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With the release of my first short story, “Roadkill, ” there’s one important issue I feel the need to explain. It’s one thing that, when people find out about it, is always met with an intense uncertainty, unease, and even derision. The question on their minds is: why release a book (or any type of artwork for that matter) without copyright?

Currently I’m working on a longer post for this blog called “Why I Am a Free Culture Artist,” but that is a rather complex tale. Even the term “Free Culture” might not be one most people are familiar with. To explain it all, I’ll have to explain some of the background of copyright itself, because it’s such a frequently misunderstood and confusing concept. This will make for a rather lengthy post, and I want to create a version for those who might take one look at the longer post and say TL;DR. That shorter version is what you’re reading now.

So, you might wonder, why is my short story “Roadkill” in the public domain?

Why am I releasing it without copyright? Isn’t copyright a good thing?

I don’t think that it is, despite the conventional understanding of its supposed virtues.

“But aren’t you worried about plagiarism?” you ask.

Yes, but I don’t believe copyright will stop plagiarism. Others’ recognition of me as an author, and my work, will be much better deterrents to plagiarism. Whenever I see an act of plagiarism online of an artist I like, I feel moved to draw attention to it, to see that it doesn’t go unnoticed by other fans. See my comment on a crappy ripoff upload of a beloved public domain Hussalonia album. I hope others will do the same for me if I’m ever the victim of such nonsense.

Don’t I want to get paid?

Yes I do, but I still don’t think copyright is the way to go.

Here, then, are my reasons:

“Roadkill” is in the public domain because I want people to share it without worrying about me suing them or sending threatening cease-and-desist letters.

I want people to share “Roadkill” because the more it is shared, the more it puts my name out there, the more people are exposed to the story.

The more people become aware of it, the higher the chance is that those who enjoy it will willingly pay for a copy. Paying me for the story gives me incentive and support to write more stories, and to have more time to write stories, and if you like “Roadkill,” there’s a good chance you’ll enjoy other things I write. If I make much money from this release, and/or if I receive positive feedback, that’s much more inspiration for me to want to release more stories I’ve written and plan to write. Perhaps, in the future, I could even write full-time. You never know.

Releasing the story under the traditional copyright system locks the story away and discourages sharing. It increases the likelihood that the story will be doomed to obscurity. People aren’t going to stumble onto the title of my story in the database of the U.S. Copyright Office and suddenly feel compelled to seek it out and pay for it.

Even if someone copies “Roadkill” and sells copies themselves, there is incentive for them to share profits with me, as that will encourage me to write more stories that they can also sell. Readers will be encouraged to buy copies or derivative works that I release or that share profits with me, as it increases the likelihood that I will write more for them to enjoy.

The availability of free copies ensures access to the story for those who can’t pay, and who simply wouldn’t pay even if payment was mandatory. I don’t want to deny anyone access to my work just because they can’t afford it. If someone can pay, I hope they will, but I wouldn’t expect anyone to do so if they have problems making ends meet. Making a living is difficult and there are more important things to worry about than paying for books, so if that’s your situation, I don’t want you to worry about paying for mine.

I don’t believe anyone owes me anything up front for “Roadkill.” Nobody paid me to write this book. I wasn’t contracted to write it. It exists, and is available, and is easily copied, whether anyone pays for it or not. I don’t see how I have a right to demand payment of anyone for something they didn’t ask for, even if they enjoy it once it’s there. Copying is not theft, it’s copying, plain and simple. No one steals from me by making a copy of my story. It did take a lot of my own hard work for this story to exist, but so does a carpenter work hard to build a park bench; that doesn’t mean he’s owed money every time someone sits on it while passing by.

Even if I accept that copyright is a sensible and valid concept, in order to enforce it, I would most likely have to violate much more important rights (to things like privacy), bringing to mind such widely protested legal movements as SOPA. Even if I were to believe that I’m owed money for every single copy of my book that someone downloads, I can’t imagine feeling justified trying to police everyone’s computers, and likely relying on some horrible, invasive spying organization to do so.

I also want to focus on writing and creating valuable, worthwhile content; spending all my time tracking down cases of copyright infringement of my work would waste more time than it would be worth. It’s time better spent just writing more and making sure people know my work and where to find it, and how to pay me if they enjoy it.

Lastly, I want “Roadkill” to connect with people. I want to connect with the people who enjoy it. (Please leave a comment if you enjoy it!) I want it to inspire more creativity. I want to see it become an animated film, a radio play, a painting, a comic book, and countless other things. Time will tell if any of those things come to be (if you’re interested in collaborating with me on one, please, send me an email, I’d love to talk to you) but if the story were released with the pretense of copyright enforcement, they almost certainly wouldn’t. At least by releasing my story with the Creative Commons Zero Waiver (a.k.a. CC0), it has a chance to become something more.

If you think I’m naive, idealistic, or crazy, so be it. I don’t have any regrets. I just hope you enjoy the story.

“Roadkill” will be released October 1st, 2013. A print edition will be released on CreateSpace, along with eBook editions on Kindle, Smashwords, and other retailers. The free version will be released a short while later on TUEBL and the Internet Archive. For more information, check the “Roadkill – A Short Story” page on this blog.

Thank you for reading,



For another blog post that even more succinctly sums up my feelings about copyright, check out Leo Babuta’s “Uncopyright” page on his blog Zen Habits. For more information about copyright law and why I don’t believe in its validity, check out the resources on


The cover for “Roadkill” was made by the wonderful Piti Yindee, creator of the Wuffle, the Big Nice Wolf web comic series. Piti’s views are similar to mine, and you can read his own explanation of why he uses CC0 and rejects copyright here. The “Roadkill” cover will also be released via CC0.

Finally, it’s here; I can hold it in my hands. A real, honest-to-goodness print edition of my short story  “Roadkill” finally exists. The proof copy is sitting next to me as I write this.

It’s a such a thin, frail little tome. Not surprising, of course; the story itself only spans the length of forty-three pages, six-by-nine in length. It’s a little wisp of a book, and to look at it you wouldn’t think of just how much effort went into it, how much insanity-inducing, teeth-grinding, hair-pulling effort. I can hardly believe the thing is actually finished. For a while (a long while) I wasn’t sure that it ever would be.

I’m getting ahead of myself a bit. It’s not QUITE finished. It’s just a formality at this point, however. I need to do one last check, one last time before I hit that magic button that says “approved.” Then, suddenly, anyone who might want it could order an actual, physical copy of this thing. They, too, could hold it, read it, write in the margins, the whole bit. Will they? Will anyone ever actually discover and buy this book? I have no idea, and to be honest, while I would love to find out that someone, somewhere eventually does buy a copy, at this point it’s quite enough for me that I finished it. I can let it rest.

What is “Roadkill” about, you ask? My intent here isn’t to tell you the story, you’ll have to read it for yourself. My intent here is to tell the story of how the story came about. Still, it would be helpful to have a little bit of description, wouldn’t it?

“Roadkill” is the story of four friends who go on a late-night fast food run. Perhaps that brings to mind some adolescent memories for you. What you might find less easy to relate to, however, is that the these four friends happen to be the anthropomorphic ghosts of recently deceased animals, the victims of violent, grisly deaths. Along the way they meet some sort of Fox-forest-spirit thing, some kind of Animal Control Officer-Grim Reaper-guy, and discover that their favorite fast food hamburgers might be the key to their very existence.

The story is filled with mystery, wonder, suspense, comedy, tragedy, rambling philosophical conversations (but it’s the amusing kind), death, and life. There are ghostly animals, pursued by a hooded figure who might be the Angel of Death! There is a forest that absorbs the memories of those who pass through it! The clock is ticking for our heroes, who could vanish from the earth by sunrise! There are late night snacks! Don’t miss it!

It covers a surprising amount of ground for only 15 chapters, really. “Roadkill” came about due to a mix of real life experiences (I’ll mention those a bit later) and my desire to tell a story that is at once direct in its confrontation of mystery and death, yet nonetheless upbeat about it. One might say it’s a story about faith, of a sort. There are no deus ex machinas, just characters who stand up in the face of who-knows-what and keep moving forward.  You’ll have a few laughs, and you might feel a little catharsis near the end. You might become a vegetarian. What’s not to like?

But now let’s get back to the story of how I wrote it. Let’s see, now, exactly how long has this book been in production?

The Road to Nowhere

The book has been nearly one year in the making, though the story itself was created over a year earlier than that. But let’s start in media res, shall we?

In November of 2012, I had turned a corner; I’d come to realize that I wasn’t feeling particularly fulfilled socially or creatively. I had spent the last several years pursuing a degree and feeling miserable about it from start to (incomplete) finish. Nothing about my school work felt authentic or meaningful and I didn’t feel I was learning much of value, with a few noteworthy exceptions. I was forced, in order to graduate, to take four classes that stressed me out so much that I thought I might have a nervous breakdown. For the average person, they would likely be nothing to worry about at all, but that’s anxiety for you. By August of last year I failed the mid-term of my second-to-last class (never having failed any class before) and, exasperated, gave up.

I had always told myself that once I finished college, I would devote as much time as possible to writing. I would, I thought, finally take advantage of the free time I hadn’t had in so long and create all the crazy, wonderful stories I’d dreamed up during countless dreary classes. However, I was horrified to realize that I couldn’t get the groove back. I’d got in a habit of viewing life as including only mindless work and mindless pastimes. My poison of choice was gaming; most of the time I wasn’t even having fun, I was just killing time. I couldn’t focus on writing anymore, I procrastinated at it just as I had done with school work. Years earlier, when I first started college, a classmate asked me about my major. When I replied that I wanted to major in Creative Writing, she warned me that by the end of it, I would hate writing. I was terrified that she had been right.

My writing projects last fall all began to feel dry and stale, being locked up alone with no one to read them, and me without any feedback on the stuff I was creating. I’ve long had that unfortunate, rookie-mistake tendency to not share something until I feel totally satisfied with it…and, as it usually happens, I end up not sharing much of anything. Combine that with my school-inspired procrastination habit and I tended to never get close to completion on any project, and even when I did, I never felt satisfied with it enough to want to release it. I’m only slowly recovering from this.

My birthday, though, last November, was a particularly contemplative one. I felt very alone and isolated and disconnected from people. I’d lost my job as a janitor, which I loved, when my place of employment went through a regime change of sorts. Everything felt dry and lifeless. The last time I could remember feeling really inspired on a novel-length writing project was in 2009, and the last time I felt really alive and challenged on a creative project was a short film my friends and I had made in 2008. I’d always wanted to work on movies, but I’ve just never had much patience for the complex organization involved. Writing had always seemed the most accessible way to be creative, and I tend to believe I’m pretty good at it (whenever I actually do it, that is). At the time, though, writing had lost its magic for me, and I wondered if it ever really had any, or if it was just something I told myself I enjoyed in order to have some kind of “productive” identity.

Strange Angels

Something had to change. There had to be a way, I thought, of snapping myself out of the slump. I found myself being inspired by three unlikely sources. The first was Zen Habits, the self-help blog by Leo Babuta. The second was my discovery of the videos of Shaye Saint John, surrealistic and unhinged works of either sublime art or utter trash (the best, most luscious kind; Happy Halloween, by the way). Lastly was none other than my childhood “television neighbor,” Fred “Mister” Rogers.

I can’t think of a more bizarre combination, but somehow it all made sense. I became obsessed with all three of these odd, creative personalities and their work. Things began to come into perspective. Zen Habits taught me to be unafraid to experiment and to enjoy the process of creating something without worrying about failure or end results. Shaye Saint John also taught me to be unafraid to experiment, even when the experiments involve things that no one else understands, like doing the Hand Thing, trying to make salad out of dead leaves, and a feeling of deep unease. Mister Rogers taught me to reconnect with my inner child, to try new things (see a pattern here?), and to take things slowly. All three seemed to be teaching variations of the same lessons, more or less, and they really hit home (even if Shaye’s lessons were a little…different, in form).

