The man that hath no music in himself…is fit for treasons, stratagems and blogs

galileo math

some of Galileo’s figuring

Good morning, all.  It’s Thursday, so—as per usual—it’s time for another weekly blog post.  Here we go!

I’ve had a mildly underproductive editing week, because last Friday, Saturday, and then this Monday, I got wrapped up in completing my latest song, Come Back Again.  If you’re interested, you can listen to it on YouTube, here on my website, or on my Facebook page.  It’s also posted in audio-only format on Iterations of Zero.  If anyone wants, I could send you an mp3 copy; that seems vanishingly unlikely, though.  The only people who seem to listen to my songs are immediate family members and similarly unfortunate, obligated people.  I do think the song is surprisingly decent, considering I did it using only two electric guitars (not at the same time), two smartphone rhythm apps (sampled and altered in various ways), a very cheap desktop keyboard, an actual desktop with smartphone for some of the percussion, and the amazing free audio editing software Audacity.  Oh, and of course, a microphone and voice recording program for the singing.  I suppose you could add pens and paper for writing the words and music.  All in all, not much was needed.

It’s curious that, in order to publish my songs effectively, I need to make “videos” of them, even though the visuals only consist of the icon from my Iterations of Zero website.  I don’t even use the icon from this site, because that’s just my face, and I can’t imagine anyone wanting to look at my face long enough to listen to a song.

It’s interesting, though, that one can readily upload videos to Facebook (and Twitter, I think), but they don’t easily let you share simple audio files.  As a stereotypical standup comedian might say, “What’s that all about?”  It’s a little odd that everyone wants to upload videos and pictures ad infinitum to sites like Facebook and Instagram—as they presume, without any discernable justification, that other people want to look at them—but not audio.  Yet the latter can be appreciated even while commuting, even while driving, as the wonder of audiobooks and podcasts (and radio) demonstrates.

Perhaps I’m just a curmudgeon*, but I feel that most videos shared by ordinary people, and often even by professionals, are just talking faces with nonspecific backgrounds relating matters that could be communicated purely by voice (or—God forbid—the written word!).

Anyway, my song is out there.  As I’ve said before, making and releasing these songs really is a vanity project for me, not just in the egotistical sense of the word, but also in the sense of it being in vain…pointless.  The latter sense of the term applies to me far more often than does the former.  Though I have a reasonably good opinion of my ability to perform tasks of various kinds, and to master subjects with a fair amount of depth, I am not vain in the narcissistic sense about much.  I have no illusions about the importance of anything I do or make or its value to anyone else.  Mostly, I’m just a proverbial Voice Crying Out in the Wilderness ™**.  Or, to be a little less pretentious, I’m a case of “I am, I said,” with not even furniture taking note of the declaration.

Nevertheless, since Tuesday I have returned to my usual schedule of working on Unanimity.  I’ve encountered an interesting place where the way I wrote the book has shifted character times slightly…meaning I had to go back in time from events of an immediately preceding section to catch up with what was happening to other characters.  This is common, of course, since we can’t skip back and forth sentence by sentence to see that one character is doing in “real time” while something is happening to another.

But I think I’m going to have to adjust it.  I think the story will flow better if I take the section in question and transplant it to just before the immediately preceding section.  This is a minor enough change, and I think most authors probably do it often, but it’s interesting to me because I don’t think I’ve ever needed to do it before.  Usually when I write something, it comes out pretty much as the story is “meant” to flow.  Unfortunately, Unanimity is just such a long novel, with so much going on, often to characters in separate locations, that it wasn’t all going to come out quite in optimal order on the first draft.  Not to say it wouldn’t be tolerable in its current form—it would be—but it wouldn’t be ideal, from my point of view.

That’s all probably not interesting to anyone else but me.

