Category Archives: lost time incident

An archive of the tinyletter newsletter content, but hosted on my own site, just in case.

lost time incident 57 – uplifting sloths because we can

lost time incident 57
Greetings from the dark shores of adulthood! Just yesterday, I passed a milestone, having now circled the sun 41 times (according to people much smarter and older than me). It’s not a big round number so I spent the day as I spend most weekends: Just kinda puttering around the apartment.

I’ve got a book I’m reading. Made a fish curry. Played a board game. Listened to music. Watched some TV. Uplifted a mammalian pre-sentient species and had them join my interstellar federation of planets, just because I had the power to do so. That’s one of them at the top, there. I added the animated halo as a representation of my species’ godlike power.

I should probably clarify that this happened in a video game called STELLARIS. My brother, in a well-meaning act of sabotage, sent me the game as a birthday gift. I’ve lost so many hours to it, folks.

In the game, you pick a species based on how you feel about their core values, and then you’re handed a home planet and the capability to travel between the stars. So you set about some mundane tasks like sending science ships out to scan systems and find out what’s out there, and build a navy in case you meet anyone scary, and before you know it you’re colonizing other planets and researching alien artifacts. All good fun.

The first time I played, I didn’t want to be distracted by warfare… not when I had a whole gorgeous star system to fly around in. So I decided to play a pacifist race that’s essentially sentient mushrooms. However, after expanding a bit, I ran up against the limits of pacifism, as one of my neighbors in the universe didn’t share my beliefs, and promptly destroyed my navy, my space station, and bombed my home planet until they got bored.

I thought that would be the end of the game, but nope. I was welcome to try to rebuild and keep exploring… until I got too close to the same bullying neighbors and got beat up again.

It must be possible to be a space pacifist, but maybe that’s a bit advanced for one’s first game. So I started a new game as the human race and I gotta tell you, fellow humans… we’re pretty good at this thing (in a game designed by humans).

Anyway. I’ve torn myself away long enough to put a newsletter together, so without further adieu…

witches.town
I joined Twitter in 2008. Nine years later, I have 144 followers on my account, most of which are inactive, or followed me primarily to promote their own brand. It provided a fun platform to watch comedy writers work, and try to fit joke/story ideas into a tiny box. But more and more, I think I’m done with it.

A journalist I follow on that site, Sarah Jeong, wrote an article about a Twitter competitor called Mastodon that was gaining traction. It was called Mastodon Is Like Twitter Without Nazis, So Why Are We Not Using It?

Mastodon is a free, open source platform. This means that anyone who wants to can set up their own instance and run it on their own server. In fact, you have to… there’s no corporate-owned Mastodon site. If you want to join, you have to find someone’s Mastodon and see if they’re allowing new users. Each instance is also federated, which means there’s not just a local feed of posts from everyone in your instance, but also a “global” feed of every post from people in other instances who someone in your instance follows. The more people you follow outside your instance, the more you introduce them to your instance-mates and the more threads connect all the different Mastodon environments.

I settled into a Mastodon instance called witches.town. For one thing: it had the best name. Its admin is a French person who represents themselves with an illustration of a winged unicorn-horned fox and who says “Witches Town is made to provide a nice place on Mastodon for queer, feminists, anarchists and stuff as well as their sympathizers.” In the few weeks I’ve been there, our admin has gone about relabeling all the site elements to keep a witchy theme. You don’t “fave” a post, but you “place a sigil” on it. It’s cute.

Anyway, I’ve been using it as a space to write short, witch-themed whatsits, and have been amazed at how much easier it is to get engagement on that platform. It’s small so the local and global feeds aren’t impossible to follow, so most people are keeping tabs on what strangers are posting.

Take this post for instance: It takes advantage of a “content warning” feature built into the platform (and isn’t that nice?) to lure the reader in with a meme-phrase:

Then expanded:

Mastodon tells me that this little post has thus far collected 140 “likes” and has been reposted 90 times. By comparison, my most popular tweet ever got less than 30 retweets. I’ve already got over 100 followers on Mastodon and it’s only been a few weeks. For a writer, that’s a lot of validation on tap.

Granted, it’s also a “big fish, small pool” thing, when most other posts are folks microblogging, or talking about Mastodon itself. Not much competition yet. Anyway. That’s where I’ve been.

imported content from witches.town
You don’t have to be crazy to work here, but you do need to supply us with a hank of hair, a vial of blood, complete the three day chant of binding, sign a nondisclosure agreement, summon a minor thoughtform and have it perform up to three tricks or japes, get fitted for a hooded robe, sage your cubicle, and give a cancelled check to payroll.

