Reflections on Aphorisms #94

I didn’t have a super-productive day today, but part of that’s just down to sleep (again), going to see Toy Story 4 (which I will probably do an in-depth analysis of), and also just not feeling my best (in large part due to lack of sleep).

I’m not going to beat myself up over it. Tomorrow will be a better day.

Aphorism 132

The head cannot long play the part of the heart. (Maxim 108)

François de La Rochefoucauld

Interpretation

One of the things that people overlook in this modern age is that we’re built and wired to function a certain way. We try to force ourselves into a particular mode of being.

I’ve recently talked about the issues that surround the idea that one can live a rational life.

One of them is that the value that can be derived from things is not clear by logic.

Let’s take for example the art of taking a vacation.

No matter who you ask, you will get a different response to the proper process.

I like to go in basically unknown. I’ll look at maps and try to see if there’s any particular risk associated with my choice of lodging or route, but I don’t bother with a planned-out itinerary or anything like that. I’ll choose a thing or two I want to do each day, and if I can get them done, that’s great. If not, I’ll do whatever I feel like.

My father is the polar opposite of this, and I can recall countless trips with him that involved enough activity to make the return to daily life a welcome break from the vacation. He has vacations that run on timetables.

Lest I make him sound too unbearable, he’s grown a lot more conscious of others’ needs in the past few years, so this is more of a childhood reflection than something that is a current issue I’m just griping about on the internet.

Part of the reason that I don’t plan my trips other than just picking potential destinations and not even being particularly faithful to them is that it makes it a lot easier to follow my emotion, rather than my reason. I’ve had great experiences in lowly places.

The philosopher/investor Nicholas Nassim Taleb once wrote that he went out to an expensive and fancy dinner that he hated, then went and got cheap pizza, and he could never figure out why the pizza didn’t cost as much as the expensive dinner.

I’m the same way. I’m just as happy with a couple dollars worth of pizza as I am with the best experiences, and part of the reason for this is that I don’t let reason get in the way of planning my life.

Sure, there might be restaurants in San Francisco that I’ve never gone to that would have been within my reach, but Jenny’s Burgers by Golden Gate Park offer a nice half-pound burger that doesn’t break the bank and leaves me happily sedated with satiation.

Part of the problem with reason replacing emotion is that reason looks outside the self. My first epiphany of this was when I decided to become a teacher instead of a pharmacist. Both professions are worthy of respect, but one of them didn’t hold the same value to me. I knew that no matter how much I helped people as a pharmacist, I wouldn’t have a personal connection with the vast majority of them, and I wouldn’t get to see them grow.

Of course, I’m also unlikely to be getting a sports car any time soon, but I’m satisfied with my old early-2000s Honda Civic (even if the airbags are in a perpetual state of product recall). It’s a coupe, which is sexy in its own way even if it’s not a fancy car, and it drives really well.

Putting reason into things can reveal all the issues with them that we put up with.

However, our reason is not solid, and we very quickly wind up compounding its errors. Our emotion is just as flawed, but we’re intuitively aware of this. They work together, not separately. With both emotion and reason, we can balance our observations, thoughts, and responses. With just one or the other, they quickly wind up astray.

I read one of Jonathan Haidt’s books in which he mentioned that people who have damage to the part of the brain that produces emotion have a hard time making decisions and wind up making really bad decisions.

Even if logical thought remains intact, the driving force that orients us to our goals is always going to be emotion. A vacation that turns into a forced march doesn’t feel like a vacation (in fact, it’s turned into a common trope of stories centered on youth in America), and a life that turns into calculated mathematics doesn’t feel like life.

Resolution

Balance my emotions with my reason.

Remember why I do things.

When planning, think about what the result will feel like.

Reflections on Aphorisms #93

Got a lot more writing done today than I did yesterday. Didn’t keep track, but I think it was in the area of about 4000 words.

Also finished listening to Bird by Bird, which I plan to write a review of later on in the week.

I’ve had the burst of inspiration I need to finish up most of the current freelancing I’m doing. Now the only thing that remains is to turn that inspiration into good writing.

