My Kind of Weird. Kathe Koja’s THE CIPHER

I am a weirdo. I always have been. Some of it is on the surface but most is down deep. That’s how it is for everyone because everyone is weird in their own way. In lots of ways really. A key to happiness in my life has been to seek out weird things that are my kind of weird. The Voynich Manuscript is definitely my kind of weird. Porcelain dolls with their creepy little murderer eyes are definitely not. Finding our kind of weird is an important part of growing up I think.

I love weird fiction. I don’t just mean the genre. I love any fiction with elements that push the boundaries of what is normal or even possible. Star Trek TNG was a fine show but when the Borg showed up in those cyborg BDSM outfits, things got weird in the best of ways. Some of the most deep and insightful episodes revolved around them. The X-Files, Unsolved Mysteries, hell, Nova, and National Geographic specials were the main staples of my childhood evenings. All focused on topics that were interesting, little known, and above all bizarre.

So what is it about the bizarre? I’ve talked a bit about escapism before (here) and for me, the dark, creepy corners are where I choose to escape. Why? Because my life is neither dark nor creepy. It can’t be an escape if you don’t go someplace different. People who only ready happy, uplifting fiction make me wonder…

Anyway, on to THE CIPHER. This book is an oldy(sort of) but a very very goody.  Published in 1991, it is the first novel of author Kathe Koja. I just finished the book and I have to say, I have no idea what to think. I love when that happens.

The narration style is wild and chaotic yet suffused with an art that is both gritty and elegant. The loser Gen-X characters are hateful, awful people.  If they were real you would despise them yet she forces you to care about them and you do and you’re glad to. The brand of horror is  at times, in your face gore then, at once, existential and ethereal. As is the case for the characters within, this book makes its readers work to make sense of it all. Honestly, I’m not sure I ever did and that is where my recommendation of this book becomes pointed.

Do you like questions? If yes, continue, if no, you’ll hate this book. If a question is left unanswered, will you lose your mind? If no, continue, if yes, you’ll hate his book. If questions are the point, rather than answers, are you okay with that? If yes, read the book. If not… you get the idea.

I love questions. I love questions for the way they explode with more questions like some mushroom sending its legion-like offspring off to populate the world. I love weird things because they force questions. Why? Who? How? Even, huh? Questions take us places and THE CIPHER raises enough to send the reader on a wild ride.

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Socrates: Internet Hypno-Surgeon

Opinion and argument populate the interwebs like fish populate the sea. Unfortunately, unlike the oceans the stronger argument doesn’t always eat the weaker one. More often, the argument that splashes around the most wins.

You may be a good person with a good heart and are firmly positioned on the side of a debate that you feel is just, but if your argument isn’t sound enough or your mettle isn’t strong enough, a more prepared opponent may gnash and bite your face off. As frustrating as this can be, it’s your own fault. You lost because you weren’t ready to play their game.

In a straight up fact war, a shootout where bits of information and propaganda are the bullets, the quicker draw wins. That’s the game these über aggressive internet types play. Now you’ve got three choices if you find someone opposite you in a dusty, tumbleweed laden comment section on (fill in the blank) website. You can try your luck, draw your facts, and start shooting. You can choose not to engage, leaving the stranger in the tobacco stained shirt and dirty black hat to wreak havoc. Your final option is more simple than you think. Change the game.

Why bother playing a game outlined by someone else if you aren’t forced to do so? Why get in an opinion war when you could instead wield the most powerful argument tools in existence? Facts are blunt instruments. Opinions are sticky swamps. Pick up the scalpels that are question and logic and change that shootout into brain surgery. You’re opponent becomes your patient and they’re going to operate on themselves. Continue reading

Resolutions and the Blues Brothers

It’s the start of a new year which means it’s resolution time! Time for new projects and goals. Time to set out to make lasting changes to our lives. Unfortunately, these lasting changes usually last anywhere from a few hours to a few months. All in all, our shiny new resolutions tend to succeed only at disappointing ourselves.

Now, before you preemptively take a swan dive into that old familiar pit of despair I ask you to, as Bill Nye would say, “consider the following.”

Pretend, if you will, that you are riding along with Jake and Elwood Blues in their retired cop car, the bluesmobile. As you careen toward the state line (your goal) you must dodge the Nazis and the cops (distractions and temptations) at every turn or risk a trip back to Joliet Penitentiary (failure).

On your journey you’ve managed to snake your way through Illinois (your project/resolution) performing your way past dangers, distractions and even Aretha Franklin. Despite all that, up ahead, there’s something in the road. Elwood spots it first but you recognize it instantly. The bridge is out. You can’t keep going. You’ve failed.

For some, failure is a road block. It acts as a termination point. The end of your project. A signal to start all over again.

It need not be so.

For all of you wondering why I’ve gone with a Blues Brothers analogy, here it is. I say this year, we make like Elwood and Jake and use that road block as a launching pad. We accept our failures and use them as motivation. I say we floor it and send our projects sailing over our failure in a hail of glory.

Failure doesn’t have to mean starting over from the beginning. It can mean starting again from where ever you are when you fail. It means suiting up for the next game, even if you lost the last. It means baking more cookies even if the last batch tasted like clay. It means continuing deeper into the cave even if you peed yourself because the bats were too scary.

If you drop ten of the thirty pounds you resolved to lose then go on a burger bender, it doesn’t mean you need to give up and gain it all back. Keep going from where you are. If you plan to write a novel this year and you fail, don’t give up. Don’t ditch your project. Keep writing. Finish what you started.

Will I succeed at all of my resolutions this year? Probably not but I’m going to try to be like Elwood and Jake when those failures come. I’m going to make my bluesmobile fly.