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?

What a wonderful world?

The following is a parody of the song “What a Wonderful World,” most famously performed by Louis Armstrong, written by George Weiss and Robert Thiele

 

I see fields of brown and skies of grey

The cold, bitter night and the dark, rainy day

 

And I think to myself, “What a wonderful world?”

 

I see trash on the ground and trash in the sea,

Trash that’s been thrown there by you and me.

 

And I think to myself, “What a wonderful world?”

 

The odors of the planet are so putrid all around,

There’s poison in the air and there’s poison in the ground.

I see strangers who shrug.  They say, “What can you do?”

They’re really saying, “I hate you.”

 

I feel pain in my back, in my legs, arms, and head.

I find myself thinking, “I can’t wait to be dead.”

 

And I think to myself, “What a wonderful world?”

And I stink to myself.

What a wonderful world.

Schrödinger’s Head

Schrödinger’s Head”

To be performed by: What’s in the Box?

Lyrics by Robert Elessar

Music to be written by Robert Elessar

Is the cat alive or dead?
Is the stop light green or red?
Is he awake or still in bed?
Is he hungry or well-fed?

I don’t know
What’s going on
In Schrödinger's head.

Is he in charge or is he led?
Is he below or overhead?
Did you take in a word he said?
You can go from A to Zed

And you won’t know
What’s going on
In Schrödinger's head.

Everything’s divided,
And everything is one.
Your view is so one-sided
But well-done is half begun.

Are you undecided
on what's already done?
The way ahead is lighted
by the blocking of the sun.

Did he charge or has he fled?
Excited now or filled with dread?
Is he behind or far ahead?
We want to know, and yet, instead

We don’t know
You don’t know
I don’t know
What’s going on
In Schrödinger's head.

My response to a pseudo-patriotic Facebook post. Oh, and Happy New Year, by the way

[The following is a response to a meme shared by a friend. I’m posting it here because he’s a nice guy, and he means well, and I don’t see the need to get in a dust-up with him.]


Capture4

Is it really more heroic to risk one’s future and expose oneself to possible crippling physical and mental injuries (not to mention death) by going overseas and killing strangers (apparently endangering innocent and trusting dogs – who clearly have no idea what they’re doing or why, but just do what you tell them to do because dogs will do that – in the process), at the behest of corrupt politicians who won’t even take care of you after you’ve done what they brainwashed you to do…

…or over many years of dedication and hard work to hone your skills and ability in a sport that pits you against other highly skilled and disciplined people, all of whom have joined the contest voluntarily, bringing joy and excitement to millions of people on a regular basis, and occasionally to use the public recognition you freely receive to call attention to areas in which our own country is committing injustice and sometimes murder against its own citizens, in hypocritical violation of the principles for which it claims to stand, even though your protest earns the vilification of millions of people who don’t want to admit to and deal with the failures of their government (for which they are ultimately responsible), and may end your career, a career for which you’ve killed NO ONE?*

I’m asking for a friend.

War – and soldiers – are a necessary evil. They are necessary,** and we can admire and be thankful for those soldiers who do fight against legitimately evil forces (this does happen from time to time, though not as often as we’d like to imagine). We should CERTAINLY demand that our elected employees make provisions to take care of those soldiers afterwards. But we can, I think, all imagine and hope for a world in which war and soldiers are no longer necessary, and even become unthinkable.

We already live in a world in which sports are “unnecessary.” We play and watch football, basketball, soccer, baseball, the Olympics, all entirely because they bring us joy.

This, to me, demonstrates that they are a greater good. We do them for their own sake. After all, which would you prefer: a world in which your children play games and sports, and learn about subjects that interest them, and grow strong in ways that don’t require harming anyone else…or a world in which they spend their time fighting to survive, evading and/or being tormented by bullies (or being bullies themselves), scavenging for food, running from predators?

This is the juxtaposition of imagery you should keep in mind when you denigrate athletes, particularly ones who take a knee in protest against injustice committed by those who are supposed to defend justice, while you praise soldiers who, when they do good in the world (and they DO, not infrequently, do good), it’s because they’re “lucky” enough to have been ordered to do so, and it’s usually at the cost of death and destruction, including collateral damage (i.e. innocent people being maimed and killed).

I don’t mean to put down soldiers. I admire and respect their willingness to put their lives in danger to try to do good in the world, and I strongly suspect that almost all of them really, honestly, intend to do good. But their good intentions, and their courage, do not guarantee that they will, in fact, do good. Good intentions are not enough. They are just barely even the starting point. And it is only through the actions of people such as those who stand – or kneel – to bring attention to injustice, that we can hope to do more than merely intend good and actually, in the long run, achieve it.


*and that, by the way, is a compound, complex sentence

**but they are an evil

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.

Screams and disconnections

I started reading the two bestsellers by Johann Hari (Chasing the Scream and Lost Connections, about the war on drugs and about the modern epidemic of depression, respectively) after hearing him on Sam Harris’s Waking Up podcast.  They’re powerful and well-written books, though reading them can be quite upsetting, as they both deal with issues that have profoundly affected my life.

As may be obvious to anyone who’s read this blog much, I’ve had a lifelong struggle with depression, which is often quite severe.  I say lifelong; it really began in my early teens, and I think in my case it may be more endogenous than reactive.  Thus, I might be a slight outlier in Hari’s thesis on the illness (but I haven’t finished the books yet, so I may be wrong in this).  Nevertheless, Hari’s point about missing connections and support is one that resonates with me. Continue reading “Screams and disconnections”