On My Mind   (2017Jan14)


Saturday, January 14, 2017                                               11:28 AM

You know what’s scary? Thinking—thinking is scary. You think you know what you’re thinking about and then, suddenly, your imagination throws something unexpected into the mix—like slipping with a knife and cutting off a finger—and you think ‘Damn—how’d that get in there?—all I wanted to do was daydream about winning the lottery—nobody said anything about knives!’

Sometimes I’ll be thinking about something—and then I’ll realize—no, that can’t be right—otherwise, everyone would be able to fly—or something. Then I have to backtrack, to figure out when my mind ‘turned off’ onto the dirt road of Crazy-Town, while I thought I was still cruising down Logical Boulevard.

Memory is the worst of all—and it’s not just the blankness where memory should be—like when I run across someone whose name I should easily remember, someone whose feelings will be hurt to realize I having no effing clue what their name is. It’s actually worse when I remember something that didn’t happen—like being friends with someone since high school, and having him point out that he didn’t move into the area until we were in our mid-twenties.

And it isn’t that I have a lot of friends—no, it’s not that my memory is overloaded—it’s just broken. That only embarrasses me, though—the rational stuff is worse. I remember driving while on LSD—I was scared that I would confuse the hallucinations of the road ahead with the hallucinations of the windshield between me and the road ahead. I had to look ‘through’ the windshield hallucinations to see the road hallucinations—I wasn’t worried that the road was purple and crawling with bugs—I was worried about my depth perception being tricked.


They say, “Out of sight, out of mind.” And that’s what memory is like—sometimes I need cues to remind myself of things. But what about when my mind is simply out of order? How is it possible to rationalize things, past the point where they make sense, to a point where they return to nonsense? It’s as if the brain is a muscle—and a muscle has two components: there’s the raw strength of it (which I still have) and there’s the control of it (which is something I’ve lost a handle on). My brain will go after any obstacle in its way—but it lacks the control to discern between breaking through the obstacle, and just banging my head against it, over and over again.

While my specific brain may be damaged, I think there’s a little of these kinds of problems in everyone’s thinking. Have you ever gotten used to calling a friend’s dog, saying, ‘Here, boy. Who’s a good boy?’ Then your friend says, ‘Her name is Sandy.’ But you never stop calling the dog ‘boy’? Once we adjust the settings in our head, they are very hard to change—and especially hard to cancel. We’re likely to talk to people that have left the room; to scratch a limb that’s been amputated; to sit down where the chair used to be.


So, having sat on more than my share of non-existent chairs, I’ve learned to take a good look before I sit down (metaphorically speaking). My mind goes through several extra ‘safety’ steps that other people’s brains don’t need to bother with—and that slows down my reaction time, my absorption time—my cognition is down there, near the level of the mentally challenged. In effect, I have to run a ‘spell-check’ on my everyday cogitations. It’s very frustrating because I can remember a time when I was quicker than average about most mentation.

Brains do amazing things—just like the muscles of an Olympic athlete do amazing things. But, just as average muscles can suffer a moment of clumsiness, the average brain can get things wrong, in a million ways, just getting through a day. It’s odd that we can have so much faith in our own opinions, even when we are well aware that other people have other opinions of which they are equally confident. The sensation of ‘being sure’ of what we ‘know’ is only that—a sensation—it is our defense against reality—because, in reality, nobody really knows anything for sure.

That’s part of the reason I’m so outraged by the present political climate—the whole nation’s greed and xenophobia and media frenzy, really—because the mind is a delicate thing, knowledge is a fragile bit of spun glass. To complicate ‘knowing’ even further, on purpose, with lies and partisanship and secrecy and spin—it’s ludicrous—and only people with a loose grasp of actual thinking would even go down that road. I’m not sure of anything, really—and that’s a problem—but it’s less of a problem than being dead-sure of something stupid.


Worse, when you’re dead-sure of something stupid, you can debate with confidence in yourself, dismissive of opposition—a very winning front. So, we get to where we are now—when the stupidest people win all the arguments in public forums, because they put a better face on their ignorance than the thoughtful people can present against them.

The media helps a lot with all of that—they love the facile, the superficial, the sensational—and they hate the boring drudgery of actual reason and mere information. If you want actual journalism, I suggest a newspaper—the New York Times, for example, makes a habit of journalism—which is why they get so much flak from the incoming administration. But, apparently, they don’t mind—something about First Amendment protection—I hope those evil spin-monsters don’t prove them wrong.