I signed up for an online voice acting class. It was something totally new to me, something I’d wanted to try for a long time, and something I’d always been encouraged to do. Of course, most of the encouragement was due to my ability to perform a few funny voices, and as any voice actor will tell you, that’s really not enough…you have to be able to, well, act, and acting is a great deal more difficult than funny voices. Still, I had no real expectations for how it would go and decided to just embrace the discomfort and the strangeness and see what happened.

The class was stressful but fun. Lucky for me it was an unusually small one, only three other students, so we all got plenty of face-time with our instructor, a prolific voice actor who does extensive work in anime dubbing (and who, funnily enough, appears in some of the very video games I wasted too much time with). I still have vivid memories of drinking chamomile tea during the break and watching clips of Shaye Saint John and Mister Rogers to calm myself down (yes, I watch Shaye Saint John to calm myself down). I get anxious all too easily, and it was difficult, but in the end I was glad I’d tried something new and felt some renewed energy.

When it was over, though, I felt like I was back at square one. I didn’t have any really promising opportunities for trying out more voice acting, and I wasn’t sure it was something I wanted to pursue further anyway, at least not too seriously. I enjoyed it, but I wasn’t at all certain I wanted to pursue it as a career. Still, I needed some new way to connect with people, and I needed a creative outlet. Somewhere along the line it hit me that I needed to just release something, to get something out there. Writing had been my focus for most of my life, even if I’d lost some of that focus recently, and it was the best place I could think of to turn to. Yet I was still too burned out to consider writing a whole new story. That was the problem in the first place, after all; my major projects seemed too daunting and I was just too burnt out. The Zen Habits blog stressed the importance of starting small, taking tiny steps. What was the smallest step I could take?

The Road to Self-Publishing

That was when I remembered “Roadkill.” It was a script I’d written in spring 2011 for a screenwriting class. The idea first came to me during fall of 2010, due to three events: the real-life horror of watching a dog get hit by a car, nearly getting run off the road by a semi-truck myself, and seeing a long line of various dead animals by the roadside and thinking “I wonder if they talk to each other.” Despite few of my creative writing courses at university ever inspiring me much, it was that screenwriting class, which I took for my minor in film, that for a while had made me feel like a writer again. “Roadkill” was one of the most satisfying projects I’d worked on in recent memory. Unlike the aforementioned group film project, which had made me feel so alive, and my larger novel-length projects, I didn’t really think of “Roadkill” in usual terms. It was a different medium.

I wasn’t used to writing screenplays, and I doubt I’d have done it at all had it not been for that class. It was one of the few times I can credit my university experience for having a major positive impact on me creatively. “Roadkill” didn’t quite fit into either my video-making experience or my writing experience. I imagined it primarily as an animated film. Truth be told, I imagine most stories I write as movies first; this was only different because it was actually written as one. Exposition was understandably sparse; the story was nearly all dialogue.

Nonetheless, it seemed the best candidate for something to release publicly. It had great feedback during the screenwriting workshop. One fellow writer took me aside at the end of the last day of class and gave me some really positive comments about the story’s uniqueness and said it had been his favorite part of the class. What more can you ask for as a writer? Well, maybe this: another person had said that “It’s what would happen if “Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle” was written by David Lynch.” Both comments made me very, very happy. The class also offered a lot of helpful constructive criticism, too, so I didn’t feel so uncertain about it.

Besides the promising feedback, it was already finished; the story was already there, all that was needed was to reformat it into a short story. It was a story I was satisfied with and proud of. The dialogue was funny and flowed smoothly. The story was tight; due to having been written for a screenwriting course, the classic three-act structure was at the fore (even if I was a bit loose with it, and even if the premise is rather bizarre). Of course, it did occur to me that translating it so directly from script to short story would make it a rather dialogue-heavy piece of fiction, but I don’t really mind that if the dialogue is done well so I figured (hoped) that no one else would mind either. In the end, every single chapter of the story is exactly equivalent to each scene of the original script.

I set to work. From November through December, I went back to the original script. I copied most of the dialogue verbatim at first. I tweaked it. I added a few details, and expanded one or two scenes. I tweaked it again. Late in the process, I caught a minor plot hole (or at least a character inconsistency) and tweaked it again to fix that. I added exposition to balance the heavy emphasis on dialogue. I tweaked it some more, and then some more. Finally, I had a worthwhile rough draft.

Then it was time to edit. So I edited. I’ve never been very fond of editing my own work (in fact I usually kind of hate it) but I persevered. I got one edit done. Then another. I began sharing the edits with friends, including my long-time editor Franklin D. Lewis, who did a complete editing job for me, and for which I thank him immensely. Grammatical mistakes were caught and fixed. Spelling errors were repaired. Potential snags in the plot were revised. Sentences were punched up, things became a bit more brisk. It all started to take shape at last. I even ran the story by a friend of mine who studies microbiology, to check and see if the (potential) light science-fiction elements made any kind of general sense (apparently, they did, at least well enough).

By late January, it was all ready: all I had to do was format the thing as an eBook, and maybe a print-on-demand book, and I could say “Hey, I self-published a book!” The hard work was over, and the rest was simple, smooth-sailing, right? Say it with me now: WRONG!

If there is a Hell and it is designed to suit each person by surrounding them with what they hate the most, there’s a fair chance that mine would be filled with lots of book formatting. My naivety on this subject was immense; I had absolutely no idea how much work went into formatting. The idea of formatting an eBook, in particular, seems so simple; it seems like something you could do just by clicking a button in Microsoft Word. Once again, say it with me: WRONG!

Formatting the book turned out to be a labyrinthine maze of horrible crap. If you’ve never done it before, I’ll try and summarize it for you. Essentially, for an eBook, the formatting process involves keeping the text as plain as possible (no fancy fonts or any such thing, which isn’t so bad) and completely devoid of simple things you wouldn’t even give a thought to when writing normally. What “simple things” do I mean? For one thing, manual indentations are NOT ALLOWED. If you’ve hit the “tab” key at any point, you’ve committed one of the deadly eBook formatting sins. And God forbid you should, in your effort to properly format your book, miss something; if you mess something up and can’t identify what it was, you may have to “go nuclear” and start again from square one. Things like centering text require the set up of specific text styles, and even then, it might not work correctly in every format. It’s extremely easy to get lost; you have to save a new file after virtually every change you make, and Microsoft Word seems inclined to a lot of invisible shenanigans that are hard to identify. And don’t forget file conversion! That’s when you think you’ve fixed everything, only to look at the end result and discover a whole new set of mysterious problems.

I should probably qualify this by mentioning two things about myself: I can be a rather slow learner at times (quick to impatience and distraction) and I’m not all that tech-savvy. It’s entirely possible that someone who is quicker to learn, has more patience, or is simply more handy with these magical computer device thingies may not have nearly as difficult a time at book formatting as I did. Nonetheless, it was a special kind of grueling torture for me. There was a constant barrage of nigh-impossible-to-identify problems that were only solved by “going nuclear” and starting over again, and it seemed that even the simplest things were needlessly complex to do. There are those who format books for a fee, but I neither had the money nor desire to outsource; it was something I wanted to learn to do myself, even if I hated it. Boy, did I hate it.

Somehow, despite all the frustration, I eventually got it settled. First I decided to release it via Smashwords, due to their no-DRM policy and their willingness to include a “pay what you want” price option, which I’m fond of. Not only that, but their “Meatgrinder” software will convert your book into just about every major format imaginable and put your book up for sale on virtually every major bookseller’s site. Thankfully, the founder of Smashwords, Mark Coker, created The Smashwords Style Guide, a incredibly helpful formatting eBook. My initial plan was a Smashwords-only release. Amazon’s Kindle store could help me reach a wider audience, but they include DRM in their eBooks and that I don’t care for.

However, I realized that fellow author, Free Culture advocate, and CC0 user Aelius Blythe released her books on Kindle. Her rationale was that even if DRM was part of Kindle, it would make more people aware of her work and its CC0 status. The DRM of Kindle, after all, doesn’t cancel out the non-DRM versions. This made a lot of sense to me, so I decided to do as she did. But Smashwords (as Mark Coker admits in the Style Guide, and kudos to him for his honesty) doesn’t work well with Amazon, apparently, and the Style Guide recommended authors actually bypass Smashwords for Kindle releases and upload directly to Kindle to avoid headaches.

So from there I had to create the MOBI file, the only format accepted by Kindle, using the free conversion software Calibre. While some of The Smashwords Style Guide was general formatting advice, a good deal of it (as you can imagine) is specific to Smashwords. So formatting for Kindle involved a lot of searching through author blogs, tech blogs, Youtube videos, and tons of other things looking for formatting guides that even remotely came close to the helpfulness of the Smashwords guide. There were a ton of new problems and frustrations. Eventually, though, it too was finished.

Then came the last major formatting hurdle, one I had put off. I had really, despite the book’s short length, hoped to create a print edition. While initially considering going eBook-only, I couldn’t shake the feeling that not doing a print edition would be too much of a disappointment. There’s just something particularly satisfying about having a physical copy of something you’ve created. After some research, I settled on Amazon’s CreateSpace service. Another painful round of formatting commenced, with many new problems (the words “widows” and “orphans” have new and even more painful meanings for me now). Yet, once again, eventually it somehow was finished. Formatting all three had taken roughly four months, from January through the end of April.

There was just one big problem left. The book needed a cover.

The Cover Story

My first thought was an artist friend of mine, the very talented Dane Eichinger, but for personal reasons he wasn’t taking commissions at the time. I tried a few artists on Fiverr ($5 per image was really all I could afford, having lost my job the previous fall). While some of them weren’t bad, none of them really captured the look I was hoping for and had tried to describe, and most didn’t look very professional.

There was one artist in particular who came to mind as a great candidate for the job: Piti Yindee, the creator of the Wuffle comic series, who I’d written about on this blog at the beginning of the year. Not only is Piti an incredibly talented artist, he also shares my rather unique views on copyright, a quality I wasn’t likely to find anywhere else. His comic series Wuffle is released with a CC0 Waiver, just as I planned “Roadkill” to be, and I imagined that he might be my only chance to have a CC0 book cover to go along with my CC0 book.

Piti had commented on my blog when I’d written the post about him, and replied to a tweet about it, but I’d never spoken to him before otherwise. I was a bit nervous as I wasn’t used to asking for help from someone I barely knew. I had to be upfront about the fact that I didn’t have much money, and wasn’t sure when or if I could pay for a commission, but assured him that if he was willing to help me out, I would do my best to pay him back; if nothing else, I figured I could help out by doing some kind of writing or editing work. I don’t like the thought of taking up so much of someone’s time and effort without being able to give something back, so I hoped my writing and editing skills could at least be of use…if, that is, he would be willing to help me at all.

To my delight, however, Piti proved to be a most friendly and generous person, and he was willing to help me despite my uncertain situation. I was, ultimately, able to pay him, too. I’m still blown away by his generosity and patience through the whole process (especially for putting up with my long-winded, rambling emails). I don’t think I could ever thank him enough for all of his help and support.

However, I contacted him at one of the busiest possible times: his Wuffle IndieGoGo campaign, which I’d written about months earlier, had finished, and he was extremely swamped dealing with his own book being formatted, printed, and shipped out. It would be a few months until his schedule was free enough that he was able to begin designing my cover. So the project was on hold throughout the summer; it was frustrating to have to wait even longer, but I felt very lucky that Piti had any time at all during the year to help me, so I counted my blessings and moved on, though “Roadkill” was always at the back of my mind. I experimented on new projects in the mean-time, and began another new longer-form series of a much larger scope.

Once August arrived, however, he set to work, sending me rough sketches and revisions along the way. It was a magical experience, seeing the cover take shape from the rough idea in my head to the final, polished form Piti created. It was in mid-September that the cover was, at long last, finished. And it was a beautiful thing. I’m still in awe of it. Once again, I can’t thank him enough.