Aphorism 131

Our temper sets a price upon every gift that we receive from fortune. 

François de La Rochefoucauld

Interpretation

There’s an old cliche about not looking gift horses in the mouth.

Our brains are wired to function in a primal mode most of the time, even if we aren’t conscious of it. We’re not thinking rationally because reason is something that has to be learned and consciously practiced, and even then we’re emulating it rather than really owning it as a function of our being.

So when we see something good, our first reaction is to look for the trap. Maybe our newfound bounty will attract larger, more dangerous scavengers.

A manifestation of this is that we’re often more critical of the good things in our life than we are of the bad ones.

Think of how many ways a loved one can annoy or irritate you. If you’re a writer, like I am (kinda), you will have realized (or will soon realize) that they can be very distracting, especially if they take advantage of your “free time” when you need to be exercising the discipline of writing.

This is only exacerbated by the modern era.

If only we lived without the joys of modern telecommunication. We’d just have to deal with constant uncertainty and lose access to the ability to get in touch with all our business associates, friends, and distant relatives at any moment!

A small price to pay, is it not?

However, it is much better to have both loved ones and technology in our lives. There are costs associated with them, either in the form of the dollar or the investment of time, effort, and emotion that accompanies relationships. We call this sacrifice, in case anyone was curious.

If you don’t have loved ones and you don’t have technology, you probably feel it. I don’t think I’d be able to write a thousand words per hour (I have written 400 words in eight minutes just now) without an electronic device of some sort. I could maybe pull it off with a typewriter, if I were really disciplined and had time to practice. My handwriting is so abysmal due to my pitiable manual dexterity that I doubt I would ever reach anything close, and I’d struggle to stay legible, in manual writing.

Perhaps I could have made do with dictation, but that’s only become trivially inexpensive in the modern day with the advent of computers that do it, and even then you wind up with all sorts of issues.

But technology is also our greatest distraction in the modern age. It’s full of wonders, delights, terrors, trivia.

It gives us a way to spend our whole lives doing nothing at all, like reading the blogs of master’s degree students or taking a voyeur-like interest in videos of cats, and those are at least redeemable uses of the internet. Cats are good for the soul, and mine has been deceased for some months. I live vicariously until my lifestyle and fear of loss return to a state which will allow me to welcome a new companion into my life.

We are often better at finding the benefits in our suffering than in our strength. My cat passed away right before I was due to leave town for a week and a half; she was killed by a stroke and if it had happened when nobody was around to check on her she would probably have died of thirst and hunger. The designated catsitter would have been informed of her reclusive tendencies and thought nothing of the disappearance until it was too late. Although her passing was difficult to deal with, there was a small glimmer of relief in the sense that we were able to be there with her as she suffered and were able to have her put down before she suffered terribly.

On the other hand, if you asked me what the benefits of my teaching job were before I left to go back to school full-time, I would have hemmed and hawed and had a really hard time giving you a concrete answer that really spoke to the truth. It’s not that I don’t miss teaching (I cried for hours on my last day), but rather that it’s easy to overlook how nice things were when you were busy actually dealing with them, how much watching students grow brings meaning and satisfaction to your life.

Resolution

Appreciate the strengths of the good things; they may not be so obvious as they are made out to be.

Accept pain when it offers opportunity and improvement.

Remember that most things I have, even the things that are “intrinsic” to me, can be taken for granted and lost. Do not let that cause anxiety. Instead let it encourage me to use what I have when I have it.

Reflections on Aphorisms #92

Today was a less productive day than I had hoped, but at least I got more physical activity (though not tremendously much so) and was able to get a little more writing done than I was able to do yesterday. Listened to a lot of audiobook stuff too, so that’s at least a sign that I didn’t just waste my time (though there was more of that than I’d care to admit to).

Aphorism 130

Few people know death, we only endure it, usually from determination, and even from stupidity and custom; and most men only die because they know not how to prevent dying.

François de La Rochefoucauld 

Interpretation

I can say without deceit that I have entered the happiest time of my life so far, yet I think that if I were to be faced with my mortality I would be more willing to let go of life now than I have ever been.

