How to build a thinking machine


Just something I thought the other night in that place between sleep and time for caffeine.

Mankind has spent a lot of effort and money for a very long time trying to create a true artificial intelligence.  Very recent machines which appear on the surface as incredible as the Terminator are really as false as that one chess machine in the Middle Ages that had a guy hiding in a cabinet.  We can’t make artificial intelligence.  We really can’t.  Not with our current understanding of artificial intelligence, or intelligence itself.

(I don’t know to program a true AI, so if you found this post Googling for code, please check out my other posts.  Or stick around!)

Have you ever encountered a nearly-convincing chatbor?  Do you play video games online?  What’s the difference between a live human player and the best AI bots ever written?  Take the list and boil it down to one thing: the human (always) wants to live.  The machine does not.

The machine (let’s say… a Vex Minotaur in Destiny) only wants one thing and that is to conserve processor speed, because the people who wrote the code that created that machine needed to keep their code fast.  So the machine either wants nothing, or it kind-of wants to die, just to make the game a millisecond faster.

Even on an infinitely more-complex system dedicated entirely to its own Artificial Intelligence, no programmer can make the machine want to live.  It wants to fulfill commands, one of which might be to live, but it could just as well want to kill itself violently if that would fulfill those commands.  The long and short of it is that even the most basic animal intelligence, the realm of life just above microbial organisms, wants to live, and the machine just has no reason not to.

Create a machine that wants to live, and you have Artificial Intelligence, with capital letters.  Until then, though, we’re just shooting off pretty fireworks.

I’m not saying that the problem isn’t fixable.  I hope very much that it is, myself.  At the same time, though, I believe true, easily reproducible AI would be the cruelest perversity to suddenly drop on 2015 Earth.  The ethical and criminal problems of something like that are just a bit more advanced than I think anywhere in the world is ready for.  Regardless, it seems unlikely that we’ll create a real intelligence within my lifetime, so like the rest of America I’ll cast those worries off to my future grandchildren.

JadenHow to build a thinking machine

Finally Watched “Dear White People”


I’d say the odds of every character in the above picture turning out to be both A) Italian stereotypes and B) racists who swear they aren’t racist, are pretty good.  So, in case you skipped the title like an uncool white person would do, I’m watching “Dear White People” on Netflix. And I’m liking it quite a bit so far , with only ten minutes left before credits. But there’s one thing that Dear White People does which gets to me, and that’s how it lowers itself to the level of other, seriously inferior movies, movies that assume their audiences are all only as smart as the dumbest guy in the room, a room that needs a big bronze sign reading: “THOSE people are the protagonists. THESE people are the antagonists.”

What I’m talking about in particular is how absurdly, cartoonishly uncool the white people are in this movie. Nobody is that uncool in real life (at least nobody who has the slightest inkling of social consciousness). Nobody over the age of “that age when kids say shit like ‘deuces'” has said YOLO non-ironically within the last two years, for example. So while the black characters in this movie are interesting and engaging conversationalists, the white characters only speak awkwardly comic interruptions of conversation, usually something that gets an eye-roll from the character being spoken to, with good reason. (and yes, the irony of white characters in movies suddenly being nothing but garish, loud comic props while black characters can now pass any dialogue equivalent of a Bechdel Test is not lost on me. It’s freaking hilarious, but this movie is a better sort of comedy than that, goddammit. ) The white people in Dear White People are uncool even by white people standards. Let the magnitude of just how uncool that is sink in.

So Iif Dear White People isn’t a lowbrow comedy (which it isn’t), the only logical explanation (skipping past the easy assumption that whoever wrote these characters may just not like white Americans) is that one side of the cast of characters has to be presented as so pathetic and illogical and autistically gauche that even the guy who walked into the theater screening a whole 30 minutes into the story can immediately know who the “bad guys” are in this situation, and jump right into a lighthearted story that might be worth the hour and a half spent at his job to afford the $12 ticket. The type of storytelling that you’d see, ironically enough, in a Tyler Perry movie or a daytime cop drama.

