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August 6th, 2022

Today Tinkered Thinking was kindly recognized for one of the Lucilius Parables which have been posted on this little website. It was the result of a contest organized by the Infinite Loops podcast and Jim O’Shaughnessy. The purpose of the contest was to inspire writers and thinkers to try and imagine a better future that might be possible due to technological innovation and progress.


As though the luddites live on, technology often gets a bad rap - we are quick to decry it’s ills and we are even quicker to imagine just how bad things might get if technological progress is allows to continue without pause or hesitation. The cultural crown of this sort of thinking is the TV series Black Mirror, which often borders on the horror genre considering how darkly some of the technological developments imagined in the show blossom.


The purpose of the contest was best encapsulated by friend Sam McRoberts who said:

I’m convinced that if we are going to change the direction of humanity for the good, we need new, uplifting stories that get people excited for the future, not dreading it.


Nothing could better describe the intent behind many of the Lucilius Parables. Despite some of them veering into Black Mirror territory, the overwhelming majority celebrate Sam’s idea and attempt to lend something to the internet that is in short supply: positive outlooks.


Now advertising long ago usurped joy and love and all the warm fuzzy feelings from much art, particularly poetry. (There simply aren’t any poets writing sonnets about how lovely the sunlight was this morning). Artist as a result were left with the sadder, depressing and more morose aspects of life to analyze and frame within the skill required to indicate something of beauty. Perhaps the culminating insight of the last century of art is that horrible and depressing things can be beautiful. But this doesn’t mean we should make that kind of perspective the only legitimate one. 


In fact it’s a trick of the economy to make things like advertising and esteemed art seem like radically different things. The fact that each has a monopoly (of course there’s overlap, duh, but we are talking about the larger picture here.) on a certain section of the human emotional experience should function like clear proof that they are not separate. 


The Infinite Loops contest and many of the Lucilius Parables are an attempt to reclaim some of that joyful territory from the crass (and brilliant) world of advertising. 


That Lucilius has speared an award is quite a bit of irony for me, on a personal level. A lifetime ago I was horribly, terribly dedicated to writing *serious* fiction, going through the rigamarole of submissions and rejections and all the loveliness that goes with an endeavor poked with so much unhappiness and pain. Just as the fruits of that prior life began to get published, I had a radical shift in perspective, particularly with regards to technology. I “gave up” my dream of writing fiction and began to teach myself how to code.


After a period of what I can only call “mourning” I began to simply miss the activity of writing. And by thoughtless accident, the content of Tinkered Thinking began to emerge rather spontaneously - as a kind of deal I made with myself: you can write for 20 minutes in the morning and that’s it! There were apparently better things I had to do with the rest of my time during the day. An innocent writing practice eventually collided with a blog I was building as a coding exercise and voila, Tinkered Thinking was nearly born, but there was one detail missing: 7 days of whimsical non-fiction was a bit… dry.


At the same time I wrote a short story to try and evoke a point I was trying to explain to a loved one. The story was far more effective than my feeble attempts to explain myself in the dry abstract. 


That story was the first Lucilius Parable. 


And so the challenge became: can I produce a new short story once a week? In a single day? My previous work with fiction was much different. Stories took many months. Single lines would be rewritten hundreds of times. Paragraphs took weeks to edit and grind into shape.


A complete short story in a single day? Once a week? This was a whole different universe of aim. But with over 170 Lucilius Parables on the site, the challenge seems doable. And now after such a long and unexpected twist of events in my life as a “writer”, Lucilius has gained more appreciation than any of the characters I so lovingly crafter in my previous life. That writer would be horrified and amazed at the success of the Lucilius Parables, both as a book that sells and now as an award catcher.


It’s particularly satisfying just how external this is to the traditional realms of publishing. The Lucilius Parables was a totally homegrown project, written and designed, and it’s “self-published”, and the award it’s now garnered isn’t one of the stuffy prestigious awards that fiction writers dream of winning, it’s something that was thought of rather whimsically in comparison to those stuffy official awards..


The old stuffy institutions that are a cause of so much stagnation and frustration are being subverted, and new opportunities - like this contest - are arising because of new innovations in technology. This contest and the fact that the book of Lucilius Parables is a totally automated business that required no traditional publishing house, nor micromanaging editor is itself a White Mirror episode. The technological development of Twitter and drop-ship publishers enabled all of these to happen, and this is likely just the start.


Because, for one, Volume II of the Lucilius Parables is about to launch, so stay tuned.

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