Episode 4 of "The Paragraphing Podcast" Now Available!

Join me and my brother for Episode 4 of "The Paragraphing Podcast" to hear the story behind the story of our ongoing blog.  In Episode 4, we break our writing down moment-by-moment, walking through each section of the week's posts.  Along the way, we talk about why we had to rewrite sections for the audio version, breaking of the fourth wall, unsolved literary murder mysteries, how to write action, and the aim of getting two characters in one room talking.

Listen by clicking here! 

Paragraphing (Or That New Word in the Corner)

This week, I launched a new section to Armistice Designs called "Paragraphing."  What's that, you ask?  It's a button in the top right corner, you see.  And more than that, it's a story.  A collaborative fiction project—which is to say: a story written one paragraph at a time by two people at a time. 


My collaborator in crime?  Jamie.  Jamie Steidle—my brother of...well, 26 years, at this point.  Which, incidentally, happens to also be his age.  Jamie is a fantastic fiction writer—he's actually in Ireland at this exact moment, doing just that.  Fantasizing about fiction.  Oh—and getting his Master's.  

This isn't the first collaboration—in fact, the last one resulted in a book cataloguing the misadventures of Marc Bedsum and Alexander Grey.  That project was large, though.  It started just like this one: a paragraph at a time.  But very soon it became a scene and then a chapter at a time.  Then the chapters grew into sections—and the sections into weeks.  By the time we were working on the sequel, it was a month or more between writing and reading and then writing again.  It was like living on one of the far out planets—Neptune or Jupiter.  The orbit was just exhausting.  That was too much, even for an ex-mayor and his bearded accomplice.  So...

The Paragraphing Blog:

Attempt number two at bottling that magic.  Because it very well is magic.  To write a story and not know what's going to happen next.  To write a story where your control is limited to a chance sentences!  To write a story that isn't even wholly your own.  It's like the story of life—only more prosaic!  (And fun!)  

This time, we'd like you to join us in the fun—as the story slings in tight rubber-band circles.  We're writing a paragraph and passing the keyboard back and forth across the Atlantic (and the whole of the North American Continent).  Daily!  

So, if your day is dragging or you're standing in line at the grocery store, bookmark over to "The Paragraphing Blog" and see what's happening.  Or follow the story on Twitter @graphingblog  

But that's not even the best part: each week, we're going to record a 30 minute podcast.  We'll start the 'cast by reading the week's seven paragraphs.  Then we'll get on to talking about story in general—and writing to be specific.  It'll be a boisterous 30 minutes, and the time'll fly.  I'll drop the podcast link in here as soon as we finish with these first 7 days.  Already, since the time you've started reading this post, it's day 2 of the story—!  And the eggs are sizzling.  

Will they fry?  Will they curdle?  Will they burn?  Whatever will happen next?  

Every answer is just a paragraph away—


ASK: What would your life be like if James Horner didn't exist?  Or didn't write music?  Think about how different things would be.  Would you even be a different kind of person?  Would you be less at peace with the world?  Less open to the beauty of nature?  Would your horizons be more limited and emotions more stunted?  What would fill this silent space left by his music?  Someone else's music?  Would music mean as much to you today?  Because there are things that his music does that no one else's music does.

Think what an impact certain artists and creative individuals make on our lives; and how you can work to have even a fraction of that positive impact on the world.  It reminds me of what Steve Jobs used to say about the difference between Apple and Pixar.  He served as CEO of both—but said: in 10 year's time, everything Apple made this year will be obsolete and essentially trash.  While the work of Pixar and storytelling—of art—if it's done well, could last a hundred years or more.  

Maybe forever.  

