they set out together

90 seconds

For ninety seconds after, there was complete silence. Veronica knew this because although she was too dazed to move, she improbably found herself staring as at the second hand of an expensive silver watch.

It was one of the many unlikely occurrences that day held.

For ninety seconds, she observed the dark black line slowly make its orbit, marking off the seconds as reality adjusted. She wondered whose watch this was, and how it had ended up in her yard.

A bird chirped. Veronica looked up and realized that it was over. Nothing more was going to happen now. All that was left was to get up and try to assess the world as it was.

3 minutes

The realization that it was only self pity that held her down made it hard to stay on the ground, but she managed to avoid any movement for another three cycles of the second hand.

2 days

How many people lived on her street? Within a quarter mile?

If she was the only one left, then that made her what?… 1 in a hundred… 300?

Nothing would work.

It was easy to check on people. In their last moments everyone had left their doors wide open.

She hadn’t gotten the memo, another mystery. The static on radio was deafening.

The electricity was still on, but there was no internet or cell service.

How should that figure into her odds? 1 in a thousand?

4 days

There was nobody left in her neighborhood. In a few homes she found hasty notes:, to do lists of names, but no explanations.

It’s not just that they were gone. it’s that everyone else had seemed to know something was about to happen except for her and her husband. They had missed the invitation somehow.

When they had looked out the window and saw everyone’s cars with their open trunks and hoods open they had stepped onto the porch. Their neighbors were all lined up outside, waiting.

Had they seemed scared? She thought so, but she had been scared so who knows.She missed her husband, Ian, most of all. He had been calm, inquisitive. Naive.

2 months

With nothing else to do, she processed her grief surprisingly quickly. The world around her was full of possibilities and the only immediate concern so far was the dogs.

The outside world was keeping it’s distance. But the animals that had been left behind had become a serious threat.

Even the cats moved in groups, looking slightly unhinged. When she saw them prowl the streets at night in ever larger packs,  she imagined how betrayed they must have felt. They had given up their wild selves to build a life based on a certain kind of companionship and civilization. Then, with no explanation it was gone.

Her grief was in the past. The loneliness existed in the eternal now.

6 months

Slowly she had adapted to the mystery of her current circumstances. What had taken everyone? Should she trust the tap water? Why didn’t the car start? How would she eat when the perishable food ran out? Would they be back by then? How long would the electricity last?

She knew she had changed, but just how much was confirmed when she spotted a house-sized creature and did not scream. It was mostly robotic, and mostly spider shaped but with a humanoid torso and face. She was surprised of course, and afraid for her life, but she was not overwhelmed.

She hid, but it found her anyways.

6 months 1 day

In the end, all it wanted was some cake. She scavenged some, and they had a small birthday celebration.

6 months 3 days

He had been literally living in a cave and had no idea what had happened. But he offered this:

“Sometimes you just have to accept that the impossible happens and all the rules you knew before are gone. That happens and my ability to accept it when it does is one reason I have lasted as long as I have.

But…  not yet.  Let’s go visit the local power station. And if that doesn’t work well see if we can’t track down some aliens or old gods or something and wring an explanation out of them.

If you live long enough sometimes you find that you can do something, and even if not, it’s usually more interesting to try.”

6 months 1 week

She set her house on fire and watched as the irreplaceable memories held in the objects from her old life burned.

She opened up as much cat and dog food as she could find.

And they left together.

Paul Watson – What I want is peace

Paul Watson:

The big question, you know, “What do we really want?”.

I used to say happiness…

And then it took me some time to come around to understanding that what we really want is love.

In the sense of a universal love that gives you strength when you are dying.

You’re not afraid, because you know your presence is acknowledged and you are loved.

And that gives you the comfort to go.

I’ve sort of reached a stage more recently where I think what we all want is peace.

And that’s certainly what I want now.

I just need peace.

 

From: On The Media – The Body Of An American http://www.wnyc.org/story/body-american/

Tom Waits 1

My current goal as an author is to get my stories down to this level of efficiency :

Down by the Riverside motel,
it’s 10 below and falling
by a 99 cent store she closed her eyes
and started swaying
but it’s so hard to dance that way
when it’s cold and there’s no music
well your old hometown is so far away
but, inside your head there’s a record
that’s playing, a song called

Hold on

http://www.tomwaits.com/songs/song/145/hold_on/

Remo tells a story

Occasionally when Remo feels expansive he goes to the mountains and listens to the universe.

Occasionally when Remo feels hopeless he finds a tavern and poses as a bard.

He stands on the stage until he finds something to say, or is removed.

One night he told the following tale three times.

Nearby there exists a world like ours in almost every respect. It holds our towns, our lakes, and all of our joys and sorrows.

The only difference is that miles below the surface it has a cavern that our world does not.

The cavern has an underground stream and a stone cannon that were not crafted by any sentient being on that world.

At seemingly random intervals, the ground rumbles slightly, and the cannon ejects a creature.

These beings are like adult humans in almost every respect. The only differences are that they average three feet in height and their heads are shaped like mushrooms.

Their heads are shaded. One third of the creatures are red, one third green, and one third are purple. The mushrooms all have white circles.

Most of the time, the creatures come out with enough speed that they smash their skulls against the cavern wall, dying moments after they appear.

But seeming randomness when mixed with extreme time scales can produce strange results.

So sometimes the room fills with corpses, and one of the humanoids will have its emergence cushioned by the bodies, and instead die a prolonged death, crushed by the weight of those who have come before, unable to maneuver.

For some reason, this never happens to the red headed mushrooms.

But, the room also contains a stream. So occasionally the creatures will spawn in just such a way that their is a padding in one space, but the flowing water has cleared away the debris elsewhere.

Occasionally one survives.

Even more rarely, more than one survives at the same time.

And they will begin to make sense of their surroundings together, and tell stories about the Gods.

They will perform cleansing rituals on the carcasses of their fore-bearers before eating them, and drink the fresh water provided by the stream. They will fantasize about the day that a red topped one will come and lead them to a new home.

As she lies dyeing of malnutrition, lacking the leafy greens needed to fight off disease, one named Boh will use her finger to write the story of her people in the flowing water.

She will record their fears, their triumphs, and the games they played.

The echo’s of her movements absorbed by the water.

Without making any obvious changes, the first time Remo recounted this, the moral was: Each skull is imperceptibly expanding the room as it slams into at the cavern ceiling.

The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.

The second time: Although it may seem hopeless, notice that despite all odds Boh’s story made its way to us.

By the third time he recounted the tale, it was closer to dawn than midnight and the crowd was no longer feeling indulgent.

The coda was: Sometimes the universe just wants to take a long time to say “fuck you”

Fleeting Joy

On the morning of his birthday, as the first light made its way through the dense foliage and into the cave camber, Narch stared at the empty wooden table and thought about cake.

Marline, one of his few female friends, had recently introduced him to the concept of birthday cake. He had made it a long time without, but now that he knew about the possibility he really wanted one.

But how? By temperament he was a recluse, an inclination only exacerbated by the fact he was a cottage sized cybernetic spider and so was usually attacked on sight.

Marline, a witch, had been an exception.

One of the peculiarities of living over five millennia is you accumulate a number of highly unlikely experiences.

But she has been dead for over a century now, and besides she had never been good at baking.

Narch felt the loneliness begin to build. He noticed that he was beginning to search his memories for clues about how he’d been brought into existence. The hope was they would help answer the question of why he should bother continuing.

Catching himself, he turned his mind to Carlile the wisdom dragon, who had showed him that sometimes his thoughts did not have his best interest in mind.

When Carlile disappeared, Narch had taken his revenge on the Kingdom of Farl. Geopolitics being what they were, this had led to a confrontation with the entire Southern Alliance, and their God, a nasty deal making wind spirit whose name escaped Narch.

Was it even worth the effort of leaving the cave?

Driving them from the coasts had sent the entire region spiraling into chaos. It hadn’t been that long ago… and without the autocratic monarchs propped up by a conniving false God, would there be enough infrastructure left to support a civilization?

Slowly the memories came back. The Zeglans had regarded him as a hero, and had even shown up at the Battle of Great Falls to support what they called his March of Freedom.

They were eager to try their had at a “new” system of economic self determination combined with a robust social safety net.

For Narch, the question was: Could such Utopian visions create the conditions for a worthwhile bakery? Would they have heard of cake? Or was the concept lost to time like dal’lesh.

Ever the optimist, after a time he gathered his massive frame, and left his abode in search of fleeting joy.

My Star Wars Pitch

Kylo, Poe and Han Solo stop off in a seedy bar following rumors about the whereabouts of Luke.

As the camera pans the room, the audience sees a variety of bizarre, but strangely familiar alien forms.

Without warning, Hans face explodes. The music stops. In shock, the group is too horrified to respond when an alien walks up to the table holding a blaster. He stares at Hans slumping corpse and says “Message from Greedo, ‘How about a ‘heads up’ next time.'” Continue reading

Context collapse 

For context, this was written about YouTube vloggers, but I don’t think that’s all that relevant here.

The problem is not lack of context. It is context collapse: an infinite number of contexts collapsing upon one another into that single moment of recording. The images, actions, and words captured by the lens at any moment can be transported to anywhere on the planet and preserved (the performer must assume) for all time. The little glass lens becomes the gateway to a blackhole sucking all of time and space – virtually all possible contexts – in upon itself.

Source

Luke’s Cantrip

The first spell I really mastered was Luke’s cantrip. While on the road from Halrventon to Freesebon, Gera realized that Krashin was too busy being a demigod to actually teach me anything, so he took pity on me.

I was busy being a Very Competent Assassin. The kind who was able to take all of these adventures in stride, and so I didn’t realize quite how special Gera was and ignored most of his lessons.

But Luke’s cantrip caught my interest. Gera described it as : “Bringing part of the background into the foreground by focusing on it in the right way. Using your mind this way will create some tension that can function as useful first step for many of the more complex magics.”

Which is all true as far as it goes. Most use it as a sort of palette cleanser at the start of a big spell. But here’s why I love Luke’s cantrip: You touch the part of the universe that is raw and undefined and embrace that chaos. It opens the mind to the uncertainty that is always available to us.

Or, if you want to get mystical about it – the heart of existence is utterly indifferent to us. It does what it will by rules that we find unfathomable, no matter what the cost to those of us trying to scratch out an all too temporary life within it.

Mostly this strikes me as a problem. But Lukes cantrip makes it an asset in situations where you want a seemingly random number without using dice.

I most commonly use it when I need to make a decision.

This world gives us so little.

Immune to symbols 

When you are blind you do not see blackness. 

Find an object just at the outer edge of your vision, now turn your head away from it slightly.

The way in which you can no longer see it, is what Remo was contemplating.

He was at the periphery of a party wearing a jaunty purple felt hat he had chosen precisely because it did not suit him.

The music’s tempo increased. The lights seemed to pulse rhythmically. A heightened reality swirled, implying potentialities he dared not engage with.

He sat in a darkened corner with his eyes closed, trying to protect his consciousness from visions it couldn’t comprehend.

Remo had set out to slay the gods of his world, only to find that most of them were obsolete. Replaced by impersonal systems, they were highly evolved, highly adaptive. Yes they were fueled by human misery, but that was only incidental to their own survival. Now he was numb to the disappointment, with occasional pangs of fear at the degradation of his ambition.

When Jal-tok finally passed by, Remo felt the hidden dagger pulse, and prayed it would not give him away. Such aggression could not harm a god.

When Jal-tok fell to his knees, poisoned by tainted fruit and over-reaching ambition, Remo did not smile, and felt mostly sadness.

But he noted, not even gods were immune to symbols, when backed by the right dagger.

