My Stories

On some of my own writing projects…

So far I have tried to focus on observational posting – music I like, historical quirks, some experiences of living here in Qatar as an American.  But tonight I want to write a little bit about what I am writing about, fiction-wise.  I have always been drawn to genre fiction as a reader, writer, and consumer of video media.  Mostly that means science fiction and fantasy, but I also have read some horror at the behest of an ex (amicably separated due to my peregrinate lifestyle.)  Thus when I talk about writing, I am usually talking about something along the lines of science fiction or fantasy.

Currently I have been slowly accreting words onto a short story about a priest of gods in a multivariable pantheon who deciphers an odd codex of ancient repute.  He finds in the midst of those volumes a map that suggests that an old, overgrown area of his home continent was once the site of a completely different sort of civilization from his early industrial-era society.

He travels towards a particularly captivating location on that map, drawn by a sense of inevitability and purpose that his life in an idyllic valley of monasteries and temples did not provide.

I will not go into the conceit of the story in this entry, as I have not yet written it out of the pre-writing I have in notes and a general idea.

What I will talk to is a larger idea that I have for a novel or a series.  I was thinking about the currently-popular idea that the universe is not what it seems, but may rather be an enormously complex simulation running on hardware in a higher level of reality.  Then I thought, what if the different complexes of gods and spirits that humans have worshipped over the centuries are in fact different development teams on the larger simulation?  Early ideas of the supernatural are humans’ neural-net simulations interacting on some level with the active efforts of developers on an early phase of our universe, focused on our world at least, and thus also giving an “explanation” for why humans feel compelled to believe in the idea of beings greater than ourselves in power and influence.  Rationally, I have no trouble accepting the more mundane explanation that our sense of the supernatural arises from pattern recognition “circuitry” in our biological thought processes interacting with our social instincts and innate desire to know and control future events for our benefit.  But I think that it offers fertile ground for a work of fiction to subvert that idea towards one wherein humans are, in fact, programmed to be responsive to the developers of our world as a technological project of a higher-universe group of sentients.

The idea is that the Egyptian pantheon represents one of the earliest sets of developers tasked with stimulating a complex, hierarchical society from our base coding, and the Sumerian/Mesopotamian complex that coexisted with it represents a more primitive set of developers focused on machine code that would sustain the processing and expansion of humanity towards whatever end the overall simulation is meant to illustrate or entail.  From there, different pantheons represent different sorts of software development teams.  The Abrahamic religions emerge as a kind of power struggle amongst management of the simulation project outside of our universe, while Japan and its Shinto faith are a subset of the larger simulation added on almost like DLC for the larger game of life, perhaps focused on algorithms designed to operate without external intervention yet to build off of the “basic rules and classes” that power the larger global experiment.

I could even see a side-series that looks at another planet developed by the same beings above our universe, and yet is a world that operates on a wildly different application of the basic physical and chemical laws that govern Earth-based life, etc.  I will need to do a significant amount of pre-writing, but the basic introductory plot line is one in which a human or a small group of humans end up making contact with a developer or development team who do not like the way that humans have deified their fellow coders and designers, and who are able to offer manipulation of the world we know to achieve a set of initially unknowable ends.

This would be a very large writing project, and one that I am not sure I want to begin until I have a chance to hack at some other, earlier ideas that I have had.  But as this blog was intended to be one talking about writing, I figured it only fair to share some of my story ideas.  If you end up using the larger conceit to create your own work, I ask only that if I am successful at publishing mine, you not be shady and claim that I stole your idea simply because I was not as fast as fleshing out my own.

I hope that this was at least food for thought for you all, and that you have a fantastic day or night, wherever on our whirling planet you may be.

You Can See the Battle Scars

I know that I said I would avoid politics in my blog, but this piece, with a media blackout due to domestic US politics and our burden of eight years of a government that thought Chavez’ Venezuela was a model for the United States, I feel the need to share the true outcome of Marxism, wherever it has been tried, since that cancer of a religion/ideology emerged from England in the 1800s.


