A Raven-ous Friday post

Good morning, yet again, I say as I often do—though I sympathize with Gandalf’s irritated inquiry after Bilbo wished him good morning at the beginning of The Hobbit.  I won’t go into that discussion, however, since—much like when Costello didn’t want to talk about which end of a racehorse he owned—it’s a long tale*.

As I warned you yesterday, I have indeed finished and edited my recitation of The Raven, and I posted it on YouTube.  I’ll embed it here, below.  As you can see, I dispensed with the mask during this performance, though I left on one of my two pairs of dark glasses—these ones are actually reading glasses, but I wasn’t reading; I did the whole thing from memory.

I left the mask off because I wanted to be able to convey the emotions this poem always engenders, at least in me.  It’s weird, but I cannot seem to express or often even feel emotions of my own, or at least not recognize them, unless I’m reading something—out loud usually—or singing along with a song, or singing it myself.  I think sometimes that’s why I, and people like me, enjoy melancholy and dark songs so much.  It’s our only way of even crystallizing, let alone expressing, our own feelings.  Often, it’s the only way we can even tell what they are, at least if we have alexithymia/dyslexithymia.

Anyway, all of you are hereby warned that, if you watch the video, you’ll have to look at my face, unimpeded by the mask, though at least I’m wearing dark glasses.  Unlike that weird, one-hit-wonder pop song from the eighties, though, this is not because the future is bright.  Ultimately—in the long run, anyway—the future is dark.  Indeed, one could say that the future is darkness itself.  But that’s not going to be fully instantiated for trillions to googols of years, so you’ve got time for a quick bit of breakfast before we go.

With that warning, here is the video of my recitation of The Raven, with background “music” by me.  I hope you like it.  If you do, I would be grateful if you could give it a “thumbs up” on YouTube, because apparently that makes things more likely to be recommended to other people and all that.  Obviously, if you want you can subscribe as well, though if you follow my blog, you’ll probably know about my videos shortly after they are posted, assuming there ever are any more.  Also, of course, if you’re inclined, you can share to social media and whatnot, and that too would be appreciated.

It’s interesting, but before recent times, I found the YouTube recommendation algorithm quite good and useful, directing me at times to subjects that I wouldn’t have known related to me without the recommendations, such as Asperger’s.  But of late it’s been spending a lot more of its effort recommending videos I’ve already watched.

To be fair to it, when I like something, I do often rewatch it many times, just as when I like a book I reread it many, many times.  But still, it would be nice if, instead of things that are entirely rehashes and obvious draws from channels to which I subscribe, it would do more of the thing it did with Asperger’s, a sort of “a lot of people who watched similar videos to you went on to look at these videos and related ones”.  I don’t think there was any recognition of connection in the algorithm, it just spotted patterns across a very large data set and suggested similar patterns to me (and no doubt to many others) so that I would stay there at YouTube.

But I have noticed that most of these algorithms in general don’t work too well with me anymore, if they ever did, whether it’s Netflix or Amazon or YouTube or Facebook or Hulu any of the other various things that can make money if they can recommend something to you that you’ll watch.  I’m apparently too weird, or perhaps just to anhedonic, for typical things to appeal to me.

I guess I shouldn’t really hold it against YouTube too much.  I recently tried to restart all three of the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, The Lord of the Rings, The Belgariad, some comic books, some Japanese light novels, and—most concerning of all—some physics/cosmology books that I enjoy.  I haven’t been able to get far in any of them.  I just get…well, not exactly bored, but unable to maintain any interest.  Just apathetic.  As Pink (the character in The Wall) sang, “Nothing is very much fun anymore.”

I am at least looking forward somewhat to this Sunday evening when we will be able to watch the Doctor Who sixtieth anniversary special, and Jodie Whittaker’s regeneration moment, The Power of the Doctor.  I think it’s going to be fun, though it will be sad.  I’ve enjoyed the 13th Doctor, and most of her episodes, especially in the last two series.  I look forward to seeing the 14th Doctor, of course, but will miss 13.  She isn’t my favorite Doctor, but she’s been very good.

