Abdera, Florida

In 2013 I decided I needed a fictional city. Many of my stories take place in Tampa (or somewhere in Florida) just because I know the layout. I know how long it takes to get to the beach, what the patrol cars look like, how diverse the population is, and other little details that sometimes pop up in a story.

But for the urban fantasy story I was working on I wanted a fake town.

“Aha! Why not a fake universe?” I thought. “I should have my own universe where I can set multiple stories.”

And so, Abdera, Florida was born.

Among the classical Greeks, Abdera was the de facto city of nitwits. A shorthand for a comedic character was to say they were an Abderite. You might signal a joke by starting “In Abdera….” A current analog would be ‘hillbilly’ or (growing up in Texas), an ‘aggie’. (Ironically, Abdera was the real home of Democritus, “the laughing philosopher.”)

Abdera, Florida struck me as the perfect name for a city meant to be a little off-kilter, and full of ridiculous people.

Since then I’ve set four or five stories in Abdera, and at least one NaNoWriMo project.

A few days ago I realized that several stories I set in other locations could easily be moved to Abdera. Maybe I might even have enough for an entire collection!

I don’t. Not even close.

But in investigating this I re-read many of the stories I wrote in 2017 (the story-a-month year), and it turns out I enjoyed reading them. I can see from this distance how to make them better, and there are parts that hold up.

As I read them I realized one of the things missing from my creative endeavors lately has been a sense of play. This pre-dates the pandemic, and goes back to the growing work burnout I experienced in 2018-2019.

My current creative project definitely isn’t playful (near-future techno-thriller!), but since I’m making progress, I’m going to keep plugging away. But I’ve also started going through the stories that take place in Abdera (and the stories that CAN take place in Abdera) and cataloging all the names and locations. Now that I have these characters, it’s probably time to have them start running into each other in new stories. It’s time to put all that work into a blender, hit the pulse button, and see what sort of absurd concoction I can pour out.

Post-Consumer Propaganda

Non-profit organizations may take donated items, like t-shirts, and give them away (or sell them to wholesalers, who then mark up the price by 300-400 percent) in poor areas of the global south.

For example, at a championship sports games, shirts are printed for both sides to celebrate their championship win. One team loses, however, and those shirts are donated to a charity, mission, or non-profit organization.

Somewhere there is someone with a warehouse full of MAGA gear. If we move on to a new president in November, that means there will be a zillion hats and t-shirts with no US market. That apparel will likely/possibly end up in developing countries.

Which means that a half dozen years from now documentarians working in Liberia or rural Mali or Central African Republic will be shooting video of people wearing MAGA gear.

The future is weird.

Roundup 21Oct20

Tom Lehrer drops all his lyrics into the public domain. I wonder what that’s all about. I grew up with Songs by Tom Lehrer, and can still sing every lyric off the top of my head. Lehrer is still alive, though he’s 92. I wonder if this is a decision made as the end approaches.

Songs by Tom Lehrer

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Here’s a story (which I’ll never write) about a comedy AI, a levity machine. It’s a variation of Monty Python’s “World’s Deadliest Joke” skit (which I only realized after the idea popped into my head). Story: I ask my upgraded AI to tell me a joke. It’s pretty good. The AI calibrates my response and after a few jokes, it gets better at finding what makes me laugh. I ask for another joke. Hey, this is pretty good! Keep going, AI. And it does. But then, I start laughing so hard, I can’t catch a breath. I can’t tell it to stop. Ahhhh, the humor, it’s killing me!

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Ugh. Still avoiding the most significant problem. Rosen mentions it, and immediately sets it aside. Nothing changes in modern journalism until the ‘commercial pressures’ change.

“When you look at the American news sphere as it stands, two big things influence political journalism. One is extremely well-known: commercial pressures. We can call it ratings. We can call it clicks. We can call it the industry of attention. All these are names for the same thing, which is using news to generate an audience, and then selling that audience. And, of course, Trump assists with that. That’s why the words of Les Moonves, the former CEO of CBS, are so revealing: ‘It may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS.'”

News, journalism, the media, whatever you want to call it, is profoundly, fundamentally broken. And it has been for a long time. In many ways the internet didn’t create the problems with the ‘news’ so much as reveal them.

The left stands loyally behind institutions of journalism when Trump derides them as ‘fake news’, but it wasn’t that long ago that Al Gore was going back to j-school as a professor to educate up-and-coming journalists how ‘fake news’ torpedoed his chance at the presidency.

In my lifetime, accuracy has never been top priority. It’s always been about capturing the most eyeballs.

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NPR and the Corporate Criminal Element: “Ever wonder why you rarely hear serious discussion on National Public Radio (NPR) about corporate crime and violence?”

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Eight short stories of Africanfuturism.