Christian Borys | Longreads | September 2017 | 20 minutes (4,916 words)


Recklessly driving through the sloping streets of Caracas, Diego blares “Bonita,” the bass-heavy reggaeton hit of the summer. The stock speakers of his tiny sedan pulsate as we pass block after block of buildings, each cloaked with layers of razor wire and electrified fencing. Diego (whose name, as well as others’, have been changed to protect their identity) laughs and looks at me, smiling cynically, when I ask why it seems like no one bothers to stop at red lights.

“Do you want to be kidnapped or something?”

It’s the night of Thursday, July 27. In less than three days, Venezuelans will live through one of the most defining days in their country’s modern history — and one of the bloodiest. A vote nicknamed the Constituyente is scheduled for July 30. If successful, it would be a…

View original post 4,821 more words

Shaping the World

On rituals, large and small…

The idea of rituals as something uniquely human is not a new one in academia – or even in more basic and ancient philosophy.  Myths, authors such as James George Frazer argue, are likely as not explanations for rituals as they are the source for them.  His book the Golden Bough tracks aimlessly through world mythologies looking for an explanation of a single Classical ritual.  Many are the critiques of this idea, but it is an interesting starting point from a literary standpoint in approaching things like people’s belief systems, folklore, “old ways,” and the roots of tradition.  South Chinese rituals of burning papercraft objects to provide ghostly analogs of modern consumer electronics show that just because rituals and traditions are old, they are not hidebound to long-forgotten worlds or ways of life that are, by narrative/historical necessity, lost.

I think one thing that people often overlook when confronting the idea of ritual is that it has to be grounded in some kind of faith in the supernatural, or some larger idea of religion.  Sure, we hear about “sports rituals” or “rites of passage” that are entirely secular, but I would argue that many of us still see in them the same sort of animating spirit as that which underlies animal sacrifice or hanging ribbons with wishes on particularly lovely trees.  But secular rituals, that is, commonly-known and practiced activities that we repeat, are incredibly potent forces for bringing people together.  Whether they are creeds of faith or pledges of allegiance to a national idea, songs about community members past or present, or the repetition of inside jokes meant to simultaneously include and exclude, rituals come in all forms.

On the other hand, it is tempting to define all of human activity in some framework of “rituals,” since any action can become repetitive and nearly any action can bring people closer together or align people’s emotional states in tune with one another.  I cannot claim to offer an objective definition of the term, even though I abhor when philosophical arguments break down entirely into Wittgensteinian semantics and fights over who is permitted to define basic terms.  But ritual is one of those words that truly means something different to different people and in differing contexts.

One thing to think about is how this plays out when you create a world or shape a character while writing a story.  Whether we call them quirks, idiosyncrasies, or habits, most people develop something akin to rituals as almost a kind of emotional scar tissue around the cuts and scrapes of life as they age.  Conversely, in childhood, we seem to develop and dismiss whole theologies of this kind from week to week while we are figuring out who we are and what we stand for or believe in.  That, by itself, can provide the fuel for a dramatic conflagration of plot and development, but when used in conjunction with the many other skills in the authorial toolbox, adds a whole additional level of realism to what we write.


On one of my favorite styles of music…

One genre of music that I have been hooked on for years now is post-rock.  I am not a true music enthusiast, so I will not attempt to make an exhaustive list of the best post-rock bands, or attempt informed commentary on the qualities of the genre, etc.  But post-rock is for me the ultimate music to drift away on my thoughts or to listen to on a neighborhood walk.

Post-rock developed out of shoegaze, and is, conventionally, without lyrics.  It features walls of guitars, rhythmic variations, LOTS of reverb, and most often conveys a sense of open spaces and isolation.  Some of my personal favorites as far as post-rock bands are Hammock, This Will Destroy You, Caspian, and Explosions in the Sky.  I have listened to many others, and many others are also fantastic to listen to.  Hammock is quite possibly my all-time favorite, and they may perfectly typify the genre with their long, flowery song titles, soaring riffs, and simple melodic motifs.