It just makes your movie/story/political stance less of what makes it good. It makes a perfectly valid message look like it’s stupid, because why else would you have to lower your lowest common denominator to include even the dumbest viewer? That’s the crackerjack narrative method that Marvel movies use (because it works when your villain’s only motivation is to steal the Infinity Gauntlet) and what tv atheists like Penn & Teller do and what the awful, awful stream of Christian blockbuster films lately do as well. It’s every bit as lazy scriptwriting to make the white people in Dear White People quite this ludicrously uncool as it would have been if Saul’s brother in Better Call Saul sabotaged his entire life and career over years because “good is dumb. Evil 5ever!”

I mean for crying out loud, the secret weapon against the (white, of course) main villain is to have a gay (also black) man kiss him in front of a crowd of frenzied white civilians who are all literally to a man holding back a panicked (black) guy who is rushing to help his (black) friend who is lying in the dirt at a white man’s feet, at the white guy’s frat-house slash evil lair doorstep no less.  That’s a lot of italics used, but I needed to convey just how heavily-handed the moral of the story is packaged.  The kiss angle is also sort of implying that all white people are homophobic as well.  I don’t know, maybe we are (I certainly hope I’m not), but it’s so lazy.  The frat guy villain in this movie is a flimsier version of a frat guy from Van Wilder TWO.  Not even the original Van Wilder.

Still an outstanding movie so far. That one thing just ticked me off.  An obtuse, lazily-delivered message can be in many ways more harmful than not sending the message at all, right?  You can’t fix racism by telling the people WHO YOU SAY ARE BEING RACISTS that they’re just unfixably racist.  That’s not a solution.  I would say that helps nobody if it didn’t actually hurt everybody involved so much.  That could even be why, as one character angrily points out, white kids pay “millions” for tickets to see Jay Z, or wear “black” styles or talk “black”.  Maybe because white people can’t assign any labels to themselves (at least not any good ones, because that would be white supremacy…), and the only other group drawing up white characters is drawing them as witless Colonel Klink’s, white kids just don’t have any choice if they want to pretend to be cool.

I mean how is Dear White People’s villain cliched, ascot-draped, just-add-water junior Mobster who probably sniffs coke through a five hundred dollar bill, wobbles at 11/10 on the Aryan scale, and basically owns a frat while squelching through life via “old money” and a chin raised so high that the rain is a drowning hazard any different than the admittedly less-boring but equally stupid “gangsta 4 lyfe” black character named something very halfhearted like Jamal Washington or Isaiah King, the sort of name that tells you right away this actor is probably not getting his name on the poster?

On the flip side, I really think most viewers, black or white, aren’t going to pick either side.  They’re just going to be like Lionel in this movie,  bored and upset with their own familiarity with the fact no real progress seems to ever be made, and the nonstop barrage of talking heads floating outside the fishbowl, telling everybody what the rules are of your assigned color.  Just done with it all, because really what can they do, besides toss that $12 at fighting racism and getting free refills on large sodas just for kicks?

JadenFinally Watched “Dear White People”
View Post doesn’t let you nickname cards



It’s Rantrsday, so I’m going to rant.  Those of you who haven’t purchased Ranter’s Insurance yet (#thanksobama), should leave, because the rant I’m about to drop is… actually quite tame.  But anyways, here’s something that I was very surprised to encounter on  You can have multiple payment cards, but you can’t choose what those credit/debit cards are called.  They always just show “Visa ending in…” or “MasterCard ending in…”.  You can rest assured that although I have at least two of my credit card numbers memorized, I haven’t a clue about the others.  You know what would be easier?  If instead of:

  1. Visa ending in 1234
  2. Visa ending in 4567
  3. American Express ending in 8901
  4. Visa ending in 7654

I had a little list like this:

  1. Main Debit Card (paycheck account)
  2. Secured Credit Card ($40 monthly)
  3. Secondary emergency account card
  4. $150 Visa from Apartment Complex

I can’t figure out why online marketplaces like Amazon still don’t allow you to put nicknames on your debit/credit cards.