Anyway, that’s enough for now.  BBC America will be showing the above mentioned program Sunday night at 8 eastern, so if you like Doctor Who, keep that in mind.  It’s just possible that I might go on to recite some more poems, or read bits of books or stories that I like and want to share, but I think I’ll use the mask again for those, unless my face changes significantly.  That’s unlikely to happen, since unlike the Doctor, I don’t regenerate**.

I’m off work tomorrow, so there won’t be any more posts before Monday, if there are any at all***.  You can all be thankful that you’ll be granted at least a restful weekend without my words.

*Or “tail” in Costello’s horse’s case.

**As far as I know.

***After all, something might prevent me from making them even on usual days.

There was a star blogged, and under that was I born.

Hello and good morning.  It’s Thursday again—October 20, 2022—and thus it’s time for my weekly blog post, though I’ve been writing my near-daily blog post all along this week and for many preceding weeks.

I posted yesterday about the two videos I’d uploaded to YouTube with my readings of two of my favorite poems, and I hope those of you who are interested in such things enjoyed them.  The only comments I’ve received were on Facebook, and those were actually on the sharings of the videos themselves, not on my blog post, or on YouTube proper.  I guess it’s something.

I did a first draft, so to speak, of a recitation of The Raven yesterday, and I started to work on editing the audio for it.  I realized that I cannot use that video, since I made a few errors—a wrong word in at least two places that doesn’t even make sense.  I honestly cannot understand how that happened, since it’s an error I’ve never made before, as far as I can recall, when reciting the poem.  Anyway, I’ll have to re-record the video.

At least working on the audio led me to decide what I was going to do for the background music for this, and I’ve prepared that (it’s remarkable what I can get done since I no longer write fiction or play guitar in the morning).  It didn’t involve me actually playing and recording any new versions of music, but I did work with my own recorded music to produce it, and it’s suitably eerie, I think.  I’ll let you all be the judges of such things.

On a less cheery note, I had a terrible night’s sleep last night, waking up at around one thirty, struggling to try to get back to sleep, but only succeeding for a total of about fifteen minutes by my clock.  I did at least have a dream during that fifteen minutes, but it was one of those typical, semi-mundane but still bizarre dreams, and it involved some annoying scheme that took over computers and cell phones, but in a fashion such that I can’t see what the point would have been, other than pranking.

I don’t understand computer pranking and hacking, or why someone would think it was funny.  I guess there’s no accounting for one’s sense of humor.  I, for instance, think it would be funny to castrate all saboteur-type hackers* without anesthesia or antibiotics and to use fire to stop the bleeding.  I think it would be hilarious.  But that’s just me.  I’ve always had an odd sense of humor.

That’s pretty much all I have for you today.  I’ll work on redoing the video for The Raven, possibly even this morning.  If I get a take that I like, I could be finished and post the video by this evening, but the takes are about ten and a half minutes in length—that’s the time it takes me to recite the poem with a bit of voice-acting thrown in—so if I screw it up, I probably won’t do another take.

Still, if I do post it to YouTube today or tonight, I’ll probably share about it here on my blog tomorrow, assuming I’m still alive and sharing, which is not necessarily my preference.  Honestly, I don’t know what most people see in staying alive; I imagine most of it truly has to do with innate biological drives, a fundamental, “terminal” goal, in AI-speak (though it’s ironic to use it here), and people just make excuses for it, confabulating justifications and motivations for staying alive when it’s really just animal programming due to natural selection that impels them to continue.

Oh, well.  That’s life.  I hope yours is enjoyable, at least for today, and hopefully from now on, for as long as it can be for you.



*Other than, perhaps, those who are legitimately and honestly taking part in some form of political protest, but that should be a very strict set of criteria and very limited in application.  Hackers can potentially cost a society millions and even billions of dollars with minimal effort or risk on their parts, and when society loses such amounts of money, there are people, somewhere, who because of that, go without enough good food, without medicine or mental health care; there are people who suffer in general and who die prematurely.  It’s not obvious to see, not as straightforward in proximate cause as most homicides, but its effectively a mathematical certainty.  These are petty and cowardly murders committed anonymously and at a distance, for no good reason but to assuage weak egos.  If that’s the sort of thing you’re into, you should go into politics; at least then you might accidentally do some good.

“What have we here, laddie? Mysterious scribblings? A secret code? No! Poems, no less. Poems, everybody!”