I think that there is something about being miserable that makes everything else less bearable.

I’ve been thinking a lot about archetypal stories recently, and one thing struck me as funny.

This might be controversial, but I’ve decided to be radically honest and I’m not going to apologize for saying it.

There are a lot of stories where the characters can be either men or women without causing a change, and a lot of stories where the characters are locked into their gender. In the latter case, if you change the characters’ roles around they feel different.

And I think I’ve finally figured out what the reason for this is.

In the stories where characters can change without issue, it’s generally the story of the Hero, a completely actualized self. Look at Star Wars. A New Hope and The Force Awakens are basically the same storyline, and there is relatively little difference between Luke and Rey represent complete people, and despite the strong parallels (and differences, but generally parallels) between the two they are almost entirely undefined by their gender.

I’d compare this to the characters in Shakespeare’s Othello. Othello goes through a breakdown of his psyche, and he becomes disintegrated. He becomes the pure essence of this wayward masculine element, and ultimately destroys his wife, his feminine counterpart, and thereby completes his tragic fall.

I think of the classic story of Sleeping Beauty, who is a very feminine figure in the archetypal sense. I think you could tell the story with a male character in the protagonist’s spot, but you’d wind up with some real difficulties as you go onward because it’s not the archetypal role of the masculine to do the things that Sleeping Beauty does. You couldn’t replace Maleficent with a man, either, because she represents the destructive feminine, the force that destroys that which intrudes into the unknown without being prepared, whereas the destructive masculine force is that of the tyrant and the destroyer within society who rejects change and the unknown.

But I’ve gone on a tangent. Let us return to Rochefoucauld.

Montaigne (he’s French too, so he counts as Rochefoucauld, right?) draws a contrast between the philosophers and the peasants. Philosophers spend countless hours trying to figure out how to live and how to die. Peasants have their lots assigned to them by birth. The philosophers struggle, toil, and despair. Peasants live with quiet dignity.

Of course, I think Montaigne oversimplifies and romanticizes matters.

But when Rochefoucauld says that most men die only because they don’t know how not to, I think it ties into this notion that most of us live deeply unfulfilling lives. At least when your life is set out ahead of you by an external force, you have the ability to follow a path set by someone other than yourself.

Death used to terrify me. I wouldn’t go outside because I was afraid of what I may find. I’ve got this lovely neurotic personality that hates going outside for a whole sort of reasons, I have terrible seasonal allergies (which flare up during both of the seasons that we get in Arizona), and I’m always capable of conjuring up the worst nightmare hell scenario that could possibly happen. I was never particularly prone to separation anxiety in the sense of being a whiny infant (by all accounts, my brother and I were pleasant children to be around), but I would worry and obsess over every possible woe that could befall my family members when they weren’t in my watchful care.

I still do, from time to time, especially when I’m putting things off and not using my time well.

But one of the things that has come to me as I’ve grown and particularly as I’ve dedicated myself to the study of philosophy and the mind is that it’s best to let go of most things.

If I step outside tomorrow and get hit by a falling airplane (or get hit by a falling airplane while asleep tonight), what flaw does it reflect in myself?

Nothing.

I’d much rather worry about taking one step forward than obsess over the past and the worst that could happen. When death comes for me, which I’m not planning on any time soon (by the grace of God), I don’t plan to grovel before it. Instead I’ll focus on what I’ve done, and what I can do with the time I have left.

Resolution

Don’t sweat the small stuff. (Hey, I’m even willing to punctuate emotionally raw reflections with cliches, and I’m not trying to be flippantly dismissive. Judge me as you wish!)

Become the full human, whatever that takes.

There is a lot to regret, but no reason to spend time doing so.

Reflections on Aphorisms #91

Today was a moderately successful day. I didn’t get as much physical activity or writing done, but now that I have classes (which I’m very much currently ahead on) I can justify that a little.

I also have been getting better at trying to spitball some of the writing I’ve been doing instead of waiting to perfect it in my head. I’ve been listening to Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird and trying to follow some of the advice there.

