The art of our necessities is strange that can make vile blogs precious.

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Generic salutations, and welcome once again to another Thursday.  I’m not sure what to write today, having no specific agenda such as I had in the past two weeks.  I guess I’ll just start writing—indeed, I’ve already started—and I’ll see what comes out.

First, an update:  I’ve been working steadily on the editing of Unanimity, and I’m pleased still to find it engaging and fun.  I worried, when writing it, that it wasn’t going to be as good as the other books I’ve written, if only because it’s so long.  If brevity is the soul of wit (an unproven assertion), then its lower quality would seem to be implied.  However, I think it’s turned out better in some ways, or at the very least as good, as my other works so far.  It’s certainly my most “real-world” novel so far.  Though Mark Red does take place in what is nominally our own world, it quickly becomes clear that it’s a world in which vampires and other forms of “magic” exist behind the scenes.  Son of Man nominally takes place in the “real world,” and is science fiction rather than fantasy, but its setting, being in the future, is quite different from that of our modern lives.

Unanimity, on the other hand, is set in what is more or less clearly the modern world, and though the main action of the story revolves around something inexplicable that could certainly be called “supernatural,” this occurs as a singular outlier in what is otherwise a completely normal, real, human world.*  I won’t say that the setting is “typical” of most people’s ordinary lives; it takes place on the campus of a prestigious, research-oriented university, which is not where everyday life occurs for most of us—even those of us who have attended university.  But the people in the story are normal, ordinary people, with no experience of or belief in anything overtly supernatural.  There are no ray guns or vampires, no time travel let alone travel between parallel universes (as in The Chasm and the Collision).

It’s interesting to think, as I just now did, that almost none of my stories take place in “the real world.”  Of course, they tend to happen in universes that look and feel at first glance very much like ours, but there are fundamental departures, often forming the trigger points of the stories.  Even I for one welcome our new computer overlords, set in what should be our real world, contains elements of speculative science fiction.**  Weirdly and disturbingly enough, my most fundamentally realistic story is Solitaire, and it is also my darkest and most horrifying story (in my opinion, anyway).

I’m not sure what that says about my take on reality.

I took last Friday off editing Free Range Meat, another story where the supernatural intrudes upon what should be ordinary life, because I’ve been working on a new song.  Those of you who follow my other blog, Iterations of Zero, may know that I’ve been intermittently distracted by such things since I started to play guitar somewhat more seriously and had also learned that I could use readily available audio mixing and editing software to produce songs all by my lonesome, sometimes recording my versions of other people’s songs, but on two occasions so far producing original works.  I can’t make any claims as to the quality or the listenability of the songs, but I had (obsessive) fun doing them, and the same thing is happening again.

Like my second song, Breaking Me Down, this new song (called Catechism), is one for which I wrote the tune and most of the words way back when I was in college.  It’s an involuntary fact of my brain’s function that such things don’t tend to go away but continue to rattle and bounce around my head for decades.  I didn’t have to find any old papers with the words scribbled down (and the tunes were never previously recorded anywhere but in my mind), I simply had to transcribe them…though I changed a few of the lyrics of both songs, since their earlier versions included some rather embarrassing choices.  Of course, anyone listening to the songs as they are now may be justified in exclaiming, “These are the words he left in?  What the heck did he take out?”

Writing and producing these songs is a sort of catharsis, a way to get them out of my head and into the world.  Of course, that doesn’t actually work, since the brain is not some kind of hydraulic system where pressure can be released and drained.  Still, at least now the songs rattling about up there are—or will be—reflections of shapes in the external world, rather than merely virtual music played for an audience of one.  I can’t make any guarantees about the quality of the songs—music is if anything even more difficult to judge objectively than fiction is—but I kind of like them.  They also give me at least two or three pieces I know that I can play on the guitar better than anybody else can, since I’m the one who wrote them.  I am in all other respects a very amateur guitar player.

Once I finish Catechism, I think I’ll publish it here as well as on IoZ, and of course I’ll make “videos” of the songs and put them on my YouTube channel.  At the very least, I know that there will be no copyright claims against the videos ever in the future, since the songs are written, performed, and produced entirely by me, rather like my books.  It’s a freeing thought.

