by Robert Waltz
Not for the faint of art.
A complex number is expressed in the standard form a + bi, where a and b are real numbers and i is defined by i^2 = -1 (that is, i is the square root of -1). For example, 3 + 2i is a complex number.
The bi term is often referred to as an imaginary number (though this may be misleading, as it is no more "imaginary" than the symbolic abstractions we know as the "real" numbers). Thus, every complex number has a real part, a, and an imaginary part, bi.
Complex numbers are often represented on a graph known as the "complex plane," where the horizontal axis represents the infinity of real numbers, and the vertical axis represents the infinity of imaginary numbers. Thus, each complex number has a unique representation on the complex plane: some closer to real; others, more imaginary. If a = b, the number is equal parts real and imaginary.
Very simple transformations applied to numbers in the complex plane can lead to fractal structures of enormous intricacy and astonishing beauty.
|I don't possess creativity.
PROMPT November 25th
Write about tinkering, brainstorming, or the process of creation. What brings out your creativity?
I know I've been over this before. Few things strike as much fear into my stony heart than the admonition to "Be creative!"
What I am is methodical and technical.
Now, I get that some people might question my self-assessment, what with my writing and all. But all I ever do is rearrange letters, words and concepts into something that's -- sometimes -- unique. What others might see in my stuff as creativity is more a result of randomness -- by which I mean, I literally pick things at random and then hammer them into some semblance of a form. Or, as with poems, the form exists and I just have to find the right words and rhythms and/or rhymes.
Having no creativity is, it seems, an unforgivable sin in our society. If I believed in such a thing as a soul, I'd say that the creative spark is the soul, and I never had one.
Take Legos, for example. Most people have played with Legos. Other people can take individual Legos and turn them into something new. Me? I have to follow the instructions or it becomes something indeterminate. You know in the first Lego movie where the entire theme was "don't freeze Lego creations into permanent form; be creative with them?" Well, that made it a horror movie for me. Everything is NOT awesome.
Or music, for another example. My attempts at making music sometimes followed the right form and structure, but there's no influx of creativity.
Fortunately, I went into a very technical, rules-oriented profession, where the soulless can, if not thrive, at least find a place. Hell, even my photography was more about the rules of composition, lighting, etc., than about any kind of artwork.
How, then, do I plan and plot a piece of writing?
Generally, I start at the end and work backwards. If I know, for example, that I need characters A and B to hook up at the end of the story, I can come up with plausible scenarios as to how they get together. If I'm working from a prompt, I find another prompt, usually through randomness, and combine the ideas. That's my theory on how writing works, by the way: not just one idea, but two or more, combined in what is hopefully a new way. If a single idea can be expressed in three ways, for example, when you get two of them together, you don't have six possibilities but nine. The more ideas, and the more ways in which they can be expressed, and the possibilities become, not infinite, but large enough as not to matter. Like shuffling a deck of cards: it's unlikely that any particular arrangement of a thoroughly shuffled deck of cards has ever been made before in the entire history of cards.
I try to find through-lines. It's an old design trick, to repeat a certain theme in different ways. A particular necklace, or the concept of "necklace," for example, can take on a different meaning in different parts of the story.
Mostly, though, I just write. When I feel stuck, I freewrite. This usually helps shake something loose, just vomiting ideas onto a screen.
The thing about technical stuff is, these are things that can be taught, learned, improved. Creativity isn't learnable. You either have it or you don't. It's kind of like how some people are born blind or deaf: they can get along just fine, and they even have the advantage that no one is going to judge them for their missing sense, the way they judge the uncreative.
I can admire creativity when I see it, though when it's not paired with technical skill I'm generally not impressed. I'm also not impressed when a bunch of people get together and try to out-create each other, like at Burning Man. Want to impress me? Have the courage to change the name to Burning Woman and deal with the inevitable backlash.
At this, I got curious about this year's Burning Man, something I've never been curious about before. Usually stuff about it is background noise for me when I'm looking for interesting stuff on the internet in the summer, but I just realized I didn't hear word one about it this year. Obviously there's good reason for that, but I didn't even notice its lack until just now. Turns out the festival was all-virtual this year.
I bet they got creative with it.
I don't care.
|"Peace" is not actually an uncommon state of being for me.
PROMPT November 24th
Think back to a time when you felt completely at peace. What made you feel that way?
While much is made of "happiness," I find it unsatisfactory. I've ranted in here about that before, I'm pretty sure. But peace? That's a different feeling entirely, in my opinion. When I think of happiness, I think of something boisterous and gaudy, like a river rapids; peace, on the other hand, is a calm lake.
Both have their place, of course.
Some find that feeling of calm to be boring, I suppose. I do, too, after a while. It's not a state of mind I'd want to hold onto for an extended period. You forget about the things you're supposed to be doing, which is desirable in the short run, but then shit catches up to you and boom, turbulence.
In the Before Time, I'd visit breweries to sample their wares. I've done that a bit since the pandemic started, but mostly just ones that are nearby; with lockdown rules, it's not as straightforward as it was. At the best of times -- when the place isn't very busy and when I don't have to worry about being anywhere at any certain time -- I'd achieve a feeling that I like to call "beerenity." Not drunk, just... the calm knowledge that everything is right with the world (even though it never really is, at least one can pretend it's so, briefly, for the sake of one's sanity).
That feeling is one of peace.
I don't mean to give the impression that I need to drink to achieve this state. There have been plenty of times when I've reached it completely sober, usually after finishing something difficult, or exercising to physical exhaustion. Or while driving, which certainly doesn't happen when I've been drinking. With beer or other libations, it can be a delicate balance; drinking too much leads to mere mental fog or drunkenness. Which, I should hasten to add, in my case doesn't mean doing anything untoward, just that I can't enjoy it as much.
So I think the last time I felt truly at peace was a few months ago, and yes, beer was involved.
My state's lockdown kept my local taphouse closed for a while. This didn't stop me from getting delivery food, or drinks from local breweries and/or the grocery store, but one thing I'd enjoyed since the place first opened a couple of years ago was going to the taphouse, sitting at the bar, and either trying some new brew or indulging in an old favorite. It's just a different experience from merely drinking at home.
Anyway, and I think I wrote about it in here at the time, at some point back in June, I think -- late spring or early summer -- the taphouse reopened. The bar was unavailable (still is), and I didn't want to be inside anyway, but after a couple of months of stewing at home, I got to sit on the covered patio of the taphouse and order beer and some food. They have a sound system on the patio, so I just sat there enjoying the warm weather, drinking beer and listening to the music, and things felt almost normal. I would even say it felt... I can't think of the word right now. Promising? Hopeful? Auspicious?
Good, anyway. It felt good.
It didn't last, of course. It never does, nor would I expect it to. I think I ended up overindulging and staggering back home (I know I've mentioned in here before that the place is within easy walking distance, even after drinking) to pass out, but for a while there I'd achieved beerenity.
