How far that little candle throws its blogs! So shines a good deed in a naughty world.

Hello there, good morning, and welcome to yet another Thursday.  It’s the first Thursday of April, and yesterday was “April Fool’s Day,*” but I doubt that many people felt like playing pranks on each other…I know that the ones with whom I interacted showed no signs of such “foolishness”.  To be honest, I’ve personally never seen the fun in pulling pranks on other people, April Fool’s Day or otherwise.

It would have been nice—in a horrible way—to have learned that the global coronavirus pandemic thing had all been a big prank, to be revealed on April 1st, but it’s hard to imagine anyone doing something in such poor taste…even those people involved in government, who are notorious for their tastelessness.

We’ve finally gotten things set up so that, at least part of the time, I’m going to be working from home for the coming days to weeks (hopefully not months!), but since I do records and payroll for my workplace, I’m going to be needing to go in at least part of the week.  That’s not so bad.  If I’m basically the only on in the office, it’s hard to see from whom I could catch the virus, and to whom I could give it.  Also, my training, combined with my already socially withdrawn character, make me somewhat less vulnerable to contagion than many others.

Speaking of the latter, I apologize for the gloomy character of last week’s blog post.  I suppose it can be forgiven—at least I hope so—given the state of things, but still, it’s nicer to try to keep at least a little lighthearted, even in dark times.  And, let’s face it, taking the universe as a whole, at least since the universe was more than three hundred thousand years old, it’s always been “dark times”.

Get it?  If not, don’t feel bad.  It’s not really funny, and not very clever.

Anyway, I did a little “audio blog” yesterday that I’ll be posting on Iterations of Zero, soon, about patriotism, the pledge, the national anthem, the flag, and an aside on seeing a virus as an alien invasion.  It’s more fun than it may sound, and it’s less than ten minutes long—I even do a tiny bit of singing—so when I post it, I invite you to take a listen.

Of course, despite everything, Unanimity continues to draw closer to release—a story about a contagion of an entirely different, and more terrifying, kind than any we’ve seen before.  I feel bad that it’s not already available, because I think it would be quite a nice book to read while stuck inside over the course of a social distancing protocol.  It’s long, at the very least.  Well, what can you do?

If you wish, you can certainly feel free to get copies of Mark Red, Son of Man, or especially The Chasm and the Collision, to help you pass your time.  They, and all my many short stories, are available for Kindle, so you don’t have to leave the house to get and read them!  I’ve even got audio of me reading several short stories and part of CatC on my YouTube channel, and you don’t even need to pay for that (except with advertising or with your YouTube premium subscription…none of that money goes to me, though).  Obviously, of course, there are a squillion other books out there to enjoy when stuck at home.  Number one on my list of recommendations would almost certainly be The Lord of the Rings, for those of you who haven’t already read it, or haven’t reread it recently.  I’m probably going to be picking it up again, myself.  But really, the number of possible books is functionally unlimited**.  Indulge yourselves in what you enjoy when it comes to books, including nonfiction.  Why not?  Written language is the lifeblood of civilization.  Let’s keep it flowing in abundance!

With that, I’ll bid you farewell for the moment.  Do take sensible precautions, look after your elderly and infirm friends and relatives, and look out for each other.  The great strength of humanity is our ability to work together in complex and coordinated ways to do more and better than any collection of people could do each on their own (a process which relies powerfully on symbolic language).  And one of the great motivators of that strength is our ability to care about our fellow humans.  Remember, every other person out there is so much more like you than they are like any other kind of creature in the universe (and vice versa) as to be nearly indistinguishable for any other type of creature.  So be sympathetic and be caring and be careful.  The world is full of sharp corners.

TTFN


*April Fools’ Day?

**Further recommendations are available upon request

For fear lest day should look their shames upon, they willfully exile themselves from light, and must for aye consort with black blog’d night.

“Jacob,” he said, imploringly.  “Old Jacob Marley, tell me more.  Speak comfort to me, Jacob!”
“I have none to give,” the Ghost replied.  “It comes from other regions, Ebenezer Scrooge, and is conveyed by other ministers, to other kinds of men.”

Hello there and good morning, so to speak.  It’s another Thursday, and therefore, it’s time for another of my blog posts.  QED.

