Archives for posts with tag: Leonard Kirke

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.

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One thing I’ve hoped to accomplish on this blog is to highlight the work of artists who reject copyright, distributing their work in a way that is guided by Free Culture ideals. While I may sometimes write about artists using Creative Commons licenses, I have a very special fondness for those artists who take the Free Culture philosophy to its logical conclusion and use the Creative Commons Zero waiver, also known as CC0.

CC0, as I wrote about previously, is a legal statement an artist attaches to his or her work declaring that he or she renounces all copyrights to the work and effectively places it into the public domain to the fullest extent allowed by law. Doing so, by the way, was more or less unprecedented (at least in a legally clear way) prior to Creative Commons’ release of the CC0 waiver just a few years ago. Very few artists have embraced CC0 yet, though I feel, optimistically, that the increasing use of it may very well be an indication of a copyright-free world coming in the future.

My works, those (few) previously released and those (many) yet to be (at least when I work solo and don’t have another artist’s views/intentions to take into consideration), are/will be CC0, and I’ve felt pretty lonely taking this stance. If things like the Creative Commons By Attribution license makes most people uncomfortable or confused, then CC0 cranks that discomfort and confusion up to eleven. I’ve been hoping, ever since finally settling my mind on using CC0 as the rule rather than the exception, to find others following the same path, and those who’ve blazed the trail.

As I write this, a very, very talented artist making use of CC0 is crowd-funding a book, and I feel that this is the best time to start my planned series of posts highlighting artists who use CC0. Hopefully, a few people will read this and give him some support.

His name is Piti Yindee, and he’s a freelance illustrator/comic artist based in Bangkok, Thailand. For the past year or so, he’s been drawing a very cute comic strip series called Wuffle: The Big Nice Wolf. The comic strips bring back a lot of lovely, nostalgic memories for me; the format, of course, is reminiscent of reading the “funnies” in the newspaper, and the lighthearted, feel-good tone of the comic very much fits in with that style.

The art shows an obvious influence from classic cartoons of the 1930s and 1940s (and thereabouts). One special issue even features a traditional title card that looks like it came straight out of the opening of a Bugs Bunny or Mickey Mouse cartoon from the Golden Age of Animation. As I read through the archive of the last year of Wuffle comics, I was also struck by a distinct similarity that popped up now and again to the work of one of my own personal inspirations, the “God of Manga,” Osamu Tezuka (or Tezuka Osamu, if you want to be proper). My perpetually in-progress Snowy series owes a lot to his influence. Then, late in 2012, I was delighted to find an outright parody of Tezuka’s work, Astro-Wuf. Tezuka fans, or fans of old-school anime in general, will find quite a few hilarious references in that one. I’m very happy to see young artists like Yindee keeping awareness of Tezuka’s work alive; I find him far too underappreciated among younger manga and anime fans.

The humor is mostly straightforward, traditional comic-strip style; it’s very cutesy, which maybe some people feel too “grown up” for, but I happen to love cutesy things. On occasion, the humor does get a bit surreal; these are fairly rare moments, but they’re my favorites (especially the “puking rainbows” moments). Once in a while the dialogue is a bit rough, owing to a rough use of English, I suspect. I imagine English is not Yindee’s first language, but the rough spots here and there aren’t numerous or too overwhelming, and as someone who has struggled to learn to speak even a little bit of a second language for the past few years, I’m not about to be very critical of anyone else who can speak one so fluently as Yindee.

Of course, anyone is free to read, enjoy, and copy the series thanks to the author’s use of CC0, and Yindee even makes it possible to download Wuffle: The Big Nice Wolf at no cost in one large archive zip file. His website even includes a “Free License” page (declaring “Wuffle Has No Copyright”) in which he explains, in his own words, his reasoning for using CC0. It’s definitely worth reading, as it is a very succinct and direct explanation of why an artist chooses Free Culture. In particular, I love this statement:

“For arts to become a culture, you have to let it go free.
Let it be shared and copied. A language dies if nobody speaks it.
Same goes with art.

It dies if nobody share or talk about it.”