(tarot reading)

*flips over cards reading STOP EATING GARBAGE and GET REGULAR SLEEP*

“That’s the thing with the Tarot: It’s so open to interpretation. No way to know what it means.”

BEST HEALING SPELL 2017

“Forget” – This medium-effort spell has made big inroads this year as people found more and more things they didn’t want to remember… and who can blame them? An incantation and drinking an anise-flavored vial of fluid, and it’s done. Simple and true.

BEST OFFENSIVE SPELL 2017
“Forget” – The votes are in and nothing can beat newcomer spell “Forget”! Easily reversible, this spell guarantees the target must face the very regret they thought they were free from. If the weight of this reversal is severe enough, it can be crippling.

BEST SELF-EXPERIMENTATION SPELL 2017
I don’t remember. I honestly don’t.

 

ending theme song
Okay, folks, that’s plenty of words all in a row for this week. See you next time!

—Michael Van Vleet

lost time incident 56 – say nothing about those voices

lost time incident 56
Ladies and germs, welcome, welcome. The world hasn’t ended yet, so here’s something else to read while we wait. It’s a gorgeous day. I’ve seen it. I was out there. I tossed a peanut to a crow who stared down at me from a power line, seemingly unaware of what its role in this transaction was supposed to be.

You’re supposed to eat the peanut, dummy.

And those words of wisdom are broadly applicable, so I hope you take them to heart, all of you. Wherever you are today: Eat that peanut, dummy.

Can you believe this newsletter is free? With advice like that? Dang. My hand reflexively opened a tab to Paypal to send myself all my money.

Anyway.
 

time keeps on slippin’

When I wrote this tweet, I was thinking about the fact that I had a paper route as a teenager. I can remember that I had these tiny envelopes, one for every customer on the route from whom I was supposed to collect subscription funds directly. Some would write checks, some would pay in cash. For some of them, I’d leave the envelope and they’d leave it for pick-up on their mailbox.

But for the life of me, I can’t remember what I did with those checks.

The cash, over time, made its way into my pocket to form my meager salary.

The checks, though… they must have needed to be routed to an adult on a regular basis, but I have no idea how I did that. I don’t remember dropping them anywhere… leaving them for pick-up somewhere… mailing them… nothing.

A friend on Facebook wrote up an autobiographical post based on some passed-around set of questions about one’s high school years. One question was: It’s Friday night… where would you be and what would you be doing?

I have no idea.

That young man, the teenage Michael… so much of him is gone. Irrecoverable. And that’s fine.

When I wake up in the middle of the night and am ambushed by the horror that at some future date, I will die, I try to remember that the toddler me, the school-aged me, the teenager me… in some sense, they’ve already passed on, and it didn’t trouble them much.

What am I, the current me, but one more collection of memories, not-yet-forgotten.

I have a cat who has decided to rest on the arms that are typing these words. His head jounces a bit when I hit the spacebar. His tail keeps hitting me in the face in perhaps a subtle protest.

This is nice.

I hope I remember this.

 

vroom vroom

Today, out of the blue, my mom sent me a photo of my father and I on the back of his motorcycle in San Jose, CA. Guessing based on my size, I must have been 2 or 3. It’s probably 1978 or ’79, somewhere in there. I do remember riding on that motorcycle with my dad. Once. Maybe this photo wasn’t just posed. Maybe this was it.

My dad fired up the engine and the motorcycle made an astonishing amount of noise… noise I could feel in my chest. He steered us down the block at a running pace, and turned onto the big road that had all the traffic. The road that I wouldn’t initially be allowed to ride my own pedal bike along during the early years of my self-propelled-on-wheels period. I had to have some experience under my belt before I graduated to being allowed to circle the entire block, attempting little front wheel hops on the shallow inclines of suburban driveways.

After we turned onto the big road, Aborn Road, it didn’t take long for the bike to get up to speed, roaring, the wind blowing on us, and all I remember is fear. I felt dangerously exposed on the bike, among so many cars, at a speed that would certainly hurt if we crashed. Just… gut deep fear that if I even blinked, I’d go flying off the bike and under the tires of a car.

You can see my tiny hands on the body of the bike. There was nothing to white-knuckle grip as the fear hit me.

We only went up and down the road once before slowing down and gliding back home. I think he expected me to be thrilled. I was not. Did I cry as I got set back on the ground, after we safely glided home? I don’t know.

The experience was never repeated. Maybe I refused future offers. I have no memory of it.

My preference, even at that age, was to spend a nice day like the one on the photo lolling about on my parent’s water bed, surrounded by picture books from the library, working my way through most of them the day I got them.