Calm Seas   (2015Mar12)

Friday, March 13, 2015                                    1:56 AM

It’s been a quiet day here. I took some pictures of the melting snow and the bare ground starting to show.

Bach felt that D Major was the most joyous key signature and that can be heard in this keyboard partita. I had a recording of this on vinyl, performed by Paul Badura-Skoda on piano. YouTube has an excellent recording of him playing this Prelude on a harpsichord: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LNJgKFJgWiQ&list=PL33FD3673F789B78A

My rendition isn’t quite up to Paul’s standards, but I do my best with the fingers I have. I plan to record the other dances of the partita in the near future—they too have a bouncy delight to them—except for the Sarabande, which is one of the sweetest slow pieces in baroque music. I shall have to feel extra-on-my-game when I attempt that one.

The improv came out very novelette-ish and made me think of waves and wind and open water, thus the title and the ‘cover art’ (pictures, once again, courtesy of the Rijksmuseum web-site). Enjoy—



Life on a Go Board


I don’t like it when words are used as stones on a Go board, or statements used as chess-pieces—those are combat simulations—since when did communication become combat? For that matter, when did words become the only form of communication? Actions speak louder than words, but words, or perhaps videos’ scripts, are considered a life-connection from you or me to someone halfway round the world. Am I really connected to those people? Funny story (you know I accept friend-requests from anyone) this new Facebook-friend of mine only posts in Arabic—it’s beautiful stuff, but I don’t even know the basic phonemes of that written language—and I had to ask him to tell me his name (or equivalent sound) in Roman script.

I don’t want to get into a debate here about argument. Formal argument, or debate, is certainly useful and productive—as is regular old arguing, when it’s done with restraint or when its goal is an elusive solution or resolution. The Scientific Method, itself, is an implied debate—a conflict between prior theories and the new theories that overthrow them—or that are overthrown thereby—no, I’m not saying that communication isn’t rife with conflict—my purpose here is to discuss other forms of communication and sharing. So, please, let’s not argue (—jk).


I finally realized that all these unsolicited friend requests from the Mid-East were because I was using a photo of Malala Yousafzaya as my Profile Pic! I’m glad—now I know they’re not shadowy extremists trying to cultivate an American connection—they are instead the liberals of their geographic zone.

Such international friends frustrate me—the lack of words that I don’t type could be just as offensive as any thoughtless words I post—and there are plenty of those. I wish I knew what they were. Whenever someone wants to Facebook-friend me as their American friend, I start right in on criticizing all their grammar faux pas and misunderstood colloquialisms—they love it—that’s what they want from their American friend. I’m afraid geek-dom knows no borders—only my fellow geeks from faraway lands appreciate criticism—I’m sure people with the Cool gene flock together across the datasphere as well (but then, I’ll never know—will I?)


But communication, as a means of sharing ideas and organizing cooperative efforts, is far more than a battle of witty words. Political cartoons, cartoon cartoons, obscene gestures, and ‘making out’ come first to mind—although there are plenty more examples. The Media (a term I use to denote People magazine, other newspapers and periodicals, radio, cable-TV, VOD, cable-news, talk shows, private CC security footage, YouTube and the omnipresent Internet.) I say… the Media is looking for trouble.

They aren’t broadcasting cloudless summer skies or a happy family sitting around the dinner table or the smoothly proceeding commuter traffic a half a mile from the traffic accident. And I don’t blame them. Their job is to entertain—that’s what pays their bills. And I don’t blame us, either. We are happier watching dramatic thrills than watching paint drying. There’s no getting around that.

And I won’t play the reactionary and suggest that we go back to a time when entertainment was a brief treat enjoyed, at most, once a week. Even the idle rich (and this is where that ‘idle’ part comes from) just sat around socializing when they weren’t at a fox-hunt or a ball. To be entertained was almost scandalous—think of it—in a deeply religious society, such escapism went against the morality of the times—and even as a once-a-week diversion, it was frowned upon not only to be a stage player, but to attend the performance, as well.


But entertainment, like a gas, expands to fit the size of its civilization—those old scruples took a few centuries to kick over, but once the digital age had dawned it seemed quite natural that everyone should have access to twenty-four-hour-a-day entertainment (call it ‘news and current events’, if it helps). And now we have people walking into walls and driving their cars into walls while they stare fixedly at their entertainment devices.

So, trite as the word may seem, Media is a mandatory entity to include in any discussion of the human condition. And more importantly, it must be a part of the Communication topic, as well—most especially with a view towards a formulation of culture that does not make conflict our primary means of sharing and informing our minds. So let’s recap—Entertainment equals drama equals conflict equals fighting (See ‘Arnold Schwarzenegger’). Information equals scientific method equals discussion equals human rights (See ‘Bruce Willis’—jk).


