The Ancient Enemy


No, not that one.  Though perhaps that one, or a more concrete incarnation of it.  Though evil seems cohesive and organized, it is often either about to bring about the oldest enemy of mankind, perhaps the oldest enemy of life or perhaps just that enemy with a mask on, dancing forever formlessly in the void.

I was probably one of the few people not at all surprised that Jordan Peterson’s seminal work was subtitled “An antidote to chaos.”  Because of course that is our ancient enemy, the enemy of every that lives down to the smallest organized cell.

Perhaps it is my Greek ancestry (in culture, via the Romans, if nothing else. I mean 23 and me has opinions, but they revise my genetic makeup so often I’m not betting on anything.  Also, frankly, they base it on today’s populations, so that if say every person in an extended family left Greece to colonize Iberia, today I’d show only Iberian genetics. [Spoiler: I don’t. Europeans are far more mixed up than they dream of in their philosophies.]) that makes me see Chaos as a vast force waiting in the darkness before and around this brief bit of light that is Earth and humanity, ready to devour us all.

I can’t be the only one impressed by this image, as I’ve run across echoes of it in countless stories both science fiction and fantasy.  If you’re reading the kind of story that tries to scrute the ultimate inscrutable and unscrew the parts of the mental universe of humanity to take a metaphorical look under the hood, sooner or later you come across a scene where the main characters get to the end of it all and face howling chaos and darkness.  Only it usually doesn’t even howl, nor is it dark. It’s just nothing. Which is the ultimate face and vision of chaos.  And most of us know it. Perhaps writers, most of all.

I have a complex relation with chaos, in that part of me seems to be permanently submerged in it.  Some of this is the culture in which I was brought up.  You know, the Portuguese might have crime, but no one can accuse them of having organized crime.  Or indeed organized much of anything.

It’s not just the disease of “late industrializing culture.” There’s something more at work.  For one, the Portuguese pride themselves on it. They routinely contrast the British habit of queuing for everything to the Portuguese habit of queuing for nothing (And you haven’t lived till you see a communion scrum with the little old ladies having their elbows at the level of young men’s crotches) by describing the way Portuguese do not queue as “All in a pile and may G-d help us.”

Do they have a point?  Kind of. If Portugal weren’t such an old nation (but maybe it’s a second childhood) I’d call them the college kid of Europe. They can’t quite get their act straight, but they can be startlingly, amazingly creative.  One of the things I’ve talked about (I THINK?) here is how many of my brother’s cohort, coming of age at a time when there were NO jobs took up some kind of craft work, from making jewelry to (I used to covet them) making elaborate, hand painted  wooden dragon mobile’s and selling all of this.  Looking back at that pre-EU time when it was relatively easy to set up a (illegal, of course) stall in downtown Porto I realize most of the stuff on offer was downright artistic, and often incredibly creative when you realized what materials they were working with.

Then the economy recovered, they got jobs, a lot of them connected to or linked to government and all of that stopped.  And of course with the EU there are no illegal stalls.  I mean Papiere, bitte and all that.

And somehow, perhaps because the new generation knows they have all sorts of “benefits” and “support” coming to them and have never felt the bite of chaos, the crafts and arts in the stores are either startlingly mundane or bizarre.  I’m still rather puzzled by entire “scenes from life” (including one that was an operating room) sculpted with penises instead of humans.  I mean… who even buys that?  Okay. We know who buys that. But do the German tourists and their nostalgie de la boue think they’re tapping into something uniquely “uninhibited and free”, some kind of wild Portuguese sexuality?  Raises eyebrow.  The Portuguese have been civilized land long before the Germans traded their furs for a place as Roman soldiers.  And sure, the Romans could be startlingly and inappropriately sexual (I call to mind a mural, not out of place in a Roman middle class home that had monkeys copulating with children) but it didn’t mean that the culture was “free”, rather that they had different rules.  Frankly, the sixties attempt to erase history has corrupted real art and… well, everything else.

Which is kind of the college student thing.  Chaos and free time allows you to be very creative, but then you’re not organized enough to parlay that into a career. (I mean, if they’re destined to be the touristic “warm port” of Europe, perhaps they should consider letting real art flourish. Or even encouraging it.  Grants for small businesses and young people. It beats the jobs that don’t exist. Just demand they be actually creative and accomplished, instead of giving grants for art that my kids could do at age two and about as interesting.

Leaving that digression aside, I don’t know if it’s genetic — might be. Kids show signs of the same issue, but it could just be being brought up with a mother who periodically crawled into a book for two weeks and forgot all daily routines — but I know that being raised in barely controlled chaos leaves its mark.

