lost time incident 15 – becoming an all sorts piñata

Michael Van Vleet in Paris

lost time incident 15
Today is International Worker’s Day and to celebrate, I got enough sleep. Woke up feeling alert, an unfamiliar enough sensation that it was worth remarking upon. Made coffee. French roast. I don’t even know if the French roast coffee that way or if it’s a misnomer. I was there in Paris— see above photo— but I forgot to ask anyone. I do have a French colleague in the office who was surprised that her countrymen got credit for the French press I use to make coffee in a more professional context.


I don’t think I was going anywhere with that, but here’s a secret: Much of the time, I’m just letting my fingers start a-typin’ just to see what’s going to come out. That’s right. I don’t value your time. Ha!

There’s a breeze coming in through the front door and a cat is hanging out on my right leg, providing a counterbalance to the laptop on the left leg. My wife is laughing at internet summaries of a show about murder, so we’re all in a good place.

How are you doing?

It’s such a gorgeous day out there that it’s enough to make you forget that they won’t all be this pleasant.

[optional soundtrack: Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats – “I Need Never Get Old”]


the position or velocity of dogs




autobio corner
In the small town I grew up in, for many of the years I lived there, there was nothing terribly remarkable about the town itself. Downtown we had a grocery store, a 5-and-dime, and a used bookstore where a nice old lady named Linda enforced a rule that you had to sell her a romance or sci-fi novel first if you were going to buy one yourself because otherwise they’d all go out the door. She had trouble keeping those genres in stock.

Every weekday at noon, through the soles of our feet, we’d feel the deep bass hum of the gravity wave factory just outside of town, down-by the Wal-Mart, generating energy and keeping the bills paid for most of the families of the kids I went to school with.

Our school mascot was the Comets, since our county had a higher than usual incident rate for attracting rocks and space ice, pulled out of orbit and into our outdoor swimming pools, our mini golf arcades, and our competition-grade cross-country running courses. Our sports teams weren’t great, so the local newspaper used lots of “crashing and burning” imagery when covering our matches, but our logo was fantastic: the comet wore a fierce expression, lip curled, and three sharp points came off the back with orange highlights to create the comet’s tail.

Things picked up when I hit the teenage years, though, because that was when a lunchtime pulse pulled in the Object, as it was originally called. It fell down by the woods where rumor had it Chad and Lisa had once been caught having sex where the grass was at its tallest. Who knows what happened out there behind the woods. One time Terry said he was walking around back there and came across a big pile of those full-head Halloween masks, half covered in brush like someone was hiding them out there. Said there was a wolf man and some kinda fish, but it had been raining and the pile of masks looked gross so he just left them alone. Weren’t there the next time he went back though.

The Object hung about those woods, waiting for kids to wander near. The kids who went out there to smoke found it first. It rumbled at them, wobbled a bit… but mostly it listened. Erik said he figured it belonged to one of the families whose homes had their backs up against the hill, like maybe it was a pet that wandered off, but it was the size of a refrigerator.

Of course now, with the benefit of hindsight and with the insight of world-class scientists, the consensus is that it’s a very clever probe designed to acquire language via some mimicry algorithms. We’re still not sure it knows what it’s saying, but most of what it learned to talk about was: which kids in the nearby middle and high schools sucked, which teachers sucked, who was a slut, and to say it was a big fan of many of history’s worst dictators and serial killers. I’ve heard that when they originally put up that tent around it and the government folks moved in, the first thing it asked them was how much they enjoyed a particular impossible sexual position, then affirmed that it liked it very much. “It’s the best,” it said. It then laughed with a series of barking hard-K sounds.

Any hope of learning more about its origins seemed to be dashed. It wouldn’t answer questions, if it ever had, instead preferring to copy the questions asked of it, or would fill silence by singing advertising jingles, but with all the original advertising copy replaced with “shut up,” but matching the original melody precisely.

Transcript. Note: Capitalization used to indicate relative volume.
THERE WAS ONCE IN THESE WOODS. NOW SAY JERRY. MELT STEEL BEAMS. I AM STUPID. Listening? Fucking RULES, man. SUCK DiiiiiiiiiiiiiCKS. High five for Hitler. Mitts. Mitts. Comets. Kek kek kek kek kek kek. After me, REPEAT. Ooored. Errd. Bored. Ting bored. Geh. ♫shut up shut UP shut up SHUT UP shut-shut-shut [advertising medley of 20 minutes cut].