It’s Wednesday morning, and I’m at the train station, but it’s more than half an hour before five o’clock.  Officially, the train station isn’t even open yet—in the sense that the payment kiosks and the bridge and elevator access portals are all closed off.  I suspect there’s at least a bit of dereliction involved on the part of the person tasked with opening them, since the first train arrives in roughly fifteen minutes, and it seems reasonable for the station to be open at least fifteen minutes before the first train.

I couldn’t stay asleep this morning, as is probably obvious, having awakened at around two.  After rolling around a bit and ruing the fact that I never can seem to get any real rest, I gave up, got up, took a shower, got dressed, and headed for the trains.  I’m certainly busted flat in a figurative sense, and I would say that I was feeling nearly faded as my jeans, but I don’t wear jeans, anymore.  The sentiment still applies, nevertheless.  I feel not only faded but frayed and, in places, rather tattered and torn.  I wonder if there’s anything that can be done about it, apart from the obvious.

I did recite the two poems I mentioned yesterday on video, and I uploaded them to YouTube.  I’ll also embed them here.  I decided to make two videos instead of just one with two poems, because the two poems have quite different general ambience.  I also decided to do a little reverb and stuff to my voice in addition to eliminating background noise, and while I was editing the sound for the first, it occurred to me that it might be nice to add a little music.

I didn’t want a copyright strike from YouTube, though for a non-monetized channel like mine these are mostly harmless.  Still it’s a minor irritation, and I happen to have music of my own to use, so for The Second Coming, I took the opening and closing music from my song Come Back Again, which I’ve never “released” but for which I have a “video”, which I had made private.  I guess I’ll make it public again, and will have added a link for it just above.

Anyway, I slowed the combined music down just enough to make it last until it faded out at the end of the poem, then lowered its pitch by three semitones to make it more ominous, and put it through a couple of reverb filters in a row to make it sound distant and hollow, then adjusted the balance and added it to my video before doing just the barest bit of trimming on the ends.  I think it came out nicely.  Here it is:

For the second poem, Alone, I used the opening, the bridge, and some of the final fadeout from my song “Like and Share”, which I slowed, again, reduced in pitch, and put through three different reverb processes, so it’s quite echoey and distant.  I wanted to do that because it’s slightly less somber to start with than the other song, and I needed it to be a little more hollow to make it match the poem.  This is one of my very favorite poems, and since the first time I read it* I felt not just that it had been written for me, but almost as if it had been written by me.  Of course, I cleaned up the audio for my voice as well, taking out background noise and so on.  Thankfully, I’ve done that sort of thing so often now that it’s speedy work.  And here is that video:

I hope, if you enjoy them, that you’ll give them a “thumbs up” and maybe subscribe and possibly even share them.  If you feel like it, please comment on them, either here or on YouTube.  Of course, I’ll always give you the out that the man selling a broken barometer gave to potential buyers:  No pressure.

I’m thinking of doing a video of The Raven, as I think I mentioned yesterday.  For this, I may dispense with the mask, and possibly even with the sunglasses.  Though I strongly dislike seeing my unimpeded face, for that poem such a horrific sight may even be beneficial, and in any case, I want to have full expressivity, not just of voice, but of face, to recite it.

I want to use some background music for it as well, I think, but I don’t know whether I’ll use just one song or multiple ones for different sections.  The latter notion sounds like an awful lot of work.  I do have an old piano piece I wrote as the theme for a really crappy horror screenplay I wrote in high school, and for which I dreamed of making the movie; the music is way better than the script was, as even my most generous friends agreed.  Maybe I’ll do some of that, and also the bad guy’s theme that I wrote for it, on my keyboard at home (maybe using a pipe organ setting, that might be good), and of course, do various things with the audio to make it more suitably ominous for the background of The Raven.

We’ll see.  It’s a lot of work, all that, but it might be engaging enough to keep me at it for a few hours, which is probably all it would take overall.  It’s not like I have anything better to do with my time.  So, if I do anything at all, I’ll probably do that, but I can make no guarantees.  It’s entirely possible that I’ll crash and burn before then, possibly even before tomorrow; but I’m rarely that lucky.

