An Imperialist Writing Policy — How

Now that I’ve explained what an “imperialist writing policy” is, and why it might be useful, here’s how to actually do it.

Compiling Your Curriculum

So you’ve got some reason for enacting an imperialist writing policy—what do you fill it with? What are your imperial holdings? As I said, with Suggest the Empire I initially began with plays I was already aware of—Shakespearean histories. However, Stuff Happens I only learned about by doing some research, looking up contemporary history plays. After finding these materials, I just continued with my life, and kept on the look-out for any books or shows or movies or podcasts that seemed like they could be useful, adding them to my curriculum as I found them.

I’d recommend the same—start with works that you are already aware of, or that you have already been wanting to read. If you have enough, great! If you don’t, it’s time to do some research. This is essentially how I determined what plays to read for Play Time (which was a literal curriculum, since it was an Honors project.) I started by looking at some plays dealing with time which I already wanted to read—We Are Proud to Present …, Strange InterludeTop Girls, and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead—then did some research. I pretty quickly found out about J.B. Priestly’s time plays, and stumbled upon a review of a few short Beckett plays staged together because of their similar treatments of time. The internet is an incredible thing.

If this seems overwhelming, start with Wikipedia. Look at the external links on the article, look at the references. Look up what resources your local library has, or, if you’re a college student, check out your university library. Find people who are experts in whatever you need to immerse yourself in, and see what they’ve written. See what they recommend. If you personally know anyone who has some experience with the topic, ask them to give you some recommendations—or, if they’re willing to give you their time, ask them questions about the topic and make note of the answers. Sift through your personal library, see if there are any old books you forgot you even had that might be useful (this is exactly how Top Girls made it onto the list for Play Time.) And if you’re really hitting a wall, just start reading whatever you have found. More likely than not (and especially if its non-fiction) that work will lead you to other works. You’ll start to get a sense of what the foundational texts in the field are, which authors keep coming up again and again, which authors have written stuff very similar to (and therefore very useful for) what you’re planning to write.Read More »

An Imperialist Writing Policy — What and Why

A year and a half ago I returned home for the summer break knowing that, whatever else I worked on for the next few months, by the end of the summer I wanted to have finished the rough draft of Suggest the Empire. At that point I’d already been wanting to write this play for a year or two, though I’d previously put it off because I knew it would be massive, strange, and demanding in multiple ways. How did I know this? Well here’s my short description for the play:

A history play about an invented history, exploring the theatrical nature of nationalism and empire.

So yeah. Massive strange demanding. And I had never read or seen a history play (in the Shakespearean sense of the term) back then at the beginning of summer 2016, so I decided that would be a top priority. I determined to read seven of Shakespeare’s histories—Richard IIIRichard IIHenry IV parts 1 & 2, Henry V, and Julius Caesar—before beginning to write the play. I also added Stuff Happens by David Hare to my reading list, a history play about the lead up to the Iraq War. These were the works that I felt I had to read before beginning work on STE. Obviously I planned to write other stuff in the mean time, but I wouldn’t start Suggest the Empire until I’d finished those eight plays.

As I progressed into the summer I came across more and more works which I thought could in some way inform the writing of STE—youtube channels like Historia Civilis, documentaries like Secrets of Great British Castles, movies like Waterloo, games like Mount and Blade and Reigns—which I’d add to the list. Some of these I’d already been meaning to get around to, others I stumbled upon and decided to look into because of STE, and others I was already engaged with anyway, just by happenstance—the greatest example being The Absolute at Large. Just by luck, that very summer I was recording an audiobook of The Absolute at Large, a satirical novel which is heavily critical of nationalism and fanaticism. I came to think of this body of plays, movies, books, tv shows, and whatever else, as the product of an imperialist writing policy. I was not solely consuming, and working on, Suggest the Empire, though almost everything I consumed and worked on fed back to that play in some way.

SuggesttheEmpire-c-2The result was that, when it finally came time to write Suggest the Empire, it was a breeze. Over the past months I’d become fluent in the language of empire, of nationalism, of history, of historical drama, and I had no trouble plotting out the story or sketching out the world, or, as I actually wrote the thing, sprinkling in realistic military, cultural, or political details. I’m incredibly proud of Suggest the Empire, and you can now buy the play! Ha ha you fool, I tricked you, this is all just an ad, ho-ho I got you!