In the above example (which is true to my life), I have four cards on Amazon. Each serves a purpose (for example: one card is a secured credit card that I must spend exactly $40 a month with to reap its benefits. Another card is a random $150 Visa gift card that my apartment complex gave me.  Those two accounts are not going to grow.  The first, regardless of balance, is one I will only spend $40 on monthly, and the second is just going to exist until it runs out.  If I come across something that I need which is exactly $40, it would seem that the smart thing to do is to use my monthly charge on the secured credit card.  But since I don’t know its last four digits off the top of my head, I have to go find the card, compare it to the list online, etc, etc ad nauseam.

Admittedly, it’s a very minor hassle.  But it just makes me wonder why the nicknaming ability doesn’t exist?  I know it’s very possible and seems very easy, especially for a company big enough to introduce the world to mail-ordering groceries via courteous drone squads.  Somehow the only sites I know that let you nickname cards are the cheaper ones you wouldn’t expect to be a tenth as user-friendly as  Hopefully I’ve just missed the feature somehow or it gets incorporated into soon. doesn’t let you nickname cards

Replacing If…Let in Swift

I haven’t blogged in a while because I’ve thought I didn’t have much to blog about.  So here’s something cute and simple I discovered tonight.

In Apple’s left-hand child language Swift, the concept of Optional variables is heavily enforced.  What is an Optional variable, and why is it in bold?  Because Optional variables are the Schroedinger’s Cat of the Swift language, and because I like bold text.  An Optional variable can hold something, or hold nothing (nil specifically).  If at any point in your code you aren’t 115% certain that your variable will have a value in its pocket when its turn comes, you want to make it an optional.  In fact, you don’t even have the choice.  Since all of a class’s properties (excluding forcibly unwrapped ones) must have a value before the initializer function finishes, you’re almost forcibly made to use Optionals at some point.

So if they’re such a hassle, what’s the point?  Is Swift just a weak language that needs stilts to keep it propped up?

If you said no then here is your complimentary gold star and single shrimp cocktail.

Optionals give you a very specific sort of power in Swift.  For starters, you can almost always pinpoint where something went wrong, because it usually happens when you missed a hole, a flickering nanosecond of processor time in which by some random chance your variable playerLives or uglyDemonRemainingHitPoints was empty.  Less than empty.  NIL.  Its value did exist in memory.

Even more than that, you can use Optionals to separate things.  In the app I’m currently writing, I defined a larger class called CommentableObject.  Nearly every class in this app is a child of CommentableObject.  Because CommentableObject has a property called displayImage, all its children do.  These children include classes such as Person and Task and even GlobalClock.  A Global Clock does not need a displayed image.  So it has none.  The variable displayImage exists within GlobalClock, because it exists in its parent, but for GlobalClock that variable is nil.

Now the Person class is different.  This app needs to display images for its People, of course.  So Person, being a child of CommentableObject, gets assigned a displayImage.  It’s Optional variable has a value.

Later on in the development process, I needed a quick way to sort my massive BagOfHolding object and extract only instances of Person objects.  What can I say, I’m a people person.  Since all Person’s and all GlobalClock’s have a displayImage property but only Person has a value in there… I could write something like this:

var bagOfHolding = BagOfHolding()

code here to set up the bag and fill it with all kinds of objects.  BagOfHolding is basically a dictionary of <(Unique Item ID String): CommentableObject>

class BagOfHolding {

(lots of other stuff here)

subscript (className: ObjectClass) -> [CommentableObject] {

        get {

          if className = .person {

            return bagOfHolding.values.array.filter({$0.displayImage != nil})



        set {

            //          global map function for all objects?  Exciting!



So assuming that Person is the only type of CommentableObject that has a displayImage, that code should theoretically work.

So here’s why I’m talking about this.  Usually the way to test an Optional is with If…let statements, that look silly like this:

var possibleCannibal: String?   // <—- note the ? at the end of the variable type.  This makes it Optional

possibleCannibal = “Shia Lebouf”

if let actualCannibal = possibleCannibal {

     println(“Running through the woods, it’s \(actualCannibal)”)


Or even syntactically crazier:

 if let sameThing = sameThing {

println(“Why waste space if we’re naming the let variable the SAME THING?”)