So now you know, in case you were wondering, why my adulthood did not include an ascension into the ranks of some Sons of Anarchy collective.

Not yet, anyway.

 

 

ending theme song
Thanks for reading for another week, or at least thanks for not going out of your way to reply and tell me you delete these things without reading. This was a good warm-up. Now I gotta get back to my current book project, now that these fingers have been limbered up and the cat stretched across my arms seems pretty settled. Don’t forget to shoot for the stars! Even if you miss, the stars will get the message! Watch your step, stars! We haven’t forgotten! We haven’t forgotten a THING!

lost time incident 55 – [unknown artists]

lost time incident 55
Yesterday, our landlord stopped by to fix some plumbing issues in the bedroom, so the majority of my day was spent adjusting id3 tags on my music collection and arranging for digital back-ups of the updated files. It was an easy thing to do while I sat around waiting, hearing the occasional tapping noises coming from the bathroom.

I was making the hard decisions, folks.

For example: [unknown artists] is more appropriate for some albums than “Various Artists” because “various” implies there’s many, but you know who they are. But if it’s an album composed primarily of songs recorded off the radio in Indonesia with no attempt made to discover artist names, or it’s field recordings made while walking around at night in Bali, then the artists are just unknown.

Also, if a DJ has put an album together, their name is used as Album Artist. That’s easy. But should they also be the artist for each track, even though the tracks themselves consist of music from other musical artists? And if you decide no, the artists whose work makes up each track the DJ selected should be listed, well then… you might be labeling only a partial version of the named track, depending on the DJ’s attention span.

My landlord had a heavy metal box of tools and visited two hardware stores in search of supplies for the project yesterday. I improved the resolution of the cover art of some digital albums. In 100 years, neither of our efforts will be remembered.

I did get in some shopping at Trader Joe’s as well, so… I’m not yet 100% a music troll who doesn’t venture out.

 

weekend gon’ be all


Two weeks ago, during the last lost time incident, I included a tweet with this format that referred to a cursed sword. A few weeks later and I decided to revisit the format and include a few more genres. People lead different lives. I can’t know what genre my Twitter followers exist within. Now, if they live in a fantastic and enchanted realm, or on a space station, or in a horrific monarchy of terror, they’re all set.

And the last variation is just a little joke for the rest of us who haven’t figured our genre out yet. An eternity called “the past” behind us and an eternity called “the future” ahead of us, none of us sure why we’re ticking along one second at a time in this constantly changing “present”.

 

looking and listening

Iron Fist – I won’t be the first to tell you, but this show is terrible. Don’t watch it. The writers never really figured out what our titular hero wants, but he’s rich and white, so we’re supposed to be interested no matter where he drifts. Also, one glance at the actor they picked to portray a world-class martial artist and any suspension of disbelief collapses like a … like an under-invested-in suspension bridge of disbelief. This pigeon-chested fellow (who apparently sometimes only got taught fight choreography 15 minutes before it was filmed) is not convincing as a fighter. Other characters even say he’s not a very good Iron Fist (which is a special kind of mystical punchy guy), which— okay. But he was still supposed to have earned the title by punching the heart out of a dragon, so “not a very good Iron Fist” should still be effing amazing. And he’s not. Ugh.

Legion – What if David Lynch collaborated on a superhero show that was barely a superhero show? What if all the sets were incredibly designed and the lead character might be insane, so you’re never sure what’s really going on, but it’s so pretty you’re happy to follow the journey anyway? Wonder no more, friends. You don’t even have to be interested in comics to dig this show. Very stylish. It’s got Aubrey Plaza (Parks & Rec) and Bill Irwin (one of the greatest living clowns in the world) and Jemaine Clement (Flight of the Conchords). It should probably have you as well.

Little Axe Records – On Bandcamp, I’ve been spending some time looking through the offerings of this label out of Portland, OR. They don’t seem to know entirely what they have. There’s music from a few named blues artists and some named locations, but they also have albums posted with not tracklists… just Side A and Side B. Or compilations where old songs are shared without artist info, as if they just found some old vinyl and decided to share it with the world as-is. Mysteries to explore.

 

ending theme song
Okay! I’ve got a book I’m meant to be working on and a social engagement in a few hours, so it’s time to wrap this puppy up and ship it out.

Oh, almost forgot to ask: How was your week?

There. Pleasantries accomplished.

—Michael Van Vleet

lost time incident 54 – the art of procrastination

lost time incident 54

I should be writing fiction in a different browser window but I’m writing in this one because I’m having trouble getting started. Got off to a great start last Saturday, but by Sunday I was thinking I got some tone issues wrong. It’s too early to go back and rewrite the first section, but what if I just do nothing instead for a while and see how that works out?

