Category Archives: Uncategorized

07 May

Bocas Lit Fest 2015: a brief recap with pics

I was invited to be a guest at Bocas Lit Fest in Trinidad, which is where I headed off to last week.

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The folks at Bocas put together a whole Future Friday segment, featuring Nalo Hopkinson, Karen Lord, me, and RSA Garcia. Karen and I did an all day workshop for writers interested in spec fic from the region.

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Here we are during lunch break (photo via Bocas Facebook Photostream page):

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And this is what it looks like when I murder a roti quickly at lunch before returning to the workshop (photo via Karen Lord’s Tumblr):

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Later that night the Chilean Embassy hosted a reception. Highlight of that was getting to meet and shake Derek Walcott’s hand and gush a little about his work. I tweeted about it, but a dearth of response on twitter made me realize that most of twitter feed needs a brief recap of why that was epic for someone working from the Caribbean perspective.

Derek Walcott, via wikipedia:

Derek Alton Walcott, OBE OCC (born 23 January 1930) is a Saint Lucian poet and playwright. He received the 1992 Nobel Prize in Literature.[1] He is currently Professor of Poetry at the University of Essex. His works include the Homeric epic poem Omeros (1990), which many critics view “as Walcott’s major achievement.”[2][3] In addition to having won the Nobel, Walcott has won many literary awards over the course of his career, including an Obie Award in 1971 for his play Dream on Monkey Mountain, a MacArthur Foundation “genius” award, a Royal Society of Literature Award, the Queen’s Medal for Poetry, the inaugural OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature[4] and the 2011 T. S. Eliot Prize for his book of poetry White Egrets

Here’s a photo of Mr. Walcott from later in the week:

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One of the other highlights of the reception was getting to meet Naomi Jackson, a NYC-based writer with deep Caribbean roots. Her first novel is coming out soon:

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The attache for Suriname spent a lot of time trying to convince me to explore the Dutch Caribbean a whole lot more.

Here’s a random shot of the view of Trinidad I saw from breakfast at my hotel each morning:

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Oh damn, the food y’all. The south Caribbean, down-island, is responsible for the first 10 years of impressions of my life. Down island food and culture is so home.

I got to eat roti, beef patties, plums, and real calalloo (the green stuff below):

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Childhood comfort food, all of it.

One of the truly amazing things about this event was all the Caribbean spec fic writers in one place. At breakfast, Jacqueline Stallworth of the Lit Blog The Big Sea took a photo of Karen, Nalo, me, and Tiphanie Yanique (photo from her blog):

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That’s the first time Tiphanie and I’ve seen each other since high school. We both went to All Saints Cathedral School together, same class. Now here we are so many years later, both working novelists at Bocas Lit Fest.

Life is wild!

Tiphanie’s work has a strong sense of the fantastic (Nalo asked her if she minded being tagged as Caribbean Speculative Fiction, and Tiphanie pointed out many American reviewers seem to ignore/pass over the magic in her stories, but that sense of the fantastic is an integral part of a lot of Caribbean literature [something I keep pointing out to folks in the US who seem to think it’s some kind of discovery for Caribbean writers to be interested in the fantastic. No: it’s been there for as long as long can be])

Future Friday kicked off with a panel by RSA Garcia, Karen Lord, me, and Nalo Hopkinson where we talked about the above. The history of Caribbean fantastic traditions, our own work. Shivanee Ramlochan, a Trinidadian poet and critic, who interviewed us (and me earlier for the Spaces/UWI podcast) was an amazing moderator, and had done so much prep work before meeting us that the panel was amazing.

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After the general panel we each did readings and q&as, RSA Garcia and I had Lisa Allen-Agostini moderating ours. Again, her questions raised the panel to a fantastic level. Not the usual ‘where do you get your ideas?’ sort of thing, but detailed questions about the nature of our work and how the region influenced them.

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Karen and Nalo reading and panel with Shivanee:

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The Bocas Lit Fest streamed photos were all taken by Marlon James. No, not the Jamaican author of that name, but the photographer. Some of the photos were amazing, so later on in the week Karen Lord and I ended up doing an impromptu shoot with him as we thought it was too amazing a chance to pass up.