Meanwhile, speaking of audio (I was, you can go back and check), I’m “currently” listening to a wonderful book called Infinite Powers:  How Calculus Reveals the Secrets of the Universe.  I highly recommend it.  Seriously.  Even if you’re not a math type person (though I have to admit that I am one, a bit), I think it will give you easy-to-understand but clear and real insights into not just why calculus—and mathematics in general—is so useful to nearly everything of substance in science and technology*** but also why it’s so breathtakingly beautiful that some people are utterly captivated by it and pursue it hour after hour, year after year, even in their spare time.

Galileo famously said that the book of nature is written in the language of mathematics.  And someone else said (I can’t find the credit for the quote), “Physicists defer only to mathematicians, and mathematicians defer only to God.”  We can imagine universes where the charge and mass of an electron are different than they are here, or where coupling constants and the cosmological constant and the ratio of the strength of the gravitational to the electromagnetic force are different—and we can readily imagine life forms whose genetic data isn’t encoded in DNA…but it’s impossible to conceive of a logically consistent universe in which the square root of two is the ratio of two integers, or in which there is a largest prime number.

Maybe God defers to mathematicians.  Or maybe He just is one.

And with that bit of casual blasphemy, I think I’ve done enough damage for this week.  I hope you’re all well, and that you’re enjoying listening to, reading, watching, and doing whatever it is that—when integrated under the curve of your lifespan—makes your existence as joyful and fulfilling as possible.

TTFN


*There’s no “perhaps” about me being a curmudgeon; the “perhaps” refers to whether I’m merely a curmudgeon, or if there’s more to me than that.  The jury is still out.

**Actually, I’m quite sure that’s not from the book of Proverbs; I think it’s from Isaiah or Ezekiel.  Let me check…
…yes, it’s from Isaiah.

***Which, in the modern world, means pretty much everything, full stop.

Come Back Again (a new song)

Words and Music by Robert Elessar

(c) copyright 2019.  All rights reserved.

Performed by Robert Elessar

Produced by Robert Elessar


Sky blue
Sky gray
Dark and stormy night
Sunny day
Only meeting strangers
Always losing friends
Every new beginning
Always ends.

And if your travels bring you to a place
Where you’re afraid to show your face
remember
All you’ll be is all you’ve been,
So turn around, come back again.

Walking down the street
I saw a car go by with no one driving
I watched it pass and wondered what the hell was going on.
There’s something not quite right, I thought
and hopped a bus that was just arriving
I got it and I sat down fine, but suddenly
I was gone.

Sky blue
Sky black
Creeping slowly forward
Falling back
Nothing ever stops
But nothing really goes
Is there any reason?
No one knows.

But I’d stay by you until the end
In times of darkness I’m your friend
So maybe
If you need
A helping hand
Just turn around
Come back again.

Come back again.

Come back again.

Come back again.

The teeming Autumn blog with rich increase

flame-maple-tree-autumn-blaze-almost-at-peak-amur-pruning-florida-red

Good morning, and good Thursday.  It’s blog day, of course, and I hereby officially welcome you all to another weekly post.

My experiment with tags last week worked very well, i.e. labeling my post with the tags “sex,” “drugs,” and “rock ‘n’ roll.”  I’m not up to doing such a thing on a regular basis, though.  In fact, I doubt that I’ll do it more than once.  Of course, it may be that those inaccurate tags simply weren’t as off-putting as the ones I’d used the previous week, which upon reflection might have seemed weird and (incorrectly) New Agey.  I think one of them was something along the lines of “cosmic caring,” and that’s bound to make a discerning reader want to keep his or her astronomical distance.  I can’t blame them.  I’m too embarrassed even to go back and look at what my other tags were.

Of course, it may be that the post from two weeks ago was just too dry and dreary to be endured.  I tend to be that way when in a glum mood, and I’m sure that even hypothetical people who are really, deeply interested even in my darkest thoughts* would find my melancholier musings stultifying.  Even my humor tends to be dark, and though I do try when I can to make my darkness humorous, I know it’s still probably unpleasant.