But times change. Things progress. I bet it’s repeating smarter stuff now that scientists are talking to it. With any luck, maybe they’ll even notice they’re getting nothing back.

current events
During a walk home from work, apropos of nothing, I remembered that in elementary school I had a class where each week, we were meant to study current events. We had to grab a newspaper from our parents, cut out an article, bring it in and summarize it.

The memory that came back to me was that one time, I found an article about ninjas and brought that in. Even had a picture of a ninja next to the article. I have not yet remembered what the article was actually about, but it was easier to understand than the conflict in Israel, or whatever was on the front page back in the 80s.

It’s just weird. Little fragments from an earlier life, still bumping about inside my head.

[memory tosses down a smoke bomb and disappears again]


ending theme song
I’m going to keep it a bit short this week, folks. Even though my head is buzzing because I ate WAY too many licorice all sorts. So let’s keep things focused so I’m imparting only the most important information. Okay. Cannonball Run 2 is full of talented people but it’s awful.

We’re already going astray a little bit.

Let’s see. Amanda and I created some more art postcards yesterday. We may have almost enough to send to every subscriber that I actually have an address for. If you’ve moved in the last however-long and don’t have an explicit memory of letting me know, well now you can. Maybe right now?

This week’s chunk of fiction was inspired by Simon Stålenhag’s Tales from the Loop which I backed on Kickstarter and was so excited about, I stuck it on a shelf and ignored it for months. I was waiting for a special occasion to flip through it and today ended up being that special occasion.

Also in the mental mix was the news that Stephen Hawking and Mark Zuckerberg want to fire tiny nanobots out into the universe to see what’s out there mixed with what happened when Microsoft set a chatbot loose in Twitter, only to see it turned into a racist monster within a day.

Thanks as ever to my wife Amanda for providing original illustrations.

Hope your weekend went well. I have to go and see if the internet knows what the antidote is for too much licorice.

Later, gators,

Michael Van Vleet

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lost time incident 14 – here, have some gator


lost time incident 14
That’s a photo of my mom, offering a deep-fried gator chunk. She and my dad retired to Florida some years ago. My dad now prefers to spend his days sitting in the driveway, smoking his pipe and reading e-books, with some time taken out to play a Facebook game that involves managing a fleet of battleships. As reading, gaming and doing nothing are my preferred weekend activities, there’s obviously a biological connection.

My mother, however, has found time to explore entirely new hobbies. She’s running marathons, scoring well in darts tournaments, and taking workout classes that involve dangling from ceiling-mounted ribbons. We’re a bit more different.


Things I did today instead of writing:

  • Woke up late
  • Finished reading Woman With a Blue Pencil, a meta-narrative novel
  • Cooked up parathas in the skillet to have with some channa masala and coffee for brunch
  • Watched a bearded British guy on Twitch play Bioshock, a video game set in an underwater ruin that had, in its heyday, been designed as an art deco libertarian wonderland
  • Took a slow shower and wondered if at some time in my life, showers will stop being available, as I quite like them, but we’re all doomed
  • Agreed to abandon writing mid-afternoon to go get donuts with friends
  • Poked around on Facebook
  • Wrote this list

I had some time yesterday to write, but instead I spent 3-4 hours putting together a new Signal mix, which is a series of 45-minute music mixes I’ve been making for my own amusement for over a decade. The latest installment was the 123rd episode.

That’s something.

I should write something.

Did I already write something? Earlier this week?

that’s right I wrote something

It was only until after posting the above that I started to wonder how Chicken Hills managed to win a 2016 award so early in the year. The fix is in. I think it’s possible to build a better fence in the time remaining. If we all pitch in now, I bet we could build a fence that could hold in human-chicken hybrids AND does something special… like lighting up, or playing music over Bluetooth or something.

Anyone interested in building a better fence and finally putting the spotlight on the corrupt fence-judging industry in this country, please respond to this mailing list with a list of available dates and an outline of all relevant fence-building skills.


stay on target
Just walked a pizza box outside to the compost bin and you guys… it is so pleasant out there. I absolutely should not be sitting inside, typing these words.


this will become something
In the world that was left, the bullets ran out fairly quickly. But thanks to nuclear power, the electricity stayed on. No matter what bunker or cave you lived in, you still had devices lining the floor, being charged, while you drank whatever horrible hot drink your region had to replace coffee. We all missed coffee.

And when daylight appeared on the horizon, we’d split into teams. One group to find food and the other group to find podcasters.