About eight or nine years ago my friend, at the time living in Seattle, introduced me to the genre, and I realized that this was a sound that I had always longed for.  To me, listening to post-rock is like hearing the soundtrack to a slice of life.  Complex, recursive guitars roll like waves of emotion over picked-out basslines that feel like the daily grind.  It is probably no coincidence that most post-rock bands come from the Midwest and Texas, with the premiere European examples coming from the plains of the former Warsaw Pact.  For example, Everything is Made in China… their song “after rock” has one of the most haunting uses of sampled dialogue I have ever heard.)

I recommend listening to post rock when you can give it your full attention, and yet also when you are in a position to let your mind wander and think about other things.  For me, the inspiration it gives is not so much about plots, or acute emotions, so much as a sensation of living a large amount of time in fast-forward, like a music video that makes the mundane into a work of art through montage, or a film sequence that shows the passage of time over a place impersonally and without a lot of cuts or camera movement.  There is a reason that post-rock has been used for soundtracks recently (one example being the indie Prince Sultan, which I have not seen, but has a phenomenal soundtrack by Explosions in the Sky.)

Hopefully this has been an enticing introduction to post-rock.  If you have gone through the Wikipedia article, it has lists of many other bands that represent the genre.  If you swing by this post, feel free to share any band names or songs in this style that you recommend or no, especially if I have not mentioned it here.

Water Falls

On odds and ends of life in the desert wastes…

It rained, yesterday, quite dramatically.  My coworkers and I ran outside to re-enact the Shawshank Redemption scene, but with the rain came a sideways wind, I presume from the temperature differential between the sunny areas and the odd cloud.  It was almost as though the sky at ground level was shocked, SHOCKED! to feel water actually condense and fall through it, and tried to bat it away.  I look forward to the real “rainy season” in the winter, although I have heard that it is mostly violent cloudbursts that flood things, then slink away for another year.  That would certainly explain the flora and their waxy casings and hard thorns, like cacti too uncertain of their next drink.

Besides excitement about rain, I have been reading Charles Stross’s The Traders’ War, which is a great page-turner with some big ideas about alternate timelines, different types of societies, and the overall mean streak that underlies human nature.  Despite the grittiness and drama, it is still a welcome escape into worlds with trees, water, and interesting people to imagine meeting.  Lately I have been having dreams of other lives – not in some mystical sense of feeling as though I were peering into an alternate timeline of my own, exactly, but dreams that have all of the details and foibles of real life.  I can tell that my mind misses trees and water more than my waking self is willing to acknowledge, but overall I seem to be adapting to the new surroundings fairly well.  This is definitely not my first long-term stay in an unfamiliar environment, and, I hope, will not be my last.

A friend of mine here wants to go to Seychelles in February, and I was looking it up today to become more familiar.  It sounds like a real sort of paradise archipelago, albeit with plenty of its own issues.  Certainly fewer, though, than most Caribbean resort islands.

This update is long on chattiness and short on substance.  In the interest of making it somewhat useful, I will share a very tiny tip I have discovered.  I take a fair amount of vitamins, and melatonin to help me sleep, and what I discovered is that you can use the cap of the bottle of pills to measure out the right number (in this case, one of each.)  That way you don’t have to get them in your hand, or worry about them scattering across a surface and bouncing away, but you also do not need any extra equipment.

Currents of History

On a reactionary, yet satisfying film…

I went to see Kingsman 2: the Golden Circle today with officemates.  As a piece of filmmaking it was ecstatic genius – applied technology, taut script, masterfully handled film and comic tropes, and a profoundly coherent design strategy.  What I found very interesting about it was the way that it unabashedly felt like a celebration of values and standards.  In that sense, it is “rebellious” in an age where asking people to maintain personal responsibility, common courtesy, and the cultural mores that allow people to live in harmony have become anathema in most media.  To be honest, I waited for the other shoe to drop, for some wink to the audience that the often over-the-top traditionalism was all part of the act.  What was more interesting, thematically, was that it never did.