On a lighter note:  I got my vehicle back yesterday, after almost two weeks without it.  I was so pleased that, even though I got thoroughly soaked just riding it back from the shop to work**, I was as happy as a pig in shit.  Even by the time I got home, I was still borderline giddy.  I doubt that I’ve smiled that much since, oh, maybe 2011 at the latest.

Taking the train has been good for me in some ways, though.  I’ve been forced to walk between 2.5 and 5 miles a day, and I can tell that it’s had a beneficial effect on my endurance.  My back, however, which as I noted last week has been experiencing an exacerbation of its chronic pain, has not been pleased!  Having no stegosaurus-style brain with which to be able to articulate its concerns, or with which to understand the necessity of the extra work I was giving it, it mulishly insisted upon reminding me with every breath that it was pissed at me.

Human backs are stupid.

Thankfully, the train, and my habitual early hours, continued to allow me to edit.  Unanimity is getting whittled away, as I strive to remove all the bits of it that don’t look like a good pseudo-sci-fi horror novel.  I still like the story, and I still like the characters—including the “bad guy”—so that helps a lot.  Even if I didn’t, I think I’d be able just to push myself through as a matter of stubbornness, something with which I’ve been endowed in great quantities, but I’m glad it’s not necessary.

And in other news, I can’t let the arrival of October go unheralded.  It’s generally my favorite month, because Halloween is my favorite holiday.  Once it’s over, the steady shortening of the daylight hours becomes pronounced enough the wear me out.  By the arrival of the Winter Solstice, I’m often so affected by the season (get it?) that I feel like celebrating the holidays with a game of Russian Roulette***.

October, however, is still fun, though in south Florida it’s lamentably un-autumnal.  This will be the first year in a few (I think) that I won’t have a new horror short story to release around Halloween, which is a bit disappointing, but Unanimity is such a big project that I want to make it the sole focus of my fiction work.  I hope it will be worth the wait.  It’s ambitious, at the very least, even if I can say nothing else about it without subjective bias.

I am still finding myself sidetracked here and there by music; I’m working on another new/old song and have early work done on a few fully new ones, but those really are a personal indulgence, a set of vanity projects if you will.  I have no idea whether anyone would ever willingly listen to them if they didn’t know me.  My stories, I think, can stand on their own.  Maybe I’m wrong.  I guess, ultimately, it doesn’t matter, since I’m writing them because I want to write them, just as I’m doing the songs because I want to do them, and I can only offer whatever I am for others to waste or hold as they see fit.

Speaking of wasting, that’s probably enough blogging for today.  Including the footnotes, this post is already over a thousand words long.  Once I get going, I’m hard to shut up.  It’s lucky for all of you that I have a day job, or I’d probably be doing this more often, and even the kindest of readers might lose patience.  Perhaps there are Everettian branches where that’s happened, or maybe there’s some infinitely repeated version of me that meets that description somewhere out in one of the other versions of the multiverse—if any of them exist (if you’re unfamiliar with this subject matter, you couldn’t get a better introduction to it than Brian Greene’s The Hidden Reality, which I recommend unreservedly).

And, really, now, I must be going.  I hope you all have a wonderful day, a wonderful remainder of the week, and a wonderful month.  In fact, why stop there?  I hope you have a wonderful future for as long as you’re able.

TTFN


*I don’t recommend it.

**My “vehicle” is a scooter…though it’s a scooter with a 600cc engine, so it’s really just a motorcycle with automatic transmission.  It provides no protection from the rain, which rather hilariously was absent right until the day when my scooter was ready to ride again.

***I did that very thing once at that time of year.  I lost that game, unfortunately, as should be obvious from the fact that I’m here and writing.  But, of course, as with all such games of chance, the odds are against you, and the house usually wins.

