Through The Looking Glass

The first day Summer started the same way as the first day of spring - and the first day of winter - mango and banana smoothie.

Ironically, it was routine that I bemoaned at the start of 2020, where I recklessly vowed I would shirk predictability and venture out of my comfort zone again like days of old.
In my head I figured I would find a new comfort zone, probably in a different suburb and/or a new kitchenette. I would ride a bicycle. I even bought a new PC and monitor.

Covid came along and yet I still found a way to say yes to things that scared me. I even did away with breakfast smoothies for a few days there. Though not for long.

Today was a big day on that journey of change for (hopefully not just for) the sake of a journal entry.

My new monitor arrived. It's curved.


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If you met yourself from the future, what would you ask your future self?
What if they wont tell you anything?


A Day With A Random Red Bow On it

A tip. If you want to go out in public right now, but still socially distance: visit the cinema. We went to see Fat Man tonight - a Christmas movie! - and had the entire theatre to ourselves.

In further yuletide news, we erected our tree last night, and after the movie we returned to the sparkle of a few lights strung up between its synthetic branches. Probably not enough lights to justify the seven feet of height, but the reflection against the glass doors gave off a sense of a cozy, festive glow.

It was at that point I heard a thump against the back window, something I dismissed as my imagination until like a horror movie a second thump came, and a third, louder. Stepping closer to the window I witnessed scarabs the size of fully-grown raspberry in a child's hand crashing into the window, shaking their brown and gold bodies back upright, and flying back into the glass again.

Christmas had arrived.

End Of Year Highlights

I delivered some end of year highlights today, and for a moment it felt like I'd wrapped the year up perfectly and didn't have a whole heap of documentation and handover to somehow cram into the next nine work days.

I also learned that my particular brand of subtle, dry office humour does not translate well to the Zoom Meeting medium, where most attendees are likely browsing something in another tab while listening passively in case their name comes up.

If you're on a Zoom Call right now while reading this: my new monitor is flawed.


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High Pressure System

image 2148 from bradism.com
The wind has been blustery all weekend. It tore the bird netting over my strawberries, brought leaves into my living room, and exfoliated my cheeks on the esplanade. The big branch from my neighbour's tree that started the weekend next to his house has now been relocated mysteriously into the shadows of a building a street over after his party Saturday night.

But the most notable effect of the powerful gusts that blasted through the streets and suburbs of Adelaide is the garbage which has been spread sometimes coming to rest on the roads and footpaths. But more often found literally spiraling in the breeze outside my window or windscreen.

This drifting, airborne garbage has felt symbolic of the state of my brain these same recent days. I'm not saying my thoughts have been rotten, stinky dross. I mean that in my head there is the byproduct that an incredibly complex system like a society or a brain is producing right now, and its struggling to be fully garbage collected. I suppose that's to be expected, with the amount of parallel processing and related objects in my mind.

A few things are good for it. Like bike rides by the river, seeing baby ducks, gigantic coffees with crushed up macadamia in the fluff - the aroma almost strong enough to override the disinfectant lathered on all the surrounding surfaces. That helps me feel like everything is going to be okay, and that those floating bits of garbage will settle down on the ground again soon, out of sight.

Timeline to Publication

I remember, vaguely, the first short story I ever wrote. I was eight years old, and it was the last day of school for the year. The class exercise was to write a tale to read out before we all went home for Christmas. My tale was about a magic tree that shrank a main character (named Brad) who then had to escape from an ants' nest. It was a thrilling couple of pages. Probably a little tropey. And it included a picture I drew.

As home time approached that afternoon the teacher called us one at a time to read our work. Each time my classmates finished I shot my hand up, craving to be the next to share my piece. Over and over this repeated until, finally, the bell rang and story time was over. My little tale was never shared with anyone.

This was the first in a long succession of literary rejections.

I was a voracious reader as a child thanks to my library card and my parent's enforced restriction of screen time. I continued to write for my own amusement throughout my adolescence and eventually when I started journaling my life at seventeen the occasional entry transcended reality completely and became a work of fiction. Inspired mainly by American sitcoms, my stories featured double entendres about bread or beards and publishing them online brought me joy, and the taste of popularity on INTERNET FORUMS.

A sample of the books I read in a two month period of 1997.

A sample of the books I read in a two month period of 1997.


