Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

Newhouse’s Legacy   Leave a comment

This is another one of the pieces I wrote for my writing class when I went back to school. It is a flash memoir, and is focused around the building I work in. I struggled to find a concept for the assignment, but I am happy with the result.


Standing eleven stories tall, across from the courthouse and next to Gallivan Plaza, is Maxwell’s eatery. Well, that is all anyone driving by sees. Someone walking down Exchange Place might see the stairs leading down to the deli in the basement. I know that when I was pacing outside of the Boston Building, nervously psyching myself up for a job interview, that was all I noticed. I didn’t stop to think about the building I was standing in front of, aside from what floor I’d need to take the elevator to.

Samuel Newhouse certainly thought about it. Born back when slavery was still a thing, Newhouse was a New York born lawyer. Maybe he was just as nervous as I was when he had to get his job. Probably did a better job than I did, since he made enough money to move to Utah and become a mining magnate. Ever hear of the Bingham County Mine? I mean, I hadn’t until I researched it. But if you live in Utah, then you’d know if by its other name: Kennecot Copper Mine. Who knows; maybe one day I’ll get enough gumption and drive to do the same when I’m in my forties?

Newhouse built the building I was nervously pacing in front of as an attempt to bring a little bit of NYC to good ol’ SLC. He wanted to build four skyscrapers on Exchange Place, in an attempt to make his little bit of the city the new heart of the city. The Boston Building was the first he built, and it was the tallest building in Utah when it was completed in 1908. Well built too, as it was still there over one hundred years later for me to walk into once I got up the courage.

As I continued to pace in the lobby, trying to plan my way through all the nightmare scenarios, I stared at the stairway next to elevator. I didn’t know it until recently, but the stairs I go down every day when I leave work, and up every time I lose my sanity, are the original stairs the building came with. I’m sure the paint is new, but I’ve touched the same railing that Mr. Newhouse had. I wonder if he paced whenever he was nervous. I’m not sure I’d ever find out, as there isn’t much to find about the man.

See, as I was riding up the elevator to hopefully make some money, I was riding in one of the last things Newhouse got to spend his on. He built the building back in 1908, and got to enjoy it for eight years before his business empire collapsed. I can imagine, regardless of whether he paced or smoked or drank, he probably had many a nervous moment as he went up and down the floors of his building. The business world can be such a cruel mistress. Who knows; maybe one day I’ll get enough money and drive to lose my mining empire as well?

I got off on the eighth floor of Newhouse’s legacy to be greeted by keycard locked glass doors. It was a stark contrast; the 1908 aesthetic of wood, gold and tile clashing with the sleek minimalism and boring grey office carpet. As the secretary opened the door to my future, my nerves didn’t subside. I’d never done any office job before. I’d always worked retail, and my best job so far was a bank teller. I wonder how Newhouse felt about simple jobs before he became a rich man. As the son of immigrants, he must have had respect for them, right? Did get nervous as he waited for his interview? Did those nerves subside as his interview went on, like mine did? I like to imagine he was a people person. It’d be hard to succeed in business if he wasn’t. But to score a tech oriented job working with computers and not people, being a neurotic awkward mess is good enough. Maybe Newhouse would have seen the same potential my bosses saw in me. I think I would have been able to make him proud as well.

The interview went well, and I was given the job on the spot. I’d eventually prove my worth and get a full-time position, and with that I’d get a drastic enough pay raise to make my goals something more than living paycheck to paycheck. I’ve grown a lot in the skeleton of Newhouse’s empire. No one really knows its his anymore. If it wasn’t for a solitary plaque in the courtyard, I wouldn’t have known either. But if I’m being honest, after a century of being gone, you could do a lot worse than a couple of buildings and a plaque with your name on it.

– Shaman

Posted 09/28/2017 by Shaman in Writing

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The Surprising Solution to Homelessness   Leave a comment

This is one of the assignments I had to do for my recent return to college. I feel it was well made, and wanted to share it, in its original entirety below. The recorded version references the site I had to create for class. If or when I decide to re edit my recording, I will send it here.