Just kidding. If you have no interest in reading Suggest the Empire (which you can get on Smashwords or Amazon, or read the first act of free) this post, and the “How” post which will be up next week, should still be useful to any writer (or creator of any kind, I suppose) who wants to design their own imperialist writing policy. This isn’t the Only Way, or the Correct Way, to prepare for a piece of writing, but it is a method that I’ve found useful, which may prove useful for others. Alternately, if you’ve just read, or plan on reading, Suggest the Empire, these two posts should be a good look into my process in preparing for that play. I talk about it some in the afterword, among other things, but here I’ll be breaking down just that specific, preliminary part of creating the play.Read More »

Food Waste: Part 2 – Consumption and Solutions

Here’s the second, concluding part of my notes on food waste.

During Consumption

When thinking about food waste, it’s easy to just peg it to the value of the food. This past year was the first time I really had to buy my own groceries. Multiple times, I messed up and didn’t store food properly, or bought too much of it and didn’t eat it fast enough before it got moldy. So when I was throwing away half a bag of green-splotched bagels, my thought was, crap, that’s like two bucks just gone. However when I realize that the faucet has been running all day, I think, crap, that’s a waste of water and energy for water treatment, because I’ve internalized that as the framework to understand water usage. Food waste isn’t a problem because of the dollar value, it’s a bunch of energy expended for no reason at all. So, to throw another analogy at you, it’s not like buying a sword in a video game, and then losing that sword when you die, and having to buy it again. It’s like buying a sword in a video game, and then losing it when you die, and then having all of the assets and coding for that sword deleted from the game, so that the developer has to redesign it and release a patch so you can buy the sword again. I don’t participate in the production of food, so it didn’t hit home to me all the labor that I was throwing in the trash with those bagels—I only knew the value of it as a consumer.

It shouldn’t be surprising that in developed countries, about 30-40% of food waste occurs at the consumption level, which is everything from household meals to restaurants. In restaurants, there are the same problems as at supermarkets re: over-stocking and expiration dates. In households, most cases of food waste can be broken down into a few categories, as outlined in a study of 14 lower-middle income Brazillian families: “(1) excessive purchasing, (2) over-preparation, (3) caring for a pet, (4) avoidance of leftovers and (5) inappropriate food conservation. Several subcategories were also found, including impulse buying, lack of planning and preference for large packages.” So let’s break these down.

“Excessive purchasing” is exactly what it sounds like—buying more food than is need, and more food than can be consumed before it goes bad. Ironically, this over-purchasing is often the result of buying in bulk in an effort to save money, or taking advantage of sales or BOGO bargains even when the family already has enough of the product at home. So the savings may be negated by the amount of food wasted. Excessive purchasing is also linked to unplanned shopping excursions—going to the store without a list, as “Only two of the 14 families studied prepare shopping lists.” In a 2012 study on national shopping trends in the US, the Hartman Group found that 69% of women make a list before shopping at a grocery store, and only 52% of men do the same.Read More »

Food Waste: Part 1 – Production and Retail

And now, the synthesis of some notes I took on food waste while doing research for a story I’m writing.


The United States Environmental Protection Agency defines food waste as “uneaten food and food preparation wastes from residences and commercial establishments such as grocery stores, restaurants, and produce stands, institutional cafeterias and kitchens, and industrial sources like employee lunchrooms.” Food waste can occur all throughout the life cycle of a food product, from before the harvest all the way to the dining room table. With the waste that happens at all these different stages taken into account, the percentage of wastage in the US is a pretty big chunk of overall food production. A 2009 study published in PLOS ONE estimates that 40% of food produced in America is wasted, and a 2014 report from the USDA Economic Research Service pegs the number at 31%. In terms of calories, that’s either 1,400 calories per person per day, or 1,249 calories per person per day, respectively.

Obviously, this is a problem. Food production is the dynamo that powers all of human civilization. If that dynamo is inefficient and losing 1.3 billion tons of fuel per year, that’s a problem. If that dynamo is inefficient and losing 1.3 billion blah blah blah, and all of those 1.3 billion tons of fuel took additional fuel and water usage to produce, that’s a really big problem.