“But wait,” you might be saying, “I love this comic, and I love that it’s free, but I have an overwhelming desire to give Mr. Yindee some money!”

You’re in luck, as there are several ways to show your support monetarily (in addition to showing your support by spreading the word about Wuffle). Buying something from the Wuffle Cafepress and Zazzle stores, or buying a commissioned piece of art from the Wuffle site would certainly help. Still, there are more options!

On his website, you’ll find Mr. Yindee has both a Flattr (as I now do as well, assuming I posted it correctly) and a Paypal donate button.

But that’s not all!

I mentioned earlier that Mr. Yindee is crowd-funding a book. This link will take you to the IndieGoGo page for Wuffle: The Big Nice Wolf – Year 1.” This will be a nice, printed, physical book that you can actually hold in your hands and read even if your power goes out (assuming you still have a light source).

The book crowd-funding campaign already met and exceeded its goal within the first few days of funding, I’m happy to report. However, the campaign, as I write this, still has 35 days left to go. The goal has nearly been exceeded by one thousand dollars so far! If you donate, you can feel satisfied with more than just helping out a talented, hardworking Free Culture artist; you can also pick up some excellent rewards. At the lowest reward levels you can get your name in a thank-you section of the book; for $35 dollars you can have your own, autographed copy of the book. For the higher-up rewards, you can even get some custom Wuffle art and comics from Piti Yindee himself.

Even if you can’t contribute financially, and even if you’ve already spread the word to everyone you know, there are even more ways to support Piti Yindee and Wuffle. Take advantage of the CC0 waiver and make some perfectly legal (even for you to sell for yourself!) fan art. I’m sure Mr. Yindee would love to feature it on his website’s “Fan Works” page. If you do happen to make and sell some Wuffle fan art, fan fiction, fan films, or whatever else, consider showing Piti Yindee some love and sharing some of the profits with him (you can contact him to arrange profit-sharing via his “Free License” page). If you do happen to follow that advice and arrange some profit-sharing with Mr. Yindee, you might consider using whatever “Creator Endorsed” mark is appropriate for whatever arrangement you come up with, courtesy of QuestionCopyright.org (and the marks were designed by another CC0 artist, Nina Paley).

That’s all for the first edition of “CC0 Heroes.” Go show some support for Piti Yindee, get yourself some cool Wuffle swag on IndieGoGo, and then get back to being creative. When you create something amazing, consider using CC0; you’ll be very good company if you do!

Recently, something happened that, for quite some time now, I’d secretly been hoping for: Nina Paley dedicated her animated film Sita Sings the Blues to the public domain using the Creative Commons Zero Waiver. I only wish the circumstances that inspired her decision weren’t so tragic and offensive.

For those who don’t know, Nina created quite a stir when the film was first released in 2008, as she chose to release it with a Creative Commons license. Specifically, she chose the “Creative Commons By Attribution Share-Alike 3.0 Unported” license, which, for those not familiar with CC licenses, gave anyone the right to copy, share, screen, remix, sell, or otherwise distribute or reuse the film any way they chose as long as Nina Paley was given credit and as long as the license was maintained on copies and applied to any derivative works.

I’ve shared Nina’s internal debate over what Creative Commons license (or waiver, as the case may be) to use for quite some time. By Attribution is appealing as it essentially makes the work almost-public domain while guaranteeing that any copying/reuse is attributed to the original author, preventing plagiarism. By Attribution Share-Alike is appealing for the same reason, and also promotes Free Culture ideals by forcing derivative works to also carry the same open license. Creative Commons Zero, or CC0 for short, is appealing because it really cuts right to the heart of the whole issue of permission culture vs. Free Culture: it allows the work to truly run free within the public domain as much as legally possible.