Instead, both Kingsman movies, in keeping, I suppose, with their title, are unapologetically reactionary in a very strict sense.  They treat the populist massacres and excesses of the twentieth century in many ways as a wrong-turn detour from a near-Victorian world of deportment and protocol, hierarchy and constraint.  While the film world’s technology, clear from the Bond-ian gadgets, gizmos, and throwaway lines about nanites and augmented reality telepresence, is at a Spykids level of handwaving, is cutting edge, the overall narrative is one of loss and redemption, upholding decency and mercy (though not without plenty of mooks mown down in the process), and venerating tradition for no other reason than it provides an anchor in a time of chaos and turmoil.

But one thing it did remind me of is the way that the “old world” of the pre-WWI, adventurously liberal world of the modernist era has sustained itself fairly quietly under the surface of raging seas of the Cold War, globalization, and the slow, sustained effort to infect the Islamic world with extremism on the part of Saudi Arabia and other neighboring powers.  Europe is still very much a continent of monarchs, aristocrats, and courtiers, even though many of those once-powerful names have merely gone behind a curtain of high-finance, high-speed racing, and high-stakes gambling.  The United States never even had a blip in the hold of power from the “first families” of the Eastern Seaboard, from their Episcopalian fortresses along the rocky shores of Massachusetts, New York, Maine, and riverine Pennsylvania and nestled in the hills and in the un-newsworthy playground cities of the coastal South.  Kingsman as a media property feels like a hyperviolent foray into at least the material trappings of that world, from bespoke clothing to small-batch liquor, from handmade electronics to a drug lord (lady?) indulging her nostalgic Johnny Rockets’ aesthetic grafted viciously onto a hidden Cambodian temple.  Not all elites are immune to the fashions of the times, and, the movie seems to imply, moving too far forward culturally creates some kind of inherent evil.  That echoes the idea of the well-connected all gathering to be blown up in the first film, for that matter.

I am reading too much into what is ultimately popcorn fare, but going off of the intricate detail of the film and the homages that flash past faster than you can say Ralph Lauren or George Dickel, the nostalgia for a bygone era and its society pump through the film like the thickest of blue blood, even when the action travels to an unseen side of America.  The “old ways” of America are, thus, the ways of the frontier and Fifth Avenue, robber barons and rawhide, rather than the currently vilified sorts of tradition surrounding religion and redneckery (as evinced by the slaughter of an entire Pentecostal church body and a bar full of bruisers in the first and second films respectively.)  I do not think it is possible to do justice to the potential complexity that the film implies through subtext, nor do I think that it is always a conscious thing in the minds of the films creators.

At the end of the day, it was a fantastically entertaining movie that will entertain you for more than two hours of intense violence, truly out-loud laughs, and a cameo sequence wholly unexpected and yet incredibly satisfying.  Even though the musical leitmotif is literally “Country Roads,” somewhere beneath it all remains the “Rule, Britannia” and “There Will Always Be an England” that underpinned the first film of the franchise.  I look forward to seeing where Matthew Vaughn and company go with the whole kit and caboodle.

Back to the Woods

On an idyllic childhood and the desire to shape the world…

On a break today, I talked with one of my fellow American coworkers and, as conversations are wont to wend, we got onto the topic of treehouses.  When I stop and play back the mental films I have of my childhood, some of the fondest memories I have are of times spent in the forests around my homes and my friends’ homes.  When I would read fantasy novels, the smells of leaves, of vineflowers in the evening, of moldering leaves, of a fresh creek were pervasive and real for me, because I could close the pages and go out to experience them firsthand.

But what struck me today more than the bucolic nostalgia of the rambling paths and rays of leafy sunlight dappling buzzing Virginia afternoons was something that my coworker pointed out.  I had described to him how even as a very small boy, my biggest dream was not to mystically melt into the trees and live like a forest spirit, or to preserve the stately trunks for all time.  Instead, my friends and I would endlessly talk of building things – creating a kingdom in the wood of forts, treehouses, platforms, stone walls, crayfish weirs, catapults, clifftop towers, bridges, tunnels, and every conceivable other architectural feature we could think of, besides houses, schools, or shops.  What struck me today was my friend’s comment that “it’s in man’s nature to homestead.”