You blog an infinite deal of nothing

Hollywood_Amtrak_Tri-Rail

Hello, good morning, and welcome, as always, to another Thursday edition of my weekly blog post.  I’m riding the train today—as I have all this week and from the end of last week—because my poor vehicle is in the shop.  It’s a bit frustrating, but also weirdly nostalgic, and the extra walking I must do has forced me to realize just how little walking I’ve been doing lately.  I’ve gotten terribly out of shape.  As testament to that fact, though I can’t be certain it’s related, at the beginning of this week, I slipped while getting out of the shower—nothing severe, don’t worry; I didn’t fall down or even have to grab anything to right myself—and my back has consequently suffered a severe exacerbation of its already chronic “failed back surgery syndrome” pain.  This makes riding the train more of an adventure than it might be otherwise, to say nothing of simply going to work, but such is the way of things.  In the words of the Dread Pirate Roberts, “Like is pain…anyone who says differently is selling something.”

Speaking of pain, I was very disappointed by the reception to my blog post last week.  This is really a euphemistic way of saying I’m disappointed in the post itself, since there’s surely no one to blame but me if it didn’t do well.  For the first time in a very long while, my Thursday blog post didn’t get even one single “like”.  And I’m just not capable of “liking” my own post.

I’m honestly not sure what it was about that post that was so unappealing.  I didn’t feel that the writing was particularly bad, but maybe it was.  I had, just a few days earlier and after a four month “course”, come off Saint John’s Wort, and maybe that affected my writing style or quality.  Maybe it was just that I used a bad collection of “tags” to highlight the post.*  If there’s anyone out there who had the courage to force their way through it and has an objective (or not) assessment to give me, I’d appreciate it.

As I said, it’s a bit nostalgic for me to be riding the train again, not least because it was at the train station in Hollywood, Florida that I received the inspiration for my story Prometheus and Chiron, which I like a lot, even if no one else does.  (I have no reason to think that no one else likes it, but I similarly have no way to know if anyone does…there are no reviews on Amazon for it, though maybe there’s something on “Goodreads”, and I just didn’t look closely enough.)  It is, however, just a bit frustrating to ride the train when one’s back pain makes one feel, and move, as though one were ninety years old…and not a particularly healthy ninety, at that.

Still, I’ve done some good, or at least extensive, writing on trains and/or buses throughout the years.  Thanks to the existence of very small laptop computers (and even smartphones!), I can write on the train without subsequently having to decipher and transcribe my own atrocious handwriting afterwards**.  I’ve had to do such transcription before, with both Mark Red and with The Chasm and the Collision (neither of which was written on a train or bus, however; they were written at Florida State Prison, which is less bumpy but which has its own drawbacks), and I can assure you, as a fun thing to do to pass the time, it’s highly overrated.

Speaking of such things, the editing and rewriting of Unanimity continues as always; and it does feel like forever, sometimes. It’s still enjoyable to read as I edit, which I guess is a good thing.  I always aspire to the mental state of being someone who generally likes the story, but who is fed up with it just enough to be critical about its flaws so that I can correct them with a ruthless but well-meaning attitude.  That’s the ideal, but as Run DMC said, it’s tricky.  Anyway, it’s coming along, slowly but surely, and hopefully it will be finished sometime before I die, or before the world ends, whichever comes first***.

In other news…well, there’s not much other news, come to think of it.  Of course, I’m sure there’s “news” out there in the world; there always is, if you’re looking.  Some of it might even just possibly be relatively important, even on a long-term scale (though the majority, I’d guess, is indistinguishable from random gossip around a water cooler—and though biologists and anthropologists say that gossip served and continues to serve important social functions regarding reputation and trustworthiness, etc., I can’t help but find it appalling, embarrassing, and worthy of contempt; say of me what you will).  My own life, however, tends to be repetitive and tedious, and would make very poor viewing, even ignoring the deeply unattractive protagonist.

My imagination, however, is thankfully and sometimes joyfully fertile.  Einstein is quoted as having said that imagination is more important than knowledge.  I’m very fond of both, but I do think that without imagination it’s hard even to arrive at knowledge of any but the simplest of subjects.  How, after all, are you to construct a mental model of a concept if you can’t imagine such a model?