How chaotic?

Those of you who know me in real life will be shocked to find out that I was considered too organized by most Portuguese. Certainly too organized to be in any way artistic.

I often joke I spent most of my teen years standing around on street corners.  This is somewhat dulled when I say I was usually reading a science fiction book while doing so.  You see, my friends and I would arrange to meet at a certain time. I’d be there fifteen minutes early (with public transportation you have a choice of early or late. Particularly public transportation…) The bulk of my friends would drag in an hour later.  One or two would show up two hours later.  Sometimes it was too late to go see the movie we planned on seeing.  Sometimes the fact that they were so late meant I wouldn’t be home for dinner, and I had to find a phone booth to call mom and tell her, which in turn turned her dinner plans to mush.

Other things I did were just as baffling to those around me: I had schedules, even while on vacation.  Get up at a certain time, do this, do that. Set pieces around which I would fit in the “freedom” of summer.

Later, already in the States I got — bizarrely — confronted with the same accusation “you’re too organized to be a real writer.”  Being green as grass and isolated I took a three-day course (over a long weekend) on something like “writing your novel.” (I honestly no longer remember what the course was. It was something whose title attracted me, but which — despite being taught by a Real Writer (TM) mostly consisted of either blather or things I’d figured out on my own.

Being green as grass and young and a bit stupid (youth is full of derp. It eventually leaks out, but not fast enough) and being tired of the “when inspiration hits” stuff, by the end of the weekend I brought out my records of words written, my schedule on when to write and when to send out, and my spreadsheets of where I’d sent those stories.

I was then told that I was too organized to be creative.  Which …  Considering I was sending out a short story a week, writing two to three novels a year (while watching two toddlers) and sold my first short story within months of that class is funny to look back upon but wasn’t funny at the time.

I lost that somewhere along the way. It wasn’t even the kids — though part of it was, and I’ll explain why — as health and also the fact that at one time I was working for three publishing houses at once. (Only way, then, to make a living, which I needed to.)  If you remember your high school, where every teacher thought he owned ALL your time, imagine that with employers who, for a five thousand dollar a year contract, felt free to hit you up at any time with their “urgent” (yes, someone else’s procrastination is your emergency, if you’re a free-land writer.) stuff.  You’d be in the middle of a novel, and chaos in the form of page proofs for another would hit. Or your publisher would ask you to write a blurb for a colleague (and those were never used, adding salt to the wound) or you’d have to write an article for some publication that 10 people read and couldn’t say “it’s not worth my time” because it would be held against you.

The kids contributed to this backwards and sideways, and I’ll explain how.  Hold on for another digression first (look, I haven’t had enough coffee, and my sleepiness manifests as talking a lot. Deal.)

To me the first encounter with chaos, with that nothingness into which the world dissolves (and more on how this is a very modern enemy kind of) was in summer vacations starting in about Middle School.

You see, my school time was highly regimented. I was either in school, doing homework, helping mom with the house or snatching the occasional (okay, more or less constant, but mom couldn’t know that) half hour of reading between chores.

So summer vacation would be bliss, right?

Well, summer vacation in Portugal when I was growing up (ah, revolutionary times.  Chaos) could go anywhere from the standard 3 months to 6 months. I remember a year that we got out in May and the next school year — via a combination of teacher strikes and the school flooding from bad pipes — didn’t start till January. (They never told you when it would start, either. You had to call every day or so, or you might miss it. No, seriously.)

This might have been okay if I had anything to do during summer.  Sure, I kept busy, mostly reading. Sometimes trying my hand at various crafts. Taking walks. But there was no form to it, no schedule. I didn’t even have enough friends (usually no more than three) to impose order on my off time.  So a day of formless nothing flowed into a day of formless nothing. It didn’t matter that I was reading everything I could vacuum up.  It mattered that other than Saturdays when I had to clean house, life had no set piece, no form. I found myself simultaneously glutted with opportunities and bored, diverted and depressed.  It’s a hell of a state.

Which is why by the time I hit college I’d learned to have a “set piece” routine around which I fitted stuff, and to set goals for my time off.  “I’m going to work on my French and I want to be able to read x in the original” or “I need to write 100k words by end of summer”.  And to take those goals very seriously indeed. Because overwork is better than chaos.

Getting married brought another adjustment. I found early on, when I first stayed home to write — the first of many attempts — that if I didn’t get up when Dan did (but not go to bed at the same time. He used to subsist on 4 hours sleep, which would kill me in two months) I’d get up at noon, and the day would be utterly formless, with nothing accomplished.