Here’s Karen in front of the lens:

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Hopefully I’ll get the permission to post the photos Marlon took of me, as I want to use them for the PR section of my site. They’re really cool.

I also attended a reading by Naomi Jackson (aforementioned) and Tiphanie Yanique, and later got the chance to go out to a rum shack with Marlon and many of us writers of the fantastic. It was fascinating to catch up to Tiphanie, if not a little intimidating as she remembers the utterly quiet, withdrawn me of high school who was quite unsocialized. It’s the closest thing to a high school reunion I’ve ever had. But way cooler, as Tiphanie is doing work that is awesome and it’s fascinating to see that we both got into the arts, even if via very different directions.

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Karen Lord and I took the opportunity to head out for dinner and skipped some of the programming later on as I was too exhausted and wanted to be able to turn in early (a rarity for me, but being on deadline ahead of this event and meeting so many new people and doing so much meant I got overtired rapidly).

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It was great to sign some books for some new readers. Even cooler to sign books for long time readers who were excited I came to the island, like this guy:

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Books Lit Fest culminated with a poetry slam with a TT $20,000 (about $4,000 USD) prize. That was epic.

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Pretty soon it was heading back home, exhausted. Nalo and I were on the same plane, and said our good byes in Houston.

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I came home with a bottle of El Dorado (Guyanese Rum) 15, and a bottle of Mt. Gay (Barbados) 1703 Extra Old. And books, of course:

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And then I shaved my winter beard. Because:

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I have a million emails and to dos. So that’s my recap. Thank you to Bocas Lit Fest for bringing me down. I met so many people working on great things, and promoting Caribbean literature. I was welcomed and encouraged, which is always meaningful. Any time I get to read my own work on Caribbean soil it’s emotional. And I’m not an emotional guy. But it means something. And the readers there get a lot of references and things I’m doing in my work that reviewers in the US don’t. So to hear people ‘getting’ it, laughing in all the right places, or gushing about things that I worked hard to slip in, that refuels the tank.

Thank you.

17 Nov

There’s a new, high-paying short SF market in town from Motherboard. Some thoughts on Terraform’s launch

A new weekly short story and daily SF blog launched recently. Terraform, from Motherboard, the people from Vice.

Critics may argue about science fiction’s literary origins—Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein! No, Gulliver’s Travels!—but the genre metastasized in the 1950s and 60s, through the vehicle of pulp magazine publishing, as fantastic short stories and serialized adventures. Short stories are the DNA of the genre; bite-sized futures and parallel realities designed to jar their readers into radical disconnection with the present-day.

Surely we have room for short stories again in our networked world. They don’t take too much of our precious time. The medium is nimble and versatile. We could slip short stories into our pockets (and send them to our Pockets), daisy-chaining fiction to the op-eds and news pieces we read and share ad nauseam every day.

(Via Why We Terraformed a New Home for Future Fiction | Motherboard.)

As many new markets do, they started off with a manifesto. Even though the pulps of the 50s and 60s are well behind us, the science fiction short story market still exists today, and is healthier than many other short story markets. Careers are made here. I built mine there, and have almost 60 short stories published to show for it.

Terraform’s manifesto included the insinuation that short SF had died off. And they were, rightfully, called to task in their comments section for that. Because, in short, it ain’t true.

But let’s be fair, it’s an easy place to miss. While my whole early career revolved around short stories, the first time I signed an anthology in a mall I learning that hardly anyone realizes short stories exist, let alone short SF stories. The whole distribution mechanism and grocery store presence faded away, which for many meant the form had disappeared. I once spent a day quizzing SF readers in a store about short stories. It was illuminating how many of them didn’t even realize they were a thing.

We know better, but Vice is a big, fucking media machine with some big hit counts. Yes, they should have googled, but in many ways our assumption that Terraform is *all about us* somewhat misses the point.