During my IT degree I chose creative writing topics to fill my electives, and after graduation and a few months of office life drudgery I knew that sooner or later I would need to pivot. My strategy at 23 was to make up fictional stories about office life drudgery. In 2007 I decided to submit one for publication.

I received my first professional rejection from Wet Ink for a short story about a paper towel shortage in an office which was supposed to be a metaphor for the French revolution. Honestly, I was a little shocked. I'd kind of had a feeling that I would fall into success as a writer. I'd been encouraged specifically to submit by the editor of the magazine while in the crowd at the Salisbury Writer's Festival, and it was at this same festival I'd scored my side job writing music reviews for Rip It Up just by bothering the editor of that mag while he'd been on his smoke break.

As I continued reading the likes of Pratchett, Coupland, Palahniuk and Gladwell the inspirations they gave me took my work in all sorts of directions and by my mid-twenties I'd written a whole portfolio of short stories and novellas. I persisted honing my craft, spending lunch breaks writing stories in the sunshine, joining discussion boards and writing communities online, plotting and editing piece after piece many which are extremely polished and were never published. I put a lot of effort and hours into this writing dream. I even paid money for state writer's memberships, online workshops and beta-swaps. I entered some short story competitions which I did not win.

I spent most of my writing energy between 2012 and 2016 working on novellas and novels. After not falling into success with novel submissions in much the same fashion as my short story career, It was suggested to me that I work on getting short works published in the multitude of magazines, anthologies and blogs that published authors. "Building a resume" was the advice. I took it to heart and from the start of 2017 I dedicated myself to this challenge. I found the lay of the land on ralan.com and after reading some of the listed publications I knew my goal was to be published in a qualified Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) magazine. These were the publication’s on ralan’s “Pro” listings, and the more I read and wrote, the more I wanted to put my name in those pages.

On October 15, 2020, nearly four years later, my story A Purpose for Stars was published in Analog Science Fiction and Fact magazine. This is something thousands of other people have done. It's also the proudest achievement of my writing career. While I feel like I have written better stories by my own standards, imagining, writing and publishing something that found a home in such a historic publication that has featured such prestigious authors is an achievement I will hopefully replicate, but I’ll never forget my first.

Roll over to see what's inside.

Roll over to see what's inside.


I’m writing this out because I thought it would be worth documenting the time it took from the day I first had the dream, to the day I held the print copy of my story in my hands. This is both for the benefit of my own reflection, and as a single example of the journey for any other aspiring authors to provide perspective.

While this summary details my first successful submission to the token, semi-pro and pro markets it should be understood that between January 2017 and June 2019 I was writing and editing stories for about twenty hours every single week. I have lost track of the number of rejections I received. Searching my email inbox for the phrase “unfortunately” is bittersweet.

Time-Stones along the way

  • April 2017 - I write my latest story Bung Fritz at the kitchen table one Saturday night applying everything I’ve learned on the above journey.
  • June 14, 2017 - After revising, reading to Vanessa, my writer’s group and sending to online beta readers I submit Bung Fritz to its first market: Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine.
  • June 20, 2017 - Received my first rejection for Bung Fritz.
  • October 23, 2017 - I start work on my latest story Wormholes and the Woman with the Fake Tan
  • November 20, 2017 - After three rejections, Bung Fritz is accepted by Breach Magazine after 6 days. My first acceptance.
  • December 14, 2017 - The December issue of Breach Magazine is released. I was paid $10 AUD. Time between first draft and publication: 244 days.
  • April 4, 2018 - Submit Wormholes and the Woman with the Fake Tan to Aurealis
  • June 2018 - Write first draft of A Purpose for Stars.
  • June 24, 2018 - Wormholes and the Woman with the Fake Tan is accepted by Aurealis after 82 days. My first acceptance in a “semi-pro” market.
  • July 3, 2018 - Receive my first rejection for A Purpose for Stars
  • July 7, 2018 - Receive my second rejection for A Purpose for Stars
  • August 13, 2018 - Wormholes is published in Aurealis Magazine. I was paid $146 AUD (2 cents/word). Time between first draft and publication: 295 days.
  • August 14, 2018 - Receive my third rejection for A Purpose for Stars
  • December 7, 2018 - A Purpose for Stars receives an honourable mention for an anthology competition - giving me some confidence - but is not published.
  • January 22, 2020 - A Purpose for Stars is accepted by Analog SF&F after 275 days.
  • June 30, 2020 - Receive proof and provide edits.
  • October 15, 2020 - A Purpose for Stars is published in the November/December issue of Analog SF&F. I was paid $428USD/$636AUD. (8 cents USD/word).
  • November 13, 2020 - My print copy of Analog SF&F is delivered and I confirmed that it’s true: I am a SFWA Market/Professional writer. Time between first draft and publication: 854 days.

