Hair Trigger

Last week was stressful; not due to one particular issue, just a confluence of work stress, personal issues, and maybe a dash or two of “enough with the winter already” irritation.

It got bad enough, pushing at my mind and demanding its focus, that I dug in a little harder with my meditation training and pushed back, forcing myself to put the various things in perspective and admit that everything will be fine. And then I felt better. But it’s funny how I had to go through a week or more of generalized, lower-level anxiety before the additional stress backed me into enough of a corner that I reached for that solution.

When we talk about mindfulness and staying focused while we meditate, we are essentially training our minds to have a hair trigger when it comes to putting problems in perspective and regaining equanimity. Building the reflex that promptly and effectively deals with discursive thoughts and real-world problems.

That in turn reminds me of one my favourite books of Buddhist lore, a collection of talks by the Korean zen master Seung Sahn entitled “Wanting Enlightenment is a Bad Idea.” It’s a great book. One of my favourite parts is his discussion of the concept of keeping such an open mind as we move through life that we don’t even form attachments to concepts, so that our honest answer to any question would be “I don’t know,” because you are not attached to any knowledge I suppose. He repeatedly advised maintaining this state of “don’t know mind” as the best outcome of a zen meditation practise, since he did not believe in attaining enlightenment, and as the title of his book implies, he felt that the pursuit of it could be detrimental.

I went to the library yesterday and signed out a few classic films and Norm MacDonald’s celebrated autobiography, which I look forward to starting tonight. It is incredibly already mid-April, which means I have three weeks to prepare for my first appearance back in good old Saint John at the Fog City Comic Con. I should just about make it.

Norm beckons. Check out two new episodes of Sunday Night in Cinema 3 and a new Insult. There will be a new Insult weekly on my Patreon page as well for a while. Thanks and have a great week!

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Spring Forward

It’s been a good week, despite my son falling ill for much of his March break, spending half of it prone on my couch and the other half propped up in his mom’s basement playing video games. I managed to be reasonably productive without feeling a lot of stress about it, which is a good zone to find and stay in.

As I write this I have just come back in from my third excursion of the day. The first was skating on the Emera Loop with my dear wife this morning. The second was a walk to the waterfront, by way of the central library to return a book and DeSerres, where a thick pad of their watercolour paper and a pad of their mixed media paper made me an offer I couldn’t refuse.

My ultimate goal for the waterfront was to pick up this week’s comics at Strange Adventures, and it was most of my pull list: new issues of Assassinistas, Black Bolt, Captain America, Giant Days, Jughead: The Hunger, and The Wicked + The Divine, plus a Harley and Ivy comic with a cover by Tula Lotay, whose work I buy wherever possible. A few of those titles are ending soon or have ended already, so I added a few upcoming books to the list to try out.

The third walk was in the opposite direction, to the Anchor Archive zine library on Almon street, in the Radstorm space. I donated some copies of recent zines and comics after meaning to for ages. I also gave them some extra copies of what I have in my inventory for sample zine packs that they were talking about putting together. If you’re in the Halifax area and you are interested in zines (making them or reading them), you should pay them a visit.

The new episode of Sunday Night in Cinema 3 is up. Do check it out, won’t you? And speaking of movies, I realize that the new Tomb Raider is probably the destination for most moviegoing manchildren next weekend, but if you want to see a film that is genuinely special, one that is fresh and smart, I urge you to check out the teen dramedy Love, Simon. It’s directed by Riverdale showrunner Greg Berlanti, based on an excellent YA novel called Simon Vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertelli, a child psychologist turned author. Nicole and I saw a sneak preview of Love, Simon last night and absolutely loved it. I am so glad that gay kids and their allies will have it, however it does at the box office.

And speaking of Albertelli, the sequel to Simon, called Leah on the Offbeat, comes out next month. Her second book, set in the same book-universe, was called The Upside of Unrequited, and I also recommend it. I love good YA fiction, the more of it kids have to choose from, the better.

I was feeling glum after taking my son home, as I usually do, and I decided to cheer myself up by spending some time working on one of the card games I hope to publish sometime this year. It’s called Story Mode, and it will be an open source project. I plan on working on its alpha website after this blog post, so if you want to read more about how that would work, I’ll explain there.

