Before Coffee: Cookies

April 30, 2016 § Leave a comment

“I think I’ll bake some cookies,” my wife said this morning. We’re having friends over tonight, so she asked me if I knew what their favorite cookie is.

“I would guess something that ends in ‘cookie,'” I replied, because I am one helpful son of a bitch.

“Chocolate chip cookie, sugar cookie, peanut butter cookie.”

“Yep, everyone likes cookies.” Then, after a moment’s reflection, “Except maybe oatmeal raisin cookies.”

I like oatmeal raisin cookies,” my wife said, leaping to their defense.

“I’m on the fence,” I admitted. “But some people like ’em and some people hate ’em.”

“They’re a polarizing cookie.”

“Possibly the only polarizing cookie.”

And then we spent some time trying to think of another cookie that inspires as much hatred as the oatmeal raisin cookie. We couldn’t come up with one.

Maybe  you can’t eat a certain type of cookie because it turns your face into a grotesque flesh balloon and causes your airways to close up. I suppose you might hate a cookie like that for trying to kill you. That’s fair.

But that’s not why people hate oatmeal raisin cookies. People loathe oatmeal raisin cookies because, at a glance, they look like chocolate chip cookies—the most universally loved cookie of all time. It’s the deception of it that inspires such hatred. Oatmeal raisin cookies are oven-baked lies.

So no, she won’t be baking oatmeal raisin cookies for our friends, because we like them.

You only make oatmeal raisin cookies for the people you hate.



Before Coffee: Programming

April 29, 2016 § Leave a comment

I woke up this morning thinking about a quote I saw on the internet. I don’t know who said it and can’t remember the exact wording, but it’s an idea that I’ve thought about often in the two weeks or so since I first saw it.

It said (more or less) that the first reaction you have to something is how you’re programmed to respond—by society, the media, your parents, the world at large. And that’s sometimes a good thing (i.e., “If there’s a hungry bear, then I should run.”), but most often it’s not. Or, at the very least, it’s not who you truly are. It’s not authentic.

It’s the second reaction—the one you have moments or hours or days later, when you’re kicking yourself and wondering “why did I say that?”—that’s the authentic, non-programmed reaction.

At least, that’s how I interpret the quote I can barely even remember.

It fascinates me, though, and I think it has some merit. I see evidence of it in myself—in my knee-jerk reactions, the things I say without thinking, the thoughts that cross my mind in certain situations. I don’t like these reactions, quips, and thoughts. I feel bad about having or saying them. And I don’t like feeling bad about myself.

But changing the programming isn’t easy, I’ve found. Mostly because I don’t even recognize that I’m programmed most of the time, and I don’t want to recognize it. I want to believe that I’m my own man, self-made and free-thinking.

But I’m increasingly aware that I’m not. I’m trying to be, but I’ve got decades of bad programming to overcome, and new code being input every day. Programming that says I shouldn’t trust those people because of the church they go to. Programming that says I should fear those people because of the color of their skin. Programming that says I shouldn’t vote for that candidate because he isn’t in the right political party. That those people are the way they are because they’re lazy, and those people aren’t having sex the right way, and that those people don’t wear the right clothes, and therefore I should dismiss them, maybe even despise them. That guy there? He’s an asshole. Why? Well, just look at him.

I have to constantly question my first reaction, even if it makes me feel good on some level. Even if I have an excuse, like the older woman who, after I called her on making a racist comment, said, “I’m not racist; it’s just how they are.” And when I said, no, that’s textbook racism, she replied, “Well, I can’t help it. It’s just the way I was raised.”

Our first reaction is how we’re programmed to think. It’s an interesting, and perhaps even frightening, idea. Because if it’s true, then we don’t need the machines to take over and chuck is in the Matrix; we’ve already created it ourselves.




Before Coffee: The Mist

April 28, 2016 § 3 Comments

It’s foggy here today. The world disappears after a 100 yards and there’s nothing but gray. And, of course, monsters.

I used to love foggy days like this. I still do, but now they remind me of the most terrifying movie experience I’ve ever had.

Yep, The Mist.

The thing is, it wasn’t the monsters and the “gotcha!” moments that freaked me out. I can handle monsters. No, what got my heart pounding so hard I thought I was having a heart attack right there in the goddamn theater was her:


That scene in particular, actually. The heroes have decided they’ve had enough of crazy Miss Wrath of God, and they try to sneak out while everyone is sleeping. But she and her zealots are waiting for them.

For me, she was the monster. She terrified me more than any of the giant crab things, the tentacles that tore men apart, the spider things in the gift shop—all of it. And the reason why is in the faces in the photo above. Especially the look from the soccer mom in the blue sweater and the dead eyes of Jim. All empathy gone, driven out of them by fear, stoked by a crazy woman in a shawl. A crazy woman they all looked down on at the beginning of the film, when the sun was shining and everything was fine. A crazy woman no one took seriously until the shit hit the fan.

I really wanted to see what these people did when the mist moved out and the monsters were gone and the sun was back in a blue sky. Did they realize what they’d become? How did they live with themselves afterward? Did they steep themselves in denial, or did a part of their humanity die forever?

Dammit, another story to add to the queue.

Anyway, be careful out there. There’s monsters in the mist, and they look like you and me.


Before Coffee: Facebook’s Forced Voyeurism

April 27, 2016 § Leave a comment

I use Facebook to keep in touch with my friends and share interesting or funny things, but I really don’t like Facebook. And I especially don’t like the way it forces me to be a Peeping Tom.

