Tag Archives: Blogging

Best writing prompt ever

My KCET editor Zach and I had a very nice, very cordial meeting in Riverside on Monday with two very friendly people with the PR wing of BrightSource. BrightSource asked for the meeting to address and correct what the they thought were certain deficiencies in my writing about them. Very few of those perceived deficiencies were found in my writing at KCET. Most of them were here.

Most of the meeting was taken up with the BrightSource senior VP in attendance explaining BrightSource’s position on a number of things. He’s a persuasive man, and fascinatingly wonkish. It was a valuable meeting for me if only for that.

Toward the end one of the BrightSource folks asked me if I’d closed this place. I told her the truth: that writing for pay has had to take precedence. Both of them seemed very pleased. The senior VP said something like “hey, we’ll have to put an note in our company newsletter: ‘Chris Clarke has closed down his blog.”

So I’m ramping this back up again, because that’s just the motivation I needed. Thanks, BrightSource!

Update on Coyote Crossing


It’s been quieter here than I think it ever has been, with the possible exception of the summer of 2008 after I closed this blog and before I opened this blog. Oh, and November 2006 was pretty much dead around here, as I recall. But still, I posted one photo all last month here, and that’s close to a record of taciturnitude.

There’s been a reason for the quiet, and now there’s another one.

The reason is that I’ve been writing anywhere from 2 to 5 posts a day for KCET during the week, and that’s taken a lot of my writing energy.
The now there’s another reason is that I’ve just joined PZ as co-blogger at Pharyngula.

The third reason, now that I come to think of it, is that there’s been all kinds of stuff to look at in my yard, like:

2012-09-05 13.13.13

There is also the fact that I have determined to plow through the revisions to the existing Joshua tree book chapters I’ve written and finish the book. I got a huge amount of writing done in the year and a half I was in LA, and got much guidance from my wonderful writer’s group there, and subsequent events have made it clear to me that I got off down the wrong path a bit, so there are a few dozen hours in the next two or three months I’ll need to spend fixing things and getting the book ready to ship.

So I can’t honestly say there’s going to be a whole lot going on here any time soon, but that doesn’t mean you don’t get to read new stuff of mine almost every day if you want to. Check out the above links for KCET and Pharyngula, and don’t forget you can find me on Twitter and Facebook and sort of at Google Plus, though it’s spammy as fuck over there lately.

I’m not saying this place is closing down. It might be. Or I might find a hundred things I suddenly need to share here that don’t fit at KCET or Pharyngula. But for now the paid gigs take precedence. Come on over to either place and say hello.



It rained in the Mojave this week. Driving up onto Cima Dome on Friday was driving into a wall of electified sleet. Immense bolts of blue lightning snaked horizontally for miles just above the surface of the Dome. I fretted about fire until I got under the storm. The windshield filled up with melting hail. The Dome was sodden.



I filled the pickup with four-fifths of my books, at least those I hadn’t given away in the previous month, and coaxed that overloaded truck over the mountains and into the desert. 420 miles of heavy wind and awkward center of gravity, an ungainly migration, and it had daunted me Thursday morning as I carried the boxes. Flinging yourself into the abyss is a scary thing to anticipate. I needn’t have fretted. Rolling down the east slope of the Tehachapi Mountains I felt it leave, this stale and cloying sadness I have carried in me the last months. It evanesced, blew off toward Harper Lake in shattered wisps under Mojave’s constant wind, and I was free.


A notable change, this change. The human lifespan being what it is, the number of times you can leave a place you’ve lived for a generation is somewhat limited. This will be my second time. I suspect that if I live in any other place for a generation, I’ll leave it with my bootsoles pointed at the horizon.

Right now I’ve got my gaze pointed that way.

I’ve got a place to stay starting in July, in Nipton, in a small house 400 feet from a mainline train track, and only 16 miles from Joshua trees. I’ve got a post office box in Cima, CA, 92323 — something I’ve long desired — and you can send me a letter there at PO Box 43. I’ve got a storage locker in Barstow with four-fifths of my books in it. I’ve got a 14-foot truck reserved to haul the rest of my belongings down there on June 1.

Which means my last full day in Pinole, and quite possibly my last day living in the Bay Area, will be May 31, 2008.

This will be five years, almost to the day, since I started Creek Running North. I find the logic irrefutable.

Creek Running North is shutting down.

I’m a firm believer in the merit of a finite lifespan for projects artistic and otherwise, and my intent in starting Creek Running North was to describe the world around this creek down the hill from where I sit typing this, and I may never see it again after this week. I ranged crazily afield, but the creek was my pole star: For five years I always found my way back to it.

Obviously, I can’t do that anymore.

I’ll still maintain a website here, and it will still have some of my writing on it, and after July some of that writing, from time to time, will be quite new. I expect to spend almost all my writing hours working on potential print, but there will likely be observations and passing thoughts and photos and such that fit nowhere but on a site like this. Many of you have invested in the work I’m doing this summer, and in any event the site represents a little income I can’t walk away from too blithely. It won’t be a blog in the sense of having a blogroll and linking to slagfests and playing the circular-argument status game. It will be a place for the writing, for occasional photos, for environmental politics in appropriate measure, maybe a podcast or two. Lots of ambient sound out there in the desert, you know?