The biggest mistake, but also a necessity, was setting my schedule around the boys when they were in school.  Get up two hours early, to get quiet writing done.  Work on it when they were in school. Be “just mommy” when I picked them up.

Which means the last six years or so have been me adapting to the insanity of their being home at irregular hours (mostly because we chose to have them live at home while in college, to save money.)  Now that younger son has to live away (you can drive from Denver every day, of course, but he claims it curtails his studying. And probably his social activities, but never mind.) and older son has his own establishment, it’s time to re institute routine. Except for this being the year of traveling hell of course. As in, I’m gone for a week or two of every month until either July or September (some things are still in the air, but this year being what it is…)

There is however a deeper chaos than the formless routine.  The utter and complete lack of goals and ambitions, of something to work towards.  I never lacked that, but I sort of did.

You see, they are both born of the same thing: prosperity.

If you lived in a rural community in the already excessively civilized and well off middle ages (compared to earlier times) you didn’t have time to fall into formlessness and chaos. There were things to plant and things to cook and animals to tend to (and animals are a heck of a taskmaster. You can’t explain to them that you’re taking a day off.) Grandma who did all of these things was busy every day of her long life, with no time or space for chaos.

Did it curtail artistic creation?  I don’t know. We have art from the middle ages, and often even “just” cloth work of the sort that occupied most women’s “free time”is startlingly artistic. Mind you, their life wasn’t regimented, just busy. There is a difference.

Life even in the village when I was little was hemmed in by the ringing of the bell (the famous toc sine.)  People who no longer prayed at the prescribed dozen times during the day (yeah, Christians did that too) still set their lives by the bell.  “I will clean the stalls till vespers, and then I need to put supper on” say. (I don’t remember if it was vespers, mind. I no longer remember any of the names of the bells.)  There was order, even if it was loose order and not to the clock precisely.

More importantly it was hemmed in because most of the people there were on the verge of real ruin at any time — real ruin is not having to declare bankruptcy, it’s starving to death and going without clothes — and this imposed discipline.

We have made life so rich and so safe, people can afford to dissolve into chaos and making themselves nothing.

Only the end of that road is reigning in hell.  And in hell everyone suffers, even the king.

There are enough people who confuse chaos with freedom. There are enough people making something into nothing and destroying everything, themselves most of all.

Don’t be one of those people. Build order into your day. Scheduling, sure, but also… to combat chaos you need goals.

Peterson says aim for the highest you can achieve. He’s not wrong. Your goal should be your stretch goal.

But what if you fail?

TRUST me, I know what I speak of. Failure is just a form of chaos.  Don’t stay mired in it.  Don’t blame yourself beyond figuring out what you did wrong and correcting.  If you fail, burn that bridge when you come to it.  In the meantime? Aim for the best and highest you can get.  The best you can do, the most you can earn, and most of all, the best person you can be.

You know the army thing? “Be all that you can be?”

Aim for that.  If it fails, it at least won’t leave you mired in chaos.

And you can always try again, as long as there’s life.

Go. Counter the chaos in the world.  If all you have is this little candle, it is enough to give light to this little corner of the world.  And to wring order and shape out of formless, all devouring chaos.

Chaos is the enemy. Within it nothing exists. This is not the calm you long for. It’s just nothing forever.

You, even the most disorganized of you, are stronger than chaos. Remember that. And use it as your sword to combat the all devouring endless nothing.






74 thoughts on “The Ancient Enemy

  1. “It mattered that other than Saturdays when I had to clean house, life had no set piece, no form. I found myself simultaneously glutted with opportunities and bored, diverted and depressed. It’s a hell of a state.”

    You just described every summer of my childhood. I liked getting out of school, but after about three weeks, I couldn’t wait for September. “The idyllic freedom of childhood” my foot.

    It’s also why I’m in the office today. I’m not doing anything that I couldn’t do at home. What I actually would do at home, however, is read Facebook and Twitter for a while, maybe eat an early lunch, then sit down to play video games “for just a little while” until I looked up at the clock and it was almost 5. In the office, I have to at least pretend to be productive, and I’m at least thinking about the problems I need to work on, even at my most procrastinaty (which is totally a word).

    1. It’s also why I’m in the office today. I’m not doing anything that I couldn’t do at home.

      This. In fact, in my “retire to being an indie author” plan, I have included rent and other costs for a small office, even if it is just a coworking space, so that work is not at home.

      Right now my most productive writing time is in the nearby mall food court. The mall is dying and I fear for writing if it closes.

