Music for Writers

Do you write?  Do you listen to music while you do it?

I do.  In fact, I’ve learned over the years that silence is the most distracting thing in the universe.  Once it’s just me and my thoughts, my thoughts win.  It’s like a category 5 storm of random things crashing around in my skull.  But if I have sound playing in the background, the winds die down and I can focus on my work.  But it has to be just music (perhaps with the occasional commercial), not video.  When I hear things that I know also have a visual component, my eyes are drawn to the visual.  I need to see what images go with the sounds I am hearing.  As my eyes pull away from the page or laptop screen, writing stops.

But what music works best?

For me, the best writing music falls into three categories…

  1. Music that I know by heart.
    This music works well because I don’t have to actually listen to it.  I know every work, every note so well that my brain just latches on and follows along.  I’ll subconsciously tap my feet or bob my head.  Sometimes I’ll even begin typing to the rhythm of the songs.
  2. Music that I don’t know at all.
    Because it isn’t music that I love, I’m able to just sort of block it.  I know it’s there and it still achieves the goal of calming down my brain, but I don’t care enough to learn the lyrics or feel the beats.  It’s just on.
  3. Classical music.
    I’m sure there are studies out there that will show you that brainwaves become more calm and allow for more creativity while listening to classical.  But for me it falls almost into category 2, only I do know quite a bit of it.  It’s just that there are no lyrics to sing along with.  At best, there might be some humming, but not often.

The worst music for me are song by bands I know, or ones I’ve heard before, I sort of like but don’t know well enough for them to be automatic.  This is why applications like Pandora or Slacker or just don’t work for me as writing tools on anything but the classical music stations.  Too many times a song will pop up in the play list that drags me out of the zone and forced me to consciously listen, and the writing stops.

So, this month, as I make my way toward 50,000 words, I’ll, more often than not, be listening to classical music.

Center of the Universe

3439686345_40d26c8193Captain Thomas Markham checked the readout on his wrist again. He’d been nervously checking it every few minutes since they had taken their helmets off. The atmosphere was still sufficiently Earth-like, and he was still breathing normally.  The air had a musty smell, but it didn’t offend the senses.

He glanced over his shoulder to the rest of his team following behind.  Lieutenant Sarah Gavin, Sergeant Gerard Wilcox, and Privates Claire Daud, Louis Michaels and Neriah Skildum walked in a spread pattern, no one walking directly behind or in front of anyone else.  Each had a rifle in hand, a pack on their back, and their helmet slung on the belt at their hip.  With their helmets off, they’d all put on tactical visors giving them better vision in the dark and data readouts.  Markham’s rifle was in the hand of Ship’s cook Jalah, who looked entirely out of place in his orange space suit surrounded by the rest of the crew in their military grays.  The light from random spots of glowing lichen on the walls was low, but he could still see his team.   Markham’s visor was hanging down around his own neck as he’d opted to hold his pistol and a flashlight as they’d pressed onward.

From the deserted surface of this tiny planet they’d enter the caves and wound down and around for days.  The deeper they got, the warmer it became, but Lieutenant Gavin had assured him this planet didn’t have a molten core.  “Solid all the way through,” she’d said.  “Stake my life on it,” she’d continued.

He turned to her now.  “Gavin, what’s our depth?”

Gavin put her rifle over her shoulder, flicked the power buttons on the wrists of her gloves and began waving through the virtual readouts her visor was showing.  “Hard to say.  But we are getting close.  I’m getting some interference, but we are almost directly below the ship and I estimate nearing halfway through our external readings of the planet’s diameter.”

“All right.”  Markham turned to Wilcox.  “Sergeant, find us a spot to set up camp.”

“Yes, sir.”  Wilcox signaled to the Privates who followed him in a diamond formation off into the dark.

Jalah came in close to Markham, sidestepping around Gavin who continue to wave her hands in the empty air.  “Sir.”

“Yeah, Jalah.”

“We’ve only got a few days more of supplies with us.  We are going to need to turn around pretty soon.”  Jalah’s eyes were darting around, never staying still.  He hadn’t wanted to come down with the team, but Markham didn’t want to leave him alone on the ship.

Markham holstered his pistol and placed his hand on Jalah’s shoulder.  “Tomorrow.”