How do we help the homeless? Simple, give them homes. In the below recording, I will explain why. (Transcript and further reading below.)

Homelessness is a major issue today, both in Downtown Salt Lake City, and in other major cities across the nation. Officials are scrambling for a way to tackle the issue that is both effective and low cost. But I believe Utah has found the most effective solution. It’s simple: if you want to solve homelessness, just give the homeless homes.

I know – it sounds both too simplistic and unrealistic. But from 2005 to 2015, Utah reduced its number of chronic homeless individuals by 90%. This was accomplished by giving the homeless homes first, before working on their other issues. It is almost impossible for someone to find a job, keep appointments, or improve their life if they don’t have a stable place to live. Our typical methods of providing job training, addiction therapy, and food, are well intentioned, but if you don’t get the homeless out of their bad environment, you can’t help them effectively.

Isn’t providing housing expensive? According to the Utah Homeless Task Force, in order to provide a home and social worker to a person in need, it would cost $7,800 a year. That sounds like quite a lot, but the average cost per year of a homeless person living on the street is over twice that amount at $19,000. That is the cost when you take into account emergency room visits, jail time, etc., in addition to the social workers and care programs we already use. Society is already paying the higher cost, so why not pay half of that in order to help twice as many people?

But are these figures true? Well, it is a little more complicated than that. Firstly, the numbers above are only for chronic homeless people. That means someone who has been on the street for over a year and has some sort of mental issue, like schizophrenia or drug addiction.They make up about 20% of homeless people. The remaining 80% of homeless people are temporary homeless. These are people who are in-between jobs and homes. Secondly, as Kevin Corinth from the Huffington Post has pointed out, Utah may have padded the numbers a little bit.

However, no matter how you interpret the numbers, there is a definite decrease in homeless. On top of that, whether we provide longer term housing to a chronic homeless person, or a temporary place to live while you get back on your feet, it still helps you recover. I understand it can seem too good to be true. But even a marginal effect is better than no effect, and that is exactly what we get right now.

For example, let’s talk about counselling programs. These are programs designed to help homeless people with addiction and mental illness tackle their problems, and integrate back in to society. At the moment, many of our housing programs are contingent on people staying clean or making all of their appointments in order to stay in their home. If someone messes up, they are back on the street until they prove they are willing to try again. But addiction and mental illnesses are diseases. We wouldn’t kick someone out for having an unexpected seizure or an allergic reaction, right?

Giving someone a home that is not contingent on them behaving “correctly” allows us to remove them from an environment that actively agitates their issue. If you are living in an apartment with other people who are trying to improve their life, it is going to be harder to do drugs than if you are sleeping on the street corner a block away from your dealer. I’m not saying we never have to push someone to clean up their life. But making someone’s chance to get clean their only chance denies human nature. We fail all the time, especially when we are learning something new, or gaining back skills we’ve lost.

I am not promising a panacea for the problem of homelessness. I also acknowledge in the long term we need to solve the issues that caused someone to become homeless in the first place. But if we focus on giving people houses first, it gives us a much better position to fix everything else. On top of that, it’s much cheaper that our current methods. So, if it is cheaper and more effective, what do we have to lose? Let’s give the homeless homes.

Thank you for reading,

 

Shaman


Works Cited:

Posted 08/17/2017 by Shaman in Writing

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How do you even write fiction?   2 comments

My friends and I have started a writing group. They all want to improve as writers, and I want to try and start writing fiction stories. I have a lot of cool ideas, and I think it would be better if they are out in the world instead of gathering dust in the back of my brain. Ideas have always been easy for me, the hard part is actually writing the story.

How does someone even write fiction? Do you just make stuff up?

I used to know how when I was younger. I could sit down and write pages of fiction without any effort. The characters, plot, and everything else about them sucked. But at least I could write it. Now I find myself staring at the keyboard, its QWERTYs, ASDFs, and WASDs burning my soul with their judging mocking gaze.