Terraform is competing with science and SF blogs like IO9, and they’ve done a cool thing by experimenting with short form fiction. I mean, imagine if IO9 did that, right? Even my own readers sometimes don’t realize I have new book until IO9 mentions it, and they email me the link to say ‘hey!’ The most widely read short story I’ve ever had was run on IO9, and I had distant friends reaching to say it was the first thing of mine they’d read.

So I can understand their not focusing. Would it be nice. Hell yes. Am I glad they amended the manifesto to point out some great online zines (including my favorite, Clarkesworld)? Yes.

But mainly, before I saw their slip up in the manifesto, I’m excited to see a new market trying to something new and with a potential for a large audience and paying very well. This will be great for new writers, great for short stories. More markets is better. More *readers* is better, and having Vice send traffic around is potentially awesome (Motherboard has 48,000 readers on twitter, quarter of a million tied to it on Facebook, 402,000 followers on YouTube. This makes them, in one swoop, one of the larger audiences for SF).

I have no idea how this will shake out, but my reaction is ‘cool. More places for writers to sell to and more fiction that I get to read.’

They will make mistakes, but part of someone becoming part of a field is being welcomed in, not just them making all the right obeisance. I’m ready to correct a mistake or call something out. But I’m also excited to see the launch of a new venue.

So, Terraform, welcome. I like that you guys are paying 20c/w as a ‘base’ rate and I hope that a rising tide lifts all boats.

For writers, here are the guidelines for Terraform.

23 Oct

A Bear: an original illustration by Calli

I don’t want to be every other parent that thinks they have the most artistic children in the world and foists that upon everyone. But ever since Cal showed me the cover of a ‘book’ that she made in class about bears (including the oh-so-precocious spelling of ‘hibrnat’ for hibernate) I’ve been mulling over just how good she’s gotten at drawing things in a short time.

I mean, it was just a few months ago that everything she drew was stick figures. Like, very, very basic stuff.

Now I have a bear with a quirky expression on its face, and I just want to frame this damn thing.

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05 Mar

My twins will drop everything they’re doing to watch an Oxyclean commercial

Every once in a while, when Emily is going down to start up a load of laundry, the twins (4 years old) will call after her ‘make sure you add some Oxyclean! It takes all the stains out! Just put one scoop in the laundry.’

It’s interesting what they soak up. There are lots of other advertisements that they don’t pay any attention to. Sometimes they’ll mention something that’s pertinent to their four year old interests and say they saw it on TV at their daycare provider’s house. She occasionally has Nickelodeon on.

We don’t have cable, I resent the intrusion of advertising and find my life a little less cluttered with it. I spent a bit more to buy all my shows direct, but I enjoy having control of when and where I watch things as a cord cutter. So the kids don’t get a lot of advertising exposure here at home.

I have nothing intrinsically against it, and I try to inoculate them against it by explaining what advertising is. When they get older, I plan to do what an amazing teacher did for me in grade school; teach the basic functions of advertising and rhetorics it uses to convince you to want or buy things. Learning the ‘how’ and strains of advertising (bandwagon, expert’s prefer, you’ll be better with X) has stuck with me for life.

That being said, my kids think Oxyclean is the shit.

A few weeks ago, when we were eating something messy and Thalia dropped her sleeve in it, Calli piped up ‘don’t get mad, dad, it’s okay, we’ll just use some Oxyclean and it’ll be okay.’

‘Right,’ says Thalia. ‘Oxyclean’ll take the stain right out!’

It’s a little… weird. Because they’ll continue on talking up the wonders of Oxyclean for another couple rounds. They’re like little walking talking informercials:

“Hey, is that a bad stain.”

“Why yes, yes it is.”

“Did you know some Oxyclean will take that right out?”

“Yes, just a little bit will get rid of the stain.”

I guess I was expecting more tea play parties.

The other day at a restaurant they were chatting with each other and then they both stopped. And looked at the TV. I turned around, and it was an ad for Oxyclean. They were silent. Almost reverent for a full half minute, until it ended.

“Oxyclean,” they both said. In the same tone as those little green aliens from Toy Story.