Aphorism 129

The passions possess a certain injustice and self interest which makes it dangerous to follow them, and in reality we should distrust them even when they appear most trustworthy.

François de La Rochefoucauld 

Interpretation

One of the things about emotion is that it tends to lead us toward things that further emotion.

If we want to feel good, we tend to lead ourselves in paths that gratify us, and we slowly develop an attachment to our own pleasure.

I forget who once said that we tend to continue doing whichever behaviors we reward in ourselves, though I’m sure that it’s a common sentiment enough that it’s been echoed and repeated to the point that you could lose yourself in a rabbit hole. Maybe Jung, or even Nietzsche? It follows some of the biological nature of the brain as a system that tends to follow both chemical processes and associations between neurons, and I’ve definitely heard it described in that language by someone who has been in the 21st century (Jordan Peterson?), though I feel like its origins may even be classical.

To a certain extent, one could also extend the idea to Rochefoucauld.

Passions are generally bad not because we should stifle our emotions and get rid of them, but because passions represent the emotion as the sole driver of our decision-making process. We need emotions so that we can prioritize things. Of course, emotion serves as a simplifying heuristic; “liking” or “disliking” something based on experience or prediction is much simpler than making a rational decision every time it comes up, but can often lead to equally good results. Going further, however, emotions are part of what makes the human experience worth living through.

Yes, emotions often include suffering, and passions are dangerous, but they’re also responsible for everything we perceive as good. Happiness in itself has no place on the scale of vice and virtue, but the purpose of virtue is to foster as much happiness as possible on a grand cosmic scale (even if it means sacrifice and struggle in the short-term) made possible through an understanding of truth and meaning.

Passions are often the result of seeking happiness above seeking virtue. It’s the desire to have the meal without the work, metaphorically speaking. There’s a children’s story in the vein of Aesop in which I believe a chicken (I should remember; animal symbols often carry archetypal significance) works to sow seeds of corn but the other animals do not help, despite being asked to help. Of course, when the harvest comes, everyone asks the chicken if they can share in the food, but the chicken keeps the grain for itself.

Without delving into the morals of the story, acting on passion is similar to desiring that which is unearned. Although passion is not necessarily innately wrong, since there are justifiable reasons for the actions that can be ascribed to passion flowing out of a desire for justice and righteousness, the fact remains that the passionate are prone to be deceived and preyed upon by those who can manipulate their emotions.

Worse, passions tend to undo the clarity of mind that would be needed to safely act upon them. Even if a wise person can rely on their feelings above the knowledge they have acquired and the counsel of peers and sages in a single instance, in repetition they wind up preparing themselves to act on passion when they believe they are simply considering the input of their emotion.

Resolution

Make emotion one counselor among many.

Avoid entitlement.

Don’t do something in an emergency that I would not do in principle.

Reflections on Aphorisms #90


Classes officially start for me tomorrow. I’ve already had a chance to log on and preview them, but since it’s a Sunday I haven’t gone into depth on anything. I’m hoping to get disciplined about being done with classes well before the actual due dates, so that I can devote some time at the end of each week to really reflect on and use what I’ve learned.

Aphorism 128

We have more strength than will; and it is often merely for an excuse we say things are impossible. (Maxim 30)

François de La Rochefoucauld

Interpretation

One of the things that always strikes me as odd is that people talk about how “the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak” in the vein of Paul, but most people actually have the opposite going on in their lives.

We do not push ourselves to our fullest and expound upon our potential. This would be difficult and unwieldy, and we are unwilling to confront the suffering that it would bring upon us. Suffering, however, is not the greatest evil.

There are very few people who actualize their potential. We possess much more strength and power than we give ourselves credit for, and even “successful” people do not bring their best selves into being. This is the cause of much of the conflict in life.

I consider myself successful, in the sense that I do not believe myself to be a moral failure, and where I have deficiencies I am remedying them. I have chosen the sacrifices that I wish to make in order to become a person who is good and God-fearing. Even then I have not lived up to the standards that I have set for myself, both morally and practically.

By what means, then, can we seek to meet our own standards?

