Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Ayn Randian Me

Well, I just had a delicious four days off ... and except for playing D&D on Saturday, I didn't do nuthin'.

Truth is, I work just about all the time.  When I am not working at the place that pays me, I work at keeping my partner happy, which is enormously pleasant; I work at D&D of course; I work at writing; and recently, I have been working at the headache of getting into business.  And when I get the opportunity, I do freelance work - which used to be a heavy part of my life, but since the recession, not so much.  But of course, there's the blog here, and writing for this is working too ... a sort of freelance I don't get paid for, but which gives me sincere and abundant compensation.

All of this means that I usually get home and surrender my evening if She wants it, or I move directly to the computer in my room.  My job requires my sitting at a computer for 8 hours, so most days I spend between 11 and 14 hours on the computer all together.

This is the way I like it.  I like working all the time.  I like having something to do, and I like going to bed at night thinking that I have done something.  Usually, if I haven't done something, I feel dissatisfied and depressed, a feeling that lasts until I do something.  And what is 'something' you may ask?  Well, either a thing has been brought into existence, or some kind of maintenance has been done which moves a project forward so that in the nearer future a thing can be brought into existence:  research gathered, numbers crunched, lists organized, etc.  Sometimes, just laying back and thinking for three or four hours and having a clear idea what to do next is a meaningful accomplishment.

But not this weekend.  This weekend I screwed the pooch and let the world go to hell.  My sole contribution to the blogosphere this weekend were two comments on Anthony's blog Of Pedantry, one of which inspired him to write this godawful post.  Off and on for two days I made plans to sit down today and write a scathing attack on the thing, but now that I'm here I don't think I'm going to.  It's a sad world when the principles of science, and the motivations of scientists, have to be explained to a bunch of nerds.  I must assume that either A) the world has come around to where D&D is not being played by nerds; or B) nerds have ceased to read books.  Anyway, read his post and agree with it if you must, and then rush right back here and tell me the subject on this earth that scientists don't investigate, and right after that tell me the tool or the strategy that scientists don't employ in accomplishing their goals.  If magic really existed in the world, do you really think we wouldn't use it to satisfy our curiousity?

For the present my mind is clear and clean and unfilled with the detritus of working on projects all the time.  There comes a point when one is reading so many different texts, and working on so many problems at one time, and chasing so many mental rabbits, everything has to be dumped into a sink and made to swirl down the drain.  This last four days I've done that by reading junk (old Stephen King novellas), watching two complete seasons of Mad Men (3 & 4), having a lot of sex and playing far too much Civilization.  I always wind up playing far too much Civilization, since sincerely two more hours of that game is two hours wasted.  I don't play it to be challenged ... I usually play it on one level lower than would be a challenge (that would be Noble), so I can be assured of winning.  I just like the mental deadness of exploring the land, building up the civilization and the logistics of war.  It's best when the effort is a gentle brain massage.

A while ago ckutalik of Hill Cantons asked 'Why Blog?'  I've been musing about that since.  The bigger question is why write at all ... but asking why write here, specifically, is a reasonable compartmentalization.  The answer for me is, I'm afraid, terribly self-serving ... even Ayn Randian.  I'm not trying to take over the world or anything, or establish a free market (gawd forbid), but this process is a deep, relentless selfish pursuit.

Last week I learned something about this blog that surprised me.  People actually visit here in much larger numbers than I suspected.  A couple of years ago I had a counter on the blog that did not register that much interest, and I took it off because it was becoming an obsession.  But recently Blogger added a counter to their apps and I put it back on.  And the surprising result has been that in the last six days I've had more than 2,000 hits.

And all the more surprising since in the last six days I've had 3 comments.

What a scary motherfucker I must be.  Or, perhaps, what an amazing dancing monkey I am.  See, look at the funny monkey dance.

The reader cannot see, but I have a smile on my face.

One way or the other, it doesn't much matter.  I write to communicate, and I write because I believe (and here's where Ayn Rand fits in) I have things to communicate that are worth hearing.  Nothing brings me more pleasure than seeing that there are many, many people listening ... mass communication is a much bigger rush than communicating person-to-person - with the rare exception of that deeply intense intimate communication that can't be done on a blog.  But I said I had sex twice, so I'm set there.

When the numbers didn't run down with my not posting, I realized that a rant against another blog was not what I should be writing about today.  I realized I had a responsibility to write something personal.  Something about myself.  After all, if people are going to read me, in spite of my being a truly consistent asshole, they might as well have the whole picture.  They might as well have offered to them a bit of the psychology behind the monkey, so they know why the monkey writes, and why the monkey isn't going to stop.