I want to find some new way to shine a light on the importance of love.

I started out with an incredible sense that the world had rules. That somewhere, someone wise had a plan, and was watching over things. All I needed to do was intuit these rules.

I am still a little surprised to discover that nobody is in charge. Its all just us.

Related:

Growing up all my favorite musicians agreed that Bob Dylan was fantastic. Eric Clapton, the Grateful Dead etc.., even people I didn’t like agreed Bob Dylan was awesome. I didn’t get it for awhile, he was boring and writing about nothing I could relate to.

But eventually, I learned that they were correct. This only reinforced my belief that music could be decoded into hero’s and villains. It had ideals beyond simple taste.

I am still a little surprised to discover that nobody is in charge. Its all just us.

But we do have Bob Dylan, and that’s not nothing.

ugly things

A novelist and memoirist is famous for his deeply personal confessional novels that speak to our shared fears. The pains of our bodies, the dark thoughts we have about ourselves and how that makes us lash out at the ones we love, the terrible nightmares that we know are real but forget and pretend have gone away until we can no longer hide from them.

They also makes stock horror films on the side.

They are critical failures but popular in the way of Hostel.

His latest: ugly things

“Martin kills a lot of people in this movie, in addition to sewing others together…

The film is reprehensible, dismaying, ugly, artless and an affront to any notion, however remote, of human decency.”
Ebert

Predilections

Some time ago I began to let go of the compulsion to find the perfect (or even a great) way to phrase my thoughts.

So how is this category of posts any differant?  

Other posts sacrifice clarity for my personal satisfaction at your expense (sorry). 
For this, I just want to document my predilections without letting that become too much of a project. 

An analogy: When a food critic posts about a meal they had, or an artist posts a painting of their dream, you may be interested because their description tells you something about how you experiance your own world.  My other posts are low production, self indulgent attempts at that sort of thing.

When your friend tells you about their nightmare or what they had for lunch, you may be interested because you care about them and their life. This is what social networks (the social construct) are for, to connect people.

Only this is not a social network, or a memoir, or anything else that will give my predilections meaningful context. 
These posts are my predilections. Nothing more. The UR-predilection is my own life. The details of my life are in many ways the least important, least interesting, thing about me, even to me. But these details will be what I post here.

The things that matter are the deep truths we all share.

Also on the list of reasons not to do this: Writing about myself is a trap, that recreates the illusion of my own importance.

Yet, these same details are what distinguish me from everyone else. They are all I have unique access to.

So, I propose a compromise. I will share some personal reflections about my life, and even some opinions. We’ll see if something more compelling comes from it. Perhaps I will even gain some additional insight as to why I want to do this. (I don’t want to die).

1st order of business. To make explicit that there is no objective truth intended or desired. Biography is self mythologizing. I’ll be honest about my own memory, but it’s faulty in profound ways. If that’s not bad enough, I’ll be carefully selecting from the details I remember for a wide variety of self serving purposes. Not more than I have to, but that’s enough.

If I am not careful, this will just be a list of things I once thought were important, and later realized aren’t (preview: You can still be a good person if you like different music than I do).

What does that amount to? The illusion of depth.

I am drowning in thoughts and opinions that want to be polished and turned into something with some emotional heft.

A song that evokes a simpler, timeless past. On the surface, it’s about the power of love.

A tinge of pathos in the music, combines with an implied contrast between the song and the harsh reality around us. Your stomach drops. Like a faded picture of a couple who never had a chance.

What does that amount to? The illusion of depth. But my feelings are made of the same stuff.

Maybe all we can do is resonate off each other. So be it.

Death

Someone important is dieing. Maybe it’s a Good Death, whatever that means. Maybe not. It’s hard to tell from here.

It’s easy to find compassion for them now. To accept the totality of how they are in the world.

It’s easy to know that their caregivers need compassion too. Someone to talk to and share the burden. 

Too soon that will be us all. I’ll try and have some compassion.

Uncertainty 

Here is what I think I know. Sometimes things happen. A lot of follows from previous actions; but in important ways it all has an underlying uncertainty – a randomness- that I try desperately to control. 
I generate all these thoughts, and often I have hard time escaping the conviction they are Important. 
Despite evidence.

With that comfort, he leapt off the ledge into the unknown.

Once upon a time, the sound of their pursuit would have left him consumed by terror. His left leg, already injured, twisted as a rock flew out beneath him.

He kept running.

The hastily tended gash on his side pulled as he rounded the corner and came out from the tunnel into a wide expanse.

The terror had never really gone away, it had just faded into the background as he cobbled together an escape. His hope lay in principles he barely understood and defenses based mostly on intuition and luck.

As he pulled the strap tight and placed the helmet on he checked the seal one last time. He could still breathe. He stared out into the abyss.

The terror had never gone away, but it had been replaced by the certainty that if he stayed, he was doomed. With that comfort, he leapt off the ledge into the unknown.

Madman with a mask

In a tower within a tower, there sat a man who would be King. He looked like a well groomed Yeti. Most of his time was spent plotting.

Today he was struggling to compose his thoughts. For now, all his obstacles faded into a single point as he tried to find the right words. He was failing.

His room was comfortable. It was also a cage built by his ambition.

The paper, he decided, was an indulgence worth savoring. It was thin, but strong and smooth to the touch. A rare blank slate of pristine white, almost free of impurities, accessible only to the elite. Still, he knew the papers secrets and however far his fortunes had fallen, he still had the wherewithal to use it freely.

Finally his pen found its way to the page. The ink was dark.

“1. My allies see only masks.
2. The rulemakers deem me unsafe.

— In all things, I can find no Truth stable enough to hang my hat upon. I miss my hat.”

His dissatisfaction with how “Truth” rang out against the other words ran deep and haunted him. So he drew a picture:

unnamed
When he was done, he slowly folded the paper with the precision of someone comfortable with the passage of time.Carefully he pushed the note through the crack in the stone that sealed the window. A sliver of sunlight came in, carried on a cool breeze.

As a student of chaos, he smiled at the notion that it might find its way to an unknown comrade. He imagined them at a bridge.

A life, cut

At some point during my teenage years, a tree trunk appeared in my front yard. I do not recall how.

Rather than removing it right away, I asked my parents if I could try my hand at chopping the trunk in half by hand with an ax. I was young, I wanted to enact my will on the world in a visible way. I had been reading a lot of fantasy novels.

For quite some time, whenever I was frustrated with the world or myself (which was often) I would go out and hack at the log.

I never made it very far. I lacked technique, and the trunk may have hardened over time. But I kept at it. I remember the blunt indentations on the wood.

We do not need many rules that we can depend on. But with just a few bit of solid illusion, we can mimic the transcendent. But there is nothing to depend on.

I wonder why my parents let an ugly tree trunk sit in there yard for so long. Love?

I do not want to die. But I will. I want to write a biography, but is that how I really want to spend my precious time? Making narrative out of nonsense and random imperfect memories.

The parts that feel.

David Letterman – Top Ten Reasons I, Dave, Love Candy

Top Ten Reasons I, Dave, Love Candy

Tuesday, October 30, 2001

10. It’s delicious

9. It’s candy-licious

8. Wasn’t it Einstein who said, “Candy = MC2”?

7. No time to brush? Eat some Junior Mints

6. Sometimes I put on a leotard and pretend I’m the fourth musketeer, Monty

5. Hilarious “Who’s On First” type confusion whenever I try to buy a Whatchamacallit

4. Nobel Prize-winning U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan loves candy and what’s good enough for Nobel Prize-winning U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan is good enough for me

3. Without candy I would never get to ask the question, “Skittles?”

2. In prisons, candy is a fun form of currency

1. Nougat

http://www.cbs.com/shows/late_show/top_ten/127207/

Some Music


What are my deepest dreams

and is there a sense in which that matters
I’d hate for my bleak outlook to unduly influence you
I’d hate to impose my will
If we are clever
and if we are cool
and if we never
play the fool
Will that make us safe?
What words can I speak
to make the hauntings go away
If only for the night
What matters more than tonight?

***************

This is the story of the Murricane

The one society came to blame
When they had run out of other tricks
And used up all the stones and their sticks
Had to swallow that bitter magic pill
Stop, look around and be still
Let me tell you about the Murricane
The one who had all the fame
Well in the end when the chips were down
He smiled and played the clown
Straight through his smirking frown
And when they saw the horror they had wrought
And knew it was just what they had bought
There was nothing they could do
Step back and see what was true
See a life worn straight through
Something in a shade of blue
Ripped out into the night
Howling it’s plight
But this the story of the Murricane
The one who saw it was the same
And when someone had to take the fall
He was there, that’s all
It was the story of Murricane
The one society came to blame
 ***************

Yo-Ho Pedro doesn’t seem to care
Look at him, and you’ll get a dead eyed stare
He’s the last one in
and the first one out
Yo Ho Pedro draws circles around the moon
He doesn’t it’ll matter anytime soon
Ask him, and he’ll tell you straight
That he’s here at all is a miracle
Yo Ho Pedro says
And says symbols don’t matter at all
But you know he’s lying
Casting back he wonders
 where his ship has gone
Yo Ho Pedro always tries his best
Lying flat on the floor, trying to find his chest
Hard to build up the energy to move
Always trying to figure out his groove
Nobody quite knows what to make of Yo Ho Pedro
A madman who doesn’t seem to care for his fate
When the chips are down
Yo Ho Pedro doesn’t think it matters at all

*****************

I want to be honest with you
I don’t know what I’m doing
Here we are
Far off in the background, suns explode
It’s all impossible
I want to be honest with you
I don’t know what I’m doing
Leaves flutter on the wind
Apocalypse or no,
Dragons wary eyes
I want to be honest with you
I don’t know what I’m doing
The illusion of the mud people
As we bounce our myths from one another
I want to be honest with you
I don’t know what I’m doing
Spend my life thinking I’m going somwhere
But deep down I know that is a lie
….
never get out alive
No matter what I do
Things keep getting heavy
It don’t weigh much
But it ain’t light
I look around
And lose my way
I lose my way
The universe spins around
Time and time again
I want to be honest with you
I don’t know what I’m doing
Here we are
Far off in the background, suns explode
It’s all impossible
I want to be honest with you
I don’t know what I’m doing
Leaves flutter on the wind
Apocalypse or no,
Dragons wary eyes
I want to be honest with you
I don’t know what I’m doing
The illusion of the mud people
As we bounce our myths from one another
I want to be honest with you
I don’t know what I’m doing

What if we…

Nothing’s missing till you need it
The heart lies in the darkness
Truth flitters like a butterfly
When songs come dancing across the water
Nobody knows quite how to sing along
The fire’s bright
But it can’t stamp out the night
And the trees loom larger each year
A story needs a beginning and an end
But what if we

The killer slinks into the night

The killer slinks into the night
The faces he all sees barely flicker
Across his mind as he stares out into the void
The killer slinks out, onto the dance floor
His moves jerky and slow
Trying to find release
Amoung the ghosts he does not know
The killer has no solace
In the world he cannot see
Barely skimming across the surface
Too far in the hole to tell
If  up is down, or left is south
Sadly he knows that soon he’ll have to let go
And fall into the void the follows him everywhere
All he wants is a little control over the chaos
But it ain’t coming
It ain’t coming

Anyway you look at it, the universe it mostly empty.

1. The universe tends towards entropy. It all breaks down in the end.
2.Some material chanced to fall together in just such a way that began to replicate it’s pattern. Life. 