I've been going back once a week, even though the weather's gotten cooler so the patio isn't as welcoming. Enjoyable experience, every time, though never again as blissful as that first one after they reopened. Yesterday was one of those days, and it's looking like next week might work out also.
I'm going to be sore about not being able to go out to California this year. Still, somehow, I'll find peace.
|Hm... I suppose I'm pretty good at drinking...
PROMPT November 23rd
Write about a time you discovered a new skill in yourself. Or write about the first time you put a new skill into practice.
But no. Actual skill, I suppose.
Thing is, I like to learn stuff -- both theory and practice. But because I like to learn a lot of stuff, I don't excel at any one thing.
I'm sure you know the expression, "Jack of all trades, but master of none?" I've heard it asserted that the original quote ended with "...but oftentimes better than a master of one." I'm sure that makes those of us with broad rather than deep interests feel better, but there's no evidence that this was any sort of "original" version. Maybe it was. Maybe not. I can't be arsed to delve into it much more deeply, which I suppose is fitting. here's the Wiki , for whatever that's worth.
Thing is, I don't claim to be an expert at anything. Oh, sure, I have training in civil engineering and, I sometimes think, some small facility in writing English, but everything else? Just enough knowledge to be dangerous.
My dad was like that, except he actually did more stuff. He pretty much built our house, with a little bit of help, while I was a kid. It's... not a pretty house, but it's still standing, so I suppose that's something.
Not me, though. First of all, that's too much like work, and second, I wouldn't want to take the chance of shit falling down with me inside. He was apparently okay with the risk, though.
Anyway, I've noted in here before that the latest thing I'm learning is French, so I suppose that counts for the prompt. I still consider myself a beginner, though I can usually muddle through written French and sometimes even translate into the language from English. Don't ask me to speak it, though. My mouth just doesn't want to work that way.
But I suppose you might have also heard the saying that goes something like, "The marvel is not how well the bear dances, but that he dances at all." I've always been told it's very difficult to learn a language at my advanced age. And I wouldn't say it's a cakewalk, but I'm surprising myself by actually learning the words and grammar and so forth. So that's what I discovered in myself - that I don't completely suck at it like I thought I would. It helps to have low expectations of oneself; that way, one can't be too disappointed.
I hope to put it into practice at some point, if I can find someone to help practice it who isn't going to beat me over the head with a day-old baguette for stumbling over the pronunciation. Mostly I just want to see if I can achieve some measure of fluency -- though I'm not holding out a lot of hope for that; I'll settle for being able to ask where I can find the nearest bar. Fortunately, the word for "bar" in French is... "bar."
And hey look, I've come 'round full circle to talk about drinking again.
|This prompt assumes I actually feel emotion.
PROMPT November 22nd
Write about a moving performance you’ve witnessed. Consider musicals, theatre performances, dances, operas, orchestras, etc. Why did it have an impact on you?
Well, okay, sometimes I actually feel emotion. It's rare, sure. Like, just the other night, I got angry. Really, really, seeing-red, punch-the-walls angry. Well, almost. I didn't actually punch the walls. I'd have to spend money to fix them, so I refrained. Perhaps I'll talk about the reason sometime. It has to do with the utter and complete stupidity of the American health care "system."
Obviously, I don't go to performances to get angry -- though that happens if someone drags me to an opera. I mean, I understand and appreciate the immense amount of talent and hard work that goes into an opera performance. Even so, I still hate the genre.
There have been a few peak experiences in my life, by which I mean moments where I felt extreme joy, peace, happiness, euphoria, whatever you want to call it. All of those moments occurred at music concerts. Yes, all of them.
As for any specific one, it would be difficult for me to pick. It would depend on what mood I'm in at the moment, what else I'm focusing on, etc. I suppose it doesn't matter, anyway; I'm not a good enough writer to suitably convey the feeling I get at a concert by a performer or band whose music I truly enjoy. Just as no amount of praise or flowery language will convince me that, say, a Nickelback concert was a transcendent experience, because Nickelback objectively sucks, so it is that there is nothing I can do or say to convince anyone else that seeing Bruce Springsteen on stage is tantamount to being transported beyond the Pearly Gates.
There's a certain energy to a music concert, though, and it's something I seek out from time to time. Perhaps eventually we'll have those again. It would be nice to feel something besides irritation, anger and despair.
|This one could easily send me into dark places.
PROMPT November 21st
Write about a “cruicible moment” in your life. A challenging time that shaped you and altered your view on your life and/or the world.
So I racked my brains trying to think of a time that changed me without being too depressing. I mean, there was the 20 years I spent dealing with parents with dementia, one after the other, to the point where I was mourning them before they technically died... but 20 years is hardly a "moment." And no one would read it.
Instead, I'll go back to the time before their decline.
As I've noted before, I spent my childhood on a farm. It wasn't a large farm; we had a forest and a field and a garden and a changing cast of farm animals. It was work, sometimes, but I was never far from the shade of the house and a large body of water for cooling off in.
And so, when I went looking for a summer job in 1984, after my first year at university, I figured my childhood had prepared me sufficiently for the outdoor work of a surveyor's assistant, or "rodman." After all, hadn't I spent most summers toiling in the hot sun, and autumns trudging through the forest cutting and hauling firewood?
Summer in the Tidewater region of Virginia gets oppressive, even back then before the climate went to hell. You've head the expression, "It's not the heat; it's the humidity?" I'm 99% sure that was first uttered by a Jamestown settler. Oh, sure, that colony was famous for nearly getting wiped out in a brutal winter, but I guarantee you the summer wasn't any picnic, either.
So my boss, the surveyor, decided that the best way to handle the heat was to start work before the sun came up. I must reiterate that we're talking about summer here, the weeks surrounding the solstice, so morning arrived early. I didn't have an alarm clock, but I'd set a timer on my stereo so that rock music and the annoying voices of DJs would awaken me at like 3 am. Now, two things about that: One, like I said, I'd already spent a year at college, where 3am was almost bedtime. And two, my dad had been in the military, so he prided himself, like many men of his generation, on waking up at some ungodly cow-milking hour (for the record, we didn't have dairy cows).
Dad tried really, really hard not to be annoyed when, at 3 in the morning, Black Sabbath blasted suddenly from the enormous speakers in the room next to his.
Well? I wasn't about to spend hard-earned money on an alarm clock, and he could have bought me one at any time. It's his own damn fault.
Anyway, so then I'd grab a bowl of cereal or some such, then drive the ten miles to the surveyor's house, getting there usually just before the accursed daystar actually rose. We'd haul our stuff to whatever job site he was working on, and he usually tried to arrange things so we did open fields in the morning and then do our work in the woods at the height of the day. "Usually" and "tried" are the key words there; more often than not, I'd end up standing in the middle of a hot field, baking in the oven of the foul solar orb, waiting for him to take measurements -- and then haul the equipment on my back to the next spot.
That summer, I got serious muscles and a major tan.
I also got poison ivy, hornet stings, a sprained ankle, and back problems that will plague me until the day I die.