Roundup for 20Oct20

Wildlife Photographer of the Year images at the UK’s Natural History Museum.

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Viet Thanh Nguyen interviews Adrian Tomine for the Paris Review.

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I just finished Allie Brosh’s Solutions and Other Problems (it’s terrific!). This Rolling Stone article explains where she went when she vanished from the internet for six years.

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Whatever happened to quicksand?

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Gloria Steinem interviews Dorothy Parker in 1965 when Steinem is 30 and Parker is 71.

Dorothy Parker / NYPL Digital Collections.

She fondly remembers Heywood Broun, Robert Benchley, and Scott Fitzgerald. She found disagreeable, Ernest Hemingway, George Kaufman, and Harold Ross. She also speaks highly of James Baldwin and Edward Albee.

Neighborhood Signs

According to the demographics given in the US census I live in the most diverse neighborhood in Tampa. That’s one of the reasons we chose this neighborhood to call home.

It typically trends blue. Tampa’s a mostly blue city in a sea of red, and we’re a mostly blue neighborhood. Four years ago I was disappointed by the number to Trump yard signs I saw. Very few for Hillary, too many for Trump.

Starting in mid-March, I began regular walks through the neighborhood. These days I do a five-mile walk, three times a week. On my walk there is one house that has had some form of Trump banner flying for the last four years. Otherwise, I’m happy to report there are many Biden signs.

Other than the family flying the banner, I spotted my first Trump sign last week. Today, there were two more Trump signs, but there are scores of Biden signs, and some have been up for over a month.

Anecdotal, and it doesn’t really mean anything, but it’s nice to see that all those people who showed support for Trump four years ago via yard signs, are no longer so eager for their neighbors to know where they stand.

Only two more weeks. If you can vote now, vote now.

UPDATE: Highly Informed Voter Has Spent Weeks Studying Trump, Biden Yard Signs

Twitter Hiatus Update

It was great! Definitely the right choice.

A month ago I put myself on a Twitter lockout for a month. I made the right choice.

Technically, the hiatus ended yesterday, but I don’t think I’m going back to using it the way I did before. I’m not exactly sure what my new relationship with social media will look like, but I’ve pretty much shut down all avenues for doomscrolling.

I like blogging. Getting back into the regular flow of keeping this blog updated brings me a sense of satisfaction and joy that I never get on any of the social media platforms.

For the next month I’ll try posting to Twitter (including linking to these blog posts), but not scrolling through the feed. Maybe that’s the solution I’m looking for.

Roundup for 15Oct20

Is there a global underground subculture that attempts to cross every national border without proper authorization and papers? I want this to be a reality TV show.

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The Attorney General should have to wear an electric collar that shocks them everytime a cop kills someone.

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If you’re unfamiliar with John Rawls, this interview with Katrina Forrester (who wrote an in-depth study of his work) is a good entry point.

“The basic idea was to imagine what kind of society you would want to set up, if you didn’t know where you would end up in it, or who you would be.”

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Fashion as resistance – Juxtapoz interviews Carla Fernandez.

The future is handmade.

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Just Security has started a series of “Good Governance” proposals. With any luck a Democratic majority will embrace some of these over the next couple of years.

“Regular invocations in the mainstream media of formerly obscure corners of the law such as the Hatch ActInsurrection Act, and the Emoluments Clauses of the Constitution, as well as norms such as the independence of the Department of Justice or the non-partisan administration of the security clearance process are evidence of an urgent and widespread desire to see our government recommit itself to good governance, public integrity, and the rule of law. Many commentators have identified and offered analysis of one or another means of pursuing this goal. The Good Governance Papersseeks both to expand and render more concrete this discussion by collecting in one place a ready list of non-partisan, carefully crafted, specific reform proposals.”

Writing Update

The progress is incremental, but I’m happy that I’m getting creative work done every week.

For a minute, I thought I’d do NaNoWriMo again this year, but I dug around through their site, and I guess I probably won’t. It turns out what I really loved about NaNoWriMo was the little blog widget that charted my progress over the course of the month. They dropped those widgets in their re-design a couple of years ago.

My current creative project is a complete re-write of a novel I did for NaNoWriMo in 2014. Whether it will be any good or not, I don’t know. What I do know is I have a much greater understanding of what I’m doing with a project of this size. The current goal is to have it posted in ebook form by the end of the year.

Looking through past NaNoWriMo projects it looks like my peak years were 2010-2015. I skipped 2016, and completed a novel in 2017. Of those seven, I think four of them might be suitable for substantial revision and ebook production.

As an aside — I don’t want to rule the world, I don’t want to be the biggest boss that ever bossed the world around, but at least one line of this song has been a constant refrain rolling through my brain since the early days of the pandemic.

Little by little, bit by bit.