Rottentooth Manpuncher, bandit leader of New New Orleans, wasn’t the sort of person to have a stale mp3 player full of pre-Fall podcasts. Oh no. The only way to show the other rival warlords that you were top dog was to gather together the most mildly amusing of survivors who still had a knack for sitting down in front of a USB microphone

In the evenings, we’d heat up our suppers and watch them work. We’d ask the podcasters to include advertising segments that helped us remember our lost past, when we were supposed to order boxes of snacks delivered. Do our own legal documents. Try out mattresses, or glasses.

The stars would come out and you couldn’t see much beyond the glow of the face of your mp3 player, ticking along second by second.


rolling pins
Just got back from Rolling Pin Donuts in scenic San Bruno, the California city so named because all other saints had already been claimed by other, faster cities. While I had some fantastic cream-filled donut holes, I didn’t get anything of use for this newsletter.


Unless I count the joke that occurred to me on the way there, which is that the absolute best song about sandwich-related cosplay is probably David Bowie’s “Heroes.” Though it was suggested that one could make a strong argument for “Yellow Submarine” as well.


apocalypse head
The climate changed and the waters rose. The climate changed and the air became thick as plastic. We could still see each other, across the room, but we could no longer go over there because air wouldn’t get out of the way like it used to. It was a new kind of climate.

If you could push your way to the bathroom to clean up, you’d have to chip your way to the faucets and keep your hands clear when you turned the spigot, because hard climate would tumble out before you’d get any water. Plants withered and that was understandable. We get it, plants.

All the petrocarbons that we burned used to be living matter. Organic matter. Liquid dinosaurs. What we didn’t realize was that they all wanted to come back. All the dinosaurs, just biding their time. We burned them and they came back, in the air, swirling particles, reforming their graceful reptilian necks, their crested skulls, the size of buildings. They whispered their lizard desires into the ear of climate, and climate did as they commanded. It finally turned against us, unfriended us in real life and online.

We had to wade everywhere. Pushing climate out of the way, water up to our ankles. No one could look a polar bear in the eye. The last sympathy cards ever printed were filled out and mailed to penguins. How the penguins distributed them among their number, we never knew. We just left a big pile of apologies and fled, hiding our eyes and our burning cheeks, overflowing with shame for what we’d done.

Was it so wrong? To set so much on fire?

Could we be blamed when so much of the world looked better in flames?


[composite illustration courtesy of Amanda Summers]

ending theme song
I was raised as a Catholic and was told that it was partially my responsibility to keep things in good shape because Jesus was due to return. It didn’t take much pondering to add up the number of generations who had lived and died already, each assuming that they were definitely living in the End Times before the return of their Messiah. So many people, each sure that they’d be around for the world’s end.

But the thing of it is: one generation is going to be correct. They’re going to be the last. Not with regards to Christ’s return. I’m not a believer anymore. But apocalypse is in the post at some point.

For each of us, individually. For all of us, collectively, at some point. Somebody’s going to feel like the world is ending and they’ll be right.

The entire world that we find ourselves in is absurd. I’ve got a cat on my lap. I’ve got music in my ears. I’ve spent a few hours today trying to be entertaining. It all evens out.

How are you doing? During this brief pause between disasters?

— Michael Van Vleet

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lost time incident 13 – dogmeat sweetheart


lost time incident 13
This week, I’m getting a head start on the newsletter because tomorrow I turn 40. I’ve taken this week off from work and have already successfully frittered away most of my time. I’ve streamed myself playing video games and had friends join virtually. I’ve looked at recordings of those games and edited out video highlights I thought were entertaining. I’ve learned how to add closed captioning via YouTube’s interface. Took macro photos of interesting comic book panels like the one above. I watched Tarantino’s most recent film while my wife slept. Cleaned out a closet. Pruned the ol’ CD collection.

Drank lots of coffee. Wore socks and sandals.

The transition to old man is coming along smoothly.

I still find myself petting my moustache as if surprised my face can support such a thing. So many years were spent as a smooth faced softboy. Don’t get me wrong. I’m still soft. Just slightly more hairy now. A few of these beard hairs look suspiciously gray as well.

Every birthday I’ve muttered about growing old, worried in the abstract about how little time is left, and there have always been folks around telling me not to worry about it. This time around, it’s folks who are 20 years older than me who’ve been telling me that 40 is significant, sure, but it’s 60 that’s really tricky.

