Leo Laporte’s Triangulation is Borg Like Me

I had a fabulous time yesterday on Leo Larporte’s Triangulation program on the TWiT network. You can see the full interview here.

Take the Potluck Dinner Challenge

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A few weeks ago, I read an article on Facebook about a writer/editor couple in Pittsburgh, PA who’d dreamed up a low-stress way of “forcing” themselves into being more sociable again, Friday Night Meatballs. Tired of being too tired to go out most weeks and too intimidated to throw proper adult dinner parties, they came up with a simple and intriguing solution: Every Friday night, they set the table and have a giant pot of spaghetti and meatballs at the ready. They have a one-hour cleaning rule beforehand. No fuss, no muss. The house is always one-hour clean and fussy clean-freak guests can suck it. They open their door at 7pm to ALL of their circles of friends, clients, neighbors, and family members. Everyone is invited. All you have to do is RSVP and it’s capped at 10 adults plus kids. They’ve been doing it for nine months now and say they it’s changed their lives in extraordinary ways.

As soon as I read this, I knew I was going to do the same thing. I’ve been feeling for awhile now that the virtualizing of our social lives has gone too far; that we’re actually losing our ability to casually socialize, to carry on meaningful face-to-face conversations, to negotiate differences of opinion. We live more as avatars of ourselves, projections, than actual people. I see these dinners as being a possible corrective to that.

Not wanting even the “burden” of always having to cook a large entree for everyone, I decided to make it potluck instead. I announced “Potluck Dinner at Chez Branwyn” last week and posted a spreadsheet so people could easily sign up and say what they were bringing (and see what others were bringing). As with the Pittsburgh couple, I immediately got a very positive response to the idea. I’m now committed to doing these every Thursday when I’m in town and don’t have another pressing event to go to.

For starters, I decided to experiment with a 20-person cap instead of ten. One cool thing about this idea is that I can help shape the social dynamics by changing the number of invitee slots. Some weeks, I might want an intimate group and will offer fewer slots on the spreadsheet. Other weeks, if I’m in the mood for a more raucous meal, I’ll over more slots.

I also committed myself to not sweating ANY of the details. Ultimately, the specific food will be unimportant, the mix of guests equally so, and the cleanliness (or lack thereof) of my house (and the most embarrassing excuse for a stick-furniture dining room table EVER) will be what it is.

This all really is a perceptual shift. This IS NOT a dinner party. This is simply dinner at Gareth’s house every Thursday night that up to 20 friends are invited to. For the first one, and going forward, I even posted a notice on my Facebook wall (to Friends), at the start time of 6:30pm, saying: “It’s 6:30. The door is open to my house. Dinner is served. Come on by if you want.” (And included my address and phone number.)

When I posted the open invite for my first dinner to my 2,000 FB friends, I had no takers for days. Of course, my first reaction was to panic. But then I reminded myself it didn’t matter. It’s just dinner on Thursday night. I’m going to be here eating at the table, regardless. Chill out, home slice! Whoever comes, comes.

It was just a few days before that one person finally signed up, a FB friend I didn’t even know. For awhile, it looked like it was just going to be the two of us. Which would’ve been fine. Eventually, she invited another friend (whom I also didn’t know). By Thursday afternoon, that was it. Lots of people began sending messages and FB posts with heartfelt “I’m so sorry I can’t make it!” messages. I told everyone: No worries. Next week. The week after that. The third Thursday in January. It’ll happen. It’s not an event that needs to be over-planned. Stressed over. Or apologized for. I keep telling myself all of this. It takes some getting used to.

The first dinner was absolutely lovely. I couldn’t have been happier (or more laid back) about how it all went down. It ended up being five of us, which was actually a nice size for civilized conversation. The dinner was a yummy spaghetti bolognese, a fancy green salad, and peach cobbler for desert. And a friend brought a thermos of Manhattans. There was hardly a phone in sight all night and we had lots of conversation. About actual THINGS.

Word got out after the first dinner (I did a FB post) and many people have expressed interest in next week and future dinners. I already have 16 people signed up for this coming Thursday. One friend, who’s an amazing cook, is bringing chicken tikka masala. Another, a bread baker, is making nan.