Anyway, I had a couple of little breakthroughs, both in terms of the game taking shape in my mind and in technical terms. I was able to map out a development strategy for the game, basically taking it through alpha and beta editions before publishing a true 1.0 release for public consumption. I’ll go into that in more detail on the Story Mode website too, if you are interested in downloading a copy of whatever I have ready or playtesting. Or both.

So it has been a pleasant surprise to work on that at the end of the week, and my new goal is to have the alpha version posted online and printed for a limited distribution. The game will always be free to download online, but if you want a physical copy that comes from me, the easiest method to ensure you get one is to join my Patreon.

I am going to be doing my first mailout to patrons at all levels in the next few weeks, as an orientation package. It will include a new exclusive minicomic, the alpha version of the Story Mode game, a little bit of original art, some small prints and probably a mid sized print, a holder to put it all in, and my eternal gratitude. So don’t miss out!

What Time Is It?

I’ve always been fascinated by the concept of time, something both so natural and so artificial, that we bend intentionally and that bends us. One of my favourite books is Einstein’s Dreams by Alan Lightman; it is a collection of short vignettes about the early life of Einstein when he was a patent clerk in Vienna, and the dreams that Lightman imagines might have inspired the theory of relativity. Each of the dreams posits a scenario where time works differently than the way we are used to.

Anyway, remember how I was writing about stress last week? I was thinking about it some more and analyzing where stress comes from, for me. It often comes from the fear of being late- I am generally VERY punctual- and that could include deadlines for work or for my own projects.

When you are a self-publisher, I don’t think it makes ANY sense to create deadline related stress for yourself. We already have enough of that in our day to day lives. This is something I was especially thinking about as I fleshed out the timelines for projects I want to get done this year. Some of the tasks were viable, others would be charitably called stretch goals (64 pages of comics from me in a year? Yeah right).

Once all those deadlines and checkpoints were laid out for me, I could feel the stress wanting to rise, but thankfully the Zen side of me put a firm hand on its shoulder and invited it to sit. I decided to try a different approach for a while, one which is sometimes used as a mindfulness exercise for Buddhists. If I started to feel stressed, or paralyzed by too many choices of what I could be doing, I would simply stop, take a breath, and ask myself, what time is it?

We have many times of day, and they don’t all have hard strict limits, but they tend to have fairly regular patterns. I work Monday to Friday from 8:30 AM to 5 PM, for example. Some days I might not sign in until 9, or I might work a few hours late at the end of the day. But the general “work day” pattern is there. So if it’s 3PM on a Tuesday and I ask myself, what time is it? The answer is: time to work, dummy.

Those answers could come from commitments (like work), habits (running or the gym), biological need (eating, sleeping), psychological need (relaxing, recreation), and more. So there are many possible responses to “what time is it?” at any given time of the day, but I think it’s asking the question that kicks the answer into our heads, because deep down we know what we ought to be doing, if only we did not fear the prospect of doing it.

Anyway. Give it a try, if you think it would be useful for you.

What else to talk about this week? I watched a lot of Bones, which is still possibly the worst thing ever made, and yet I cannot stop. I will ride all fourteen seasons down to hell in the name of distracting my overactive brain in the afternoons at work.

I’ve been reading the latest novel by Tom Perrotta, called Mrs. Fletcher, which alternates between the point of view of an entitled white kid from the Boston suburbs and his mother who has just seen him off to college and who is coming to embrace the idea of being a MILF. Like everything Perrotta does (The Leftovers, Election) it’s a little twisted, but compelling.

I guess I could sum up what I have done this week creatively. I worked on a new print and am just about ready to start the artwork in Clip Studio. I had a cute idea for another print and sketched that out. I published two new installments of The Insult., and two new installments of Faith of the Heart, one of which is exclusively on Patreon. I reviewed some of the manuscript of 4 of a Kind, my soon to be finished novel from last year’s NaNoWriMo. And, I published the latest episode of Sunday Night in Cinema 3 and have applied to have it listed in the iTunes store… cross your fingers.

Lots to do, as always, but the technique I described above is helping. Hope you have a great week.

-SM

Jack Kirby, Goals, and Fear(lessness)

I had hoped to update this blog weekly for a while but it looks like I let things slide since November. Will things improve in 2018? Let’s find out.