To begin, there is one thing that needs to be acknowledged—learning is NOT fun. I’d love it if it was—I know fun can be used to teach some things—It’s a lovely thought—but, No. Learning is a process of inserting information into the mind. People talk a lot about transcendental meditation but, for real focus, learning is the king. To learn, one must be patient enough to listen; to absorb an idea, one must be willing to admit that one doesn’t know everything; to completely grasp a new teaching, one may even have to close ones eyes and just concentrate—nothing more, no diversions, no ringtone, no chat, no TV, no nothing—just thinking about something that one is unfamiliar with—and familiarizing oneself.

We forget all that afterward—the proof in that is that none of us graduate from an educational institution with the ability to ‘sub’ for all the teachers we’ve studied under. We have learned, but only a part of what was taught—it’s implications, ramifications, uses, and basic truths may have eluded us while we ‘learned to pass the class’. Contrariwise, our teachers may have bit their tongues—eager to share some little gem of Mother Nature’s caprice implicit in the lesson plan—and had instead put the ‘teaching of the class to pass’ before the ‘teaching of the class’.


And that is no indictment of teaching, that’s just a fact—it doesn’t prevent me from admiring great teachers. But I couldn’t help notice that great teachers always color outside the lines in some few ways. Teaching people to learn for themselves, with that vital lesson neatly tucked into the course-plan of the material subject of a course—it takes effort, discipline, and way more patience than that possessed by most of the rest of us—but it also requires an allegiance to the Truth of Plurality, that incubator of eccentricity.


But we forget our Learning. It becomes something we simply ‘know’, something that we just ‘know how to do’. Part of good parenting is learning to teach well—young people have the luxury of just understanding something, while parents must struggle to figure out how to explain it, or teach it, to their children. And then we forget about that learning—and must scratch our heads again, struggling to explain ‘explaining’ to our grown-up, new-parent offspring. It’s a light comedy as much as anything else.


So learning is not fun. There is a thrill involved, however, that is almost always worth the ticket price. The internet and the TV blare words at us in their millions, info to keep us up-to-date—just a quick update—and now there’s more on that—and we’ll be hearing a statement from the chief of police….—also, we are seduced by lush orchestrations or driven musical beats, by the gloss and beauty and steel and flesh of literal eye-candy, and that dash of soft-core porn that is the engine under the hood of so many TV series.

We see breaking YouTube uploads of rioting in a faraway land—we believe that our quiet little lives are nothing, that all our sympathy and concern should be spread across the globe to billions of strangers in distress. We are flooded with information by the Media—but because it’s the Media, only conflicts and crises are shown—the peaceful, happy billions of people that pass by those crowd scenes, that seek refuge across the border, that have families and generate love to whomever gets near enough—we don’t need to see them.


But that isn’t true—it’s true for the Media, but it isn’t true for us. The Media can’t change—but we can be aware of its bias. We can take note of the fact that the Media should not be the major part of our dialogues with one another. Best of all, we can become aware of how much the Internet can teach us—if we can stop IM-ing and web-surfing and MOMPG-ing long enough to notice that the Internet is a hell of a reference book.

No, I’m not saying we should trust the Internet. I’m saying that the real information is there, and finding it and using it will be the road into the future that our best and brightest will walk along. They will pull their eyes away from the Mario Race-Cart, the YouTube uploads of kittens and car-crashing Russians, and George Takei’s Facebook page—and they will throw off the chains of Media and make it their bitch again, back where it belongs.


In WWII, fighter-group captains and flight-team leaders are always saying ‘Cut the chatter, guys—heads up!’ I think we need the same thing—everyone should have a little devil on their shoulder that says the same thing—“Hey! –so the Internet connects you to the entire civilized world—that doesn’t mean you have to say anything—it just means you can.”

Our high-tech communications infrastructure is no small part of the problem—the digital magic that flings words and pics and music all over the world bestows an importance and a dignity to our messages that many messages don’t deserve. Posting to the Internet is kind of like being on TV—it grants a kind of immortality to the most banal of text-exchanges—it can even be used against you in court—now, that’s very special and important—and now, so am I, just for posting!


So, yearning for the perennial bloodlust of Law & Order: SVU, our self-importance inflated, and our eyes off the road, we speed towards tomorrow. I hate being a cynic.

[PLEASE NOTE: All graphics courtesy of the Quebec National Gallery]