At the beginning of the year, I made something of a resolution to start doing less online socializing and more and deeper face-to-face hanging out. I told myself I was going to have more one-on-one dinners with interesting people and out-of-touch friends, and some small dinner parties. I’ve managed ONE such dinner this year (before last Thursday). It’s October! Like the couple in Pittsburgh, the pressures we normally put on ourselves when entertaining are just too much to overcome during a typical, frequently frantic, workweek. Somehow, this approach of “just dinner at my house — come if you like” feels categorically different.

If you’re feeling the same way, and I have a suspicion many of you reading this are, why not consider taking the Potluck Dinner Challenge? It’s easy, it’s an extremely liberating approach to “entertaining,” and it’s a great way to connect, reconnect, and disconnect from the Skinnerian push-button, get treat self-absorption we seem to have become so addicted to online.

So, come this Thursday night, my door will be open, my table set. Consider opening yours to your circles. If you do, I’d love to hear how your dinners are going and about any tweaks you’ve made to the formula.

WINK Review: What It Is

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My latest WINK review is for Lynda Barry’s bizarre and wonderful writing workshop in a dream-like book, What It Is.

This densely collaged book is utterly uncategorizable – so many modes of expression are at work here: a textbook/workbook on inspiring creative writing and cultivating creativity of all kinds, a comic-memoir of Barry’s personal struggles with creativity and self-expression as a child, a stunning and challenging piece of collage/altered book art, and a sort of extended fever dream on the nature of memory, imagination, play, and creativity.

Read the full review.

“An Evening with Gareth Branwyn,” at Salon Contra in DC, Next Monday

Join me next Monday, Sept 22, for a special Pink Line Project “Salon Contra” event.

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contraLogoAn Evening with Gareth Branwyn
Monday, September 22
6:30-8pm
@Pink Line Project HQ (details provided after RSVP)

Author and cyberculture pioneer, Gareth Branwyn, will be here to talk about his new book, Borg Like Me & Other Tales of Art, Eros, and Embedded Systems. If you’ve already been to one of Gareth’s DC readings, this will be slightly different, more interactive and conversational. Gareth will share stories around the book and his very colorful life, read a few passages, and he says he’s going to perform a magick ritual. Seriously. He’ll also have books for sale. RSVP here: info@pinklineproject.com

Hope to see you there!

A Tour Through Borg Like Me

I did a short video with my friend, videographer Rob Parrish, of me paging through the Sparks of Fire Press edition of Borg Like Me (with the bookplate, mini bookmark, and mail art envelope). This should give you a better idea of how lovely it is inside.

Pick up your own swanky copy here.

“Into the Future! The Making of Beyond Cyberpunk!” on Boing Boing

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Boing Boing is running an excerpt of Borg Like Me. It’s the full story of how we came to create the ground-breaking 1991 hypermedia electronic book, Beyond Cyberpunk!


Building a Cyberpunk “Data Bucket”

While Peter and I were anxious to get our hands dirty with hypermedia, I discovered a rather exhaustive list of cyberpunk sci-fi novels on The Well BBS and thought that might be a perfect subject for our stack. I’d been reading as much of this sci-fi subgenre of near-future worlds and high-tech low-lifes as I could get my hands on, so it was perfect fit. The idea was originally to create a “data bucket” into which we could just toss all of the information on cyberpunk that we found while surfing the Net. But, like a lot of hypermedia projects, once we started seeding our little pocket universe, Beyond Cyberpunk! quickly began teeming with lots of unexpected life. We soon decided to go all out, to make it as exhaustive as possible, and release it as a commercial product. At the time (1990), the Internet was not yet in the media spotlight. So-called cyberculture (where these near-future speculative worlds met the bleeding edge of real-life technoculture) was in its heyday, but known only on the cultural fringes. We could sense that all things “cyber” were about to bust into the mainstream and we wanted to chart the course cyberculture had taken, from its sci-fi and early hacker roots, through the Internet, and soon, we suspected, into everyday, mainstream life.

Read the rest of the piece.

And pick up your copy of the book here.

Me Being Interviewed on My Writing Habits

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Fun little interview on the productivity website, Lift, about my writing habits (or lack thereof).

