Breaking Me Down (rebuilt)

(c) 2019

Words and Music by Robert Elessar

Produced and performed by Robert Elessar

I sit alone at home sometimes and want to go berserk
But doing that just never seems to work
The shelves are stacked with books but I don’t feel that I could read
While all around a thousand phantoms lurk

I drink a little wine; I eat a little meat
I wonder why I’m shivering in such infernal heat
I feel a little tired; my head’s a little light
I wish that I could close my eyes and block my inner sight.

If you could see me now, you’d probably wonder where I’ve been
But I stand and I fall
And I listen for your call
While hiding out inside the dragon’s den.

I wander ‘round through my internal night
I travel back and forth throughout the town
But if you ask, I’ll tell you I’m all right
My nervousness is just breaking me down.

I listen to the sounds of everybody having fun
I can’t join in ‘cause I don’t have a gun,
They’re scattering their ashes all along the motorway
Then scampering like rabbits on the run

I bounce off all the walls; I turn out all the lights
I always want to hit someone, but I never get in fights
I feel a bit confused; my thoughts are incomplete
There’s tingling in my fingers and there’s swelling in my feet

If you could hear what I hear you would deafen both your ears
But I can’t, and I know
That no matter where I go
I’m followed by the grinding of my gears.

I stare around in paranoiac fright
While grinning at my heartbreak like a clown
So don’t come in, and don’t turn on the light
It’s just my past mistakes breaking me down

I look at all the colors of the pictures in my mind
They’re all so dark, I might as well be blind
The path laid out ahead of me is so filled up with smoke
I think that I’d prefer to just rewind

I roam around the house; I drive around the town
I don’t know if I’m back and forth or if I’m up and down
I dive into the sea; I look into the sky
I try to understand them, but we can’t see eye to eye

If you could see inside my head, your own head would explode
But I nod, and I grin
At the end where I begin
And I smile, and I wave
When I pass an open grave
And I slump, and I sigh
When we have to say goodbye
I’ll see you at the ending of the road

I wander through the wasteland struck with blight
I make my Hell to wear an earthly crown
I smash all mirrors, I can’t stand the sight
Of everything that is breaking me down.

FedEx Screwed Over My Disabled Housemate

My housemate is a disabled American who, among other things, has a prosthetic leg and multiple neck and other spinal injuries from a past motor vehicle accident.  He is also a highly skilled guitarist and a craftsman of the instrument, assembling top quality replicas of classic electric guitars that match the performance of the best examples of the original products.  I’ve purchased one of these guitars from him, and it’s as good, and as beautiful, as any I’ve ever played.

My housemate sells the guitars he makes, often through E-bay, for the cost of materials plus a very modest markup for his time and effort, which are not insignificant matters for him given his physical difficulties.  For quite some time now, he has used FedEx to ship these guitars to their purchasers, and in the past, he has apparently had few complaints.  However, the quality of FedEx’s shipping and service is, apparently, not what it used to be.

My housemate recently sold a replica Les Paul model electric guitar.  He took the guitar, in a case, to the local FedEx office to have it shipped.  There he paid for insurance for the full price of the guitar, and he also paid extra to have FedEx pack the item themselves, so there could be no question about the responsibility for any inadequate packing of this expensive and fragile item.  Speaking of fragility, he also specifically requested that the item be marked “Fragile,” “Handle with Care,” and so on.  This latter request was not fulfilled, as is demonstrated by photos taken by the purchaser of the guitar when it arrived.  These photos also showed creases and indentations in the packing materials of the shipping container, including a long crease along the mid-section of the box.

It should come as no surprise to anyone, given what I’ve just stated and the title of this post, that the guitar arrived damaged, with a crack/break at the base of the neck.  As someone who was partial witness to the assembly of the instrument, to the work it entailed, and to the wonderful sound of the finished product, I find this damage heartbreaking.  The guitar had obviously been subject to incautious packing and shipping that allowed leverage to be applied across the middle of the box.  That leverage was not enough to break the case—which is somewhat flexible, and was not designed to protect from such external torques but from minor bumps and bangs while being hand-carried—but enough to strain the weakest point in a long, wooden structure such that it cracked.

