Paper bags get wet on rainy Mondays

Well, this wouldn’t be a good day for Karen Carpenter—at least if the lyrics of one of her songs accurately described her feelings—because it’s a Monday, and it’s raining.  Since both of those things, according to the song, always got her down, then the combination of the two seems likely to have done so doubly.

Unless, that is, the combination follows the rules of multiplication rather than addition.  Adding two negatives produces a more negative outcome, but multiplying them together turns the product positive.  Maybe then the combination of a rainy day that’s also a Monday would have boosted her spirits.  I think she could have used a boost.

As for me, well, rainy days don’t tend to get me down particularly.  They don’t necessarily cheer me up, either, though sometimes I enjoy them.  Right now, the rain is here either as a consequence of or as part of the cause of a slight drop in temperature, which is nice, because it’s been quite hot and muggy with little to no respite for quite some time.

You’d almost think I lived in south Florida.

And as for Mondays, well, even when growing up I never had a big dislike of Mondays, and that’s not my only divergence from Bob Geldoff.  I certainly didn’t dread school; I was always a pretty good student, and school was where I had my friends.

Also, I have usually preferred to have a purpose of some kind, so whether it was school or work, I never particularly disliked getting up and going in to either one.  I like having a schedule, with things to do and a place to be at a particular time.  If anything, weekends sometimes make me feel a bit lost, at least when I don’t have any family structure or any reason to do anything in particular.  I just loaf around feeling rudderless.

Of course, this weekend, I definitely welcomed the rest.  As I think I mentioned, all last week I was fighting a virus, and didn’t get a chance to take a day off, so I needed the break.  As it turns out, I had to go briefly into the office on Saturday morning, because the other person with whom I alternate Saturdays had lost his keys, and our boss was already well on his way to Key West*, so he was much farther away that I was.  It happens; I wasn’t too upset about it, but I really didn’t feel very well.

Honestly, I’m still not really feeling very well, physically, though I certainly feel better than I did on Saturday, when I was tired and grumpy and a bit out of breath.  Now I’m just a bit out of breath, and a bit tired; but I don’t feel particularly grumpy.

Give it time, it’s early in the day.

I even brought my book of all Radiohead song chords to the house over the weekend, just in case I got the urge, during that time in which I was supposed to be undisturbed, to play guitar.  I did not, of course—I could have told myself I wouldn’t—but then again, I wasn’t actually undisturbed, but rather got no fewer than four surprise impositions on my time and space.  But I don’t want to dwell too much on those, or I will get grumpy.

I’m really just physically, mentally, and emotionally fatigued, I think, and it’s not something I enjoy.  I certainly don’t get any kind of secondary gain from it, unless it’s the secondary “gain” of fulfillment of my self-hatred, since I can’t really socialize very well anymore, I don’t have the sort of personality that makes people want to spend time with me—I also don’t enjoy doing things such as most people seem to enjoy—and I frankly don’t even want to take the chance of trying to get involved with other people, since I have an almost 100% track record of alienating those closest to me, the people I love, and on whom I rely, the most.

Maybe Tennyson was an idiot, or at least simple-minded, when he said that it’s better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.  Or maybe he was thinking more along the lines of someone like Voldemort, who was incapable of love and lived a life of misery, making other people suffer, before dooming himself to an eternity of pain.  That really doesn’t sound so good.

Shakespeare was a bit more on the money with Hamlet’s inclusion of the “pangs of despis’d love” as one of the things a person wouldn’t willingly bear if they could avoid it.  And then there’s Fiona Apple, who in her song, Paper Bag notes that “Hunger hurts, but starving works when it costs too much to love.”

Not that poetry (or song) automatically has any access to truth, even if it’s beautiful.  Just because someone can put words together nicely, in ways that catch people’s attention and appeal to their cognitive biases doesn’t mean that those words actually bear any deep wisdom.  As witness:  “If the glove does not fit, you must acquit.”