My solution to this awkward way of writing a little function called SAFE.  Yes, the variable name is in all caps.  I’m well aware that’s as generally frowned upon as sneak-dosing the Pope with 2c-b.  But it’s an important function, and it goes a little something like this:

public func SAFE<T>(variable: T?, fireAfter: (T)->()) {

  if let okVar = variable {


  } else {

    println(“Unsafe.  Variable \(variable) is nil.”)



And you use it like this:

SAFE(possibleCannibal) { possibleCannibal in

println(“Running through the woods, it’s \(possibleCannibal)”)


The generics make sure that it can take any possible type of variable.  It does nothing but check it for an existing variable and if this is found, fires off the code between the { } brackets.  Sort of like… an If Let statement.  But also somehow cleaner.

Anyways, that’s what I’ve been up to.  I’m sure there are a thousand ways to improve this function, but it does what it does well for now.

JadenReplacing If…Let in Swift

Minimum Daily Progress

Here’s a quick thought: almost everyone I know is better than me at getting things done.  On the flip side, I seem to have more brilliant ideas (I’m making air quotes here) than anybody I know, but very few of those brilliant ideas (again, air quotes) ever see the light of day.  They start out all the same: something cool pops into my head and I cannonball belly-first into turning this concept into reality, whether it’s a musical sketch, a book idea, a game I’d like to program, or anything at all the involves more than ten minutes of concentration.  I devote hours or even days to doing nothing but trying to finish a year’s worth of work before my attention zips away.  Predictably, I rarely finish.

A lot of this has to do with my busy schedule, but if busy schedules were worthwhile excuses for not finishing projects, we’d have no Facebook or Amazon or even the internet.  So for a long time I’ve languished in just accepting that I’m a ‘non-completionist’ and chalked my failures up to ADHD.

Lately I’ve been trying something different.  Instead of trying to motivate myself to go above and beyond and spend hours every day focused on a single task, trying to superman my way through weeks of work in 48 hour binges, I’ve taken some time to portion out the Absolute Minimum Effective Time Required (AMETR) in order to A) revisit a project daily without frustrating my existing schedule, and B) make decisive progress every single day.  For almost everything you can want to learn, spending even 30 minutes a day is better than spending no time at all.

For each thing I’m currently learning (Swift programming, better techniques for running, etc) I’ve decided to put the burden of guided education on someone else.  I’m using Get Running (App Store link) to track and plan my morning runs so I don’t have to wonder if I should run 2 or 3 miles today, and I’m using  Udemy and courses so I don’t have to worry about finding new coursework and wasting time trying to motivate myself to learn.   I can focus 100% of my effort on working to pay the bills during the day, and for mornings and evenings I know I can always use the same apps, instructors and websites to provide at least enough learning to feel like my day has been well spent.  Everything is planned for me, even my meals.

So this is more of a journal entry than a lesson, but if you find it hard to motivate yourself to continue learning after a long day at work, you don’t need to waste time trying to go the extra mile or make extraordinary progress towards a long-term goal.  This will just make reaching for your goals exhausting and something easy to subconsciously avoid.  Find some small repetitive motion that gets you just slightly closer to the finish line and do it every day, until you can’t live without it.



JadenMinimum Daily Progress

Figured Something Out

At some point in my life, things changed slightly for the better.  I felt healthier all of a sudden, in mind and body.  More enthusiastic and mentally agile about life in general, both the bad and the good parts.  All the moist stress of literally the entire rest of my life was gone, vanished in about the time it takes to read this sentence.  I was happy, undeservedly so, and since then I’ve been wondering what happened that sparked this change?  I could never track down the nucleus of this event.  But I think I just solved the mystery.

Backstory: I used to be quite obsessed with making videos for Youtube.  For various reasons including personal laziness that habit didn’t last very long, but it made me acutely aware of online video communities.  The Youtube industrial players like ShayCarl and Freddiew and the up-and-comers like Vine stars, and everybody else.  It’s a fascinating world, with a whole lot of talented people fighting viciously to be the most entertaining.  So naturally, after a few years of Youtube kids getting decently paid for being the best, you would expect the landscape to be ripe with entertainment.