And then they were back to ignoring what was on the TV.

I have no idea what to make of this, other than the fact that advertising is powerful. Brands are powerful. And my kids do not react to any other brand this way. But for some reason, Oxyclean is magic pixie dust and they respect the hell out of it.

And to be fair, if you happen to be in a spot of trouble regarding stains, that stuff can sometimes seem magical.

06 Jan

Review: Uniqlo Ultra Light Down Coat

A few years ago, after getting some Christmas money from my father in law, I drove up to an outfitters and asked them what the warmest winter coat was. There was much hemming and hawing, but in the end I got recommended an 800 weight down puffy coat made by North Face. “I want to go out in a snowstorm in a T-shirt and this coat,” was my request.

I got just that. In most cases my North Face puffy jacket rocks.

But it’s like wearing a sleeping bag.

I’ve recently lost some more weight as part of my slow, years-long journey since 2009 to slim down and get more and more heart healthy. And the XL puffy jacket is still great, but has a couple drawbacks. One, it feels even vastly more puffy now that I’m not filling it out so much, and that means that, two, it leaves a large column of air inside the jacket that when broken into (by shifting hem or a gust of wind) I get chilled in it more than I used to.

So, buy a replacement size smaller of this trusty companion, or do something different?

When I saw a winter storm approaching, I quickly planned my options and decided to gamble on a whole new winter coat. I’ve blogged positively about Uniqlo’s Heat Tech undershirts here. Affordable, yet amazing, I wondered if their ultra light down coat could be just as good a tool in my new cold-weather arsenal.

Here’s the jacket:

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That, however, is not me. Just a head’s up. I stole it from their website.

I ordered a large (my shirts are mediums, jackets large now. Uniqlo, tends to size a bit small anyway, so I knew it would likely be a fit. It arrived today, delivered by a very cold Fed Ex employee.

And could I have a better day to test this jacket out?

No.

Before I’d gone out into the -10 degree weather with a uniqlo heat teach undershirt, long sleeve polo, and the North Face jacket. To test the Uniglo, I went out into the -12 degree garden later in the day to let the dogs out. No Uniqlo undershirt, just a polo and pajamas and my uggs pulled on quickly.

The jacket advertises 630 fill, which is a little less than the North Face, but not a whole lot. Amazingly, I felt pretty comfortable in the still air at -12. It was the moment the wind struck that the jacket, like the North Face, struggled to keep the penetrating cold out. But when the gust passed I warmed back up.

Pretty amazing for a jacket that was extremely thin compared to the bulky one. It didn’t seem feasible it could be keeping me that warm. Birds are crazy smart (down). But that windchill…

On a hunch, I went back in and pulled my leather jacket on over it quite comfortably. And the leather jacket was a fantastic wind block.

When I go out, I usually have a dilemma of preferring the leather jacket, and sometimes having to get the giant puffy coat out that makes me feel like a walking sleeping bag. But I think I have a solution now. The Uniqlo actually rolls down into a small bag it comes with that can fit in my computer backpack:

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If it gets too cold for a leather jacket, I can put this on underneath. And if it warms up, I can roll it up, squeeze it, and get it put away in my backpack with no fuss.

Wish I’d found a 600-700 fill jacket this crazy thin earlier, but I’m still learning some of this stuff.

Anyway, I imagine the massive puffy jacket will now be retiring…

11 Oct

Slippery slope of unrestrained profit engines

This blog post at Sociological Images just firmed up something in my mind that’s been bugging me:

“I sometimes would disagree with Tommy about the talents or behavior of some celebrity — a rock star or an actor.  Today’s equivalent might be Ke$ha or a Kardashian. Tommy’s response was usually, ‘He’s makin’ more money than you’ll ever see.’  And that settled the issue as far as Tommy was concerned.  A huge income trumped just about anything.”

….