According to Rochefoucauld, who seems in this case to be quite correct, we need to realize that a lot of the time it is not our bodies or our minds that betray us but our will.

In his Memories, Dreams, Reflections (which I have written a review of), Carl Jung talks about the case of a mother who infected her children with contaminated bathwater. She had known that the water was not pure and safe to drink, but had permitted them to do so, seemingly out of negligence. Jung discovered that she had developed a complex; she was quite happy with one of her children (her daughter, if my memory serves), but not the other (her son). The reasoning for this wasn’t a matter of mere approval or disapproval; there were correlations and associations that led to her antipathy.

The daughter died, the son survived, and she slipped into such a shattered mental state as to be institutionalized.

She would never deliberately murder her children. However, she wound up in a ward for the insane, deemed incompetent or mentally defective. There was no limit in her capacity, however. She was perfectly intelligent, and in fine physical health. It was only the fact that she had begun to loathe her role as mother and the burdens that her marriage and society had placed on her that caused her to abandon her duties.

Most of us occupy this state. There is no shortcoming in us which justifies our failings. We are actually often surpassed by those who have much better reasons to fail than we do. I recently read Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken (my review), and in an interview at the end of the book she mentioned how she had chronic fatigue disorder and vertigo flare-ups during the writing process.

She’s written two award winning books (both of which have been turned into movies) with chronic health conditions that make even getting out of bed a burden. I’ve never read Seabiscuit, though I can vouch for the quality of Unbroken, and I think that her aptitude is a good model of how far the will can carry someone.

Most of us don’t have that will; I know that I certainly don’t yet. Fortunately, I don’t believe we’re static beings. We change and grow. At the very least we have seen that people are capable of disintegrating. However, every day and every hour we have experiences that change us, even in our dreams. If we capitalize on our experiences and avoid those things which bring us to moments of weakness and psychological disintegration, we can move away from weakness and toward strength.

Resolution

Find and do things which serve a greater purpose.

Don’t pretend that weakness is an obstacle.

Every time I want to stop, ask why.

Reflections on Aphorisms #89

Today was not quite as productive a day, but the great thing is that at least I was productive enough recently to actually pull it off without falling behind, though I would’ve loved to have gotten a little more done.

Aphorism 127

Although men flatter themselves with their great actions, they are not so often the result of a great design as of chance. (Maxim 57)

François de La Rochefoucauld

Interpretation

One of the great things that I’ve realized about working as I grew older is that you don’t work for a reward, you work for the opportunity or expectation of a reward.

This may sound a little weird, but it’s actually a very familiar trend in the modern world. As a writer, I see this very often in a day-to-day sense where I write for the public and rely on their response and write as a freelancer for clients and hope that my work lives up to their expectations.

As a more traditional employee, however, you still do your work for extrinsic rewards. There are very few things that we do in the modern world for the sake of getting them done. This is why a lot of hobbies are satisfying and popular; fixing a car or growing a garden doesn’t necessarily lead to financial success, but it’s a great way to accomplish something.

I think that this is part of the reason why people  become so dissatisfied with the modern world. I remember realizing at some point during my college career that I would never be rewarded (financially, at least) for the work that I did. I would be rewarded for joining a team and meeting certain requirements, but the actual work was not going to be the source of my reward.

This is responsible for a certain amount of what I believe to be best described as bureaucratic apathy. Because the reward for the work doesn’t follow from the work itself, there’s a disintegration of motivation and ideals.

Of course, when you work directly for an audience or client you have a much better chance of having a link between work quality and recompense. I’ve written a lot over the years, and I like to think that I get a little better at it daily, or at least weekly.

This is where we wind up back at Rochefoucauld. I honestly believe that some of my writing is at a professional level, but I’m not yet there as a writer. This would be frustrating when taken from certain perspectives, but I’ve learned that the quality of work does not necessarily correlate with the reception that it receives.

I think that there’s a reason why humans have a tendency to gamble, and it’s tied to the concept that there’s a disconnect between actions and success. Sometimes success comes long down the road, instead of immediately, and it needs some time to be recognized.

Where gambling becomes dangerous is that this can be willfully triggered by those who exploit our perceptions of chances of success and use it to give us the perception of potential future gain where none exists.