There’s a channel called GameGrumps that I discovered pretty much the exact day that this weird change took over me.

It’s not the greatest show ever, but that’s not a requirement.  It’s just a funny, militantly-immature show that publishes three ten-minute show segments per day.  Every day.  I get to hear two people telling stories about their lives in various cartoonish voices and making fun of themselves at noon, at two, and at four.  A half hour of fun free of both cost and commitment.  Rarely hitting all the right notes, but hitting enough of them to draw me back three times a day, every day.  Just a fun thing to listen to.  The content is unimportant.

The point is, I think that I became about 10% happier in my life when I found GameGrumps.  Even though material things in my life are really about the same as before, I feel mentally healthier.  The lights in my head aren’t as dim and distracted or stressed.  Maybe I inadvertently figured something out.  Maybe you (only!) need a few ten-minute segments of happiness every day to change your overall mood.  Which makes me wonder if there’s a bell curve to this.  As in: at what point are you spending too much time on entertaining yourself, and as a result becoming less happy again?  How much time-out does the brain need a day to stay optimistic?

It’s a bright day outside.  I’m going to go run for an indeterminate while.

JadenFigured Something Out

Debt and Texas

That’s a pun, get it?  Anybody?  Ok, I’ll explain.  There are two things that keep showing up in my life and this blog: debt and Texas.  I’ve lived at least briefly in almost every major city in America (except Chicago and Miami, but I’m not fully convinced Chicago exists and Miami has too many alligators/Floridians).  Somehow I always end up in Texas.  My flightplan of life so far has been Texas > Oklahoma > Texas > Jersey > Texas > Michigan > Texas > California > New York > Oklahoma >  Texas.  Noticing a pattern?  I can’t escape this state.  Maybe I don’t need to.  Austin and Houston are honestly some of my favorite cities in the U.S.  I’m in no hurry to leave anymore, and if my track record is any indication, I wouldn’t be gone long before the big T-dash-X snares me again.

On a more frustrating note, the other constant in this adventure is Debt.  Did you know the German word for debt is “schuld”, which means “guilt”?  Debt is supposed to be a shameful thing.  The only reason it isn’t is because everybody has it here in the States (also Greece, but that’s another story).  Whoever owns your debt owns your future.  I never realized this when I was a teenager, just like I never realized that parking a car with wheels turned sideways is a chump move.  My parents never prepared me for the concept of money.  As per their religious, I never was allowed to buy anything or even leave the farm to swing by a corner store.  My first experience with money was debt, in the form of a sudden fistful of hundreds arriving in the form of my first student loan.  As stupid as it seems now, I didn’t think I had to pay that back.  I assumed it just arrived, got spent, and disappeared until I was an “adult”.

I didn’t have a job in college, except for some actually-decent income from making celebrity news videos on Youtube.  I didn’t know how much jobs paid people without high school diplomas or previous experience.  I didn’t know about interest rates, or how high they could be for people with no credit.  I didn’t know that, once the loans stopped coming, there might be periods without enough money to pay rent or buy food.  I was wholly, entirely , inexcusably ignorant, and so afraid, because I knew deep in my melon heart that someday the chickens were coming to roost.

The most painful words come from those you love, and these came from someone very close: “You squandered all the money you had.”  I can’t think of anything that ever hurt as bad as that, but now I realize that those words weren’t even half true.  Squandering is what happens in Katy Perry songs.  I didn’t live lavishly, even while I dug myself into this debt.  I never went to clubs.  I ate ramen and popcorn like it was a New Years Resolution.  I drove a 2002 Ford Taurus in 2010, until it caught on fire.  But nonetheless the money was always gone.  I didn’t squander it, but I sure as hell wasted it, and when the debt came, I came back to Texas.