Years and years before I played D&D, I grew up in a house where there were many, many books.  Thousands of books.  And from the beginning, there was one I fell in love with, in one of those 'I-have-no-idea-why' relationships that goes back before memory begins.  That book was 18 x 24 inches in size, dark red in color and weighed about three or four pounds.  That book was a Colliers' Atlas, which my parents had received in 1959 along with their set of Colliers' encyclopedias.  As I grew to be seven years old, I steadfastly memorized every map of that atlas, and the statistics at the front, and the statistics at the back.  I located all the highest waterfalls, and the longest rivers, and the largest lakes and the highest mountains.  I learned all the names of the countries, and the cities, and the states and provinces, and the counties of the United States - as there was a map for every state in the Union.  It was an American atlas, so in spite of my being Canadian I learned the most about American geography.

Most of all, I became enamoured with the largest or the highest or the longest of everything.  Geographical statistics are very - or were very - competitive oriented.  The highest point of elevation was carefully noted in every state.  The largest cities were carefully highlighted.  And at my very young age of seven and eight I painstakingly wrote out lists of these largest things, making lists that weren't in the atlas for my own satisfaction.  It always made me tremendously happy to see a list of the largest cities in Europe, or the longest rivers in Africa.  I have no idea why.  But putting these lists together gave me a sense of accomplishment that I can't explain.

Sadly, however, the atlas, and even the set of encyclopedias that came with it, did not have enough statistics for me.  I found myself always looking for new ones, always unsatisfied with the detail I wasn't able to obtain.

My father was an engineer and worldly enough to know exactly what I wanted.  He didn't worry that I was a young boy in Grade 2.  That Christmas, the Christmas of 1972, and every Christmas thereafter until I was able to start buying my own, I received a World Almanac and Book of Facts.  And oh my god did I love that thing.

I hope the gentle reader knows what it is.  For my own satisfaction, I'll describe is as an incredible block of solid statistics about mostly everything, eight inches by five inches, more than 1000 pages and written mostly in 8-point font.  This book became my bible.  This book went everywhere with me.  I memorized this book ... and for the first three months of every year, my pure and simple joy was to go through the new book covering the new year and find what had changed in the world.  I became fascinated with politics because of the changing national entries; and with science because of new discoveries; and with cities and buildings because of changes there; and with what the census was; and with winners of prizes and awards; and with names of sports figures and statistics surrounding teams and winners; and with flags and with corporations and with death and birth statistics.  I became fascinated with everything.

The almanac wasn't enough, obviously.  There had to be explanations behind everything in the almanac, and I went looking for those.  I was very lucky to be in an elementary school that was possessed of an unusual number of books that were honestly too heavy for an elementary school.  But I learned years later that the school was named after a man who had been a mover and shaker in the educational field, and the school had been given his personal library after his death.  So I had access to these heavy books about human anatomy and geology and astronomy.  And I knew what these things were, and how they related to the real world, through my almanac.

At the beginning of grade four, my mother was asked to come see the principal of my elementary school because my odd behavior had been noted and educators were worried.  They were worried that I never read anything in the library that was fictional.  They were worried that at 10 years old I was reading books which were way over my head.  Apparently, as was told to me by my mother years later, they were worried that somehow reading all this fact-heavy material was going to damage me.  My mother - who I must tell you was no great shakes in the non-fictional department - told the principal that if I was able and willing to read the books they had, then they could shut up about it.  And so they did.  And I went on merrily reading.

But in January of that year, that school burnt down, and the library with it.  There are children in this world who dream about their school burning down as a fantasy, but I had it happen and it was no fantasy for me.  I could have cheerfully had the perpetrators hung on meathooks, ala Valkyrie.  It was learned later that two boys, one from the elementary school and one from the junior high school down the street, started the fire with a blowtorch in the utility room next to the principal's office.  Why?  Oh, for fun.  For revenge too, probably.  The younger boy was my age, and I remember him, but we didn't see him afterwards.  He was the sort of fellow who would think that was fun.  I remember my parents not thinking the boys had done it for fun, but that they were sick - and not in the sympathetic way.

But perhaps upon reading this, the reader can get the mildest sense of my interpretation of people who make arguments about things being 'fun.'  Yes, I understand that they don't mean fun in the sense of burning down schools, but I have a little too much experience with 'fun' trumping just about everything that's good in the world.  I've seen girls tortured for the sake of fun, and friends beat up and beautiful things destroyed.  I'm not an advocate against fun or anything, but neither am I a cheerleader for the glory and self-perpetuating justice of fun either.  People will commit the worst sort of atrocities citing fun as an excuse.  Perhaps to the discomfort of people who read me, I've been scarred in a particular way that connects people who argue the social benefits of fun with the same assholes and fucks that used to play dodgeball viciously and who used to throw empty beer bottles at pedestrians from cars.  I am sorry if you, the gentle reader, dislikes being painted with that brush.  I'm being honest about the gut feeling here, and I can't help it.  I've learned that people who take 'fun' as their god are capable of anything.  I've learned not to trust them.