So what are the downsides? The downside to By Attribution, as I see it, is that it isn’t always applicable in any reasonable way. For example, if I wrote a story that was turned into a film, sure, that’d be a reasonable place for attribution. After all, films have credits at the end. Likewise, books have plenty of space at the end for acknowledgements. But say someone were to take a 5-second clip of a line of dialogue from my story, as it was used in a film adaptation, and use it in a song, along with about a thousand other clips of similar length, all from different stories adapted into different films? Does the track have to include an addendum, in which the artist reads a list of all his sources? Many people don’t read the credits in movies, I imagine fewer still would listen to a 5 minute “Sources Cited” reading at the end of a song. It’d be even worse to have to cite attribution for works that, for example, used a remix of a line from a movie adapted from a novel which itself used lines from other stories, films and music. The attribution list could end up longer than the work itself, probably even longer than War and Peace.

The downside to By Attribution Share-Alike is that while it promotes Free Culture ideals, it does so by force. Like all CC licenses, brilliant as they are, it relies on current copyright law as a means of controlling another person’s access to and use of a copy of something. This, in a sense, goes against the very ideals so many Free Culture activists support, even as the aim remains in line with Free Culture ideals.

Lastly, there is CC0. The only downside to using CC0 that I’ve been able to think of is that without requirement of attribution, someone could plagiarize your work very easily. Yet this happens under the current copyright system anyway, and thanks to the wonders of the internet, there are many opportunities for us to get our work out there and identified with us as authors. I’ve seen quite a few stories of artists’ whose work was plagiarized, and fans called out the plagiarists and saw to it that there was no mistake as to who the original artist was.

In the end, I just came to the conclusion that if nothing else, copyright was not a morally legitimate concept. It infringes on the rights of others in the name of “protecting” a single artist’s work. As an author, I certainly want to get paid, but I don’t want to force people to pay. I’ve bought too many DVDs I didn’t enjoy watching, bought too many novels I didn’t enjoy reading to want others to go through the same thing. On the other hand, thanks to public libraries and being lent books and movies from friends, I’ve come to find many things for free that I became so fond of that I purchased for myself. I would rather someone pay me for my work because they genuinely enjoy it, rather than be forced to buy it up-front only to hate it.

Yet there is one other problem with CC0, and, in fact, likely with all or most Creative Commons licenses: it paradoxically seems to make a work untouchable for distributors. This, in fact, is why Nina Paley chose to change over the By Attribution Share-Alike license to the CC0 waiver: distributors didn’t want to broadcast (not to mention create derivative works of) something under the BY-SA license. By switching to CC0, Nina hopes to leave distributors “no excuse” for not showing the film.

Yet I doubt that will happen. The ironic thing is, every distributor is so locked-in to the world and mindset of copyright, apparently radical notions like Creative Commons licenses and public domain dedications seem scary, like liabilities, like hidden lawsuits waiting to happen. In other words, it’s the kiss of death for a work’s promotion in traditional distribution channels; it makes the work untouchable.

Despite that problem, I am delighted that, though she still believes in the Free Culture ideals reflected in the BY-SA license (as I do), Nina has chosen to release Sita Sings the Blues as a CC0 public domain film. Her commitment to “legal nonviolence,” of not threatening anyone legally for use of her art whether their use agrees with her ideals or not, sets a wonderful example and hopefully will lead others to follow in her footsteps.

That brings me to the real reason I’m writing this post. I’d like to ask for help, if anyone out there happens to read this.

I recently finished the final draft of my short story, Roadkill. I have not yet released it, but when I do, I intend to release it into the public domain via CC0, as I intend to do with all of my works. Yet I’ve discovered a problem: I’m not sure if any distributor will carry it.

I’m entirely new to the world of eBooks and eBook publishing and distribution; at least, I’m new to participating in it. I’ve researched formatting and all of that. Yet my commitment to CC0 is something I can’t find much precedent for.

In the terms of service on Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing, it is said that one may sell a “public domain work” if one makes an original edition of it that differs significantly from other editions they offer, but only a 30 percent royalty will be given. This is different than the 70 percent royalty given to authors of “original works.” The problem there is, naturally, that CC0, or likely Creative Commons licenses in general, were not on the minds of Amazon’s lawyers when writing their terms of service. My work is both an original work and, when released, a public domain one, by my own choice. It isn’t “Treasure Island” or some other work that lapsed into the public domain by virtue of age or some nuance of the old copyright laws.