Your journey my vary. The most important thing to remember: keep writing.

(This advice is also for aspiring writers plus me).

Persistence

Today was my last day in the office after a long time... Unlike this fucking almond which is clearly hanging on for long service leave.

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Summer Holiday Mode

After the hectic times leading up to my final office day it was unclear how easily I would be able to switch into vacation mode for the next three weeks before my next major life side-quest begins. On the same afternoon that the sight of the office carpet disappeared behind closing elevator doors I boarded a flight to Queensland to visit my mum, brother and my niece and nephew. Perhaps it was being surrounded by family, perhaps it was the humidity. I found myself regressing easily into the summer holidays of old. Like, really old.

Trampoline
Waterfights
Building a PC in a warm room
Hero Quest
Cricket and nap

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Smash Brothers
Pokémon cards
Going to the supermarket with mum
More naps
Excessive Weet Bix consumption

The Longest Day of 2020

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Bonus Content

It's been so long since I've experienced the feeling of waking up in one bed and falling asleep in another, a thousand miles away.

And similarly, eating a mountain of food in one state and then bringing it back with you in the cargo hold for a final next day reminder of the good times you had.

Merry Christmas Internet 2020

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It was nice to own a full size tree for most of a year.

Interference

The vacation mode that I slipped into so easily last week has not been found post Christmas. All I wanted to do with my extra time over the past days was edit some photos on my NAS, get cheesed in Age of Empires, and generally be able to connect to the internet without disconnects as frequent as a batsmen getting out in the cricket. Alas, after a week of working fine my Netgear A7000 USB Network Adapter that I had to spend $90 on after I decided not to spend $50 on a wifi-enabled motherboard for my new computer stopped connecting to my WIFI.

I dedicated a few hours to this last night, tweaking the 5Ghz channel and signal strength in my router, downgrading drivers, stopping unrelated services, trying the adapter in different USB ports (2.0 and 3.0) and trying it without the dock. I forced myself to go to bed last night frustrated and disconnected.

Waking this morning I decided that Netgear hardware must be the problem and sank another $44 dollars (and another Office Supply Store Amazon 5% price beat - sorry sales lady). The new hardware did give me a moment of joy as it detected and connected immediately to the 5Ghz network, however it too disconnected and suffered the same symptoms as the Netgear. Some gremlin - it seemed - has infected my home WIFI 5ghz network and it seemed all I would be doing with my free time today was solving that problem. I am, after all, an IT Professional and if it was working before then this should be something I could fix.

After hours of debugging, diagnostics, configuration changes and turning things off and on again I had myself a bricked PC (and still no internet). This was not the "easy" setup I'd expected when buying a pre-built PC. At some point (around 7pm) I had to concede that I had completely wasted one of my twenty-four days of summer holidays and had nothing to show for it. Well, nothing except a better understanding of wireless protocols, channels, channel widths and frequencies.
Oh and how to create a wireless networking status report in Windows 10 using netsh wlan show wlanreport
And the model of my motherboard, which I'm sure will be handy later.
Plus how to identify Unknown PCI devices in Device Manager and find the right drivers for them (the hard way and the Radeon automatic way).
And what disabling legacy USB and Legacy USB3 Support in my BIOS does (don't do it).
Then I learned how to find and check boot error codes during computer start up.
And that I do still have a PS/2 to USB adapter in my box of cables
And how to clear a CMOS to restore motherboard settings to factory defaults
And how to remove my graphics card from my new motherboard
And how to remove the battery from my new motherboard
And finally how to set the time in the BIOS of my new computer, and get it to boot to Windows again.

The networking still doesn't work.

So maybe this proves why I am an IT Professional. I can't solve my problem, but I'm good enough at learning lessons from computer things that I can afford whatever it will cost to pay someone to install a 25 metre ethernet cable down the side of my house and into my router.

2020 Feelings

I had a lot of feelings during 2020. Here are some of the more memorable ones:

Humidity

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The satisfaction from reading the end of a novella while savoring a delicious craft beer.

The echo of a wood-framed sofa hitting the pavement after a three-story drop.

The paranoia on public transport.