That’s the problem with rhetoric, as opposed to dispassionate argument.  Often it “persuades” people because of the clever manipulation of the foibles of the human psyche, forged as it was in the savannahs of sub-Saharan Africa over the course of a million to a hundred thousand years, depending on when you start your cutoff.  People can embrace non-sequiturs and internal contradictions without giving them much notice, if they trigger the right emotion or have a catchy beat or sound or structure.

This is why, unlike Mulder from The X-files, I don’t want to believe.  I want to be convinced by evidence and argument…preferably the dispassionate kind.  Passion is nice to feel, but when considering someone’s attempt to persuade you, it should be a warning sign, in them or in you or in both.  Being passionate doesn’t guarantee that you’re not right, but even if you are, it may mean you’re right for bad reasons, and it doesn’t help your chances of getting things right.  Passion is a decent servant but an unreliable master.

no belief

Maybe I worry about such things too much.  Though even the words “too much” carry assumptions that, for the most part, people don’t notice or try to pick apart.  Too much for what purpose, by what standards, according to whom, for what reason?  If this much is too much, how does one determine how much would be just right?  How much would be too little?  What would be the good and bad consequences of any of these states, and would they be different depending on external conditions?

Probably I’m overthinking it.  But what do you want from me on a rainy Monday?


*How ironic.  Well, not, not really ironic.  But it is an amusing coincidence of words.

How many rhetorical questions can one man ask?

Well, it’s Monday again, the start of another work week.  I think it’s a bit unfair that we’ve made the day that we named after the moon—arguably our most unique and interesting and certainly among the most important of nearby astronomical bodies—into a day that’s associated with the return to drudgery after a minor respite.

But that’s not what I mean to write about today.  I’ve been thinking recently about a list I saw of “Greatest Songs of All Time”.  I think it was one of those “WatchMojo” or “WhatCulture” lists, but that doesn’t matter much.  What matters to me is, what had this list declared to be the greatest song of all time?  Well, the answer, my friend, was Blowin’ in the Wind.

There’s nothing particularly wrong with the song.  It’s a simple folk tune, pleasant and catchy enough for what it is.  But the greatest?  Musically, it’s not terribly interesting.  It has only three chords, which change in not terribly imaginative or impressive ways, and the tune itself is also not especially beautiful or catchy.  It just repeats its structure 3 times in a row.  That’s all fine, don’t get me wrong, but…surely it can’t be because of the tune and the chords that they think it’s the greatest song of all time.

It must be the words.  After all, the person who wrote this song was recently given a Nobel Prize for his words (all of them, not just this song), so they must be the reason some people consider this the greatest song of all time.  Presumably the Nobel Committee doesn’t give those awards out just for any old lyric writing.  They haven’t given one to Paul McCartney or Bernie Taupin or (God forbid) Tim Rice.

So, Mr. Dylan—if that is your real name*—let’s examine the lyrics of this supposedly greatest not just of your songs, but of all songs.

With the first line, I already have problems:  “How many roads must a man walk down before you can call him a man?”

It’s internally contradictory.  If a man is walking down any road at all, as the lyric says, you’re already calling him a man.  If the starting point is “a man walking down a road” then he doesn’t need to be a man walking down a road at all before you call him a man.  For a man to walk down a road, he has to be already a man.

Then comes the line “How many seas must a white dove sail before she sleeps in the sand?”

This one just doesn’t make sense.  Do white doves sail?  Aren’t doves land birds?  Does any bird, other than a pirate’s parrot or similar, actually “sail” at all?  Do white doves tend to sleep in the sand?  I thought most dove species nested well above the ground.  Or is this “sleep” a reference to dying?  In which case, maybe a white dove will die if it tries to sail—since they aren’t sea birds—and so it will die at once, and the answer is “one or fewer”.

Next comes “How many times must the cannonballs fly before they’re forever banned?”