But not until July at the earliest. And it won’t be called Creek Running North.* Because Creek Running North is shutting down.

This isn’t, however, the last CRN post. I have one more left, a good closer, on a topic that’s long been an undercurrent here and whose subject really deserves a bit of notice.

That final CRN post will be up before the end of May.

This morning I woke up in the Central Valley, got in the truck and intended to head for home. Pulling to the mouth of the motel parking lot, though, about to turn onto Route 46, I realized I didn’t know where home was. I sat there, turn signal indicating a left, waiting for the traffic to clear, and I looked rightward. Down that way lay the Carrizo Plain, the Coast Ranges, the Salinas River and the coast. I had a talk with myself sitting there.

It’s longer, I said.
I sneered at me in response. So? It’s not like anyone’s waiting for you up North.
But I have work to do. Packing and such.
And you’ll get that done today?
No. But still,
Still nothing. When’s the last time you were in Paso Robles? Was Reagan still president? When are you gonna be this way again?
But the gasoline. 4.10 a gallon here, and this was cheap for the neighborhood.
So do the math. It’s what, an extra ten bucks to go this way?
I’m already in the left turn lane.
You’re such an idiot. No one’s behind you.

I waved the sirenian me away impatiently. Places to go. Things to do. The traffic cleared, and I pulled out into the road, and I turned right anyway, went toward the coast.  I just figured it was time to start setting an example.

* And I have no ideas for names whatsoever.

Some housekeeping

[Update: 0) A few people will be arriving at this page in the next couple days because I’ve suggested they look here for samples of my writing. The desert writing can be found here, and the pieces that I’ve decided best represent what I can do in general are sorted here.]

1) In a month I move out. I don’t know where I’m moving to.  There’s a good chance I’ll actually be homeless in the month of June, except that I will call it “camping.” I’m tracking down writer-in-residence gigs, volunteer opportunities with housing involved, rental of desert shacks and the like, but since I don’t know where I’m moving to, I don’t know whether I’ll have internet access on any kind of reliable basis.

This will make running a blog difficult. I’ve been thinking about how to address this: the community here has been so valuable to me, and there’s a little income from the blog ads that it would be a shame, though not fatal, to forsake.

If I can be assured of regular internet access, on the order of once a week, I can upload a week’s worth of short posts and set them to publish one at a time. This doesn’t allow, though, for comment moderation, and I’m not willing to let abusive or spammy or troll comments stand for a week. And shutting off comments, or moderating them with a week’s wait, would squelch the good conversations.

2) In a month I move out, and I have a household to split up and packing and giving away and sorting and address change forms and house search and truck rental and Jeep registration and smog inspections and long serious conversations to accomplish, and that’s not gonna allow for much blogging time, even if I ignore getting any book writing done.

3) The personal life blogging has proven to be a bit of a negative issue these days, and perhaps fittingly, I will not go into details here except to say that the number of times the word “div*rce” has popped up in the search logs for this site is kinda ooky. I know I brought that on myself, but it is not just myself onto which it has been brought. And at some point I hope to have a social life, and a social life free of ook is a thing worth having. So this paragraph is very likely the last Relationship item that will be appearing here. Thanks for understanding.

4) I’m trying to get work published in non-self-published dead tree form. Some of the work I want to try that with has appeared here. This is an impediment to publication in many journals. So there will be an increasing number of 404s here as I turn posts off and take them down. I apologize for the inconvenience.

5) In a month I move out, and I am not taking the creek with me. I am still mulling over the whole “blog name” issue as a result.

6) Given all of the above and my resolve to get book writing done, big changes are in store here, with continuing publication of short science essays, nature observation, poetry, and occasional political pieces limited to environmental politics — which is what I do best and is thus probably the most effective politics I can indulge in online — at the “continuing” end of the spectrum, and reformatting of faultline.org into a writer’s portfolio and book sales links and updates on the Joshua tree book’s progress at the “ending the blog” end of the spectrum, with resolution likely by July. In between, there’s gonna be a lot of crickets here, and you may want to avail yourself of the RSS feed so you can avoid fruitless mouse clicks.

7) Some of those desert observation naturey pieces will also show up at DesertBlog, which you should check out.

8) Anyone know of a shack for rent in the Mojave? Wi-fi would be a plus but not necessary.

Is a humane online politics possible?

The Internet and real life are different.

More specifically: political discussions, or for that matter discussions about any contestable topic, differ greatly in their online and offline dynamics.

Here’s an example. Say you’re talking with some friends at a café. One of your friends overhears a conversation at another table, gets offended, and starts arguing with the folks at that table. So far, not an impossible thing in real life. I imagine we’ve all overheard things in public places that got our blood boiling, and perhaps even regretted that we didn’t confront the racists in the corner booth, or whatever.

But it doesn’t end there. The conversation at your table starts to shift course, so that now you’re talking about the people at that other table, whether they’re right or wrong, and your friend that started the cross-tabular conversation is now standing near their table, arguing. He beckons to you to come over and join him. If you’re reluctant, he comes back to your table and quotes inflammatory material said at the offending table, and points your way over there.

