Today is the first birthday of my wonderful, screaming monsters. Sarah made them a confetti cake and they got a visit from Grandma Bev and Grandpa Redge. Snow fell. Diapers were changed. They made a huge mess. Photos were taken. Bath time was torture. Getting dressed and having their hair brushed was an unbearable misery. Overall, a perfect first birthday.
Today is also a day tinged with sadness as we remember our lost Olive. Milestones come fast during a child’s first few years. First teeth. First steps. First words. First Christmas. First lawsuit. You get the idea. And, as we see Penny and Beanut make all these steps growing up, we can’t help but be reminded that Livvy didn’t get a chance for any of them. I miss that little baby and I miss the person she could have been.
When the sadness of the situation is overwhelming, I feel comforted in the two girls we do get to see grow, learn about the world, and chase the ever-patient Noodle, and knowing that Livvy’s essence has gone back to the universe that made her. In the end, we are all just stardust and she has gone back to the stars earlier than we would have liked.
Happy birthday, girls. I love you all very much.
Enjoy some photos of babies with a bunch of cake on their sweet, little faces.
Goodreads gives you a little tool to track the number of books you read over the course of a year. In 2021, I wanted to read 52 books—a book a week—but that proved a little ambitious. Who knew that infants were so much work? I got half way. A far cry from my 2020 peak of 62 books.
This year I’ve set my goal at a more reasonable 26 books, or one every other week. That is the same number I managed last year, so I feel pretty good that I should be able to make it happen. And if I don’t? Well, that’s how the cookie crumbles, I guess.
I try to read a variety of things, but the reality is that I end up actually reading a bunch of SFF, horror, and technical stuff. A scan through my previous years’ lists confirms this. The examples I’ve considered for this post are all in line.
What *do I have in the list for this coming year? Let’s look.
Rhythm of War by Brandon Sanderson – I’ve already started this one. I anticipate that I am going to finish it some time in September. Sanderson is not known for his brevity. Coming to this after finishing John Langan’s The Fisherman was a bit of a shock. Their two styles of prose could not be more different. Langan is dense and literary while Sanderson is like watching a comic book movie. Both are good. Both have their places. But, dang, are they different.
Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott – I started this book like two years ago during my writing class at Cabrillo. Fortunately, it’s a collection of essays. Picking it back up will not be difficult. Lamott is charming, hilarious, and just enough of a pain in the ass for her writing to resonate strongly with me.
Akira by Katsuhiro Otomo – I’ve read the entirety of Akira before when it was first collected into five volumes in 2000. A long time ago at this point. I purchased the 35th anniversary collection last year and it’s been sitting on my floor waiting to be read. This is the year. Akira is massive and, along with the film version, a formative work for me.
The Terror by Dan Simmons – I’m about 45 hours into the 50 hours of the audiobook of Simmons’ Carrion Comfort and I’ve enjoyed the hell out of it. I’ve read the Hyperion series, but didn’t know until Carrion Comfort that Simmons also wrote novels that weren’t just love letters to John Keats. Further, the audiobook version of The Terror I spent an Audible credit on is produced with background music. This is going to either be a big hit or a big miss. Either way it is going to shine some light on an idea I’ve had for The Black Laser Reads about doing audiobooks with more production elements than just voice. Also, it’s another horror novel that is well regarded. I am sure it will be a fun one.
Piranesi by Susannah Clarke – Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell was one of the best books of the year in whichever year I read it. Goodreads tells me I finished the Kindle version in 2016. It is so rich and such a fun adventure that I felt pretty bummed that it was her only novel. One hell of a one-and-done, you know? Shortly after moving to Delaware, Sarah and I went into the bookshop in Bethany and I saw she had a new book, Piranesi, available only in hardback. Instant purchase. My copy is signed by the author, too, which is fun. Piranesi has gotten a lot of good chatter around it, which makes me look forward to it even more.
House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski – This was one of the suggestions by my friend Mike when I solicited Facebook for horror novel recommendations a while ago. The format of this book doesn’t lend itself well to e-reading, which is my preferred way of consuming novels. I hesitated a long time until I finally just bit the bullet and picked up a paper copy. I know almost nothing about what happens in House of Leaves, only that people whose opinions I respect think it is fantastic. That is enough.
The Rhetoric of Fiction by Wayne C. Booth – My understanding is that this work gave us the name for the “unreliable narrator”. It’s dense. It’s academic. He writes about a lot of works I’ve never read. Seems like the perfect thing to shift my brain into a different gear.