For the last few years, I’ve existed in a constant state of lockjaw anxiety that only Americans with haunting credit scores can know.  I didn’t know, or want to know, how much I owed.  My previous tactic for survival was to open new debit cards in moments of panic, and overdraft them almost immediately to buy food.  Then I’d abandon the account and go someplace else.  Even after cleaning the harmful chemicals from my life, I still carried that teenage recklessness everywhere.  I was stupid enough to brag that if I kept moving around “they’ll never find me”.  Allow me to emphasize: that was bullshit.  Bullshit of the sort that rednecks cultivate for explosive methane gas.    Not only did “they” find me, they never even had to look for me.

Oh, here’s some more words that stung.  During a brief stint cleaning pus-thick macaroni slime at a dying buffet, I joked to a coworker that I had made a career of spending money I didn’t own.  She replied: “And this is where it got you?”

Every debt eventually has to be paid, and my student loans came to their inevitable crash-landing last year.  In an astounding stroke of luck, two months before D-Day, I landed the best job I’ve ever had.  I could finally start payments and get them out of default.  All I had to do was work an extra 10 hours a week (on top of full time), and the $900 monthly student loan payments were covered.  Small victories, right?  Well it turns out that once word gets out that you can pay some debts, every other debt wants your attention.  And until they’re fat and happy again, you can’t make any progress in your financial life.

In the past month, I’ve compiled a list of all the banks, gyms and hospitals who want my money.  A few hundred here, a few thousand here, maybe one or two negotiation blowjobs and then (boom!) I’m a free man.  Well mostly.  The student loans are going to follow me until I’m in the ground, unless the exciting cloning experiment Obamatimus Prime gets elected and makes that debt disappear faster than the oxycontin in Rush Limbaugh’s cookie jar.  (Help me, Obami-Wan, you’re my only hope!)

Researching your own debt is like getting punched in the chest repeatedly, and then billed for the service, but what doesn’t kill you really does make you stronger.  Knowledge is power.  I no longer have a shadowy cloud hovering at throat-height, and I feel… free.  Which is funny because now I realize exactly just how much of a slave I am until these get paid.

New tactic: instead of just paying my debts, I’m shelling out money for other people to fight those debts. This might be the most American thing I’ve ever done.

Here’s a bit of adderall-fueled advice for anybody younger than me: college loan and credit card debt does not disappear on its own.  It actually gets worse.  It’s so easy to sign on the dotted line, shake hands and hit the ATM, but unless that money is being immediately applied to create more money, you are digging a big hole that gets bigger and bigger each year. Four years after taking out my last college loan, I’ve finally gotten past paying the interest and onto actually paying the principle. Debt is not something you have to just worry about years down the road. It smacks you in the face real, real quick.


JadenDebt and Texas


That’s a fun word.

Learning new things is probably the only constant in my life.  Lately that constant has been iOS programming, because not only is it a burgeoning industry (albeit one that already hit its boomtown), it’s directly connected to my work and the work I’d like to do in the near future.  I started out using but I’m starting to realize that the level of education they offer might not be worth $25 a month.  Enter

Well don’t enter yet.  Still making up my mind on whether or not they have the content I need.  But I figure if you really want to learn something, put money into it.  iOS programming seems like a whole ‘nother animal from the scripting I’m used to.

In other news, I get paid tomorrow.  Started on the loan rehab program for my last defaulted student loan, so they’ll take that out.  Paying off a few more loans (bank accounts overdrawn, old gym memberships, credit cards), so hopefully that will help get me closer to that bike.


Tension is a passing note

I saw something on facebook today that said “Optimism is realizing that taking one step forward and one step back isn’t failure, it’s a cha-cha.”  I really needed to read that I guess, as I’ve fallen once again into that strange murky gray sea that isn’t quite depression but teeters eerily close to apathy.  Most people around me know that I’ve been working super-overtime since about November to buy a my second motorcycle.  My first motorcycle was to me what first girlfriends are to most people.  It was freedom and danger and just all around cool.  I spent more time with it than anything else, until I had to sell it years ago.

So, with the string of things going right lately, I thought I might have crested over a hill in my life, and started working hard, saving pennies to get another one.  I renewed my class-M license, saved paychecks, took all the required courses, saved paychecks, worked more and more, and saved more and more of my paychecks.  In the end it didn’t change much.  My credit is still too low for even the minimum amount available for a bank loan.  Not a defeat, but certainly a setback.