Much seems to be going on in the world outside, though I suspect it’s not that there’s more going on than usual, just that there’s a more unified nature to what’s most being talked about in the news and in rumor and in office chitchat (for those whose offices are still open) and online.  But honestly, there’s not much real information being shared, as far as I can see.  Most of what I’m reading and seeing has more to do with pigeons in skinner cages developing stereotyped behaviors because they think those behaviors lead to food being dispensed than with real, thinking people taking real, considered action.

Not that I should hold this against people.  Humans are primates, and we react to stress the way primates do, only more so.  There are exceptions, of course; a modest percentage of people really do make a difference.  And certainly, a few of the actions many people take are beneficial.  I’ve spoken of them before, and they haven’t really changed.  But much of what people are doing beyond basic, consistent recommendations is as effective as hanging horseshoes and flicking the sign of the evil eye.  And as with such things, if people come out well on the other end of events, they’ll consciously or tacitly attribute their success to having performed their arcane actions instead of mainly to luck coupled with the few reasonable things they do and to the general work of the medical community and the various support people and services who truly do make a difference.

The toilet paper manufacturers, at least, are surely doing very well out of all this, as are the makers of various “wipes” and related items.  It would be nice—as I think I’ve noted before—if people took from this situation an increased tendency to wash their hands more frequently and more thoroughly, to cough and sneeze into appropriate places, and so on.  And, of course, it would be nice if people took forethought into what they made their governments do regarding ongoing healthcare, scientific research, social safety nets in place for disasters, and so on.  But I strongly suspect that this will not happen.  Nature has not shaped us to be good at rational prioritization.  We are much better at following our whims and then performing amazing feats of sophistry to justify our actions after the fact.  We’re very good at telling those stories.

It’s may seem unfair of me to complain about storytelling, but at least I openly admit that my stories are fiction.

One ironic thing about this all is, of course, that my workplace is still functioning, since it is a small office of only a few people that doesn’t interact physically with the general public.  I do our records and payroll, so I’d be working in any case.  Conveniently, at my office, we have an actual doctor (me) to give coworkers recommendations and advice, which they promptly—sometimes instantaneously—ignore to instead do the equivalent of rubbing their crystals.  Meanwhile, I’m not allowed to do the work for which I trained, and at which I was really quite good, in providing actual healthcare to some of the many people who need it.

It’s a bit of an irony, and one I bemoan, that people with loved ones with whom they share their daily lives, and to whom they are important on a daily basis, and with whom they interact, and on whom they mutually depend, are at significantly increased risk of infection, and thus of a small but nonzero chance of acute mortality.  Meanwhile, extraterrestrial weirdos such as I, who could be plucked from the surface of the world any time, with nary a momentary ripple to show that I’d ever existed, are relatively protected.  I suppose I could feel irritated that people are horning in on my act with all their talk of social isolation, but it’s not an act and I don’t recommend it except when it’s a necessity.

This is, oddly, a case where I feel something akin to jealousy of the people who suffer and die from this virus.  It’s not the first such situation.  And it is jealousy, rather than simple envy, because I really would like to deprive others of their illnesses, if that’s the proper word, and would happily take them all upon myself to do so.  It would be an excellent exchange, to great mutual, net benefit—I can only suffer and die once, after all, not millions of times over. And it would be so nice to be so useful, and at the same time get what I want. Regrettably, this kind of sympathetic magic does not work in the real world.  Physics is an implacable, intransigent bastard.

It would be nice to be more generally inspired by people’s reactions to global events, to feel moved by heroic individuals who rise to the occasion to help change things for the better.  I’m certain that those people are out there.  But they are a woefully small minority, and sometimes I think they’re doing a disservice by helping everyone else to survive when they really have no good excuse for doing so, beyond the inherent biological drive that nearly all living creatures have to stay alive.  Very few humans have ever thought seriously and critically about whether life is truly worth living.

There are precious few inspiring humans in the world, and humans are more inspiring than any other creatures on this planet.  The Earth’s history really is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

Speaking of tales told by idiots, Unanimity continues to go well.  I’m nicely into the penultimate editing run-through, and it continues to be fun to read, for me at least.  If civilization survives—and/or if I do—then the book should be coming out sometime this year.  I’m not sure if those contingencies are ones to which to look forward or to dread for all of you.  I have a personal bias, and I’m betting that you can guess what it is, if you’ve been paying attention.  But it’s not for me to decide such things for you.