Wow, for someone who didn’t have much to say, I’ve said a lot today, haven’t I?  I think it’s probably more than enough.  I’ll just close with a sentiment of encouragement, which I hope doesn’t come across as condescending:  If you have any songs or stories (or paintings, or sculptures, or whatever) bouncing around in your head, I hope you’ll try to get them out and make them actual rather than virtual.  Somewhere out there, there’s someone who might want to experience them.  Even if you’re the only one who ever does, it can be worth it.  I think so, anyway.

TTFN


*Though I do throw in a passing reference to the setting of my short story Hole for a Heart, which is certainly a supernatural horror story.

**These may not in fact be what they seem…and if they are not, then Ifowonco would be almost a fully realistic story.

“And yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust?”

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Hello, good morning, and welcome to another Thursday.  Today’s holiday is rather less prestigious than last week’s:  it’s International Convenience Store Day!  (Actually, I just made that up, but if it isn’t International Convenience Store Day, since in much of the world the date would be written as 11/7 rather than 7/11, then at least it ought to be National Convenience Store Day in the US).

I’m afraid my previous post wasn’t well-read, or at least it wasn’t well-“liked”.  Possibly this is because it was a holiday last week and people didn’t read blogs as much as usual.  Possibly, though, it’s because I was so serious and grumpy about what I was writing.  I do think it’s an important subject, but I guess people didn’t find it gripping.  Maybe it was just so obvious to everyone that it didn’t bear repeating…though given what we see in the nation I somehow doubt that.  Maybe I’m just whining.

That last proposal seems to be the most promising hypothesis.

Of course, I’ve continued to edit Unanimity as well as my short story Free Range Meat.  The latter is close to releasable form, and I’ll probably publish it before the end of July.  Cover design has yet to begin, but I have the general idea in mind, and I don’t think it’ll take much work to accomplish.

I’m pleased to find that I’m continuing to enjoy reading and editing Unanimity.  That doesn’t mean that anyone else will enjoy reading it, but at least it will have one fan in the long run.  I’m not ashamed to admit that I was nervous about this.  As I wrote it, and as it continued to get longer, I occasionally thought to myself that this thing feels like it’s never going to end…and not in a good way.  Rereading it, however, has been pleasurable, and I’m getting quite a lot done.

I particularly enjoy the fact that my villain, who is also sort of the main character, continues to be and act like a likeable, nice guy, even as he does horrific things, and he’s not just pretending.  I don’t know why it tickles me so much, but it does.

In other news, I’m sad to report that I’m still having trouble finding and reading new works of fiction.  Well, “finding” new works of fiction isn’t hard, they’re everywhere, but finding ones that get my attention, and which I can sit down and read and enjoy, has been very difficult for some time, and it seems to be getting worse.  TV and movies, despite the shorter required attention span, have likewise failed to grab my interest.  It’s even hard for me to go back and pick up books that I’ve read and loved before, which is truly bizarre.  When I do like a story, I tend to read it and reread it and reread it, over and over and over again.

As a case in point, when Book 6 of the Harry Potter series came out, I was one of the midnight buyers, and once I bought it, I devoured it rapidly.  I liked it so much that, by the time Book 7 came out, I had read its predecessor a full seven times, not counting the times I listened to the audio book while commuting.  Yet now, though I have the book handily available in my cell phone on Kindle at any time, I feel no urge to read it or any of the other books in the series.  Some of that may be partly due to negative associations; I enjoyed reading and discussing those books with my now-ex-wife, we both having first been introduced to them by our niece.  But that can’t be the whole story—at least I don’t think it is.  After all, I started reading The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion, in junior high, if memory serves, and I’ve read those (and the first Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever) literally dozens of times, well into adulthood.  (I’m not talking about two dozen, either.)  Yet lately, I can’t get interested in them (nor, in the case of Thomas Covenant, the more recent sequels).

Here’s a particularly troubling case:  I recently was able to force my way through a rereading of Ender’s Game…but I couldn’t even get past the first fifty pages of Speaker for the Dead, which I recall as one of the best books I’ve ever read!

I’m too nervous even to try reading Shakespeare.  And I’m a person who once, in my undergraduate days, deliberately took two Shakespeare courses at the same time (and loved them)!

Bottom line, I’m a serious nerd/geek who has been losing interest in the things about which I am nerdy/geeky.  Even such instant gratification story-types as comic books and manga are hard to focus on.  I don’t have so much as a smidgen of curiosity about Game of Thrones, and I’m sure that in the past I would have been a delighted aficionado of those books and that series.  I haven’t even been able to get through the first season of Stranger Things, and if there’s a series that is more perfectly my kind of story, I’m not aware of it.