Do I find it hard to believe that I’m old enough to have held down the same job for almost a decade? That I’ve been partnered up with my wife for almost two decades? The distance between who I am today and who I was a decade or two back seems small. It doesn’t feel like that long ago. Which makes me suspect the next two decades that may bring me to 60 could feel as brief as 20 paired inhalations and exhalations of breath, if and when they happen.

Oh well.

We’ll see.

Or we won’t.

Ignore what that 39 year old idiot wrote. 40 is the worst. Coffee’s not working anymore. I’m just eating AA batteries by the fistful as my heart turns somersaults, trying to get free of its ribcage prison. My memory is shot full of holes. No one was ever meant to live this long. If I close my eyes, I can hear the songs of stars, screaming out matter and energy into a giant cold universe as fast as they can to just get it over with and it gets harder and harder not to scream along.

My bones creak and I have to soak in a mineral bath just to lure the minerals back into me, to shore up the cell walls of the bones that are barely holding my marrow in and keeping this wobbly frame upright.

Oh, you 60 year olds. You could have warned me. What are you still hiding? What trap am I running into, full tilt, merely by waking up every morning?

the future, but for kids
Amanda and I tried watching an old television show from the late 70s called “Jason of Star Command.” After STAR WARS made a ton of money, some goofs pooled the change from their sofa cushions and decided to make a TV show set in space to capitalize on the trend. They picked their starring actor for his haircut, not for his ability to react to anything around him. Jason’s space-sidekick is a guy with Larry Fine hair and eyebrows that might indicate that he’s an alien, but who knows. He’s supposed to be comic relief, but is walking into a dangling mobile in your lab several times in the same scene funny? Maybe in the distant future of Star Command. It’s not funny for us yet, because we’re still here in the past.

Because all kids’ TV is about selling toys, Jason— our not-Han Solo-hero— is given a fist-sized robot companion that he can carry in his belt pouch. The robot is called W.1.K.1 (pronounced “wiki”). This robot has, for real, the same feet you’ve seen all your life on cheap wind-up toys. The kind with the rods that stick out front and back for balance, like this one has:


Here’s Jason talking to the robot, probably in a condescending fashion:


W.1.K.1, like R2D2, spoke in a series of bleeps and bloops, which left me free to imagine that everything he said was screamed invective at his fellow crew members for not being able to do things as well as a robot. Sometimes shouting at the TV, pretending to be a robot, is a valid defense mechanism against substandard entertainment.




Anyway. Don’t watch that show. It’s awful. And it doesn’t actually have a furious robot.

enter: the expert | exit: the expert
Jordan realized that his new home had issues when a skeleton-handed creature lifted him out of bed, bounced him off several walls of the main hallway, then rolled him down a flight of stairs towards the front door.

He remained on the ground, waiting for all quadrants of his body to check in. He had to wait to see if the overwhelming body-wide ache was going to sharpen anywhere and highlight a broken bone in addition to what he assumed was going to be a record-breaking amount of bruising. Then the front door opened.

“Okay okay,” said the individual walking uninvited into Jordan’s home. “Let’s see what we’ve got.” The man was dressed in sneakers, sweats, and a hoodie, his hands holding a UV flashlight and a wristlet composed of string, prayer beads and a small bell.

“Can I help you?” croaked Jordan from the floor.

The hoodie-wearing man looked down and jumped. “Whoah! I didn’t see you there, man. No, I’m good. Just wanted to poke my head in to check out this haunted house, you know? Lots of bad energy here. Probably at least a few Type S apparitions, maybe a haint barrow or something. Hard to tell out on the front lawn, so I figured I’d come take a look.”

“I live here,” said Jordan. “The front door was locked.”

“That’s not important. You should probably leave. I’ll be leaving shortly. We should leave together.”

[I’m too lazy to actually write this scene out. It doesn’t interest me, this conversation, this slow establishment of characters. The seed of the idea was this: It’s a very common trope that one character in a story will get into a mess and they’re ignorant about its source. Then, along comes an expert character who knows all about everything. Sometimes they take on the ignorant character as a mentor, and sometimes they want nothing to do with the trouble, but eventually realize they’re the only person who can help the ignorant character. It’s boring. I wanted to imagine an expert character for a supernatural setting who has studied the dark arts, but only for the express purpose of avoiding them. He wants nothing to do with the main character’s problems and has enough wisdom to actually leave. He shows up, identifies the supernatural obstacles, and then declares it’s none of his business and sticks to it.]

