Why?

This month I started an online course in Artificial Intelligence. I also recently met, quite randomly at a bar, a gentleman much more technically minded than myself, who is also taking the course. He asked me recently:

I’m curious, what’s gotten you interested in following this class? Is it your apparent love of scifi, or something else?


To which I replied:

Hmmm….what’s gotten me interested? You realise my answer to this question is going to become a blog post…

Last night I went to see Daniel Clowes and Seth, two comic book illustrators, speak at their joint book launch. My daughter asked me: “Why are you going?” and I had to actually think for a moment: why, indeed? I had one of Daniel Clowes earlier books, and knew little of Seth, yet I was still making an effort to go to this reading. I’m a casual illustrated book reader, hardly hardcore, and then I realised, simply, that I enjoy immersing myself in things I know nothing about.

The most often asked question to me is: “Who is your favourite band/musician?” or “What are you listening to?” And my answer is invariably: “I don’t listen to music.” I don’t. And I don’t mean to sound presumptuous or pretentious or holier-than-thou, but being immersed in the music industry for the past decade has made me a non-believer in music. Only a tiny margin of music is real anymore, the rest are just feeble attempts at fame, fortune, or worse, relevancy. I rarely listen to new music because all I hear is…dishonesty.

But it *would* be pretentious so live a life without culture, so I’ve turned my focus elsewhere. I’ve started reading books again, and writing fiction. And I enjoy these two tasks immensely. As I write, especially, I learn: my choice to write “genre” fiction is no accident. In speculative and science fictions I see open space, pure freedom, a world without restraint. I fold in to my work things I read about technology, computing, medical advances, space exploration and robotics. I feel that in researching this stuff and reading about it, a new frame of mind is being revealed. A fresh perspective of the world spurts forth, a new community of people working and thinking… not to be “cool” but to be, essentially, creative.

I miss that about music, which is why I’ve taken this step in the opposite direction. It doesn’t mean I’m done with being in a band or making records at all. If anything I will only return with resolve and a fervent dedication that should be feared by the entire hipster set.

So….does this answer the question? Kind of. I’m really digging the way my brain is being pulled by being in the ai-class, forced to think pragmatically and logically. Embracing new terminology and honing mathematical and deductive skills. My past will reveal that I was a big nerd. My dad is an electrical engineer. I was in “Gifted” in grade school. I took Computer Science class in grade 11. I took enriched math and wrote nation-wide math competitions. I was never the “cool” kid, and I never felt threatened by the “in” crowd. I made friends from strangers through BBS‘ and the first computer I bought was the first generation clamshell iBook…dare I say…before it was cool. If I hadn’t decided to move to Montreal at the age of 18, I would have been in “New Media” at Ryerson. A technical school. One of my favourite movies OF ALL TIME is Terminator 2.

I guess with this free, online course from a reputable university came up I just said to myself: “Why not?”

Professional Friends

Now that last post is just annoying me. It was a thought I needed to share, but not one that needs to be at the top forever. Yesterday marked the start of the Introduction to Artificial Intelligence class I am taking for free, and online, associated with Stanford University. I’ve been motoring through the videos, enjoying the knowledge. I’ve also been stimulating my brain at the really awesome Khan Academy, where I’ve been learning about various maths (mainly so I don’t feel dumb when learning about AI). Forget Brain Age, this is actual learning without the pressure to achieve any kind of success.

Also: lots of writing. I have two stories on the go right now: one is dark and the other, lighter. I am hoping to share the dark one with you all soon. This morning I devised a suitable ending. Accompanying podcast forthcoming.

I am also psyched, as I launch this psuedo-writing project, that I’ll have a piece of fiction in an upcoming issue of Montreal’s Matrix magazine (details coming). Also check/like my Facebook “Page.” As I tweeted earlier, any attempt to extricate myself from FB’s clutches only drew me in further, resulting in the creation of said Page. Turns out I am pro-friends, as in “professional friends.”

(Hardly) Tragic Life Stories

This morning my brain woke up at 7:15AM, exactly 45 minutes before my body was ready. That was just enough time to lay there and start over-thinking things: Was the car going to get a ticket? Did I remember to lock the door? Am I catching cold? What’s wrong with me? Why does winter suck so hard? Etc, etc. In that time, my mind wandered, and got all self-critical of my 20’s. You know, the university years. The stuff of which nightmares are made. The conscious moments between longer periods of being drunk prior to graduation.

More specifically, I was feeling embarrassed to have spent several years as a creative writing major: all the poor things I not only wrote but shared with my classmates. I was writing from nowhere, from a life part-lived. Essentially I was making the shit up as I went along…which should be the goal of creative writing, otherwise they would call it plagaristic writing. I think art schools and especially the creative writing major should be abolished. What a way to commodify art…guised as education. Art should be workshopped, never graded.

The point: sometime in the late 90’s I took a class called Creative Writing: Memoir Fiction. Or something like that. I was so into it: what could be more awesome/easy than writing about my life? At the time, I thought I was amazing. I was invincible. I was 22. I was totally lost in life but having a great time. So I wrote a story about it. I seriously thought: “I – hands down – have the most interesting life out of everyone in this class and my story is going to BLOW THEM AWAY.” I was conceited. Did I mention that?

My only caveat was one particular classmate who was actually a good writer. She had had her work published and shit. We had mutual friends and at the time I thought it was likely that her life might be more interesting than mine. She was also a few years older. And this morning, in my momentary post-dawn panic, I realised it was the possibility of her opinion that embarrassed me. Like my “tell-it-like-it-is life story” about going to bars and having dinners at fancy restaurants was remotely intellectual and engaging. It totally was not. That story was a bona fide piece of garbage.

The largest tragedy here was that I ever thought the drivel I put out there was appropriate to share and discuss with others. Yikes, anyone?

A final thought: how depressing and morally crushing would it be, being a creative writing teacher? Not trying to be offensive to creative writing teachers out there, but the amount of pure rubbish you would have to process: read cricitally, comment on and grade. All the while, your internal dialogue being: “This is the future of English literature. Fucking hell. Can I murder myself now?” Thus, possibly, the genesis of a new genre.