updates for all
time 18 minutes
tl;dr I work on a whole bunch of things at once. Here’s where most of them are.
I am juggling, at any given moment, about seventeen-and-a-half projects.
I was talking to a friend recently about this, and we wondered if its not a neurodiverse quirk—this inability to be interested in one thing unless there’s so many more humming around behind.
Regardless, it works for me. I used to believe that I started things and never finished them. I know now that, in addition to some ideas’ only purpose being to inspire better ones, I so often come back to the orphaned ideas, given time. It’s a bit like blowing on an hot coal to rekindle it to flame. I can’t keep all the fires burning—nor do I want to—but I am surrounded by embers that will not die.
I understand, though, that following along with what I’m working on is difficult (to say the least) for you all. So, I thought I’d give an update on:
Feel free to use the table of contents below to skip around to projects that interest you.
I want to start with where I’m struggling. There’s plenty of excitement further on down, so if you wanna skip the sob story, feel free.
Marketing myself online feels very different than my current marketing role at Vercel (more on that later), which, as a product, already has gobs of users. I love creating all the shit I do, and the act of creation gives me life much in the same way I breathe life into my creations. However, when I share out things on socials—objectively the only way anyone’s gonna find that I’ve updated something—it’s pretty depressing.
I don’t want or need to operate my life around like and retweets, but trust me when I say that spending quite literally six weeks researching and writing an essay only to receive zero feedback on it—well, that sucks.
And it’s not your guys’ fault. Don’t get me wrong. Social media is a race to the bottom. I’m on Insta, Facebook, Twitter, and now even Mastodon. I’ve published music on Soundcloud, writing on Medium, art on Behance. I was thinking about putting some of my web design on Dribbble. I hate every single one of these platforms.
Whether there’s an algorithm specifically designed to demote external links (Twitter) or no algorithm which makes your posts hopelessly time-based (Mastodon), there’s no real winning as a creator starting from scratch. It’s oversaturated out there, and the ways to get past it are pretty desperate.
I crave authenticity. I crave connection. I don’t give a blue fuck about likes, but I want your sentences, your words, your thoughts, even (especially) your art.
I don’t fundamentally, know how to get responses to my own work. I frequently engage with other creators, messaging authors, artists, musicians, game designers, and even filmmakers who feel small enough that they may respond. Often, they do. Outside this creative sphere, I have real friendships—people who have decided with me to engage together on this one wild life—but I don’t ever want to force friends to consume anything I create outside that friendship. They often do give me feedback, and I’m incredibly thankful for that.
But what I’m saying is I don’t want 100,000 friends. I’m yearning for those one-off connections, for community inspired, if I can be egotistical, by my art. For human connection through joint pursuit of beauty.
Anyway, thoughts welcome if you made it here. I’m super open to ideas. I’ve thought about newsletters, digital strategies, even hiring a social media manager—I’m just looking for something a bit more real. Let me know what’s worked for you or where you are with this social dystopia.
I’ve been freelancing with Vercel since November 2022, and I find the day job extremely helpful for my brain. The rhythm of working with a team, not only staves off the loneliness I mentioned above but also helps me break out of my perfectionism. Writing at my job helps me practice fucking up in public, a skill that I’ve undervalued for far too long.
Perhaps most importantly, earning my salary outside my creative work liberates what I can do here on the site.
So, what do I actually do? Well, like all job titles, mine is made up. Engineering content at Vercel means that I’m in a hybrid role of blog writer, diagram maker, blog coder, marketer, and analytics junior guru. As an individual contributor role, the job has a lot of autonomy and opportunity for cross-departmental collaboration—both of which help my neurodivergent brain flourish. I really love meeting all these people and interpreting their complex (and quite intelligent) ideas into blog-speak.
I believe in my company and the people in it. I genuinely like the product we make and use it as a solution to build and host my own website in an extremely fast and flexible manner. The product is not without its flaws, for sure, but I mean it when I say it’s often best-in-class. It’s cool working for a company on the rise.