“Captain!”  The word echoed through the chamber.  Markham snapped off his flashlight, dropped it into a pocket on the leg of his suit and put his visor on.

The darkness of the world retreated, replaced with hues of green peppered with bits of text and data.  He was facing a wall, the text told him it was fifteen meters away and comprised mostly of granite.  The floor beneath his feet was also granite but covered with scattered dirt.  Off to his right there were blue flashes of movement and he could see the outline of the four men.  “With me,” he said just loud enough for Gavin and Jalah to hear.  The three of them moved toward the others.

As they approached, Markham realized his gun was in his hands even though he didn’t remember pulling it.  He even held it out front, with both hands, aimed downward as he was trained to do.  Wilcox and the Privates stood together by a wall.  The Privates faced outward in different directions, but Wilcox faced a door sized hole.  Beside the hole was a small rectangular sign.  As Markham got close he could see there were words written on it.

He put away his gun again, pulled off his visor and retrieved his flashlight from its pocket.  When he snapped it on he stared, then shook his head and stared again.  The sign was clear, a small arrow pointing downward at an angle into the door sized tunnel and the words Center of the Universe.

“I guess we’re here.”  Gavin’s voice drifted softly from behind him.  Markham faced her, her visor was off as well, her flashlight out.  In the light, he could see her face was flush.  The right corner of her mouth turned slightly upward.  Next to her, Jalah’s face was slack-jawed and bloodless.

“Sir,” Wilcox said, “should we proceed or make camp?”

Gavin’s eyes sparkled.  Years and years of calculations and every leg of the journey probably dancing through her head.  The wormholes and slingshots around stars, all leading here.

“I don’t see why we should wait.”

Jalah blinked.  “I don’t see why we should rush.”  He licked his lips and swallowed.  “I mean, after all it took to get here, it seems so odd that there would be a sign.  And in a language we can read, no less.”

Everyone turned and looked at the sign.  Gavin and Markham were both shining their lights on it, everyone had removed their visors.

“Very astute, Jalah.  Maybe we should wait.”  The words were barely out of his mouth before Gavin has pushed past and vanished down the tunnel.  “I suppose that settles it.”  Markham stepped forward into the tunnel.  “Come on then, we probably don’t want to miss this.”

Just a few feet into the tunnel it angled downward and the smooth floor gave way to steps.  It also turned to the right spiraling clockwise downward.  He couldn’t see any glow from ahead, Gavin had clearly moved quickly, but Markham kept a steady pace so as not to lose his team.  His own flashlight illuminated the tunnel as he went, the walls were smooth and the ceiling was arched, and at intervals along the way there were paintings, like the cave painting of earliest man, depicting tortoises.

He heard laughter ahead, then saw light.  Gavin came into view.  She was examining one of the tortoises and laughing.


She smiled at him, “Turtles.”

Markham gave her a puzzled look.  He didn’t understand what she meant.

“Nevermind,” she said.  She winked at him and then continued down the stairs.  Markham wanted to make her stop so he could take the lead, but it was too narrow for him to pass her anyway, so he simply followed.

Behind him he heard Wilcox urging Jalah onward, and Jalah was breathing heavy.  He hadn’t liked the other much larger caves, so this tunnel was likely much worse.

Finally the tunnel and the tortoises came to an end, opening up to a large room.  Light seemed to come from the walls, and in the center was a round stone table.  Next to that was a comfortable looking chair, and in the chair was an old man.  The whiskers on his chin and lip moved as he snored.  In the center of the table, hovering just above the surface was a large black globe.

Markham stared at the globe, it seemed to draw him in, the blackness looked endless, but occasionally there would be a tiny fleck of light.

The snoring stopped.

“Ah! You’re here!”  The old man’s eyes were wide and he leaped to his feet.  He rushed forward with an outstretched hand.  Wilcox snapped his rifle up, but the old man didn’t stop.  He came immediately to Gavin and shook her hand.  She was smiling.  Then the old man shook Gavin’s hand.  Then Jalah’s and through the Privates, but not Wilcox because he wouldn’t put his rifle down.

Gavin stammered, “Where exactly are we?”

“Center of the Universe.”  The old man was almost hopping with excitement.

“THE center?”

“Well, almost.”  The old man indicated the table.  “The actual center is over there.”

“The globe?”

“The center of it.  The center of the center of the center and so one.”