3. This elaboration produced an illusion of self which tends to feel an affinity for art. Art also temporarily organizes the chaos of universe in defiance of entropy

A Dream of Jedi

50 some odd years after the last catastrophic war, both sides have gone underground. The scene opens in the ranks of Watt & Stephenson Ltd. Watt & Stephenson Ltd. is one of the most profitable entity to ever exist.Its headquarters are opulent, and team with agents from both sides. Tensions are high after decades of subterfuge and counter-espionage. Wisecracks about Kevin from accounting being a Sith Lord are no longer met with nervous laughter, or denials.

On a giant indoor basketball court during lunchtime, a window crashes, and an undisguised rebel strides towards through the crowd. Weeks of careful planning pay off as they move past effortlessly past distracted security guards and make a dramatic speech in about sacrifice before being escorted away.
Everyone is silent for a moment.  The whoosh of a lightsaber rings out, promising to usher in the dawn of a new era.
At that precise moment, an unfamiliar, metallic voice sputters out over the speakers:
“Hey everyone, this is Milton. Most of you don’t know me, I am experimental accounting A.I. from the moonshot division. Before you continue down this decision tree, I’d like to highlight some features of the situation that seem most likely to change your mind.”
To those following the light path, Milton recounted the impact of the jobs they had created and the impact of the incredible economic stimulus produced by Watt & Stephenson Ltd. The combination of so much concentrated talent from opposing sides working within the confines of a corporation, each trying to rise in the organization and make space for their allies, had led to a rare combination of dynamic problem solving and big-picture thinking. Nobody was focused on the quarterly profits, but everyone needed the institution to exist and thrive. The result was peaceful economic growth that created opportunities for millions to lead a better life.
To those following the way of the dark side, Milton recalled the tremendous power Watt & Stephenson Ltd wielded. How no government dared to oppose its will. The freedom and agency that every high level member enjoyed. It recalled for them that their proclamations were rightly heralded throughout society as wisdom. Even when opposed, they defined the terms of the debate in ways that no political or religious figure dreamed of. Within the organization, and without, conflicts were resolved through the raw exertion of earned power, and the weak were given no quarter.
When Milton finished, the sense of immediate danger had passed. No more weapons were drawn. The balloon slowly deflated.
Although conflicted, most were relieved that they did not have to use violence and find out which of their co-workers would be on the other side when the final lines were drawn.
In the highest echelons, the wisest on both sides began to consider what channels would need to be opened to negotiate a meaningful cease-fire.It was a faint hope that they could save humanity from this self-inflicted crisis, but it was worth a try.

Three Gods: A Parable?

Three Gods,

Call one Truth, and search for justice.
Call one Deceit, and search for love.
Call one Random, to fill in the gaps.

Together they outline a figure. Call it grace.

Humbled by experience and shadows that appear malevolent; a voice rings out – fully human. Prepared to settle for mercy.

A vast indifference settles over the land.

They wander on a while longer.

A bridge at the end of the world

There are places where the solid ground we depend on gives way to something less stable. The world we know, air we breathe, the creatures we face, the physics we depend on… all drop away.

In times of plenty, thrill-seekers come to such places, pulled in by the promise of testing their unknown boundaries.

But these were times of disorder, and harsh reality stole the thrill from those who adventure just for pleasure. And so, the bridge at the end of the world was largely abandoned.

Isa had lived on the mysterious stone bridge for a long time. Her home was thatched to the last and greatest of the pillars. A stone monument that rose into the sky, a scale model of an infinite tower. From town, on a clear day, it was just barely visible from St Josias. In times of plenty, the pillar alone would be worth a journey to the end of the world.

For Isa, the dark stone column was an anchor against the storms that raged all around. A piece of solid footing in a place of wind and uncertainty. Some days she resented it.

On a clear day, Isa could see for miles along the bridge. On this day she saw a black speck moving steadily towards her. She sighed deeply and set the water to boil.

**********

[This interaction plays with the idea of fate. The mysterious stranger is afraid, driven by their sense that their mission is to travel the world and accomplish seemingly minor tasks (shooing a butterfly off it’s course, picking up a marble from a busy road – and thus prevent it’s pre-ordained outcome ala chaos theory).

Further, according to the stranger, only those extremely rare events that actually have determinist outcomes are revealed to them. Everything else is powered by free will and random chance. The strangers tasks are a function of that law of indeterminism that otherwise deterministic events create the conditions for an agent of free will (the mysterious stranger) to potentially intercede. The stranger does not know what outcome they are preventing, good to bad, their only mission is to hold back the forces of determinism.

The stranger may not be the best judge of their own true motivations.]

– This is all backstory, not story, I don’t have the story here worked out or how much of that I want to shoehorn into it.

– They travel down the bridge and accomplish something trivial (perhaps after great effort)?

**********

The woman in black smirked when politely asked about her day. In response to Isa’s question she replied “A more interesting question, is why do you live here and invite the wayward strangers who appear into your home for tea?”

“As far as I know, I am the last bit of refuge on the bridge. Nobody makes it this far without reason. Some of them are worth hearing, and some only need to tell their story to be persuaded they truly want to turn around.”

“Are you going to try and stop me?”

“I don’t try and stop anybody. The suicides I try to comfort, and sometimes that reminds them that they don’t want to go. But you can see this place for what it is, and so I know you’re driven by a wider perceptive. I’ve yet to have much impact on those like you.”

Some more small talk. And then:

“What can you tell me about the bridge beyond here?” the woman in black asked.

“I have made it about three days in. The winds get louder and bridge narrows but the stone never gives way. The voices get quieter and more intense. They strike fear into me, and I’ve always turned around. I’ve yet to hear of anyone who has gone further and come back.”

“The voices?”

“The bridge is a mystery, and may manifest itself differently to you. For me, my fear takes the form of voices that haunt me at and tug at the lonely parts of my soul

Not everyone has that experience. But I the ones who have no reaction at all have always scared me the most.”

….

I am hopeful that my quarry is only a days travel in. I was afraid I may not … well I was afraid.

Is your quarry a secret?

 

Ratdog – Dear Prudence

Dear Prudence by Bob Weir & Ratdog on Grooveshark

(with Chuck Garvey)

Dear Prudence, won’t you come out to play
Dear Prudence, greet the brand new day
The sky is blue, the birds will sing
That you are part of everything
Dear Prudence, won’t you come out to play

Dear Prudence, open up your eyes
Dear Prudence, greet the sunny skies
The sun is up, the sky is blue
It’s beautiful, and so are you
Dear Prudence, won’t you open up your eyes

Chorus
Look around, round, round
Look around, round, round
Look around, round, round
Look around, round, round

Dear Prudence, let me see you smile
Dear Prudence, like a little child
The clouds will be a daisy chain
So let me see you smile again
Dear Prudence, won’t you let me see you smile

[chorus]

Dear Prudence, let me see you smile
Dear Prudence, like a little child
The clouds will be a daisy chain
So let me see you smile again
Dear Prudence, won’t you let me see you smile

[chorus]

Inspiring Reviews

I do not create anything suitable to be reviewed.

But if I did, I would hope to inspire reviews like Leonard Cohen:

Come to think of it, it’s the kind of story you might hear in a Leonard Cohen song: the aging entertainer forced into the spotlight one last time just to make they money he’s already earned, a cog in the same machine that once made him a star.

 

Like all of Cohen’s albums, Popular Problems sounds slick but slightly off-kilter, like someone trying to imitate music they’ve read about but never actually heard. Where an artist like Bob Dylan seemed to use music primarily as an excuse for words and Van Morrison seemed distinctly to be the leader of a band, Cohen occupies a stranger space… The reminder here is that no matter how close Cohen seems to the truth, what he does is just another cheap show to keep the crowd entertained.

Full review here

… I don’t even agree with most of this assessment. But that’s not the point.

Traveled to Abingdon

Traveled to Abingdon
Dusty, dirty,
Tired to the bone

Seeking remnants of an old foe
Narrowly defeated; presumed gone forever

Rumors were all it took
To threaten all that I value
It was enough to risk my life
and more

I did not sleep that night
My mind consumed

I wanted out of this business
It brought no glory
Only stains on my soul

Another dreadful secret
Waiting to be laid bare

All my narrow victories
Unexplainable even to myself

A chance wind of fate
May lay me bare at any moment

Two nights in Abigdon
Brought my search to a close

The lost one found
Hiding with the same face as always

All that was left to us was conversation in daylight
Threading undertones of habit came

But beneathe that, revelations of our true nature
Laid to waste my misson
But did not redeem him

And so, three days in Abingdon
Is what it took to end my implacable foe
His exoskeleton no match for thorny shrubs

But what had I faced in that night
No longer immortal
My own wisdom shattered
And my retraced steps now haunted me
Even more than they burdened my soul

I stand here now
Trapped by my own patterns
Lies laid bare
Knowing more
Seeking a way out

A mystic aphorism shines brightest of all

Using odd language and powerful symbols
I arm myself against the ravages of a world slowly sinking
Beneath the weight of a crimson sky
And a flood foretold
By all who wear the flowing white robes
Of wisdom

What monstrous creatures can I summon
To take me down a detour, the demon haunted trail
What embattled hero can I mimic
To display just the right courage at just the right moment

What old trope can I reconfigure
With just enough honesty to ring true

The glint against the shield
The wail that cannot be restrained
or unheard

In the forest groove, the dire wolf stalks
Those who dance in a sacred circle
Staving off the morning
And the night

A mystic aphorism shines brightest of all
A story with a glint of truth
To hide within it the greatest of lies
I speak my part

At the center of all the worlds
That ever will be
And ever have been
Of consequence

But only to me.

So which of my thoughts to share?

Selecting to create effect
Seeking redemption in your eyes

Who would otherwise shun me
Or worse yet, forget entirely

Which truth can redeem me
And in so doing, save us all
If only for a moment

A truth about a fallen knight
Trying to destroy himself
Honor stricken from the world
But not the core of his soul

Which bleeds for others in there time of need
And love that has a power
Not even grace can fully match

An enemy implacable
But not impossible
A setting built on our fears and predictions

For a future that has less than today
Where we all become the hapless other
Driven to hardship by an unfeeling world

Do these ring true?
They should
They are the smoke rings we see
When we close our eyes and breathe

uncomprehended

Open to the sounds around me
The doomed beauty of trying

The wary travel sidesteps into the inn
Trying to generate some interest in him

In the final assessment, the critics failed to even take notice
The muse has an exhibit
Of the extinct trials, and the sympathy they showed
For those they left behind

And time expands beyond all understanding
Into thousands of stories
Lost first to the speaker, unable to see themselves
and then too to the audience
unable to hear as there lives swarm around them
To their own influence, their power fades as others pick up the cry

Lost next to the space, the circumstance, the fallible memory
The cumbersome nature of words and fingers

To the wind, to the ravages of time

To the empires falling, and stars imploding

The wary traveler knows none this, as he sips his drink
Scared at every moment that he could be taken unaware
Caught without his glasses, shown to be the fool

The molecules of his glass
Formed of explosions uncomprehended

And in the final assessment
After the millennia have passed

None will notice as all comes black
And the stories forgotten too fade away

Cooling soothing…. gone

And more luck than our neighbors

The centers of power
With their swirling tentacles
Shame and infect us all
Is this a world we can believe in?