All that said (and actually meant), my company does ask its employees (contractually) not to trash talk it on the web. It’s an understandable policy, but I believe it comes from a place of fear and prevents me from being totally open about my work the way I am with my own creative life and its vicissitudes. It’s a shame, really, in such an environment as open-source technology, to be closed off in this way.
I won’t be talking about what I do for work here on the blog much more than this. I don’t like writing when I can’t give my view of all known sides of a situation. I’m content, though, and feeling settled into the nuanced role.
My partner-in-crime, Shorouk Elkobrsi, and I have been working together creatively for several years now, and we’ve both gotten some film experience under our belts (especially Shorouk, who’s a gifted cinematographer, editor, and all-around storyteller).
Our vision for the production house is, well, to run a real production company. To make as many movies or TV shows as we can. Between the two of us, we have a lot of skills, but we’ve also been learning how to produce—that art of bringing together and leading a whole team of people to bring a film to life.
We’re shooting our first “real” film (we’ve worked on smaller projects ‘til now), Fish on Shore, in early August in Leeds, UK. In the 15-minute film, a 60-year-old theatre actor recounts the day in his life that led him to realize he might never fit this world, but he’ll take up space in it anyway. As he tells his story, the films shows to younger versions of him (at 8, at mid-30s) living various moments that relate, however abstractly, to his poetic narration.
The short film is queer, dreamlike, and chock full of each of our creative sensibilities. There’s no distinguishing my ideas from Shorouk’s at this point. After creating the script recruiting cast and crew (leaning on Shorouk’s connections that she’s worked so hard to make), we’re currently in the “shot list” phase, where we go line-by-line and figure out how each moments will look on screen.
During the week of our shoot, Shorouk will be Director of Photography (in charge of the look of the film), and I’ll be Director (in charge of actors, blocking, and bringing the scenes to life). We both get final say in when a scene feels right, but working in a traditional team structure is vital for clarity and communication to the rest of our team.
After shooting, we’ll be editing together, with Shorouk doing the bulk of the technical work, including coloring, as the resident DaVinci (editing software) wizard. I’ll be, in addition to helping conceptually with cuts, creating the sound for the movie, including editing sound caputred on set, designing foley, and scoring the music.
My brain sees Shorouk as the vision through the whole project and me as the voice, even though this is probably an unhelpful metaphor. I wrote the actual words of the script, but Shorouk conceptualized the imagery. On set, I’ll make sure the scenes have breath; Shorouk, the framing. After, Shorouk will edit moving picture; me, sound. We’ve helped each other and crossed over to each others’ “realm” so often it’s impossible to track, but if anyone asked, this might be how I differentiated our jobs as co-creators. I’d bet Shorouk has a slightly different view.
Once the film is made (or close to it), we’ll be marketing, including (likely) running a funding campaign to recoup expenses (making a movie ain’t cheap). We’ll also be creating a web presence for Anthropotpourri, including a new site, which I’m really excited to code up. I imagine you’ll see Fish on Shore in early 2024, but as with all deadlines in my life, let’s make it a soft one.
And, of course, if you’re watching the movie, rest assured we’re already building the next one.
For the past gods know how many years, I’ve designed websites. I’ve coded frontends. I’ve managed data. And I fucking love it. Coding up shit on the web is the closest thing to infinite Lego that I’ve found as an adult.
While I’ve freelanced on a lot of community projects—sites for authors, lit mags, the like—having my own website is what’s pushed me farthest into new territory. I use this site, really a collection of things pretentiously monikered as Tempo Immaterial, to grow my skills as a developer and designer.
My dev friends know this, but maybe my other friends don’t realize: every part of this website is hand-coded. I’m not using anything but text to draw this up. I take great joy in this continuous dance of logic and design.
In the near-term, I’m expanding out a bit, both on this site, and to make the upcoming Anthropotpourri site (see above). I’m thrilled to take on new designs, not only with external work, but also in this site: my hope for every individual subpage of my studio is to make it into its own world, with its own design language separate from the rest of the site.