      I can work from home, but my productivity is low.

      1. Peter has a dedicated office on one end of the house, and I have on the other end of the house… but I’m thinking of getting him a separate garden shed, once we’ve paid off various medical and other expenses. Because even if he closes the door, he’ll get two cats scratching at it and meowing about being left out… and if he leaves it open, work is frequently cat-interrupted.

        1. *Consider’s neighbor’s shed with the glass window that makes potting squirrels off the fence more challenging* How big? Is blue-grey with white trim OK? Single storey?

        2. Depending on local zoning, a small camping trailer might be an option. They’re already insulated and usually heated and air conditioned, have a table to write at, cabinets which can hold reference books, “facilities”, and a bed to lie down on if his back starts to hurt. Plus it could double as a camper and/or bug-out accomodations.

          1. It looks as if insulation for winter purposes is going to be rare. I’m more familiar with tent trailers (zero insulation, unless you count the R-value of OSB subfloor), but a web search says that underfloor insulation is an option on newer trailers. I don’t know how cold NE Texas gets in the winter, but south-central Oregon got pretty brisk on a late September morning.

            I searched the Duck with “travel trailer winter”, and some DIY suggestions cropped up. There are newer ones set for winter, and I’d assume they’d be OK in a Texas summer.

            1. Our ’08 22′ TT came with the “Winter Package”. Double pane windows, thicker wall insulation, and insulation in the floor with a thick insulation membrane. We’ve had it in Yellowstone when it froze, high country Yosemite when it snowed (& froze, with freezing fog). Also, not bad when hot, due to the insulation (it has a air conditioner, which is hard to use when not power.) Perfectly fine for writer’s cottage in Oregon type weather. Don’t know how it would do with super low temperatures.

              Tuff Sheds, not sure where their corporate headquarters are, but locally the home show always has them on hand. They provide shells that are used from everything to shops, to MIL apartments, and mini-home starter shells, just insulate to needs … My BIL used two for his “he shed/shop” and her “she shed”, to give each of them space at home base (her mothers house).

              1. We had a Tuff Shed when we lived in San Jose. I think they’re reasonably widespread; Home Depot sold them in SJ, and also sells them up here. Sheds are also a cottage industry in town; lots of places are selling a variety of sheds. Locally, they seem to be delivered intact. In San Jose, it was modular; we prepared a base and they put it up in a day.

                The Tuff Shed usually uses 2 x 4 construction, and it could be insulated and sheetrocked without too much hassle.

        3. Separate work space like a shed, or a ‘tiny house’ is my dream, but probably not for a while; at least, not until the youngest is in the older brackets of elementary. But by necessity, I have a workspace in my house, always.

      2. My father, who lived with us, moved out in a snit. I have been dealing with my corresponding snit by remodeling his workroom into a writing office. Vindictive AND productive!

    2. “Procrastinaty” is indeed a word, but you’ve spelled it wrong. It is “Procrastinatti” — always capitalized, sometimes written as The Procrastinatti, and refers to the secret conspiracy to leave G-d’s Creation incomplete. Screwtape references their work in his infamous letters, when he advises his protege to encourage the patient to leave off thinking about an issue until after lunch. It is they who whisper in your ear that “there’s plenty of mammoth in the larder and if you go hunting today it will most likely just spoil.” And, of course, it is they who invented the idea that “maybe the school will burn down before that paper is due.”

      Beware The Procrastinatti, inventors of computer solitaire, penny dreadfuls and … oh my, look at the time! I shall have to continue this later, perhaps some other day.

    3. It describes almost my entire childhood, and what could have been the most productive early years of adulthood.

      It is appropriate that Inception cast Limbo as a place of subtle yet all consuming horror.

    4. I come home to do work both because I don’t want my stories to be on a government network and because the “gentlemen” in my office are nothing of the sort. Rude individuals who like to talk loudly, play music and videos at top volume, and generally be rowdy. Home has distractions, and no CAC reader, but it’s at least QUIET.

  2. It is easy to fall back into chaos, to let the instantaneous pushes and pulls of the next demand guide what I do next.

    I have found that for me that’s torture – I need structure.

    It is hard to impose order, to schedule in responding to those demands and build a structure where not only does Stuff Get Done, but my sanity is preserved, and where time is set aside for other than responding to external demands.

    Since the former is easy, it takes an exercise of will to not fall back into the chaotic reactive tug of war and just continuously do what is demanded next. But at least for me, the results of that effort are what enables me to keep doing what needs doing in the long run.