If you ask me to create a character for Dungeons and Dragons, or any other RPG? I’ll not only make a mechanically unique and effective character, but I will build him a detailed backstory with family records, milestones, mannerisms, etc. But I cant turn it into any sort of narrative story.

Ask me to write a blog post? I can put down 500 to 1000 words on a topic in an hour, 3 if I need to revise/make it sound good. It’s not hard for me to put my thoughts down, as I write the way I think and speak. But fiction means I have to put myself in someone else’s head, and I don’t know how to do that.

So when you tell me to sit down and write a fiction story? You might as well tell me to win the lottery or grow wings and fly.

I know a large part of it is a lack of experience. You don’t go into the gym and start benching 200 lbs if the last time you did 100 lbs was in high school. That is a good way to injure yourself. I can’t jump into a chihuahua crushing epic fantasy novel without tearing my corpus callosum either.

However, I have no idea where to even start. I have all of these ideas buzzing in my head: cool scenes straight out of a move, a Silmarillion’s worth of world building, and a somewhat unique magic system. I’m an avid reader of both too many books and too much TVTropes. What else would I need? Actual talent?

It’s like I have a fresh batch of ingredients and a full purpose kitchen, but I only know how to make a grilled cheese. I’m just the wordsmith equivalent of a line cook who has been asked to make whatever he thinks would impress the food critic. I hope he likes Kraft singles and white bread.

The point of this post was to state I may also start posting short stories here, in addition to rants both political and personal, and my poetry. Just like with Politalking, I am going to try and keep things labelled, so that those of you who check my blog out for the poetry alone can skip it if you want.

Time for me to drop down and give 20 paragraphs. Wish me luck!

 

-Shaman

Posted 07/25/2016 by Shaman in Personal Thoughts, Writing

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5 Things I’ve Learned From A Year Of Blogging   Leave a comment

I posted my first post on this blog a year ago today.

I have been blogging for a whole year. That amazes me.

Maybe it’s just because I’ve got the attention span of a hamster on speed, but I feel like it has been a lot longer than that. Then again, I also feel that way about my last year in general; so much of it has changed.

In the spirit of that change, here are 5 things I learned about myself from a year of blogging:

1.) I’m more of a poet than I am a writer.

I started writing this blog with the intent of changing/enriching the world. I wanted to write about mental health issues, personality typology, psychology self-help, etc. I felt if I was going to start writing, it would need to have a purpose, an end goal.

However, as noble and nice as those goals were, they don’t necessarily get readers, nor did they really get me writing. Doing the daily prompts did help me get a flow going, but it wasn’t until NaPoWriMo that I actually started to take this blog seriously.

It reminded me how much I love poetry. I find it makes it easier for me to express my thoughts and emotions in the moment. Even if, half the time, I end up with a bunch of depressing poems. It worked for Sylvia Plath, right?

But I also find it really fun. Trying to find the right rhyme to end your verse, without forcing things or ruining the flow, is incredibly challenging. But when you get it done right, it is incredibly rewarding.

2.) I talk too much, and I need to write more.

I have a friend who reads my blog. She’s been reading it from the start, and she makes sure to read everything I do. She says that she really enjoys what I write.

I have no idea why though. Not because I don’t think it is good; I wouldn’t make posts I don’t think are ready to be read. But because she is the one who gets to have all my pure, unaltered idea vomit thrown at her on a regular basis whenever we hang out.

Whether its philosophy, atheism, politics or any of the other things I’m interested in, she has heard me go hours and hours of diatribes that would probably make most people lose their minds.

Now, I imagine if I took all the time I spent melting her brain with my rants, and instead took the time to write them down. I’d have three times as many posts by now.

If you were to also add all the times I’ve had a personal rant in my head that I never bothered to voice to anyone….

Well, I don’t think I would have time to do anything but write.

Regardless, I should probably start writing more things down. Which means…

3.) I always should have a pen and paper. (Or start recording myself like a loon.)