That was really, at the core, what we all wanted to do as kids.  It is a different instinct than “playing house” or simply wanting to go on adventures.  There was this almost fundamental drive to enjoy the landscape, to be sure – I could and did wax poetic about the beauties of nature.  But what I most loved was mapping the creeks and paths, forts and rock cairns, and naming things.  There is a kind of plant, fern-like, that I have never learned the name of, but it carpeted the forest floor in a wide swath in the woods with broad, star-shaped fronds.  That area I named “the Valley of the Stars.”  The small cascades that bubbled with drifting sticks each got a name, as did the earthworks we dug into the creek banks.  It was thrilling to give names to these landforms and imagine that they were part of a larger world we could build and inhabit without authorities and without the sense of overweening responsibility that crept in as we got older.

Again, I am not writing a long enough piece tonight to go into all of the likely significances of this drive to tame the wilds and make a frontier, but it still pervades my life and my imagination, even after long journeys through the halls of college and the streets of hundreds of cities and towns.  The world has shrunk for me even as the possibilities within it continue to multiply, and I am not sure what all I have lost in growing up and growing old.  Somewhere under the new subdivision that they built on that vast swath of forest there is still the land that used to be the Valley of the Stars.  Somewhere in those leafy afternoons there is a world that I will search for a way back to for the rest of my life.

Webs of Copper, Webs of Glass

On the physicality of communications, old and new…

Over the past weekend I read a book called, Jefferson’s War, by Joseph Wheelan.  It is a surprisingly quick read, and a very interesting look at early United States history.  The subtitle he uses is America’s First War on Terror 1801-1805, and while discussing that allusion could occupy an entire long post, I am more interested in looking at that book in contrast with Autumn in the Heavenly Kingdom: China, the West, and the Epic Story of the Taiping Civil War, by Stephen R. Platt.  What fascinated me reading both of them, is the role that slow communications played in so much of what went on during both conflicts.  The Barbary Wars of Wheelan’s book took place in the era immediately following the creation of the Constitution and the first years of the current United States, yet some sixty years later, during the Taiping revolution (or rebellion, or civil war, depending on whose point of view you take), communications were largely confined to paper and pen carried along by messengers.  At best, during the Barbary Wars, you had ships that employed flag codes between vessels – semaphore at a tactical level was not a novel concept at the time, but incredibly limited in range.

Large decision points of both conflicts hinged on information that was weeks to months out of date in arriving back at the countries of origin of the European and US forces involved.  Being an English and Chinese-language-capable scholar, Platt primarily discusses British and American involvement, as well as giving an in-depth look at both the Qing imperial forces and the Taiping rebels’ records (such that are available.)  His account covers many incidents in the war where the fate of the Taiping rested on perceptions in Britain that were shaped by communications, some physically intercepted, some merely delayed in reaching London than others.  Wheelan, too, touches on several decisive moments where the delays in communication between the US and its naval forces dramatically changed the outcome of battles, strategy, and public perceptions of the war abroad.

What fascinates me about this is that the same sorts of “accidents” of delayed communications are not exceptional – if anything, the communications enjoyed by both sets of forces were still much more rapid and effective than those available to militaries, merchants, and decision makers of all eras of human history.  Today, delays of more than a few days or a few hours are considered abnormal – we find ourselves frustrated at having to wait longer than a few seconds for messages to transmit across the internet or to make a strong connection between telephone exchanges.  I find that one of the most difficult things for contemporary laymen to grasp is this incredible distance and delay in communications in history.  Sometimes I even find myself guilty of projecting the granted ease of sending a message nowadays onto situations in the past where even distances of a few kilometers could prove decisive.

We even see this in filmmaking and television writing.  I would argue that one of the big reasons for an explosion in television shows and films set in the nineteen eighties or earlier is because so many plots and tropes rely on communication breakdowns that require an inordinate amount of contrivance to render believable in a modern setting.  A missing person or a person running late to a critical “plot point” back in the day was entirely plausible and a regular feature of history and fiction alike.  Today, barring extraordinary circumstances, we are in constant communication with important figures in our lives and our world, for better or worse.  We rely on a network of communications that still relies on a grand, powerful, and redundant physical infrastructure unlike anything seen before – not even the Indian courier routes of the Mauryas or the Pony Express were effective enough to allow the interconnectedness we experience as a given today.

