough to keep my belly full. But maybe a better writer, a Saul Bellow, I.B. Singer, or Stephen King, would have suffered by candlelight to get their story onto the page. And, maybe, I should learn something from the early writings of these authors. Many wrote in extreme poverty because the only thing that mattered was the story.

E.B. White handled his own mail and responded to all the inquiries from his fans. So too did Isaac Asimov, writing more than 10,000 letters to fans who wrote him over the years. Of course, responding to fans is still writing, so their exercises can be found as less of an excuse and more of a waypoint regarding their particular character.

In my case, I deal with the time constraints, but I also have self-doubt regarding my writing prowess. I’ve bottled it all though. My self-doubt looks strikingly like Coca-Cola. Each time I write, I’m dropping a Mentos into the mix.  Who cares if I’m terrible at it. I’ll only ever know myself, if I get to creating more stories. And if I never become a “writer” rather than an “amateur author,” then so be it.

Ragdoll

The scene seemed strung up by a cosmic playwright in its banal twist of unfortunate underpinnings. For a moment, from the passenger seat of the missile-like Volvo, you could almost switch places with each of the characters in the forthcoming conflict. The ragged black man with his pistol arm extended towards the frightened couple on the sidewalk. The little boy who peeked from the restaurant window, over a too-tall bench to see what in the world was happening out there. And my husband, Darby, really Steve, but Darby was my youngest son’s interpretation of Daddy until speech therapy, hunched over ready to ram this dog into a thousand kibbles on the hot pavement.

Later at the hospital, Darby would look over at me and say he wished he’d thought about what he was doing. But what choice did he have? He couldn’t see any other outcome. He didn’t discuss the brains that met our Volvo’s bug stained windshield. Nor the fact the couple panicked and almost ran into oncoming traffic once their assailant had been subtracted from the equation.

But let’s imagine for a minute you are the assailant holding your pistol at a couple of wayward travelers. A couple, seemingly innocent of anything other than being too carefree with their wealth. The woman wore an elegant purse over her shoulder, the contents of which bulged, jingled, rang, begged for one thief or another to take it off her person. The man was no better. He held a smartphone in the slick palm of his hand, looking periodically at its screen, then allowing it to swing like a pendulum along with his gait. In the man’s back pocket the outline of a wallet so pronounced one could only assume he either carried a rolodex of credit cards or more than a dozen tightly packed green bills. Not even the thief would suspect just how many family photos this digital-aged man was carrying in that wallet.

Or imagine the boyfriend or husband — whatever he may be — and take it from their point-of-view. Honey, it’s a nice breezy day, the sun is shining high in the sky, so let’s take to the streets, walk up to the ice cream stand, share a malt, pretend the walk will be pleasant even among the exhaust and Saturday late-afternoon traffic. So you help your wife pull on a cream colored sweater that would contrast nicely with a bullet hole, the crimson red of the blood spilling into the threads, melding the outfit into a letter-sweater of death. Imagine then being pulled up, stopped by a crisp instruction from a hoodlum.

“Stop right there.” And they had stopped, waited until the capillaries in their eyes felt like they would burst from too much mental stress. How could this happen? To him? What had he heard? Don’t look them in the eye. No, that was a bear or panther. This was a murderer. He could see it in the eyes. They were as good as dead. It was then he’d felt the warmth of his own discharge gush down his leg, followed by heart pounding disbelief as he watched the ragdoll of a man crumple on the hood of a speeding car.

But from my perspective, the whole affair’s beginning, the man with his pistol arm extended may have only been trying to hand a dance club flyer to the couple, who in their sanguine daze dodged him like he was some sort of murderer aiming the tube-like flyer, with its drop shadows, aliasing, and kerning. And, only then, if Darby hadn’t been changing the channel, looking for his damned game, maybe the bug spattering on the windshield would have been its only decoration.

A Filipino Story

I admit the Philippines setting hooked me to this story, but I really grew to love it by the end. I do think a few word choices could have been better than others, but the over-arching theme of the story was great. Take a look: http://www.everydayfiction.com/little-bombings-by-peter-zaragoza-mayshle/

And, if you haven’t subscribed, do so. There are a few gems that pop into my inbox, when I have time/attention to give of course.

Descriptions feel rewarding at the moment

I can’t help but be amazed that of all my writing, I favor descriptions the most. I feel rewarded by seeing the world come alive. I need to work more on transitions though. While reading, I’ve been paying attention to the way writing takes shape from one thought to the next. How the author keeps pace, but makes us care about what he’s saying the whole time. I don’t want my work to be the middle-backbreaking prose that stifles many novels. I want it to sing and carry a tune throughout the whole piece.

It’s nighttime and the air is crisp. As we walk down the sidewalk, the sounds of the stoop lessen and it grows eerily quiet for an inner city block. Up ahead, an abandoned warehouse has a gleaming new gate among old stretches of chain link. Weeds have grown through the fence at odd angles, casting shadows down the length of sidewalk that move and dance with the breeze.