Maybe the best example I have so far of this is
Alright, this is the fire I most recently rekindled. Some of you may have noticed (Twitter says otherwise) that my poems (old and a few new) are back up on my site. I had so much fun designing a new web UI for them to inhabit, and, maybe more importantly, a system that makes it very easy to post new poems whenever I’d like. (It’s one button, you guys. I write the poems on Notion and have one. fucking. publish. button.)
My vision for hymns is to have something like a full book of poetry and lyric essays one of these days. I may even submit out for more formal publication. (I used to, but I got tired of the publishing lottery.) For now, though, I’m letting it expand as I feel, waiting to see what it’s going to be.
As I have new poems, I’ll push them out to you all. I’ll continually edit what’s up there already, because poetry is about precision of language, and it’s a really great place for me to exercise perfectionism in a healthy way, to keep it out of other spheres of my life. I’ll try to keep you posted here on the blog.
I’m really excited about this project right now, folks.
Betson has been, for quite literally ten years, my constant novel-in-progress. Yes, I’m fully aware that the traditional author path is to finish the first novel, realize it’s more than a bit horrid, and move onto the next work which might be publishable.
The route I’ve taken instead (unsurprisingly for me) is one of continuous reframing. I’ve written an ungodly amount of scenes, characters, whole chapters for this thing. I’ve gone from formatting it as a book, to short story collection, to a graphic novel, to I think it was a game at one point?? I’ve changed narrators, viewpoints, time periods, plot, and like 50 different pens.
But lately, dare I say, I’m in an exciting place. I’ve found, for the first time, what I know is the shape of the book. Now, I have all that draft material to reformat into that shape, and it will be a hell of a lot of work, but I have the thing—its essence—parsed.
So, let me tell you, in brief. My vision for Betson is a novel by seasons, each of the twelve chapters inhabiting the next month of the cycle. While this has been the case for a while—even back in 2019 I had chapters in May 2012, June 2008, July 1980, and so on—I had been making them, most recently, each into their own standalone short stories that related one to another (much like a book I dearly love, Anthony Marra’s The Tsar of Love and Techno).
It was in separating these tales, giving them each their own conclusive endings, that I got stuck. I submitted one—”The Goat Hunters,” now Chapter 4—to a few lit journals. I got feedback from an editor I dearly respect, who said, “This is exactly the kind of writing we’re looking for, but it feels like these characters’ stories don’t end here. I’m not sure, when I look at them at the end of the chapter versus the beginning, I see the growth I want to.”
As an arrogant fool at the time (isn’t it great throwing past selves under the bus to sound humble with no actual cost to your current sense of ego?), I didn’t really listen. I continued to try to make the story work on its own, and generally noticed the other stories had endings that were languishing as well.
In rethinking Betson as a novel in the true sense of the word, I can move more to something like Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad—a book that challenges its readers with a new tale each chapter from new viewpoints, but also, however subtly, provides updates on narrators from earlier or later in the book. My hope is that Betson, when looked at as a whole, will have characters that have their paths more completely charted, albeit out of order, than what a short story can offer.
To this effect, I’m currently re-outlining the whole book (in great detail), and I hope to begin publishing early versions of each chapter (in order, since that matters now) to the site within the next year. So, why give away the text for free?
Well, I don’t want to, ultimately. I want to publish this book in the traditional route. However, because of the book’s subject matter, I want to open-source a lot of the feedback process to various members of my community. To hear from people I might not have thought to reach out to.
See, the book centers on the ugly face of whiteness in rural Ohio, and as such, carries a certain heaviness that needs to be treated with care. It’s not just handling sensitive subject material ethically either; I want the book to be readable, accessible, funny in many parts. I think Fredrik Backman, for instance, does an excellent job of this in his novels. He peels apart deeply ingrained prejudices, deeply flawed characters, in a humorous and imminently readable way. Zadie Smith’s White Teeth is another, though admittedly more for a “literary” crowd than Backman. For however much I admire Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad, I ultimately don’t recommend it to many people because it’s not really an enjoyable act to read it all. Its fictional characters are wrought nearly in poetry, which I love, but it’s a very high mental load to read.