Gavin laughed.  “Turtles all the way down.”

The old man slapped his leg and his face lit up.  “Indeed!”

The two of them laughed for a while and everyone else just stared.  Markham walked toward the table, mesmerized by the black globe with the occasional flickers of light.

When the laughter stopped, Markham felt someone standing beside him.  “What is this?”

Gavin answered his question with one of her own, “What do you see?”

“Nothing, mostly.”

“And if we were on the deck of our ship, looking out the window, what would you see?”

“Planets, moons, stars.”

“But mostly?”

“Mostly?  Space.  Nothing, I guess.”

“Exactly.”  Markham broke his gaze into the globe and looked right into Gavin’s green eyes.  “Looking out is looking in,” she said.  “Somewhere out there,” she waved her left arm in a sweeping arc away from the table, “far away from here, farther than anyone could possibly go is the edge of a large black sphere.  And outside that sphere is a room at the center of the universe, of someone else’s universe.”  She looked toward the globe and so did he.  “And in there,” she continued, “way down at the center is a room at the center of the universe, of another someone else’s universe.  It’s recursive.  Infinitely.”

“But,” he began, then stopped.  She waited for him to put his thoughts together.  “But what do we do?”

“About what?”

“About this?  All of this.”

“Nothing.  We go home.”  She turned away and wandered back over to the old man.

Markham’s mind was swirling.  “Wait.  Just wait.”  Gavin and the old man, and everyone else looked at him.  “Who is this guy?  Is he God?”

“Me?”  The old man looked shocked.  “No, I’m not God.  Well, not your God anyway.”

“Who’s God are you?”

The old man nodded toward the table and the globe.  “Them I suppose.  I mean, I’m the keeper of the sphere but it’s not like I created it or anything.  Can’t even do anything with it.  I just watch.”


The old man shrugged.  “And nothing.”

Markham felt hot.  He was trained for flying space ships and following orders and making military decisions.  This jaunt to find the center of the universe had been Gavin’s proposal and they’d been given a mission to try.  She’d been working the math for a long time, but in the last year they’d been jumping wormholes and skimming gravity wells, spiraling around all of creation to find this room.  This sudden revelation of universes inside universes with universes outside them infinitely was beyond him.  He was trying very hard to piece it all together and make it fit in his view but there was just too much.  Everyone was just staring at him, which exasperated him even more.  “What does it mean?”

Gavin smiled at him.  A few strands of her auburn hair cascaded across her face.  She walked over slowly and put her hands on his upper arms.  She squeezed gently, but hard enough so he felt it through the suit.  Then she leaned in and kissed him.  It was at first a solid, firm kiss on the lips, then she tilted her head slightly and he followed suit.  Her lips parted just a little and her hands slid around his back.  His lips parted also, and his arms roamed upward finding her hips and then sliding up her back.  They kissed for a good long while.

Wilcox cleared his throat.

Gavin pulled back and resumed smiling.  She let go of Markham, walked back over to the old man, shook his hand, gave him a hug and then headed toward the stairway.

She paused at the opening, looked back over her shoulder at Markham.  “Are you coming?”  And then she clicked on her flashlight and began ascending the stairs.

The old man strode over to Markham.  “You want to know what it means?”  Markham nodded while still staring at the stairway.  “It means she came here to find the center of the universe, and she did.  She also found the center of her universe along the way.  It means that the center of the universe might be over there on the table, but the center of your universe may have just left the room.”

The old man patted him on the arm and then walked back to his chair.  Wilcox, Daud, Michaels, Skildum, and Jalah filed up the stairs.  Captain Markham smiled.

Photo by / CC BY-NC 2.0

Last Sons

I hate Lobo. In the DC Universe, which is my preferred major comic universe (Marvel and their Million Mutant March with Wolverine on every team can go su… I won’t get into it right now), there is no character that I loathe more than Lobo. He is a childish excuse for an anti-hero. See, the idea of an anti-hero is that while they may be a bad guy the story you are reading places them in a situation where you feel for them and begin to root for them to overcome the larger evil even though you understand that the “good guy” here is actually evil himself. Contextual goodness. Lobo, on the other hand, is a guy who likes to blow stuff up unnecessarily, smoke, drink, womanize, etc… basically every bad quality you can imagine in a person. His one redeeming quality is that he is a bounty hunter who hunts down bad guys, but his good quality is overshadowed by the fact that he will wantonly kill hundreds of innocents to do his job. That combined with the dick and fart joke mentality of his character makes him an absolute bore to read.