Thankfully, I still retain at least some of my ability to be interested in and to read about science, though even that is nothing like it used to be.

Oh, well.  Like I said above, I guess I’m a bit of a whiner.  Hopefully my kvetching isn’t too boring, since this anhedonia does trouble me, and I feel a strong need to share my sense of dismay.  Also, maybe I’m not-so-secretly hoping that some reader will have a magical answer for me, and things will turn around.  If not…well, I don’t even know.

Anyway, enough morosity.  (I know, that’s not a standard word, but I prefer it to “moroseness”, which is a standard word).  The woes and laments of a lonely author, blogger, and aficionado of various forms of fantastic fiction and nonfiction are of little real moment.  It just makes life tiring, and it’s hard for me to summon the energy to move forward.  Thankfully, one of my most enduring traits—unsurprisingly, I guess—is stubbornness.  But all things have their limits.

TTFN

 

You blogs, you stones, you worse than senseless things

You blogs, you stones, you worse than senseless things

declaration

 

“And why should Caesar be a tyrant then?  Poor man!  I know he would not be a wolf but that he sees the Romans are but sheep.  He were no lion were not Romans hinds.  Those that with haste will make a mighty fire begin it with weak straws.”

Julius Caesar, Act I, Scene III

 

Hello, good morning, happy Thursday, and for those in the United States, Happy Independence Day!

This is an important holiday which has lost some of its meaning over time.  In saying this, I might sound a little like those who bemoan the commercialization of Christmas, but I mean it quite seriously.  The date—the 4th of July, of course—is the anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, and the more-or-less “official” birth of the United States of America…though I think it might more appropriately be called the conception of the USA.  The Constitution’s ratification thirteen years later was the true birth of the United States of America.

As the first truly secular Constitution in the world—it only mentions religion to state that no religious test shall ever be required for government office, and that there shall be no establishment of religion nor prohibition of its free exercise (the former in Article VI, clause 3, and the latter in the 1st Amendment)—it was groundbreaking.  At the time, this secularity was somewhat scandalous, but the founders of the United States were well aware—through personal experience and through the lessons of history—of the corruption, persecution, and violence that tend to arise when religion and government are entangled.  This is an important point, and it is not clearly understood by many modern Americans.**

In a broader sense, I think it’s worthwhile to remind modern Americans how revolutionary it was to institute a Constitutional Republic whose government’s power, as stated explicitly and implicitly in both the Declaration and the Constitution, derived solely from the consent of the governed, not from any other authority.  The idea was—and should still be—that our representatives, our senators, our presidents, etc., are our employees, our servants.  They are certainly not our “leaders”.  They, like our military and our police forces, exist in principle to serve our greater good, to the best of their ability and to the best of our ability to hold them true to their duties.  We would do well to emphasize this notion to ourselves on a regular basis, because it’s all too easy for humans to fall prey to authoritarianism, and for would-be authoritarians to take advantage of that tendency.

It’s worth remembering the historical (and literary) lesson of Julius Caesar, for it is all too easy for a popular strongman to turn a Republic into a totalitarian regime that can endure as such for centuries…even after the initial strongman is ousted or assassinated.

It’s said that the price of freedom is constant vigilance, and I agree, but I would go even further:  The price of survival is constant vigilance.  Quite apart from the need to sustain yourself physically in a rather heartless universe, if you give up your freedom then your very survival itself is no longer in your hands.  You live and die—and you thrive or suffer—at the whim of those you have allowed to have power over you.  And no one else can be ultimately responsible for your personal survival and freedom if you are not.

It’s for these among other reasons that I bemoan the fetishization of the American flag (on which topic I’ve written previously, here), and its glorification in our national anthem.  Don’t get me wrong; I’m a fan of the flag.  And I understand that children find bright patterns in primary colors engaging.  But remember, the design of the flag was and is arbitrary.  It has no real, deep meaning.

The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, on the other hand, are neither arbitrary nor shallow.  They are expressions of great and important ideas and ideals.  They are the soul of the United States.  The flag is, if anything, just our hairstyle or our eye color (if you will)…and fireworks are, perhaps, just glints in that eye.***

It’s true that the founders of the USA fell well short of the noble ideals they expressed so well…and it’s pretty clear that they knew that.  That’s part of why they made the Constitution amendable and included the Bill of Rights as the first ten of those amendments.  We have far exceeded the founders in realizing some of the notions expressed in the Declaration of Independence, including a greater implementation of the notion that “all [people] are created equal.”  But we have fallen far behind them in other respects, and such backsliding is dangerous.