Oh, as an aside, by the time the first train arrived, this morning, they had not yet opened the train station at Hollywood.  If anyone involved with the Tri-rail system reads this, please note that fact, if you haven’t been made aware of it already.  It’s not cool, to make people with chronic pain and other, similar disabilities have to walk all the way down to the nearest crossing and back to get onto the other side of the tracks.  I don’t much mind the exercise myself—I’m self-hateful to an astonishing degree—but there are people I see regularly at the station for whom this seems an onerous and unkind imposition.

That’s about that for today.  I hope you enjoy the poetry recitations a bit, including my original background music.  Have a good day if you can.

*In an Edgar Allan Poe collection I got as a holiday gift when I was about twelve or thirteen, I think, but I may be one year early or late on that.

“I’ve got electric light, and I’ve got second sight”

Well.  It’s Tuesday morning now, the second day of the work week.  Yippee.

I don’t have any idea what to write.  It’s not at all unusual for me not to have an idea what to write about, but that’s not really what I mean right now, though it is related.  I just feel a near-complete lack of motivation even to try to find something interesting to “say”.

Of course, it’s possible that you all think that I never find anything interesting to write or say at any time, and that’s fair enough.  Interest is basically in the mind of the beholder, anyway.  I’m well used to people not being interested in things in which I’m interested.  It’s not quite true to say, as Poe wrote in his poem, that “all I loved, I loved alone,” but it certainly feels that way quite a lot of the time.

I think maybe I’ll read a couple of Edgar Allen Poe poems and maybe some others as my next few videos.  With Halloween coming up, it might be good, next week, to do a reading of The Raven.  I can still do it from memory, though I occasionally have to stop and fuddle around to find all the words to the verse that ends with, “but whose velvet, violet lining she shall press, ah, nevermore.”

I enjoy reciting those poems, as far as it goes, and it might, therefore, be a good thing to make a video about it, so to speak.  I don’t know how much, or if, people liked either of my last few videos.  I think I may be the only one who actually clicked the thumbs up for either video.  That wouldn’t surprise me, nor would I necessarily think it inappropriate.  No one has a right for their work to be liked, though they have a right to be able to produce it and share it if they are able.  But you cannot demand fans, you can only try to entice them by creating work that someone, somewhere out there might like.

Yes, I think perhaps I will do a few videos of me reading poems.  Perhaps the first one will be a two-poem video, in which I’ll read The Second Coming by Yeats, and Alone, by Poe, which I quoted above.  Actually, I won’t read them, I’ll recite them; I know them both from memory, since they are both short.  They are also two of my favorite poems.  I don’t know if anyone really reads any “classic” poems anymore, even in school, except of course to the extent that songs and raps can be considered poetry.  Some of them certainly can, without reservation (though many of them, not so much*).

Dylan won the Nobel Prize for literature, taking his work as poetry; and who could deny that Bohemian Rhapsody, or much of the album The Dark Side of the Moon, or The Wall, or a substantial proportion of the Beatles’ songs are legitimate poetry even without the music?  And there are many raps which, whether you like the subject matter or not, are clearly poems of a particular sort.

Indeed, Edgar Allan Poe anticipated modern hip-hop when he mentioned that he heard the sound of “someone gently rapping, rapping at [his] chamber door**.”  It would be fun to hear some top-tier hip-hop artist doing his or her version of the full poem The Raven with a beat behind it.  For Halloween, you know?  Snoop?  Your birthday is coming up***; you could do it to celebrate.  It could be brilliant.  The Simpsons did it (albeit in abridged form) in an early “Treehouse of Horrors” episode.  If Homer Simpson can recite The Raven for comedic effect, surely Snoop could achieve real ominous intensity.

Okay, maybe it’s not a great idea.  But it’s an idea, and it might be fun.

With that, I think I’m about out of ideas for the day; possibly I’m out of ideas for good.  Possibly I’ve been out of ideas for many years now, but I’m too low on ideas to be able to recognize the fact.  It may even be the case that I’ve never had an idea in my life.  How would one know?  And—let’s be honest—would it even matter?  The universe is the way it is, the experience is what it is, there is some underlying reality, whatever its nature ultimately is, and I was not consulted when it began, if it began.  Neither were you, most likely.

*And this includes some very big hits; I won’t get started.

**Ha ha.

***I know this because Snoop, Viggo Mortensen, and I are triplets from separate mothers in separate years.

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.”


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.


*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.