Well, to quote the immortal (and, perforce, imaginary) Forrest Gump, “That’s all I have to say about that.”  This is not quite true, of course.  I could probably go on and on ad infinitum, and I’m sure some of you feel that I already have.  But, anyway, I’ll hold off any further mental meanderings until next week, and simply wish you all the very best of all that is possible, both individually and collectively.

TTFN


*I decided to use the tags “sex”, “drugs”, and “rock ‘n’ roll” for this post to see if it makes a difference.

**Handwriting made all the worse by the bumping and jostling of a moving train or bus.  Those who know how bad my script is, in and of itself, can only imagine with dread the nightmare of such Lovecraftian output.  The horror…the horror…

***Of course, from my point of view, the two events are equivalent.

So in the world. ‘Tis furnished well with blogs

wow

Good morning!  Welcome to yet another blog post, since this is yet another Thursday.  They do seem to keep coming and coming, don’t they?  Thursdays, I mean.  Thursdays have been going on for a lot longer than blog posts have been, and they’re likely to continue long after my blog posts have stopped.

Of course, on a cosmic level, the very notion of dividing time into days, each representing roughly a revolution of the Earth on its axis, is highly local and arbitrary.  The naming of days—such as naming one of a continuously repeated seven after a Norse thunder god known to most people nowadays as a character played by Chris Hemsworth—is even more local and arbitrary.

One “day” on Jupiter is only ten hours long, despite the fact that Jupiter’s diameter is ten times as great as the Earth’s.  This rapid revolution contributes to some truly amazing weather patterns on that planet.  A “day” on the moon, on the other hand, is about twenty-eight Earth days long…and there’s no weather there at all.

A day on Mercury, named after the wing-footed messenger god of Greek mythology, is almost sixty Earth days long.  And all these variations are just a few of the ones represented within our solar system, itself a tiny, tiny pixel in our galaxy (a “day” of which is a quarter billion Earth years long), which is in turn just a tiny, tiny splotch among hundreds of billions to about a trillion galaxies in the observable universe.  And that, of course, is only a chunk—miniscule to infinitesimal—of a much larger region of spacetime that seems likely to be infinite.

But don’t worry.  Your personal, day-to-day concerns still really matter.  Sure, they do.

Okay, sorry about that bit of sarcasm.  I’m pretending to be more cynical than I really am.  Your individual, day-to-day concerns do matter, in the only way that anything can matter:  they matter to you.  Meaning, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.  This is good, and can be highly life-affirming, unless you’re one of the unlucky people who feels that they themselves don’t matter, even to themselves.  For such people, the crushing weight of reality can feel at once both infinitely oppressive and at the same time very much worthy of a “meh.”  As a person who writes horror stories, among other things, I can honestly say that this is real horror.

Some horror fiction expresses a sense of being lost and trapped in a hostile and very large universe, which cares about us only as irritating insects, and seeks to crush us as such.  A similar notion is occasionally (metaphorically) invoked even by such science educators as Neil deGrasse Tyson, who has been heard to speak of “all the ways the universe wants to kill us,” or words to that effect.  But of course, this is a highly narcissistic misinterpretation of reality, used only as a figure of speech by Tyson (in order to emphasize certain points) and as a plot conceit for horror.  If the universe really “wanted” to kill us, we would be dead.  Instantly.

The real horror, from the reflexively hubristic, human point of view, is that the universe doesn’t give a tiny little rat’s ass about us.  As far as we know, the only place in the universe that’s even capable of caring about anything at all is in the minds of humans…and perhaps other sentient creatures.  As far as we know, only here on Earth (and in low Earth orbit) does caring exist at all.  Now, depending on the likelihood first of the origin of life, then of multicellular life, then of intelligent life, there may be many other such islands of caring in the universe, and if the universe is infinite in size, simple math reveals that there must be an infinite number of such islands.  But it’s equally simple to see that there is a proportionally larger infinity of places where there’s nothing that cares about anything.  This is far from the worst way things could be.  If there really were a Crimson King, or a Morgoth, or an Azathoth and Nyarlathotep and Cthulhu* out there, we would be in for a much rougher time than we actually experience.