The guitar purchaser was quite polite about all this, and my housemate is going to replace the guitar with another one that he has made—and into which he has put his time and his very limited money—but he obviously asked and expected FedEx to live up to their agreement and reimburse him for the price of the guitar.

Unfortunately, despite the fact that my housemate paid for insurance and also paid to have FedEx pack the guitar and to mark it as fragile, and despite having seen photos of the damage to the instrument and the surface of the box (I’ve seen these photos, as well), FedEx claims that their investigation finds that they were not responsible for the damage and they are not going to pay.

Let’s think about that.  My housemate paid for insurance and for FedEx to pack the item, and it arrived with damage.  It was not damaged when it was sent, I’m personally able to attest to that, since I was there when my housemate took it to FedEx, and I saw (and heard) the finished product, which was exceptional.  To have FedEx say that their investigation has cleared them of wrongdoing is rather like having Vladimir Putin say that his investigation has revealed that his government has never carried out any operations to influence the elections of any other countries, or to have Bernie Madoff say that he’s looked into things and found no evidence that he’s ever been involved in any kind of “pyramid scheme”.

Why would FedEx ever want to find themselves responsible for such damage?  Only because not to do so would hurt their reputation, which has—in the past—been important to them as leading figures in the world of high-quality, fast shipping.

Now, though, it seems that the formerly mighty have fallen very far indeed.  FedEx is perfectly willing to charge a disabled person extra money to pack the instrument he is—as a loyal, long-time customer—shipping with them, and they are also willing to charge him for “insurance” against damage accrued during shipping.  But it seems that, when such damage really occurs during shipping, to a fragile, expensive, fine quality musical instrument, which FedEx was paid extra to pack, the company does not live up to their end of the bargain, but instead forces a disabled craftsman and musician to try to satisfy his buyer out of his own, very shallow, pocket.

My housemate is not a man of words, and he is not especially internet/social media savvy, but words are my life blood.  In addition, as a musician myself (of sorts), and as a friend, I cannot bear to have the Philistines at FedEx carry out this double-cross cheat of my housemate without at least making public—as loudly as I’m able—the fact that they have done so.

I encourage all of you who might consider using FedEx’s shipping services to engage other providers, such as UPS, or the United States Postal Service, or G.O.D., or some similar organization.  There may have been a time when FedEx was the best at what they do, and when they stood by their services, but it seems that time has passed if they willingly cheat a disabled craftsman out of insurance coverage for which he paid to compensate for damage for which FedEx is responsible.

I’m sure that FedEx puts a great deal of money into marketing their services, including their shipping insurance.  Apparently, their budget—both financial and ethical—for actually fulfilling the promises they make is simply too small.  If that’s the case, maybe it’s time they got out of the shipping business entirely.


ADDENDUM:  Here are a few pictures of the damage to the box and the instrument as they were when they arrived.  It may not look like much, but musicians will know that it ruins the sound of the instrument, and it certainly is NOT the way it was when shipped.

 

 

Breaking Me Down (a song)

Words and music by Robert Elessar

(c) 2019 by Robert Elessar

All rights reserved

Performed by Robert Elessar

 

Okay, here it is, my new song, on which I’ve been working for some time now.  Technically, I’ve been working on it for thirty plus years (not without interruptions) since I first composed the melody and most of the words back when I was in college.  I never did anything with it until now, but obviously I hadn’t forgotten in, since this all came out of my memory – I haven’t seen the original words since I graduated from college, and I never wrote the music down.

I hope you enjoy it.  I think I’m getting a little bit better at the mixing and whatnot.

Audio Blog #2: No More Facebook Debates (for me)

In this, my second audio blog, I explain why I intend no longer to get involved in discussions of consequential topics on Facebook, not because I don’t think such discussions are valuable, but because of how I react to them.  I also talk about audio versus writing a bit more, and grammar, and various other random thoughts.

 

Audio Blog #1: Thoughts Meander

In this, my first impromptu audio posting, I muse on random thoughts including (but not limited to) rationality, politics, the pros and cons of audio versus written posting, the irritations of social media, and probably other topics I’ve forgotten.