My boss didn't believe in eight-hour days. Now, don't get me wrong; I liked the guy, and he paid reasonably well for unskilled labor. And I wanted the job, not just for the money, but because I was studying civil engineering and this would turn out to be important for my career. A lot of civil engineers are also surveyors; I never got formally trained in it, but I picked up enough to be able to speak the jargon with the surveyors we worked with. Also, this guy was sweating right along with me, not just sitting back and watching me work. Anyway, as I was saying, he didn't believe in eight-hour days. We'd work until about noon, take a half-hour for lunch (usually, fortunately, in a nearby air-conditioned diner), and then slog through the afternoon. He'd generally use all available daylight, which -- again, summer -- got me back home around 9 pm.
Do the math. I'd eat a morose few bites of dinner, fall into bed, and wake up with Led Zeppelin blasting from my stereo in the darkness.
No time for anything else.
Oh, and on top of that, my boss didn't believe in weekends, either. We had Sundays off because his wife was religious (he wasn't, but you know how these things go), but apart from that and the rare occasion when it rained, we worked every day.
Now, I'm not going to say this didn't build character, or that I didn't, in a perverse way, enjoy it -- my dad was convinced that I'd end up being a lazy bum, and was endlessly surprised that I kept to this schedule. Mostly I did it just to show him I could. Sons are like that sometimes.
But what it ended up doing was turning me into a lazy bum.
See, once I got back to college, I returned to my college hours: study (or party) all night, arrange my class schedule to have the first class as late as possible in the day.
This was a far superior schedule for me. Also, I knew I had something to work toward: a lifetime of sitting on my ass in an office, with only the occasional foray into the not-so-great outdoors to look at job sites.
So yeah, that summer's experience changed me: it made me highly allergic to the outdoors, to waking up early, and to hard work. In my actual career, the day usually started at 8 am and proceeded, with a lunch break, until 5. Normal, ordinary hours, even if it didn't quite fit my natural nocturnal schedule (though the number of overtime hours I put in was frightening -- however, it was still office work).
I never did see that surveyor again after that summer. I hope he made enough money and got a chance to retire.
But I don't think he'd have enjoyed that very much.
|What is this "post COVID" of which you speak?
PROMPT November 20th
It’s movie night at your place! Host a showing for your 30DBC friends of a movie of your choosing. Make sure the atmosphere is just right (imagine life post COVID ) As your guests arrive, how are they welcomed? Any pre movie activities or games? What are we snacking on? Have fun with this!
I used to have a ceiling-mounted projector.
Well, technically I still have it because disposing of electronics is nearly impossible (well... legally anyway). A while back, I had a leak that dripped directly onto the fucking projector when it had about 999 other square feet to choose from but no, it had to pick that ONE spot.
So, no projector. I still have the giant screen for it, though, and six speakers for surround-sound. So before I invite anyone over for movies, I need to fix the sheetrock ceiling (because right now I can't be arsed) and mount a new projector. I like those things way better than TV screens, and the projector screen is much bigger than any generally available flat-screen TV.
The one disadvantage is that if people get up and move around, it throws shadows on the screen. So don't do that. Once the movie starts, siddown and shaddup. I don't watch movies to socialize. I watch movies to watch movies.
We can socialize first, though, if you insist. ("How are [guests] welcomed?" With a hearty "Come in! We're downstairs! Drinks in the kitchen upstairs! Try not to scare the cats!") I bet you already know what the drinks will be. Go ahead. Guess. Worry not - there will be plenty of sodas and water for the abstainers. If you want coffee, though, you're going to have to figure it out for yourself; I don't drink it so I never learned to brew it.
As for snacks, well, I'm too lazy to prepare anything, so it'll be delivery pizza. None of that crap from Domiblow's or PooPoo John's though; the boxes those come in taste better than the pizza - I'm talking real, actual, pizza. And of course we can't have a movie without popcorn; that would be illegal. I suppose I could get off my arse and microwave some.
Before the movie, it might be fun to play a round or two of Cards Against Humanity. Nothing better to get to know someone than to test the depths of the darkness of their sense of humor.
Oh, you're probably wondering what movie we're going to watch. Well, when I used to have guests over, we usually watched comedies. Those seem to do best with crowds. But really, I'm flexible that way; we could watch an action movie. Or an action comedy. Or a comedy with action. See? Lots of choices! I'm a fan of consensus choice for movies. The projector is hooked up to the internet and I have Netflix and Amazon, so we'll probably spend more time deciding on a movie (and what toppings to get on the pizza) than we do actually watching the thing. (If we can't come to a consensus then by regal decree as the owner of the house, it'll be Young Frankenstein.)
|Really, isn't everyone a stranger? Philosophically speaking, I mean.
PROMPT November 19th
Share a time when an interaction with a stranger had an affect on you.
I walked into a brewpub and talked to a stranger. The stranger gave me beer and took my money. That had a wonderful effect on both of us: I got beer and she got money.
On the other extreme, one time a stranger pulled out in front of me while I was driving. My car hit his, I went to the hospital, we went to court. Those weren't great interactions, but they had an effect.
Incidentally, I wasn't seriously injured, it was entirely his fault, and I ended up with a small settlement. Car was totaled, though. Was he injured? I don't know and I don't give a shit.
In writing this, I've been trying really, really hard not to unleash my inner editor.
I have failed.
People mix up "affect" and "effect" all the time. It's something I notice when it's wrong, but I don't end up thinking less of whoever does it, not like I do with people who can't keep "its" and "it's" straight, or "there," "their," and "they're." Or how I pass judgement on people who type "loose" when they mean "lose," or "opps" when they mean "oops." Those last two are generally the same people, and I think they follow some sort of Law of Conservation of Os -- though that doesn't explain where they get the extra P from. Probably from drinking too much beer.
Anyway. As I was saying. "affect" and "effect" are often confused, because frankly they're confusing. You can affect a person, or someone can have an effect on you. Someone once said, "'affect' is a verb but 'effect' is a noun." And in those common uses, they're right... but here's the confusing part:
Affect can also be a noun. And effect can also be a verb.
Those uses are less common, it's true, but anyone following the "affect-verb, effect-noun" rule is going to be caught off guard, like when you realize just how many exceptions there are to "I before E except after C."
Example of affect as noun: "The patient's affect was consistent with schizophrenia." (yeah, this version of the word is mostly just used in psychology)
Example of effect as a verb: "With perseverance and tenacity, and a whole lot of money, we can effect change in the world."
Isn't English fun? I think it's fun. I have a great deal of affection for it, even when I'm effectively putting on an affectation of pedantry.
Speaking of "loose" and "lose," there's a similar problem there: "loose" is normally an adjective, but it can be a verb: "He loosed an arrow at the target." This is, of course, distinct from "He will lose the archery competition because he mixes up 'lose' and 'loose.'"
"Only loosers care about spelling and grammar." "You mean 'losers.'" "Your mother is a looser." "Yeah? Well, yours is looser."
And, for the record, I know these things because a series of strangers taught me English grammar and spelling when I was in school. I guess they had an effect on me.
|For as long as I can remember, I liked superhero origin stories.