Books of Blood, Vols 3-6 by Clive Barker – I find that toggling between horror shorts and other books is a good way to break things up without getting distracted from the main text much in the same way as how I like to have one nonfiction and one fiction book going at any one time. So, really, I guess it’s actually one fiction, one nonfiction, one collection of short stories, and one audiobook in progress at all times. Clive Barker’s Books of Blood fit in perfectly with any combination of things I’m reading. It’s nice to have that short, sweet, horror fix. Palate cleansers.
Off the top of my head and a quick glance around my desk that’s it for now. Certainly I will think of some other things I intend to read this year. I’ll revisit this in a few months and we can check in on my progress. Completing these books will get me 15 books further toward my goal of 26. Not all the way, but not too bad either.
Did I miss anything you think I should definitely read this year? Is something on my list so stupid I should give it a pass? What are you reading (besides this post)? Suggest a book that is outside my normal consumption and tell me why I should read it.
Penny. It’s almost midnight. Why have you been laying in bed with your eyes open for nearly 30 minutes? PenPen, it’s night-night time. Go to sleep, Penny. Stop staring at the ghosts. They know you can see them. But you’re a growing girl and there will be time for spirits.
The girls have this book, Little Avocado’s Big Adventure, and it’s got this cute little avocado finger puppet in the middle. Look:
He’s cute! You can wiggle him around while reading it and they absolutely love it. Easy to please, sure, but the little extra jazz is fun. If you look closely enough, you can see that they also think the book is quite delicious.
From the cover we learn that Little Avocado is going on vacation somewhere to sit by the pool. That certainly seems like a Big Adventure, especially if you are 11 months old. While I’m not totally clear on how an avocado wears the flip-flops on the floor next to his lounge chair, I’m willing to go along with the story.
This is nice! Our little avocado buddy is hanging out with other food friends. We’ve got our short and green avocado, a tomato, a lime, an onion, a Mexican bag of tortilla chips, and another slice of lime. Who seems to be in some sort of distress? Perhaps because he’s so tart? Or because he has been cut? It’s not really clear why Mr. Lime Wedge is unhappy. We can only speculate.
He’s getting ready for his trip! I hope he’s packed all the essentials. The onion is crying (or laughing) because that’s what onions do to people. Unless you’re wearing contact lenses, but that’s a discussion for another post. Everything else seems to be in order. The tomato is jumping. The whole lime is having a great time. The bag of chips’ mustache looks great. And the lime wedge is…. screaming?
Oh my god.
The avocado is afraid of being murdered to make guacamole.
The little green avocado is escaping the kitchen where he is due to be cut open, scooped out, and mashed with his friends into the “world’s best guacamole”. And the only one of his friends who has any idea is the already mutilated lime wedge. The bag of chips has been disemboweled and his insides are dancing around the bowl. The tomato and onion have no idea what fate has in store for them. The avocado is abandoning his friends so he does not have to meet the reaper.
This isn’t a story about going on an adventure; this is a story about someone running for their life.
He left the lime wedge! So consumed with fear for his own life, the avocado left his friend who directly requested aid behind to suffer the very ignominious fate the avocado is running from. Perhaps the avocado is a self-centered monster who doesn’t care about anyone but himself.
Nevertheless, he’s on the plane now with some other fruit friends, none of whom are Mexican stereotypes, literally flying for his life.
A good question, to be sure. Based on this map, the avocado is either coming from somewhere in Yukon, Canada or from Russia’s coast along the Kara Sea and is destined for Western Australia, with a layover in New York City.
Though the book claims we’ll never know, I feel like we established where avocado’s flight from the clutches of the grave took him. Palm trees, sunshine, pools. Little guy is in Perth or somewhere in the vicinity.
But, wait a second. Wait a second. What is that on the table next to avocado? Is he drinking from the hollowed out skull of a coconut?? Forget that strawberry, banana, and pineapple seem to be totally cool with this refreshment abomination, witness protection program avocado is a monster! First he abandons lime wedge, and now he is enjoying a beverage from the split open head of another fruit friend? What bleak hell is this book? Murder! Abandonment! Cannibalism! Mutilation! Racism!
And thus ends the nightmare that is Little Avocado’s Big Adventure. Thankfully we only have to bear 12 pages of this ghastly tale. The mind of Brick Puffinton is a truly horrifying place.