 

“And I am of the universe, and you know what it’s worth”

I wanted to write today, but I had no specific subject in mind, so I figured I’d just start typing and see what came out.  Of course, I write nearly every day, no matter what.  Every work morning, I get up a few hours earlier than I need to, and I use the extra time to write…always at least a page, though usually more.  Most days, I write fiction, but though fiction cannot help but be an expression of its author’s character, it’s not quite the same as more directly sharing one’s thoughts.

One of the main uses to which I put this blog, “Iterations of Zero”, is precisely that:  to share my thoughts on various issues—scientific, psychological, personal, social, whatever.  Often, these thoughts are triggered by current events, and perhaps even more specifically, by people’s reactions to those events on social media, such as Facebook.

Facebook has been getting more and more depressing to me over time, though.  I mean, when I first got on it, it was mainly a way to reconnect with people I’d known back when I was alive, and it’s still good for that.  It has been good for that, anyway.  Unfortunately, it seems to distill the world’s stupidity in ways that are so overwhelmingly depressing that it’s all but impossible to bear.  Maybe it doesn’t cause this phenomenon, maybe it just brings it to the fore, allowing people to say in the hearing of the billion or so Facebook users what they would only ordinarily have said when drunk at a bar.

Modern technology makes it all too easy to create a Facebook “meme” and/or web-based “article” about almost any subject one might wish to undertake, including photos—which can easily be manipulated and adjusted to suit the needs of any would-be commenter—without having to go to the trouble of gathering evidence or making cogent arguments, and to share links and memes that other people—people who had seemed reasonably intelligent—will “like” and “share” in turn.

The quality of popular entertainment on television and in other media has always been hit or miss, but with the rise of for-profit news stations and reality TV, and then of social media, the actual level of intellectual discourse seems to have sought out, and located, the lowest common denominator.  Maybe it’s always been this way, and I just didn’t notice it until I’d lived long enough.  Maybe it really is getting worse.

So, I’ve been getting on Facebook less and less often.  I probably will never abandon it completely, since it’s the main venue through which I communicate with my daughter, and I don’t want to lose that.  But even such communication has its poignancy, its own bittersweet flavor.  I only connect with my daughter through Facebook (and my son, not at all); I only connect or pseudo-connect with anyone through social media, now.  But in all honesty, except for my daughter, there is no deep connection.  My social awkwardness is such that even interacting on Facebook, via direct messages or comments, makes me uncomfortable.  I don’t know why.  I don’t know why I care, and I don’t know why that caring makes it so much harder for me to do.  I just know that I feel utterly disconnected from the world on anything but the most superficial level.  I’ve no common ground with anyone at work.  I’ve no connection with any of my old friends; our lives are utterly separate and disparate.  There’s no one to whom I feel I can actually talk, though I’ve become quite good, as a matter of habit, at pretending to be in a good mood when speaking to family and the few others with whom I interact.

I’m at a loss.  I mean, I am writing my fiction and all.  I finished the first draft of Unanimity, a really long novel, at the end of January.  I wrote the first draft of a short story right after, and I’m now working on what was a random, walk-in short story that will likely become a novella.  But I doubt the world would be measurably poorer if neither these, nor any of my other works, were ever read by anyone again for all eternity.

I’m not even sure if I should post what I’ve written here.  It is, fundamentally, just an expression of depression and loneliness, and I think I’ve done enough of that, both here and on Facebook, without any sign of useful results.  Maybe I’m just too cryptic.  I’ve never been very good at traditional “cries for help”.  The one time I called a “suicide prevention” hotline, I got picked up by Palm Beach County Sheriff’s deputies, who handcuffed me—injuring a nerve in my wrist—and brought me to a shit-hole of a mental health emergency place, from which I was released just a day or so later.  And while I was in jail I got put in a “suicide watch” cell with no mattress, no blankets, just a metal cot-frame (with sharp corners, ironically enough) and a thin, flimsy paper gown that fell apart within an hour or so.  These aren’t experiences I long to repeat.