I thought of Tommy and values today when I read the transcript of a CNBC interview with Alex Pereene. Pereene has recently gone on record criticizing Jamie Dimon, the CEO of JPMorgan. That bank currently faces an $11 billion fine for having dealt in shoddy mortgage-backed securities. JP Morgan can afford it, of course, but $11 billion begins to be real money. The question on CNBC was whether Dimon should continue as its CEO.

Pareene says no. The CNBC anchor, Maria Bartiromo then says.

Legal problems aside, JP Morgan remains one of the best, if not the best performing major bank in the world today. You believe the leader of that bank should step down?

Or as Tommy Fiedler would have put it, “His bank is makin’ more money than you’ll ever see.”

(Via Is Profit the Ultimate Value? On JP Morgan’s $11b Fine » Sociological Images.)

I’m happy to live in a capitalist society, but as I pointed out to someone the other day when they said ‘profit is the *only* motive’ and goal, I asked if they then supported slavery. Much sputtering later, my point was to say that if profit is all that matters, then they’re suggesting that America transform itself into something profoundly different than it has been for the last decades. I mean, if you get rid of minimum wage and squeeze it all the way down as far as you can, you have slavery or indentured servitude.

If you believe profit is the ‘only’ important thing to focus on, then you’re on a slippery slope.

Capitalism is an engine. A powerful one. I believe it’s the most powerful. Profoundly. But the question isn’t ‘which engine is more powerful’ but ‘what are you using that engine for?’

I believe it’s powerful enough to run a society that makes decisions about where the engine is taking them.

I had a strong jolt when reading about an academic who reported on the language used by capitalists from the 1800s who were slave owners:

The research: Caitlin Rosenthal pored over hundreds of account books from U.S. and West Indian plantations that operated from 1750 to 1860. She found that their owners employed advanced accounting and management tools, including depreciation and standardized efficiency metrics, to manage their land and their slaves. After comparing their practices with those described in the account books of northern factories, Rosenthal concluded that many plantations took a more scientific approach to management than the factories did.

The challenge: Did historians get the genesis of management wrong? Professor Rosenthal, defend your research.

Rosenthal: I was surprised by what we uncovered in these account books. The mythology is that on plantations, management was crude and just amounted to driving enslaved people harder and harder. These documents show that plantations used highly sophisticated accounting practices more consistently than many contemporary northern factories, which are often considered the birthplace of modern management. In some ways the conditions of slavery permitted a more scientific approach than the factories did.

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HBR: How so?

In the factory books, you see lots of turnover. But slaves couldn’t quit. While factories were worrying about filling positions and just keeping things going, plantation owners were focused on optimization. They could reallocate labor as they saw fit. I found real quantitative analysis in their records. They were literally looking at humans as capital.

This interview is going to make people queasy. I’m already cringing.

It should make you cringe. This is not an easy topic. People tend to think about the positive with regard to management and capitalism. With our modern lens, efficiency is good. Here it was equal to the brutal extraction of labor from oppressed people. But it’s important for businesspeople to read unvarnished history, not just the happy stories.

In other words, capitalism was taken to its logical endpoint once. It was morally problematic.

The question we need to interact with more is… where are we steering this engine, and what is driving?

I face a similar dilemma when I talk to people about alternative energy. “But it’s expensive,” they say, and therefore a country’s economic engine shouldn’t be choked by the drag.

I have two reactions that response.

1) It completely indicates a lack of trust in the power of capitalism’s engine. The engine can handle the load, I believe in capitalism and its ability to factor around. We abolished slavery, capitalism made a lot of money off it. Capitalism continues to do just fine. We abolished child labor. The engine is still turning. To moan about the ‘end of capitalism’ over these things is to devalue capitalism. (i.e.: capitalism will survive Obamacare just fine, as capitalism continues to be the engine for many nations with all manners of universal healthcare).

2) If profit is the only response to alternative energy, then why doesn’t the person then demand that all cars have catalytic converters yanked out, engines spew black fumes, and coal stacks no longer filters to the point where pollution fog makes it hard to breathe? I mean, that would be cheaper for the energy producers, right?

The truth is, we get to define what’s attached to that engine because the country is not just capitalist. It’s capitalist + representative democracy. C+RD. C is the engine, RD decides what’s attached to the C.