“Here, put this charm on. Perfect. Now it can’t enter the foyer. You’re safe so long as you don’t— you just smudged the writing off. Don’t worry, I have a second charm. Put it on, quick-quick-quick!”

“You want my advice? Sell the house. Move to another state. It’s not going to follow you. It’s stuck in that house. You’re not.”

“Well, according to the bank, I’m stuck there for a few decades until it’s paid off.”

[Our occult expert, Lemaine, just wants to get on with his day and have nothing more to do with spirits that might endanger life and limb. Jordan, our ignorant character, follows him back to his car.]

“Look, man,” said Lemaine. “Like I said, I just wanted to get a look at the house. Now I gotta go pick up my daughter at my ex-wife’s house.”

“Let me come with you,” said Jordan. “I need to know why that thing grabbed me… where it comes from, what it means…”

“My car’s only got two seats,” said Lemaine, as Jordan followed him to the street. “You can come along, but once I reach my ex’s place, you’re getting out because my daughter is going to sit there.”

“I’m not interested in exorcising your house. Why would I do that? You said you got thrown down stairs. Do you think I’m immune to stairs?”

[The problem, I suppose, is that the narrative is stuck with the ignorant character if the expert character refuses to be involved. What’s the ignorant character to do? Go off and study the occult themselves? Find a rival occultist who can help?]

Lemaine sighed. “Look. It’s none of my business. But I don’t know of any successful exorcists who use scented candles. I saw them in your guy’s bag. Vanilla scented. Said “Yankee Candle Company” right on the label. I’m going to watch from this side of the street, but … those guys were not a good investment. One of ’em’s probably going to die. Anyway, good luck!”

[This was much funnier in my head.]


[image courtesy of AJ Summers]


contest time
The first 800 subscribers who respond to this email with the key phrase “Why on God’s green earth would I want an entire label’s worth of vaporwave albums? That’s sounds awful.” will receive THE ENTIRE VAPORWAVE CATALOG of a net-label!

If you’re not among the first 800, don’t worry, we have a consolation prize: Anyone responding with “Seriously, do not send me that garbage.” will receive ONE ENTIRE vaporwave album for free!

We’re celebrating [Saved by the Bell animated GIF with characters heads all replaced with Garfield drawings, glitched, with flying toasters from early Windows screensavers hovering in the background] Month in the only way that matters! Keep it locked right here on lost time incident!

ending theme song
Earlier today, before settling down to write, I read a science article about a new theory of mind. In it, our subconscious mind is constantly doing a lot of data-crunching to interpret the world around us, then translating all the input we take into an experience for the conscious mind that feels uninterrupted and directly connected to the world around us, but there’s a delay of maybe 400 milliseconds while that data is interpreted.

Yet we can catch a tennis ball thrown at us, despite being on a tiny tape delay from reality. Perhaps in part because it’s the subconscious mind that’s managing all the math involved in tracing the ball’s arc, getting our hand to the right spot, and then allowing our conscious mind to take credit for the catch after the fact.

I’ve always found this a fascinating metaphor. That the “self” we think of as “us,” our personality, our primal experience of the world… is a fiction. This meat ship we’re in for the most part gets on just fine without our help. The heart beats. Lungs breathe. Food is digested. If an unseen dog lunges at us, catching us by surprise, we find ourselves leaping out of the way before our conscious mind is even aware of what’s happening.

I don’t know. I think it can be comforting, to realize that what you’re experiencing is a fiction. That what you think of as “you” is possibly a side effect of what your body wants to accomplish. At some point, the conscious mind came into existence because it’s good at puzzles. It can think about the future. It can use language and technology and build civilizations. But it’s a hitchhiker. All the maintenance stuff happens without us.

I should have bookmarked that article. No idea where it was from. Came and went.

Just like these words.

Here we go…

–Michael Van Vleet

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The Signal: EP123


The Signal: EP123 – Easy as A-B-C, it’s our one hundred and twenty-third installment. Don’t worry. You don’t have to have listened to the first 122 to understand this one. It’s just music. There’s no continuity. It’s just 45 minutes (exactly) of songs that go well together according to the person who put them together— and to be honest, he’s kinda biased, so see for yourself. Right-click the image or link at the start of this paragraph to download.

The link to the mix would usually be available for a limited time, but we’re sort of in-between hosting solutions, so you might luck out. This file might still be there even if you’re reading this in the distant future, during a break from foraging for food or hiding from roving gangs of Water Bandits. Good luck out there, future Signal-kateers! Stay safe! Stay underground!