I have forgotten the amount of times I have had an amazing idea, the start of a good poem, or a nice melody, and lost it forever because I couldn’t write it down in time.

Many creative people have as well, and it so it is mandatory that we all have a pen and paper on us at all times. I’m getting better with doing that, but it isn’t always feasible. So I’ve tried to expand to my note taking to other forms of technology.

I don’t really like typing notes into my phone, because it takes too long, and I have a crappy, unreliable phone. However, recording my self tends to work in a pinch, especially with how good voice to text has gotten.

With it, I can idea vomit onto a computer at record speed. It is probably the best way for me to get my ideas down.

So why don’t I do it more often?

Because I get most of my ideas on the train, bus, or walking around. People tend to be sitting/standing/walking by me, and so I look crazy. Plus, sometimes I like to write about more controversial topics, and I’d rather not have to fight the bible-thumping MRA republican Nazi Sith lord that may happen to sit next to me some day.

So, until I either lose enough shame to be fine with looking even crazier in public, I will just stick with the writer’s classic.

4.) I do my best writing on the spot, but I should still revise.

I tend to write best when I just throw my ideas down. Whenever I have been able to sit down and get into a groove, I write the stuff that I am most proud of. The things that I have found to be the weakest were things that I planned out, made outlines for and then wrote over days.

It’s a little counter intuitive, but working out what I want to write just stifles my natural creativity.

I know that doesn’t work for a lot of people. They need to create outlines, rough drafts, revisions galore, etc. before they have something they feel is good enough for people to see.

I tend to write how I speak, and I think I’m well spoken. So my writing reflects that.

That being said, you can always clean things up. You can polish up the writing to make it shine, cut out excess bits, change things around to flow better, and just make it a better piece in general. You are able to do the type of things that you aren’t be able to do in conversation. (Although it would be really awesome if we could.)

It’s something I don’t do nearly enough. So I just need to carve out time every week where I can sit down and write. Not too hard, right? Well…

5.) I need to do more to motivate myself.

Last, and most importantly, I need to motivate myself more. I can’t do any of the things I listed above if I can’t get myself motivated enough to actually do them.

Back when I started this blog, I had motivation. I was trying to find a purpose, a direction in life. I wanted to give myself a reason to get up in morning that wasn’t just paying bills. Other blogs and armchair psychologists told me blogging would do that, one thing led to another, and now the plague that is my blog was released on the internet.

But now I have a new, much better and more mentally stimulating job. My self-esteem is at healthy, levels, and am feeling more positive about life.

Because things are going so well, and with how busy work has been lately, I have been letting this blog fall to the wayside. It’s become easy to push a post off until tomorrow, then until next week, and off until next month.

Do I need to write? No.

But it is something that I enjoy. It is something concrete I can point to when I want to feel like I’ve accomplished something. I allows me to leave something behind when I go, even if it’s just in my own corner of the internet.

All those things should motivate me, and they do. But like I have stated before, misery is probably my best motivator, and will continue until it eventually kills me.

So hopefully this next coming year of blogging will be eventful, inspiring, and just miserable enough to keep things going.

As always, thanks for reading.

-Shaman

Posted 02/11/2015 by Shaman in Personal Thoughts, Writing

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I Should Be A Game Designer… So I’ll Be A Writer.   Leave a comment

In an earlier blog post, I talked about how I might try being the Albert Einstein of blogging. I posted a piece of advice Teller gave Brian Brushwood that changed his life. I talked about one part of the advice, and I’d like to cover another part of it.

To quote the book:

“I should be a film editor. I’m a magician. And if I’m good, it’s because I should be a film editor. Bach should have written opera or plays. But instead, he worked in eighteenth-century counterpoint. That’s why his counterpoints have so much more point that others. They have passion and plot. Shakespeare, on the other hand, should have been a musician, writing counterpoint. That’s why his plays stand out from the others through their plot and music.”