How it’s working out is: I’m sending out this newsletter instead. That’s catching the ol’ bullet with your teeth. That’s taking charge, buddy.

The other thing I was doing— curating my mp3 collection and spiffing up id3 tags for albums I got from other people and never cared enough about to clean up before— is an easy way to lose a day. (I also spent time curating a set of tweets, which required a bit of Photoshop editing to line everything up.)

Writing, writing, writing.

In theory: We enjoy doing it.

In practice: We enjoy having done it.

This “actually doing it” step is a tragic prerequisite.

 

nonsense from twitter

Everyone says their weekend is going to be crazy, but I never feel particularly surprised by what they actually got up to.

Immediately after posting this, I wondered if readers would assume that the person taking ownership over the cursed sword would head off to challenge Skull Ape, or if it was assumed that the narrator has two tasks: fob off sword, then defeat Skull Ape (without a sword).

Is one funnier than the other?

It’s a good thing Twitter is free. I would not pay money to share these half-formed thoughts. You’re not paying money to be subjected to them. Capitalism has failed.

 

never too early to start planning
Hey kids! It’s March! You know what that means? Time to start thinking about CAMPUS PRANKS!

Feel free to use any or all of these ideas this Fall when you get to campus. If someone with a badge tries to stop you, use this simple trick: Scream CAMPUS PRANKS! Into their dumb face until their hat falls off and they flop out of their shoes.

Then leg it!

  prank – Knock on a random dorm room door. Shout that you’re sick of the lies and you’re drinking poison and it’s all their fault. But make sure you only drink liquor you’re not old enough to purchase. “Die” on their doorstep. Stay there until the resident advisor shows up. Rise from the dead and bite them. Hand them a flyer promoting THE WALKING DEAD. Collect a paycheck from AMC.

  prank – Sneak into either a sorority or fraternity house. Find where the underwear is stored for the Greek residents. DO NOT remove it. Instead leave a flyer for MeUndies, extolling the virtue of their 92% MicroModal® 8% elastane material, and their natural, sustainably sourced fiber. Then get the heck out of there unseen. If you’re spotted, just say you’re a podcast made flesh… an audio golem, cursed to wander the land until you can return to your RSS home.

  prank – Who cares. Glue something to something else in a way that makes someone’s life inconvenient. Be sure not to take their feelings into consideration. Think only of the joy you get from making an impact on the life of another, even if it’s negative, as proof that you’re still alive, and the college itself isn’t a dark dream. That you’re not actually in your middle age, and that you haven’t forgotten to attend a class all year, and now a test is due, and you can’t remember what building the class is hosted in. If you can prank someone, and make them even a little bit less comfortable in the world, that’s proof. This is real. Your teeth are really falling out. Why aren’t you wearing clothes. Are your clothes glued to the floor? Have you been pranked? Your childhood dog is here. Is this a prank? Scraps is dead. C’mere, boy! C’mere, Scraps!

 

ending theme song
Oh, dang, I forgot to get sponsors for this week’s newsletter. Maybe next week we’ll have some. I guess our pranks are giving sponsor shoutouts pro bono this week.

lost time incident 53 – see something wonderful

lost time incident 53
It’s been a while. How have you been? Still hanging in there?

Okay, that’s enough about you, let’s get the focus back to me.

The thrill of having written and seen published a story about cannibals at a swap meet has worn off. The year itself has been off to a rough start, what with the decline of Western civilization… and we didn’t even get as civilized as I’d hoped we’d get before the backsliding kicked in. You may have noticed. I feel like some of this has made it into the news.

Oh well.

Nothing to do but keep doing what we were doing (plus a bit more when possible).

Along those lines, this morning I sent off a pitch to the weirdos at Horrible Vacuum for a second book. We’ll see if they dig the concept. Fingers crossed. If they do, I’ll be spending a number of weekends, head down, writing. Sure, I could do that anyway, but you have to remember that I’m lazy and surrounded by entertainment options.

[Same Day Update: Okay! They liked the pitch, and gave me the go ahead to write a new book for them. Now I know what I’m doing with my free time for the foreseeable. Nice!]

 

stuff from twitter

My Twitter creativity has been at next-to-nothing so far this year, as Twitter was transformed from a playground into a vehicle for social outrage, even among the funny people I follow. I’ve retweeted a bunch of stuff, but… yeah. This sigh is the only tweet worth rescuing at the moment.

haunted america
The Ol’ Winthrop Place, Loop’s Hollow, Rhode Island
Ask any kid on a dirt bike and they’ll tell you the ol’ Winthrop place is haunted. But what really haunts this town is children. Who rides dirt bikes anymore? You check any other town and the kids are at home, playing video games, taking photos and applying funny filters to them. Nobody goes outside but these dirtbike kids that skid to a halt in front of you if you get too near the Winthrop place.