The best among us
Pulled down by boredom
Sleepy jobs in mediocre lives
Spiced up only by zombies
That reflect our loved ones

Our only defense
A shaky truth
And more luck than our neighbors

For awhile

Trapped in a zero sum game we never signed up for

Is this a world we can trust as real
Unashamed
Unchanged
The ground beneath us that we can set our tale in
And recognize in the mirror

Some grim humor
And transient beauty
Stuck on repeat cycle

No hollow victories in the trenches
They all feel all too real
One meal away from starvation
And shame

The rhythm and rhythm keep us alive
And make it all worthwhile

But it’s not the same as sleep

On this journey towards
Which side are you on

And do you even know why

The messenger arrived By the dark of the night

The messenger arrived
By the dark of the night

Demanded to speak
To the calm of the storm

His voice was clear
It was quiet
It shattered the peace

After the riot
The spokesman was laid down

A blow to the head
Not dead

But the calm

Cast their gaze down
Unable to speak

The messenger’s feet
Burned through the night
Bearing the news
Not all was right

And many threw stones
And cast their aspersions

And the message moved on
With or without
Purpose

Slowly the dawn
Lit up the night
Darkness unfolded
And shadows receded

But not as much as they had
Not as far as they could

In honor of those
Who were still wounded

Who were still bleeding
Who were still feeling
Who were still there

Threatening what little peace is available

The critical consensus is
It never existed
Not a footnote to say
It ever had anything to say
And what would that mean anyway?

Nihilism unbounds
Hearing other sounds
That rebound
Across the consciousness of the careful observer
Standing in the tower
Looking out amongst the flowers

Breathing in every molecule
And failing that
Waiting for the traveler

Hoping to take off his coat, and undo his burdens
If only for a moment
Speak from the soul
About the wild creatures that roam the garden

Threatening what little peace is available

Kris Kristofferson’s Feeling Mortal: An appreciation

I would like to invite you to listen to Kris Kristofferson’s album Feeling Mortal. I struggle to write anything useful about it, but it means a lot to me.

I hear it as a concept album, not about death, but about seeking.

Kris Kristofferson is a country music legend in his 70s. By honoring and embracing this specificity so honestly, the album reveals more universe themes.

I want to describe the music, the voice, and the words as having all been condensed to their bare essentials. The album combines the relaxed feel of musicians with nothing to prove with the delicate flourishes, the subtle harmonies, and the precise inflections that are only possible in the studio.

I invite you to notice the words that open the album.

Wide awake and feeling mortal
At this moment in the dream
That old man there in the mirror
And my shaky self-esteem

Feeling Mortal, embraces death, but as a backdrop to highlight much more.

I invite you to notice how quickly and economically the tone is set, within a song that stands alone.

…a sense of life as dream, but also being wide awake and embracing it, whatever it is. looking into the mirror, and examining a shaky self esteem.

Pretty speeches still unspoken
Perfect circles in the sand
Rules and promises I’ve broken
That I still don’t understand

I invite you to recall this theme of openness as we explore the rest of the album.

Mamma Steward moves us into a personal story. One which expands this theme of vision and acceptance.

And the things she said reminded me
Of things I’d grown too blind to see
And feelings that I’d hidden deep inside
And when she said goodbye and kissed me
I was thankful she couldn’t see
The sudden tears I couldn’t hide

And also lauds a character who is at once at peace with life as it is, but also and grateful for miracles.

But the miracle of medicine
And good old time religion
Removed the veil of darkness from her eyes
They said she praised the Lord
And thanked the doctor
And didn’t even seem at all surprised

At this point I want to acknowledge that I am veering dangerously close to just printing the lyrics and wishing I could put the music in as well. The album rewards listening, but defy’s my ability to comment usefully on it.

Yet I feel drawn to try.

Because life is a song for the dying to sing
And it’s got to have feeling to mean anything

I love this line, from Bread for the Body. It does not say something new, but nobody ever does. The best most can hope for is to say something old in a new way. This does something even better, it says something true, extremely well.

Notice the inflection on… fear my eyes. Notice how well the band swings.

If the narrator in Bread for the Body is looking back on life with a new sense of perceptive and new life lessons, the narrator of You Don’t Tell Me What To Do, inhabits a these lessons.

So the highway is where I believe I belong
Losing myself in the soul of a song
And the fight for the right to be righteously wrong
It’s a story that’s sad but it’s true

Notice the tone here. It is assertive, and may have faults, but it is not aggressive.

With Stairway to The Bottom, the album pivots slightly. This is an old song, from one of Kris Kristofferson other great underrated albums (Spooky Lady’s Sideshow). Indeed many of the themes in the album are extensions of a careers worth of artistry.

The narrator in You Don’t Tell Me What to Do was honest but unrepentant about his faults and bad behavior in the previous track. Now we see the other side of that equation, as the narrator follows a number of country tropes, but is forced to face their consequences in the mirror.

But each lie that you’ve spoken
And each vow that you’ve broken
Was a new nail in the coffin of your soul
If you think someone’s cryin’
For the love that is dyin’
With the trust that you betray each time you fall
Look around you on that stairway to the bottom
No one’s watchin’ but that mirror on the wall

It shares with Just Suppose the tradition of great county songs: a chorus refrain that reflects something new on each turn as the song progresses.

And I expect you to expect me to feel guilty
For not giving back the love you threw away
But just suppose you really love her now like I do
What do you suppose you’d do if you were me

It could be singing directly at the narrator of the previous track. It has sympathy (Yes I guess you feel ashamed and I can’t really say I blame you/ I suppose I’d feel the same if I were you) but ultimately remains unwilling to back down.

We are now also in the realm of love songs, a new theme to which the album returns after a detour into Castaway.

One day as I was sailing on the Caribbean Sea
I spied a little fishing vessel drifting aimlessly
Her sails were torn and tattered
And her wheel was spinning free
I told myself that little boat sure looks a lot like me

On many days my favorite track on the album. I relate to it deeply. To quote myself: “The best most can hope for is to say something old in a new way. This does something even better, it says somthing true, extremely well.”

For my eyes grew accustomed to looking at you
And my arms found a body they hungered to hold
And the rest of my senses surrendered to you
But my heart was the last one to know

And in My Heart Was the Last One to Know, these themes come together, a realization too late that in matters of the heart, the eyes are sometimes not enough.

Because of the difficulty of writing about music, I have avoided it. But sounds matter. They make or break an album. Notice in The One You Choose, that not only does our narrative culminate in a confession of love…

Maybe what you see is what you got and what you wanted
Take me at my word that it’s the best that I can be
I will go down trying hard to teach you how to trust me
And I’ll love you ‘til it happens darling or eternity

… it incorporates some simple but masterful licks and honest vocals.

And to pay it all off, we pull back from personal songs to a look at how to live in the context of all that the album has taken us through:

And I know he ain’t afraid of where he’s going
And I’m sure he ain’t ashamed of where he’s been
He has paid a little piece of his soul
For every seed that he’s been sowing
And he made his own mistakes, and love, and friends
Ain’t that what matters in the end

 

See also: Pilgrims Progress
Let the Walls Come Down

CHILDISH GAMBINO: Indivisible constant of the universe

“Then we get to believe that the laws of randomness break down in at least one place around actor/musician Donald Glover….

this god is a laissez faire ruler of the universe who allows for famine and war and almost infinite human misery. But as far as we can tell, there is one place this god cares to intervene. This god makes sure that whatever else happens Donald Glover will always be Childish Gambino…”

A thought: Life is difficult.

A thought: Life is difficult. 

A thought: Our humanity opens us to deep pain and sorrow. 

A thought: These thoughts are engaging. Perhaps I could build a narrative on this. Open scene. 

A thought: Trying to be compassionate, I still cause deep harm to others. And then I feel the suffering of my awareness of that. 

A thought: Organizing life into narratives makes it seem less chaotic, random and difficult.

Thoughts: But thinking this now, is certainly sub-optimal. I am a monster? Are we all monsters?

Can we be anything else?   … it slides off into a random chaotic jumble. 

There are places geography seems to conspire against the mind,

There are places geography seems to conspire against the mind. The world appears to defy physics.  In one such place, a tower appears to narrow and focus all of its attention onto a single room.

In this room there is a man, sitting at a desk carefully, copying out three exact copies of a missive. 

This time it is a poem. It is a very good poem. He has had 30 years in this room to practice.

The room has only two exits. The first is a window that stares out into a vast nothingness. Over time, he has moved from rage to a kind of acceptance. 

But every day he takes a moment to look out the window and wonder if it offers a method of escape.

The second exit is a pneumatic tube, where he will place one copy of his missive. He sometimes imagines that in his homeland his reputation has experienced a redemptive third act. He imagines he can sense his captors approval by the food they send him.  Sometimes he imagines that he can sense his captors approval by the food the send him. 

He promises himself that he will not forget their mercy in keeping him alive. 

Just in case nobody is building an archive of his sage wisdom, he keeps a copy for himself. 

When he is done, he places the first copy in his elaborate filling system, the second copy in the tube, and he takes the third copy over to the window. 

There he attaches it to a string made from his 30 year-old blanket. He promises himself that he will not forget their kindness in providing him with quality materials. 

 In the distance, he thinks he can hear a sorrowful song being played, but that may be only in his mind. Sound travels in funny ways in places such as this. He cannot be sure if it comes from above, below, or the echoes of his mind. His love for whoever is making it is pure.

He believes in honesty and authenticity, so the people below receive the same message as the people above. He has moved beyond rage to a kind of peace. But before he reached that point his plan for revenge was so complete that it had taken on an aura of its own. It has a life of his own. 

The people above do not know about the people below, but they soon will. He promises himself that he will have mercy when the time comes. 

I’m afraid of americans

I’m afraid of americans (mericans)
I’m afraid of myself 
I’m afraid of americans (mericans)
I’m afraid of myself 

I’m on this stage
To act the sage 
And find out if I am well

I’m on this stage 
To act the sage
And try and cast a spell

I’m afraid of americans (mericans)
I’m afraid of myself 
I’m afraid of americans (mericans)
I’m afraid of myself 

A hypnotizing illusion 
That rids our confusion

Lets us be together
Truly stand with one another 

Join together with the music
Be the one and lose it

I’m afraid of americans (mericans)
I’m afraid of myself 
I’m afraid of americans (mericans)
I’m afraid of myself 

I’m on this stage
To act the sage
Full of rage

Afraid of what I’ll do
If I can’t get through to you

All we have is each other
All we have is each other
All we have is each other 

I’m afraid of americans (mericans)
I’m afraid of myself 
I’m afraid of americans (mericans)
I’m afraid of myself 

I want the courage to stand by your side
And let you inside

I do not fear what you’ll do
But I don’t know what you’ll find

That’s the thrill
That’s the fear 

I’ll just be me
You just be you 
See what we see
Feel what we feel 

What your gaze will tell me…

*If I do it again, I’ll experiment with a bit more rage. Or perhaps a folk take, just a few chords and talking.

 

Some things you should know about Lambert

Some things you should know about Lambert:

  • He owns and operates a free lending library in the city. 
  • When threatened, he wields a broken sword. When it was whole, it was feared by major players of all types. 
  • Nobody has been able to repair the blade. He grips the top half of the broken blade along the sharp edge, and it declines to harm him. 
  • This should be perfect for you, he loves music. 
  • His native culture presupposes reincarnation, uses advanced magic to heal wounds and illness, and is caviler about life. 
  • He is intensely loyal.
  • In the past, he was a successful assassin. For the last year he has refused all contracts. This stance has left his reputation hanging by a thread and threatens the viability of the library.
  • He’s cute.
  • Most of his friends are outside the world of crime, many of them are wealthy, but he is reluctant to ask for help.
  • His sense of humor is kind but dry. 

“Why in the world would I let you set me up with him? He sounds like a disaster.” 

“Why not? He seems like your type. He’s the only person I know who talks about music as much as you do.”

“I barely even play anymore, you know that. I know I’ve had a rough couple of years, but just when did my type become broken? Half the things you told me indicate a man in recovery from trauma and existential crisis”

“He’s not broken…Besides, it’ll be a double-date. We’ll be there.”