The track list is embedded in the mp3 itself or, if you like, you could sign up to join our mailing list: The Tuned In. They’re the first people in the world to be told there’s a new Signal mix and they get member benefits link a link to a permanent archived copy of the Signal mix, plus a full track list.

About half the artists here can be found on Bandcamp, so if you hear something you like, there’s more where that came from.

Continue reading The Signal: EP123

lost time incident 12 – yikes


lost time incident 12
In less than a week, I’m turning 40. Big round numbers hold a special appeal. And yet, I couldn’t think of anything I particularly wanted to do along the lines of a “big event” to celebrate. At a minimum, it’d be a good excuse for a party of some sort, but it seems like most everyone I know anymore I know more from whatever version of them appears on the internet. You can’t invite the internet over for dinner.

So I think the celebration is mostly going to be online. I’m celebrating by writing this and being happy about how this newsletter/writing project has so far lasted 12 weeks and included a good amount of new, original work. I’ll also celebrate by streaming some video games online and inviting folks to come watch and chat. I’ve been having fun editing highlight clips to share some of my favorite moments.

That’s what I’m up to, anyway. I’ve spent plenty of previous birthdays laying low, contemplating mortality, etc. and mostly waiting for the flood of messages on Facebook from people I only hear from once a year to abate. This year, I’m hoping that by focusing on personal projects, and living the sort of creative life I prefer, I can avoid some of that.

Not all of it. I’ve still been thinking about how much time I may have yet, and about recent deep loss, and about whether or not it’s crazy to think of one’s own childhood self as dead, in all practicality, what with all the changes one undergoes when one becomes an adult… or am I kidding myself when I think that my younger self was such a different creature from me? Some days it feels like I just share some memories with a small creature who shared some of my habits, but isn’t it strange to pretend we’re the same person? Me and this acorn-headed blonde kid?


camp switchblade
The police met with all the parents, in small groups, and at the end of the week it was decided that the juvenile delinquency problem could only be solved in one way. All the teens were told to pack their bags because they were going to spend three weeks this summer at camp.

The teens, of course, argued and wept. Clothes were thrown. Doors were slammed. Meals cooled on kitchen table tops and were later fished out of refrigerators by sulking teens under cover of darkness, muttering darkly to themselves in the kitchen as cold chicken is finally, resentfully, eaten.

The trees were green and the cabins were drafty. All was in readiness for the town’s teens and here they came, bangs covering their eyes, feet dragging, hands gripping crime paperbacks or romances, cellular phones playing music or pinging with the sounds of video game success, one teen in the back already on the ground, stabbed with a switchblade for showing too much enthusiasm for the wonders the camp had on offer.

The camp counselors have one job: to so encourage delinquency during the weeks at camp so as to brand any such activities permanently un-hip.

Sign-up stations collect names. Every morning, we’re going to get up and pick a free-standing building to burn down as part of Arson Club. Merit badges are available for those who prove their facility with gasoline. Lunch is either fast food or cigarettes and then we’re off to carve our names in things (for those who sign up for Graffiti Team) or sleep the afternoon away with the Recreational Drug Squad. Merit badges are available for those who can forget the most of their personal troubles. Finally, don’t forget to gather at nightfall at the camp’s bonfire, where we’ll be distributing flick knives to those unfortunates who didn’t bring their own, or have already have them stolen. We’ll give a few craft lessons for how to customize one’s hilt, how to select a lighter that reflects one’s “true self,” how to roll cigarette boxes into one’s shirt sleeve, and then we’ll break so that teens can disappear into the woods and thin the ranks. The morning’s decreasing headcount will let us know what sort of progress we’re making.

Every Saturday is a dance party in the rec center. The nurse’s poison cabinet will be unlocked all night for those couples whose parents would never agree to their union. We’ve got Romeo and Juliet costumes in limited supply for those interested, purchased secondhand from the town’s theater troupe, but still in great shape for dancing or for burial.

All teens will be provided with flyers outlining the virtues of unprotected sex. The sooner they get knocked up, the sooner they can move on to the next phase in their life, taking over vacant job roles in town. We still need two new gas station attendants to replace those two boys who got beaten up by a gang in a dispute over the pricing of dried meat sticks. The postal service is hoping to get some new hires from our pool of dangerous teens as well. Since there’s nothing like the need to keep a new baby in diapers to motivate a teen to go straight, we hope that no one at the dance will show any interest in the uncool prophylactics that we keep locked in the Head Administrator’s office.