I will return to this topic later, and, I plan, in more depth in the future, but I wanted to capture that sort of “a-ha!” moment I had when I truly appreciated again just how much “the past is a foreign country.”  When we feel isolated today, it means that we have not had the interaction that we want with the immediacy we expect.  When we make decisions or carry out actions that can change our entire lives, we do not expect to do so blindly or without the resource of advice, be it from friends, family, and peers, or from the broad knowledge base of the internet or far-distant supervisors and managers in business and government.  Understanding the significance of that, I posit, allows you to better comprehend not only the past, but also the way that society and all its multifarious manifestations are changing from the depths of the Third World to the heights of globalized industry and science.

Buzzword Confessions

On earworms of vocabulary rather than song…

I have never run this idea by anybody else, largely because I do not really know how any given person would react to the whole concept, but since I was about middle-school age, I have always had a “set of words” that function like earworms.  Words that fill in gaps in songs when I drop lyrics, words that I can babble about to myself around the house (as is tradition when you have a place to yourself), words that have semantic value and yet seem as important as tactile sensations of the face.

The first word I remember lodging itself into my brain like this was “yam.”  I have Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart from ninth grade English class to thank for that.  As a freshman in high school, the biggest takeaways from that were that West Africa is beads, palm wine, and yam foo-foo, and how many women you can acquire to make beads, yam foo-foo, and palm wine, and how palm wine and yam foo-foo can make you a powerful figure in your tribe, if applied liberally across your kinship groups.  Also something about colonialism and despair, but those themes are hard to read for through the constant repetition of how enormously significant yams are.  Certainly the food and drink and agricultural woes of the villagers loomed larger in my memory than most other things as a freshman new to literary criticism and analysis.  From that Igbo staple crop I would get the word “yam” working its way into my subconscious, conscious, and pseudo-conscious mind at every turn.  Sometimes, though now I know that the two foods are unrelated, this would become “candied yams” when the random language generator in my brain decided it needed to use a longer nonsensical, context-less phrase.

After that period, which lasted solidly through high school, I got to college.  My freshman year, my awesome crew of total nerds/geeks/dorks (and I really do mean that sincerely – some of my best friends for life came from that tribe we forged out of language classes and the odds and ends of student life events) introduced me to Invader Zim.  If you have not seen the old, obscure Nickelodeon series (as I did not during its broadcast run) you might have to check it out.  It fused an utter nihilism about the adult world with deadpan humor dark enough to blot out the sun.  But it also had a twitchy sense of how repetition of words, particularly food words, catches on some snag in the brain.  I am sure I am not the only one who had this experience watching Zim, but whether it’s GIR quotes like “TO MAKE ROOM FOR THE TUNA” or “HE’S BEEN HERE THE WHOOOOOOOOOLE TIME” I still to this day cannot resist quoting that show with anyone I meet who has seen it.

Where Zim intersects with high Nigerian literature in my brain is with the word “taco.”  To this day, more than a decade removed from that freshman year marathon of a goofy cartoon, I find that word popping into the most random conversations, or in any of the syntactic situations mentioned at the beginning of this post.  It did not help that one of my best friends during and for a long time after college pointed out a popular meme that “TACOCAT is a palindrome!” and further cemented that Mexican staple as my default filler word.

Stepping back from the comedy of the whole situation, I am curious if anyone else has words like “yam” or “taco” that they find themselves uttering when there are few other words to utter.  Certainly monosyllabic food names are no “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” or the wide-ranging “dude” of linguistics paper fame.  Yet all the same, like certain songs become earworms, I find myself with a very small subset of all words constantly hovering at the back of my mind as the ideal filler.  Maybe this is a shockingly bizarre idiosyncrasy of my own, but I would imagine at least some of you who might read this have something similar of your own, even if it is not an ethnic food name.