We’ve become more parochial and more provincial, ironically; we are undereducated in certain crucial areas (including the very recognition of how absolutely essential education is for the survival of a republic such as ours); we’ve fallen too far into the glorification of “leaders” and the worship of symbols rather than the exploration and elevation of ideas and ideals, which must be constantly submitted to testing, criticism, and exploration if they are to endure and improve.  And we must strive constantly to improve them—rigorously and meticulously, not haphazardly—in the spirit of the acquisition of scientific knowledge, with distrust of arguments from authority and with constant vigilance, especially against our own biases and failings.  For if things do not improve, then it’s more likely that they will deteriorate than that they will simply remain static.  After all, there’s only one zero point on the number line, but there’s an endless expanse of negatives.

So, that’s me on the soapbox for today.  By all means, of course, do enjoy the holiday for the fireworks, and for the cookouts, and for the time spent with friends and family.  But please, do also remember what it’s about, and how important it is always to be on guard—at least as much with respect to your own biases and errors as anything else—against the accidental or deliberate betrayal of the ideals expressed in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

As part of doing this myself, I refer to the holiday only as Independence Day, not just as “the fourth of July.”  It’s a little thing, but it might be worth doing.

TTFN


*The former in Article VI, clause 3, and the latter in the 1st Amendment.

**I highly recommend the recent book The Founding Myth by Andrew Seidel as an exploration of this topic.

***Apologies for the strained metaphor.

I am determined to prove a villain, and hate the idle pleasures of these blogs.

I am determined to prove a villain, and hate the idle pleasures of these blogs.

facial-reconstruction-Richard-III

Hello and good morning!  It’s the last Thursday of the month, which implies that next Thursday will be the first Thursday of a new month.  Unfortunately, this no longer means that I’ll release a new episode of “My Heroes Have Always Been Villains.”  More’s the pity, but they just didn’t seem to get many readers.  Perhaps people were put off by the title, or maybe people have a trained aversion to admitting that villains are not only necessary to good stories but are also, often, the most interesting and pro-active characters.  I’ve often noted that it is the villains in great stories who make things happen, who try to change the world (often in not-so-good ways, of course), whereas the heroes tend just to react to events.  In this sense, revered inventors, discoverers, and innovators have more in common, personality-wise, with the villains of our tales than with the heroes.

I don’t know what this says about human nature, but I do rue the fact that no one seems to quite get the notions that I try to express in “MHHABV.”  (I’ll rule out the possibility that I’m simply not good enough at conveying those notions.  Let’s not be ridiculous, here).  Thus, I find myself in the shoes of many a villain—the comic-book style ones, anyway—in bemoaning the fact that there seems to be no one else in all the world with the vision, the intellect, the greatness of spirit to recognize and embrace the grandeur of my design!

<<Sigh>>  It’s lonely being a supervillain.  Just ask Thanos, or Dr. Doom, or Hannibal Lecter (but I recommend asking politely).

Tangentially, it’s interesting to wonder if it’s possible to be truly happy and yet to move forward and make profound changes for the better in the world.  Buddhist monks rarely seem motivated to cure (or treat) terrible diseases,* or to invent new products or technologies, or to discover new sciences.  Not to say their activities aren’t worthwhile.  Some of them accomplish real insight into the nature of the human mind.  Still, it’s telling that the end goal of (at least some versions of) Buddhist practice is to achieve a state where you stop being reborn and can finally just frikking die and cease to exist when your time comes.  I can offer anyone with that goal a hugely step-saving strategy.

Of course, I’m caricaturing the teachings of Buddhism and Buddhist monks somewhat; I hardly think I have the final word on this subject.

Speaking of final words, just yesterday I finished the first edit of Unanimity.  Yes, that was just the first one.  Oy.  But still, it was a milestone.  I’ve already trimmed about eleven thousand words from the story, but there’s a long way to go before it’s in publishable form, with lots of little tweaks and corrections to be made.  It’s hard to write a half-a-million-word novel and keep everything perfectly consistent, especially with respect to trivia such as the receptionist’s name in a medical office, whom you forgot you’d introduced once before, and so when you introduce that person again, you use a completely different name, and perhaps even a different personality.  To take just one (purely hypothetical!) example.