That's cruel and harsh and I know it's unfair.  But I am a nerd and I will tell you straight up, I have been scarred.  The scars are all healed now and I don't flinch any more ... but the lessons die harder than the scars do.  But let me put that down and get back to what I was saying.

The library disappeared and for quite awhile I and my classmates were shipped around the city to different schools, where they could make room for us.  For the last five months of my Grade Four year, I went to High School.  Literally.  Five rooms were sectioned off the in the same high school where five years later I would actually go to high school, and it was an experience.  At 10 years old I was blessed with seeing kids - big kids - high on drugs, drunk, stupid and making out, on a relatively daily basis.  This was 1974.  It was a little scary.  It was more than a little interesting.  But what I hated the most was that we weren't allowed unbridled access to the high school library, because we weren't supposed to mix with the bigger kids.

Finding a good library was harder than you'd expect.  The public library was very far away - a new one in my neighborhood wouldn't be built for five more years - and when I went to Junior High I found the library there pretty pathetic.  I began reading more fiction, simply because that's what there was ... and so began the infatuation that would make me a fiction writer myself.

I was 12 when I decided to write my own book.  I had been working on things for school and I liked writing little stories, but the change that came around my 13th birthday was when I realized I liked writing more than I liked geography.  I was always certain I'd be a cartographer or something like that ... which my father was disappointed with, since to him cartographers were glorified draftsmen, and both were far beneath the worthy profession of engineer.  He was convinced that with my fascination and ability to understand things, my being an engineer like him was a done deal.

He was not happy when I told him I was going to be a writer.  It took him 30 years to accept it, in fact ... and ultimately he only did when I started to earn more than a passing income.  I think now he's beginning to realize I'm too old to go back to school and become an engineer.  But I don't speak to my father that much anyway.

For the three years of Junior High School I worked painstakingly at the one book I wanted to write, fighting uphill against the fact that I had no ability to write whatsoever.  I will tell the reader honestly, I could not write a decent sentence, much less a paragraph.  That didn't matter much.  What mattered was not how I was conveying the material, but the material itself.  The communicated idea.  But of course I had to learn how to master the technique to succeed in the communication.  I felt I would, eventually.  That was not how my teachers, my parents or pretty much anyone else saw it.  I had no talent at writing, therefore I should stop doing it.

So again, perhaps the reader can understand from that from overcoming a one-time universal sentiment, how I feel when someone tells me a thing can't be, or shouldn't be done.  When I was 13, I could not turn around to my father and say 'fuck you.'  There's little joy in getting the shit beaten out of you every day, as George Carlin used to say.  But I thought the words, every time.  And because I thought the words, and because I lived by them, I'm writing this now.

I could not go to my teachers for advice.  I could not go to my parents.  But I could go to books.  I already had hundreds of examples of scientists and sports figures who had been told they couldn't or shouldn't do things, so I knew what a pile of shit that argument was - and is.  I have always known that.  And that is why you have before you this resistant fucking monkey who just doesn't care what people say can't or shouldn't be done.  That's why you hear fuck you, and that's why you hear bullshit.  Because it CAN be done.  It can all be done.  Everything.  And if you're not doing it, or won't do it, or can't do it, well ...

All this stuff above, then, is what I was and what my brain was doing the day some fool introduced D&D to me.  The composite of extreme granulated examination of the world and a sense of entitlement in the creation of unrestrained fictional storytelling - and I mean unrestrained (I was writing violence and sexual porn as a young boy).  Imagine that released upon a game system that had no stated rules, and which had as a potential the creation of an entire world.

My gawd.  How could I ever run out of things to say?


Anthony said...

Right on...

"There is no pleasure to me without communication: there is not so much as a sprightly thought comes into my mind that it does not grieve me to have produced alone, and that I have no one to tell it to."

Arduin said...

I started reading this post terrified that you'd be a Rand junkie.

I left reassured of my initial impression of you and your blog, Alexis.

Best goddamn thing to ever happen to roleplaying.

ckutalik said...

"And all the more surprising since in the last three days I've had 3 comments."

I had worked on, but threw into the ever-growing slush pile, a follow-up post to "Why Blog?" called "Why Comment?". To this day I am mystified why some posts generate large numbers of comments, and others don't.