And as a final note, Camp Counselor Ken would like to remind you teens that the merit badge offered in previous years for “sick burns” has been discontinued, so remarks about Ken’s weird pear-shaped body, his book-centric hobbies, or his fictional girlfriend who lives far away are no longer welcome or rewarded.

Too bad there’s no merit badge for Crying in Public, huh, Ken?

Maybe next year.


beach body season
It’s that time of year. Time to get your body into beach body shape. Time to wrap your head in seaweed and lay face down by the encroaching tide to ask Poseidon to swap every part of your body with sand so you can be pulled back and forth by the moon’s gravity the waves’ motion forever.

It’s that time of year. Time to get a beach body. Carve yourself a body out of the beach, fashioned like a human, your first true friend, true because it owes its existence to you. Seashell teeth and a hermit crab living in each eye. Its hair, a mess of starfish.

It’s that time. The years keep coming and the beach keeps calling. You know what’s waiting down there. That’s right. The beach body. You can forget about it for most of the year, but you’ll never truly be free of it. Look down there. In the moonlight. Do you see it? Looking back at you? The beach body you left behind?

Bodies on the beach. Bring all the bodies down to the beach. It’s the season. The only way you’re going to avoid returning to the sea is if you can somehow, some way, become a being of pure energy and mind, your consciousness floating out into the universe, pausing for just a second to short out all the laptops at every women’s magazine everywhere. Sparks flying.


eyes and ears elsewhere
Tami Neilson – DYNAMITE! – A singer from New Zealand whose 2014 album sounds like it’s decades older. Classic country/rockabilly. (Highlight: Honey Girl)

Still reading Charles Stross’ short stories from last week, but have added a book about railroad hobo lore to the reading rotation.

Also listening to: Bird song. Distant traffic.


ending theme song
That’s gonna do it for this week. The juvie camp above was expanded from a pair of tweets I came up with this year. The concept of revoked merit badges for terrible behavior is one I’m glad I circled back to. And how amazing are those JD merit badges? They’re courtesy of my wife, Amanda. They really look like they have stitches! Feel free to adapt them for your own arson, drug use, or defacing of property badge needs.

I had a lot of fun this morning trying to pick out highlights from my recorded video game streams, so I’m kinda eager to get back to it and record some new stuff… see if I can’t manage a better video quality as well. It may sound odd, but one of the most fun parts was using YouTube’s tools to add closed captioning subtitles to my clips. The interface is very intuitive and I enjoy trying to figure out how best to punctuate my ambling speaking style.

Time to go cook up some ravioli and refuel the tank so I can drop back into computer-generated prehistoric times. See if I can friends with some bite-y animals. See if any real friends want to drop in virtually.

See you sometime in the future… or the digital distant past. I’m easy either way.

–Michael Van Vleet

find me elsewhere
signalstation – home
TinyLetter – archive/subscription
Twitter – short nonsense
Tumblr – reblogging
Goodreads – reading
Bandcamp – listening

lost time incident 11 – a perfect giant with one leg


lost time incident 11
Hey folks. Thank you for opening the ol’ mailbag to lose some time with me. I slept plenty last night but still feel like I could sleep another 5-12 hours and the caffeine isn’t helping. It’s just painting the back of my eyes with a mild throbbing that’s going to have to pass for alertness. I just watched the movie SCANNERS for the first time last night. If you haven’t seen it, it’s a film by Canadian body-horror auteur David Cronenberg and it’s about a war between rival psychic factions that includes some of the best intense head-shaking, locked jaw, eye-rolling acting the world has ever known.

The upshot being: now for every morning when I’m not feeling 100%, I can grimace and pretend that it’s not just that I’m just getting old, and it’s not just that I’ve spent decades making poor health choices… oh no. I can pretend I’m under attack by a hostile psychic who’s trying to glean my very important thoughts from a distance.


space station 11 arts & crafts
PARENTS: It’s that time of year again. All around the station, children are building their first alternate reality overlays. We wish to take this opportunity to remind parents that creativity is a fragile flower, so be supportive. Nobody is an expert their first try for any endeavor.

All of us with standard Eye-C-brand optic plugins are accustomed making use of such standard public overlays as the navigational system that places floating arrows in your field of vision to guide you to your destination. Additionally, many of us use shopping overlays that highlight products of interest to us as well as sales.