Of course, to the surprise of no one who knows me at all, I haven’t come to any conclusion regarding the fate of “Iterations of Zero.”  I would be less conflicted about keeping it going if I could just find the time (and the will) to write in it, or to record “audio blogs”, as regularly as I write here.  But time and will are exquisitely finite resources, even for supervillains like me.  I have to earn a living, doing things that are not nearly so fulfilling, and which bring me into daily contact with…well, certainly with many interesting characters.  In this case, I use the word “interesting” as in the (supposed) Chinese curse, “May you live in interesting times.”  Or, in a similar vein (har), as I’ve often said to patients, “You should try never to be interesting to your doctor.”

I would love to write, etc., full time, and to produce more material of more varied nature, but money’s tight.  Of course, if my books were to become international best-sellers and were made into blockbuster motion pictures, that would help matters tremendously, but that’s not entirely up to me.  I’m too self-effacing (and often self-loathing) to be very good at marketing myself aggressively.  This is in ironic contrast to certain people (some of them in high office) who seem uniquely skilled and talented at polishing the turds that they are and selling those shiny pieces of excrement to people who don’t appear to know better…or who don’t want to know better, which is worse.

Thinking about such things too much can arouse real sympathy for the great villains of literature.

If there’s anyone out there who wishes I had time to write more and who has a lot of money or is brilliant at marketing and has some spare time and wants a challenge, you’re certainly invited to help make my nefarious dreams a reality.  In the meantime, I hope you’re all enjoying the summer.  While you do, though, as I’ll make clear in my short story Free Range Meat, you must remember never to lock your dogs in vehicles, especially on hot, sunny days.  Conversely,** if you encounter a situation in which it seems someone else has done such a thing, you may want to think twice before intervening too aggressively.  Not all is as it seems, and the road to real Hell, as we know, can be paved with the best of intentions.

TTFN


*Physical ones, anyway.  The argument can be made that meditational practices show real promise in treating some psychological maladies.

**Or is it inversely?  Or obversely?

O true apothecary, thy blogs are quick. Thus with a kiss I die.

O true apothecary, thy blogs are quick. Thus with a kiss I die.

Just John

Hello again, good morning again, and welcome to next Thursday.  I promised last week that this week I would discuss the thoughts that popped into my head while listening to the second of the two songs I named last time, so without further ado, let’s jump right into Girl…so to speak.

The notion that this song relates to the experience of addiction is probably pretty obvious, and hopefully I won’t get too ham-fisted about it.  Also, I doubt that John Lennon was thinking about addiction when he wrote it, though he was to become personally all too familiar with the subject in later years.  The type of pining, obsessive love expressed in this song as very much a mixed blessing and curse, is frequent in music* and in poetry, and probably highlights a similar psychology—and even neurology—involved in the two subjects of addiction and “love”.

Of course, the opening lines of the song are nonspecific and literally introductory.  But the second couplet already has sinister undertones: “She’s the kind of girl you want so much, it makes you sorry; still, you don’t regret a single day.”  This is definitely an expression of mixed feelings; the first line frankly contradicts the second.  He wants her so much that it makes him sorry, but he doesn’t regret a single day?  How does that work?  Maybe he’s saying that, while he’s with her, he doesn’t regret it, but when he’s away he wants her so much that it distracts him and gets in his way—it interrupts his focus on other things?  We’ve probably all had something of this experience with a lover or a crush, and of course, some have this experience with other things entirely.  But I suspect that the process is similar in all of them, with the mind’s dopaminergic and serotoninergic, motivational/reward systems being keyed into a particular target, giving us the urge to seek it when we don’t have it, and an increasingly transient satisfaction when we achieve it.

Romantic, no?

Of course, the next verse becomes more sinister, with its solemn and mournful reflections:  “When I think of all the times I tried so hard to leave her…she will turn to me and start to cry.  And she promises the earth to me, and I believe her.  After all this time, I don’t know why.”

This certainly doesn’t sound like a healthy relationship, either with a person or with a substance, but it’s surely familiar to anyone who’s been in “that” kind of relationship, and to anyone who’s been addicted to anything.  You try to leave, but either literally or figuratively, that object of obsession cries out, if only in your head, and in its crying makes implicit or explicit promises that, if only you come back, you will be joyful, you will be complete, you will surely never be unhappy again.  And of course, this isn’t true.  Maybe just the very first time, a person can be excused—by others and themselves—for falling for the siren song, but after that, even they themselves, some part of them, must know that such promises are broken even in the act of succumbing to them.  But we do so want to believe those promises, don’t we?