PROMPT November 18th
Write about origins. You can take this literally as in where your family originated from (your history, culture, traditions), or you can focus on your own origins as a person.
Other people with actual backgrounds in liberal arts have said this better than I ever could, but comic book superheroes are essentially updated mythology. Where the Greeks, for example, wrote of gods and heroes from the point of view of their own culture, our industrial/technological society has produced characters drawn from the fringes of our scientific approach to the world.
Not that there's anything actually scientific about them. Costumed adventurers have always occupied a place between genres, drawing primarily from fantasy and science fiction -- with, of course, several others thrown into the mix. Exposure to gamma rays won't turn you in the Hulk; it will sicken or kill you. Aliens don't leave glowy rings lying around for test pilots to find. Mutated genes are more likely to kill you than give you teleportation powers. Incredibly rich orphans find other ways to make the world a better place than dressing up as a bat to fight crime. Getting bitten by a radioactive spider (which, come on, really?) probably wouldn't do anything that getting bitten by an ordinary spider wouldn't do.
I like to say that my origin story occurred when I got bitten by a radioactive sloth.
Point is, though, these characters and stories occupy a place of speculation and wonder. The radioactive spider thing, or whatever, is incidental; the character's abilities draw a reader (or viewer) in, while their approaches to conflict keeps things interesting. We all know that the origin story, and everything about them, is fanciful. Some dismiss the entire genre for its lack of realism, and that's fair. But they're still stories, and just as with the magical aspects of fantasy, once you accept the more unrealistic parts, the rest can follow.
There's no real difference, then, between stories of the labors of Hercules (born of a god and set up to be an Earthly hero) and stories of the adventures of Superman -- except for the time period in which they're written, and the cultural milieu of their audience. Our modern stories take into account speculation about aliens, scientific discoveries, alternate universes, whatever -- things the Greeks had only the barest inkling of. Even the ancient gods are explained away in the comic books, as advanced, but natural, beings.
Much has been discussed about the differences between, say, Batman and Superman, or the difference in approach to superhero stories taken by different publishing companies, and everyone has their favorites, as well as those they dismiss out of hand. Most of my friends were more into Batman. I was always a Superman fan.
This has little to do with his powers and more to do with his classic origin story. An orphan sent to Earth from a dying planet, adopted by simple farmers who raised him as their own.
As an adopted child raised on a farm, this appealed to me.
Don't get me wrong; apart from the usual childhood fantasies about flying or x-ray vision or whatever, I knew damn well I didn't have superpowers and probably wasn't actually from another planet (unless Indiana counts as another planet). Though after making the entry from a couple of days ago, maybe "avoiding broken bones" counts as a superpower. And then there's my ability to drink different kinds of booze with no additional ill effects... hmm.
No, I'm pretty sure I'm human. 98% sure, at least. Well, maybe 95%.
But -- apart from the flying and the super-strength and tights and whatnot -- I have a significant departure from Clark Kent.
See, Clark was always interested in finding out his biological origins. In every version of the story, he ends up finding out about Krypton and his birth parents and whatnot, and soaking in alien science and lore. Not that he abandons those who raise him, but he has this need to find out where he "actually" came from.
Maybe it's because I know I'm not Kryptonian, but I have no such need. One family was enough for me, and apart from a mild curiosity regarding possible genetic predispositions to certain ailments, I couldn't possibly care less about my biological heritage.
I like to think that this gives me a less tribal worldview. Other people can be -- and in most cases, should be -- proud of their heritage, be it European or Asian or African or American or whatever. But for me, besides looking like I almost certainly have Northern European ancestry, I consider myself a product, not of one place or culture, but of the entire planet.
After all, when it comes to origins, whether you buy into creation stories or follow the science, ultimately, we're all descended from one human -- all one extended family. And I don't know, maybe if more people had that attitude, people might be less interested in bombing each other into oblivion.
But then again, knowing how some families are, probably not.
|I've actually had a perfect day. Several of them, in fact.
PROMPT November 17th
In your entry today, plan yourself the perfect day. Who would you see? Where would you go? What would you do? How do you spoil yourself?
Each of those days was different, but they all had three things in common: friends, booze, and food.
The food part shouldn't be surprising. Most people eat every day, anyway, and I would never call a day of fasting "perfect," regardless of anything else that happened on that day. But for me it's more than mere sustenance; it's a destination and experience in itself.
I'm sure the booze part isn't surprising if you know me. But I'm not talking about overindulgence; just something to add to the pleasure of the experience.
The "friends" part surprises even me, though, because I tend to be solitary. And yet having other people around to share the experience is a good thing; I just need some time alone afterward.
Location doesn't matter much, either. I've had excellent experiences close to home and on the road.
So let's look at what a perfect day for me might look like... assuming, of course, that a certain disease is no longer a concern. I should also point out that in this scenario, the temperature never dips below about 65F. I don't care how hot it gets, though, as long as the places we go have a/c.
First -- and this is absolutely critical for a perfect day -- I'm not woken by cats, people, weird noises, or, most importantly, an alarm. I just wake up when I'm ready. Hopefully this isn't too late for breakfast.
Breakfast itself could take one of several different forms. Cooking is work, so I'm at a restaurant or diner. They'll want to give me coffee; I'll request tea instead. They'll look all kinds of confused and thrown off stride. This is good; keeps them on their toes. Hopefully they'll have something besides that puke-orange Lipton bullshit. If not, I'll order a Coke. They'll try to pass of Pepsi as Coke. This is insupportable. Water it is, then.
Sigh. Okay, that's not a "perfect" day; that's just how breakfast usually goes for me on the road. Ideally they'll have an English Breakfast tea. Fortunately for me (and for servers everywhere) I'm not nearly as picky about my food as I am about beverages. Eggs Benedict, or a bagel with lox and cream cheese, or waffles, pancakes, toast, whatever, with some variety of eggs, and bacon. But really, any sort of breakfast food is fine.
The places I want to go don't open until 11 or so, usually, so I take my time with breakfast. That's when I'll meet up with my friends and we start drinking.
Not serious drinking, but visiting wineries, breweries, and/or distilleries and sampling small amounts of their wares. Wineries can be tough because they tend to be out in the country and you need to find someone who's not drinking to give you a ride. Some breweries are, too, but a lot of times they're in town and if you can't walk to all of them, there's rideshare. Even though I'm not drinking all that much, I'm not going to risk driving.
Lunch -- probably at one of the breweries; lots of them have decent menu selections. Then more samples of fine adult beverages, and maybe a walk in a park or a fun section of whatever town we're in. If we see something interesting, great, we can stop and check it out. I'm pretty flexible in that regard.
After all that hard work, I'll need a short nap.
No, I'm not cooking dinner, either. And I'm not too picky about where we eat: American, Italian, French, Japanese, Indian, whatever, as long as it's not lousy chain food. And the place, of course, has an appropriate selection of booze to go with the meal, preferably including expensive single-malt scotch that I can enjoy as a dessert. Even more ideally, they'll have some sort of music as well. Just not jazz. Fuck jazz.