Primary vs. Secondary

Think of the concept of primary vs. secondary value.  You do not take the time to iron your clothes, for instance, the night before because such actions would only be taken if doing so was of primary value.  But clothes are not of primary value.  Similarly, you are sometimes late because to you, timeliness is not of primary value; what is of value is A.) enough sleep to function fully.  B.) The quality of your evening.  C.) The quality of the day ahead.  Therefore, as other primary-value, or higher-value, items move in and out of your limited container of time, the lower-value items must be sacrificed.  If you had infinite time you could do it all, but you don't.  And the most important thing is to prioritize based on value, not custom or the expectations of others.  Because once you let others dictate your values, you give up independence—not only of action, but also of mind.  

A New Economic Model

Just as physics is developing and exploring realms of the cosmos greater than our conventional understanding can take us, the developments of quantum mechanics and—particularly—computing, are occurring faster than our conventional models of politics and human organization can understand.  As a result, the new world of automation and machine intelligence—even if it's not the world of AI we fear; but simply the world of big data analytics—will begin to find solutions and calculations faster and more efficiently than the human mind.  What happens, then, to our traditional economic models?  What is the "value" of a human worker? 

Will we all have to develop skills in collecting information and feeding it to these machines?  Will we all become big data analysts?  Once we solve the issues of harnessing power and feeding and curing the world of most health issues—to what will we dedicate our time and efforts?  What will we use the machines to do?  It is an existential question about the role of humanity in the world.  Once we master the world, what do we do? 

Will our time be filled with ever-greater explorations of cosmology?  Will it be filled with artistic expression—however abstract or rudimentary?  Will it be filled with politics and politicking, with the competitive drive to climb the social ladder?  Perhaps more important than this question is the one that comes before it: how do we transition from a state of needing human labor to a state of NOT needing human labor, or needing it on a far smaller scale? 

We can invent industries around those things—entertainment, social networks, new scientific disciplines—as we have invented them in the past to fill the place of earlier manual labor.  We have done well in this effort before—but today, the speed of change is perhaps greater than our abilities to invent new industries and to "put people to work"—which is necessary in our current economic model.  This will create an increasing number of crises in the decades and centuries ahead.  The solution will be one of three options: 

  1. Slowing the speed of technological development 
  2. Finding a way to invent new industries with jobs for people FASTER than we are now
  3. Creating a new economic model more in line with a society of wealth generated by machines, rather than people 

The economic model may be more akin to one of egalitarianism (like the universal basic income), although not necessarily; feudal hierarchies may arise.  No particular model is guaranteed to succeed because we are entering a new technological age.

In any event, we will need to confront this issue sometime or another.  Hopefully economists are already at work.  Yes, shouldn't every economics student be required to create their own economic model as a graduate project?  Shouldn't every policy student be challenged to create a policy confronting these issues?  It's one of the most important questions humanity will ever face; and it's time to start thinking about answers. 

The Envelope

"No matter how automated things get, there is always a craft involved. We get better at this stuff, and it becomes more and more automated; but that doesn’t make the job any easier — it just means that we are freed from that particular task, so we can spend more time on some other aspect. When computers first came around, I heard time and time again that they were going to make effects easier and faster. But they haven’t. Computers allow us to push the envelope further; but at each new level, the process takes just as long and is just as hard.”

— Dan Taylor


"'There was this eureka moment,' says Dweck. She now identifies the former group as people with a 'fixed mind-set,' while the latter group has a 'growth mind-set.' Whether you are more fixed or more of a grower helps determine how you react to anything that tests your intellectual abilities. For growth people, challenges are an opportunity to deepen their talents, but for 'fixed' people, they are just a dipstick that measures how high your ability level is. Finding out that you’re not as good as you thought is not an opportunity to improve; it’s a signal that you should maybe look into a less demanding career, like mopping floors."

— Megan McArdle


So much of the time you don't need to pass a law to change the world; and you don't need to tear down the existing world to create a better one.  Just recognize the opportunities to innovate within the existing structure, and be perceptive enough to see the seeds of the future in the workings of the present.


"And then I explained to him how naive we were, that the world did know and remain silent. And that is why I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men or women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must—at that moment—become the center of the universe."

— Eli Wiesel