300 Days of Content (or, How I Let Go of My Resistance and Joined the Content Revolution)

One day in late December, I woke up and the thought popped into my head: Im going to make a little video every day for a yearstarting TODAY. I think in the back of my mind, I’d been ruminating on doing something like this, but the immediacy of the TODAY was sudden and new.

In the next five seconds, I thought Well, if I’m going to do a year, shouldn’t I wait until January 1st? But even as I thought that, I knew if I waited, at all, I would start planning it out, realize the whole thing was dumb and not do it.

So I told Paul, who was also waking up, my plan, along with its on-the-fly, less-than-creative name, “300 Days of Content.” After he finished grumbling that my plan was going to impact his plan to start running again (he had apparently been struck at the same moment by the impetus to start a project) he deemed it a good idea. He generally believes I could benefit from being less premeditated and precious in my creative life, and also knows I’ve been paying for an Adobe Premiere subscription for going on three years, and barely using it.

Thus 300 Days of Content project was born.

Which is ironic, because, for years, I’ve been resisting content — at least the term as we use it today.

Once upon a time, before the early 2000s, the word content used to refer to what what a work of art or literature contained. The content of a story was the plot and the characters etc.

But with the advent of the internet it came refer to “any form of digital media that is created and distributed online.” In the beginning, this was mostly text-based, because that’s what the technology allowed, but as the technology evolved so that everything is online, the definition has also evolved to include images, audio, video etc.

The first time I remember clocking the word content used in the “new” way was probably about 2006. I was in Florida, immersed my Creative Writing MFA program and someone on my new Facebook account was talking about generating content. I remember feeling irritated. The way she was talking, it sounded like if someone wrote a Facebook post, it was content and if someone wrote the new War and Peace, it was also be content. Here I was, investing my sweat, tears, time and money into becoming an artist, and now this yokel was reducing all my work — all of everyone’s work — down to one thing? What the hell?

Nearing two decades later, we call television shows and films content. Reality shows are content. Enormous essays in magazines are long form content. Podcasts are audio content. TikTok videos are content. This blog is content. The contents of the content—its goodness, badness, worthy-of-existence-ness — is a secondary consideration to be discussed in think pieces that are also content.

Man, 2006-Barrington would have railed against this with energy and conviction.

But 2023-Barrington is tired and no longer knows anything.

Maybe insisting on evaluating and categorizing the contents of the content simply old-fashioned and elitist. Maybe I’m just yucking on everybody’s yum. Though not really, “everybody” because who’s listening to me anyway? Which I guess means I’m just yukking on my own yum.

All because I don’t like a word.

Because I’ve actually always loved making stuff. Drawing, tie-dying T-shirts, making up skits, improvising dances, writing this blog — all compulsive acts of creation, resulting in stuff. Stuff can be dumb and it doesn’t matter (at least at first). It doesn’t have to be subject to self-assigned stakes or agendas.

And isn’t content just another word for stuff?

So I’m making some stuff, and calling it 300 Days of Content.

(It’s a learning expedition, and I think I’ll eventually explore housing all 300 videos on a YouTube channel or on this website, but the fastest and easiest tool to get started was TikTok, (which then shares to Instagram) so for the moment that’s where my stuff is.)

Macroverse Panel Today

I think I’ve cryptically referred to the “digital app” company I’ve been doing a project for… To be less vague about it, I’m working with a company called Macroverse. Today, as part of a virtual Web3 Comicon event, I’ll be on a panel where Macroverse reveals it’s upcoming releases, including the series that I am writing on, called Sal Bones. You can access it as a livestream on YouTube, here, at 4:30 PM (PST) today (Sunday, October 9, 2022) or see the recorded version later.

I’m not sure how many projects are being introduced, if I’ll actually be called to say something or if I’ll mostly nod and smile. I’ve been watching several of the other events over the past couple days, and feel like I’m getting a slightly better sense of what “Web3” means, and how storytelling might evolve if it comes to pass.

Sugar Water For My Dopamine-Depleted Brain, featuring George Saunders

The importance of dopamine became apparent in 1954 when the neuroscientists James Olds and Peter Milner ran an experiment that revealed the neurological processes behind craving and desire. By implanting electrodes in the brains of rats, the researchers blocked the release of dopamine. To the surprise of the scientists, the rats lost all will to live. They wouldn’t eat. they wouldn’t have sex. They didn’t crave anything. Within a few days the animals died of thirst.

In follow-up studies, other scientist also inhibited the dopamine-releasing parts of the brain, but this time, they squirted little droplets of sugar into the mouths of the dopamine-depleted rats. Their little rat faces lit up with pleasurable grins from the tasty substance. Even though dopamine was blocked, they liked the sugar just as much as before; they just didn’t want it anymore. The ability to experience pleasure remained, but without dopamine, desire died. And without desire, action stopped.