Anyways, for the past two days I’ve slipped back into the fog.  You know the one, because everybody does.  That settled, razor-focused mood of wanting to just keep busy so you don’t think about all the things you had planned which are now even further away than before.  It feels like the world is laughing at you, and you don’t want to think about the things you wanted because surely you must be the reason you can’t have them.  It could be worse.  I mean at least nothing blew up this time, but that’s just because you couldn’t even make a spark.

I’ve been through this a lot in my life, and the good news is that it’s a short-lived feeling.  I’m going through my list of debts today, calling every company that wants my money and paying them in full.  So far we’re looking at just a few thousand, but if I had just a few thousand to easily give away I’d much rather spend it on buying that bike in cash.  That’s the nature of being an adult I guess.

Final thought: I want to blog every day again, like everybody else says they will and almost nobody does.  I think it’s healthy to get out of my head for at least a half hour daily.  Google Calendar is going to shout at me at 3:30 central every day until I write something.

Anyways, back to work.


JadenTension is a passing note
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Rituals for the Restless Persistent (or: On Creativity, pt 1)

CAUTION: This is a post about creativity and organization, so expect neither.  I’ve never been an organized person, at least by my own standards.  Sure, I can keep my house clean and my dishes stacked, but those are just maintenance work.  True organization evades me, and nowhere is this more pronounced than in my writing.  Want an example?  I’ve written over 150,000 words on two stories since I left Oklahoma three years ago.  I have written exactly zero stories, though, because although flinging my ideas onto paper is nearly effortless, straightening their corners and stretching their edges into shape is… impossible.

Maybe it’s the ADHD.  Honestly, I’ve started so many creative projects and left so many unfinished, orphaned drafts that I’ve developed a tactile fear of even trying.  Its the fear that the Wright Brothers must have faced after each crashed prototype that left them with only wreckage and pissed investors.  The fear that no one takes me seriously because (lets face it) they can smell the futility on my breath, the panting desperation to turn out just one finished project.  I’ve stopped telling most people that I even write, and instead focus on my music when people ask what I do for fun.  At least with music, all you need is two choruses, two verses, a bridge and 16 bars front and back for people to be impressed.  Writing fiction is (excuse the pun) another story entirely.

When I sit down to write, the biggest distractions that set my ADHD on fire are Social Media and a brash beast called the Blank.  Social media is easy enough to ignore if you have the right tools. A quick search of the app store, play store, or just Google will find you a fistful of productivity apps subtly designed to lock your brain in a box for an hour of typing.  If you’re physically unable to visit Facebook until a timer runs out, it’s much easier to keep your fingers on the keyboard.

The Blank, however, is more sinister.  To anyone who has ever created anything: I know you’ve experienced it at least once.  That damp, futile hush that falls when you simply can’t care anymore about anything you worked so hard to get on paper.  That moment when you need to see your story, to cry with your characters and speak in their voices, and suddenly words fail you.  The keyboard clicks slow down, the clock in the upper corner seems to pulsate, and you don’t care about your characters.  The networks and neuron pathways are suddenly empty.  Your attention is caught by nothing.  Focus becomes a conscious action, paddling rudderless and spinning through a stagnant pond.  If you’re smart, you’ve been taking notes so the only loss is your chance of writing more until the Blank is gone.  That might take an hour, but it will probably take twelve.

The Blank is my biggest enemy.  It strikes every time I get about 100 pages into writing a book.  Heck, it strikes when I’m reading a book.  After a set amount of time, the fuse runs out in my brain, and I just don’t care anymore.  The Blank is the reason I own a PS4 that gets played twice a month, because after a short while that game I just had to own has lost my interest, and I’d rather go run or listen to music.

Because this is getting long, I’ll get to the point.  For people like me, you’ll never beat the Blank.  It’s going to come back over and over, even if you power through most of the time.  I won’t say I’ve found a solution (not yet), but I have found some tricks that help me and hopefully might help you when your brain can’t stay in place.