There are the obvious factors: asking open questions, hitting a theme that resonates with your audience, staying within the ADD word count range of modern readers, yadda yadda.

But still I could point to half a dozen or more posts that had those and only a dribble of comments--and another half dozen where I broke all these rules and received a metric crap ton of comments.

Your steady traffic, not the comments, should be your indicator that people are paying attention. You might not be a fuzzy little pussycat, but man can you write.

Funny about the almanac business, I was obsessed with the same about that age.

The Jovial Priest said...

An insightful and deep post Alexis. I'll ruin the tone by asking a banal question, that will hopefully, for that is its intent, bring a smile to your face; what version of Civilization do you play?

Alexis said...


I was going to rush out and buy V, but I heard there were technical issues with it, the game was too easy and that the company was planning some kind of patch.

The Civilization Posts I write are based on Civ IV.


The reason I don't get as many comments is largely, I'd guess, the number of people who have sworn off commenting to punish me for deleting comments, and because I'm not a nice person. I've had several explain this to me. All the more reason to be surprised I'm still being read.


The compliment is much appreciated.


Way to quote a skeptic at me. Very nice.

Anthony said...

Skepticism is what drives me to learn, more so than curiosity at many points in my life. I'm rarely satisfied with the bullshit people try to feed me, so off I go to produce my own bullshit :D

Alexis said...

Sorry, Anthony, that might have been taken as sarcastic. I meant that it actually was nice that you quoted a sceptic at me.

I wonder, though, if you really have a handle on this skepticism thing.

Anthony said...

Ok, I rewrote that comment a few times trying to decide if you meant that comment as sarcasm or straight. I ultimately settled on a light/bad joke as a response.

Alexis said...

I apologize. I only saw the potential sarcasm after seeing your answer. Limitations of text only communication.

Anthony said...

My first tangible encounter with skepticism would be a simultaneous reading of the Apology and Montaigne. So that puts me somewhere close to "What do I know, except that my only wisdom is in knowing that I know nothing."

Alexis said...

I understand perfectly that all knowledge is based on an assumption, but once that assumption is made the argument you posit is horseshit. Plato, pretending to be Socrates, wrote that in reference to a very specific philosophical circumstance, which doesn't apply here and it doesn't apply to skepticism. It is the throwaway bullshit line people say when they're too chickenshit to take a real position, and frankly I expected better of you.

Sorry, that line gets under my skin. I didn't write 3,000 words about discovery and advancement of my character for you to dismiss it with one out-of-context cliche.

Anthony said...

I think we had one of those text communication problems. I'm not making an argument or trying to dismiss your post...

Only offering an anecdote of some formative reading from my teenage years...

Friends again? :)

Alexis said...

I really did say sorry.

That cliche just really, really bugs me.

Anthony said...

That's ok, I just wanted to be clear I wasn't trying to shit on your nifty post.

Quite frankly, I am jealous you started so young. It took me many years of drug abuse and stereo-typical teenage stubbornness (Italian heritage an all) before I moved forward. The Apology, Montaigne, and even Thoreau helped me take that crucial first step.

Alexis said...

Don't envy me. I grew to be a violently passionate, intolerant being who responds viciously to the mildest off-handed comments like someone who hasn't taken his medication. It isn't generally understood that my reasons for being unpleasant stem from that steady, relentless pounding that tried so hard to get this wooden peg into that round hole. I therefore view every effort to dismiss, denegrate or deny knowledge as a personal battle to ensure that the thoughts I've read as written by those much smarter than I get their fair shake.

Granted, I've scared off most people from commenting on this blog, but I can't help noticing that those who do comment here tend to make more personal statements, and that the things they have to say are more 'risky.' Like your admitting about your misspent youth, Anthony. I'd rather have a blog where people said real things than ordinary dropped phrases ... and this was why I went off on you.

I know I shouldn't, and that's why I did say sorry. But I also know I should, if only to keep this blog from becoming the same cheesy love fest as most other D&D blogs on the net, where the first words on everyone's comment is "good post."

I'd rather hear from people who said, "You're screwed in the head, and here's the fifteen things you've misrepresented about the facts. Point 1:" and so on.

It makes for a more interesting afternoon.

Anthony said...

I'm battling with the urge to continue this thread of thought against my better judgment due to a communication misstep I think is still occurring, so I will just offer this:

I am on board with the battle against those who "dismiss, denegrate or deny knowledge"; my comment wasn't trying to denigrate knowledge. The Solipsist viewpoint is just absurd if taken to great lengths in my eyes.