I more or less completed the final mix of my song Schrodinger’s Head by last weekend, and it does sound better and clearer than the original.  I just haven’t felt the urge to share it yet.  I suppose I probably will at some point.  I’ve been having more and more difficulty finding enjoyment in things that used to engage me, even my old fail safes.  I’m losing my patience even for nonfiction, science and math reading, let alone for fiction, and even audiobooks are hard to bear.  The blogs I used to enjoy are all so tediously overwhelmed with politics and pandemics in recent months and years, that I can’t bring myself to sit through a single whole episode.  Even music is mostly just an irritant.  I envy those who are able simply to sleep in their spare time.  Perchance, to dream.

I encourage all of you to keep being careful, if your value your lives and health and those of the people around you, but you don’t need to panic or otherwise go nuts.  Just follow the simple rules of handwashing, appropriate cleanliness, appropriate respiratory hygiene, and “social distancing”.  If you want help with the latter, I’m more or less an involuntary expert, so I can give you some thoughts on it.

It helps to cultivate a conviction that you are not only inherently valueless on any serious scale of being, but that you are actually a burden and a chore to the people around you, a detriment and an unfair load on the shoulders of anyone kind but foolish and deluded enough to care what happens to you.  If you’re able to do this, then trying to interact with others will soon become actually painful—even if you wish to do it—since it will make you feel guilty, anxious, and ashamed.  Because these feelings will be aroused by the presence of and each interaction with others, you will come more and more to dread such interactions, and even to hate them, however much you wish it were otherwise.  If you can arrange for those whom you love to despise you, or at least to find you unpleasant and uncomfortable and not to want you around, that can be very useful.

You can probably see how easy that is.  Familiarity breeds contempt, for we humans are prone to recall and dwell on the noxious far more readily than the soothing…for good, sound, biological reasons which all but guarantee that each life will have more subjective suffering than joy.  Creatures that are content and joyous and readily satisfied do not tend to survive to leave nearly as many offspring as those driven by the internal prods of anxiety, pain, longing, and insecurity.  Obviously, too much of these things can be debilitating, and can impair biological success.  Biology has to leave just enough of a carrot out front to make an organism decide that it’s worth moving forward at all, but short-term thinking combined tiny and transitory rewards accomplish that nicely.  We overestimate the size of those often-illusory gains, while responding only too well to the many blows of the stick, and ensuring that the area under the curve of suffering is maximized across all life.

It’s rather akin to the dynamics of a viral contagion.  A virus that kills too high a proportion of its hosts kills itself off before it can spread very far.  A virus that spreads easily, producing symptoms that encourage its spread, like coughing and sneezing, and which only kills a modest few of its hosts, can maximize itself.  Of course, host immunity in those that survive may suppress it before long, especially if those hosts can take active measures.  But a good virus—like the flu, for instance—mutates often enough and is varied enough that developing lasting resistance to it is extremely difficult.  It’s not a sprint, after all, it’s a marathon.

Wait, am I talking about viral epidemiology or about the nature of suffering in general?  I suppose it’s a bit of both.  They certainly overlap each other.

TTFN

The aged man that coffers up his gold is blogged with cramps and gouts and painful fits

Hello, all.  Good morning and welcome to Thursday again.  It’s time for another of my weekly blog posts.

Of course, the major news in the human world—such as it is—is the ongoing international tour de force of the COVID-19 virus.  I’ve expressed (elsewhere) my frustration with the irrationality with which people are responding to this pandemic*, including the hoarding of toilet paper, which makes little to no sense, and believing sub-moronic videos that say, for instance, that you can cure the virus or prevent its spread by aiming a hot blow-dryer into your nose and mouth.  These are such things as make me wish—only semi-facetiously—that people needed a license to reproduce.  Don’t even get me started on the various absurd prophecies and conspiracy theories many embrace and share about this and other global events.  It’s bizarre that people can simultaneously think so highly and so poorly of human nature, in such unjustifiable ways.