  3. I find that my oldest enemy is myself, my desires to indulge, to be lazy, to not attend to what must be done, to put off until tomorrow that which is boring, tedious, challenging.

    1. I’m horrible at cleaning up after a project, and occasionally have to dedicate time and energy into massive cleanups. I’ve promised myself that I’ll do the barn this spring after the solar panels and such move from over-wintering to being installed.

      1. Two approaches I take, similar but not identical.

        1.) Pull out a yellow notepad, and write down everything I’ve done, right after I do it, one item per line. “Shredded pile waiting on shredder” “put laundry load 1 in washer”, “Wrote 1000 words” “paid bills.” As I do it, I can then start wandering through the house and yard, and seeing small things that need doing, do them right away, and then record it – so the page fills up with a record of a busy day with lots of things accomplished, and inspires doing more.

        2.) Pull out a yellow note pad, and ask myself, quite sincerely, “What am I screwing up and failing to do right now?” If you ask yourself sincerely, answers pop up that may surprise you – things that need doing, but you hadn’t been focused on, or completely forgot about. Write down the first 3-5, and then go do them.

        Mine included things like “Do the paperwork for the airplane insurance? Oh, yeah, I have been putting that off for over a month, and ignoring the reminder email from the agent, haven’t I? Self,. why couldn’t you be focused on, oh, mopping the kitchen floor instead?”

        1. I should try the first bit, since I seem to get into this logjam–“I don’t have a place to store X, because it’s behind a pile of Y, and that storage space needs W,S,U, and V to be completed. That list (and a PERT chart) might do the job. Thanks!

          I’ve done fairly well at deadline stuff; between paper and computer calendars and occasional use of autobilling, it’s not bad.

  4. I cannot NOT do something. Either I read, or clean, or write, or actively listen to music, or exercise, but I absolutely cannot loaf. Not just that idle hands are the devil’s workshop, but it feels flat wrong to let time pass without using it for something productive. I’m not sure if that’s part of my Calvinist streak, repeated threats from adults to “find you” something to do, or just my way of fighting off the Chaos Demons.

    In the Babylonian creation story (one of many from Mesopotamia), Tiamat is chaos embodied.

      1. And Loki was the Norse equivalent, somebody who would get so bored with things he’d just have to stir it up.

        IIRC the Greek chaos deity was a child of Mars, not surprising when you consider relations between those city-states. One town’s chaos is another town’s opportunity.

  5. I thrive on structure but I suck suck suck at creating structure. My idea of heaven is someone else managing my time (and organizing my house, and…)

    I liked the Air Force rather a lot.

      1. I have actually played with the idea of five to a dozen indie authors clubbing together to hire a secretary/publicist. I would loooooove somebody to post nice things on my Facebook and pester the book ad people and and and…

        but I have to sell the books to have money to sell the books BETTER. Baby steps.

  6. It is interesting that chaos is becoming a popular word. That angel to those of the poor housekeeping (another skill we seem to not be passing on), Flylady, uses it as an acronym: Can’t Have Anyone Over Syndrome.

    The fact is we’ve built such barriers against chaos that we seem to be able to let it in without harm. I would argue the continual social push of the left amounts to “see, we let that chaos in and the world hasn’t burned down, so we can let more in”.

    The house isn’t burning down, but there are smoldering embers in nearly all the walls waiting for a hole to let enough oxygen in, but for now mostly we are attacking people (the level of attacks on Peterson are amazing) for saying, “What is that burning smell?”

    1. Flylady is awesome 🙂

      She has helped I don’t know how many thousands of people learn that housekeeping is a set of skills you have to learn, and routines, and how to actually keep a house, including me. I haven’t been to the website in a long time, but I still smile every time I shine my sink!

  7. I admire your discipline Sarah as only someone in whom it is sorely lacking can. My wife likes to say, “If you want something done, give it to someone who’s busy.” It’s not for nothing that the nuns used to say, “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop.”

    I have a file for collecting wisdom. Allow me to quote from my collection:
    “There are no causes of poverty. It is the rest state, that which happens when you don’t do anything. If you want to experience poverty, just do nothing, and it will come…. We should ask what are the causes of wealth and try to recreate and reproduce them.” Dr. Madsen Pirie

    Perhaps more apropos is that chaos is death for art. I have mused for a long time about writing up my thoughts on morality being necessary to satisfying stories. It will be my aim for the weekend.

    1. chaos is death for art

      I have long argued that more bad films have been caused by “unlimited” budgets than by low budgets. Constraints force choices, and choices force creativity.

      The stars are chaotic, but man looks up at them and imposes constellations.