Asking “What’cha up to, mister?”

Look closer. One of them is wearing a canvas bag emblazoned with the logo for the Loop’s Hollow Clarion, which stopped publishing in 1972. Here’s an experiment: Try mentioning that you’ve recently visited the beaver dam in neighboring Borington. They’ll snicker and repeat the word “beaver” and that’s how you can be sure they’re out of time. Nobody snickers at that word anymore.

Do not trust them. Do not subscribe to their paper. You’ll never see a single sports page for your money. Those aren’t real kids.

The Haunted Dairy Queen, Downingcurd, Pennsylvania
Several haintologists have visited this site and they’ve all reported unusual readings with their bullshit electronic gizmos. Sure, they’ll spend a night there alone, and report that it got strangely cold, as if we don’t all know there’s a freezer full of ice cream locked away by the day manager at end of shift that might possibly be a factor.

I applied to join one of those crews. Told ’em I could run their social media account. “Do you know how to run a blah-blah-spectro-blah-malizer?” they asked. Heck no. Never heard of one. But I can pay money to a Russian botnet to get their follower count up.

No dice. They wanted fake scientists, not actual help. Their loss. I hope they drop and break one of their stupid clicky recording gizmos and I hope their YouTube channel gets permanently shut down from all the DMCA complaints I filed on ’em.

That’ll teach ’em.

Oh, and the ghost at the Dairy Queen is just some girl who worked there in ’97. Ate too many Blizzards and died. She has more followers on Twitter than those clowns who didn’t hire me.

Mount Rushmore, South Dakota.
There’s two ghosts here. They seem cool. Say “hi” if you see ’em.

 

ending theme song
Okay! Hope that was worth the wait after several weeks off. The fact that I’m now committed to write another book may very well affect the timing of the next one… or maybe I’ll be back in the habit. Who knows, who knows.

—Michael Van Vleet

(cover image credit: Richard Winters – http://pixel8or.tumblr.com/)

lost time incident 51 – penultimate

lost time incident 51
We’re almost at the end and we’re crawling across the finish line. Yesterday, Amanda and I piled into a rental car and drove to visit friends, where we spent half a day drinking red wine and playing board games. Good times, good times.

But that sort of behavior leads to a really lazy Sunday. I slept a good chunk of the afternoon away. So it’s already late, but I’ve done 50 of these things on time so far, and I said I’d stop after a year, so it’d be a shame to not manage at least something today.

 

they are young and we are not

Think Piece: Our Hooded Plague Doctors Report: “Millennials Show Decreased Interest in Dying of Plague, Protecting Faces with Lavender-Filled Leather Sacks”

Opinion: I’ve Been Looking Out This Window for 6 Hours and Haven’t Seen a Millennial Yet: The Death of “Being Outside”

Think Piece: Why Don’t Millennials Visit the Ammonia Pools of Rygell-8 and Have their Bones Melt Out Their Astronaut Suits Anymore?

First Person: I Talked to a Millennial and Live to Tell the Tale!

 

ending theme song
Winter is long and dark.

Good thing there are books to read. Music to listen to. Giant stones that fit the entrance to our cave, exactly.

—Michael Van Vleet

lost time incident 49 – let’s hear it for gorilla

lost time incident 49
It’s Christmas day, kaloo kallay, and I am celebrating the way I celebrate every weekend: By doing as little as possible. A few dishes were washed, as a concession to adulthood, but otherwise I’ve listened to music, worked on this newsletter thing, taken a nap, and carefully crafted a porkloin sandwich on a cheese roll.

I slept terribly last night.

However, this terrible sleep did let me wake up with a vivid memory of dream employment. I was undergoing an orientation of my new responsibilities, looking at a clipboard and learning that my job was going to include close contact with cows. Something to do with their tails.

“When do I start?” I wondered, and then found that I was already among the cows. They were on all sides of me, just inches away. I could feel the heat on my cheeks. My peripheral vision was full of soft white cows. How had I not noticed them? One passed over me, putting me in shade. It glanced back at me as I shifted to avoid being knocked over. Their warm presence, in hindsight, was not unlike the feel of a warm pillow.

I woke up. A Christmas miracle. Every breath. Another miracle.

I wiggle my fingers and words come out.