“Fine… I give up. But only as a favor to you.” 

“Great! One more thing…”

“Yes?”

“So, whatever happened a year ago that broke his sword and imbued him with his newfound unhelpful respect for life. He does NOT talk about it. So, whatever you do, please don’t ask him about it.”

Perhaps, I should focus on making my empire less lonely

All the lonely little empires 
Drifting into sand
All the lonley little empires 
How long can they stand?

And I think, I think the answers gotta be
Not long enough, not long enough for me
And I think, I think the answers gotta be
Not long, not nearly long enough for me

Everything in the world 
Changing with the wind
Everything in the world
Just trying to win
Everything in the world 
Spinning spinning spin

And I’m not quite sure, I’m not quite sure
Just how to be
And I’m not quite sure, no I’m not so sure
Just what is me

Water slowly wears away 
at it all
Suns explode 
and lighten the load

Of our history books
And all those funny looks

But I
I tend to wonder
I tend to ponder 
Just what exactly does it mean

It’s Alright

A band I think you should hear: The Lonetones

It’s Alright

(Steph Gunnoe)

 

All the lonely whistle blowers of the family

Shivering in studios starting to agree

All the rules in rituals that once held them down

In the lies that organize meaning can be found

 

And we learn in our own day

It’s alright, it’s alright to be

creatures that lose their way

And make it up anyway (repeat chorus)

 

All the tired rule-abiders of the family

Pull the weight and tow the line, learn to disagree

Oh, their posture is so telling, prices can be dear

And the purpose of rebellion been coming clear

 

And we learn in our own time

It’s alright, it’s alright to be free

On our own dime

It’s alright, it’s alright to be free (repeat chorus)

 

Who’s gonna fix her her elixir and settle her down?

Who’ s gonna light his dynamite and spread him around?

Every little body has an ending, see how we run

Every little body’s offended, see how it’s done

 

And we learn, tho it’s never told

It’s alright, it’s alright to be

creatures growing old (3X)

It’s alright to die

Rolling Stones Autobiography

a tagline: To stare into the infinite darkness and embrace our finitude
a motto: something about vulnerability

I think a lot about how I might start a biography. Early on I want to highlight the unreliability of the narrator.

I think a lot about how I might start an autobiography. I have a conceit about the lessons the Rolling Stones taught me. It’s a good conceit, and I hope to pursue it.

But the quote that inspired these rumination comes from Henry Miller, by way of Erica Jong.*

I read this quote while on a trip through central america. It meant a lot to me then. Something about it’s logic was inherently appealing. It was exciting to consider myself a God.

But now it means even more to me, I feel as if I have a deeper more nuanced understanding. That I have walked much farther along the path it points to, and I think that I understand it’s truth on a more intimate level.

Like the Rolling Stones, I reflect on Henry Miller as a deeply flawed being, who was morally reprehensible in many ways. What I took from Erica Jong’s book was that what redeems him, if anything, was his willingness to reveal himself.

Most of that was lost on me when I read him myself, I was in it for the power fantasy, and as a result I still harbor some judgement.

But I do think that vulnerability is key. The narrative provided by Jong scares me as much as it attracts me. What if I am vulnerable and open and find that I am Henry Miller. I think I could accept that I hold repugnant thoughts, but what if, like him, I did not use that acknowledgment to avoid causing harm?

What if I found that unrestrained, I just enacted my worst impulses on the world.

The Rolling Stones are rarely willing to be vulnerable in this way.

All of which is a distraction, carried along by the narrative logic of the words that came before, as opposed to my true intent. Some writers are capable of coming much closer to resisting that tide, and marrying their words with their poetry and their meaning. They can make the barrier between their words and their inner reality seem paper thin, and that can be magnificent and powerful.

But what I want to highlight at the start of my theoretical autobiography, is that the barrier still exists, however thin.

Did Miller know what he was saying when he said it? Did he mean what I thought he meant 10 years ago?  Was his openness to the world bringing him ever closer to the revelation it reminds me of now? Perhaps the beauty is that it contains all of this and much more.

Magnificent. The words themselves deceive even as they reveal. Powerful.

What they do not necessarily do, is convey any true sense of history, or what it meant to be inside his head. And as I cobble together stories about my life and try to cram them into a narrative conceit about the Rolling Stones**, I may aspire to poetry. But I want it to be clear from the outset that I have no capacity to convey the truth of my existence, or even my history, nor can I know the truth of yours.

The things that seemed important moments ago, flitter away.

All we have are these words to communicate with. They can be great.

*Where is the quote? It is here: “Like every man I am my own worst enemy, but unlike most men I know too that I am my own saviour.”

Why is it at the end? I wrote this draft with only my memory of the quote. In that draft it was inserted into the text 3 times! When I finally tracked down the quote it was so far from what I recalled I would have given up the whole endeavor, if this was not exactly the point of this piece.

**I came very close to telling this same story using a Keith Richards quote about the lack of and real security in the world. But that was not the quote that inspired these thoughts. All that stopped me was the knowledge that I could highlight  that I had NOT done so, and it would reinforce how unreliable the construction of narrative is.

Preview of Rolling Stones lessons: Something about being open to encountering the worlds most famous band as new, about the power of myth to both illuminate and distort, about the power of controlled chaos, about rhythm that moves and withholds, about how that’s achieved in the studio


Unfinished Lyric

I sit in the dark
My mind collides with itself
Thoughts so stark
Unwilling to see itself

Vulnerability wants flow
Words want to know
If they mean something
If they should sing

I am you
You are me
I am you
You are me

These slivers of sanity
Keeping us together
Holding us apart

I sit in the dark
Everything passing along
Trying to make a mark
Trying to write a song

My name, written by clouds in the sky
The wind blows peacefully by
Letting go always makes me cry
I do not wonder why

Pointing at some stuff I like

I really like:

The concept popularized by John Rawls that when organizing a soceity, a useful thought experiment goes like this:

“No one knows his place in society, his class position or social status; nor does he know his fortune in the distribution of natural assets and abilities, his intelligence and strength, and the like.” 

But pretend that you don’t know what starting point you will get. So make a society that you would be willing to enter from any starting position.

The line from Talking Union that goes “Take it easy, but take it”
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xvV91Zg_nd4&feature=youtu.be&t=3m46s

 

A quote, a lyric, and some sounds

How is this for a quote?:

“The best-adjusted person in our society is the person who is not dead and not alive, just numb, a zombie.

When you are dead you’re not able to do the work of the society.

When you are fully alive you are constantly saying, “No” to many of the processes of society, the racism, the polluted environment, the nuclear threat, the arms race, drinking unsafe water and eating carcinogenic foods.

Thus it is in the interest of our society to promote those things that take the edge off, keep us busy with our fixes, and keep us slightly numbed out and zombie-like. In this way our modern consumer society itself functions as an addict.” – Anne Wilson Schaef

How are these for some song lyrics?:

‘Cause you can’t free nobody else
If you can’t be true to yourself
If you’re looking for a miracle now
Buddy, you better be one
All alone, on your own

How is this for some sounds?:

But what else could it be?

Just a note to say that I have added some content to the In Progress section. Including this bit, which I am quite taken with:

Ain’t no salvation
Snow freezes on a still night
Feeling restless
Unable to sleep
Snow freezes

I know the way forward
And it’s a platitude
But what else could it be?
Some artistry mingling with emotion
Truly heard?
That would be something

Aldous Huxley Quotes

It helps me keep things in perceptive to recall that other people have already thought, and clearly expressed, whatever it is I think I have to say.

All that’s left to produce is debris from my mind.

I stumbled across these quotes from Aldous Huxley that do that fairly well http://www.alienated.me/aldous-huxley-quotes/

After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music.
~ in Music at Night

Science has explained nothing; the more we know the more fantastic the world becomes and the profounder the surrounding darkness.
Continue reading

If art is… debris from my mind?

If art is some mingling of personal expression and things created to delight and entertain, then this site is now officially tilting towards: debris from my mind.

I apologize for any inconvenience this may cause.

“Pebbles and marbles like things on my mind
Seem to get lost and harder to find
When I am alone I am inclined
If I find a pebble in sand
To think that it fell from my hand”
– source

I couldn’t decide if sharing unentertaining content* is an act of utter hubris, or the serene acceptance of reality.

Which impulse is correct? After awhile I decided that both were true, and that obsessing about it was the most narcissistic thing of all.

* I have been unable to articulate this without invoking a phrase that seems to ask the reader to protest on behalf of my genius. I find this frustrating.

Cohen’s Poetry

I want to think there are better uses for my time than writing confessionals.

One of the things poetry can do is capture a reality so completely that you can begin to understand its multifaceted truth. It can take that reality and redeem it. It can show you something about grace.

Leonard Cohen was a poet before he was a songwriter.

The ninth song on Leonard Cohen’s 1979 live album (Field Commander Cohen) is “Memories”.   Sung to a do-wop track, the music and vocal swells until Cohen croons

I said “won’t you let me see”
I said “won’t you let me see”
Your naked body?”

It is a moment of sublime beauty, helped along by some biographical knowledge.

A man known in later years for his impossibly deep voice, in this moment, he croons.
Continue reading

Some songs I listened to in 2013

I started to make a playlist of my favorite songs of 2013. Upon reflection, I realized it was just a pretext to mention Kris Kristofferson’s album Feeling Mortal.  I still toy with the idea of writing a track by track breakdown of it. I think I feel obligated to mention it because the songs I would share from it aren’t available on Youtube etc…  Here is this instead:

Here is the unfinished 2013 list as well.

Quotes from an interview between bell hook and John Perry Barlow

I read this interview today, and I thought it deserved a wider audience.

When making these types of posts I find myself torn between

I. Thinking that there is something ego-less about curating and pointing towards existing content (as opposed to trying to restate these thoughts in my own crude way)
vs
II. Thinking that there is something terrible about a culture that does nothing but relentlessly remix the peak moments of existing art

Part of the resolution to this may be the need for context. It matters why I am pointing rather than creating.

John Perry Barlow: Without a truly grounded context, words themselves don’t mean anything; metaphors don’t mean anything. A metaphor has to participate equally in the utterly physical and the truly spiritual. A metaphor is kind of a path between those two realms, and it’s a bad bridge that doesn’t have two ends.

But then I use that quote, and I worry it’s meaning is obscured by being placed in this context.

Ah well. By the way, I also took away this phrase from the interview: “the confusion of information for experience”. Read it for yourself if you’d like.

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou or Moby Dick re-imagined as a comedy of enlightenment

Films like The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, in which he played a fractured Jacques Cousteau, are closer to comedies than they might appear, Murray says, as intellectually tuned to the dynamics of comedy as he is instinctive. “Every single scene of that movie was funny, but when Wes assembled it, he streamlined and excised the detonation point of the laughter. The idea is you keep it bouncing and never skim the energy off of it. You keep it building in the name of a big emotional payoff—which comes when they’re all in the submarine together and they see the jaguar shark.” source.

“Steve is a man who likes to be in control of everything even though he can’t control much. His mission to kill the Jaguar Shark is the ultimate act of hubris: he wants nothing less than to track and kill Death and re-assert autonomy over his life…

Near the end of the story, Zissou, his crewmates, his ex-wife, his patron, and his chief rival pile into a yellow submersible, descend to the ocean floor (bottoming out) and observe the monster through portholes. It’s a meeting rather than a battle, and it seems to restore everyone’s equilibrium, especially Steve’s. They can’t kill death or let it live; all they can do is watch it swim up to the sub, snag a fish and swim away. Steve’s catharsis comes not through dynamite, but tears. “I wonder if it remembers me?” he asks. The sequence is the ghastly climax of Moby Dick re-imagined as a comedy of enlightenment: Ahab finally confronts the beast that maimed him and realizes it was nothing personal.” Worth Reading.