The horrible thing is that getting rid of this would also require to some degree getting rid of our hopes and dreams, because we would lose our ability to go for the future that we desire based on the work of the present.

Reason is useful, but it only deals with the known and experienced. To prepare for the future by moving into the unknown and mastering it is a matter of the spirit.

Resolution

Take every chance to do great things.

Don’t let failure stop effort.

Never do things for the sake of merely pulling a paycheck.

Reflections on Aphorisms #88

Wrote this earlier in the day, so I haven’t had a chance to see how the day went yet. By all indications, though, today will be a good day. I forced myself to just sit on the couch and write for a few hours (a handful of ~5 minute breaks aside), which means that my productivity has hit a level that I am honestly a little surprised by myself.

At the time of writing I’ve written around three-thousand words (perhaps even a good chunk more) and it’s not even noon.

Aphorism 126

The evil that we do does not attract to us so much persecution and hatred as our good qualities. (Maxim 29)

François de La Rochefoucauld

Interpretation

The other day (link to my post), I wrote about Rochefoucauld’s observations on jealousy and envy and I think that there’s some truth to it when you view it by means of this maxim.

I think that it’s particularly true in modern society, and perhaps in Rochefoucauld’s society too, that people have a tendency not to focus on the negatives that people do.

Some of this stems from good, some from evil.

On one hand, we ignore the faults in others because it would be hypocritical of us to condemn them. We still have faults in our own persons, and it is right that we hold off on a certain degree of judgment. We may also be overly optimistic, trusting others and giving them grace when their actions do not line up with their ideals. That we don’t know for sure what their ideals are is a problem that keeps me up at night, but it’s a matter for deeper philosophy than I have a desire to get into before noon.

We may also lack the virtue required to see faults for what they are. If we do something wrong, we justify and rationalize it, or at the very least shamefully hide it. When we see others in the same sin, we defend them as we would defend ourselves. We argue that it isn’t so bad. We come up with a legitimate goal that it furthers. We ignore it so we do not have to confront it.

More dangerously, we may also feel that it is not our place to help our fellow humans. We can look at those adrift and argue that we were never appointed as their moral arbiters. Of course, we should not trample on the freedoms of others.

There’s an idea in certain interpretations of Judaism and Christianity that there’s a provision of free will because God wants humanity to be free to choose or reject the divine will. All the evil and suffering in the world exists because without the ability to suffer we would never be able to reject God. Suffering flows from rejection of God, but a perfect world would be the destroyer of all virtue because nobody would do anything except absolutely surrender to God.

To force others to morality has the same effect as removing their free will. It may be necessary in certain cases (e.g. to prevent the violent from preying on the innocent), but it is not a morally good act of itself outside the context of protecting people.

One of the reasons why we turn criticism of people toward their virtues is that a flawed virtue is obvious but also something which is acceptable to talk about. If you tear into someone for being an alcoholic, you look cruel. If you point out that someone who is generally honest lied about something important, you look like a defender of those poor souls that they might exploit without your warning. You can argue that you are not condemning their character (even though you are) and instead claim that it is all about their actions.

Nobody is perfectly virtuous. My best “virtues” come from a lack of temptation and appeal rather than mastery of the self. I am sure that this is replicated in other people. When I was a youth, people praised me for my pursuit of wisdom, but I was really more afraid of being a fool than I was desirous of wisdom.

In this light, what is the correct course of action?

To recognize virtue in others and praise it.

To recognize vice in the self and in others and seek to eliminate it.

To speak openly without condemnation or flattery.

Resolution

Seek to pursue virtues where I have vices.

Don’t forget that evil motives can drive seemingly good actions; they corrupt them entirely, but that is not immediately obvious.

Grant some grace. Some. Do not go so far that you permit people to become victims.

Going to GenCon (Part 2: Day 1)

The first day at GenCon was an experience bordering on something religious. I’ve had religious experiences, so I can tell you that it’s not quite there, but there is a reason why I’ve heard people describe a trip to GenCon as the nerd’s equivalent of the Hajj.