And then, after dinner... dancing? No hell no. A movie? Nah, can see a movie anytime. A romantic walk on the beach? No squared to the power of nope. There's very little I hate more than having sand in my shoes, but one of those things is walking barefoot on the beach. And the only thing I hate worse than walking on the beach in the daytime is walking on the beach at night; I don't care what the scenery is like. So, what then? Well, more drinking of course, again somewhere that has decent music ("decent" still being defined as "anything other than jazz").
Such a day could happen again, I think, though it may be a while. In the meantime, I'll just have to make do with hanging around with my cats, reading or watching movies, and writing.
There's still beer involved, anyway.
|I'm not what you'd call a big risk-taker.
PROMPT November 16th
Write about the biggest risk you ever took. What was the result?
Kid Me was, though. When I was young, I took all kinds of chances, and for no good reasons: walking on questionable ice, diving off of high places, stunt biking, lighting firecrackers in my hands, cussing in front of my dad, hitchhiking... between the things I did for kicks and just being around farm machinery, cattle, horses, boats, snakes, and pickup trucks, there were plenty of risks for me to take.
But that was when I was young and indestructible. You can't prove that I wasn't indestructible, by the way; I never broke a bone or suffered other serious injury; nor did any of my various cuts and scrapes ever result in infection. The only times I've been close to death have been due to illness, not injury.
I survived all of that. Obviously.
Nowadays, naturally, I'd probably break fifteen different bones in twenty different places if I so much as fell down a flight of stairs, which is another thing I did on purpose just for fun as a kid.
So when it comes to risk these days, well, the biggest risk I took in the last nine months has been a series of trips to the dentist's office. These days, that's risky as hell -- but worth it considering the toothache pain it resolved. Look, I've had appendicitis and a heart attack, neither of which was what you'd call comfortable, and I'd go through either of those again if it meant a choice between that and the toothache I was experiencing.
Anyway, back to the prompt. We run into semantic issues again: what's meant by "biggest?"
It could mean the highest value that could be lost -- but value is relative. Some of the risks I took as a kid, I only see as risks now looking back and going, "Damn, I did some stupid shit." Most kids do, though, because like I said, kids think they're indestructible.
Or it could mean the highest value that could potentially be gained -- also subjective.
Or perhaps a combination of the two.
Thinking back, probably the biggest risk I took in my adult life wasn't physical at all, but economic: when I quit my job and started a business. "What was the result?" Well, it was fine at first and then about a dozen things happened all at once, including the Bush recession, my father's death, and my wife dumping my ass, and then everything fell apart.
I always tell people that there is no such thing as a happy ending; there are only stories that end too soon. And like everyone's story, mine will have an unhappy and unsatisfying ending, sooner or later. But everything ended up working out just fine for me after that, and I'm mostly where I want to be in life.
Would I be in an even better place now if I'd taken more risks? Maybe. Who the hell knows? That would make me a different person, and I'm pretty comfortable with the way things are for me.
And it's precisely because I like where I am right now (apart from a few constrictions that nearly everyone's experiencing in these times) that I don't see the need to take further major risks. I'm well past the "hold my beer and watch this" stage of my life, and there aren't many potential rewards that are worth staking anything on.
Nothing, of course, is risk-free. Stay at home all the time and you end up slipping in the shower or some embarrassing shit like that. So as soon as it's practical, I'm going to travel again. Hold my beer and watch me.
|Well, this is a trick question.
PROMPT November 15th
What does “a good life” mean to you?
The reason it's a trick question is that "good" has too many definitions.
It can indicate a desirable state: good news, good quality, a good road, etc.
It can demonstrate a subjective opinion: a good movie or book, good food, whatever.
It's a moral judgement: she's a good person, he does good deeds.
It describes an emotional or physical state: she feels good, he looks good, a good time.
It indicates skill: he's good at writing, she's a good painter.
It's a simple compliment: You're a good kitty. (I say this a lot even when it's not strictly true.)
And there's probably more, including the (mis)use of it as an adverb, substituting for "well," as in "You cook really good."
French is no help in this regard, by the way. You can translate "good" into several different words, and I'm rarely sure when to use, say, "bon" and when to use "bel." I may never figure it out, but someone's got to annoy the French and it might as well be me.
So asking me what "a good life" means depends entirely on context. Are we speaking ethically or materially? Is it a matter of something that happens to you or something that you have to work for?
Change the article in the phrase and you also change the connotation: "a good life" can mean something different from "the good life." Une bonne vie, la belle vie.
Fortunately, as a writer, such ambiguity is a benefit, although I haven't delved into it until right now so my thoughts aren't fully formed. But if I were to plan out a story entitled "A Good Life," I might contrast the life of someone dedicating their actions to helping others, and someone living a life of leisure and luxury (which, contrary to popular belief, does not preclude also helping others). In other words, one living to do things for others, and the other living for the pleasure of it. I'd want to show, in such a story, that both individuals are pursuing their own idea of pleasure, though Other People are going to hold the first person in higher regard than the second... which is, of course, selfish on the part of Other People because they're the ones benefiting from it.
Put another way, Person A pursues charity and derives pleasure from helping others, while Person B pursues comfort and derives pleasure from leisure. (You, uh, should read that last phrase in a British accent for best effect.) We say that Person B is selfish, but the only real difference between them is the actions they do to satisfy themselves -- and how those actions are perceived by others.
Honestly, I'd choose a mix of both -- like I said, they are not mutually exclusive, though in our binary-loving society people tend to think in extremes and exclude the middle. I've noted before the false dichotomy in the sentence: "It is better to be poor and happy than rich and unhappy." ("Better," you'll note, is the comparative form of "good.") It is a false dichotomy because a) it's possible to be poor and unhappy; b) it's possible to be rich and happy and c) from the original choices, I'd personally rather be rich and unhappy.
But, if I were forced to pick from one or the other, I'd choose "a good life" as in a life of comfort, luxury, travel, gourmet food, expensive scotch, delicious beer, and all the finer things. That's good enough for me. Those who don't see that this also helps other people along the way might benefit from a good course in economics.
|It seems that the word "epiphany" originally had the connotation of divine insight.
PROMPT November 14th
Describe an epiphany or "a moment when you suddenly feel that you understand, or suddenly become conscious of, something that is very important to you" that had a profound effect on your life and/or personal opinions.
It's been said that Newton's theory of gravity finally came together when he got beaned by a falling apple.
This is almost certainly apocryphal, like Washington and the cherry tree, but the persistence of the myth speaks to something in our collective psyche.
Apples seem to hold a special place in our collective metaphorical milieu. Perhaps most famously, the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge in Eden is popularly portrayed as an apple (though the original Hebrew text seems to contradict that as well). In the story -- and for the sake of this discussion I'm going to present this from my point of view, which is that the whole thing is allegorical -- the fruit, apple or otherwise, represents the moment when humanity developed self-consciousness, as illustrated by the immediate invention of proto-clothing. In short, it is a metaphor for whatever spark it was that guided us along the path to understanding the universe and our place in it.