To put it another way, the situation isn’t as simple as walking to the store, and taking a wrong turn, and wasting an hour of time being lost before you make it to the store. The situation is driving a gas guzzler/steam engine beast of a vehicle, and taking a wrong turn, and wasting an hour of time and of gas and water and whatever else powers this thing you’re driving before making it to the store. Sustainable farming practices are kind of another kettle of fish, but it’s important to note here that a wasted potato is not just a wasted potato. It’s also a waste of all the resources that went into making that potato, which, depending on what point of the process the potato is wasted at, could be pretty hefty. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization estimated that, for the year of 2011, the carbon footprint of global food loss—the amount of energy put into food that ended up wasted—was 4.4 GtCO2, “or about 8% of total anthropogenic GHG emissions [EC, JRC/PBL, 2012 Emission Database for Global Atmospheric Research, version 4.2]. This means that the contribution of food wastage emissions to global warming is almost equivalent (87%) to global road transport emissions [IPCC, 2014 Fifth Assessment Report. Chapter 8: Transportation].”

How do we arrive at such an enormous amount of wastage? That’s what most of this two-part series of posts will address.Read More »

Beach Nourishment – How

Here’s the second and final installment about beach nourishment, as taken from my research notes for an upcoming story. Last time I talked about what beach nourishment is, and why it is needed. Now I’ll talk about the methods and the costs.


So, how to do?

To start with, the sand has to come from somewhere. Although sand can be taken from inland sources, or even from sand trap areas in harbors, it typically comes from offshore deposits. Other sources include inlets, dunes, rivers, and lagoons. The sand grains have to be the same size, or slightly smaller than, the native sand at the beach for the nourishment to be effective. And if taken from an offshore site, it has to be at least two kilometers from the shore. Otherwise the borrow area will just get refilled and cause more erosion.

When sand comes from an inland source, it is brought to the beach via trucks. When it comes from offshore it is brought by pipes. In both cases, as long as the sand is underwater, it is dredged. For offshore dredging there are two methods. Actually there’s a billion, but here are two popular ones—cutter-suction dredging, and trailing-suction hopper dredging.Read More »

Beach Nourishment – What and Why

Well, here’s a post that seems to have nothing to do with anything. Although this is all taken from my research and notes for an upcoming story, it has nothing to do with writing or reading or anything like that. This is just a post about beach nourishment. You’ve been warned.


So, what is beach nourishment?

Photo of a jetty, groin, breakwater, revetment, or something, in the Black Sea, courtesy of PSDS and IO-BAS
Photo of a jetty, groin, breakwater, revetment, or something, in the Black Sea, courtesy of PSDS and IO-BAS

No, it is not some form of urban foraging, beach nourishment is the process of replenishing an eroded beach by adding sand. It’s done to protect valuable shoreline property from becoming Venice. Alternatives are building a seawall (very common in Europe) or building a breakwater or groin. I don’t know the difference between those last two, but basically they’re large walls of stone or wood that extend into the ocean and collect sediment on the updrift side, like a dam for sand. They’re kind of problematic though, because if they collect too much sand then downdrift beaches aren’t being replenished as much by the natural current of sand that moves along the coast, and might erode very quickly. Another alternative to beach nourishment is a “managed retreat”—basically giving up to the sea and relocating inland.

There’s another thing which I haven’t seen too much written about, called “living shorelines”—the use of native flora to reduce erosion.

So, why is beach nourishment?

Beach nourishment is nice because it preserves the beach without having to build any structure, or move buildings. Sometimes groins are built in conjunction with it, and can be either a series of tapered groins, or adjustable groins—both for the sake of allowing some sand to pass and continue it’s littoral drift. Beach nourishment isn’t a long-term fix though, because the beach is always eroding.

Before and after photos of beach nourishment in Miami, Florida, courtesy of USGS
Before and after photos of beach nourishment in Miami, Florida, courtesy of USGS


Erosion can be caused by damn humans damn interfering, but it is also caused by storms. Some beaches can recover from storms if they have enough submerged sand to replenish them. Others can’t. This is why during beach nourishment it’s important not just to focus on what’s above the water, but also the swash zone—the shallow area beneath the water. A lot of that sand will return to the beach as it’s carried in by waves.

Erosion is also caused by longshore drift—and mitigated by it. Longshore drift is the process by which sand is carried along the current of the ocean due to the raking angle of the waves. This causes sand to erode, and be deposited elsewhere—then erode again, and be deposited again. The process of sand returning to a beach is known as “accretion.”

Where’s all this sand coming from? River deltas, mostly. Rivers move a lot of sediment out to the ocean. At least, that’s the natural source for sand. With beach nourishment, there are a multitude of other sources. Which is what I’ll talk about next post—the “How” of beach nourishment. The methods used, the problems posed, and some boring-ass statistics about the costs of things.

If anyone wants to do some more research into this, I found these sources very helpful —

Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines,

Beach Nourishment and Protection by the National Research Council,

and, of course, Wikipedia.

