The Dream Of A Farm

(This column is posted at, Steve’s Tumblr, and Pillowfort.  Find out more at my newsletter, and all my social media at my

We’ve all met that person that talks about how they want to run away from our industrial world and live on the farm.  They might even be us.  Us or not, such dreams usually are a little, well, bullshit.

Living on a farm is hard.  You gotta work with the weather, you have to time things, you have to get really dirty and bloody.  Even if you avoid all the legal and other crap with Big Farm companies like Monsanto and John Deere, it’s work.  Also your local small town is boring.

I think there’s this idea in people’s heads about farming as a simpler, uncomplicated life.  It’s not of course, but thanks to a lot of bad television, films, and propaganda, there’s this idea it’s some simple, noble life.

OK, the propaganda isn’t bad as it obviously convinced people, but still.

As much as I recognize this weird delusional retro-faux-Americana for what it is, I actually think there is something there in this desire to be on the farm.  It’s just not stuff that a lot of farming and ideas of farming really brings.  Within the delusion is a desire for something deeper, and possibly less butcheirng-a-pig intensive.

Farming promises clarity.  Put something in the ground and it’s food.  Raise an animal and it’s food (and other materials).  It’s bounded and obvious.  You know – sort of – what you get.

Farming promises cycles.  Seasons come and go.  Rain comes and goes.  Things grow and are harvested.  There’s a regularity to it, even if our changing climate is currently messing with that.

Farming promises connection.  You eat what you raise in many cases.  You live in the seasons.  You know the land and the sky.

Farming promises reliability – even if we know it doesn’t always deliver.  All that clarity and cycles and connection is predictable and gives you a sense of power.  You do this, you get food, you eat, you go on.

I think, down deep, sincerely a lot of people who fantasize about farming and similar ways to run away just want that clear, predictable, connected, reliable life away from what feels like a lot of bullshit.  They’re just tired of things that mean nothing to them, are shallow, and are annoyingly unpredictable.

When you watch the stock market crash because a cryptobro is found inebriated dressed as Naruto  in front of Grand Central Station so people sell stock in his company?  You can kind of get behind “maybe too much of life is stupid.”

I’ve been thinking about this because of tales and legends of heroes, sages, and so on that had phases of living on a farm or retiring to one.  There’s that desire for simplicity and reliable cycles, and maybe I’m not up for a farm but know what?  Maybe I can bring those things into my life.

I can reduce the bullshit in my life.  I can avoid overcomplication.  I do work (medical IT) that keeps me in touch with reality.  I can focus on and cultivate predictable, reliable things.  I can make my own “farm” by cultivating things that grow and sustain in life.  Friendships, connections, a career that is connected, hobbies that bring me closer to others, and so on.

Plus, seriously, just avoid things like skeevy crypto stocks and the like.  We all know that leads to Grand Central Station Incidents.

Steven Savage

A Writer’s View: The Best Is Both

(This column is posted at and Steve’s Tumblr – and hey, think this should go on the Sanctum too?)

In our semi-dialogue on writing, Serdar notes this over at Genjipress:

I’ve long felt that the best stories stood out not because they had the cleverest plots, but because they made the most compelling and thoughtful use of their material . . .

This brought me back to my concerns about complexity and simplicity in stories.  This is something I’ve wrestled with in my own fiction, and my return to straight-up writing as opposed to editing, consulting, and experimentation.  My storyline for “A Bridge To The Quiet Planet” would at times seem deep – and then shallow.  It’s a complex setting, but the plotline is more of a rolling Cohen Brothers/Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World clusterf*ck that I can sum up in a sentence, or even “Smart people do smart things for dumb reasons.”

It didn’t always seem as “clever” as I’d like, as complex.  Yet it felt right.

But when you get to the why and how, the character interactions, everything from pet cats to PTSD, it’s also insanely complex.  In fact one pre-reader noted that I needed to size chapters carefully as there’s almost too much to take in.  This is a world of internet-accessing gods, sorcerous space travel, and antigravity transports.

It’s all about the level you work on and how you make use of the material.  In fact a good story is both simple and deep/complex at the same time.

Any story must be relatable, and this requires part of it to be simple, straightforward, visceral, something to connect to.  If I can “get” a character in an expression, or see a vast sprawling epic in a single sentence (“Lord of the Rings: A mismatched group try to destroy a magical artifact to save the world”) then I can connect to something.  There’s an in, as simple as a doorway.

Yet, a story must be complex to be relatable.  We need to connect with the deeper meaning of a work, to see what it all means in context.  The hook or hooks that draws us in should be connected to a web that makes us wake up to the deepness and richness of the work.  A story must also engage us and take us over.

How can something be both simple and complex?

There’s two metaphors that I think help explain it:

  • One is a geodesic dome.  Geodesic domes are made from triangles.  A simple shape.  But these shapes link together to make strong structures.  In a good story any one piece is simple, but the fit of them makes the power and complexity.
  • The second is (forgive me) a fractal, that oft over-used metaphor.  A story is something where there’s many levels to it.  Any level could be summed up in general (like an outline of a fractal), yet if you look closer you can see complexity – that on its own could be summed up.  In addition, like a fractal, parts of a story reflect each other.

To be a good writer, you have to be able to see the parts of a story on many levels and how they relate.  Sometimes simple, sometimes complex, sometimes on their own, sometimes related.  A good writer can “zoom” in on the levels to understand them and how they connect, and bring richness to their work.  A good writer can also look at any part of a story and “get” it simply.

I think this is where two failures in writing become apparent:

  • Meaningless yet complex stories are ones where there’s no simplicity, everything is about and is presented as some giant mess that becomes unrelatable, often as there’s no hook or way to get into it.  If you can’t sum up a part of a tale simply it may really be just a pile of stuff, only complex as you’re playing conceptual Jenga.
  • Simple and shallow stories where there are hooks, but little depth.  There’s little connection or meaning, so there’s not a lot of “there” there.  In extreme cases its just a pile of tropes.

A good writer is complex and simple at the same time – no matter how complex or simple the subject actually is.

(Want to get complex and dive into worldbuilding? :et me suggest my worldbuilding books.)

– Steve