In my view, this was the best thing that ever happened to humanity -- not a fall at all, but an ascent.
Which is why the original connotation of "epiphany" is amusing to me; that original Ascent was purportedly the exact opposite of what God wanted, except that if God was all-knowing, then God had that shit planned all along. Original Sin? More like Original Entrapment. Still, according to the story, the insight wasn't divine in origin.
Anyway, it should be no surprise that the popular myth about Newton's epiphany survives. It was Knowledge itself that hit old Isaac upside the head.
I'm no Newton, so my own epiphanies are far more mundane. So mundane, in fact that, the only ones I can think of right now are a) one concerning emotion that I know I've talked about in here before and b) my realization that the Earth, and everything on it including us, is made of star material -- which was honestly mind-blowing when I first realized it, but nowadays it's been mentioned so much that it would be trite if it weren't so intrinsically awesome.
It's not strictly true, of course. A significant number of atoms in the human body are hydrogen atoms, which could well have been primordial; that is, left over from the Horrendous Space Kablooie (as Calvin called the Big Bang). Pretty much everything else, though? A product of nuclear fusion, which these days happens in stars.
But there's one thing about it that still eludes me, and perhaps I'll learn about it someday or maybe have an epiphany; I don't know. I'll see if I can explain it in a way that makes sense. I call it the Neutron Problem.
In the early universe, once it got to the point when what we call elementary particles started to form, the dominant element was hydrogen. Hydrogen consists of a proton and an electron (though it took a while for the electrons to be able to bind to the protons). There's an isotope, deuterium, that adds a neutron to the mix. In this primordial era, some of the deuterium fused to create helium (and apparently some lithium too, but insignificant to what I'm talking about).
So what you end up with is a bunch of hydrogen, including some deuterium; and a fair bit of helium. The deuterium and helium contain all of the neutrons. All this gas clumped together and eventually made stars which proceeded to do their own nuclear fusion, eventually creating elements with more protons, like the carbon, oxygen and nitrogen that we need to live.
But here's the thing: free neutrons decay quickly. Like, half-life of 15 minutes quickly. (Protons, in contrast, don't decay, or so I'm told. Nor do neutrons bound in nuclei. There might be exceptions but they're irrelevant here.) So it's not like there can be a lot of free neutrons buzzing around. And yet, nuclear fusion goes on in stars and supernovae, and it doesn't take long before it starts making elements that have more neutrons than protons in their nuclei.
So what I wonder is where the excess neutrons come from in order for fusion to create heavier elements.
Now, this might very well be so basic that I missed it in high school chemistry and physics. Or I'm just not looking in the right places. I'm certain the answer is out there. But when I google something like "where do neutrons come from," the answer is always like "nuclear fission and radioactive decay of heavy elements," which doesn't tell me where the damn buggers came from to make the uranium or whatever in the first place.
I know that when a big enough star collapses, it makes what's called a neutron star because of... well, honestly, I don't remember all of the science, but basically the electrons and protons smush together under the intense gravity and make neutrons, so you end up with a gigantic dense ball of neutrons. But it's not like the little bastards can escape the gravity field, and even if they did, again, 15 minute half-life unless they happen to find a proton to marry.
So anyway, once I hear the answer to that it'll either be like an epiphany, or I'm going to facepalm and go "I should have realized that."
But I didn't, because I'm no Newton.
Maybe if I ate more apples...
|One great thing about living a drama-free life is there's little opportunity for disagreement.
PROMPT November 13th
Write about a disagreement you had with someone. What happened? Was the conflict resolved?
And yet, I have cats. Consequently, disagreements happen on a regular basis.
Cat: I hunger. Provide the customary nourishment, please.
Me: I just fed you.
Cat: Your memory is faulty. Behold, the receptacle is void of sustenance.
Me: That's because you ate it all.
Cat: ...I hunger.
And so it's resolved by me feeding the cat.
Similarly, when it's time to go to sleep.
Me: Cat, you're in my spot.
Cat: You must be mistaken. I have claimed this location by virtue of prior habitation.
Me: That is exactly where I need to be in order to sleep. You're a cat. You can literally sleep anywhere.
Cat: I must reiterate My claim.
Me: *picks up cat and gently deposits her on floor*
Cat: You are cruel! I have never been so mistreated in My life.
Resolution: Cat ends up sleeping on top of me so that technically, we're in the same spot.
Or, like, I'm trying to write a blog entry.
Cat: This keyboard, its temperature is pleasing unto Me.
Me: Cat, I'm trying to type here.
Resolution: I finish the blog entry later.
Now, I also live with a human, but fortunately, we rarely disagree and never seriously. This is probably because our relationship is what you'd call platonic: few expectations involved. I'm sure I get on her nerves sometimes, but as it's my house, I can live with that.
When I was married, though, my wife and I got into minor disagreements quite often (though rarely major ones, the exception being when she decided I had too much stuff). But that's too far removed in time for me to remember the details of any of them. Having a lousy memory has its advantages sometimes.
I'm tempted to joke, "We compromised and did what she wanted," but that would be unfair to both of us. I'm pretty sure I got my way at least once. Maybe even twice.
I have a friend I've known since middle school, and we see each other sometimes. We disagree on most things political, but it's not like there are any stakes involved. He presents his point of view and I present mine, and we're still friends.
In short, while I have strong opinions about some things, I don't let that get in the way of getting along with people.
|Me? Invited to a party? Obviously this prompt is purely hypothetical.
PROMPT November 12th
Imagine you are invited to a party celebrating your favorite book. The dress code asks you to dress up as your favorite character. Who or what do you dress up as?
First of all, I'm not sure I have a favorite book. My tastes have changed over time, like most people -- though I still consider the director's cut of Blade Runner to be my favorite movie -- and with the internet being what it is, I don't read as much as I used to.
Second, and this is the most important part: I'm utterly incapable of "dressing up" as anything. I have absolutely no talent for fashion, and more, I completely lack the ability to look at clothes on a rack and go, "that looks like something Harry Dresden [for example] would wear." I guess it's kind of like face-blindness. So when I go to F/SF cons (or did, in the Before Time), I'm usually dressed up as Me. These days, that's: Birkenstocks, black jeans, a t-shirt with a brewery logo on it, a Hawaiian shirt, and maybe a hat.
I can appreciate others' costumes, but I can never, ever recreate them.
The problem is even worse if you consider literary characters instead of ones from movies. I possess a slight resemblance to a younger Jeff Bridges, so when the local theater had a Big Lebowski movie party, I fit right in -- even though I couldn't go to a clothing store and re-create any of his outfits from the film. But at least that's a visual medium, so I could, if I really concentrated, probably find a bathrobe or something that would work. Instead, I went as me, long hair and goatee having to suffice to present myself as something vaguely resembling The Dude.