It’s not, ultimately, the book I’d see many people from where I grew up finish. They’d pick it up, for sure—rural Ohio is full of academics, people who will surprise you if you give them the chance—but it proves too distant from many of their experiences to resonate. Too urban. I want Betson to resonate, before I try to publish it, and I think the only way to do that is to let anyone who wants to read the early drafts and tell me what works and what sucks. This can’t be a philosophical treatise of a book.
This is maybe the most up-in-the-air, directionless “project” I have going. A lot of you know that I got into digital painting in 2020. What you might not realize is that this corresponded with the loss of one of my close friends who was working with me to illustrate some of my stories.
I taught myself to draw, in other words, as an accomplice to my writing. I encouraged myself to practice through posting regularly to socials and gobbling up likes (wow does visual art do so much better than writing), and I found myself specializing in portraiture. The portraits have gained a following of their own, but it’s always just been a way for me to practice for bigger things (and to relax from other work).
The arrival of actually good AI art has thoroughly disrupted my painting motivation. I’d be lying if I said it’s not more skilled at painting than me in every single way. Perhaps if I had ten years experience, I’d look at it more suspiciously. In fact, such is the case with generative AI in the fields of writing and music—I find them a helpful research assistance, but not a tool I rely on for sentences or melodies. As it stands now, however, I can prompt Midjourney with the type of illustration I want, and it gets closer than I’m able to—serves the story better than I can.
And it does it in under 30 seconds. Sure, I have to iterate on prompts and come up with exact phrasing, and a drawing can take up to 30 minutes to get. But that’s nowhere close to the 10 - 25 hours I spend on most portraits.
Plus, it’s only going to get better. The biggest limitations right now—the reasons I’m not really using it in production—are twofold.
One, it’s not able to repeatedly draw the same character or different angles of the same environment with any sort of reliability. Astonishingly, this is being worked out as we speak, and early results are promising. I feel we’re under a year away from AI Art that you can basically strategically prompt a graphic novel out of.
The second is the bigger issue: ethics. It remains to be seen how AI art (and generative AI as a whole) will follow a system of ethics that’s palatable to me. To be clear, I feel that AI art, writing, music, etc., will never replace me. I’m not threatened by it, but rather I’m adapting to it, using it to make better creative work.
That being said, I don’t earn my primary income from my art. What I’m waiting on is to see actual statistics on if and how AI is cutting into artist revenue. It may sound a bit shallow, but I know human artists will always be the drivers of good art, even assisted by AI. There are already positive ways of attribution being developed, making the ethics around intellectual property less odious. My biggest concern, then, is what it always is: big corporations (who can afford to make great AI) stealing income from independent creators.
Anyway, while all this hums along, I’m still painting to relax, but I’m less inspired to learn and improve than with my writing, coding, music—my primary interests. All the fields I want art for—graphic novels, marketing, and especially game environments, characters, icons—seem like they’ll be able to be generated soon.
So, expect less visual art from me in the near-term. It’s not what sparks the most joy to create. If I make any, as relaxation, I’ll share it. But expect in the future that I’ll be using my words, my writing and creativity, to combine AI-generated art with my stories to breathe more life into both.
Since 2015, these makeshift idiotika (TMI), has probably taken up the biggest creative slice of my brain. I love all projects I work on, but TMI has this added pressure / love affair of being the thing I most want to see in the world.
It’s also, fortunately or unfortunately, the biggest project of all these (besides what Anthropotpourri could become). I’ve written about the project before and it still escapes, for now, my ability to describe it. The people most interested in it tend to be the ones I’ve sat with and begun to tell them stories from its world.