Then, of course, we come to the song’s interlude, which is a little vaguer.  But if we’re pushing (and why not?), we can certainly say that an addiction does tend to “put you down when friends are there,” and there are surely many times when, if you can bear to look at yourself, “you feel a fool.”  The next line is perhaps straining the metaphor even further (and again, why not?), but almost all objects of obsessive affection, whether human or chemical or even purely behavioral**, surely do seem to “look good” from the outside to anyone who’s involved with them.  And, of course, they seem quite assured of their beauty, their coolness, their power, if you will.  From the outside.

And, of course, the song’s last verse more obliquely points out the contradictory notions that the pain inevitably caused by abusive/manipulative/codependent people or by the substance of addiction can seem almost as if it/they think that the pain is a favor in and of itself.  In any case, it’s all they really, finally have to offer…evanescent pleasure that’s inextricably tied up with (far more enduring) pain.  And, of course, there’s the hopeless final bit, the notion that by breaking his back—by suffering in any or all of countless ways—a person might somehow come through to the other side and achieve a “day of leisure.”

Maybe this should be likened to the treacherous notion that a person has to “hit rock bottom” before they can ever truly climb out of an addiction.  I say “treacherous” because, first, I don’t think it’s necessarily true, but thinking that it is might discourage some people from otherwise cutting their losses as early as they could, so to speak; and second, because for a large (and growing) number of people, hitting rock bottom (in addiction and even in love) means dying.  There’s no leisure after that, unless you count “resting in peace” as leisure, and I don’t think most people do, enticing though it can sometimes be.  Thus, the final line, “Will she still believe it when he’s dead?”

Anyway, again, I’m not saying that John had any comparison between love and addiction in mind when he wrote the song, but it’s pretty clear that he saw how powerful and dangerous even love itself can be, especially when the object of one’s affections is less than stable and kind.  And it’s just this kind of love that is both celebrated and lamented in so many popular songs and in poetry and in romantic stories throughout the ages.  Thankfully, it’s not the only kind of love.

It’s surely good to be “obsessed” with one’s beloved in a certain sense, to hold them as a centrally important part of one’s life, and to be devoted to them (assuming the feeling is mutual).  But, of course, if one gives one’s devotion to a person who doesn’t share or return it, and who might even hold one in contempt, then pain is likely to far outweigh any pleasure, at least when integrated over time.

Okay, enough sexy talk.

In other news, Unanimity is coming along, and I’m within distant sight of the end of my first rewrite of my half-a-million-word novel.  Cheese and crackers!  I’ve got a long way to go.  At least I’m finding the story enjoyable, especially as it gets nearer the end.  The earlier bits need a bit more tweaking than the later, but that’s the job, after all.

I still haven’t come to a final decision about consolidating my blogs.  I’m torn; I love the title “Iterations of Zero,” and I really like the image symbol I made for the site, but that may not be reason enough to keep it around.  It costs me at least a bit of money to maintain it in full function, and I’m certainly not making any money from it.  We’ll see.

I hope you’ve enjoyed, at least a little, my rather heavy-handed reaction/thoughts about Girl, and last week’s discursion on one line from People Are Strange.  Such explorations probably won’t happen too often, but for me, at least, it’s nice to have a change of pace.

I wish you all a Happy Solstice tomorrow, and in the northern hemisphere, a happy summer to follow.

TTFN


*For instance, You’ve Really Got A Hold on Me, which the Beatles covered.

**Such as gambling addiction, for instance.

Come, you spirits that tend on mortal blogs, unsex me here

Come, you spirits that tend on mortal blogs, unsex me here

Jim and John

Hello, good morning, and welcome to another Thursday, that day of the week of which Dent Arthur Dent never could get the hang.

I was listening to my Spotify playlist the other day, and in brief succession—though not one right after the other—I heard the songs People Are Strange by the Doors, and Girl by the Beatles.  It struck me, because of whatever peculiar frame of mind I was in, that both songs presented interesting insights, at different levels, about powerful and important aspects of human character and the nature of civilization.

Seriously.

I love it when art reflects on deeper facts of reality or can be interpreted as such.  It’s not necessary that art do this for it to be good or beautiful or worthwhile.  By no means is it necessary.  But it’s wonderful when it does.