Behaviors such as these tend to exacerbate my baseline melancholy, and have in the past led me to, among other things, write a song about depression.  The song, in this case, was Breaking Me Down, of which I shared the “final release” earlier this week on Iterations of Zero and on YouTube.  When I originally wrote it, I wasn’t thinking explicitly about depression, but I was going through a pretty bad exacerbation, so when I wrote a poem/song about my thoughts and feelings, that was what came out.

I have recorded and released earlier versions of the song, but they suffered partly from my inexperience with mixing and production, and from initially being too low (the final product is up two full steps from how I initially wrote it), and too slow.  The original vocals were not so great, either, both in recording/mixing quality and in the singing.  However, as with most things, practice makes better, though it’s unlikely that it ever makes “perfect”**.  So, now, the song is in a higher key and at a quicker tempo, such that I playfully refer to it as a song about depression that you can dance to if you feel like it.  I think that’s a pretty cool accomplishment, though you may or may not agree that I’ve succeeded.

After fixing this song up, I realized that if I remaster my first, sort of jokey song, Schrodinger’s Head, I’ll have enough for about half an album(!).  That’s five original songs, running a total of roughly twenty-five minutes.  Of course, being the lunatic that I am, that thought immediately led me to go back and start tweaking Schrodinger’s Head, including re-recording vocals and doing some harmony.  That’s not so hard—the good thing about singing is, one always has one’s instrument.  And the actual remixing/remastering process, though time-consuming, is weirdly entertaining and satisfying.

The real issue is that once this is done, I will no doubt feel the urge, or the drive, or the compulsion, to make more songs for the other side of an album***.  I do have here and there the beginnings of other songs, and even have a longer portion of something I mean to write about a manga character, but I just know that this is going to consume a lot of time.  Of course, if I were in one of those industries that’s been forced to take a hiatus in response to COVID-19, writing and recording songs might be a good use of my extra hours.  Unfortunately—well, fortunately, really…let’s be fair and positive, if that’s possible for me—my job is going strong, and I continue to be in the office five to six days a week.  Thus, this little musical hobby tends to eat into my real work, which is writing.

That being said, though, Unanimity is coming along well.  I’m nearly done with the latest run-through, and it’s getting closer and closer to publishable form.  It certainly is a long story, but at least I don’t find it boring.  Whether anyone else will share my assessment only time can tell, but at least liking it myself is a good starting point.

That’s pretty nearly it for this week.  I hope you all do your best to stay well…but don’t do crazy and stupid things, okay? For my part, I’ve always frequently washed my hands and coughed and sneezed into the hollow of my elbow, but then, I am an MD.  As for social distancing, well, that’s something I haven’t ever had to think about much.  It seems to be a task at which I’m particularly gifted, and I’ve only gotten better, if that’s the correct term, over the years.  Remember what I said about practice?

Ironically enough, I—someone very far from being attached to existence—am relatively protected compared to all the many people who want so desperately to cling to their lives.  I wouldn’t call it cosmic irony—that would probably have to involve quasars, galaxies, black holes, dark energy, and the like—but it is certainly irony at a high level.

TTFN


*I know the root words are different, but I can’t help imagining that the word “pandemic” should somehow mean “bread for the people,” or maybe “bread made out of people,” such as Jack and the Beanstalk’s giant might enjoy.

**In most cases, the term “perfect” isn’t defined, and is probably undefinable.  Unless one has a clearly delineated set of criteria by which to judge something, declaring perfection is mere wordplay.  I’m a fan of wordplay, of course, but in this case, people seem to think they mean something, formally, when they use the term.  It leads to much confusion.  It also leads many people to drive themselves to distraction, often to despair, and occasionally to destruction in the dreadful pursuit of “perfection”, a hallucinatory goal that never comes nearer than the horizon.  By all means, strive always to improve yourself.  But sincerely trying to achieve perfection can lead to a life of frustration and self-loathing.

***Don’t ask me what I mean to do with such a collection once I make it, assuming that I do.  It’s not as though I have any experience in making or releasing albums.  I would, however, almost certainly call it “Iterations of Zero”.  Consistency is good.

My long sickness of health and living now begins to mend, and nothing blogs me all things.

Hello, good morning, and welcome to another Thursday edition of my blog post.  Enter freely and of your own will.