James Clear, Atomic Habits (p. 105)

Although I’m happily emerging from the slump now, for much of this year, I found myself relating to the rats described above, in that I had very little desire to do much of anything. Although this sounds like—and probably was—a classic depression symptom, I simultaneously observed that, like the rats, I didn’t feel particularly unhappy. I still enjoyed flowers and pretty scenery and conversations and food when —like sugar water dropped on the rats’ tongues—it was delivered to me with minimal effort on my part. Luckily, because I live with a man moved by his appetites, much of the world was delivered to me: Television programs appeared on the screen, food arrived, I was ferried to various destinations. And as these things happened I thought mmmm, riding in the car in the sun is nice, this view is nice, this Modern Kale Ceasar Salad hits the spot.

The main arena where Paul could not carry me was in my writing. With a kind of distanced concern, I observed that my sense of hope and ambition had disappeared and my desire to write had dwindled to almost nothing. This, more than anything else, highlighted for me the growing similarity between myself and the desire-less rats.

I thought, For most of my life I have cared about writing. While I don’t care right now, it seems probable that I’ll care again in the future, so I should try to prolong my creative life until the caring kicks back in. To that end, maybe I need to be not only a rat, but also a scientist. (Not the one of the scientists who let their rats die of starvation, but the one who provided sugar water to keep the rats alive, albeit after cruelly disrupting their normal dopamine flow.)

In other words, I needed to procure my own source of sugar water.

I set about doing this by signing up for a new session of a writing workshop I sometimes do. It didn’t push me into writing pages as it normally would, but my sense of social obligation drove me to read other people’s work and give decent notes. There’s some satisfaction in realizing that, after years of practice, searching for writing solutions when I read scripts is now as automatic as starting to chew after I’ve put food in my mouth. So I think my fellow writers benefitted and it exercised my brain a little. But after a couple of months, I was worn out even by this. I needed sugar water that required zero effort.

And I was lucky enough to find some.

On Apple TV, there was Severance. Rather than attempt to say much about it, I’ll just recommend it, or recommend reading the second half of this essay in Electric Literature.

On audio, there was the George Saunders’ book, A Fish in a Pond in the Rain.

In the first weeks after my surgery, my general I-can’t-make-myself-care mood mixed with a fair amount of physical pain. I knew I was looking bad when our nosiest neighbor approached me on one of my daily recovery walks and asked, “Are you okay?” with a tinge of something approximating actual concern.

I’m sure whatever I answered was less than satisfying for her curiosity. I had little energy for back-and-forth conversations or the social niceties of stretching my face into different expressions. But as I slowly shuffled around the block like a battery-finally-depleted energizer bunny, I hit “play” on A Swim in a Pond in the Rain and it was pure sugar water piped into my brain via my ears. Inside my head, and even inside my soul, “my little rat face lit up with pleasure.”

Although the book can be described as about writing, Saunders’ discussions weave in morality, spirituality, human nature and the general poignant ridiculousness of people.

Saunders, like my husband, is an engineer-turned-storyteller, and it’s interesting to observe the ways in which their minds think alike (though Saunders’ analyses are elevated because he’s well-read and dedicated to efficiently and affectingly articulating his thoughts shaped by years of reflection and teaching).

In each section of the book, an actor reads a story by a Russian author, and then Saunders analyzes the story, beat by beat, page by page, combining close reading and larger structural analysis.

If you are a writer, a reader or a lover of stories in any format, I highly recommend this book.

P.S. Though I’m a fan of George Saunders’ fiction, I became aware of A Swim in a Pond in the Rain via his Story Club newsletter which you can check out on SUBSTACK for free. I will admit to being months behind — apparently opening emails and reading things on my computer is less like sugar-water delivery and more akin to having to cross one’s cage for sustenance—and I’m not all the way back yet. The minute he compiles his posts into an audiobook or podcast, I will be the first to lay my money down!

Argentina (Part 2) – Birthday in Bahia Blanca

BIRTHDAY TRIP TO BAHIA BLANCA

Once A and I arrived in Buenos Aires, we needed to get to my ASR “magical birthday spot,” Bahia Blanca, a small city south of Buenos Aires. It takes about eight-hours to travel to Bahia Blanca by car, or just over an hour by plane. We chose the plane. Planes from the smaller local airport in Buenos Aires to Bahia Blanca depart twice a day— in the morning and in the afternoon. Bahia Blanca is the kind of place, where, when you tell Argentinians you need to go there, they look at you perplexed, and ask “Why?” We only had a week in Argentina, and since I really only needed to be in Bahia Blanca at 1:29pm (local time) on my birthday, I considered flying in the morning, hanging out in the airport, and returning in the afternoon. But this plan contained some risk: If anything went wrong with the morning flight, there wouldn’t be any other options and I would have traveled all the way to Argentina only to fail in my mission! In the end, we decided to play it safe and take an afternoon flight on the previous day to make double-sure I was in the right place at the right time.