Of course, as physicist and pioneer of quantum computation David Deutsch argues beautifully in his book The Beginning of Infinity, we humans—and our descendants, whether biological or technological or both—have the potential really to become significant on a cosmic scale.  As he also points out, there is no guarantee that we will do so, but there appears to be nothing in the laws of nature that prevents it.  It’s up to us** to decide.

That cosmic importance or lack thereof, however, does not and cannot change what is happening right here, right now, and which seems for the moment so inescapably important:  That it is Thursday, and that I am writing this blog post…and, of course, consequently, that you are reading it.  Nothing can ever actually be more important than “now,” because “now,” ultimately, is all we ever experience.

And now, I leave you with a brief update:  Unanimity proceeds well, shrinking as I edit it much more slowly than it grew as I wrote it, like a volcanic island having sprung forth to be subsequently eroded in the middle of a vast sea of strained and overused similes.  It’s got quite a ways to go before it’s a lush, tropical setting that you’d want to put on your vacation itinerary, but it’s getting there.  If you do visit, I won’t guarantee that it will be a uniformly happy trip—some very bad things indeed do lurk there—but at least it should be interesting.

TTFN


*A curious side-note:  of these three examples of entities from H. P. Lovecraft’s worlds, only Cthulhu appears well-known enough not to be marked for correction by Microsoft Word’s spell-checker.

**And of course, to our continued luck in avoiding cosmic catastrophes that are, for the moment, utterly beyond our power to prevent or avoid.

Methought I read a blog cry, “Sleep no more!”

insomnia

Hello and good day!  It’s Thursday again, as you no doubt know, and time for me to write another weekly blog entry.

I’ve had a rather intense exacerbation of my chronic insomnia over the last several days, so I’m worried that my writing might be incoherent and disjointed.  Of course, it’s possible that my writing is always that way, and I simply haven’t noticed.  How would I know for sure?  Still, I might be mistaken, but when I reread my writing, it doesn’t seem terribly incoherent to me.  Until and unless I receive specific feedback from others, there’s no way to fact-check the matter except through my general agreement with other readers about the quality of other writers.

Such are the vagaries of epistemology.

Insomnia has been a longstanding problem for me, certainly ever since I’ve been an “adult.”  One part of that problem is that, unlike what seems to be the case for most people, sleep is not in an especially pleasant experience for me.  If anything, it’s rather dysphoric.  I don’t tend to remember any dreams—which is disappointing, given legends of such writers as Coleridge, who are reputed to have been led to some of their greatest works by slumberous visions.

For me, sleep is at best a bland phenomenon; I have trouble getting to sleep and I have trouble staying asleep.  I don’t resist sleep knowingly, and I certainly don’t fear it in the sense that inspired the apocryphal Edgar Allen Poe quip, “Sleep, those little slices of death, how I loathe them!”  Though Poe never wrote those words, as far as I know, he does seem to have been afraid of and resistant to sleep as a harbinger or precursor of death; he clearly feared premature burial (that dread features prominently in more than one of his stories).

This is not the nature of my problem.  I have no intellectual fear of death at all, though it’s hard to eliminate the purely biological drive to keep living.  I simply find sleep, if not actively unpleasant, somewhere between uninteresting and dreary.  The only time I’ve ever experienced real pleasure both at anticipating sleep and at experiencing it was when I was taking Paxil to treat depression.  That was certainly remarkable, but the medicine had more than enough detriment to counter that one benefit*, and it never did a very good job on my depression.