You might want to check out my overview of my trip to GenCon if you haven’t already, since I don’t want to duplicate a bunch of content from it here.

The convention center is unassuming when you approach it on foot, but it’s really massive once you get inside. I blame some of this on the landscaping; it feels kind of small at first because there’s some sidewalk and courtyard space around it, but you don’t realize that it occupies a 2×2 (or maybe more like 2×3) space on the grid layout of the city, compared to its nearest neighbors.

The result is that you step into the exhibition floor and it’s absolutely massive. I first arrived with the guy who was running our booth about an hour before general admission on the first day, and it’s like stepping into a cavern, if caverns were gigantic and had banners hanging from their ceilings to tell you where to go.

The best part of GenCon for me was getting to meet people that you only hear of otherwise. The very first day of GenCon I was walking around prior to everything starting and I passed Mike Pondsmith at the R Talsorian Games booth (their booth was not far from ours), and I immediately had a small fanboy attack.

Mike Pondsmith is the creator of Cyberpunk (along with other games), and although I’ve never actually played any of his games I have followed his work. His writings on cyberpunk and how to handle punk themes in storytelling were incredibly influential and helped shape me as a writer, now that I’m doing freelancing I can say that a lot of the quality of my writing came from his points on how cyberpunk forced characters to ask questions about not just what they should do, but what they need to do.

I also saw a few other people and things that I wasn’t very familiar with, so that was fun too. The booth I was at was shared between Studio 2’s various publishers, which also did stuff with Shadows of Esteren and Vermin 2047, plus another game (Fateforged?) which I have problems remembering.

Most fun, I was right across the aisle from FASA. FASA published Earthdawn, Shadowrun, and Battletech back in the day (a.k.a. my childhood), though they currently only have rights to Earthdawn (and a few of their own more recent titles). I didn’t do a lot of stuff with them on the first day, but it was a real mind-blowing experience.

Our booth’s immediate neighbor was the Delta Green booth. I liked Delta Green back when I was a game reviewer, but I haven’t checked out the newer edition and didn’t feel a strong pull to, though it was cool to be next to a great game and be able to comment on it.

Other than that, it was all pretty cool. Mitchell Wallace, of Penny for a Tale, and I went and grabbed lunch, and we talked a little about the games industry and his podcast.

One thing I learned fairly quickly on: prepare to lose your voice at GenCon if you’re exhibiting or doing stuff in any way. Not only is it loud on the show floor, but there’s also a lot of excitement in the air. It’s such a great positive experience that one doesn’t notice it, but if you don’t have water and cough drops you can really quickly do a number on your throat.

I used to be a schoolteacher, for crying out loud, and I was basically whispering by 11:30, only an hour and a half after the show opened. Fortunately, I was able to get most of my voice back. I felt like I was getting horribly ill because of how sore my throat was, but nothing came of it.

On the first day we didn’t have many sales. This is something of a simplification; a lot of people came and talked, and a decent chunk of those people bought a game, it just wasn’t the same conversion rate as later days. A lot of the people who came back and bought Degenesis on Friday or Saturday showed up on that first day.

I didn’t do anything special after the first day at the convention. I did a little writing and went to bed, so that was boring, but I was also pretty tired given the travel and I won’t whine and moan about it. It was what it was.

Review of Unbroken

I recently read the book Unbroken (Amazon affiliate link), written by Laura Hillenbrand. Unbroken came out as a “major motion picture” a few years back, and I saw it in theaters and thought it was pretty good, but the problem with any film is that they have to choose between making things interesting and dumping a bunch of information on you.

A book, on the other hand, offers the potential to provide both information and engagement, since good writing can carry even a dry and boring subject to an amusing or fulfilling conclusion.

I’ve been meaning to read the book, written by Laura Hillenbrand, ever since I watched the movie. It tells the story of Louis Zamperini, an Olympian and WWII veteran, as he goes from a youth during the Great Depression to a man who overcomes some of the worst situations and harshest environments that people have ever found themselves in.

