Saturday, September 20, 2008

Why do I write?

Frequent commenter Maria sent me an interesting question, which with her permission I have, after some thought, reproduced in its entirety here:

You seem to have a very dynamic work life--a history with Ziff Davis in a pretty nice position, your current company--what was missing that made you write? Obviously it was something you felt you *had* to do. But why? I know you wrote a lot of stuff for is it just about communication, something you are good at? Is it an outlet for something that you miss otherwise? Do you even *know* why it is you have to write? I ask because...I don't know why I write. I know why I started writing. For a while I know why I kept writing. But the last year or so? I keep doing it, but I honestly no longer know why. I'm much more informed about the industry; the pay, the odds, the hours of effort, the ups and downs, etc. I've had some short stories published in e-zines, generally steadily better paying ones and some podcasts...but darned if I know why I keep at it.

Before I answer the question, I want to address something to Maria: Keep writing. You clearly need to do it, so while you're figuring out why, keep doing it. You won't be happy if you don't. Most of us also get better with time, because there's just so much to learn, so you'll probably like the results more and more (to the degree that any of us can like our work).

As to why I write, I'm also honestly not sure. I'll give you my best guesses, but please understand that they are just that: guesses.

I suppose part of it is related to the fact that I've never been able to shut up. My mom tells a story of coming to the first parents night when I was in first grade and seeing the classroom in an odd formation: one desk in the rear left corner facing out the rear window, and all the others in the upper right corner facing front. Yup, the one was mine. The teacher had put me there because I wouldn't stop talking.

Another factor is that I'm a natural storyteller. When I'm traveling, for example, I may forget my camera, but I always remember to collect stories. I love telling stories, and I love listening to them.

When I push on myself to get to the truth, I also encounter this feeling: I have important things to say. How arrogant, eh? I don't mean that they're important in the "oh, look, here's the meaning of life" sense. It's that they're important to me. Sometimes, the world is so much--so much anger, so much joy, so much love, so much of so many things--that I feel as if I don't get some of it out of me I will burst. I rarely write when I feel like that, but I think the times when I am writing are ones in which I'm bleeding off some of that pressure.

I know one reason I write is that I love books, love the written word, and it's just so damn cool to have written.

Finally, one of the reasons I write is that it's one of the best ways I know to get something out of my head and into someone else's. You know how you can look at someone you love and see them, really see them, every wart and blemish and flaw, and yet your heart is so full with love that you wish they for one second could see how you felt? Words are the only way to transmit that feeling across distance. The same is true for a momentary joy in a cool autumn night or the crash of waves, for outrage at an injustice, for the longing for a lover's touch. When I read something I wrote and it is, even if only in that moment, exactly what I felt, exactly what I wanted to convey, then every bit of pain in writing was worth experiencing.

Of course, if I look again a few seconds later, it's all crap, I'm a failure, and all I can do is slog onward in my talentless journey to oblivion, but, hey, that's part of the joy of writing, too!

Yo, Maria, as I asked once before: Aren't you sorry you asked?

On the road again: Portland, day 5

I love the smell of airports in the very early morning. It smells like victory.

No, that’s not right. I’m lying to you. I shouldn’t do that. Let’s try this again.

I hate airports in the very early morning. Panic, frustration, and desperation fill the air. Night owls glare in angry resentment at morning larks who vibrate with their "oh, happy day" energy. The larks shake their head in disappointment at the pitiful condition of the owls. Some of us--never me, of course, never me--contemplate them all with a killer’s gaze and wonder, sometimes aloud under their breath, if the airport might not be a lovely place were all the people suddenly to die in a firestorm of automatic weapons fire. Never me, of course; I wouldn’t think such things, but I know others do, I can see it in their eyes.

Portland airport presented such a scene this morning when we entered it at the entirely too early hour of 6:20 a.m. A 5:15 a.m. wake-up call after a 2:00 a.m. lights out had begun my morning joy, the hotel clerk who called me clearly relishing his role as torturer. He continued in that capacity as he screwed up my check-out process and failed to deliver on the manager’s earlier claim of a painless exit from the hotel. If I had a list, this clerk would be on it--but of course, I don’t, and if anyone in the Portland area finds the body of a white male, blond, thinning hair, wearing a Heathman Hotel uniform and a ragged scrawl in blood on his shirt that says, “Wake this up, asshole!” well, I know nothing about that.