Bringing “Roadkill” to Life at Last

That brings us back to the present. The beautiful cover Piti created adorns the first, printed proof copy, sitting here next to me. I can still hardly believe that it’s finally almost over, and I can hardly wait to share this strange little story I’ve written with you.

As things currently stand, “Roadkill” should be released first on CreateSpace, as a print-on-demand book, on October 1st, 2013, followed shortly after by the Kindle edition and Smashwords edition (and Smashwords’ various affiliated sites, like Barnes and Noble, and Kobo). Last but not least, it will be released on the Internet Archive, and of course, the beloved TUEBL. I wish I had a more definitive date for the various eBook releases, but as this is my first attempt at releasing a book, I’d rather be honest and vague than misleading. All I can say is that I will get them all released as soon after the print edition as possible, hopefully on the same day. The ideal, of course, is for a book to launch in all formats at the same time, but this is a one-man book launch operation, and that man happens to have no prior book launch experience, so hopefully fate (and potential readers) will be kind to me. I’ve done my best.

Looking Back Down the Road

As I finish up this little recollection of “Roadkill,” and the past year, I can’t help but wonder about what’s next. Once the book is released, what then?  I feel much like the characters of my story: tired, worn-out, uncertain, and yet strangely hopeful for the future, ready as I’ll ever be to face the unknown and secure in the knowledge that I’ve spent this time as best as I knew how. The last couple of years have been full of ups and downs. I’ve made some excellent friends along the way. I’ve felt lost. I’ve considered giving up writing for good. I’ve considered never releasing anything else once “Roadkill” is online, effectively retiring before I even really got started.

During the course of working on my book cover, Piti gave me the opportunity to become a proofreader on his Wuffle comic series, an opportunity I didn’t expect but couldn’t be more grateful for. Inspired by his kindness, and the dedication of other artist-and-author friends of mine, I started work on another series. I’m still not sure when or if I’ll release it publicly, but despite that uncertainty I feel better about writing than I have in a long time…too long a time. If nothing else, that makes me feel like releasing something new is more likely than not.

I suppose what I do next will, in part, be influenced by the reaction I get to “Roadkill.” I don’t have any expectations for it. It is, after all, a short story (or “novelette,” if you’re fancy), not a full-length novel. The strongest possibility seems to me that it won’t make much of an impact; it’s not a series, not something likely to build a fan base. I’m fine with that. What I really hope for is one or two kind words from a stranger who enjoys it. It may be short, but I really do think it’s a beautiful, strange little story.

I doubt I will rush into self-publishing something again, not to the same level of detail, anyway. I spent far more time formatting and polishing “Roadkill” than actually writing it, and I’d prefer to get back to simply writing. The next time I release something, if I do indeed release something else, I think I’ll just post it online first, likely right here on this blog. A friend of mine who writes fanfiction has inspired me to worry less about the polish and consider just sharing what I do, even the rough stuff.

Releasing even rough drafts would be a great way to focus on gaining feedback and finding readers who enjoy my work and want to return to it, and read more of it. It could be a great outlet for releasing a series, too, and the way things are going on my current project, there may be quite enough material to begin posting stuff soon if I decide that I want to. I’m even considering releasing it on a fanfiction site (though it’s mythology fanfiction, not popular-franchise fanfiction). It could also create a kind of collaborative process with readers, one that might make writing a little less lonely for me. What do you think? Feel free to comment.

Eyes on the Road Ahead

In my last “CC0 Heroes” post, I quoted Aelius Blythe’s description of the webfiction community, and it’s worth quoting again here: “…we happen to like the neighborhood. We say “Hell yeah!” to cheap fiction. We say it may not be worth $14.99 or $9.99 or even $5.99, but entertainment doesn’t need to have a price tag. And when it does, we’re likely to pass it by and go hang out on the porch steps of our crappy neighborhood for kicks.”

I love this idea. I think I might want to hang out in this neighborhood. If there’s one thing I learned during my little quarter-life crisis last fall, it’s the value of a good neighborhood. That value doesn’t come just from having good neighbors, but from being one. And good neighbors share. So I’ll share “Roadkill” for now and maybe I’ll have something else fun to share in the future. After all, isn’t that why I support Free Culture, and release my writing with CC0 in the first place? Isn’t that what Aelius, Piti, and every other artist who shares his or her work online (Free Culture or not) hopes to do? Sharing is caring, after all, and I hope more people realize that.

For now, though, I’m just going to enjoy this moment, enjoy the fact that finally, at long last, “Roadkill” is nearly finished. And I want to appreciate how far I’ve come in my writing practice, too.

After all this time, writing is fun again, something I look forward to doing rather than viewing as an obligation. Will it continue to be fun? I don’t know, but as long as it’s fun, and feels meaningful, I’ll keep at it. If it’s no longer fulfilling, I’ll see what else might be out there.

But for now, I’m going to keep writing.

I hope you’ll join me on the road ahead.

In my previous and first “CC0 Heroes” post back in January, I wrote about Thai artist Piti Yindee and his copyright-free web comic Wuffle, the Big Nice Wolf. Since then, I’m happy to report, his crowdfunding campaign on IndieGoGo was a huge success (it made over $7,500, way past the $3, 500 goal) and the book was finally printed and shipped out late this past summer. Having contributed to the campaign and received a signed copy myself, I can say that the end result was spectacular. It’s a delight to see such a polished, finished product from an artist using CC0. I was also able to get in touch with Piti after my blog post was released, and was given the chance to commission him to work on a project of mine…more on that in a future post! Not only that, but recently he graciously asked me to be the new proofreader of Wuffle, a job I absolutely love! Thank you, Piti!

There are other artists out there using CC0, however, even if there aren’t as many as I’d like there to be. I think it’s high time I profiled yet another one, and this entry into the “CC0 Heroes” series is none other than author and not-really-official TUEBL blogger Aelius Blythe!

I must confess that so far, I’ve only read one of Aelius’s books, though she’s released several. I intend to get caught up on her work in the upcoming months, but for now I’ll limit myself to a review of her short story collection, “Stories About Things,” and give a little bit of information about Aelius herself.

If you’re already interested in Free Culture, either in the form of creative works, activism, or both, then chances are you’ve heard of Aelius Blythe at some point already. (Heck, my last entry on this blog was a re-post of one of her Free Culture essays, one of my all-time favorite writings on the subject.) Her Twitter account, @CheapassFiction, is one of my favorite places to seek out news related to Free Culture and copyright nonsense (though be warned, it contains a lot of links to irritating, double-face-palm material…because a lot of copyright nonsense out there is very irritating). Her blog, Cheapass Fiction, is an excellent source of Free Culture info as well. (In fact, she gave a signal boost to my first “CC0 Heroes” post about Piti Yindee back in February! Thanks Aelius!)  Along with, the CheapassFiction blog was one of the first places that really inspired me as my thinking on copyright shifted circa 2011/2012.

Originally serving as her personal blog for several years, she’s built up a lot of cool stuff there, including a brief collection of correspondences with publishers and authors who have attempted takedowns of their copyrighted works posts online. As she says on the page description, “My goal is to reach out to these authors, open a dialogue, show empathy, encourage an informed approach, and present “the other side.” I can’t imagine a nobler goal for a Free Culture advocate, can you? Too often debates of this kind tend to get very shout-y and one-sided, so it’s a relief to see someone simply reaching out to discuss these issues peacefully and with an appreciation for the “other side.” As someone who now has no real love for the idea of copyright at all, but who once was strongly in favor of it, I really appreciate Aelius’s attempts to reach out, especially with other authors.

Now, Cheapass Fiction is not only Aelius’s blog, but it also serves as the not-really-official “TUEBL Lovers’ blog,” with some extra resources added in specifically for those who use, or are curious about, TUEBL. What the heck is TUEBL, you ask? TUEBL stands for “The Ultimate eBook Library,” which is, as the name implies, a (non-profit) online library for eBooks of all kinds. Being a non-profit, and being a library, means that the eBooks within its virtual walls are all free. It’s a fantastic service, and anyone who loves Free Culture books (or just free books in general!) ought to check it out.

In addition to being one of the interweb’s best sources for Free Culture news, Aelius is a very nice person; I’ve spoken to Aelius via email a few times, and not only was she helpful when it came to my noob book formatting questions, it’s also nice to have someone who shares my grief over the CC0-unfriendly world of self-publishing. I’m sure that topic will surface in a future post here.

And in addition to being a very nice person, Aelius is also a pretty dedicated author. To date, she’s released three stand-alone short stories, including “Ask,” “Richard,” and “Ceasa,” two short story collections, including “World” and the afore-mentioned “Stories About Things,” and a novel, “Skyland: Abominations,” the first in what is to become a series. Recently, Aelius also released an “Extended Edition” of “Skyland: Abominations.” For those who have no idea what exactly this means, it’s a bit like the “Director’s Cut” of movies that are sometimes released. It features over 70 pages of material that expands the original story, created by lots of re-reading, note-taking, and note re-writing done by the author after the release of the original book, in preparation for writing the next entry in the series. It isn’t simply a bunch of cut scenes added back in, but the result of trying to create a richer, more detailed world for the stories to take place in…which I think is a pretty cool idea. For those interested, an autographed print copy is available here for purchase, and of course the eBook is free on TUEBL.

Another thing I love about Aelius’s blog is how much of it is dedicated to showing webfiction a little respect. Aelius views webfiction as its own creative subculture (sort of a sister-movement to the fanfiction world), one that rejects the view that only published fiction, fiction with a price tag, is worth reading. I love her description of it, so I’ll just share it with you here:

“Stories and novels on the internet that aren’t published through recognized commercial companies are often seen as cheap and worthless. WebFiction isn’t even allowed in the gutter of the literary scene. It’s the bad neighborhood down the street that the gutter runs into.

Well, we happen to like the neighborhood. We say “Hell yeah!” to cheap fiction. We say it may not be worth $14.99 or $9.99 or even $5.99, but entertainment doesn’t need to have a price tag. And when it does, we’re likely to pass it by and go hang out on the porch steps of our crappy neighborhood for kicks.”

I couldn’t have put it better myself. I’m very fond of this idea not just for the stick-it-to-the-man ethos, or for any pretense that one type of writing is more “real” than another or qualifies as “true art” versus another, or because one is a “sell-out” and another is not, but because the emphasis here is simply on community. I think that’s lacking too much these days regardless. I’m fairly new to the world of webfiction (and fanfiction, for that matter) but from what I’ve seen so far, it’s the perfect place for any writer and/or reader. It’s a community. A place with constructive criticism and positive feedback, and maybe, just maybe, a little less pretentiousness than you might find elsewhere.

Despite the internet’s (perhaps too often deserved) reputation as a perpetual hate machine, there are places where one can find its true potential being reached, where people are coming together over a shared love of things like writing, music, and art of all kinds. I recently began looking into the world of fanfiction thanks to a friend of mine who happens to be an avid fanfiction author, and despite, too, that particular subculture’s not-always-stellar reputation, I was very impressed by the mutually supportive atmosphere of the community. It’s a beautiful and all-too-rare thing.

So, now that I’ve covered some of Aelius’s accomplishments as an author and Free Culture firebrand, what, you might be wondering, do I actually think of her work? As previously stated, so far I’ve only read “Stories About Things,” so allow me to share with you a little review! For the record, I actually purchased the print-on-demand version, partly out of a desire to own an actual, physical book released via CC0 Waiver, and partly to see what I might be getting when I eventually release my own book via the CreateSpace service (not to mention that it’s always nice to support an indie author). I wasn’t disappointed!