I considered donning my metaphorical doctor’s hat* today and discussing the coronavirus that’s currently causing mass panic and near-panic, but I think there’s an abundance of such discussions out there now by people who get paid to talk about it—and, alas, by people who have no business talking about it.  I’ll just say this much:  while care and concern are warranted, and significant resources and planning are appropriate and necessary to address this problem, panic is not useful.  It rarely is.  Pay attention to qualified, sober sources, follow sensible recommendations about handwashing (which ought to be your habit, anyway), practice so-called social distancing**, minimize and avoid public gatherings, work from home if you can, and for gosh sakes, if you cough or sneeze, do it into your elbow, not your hand.  If you do it into your hand by mistake, wash your hands right away, please.  Ewwwww.

And, of course, if this disease frightens you—which is not entirely unreasonable—then use that fact to motivate you to take other, far more common and similarly dangerous diseases such as influenza seriously in the future.  Familiarity should not breed apathy.

Likewise, pay attention to non-infectious but dangerous behaviors: use your turn signals (every time!), get regular exercise, don’t smoke, all that stuff.  And it should go without saying that if you text and drive (or otherwise allow your cellphones to make you into a needless hazard for the innumerable innocents with whom you share the road), then you should be given painful electric shocks to your tongue and genitals, lasting one second for the first offense, two for the second offense, four for the third offense, eight for the fourth offense, sixteen for the fifth, and so on.

I myself have been rather sick over the last weekend and well into this week so far.  It’s nothing as dramatic as COVID, just some “stomach” trouble, minor fevers and chills (for a short time), and then just generally feeling miserable and blah since late last week.  Nevertheless, work continues on Unanimity, though I’m nearing the end of the book again, and I’m about to reread a particularly sad and tragic episode in it.  Of course, it’s a “pseudo-sci-fi” horror novel, so such sad and tragic episodes abound, but this one feels particularly harsh to me…and I’m the one who wrote it, so there’s no one else to blame.

I’ve also been doing some musical tinkering here and there, despite being queasy and slightly febrile.  I figured out some of the reasons I wasn’t satisfied with my song Breaking Me Down—beyond my comparatively poor production skills when I made it—and I’ve been working on correcting those problems and producing a better version.  I posted a partially improved one here and on Iterations of Zero recently, but those are far from the finished product, though I didn’t know it at the time.  Once I get the song into a form that I like, I’ll probably remove earlier versions at least from my YouTube channel, though I’ll likely leave them here and on IoZ for posterity and archaeology.

That’s an interesting thought, isn’t it? Archaeologists of the future may spend much of their careers scraping and sifting through the electronic remnants at the bottom of the crumbling ruins of our current, archaic version of cyberspace, where information may indeed remain forever, but in which it will continue to be almost hopelessly mired in what is surely one of the most lopsided signal-to-noise imbalances that life has ever seen***.  Presumably their search engines will be better even than ours, but just imagine future civilizations trying to piece together an accurate picture of early twenty-first century life by going through Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, or Reddit.  God help them if they stumble upon “reality TV”!

Hopefully, they’ll know enough just to come to WordPress.

With that, I think I’ll call it done for this week.  I hope you’re all as well as you can be, and continue to be as well as you can be, in this best of all currently available worlds.

TTFN


*The hat is metaphorical.  The doctor part is literal.

**I do that naturally, whether I wish it or not.  How lucky for me.

***If you need to ask which side predominates that ratio, I’m not sure what to say other than to ask if this is your first time ever getting online.

O, let my blogs be then the eloquence and dumb presages of my speaking breast.

Hello, good morning, and welcome to another of my weekly blog posts.  As usual when these appear, it’s Thursday.  Also, we’ve started a new month: March (in case you weren’t aware).

It’s very exciting, I know.

I’ve been mildly active/busy since last week’s rather grumpy blog post.  Earlier this week, while riding in to work, I began reciting The Second Coming, by Yeats, out loud to myself, I don’t know why.  It’s a cool poem, and it’s short, and it contains some of the most quotable lines ever written.  Then, after that, because I had plenty of commute left, I decided to see if I could recall the entirety of The Raven, by Edgar Allan Poe.  That’s not a short poem, of course, but it’s at least as quotable as TSC.  I remembered all but one verse of it (and I at least remembered that I didn’t fully remember that one, if you take my meaning).