I will add that I have a mistrust I cannot quite place in our culture’s idolization of Bill Murray.

Still, there is this from the same interview:

“The one time I got a bunch of prizes, I just assumed I’d win them all,” he says, rubbing his legs thoughtfully. “Because I’d been winning them all. I wasn’t disappointed or anything, but I was surprised.”

About six months later, however, he had a vivid realization: “I really saw something in myself and I thought, ‘Oh, my God. I really did want that thing!’ Some part of me was disappointed that I got tricked into thinking it was important. I told myself, if that happens again, I don’t want to do that.” He stares down at the table. “I’ve since realized that it was good I didn’t win, because I wasn’t ready. Guys go for five years without working because they’re thinking, ‘Oh, this isn’t Oscar-worthy.’ They become paralyzed. So. It would have fed that thing that I found in myself, without my even knowing. It would have been really malformed. Because I had it wrong.”

Kris Kristofferson Castaway – The internet fails

Just when I think I’m ready to fully embrace instrumental music as the purest experience, I hear records like Kris Kristofferson’s Feeling Mortal. It includes line’s this good:

“Because life is a song for the dying to sing”

Alongside songs that exemplify the best in pure musical country storytelling.

The coupe de grace for me would have been linking to a sample of Castaway, but the internet has it’s limits.

Thelonious Sphere Monk – Two facts and a video

Thelonious Sphere Monk was criticized by observers who failed to listen to his music on its own terms, suffered through a decade of neglect before he was suddenly acclaimed as a genius; his music had not changed one bit in the interim. – source allmusic 

Monk’s manner was idiosyncratic. Visually, he was renowned for his distinctive style in suits, hats and sunglasses. He was also noted for the fact that at times, while the other musicians in the band continued playing, he would stop, stand up from the keyboard and dance for a few moments before returning to the piano. – source Wikipedia

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Death, My Unhelpful Obsession

Here is a passage that resonates deeply with me:

The basic premise of The Denial of Death is that human civilization is ultimately an elaborate, symbolic defense mechanism against the knowledge of our mortality, which in turn acts as the emotional and intellectual response to our basic survival mechanism. Becker argues that a basic duality in human life exists between the physical world of objects and a symbolic world of human meaning. Thus, since man has a dualistic nature consisting of a physical self and a symbolic self, man is able to transcend the dilemma of mortality through heroism, a concept involving his symbolic half. By embarking on what Becker refers to as an “immortality project” (or causa sui), in which he creates or becomes part of something which he feels will last forever, man feels he has “become” heroic and, henceforth, part of something eternal; something that will never die, compared to his physical body that will die one day. This, in turn, gives man the feeling that his life
has meaning; a purpose; significance in the grand scheme of things.

From this premise, mental illness is most insightfully extrapolated as a bogging down in one’s hero system(s). When someone is experiencing depression, their causa sui (or heroism project) is failing, and they are being consistently reminded of their mortality and insignificance as a result. Schizophrenia is a step further than depression in which one’s causa sui is falling apart, making it impossible to engender sufficient defense mechanisms against their mortality; henceforth, the schizophrenic has to create their own reality or “world” in which they are better heroes. Becker argues that the conflict between immortality projects which contradict each other (particularly in religion) is the wellspring for the destruction and misery in our world caused by wars, bigotry, genocide, racism, nationalism, and so forth, since an immortality project which contradicts others indirectly suggests that the others are wrong.

Another theme running throughout the book is that humanity’s traditional “hero-systems” i.e. religion, are no longer convincing in the age of reason; science is attempting to solve the problem of man, something that Becker feels it can never do. The book states that we need new convincing “illusions” that enable us to feel heroic in the grand scheme of things, i.e. immortal. Becker, however, does not provide any definitive answer, mainly because he believes that there is no perfect solution. Instead, he hopes that gradual realization of man’s innate motivations, namely death, can help to bring about a better world.

– Wikipedia.

As a work of nonfiction I find that I want to distance myself from this. There are very real practical implications of this worldview that I vehemently disagree with.

And it is far too simple.

But in quiet moments – as a thought experiment – these ideas resonate with me. I am susceptible to the idea that the whole world is motivated by a fear of death, because I see the world through the lens of my own ego.

Death has stalked my biography, often in ways I am not proud of. The specter of the inevitable obliteration of my existence has threatened to overwhelm me. Modern pop psychology and deductive logic suggest I search my memories for the source of this anxiety in some early trauma.

So far, no luck. I lived a very long time before anything or anyone important to me was taken away.

As a young child, I lay in bed, staring at a handcrafted wall-hanging of a prayer, written in colorful yarn:

Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord my soul to keep
If I shall die before I wake,
I pray the Lord my soul to take

I feared uncontrollable and unexpected doom. Fear was the coping mechanism to avoid  thinking about the reality.

Unlike a world that would someday exist without me, cancer was something I could potentially avoid. By staring into that void, I averted my eyes from the worst of it. So I feared cancer.

Defensively I mention that in college, I majored in religious studies. Through which I encountered a series of philosophies about how to understand the universe and our (my) place in it. I also took courses in psychology, sociology, astronomy, evolution, particle physics, death and dying, philosophy… a true liberal arts education.

Each of these perspectives gave me insight, and made me a better person. But they resulted in very little relief from the core problem.

Years later, I turned to Roger Ebert. At the time, I approached his statements with awe and reverence. A wise essayist posing as a film critic, I worshiped him as a hero. And being a pop critic and not a religious master, his peace with death seemed more attainable.

A false dichotomy to be sure.

He wrote, in part: “I know it is coming, and I do not fear it, because I believe there is nothing on the other side of death to fear. I hope to be spared as much pain as possible on the approach path. I was perfectly content before I was born, and I think of death as the same state. What I am grateful for is the gift of intelligence, and for life, love, wonder, and laughter. You can’t say it wasn’t interesting.”

I recoiled in horror.

But lately, I find this more palatable. Perhaps all my Buddhist readings have paid off. My brain cells are dieing as I age.

I still lie awake at night. Sometimes I catch a glimpse of death, and I’m paralyzed by it. But on good days, I can at least see what feeling at peace with being just a blip of life against the background of vast nothingness might be like.

I exist. Someday I may not. But that is ok. I … no, I can’t find the words. When I stare at it directly the peace flutters away.

Still, it’s progress. Death to the ego!

On writing and memento

I wasn’t a big fan of the movie, but I love this interpretation

“A few months ago, I decided it was finally time to see “Memento.” … I saw the movie as a parable of our historical moment. Leonard Shelby, the amnesiac hero, has been robbed of his context. So he scrawls notes and takes Polaroids to remind himself who he is and what he must do next.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/13/magazine/once-upon-a-time-there-was-a-person-who-said-once-upon-a-time.html?smid=pl-share

Leonard Cohen, albums -The Dove Is Never Free

Leonard Cohen’s work is so good it tends to lift up those who write about him.

For instance this line:  “… given that “Hallelujah” was as much about triumphing over waning potency as it was about anything religious… ”

Today it has generated the following thoughts from me.

His newest album, Old Ideas, is perfect example of what I fear I am losing as I indulge myself with more singles and move away from the concept of albums.

The first time I heard the album, the only song I liked, or even understood for that matter, was Different Sides.

The second time I listened to it, I also came to have a deep and profound experience with Banjo.

If you could hear what I hear when I listen to Banjo…

That would be something… that really would be something.

I would love to know what you hear as well.

 

Then I put the album away for a while. But I came back now and again, and now I count Going Home and parts of Amen among the songs I feel like I understand.

Going Home alone is worth the price of the album for me.

But more importantly I look forward to coming back to the album over the next few years to see what other surprises it has in store for me.

I tend to be dense when it comes to art so my particular experience is likely tinged by this. That is part of the attraction for me. But I suspect the thrill of coming back to a large complicated piece and finding new nuances is a more universal experience.

I don’t begrudge the evolution of how we consume music (although I worry about mp3 sound quality). The form has always been dominated by its limitations, and our current distribution model has many advantages.

But the experience I am having with Old Ideas is one that I have to work harder to find.

More quotes:

“For a Zen monk who started his career as a poet, Leonard Cohen has used a lot of synth horns.”

http://pitchfork.com/reviews/albums/16228-leonard-cohen-old-ideas/

Possibly apocryphal:

I’ve come to the conclusion, reluctantly, that I am going to die. So naturally those questions arise and are addressed. But, you know, I like to do it with a beat.

Leonard Cohen, when asked at a recent press conference whether he had “come to terms with death”.

Has there ever been a musician with as consistently good album titles? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leonard_Cohen_discography …

And because it cannot be avoided:

Psychedelic Pill – Art and Ageing

Neil Young & Crazy Horse have finally released a follow up to 2012’s Americana.

As Neil Young has gotten older, the artifice of his songwriting has fallen away. This leads unashamedly clunky to passages like this:

I was born in Ontario
I was born in Ontario, Ontario, Ontario, Ontario
(Guitar solo)

But it also means we get 25+ mins of Driftin Back, including the lines:

“Hey now now, hey now now
I used to dig Picasso
Then the big tech giant came along
And turned him into wallpaper”

Ok… that passage doesn’t quite prove my point.

But when this loose, unencumbered style works, it is brilliant.

The best of these songs play with lyrical and musical themes that come from the deepest instincts of a band that has been doing this for a lifetime. They are vital and alive, not afraid to experiment, to breathe, and the band is good enough to pull it off.

I want to walk like a giant.

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Three thoughts about the Rolling Stones – Gloom and Doom

The emotional heart of my recent science-fiction/corporate espionage short story was inspired by Rolling Stones imagery.

I am not entirely comfortable with my proclivity to treat real people as mythological figures in my internal cosmology.

Nonetheless I recently returned to thinking about music through autobiography and started reading Ronnie*. This has inspired the following thoughts in no particular order:

1). Keith Richards autobiography Life might have been a better biography if he had demonstrated a greater degree of self-awareness, but as a literary work, that awareness could have been fatal.

Adherence to reality aside, Life conjures up a portrait of a man overflowing with raw talent and passion for which he is rewarded with enormous success.

It also reveals a man trapped by the limitations of narrowly defined masculinity and his own image. He seeks redemption in friendship and art, even as he fails to acknowledge his own role in undermining the efficacy of these elements in his own life.

None of this would have the same layered depth, the same nuance, if you had a fully self-aware author. The phrase “show, don’t tell” is overused writing advice, but it applies here. As a novel, it leaves the reader wondering if the narrator is even a good person. What does it mean to leave to leave that kind of trail of destruction and not have any real sense of responsibility for it?

As it stands, Life is a beautiful portrait of undeniable talent mixed with obliviousness.

2) The commonly cited theory that the Rolling Stones recent albums are mere retreads of past glory’s holds up if you narrow your focus to their greatest hits. But their critical success rests primarily on the their streak from Beggars Banquet – Exile on Main Street.

Listen to those albums with fresh ears and you’ll notice that the Rolling Stones (for good or ill) have not even attempted to replicate the same heady mix of blues and folk that that they exemplified during that period.

If nothing else, their recent production relishes in clarity, while these albums are confident attempts to to bury their dynamic riffs and simplistic lyrics** behind layers of atmosphere.

At their worst the last three albums (Voodoo Lounge onward), are cynical retreads of Start Me Up, but they have not attempted to ape triumphs such as Jigsaw Puzzle, Loving Cup, or Can’t You Hear Me Knocking.