“Stories About Things” is split into two sections: “Thought and Memory: things of this world,” and “Fairies and things: things of other worlds.” Needless to say, the first section is comprised primarily of realistic fiction, while the second half is comprised of fantasy fiction. I should say, before going any further, that I didn’t particularly dislike any of the stories…it was just that some “missed” in the sense that they went over my head and didn’t make much of an impression. Others, however, were definitely “hits,” the kind that leave an impression and won’t be easily forgotten.

I think the brevity of the collection is both its greatest strength and its greatest weakness (even the introduction is incredibly brief, with the preface “Don’t worry, it’s short,” she ain’t kiddin’.). The stories that flew over my head were did so due to me feeling that I was missing something. I wasn’t sure if I really did miss something, or if I was just slow to comprehend what was going on, but I believe that regardless, the minimalist use of exposition caused my confusion. On the flip side, this same minimalist style is what made some stories so brilliant and rewarding to read. One of those stories was “Teacups,” the first in the collection.

“Teacups” is a very strong start, and I think that it is my favorite story of the entire book.  It’s a story about memory and loss, and it perfectly captures a certain mood I’ve felt many times but which I know no English word or phrase to describe. An old friend of mine used to call it the “after the party” feeling, the strange dissonance between the quietness of a place and its former activity and energy. To read a story that can capture this feeling so clearly and so beautifully, and in only about two and a half pages, is a rare delight.

“Time” is one of the stories in this collection that went right over my head. The tale of a scientist trying to master time travel, I understand the basics of what’s going on, but…I feel I’m missing something. Further, if I do understand it correctly, it seems this story borders on sci-fi…which of course isn’t the same thing as fantasy, but it certainly feels out of place among stories that are “things of this world.”

“The Name” could be considered dark comedy, I think. The story of a rather awkward funeral, it’s a bit slice-of-life, and it made me laugh in a way that made me feel a bit guilty for laughing. It wasn’t one of the stories that stands out in my memory, but it was nonetheless quite fun to read, and it felt strangely relatable, though hopefully I’m never actually in the situation it portrays.

“Maple Syrup” is one of the weirder stories, at least in the “things of this world” section of the book. This one is all “dark” and no “comedy,” making it a bit of mood whiplash after “The Name.” The premise, of a young man compulsively drinking maple syrup in order to remember the details of a traumatic past event, is pretty bizarre…and the names of the characters (Chi and Geo) make the story feel a bit like fantasy fiction rather than realistic fiction, even though there is nothing specifically fantastical about it. For all its quirkiness, “Maple Syrup” is one of the stand-out stories in the book; it’s a haunting, sad tale.

“The Swing” is a bit similar, thematically, to “Teacups.” For whatever reason, though, it doesn’t stand out to me as much. That isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy reading it; much like “Teacups,” it captures perfectly that dissonance one feels when standing in a single place, but torn between two very different places in time. It may not be one of the stories I remember as easily when I think back on reading this book, but I’m always glad when I find it again.

“That Night, There Was No Dinner” treads some slightly different territory than the other stories in this section. Some of the elements are the same (the dissonance between “then” and “now” being prominent once again) but it deals with a relationship (specifically, the marital kind), which is unique amongst the other stories. Whereas “Maple Syrup” explicitly deals with trying to remember the past, “That Night, There Was No Dinner” is focused on being unable to forget. While it didn’t stand out to me as much as “Maple Syrup” (though that could be because the latter is more dramatic) it’s a nice alternate take on the subject of memory.

“First Impressions” concludes the “things of this world” section of the book, and it’s a nice finish before the intermission. For some reason, I kept breezing through this story and not really absorbing it…I read it, barely remembered it, re-read it, and finally re-read it again just prior to writing this review. Strangely, the third time was the charm; for whatever reason, it seemed to “click” with me the third time. This is definitely in the slice-of-life genre, specifically the awkward trying-to-make-conversation slice-of-life genre. Despite my initial inability to focus on it, I really enjoyed this one, and I feel it concludes the first half on an even note, taking things down a notch from all the more dramatic stories in the middle.

The second half of the book, “Fairies and things,” begins with “Sun Set.” It certainly sets the tone, in a very we’re-not-in-Kansas-anymore kind of way. To be too specific would be to spoil it (I run the risk of that with nearly all these reviews, since the stories themselves are so brief) but suffice it to say that this story is weird, and it is creepy. It makes for a strangely effective leap from the contemplative and melancholy of the first section to the creepiness of the second. It feels like taking a left turn on the way to buy some saltines at the grocery store and winding up in “The “Twilight Zone.”

With “Shark,” the weirdness just keeps on coming. Like “First Impressions,” this one isn’t really much of a “story” in the traditional, classical, beginning-middle-and-end sense. If there’s such a thing as “supernatural slice-of-life,” then “Shark” would probably qualify. It’s short, it’s weird, and it’s unsettling. It’s very effective…I love stories that can set up a mood, specifically one of such unease, in this way. It feels a bit like a modern retelling of an old fairy tale.

“Dinner Bells” is one of my favorites of this half of the book. Yet again I must restrain myself from explaining anything for fear of spoilers, but it’s delightfully creepy, and by the end of it I had the vague sense that this could be expanded. It worked perfectly in this limited format, but sometimes stories like this have a way (and generally, I think, this is the intended effect) of making the reader want more, and I certainly did. Once again, as in the first half, the dissonance between past and present was at the fore…but in a much more supernatural, eerie way.

After reading “Leaves of Trees” I think I finally understood why these stories were so appealing to me. I have a particular affinity for stories, movies, music, or anything that can conjure up the feeling of being in a dream. Nearly every story in this section of the book conjures a nightmare, but it’s effective nonetheless, and I enjoy the effect just the same. “Leaves of Trees” has the atmosphere of a nightmare or a childhood fear. Don’t try to make sense of it; the uncertainty is what you’re supposed to feel.

“The Bear Would Starve” is another of my favorites from this collection. It’s also similar to “Dinner Bells” in giving me the impression, even more so, that it could be expanded into a longer story, maybe even a series. Though a bit confusing at times, it nonetheless hints at a strange, strange world just below the surface of the everyday. The imagery and scenarios are particularly bizarre. I found myself wanting much, much more of this, more back-story, more information.

Finally, we conclude with…nothing, as the author’s note points out. “Space” is one of the less outright frightening, but equally surreal, entries in this collection. I loved it. It kept the momentum of that dream-like atmosphere and finished up the book on a satisfyingly mysterious note. It brought to mind “Twin Peaks” a bit, and, once again, I found myself thinking about “The Twilight Zone.”

All in all, “Stories About Things” was a most delightful read; though uneven at times. There were some grammar errors here and there, easily fixable with another round of proof-reading, and perhaps par-for-the-course for “cheap-ass fiction,” no? While some stories captured my attention a bit less than others, the majority of them made quite an impression, and I’m a big fan of the short-form. Aelius handles realistic (and semi-realistic) fiction as well as fantasy/supernatural fiction, and the end result of all of it is most entertaining. I’m looking forward to checking out the rest of her work soon, especially “Skyland,” as I have confidence that her skill at writing fantasy fiction will translate very well into the format of a full-length novel. It’s also worth mentioning that she did a lovely job with the book’s formatting…something I’ve recently learned to appreciate through bitter experience.

That concludes this edition of “CC0 Heroes,” I hope it’s inspired you to check out some of Aelius Blythe’s work. I think “Stories About Things” is an excellent place to start, if my experience is any indication. Perhaps, too, it will inspire you to release something via CC0…there may not be a whole lot of us CC0 artists out there yet, but as I’ve said before, I think you’ll be in pretty good company if join us!

I normally reserve this blog solely for things written by yours truly. However, as anyone who knows me is likely well aware, I tend to have rather strong views about copyright…namely, that copyright is a bad thing. Recently, my fellow blogger and author Aelius Blythe posted this essay on Medium, and I felt that it is a perfect description of the utterly backwards way the language surrounding the copyright debate is structured. As a signal boost, and to practice what I preach (specifically, sharing and spreading a good thing by copying it) I’ve decided to re-post her entire essay here. Thank you, Aelius, for the inspiration.

“Your Words Are Bad and You Should Feel Bad” by Aellius Blythe:

“A writer’s biggest threat is the laws meant to protect them.”

“Director Simon Klose has won his copyright battle. For now.

In case you haven’t been paying attention to this year’s drama in the pirate world, here’s the 5 minute summary: Simon Klose is not your usual Hollywood crusader fighting those damn kids pirating his movies. In fact, this year, he was fighting to defend his own film – the documentary on the Pirate Bay trial, TPB AFK – from overzealous DMCA takedowns. The takedown notices weren’t directed at the content – which he himself uploaded to YouTube and the Pirate Bay –they were rather attacks on Google for even linking to the content. While not removing his work, this made it harder to find for your average viewer who doesn’t have a favorite Google-alternative at the ready.

Mr. Klose isn’t alone – Google gets over a million takedown requests every month to remove links to so-called pirate sites. Chilling Effects keeps a record of DMCA takedowns, which occasionally contain hilarious errors, like requests to remove content from Hulu or even the rightsholder’s own website. However, sometimes these errors are not so hilarious. While they cannot be proved to be malicious, takedowns often target news sites, reviewers, and even other creators, like Mr. Klose.

Fortunately, this battle ended well for the creator.

Unfortunately, not all creators are fearless Swedish pirates with the Pirate Bay on their side.

What of the smaller creators who don’t make the news? What of the creators who don’t have the resources or connections to fight false copyright DMCAs? What about your average small-time, indie filmmaker or artist or author who doesn’t even know that they can fight the far more powerful DMCA-wielders?

What about me?

I’m a newbie to the writing world, and a relative unknown outside of my small circle of readers, writers and fellow bloggers. Having reliable ways to be able to reach readers is absolutely essential. With so many content creators online, it’s way too easy to get lost in the competition. If a reader hits an obstacle – like a disappeared link or DRM that doesn’t play well with their e-reader of choice – they’ll just move on. Here at the bottom rung of the ladder, it’s really hard to get noticed, and one stumbling block can set all your hard work back several paces.

Fortunately, for authors we have libraries.

Libraries – the old standby for access to information, art, and culture.

Libraries – free to all, and proud of it.

In their digital incarnation, libraries have been the subject of intense copyright debates over how the readers benefit at the expense of writers by getting things for free. But the reality is that libraries can be a serious advantage for authors as well.

It’s an advantage I am thankful for every time I reach a new reader.

But some people want to take it away.

Earlier this year, while Google was censoring Mr. Klose’s documentary, somebody was DMCA-ing my books at The Ultimate Ebook Library. And it wasn’t me.

And these weren’t just links disappearing, these were my books. Somebody took my books away. And it turns out, mine weren’t the only ones. I recently heard from another author whose books were removed without her consent, and from the owner of the Ebook Library who recognizes that, sadly, these are not isolated incidents. While the library of course reinstates the books as soon as they are told, the implications of these kinds of errors (“errors”) are troubling. How many others out there have had their work disappeared, and don’t even know it, or don’t know what they can do about it? As a creator, especially a small-time creator, I can tell you that it is an unbelievably helpless feeling to have your primary channel for reaching fans hobbled.

I blame Newspeak.

The Copying is stealing! mythos has terrorized the entertainment industries since the days of Napster. Almost fifteen years, later few people – not even the Supreme Court – hold onto the literal interpretation of that particular moral stance. We laugh (or glare) at the rich and powerful making 9 year old girls and grandmothers into hardened criminals. But while many don’t exactly believe that copying = stealing, the fact is that the newspeak of the copyright monopoly is so pervasive, their new language so obfuscated, that many have well and truly forgotten the meaning of the words.

As much as we laugh at the old You wouldn’t steal a car! interpretation of copyright infringement, we also laugh at – or worse, ignore – the counterargument that copying isn’t stealing. Whenever the topic comes up in writer’s circles, there’s eye-rolling and head-shaking. It’s old news, but no one remembers it. Authors still rail against their readers “stealing” their profits. And even journalists in the mainstream media, often and incorrectly, refer to infringement as theft.