After work in the airport, courtesy of PDX’s free bandwidth, something every airport should offer, my day actually brightened a bit because my first class upgrades came through. I wrote a reasonable chunk of Overthrowing Heaven on the two planes, and in general the flights went well. I didn’t have time in ORD to download email, but my iPhone let me know that when I landed, a giant steaming lump of it would be waiting for me.

Digesting that lump has consumed much of my evening and a considerable amount of what I'd hoped would be sleep time.

Ah, I love business travel.

Friday, September 19, 2008

On the road again: Portland, day 4

I'd love to have more to tell you on these business trips, but I work so many hours and our work is so confidential that about the only things I can discuss are the meals. I'm tempted to rant, but I need to reserve the writing time for the novel, which is slowly coming along, so you'll have to put up with short entries. Sorry about that.

I can tell you that if you're ever in Portland you absolutely must eat at Sel Gris. Chef Daniel Mondok worked at several other places, including the famed French Laundry for all-star chef, Thomas Keller, before he opened his own place. His menu was delightful, and every dish I tried was delicious, flavorful, and fun. The foie gras two ways was particularly lovely. I'll definitely be back.

The more I visit Portland, the more I like this place. I don't ever plan to move from my home in North Carolina, but if I were ever to consider it, this area would have to be on the short list.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

On the road again: Portland, day 3 -- something different

Most of today was like most trip days: work. I'll spare you the work details, as I usually do.

Dinner was at a mediterranean tapas-style restaurant, Olea. We sampled sardines a gratin, a chickpea salad, three different cheeses, a sausage sampler, and the pate plate, and everything was good, though no single dish blew us away. The desserts, though bad for my fat self, were also yummy. It's not up to Le Pigeon or the other best-of-Portland restaurants we've tried, but it's well worth a visit if you're in the area.

The event that made today a bit different from other days was the videotaping at Intel in Hillsboro. Intel runs a site, the Intel Software Network, dedicated to helping software developers. That site includes multiple communities, and as part of the material in those communities Intel often includes short video interviews on subjects of interest to the community members. (To locate and view samples, check out this list of the videos by category.) The videos feature conference presentations, Intel staffers, and what they called "industry thought leaders." It was in that lofty last category, as well as in my capacity as an SF writer, that they interviewed me today.

The original goal was one five-minute piece on multicore computing, but if you tell me I can talk all I want and get me started, I can go a long time--even when I'm trying to be good. So, we ended up shooting about half an hour (I think; I didn't time it) of material on a variety of topics. They'll edit the pieces and ultimately post them on the above site. If you spot me on one of them, please let me know; I'll do the same if I hear from anyone that I'm out there yapping.

Having said all that, I have to note that before you devote the five to eight minutes necessary to watch me yak on one point or another, you'd be better off re-watching Tina Fey absolutely nail her Sarah Palin impression on SNL. Yeah, you've already seen it, but a rerun wouldn't hurt--and I know I'd rather watch that piece than this old, fat guy any day.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

On the road again: Portland, day 2

I'd like to tell you about my exciting adventures in Portland, but I'd be lying. My day went like this:

work (including eating)

and so on. Now, it's nearly one in the morning here, almost four a.m. back home, and I'm still working. Ah, the romance of business travel.

The high point of the day was dinner at Le Pigeon, a Portland favorite and one I've mentioned many times before. My meal was, as always at this fine little place, perfectly prepared and delicious. My appetizer, the foie gras on PB&J, blended all the flavors into a yummy concoction. My entree, the quail with squash, cherry tomatoes, and a dressing that blended citrus with bone marrow, demonstrated yet again that these chefs can cook. Every single bite of the quail was juicy, tender, and delicious, and the marriage of the citrus and the marrow resulted in a new flavor that offered the best of both of its main components.

If you're ever in Portland, as I've also said before, you owe it to yourself to eat at Le Pigeon.