We shouldn’t be surprised, I suppose, that powerful insights are to be found in the lyrics of two of the most artistically sophisticated, groundbreaking, and iconoclastic bands of the sixties, but it’s pleasing to find, nevertheless.

The most straightforward of the two thoughts arises in a simple line from People Are Strange, specifically: “Women seem wicked, when you’re unwanted.”  This is a powerful observation, often lamentably true, about the character of men, rooted in biology and focused by the lens of thousands of years of cultures largely dominated by men.

It is a biological fact that women are, if you will, the gatekeepers of the next generation, and since getting into the next generation is one of the most powerful drives enacted by our genes (since organisms that don’t have that drive don’t tend to get into the next generation), this sets up seriously powerful forces that have acted continuously over the course of eons.

It’s a lot more directly costly for women to get their genes into the next generation than it is for men, so they tend to be a lot choosier than men need to be, all other things being equal.*  But of course, this puts any given man in the position of having to compete for the favor of, or some other means of access to, women in order to reproduce.  For men who find themselves by nature easily attractive to women, this is not a big problem.  In those cases, it’s more often a problem for women.  But such attractiveness is rare, and most men find themselves in bitter competition with other local men (in the modern era, “local” can refer effectively to millions and even billions of people).  For a man who’s having trouble finding a woman who finds him suitable, this can engender tremendous frustration (biologically, psychologically, and socially), as this powerful ancestral drive finds itself unfulfilled.

We humans don’t deal with frustration well; we have a hard time thinking about it clearly.  We have a hard time looking at ourselves and saying, “Well, maybe I’m not that obviously promising a person with whom to pair one’s genes in the trip to the next generation.  Is there anything I can do to make myself at least seem more promising?”

Instead, many men start to think that women are wicked.  Perhaps “think” is too lofty a verb for the process; “feel” might be more accurate, since logical thought is rarely involved, and is more often used in post hoc sophistry than for careful evaluation.  We associate our frustration with women, especially with highly attractive women, and we lose sight of the chain of causality.  We just blame the women for the feeling, instead of recognizing that it comes from us and our own circumstances.  We fail to recognize that women are no more to blame for wanting to be choosy about their partners than men are about wanting to posture and show off in order to maximize our own perceived attractiveness.

From this collision of drives and barriers is born all manner of misogyny, including whole cultures that require women to be covered in public so as not to “inflame men’s lust”**  It’s part of the what drives men to create societies that subordinate women, that effectively (or actually) enslave them.  Women are described as wicked and are blamed for the frustrated lusts and behaviors of men, partly because it’s easier to “justify” mistreating someone when you demonize them.

This frustration turned to malice and revenge is almost certainly contributory to the push in certain modern communities to ban abortion even when pregnancy is the result of rape.  After all—looking at things in horribly immoral but nonetheless depressingly real terms—this leaves open one means by which to circumvent the biological gatekeepers.  Or, rather, it is a means to break down the gate, and an option that such men, consciously or subconsciously, might want to leave open for themselves.

Maybe I’m being uncharitable.

So many evils are born of or influenced by the fact that women seem wicked*** when you’re unwanted that it’s almost too depressing to accept or at least to look at closely.  But if we want to correct and prevent evil outcomes, we need to think about where they come from and how they became what they are.  Only by doing this we can counter such evils effectively and efficiently and produce a more moral and ethical civilization.  Unless and until we change the nature of our biology itself, at a very deep level, we’re going to be saddled with this tendency, this subjective feeling, so well and concisely encapsulated in the Doors’s seemingly throw-away line.

Oodles more could be said about this, of course, but I’m not trying to write a full article, let alone a book on the subject.  I welcome your input on the matter, though, whether in the comments or on Facebook or on Twitter.

And, of course, I clearly don’t have reasonable time or space this week to deal with the second song, Girl, so I’ll leave that for next time.  I’ll just provide a teaser by saying that I think this song—probably unintentionally and/or unconsciously—had much to say about addiction, and the parallels between it and the dramatic and poetic notions of romantic love.

In closing, a quick report:  I continue to edit Unanimity at a good pace, and I’m enjoying the process; this enjoyment will probably not last, nor should it, for I need to be as brutal and ruthless with my work as I can.

