The Tao Te Ching

Been reading Derek Lin’s translation of the Tao Te Ching this week, bit by bit, so I can really think about each of the Chapters (which seem analogous to verses). To state my opinion briefly, I’ve liked some of the Chapters, and disliked others. My opinions are probably in part based on my mood (when I’m anxious I find them calming and beautiful, but when I feel content they don’t really do much for me), but some of them I think just don’t connect with the way I see the world. For instance, the middle third of Chapter 52:

Close the mouth
Shut the doors
Live without toil all through life
Open the mouth
Meddle in the affairs
Live without salvation all through life

I’ve been trying to get at the meaning of that. Is this saying that a person shouldn’t be a gossipmonger? That I can get behind. But there seems to be a deeper philosophy there, particularly with the “shut the doors” line. Should we shut the doors? Should we ignore the stuff going on in the greater world?

Sometimes we have to ignore the world around us. Whenever I get anxious, that’s exactly what I do. But how much is too much? When do we become ostriches with our heads in the sand?

(Literally? Never. The question might become more interesting if we ask if figuratively.)

Then again, there are some Chapters which practically bowl me over with their beauty. To quote the entirety Chapter 50, just two Chapters earlier:

Coming into life, entering death
The followers of life, three in ten
The followers of death, three in ten
Those whose lives are moved toward death
Also three in ten
Why? Because they live lives of excess

I’ve heard of those who are good at cultivating life
Traveling on the road, they do not encounter rhinos or tigers
Entering into an army, they are not harmed by weapons
Rhinos have nowhere to thrust their horns
Tigers have nowhere to clasp their claws
Soldiers have nowhere to lodge their blades
Why? Because they have no place for death

That’s probably been my favorite Chapter thus far, the depiction of philosophical transcendence being turned into something so physical and superhuman. All that build up in the second half, and then the response, “Because they have no place for death.”

Whew, good stuff.

Sad True Detective Prediction

Season 2 of True Detective is probably going to be bad.

I don’t want that to be true. Season 1 was great, and I want nothing more than 20 seasons of strangely philosophical men struggling with cults and alcoholism. But I just don’t think that’s going to happen.

Nic Pizzolatto is obviously a good writer. But writing season after season of a TV show all by yourself is tough, and the recently released story blurbsounds really similar to what we saw in season 1.

Also, apparently the ending of Season 1 was kind of borrowed from Alan Moore?

It’s too early to tell, but things just aren’t looking so great.

Editing

I just wrote a really long post about Greek Theater and Television that I edited and edited until I decided it wasn’t good enough to put up, so this might be a short post.

But it does lead me to ask myself: how much editing is enough? How much work should a writer put out there?

For the most part, I’m a somewhat obsessive editor. I just prefer the editing to the writing, and I genuinely do believe the devil’s in the details.

But then I know and respect so many writers who don’t like editing much at all. One of the most famous is probably Robert Heinlein, who went so far as to make it a rule, “Rule Three: You Must Refrain From Rewriting, Except to Editorial Order.”*

I really don’t know my thoughts on the matter. You don’t want to turn out bad prose, but at the same time, if you want to become a professional author you don’t want to fiddle with a piece to the point that the time spent on each piece makes writing economically non-profitable.

Questions, questions.

What do you guys think?

*If you want to see all of Heinlein’s rules, Robert J. Sawyer does a pretty interesting write-up about them here.

The Author Bio

Think I finally nailed down my author bio (for now).

It’s a tricky form: a short piece of prose that’s supposed to reveal your poetic soul. Of course, my poetic soul couldn’t be captured without mentioning alcohol and pancake houses.

Anyway, here it is:

“Billy Peery is a writer, trumpet player, and comedian. Born and raised in Boca Raton, Florida, he’s written for a number of venues, among them Sick Puppies Comedy and Iris. He can probably be found at a Denny’s near you, laughing too loudly and slipping liquor into his Coke when no one’s looking.”

I imagine it’ll change a lot over the years, but I like this as a start.

My Internet Doesn’t Know I’m Gay

The Atlantic posted an interesting article a couple days ago about “The Invisible Economy,” and how our economy is doing a lot better than we think it is, because so much exchange happens for free these days online, which means that the GDP is no longer a useful economic metric.

I was worried the author was going to completely ignore people who had lower incomes, but he addressed that near the end of the article, so that was good.

Anyway, part of what I found so interesting about this article was the idea that this “Invisible Economy” existed because we traded our personal information for the ability to use admittedly awesome websites like Google, Facebook, etc.

The author didn’t flat-out state this, but he kind of hinted that the trade was worth it: Google and Facebook perform services of such high value to us, so giving away our personal information really isn’t *that* bad. And I 100% agree with that idea.

Also, I’m not really all that worried about how much personal information I’m giving away. I mean, really: my Internet hasn’t figured out that I’m gay.

Sure, the ads on the side of Goodreads are sometimes insanely specific, like they’ve figured out the subgenre of a subgenre that I’m loving at the moment. But at the same time, I’m constantly being bombarded with those ads for matchmaking services that are like, “Tiffany58 is available to chat.”

And you know, Tiffany58 eyes the camera while making sure to emphasize certain parts of her body.