          1. I reiterate my Law of Popular Culture here;

            We remember the popular culture of eras past so fondly because, mercifully, we don’t actually remember all that much of it.

            Yes, an awful lot of the films made nowadays are awful drivel. A great many of the films made in 1942 were awful drivel. We remember CASABLANCA because it was good. We have mercifully forgotten the majority.

            Right now, Hollywood is making a great many Leftie Preachy films, and God knows we can’t forget them fast enough. But I seriously doubt that there weren’t films full of biased idiocy made in 1942.

            1. Point taken.
              But there were so many more films churned out, every year on an industrial-assembly-line scale by the various dream factories in the 30ies, 40ties – the odds being what they are, a certain percentage of them were good, the rest forgettable. Say for purposes of argument, ten out of a hundred would be good, one or two of those ten memorable. (and in the old studio system, the memorables and the good carried the other 90.)
              In the current Hollywood set–up, with fewer films (and hugely more expensive ones, each a carefully-negotiated one-off project) there are fewer releases, and thus the odds are … not favorable. Ten big releases a year, and one is of lasting interest and quality.
              The structure isn’t in place any more. Possibly movie generators like Netflix and Amazon might replicate the old studio system. Food for thought, anyway.

      1. “Constraints force choices, and choices force creativity.”

        The ancient Welsh invented a set of poetry forms, collectively called cynghanedd, which probably have more constraints per square inch than any other. They still use it in modern poetry competitions at the Eisteddfodau.
        (They also use more consonants than any sane language has any right to (and they do wierd plurals).)
        The word itself literally means “harmony” or (my preference) “chiming.”
        One book about its development and structure is called “Singing in Chains.”

        short course:

  8. “I was then told that I was too organized to be creative.”

    This is part of the left-brain (conservatives) / right-brain (liberals) mythic syllogism.
    (1) If you are left-brained (organized), you aren’t as “creative” as the right-brained free-thinker artistes.
    (However, haven’t we all heard about “creative accounting”?)
    (2) If you are organized, you are most likely also conservative.
    (A false connection touted in a long line of studies that pick a result and interpret their data to match, even if they don’t go so far as to structure the methodology to MAKE it match. I do not personally see a lot of correlation there, as my most right-brained artist son is just as Right Wing as the rest of us. The identity only holds up if you discount all the “creatives” who are scared to death of letting anyone know they are Conservative.)
    (3) Therefore, conservatives can’t be creative.
    (The biology labels are real and pre-date the political labels, which were made up by the MSM one election to break the perceived connection between Red Commies and Red Liberals, which did actually exist, since they were & are Leftists, if not outright communists.)

    1. Organization, structure, inimical to creativity?

      That must be why music, with its highly limited range of notes and scales, is so lacking in creative product. So much structure is death to creativity, right?

      1. I took a music theory course in college. The instructor would play some music during the class. Unfortunately, he loved him some new music. The highlight of the semester was when he accidentally played a tonal piece. (Still remember it: Terry Riley’s “A Rainbow in Curved Air”. OTOH, the other cut on the album sucks boulders. “Poppy Nogood and the Phantom Band” [shudders]).

        1. I was told a story about the Peabody Institute of Music in Baltimore that is so good I have very carefully never tried to check it.

          Like all Institutes of Music, every year the Peabody gets an influx of young Musical Prodigies, stuffed full of musical snobbery. And every year these young snots are required to take a course in Music Appreciation, intended to knock some of the conceit out of them, to make room for some learning.

          The year my storyteller was taking that course, they arrived in the lecture hall and found a lecturn, and next to it a record player with a record on it, already turning, and the arm cued up.

          The Lecturer entered and said, “Welcome to the Peabody Institute. I am sure that the vast majority of you have been brought up to look down on ‘popular music’. Some of you have been taught that Classical is the only really good music. Some have been allowed a little more leeway, and may admire jazz. But what I am about to play for you is one of the most requested rock-and-roll tunes ever recorded. It is, in many ways, crude. But if you do not learn to listen to it, and recognize WHY it works so well and is so popular, you will NEVER WRITE ANYTHING THAT GOOD.”

          Then he cued down the arm, and for the next eight minutes plus the record player played STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN.

          1. The Fine Arts department convinced the others that the troglodytes needed some Culture, so like a lot of the other low-level EEs, I took the music appreciation courses. I had flirted with being an audio engineer at that time, so it was a good fit.