There’s little doubt that my chronic insomnia and my dysthymia/depression are related, and that the tendency for sleep to be thoroughly anhedonic to me is part and parcel of my dysthymia, though it long predates the latter problem.  I don’t remember any time in my life when sleep held real allure for me.  This tendency has been useful in many situations; I’ve never had trouble being an early riser, and when on call—either in hospital during residency, or from home later on in my practice—I never had much trouble quickly coming awake and being able to focus on whatever problem might need my attention.  And, of course, indifference to sleep was a very useful trait when my children were babies, allowing my then-wife to rest through the night far more often than many new mothers can.

Feeding and rocking my infant children in the silence of the night, now…that was a truly hedonic experience par excellence.

Nevertheless, like every organism with a nervous system, I do require sleep, though the nature of that need is far from fully understood by science.  When I go without enough of it, for long enough, it wears me out, and I know that it affects my cognitive functions, as well as my moods (though there’s a real chicken and egg problem involved in this latter issue).  So, I try—sometimes only halfheartedly, I’ll admit—to avoid succumbing to my insomnia.  But it can be hard just to lay in bed doing nothing and waiting to see if sleep arrives…or if it returns, as the case may be, when I awaken far too early in the morning.  I don’t tend to feel anxious or particularly stressed at such times, because again, I don’t particularly enjoy sleep, but I sometimes get angry at myself, knowing that I’m going to regret my sleeplessness later.

Oh well.  Whataya gonna do?

I’ll tell you what I’m going to do:  keep chugging along, I suppose.  The editing of Unanimity continues to go well, despite a few computer issues; I’m still enjoying the story and the characters.  And, of course, my footnote reminded me that I have a substantially begun novella waiting in the wings, which I may even complete someday.  And, however much I tend to begin my blog posts with no clear idea where I’m going in any given week, it’s still a rewarding process.  If nothing else, I amuse myself, and that’s got to be worth something.

Hopefully, at least occasionally, some of you enjoy it, too.

TTFN


*When coming off it, I did have two experiences of sleep paralysis, which I’ve not experienced before or since, but which were astoundingly vivid and thoroughly terrifying.  The first centered on the comparatively benign illusion of a lion resting on my body and holding me in place, and the second—far worse—involved an indescribable, extradimensional monstrosity pinning me to my bed.  I’m somewhat proud to say that, on that second occasion, rather than try to scream or anything of the sort, I was able with great effort to force my head into motion—or to imagine that I did—and I bit the effing thing.  This woke me up fully at last.  I immediately recognized the well-described phenomenon for what it was, but that didn’t prevent me from feeling truly frightened for several long minutes afterward.  A version of that second experience has appeared in a current work in progress, the novella tentatively titled Safety Valve.  So, I guess I have used “dream” experiences to inspire my writing upon occasion.

This blog of darkness I acknowledge mine

Hello and good morning!  It’s yet another Thursday and, as will come as no surprise, it’s time for me to write my weekly blog post.

I must say that I’m deeply gratified by reader response to last week’s extemporaneous reflections on  how the ideal of perfection can often be the enemy of the good, analogous to falling into the mathematical trap of saying that, since every finite number is equally (and infinitely) far from infinity, there’s no point in trying to reach a greater number than where one is.

Something like that; I put it better last week.

The many “likes” received by last Thursday’s entry stand in stark contrast to my blog post from the previous week.  This is hardly surprising.  I was riding a downturn in my ongoing waveform of dysthymia and depression on the day in question, so I’m afraid it must have been grim reading.  There’s a semi-serious saying in the medical and mental health community that depression is contagious.  Though this is not literally true—one cannot become clinically depressed simply by contact with a sufferer unless one is predisposed—it is certainly the case that spending time with, or receiving communication from, a person with depression can make one feel seriously blue and gloomy.

Depression can be surprisingly convincing in the hands of one who knows it well, particularly if that person is someone whose strengths include the communication of ideas and emotions.  Most people, struggling mightily to hold onto as good an outlook as they can, tend not to rubberneck much at these sorts of mental roadside crashes, at least until they reach the level of true catastrophe.