These aren’t just personal or professional goals, but a mix of the two. In this era of working from home in the midst of being a stay-at-home parent, the lines between the two types of goals are often hazy, so why not mix them together in this list and let it fly? They’re already mixed together in my head. Besides, work is essentially personal since, for me at least, I work to support my life rather than live to work.
I share these with you as a commitment device. If you, faceless reader, know that I am striving to accomplish these things, then I will more easily be able to pressure myself out of slacking.
In no particular order, here we go.
Record some TBLR episodes: I dabbled with The Black Laser Reads many years ago and then sort of let it drop. However, I’ve been thinking about The Black Laser Reads non-stop since then. A dig through the post archive reveals that only two episodes were released, both in the in summer of 2011. That means it’s been bouncing around in my head for ten and a half years with little public action. I’ve finally got an acceptably imperfect VO booth set up here in my office and an ever-deepening list of public domain works that I am interested in. It’s just a matter now of doing the recording.
Make more photos: Sarah and I have this crazy idea of owning a photo studio one day, but, as a photographer, I feel like I still need lots of practice. I’m getting the dust out and I shoot and process very deliberately, but there are so many aspects I need to improve on before I’d be comfortable charging for the work. Practice practice!
Improve my photo compositing skills: I am like a B-minus level photo compositor. The problem is that I don’t really know what I need to do to improve. I enjoy the work, definitely, but I am at a bit of an impasse where I need some structured education in the matter. I really just want our holiday cards to be better than everyone else’s. Simple.
Write more on The Black Laser: I’ve already started doing this. I’d like to keep it up. At the beginning, I wrote here all the time about anything that interested me. A lot of it is very bad, but that is the price we pay to get better at a skill. Then, for many years—let’s call them “The Quiet Years”—I worried that no one cared at all about what I wrote here. That is the result of my skill and taste levels increasing at different rates. Significantly better taste with moderately better skill. Many ideas were hatched and all were killed by the “Why bother?”s. Much silence ensued. Now, while I am still unconvinced that people are too interested in what I have to write, the whole purpose is the bother. That is, the work is the reason to do the work. And I’m enjoying it again!
Write some more stories: During the class at Cabrillo I was on a streak. Sure, it was for the class, but I was in the mindset and the barrier to the work was low. Then we had COVID hit the world, the cross-country move, the triplets pregnancy, the temporary move to Maryland, the birth of the girls, the unending hospital misery, the loss of Olive, the move back to Delaware, and the struggle to figure out how to be parents who work. Somewhere along the way, the needle just sort of popped out of the groove. I’d like to flip it over and start the B side.
Make a local friend: It’s crazy what social distancing and two little girls who can’t walk yet will do to prevent you from making friends. No one’s fault, of course. As much of an introvert as I am, having a friend within driving distance would probably not be such a bad idea. How to make that friend is a totally different proposition.
Continue to practice my penmanship: My handwriting is not bad, by any means, but it is a funny mix of half-remembered cursive and printing. You will often see both a cursive S and a printing S in the same word. I purchased the Spencerian Penmanship book set a few months ago and was steadily practicing while doing overnights just after we brought Penelope and Beatrice home. After the move back to Delaware, I have not been keeping up with it so well. There’s something about not having 8 hours of forced quiet time every single night to make you lose sight of the learning you were doing. Of course, my penmanship doesn’t matter at all, but it’s something I’d like to improve so I am going to.
That’s kind of a lot of stuff, I guess. But there is kind of a lot of time in a year and it is important to have goals. Keep up with me and see how far I get! Commitment devices!
Also, you might have noticed an audio file embedded in the top of this post. Click it! That’s me reading to you on my website for your enjoyment. I thought that adding audio versions of these posts would be a fun way to add a little value to the site and give me a chance to hone my monologue editing skills. You get all the benefit; I do all the work. Win-win.
Social media is bad. There’s no denying it’s bad. It’s been a major source of the disinformation which earned us Orange, a prolonged pandemic, and Q supporters. It’s also incredibly distracting, makes people compare their lives to illusions, and can be alienating. The companies that run the social media ecosphere are villainous with little respect for their users, only seeking to commoditize attention. This is no secret. No one doubts this.