Well, every designer of Eye-C overlays had to start somewhere, and our jobs program is currently teaching young students how to navigate and build in the standard alternate reality building software suites. As a reminder, student projects are tuned on public channels, to make it easier for teachers to monitor progress. This won’t affect any overlay views you use in your day to day life, as we keep all alternate reality filters separated by logical firewalls.

But if you’re curious, you can add the student overlay filters at the following channels, but be aware, there may not be much there yet, as these are all works in progress by our young students.

0331 – Not for the easily nauseated. Large public spaces like the gardens or the low-grav playground, when approached, are slowly inverted. Once you’re inside the space, everything appears upside-down.

0443 – So far, this student project seems to have added decorative arrows to various corners of our shared station space with a floating bit of text that says “I PEED HERE”. Some locations have quiet music as well.

0448 – This student project identifies the ages of individuals within view and, should anyone be older than 12, it doubles their buttocks in width.

0562 – Perhaps the most promising of this year’s efforts, this overlay adds shivering blurred figures in the corner of your vision, inducing an ongoing sense of paranoia and of being watched. Especially effective since this space station was found and not built by us, there’s a certain frisson in imagining that the figures, which disappear when you turn to look at them, are in fact the original inhabitants of this station. Very interested in seeing how this overlay evolves.

These four channels will be rotating to new programmers as the overlay creators declare them complete and ready for grading, so note that the descriptions above are currently accurate, but subject to change.



wolf island
Sometimes, to keep our creative muscles limber, my wife Amanda and I like to take a pack of postcards with us somewhere and draw and/or write on them, using the visuals as prompts. This newsletter started with a drawing Amanda did of a shoe on one such postcard, which I defaced with a weird lookin’ doof.

Below is another such postcard. To be honest, I can’t remember if I’ve mailed this one yet or if it’s on the desk in the home office… which is… all of five paces away. So there’s no way to know for sure. This blanket I’ve got on my legs, plus the laptop… so heavy. Can’t possibly.


tweet tweetteenknives






eyes and ears elsewhere
A round-up of what’s catching my attention elsewhere

Wireless – Charles Stross – a short story collection that has already featured amazing high concepts: What if aliens made a copy of everyone on Earth during the early Cold War and put them on a giant flat disc? Can young Carl Sagan figure out what’s going on? (Plus aboriginal termite colonies, Yuri Gagarin as a planetary explorer, a Mt. Rushmore modified to include an insect head… and that’s just story no. 1).

Viral Radio #3 on Resonance Extra – Recommended by Warren Ellis via his newsletter Orbital Operations, which always contains at least one great book/music recommendation or story. This music mix is full of odd, ethereal stuff that makes it perfect to write to, which is what I’m doing right this second.

Kool A.D. – ALL LOVE – Thanks to a profile piece in the last month, I’ve been listening to a fair amount of music from Young Thug, an interesting hip hop artist out of Atlanta. While I like how he plays with rhythm, Autotune, inserting melody into rap lines, etc…. the content of his work is thuggish, as his name implies. So every time I actually make out his lyrics– not always easy, with his accent and tendency to elide consonants– I’m put off. Lucky for me, Kool A.D., one of my favorite stream-of-conscious-style rappers (formerly of Das Racist) knocked out an E.P. in half a day where he uses the exact same Atlanta sound, but is instead just rapping a word salad: “Young historical cowboy Mafia magic man, the clown style triple-double alert gambling rambler, the check canceler… heh.” A lot more fun. And it’s pay-however-much-you-want to download it.


ending theme song
That seems to be that. I am ready for another nap. Drinking water is important, kids, and you can’t let something like your refrigerator dying throw you off, as I did this weekend. Didn’t drink enough water because mentally tap water does not have the same perceived value as chilled water, I guess. Then I spent a few hours preparing for the arrival of a new, working fridge by realizing that we own too many damn magnets, putting produce, condiment jars and thawed bags of formerly frozen veggies into bags, and eventually facing down the horror that was living underneath the old fridge.

There was a coin glued to the floor down there. The substance it was encased in was at a height equal to that of the coin. Never look under a fridge.

Thanks as ever to my wife Amanda for the custom artwork. She contributed the shivering blurred figure on Space Station 11.

— Michael Van Vleet


find me elsewhere
signalstation – home
TinyLetter – archive/subscription
Twitter – short nonsense
Tumblr – reblogging
Goodreads – reading
Bandcamp – listening