Did we forget that actual theft meant taking something away?

Did we forget that actual stealing deprives a person of what’s taken?

Yeah, I think we did.

Whoever took books down from the Ebook Library, or links from Google, or videos from YouTube isn’t sharing something, isn’t copying something, isn’t borrowing something. They are taking something away.

And yet, this is ok.

You won’t hear journalists call that theft. You won’t hear writers complain about stolen profits. You won’t have the responsible parties disconnected from the internet or forced to take a class on DMCA abuse, or made to pay the victim 7,000 per book in restitution and punitive damages.

Sharing, copying, and borrowing are – under the new language – terrible, terrible acts of theft. And yet taking something away – whether it’s a distribution channel or other means of communicating with fans– is totally ok. That’s a mistake. That’s acceptable collateral damage.

Yeah, our creative work is collateral damage.

This isn’t just a consequence of overreaching laws, bumbling politicians, or greedy lobbyists. It is a consequence of a forceful and deliberate manipulation of the very building blocks we use to understand our world: our words.

Yes, languages change. Words shift, meanings appear and disappear, and our understanding evolves. That’s what makes language useful — it’s adaptable.

But in this case, I think I liked the old language better.”

In my post Why I Write, I dealt with many of the problems I’ve faced over the years as I’ve struggled to “be a writer.” Many of the problems aren’t really specific to writing, or writing as a career; they’re problems with life in general. I’ve been reflecting on one of those problems again since that post, and I feel compelled to write about it (crazy idea, huh?) in a bit more depth.

Based on my (admittedly limited) experience, identifying oneself as a writer seems to be a sign to certain people that one is lazy, or at least “unproductive.” Again, it’s that stigma of writing not being a “real job.” I wonder if popular writers like J.K. Rowling and Stephen King have family members who, even now, balk at their writing careers because it isn’t a “real job,” despite all their success. I hope not, but it wouldn’t really surprise me. It seems to be a common reaction to any kind of career in the arts, as evidenced by Amanda Palmer’s beautiful TED Talk The Art of Asking.

Part of that stigma, I suspect, is based on the fact that writers have to be dreamers. All writers find inspiration differently, I’m sure. I would bet that most get inspiration in many of the same ways I do. Sometimes a story will appear in my mind fully formed, spurred into existence by a chance phrase spoken by someone in conversation, or by a scent in the air, or by something I see going on across the street. At other times, these same things inspire me but only a fragment of a story comes to mind, and it takes many such instances of inspiration to develop the pieces into a full story.

In all these inspirational moments, however, I’m very rarely ever doing anything that looks like “real work” (though working as a janitor the past five years proved to be a memorable exception). Writing begins with dreaming. It’s no wonder, then, that in the eyes of many people, in my “busiest” moments I appear to be half-asleep.  One of my most consistent sources of inspiration, and one which has inspired some of my favorite ideas, has been simply riding as a passenger in a car and listening to music as I watch the scenery go by. It appears so passive, and even moochy (why doesn’t he do the driving? they wonder) and yet without it I’d lose one of my most loyal muses.

Are all “lazy times” really inspirational, though? Is saying that you’re a writer really a get-out-of-jail-free card, an excuse to slack off for the rest of your life?

Admittedly, I’ve spent a lot of time in my life doing nothing. I don’t mean productive, daydreaming-for-inspiration nothing. I mean real nothing. I’ve played videogames mindlessly for hours (the shocking numbers are recorded on Steam). I’ve checked Facebook, email, email, email, Twitter, Facebook, Facebook, email, email, Twitter, TV Tropes, TV Tropes, Cracked, TV Tropes, random website, random website, etc. etc. in an seemingly endless cycle.  Was any of that anything but laziness, or, at best, a nasty habit of being unfocused?

I’d venture to say that yes, a large part of it was flat-out laziness. But laziness isn’t as simple as it sounds. Laziness isn’t necessarily just being a parasite, contributing nothing to humanity. Laziness can be a burden, just as overwork can. Laziness isn’t happiness; it’s not always making out like a bandit while everybody else slaves away. For me, anyway, laziness is often what fills the unhappiest of times.

I recently read a book by Ernie J. Zelinski called The Joy of Not Working. While I found the book delightful in general, one of my favorite parts of it dealt with what Ernie called “passive leisure.” Zelinski wrote of how, until recent decades, leisure time was almost always filled with active pastimes: sports, trips to the park, socializing, creative hobbies and more. Over the course of the 20th century, however, and after the Industrial Revolution, the popular choice for leisure shifted from active to passive: going to the movies, watching television, listening to the radio, surfing the internet, etc. Even those activities with some social or active elements in the past (driving or walking to a movie theater and watching a film as part of an audience, or even just traveling to the video store) have, thanks to the advance of technology, become even more passive. Now, movies are readily accessible at home on our televisions via things like On Demand service and Netflix, or on our computers. Too many of us socialize through Facebook and Twitter far more than in person.

These advancements are convenient, to be sure. I certainly appreciate them. Yet it does show an unfortunate trend. With the rise of the Industrial Revolution and the infamous “Protestant Work Ethic,” many people began to feel trapped in a 9 to 5 existence (not to mention overtime), and it has continued that way through the present. Their energy is sapped by work, and they come home, tired, relying on passive leisure to “decompress.”

I have, mercifully, avoided being stuck in the 9 to 5 world thus far, but there’s a reason Ernie Zelinski’s book resonated so strongly with me. My college years were spent quite miserably, in a constant stream of assignments I had no passion for, story ideas popping into my mind during idle moments. Then, when I got home at the end of each day, I’d be too burned out on writing stuff for professors and instructors, stuff I didn’t care about to begin with, to feel like writing anything else. Naturally, this kept me from writing anything I really wanted to most of the time, and my need to “decompress” and “unwind” inevitably led to mindless videogame playing and internet surfing. The lack of productivity would make me depressed, but the cycle continued. My schedule would keep me from eating right, my health became sub-par, I felt constantly tired and drained and, to sum it up, I just felt like crap. It’s a miserable way to live. The hilarious irony, of course, is that I was too burned out pursuing a creative writing degree to get hardly any actual creative writing done.

Since I’ve been “semi-retired from school” (a story for another time) beginning in 2012, I initially found it difficult to readjust and spend my leisure time constructively. I was still stuck in the “desperately use every free moment to do as little as possible” mindset, playing far too many videogames, watching far too much TV, etc. During the first half of the year I was still enrolled in a very difficult online class and still feeling a very strong sense of meaninglessness in what I was doing. In the fall, I crashed and burned, faltering and eventually dropping out of the class.  I felt that my social circle, the people who I would turn to for support, were too few and far between, with most old friends having become too busy to collaborate on projects and such as we had in years past, and no new friends in sight.

I had always told myself that when I found free time again, I’d throw myself into writing. I’d quell the naysayers, especially people within my family, who worried about my life going nowhere, about me not making any money, about me being a bum. I would get my work out there, I’d construct the elaborate stories I’d plotted for years. I might, I thought, even make a few friends, by connecting with people who enjoyed my work. I didn’t believe I’d be a financial success with writing, but I always thought that I could fill my life with enough activity to at least shut up anyone who considered me lazy.

Yet when that free time was there, I just didn’t know what to do with it. Writing wasn’t fun anymore. I wondered if it ever had been. The elaborate stories seemed like daunting tasks, like the college assignments all over again. There was meaning for me in writing those stories, but I just couldn’t feel connected to it anymore. The fun was gone. What happened? Was I really, at heart, just a lazy bum? Was that it? Were the naysayers right?

I didn’t find my way out of it until I hit rock bottom, though I saw a few rays of light along the way. I attended a certain fan convention that inspired me, seeing all of those people sharing a common interest and a love of creativity was a huge boost (not to mention meeting one of my favorite voice actresses/singer-songwriters). An environment filled with creative, passionate people is, surprise surprise, quite conducive to feeling creative and passionate. I discovered the work of a late artist who shared my love of insane, surreal humor. Yet it wasn’t until I realized that my “passive leisure,” my intense droughts of meaningless inactivity, were making me feel sick that I began to see a way out.

I remember those moments when I really became conscious of it. I would “awaken” from a stupor, having played some videogame or other for far too many hours, or having spent virtually all day sitting at my computer doing nothing but obsessively check the same websites again and again. It occurred to me that I’d been lazy, idle. I’d spent all day doing nothing (at least nothing worthwhile). It occurred to me that I felt terrible.

But there was something else that I realized in those moments. I didn’t feel terrible because I let down society, or failed to live up the Protestant Work Ethic. I didn’t feel terrible because I’d failed to meet someone else’s expectations, or because people would think I was a bum. It wasn’t even because I’d failed to live up to my own expectations, my own plans to write this or that, create this or that. Unlike all the brow-beating I’d been giving myself for years, I suddenly realized that guilt wasn’t the real source of my misery.

I felt terrible because doing a whole lot of nothing just feels terrible.

Playing videogames is fun. Playing videogames all day is not fun. Playing videogames for more than an hour or two isn’t fun.

Watching TV is fun. Watching TV all day is not fun. You get the idea.

All my life, all the criticisms I’d ever heard for being lazy, or idle, or unproductive were always founded on guilt. “You’re wrong to be doing nothing and enjoying yourself while those in the ‘real world’ slave away,” they’d say. Anytime anyone gave me any crap for not working enough, or not socializing enough, or whatever, all of it was based on this ethereal, flimsy idea that I somehow owed a debt to…someone, or something. Society, perhaps. Not once can I recall someone saying to me “you ought to be more productive because it’s good for you. You’ll feel better.” I can remember so many occasions in which someone would berate me for not getting out enough, but I can’t recall nearly as many times that someone asked me to get out more because it would make me happy, or that they appreciated having me around. It was always this guilt-trip of “don’t be a hermit, don’t be anti-social.”

I suspect that many people berate others in this way with the best of intentions. Maybe they really are trying to help, they’re just not expressing themselves very well, or considering the psychological ramifications of what they’re saying. Yet it is my experience that such attempts at negative reinforcement are almost always failures. I never wanted to get out more when the people inviting me to hang out with them were acting like I’d be a loser if I didn’t go. Who wants to hang out with such negative people? I would procrastinate and accomplish nothing the more people would guilt-trip me about being unproductive. The same goes for all the times I’d tell myself I was a failure for not working on some writing project or other. I berated myself for not doing something rather than focusing on why it was worthwhile to do it.

The focus was on obligation, not on creating for the sake of creating, for the fun of it.

How can we ignore that, though? How can we ignore our own passions and expect to live a fulfilling life? How do we find the fun of things again, the passions that make productivity worthwhile, its own reward? Why exactly do so many people seem to want others to be miserable drones?

I’m still learning that. In the months since I came to realize that I was pressuring myself to write, treating it like an urgent school or job assignment, I’ve been experimenting, taking things slow. I’ve found this is the best way (with some of my biggest inspirations coming from Leo Babuta at his blog Zen Habits and, of all people, my childhood “television neighbor” Fred “Mister” Rogers). You can’t rush happiness, you can’t achieve happiness with a checklist (well, maybe you can, but I certainly can’t).

In the past few months I’ve tried different things. I’ve started strumming a ukulele without any prior musical knowledge or skill, and enjoying the feel of strumming the strings. Even something as simple as that can be invigorating. I’ve decided not to fight my urge to be lazy sometimes, but to always be mindful of it. As I began writing this very post, I felt a strong urge to go lay on the couch, curl-up with the quilt made by my great-grandmother, turn on Netflix and watch some Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

I went ahead and did just that, and I have no regrets. I watched two episodes, resisting the pull to watch more out of a desire to stretch out the experience past the point where it’s fulfilling.  I took time to appreciate how nice it was to sit in the dark, just for an hour and a half, nice and warm, and enjoy some television. I enjoyed it mindfully, thoroughly, without over-doing it and without guilt.