Putting on Your Shoes

On success, failure, and the tricks to making those first steps out…

A friend of mine recently moved to Tampa from Poland.  He has been stressing out about returning to the US, especially a place as unfamiliar to him, a mountain boy, as raucously suburban Florida.  He has lamented how he has gained weight, how he is uncertain in his new job, and how he has been frustrated dodging hurricanes and trying to find the right apartment to live in.  We have been friends like brothers for more than a decade now, and shared darkest moments and greatest triumphs across the internet while traveling around the globe a dozen times between us, at least by air miles.  But one thing that he seems to struggle with is just getting started on things.

In the office, from his accounts, he is gung-ho about getting the job done and making success for himself where there does not even seem to be any clear path to it.  But outside of the office, he feels trapped a lot – held back from going to the gym, held back from travelling alone, held back from pursuing any kinds of goals or happiness that does not line up quite right with what he hopes for.

In that regard, I have fallen into that frustrating place myself quite a bit.  But as I have gained life experience, what I have found is that a lot of pursuing success outside of your job hinges on taking some terrifying and intimidating first steps.  That, and a lot of self-deception.  A perfect example, and the eponymous one of this entry’s title, is the way that I get myself to go to the gym or go for a run.  I may have a grand plan to work out, but my procrastinating instinct is far stronger than any dream of getting “swoll” or knocking out miles out on the trail.  What I have to do, I find, is to change clothes into running shorts and a T-shirt, and just crossing that much smaller threshold is sufficient to kick off the rest of the event of exercising.  I lie to my “bigger thought process” that I am merely changing clothes, not having to face the prospect of thinking about how much it is going to hurt pushing iron or pounding pavement.

Clearly the simple act of changing clothes is not going to work as a panacea for everybody’s inaction towards exercise or even going for a walk outside.  I do, however, think that there is a deeper principle in action there.  It is not a perfect metaphor, but the chemical process of catalysis involves a similar “cheat code.”  Many chemical reactions require a large amount of initiating energy to kick off, but a proper catalyst can lower the amount of initial energy required for the magic to happen.  In my experience, this is the same way that self-deception works – you use a trick like changing clothes, or stepping through a doorway, or going to the car, etc to bring you closer to initiating a larger task.  The task itself will use the same amount of energy, time, emotional commitment, concentration, or whatever asset you have to bring to bear.  But with that catalyst, you overcome the daunting prospect of leaving your current, known, comfortable state.

This is not a new phenomenon in any way.  Maxims from “the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” to “from a tiny acorn grows the mighty oak” helpfully remind us that it takes a small movement or starting point to reach a great goal or grow and thrive in our lives.  What I suggest in this blog entry is to take those wonderful sayings and make them concrete.  Do not get hung up on “visualizing success” or planning everything in detail in advance – if that has never led you to succeed before, then dashing your hopes against the rocks of certain failure is not about to erode them away on any useful time scale.  If you, like me, get caught up in overthinking tasks and even things as notionally simple as going out and dealing with a busy, crowded place full of people you do not know, you can practice at first steps.

This idea is somewhat lampooned, and yet somewhat promoted as a serious concept in the Bill Murray comedy What About Bob?, with the scenes about “baby steps.”  I think the principle is very useful, and one that people tend to forget when they read blogs, articles, and so on that purport to offer a strategy for the chronically frustrated, heavily-analytical sort of person who might read it.  They advocate detailed planning, repeated completion, and other sorts of suggestions that offer little advantage to get past inertia or action paralysis.  What works for those already gifted with motivation and high self-confidence, people whose “reaction profiles” require low energy for initiation (to return to catalysis) is not going to offer a solution to someone who can visualize the worst case scenarios as readily and in as much detail as any success conditions.

What I have found for both myself and my chronically frustrated friend is that once he or I finds that catalyst, that little cheat code or ritual shorn from the larger, harder concept, we both end up reaching our goals far more often than when we try other means of getting to grander ends.  Hopefully this is helpful for some of you who might read this blog down the line!