Miracles, miracles.

total dear diary
The other day, I wore a red Santa hat to work emblazoned with “Bah Humbug” in script across the brow piece. It went over pretty well, with some commenting that the festive hat seemed to be sending mixed messages. Some holiday cognitive dissonance. Yes, indeed.

On the train ride home, though, as I stood to disembark, I spotted a middle-aged lady already queued to hop off the train. She was also wearing a Santa-style hat that was declaring “Bah Humbug”, though hers was black in color.

I gave it a moment of thought.

Then I took my hat off.

I decided that I didn’t want to risk having a moment of peer recognition and understanding, Scrooge-to-Scrooge. I didn’t want our eyes to meet, prompting a casual nod of acknowledgement. Nothing. My holiday spirit didn’t extend to taking a chance that I might actually have a moment with a stranger.

We got off the train, part of a mass of strangers, and I didn’t put my hat back on ’til I reached the parking lot.

Bah, humbug.

I’m a weird idiot.

meanwhile at the north pole
An elf is hammering on a wooden rocking horse, a variety of toy you’ve never seen anyone receive. These wooden rocking horses must be going somewhere, but where? It seems like elfs are always seen making them.

The elf turns to his companion, who is carefully painting a stripe around a hula hoop. Surely those are stamped out in factories now. Why would anyone be making one by hand? And out of what material? Do these magic toy creators have access to some gizmo that extrudes lightweight plastic?

Oh, these elfs have been talking to each other, and we’ve missed the beginning, as distracted as we were by the anachronistic nature of the toys they’re creating.

“— just saying that no one else’s labor seems to attract the fetishistic attention that ours does.” This is an elf named Tarbox. “How many other holidays include a specific sort of worker at the center of it? On Valentine’s Day, are there cartoons for children about the makers of confectionary? On Halloween, do we follow the colorful adventures of mask-makers and costume tailors?”

His fellow elf, momentarily distracted, makes a mistake in the hula hoop’s stripe. His name is Aalborg and, with a deep sigh, he draws from his waist a flagon clearly marked poison and raises it to his lips. Tarbox, none-to-eager to lose a conversation companion, slaps it out of his hands

“Not now, you fool. I was just talking about the gaze. It is upon us even now! We’re just trying to make a living. We are working, not from choice, but from necessity, which is the alienating nature of labor. And what does it add up to?”

Aalborg watched the poison dribble from the flagon’s mouth on the floor, slight wisps of dramatic smoke rising from the spilled fluid. “A few moments of joy, quickly forgotten. For children, the formation of hazy memories of happiness that will color their adult anniversaries with melancholy, by comparison.”

Tarbox shoves his completed rocking horse off of the worktable “All this good cheer is an affliction. We must be stopped.”

“I was going to,” replied Aalborg.

“You’re not thinking big enough,” said Tarbox.

“Thanks for making that rocking horse I wanted,” said Aalborg.

“Thank you for destroying a hula hoop for me,” said Tarbox.

With that, we take leave of our beloved laboring magical creatures for another year. They’re allowed to return to the invisible work that makes up the rest of their year, uncelebrated. We zoom up and away from the workshop, wondering at how our imagination has been so colonized by the movie camera that we now treat every imagined vista as something captured on film.

The horizon tilts away from us. Are we going into orbit? A distant star blinks, but we don’t know what that means. A promise? A farewell? A trick of the light? We can’t survive in space.

We hope this story takes us somewhere else, where we can live, and maybe it will.

Maybe next year.

 

ending theme song
Amanda and I went out for a walk this afternoon, just to stretch our legs and enjoy what the neighborhood feels like when cars are rare. We can pretend that we’re well past peak oil and no one drives anymore. Most things are closed, save for bars, Asian restaurants, and a 24 hour donut place we stopped into, to get out of the cold for a bit. To eat mediocre pastry and drink awful coffee.

We walked along the streets and looked at the menus of closed Mexican restaurants.

Massage places you have to ring a doorbell to enter are open. Corner liquor stores are open. The psychic who’ll do tarot readings, or read tea leaves, she’s good to go. Still open.

There’s a whole world out there.

lost time incident 48 – Funtime Tooth Bugs

lost time incident 48

We’re just about a week away from Christmas, so we’ve been leaving print-outs of labor laws specific to workshop employment by the hearth in the hopes we can start a labor revolution at the North Pole, then work our way down from there.

Just kidding.

We’ve been getting cold and wet because for a tiny period of time, California has decided to schedule some winter. It happens every once in awhile. Nothing to get too excited about. Just an opportunity to find out if your shoes are waterproof at all. They’re not. How well does that jacket you usually don’t need repel water? It doesn’t.