Then, later, I returned to my writing, and here I am. Everything in moderation. I’m enjoying the sensation of writing this post, right here, right now.

Do things in moderation, and do what is fun. If you want to watch TV, ask yourself if you really want to watch TV or if you’re only doing it to avoid something else. If you are, ask yourself why you’re avoiding whatever it is you want to avoid. Ask yourself if it’s really worth it. If you do, in fact, really want to watch TV, then go ahead. Watch some TV. Enjoy the heck out of it. Enjoy the sensation of relaxing, watching it, getting lost in the story or the learning experience. Be aware of how you feel. When you feel like you’ve had enough, stop watching TV and do something else. It sounds simple, but it’s so easy to over-indulge in everything, especially if we indulge as a form of escape from something else.

Maybe you are under stressful deadlines in your life. I am, thankfully, for now, free of such concerns. I can’t presume to tell you to magically learn to enjoy all of the burdens you might be facing. Perhaps those deadlines are things you really can’t change. But here’s what you can change: you can change the way you view your circumstances. You can experiment with your methods for getting things done, and your way of living, within the confines of your obligations. You can look for the joy in tasks both mundane and overbearing, you can try to focus on each, tiny step, and see if there’s any joy to be found in it.

If nothing else, you can free your own mind from the guilt. You can realize that, while you may have real obligations to loved ones, you don’t, in the strictest sense, owe anything to anyone. You can focus on acting out of love rather than compulsion. If you fail at some obligation, that’s not an occasion to berate yourself or feel guilty. If you don’t feel like working, that doesn’t mean you’re a lazy bum, but even if you are, why should you care what anyone else thinks? Just make sure that your “laziness” (perhaps use Ernie Zelinski’s term, “creative loafing” instead?) isn’t just as much of a drain on your happiness as the guilt others try to foist on you for it.  In the end, the only one you ought to answer to is yourself, and you should consider what things really make you happy.

In conclusion: work when you find the joy in it. Give yourself a chance to find the joy in work, and what work you enjoy; keep experimenting.  Give yourself the chance to find the joy in laziness, in doing nothing, too; know how much laziness is too much to really enjoy yourself, know how much turns you into a joyless zombie. Know how much work is too much work to enjoy yourself, and know how much turns you into a joyless zombie. Everything in moderation. Free yourself from baseless guilt, from the expectations of others, and learn what is best for you, what makes you happiest and most fulfilled.

And whenever you do choose to do nothing, I hope you that you enjoy it completely, and that you see that it can be just as valuable as “productivity.” I’ve found that it can certainly live up to my expectations.

For posterity’s sake, here’s a quick update on the development of my projects, including this blog. I may have a few new visitors soon, so I’d like to give any potential new readers an update and hopefully a sense of direction as to where things around here are going.

I’ve published some surreal fiction online before (and via Creative Commons Zero Waiver, naturally) but as part of the Jeremy Kellerman Advice Hour Archive. This blog will soon see me release my first works online, those not done as direct collaborations with Mr. Kellerman or anyone else.

The first story I plan to release is “Roadkill.” Originally written in spring 2011 as part of a screenwriting class, it wound up being one of my favorite projects of all time. It tells the story of four ghostly animals searching for some fast food before their time on earth runs out. A member of the class, when I wrote it as part of a workshop, described it as “Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle meets Homeward Bound, written by David Lynch.” Needless to say, I was quite flattered!

The adaptation process from screenplay to short story is finished. I need to do revisions now, and when I feel satisfied with it, both the short story and the script will be posted for your reading pleasure. As always, these will be released with the CC0 Waiver, so if you want to copy it, share it, or (my dream come true) make an animated movie out of it, please, do it, and if you choose that last option, consider letting me try out for the part of one of the characters! (Hint: for just this reason, I included myself as a character in a very minor role, so I should at least be able to get a few lines!)

In other news, my article “Let the Money In the Door: Opportunity in the Case of an Independent Artist,” was just posted to, thanks to the support of QC Executive Director Karl Fogel. It is my first contribution to Question Copyright and I’m honored to have been invited to submit it, and I hope it won’t be the last work I do for them. My thanks go out to Karl and all of the other contributors there for the work they do!

Now, as for this blog itself: a draft of a reflective little piece about one of my creative heroes (though one I’m generally not keen to discuss) was written in September and I’ve yet to take the time to edit it, but I plan to follow up on that soon. I’ve also got a sort of follow-up piece in rough draft form, “Why I Am a Free Culture Artist,” which is an open-letter to another artist with an opposing viewpoint to mine on the subject of copyright, a bit of an abridged personal memoir, a sort of artistic mission statement, and a follow-up to my article for Question Copyright.

If you’ve happened upon this blog thanks to that article on QC, welcome! I hope you’ll stick around and that you enjoy whatever mad little ramblings I feel inspired to post here.

Before I sign off, a quick side note: I started off calling this blog “The Dizziness of Freedom,” and I’ve now changed “Dizziness” to “Vertigo” because the former sounds stupid and the latter sounds kinda cool. The phrase is a translation from Kierkegaard, and until recently I’d only heard the former translation. The latter has a much better ring to it, don’t you think?

Thanks for reading and keep on your stick on the ice and some other warm, folksy farewell that I wish I could think of,

Leo Kirke

One of my best and oldest friends (going back to middle school) writes a blog, also here on WordPress, called “Enigmatic Fish.” Originally created primarily as a platform to offer observations and advice on the practice of independent videogame development, “Enigmatic Fish” occasionally tackles broader subject matter, and on June 26th, 2012, a post was made titled “A Case Against a Loving God,” which deals with some deep and important issues related to the existence and nature of God and to the state of nature itself.

Having been interested in philosophy since around the time I was 14 years old, much of the subject matter of the post was familiar to me, and the issue it covers is, I think, a vitally important one for anybody and everybody.

While the original post is “A Case Against a Loving God,” in other words, a logical argument or contention (though it is admittedly closer in form to a brief reflection than an expansive argument), my reply will not be an attempt at any argument. I personally don’t feel very proficient at making a “case” for much of anything; my thoughts are simply too scattered most of the time. While I do sometimes make such attempts at crafting a solid argument, most often, as is the case now, I feel more inclined to simply make a few observations and share a few ideas and questions and potential counterpoints in response to the points made, and the ideas underlying them, in the original writing. I apologize in advance for how rambling this post shall inevitably become. If you intend to return to my blog after reading this, then you may as well be warned that I do tend to go on like this; this post will not be an isolated incident in terms of length or rambling.

Before reading my reply, please take a moment and read the original post at “Enigmatic Fish.”

In the opening paragraph, this line in particular stuck out to me:

“The leaves rustle to the gentle cadence of the breeze, and the wild birds, distant and near, play their continuous song in unbroken bliss. There is not a one thing out-of-place in the natural order in this singular moment, indeed, the illusion is so great that it is easy to believe that God built everything from the foundation of love.”

The idea that the apparent perfection of nature is an illusion is one that has occurred to me many times before, often during many moments just like the one described here.

For this reason, I too have been bothered for many years by the arguments for the existence of God (or, with respect to this post’s specific issue, a loving God) that rely heavily on the idea of nature’s perfection. I am certainly no expert in evolution, and can’t claim to understand its intricacies well at all (I say this as a disclaimer, because though I feel I have reasonably good understanding of evolution in a basic sense, I often see philosophers and writers who mention it criticized for misunderstanding it somehow, though rarely is the nature of their misunderstanding elaborated on by the critics).

Nonetheless, it seems to me that on the surface one could draw the conclusion that evolution, in which the continuance of life is based on a “merciless” world that grants brief lives to all creatures, and grants slightly less-brief and more pleasurable lives to those creatures that unthinkingly come to adapt more fittingly to their world, is governed by an either cruel or, perhaps more likely, indifferent power.

Yet the arguments of many theologians persist that the apparent “perfection” of nature is proof of a Creator, and generally these same thinkers also claim that the aforementioned “perfection” is also proof that God is loving and perfect.

As pointed out in the example quoted paragraph from “A Case Against a Loving God,” however, this conclusion is most easily reached in quiet, peaceful moments outdoors. Has anyone had an epiphany that nature is perfect and proof of a loving God while being attacked by a wild animal? While being mauled by a bear, does the thought occur to a person: “Gee, nature is so harmonious?” Has anyone drawn the conclusion, during a fit of violent vomiting caused by accidentally eating a poisoned plant, that only a loving God could have created our world?

Yet there are even more striking reasons to draw the opposite conclusion. Going back to the issue of evolution, in which nature seems to move forward in a kind of trial-and-error, has anyone ever truly been struck by the perfection of nature upon seeing a creature, even a human, born with a serious physical deformity or mental defect?

It has, for a long time, seemed to me that even one creature born with a deformity, anything that ruins either the ability of the creature to reach the fullness of its species average lifespan or to draw any pleasure or happiness from life, essentially trounces any argument one might make that is based on the idea that nature is “perfect” or “balanced,” not even taking into consideration the issue of a loving God having designed nature to be so. Nature, it would seem, thrives on imperfections, creating problems at random and then solving them by a constant stream of death and extinction, with no particular telos, or purpose, at all, or at least none apparent. All the while the illusion, for humans, is built up that life is perfect, because that which thrives appears to be the norm, and only on closer inspection does one consider the flaws. Life itself, it would seem, or nature, moves forward, unthinking and unfeeling, with no goal in sight except to keep on moving, and doing so seemingly endlessly. Looked at this way, it is difficult to say if it would be worse for nature to continue moving forward forever, totally void of meaning, or to finally drop dead into nothingness.

There is precedent for this negative/pessimistic view of nature. Arthur Schopenhauer’s work comes to mind here. Many theologians, in their defense of the nature-as-perfect argument, point out that modern science has shown just how low the probability is for the existence of a world such as ours, sustaining life as it does. If only a few elements of nature were to be off by one infinitesimal point, such as with the orbit of the planets, sun, and moon, life as we know it would not be possible. However, as Schopenhauer argued, in opposition to Leibniz, that in spite of the argument that says that because the universe is structured with this delicate balance it is therefore “the best of all possible worlds,” the very fragility of it, the nearness of it to total destruction, actually makes it “the worst of all possible worlds.” It awaits collapse at any moment, with even the slightest thing out of place, and it would seem that everything, including the health of every living creature, was designed either with the outright intent of decay, or with a flaw causing decay to be inevitable.

One thing that strikes me about this point, however, is the subjectivity of it. “Best” and “worst,” as used in these two phrases, seem to me to be entirely subjective. There is really no objective criteria I can think of with which one can weigh these two views. Both acknowledge how delicate the balance of nature and life is, that isn’t in contention. Schopenhauer is often called the most influential Pessimist philosopher, and in common language a person is not called a “pessimist” in reference to a philosophical system or argument, but in reference to that person’s subjective view of the world. The perception of a “glass half-empty” versus the perception of a “glass half-full” is not a clash that can be solved with philosophical argument, and no matter how well-stated and logical Schopenhauer’s overall worldview/philosophy may be, the argument over whether we live in the “best” or “worst” of all possible worlds strikes me as one philosophically untouchable, no more open to logical/philosophical resolution than whether one song, movie or book is more enjoyable than another (based, say, on a criteria of whether or not a story would keep its proper structure if one element of the plot were to be removed or changed).

Views such as Schopenhauer’s (though in saying this I in no way mean to imply that views like his are the only views that are subject to this) are tricky because they are generally presented objectively, with a great deal of excellent logic and solid argumentation, but nonetheless rely very much on a foundation of subjective perception. Perhaps all or nearly all philosophical arguments/worldviews do this, but that is an issue for another time.

As already stated, I find it difficult to see a difference between personal, emotional pessimism and philosophical pessimism, yet in the academic world this difference is considered very real. Before going further, it may be helpful to examine this issue briefly, as I feel it relates to my reply to “A Case Against a Loving God.”