I emailed customer service about this some time ago; the initial reply more or less restated the very terms of service I was asking for clarification about. I told them that they had misunderstood my question and asked again. After being told to wait for several days while they presumably consulted their legal team, I was told that they couldn’t tell me (!) and to consult a lawyer (!). It’s rather unsettling that they were unable to explain their own terms of service! It brings to mind Cory Doctorow’s comments when writing about one of the more infamous Kindle DRM cases,They are a sort of Kafkaesque dumbshow of bureaucratic non-answering, culminating in the customer service version of “Die in a fire,” which is more or less in line with the unhelpful responses I got regarding CC0.

Then I checked Smashwords, a popular, DRM-free (unlike Kindle) platform for independent authors, only to discover in their terms of service that public domain works weren’t allowed at all, and that only original works by authors with “exclusive digital publishing rights” were permitted. As much as I admire Smashwords for taking a stand against DRM, I’m disappointed that their TOS doesn’t accommodate authors with a Free Culture stance such as myself. Perhaps it is still too new, too  radical, too much of a fringe stance to take, even for the more open-minded and welcoming of distributors.

I’m not the first author to deal with this; Aelius Blythe, judging by her Twitter photos, has had similar problems trying to make her CC0 works available on Smashwords and Kindle Direct Publishing. She took a rather cavalier approach to it, and I admire that, but I’m hoping to go into this thing knowing exactly what I’ll have to deal with beforehand, without having to engage in any little battles with a distributor. Perhaps that’s asking too much, though.

So where does that leave me, or any other authors who wish to dedicate their work to the public domain?

I don’t know. I’ve considered several options, none too satisfactory.

I’ve looked for other, lesser-known distributors who are more Free Culture-friendly. That, of course, carries its own huge disadvantage: by being lesser-known, it is less likely that anyone will discover my work on such a service. I discovered one that looked promising, Anjuno, which distributed both eBooks AND music using the name-your-own-price model (which is something else I wanted). However, before I could figure out if they were okay with works willingly dedicated to the public domain, they shut down after apparently being mostly abandoned in 2010. It figures that they closed up shop just after I discovered them a few months ago.

Another option is to simply post the eBook online myself, including a download link from my blog and hoping that somehow people stumble onto it. The problem there is that, while I want my work to be released under a “name your own price” model anyway, there wouldn’t be a very easy method for anyone to pay me if they wanted to. I know of sites that use PayPal donate buttons, but I’ve heard one or two horror stories about that, and PayPal’s site specifically says that the donate button is for “fundraising,” so I’m not sure using it to support the author of free eBooks qualifies. There’s also Flattr, which seems like a cool service, so that at least could be a viable option, though I’m totally inexperienced with it so far.

So this is where you come in, gentle reader. Do you have any ideas?

I must say, the irony is not lost on me: I have to ask for help to make it easy for others to voluntarily pay me for written works offered freely, while it would be easy to force people to pay in order to access my work. Such is the world we live in, I suppose; hopefully it does not stay this way forever. If you know of an eBook distributor site that allows original, public domain and Creative Commons-licensed works, or if you know of any other way to make voluntary payments/donations from readers easy (or at least possible), please let me know. Heck, if some small, independent publisher might like to carry a CC0 title as some sort of experiment (in a situation in which profits are shared with me; any publisher could do it anyway after I release the thing), I’d be interested in talking to someone.

If I don’t hear any ideas within a couple of weeks, nor any fresh ideas from a couple of people I plan to contact about various options, I’ll likely just wind up posting the story here and trying to arrange a Flattr account. That seems the easiest thing to do if all else fails, and I’m more concerned than anything, really, with just getting my work out there.

If you have your own tales of trying to spread Free Culture works, feel free to comment or contact me; such things are generally always of interest to me.

Lastly: thank you to all the recent followers and those who supported my previous post. It was a much-needed self-esteem boost. I hope this blog continues to be to your liking.

All the best,

Leo

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.”

http://dream-forever.net/Blog/2012/06/26/the-case-against-a-loving-god/

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: http://archive.org/details/HussaloniaIsDeepInADonutDream )  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,

Leo

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