The trash on their recent albums are clearly throwaway Rock and Roll McSingles, but for my tastes I can cobble together a pretty good album with selective editing. But even that mix-tape of an album has few of the sonic influences that they were playing around with at their peak.

3). It is surreal is it that they have released a Greatest Hits Album (containing up to 80 tracks) entitled GRRR!

Seriously…. GRRR!

It is even stranger that barely anyone comments on the absurdity of this.

On the other hand, GRRR! contains one of their better McSingles titled: Gloom and Doom. The music is serviceable, gritty and on the right track, but lacks dynamism.  It’s lyrically great and it grew on my after repeated listenings.

It’s the kind of song that in a different context would make me think “this band is really onto something – I can’t wait to hear what they do when they get an album together.”

Who knows what they could do if they cared to really try.

*Random non-music autobiography book recommendations:  The Swerve (which demonstrates how old modernity is) and End This Depression Now! (which functions as nice economic’s primer for mainstream liberal thought and shows that money does strange things in large groups).

**My internal struggle with the content of most of their lyrics merits its own post.

On the Marriage Equality Issue

EDIT: here is the link.

What I really wanted to post here was a link to an NPR interview I heard years ago with an evangelical involved in the creation of the Moral Majority.

I wanted to post this because I don’t have anything original to say about the recent controversy’s regarding marriage equality, but I felt the need to say something.

I felt the need to comment, because despite the fact I should be inoculated against it by now, I am shocked and dismayed that this is a legal controversy.

Not because I don’t understand how someone could be against it. I just don’t understand how such large numbers of people can feel as if it’s acceptable to give that dislike voice in the law.

The interview I wanted to link to was with a sincere evangelical who believed that homosexuality was a sin. He talked about the calculations required to raise it up over other sins such as money lending.

I despair over our ability to handle complex problems if we cannot agree on minority rights. If we can’t say, “I don’t like it but it’s not really my call.”

If we cannot agree that if marriage is a big enough term to legally encompass all the non-christian weddings, the loveless marriages, the sexless marriages…

If it includes the people who don’t have ceremonies,

If it’s a concept that (legally speaking at least) really just involves two people declaring that they want to bind there lives together in some amorphous way….

then it is also big enough to include people irregardless of their gender.

If the libertarians can’t show up in force for this issue…

If slippery slope fallacy is able to stand uncontested…

If we can’t acknowledge that in the “culture wars” same sex marriage is the next logical step now that we’ve made marriage about romance…

If a hundred other things I’m forgetting to mention. Then how are we ever going to solve the complicated problems. The policy problems.

So, I couldn’t link to the NPR article, and I didn’t have anything new to add to the issue. But apparently I felt the need to say something anyways.

Also, the last link, the “made marriage about romance…” one. Is worth reading if nothing else.

Playing favorites: Cameron Crowe, redeeming Elizabehtown and trying my hand at film criticism

Q: What is your favorite film?

A: An unhelpful question. “Favorite” is vague enough to be meaningless and my answer is likely to change based on a variety of social contexts – none of which come into play when questioning myself.

Q: What’s a film that reveals something about you that you value?

A: Slightly better. Although my answer will still be random, at least we’ve eliminated Braveheart.

Q: Fine. What’s the movie you’ve had the most radical change of heart about?

A: Well now see Bravehearts back in the mix…

In this way we eventually approach Elizabethtown.  The linked trailer does justice to my first viewing. I almost walked out of the theater, casually dismissing the film as an unremarkable pat romance with some uninteresting family drama and a too long scavenger hunt at the end.

History has not been kind, and the general consensus seems agree with that interpretation.

Then I read Roger Ebert’s 3-star review, and I found an extra detail that caused me to reconsider. You see, at the start of the film, the protagonist is fired from the shoe company. This is the great professional failure that sets everything into motion (oh yeah- spoilers ahead for Elizabethtown & Almost Famous). Ebert writes:

“In the first cut of the film, there was a great deal more of the journey, followed by a pointless epilogue in which the Spasmodica shoe turns out to be a hit after all, because with every step you take, it whistles.” (emphasis mine).

It was this absurd detail – the idea that his great failure had been turned into success through some Jiminy Cricket like insane optimism.

Upon reading that I was suddenly able to see the movie not just as a long dirge with some manic pixie girl thrown in, but as a metaphor. Once I stepped back an inch everything else fell into place.

The scenes worked on there own just fine, but their power came from wielding larger concepts around with them.

Concepts about death. About love. About the meaning of life and parenthood and optimism and truly knowing someone else.

This highlights a few things:

1) I’m not so bright.

2) Context is everything. I could have gotten this context from knowing Crowe’s work.

Or from the opening of the film which signals it like a bat signal if you’re looking for it. Or maybe if I’d had a better breakfast that morning – who knows.

I do not mean to imply that detail about the whistling shoes should have been left in. Rather that viewing the film requires that we bring something of ourselves to the experience and what I bring can be unpredictable and may say more about me than the film.

3) Really good art can inspire interesting commentary even if the commentary isn’t particularly approving. Try searching for reviews of L. Cohen’s Old Ideas.

Once I saw the film with these larger themes in mind – it became a masterpiece.

The love plot became a layered balancing act of meaningful dialogue that commented both on the history of “meet cutes” as well as counter-balancing the foreboding sense of death, failure, suicide and regret.

Her manic pixie girl status wasn’t just a cheat or lazy writing, it was a conceit that opened doors.

Once I wasn’t watching just another romantic comedy, but engaging it as a something of substance it opened up and rewarded me for it.

Allow me to use an example from a better regarded Cameron Crowe film (since it has a youtube clip available – and because I’m slightly intimidated by Elizabethtown).

Sample Scene: Here

Here the “talent” of the band is getting back on the tour bus after a night of ill-advised partying. When they last left, it was unclear if he would return, or if the band was done for.

More importantly, the lead singer of the band, has made it clear that the rest of the band simply does not like him. The core of the tension is unresolved. This theme is hammered home throughout the movie. Time and time again when crisis hits – when you’d expect them to pull together and find a deep love for each other – they come up dry. They come up with selfishness and bitterness.

So why does the band stay together? Is it money/fame (partially yes). But then why do we care about them?

This scene argues compellingly that the answer is: music.

Sure they are all failures as human beings and friends.

But then there is the music. A theme (one of many) echoed throughout the film, from the rock critic to the too-wise band-aid. It is the heart of the film. It’s where the film begins, and ends.

Or maybe the movie is about a rock critic trying to maintain his distance so he can write about the music. Or maybe it’s about his love of the girl who puts her head on his shoulder, but is not with him.

It’s all there. The whole film is in that scene.

It also gets him out of the party, back on the bus and keeps things moving along pretty quick.

Or maybe it’s all in that song choice. It has the right kind of fame and feel to be sung on a bus. Not a bus I might be on, but a bus full of rock stars reaching for a way to show some appropriate manly sensitivity.

Not just a song that was famous around this time, but like the film, a song of this time. All enchanced if you bring certain cultural knowledge to bear on the moment, but works well on it’s own.

And of course it says a lot about the band-aid as well.

What I’m saying is, if you think Almost Famous has layers, give Elizabethtown a second viewing.

Or maybe it’s that I’m usually a lazy viewer and I woke up this one time.

More on this when I get the courage to break down Elizabethtown in detail. And if you beg, I’ll talk your ear off about Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.

A short tuft. A flibbertigibbet. A will-o’-the-wisp. A clown

A thought too long for twitter.

This is such a stunningly good line it deserves notice beyond those who want to know if Marie Antoinette is a good film:

1. This is Sofia Coppola’s third film centering on the loneliness of being female and surrounded by a world that knows how to use you but not how to value and understand you” – Roger Ebert

************************

I had another line I wanted to add. Something about how we all take turns playing hero’s and villans for each other, but deep down all we want is that fleeting moment of connectedness … compassion… a hug.

If I could say it well myself I wouldn’t have needed the now-missing quote. But it can be seen as fitting that the quote itself has also floated past. Leaving only a vague and unsatisfying memory.

Beyond Problematic: Dr’s lying to patients in Kansas

I don’t have any special expertise in politics and even less in medical ethics, but thankfully some issues don’t require it.

“Arizona and Kansas are considering bills that would ban lawsuits in cases where doctors fail to warn their patients about birth defects… the Kansas provision, part of a sweeping, 69-page anti-abortion bill, would allow physicians to lie to women who might otherwise terminate their pregnancies.” Full article here.

They are attempting to make it consequence-free (read: legal) for doctors to lie to their patients about their health without oversight or fear of consequence.

This law is beyond problematic for many reasons (it decimates the patient-client relationship in ways that fall along gender lines; in practice it will have class implications; even people who are extremely anti-choice probably don’t want there doctors to deceive them), but here is one of the less intuitive ones:

It literally prioritizes the fetus over the baby. Many anti-abortion efforts have this effect, but here it is particularly stark. Imagine a fetus that will be born with a defect that will only allow it live outside the womb for a brief period of time in extreme pain.

This provision is aimed at making it possible for that fetus to be born at all costs, irregardless of what that means for the actual baby (let alone the uterus-possessing person who will then be responsible for it).

Plus there is this: Cobbs v. Grant, “The patient, being unlearned in medical sciences, has an abject dependence upon and trust in his physician for the information upon which he relies during the decisional process, thus raising an obligation in the doctor that transcends arms-length transactions.”

Courts, gender issues and legislators aside here is an article that thinks more deeply about the issue of lying to patients from a medical perceptive: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2673833/

Twitter Thoughts

I was considering changing my status message in my chat client to “My heart is in the highlands”.

Most of the people who would see it would ignore it. Some of my friends would either look it up, or know instantly that it is an allusion to a sprawling song epic by Bob Dylan.

But the selfish, grasping part of me thought “I like my old status message – I am creating story-telling arc through my messages and the old one has not been up long enough yet. How sad it will all just disappear. How can I share this arc with the world?”

Twitter.

Being a good tweeter is a marketing act. That does not invalidate it. It simply is a selection of all the possible things one might do – and choosing the ones that fit into the norm and goals of that medium.

If you care deeply about me already, then you may find the allusion to the song interesting.

If you don’t, the inevitable onslaught of nonsense from my default take on twitter would be a cacophony of noise and song lyrics.

All social interactions are presentations of self, and my preferred mode of self presentation is through narratives that allow me to pretend that I’m not talking about myself.

So what to do with twitter. Be smart? Pretend like only real life friends are reading it? Use it as a promotional vehicle for my brand?

Time will tell.

Insanity is smashing up against my soul
You can say I was on anything but a roll
If I had a conscience, well, I just might blow my top
What would I do with it anyway
Maybe take it to the pawn shop 

Highlands by Bob Dylan on Grooveshark

 

 

The Power is Yours For the Taking

Greetings Stumblers,

A Purple GoatA purple goat

You hold the power in your hands. You can change the course of a life.  Lives. If you walk away, nothing happens. But if you click the thumbs up button… If you share this link…

then others will see it.

And if they do the same. My friends, you might start a movement.

That is, until you crash my servers, because I use cut-rate hosting.

That’s not the end. It’s the beginning. It will force others to act. I will need to decide how dedicated I am to this.

Until I realize it’s not a decision. You will inspire me. How can I, or anyone stand in your way?

I know some of you are thinking: “Well this is kinda fun, and I liked the goat picture. But someone else will surely hit the ‘like’ button.” Someone else will make it happen.

But there is nobody else except for you.

That’s it. All society is, is a collection of you’s.  When we band together  social structures are formed but without your active participation it all falls apart.