Finding my balance on a bicycle for the first time in twenty years.

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Pricklings from a COVID beard I didn’t need to grow.

Stretching of my stomach after completing another giant Vanessa dessert.

The smell of freshly manufactured olympic weight plates in an enclosed space.

Age of Empires 2 Ranked queue adrenaline.

That first sip of fresh coffee after weeks of closed cafes.

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The cold, winter air fighting to reach the fingers inside my pockets.

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The tickle at the back of the throat after stupidly eating raw almonds right before walking to the supermarket.

Tikka kebab, breast kebab and bolani.

The tension in the bladder during back to back to back Zoom meetings.

Saltiness of that first mouthful of lettuce, hummus and 4 bean mix after days without it.

One side of my body warmed by the fire.

image 2165 from bradism.com

The grit from a layer of sweat and basketball court dust covering my palms, and the support around the ankles of the Kyrie sneakers, produced in Team USA colours for an Olympics that wouldn’t come.

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Itches of mosquito bites interrupting outdoor salad eating in the garden.

Hiss of gas and the charring of meat filling the air.

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Cheap hand sanitizer’s aroma and the stinging that it brings to the skin.

The ache in my shoulder as the sweat cooled.

The scent of Jasmine on early spring breezes.

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Shampooed dog fur on the inside of my calves while preparing dinner at the official Bradism Raised Cutting Board for Tall People.

The sweet taste of the mulberry that fell from the branch directly into my mouth.

The tingling of my blood, hoping nobody noticed me putting a face mask over my eyes like it was a sleep-mask on an aeroplane.

The heat of a northerly wind on my back, post-sunset strolls on the beach.

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Pulsations from the Compex as it stimulated my hamstrings

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Never-ending water trickling down the fountain.

Book Review - Dynasty by Tom Holland

In 2020 I managed to read 24 novels, 3 Novellas, 4 Anthologies and 2 Non-Fiction books. I'm happy with that effort in the age of ubiquitous, distracting, pocket-sized glass rectangles.

I thought I should put more effort into capturing my impressions and learnings from what I dedicate hours to reading, particularly non-fiction. Here is my summary of Dynasty: The Rise and Fall of the House of Caesar by Tom Holland (read by Mark Meadows).

Review

I picked up this audiobook hoping for a comprehensive, enlightening overview with regards to Ancient Rome. In hindsight this was an extremely optimistic expectation for a single book. Dynasty is not a history book as much as it is a history ride focusing specifically on Augustus Caesar and his descendants. Holland follows narrative themes rather than chronological ones, translates dialogue into sensational, modern English and rarely makes comments about his sources. Initially, as narrator Mark Meadows smoothly narrated the first few chapters I struggled to absorb the richness of detail and understand the important characters from the less important. This was made doubly difficult because ancient Romans had a habit of giving each other new names based on other's old names.

Eventually I settled into the cadence of the "story" and began to trust Holland to highlight and foreshadow the critical pieces of information, while letting tangents and bit-playing senators not make it into my long term memory. Holland's roots as a fiction writer give him good tools for telling this tale right. If I'd had a better background in ancient history this might have been a more engaging experience, but given the source material - the drama, politics, assassinations and conspiracies - I was happy to be washed over by the wave of information from Julius to Nero, and if I do decide to pursue any further my interest in Roman history this will prove to be a good anchoring point.

What did I learn?

Other than a lot of historical events, the thing that stood out most to me about life during the golden years of the Roman empire was how eerily similar life was then and now. Of course, we are all human beings, but I hadn't expected the level of sophistication and what I'd thought were 2020 issues to have been so prevalent in ancient Rome.

There were small things, like cults of personality, fake news, postponed Olympics, apartments with ground level retail, and plenty of graffitied memes. But there was also the push for trans rights, controversial property developments and literally "Making Rome Great Again."

My favourite modern day reference though, was when, under the weight of yet another political scandal Caesar dismissed the senate's concerns by saying that this would all be forgotten when the next inevitable scandal came up.

Highlight

With their wealth of religions and superstitions, the ancient Romans took symbolism very seriously. When, shortly after Nero had his own mother killed (one of many horrific deeds he spun as pious) a comet appeared. A sign known with much certainty to foretell the death and disaster, Nero's Imperial Advisor Seneca somehow managed to spin it as a sign of positivity, and that on top of his other achievements the Emperor had redeemed comets from their cosmic stigma.