Wikipedia phrases  the difference between the two types of pessimism thusly: “Pessimism is a state of mind in which one anticipates negative outcomes . . . Philosophical pessimism is the similar but not identical idea that life has a negative value, or that this world is as bad as it could possibly be. It has also been noted by many philosophers that pessimism is not a disposition as the term commonly connotes. Instead, it is a cogent philosophy that directly challenges the notion of progress and what may be considered the faith-based claims of optimism.”

I am able to understand that a view founded on optimistic faith may be defeated by a good argument to the contrary of the view’s claims. It seems misleading to me, however, to call this sort of counter-argumentation “pessimism.” Perhaps my complaint here is more about language that the philosophy itself, but it is, nonetheless, a point worth noting. Schopenhauer’s views, and many philosophical views referred to as forms of philosophical pessimism, do, as I see it, exist upon a foundation of pure emotional, personal, subjective pessimism, not merely refuting optimistic arguments. If one argues that the universe is in a state of unstoppable decay, that does not imply a value judgment. One is free to view the unstoppable decay of the universe as a good or bad thing. Emotions and individual reactions, needless to say, are not universals. If I were to, hypothetically, construct an airtight argument that you will go to Heaven when you die, you would still be free to react to this as you will, with either happiness or sadness or any other emotion. It would be another thing entirely, in either case, for an argument to be made that either the decay of the universe or going to Heaven have a “negative value,” which is what I believe philosophical pessimism does, at least this is what I have concluded from my admittedly limited exposure to it.

I would amend Wikipedia’s definition, then, this way: “Pessimism is a state of mind in which one anticipates negative outcomes. Philosophical pessimism is not a personal disposition, but a cogent philosophy founded on a personal disposition.”

I may very well be wrong here, but I can’t comprehend how a philosophy can logically argue that something has a “negative value” without the very definition of “negative” resting on a subjective evaluation of the facts. The old aphorism goes “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” One might also say that “One man’s Hell is another man’s Heaven.” The world will eventually end, this at least appears inevitable. Whether you consider that terrible and “evil” or wonderful and “good” is another matter entirely, and I am not sure that it can be resolved philosophically or logically.

If you’ve pardoned my brief tangent here, I’ll now bring things back to the original subject.

Later in “A Case Against a Loving God,” one will come across this paragraph:

“It’s interesting, because I see minute traces of the good in the natural order, but it is saturated with the negative. If a loving God (whoever that might ultimately be) did create the universe, then why did he not saturate the order with the good, and have but traces of the evil? Indeed, all life seems to be constructed to cause agony to some other life form.”

I suspect that this part of the essay relies on certain assumptions that are worth inspecting further, related, I believe, to what I perceive to be the false-objectivity of philosophical pessimism and Schopenhauer-esque thought.

First of all, I’m not sure that I agree that the natural order is comprised of a “saturation of the negative” with only “minute traces of the good.” This is a very broad evaluation, and I think asserting it should require at least some argument with proof. I cannot help but view it as far too subjective a basis for the claims made after it. I might be convinced if more evidence or solid argumentation were given, but as-is I find it to be too broad and too subjective.

I imagine there are those out there, just as reasonable as my friend, who would argue that the world is the opposite of how he views it. The burden of proof remains for any claim on the subject, but nonetheless I believe that, as “A Case Against a Loving God” is just that, a case, in other words an argument, there should be at least more clarification, if not proof, for a claim such as this, insofar as so much of the weight of the argument seems to rest on it.

As for my own views on the subject, I make no claims to making an argument, or using this view as the basis of one, but I suspect that nature is more or less equally “good” and “bad,” if one defines “good” in terms of “love,” “pleasure,” “kindness” and “life,” and “bad” as “hate,” “pain,” “cruelty” and “death.” For every optimistic view of nature I’ve been exposed to and found lacking and overly subjective, I’ve been exposed to a pessimistic or cynical view that, while making the opposite point, is equally lacking and overly subjective. When I observe nature, or even human behavior, and history, I seem to find roughly the same number of acts of kindness and love as acts of cruelty and hatred. For every birth there is a death and for every death there is a birth. Perhaps the optimists are correct, or perhaps the pessimists are, but I, at present, see no way of discerning the truth here. To me, it seems that if the world and nature were designed, they were designed to be as ambiguous and vague and unclassifiable as possible, totally incompatible with the subjective bias of either optimism or pessimism. Whichever you expect to see, the positive or the negative, you’re bound to find just as much of the opposite, and if you don’t see it, then you are likely viewing the world in a bias way, seeing only what you have convinced yourself that you will. Then again, I’m no psychologist.

I’m also curious about the question “why did he [God] not saturate the order with the good, and have but traces of the evil?” I’m not sure why one would assume there needs to be traces of evil, or any evil, at all? If one is to presume that God is cruel or indifferent for creating a world saturated with evil but with traces of good, why would one presume God to be loving for including even “traces” of evil? Wouldn’t it be just as questionable for a perfect and loving God to create/allow any evil at all?

(It is a question, in and of itself, that has been covered by many thinkers countless times before, and it would likely take a whole other essay for me to cover it, but I bring this up briefly here simply because I don’t understand why, in “A Case Against a Loving God,” it was assumed that “a little evil” wouldn’t still be a problem when contemplating the goodness (or lack of goodness) of God.)

In the following line, we can draw the conclusion that “A Case Against a Loving God” presumes at least one form of “evil” to be agony, and the cruelty of one creature to another:

“Indeed, all life seems to be constructed to cause agony to some other life form.”

Reading this reminded me of a song I enjoy by a “pop music cult” you’ve probably never (but almost certainly should have) heard of. The “pop music cult” is Hussalonia. The song is “I Want to Live On an Abstract Plane,” from the January 2011 album “Deep in a Donut Dream.” (You can download the album legally, for free, at this link: )  In particular it brought to mind these lyrics:

“I pride myself on compassion and empathy,

But itʼs just impossible to live completely cruelty-free.

Flesh betwixt their jaws, my detractors force feed me their pills.

They say, “Everything, if it wants to live, must kill.”

But I want to live on an abstract plane.”

I suspect that “I Want to Live On an Abstract Plane” could be the theme song of “A Case Against a Loving God,” or it could be if theo-philosophical essays had theme songs.

I can’t say I lack empathy for the sentiment of  that line from the essay and those lyrics from the song. It seems that this is a point with a bit more weight, as far as an evaluation of the world and its cruelty-to-kindness ratio goes, simply from general observation. Even herbivores and vegans must eat living things to survive, the only difference being that the living things they eat do not appear to be conscious and therefore don’t suffer consciously.  The great majority of creatures, nonetheless, do eat conscious living things, and aside from scavengers, this does involve killing, which, no matter how humanely it is done, is still not likely to be pleasant for whatever creature is being eaten.

I confess that I do feel a certain guilt at times when eating meat. I have my own (perhaps strange) sensibilities in regards to this. Years ago I suddenly became disgusted by boneless chicken wings, after seeing them prepared on a hibachi grill and eating some cold leftover wings that didn’t reheat properly. Since then, I’ve begun to find “processed” or ground food in general to be disgusting, though I still eat hamburgers and tacos. I suspect my disgust at seeing food “liquefied” and “reassembled” stems from the sense that such preparation is “unnatural” to me, and I’ve come to feel that it “disrespects” the animals. This may be totally nonsensical, but perhaps it is due to having a Cherokee heritage; perhaps I experience genetically stored memories of a certain respect for earth and the spirits of animals. Who knows? Regardless, aside from the aforementioned exceptions, I prefer to eat meat unprocessed, bones and all intact upon serving. I somehow feel less guilty and more justified eating it this way, and not nearly as disgusted. Nonetheless, I have at times considered going vegetarian or vegan, as not all of the concerns over the ethics of food have left me yet. Time will tell if I come to a different and more definite conclusion later on.

As for how this relates to both the existence and disposition of God, there are a number of proposed explanations. When dealing with the concept of theodicy, more commonly known as the “problem of evil,” most theologians and philosophers that I can recall have specifically referred to human moral evils, such as man’s violence against man, rather than the issue of life itself being reliant on the destruction of other life (though natural disasters are sometimes brought up, and a lot of questions in the same realm as “why do bad things happen to good people?” and such).

In Christianity, of course, the state of nature, which political philosopher Thomas Hobbes once described as “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short,” is the fault of man. In general Christian thought, God created the world as perfect, seemingly gave man free will, and man chose to disobey God, bringing down a curse upon the world, which God then repaired through the sacrifice of Christ, and which is to ultimately renew the earth, leading to a paradisiacal time in which “the lion will lie down with the lamb.”

If one accepts this explanation as essentially true, there are still a number of points of debate (for example, is God not still to blame if, being all-knowing, God knew that mankind would bring about such suffering upon itself?) that have plagued Christian thinkers through the centuries. “Enigmatic Fish” touched upon this in a previous blog entry, and “A Case Against a Loving God” touches on it as well, but I will return to that. My point here is that in Christian theology, there are a number of explanations for this issue. There are too many to go into here (and if I’m able I will attempt to write  a reply to the previous post on “Enigmatic Fish” that dealt more directly with this subject in a Christian context), but I will say that I find a number of them worthwhile, though just as many strike me as outright ridiculous, but all of them that I can recall have either serious flaws or at least questionable foundations. Regardless, I do not think one ought to write them all off out-of-hand, at least if one is predisposed to accept the basic premises of the theology underlying them, even if only for the sake of being hypothetical.

With the intent to move onto the specific question of God as presented in Christianity in a later post, I’d like to cover a couple of final points raised in “A Case Against a Loving God.”

There is one assumption underlying the entirety of “A Case Against a Loving God” that I find particularly questionable and uncertain: the idea that nature is outside of humanity, or that humanity is outside of nature.

At the end of the second paragraph, there is this statement:

“The best way to understand God is to move past religion and look upon the creation itself. It is then that we can scrutinize the intent of the true God, instead of whatever God we were taught to believe in via religion.”

While questioning the teachings of one’s childhood is, I believe, a wise decision, I can’t help but wonder if the idea that “[looking] upon the creation itself” is perhaps categorizing humanity out of nature. There is an ancient argument in philosophy, and one that comes up often today as technology becomes ever more advanced, especially in regard to medical science and bioethics, over whether or not humanity is “natural,” whether humans are a part of nature, essentially very advanced animals, or “special” or “different” in some sense. Ironically, I think that perhaps a Biblical influence is more often than not the cause for the very assumption that man is “different.”

Now, my point here may be reading too much into the original statement; I imagine humanity’s part in “the creation itself” is assumed in “A Case Against a Loving God.” Nonetheless, I feel this is glossed over a bit in favor of a perhaps overly broad view of nature.

Considering a bit more closely the idea that what is human and what is natural are not separate, one is left to consider that what is human is, at the very least vicariously, also what is “creation,” as in created by God, or else simply as “mechanical” as “nature” is. Atheist writers such as Daniel C. Dennett and Richard Dawkins have been known to espouse the view that religious belief itself can be explained in evolutionary terms, and this is one view that can result from the idea that there is no inherent divide between man and nature, that nature simply is “what is.”

However, if one thinks through the issue accepting the premise (again, if only hypothetically) that “creation” is in fact created by God, then one might be brought back to the beginning: if “creation” includes a book, seemingly written by mortal men but with claims of divine inspiration, then perhaps that book does have “divine value.” At the very least, it would have no less value for discerning the nature of God than watching a lion hunt and kill an antelope, or rain falling onto a tin roof. If man and nature are not separate, then to “move past religion” would be to ignore a part of creation every bit as valid as watching non-human creatures live their lives. Absolutely everything would have to be considered, including things both contradictory and not easily interpreted, or not even interpretable. One would have to look for God both in the “dog-eat-dog” behavior of animals, the social-power dynamics of humans and animals, the seemingly neutral moments of leaky faucets and desert sands,  Adolph Hitler’s atrocities, Mohandas Gandhi’s self-sacrifice, the great apes beating their chests, the female spiders eating their male mates, the fish that eat the leftovers of sharks, the scavenging of vultures, the orbits of the planets, the movements of the stars, and hate, love, cruelty, and kindness all at once. The world, I think, is simply not very easily categorized or made sense of in any metaphysical sense, and so any attempt to find God in one aspect of it must either fall short, or at least prove inconclusive.