The book doesn’t pull any punches (a young-adult version is also available, aimed at students), but this helps it overcome the potential boredom that a 500 page book could descend into. A good portion of the book is dedicated to footnotes and notes, which turn Unbroken from mere story into a well-researched history and biography.

The story by itself would still be inspiring. Louis finds himself in Germany for the 1936 Olympics, joining the likes of Jesse Owens and others. Although Zamperini doesn’t directly experience or witness any persecution in Germany (which was trying to hide its crimes from the world at that point), he does see the gathering storm through a variety of signs, both subtle or otherwise.

Louis’s role as a bombardier in WWII is one of the more harrowing parts of the book. The sheer toll of the bombers on their crew and the number of airmen lost not just to the enemy but also to accidents sets a bleak precedent.

When Louis’s bomber crashes and he escapes along with two others (from a crew of around 10) to rafts, the story gets even more desperate, culminating in his eventual capture by the Japanese.

The POW experiences are captured well by the film, but the book goes into more detail about Louis’s fellow prisoners, showing them with a depth and richness that the film was incapable of replicating.

The film also ends with Louis’s freedom at the end of the war (a sequel was made, but went direct-to-disc), where Hillenbrand’s book carries through to the end of Louis’s life, with a major focus in the immediate postwar years.

It adds a level of complexity and hope to the story, showing not just what Zamperini went through but also what he accomplished.

Unbroken tells a tremendous story through its subject, but it matches the strength of its narrative with precise and deep language, the willingness to slow down to explain where necessary coupled with the skill to keep the pace flowing, and a raw and objective look at important events in history.

Unbroken may aim to tell a single person’s story, but it manages to speak to the human condition through its remarkable subject.

I recommend it wholeheartedly.

Reflections on Aphorisms #87

Lots of work to do, got most of it done. What hasn’t been done can get done tomorrow.

That’s a good place to be in.

More weird dreams. I wonder if there’s a sort of Jungian “Once you find out the meaning, the dreams will stop” thing going on for me right now.

Aphorism 125

To establish ourselves in the world we do everything to appear as if we were established. (Maxim 56)

François de La Rochefoucauld

Interpretation

One of the interesting things I’ve noticed in myself and in many students is that there’s a tendency to posture as if one is better than one is.

I mean, heck, I just got into grad school by using a writing sample that received probably the most editing of anything I’ve ever written in my life, and which took the usually freeing writing process and turned it into something a little bit painful.

I’m proud of it, but it definitely isn’t the sort of effort I can really put out reliably, which is half the reason I’m going back to school.

So there’s an irony there: the pressure to get into a spot where I can improve myself requires that I look good.

Of course, this has a positive side-effect. I’ve improved myself and forced myself into a sort of initiation on the road to further improvement.

But it does feel kind of silly.

There is a darker side to this, namely the use of posturing rather than actual improvement.

This isn’t actually unique to this field.

One of the ways to conceive our lives is as a heroic struggle, basically Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey. I don’t think that this by itself is sufficient to cover everything, but it’s enough to really get one thinking about the role we play in our world.

If we look at life as a series of challenges that we must overcome on the way to something greater, we have three things that really need to happen:

  1. One must overcome their challenges.
  2. One must find the way (Way, perhaps).
  3. One must turn that into betterment.

There is room for deception at each of these steps, both self-deception (Jung’s Shadow) and deception of others for personal gain.

The problem with deception is that it’s very hard to keep your stories straight. Once one walks the way of deception they lose the way of the hero, or the Way. Let us not forget that Christ uses the terms “the way, the truth, and the life” in a strong statement of divinity, illustrating the importance of finding the right path for life as being equal not only to truth but also to life itself, and to an extent as a way of finding God. Note that this is something of a theological blunder, so don’t read too much into it. I just don’t have better words right now. The Way, understood as an archetype or otherwise, is just very important.

There’s something to be said for the idea that strength attracts strength. We desire the desirable, unless some charity works within us. For this reason we often try to posture and present our best face forward, trying to be that which we are not so that we can enjoy the privileges of that which we wish to be.

Resolution

Be the real deal.

Don’t deceive.

Find the Way and take it as far as it leads.