At this point, you’ll pretty much have decided, if you’re like me, that your friend is an asshole.

Of course, maybe café tables aren’t the best metaphor for blogs. After all, most blogs at least theoretically welcome newcomers, while café tables are often inhabited by people who just really want to talk among themselves. Maybe the better metaphor is a set of bars with closed-circuit televisions, and exhortations to go to the place across the street and join the barfight already in progress. Or an Episcopalian congregation leading an insurgent raid on the Latter-Day Saints Temple. I’m sure there’s something better.

The point is, what would be looked at as an act of aggression in real life is taken as standard operating procedure in the blog world.

It’s not even necessarily seen, or intended, as a hostile act, this rousing of people to go over and join in a conversation somewhere else. I know I’ve done so with nothing but sterling and benevolent intent in the past, aiming various firehoses of traffic at threads whose owners weren’t expecting so many guests. That practice has a name: “linklove.” It’s the strength of the web, after all, the core of the whole concept, this linking.

And I’m certainly not for a second suggesting that linking to good things ought to be seen as destructive. That’d be silly. How much have I learned from other people’s links? Reading people like Kevin, like Dave, like Lauren and Jennifer?

But there’s something about the widespread practice of negative linking that seems inevitably to lead to dog-piling. It makes sense. People are much more likely to take the trouble to write something when they’re upset. How often do you see letters to the editor praising the paper for their coverage of an issue? Factor in the relative ease and speed with which links propagate throughout the web, and you have the Atrocity Of The Week phenomenon.

And sometimes, you know, the AOTW really is atrocious. Sometimes the negative links direct attention to things that need to be addressed, to offenses that would have flown under the collective radar in offline life, and sometimes the mass uproar that follows educates people who would not have been reached by position papers. As a glorified phone tree to alert people to actions that need to be taken to combat short-term horribles, the net is a wonderful thing.

It’s just that it seems to me that there’s a threshold of linkage beyond which political discussions, as opposed to political alerts, become less than useful over time. I’m not suggesting any hard and fast metrics, but I do know that some of the most useful, challenging, rewarding and worthwhile conversations I’ve read online have taken place among regular readers of the blog in question, and I know that I’ve seen outside linkage derail more useful and enlightening conversations than I can count.

All this said, it’s not really the links that constitute the problem. They just facilitate it. The problem is the kind of behavior that is, advertently or in-, rewarded in the blog world, and the people that exhibit it, myself included on an embarrassingly frequent basis. With enough links to form a critical mass, a discussion becomes a target for the drive-by bombthrowers, the narcissist derailers, the wounded arrogant martyrs and their sycophants, the one-liner snarksters, the social-climbing blog-pimps. Not a single online demographic fails to possess most of these types, from racist reactionaries to radical women of color to shallow A-List mainstreamers and their toadies to misanthropic dog-and-desert nature poetry bloggers.

These people exist in real life too, and chances are that the net factor merely exacerbates an existing condition. I know I’ve been the annoying joke guy in real-life situations far too often, for instance, and I only pick that trait because I don’t really want to think about how many times I’ve also been a narcissist derailer.

But here’s the thing I’m thinking, and tell me if you think this seems too far off: in real life, such behavior is tolerated.

Online, it’s rewarded.

It’s rewarded, and combined with the dogpile dynamic, it creates conditions in which no forward motion is possible. A discussion of the Atrocity Of The Month becomes an argument, and not an argument among two or three discrete positions, but an argument in which hundreds of distinct positions are grouped into two or three rough tendencies, with each of the arguments in a tendency undercut by its putative allies. Anyone wanting only to win an argument rather than to engage need only pick out the most extreme statement on another side — and there will always be one — and either cast it as a ridiculous statement that represents the entire spectrum of the arguer’s opponents, or as the only real question being discussed.

Which means the people who stomp around doing actual harm, who commit actual lies and theft of words and ideas, actually enriching their status at the cost of making their prey’s lives smaller, get to excuse their actions by pointing to the misstatements of a few overzealous people on the other side.

Nuance is lost in the shouting. The crucial subtleties that characterize actual politics in the real world are ignored, when they are not actively dismissed with the call of “which side are you on?” Broad statements are set in opposition to one another, and the notion that both could be true — to take a recent example, the notion that the statements “Islam as often practiced is a reactionary ideology responsible for the brutal mistreatment of Muslim women” and “Anti-Islam sentiment in the US is usually odiously racist in nature” might both be equally valid — that kind of complicated thinking is dismissed with a wave and a snarky comment.

And so I wonder. Is a humane online politics possible, where reasonable differences of opinion are respected, where the goal is to exchange viewpoints and learn from one another and move forward? If so, is it necessarily restricted to venues where the traffic firehoses don’t reach? Is a humane online politics the stereotyped Mesozoic mammal always hiding in the underbrush while the Snarkosaurs and Sitemetrodons rampage out in the sunlight? I’m willing to be persuaded otherwise by any optimists among CRN regulars.