            The main professor was a musicologist, interested in the history of any music. He and the assistant prof were also willing to get into music theory, so the first example was “Light My Fire”, with emphasis on the 2,4 drum beat. (Got into a good bit of the history of Rock ‘n Roll by way of Race records and such. Classical wasn’t neglected, with a fair amount of dissection of Beethoven’s “Eroica”. The assistant did a bit on Chinese opera music, too. Never caught my interest.) A rather fun course.

    2. It is necessary to create constraints, in order to invent freely. In poetry the constraint can be imposed by meter, foot, rhyme, by what has been called the “verse according to the ear.” In fiction, the surrounding world provides the constraint. This has nothing to do with realism (even if it explains also realism). A completely unreal world can be constructed, in which asses fly and princesses are restored to life by a kiss; but that world, purely possible and unrealistic, must exist according to structures defined at the outset (we have to know whether it is a world where a princess can be restored to life only by the kiss of a prince, or also by that of a witch, and whether the princess’s kiss transforms only frogs into princes or also, for example, armadillos).
      — Umberto Eco

  9. A Certain Person has been pushing back chaos before anyone else got started. Evil is another name for Entropy; it’s the default condition of the universe as well as the human psyche.

    1 In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
    2 And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.
    3 And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.
    4 And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.
    5 And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.

    1. I would argue that entropy, like any other natural force, is at worst neutral. Evil is deliberately maximizing entropy.

      But I believe that natural laws are the tools the Artist used to make His Creation. And, like most tools, they are subject to misuse.

  10. “When a man’s knowledge is not in order, the more of it he has, the greater is his confusion.” (Substitute anything for knowledge…).
    Since I’m more or less interested in everything, in sheer self-defense I created an infinitely expandable outline of knowledge that I use to guide my independent study program. It has helped enormously.
    I have not yet mastered similar techniques for “stuff” or “things to do”, but I’m at least aware of the principle.

  11. “But what if you fail?
    TRUST me, I know what I speak of. Failure is just a form of chaos. Don’t stay mired in it.”

    “Maxim 70. Failure is not an option – it is mandatory. The option is whether or not to let failure be the last thing you do.” Howard Taylor

    Or as my grandmother put it, the trick is to get up one more time than you get knocked down.

    1. When you’ve gotten up twenty times and been knocked right back down again every single time, and each knockdown was worse than the last….

      just where do you get the energy to try again? Not to mention the unbridled optimism to believe that this time it will be different?

      1. Well, if you try to get up a different way–maybe crawl around behind the bloke with the big banhammer. That might work. Maybe.

        “Age and treachery will outdo youth and enthusiasm every time.”
        –Terry Shaw, R.I.P.

      2. Sometimes you find out you won. I was a nerd in high school. A big strong nerd, but nonetheless a nerd. A very large, marginally retarded fellow decided he and I needed to fight. I did my best to avoid it, but eventually I found myself, across the street from the school yard, facing him. It was like trying to fight a mountain. I would hit him. He would laugh and knock me down.. I’d get up and hit him, he’d laugh and knock me down. Eventually, I was too dizzy to get up. At school the next day, He was walking wide around me, avoiding me. I found out later he told his friends “That sob hurt me. Nobody ever kept getting up and hitting me!”

      3. Um… do I look like a completely starry eyed optimist to you? And do you realize you just described my career. (Only it’s more like near 40 times, in my case.)
        Where do you get the energy? From not wanting to die. Everything that’s left if you stop getting up is death in one form or another. Does death sometimes sound good? To all of us, about 50% of the time. It’s normal. What happens if you embrace the slow death of never trying for what you want/need?
        SOMETIMES if you’re very lucky (I’ve been lucky three times so far) you snap out of it having wasted only a few months or a few years.
        And if you don’t? Well, then you waste your life, and you feel worse and worse, and judging from someone who used to be a friend, you also start resenting everyone else who is still trying, no matter how successful or unsuccessful. You start hating them. You end up destroying everything you value, INCLUDING your relationships and people who liked you, because you resent them.
        You end up a zombified resentful lump, angry at everyone and alone.
        If that destination is attractive, don’t get up. If it isn’t, stay in the game.
        It is actually true that it’s better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. Because life isn’t static. If you don’t love anything, you start either dreading everything or hating everything, and in the end you destroy yourself.
        Damn it, I’m writing a post, aren’t I?

  12. …and sold my first short story within months of that class is funny to look back upon but wasn’t funny at the time.

    The Universe is Weird at everyone. The Odd simply notice this.

  13. Every “Big” author that I can think of… every single one… is an organized work-a-holic. I’m thinking of the thing by Nora Roberts that someone was sharing around lately.