A Psychopath Starter-Kit

I’ve been doing some research into psychopathy for a story I’m writing.  Not a story about psychopaths really, but psychopath analogs.  In a society where everyone has so much empathy they can not bear to kill, people who are at all capable of the act are sort of analogous to our psychopaths.  The story hinges on genetics, the idea that this society was modified to be unable to murder, and anyone with a mutation in that modification is a born killer.  A bit late in the creative process, I realized it was quite likely I was about to make a complete ass of myself.  So I went and did some research.  Here are a few interesting findings—think of this as a starter-kit for knowledge about psychopathy, with a focus on genetics.

First off, what’s the difference between psychopaths and sociopaths?  Really they’re the same, but ‘sociopath’ refers more to people that are psychopathic because of environmental influences, as opposed to a genetic predisposition.  A sociopath is always a psychopath, but a psychopath is not always a sociopath.

And someone with psychosis is not always psychopathic.  Psychosis essentially means a disconnect with reality.  There are lots of ways to disconnect with reality besides ASPD.  That’s antisocial personality disorder, and it’s synonymous with psychopathy.  Sort of.

Weird semantics aside, what qualifies someone, in cold, clinical detail, as a psychopath?  The Hare Psychopathy Checklist, Revised—or the PCL-R as the cool kids call it.  It’s a set of traits that must be fulfilled to a certain extent for someone to be considered a psychopath.  The traits are organized into two categories, or “factors.”  Factor one is covers lack of empathy, as well as narcissism and a manipulative personality.  Factor two is about antisocial aspects, impulsivity, and irresponsible decision-making.

So, what about the genetics of psychopathy?

Well, there’s a lot of controversy there.  Some believe there are primary and secondary psychopaths—the primaries develop psychopathy because of genetics, and the secondaries because of environmental factors.  Another theory is that the genes for psychopathy are like genes for cancer.  No one is predisposed to growing tumors, just predisposed to a higher susceptibility.  That was an over-simplification, but you get the idea.  Following that line of logic, another theory is that genetics can predispose someone to psychopathy, while environmental influences will determine how the psychopathy manifests itself—or if it manifests at all.

Despite these varying opinions, some things are clear.  For a start, there’s not one psychopathy gene—it’s not that binary.  A study using identical twins with fraternal twins as a control determined that callous-unemotional traits were over sixty percent heritable.  In addition, “conduct problems” such as fighting, stealing, and lying appeared seventy to eighty percent of the time with individuals that tested high for callous-unemotional traits, and a lower thirty to fifty percent of the time with those who tested lower for the traits.  This demonstrated that there is some genetic predisposition involved in psychopathy, or psychopathic factors anyway, and that while this predisposition often leads to conduct problems, it is not a required element for the problems to appear.  So good news, folks—you don’t have to be a psychopath to misbehave!

And although there’s no catch-all psychopath gene, there is one that seems to increase likelihood of aggression and antisocial behavior.  The MAOA gene (often called the ‘warrior gene’) codes for production of the enzyme monoamine oxidase A.  One allele, or version, of the MAOA gene creates an MAO-A deficiency—this deficiency allele is what gives the gene that badass nickname.  A 2007 study found that the functional version of the gene acted as a moderator of “early traumatic life events.”  So if you didn’t have the bad allele, traumatic events in your formative years would be moderated by your MAO-A, and you wouldn’t become a psychopath when you got older.  But if you had the allele that created a deficiency, the traumatic events in childhood would increase likelihood of aggression in adulthood.

That’s about as deep as my research got.  Notice there are no perfect correlations—nothing’s a hundred percent or a definite cause-and-effect relationship.  This makes all these concepts perfect subject matter for a story—gray areas like this are fertile ground for creating deep, intricate characters and fascinating societies.  Plus, it means that this utopia of non-killers is kind of bullshit.  That’s always fun.

Now let me give credit where it’s due.  The majority of my research was done using wikipedia as a hub, and going to their cited sources for more in-depth information.  Mostly I used the article and editorial here as well as the studies linked above.  Of course I’m just some jackass with a blog, I’m sure I’ve made about fifty simplifications, false interpretations, and just plain screw-ups.  This is a starter-kit, meant to clarify a few conceptions about psychopathy and do a bit of analysis on the role of genetics.  More to the point, it’s only the amount of research I felt I needed to do for the story.  I hope you found it interesting anyway.

Speaking of the story, I should probably get to writing it.  Those early traumatic life events aren’t going to exposit themselves…