This is a shame, though, because one of the worst parts of suffering from depression, at least from my point of view, is that it engenders a self-reinforcing cycle of alienation.  One hates oneself; one feels intellectually justified in this attitude; and one feels therefore quite clearly that others would be justified in sharing that hatred, if they were to get too close.  Indeed, one feels positively rude and uncomfortable, even guilty, about even the possibility of subjecting others to one’s presence in any way beyond the absolutely necessary.  Isolating oneself can become a matter of conscience, analogous to what one might do if one had a particularly deadly and highly contagious illness.  It feels natural to think that those who do want to spend time in one’s presence—this number tends to diminish with the passing years, ceteris paribus—are thoroughly misguided, and must be discouraged from their goal.

And of course, other people do tend to avert their eyes from depression and the depressed—even when those eyes otherwise seem irresistibly drawn to every roadside fender-bender and horrible news story.  At least, they avert them unless and until the problem reaches fully catastrophic levels, at which point it can be ignored no longer…and at which point, ironically, there is usually little that can be done.

Some artistic reflections of depression are more palatable than others, of course.  Songs are—in my experience—one of the most tolerable.  Indeed, many of the most beautiful songs are sad, a curious fact noted by minds as widely diverse as Elton John and J.R.R. Tolkien.  My own song, Breaking Me Down, of which I released my “rebuild” on  this site, on Iterations of Zero, and on YouTube last weekend, is about depression.  The fact that it was originally composed, almost in current form, thirty years ago, shows that depression is a gift that keeps on giving, and which can contribute to the spoilage and ruination of a promising life.  It’s not something to be taken lightly; it has a mortality rate as high as many cancers, and its morbidities are vaster and deeper and more insidious than we can readily enumerate.  When seriously contemplated, it is terrifying…not least because it often makes its sufferers literally envy the dead.

If I had the choice of submitting some evildoer to the horrors of the Inquisition or of enacting upon them a chronic, fairly severe depression, it’s hard for me to say which I think would be the worse crime against humanity.

And yet, Hamlet’s soliloquy, Kansas’s Dust in the Wind, Radiohead’s No Surprises, many of Edgar Allen Poe’s stories and poems, among innumerable other works, can be enjoyed thoroughly, their beauty embraced, even by those who don’t know the experience of major depression.  Visual depictions seem more problematic, at least in my experience.  Maybe, being primarily visual creatures as we are, the imagery that effectively represents depression strikes just too close to the bone.  It can be technically remarkable and sometimes quite powerful…but it’s hard to call it beautiful.  And it’s hard to look at for very long.

Horror

I drew this picture around the same time that I wrote Breaking Me Down

Maybe words and music are abstract enough and have enough of an “eye of the beholder” effect that they soften the blow, letting people avoid the deep implications of the work by not paying too close attention.  Depressed non-fiction prose on the other hand, like visual artwork, can be too stark and on the nose to be taken in with any enthusiasm.

This is a shame because, as I said before, when someone is suffering from depression, they can feel very much condemned to solitary confinement…and to feel that such is where they belong, by nature and by guilt.  On those rare occasions when they’re able to express themselves—to cry for help, as is said, though the depressed often feel they deserve no assistance—the very nature of their suffering can make them existentially threatening to others’ moods and even their worldviews.  Again, one of the problems with depression, and a source of quips about its contagiousness, is that it can be so horribly convincing.

It’s easy enough to sympathize with those who don’t want to deal with the depressed too directly, or too often.  No one, I think, would willingly, with foreknowledge, choose to endure serious depression for long…not even if the alternative was death.

But we at least have the poetry and the songs, and I encourage you to enjoy them at whatever level you can.  At the very least, it’s wonderful occasionally to “suffer just enough to sing the blues.”  And, of course, it can also be good fun to enjoy a good horror story in a similar vein.  Hopefully, Unanimity will be such a story when it’s finally done.

Darkness can be beautiful, in its own way, as long as one knows that one can turn on the light at any time.  If one cannot, and if no one else can offer, or is offering, illumination, then even an otherwise enticing darkness can become a true horror.

TTFN