Well, I don’t think you need to ban cannonballs.  They’re a long-since obsolete form of military projectile.  What good would “banning” them “forever” do?  Cannonballs are easy enough to make, but again, they are obsolete.

Well, this one I’m willing to accept as a catch-all term referring to all military weapons, but surely banning will not be the way war is ended, since “banning” something requires an implicit threat of force in and of itself.  Surely only by advancing as a civilization to the point where war is no longer in any sense desirable by anyone is the way things will go, if it goes that way at all.

Next comes the title verse, “The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind.  The answer is blowin’ in the wind.”

Now this is clearly just an evocative image (so to speak) showing that the answer is not something that can be grasped, calling to mind poetic queries such as “Who has seen the wind?”  But ever since I were a wee lad, I’ve heard this and thought, “So, maybe the answer is ‘a leaf’.”  Which doesn’t quite make sense, but a leaf is the sort of thing that can be found blowing in the wind.  Or we could go “meta” or whatever, and say, “The answer is, ‘dust’.  Dust in the Wind is the answer.”  And for my money, it’s a much deeper, more evocative, more haunting, and far more beautiful song.

But that’s a digression.

Now, the first lyric of the second verse is one I frequently forget, because it’s partly banal and partly misses any point.  The whole “How many years can a mountain exist before it’s washed to the sea?” is a bit of trivia, and it would differ for every mountain.  Also, I would think that not every mountain is, in the end, washed to the sea.  I don’t really think that’s how geology and plate tectonics work.

As for the third line of the verse, “How many times can a man turn his head and pretend he just doesn’t see?” it’s basically an empirical and uninteresting question***; I suppose one could run a test on a statistically significant number of men and have them turn their heads over and over again, pretending not to see, until they get fed up with the process, or fall asleep, or develop some form of repetitive stress injury, then publish the result with error bars and significance estimates, but why would anyone do such a thing?

The middle line sticks in my craw in a worse way, for moral philosophical reasons:  “How many years can some people exist before they’re allowed to be free?”

Well, if freedom is something that people are “allowed” then they aren’t free at all.  They are being given a privilege, not claiming a right.  Freedom is something that is demanded, that is seized, that is declared.  It is not given nor taken away—ethically, anyway—at the whim of other people.

It is certainly questionable, as a matter of physics, whether anything like “freedom” actually exists, but from a civilizational point of view, if you think you have a right to “freedom”, you don’t ask to be allowed to be free, you insist upon it, and—if it’s important enough to you—you put your life on the line to seize it.

Then comes the little chorus again.

Now for the last verse, which starts, “How many times must a man look up before he can see the sky?”

Well, honestly, we don’t have enough information to answer that question.  If the man is in a closed, windowless room, then it doesn’t matter how many times he looks up.  He’s not going to see the sky.  On the other hand, if he’s in the basket of a high-flying balloon, for instance, or in a plane, he may not need to look up at all to see the sky.  But if he is outdoors, and it’s not cloudy (unless clouds count as “the sky”) then he only has to look up once to see the sky.

The next line is “How many ears must one man have before he can hear people cry?”

The most straightforward answer is, “At least one.”  I would be willing to include in this definition of “ear” anything that transduces sound into decipherable neural impulses reaching the appropriate brain centers for interpretation, including those amazing new devices that have allowed previously deaf people to hear for the first time.  When those are turned on, and you see the recipients’ reactions, anyone with half a soul can’t help but cry.  That’s poetry in real life.

But it’s orthogonal to my point.

Next comes perhaps the silliest line, to me:  “How many deaths will it take till he knows that too many people have died?”

There are a lot of assumptions made in asking this question, such as the notion that death is inherently bad in and of itself.  If that’s so, then we’re all hosed, because as far as we know, every human born will die someday, somehow.  As far as we can tell, the universe itself will eventually reach some stage of “heat death” with the development of maximal entropy and no free energy, where there will no longer be any arrow of time.  But in any case, every human will die eventually, that much is effectively certain.