But that, here, would be spoilers. Suffice it to say for now, if you like fantasy/sci-fi, if you like queering the shit out of it, if you like deeply complex characters who are motivated by a vast array of factors from a vast and fucked up world—there’s definitely a feast here for you.
I mean, there’s a threesome in a ancient alien underground breeding pool where one character’s orgasm causes them to realize they can glow in the dark. What more do you want.
Let’s focus on vision. I won’t deny it: I want to see TMI as an indie game. Or a series of games. Or a massive game that gets edited forever. I’ve come up with how it would work—I know the thing inside and out. But I also know I need to take so many small steps to get there.
So, the more immediate goal is to live-prototype the story to get it where I want to be. I want to build out a sort of wiki—a worldbuilding treasure trove, complete with places, characters, tech, religions, history, and even scenes, stories, and full arcs.
I’m focusing on this for several reasons:
So, in the near-term, expect to see worldbuilding. I’ll be stretching my web design skills to make an engaging and interactive UI—one that could eventually be ported into the game as a Lexicon of sorts. It’s all a bit nonlinear, and I want the design to match the feeling of that exploring the game world will ultimately give. I feel I can do that well on the web until I find more people as passionate about the world of TMI as I am.
I’ve been playing piano and singing since I was a kid, but as an adult, I’ve become more interested in the art of composition. Music, for the past few years for me, has been a matter of teaching myself digital production.
Right now, my publicizing of my music is all over the place. I’ve taken piano gigs at restaurants and the like, I’ve published some improvs on Soundcloud, I’ve scored the odd podcast or film.
My vision, though, for my music, is twofold: I want to score longer projects (my films, my stories), and I want to make actual albums of songs I produce (with vocals, I mean).
The next project I’ll be working on, as mentioned above, is the score to Anthropotpourri’s upcoming film, Fish on Shore. It will be a fifteen-ish-minute soundtrack, the biggest music project I’ve worked on yet. I’ve got some loose melodies and themes underway, but after the film is made, I’m beyond excited to embark on the actual scoring journey.
I also plan to get organized soon. Make a Spotify channel, make a dedicated space on the website—all that shit. Stay tuned.
When I say postcards on my site, I initially meant it as a home for flash fiction, of which I used to write a bunch and am still interested in writing more. Now, though, I’, thinking of using it as an umbrella for any of my creations that aren’t immediately related to one of the other big projects.
I’ve also thought about making a collection called tall tales—somewhere to put the kind of fictionalized memoir work I often write, where I base the story on something that really happened to me or folks nearby, but I don’t hesitate to add in unremembered dialogue or even whole scenes to make it flow.
So, right now, don’t expect too much new from this section, but I wouldn’t be surprised if I work on the UI a bit to give all my orphaned creations a home of their own.
From my blog, you’ll see, really, what you’ve been seeing. I’ve enjoyed writing a variety of things here—not just updates, but stabs at lyricism, at humor, at whatever takes my fancy. It’s meant to be a low-pressure space for me, and a place to keep you updated on what’s going on around here.
I have a few nascent ideas for “series” going on right now on the blog, including deep explainers about some tech stuff. In the interest of keeping this space low pressure, that’s all I’ll say for now, but I do enjoy trialing things on the blog and then, if enough people are interested (or if I am), moving them to their own dedicated homes on my website.
besides my job, my
creations, i’m not much more
than like three walks to the grocery each day to grab what i forgot
This has been a rather long-winded account of where I am on various projects, but I hope you could find what you’re interested in and learn more.
As always, my inbox is lonely open, and if you have questions about anything or want to be more involved—or even have ideas for a collab—don’t hesitate to reach out.
I’m also super interested to hear what projects here most pique your interest. Sure, I’ll follow my own path in what I work on, but it’s rather nice to know when people care.
And please, please, please: tell me what projects you’re working on. I’d love to have a blog here soon about upcoming works from my community to get excited about. But besides that, nothing staves off creative loneliness quite like working besides each other.
Go get some Vitamin D,