While I don't have a favorite book that stands for all time, the closest I come at the moment is A Night in the Lonesome October by Roger Zelazny. It's set in Victorian England, and the characters in that book are variations on horror/suspense archetypes: a witch, a Russian mystic, Dr. Frankenstein, Dracula, a werewolf, etc. A vampire would be easy for most people to dress as, but not me. I'd fuck something up, and pretty much have to get a set of fake fangs to demonstrate "vampire." Anyway, one of the main characters in the book is a man named Jack, strongly suggested to be Jack the Ripper. Yes, he's one of the protagonists.
Jack's outfit, as depicted on the cover art anyway, is high-fashion Victorian -- I think. I don't know. I seriously can't pay attention to these things. I know a lot of literature devotes pages and pages to the description of what an individual character is wearing; honestly, my eyes just automatically skip over that stuff as if it were an advertisement on a website or in a newspaper.
So Jack would be my first choice, only a) no one else would recognize it, because even people who have read the book would probably just see "Victorian-era clothes," which could easily be "vampire" or any number of other archetypes, and b) I don't have the slightest clue where to find or how to craft such clothing. Also, c) I have blonde hair, blue eyes and a goatee, which kind of detracts from the "tall dark, handsome, and murderous" look.
Consequently, I wouldn't bother going to the party if I had to "dress up." Unless the theme is The Big Lebowski, of course. Or, you know, if you want a Hawaiian-shirt-wearing dude to provide comic relief.
|Wait... you can make meals?
PROMPT November 11th
What is your favorite meal to make when you are really hungry?
No, I'm not joking.
For the last couple of years, I've been on a meal plan. During the first year, that plus exercise caused me to lose a lot of weight, which is a good thing. Then the pandemic came along, and I started drinking more and canceled my gym membership (yes, it's possible to do that), so the meal plan, at best, now helps me keep off what I've lost. It also has me eating smaller meals more often, which usually keeps me from getting too painfully hungry.
Also, I've been single for a while, so I don't cook much anymore, apart from a few things in the meal plan. It's not that I never learned how; I used to be a passable cook. it's just that I can't be arsed. You know me: maximum return for minimum effort. If it's just for me, I don't bother with anything fancy or complicated; I don't need to show off for myself.
Like anybody, though, I'm not perfect. In fact, I'm less perfect than most. So I don't always stick to the plan -- hence, the occasional pizza. I will say that's a lot more rare now than it was before I began to lose weight. It's almost as if there was a correlation there. I've also all but eliminated other kinds of fast food from my intake.
Things are starting to get colder now, though, and I might have to break down and cook a pot of my chili. But the chili wouldn't count for the prompt; it takes way too long to prepare and cook when I'm actually hungry.
When it comes to "making" food while starving to death, it needs to be something quick and easy, like a sandwich -- but I usually don't have sammich stuff lying around because it goes bad before I can eat it. What I should probably do is cook the chili and freeze serving sizes of it, so when the mood takes me I can just thaw some and plop it into a bowl. But it's not like me to plan ahead like that.
In case you're wondering (you're probably not, though), there's a pizza place near me that is not crappy chain pizza (e.g., Domino's or Papa John's) that usually delivers in 20-30 minutes, unless there's something like a sportsball game going on so that they're busy and there's traffic. So the time between "I'm really damn hungry" and "nom nom nom" is pretty short. The place has been in business as long as I've been in town; it was the first phone number in Charlottesville that I memorized, though these days it's easier to order online. As far as I can tell, their recipe hasn't changed in 40 years.
There's another restaurant near me that has better pizza, but sadly, they don't deliver. They do takeout, however. I haven't been there in a while. Of course, now that I've thought about them, I'm going to have to go. So thanks for ruining my diet.
|I find it unlikely that anyone would think I have "style."
PROMPT November 10th
What is your blogging style? In your response, consider the following questions: What is your process of writing a blog entry - do you plan it out in advance, or just start writing? Who is your ideal reader? How did your unique blogging style emerge? Has your blog changed over time?
Yesterday, I made my habitual Monday foray to the local taphouse. For anyone who hasn't been following along, I started doing this when the establishment reopened after lockdown -- I don't remember now when that was. May? June? It's only a mile away (or roughly 1.6 km for anyone reading this in a country that doesn't clutch at archaic systems of measurement), so I walk, for exercise and so that I don't have to worry about drinking too much to drive. The caloric effects of the beer certainly exceed any benefits from the exercise, but whatever; I like beer and the walking can't hurt.
I sit outside, on their patio, because it's a better bet than dining indoors. There are no guarantees, of course, but the science points to a lower risk of Trump Mumps transmission if you're not inside. Also, it's usually pretty empty on a Monday afternoon. I could further reduce that risk by not going out at all, but then there are other risks, like losing my fucking mind.
I've been concerned about continuing this weekly voyage; infection rates are up everywhere, and, to quote the most overrated fantasy series of all time, Winter is Coming. Here in Virginia, October is usually the last hurrah of summery days, and to be sure, there have been a couple of Mondays when the temperature was a bit low for my outdoor-drinking tastes, but today was positively balmy, with the thermometer reaching a decidedly unNovembery 75 degrees (call it 24C for my friends in non-stupid countries).
But that won't last. Though the manager (with whom I'm now on a first-name basis; his name is Sean and he has two kids and would rather be working anywhere else and is taking classes to that end at the nearby community college) did inform me that they're getting patio heaters, which pleases me. Still, I don't know what I'll do when we start getting the inevitable cold days; I don't mind walking in cold weather so much, but sitting on a restaurant patio? No. Well. I'll worry about that after next week, when the temperature should be in the barely-acceptable mid-60s on Monday. Anything less than that, and I might as well be diving off an iceberg.
None of which really has anything to do with the prompt, except to illustrate that I don't really plan out these entries, other than maybe giving them an hour or so of thought, usually while doing something else (in this case watching YouTube videos about science, philosophy, and the philosophy of science), and then, in the entry, I could write about almost anything. I say "almost," because I have next to no interest in sports, and while I do have an interest in politics and religion, those are minefields that I tend to avoid here -- though that's not a hard-and-fast rule for me.
Still, anyone who's been following along surely knows my primary subjects by now: language, science, finance, philosophy, fantasy/science fiction, psychology, intoxicating beverages, comedy, cats, music, etc., in no particular order. I don't want to get tied down to any one subject, because so many things are interesting to me, and in the end, I'm not writing for any particular type of reader, but just to write.
Thus, I really haven't tried to push myself into a "style." Sometimes I'm funny (or try to be; jury's still out), and sometimes I'm completely serious. Sometimes both at the same time. The problem there is I'm not sure anyone can tell the difference.
But insofar as this is a publicly viewable blog, I do keep readers in mind; that's why I tend to steer clear of the Forbidden Subjects, and try to be informative. My favorite comments are those that say some variant of "that's funny" or "I usually learn something." Those make me feel like I've been doing it right. My purpose is not to get other people to agree with me, although it's nice when that happens, but to present my own point of view. But I also appreciate it when someone disagrees with me, because contrary to popular belief (promoted mainly by me), I neither know everything nor am always right, and sometimes I need that pointed out.