I love games. Video games, board games, role-playing games, card games, games, games, games. My favorite kinds are turn based strategy games and role-playing type games. I love the interplay of the rules, and the rich and deep stories. I will dig into the lore of a great fantasy world like Dark Souls, or a Sci-Fi  universe like Mass Effect. I love creating a character with desires, drives, quirks and questions, that pull a game along.

I also, much to other people’s chagrin, love to poke holes, abuse rules, and optimize my characters and games as much as I can. I will find the interplay of skills, ask the annoying questions, and overall try to take your plans and throw them out the window.

I’m not a munchkin by any means, but I will play around with the rules a lot. My favorite character I mad was in a wild west setting. I made a bounty hunter who fought with a lasso and took people in alive. The other smallish detail… he was bullet proof. It was legal by the rules, and made for one hell of a game.

But I am getting off topic. Why do I bring all this up?

Because as I was trying to figure out the plot and world for the book I’m writing, I noticed I had an easier time when I created characters via a character sheet, the magic as a magic system, and scenes as campaign events. If I start to picture my novel as a game and write it that way, the plot flows easier. It also stays much more consistent. I no longer have to wonder what my character can do with his magic. I already know what his powers do, what he would need to do to learn more, and how the laws of the world works. That way if I get to a moment and think,”How will he get out of this one?” I can do it without any trouble.

I get to design my own universe, with its own rules and own logic. At another level, since I want to write something more urban fantasy style, I get to change and redesign this one. I don’t have a god complex, but it is fun.

I get to create my own game system via my writing. I get to live out one of my dreams of designing games. Maybe not in the way i wanted. But I’ll take it. 🙂

-Shaman

Trying Not To Be Jim Butcher   Leave a comment

We tend to copy the things we like. Imitation is a sincere form of flattery, and many great writers have made a career out of paying homage to the things they love.

But you have to be extremely careful not to cross the line into plagiarism.

Now, I’ve been trying to work on my novel. I was making a decent amount of progress, but I have had to take everything back to the beginning. Here is why:

While I was working on it, I started with my main character. The basic idea I started with was that he was a writer who uses magic based on the written and spoken word. Slowly I started to add personality: smart, not too subtle, stubborn, clever, snarky, very intuitive, wants to help people, etc…

If you know the Dresden files, you might notice I could very well be describing Harry Dresden. The only difference being my guy is a writer, and not a private investigator.

So I took a step back, and decided I would just work on the magic system.

If that was unique, then he wouldn’t be like Dresden, right? The original idea was magic that is drawn from creativity and imagination. Power would come from how clever and creative you are, and less to do with raw power and will. I started thinking how one would use it, power level of it, how to weaponize/utilize it in combat, etc.

Do you want to guess how this went too?

In short, I took the above and slowly started to add rules after rules to pin down the system. When I got done, my character would be limited to imagining fire, force, wind, ice and the like for combat, leaving more complex effects for sitting down rituals. So basically, I made Dresden’s magic.

That kept happening with most things. Supporting characters, back story, governmental entities, and other stuff like that. I took a break from it for a bit, and when I finally turned around and looked at it, it was just a poor writer’s Dresden files.

Now, I don’t really lose much sleep over that. I see it as a testament to Jim Butcher’s writing and the world he created. His characters are deep, his system is consistent and logical, and his writing is exciting. I am holding of on writing my novel for a bit specifically because I finished (and I am also rereading) his current release. (By the way, it is extremely good, and if you couldn’t tell, I think people should read the whole series.)

I probably wasn’t even copying his work as bad I thought. But the reason I wanted to write about it, is because I think this is a pitfall that newer writer’s like me fall into all the time.

There is no shame in loving an author’s work, and having them inspire you on some level. But if you imitate too closely, you are a best writing fan fiction, and at worse you are stealing.

Therefore it’s back to the drawing board for me. But I think my story will be better for it.

-Shaman

P.S: With all I like about Jim Butcher, I just thought I’d share his LiveJournal link here. He gives a lot of good advice for aspiring writer’s, and it would be very good to check out. 🙂