So, how many is too many?  I suppose if the last mating pair of humans alive in the world die, leaving the human race extinct, then “too many” people would have died…from the human point of view, anyway.  Maybe to other creatures on the planet this would entail “just the right number of deaths”.

This line is part of a general attitude toward which I have antipathy.  It is not death per se that is the evil.  It is premature death, and death that causes or entails unnecessary suffering.  Suffering is the real tragedy, not death.  Everyone who is born will die.  If not—far worse—they’re eventually going to find themselves floating in a featureless, timeless haze at just-above-absolute-zero, and they’re going to be alone there until the next Poincaré recurrence, estimated to be on the order of 10120 billion years, if such a thing even happens at all.

That doesn’t sound fun.  Why not just be content to die and then come back whenever the laws of physics accidentally recreate you, somewhere****, which is going to be more likely to happen sooner than the whole universe recurring, not that you’ll experience the intervening time.  That’s all assuming that the laws of physics don’t contain bigger surprises than anyone expects, which they probably do.

This should all be enough to show my irritation with the notion that Blowin’ In the Wind might be the best song ever.  It’s obviously memorable, of course, and it made me think—but only in the sense of thinking of the ways that it’s awkwardly worded or ham-handedly metaphorical.  All Along the Watchtower is a better song, in my opinion.  Even The Times They Are A-Changin’ is a little better.  Or The Man in the Long Black Coat!

Then again, I’ve written a lot of words picking apart this one, simple song, with a simple chord and verse structure, with many lines that could be considered what Dan Dennett calls “deepities”—words that sound profound, but which are fairly banal and even trivial or nonsensical when you look at them closely.

But I did stop and look at them and pick them apart and think about what they could mean if they were slightly better worded, and they made me think about possibly better questions to be asked.

Maybe it’s a pretty great song after all.  Who would’ve thought it?


*That’s a joke.  I know it’s not his real name.  His real name is Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov**.

**That’s a joke within a joke.  It’s not actually Bob Dylan’s real name.  Anyway, as far as I’m concerned, Dylan is Dylan, just as Muhammed Ali—another famous poet—was Muhammed Ali.

***Though I know it’s really a rhetorical question referring to people’s ability to ignore injustice, and I don’t actually have any issues with it as such.  So I apologize for being picky about this line.

****Possibly as a so-called Boltzmann Brain, which frankly doesn’t sound appealing.

Before my blog I throw my warlike shield

Hello, everyone.  I hope you’re having as good a day and as good a week as possible.  It’s Thursday again, which means that it’s time for another of my weekly blog posts.  “Sound drums and trumpets!  Farewell sour annoy!  For here, I hope, begins our lasting joy.”

Anyway…

It’s been a rather momentous week.  I received the files for my old stories and poems as discovered and generously sent by my ex-wife.  Most prominently, I received the files for my old book Vagabond, complete as it was written.  It’s very exciting, and though I haven’t stopped working on Outlaw’s Mind (formerly Safety Valve) I did take at least a little time, when I didn’t have my latest work with me, to do a little editing and rewriting of just the very first bit of it.  I have to resist getting sidetracked, because I want to finish my current story and put it in Dr. Elessar’s Cabinet of Curiosities so that I can release that before getting to Vagabond.

The current story is growing rapidly; I’ve been steadily writing at least two thousand words a day on it.  Hopefully, it won’t become so large as to make it unwieldy for including in the collection.  If it grows too much, it’ll have to be released as a short novel, which I’d really prefer not to do.

It would have been nice to have the complete copy of my old short story House Guest, which I wrote in high school, and which helped me win an NCTE award, but unfortunately, it seems that I only had typed in about the first one and a half pages of the thing (it was originally typewritten the old-fashioned way).  Still, that’s the most important bit, since it gives me my character’s name and back story, and it sets the stage for what’s to come.  It wasn’t nearly as long as many of my current “short” stories, so it won’t be too much labor to try to recreate it, but I don’t know if I’ll go to the trouble to include it in DECoC.