I liked the old Facebook, back when everything in my feed appeared in chronological order and the only things I saw were the things my friends posted.

Then came the ads. I’m actually okay with the ads; I don’t pay to use Facebook, so they have to generate money somehow. If ads keep Facebook free, I’m all for them.

But what I’m very much not okay with are the things I see from people I don’t know. A friend of a friend changes her profile photo, and our mutual friend likes it, and suddenly I’m seeing it in my feed. Or she posts an intensely personal story about something that happened to her, and our mutual friend comments, and now I’m reading something I’m not sure she wanted shared with strangers.

What’s more, I don’t understand why Facebook does it. It doesn’t make them money. I can’t believe the bulk of their users like it—it’s an invasion of privacy, after all. And people like privacy, or at least they say they do.

A friend of mine once wrote a (sadly, unpublished) novel set in a future that took the idea of transparency to the extreme. Walls were transparent, clothes were transparent, and cameras were everywhere and always watching. At one point, the main characters stumble into an area with opaque walls and no cameras, and they feel intensely uncomfortable that they aren’t being watched.

It sounds ludicrous, but the path from normal to ludicrous is paved with baby steps. Perhaps everyone having lives that are open (Face)books is one of those steps. Nobody wants it, but we’re all so addicted to Facebook that we accept it as part of the user cost, the way we accept the ads.

This is how privacy ends; not with a bang, but with a shrug.

I’ve started pushing back by using the “hide all from this person” feature constantly, but it’s Whack-a-Mole with a billion moles and only one mallet. And the losers are the moles, whose privacy Facebook is forcing me to invade.

Stop making me feel like a creeper, Facebook.


Before Coffee: Fantasy vs. Reality

April 26, 2016 § Leave a comment

I spotted the image below on a Facebook page called “The Writer’s Circle,” and it made me think about what my ideal writing day would be like. You know, the fantasy of “If I were a full-time writer…”

My fantasy schedule would look like this:

8:00 – 8:30 – Get out of bed, make coffee, feed cats, scoop litter pans

8:30 – 9:00 – Yoga

9:00 – Noon – Shower, eat breakfast, read

Noon- 1:00 – Take a walk

1:00 – 5:00 – Write (this is my peak creativity time, I’ve discovered)

5:00 – 9:30 – Spend time with my wife (TV, video games, going out, etc.)

9:30 – 10:00 – Get ready for bed

10:00 – 10:30/11:00 – Read

11:00 – Sleep

In reality, my schedule looks like this:

6:10 – 8:00 – Get up, take a shower, feed cats, eat breakfast, scoop litter pans, clean

8:00-8:30 – Drive to work

8:30 – 5:00 – Work

5:00 – 5:30 – Drive home

5:30 – 6:00 – Eat dinner, chat with wife

6:00(ish) – 7:30(ish) – Write (i.e., surf web or be distracted by a million other things)

7:30(ish) – 9:30 – Spend time with my wife (watch TV, video games, go out, etc.)

9:30 – 10:00 – Get ready for bed

10:00 – 10:30/11:00 – Read

11:00 – Sleep

I really can’t complain about this schedule. Yes, I’d like more writing time, but my wife is very generous in giving me time and space to write. (It helps that she needs “her-time,” too.)

But until I win the lottery, the fantasy is going to remain just that.

writing styles

Before Coffee: Aphantasia

April 25, 2016 § Leave a comment

I found a fascinating article on aphantasia over the weekend. To save you a click (although you really should read it), it’s the inability to form mental images.

I shared the article on Facebook, which is what I do when I find something cool or fun or interesting. That led to a back and forth with a friend who, it turns out, cannot hear music in his head.

My wife is quick to point out whenever the topic comes up that I am the easiest person in the world to “earworm”—that is, I get songs stuck in my head at the drop of a note. So my friend’s inability to hear music in his head seems almost a blessing to me. But he is understandably a little freaked out to discover that he cannot do something that others take for granted.

When I was a teen, I often thought about our perception of color. If I could somehow ride piggyback on your brain and see as you see, would what looks like green to me look like green to you? Or would it look like purple or blue or orange? Have we just all been trained to call different colors “green” because someone once pointed to it and said, “that’s green”?

Probably not, but until we have that kind of technology, we can’t say for sure.

Brains are weird.


Before Coffee: Headache

April 24, 2016 § Leave a comment

I get these headaches some mornings. I wake up with them, like I did this morning. Starts at the base of my skull and squeezes my brain until my eyes ache. I guess I sleep wrong some nights and pinch something in my neck. I dunno. Point being, this will be short, because I can’t simultaneously type and numb my brain with an old-school ice pack (the kind you see in clip art and stock photos labeled “hangover,” or in movies from the 50s; yes, they still sell them).

I tried, it fell, and I scared the cat off my lap and almost broke my keyboard. Lesson learned.

The temptation existed to skip it this morning, but I’m only three mornings in and that’s a little too soon to admit defeat. And I finally hit on a title I like: Before Coffee. Which isn’t technically true, because I’m usually drinking my first cup as I write these, but “While I’m Drinking My First Cup” just doesn’t have the same ring to it.

So, Before Coffee.

And now I’m off to put my brain into cryofreeze until it learns its lesson and stops trying to make my eyeballs pop out.



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