And yet, social media used to be fun. When I first signed up for Facebook—which I assume was most people’s first major social media exposure—it was great. It was fun to see what people who I hadn’t seen or spoken with in ages were up to. I enjoyed looking at people’s silly photos and reading about their trips and lives and ups and downs. It was nice to bullshit with people in a way that allowed me not to face my crippling phone anxiety (sorry, everyone, I still love you). It often felt a lot like real connection. Distant, sure, but genuine still.
Then we had Twitter, Instagram, and a whole host of also-rans which worked themselves into our daily lives. And they were pretty fun, too! Each in their own way. Twitter was a fun way to interact as succinctly as possible. Instagram was a fun way to get a photostream of in-the-moment photos of what people were up to. That was pretty cool!
But then things started to change. Slowly. Imperceptibly. Yet change they did.
People started to perform for social media, instead of allowing their social media pages to reflect how they actually behaved. We saw the beginnings of what would come to be called “influencers”, a term nearly as cynical and heartbreaking as “content creator”. Soon after the advertisers came. And with advertisers came real money. And with real money, the platform was doomed.
Users transformed from participants in a network of real people, to click-throughs and eyes for a new generation of internet advertising. Sure, the new ads weren’t the old pop-ups everyone rightfully hated so much, but they were just as intrusive, just as in-your-face. And, worse, it was often harder to tell what was an ad and what was genuine. They learned to dress ads and news and lies in a friendly disguise. Those of us who were savvy understood the difference, but your uncle who grew up in a world without any internet at all didn’t.
Now, my Facebook feed is full of ads, suggested posts, and nonsense. I use an ad blocker and an additional browser plugin that cleans up the feed and it’s still filled with nonsense. Where we once got posts in a chronological order, the algorithm now puts them in some impenetrable order which is decipherable only to its machine intelligence. Why can I not just see what the most recent post is, by default, all the time? My well-curated selection of liked pages means nothing when Zuck & Crew just put whatever the hell they want in front of me any time they please. My eyes are vastly more valuable as a target for ads than I am as a contributor to the platform.
Instagram, now also owned by Facebook, is just as bad. Suggested posts slipped seamlessly into my feed, an unending stream of reels which I didn’t sign up for, ads shoved into ever crevice, and posts presented into the algorithm’s order.
All the old pleasures of the platforms are gone. It has been a death from a thousand cuts, but, finally, now, it has reached a point where it’s just not worth it any more. All social media gives me now is anxiety from yet another political post or someone else asking for me to be outraged about something or some dire click-bait news about something I have no power over shoved in my face. If I have to see one more photo of Mitch McConnell’s wattle in my social media feeds I will lose my mind.
It all just stresses me out. We have a duty as adults not to subject ourselves to things that make us crazy for no reason. Many things in life are unavoidably crazy-making. Why not eliminate the things we can?
With that, my theme for 2022 will be:
The Year Without Social Media
Seems simple, right? It’s not! Stupid social media has become such an easy crutch for me, my most favorite of all time-wasters even if it constantly makes me feel bad. Many of you have had me leave stupid comments on your posts or click through your Instagram stories (without my sound off) or whatever this or whatever that. This year I’ll be having none of that. For me, it’s time poorly spent avoiding doing things that would ultimately make me feel better even if they are more difficult in the short run. Like writing here on The Black Laser.
I won’t be checking my feeds this year. At all. None of them. If I had a way to check to see what my friends are family are posting without being subjected to endless aggravating noise, I would. All day! But I can’t. Clearing out that section of my head will be helpful. If your trash can was full, you’d take the trash out, right? Same thing.
I’m not glassing the earth, however. I still think my accounts will be a good way to direct people here. I still want to share and no one reads blogs anymore without being pointed to them. So, the accounts will stay with handy signposts to come here to The Black Laser to follow-up and see what I am doing.
I don’t know if I will eventually come back after the year is up. I am not even sure how it will make me feel. Better? Worse? More isolated? Less aware of my isolation? The whole point is to detox to see how I feel. Get some things done. Make some stuff. If I get to the halfway point in the year and I find myself direly missing social media, I’ll come back. Or if this year ends and I realize some utility for enduring the misery, I’ll come back. However, in the meantime, the break will be nice.
You want to see cute pictures of the girls? They’ll be here! You want to read my inane, messy thoughts about my life? This is the place! You want to comment on something I wrote or shared? Do it here! I’ve already got a platform; I built it myself thirteen years ago. There are no ads, no trackers, no algorithms. This is what it is and I encourage you to make yourself at home here with me.