It has been a pretty mild winter overall, apparently the least amount of snow here in Halifax in a long time. Nicole and I made it to Saint John for just under a week’s worth of holidays, with requisite (but too short) visits with friends and family.

I find myself testing the limits of my ability to process new levels of stress lately. Mostly with success. If nothing else, it has given me a chance to dust off my Buddhism, and refresh the principles that I am supposed to be using as a foundation for how I interact with the world. (That sounds grander than it actually is. For me, it’s just the importance of keeping things in perspective, and especially resisting knee-jerk fear reactions to things.)

Anyway. Stress. I feel like I am doing a decent job of going with the flow, which is a goal for me, and not getting anxious about deadlines, especially self-imposed ones. That said, I have also attempted to organize my many projects for this year so that I can jump from one to another, from relatively simple things that I can crank out frequently to more complicated things that will be one-offs. (I apologize for saying “crank out frequently,” it won’t happen again.)

Over the holidays I randomly caught an episode of the series Electric Dreams, based on Philip K. Dick’s short stories, and it made me think about his pink beam of alien(?) light, and how the world since he died feels increasingly like something he might have dreamed up. Sometimes I feel like I should go back and reread Phil’s books, and maybe one day I will. At this point I would rather catch up on the many unread books I have accumulated, plus my ever-growing list of library holds.

Speaking of books, I bought myself a bit of a present after Christmas – the omnibus edition of Jack Kirby’s Fourth World, which reprints all of his series of The New Gods, Mister Miracle, The Forever People, and Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen. I used to have all of the original issues of them except for Olsen but I sold them at one point years ago when I needed money. The new volume is pricey, but not compared to trying to collect the originals again, or even compared to buying trade collections. It is quite a trip to go through those stories again in linear order.

Part of the reason for that is the way that those old stories- clunky as they often are in their vernacular- are like a pair of heart paddles for someone at my age, who loves both Kirby and comics. Their energy, their imagination, and the way that they distill the man’s feelings about the art form, about young people, about war, and hope. The Anti-Life Equation that Darkeid sought could have been many things, but I always think of it in relation to fear. Kirby was fearless, and driven to keep making art that both brought him commercial success so he could take care of his family, but also pushed the boundaries of the art form where he had already tirelessly innovated by 1970.

Fear has been on my mind a lot lately. Fear of failure, fear of change, even fear of success. You would think that an old Buddhist would recognize the dangers of it more readily, but I still have to remind myself, and I still have to push myself to do some things that other people don’t even have to think about, like interacting with strangers. So, apart from the creative goals I have this year, my main personal goal is to stop allowing fear from playing a role in my day to day life. Easier said than done, of course, but I think it is achievable eventually.

 

In The Not Too Distant Future

Every day the experiments continue, unending, as they have for over a thousand years. What started as a test on a human administered by other, evil humans has evolved so that I am at the mercy of self-administering, self-aware artificial intelligences, playing their roles as they were designed, “torturing” me by forcing me into an old theatre on a rickety satellite, with no company save three badly malfunctioning robots, a drone camera that points in seemingly random directions, and a computer voice that sometimes announces “movie sign”, sometimes pleads with me to kill her, sometimes screams in terror and then is abruptly silenced.

And I play my role too, enduring one terrible movie after the next, movies that are generated from the final moments of humanity based on algorithms that the M.A.D.S. have been given. For example, I watched a romantic comedy yesterday where 1970s ingenue Karen Valentine feasted on the still-beating heart of former Vice-President Spiro Agnew, while he looked on and screamed; and she seemed to know that what she was doing was wrong, but she was unable to stop herself. Such is the dilemma of anyone in a romantic comedy, I suppose.

I gave it three stars out of four and then tried once again to open the airlock of the satellite I am trapped on, but once again I lost consciousness when I touched the airlock release, as I always do, and when I woke it was a new day at the same time I always wake up, and I wondered once again if I am even real anymore- if I am just another artificial intelligence automatically and imperfectly generated from decades of data left online, blogs, tweets, status messages, email, videos, photos, everything you ever recorded in any way, parsed and assembled by a program that does not know how or when to stop, so it endlessly remixes and reassembles all the components of the known universe until it finds the magic combination that will continue on its own, intelligence no longer artificial.