The argument against all this (the argument for unrestrained capitalism) is that a rising tide of wealth raises all boats. But as you can easily see from the GINI coefficient of the US, the rising tide is apparently not lifting all boats because that’s just an analogy and the reality is that although the US is making lots more money, it’s not trickling down, arriving at, or showing up in the pockets of anyone outside the tip top of the pyramid.

The *unrestrained* pursuit of profit is becoming such an ideology that someone one TV literally cannot conceive of someone being a bad leader because they harmed millions of lives, and helped almost crater our economy, merely because ‘they made a lot of money.’

That’s fucked up.

11 Aug

Appearances update

So recently some people have found out I’m going to Worldcon and were totally surprised, but I swear, I’ve had the info that I plan on going here on my home page and under the blog page under appearances. Realizing that many people still aren’t noticing that, I’ve added a menu nav bar item for ‘appearances’ as well, hopefully that helps.

Here’s the current schedule:

2013
-August 24-26: AnimeKon Expo (Barbados)
-August 28-Sep 2: Worldcon (San Antonio, Texas)
-Oct. 31-Nov 3rd: World Fantasy Con (Brighton, UK)

2014
-Jan. 17-19: Confusion (Detroit, MI)

AnimeKon Expo is coming soon. I’ll be there with a number of authors and comic book artists and writers as part of the Authors Lounge at Animekon Expo. Details are here.

On my way back from Barbados and after seeing everyone at AnimeKon Expo, I’ll be flying into San Antonio for Worldcon. I don’t have a full Worldcon schedule yet, but for the first time in many years I won’t be incognito in the bar but doing panels and (hopefully a reading), and, I’ve asked, but if the folks at Worldcon are willing and the producers of the film are as well, I’d like to show All Her Children Fought. We shall see if it lines up. More details as I can.

In October things are working out for a trip to World Fantasy Con along with some other activity over in London. The details are all still locking in, but I’ll post them as I get them. And, as always, I’ll post them on ‘appearances’ as I get information as well.

27 Mar

Adventures in parenting: lassoed sister

Today on adventures in parenting:

“No you may not lasso your sister around the neck!”

“Why not?”

“Because you could hurt her.”

“Oh, but we’re good cowgirls!”

“You still can’t do it. You could still get hurt.”

“What about teddy bears?”

Pause.

“We can lasso teddy bears. But no people!”

Moments later Emily chimes in.

“No dogs either. No living things.”

12 Jan

Corporations don’t like you…

I don’t agree with James Altucher on everything, but man he’s always thought provoking and this latest kinda hit me:

3) Corporations don’t like you. The executive editor of a major news publication took me out to lunch to get advice on how to expand their website traffic. But before I could talk he started complaining to me: “Our top writers keep putting their twitter names in their posts and then when they get more followers they start asking for raises.”

“What’s the problem?” I said. “Don’t you want writers that are popular and well-respected?”

When I say a “major news publication” I am talking MAJOR.

He said, “no, we want to be about the news. We don’t want anyone to be an individual star.”

In other words, his main job was to destroy the career aspirations of his most talented people, the people who swore their loyalty to him, the people who worked 90 hours a week for him. If they only worked 30 hours a week and were slightly more mediocre he would’ve been happy. But he doesn’t like you. He wants you to stay in the hole and he will throw you a meal every once in awhile in exchange for your excrement.

The number of people I run into who’ve been fired for having a personality outside of their job. The recruiters I hear who bemoan the unwillingness of younger workers to want to commit to a job for very long (why commit, we see what happens in every down turn, loyalty goes both ways, son, and the reason my generation and younger doesn’t want to commit is we don’t see commitment)…

…when I left to freelance people asked ‘aren’t you worried about living day to day, what about not knowing what the future holds? The uncertainty?’

The truth was, their lives were just as uncertain as mine, they were just being told day in and day that it wasn’t so.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this over the last couple months. I don’t have certain conclusions, but I’m probably going to circle back on it here and there.