    But I remember what was probably the same time frame and “inspiration” and creativity were all the thing. And it was a lot of women pushing this mindset. It was all about the artsy-fartsy creativity bla bla.

  14. “sooner or later you come across a scene where the main characters get to the end of it all and face howling chaos and darkness. Only it usually doesn’t even howl, nor is it dark. It’s just nothing. Which is the ultimate face and vision of chaos. ”

    Sounds a lot like the “Lone Power” in Diane Duane’s Young Wizards series. It’s the Power that introduced entropy to the universe, and as a result the other Powers are pretty torqued off at It.

  15. This is the third essay I have seen in two days on the importance of organization and scheduling to creativity. I respectfully submit to the Author that his message has been received and I will start measuring my time more carefully, before He starts pelting me with rains of day planners or something worse.

  16. Speaking of ancient enemies, presidential wannabe NY Sen. Gillibrand ia associated with child sacrifice, and enslavement, sexual abuse of women. (HT: Instapundit)

    BOMBSHELL: Gillibrand’s Family Was Just Outed As Sex Cult Members. Where’s The Media’s Trump-Level Scrutiny?
    Allegedly confirmed by several court documents released Thursday, presidential candidate Kirsten Gillibrand’s family was in a sex cult. Her dad worked for it.


    [I]t ain’t too charmin’ that Gillibrand’s old man was working for a sex — I mean, gender(?) — cult.

    Big League politics reports eyewitness John Tighe’s account of how the New York senator sat at the NXIM table for a Hillary fundraiser …

    1. I had just come by to post that, and to remind us about how The Phantom told us so. Well, he explicitly outlined the cult’s connections in Canadian politics. What I recall of his observations on the US politics end was more the suggestion that there may also be problems there.

      I think Gillibrand is a Senator, and had been in the running for the Democratic nomination. Even if only in her own eyes.

      Questions: Is this a Clinton oppo drop? If this type of damaging connection has been concealed for one senators, what could the others be concealing? In particular, I am wondering if I need to reevaluate the Clintons again, and if so, where I would get new information.

      1. I think I’ve heard that the Clinton’s have some “degrees of separation” connections to that same group. So I don’t know whether they’d want to be bringing attention to the links of others.

        1. If Hillary’s ambition really has driven her to a state of frenzied dementia, she will only refuse to stab female senators in the back with things that she can tell will harm her directly.

  17. Too good to check?

    AG Barr’s father warns of ‘dictatorship’…in outer space
    Are there any lessons about Trump’s America in Donald Barr’s science fiction?
    Donald Barr was father of the attorney general, William Barr. He had a long and varied career: OSS officer, headmaster, and also: novelist. His books warn against strongmen and authoritarian regimes…in outer space. His output was small: two books, both science fiction. One was called A Planet in Arms. ‘A bloody star war had left the tiny planet of Rohan seething with chaos. People swarmed in violent mobs and the government rocked with turmoil. And one man, Carl ap Rhys would stop at nothing to use the confusion to seize power for himself. Only two people could stop him, Citizen S Wells, the woman they called “the little bitch.” And her trusted agent Corander, the brute of a man who loved her.’

    In his other book, Space Relations, Barr writes about the planet Kossr. There, the publisher’s blurb says: ‘Boredom and absolute power have driven the rulers to a special kind of madness…John Craig, a young space diplomat, is captured by interplanetary pirates and sold into slavery. Craig is auctioned off to the exquisite Lady Morgan Sidney, a beautiful, sensual woman. He soon makes his way from the hellish slave mines into her bed in the tower of her castle.’


    Wikipedia “confrms” this!

    Both books appear to be available through Amazon, albeit only in dead tree. Currently inexpensive, now is the time to grab these sure to be collectors’ item books!

    A Planet in Arms carries a five-star rating.
    Space relations: A slightly gothic interplanetary tale carries a four-star rating.

    You can buy the pair of them for slightly over $5

      1. Gee, the cover of _Planet in Arms_ looks, dare I say, vaguely familiar? Naw, can’t be a _Star Wars_ movie poster copy, nope. 😛

  18. I’m reminded of a short, 100-page book about the value and importance of time-scheduling in creative endeavors (the author was a prolific academic writer, but the advice applies much more generally), and methods and pitfalls for trying to establish one. “The Clockwork Muse”. The general thesis: people think scheduling (by the week and by the project) interferes with creativity, but a regular weekly or monthly work cycle, and realistic (unambitious) planning that incorporates editing or multiple drafts, actually enhances creativity by allowing you to focus on the work in front of you. And productivity increases, even if a realistic schedule seems like a lighter work load.

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