Despite this, I actually enjoyed Last Sons, but I’m fairly certain its because Alan Grant is a great story teller. The story is this… Lobo is sent to arrest J’onn J’onzz, the Martian Manhunter, for some unnamed crime. So he does, and J’onn, being the good guy that he is, goes along because it is a valid warrant even though he can’t remember doing anything wrong. Superman is suspicious, and he hates Lobo, so he decides to go look into this whole thing. In case you missed it… Lobo is the last Czarnian, J’onn is the last Martian, and Superman is the last Kryptonian… Last Sons. So, Lobo takes J’onn and heads to Vrk, and Superman heads off to get more info on the warrant. Vrk is a little backwater planet in a system that hasn’t invented space travel yet. Its people, if they can be called that, are a barely sentient race of beings who excel at digging in the rocky surface of their planet, completely subterranian. But an artificial intelligence calling itself the Alpha has come and taken over their minds and is using them to turn them in to an army with which it will destroy all life in the universe. Much genocide, violence, and sleuthing ensues.

It was a good book, and as much as I hate Lobo, his introduction to the story lead to one of the more interesting facets of the story: Bounty Hunters double-triple-quadruple crossing each other for money. In the beginning of the book, Lobo is on an assignment to capture a gang headed by a guy named Xemtec or something like that. During the fight with the gang, his space bike, a Spazz-Frag, is damaged and the semisentient computer system (SSCS) is broken So Lobo cuts out Xemtec’s brain and installs it in his bike (one of the things I hate about Lobo, aside from being an unkillable monsterous lout, he’s also a technological genius… *sigh*). For the rest of the book, the arguments with the bike and the plotting of the bike to meet back up with the remnants of his gang and double cross Lobo for the reward, first on J’onn and later on the Alpha, makes for entertaining stuff.

All in all, I think Grant has written a solid story that despite the crapfest that is the character of Lobo manages to rise above it and be fun and enjoyable. Yeah, I’d recommend it.

Monday Morning Philosophy

Throughout my life, I have attempted to encapsulate large groups of my beliefs into one or two phrases that I feel sum up the whole of the thing. Religion is one of the places that I’ve done this, however whenever I say my summed up phrase to someone, they never get it.

“I don’t believe in God, but god believes in me, and sometimes that’s enough.”

The first part is misleading, intentionally, and loses a bit when its spoken because I can’t speak in uppercase and lowercase, I’m stuck with just speaking. I don’t believe in God, big “g”, Christianity, Judaism, Islam, etc… Organized religions, in my experience, fail, not because they accept certain limitations in their system, but because they preach and teach those limitations to others, and to a degree their structure is designed to support the continuation of the church, the physical buildings, over the continuation of the faith. But I do believe in a god. I believe that there has to be something out there greater than all that I can see, because if there isn’t… well, I don’t like the idea that this is it. Even if the “next world” is just another go round on this one, or its to spend a term as undefinable quantum energy sliding through the time space continuum until I pass through a singularity and report for my life in a negative universe… Doesn’t matter, I believe in “something”, some days its more definable or specific than others, but its always there.

The next part is the meat of it all… whatever exists out there, whether it be a scientist looking in his petri dish swirling around some chemicals or an undeniable force that guides and binds the universe, its smarter than me. And hey, I’m pretty damn smart, if not always the most intuitive. And since it created or guided or is the universe, it will never give to me more than I can handle. I might disagree sometimes, and there are days when I have broken down in tears because of the strength of my disagreement, but I do always manage to get back up, bear the new weight and survive. I even win sometimes and lighten my load. There have been times that solutions are a long time coming, or were obscured by other problems. But never, not once, have I, when it comes down to facts, ever been given a life that I cannot handle if I choose to handle it. God has given me this because it has faith in my ability to handle it.

That leads us to the final part… Given the other two parts, that I believe in something out there greater than me and that it will never burden me more than my ability to cope, my faith in those two tenets mean that no matter how rough life may get or how crappy a situation may be, I know that given effort and time I will be okay.

And sometimes that’s enough…