Still…it would be a shame not to have it there…

Vagabond is good, but it bears the hallmark of my old, disjointed way of doing things:  only writing when I felt “inspired” and bouncing from one project to another haphazardly.  By this I mean, though I like it, it’s rather abrupt in some ways, and doesn’t flow as nicely as I would prefer.  Still, that’s okay; I can fix it now.  I can’t feel too bad, and I’m not complaining.  It’s the rediscovery of a book I started in college, more than thirty years ago, and finished by the end of medical school, more than twenty years ago.  From this you can tell that it took me ten years to complete it, though it’s only about 150,000 words long in present form.

Among the treasures my ex-wife sent was an early beginning of Son of Man, which I recreated from scratch in its current published form.  It’s interesting to compare it to the final version, which definitely follows the same pattern but is a lot better, in my opinion.  The main character’s name didn’t change—that much was easy enough to remember—and one of the secondary characters retained almost the complete same name, but with a change of spelling.  Of course, Michael Menelvagor also remained the same.  That was inevitable, as you’ll know if you’ve read Son of Man.  I even found the first two pages of a prequel I had planned for the book,which was to be titled Orion Rising, and was the “origin” story for Michael.  There was also the beginning of a relatively realistic novel called Lazarin, which I doubt I’ll ever restart.

As you can see, I did an awful lot of starting things and not finishing them.  Admittedly, I had a lot going on at the time, but if I had disciplined myself to write a little every day, whether I felt like it or not, and to stick with one thing until it was done before starting something else, I could have been a lot more productive.

I also received a file of old poems of mine.  They are a dreary lot—I tend to write poems when I’m feeling particularly depressed—and are often embarrassingly pretentious* and purple.  Still, among them are the earlier versions of poems/lyrics that became Catechism, Breaking Me Down, and Come Back Again, and I’m pleased with two facts about these:  first, that I really did remember them pretty accurately**, and second, that where I changed them for the current versions, I definitely improved them.

So, it’s been quite interesting to look back in joy (and in groans) at my old works, and to be able to look forward to finally being able to publish Vagabond, and to have the stem from which to regrow House Guest.  That was really a seminal story for me; it showed me that my writing was actually good not just from my Mom’s point of view.  I’m quite sure that it was the main factor in winning me the NCTE award, because the other part of the entry was an impromptu essay, written by hand…and as I think I said before, I can’t imagine anyone being able to decipher it, let alone liking it.

This isn’t just false humility.  My MCAT essay (I don’t even know if they still use those) was the only part of the test on which I got a mediocre score, and though I may just have written a crap essay***, I think it was very difficult to read as well, and that can’t help but hurt one’s evaluation.

Which point demands of me that I once again profoundly and profusely thank my sister, who undertook the Herculean task of trying to decipher and type in handwritten chapters of Mark Red and I think of The Chasm and the Collision that I sent her from jail and from prison.  Thank you, Liz, if you’re reading!

And that, I think, is a good point on which to close things this week.  I hope you all stay safe and healthy and use any enforced isolation time to read whatever strikes your fancy, and not to succumb exclusively to the temptations of video and social media.

TTFN Writer-at-work


*I know, right?  If even I think it’s pretentious, it must be really something!

**The middle portion of Come Back Again is verbatim from the original poem, though it was part of a completely different piece of work originally.  The last verse is almost the same, just with a slight flushing out of the second line for rhythm purposes.  Catechism is very accurate, but there were a few phrases that were a bit awkward in the original that have come out better.  Likewise for some of the imagery and word choices in Breaking Me Down, though that also is very close to the original.

***I have absolutely no recollection of what the subject was, let alone what I wrote.  Ditto for the NCTE essay.

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.