I offer no conclusion here; exploring religion (or any other part of existence) as further evidence for discerning the nature of God can lead one down different paths, and I have no intention of rambling down them at this time, as it is, once again, a subject expansive enough for its own focus in another essay.

Underlying my point here is an assumption of my own, at least for the sake of this writing, but I also offer it as a potential counterpoint: that there is no reason to assume that God is only revealed in “wild nature,” outside of humanity, or in the general, historical, biological, mechanical workings of the world as we know it, even if humanity is included in the equation.

To assume that God’s nature is only discernible through the historical-wild natural-biological-etc. workings of the world does, I suspect, require a “leap of faith” of sorts, assuming without proof the existence of God as impersonal and essentially Deistic, and that any religious view of God is corrupted and wrong.

There is another view that I find most worthwhile, but it is one that essentially brings us to the end of logical argument and philosophy when it is brought up.

It is this: that God is not impersonal, thus God’s nature not being discernible through an analysis of the natural world, but instead entirely personal, therefore all knowledge of God only is only accessible through personal communion with God.

This idea will, for most readers, bring to mind the Christian belief that one must have a “personal relationship with Christ.” I do not bring this view up with a strictly Christian interpretation implied; I only intend to raise up this view as its own valid, theo-philosophical concept, regardless of what (if any) religion it is associated with.

Many thinkers of an atheistic or agnostic viewpoint will likely consider this the end of discussion with a theist, and they are, in a sense, right. Christian or not, this view implies a personal challenge of sorts, one that, depending on the religious context in which one receives it (or, as in this rather neutral presentation, a lack of one) that takes one into uncharted waters that may or may not have even any internally logical guidelines on which one can proceed. These are realms seemingly teeming with mysticism and superstition and a lot of reading into everyday events. In other words, it takes one into the realm of nonsense.

I am speaking, essentially, of entering divine madness, a blatantly incomprehensible and potentially very dangerous state. In Christianity, figures are venerated based on their extreme loyalty to God. Yet would any modern Christian really praise a man, whom they know personally, who claims that God asked him to kill his own son, but then changed His mind at the last minute, simply because the man was so faithful? The most vicious attacks on religion by modern atheists are based on the fact that so much terrorism and cruelty in the world is carried out in the name of religion, and so certainly the dark side of “divine madness” is not difficult to see.

Yet is not the idea that God, perhaps a living embodiment of unchanging, objective Reality, is only accessible through a subjective experience or relationship, nonetheless a worthwhile one to pursue? It is, of course, not strictly logical, certainly not scientific. You cannot scientifically prove that which by its nature refuses to exist objectively, and a personal, perhaps mystical experience cannot be studied objectively. One might study the objective elements of it, such as neuro-chemical changes during a “spiritual experience” and the like, but by the very nature of the experience there remains the claim that something occurs beyond observable, objective reality, and so attempting to draw it out into an observable and testable form proves fruitless.

Despite the atheistic criticism of theism that the burden of proof of God rests on believers, the idea itself that God is accessible only via subjective experience is not even a claim that pretends to be provable. In fact, I offer it here not as a hard and fast claim, but as an idea about the nature of God that could very well be possible and requires some effort on the part of you, reading this, to “test” it, but to “test” it in a way that will never be provable to others and will not even be, strictly speaking, describable. If God and God’s nature are only comprehensible via some personal experience, then the only way to know God and God’s nature, loving or otherwise, is by some attempt at personal contact with God; this is the only way that God can or will be known by anyone, at least by any effort on their part, at least if the premise itself is true that God, presumably by God’s own choice to be revealed subjectively, that God is only knowable on a subjective basis.

Now, if one, hypothetically, “calls out to God” in some way, it rests on the individual to discern what he learns. Perhaps there is no answer, only an echo in the void. Perhaps there is an answer. Perhaps the answer is simple. Perhaps the answer is complex or mysterious. Assuming there is an answer, if the individual seeks God in honesty and good faith (regardless of whether or not God turns out to be loving or otherwise) all the individual is left with is a personal testimony with no solid corroborating evidence. Subjective as it is, it will likely convince no one except those predisposed to agree with whatever claim of experience with God that one makes. It certainly won’t be provable in any objective way. This is why the discussion must, by necessity, stop here. No further argument can be made about what one finds when diving into the world of the potential subjective relationship with God.

I recently read “The Divinity of Doubt” by lawyer and agnostic thinker Vincent Bugliosi. While I may review this book in greater detail in another post, one part of it is worth mentioning here. At one point, Bugliosi says something about some advice that one should pray to God “God, if you are real, please let me go to Heaven,” and Bugliosi then adds that he will “never” do this. While I find the “please let me go to Heaven” line to be a bit too loaded, the idea of an “experimental prayer” is essentially what I have spoken of in this essay, and I find it fascinating that a thinker who prides himself on not giving into the extremes of either religion or “radical atheism” and of being very logical and open to exploration would simply dismiss this premise out of hand. Bugliosi’s views are, he admits, very much anti-Christian, so perhaps the very idea reminds him too much of countless “Do you have a personal relationship with Jesus?” questions well-meaning believers have flung at him. Regardless, it seems a shame to me that the basic idea, divested of any particular religious affiliation, that God can be known in at least some degree via personal, subjective connection, should be written off for no real reason. Bugliosi never even offers one, he simply rejects it out of hand and never explores it further at all.

“A Case Against a Loving God” concludes with a question (as, I suspect, most good arguments ought to):

“I am left with the logical conclusion that God is, at best, overwhelmingly indifferent. What is your conclusion?”

Though I feel I’ve brought my rambling thoughts and observations as far as they can go on this particular subject, I’d feel inadequate to close without giving an answer to this most direct question.

Based on my personal experiences, I believe that God is good, benevolent, and loving. Perhaps I misinterpret my own experiences, but I choose to believe that which seems, in terms of internal logic, most logical to me, and that is my conclusion. I have no intention, however, of trying to prove that to you, whoever you are. My intellect, by necessity, remains more or less grounded in a sort of agnosticism, regardless of what I actually “believe” in any spiritual or religious sense.  If God is, in fact, accessible only subjectively, then only you can seek God and then draw your own conclusion.

If I’m wrong, then I welcome any and all correction. Please let me know what I’ve missed.

Lastly, to finish, I wish to give thanks to my friend for this and his other excellent blog posts. They’ve been most inspiring, giving me some much-needed mental stimulation. I fear that I’ve been away from this type of writing for too long, and his writings are just the sort of things I’ve needed to get me back into “philosophy mode” again. I may be a bit rusty starting out, so if you’ve made it all the way here, to the end, forgive me for the detours and thank you for your patience.

Vaya Con Dios, and all the best to you,


Hello, gentle reader.

My name is Leonard Kirke and when I’m not slogging through the dying, sluggish final years of earning a (most likely worthless) college degree, I occasionally create things.

Not necessarily good things, but things nonetheless.

The primary things I create, or aspire to create, are various aesthetically-pleasing arrangements of words collected into books, or whatever the modern equivalent of books are (I don’t follow what-all the kids are doing these days). Most of these word bouquets take the form of fiction, or as I like to think of them, “non-literal truths,” which some might call “meaningful lies.”

My fiction works tend to be in the form of one or two broad genres: traditional and experimental (or, rephrased, enjoyable and weird, though I personally find the “weird” to be “enjoyable” just as often if not more-so than anything else).

In terms of my “weird” stories, you can read my work via my contributions to “The Collected Works of Jeremy Kellerman Volume 1,” a free eBook available for download on (and dedicated to the public domain!). My work with Jeremy Kellerman, a Michigan native and self-described “advice guru,” always tends to fall in this category. You can read more of our work on Jeremy’s blog, aptly titled “The Jeremy Kellerman Blog!”

I also sometimes write short, surrealist stories independently of the Kellerman project, these being generally less humorous (or at least, less obviously so) than what I write for Kellerman, and some of these stark, surreal stories of absurdism sometimes become longer works, including the novel in-production for nearly a decade, and which I consider perhaps my life’s work, which I refer to at present only as “PM.”

I have also written a comedic, surreal short film script called “Roadkill.” I may eventually post that online and invite independent animators to take a crack at it, if they wish. I’d love to voice act for it.

In terms of my “traditional” stories, none are currently available online, and few are actually finished, due to the aforementioned wasted years of focusing on a college degree. As I write them, I plan to post excerpts, or whole stories, or links to whole stories here on this blog for the public’s consumption.

The primary project I’m working on is a fantasy series about a world in which many animals, unbeknownst to humans, speak and think as humans do. The series follows the adventures of several of these animals, and their new-found human friends, as they learn to overcome their differences and discover secrets about animal-kind hidden from history. Along the way there is a fair amount of alchemy, magical shenanigans, and adorable animals that you’ll just want to hug and hug and snuggle and hug. (The series was originally written specifically for a friend, and then decidedly for a child/youth audience, but I’ve since gone all Tolkien on it and given the entire thing a centuries-spanning back-story, even after specifically declaring that I would not do such a thing. As such, I no longer have any idea who or what the target audience might be. Cie la vie.)

If you haven’t realized by now, I’m not terribly adept at promoting my own work. But it’s better than it sounds. Trust me.

Going back to genres of literature, in addition to fiction, I also sometimes write philosophical musings and observations, which may wind up here. If the blog’s name didn’t give it away, not to mention the fact that we share a root-word in our surnames, I am heavily influenced and inspired by the works of Danish philosopher and theologian and all-around wacky, neato guy, Soren Aabye Kierkegaard. He has inspired me philosophically to roughly the same degree as Franz Kafka, Osamu Tezuka and Satoshi Kon have inspired me in a literary sense. All of the above, being big influences, will likely see their work reviewed here on this blog (or they would see it, were they still alive).

I work on video projects rather more seldom than writing projects, but occasionally some video-based idea does come to fruition. Once again, the bulk of my recent video work is the result of contributing to the wonderful world of Jeremy Kellerman, as can be seen on his Youtube channel: (side-note: I can’t recall if I’m actually in the credits of anything on there, and I’ll leave it up to you to guess at random how much involvement I’ve had in any of it).

I have, for the past few years, been an advocate of Free Culture. I will likely write reflections on why I believe Free Culture is not only a valid concept, but also a vitally important one, later on this blog. As a show of support of Free Culture, I plan to release most, if not all of my work under free licenses. A future post will hopefully be able to explain the license-status of each of my writings. I may also use this blog to occasionally link to good Free Culture-licensed works that I find online that one may use. For more information on Free Culture, I recommend the website, a very helpful resource indeed.

You should also visit the blog of a friend of mine, the founder of Lotus Games, an independent video game developer. That blog is called “Enigmatic Fish,” and can be found here:

While I’m promoting other peoples’ blogs, I may as well mention a recent inspiration of mine, Daniel Suelo, who has a blog at this address: and a website at this address: and who has recently stumbled upon a bit of fame thanks to a biography published about him that you may have heard of, called “The Man Who Quit Money.” I highly recommend the book, and I even more highly recommend reading Suelo’s websites. You may not feel like giving up your life savings or your second Prius after reading the words of this modern-day hobo-philosopher, but you will likely look at the world in which you live in a rather new, worthwhile and interesting way.

Lastly, I am a janitor. I like to clean things. Janitors do important work. Give them gifts, if possible, and try not to leave too much of a mess wherever you go.

That is all for now.

Vaya Con Dios and be excellent to each other,

Leo Kirke

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