Anyway, everyone to whom I might reach out is busy with their own lives; they have enough problems.  I have neither right nor merit to infringe upon their limited supplies of time and energy.  Maybe writing this blog is the best answer available to me, frail and limited though its use may be.

I considered titling this post with a line from a Beatles song: “And now my life has changed in oh so many ways.”  But the next line of that song is “My independence seems to vanish in the haze,” whereas mine is, if anything, more complete than ever before, and I’m leery of trying to remedy that.  I used to be able really to talk with my ex-wife (before she was “ex”) about nearly anything, but that didn’t turn out so well in the end.  I think that I’ve posted on Facebook and Twitter my fundamental disagreement with the poetic claim that it’s better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.  I know how I felt when I had never loved at all, and I know how it feels to have loved and lost.  I prefer the former.

That’s not saying very much, though.  I’d rather receive a hundred lashes than two hundred, but I’d prefer not to have either, thank you very much.  The people I’ve most loved in my life have uniformly found me unpleasant to be around (probably the people I don’t love would concur) and that’s a pain I could stand to avoid.  I frankly don’t even like to be around myself…quite the contrary.

I do wish I didn’t feel so depressed so much of the time (I also wish for world peace, and to eat all the junk food I want without getting fat, while I’m at it).  I’ve been treated medically and psychologically for depression in the past, but never with very satisfying results.  I even reached out to a former therapist of mine not long ago for a recommendation of someone to see near me.  The recommendation was given, but I never contacted the person recommended.  The prospect of trying to open up to someone new is too depressing in and of itself.

Also, I have very limited spare time, and I want to use what I have on writing, mainly my fiction.  My fiction is better than my non-fiction, though even it tends to be pretty dark.  Reading my work isn’t something that can readily be predicted to uplift anyone; I apologize for that.  I am who I am, and I write what I must, and I cannot be anyone else or write anything else.

Maybe I’m just tired.  I’ve been trudging along for ages through barren terrain, and I’ve been doing it by myself for nearly the last third of the journey.  I have no Fellowship, no band of companion gunslingers to accompany me on my trek to the Dark Tower.  Maybe no one ever does.  In a certain sense, we are all alone in our thoughts and minds.  But in another sense, humans really do have a sense of empathy and connection, we have mirror neurons and “theory of mind”, among other things, which make our relations with our fellow tribespeople visceral and profound, as real and biologically salient as the food we eat, the water we drink, and the air we breathe.  Some of us, though, appear—by nature, by choice, by circumstance, whatever—to belong to tribes of one.  I don’t know how many such uni-tribes there are, but if one cannot even find people with whom one feels kinship even on the over-a-billion-people venue of Facebook, it’s hard to see where one is going to find them.

Maybe we need to wait for AI’s or extraterrestrials to arrive.  Or perhaps that’s too grandiose and self-congratulatory, as are my own frequent thoughts—bolstered by some science—that people with depression are fundamentally poor at being able to fool themselves about the nature of reality in order to make themselves feel better.  This is “humbloid” speech, really; we say we are poor at fooling ourselves as though we are being self-critical, when actually it’s a kind of bragging.

Then again, I would dearly like to be able to maintain a positive attitude—not at the expense of fooling myself about reality, but simply by not letting it bother me; perhaps by embracing despair and depression and coming out the other side.  I don’t know if that’s possible.  If it is possible, I don’t know if I have the skill or endurance to achieve it.  It’s hard to be optimistic.

Honestly, what I sometimes wish most of all is that I were not saddled by nature with the irritating survival drive that gets in the way of any possible rest, or at least of oblivion.  But that stupid, stubborn, mindless urge is fundamental, as nature has required it to be, for good, sound biological reasons.  This machine was built to survive.

What a stupid idea.

I think after all I’ll title this blog entry with a line from a different Beatles song, one that much more clearly expresses my sensibilities than “Help” does.  John wrote this one a few years later in his career.  He never did live to be as old as I am now.  I, on the other hand, am ancient—subjectively at least—and that agedness has effects on me similar to what it had on Vermithrax Pejorative in Dragonslayer.

Whataya gonna do?