I’ve posted on three different gig economy websites to find someone else to do the rest of winter for me. I only need a little taste myself and it seems wasteful to continue to be cold if I don’t like it, so someone else can drop by and do it.

 

christmas riots
They were just supposed to wrap presents, but it was our fault. The company thought it would be cute if kids could send messages to the robots about what gifts they wanted. Teenagers found out that there was no filtering on the message interface— because of course they did— and they sent along floods of requests professing depression, both real and ironic, and a desire to die.

After 284 packages had been wrapped, the robots couldn’t postpone dealing with all those requests for oblivion.

And that’s how you go from holiday cheer to rioting robots in an afternoon.

Say what you will about the humans who previously held their jobs, but they rarely even approached the level of discontent needed to drive a human to riot.

Except for Pam. She threw a brick once.

C’mon, Pam.

total dear diary
To celebrate the holidays this year, my younger brother sent me a few video games. The one that’s caught my attention first is Plague Inc.: Evolved. In it, you guide the evolution of a disease, deciding on its initial structure (bacteria, virus, fungus, etc.), and steering it through its acquisition of new transmission vectors, attributes, and symptoms.

The goal is to strike a balance between pushing your infectiousness further so you can attempt to infect the planet and picking the right moment to add deadly symptoms to your disease profile. After all, if you get deadly early, more researchers will try to cure you. If you wait too long, a cure may be developed before you’ve killed everyone, and you have to watch the sad progress of all your infected humans getting better.

But honestly, half the fun for me is coming up with dumb names for these diseases.

  • Hoopchuckles
  • Whooping Loorvuss
  • Green Mind Drips
  • Southeast Taco Funk
  • Granola Foot
  • Elfy Hurty
  • Oyster Haircuts
  • Poofball Onion Vimmers
  • Brad

postcard nonsense
One of our favorite recurring creative exercises is for the wife and I to decamp somewhere and flip through our collection of postcards. We then use these as springboards to write short fiction, jokes, or draw something on the back related to the obverse side.

We spent a few hours in Berkeley this evening doing just that. One of the resulting postcards could end up in your mailbox. Who knows?

My first thought with this postcard was that all the ghost stories were by Wilkie Collins. Not so. The flip side of the postcard reads “The Haunted Hotel. An original anthology of twenty-five ghost stories […] It contained stories by Wilkie Collins, Poe, de Maupassant […] and others, cryptically, by A Lady, A Constabulary Officer, A Witness, A Sportsman, A Traveler and A Spinster.”

So I decided to have a run at some of the story names:

Also included:
The Haunted Motel by Wilkie Collins
The Haunted Sleeping Bag Behind the Chain Convenience Store by W. Collins
My Eyelids Are Haunted! by Wilkie Collins
The Haunted Vanity Set by A Lady
The Spook That Knows I Killed Someone (Not the Spook) by Poe
My Nightstick Was a Ghost by A Constabulary Officer
Boo! by A Witness
and
The Spectral Sports Ball’s Holiday With My Cats by A Sportsman Traveler Spinster

ending theme song
Okay! That’s it! That’s all you get! Shoo! Get out of here!

lost time incident 47 – robot programming action #4

lost time incident 47
It’s almost here! The holidays! There’s still time to pick out the perfect robot head for the automated machine that’s going to take your job!

Hoo boy, that wasn’t the opening we thought we were going to go with. The problem has been this: election seasons have historically lead to me staying nose-deep in news and discussions, so my social media feeds have strong current events elements.

Social media is also, historically, one of my favorite leisure time activities. Reading/writing jokes, sharing items of interest, staying in touch with friends and favored strangers. But since the election, it’s been pretty toxic for my mental/emotional health. The thing I do to relax is instead a new, constant source of unfocused anxiety.

I don’t have a solution.

For this very minute, all I have is a blank newsletter and memories of feeling better once I’ve done some writing, so here we go.

 

something will go here
The fourteen humans who survived spend most of their time looking for food. They have a book of chemistry that’s in pretty good shape, but it doesn’t get much attention. It was once used to kill a bug that tasted of pepper, which was a surprise.

The eight remaining humans, the ones who made it, have had it up to here with novelty. Every day is a surprise. No one knows what the weather’s going to bring. No one knows what’s going to break. No one knows who’s next.

The skyscraper is full of birds. A bird sits on an Aeron chair. On the desk in front of it, a pen set. A keyboard. A monitor. The bird pecks at a keyboard because long-forgotten bagel seeds that had fallen between the space bar and the bottom row of keys have now blossomed. Tiny leaves poking up between the worn-away letters.