On a completely unrelated note, I can't imagine there are actually any competists out there trying to collect my entire written works, but if there are, you'll want to know about the introduction I wrote for Toni Weisskopf for the WindyCon 35 program book. (Of course, given that I have over a thousand tech article bylines in print, even if someone were odd enough to want to own all my published pieces, I don't think they could ever find them all.) I filed the piece today, and though I won't be able to make the con, I'm hoping I can get my hands on a few of the program books when they appear.

And now, Overthrowing Heaven calls to me, and I must yield to its summons.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

On the road again: Portland, day 1

Ah, the glamorous life of a tech-company executive! Add the spice of being a science-fiction writer as well, and surely you have days of wonderment!

Or not.

Today began about 7:00 a.m., after a little over three hours of sleep interrupted by one wake-up. I showered and headed to the airport. Security was nice, but no upgrade was to be mine, so I took my middle seat--at least it was in the exit row--on the flight to DFW. I was the smallest guy on my row, so we spent the flight trying not to share shoulder sweat. Lovely.

Fortunately for us, none of the weather in Texas affected us. We landed at DFW a hair early, pulled up to our gate, and...sat. The jet bridge wouldn't work. A group of passengers near me grew surly as the realized they had missed their connection to Hawaii for their vacations. I don't blame them, but their anger also didn't help anything.

By the time we got off the plane, we'd lost most of our lunch break. Gina and I grabbed a quick meal, then boarded the next plane for Portland--again in exit-row, center seats.

This flight wasn't anywhere near as productive as I'd hoped it would be, but I invested part of that time in a wonderful conversation with a man working for a major company making laser weapons. For an SF writer, this was great stuff indeed.

We even landed in Portland early, which let me catch up on my voicemail--for a change, all good--while waiting for my luggage.

Other than work, two nice things happened in Portland today. First, while going out to pick up bottles of water and Diet Coke with Lime at a nearby drug store, we encountered an Hispanic celebration in the big brick square downtown. Musicians, tents with people cooking food, speakers, and even costumed men, women, and children on horses--this one had plenty to offer casual spectators such as us.

The second good event was the room-service dinner, which came from the Heathman Hotel kitchen downstairs. The food was quite good, and eating in the room meant I could miss less work.

I still have hours to go before I can sleep, and I'm falling down tired, but I'll finish today's work before I sleep. It's what I do.

Ah, my glamorous life!

Monday, September 15, 2008

Burn After Reading

When you go to see a movie by the Coen brothers, you have to expect something weird. Burn After Reading is in some ways more of the same, a collection of strange characters behaving strangely, but in other ways it is of a piece with their last, ostensibly far more serious movie, No Country for Old Men. Like that previous work, Burn includes a few moments of sudden and extreme violence (though far fewer than Old Men) and ends on a note that is existentially very downbeat. (Of course, in Burn the delivery of the message is comic and quite funny.)

None of this is to say that you won't laugh. You will, both at the situations, at the clever turns of phrase, and most of all at Brad Pitt. As dumb and fun to watch as he was in the trailers, he's even dumber and more fun to watch here.

The entire cast does a fine job, and as is often the case in a Coen brothers film, the actors with bit parts show just how much one can make of a small role.

If you're a fan of the Coen brothers, I recommend this one, but don't be surprised if you come out scratching your head a bit and wondering if there was enough pay-off for the ride.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Roxy Rocket for the win!

Roxy Rocket was on fire tonight! She started as jammer ten times, and in the first nine she became the lead jammer and scored a ton of points. In her last attempt, the Tucson Saddletramps' jammer bested her, but it was a hell of a run.

Oh, yeah, I forgot: You probably don't follow the Carolina Rollergirls, Raleigh's own Women's Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA; read: roller derby) team. I have to confess I don't really follow them, either, but inspired by a successful first visit many months ago and a clutch of ticket vouchers as a present from my friends Eric and Anna Bess, a group of us went to see them tonight.

We had a blast. We ate nothing but health food--soda, beer, nachos, hot dogs, and funnel cake--and we watched Carolina smash Tucson. These women work hard, skate hard, hit hard, and seem to love what they're doing--and they must, because they sure can't be making much, if any, money at it.

I will pay for this tomorrow, because I have so much to do before I leave town that I will sleep somewhere between zero and a little tonight, but I'm still glad I went.

If you have a roller derby team in your area, or if you're in this area and can get to a Carolina Rollergirls game, check it out.


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