Anyway, I decided it would be fun to record a recitation of the poems, so I did.  Then I used the same sound program (by which I mean, “program that allows one to manipulate sound”, not “program that is solid, well-made, and stable”, though it is the latter) that I use for audio blogs and for mixing songs, to add a little background noise.  I say “noise” because, though the background for Second Coming is certainly an actual piece of music, it’s heavily manipulated and distorted, and the background for The Raven is just a series of weird, otherworldly* sounds of a purely electronic nature.

I released the recordings on Iterations of Zero, and got such a quick, good response that I decided to do a few more of my favorites yesterday morning.  I did the poem Alone, also by Poe—which I’ve always felt could have been written just for me—in two takes, because I felt the first time through didn’t quite capture what I wanted to express.  Then I thought, “Hey, since this poem is about feeling different from everyone else—feeling alien, if you will—what if I made it sound like something alien?”  So, I laid down both the audio tracks in one file, adjusted the many inconsistent spacings between words and sounds so that they lined up (as well as I could), then doubled each track and moved the duplicates either a little forward or a little backward.  Basically, it’s four tracks, not quite in sync, made from two recordings that had slight differences in inflection and emphasis.

For a bit of background noise, I quickly sang “Ahhh,” into my cell phone in three different pitches (Separately.  I’m an okay singer, but I can’t sing three notes at once!) in a slightly discordant chord, then I lined them all up, stretched the combo out, reduced the pitch, doubled it and reversed the double and combined them again, to make a creepy-creepy sound.

Then, I decided not to use that.  Instead I took a well-known piece of music, slowed it, stretched it, reversed it, and changed the pitch, to make what I hope is an equally creepy background track.  I’m not sure I made the right decision.

I’ve read a couple of other poems, including Ozymandius, by Shelley, which I’ve already released.  I did that one over a background of desert wind noise, because it just seemed so appropriate, if rather obvious.  There are still two more Edgar Allan Poe recordings that I’ve yet to release, and I’m sure I can use my weird impromptu sound effect for one or the other of them.

So, that was a lot of fun!

Of course, unfortunately, this all ate into a bit of the time I reserve for editing, so Unanimity experienced a temporary slowdown this week, but it’s very temporary indeed.  After all, there are only a few poems that I enjoy enough, and have enjoyed enough for most of my life, to want to make a recorded recitation of them.  And I don’t have any songs anything close to ready to begin composing and arranging and recording and performing, etc.**, so the space before me is free and clear for continued editingThis is good, because I really want to get through that book and get it out, so that I can get to work on other writing projects.  Had I but world and time***, I might be able to do all of these things, but unless I become independently wealthy—or my books, etc. sell well enough for me to do this sort of thing full time—I’m afraid I’m going to have to work it into the early morning hours, as I’ve done for some time.

That’s not such a bad arrangement for me.  I’m a morning person by nature, in that I tend to wake up early and be prepared to do a lot of work when I do, though I am not sociable until well after ten o’clock.  Ask anyone who’s tried to engage me in pleasant morning conversations****.  Ask my ex-wife!  I don’t do social stuff very well at the best of times, and morning is far from the best of times for such things.  That’s my opinion, anyway.

Nevertheless, I do enjoy writing to and hearing from any or all of you.  I’d be delighted to know what you think of my renditions of the above-mentioned poems.  I’d be even more delighted if some of you who have never read these particular poems just go and have a listen.  They’re worth your time, I’m sure of that.

TTFN


*I hope

**Unless you count that Joker song I mentioned a few weeks ago.  But that’s not urgent.

***No, I don’t think I’ll be doing a recording of To His Coy Mistress, though it is very good…the medieval equivalent of Billy Joel’s Only the Good Die Young.

****Of course, part of my grumpiness in dealing with such morning matters is the usual inanity of the interactions.  People ask, “How are you?” or some variant thereof, but they don’t want an honest answer.  Frankly, I’d rather they just commented about the weather, or said “Good morning, nice to see you,” or something along those lines.  I’ve occasionally taken to replying to “How are you?” by saying, “I am that I am,” and wondering if anyone will recognize the quote.  So far, no luck.