And I’m sorry, Tiffany. But your vagina is a bit of a turn-off.

Of course I’m fully aware that all these ads are scams. I mean, when you see that “Tiffany58″ is available to chat for seemingly 24 hours a day over the span of 6 months, it’s not hard to figure out that there’s some sort of scam going on.

But all I’m saying is, if I was drunk enough, and they put a picture of a hot enough guy there instead of Tiffany 58, I might — just might — click on it.

You know, because I’m someone who has trouble controlling his impulses.

And also, I don’t really worry about viruses because Macs don’t really get viruses.

So yeah. People are worried about giving their information away online. But I’m not going to be worried about that until the Internet can figure out I’m gay.

My friends know I’m gay. My family knows I’m gay. When I wear my rainbow suspenders, it seems a pretty safe bet to say that people I’ve never spoken to know that I’m gay.

But the Internet? The Internet keeps showing me Tiffany58.

Oculus Rift: Seeing Through the Eyes of the Other

I’m excited for virtual reality.

On the one hand it’s quite scary. The Matrix, The Truman Show, and Ray Bradbury have all given me plenty of fears about what such all-consuming technology could mean for our everyday lives. And in all honesty, I already have a bit of a Philip K. Dick-esque paranoia about how much of reality is truly real and how much of it is just the crazy improper interpretations of my own brain.

On the other hand, it’s undeniably cool.

This is science fiction come to life (not that a lot of things in our recent past haven’t been incredibly science fictional. I think Warren Ellis’s recent blog post had a nice way of summing up how science fictional our world truly is).

You guys ever watch Batman Beyond? Do you remember how popular Virtual Reality headsets were in those arcades?

I mean it: this stuff is friggin’ awesome.

And, despite my own worries, I can’t help but reflect on how virtual reality fulfills one of the goals of literature. Don’t people read books to see through the world as it is seen through the eyes of others? Aren’t people literally able to do that with Oculus Rift?

Of course, there are still a ton of things literature and other media will do better than Oculus Rift. But I just find it interesting that VR can actually do what literature only does in a metaphorical sense.

Britain’s Tradition of Adventure Serials, Punctuated by Thoughts About Dr. Who

As of late, I’ve been reading some British newspaper comic strips. In particular, I’ve been enjoying the spy/crime series Modesty Blaise,  as well as the basically indescribable time traveling Garth. They’re a lot of fun, even though their main characters don’t really have any flaws.

Flawed characters are a pretty important part of most stories, right? Conflict is the foundation of all storytelling, and it’s hard to have meaningful conflict without having flawed characters.

But really, Modesty Blaise and Garth don’t have meaningful flaws, and that gives their respective strips a fun — if admittedly lightweight — tone.

*Spoilers for an old newspaper strip which was good but like really are you going to be worried about having it spoiled for you?*

In the first Garth story I read, “Cloud of Balthus,” we get blond strongman Garth, who goes for a vacation with his typically brainy sidekick Professor Lumiere. The professor is concerned with six American astronauts, who are up in a spaceship that has lost all contact with NASA. Garth is cavalier about the whole thing, despite his sidekick’s troubles. As he puts it, “I’m backing the yanks to sort it out, Prof!”

They don’t, of course, because the strip is entitled, “Garth” and not, “The Yanks Sort it Out.” But while all this space intrigue is going on, there’s some Earth-based intrigue as well, with a lady named Lee Wan sneaking around and observing Garth, looking for the proper moment to strike.

It turns out that it’s all tied together because a *mysterious* Communist group wants to get at the non-communicative shuttle before the yanks can. So Lee Wan takes Garth up with her in a spaceship (Because he’s really good at surviving? They didn’t really specify exactly why Garth should go up in the shuttle with her. I mean reading it in the moment, three panels at a time, people might not have caught stuff like that), where they proceed to encounter aliens.

Garth basically just strong arms the aliens — who are so impressed with him and his compassion for Lee Wan that they’ve already let all the astronauts go free — and drives a shuttle back down to earth, where it crashes into the ocean. Then Lee gets captured by her Communist superiors, whom she’s now turned against. Garth saves her and then they make a joke about needing another vacation blah blah blah.

The funny thing is, Garth reminded me of Steven Moffat’s Dr. Who in some ways. You’ve got the highly revered character whom the aliens are in awe of, you’ve got the guy who can come up with a plan to get everyone out of trouble, and you’ve got the frankly crass treatment of women as objects.

But the thing about Garth is that it’s very honest about what it is. It’s basically pulp, which is concerned with action and a cool main character, but little else. Even the sexism of the Garth strip can be called into question, if we look at the way the main character is always better than everyone else in their strip: the same thing happens in Modesty Blaise, where she’s just superior to everyone around her.

In a world with an impossibly perfect character, everyone else does seem kind of degraded by comparison.

But Moffat’s Dr. Who is different. Its obsession with these grand-seeming myth arcs that span for a bunch of episodes doesn’t mean that it’s filled with cool story beats or interesting philosophical ruminations: it’s only concerned with talking about how cool the Doctor is (a trait it DOES have in common with both Garth and Modesty Blaise) and establishing mysteries it solves poorly.

Worst of all, it’s all gloom and doom. It refuses to have fun like these old British strips once did.