In the time since you launched your kickstarter campaign, you’ve seemed to make steady incremental progress on bringing the book to market. What sort of daily habits would you recommend to a writer who’s trying to complete a book? Was there anything beyond “write every day” that helped you make progress?

In the Appendices of my book, I have a lengthy piece called “Gareth’s Tips on Sucks-­Less Writing.” One of those tips is “Writers Write!” It may sound painfully obvious, but it’s key. You have to do the work, put one word in front of the other. One of the other tips I have in there (taken from Anne Lamott’s highly­ recommended Bird By Bird) is to not be afraid of what she calls “Shitty First Drafts.” Don’t be afraid to just get your thoughts out there. Unvarnished. Don’t fear the blank page. You can edit what comes out into something usable. The best writing advice I ever got was to really cultivate two work heads, the writer’s head and the editor’s head. When writing, shut the editor off. Turn him/her on only after you have your shitty first draft.

Writing a book is not easy, it takes a lot of self ­discipline, and it’s something of a heroic quest, with many perils along the way, monsters to slay. But it is completely worth it if you have the tenacity and the courage to go on the quest. You are a different person when you finish from the person who started, tempered.

Read the entire interview.

WINK Review: Beautiful Darkness

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My review this week was for the lovely and intense “anti-fairly tale, Beautiful Darkness, by French comics writer Fabien Vehlmann and the husband and wife artist team Marie Pommepuy and Sébastien Cosset (known together as Kerascoët):

Beautiful Darkness begins at a lovely tea party with a Princess-like Aurora entertaining her would-be paramour, the dashing, princely Hector. She serves cakes and hot chocolate, aided by her friend and wannabe handmaiden, Plim. Everything is going swimmingly as the cooing couple lean in for their first kiss. Suddenly, the sky starts falling. Weeping, stinky pink goo begins to rain down all around and over them, into their cocoa, onto their heads. Soon they are struggling against drowning as the putrefaction fills the room. But as Aurora, now panicked and separated from the others, finally finds her opening to freedom, we realize that the thwarted tea party was inside the decaying corpse of a little girl in the woods. As the Lilliputian Aurora crawls from her nostril into the rainy darkness, a “wide shot” image shows dozens of other tiny people fleeing from every orifice of the decaying child.

And then the story becomes seriously sick, twisted, and sad.

Read the entire review here.

Ordering Borg Like Me FROM Me

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When you order the print edition directly from me, you get some extra goodies that you don’t get through Amazon (or anywhere else). First off, you get the beautiful letterpress-printed bookplate designed by Blake Maloof (my son and the resident artist at SoFP). The plate is tipped into the book and autographed. You also get a mini-bookmark featuring excerpts from the artwork in the book and it all comes inside a swanky enveloped embellished with custom rubber stamps that Blake and I designed. We like the idea of doing a very personalized mailing and we hope you enjoy the effort put into it.

I Did a Reddit Ask Me Anything. Here’s the Resulting Discussion

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Question: In the book The End of Absence, author Michael Harris points out that we are the last generation alive that remembers before the InterWebNet was born. I’m no Luddite, I may be online too much since my health forced me to quit my very physical work. I find it harder and harder not to want love and reinforcement from my social media “friends”. The 56K ping of a modem dialing still makes me smile. As a borg and jacked-in to the world as you are, how do you cut those wires, now invisible? Is it even possible?

Answer: You know, as someone who’s been such a breathless cheerleader of all this virtuality, I’m started to become annoyed with certain aspects of it — like the constant desire for “thumby” validation on FB, the endless selfies, and endless kitty-cat videos, pop culture memes, etc. I think, in many ways, the maker movement is a reaction to such overwhelming virtuality — going back to getting our hands dirty.

I think we’re going to need to learn to be far more digitally self-disciplined, to have unplugged days. I’ve been thinking about taking off from socmedia every other day, as an experiment. It’s staggering to think the amount of lost productivity to socmedia and online frivolity and self-absorption.

When my son was in grade school, they had a media literacy class, to teach kids how to be critical of media, advertising, internet content, etc. I think we need a similar thing for online presence/digital self-discipline: how to effectively manage your usage, how to parse socmedia content and weed out the growing satire/hoax content, how to balance online and offline human connections, and so forth. I think Doug Rushkoff is onto something with his recent book, Present Shock.

Read the entire discussion here.