Some of us live in an attention based economy and you are the taste-makers if you choose to stand up and claim your right.

And if you don’t feel like making some random blog a temporary blip on the internet famous scale, consider joining EFF. Or something else all together.

Insightful Commentary

So far I’ve managed to moderate all the comments to my blog posts without resorting to a Captcha service. This gives me access to the full range of spam bots.

Given that my posts so far consist almost entirely of my rants and almost no valuable information they look particularly out of place. For instance:

“Thank you, I have just been searching for info about this topic for ages and yours is the greatest I have discovered so far. But, what about the bottom line? Are you sure about the source?”

I can even see how that might work in a different context.

Below are a few more of my favorites:

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Disclaimers; Non-Canonical Editions and Drafts

Disclaimer: I’m cheating, or at least playing a different game.

I am using distribution channels (Kindle, Nook, Diesel etc…) to push out something that is not quite what people expect from them.*

When I give my book away in the gift economy feel some guilt because I worry that I might be undermining others. Not just those who charge money, but also those who give away their creations as part of a larger plan.

I wrote some words because it brought me happiness to do so. Avoiding Space Madness was the result of those efforts.

I truly believe that grammar is the etiquette of the written word, and poor grammar is the written equivalent of showing up for a formal dinner party dressed like Radagast the Brown. You look incompetent and nobody knows what your doing. More importantly you make things awkward for everyone else (especially those who want to like you).

So before putting it into the world, I edited it to the best of my ability (to my dismay, I am not a very good copyeditor).

There is no marketing plan around giving away the book. I am not engaging in the same dynamics as most other authors.

I am giving away the book to stop myself from continuing to edit it with diminishing returns and diminishing joy. This enables me to have time to write more and bring myself joy.

It is my hope that it brings entertainment to others. It is amazing to think that other people have read my words.

*To highlight this, the book is labeled thusly:

“non-canonical edition disclaimer:

This is a draft. This is only a draft. If this were a real book, all of the sentences would have both subjects and verbs.

If I ever have a publisher or access to a copyeditor, I will publish a canonical edition. Until then, I wrote something approximating a book and put it out for the world to take as much pleasure in it as the world would.

Then I wrote this disclaimer to answer some questions I received about what my intentions were.

I hope it helps.

Et tu Amazon?: Meet the new boss

I am contractually obligated to have an opinion on the amazon controversies (here and here), so I thought awhile and got one.

My first instinct is to side with the small startup ebookshops (yay Diesel) and local businesses.

But why I wondered? I want to say that this is about power, about Amazon leveraging it size, distribution chain, and capital reserves to unfairly hurt its competition. And certainly that’s true. That is what this is about.

But that dynamic is also standard operating procedure. It’s why Amazons items are routinely cheap; it’s why they operate at as close to a loss in the short term as they can.

So what makes this a bridge too far?

Well, I don’t know that it is. I think some of the fuss is just old anger at leftover at the above battles.

But if it is too far, here is my stab at why:

1. It’s rubbing the losers nose in it.

By way of analogy: It’s one thing for the tall handsome football star to be elected class president. Sure he had some advantages handed to him, but he also worked hard at football, and he is basically a nice guy.

In this scenario Amazon went from just winning the election against the bookish policy wonk it ran against, to taunting the loser afterwards.

Amazon said in effect: We aren’t content with the hidden ways we have advantages over you, we want to flaunt it too. Then it drove away splashing sales tax and overhead costs at the nerd’s shoes.

2. The whole thing makes explicit the advantages Amazon has long enjoyed.

This bothers me. I want to think of the online retailers I shop at as wonderful and unproblematic. This makes it harder to do so.

3. It’s unsustainable. I’m often willing to accept that sometimes Starbucks going to come in and destroy the local coffee shop. After all I like my Frappuccino’s a certain way.

But the kinds of promotions listed above are clearly aimed at the competition and will not survive them. It’s not sustainable savings. The logical endgame is a monopoly where the discounts all go away once they are done using your local Target as showcase.

You could make the case that the same dynamic is true of big boxes stores in general, but again it’s largely hidden (see #1).

4. I had at least one more point in mind when I started this, but I can’t recall it anymore. Sometimes I think this economic stuff is complicated.

Does my free novel devalue entertainment? OR Why do I hurt the ones I love?

Note: This post was originally conceived of as a forum topic here.

Exhibit A: I believe that creative/intellectual endeavors frequently bring value into the world, even when they are digital objects.

Exhibit B: I have decided the best thing (for me) to do with my novel is to give it away.

Providing my novel for free meets a variety of my goals (I am not convinced that it alone maximizes my readership, but that’s a topic for another day).

But doing so puts me in a precarious position vis a vis exhibit A.

In theory, some readers will hopefully enjoy the book and think that it was of value to them. It will be value they did not pay for, which could contribute to the general devaluing of electronic entertainment.

Once people are used to getting something for free, it loses value. Similar to the race to the bottom (read 99 cents) in the iTunes store, where many people no longer even consider purchasing a 5-dollar game, I wonder and worry if giving away my book does not help train people to think they should be able to get e-books for free.

I finesse the problem slightly by mentioning gift economy a few times, encouraging people to share the book with friends and so on. But even that has problems, because it can lead a fan to assume that I am simply operating within a successful business model that they simply do not understand.

That model does not exist. For me at least.

That’s ok for me (except inasmuch as it means people don’t bother to try the book because of perceived value problems) but I wonder if it wouldn’t have been the moral thing to do to charge something as show of solidarity to my fellow authors.

All of this is probably taking the impact of a single book by an unknown author too seriously, but the larger question seems worth considering.

Thoughts?

Andy Rooney

Andy Rooney died a few months ago. Today I came across the column of his that made me fall in love with him. I loved that created a solid, entertaining column about his love of wood. I came to his work with irony in mind. I wanted his job. To simply absorb life’s details and report them without pretension.

In retrospect that column was not his best work perhaps. For his best you really need to grab a copy of one of his books. Even then what he was after was something that doesn’t link well. It was not flashy or attention grabbing.

But in his own way, like Roger Ebert and Miss Manners he was so good for so long that he came to define a genre, and the quality of his work hovered on being taken for granted. The joking was usually in good fun, but if you look his work with fresh eyes it holds up on its own.

 

Life – Keith Richards, Mick Jagger, Media Images and so on

Eventually this post will resolve into a minor point of media criticism. But it starts with…

I just finished “reading” the Keith Richards “autobiography” Life.

Whew, that was a lot of hyperlinks.  The word reading is in quotations because I listened to the audiobook rather than using a print copy (and the link goes to Stephan King’s thoughts on the practice).

Autobiography is in quotes because the book’s creation process strains the word “autobiography” without quite breaking it.

Overall the book was well-written enough to offer some insight into Keith Richards, the human being, despite the fact that it never quite escapes being based on interviews with someone who has spent years cultivating a very limiting media image (and potentially a limiting self-image).

For instance, the book manages to capture the contradictions and insanity of the junkie logic Keith still uses to defend his past addictions even as it also includes his protestations that heron is bad.

How much you will enjoy these ramblings may depend on your tolerance for an insightful portrait of a rock and roll star who defines a certain kind of “cool”.

Or more to the point of this post, the book conveys some of the depth and breadth of the complicated relationship Keith has with Mick Jagger (his co-song writer in the band the Rolling Stones), without actually spending that much time on it. It captures the sense of two men who have the capacity to create something greater than themselves even as they are weighed down by years of history and very petty infighting.

Certainly Keith comes out looking better than Mick in his telling, but again, the book is good enough that a careful reader will notice the broad outline of why Mick may not be the only villain in their story.

This doesn’t answer the question of why you should care about their petty infighting. But it does offer some insight into to how small it must be to have to be Keith Richards all the time.

The most limiting factor of the book is that it’s written by someone who knows in his media-savy bones that of all the nuanced, spiteful, loving, and childish things he says about about his relationship with Mick, the headlines will boil it down to a particularly juvenile penis joke.

If not that, then something like that was always going to be the cage. And it was one he played into. Maybe he did that to himself, and maybe it’s not a problem for him, but the willingness of the world around him to reduce and celebrate that kind of nonsense probably didn’t help to broaden anyone’s horizons.

I wrote the rest of this to give me an excuse to actively avoiding perpetuating the myth that the worst thing he says about Mick is that joke. Because the media seems to think it is, and this does a disservice to everyone involved. The book portrays the man as something much worse, and more nuanced, even within its severe limitations.

The book is a glimpse into the mind of someone who knows they live in in a cage made of gold and beauty and myth. But can also make music like this.

The Value of Publishing

“Anybody who likes writing a book is an idiot. Because it’s impossible, it’s like having a homework assignment every stinking day until it’s done. And by the time you get it in, it’s done and you’re sitting there reading it, and you realize the 12,000 things you didn’t do… And when you’re done, people tell you “Well, gee, I’m not interested.”

– Lewis Black

Everything I write is a reflection of me (yes – even a genre fantasy novel). The relationship may not be intuitive or straightforward, and it may not be the relationship you assume, but it exists.

Every author in some way portrays himself in his works, even if it be against his will.
– Goethe

Towards the end of Avoiding Space Madness, Darwin starts ranting about how hard it is to find a truly comfortable chair. This is a minor scene, but it does a few things. It illuminates Darwin’s temperament and history; it fills in some details about the world he inhabits, and it was fun to write. It’s a good solid piece of writing.

I wrote the first draft of it over four years ago, and I am no longer same author now that I was then. I would not disavow it, it is a scene that I fully stand behind, but my mind now understands that interaction in subtly different ways.

The last time I edited Avoiding Space Madness, I was tempted to cut the scene out. Not because there is anything wrong with it, but it’s no longer how I would solve the problems it solves. Alone that is an edit, but the ranting about chairs scene does not exist in isolation. Every part of the book affects everything else and I could not simply delete it without doing damage to the rest of the book. The problem is not the scene. The chair rant fits perfectly fine into the book I wrote.

The problem is that I probably would not write the same kind of chair rant anymore (instead I might write a sophisticated diatribe about lawn art).

Art is never finished, only abandoned.
-Leonardo da Vinci

To truly get at the heart of the changes I’ve undergone as a writer large parts of the book would need to be gutted and re-written. Which would be worthwhile if it would produce a better novel, but it wouldn’t. It would simply produce a different novel. And that novel is the one I am now working on.

At the same time I want to honor the book I wrote. Trying to work on the sequel with an unpublished manuscript in the same series in the drawer was apparently more trouble than it takes to just put it out into the world. So I did.

Part of the story is that I worked on and off on a sequel for a few years. But progress slowed and then stalled.  It didn’t help that every year or so I took a couple of months to go back and revise Avoiding Space Madness.

What it really needed more than anything I could provide, was a copy editor. Since I could not give it that, I kept flailing away at it with the talents I have, rather than the talents it needed. But when book 2 fizzled under the weight of my excitement for what I wanted to do in book 3 I knew I had to change something. Writing for me is a slow process, made slower by the fact that I actually enjoy my day job. It also requires a certain sustained passion for the story I want to tell. I need to care enough about what I am creating to write the boring scenes, to walk away from my partner and write for an afternoon. One day I had to admit to myself that I had been living with my ideas for book 2 for too long, and it had proven fatal. Time to move on.

Time to throw the dead weight overboard.

Putting any work out to the world provides a snapshot, a definitive moment captured. It is the final step in the authorial process.

More importantly, I was shocked to discover that nobody had registered Fantasyofanovelidea.com and had to capitalize on my good fortune.

My first priority for any profits I receive from my donation button is to purchase fantasyofanovel.com and fantasyofanovelideal.com as redirect sites.