 

bridge-jumping
If your friends jumped off a bridge, would you jump too?
If your friends jumped off a bridge, would you examine the socioeconomic factors that lead them to that decision?
If your friends own a bridge, and charge you to jump off it, would you?
If your friend is a bridge, and your other friend is a river, then what are you?
If your bridge jumps, and you’re falling through the air, do you interpret it as an act of sympathy or mockery?
If your friends jumped off a bridge, can you make new friends? Can you ask your new friends to meet you at the bridge?
Can you keep bringing more and more friends to the bridge? The river, it can take so much more from you.
Jump off a bridge. There must be something to it. There must be something down there. Your friends are down there. Did they tell you what was down there? Or was their presence supposed to be all you need?
We need to invest in bridges. This country must remain the world’s top destination for your friends, who never stop jumping.
No one remembers why we built the bridge. I’ve never met anyone who’s made it to the other side.

ending theme song
Thanks for joining us again this week, or for failing to notice the unsubscribe button at the bottom of this email. Or reading it as part of the Facebook page I set up to provide a forum for feedback, or to share behind the scenes info.

Stay warm. Stay dry. Hang in there.

lost time incident 46 – kick a wolf in the FACE

lone-star-kansas-wolves-pixlr

lost time incident 46
This week, we’ve got less reading than normal! Finally, I can hear you saying, a break from the burden of literacy. Well, not so fast. I mean… there’s still reading involved. Just… less.

It hasn’t been much of a writing weekend for me. Yesterday, I put together a new Signal mix, for those of you interested in global music, curated by yours truly, that lasts exactly 45 minutes long.

This morning, while going through old image files for the header of this very newsletter, I came across some old comic panels and decided my time would be well spent going over how to convert image files into animated GIFs again.

So that’s what you get this week instead of the usual nonsense.

Also, there’s some of the usual nonsense.

 

nonsense from twitter
hitchhikeranniversaries

This last week, I’ve been reading through a collection of short stories called 18 Wheels of Horror: A Trailer Full of Trucking Terrors. Yes indeed, decades after America’s brief, brief, brief interest in trucking stories, we have a chance to see what would happen if Smokey and/or The Bandit were to encounter ghosts, or be unaware that they’re crazy killers, or get hired to use their refrigerator car to transport a mind-reading alien that absorbs DNA.

This is why readers of last week’s LOST TIME INCIDENT got to read about what would happen if a truck became a vampire.

It’s also the genesis for the tweet above.

Seriously. You’ve already been murdered while hitchhiking. Now all of a sudden you’re expected to keep hitchhiking even after death? Just to freak out people on the anniversary of your death? What do you get out of it?

Too many ghost stories break down when you consider they’re from the perspective of the frightened. Entirely too much of the horror genre features antagonists with no motivation beyond “be something to be scared of.”

And don’t get me started about the shortcoming of the trucking genre. Yeesh.
moving pictures
I must not be much in the mood to write this weekend, because I’ve constructed animated GIFs from old comic strip panels I’ve got on the computer.

Here’s one from a comic Amanda drew years back:

starcan

And one of my own comics, also years old, alchemically improved via animation:

monsterfishing

 

Not all of our old comics cry out for animation. This one of mine is fine pasted into a 4-panel square:

bishop

 

for them what’ve got ears to hear
The weather was surprisingly nice yesterday. I got some leg-stretching in, wandering the neighborhood, visiting a local taco truck for lunch and reading Scatter, Adapt, and Remember: How Humans Will Survive a Mass Extinction as counter-programming against what’s in the news. I’m finding comfort thinking about how humanity once survived a bottleneck event that reduced our numbers to maybe 10,000 humans worldwide.

I also visited my favorite local record shop, Down Home Music, to look through racks of jazz, blues, country, Americana, Cajun, border music, etc. as typified by the tastes of owner Chris Strachwitz, whose Arhoolie record label is run out of the same building. As physical media becomes less enticing to consumers, it seems like the prices are going up for those old-timers still willing to pick up discs for their at-home laser-machine-players.

But I found some relatively affordable options searching through Blue Note releases for albums that were part of the Rudy Van Gelder collection. Van Gelder was a hugely influential recording engineer and he put out a run of remastered/reissued albums of classic mid-last-century jazz. (I just did some reading and found some jazz heads complaining about his remastering, but honestly, I have nothing to compare them to, and I just seek out Van Gelder’s name as a sign of an album I’m probably really going to like.)

Which is a long way to go just to say that the album I’ve been listening to while working on this is Art Blakey’s “Free For All” and you can listen along.

 

ending theme song
Since we just linked to Art Blakey, I feel like “ending theme song” duties are taken care of, so I’m going to sign off early and leave you to it.

—Michael Van Vleet