Upon arriving in Bahia Blanca, we took a cab from the airport into town and found it about as it had been described to us, which is to say, very average. If I was to pick an Argentinian version of the town I grew up in, it might be this. Probably a pretty nice place to go to work, have a family, pay rent, go to the grocery story… but not exactly a cultural or aesthetic mecca. Which was not really a disappointment. We were still dealing with jet-lag and happy enough not to feel obligated to rush to any famous museums, etc.

We did, however, accomplish a rite of passage for Argentina, in that we found a place that would exchange our money at the “blue market rate.” The blue market rate is almost double the official exchange rate. Swapping bills at this rate is not illegal, but not exactly legal either, so you need to find a partner and a place either by going to someplace like the reputed exchange hotspot of Calle Florida back in Buenos Aires, or by “asking around,” and finding someone trustworthy. After a couple of misses, we lucked out asking a staffer at our hotel. It probably didn’t hurt that A_ tipped him generously in American cash when he helped with our bags.  He gave us the address of a small shop whose primary business was something other than a money exchange. Discreetly counting out our bills at the counter felt, as A_, put it, “a little shady,” but it was safer and nicer than Calle Florida would have been, and much less time-consuming. It felt like a victory as it helped me stretch my travel funds for the rest of the trip!

The next day was my birthday, and also “Immaculate Conception Day” or “Day of the Virgin.” I’d read about this before our trip and and had wondered if the day might be occasion for a festival or a parade or something. I can say that, at least in Bahia Blanca, it is not. As we were exchanging our money the previous day, I’d asked the shop-owner what happened on this holiday and she described it as a day where, if you are religious, you can go to church, or you stay home or hang out with family. Nobody goes to work and pretty much all businesses are closed. Kind of like Christmas Day without the decorations. A_ and I enjoyed the fact that we had our hotel to ourselves, went to the little hotel gym, and used the time to figure some travel plans that were changing.

By the magical hour of 1:29pm, we were back at the airport, preparing to board our plane. I felt a little worldlier and wealthier. I wasn’t sure if I felt immediately luckier, but, but that’s mostly a matter of mindset, so I decided I did!

A reader has asked for some pictures. It’s hard to convey how badly I failed as a photographer on this trip, but these will start to give you some idea!

View from our hotel window
Our waiting plane at the Bahia Blanca Airport
Me and A_ at the airport at the magical moment of 1:29pm on my birthday.

 

Writing Update: August/September/October

WRITING

My top three projects for August/September/October (as measured in hours devoted) were:  

A VERY PEARTREE CHRISTMAS – horror rom-com spec feature (with Paul Seetachitt) 
Christmas-resistant journalist is sent to the town of PearTree to cover their annual Twelve Days of Christmas Festival only to discover that a series of  gruesome “accidents” occurring during the festivities are actually ritualistic murders, orchestrated to resurrect the demon, Krampus.
Paul Seetachitt and I pushed to get it ready for pre-holiday reading. Available now!

THE INFLUENCER (suspense-horror spec feature)
When the manager / best friend of a struggling social media influencer cuts a deal for her client to beta-test some new tech in order to get more followers, the results are more than she bargained for. 
Did some rewriting in September and submitted. Readers (i.e. my reps) have come back with an intriguing idea… should it be a TV series instead?! Hmmmm. Stay tuned to hear how this one turns out.

GIRL, WOLF, WOODSMAN (short fiction)
A contemporary re-imagining of “Little Red Riding Hood” that details what happens after the woodsman heroically dispenses with that pesky wolf. 
Found this one in the archives and decided to finish it at long last. Did a round of submissions to literary journals — we’ll see if it finds a home.  There’s also a short screenplay version waiting in the wings.  

WATCHING

MOVIES: The Green Knight, Free Guy, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, The Card Counter, Americanish, Natalie, The Tomorrow War, Malignant, No Time to Die, Last Night in Soho, Eternals

TV: Dave, Ted Lasso, Mare of Easttown, The Boys, We Are Lady Parts, The Other Two (pilot); The Chair, Foundation, Squid Game, We Are Here, Great British Bake Off

READING

Klara and the Sun, Kazuo Ishiguru; Anxious People, Fredrik Backman; Women in White Coats; Olivia Campbell, Gone, Lisa Gardner; An Ordinary Wonder, Buki Papillon; Afterlives, Thomas Pierce; Elevation, Stephen King; The Woman in the Window, A.J. Finn; Best of Tor.com 2020; Heroine with 1001 Faces, Maria Tatar  Heroine with 1001 Faces, Maria Tatar 

LISTENING

New category! I’ve discovered and am really getting into scripted podcast series. Like radio plays of old… or TV for your ears…

Wolverine, The Long Night (Marvel), Moonface, Blood Ties, True Love, Bridgewater, Aftershock

APPRECIATING

Boundaries crossed after seeming millennia:

A TV agent (Auri Maruri at Gersh), and my first official TV credit (Creepshow, Season 3, Episode 5: “Time Out.”)