I’ll try not to feed my trolls

I’m going to try to keep it short, today, because I want to get back to writing and editing my fiction, especially Solitaire.  Apologies if this disappoints anyone.

It’s frustrating how little time I can find in any given day to get done what I want to get done.  I doubt that I’m the only one with this lament.  And yet, when the weekend comes, I find it hard to force myself to get up and write—or even to get up and edit—first thing in the morning, as is my goal.  This was why I decided to write my Iterations of Zero posts on Tuesdays:  I found that my intention to write them on Sundays rarely panned out, even when I had something important in mind that I wanted to get out there.

Instead of lancing those intellectual boils I often ended up just letting them fester, and sometimes I lost the urge to address them at all.  What happened to the underlying infection in such cases?  Perhaps it went the way of all overextended metaphors and faded appropriately into nothingness.  Or perhaps it will recrudesce in other places and other times.  Maybe that’s a good test of how important such subjects really are to me.

When I used to go out shopping with my kids, and they saw some random item they wanted, I told them say that we would wait a week.  If they still wanted the thing—without having to be reminded of it by going past it again—then I would get it for them.  If not, then we would consider their desire a momentary impulse, and not worth the money.

This worked out pretty well.  They didn’t feel absolutely stonewalled; I wasn’t saying that they couldn’t have this thing that they thought they wanted.  There was no angst such as might be present if I’d just said, “You aren’t getting that.  Full stop.”  But, as will surely come as no surprise, most of the time they forgot about their impulse completely.  On those rare occasions when they didn’t forget, I was true to my word (if memory serves).

Maybe that’s a good rule to follow with respect to writing.  If I feel a burning urge to comment on some issue—some momentary, outrageous flash in the social media pan, for instance—I should step back and consider well, for a while, what I might want to say.  If the topic fades out of my mind after a relatively short time, then it’s probably not that important.

It might even be nice if everyone on social media—and perhaps in all other media—followed this precept.

It boils down to the principle of not feeding the trolls.  If some meme or statement on social media arouses your ire and makes you want to comment—especially if your comment doesn’t really add anything new to the conversation—maybe you should count to ten…ten hours, if possible, but at least make it ten minutes.  If what you want to say is really important, then you’ll surely still feel the impulse to say it after a mere ten minutes has passed.

This is not to say that, if someone asks some factual question, like “what the heck is a black hole, anyway?” and you think you know the answer well enough to satisfy them, that you should wait to reply.  But if you see some post riddled with emotionally provocative imagery and/or information (especially without any references to confirm the truthfulness of statements made), it might be wise to hold off responding, especially if your response would be something like, “This is why I hate those kind of people,” or “This is why our society is doomed to destruction,” or similar ventings that add nothing to the discourse, but which do encourage people to post more such memes, and make your life a little angrier.

Trolls only have power over you if you give it to them.  Real issues, real concerns, real dangers, will not go away if you briefly ignore them.  This is one of the great tests of whether something is “real” of not.  If you can kick a rock even when you aren’t looking at it, then that rock is really there.

For the time being at least, I’m going to try to follow my own advice.  I’ve got three memo sections in my cell phone full of potential topics for discussion, and I’ve already written about some of them.  Many are real, legitimate concerns to which I will almost certainly return.  But I don’t need to go read through those notes periodically to try to inflame myself anew on their subject matter.  As the Tao te Ching says of the Master, “Things arise, and she lets them come; things disappear, and she lets them go.”  I’m a long way from being a Master, and I doubt that I have world and time enough to achieve that state, but it’s a target worth keeping in sight.

In the meantime, I’ll try not to feed my internal trolls, and I’ll try not to buy too many impulse items, literally or metaphorically (this is hard for me with books, but I’m getting a little better).  I’ll trust that those matters that are truly important will stick with me and will inevitably come out either in my nonfiction or someplace hidden in my fiction.

A subject doesn’t have to be steeped in outrage to be interesting, after all.  I’ll try to save my own outrage for situations in which I can’t seem to escape it.  Maybe that’ll make me a happier, more light-hearted person.  At least it will make me less subject to the whims of trolls, both external and internal.  And that has to be a good thing.