I also, just for fun, yesterday began writing (by hand, to try mitigate my natural verbosity) Dark Fairy and the Desperado, a story I’d originally envisioned as a manga, based on two drawings I did at separate times and for separate reasons, of characters who somehow just worked in my head when I threw them together.  You can see several renderings of them among my posted images on Facebook, in my personal account and I think on my author page.  There’s even a fanciful picture, drawn as a favor, of the Dark Fairy tormenting then-President George W. Bush.

How much more would the Dark Fairy have to say and do now, with our current president?  One shudders to imagine, and that shuddering is not necessarily entirely born of dread, but perhaps, rather, of antici…

…pation.

TTFN


*All other things almost never are equal, but we’ll leave that aside for now.

**Since most men, as a simple fact of reality and math, can’t stand out as plainly being above average relative to other men, and so are more likely to be frustrated in their “lust” than to have it bear fruit…so to speak.

***Let there be no misunderstanding:  this seeming is purely in the eyes of the beholder.

And then, in dreaming, the clouds methought would open, and show riches ready to drop upon me; that, when I waked, I blogged to dream again.

And then, in dreaming, the clouds methought would open, and show riches ready to drop upon me; that, when I waked, I blogged to dream again.

thinker

Okay, well, allow me to say good morning and happy…Friday?

Yes, it’s Friday instead of Thursday.  I’m afraid I pretty much spent yesterday lying flat on my back.  I don’t know exactly what I did to irritate it this time, but I have a chronic back problem (including so-called failed back surgery syndrome) and its level of trouble waxes and wanes.  Unfortunately, what with one thing or another, on Wednesday night through to Thursday, it waxed, baby.  I got very little sleep and was just a mess.  So, I stayed home from work, and I also blew off writing my blog.  However, I didn’t want just to leave the week empty…I suspect that if one allows too many gaps in regular publication, one tends to lose readers.

Thus, you have before you a Friday morning blog post from me, though of course you may not be reading it on a Friday morning.  In fact, I suppose it’s more likely that you are not reading it on a Friday morning, since unless you’re waiting at the computer for my next post to come out, or you happen to be at the computer around the time it does, you’re likely to come across it at some other point in the week.  It’s even possible (though it seems unlikely) that you’re reading this centuries in my future, perhaps studying the works of one of the most beloved, influential, and enduring literary figures of the early twenty-first century.  You may even be an alien, or an AI, or a trans-human, who can say?

Hello from June 7, 2019 AD/CE!  Hope things are well and good in your time!

I’m trying to think of a way to keep this blog a little fresher than it sometimes feels; I worry that my weekly posts can become a bit repetitive.  I originally spun off Iterations of Zero to put items there which I felt didn’t really fit with the discussions of my books and stories, and the process of creating them, that I was trying to make the central focus here; maybe that was ill-considered.  Maybe I should just wrap all my writings (and speakings) together here in this blog again, all at one address, and just separate them by subject matter, which I do anyway.  After all, and unfortunately, I don’t tend to produce IoZ articles or posts on a regular, consistent basis.

Anyway, I’m thinking about that, and we’ll see what ends up happening.  At the very least, it would free me a little from the self-imposed constraint of having to think of an appropriate Shakespearean quote to mangle every time I write a post here (though I do enjoy that process).

In other matters, the editing of Unanimity goes well, and I’m truly pleased to continue to find that I’m enjoying parts of the book that I feared might be…well, a little too much.  I’m sure that there’s much technically unnecessary dialogue in it (I’ve been told as much about some of my other stories, in the politest and most constructive of terms), and I may try to winnow it out.  But, damn it, there’s an awful lot of unnecessary dialogue in real life, and I do try to make my characters act like real people.

With certain very glaring exceptions, of course.

Still, I need to be judicious.  And one of the good things about editing one’s works over and over and over and over and over again (and then some), is that by the seventh edit, one tends to be quite sensitive to the boring bits of a story.  As long as one can maintain a spirit of goal-directed ruthlessness with one’s own creations, it’s possible in principle to cut a great deal of material out of a work and make it more streamlined.  Though I say it as shouldn’t, you might justly think.

Speaking of shorter works, the editing of Free Range Meat* is also proceeding, though usually only one day a week.  Even with that limited schedule, it will be done waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay before Unanimity, and soon I’ll be announcing its imminent publication.

With that, I draw this week’s blog post to a close.  Apologies for its tardiness, but perhaps changes are coming that will give you more frequent material to read here, anyway.  We shall see.

TTFN


*should I hyphenate the first two words or not?