The Green Light

Long, long ago, I knew the nickname of man who owned an illegal speakeasy in the warehouse district of Houston.  The house hunched over, bruised like Sylvester Stallone after his title fight in Rocky.  During the day, armed thugs posted around the gate, and I know they were armed because two of them pulled guns on me once for being too determined to get in before opening.  This was a place where you did what you were told, or they stopped talking and started doing.

Inside the speakeasy, the only light came from swaying green light bulbs, their patchy glow casting everything in mellow, acutely turmoiled shades of flickering emerald.  This place was a mosque of creativity and depravity.  Little piles of white and beige powder blew off tabletops whenever a breeze crept in, and sometimes bands would stop by unannounced to play impromptu rock shows for the underaged punk crowd of 3rd Ward.  People sat in corners drinking coffee, and people sat in corners smoking dope.  It was lawless and quiet, as if (despite the criminal activity inside), the inhabitants respected the atmosphere.  When the green lights were on, you didn’t cause trouble.

I know what I’ve described sounds like a bourgeois crack den.  Maybe it was.  I only visited on occasion to hear live music and smoke unfiltered cigarettes in a kitchen where the stovetop had been replaced by a waist-tall Buddha statue.  I found that place oddly serene.  The green lighting stuck with me when I went home to Oklahoma.  I bought a green bulb (#bigpimpin) and have replaced it for four years now.  The idea is simple: when the green light is on, I create things or have sex.  All other tasks are for the normal lights, and normal thoughts.

Your light might be blue, or red (if you’re the devil), but the point remains: lighting changes everything, and the right light can help lock you into a useful state of mind.

Theme Songs

I’ve pimped out Spotify for years now.  I sell so many subscriptions to Spotify Premium that (har har) I ought to be on the payroll.  You should really check it out.  It’s best feature is the ability to create playlists from virtually any song in wide circulation, and sync that across all your devices so that, whether at home or abroad, I can get myself right into the headspace that I need for each scene.  I have playlists for each character (a work in constant progress), playlists for each book, even playlists for individual moods I want to visit.  As someone who can’t write without music (who am I kidding, I can’t breathe without music), Spotify is the absolute best resource for quickly finding the tune to even out your scattered thoughts.


I’m far from alone with these.  I think every creative person has a specific ritual that must take place before the magic comes out.  Like dance, the value is in the rhythm, not the moves, so I won’t tell you what to include in your rituals.  But as for me, I can’t write without a brief toke, a change into my “writing pants”, and the sound of running water either natural or recorded in my ears.  Because of trying to maintain all three in order, I’ve nearly been arrested at more than a few public fountains in Oklahoma.

Running Start

I really can’t read books like I used to.  The Blank hits halfway through Act Two and I start thinking of how many insignificant things are bawling for my attention, and my eyes start (literally) bouncing away from the page.  This was actually what first clued me in to my ADHD: I lost the ability to read.  I went from reading John Grisham and Terry Brooks at 12 years old to reading one book a year at 21, and failing a humbling number of classes in college due to the fact that I simply couldn’t keep my eyes on the page.  My brain acts on its own when its bored, which if you think about it is truly frightening.  Welcome to my life.

I have no remedy for ADHD, but I’ve found that (even if I can’t read a whole chapter), I can make myself read eight or nine pages of a book that sounds good, and then forcibly tear myself away before the Blank sets in, switching from Kindle to Microsoft Word with an alt-tab so that I land breathless in the middle of my creative endeavor.  The same works for songs: I’ll listen to half a Dillon Francis track before whipping over into Ableton and working while the adrenaline is fresh in my veins.  Then when I begin to slip, I return to the original book/song, rinse and repeat.

So there you go.  Three quick tips from the undisputed featherweight champion of procrastination.  I don’t know why I’m writing all this, or why I’m maintaining a blog that I don’t advertise or (really) expect to be read.  All of this is just a sort of chronicle of my thoughts, a familiar desperate attempt to line up the highways in my head.  I think I wrote this today just to prove that I could write something more than 400 characters.  Anyways, thanks for reading.




JadenRituals for the Restless Persistent (or: On Creativity, pt 1)