It took me a while to get here. When I started blogging, lo these many years ago, it was mostly about personal stuff, like the crap I started with today. At some point, I started writing about articles I found online, and I've been mostly using that format when I'm not doing some blogging challenge or other. Obviously, I do still talk about personal shit sometimes, but I've arranged my life specifically to avoid drama, so very little happens to me that anyone else would consider interesting. Doesn't help that I don't get out much, these days. But whatever I'm doing, I guess it works, judging by that shiny collection of Awardicons and Merit Badges up there. Still, I'm always trying to improve.
Speaking of which, I'm going to get back to handing out Merit Badges at some point. I sent out a batch not too long ago in connection with the October NaNo Prep, though, several of them to regular readers of this blog, and keeping track of who would and wouldn't get CRs from a Merit Badge Mini-Contest is a lot like work. I'm allergic to work.
But writing isn't work. I suspect that if I ever made actual money from it, I'd probably start to consider it work and break out in hives. I mean, I still don't know exactly what hives are, but I gather they're something to be avoided. As I noted recently, I've managed to add an entry every day of this calendar year thus far, and I'm hoping to make it to December 31 (not that I'll stop then, but I do expect to take a couple of breaks next year). Would daily writing still hold my interest if it were something that I had to do, rather than something that I do for fun? Honestly, I don't know. Getting paid for photography didn't diminish my interest in photography; the rise of digital cameras did that.
So that's it. Not particularly funny, nor particularly informative, but hopefully readable and with a minimum of spelling, grammar, and punctuation errors. I'll try to do better tomorrow.
|It could be argued that everything I own fits this prompt.
PROMPT November 9th
Write about something you own that is weird, wacky, or downright silly. Where did you get it and what significance does it hold for you?
Everything... or nothing, since a collection of weird things becomes, by definition, normal.
When I was a kid, I loved Mad Magazine. I owe that era a debt of gratitude for my taste (well, actually, lack thereof) in comedy and parody.
Many of the features seem childish today, even for me, but Preteen Me couldn't get enough of that dreck. Various artists, known collectively as "The Usual Gang of Idiots," as I recall, each had his own idiosyncratic style, much as a lot of the funny comic strips and cartoons you find on the internet today do.
Mad's chief rival in the adolescent-boy market was Cracked, a magazine that just couldn't measure up to Mad's high standards, which is, of course, saying something. Nowadays, of course, Mad is but a pale shadow of its former self, and Cracked , in a completely different format, is one of the funniest things on the internet... sometimes.
It's notable that Mad, for all of its juvenile humor, was primarily written and illustrated by grown-ass men, which either says something about boys or something about men -- or, possibly, about anyone who possesses a Y chromosome of any age. When I got a bit older and graduated to Playboy, I remember they once had an interview with Jay Leno (yes, I did indeed read the articles). This was before he took over the Tonight Show, if my memory serves me (which it often doesn't). In the interview, they asked Leno, "What do you think is the primary difference between men and women?"
And Jay replied with something like, "The primary difference between men and women is that all men love the Three Stooges, and all women think they're shitheads."
That stuck with me in the way that all profound philosophy does.
One of the weirdest, most elegantly and inherently funny cartoonists for Mad was Don Martin.
He was active at the magazine between 1956 and 1987, which meant I got to see his work at its peak. If it's possible to put physical comedy (in the vein of The Three Stooges) into the form of drawings, Martin was the guy who did it. His style appeared simple, and was often accompanied by brilliantly inked and perfectly onomatopoeic sound effects, much like the campy 1960s Batman TV show. These sound effects made me laugh. Every. Damn. Time.
Martin died in 2000, and after, someone collected his Mad works into a two-volume hardcover collection, which I display proudly near my three-volume Complete Calvin and Hobbes. While the latter has the distinction of almost killing me from bouts of laughter at times -- the C&H snowmen strips in particular have never been, are never, and will never be not funny -- Martin's consistent, if puerile, genius spanned a much longer period of time, reflecting the evolution of comedy and pop culture over three entire decades.
No, I don't remember how I acquired the collection. I probably ordered it on the Internet, though a search through my nearly 25 years of Amazon purchases came up as empty as the collection of fucks I have left to give. I only mention this because "where did you get it" is part of the prompt, but my memory for that sort of thing isn't nearly as good as my memory for Don Martin's irreverent comic drawings.
Now, I have zero talent for drawing, myself, and whether or not I have any ability in comedy is as open a question now as it was when I first tried my hand at it as a teen. But this Don Martin collection is one of my most prized possessions not only for its nostalgic value, but because it's just so damn timelessly funny. And it's good to know that, in times of stress or our impending descent into irreversible chaos, there's one thing (okay, two things if you count the C&H collection) that will never fail to make me laugh.
And I gotta laugh.
Some samples of Martin's work:
|I'm not sure I've ever been on what one might define as an "adventure."
PROMPT November 8th
Tell us about the most memorable adventure you've ever been on. Did everything go according to plan, or did anything unexpected happen?
Also, if everything goes according to plan, I'm pretty sure it doesn't qualify as an adventure.
Sigh. I guess I'm going to have to resort to the dictionary again.
adventure (n) an unusual and exciting, typically hazardous, experience or activity.
I mean, it's not like I've trekked across Antarctica or braved the Sahara or rowed across the Atlantic or shit like that. Nor will I, at least not willingly.
I could, I suppose, talk about the time I went horseback riding through a Central American rainforest. Or the week I spent at 10,000 feet in the Rockies. Or the time I attempted to learn scuba diving off of St. Thomas only to be betrayed by my eustachian tubes. Or the times I managed to not get shot by jealous husbands / boyfriends.
There was also my first cross-country trip, which I mentioned in here fairly recently. Like, all the way back in July. Here: "The Not-Shining" I'd say that was unusual, somewhat exciting, mildly hazardous, and both an experience and an activity. And memorable too.
Or one time on a different cross-country trip, I stayed at the Clown Motel in Tonopah, Nevada. Why do I mention this? Well, just to freak out anyone with coulrophobia, of course. The worst danger I ran into there, though, wasn't the clowns, or the ghosts that are supposed to be haunting the place, but a wonky room heater because Tonopah gets awfully damn cold in the winter.
I've walked around New York City at night, navigated back roads in Iowa, drunk beer at a biker bar in Montana, driven through a blizzard in New Mexico, gotten pulled over for speeding in Texas, and visited an active volcano in the Caribbean.
There's more, but since I can't think of them right now, I guess they don't count as "memorable."
So I guess what I have to say is there's only been one "most memorable adventure" for me, one that's had its share of hazards, excitement, and a great deal of the unexpected.
By which, of course, I mean life.
|I'm sorely tempted to respond to this prompt with "differential calculus" or "matrix algebra."
PROMPT November 7th
It's said that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Describe something that you think is beautiful or attractive that someone else might consider unattractive or ugly.
But if I talked about those subjects then no one would read it. Hell, I probably lost half the potential readers just by mentioning them.
My first impulse, other than math (hey, where are you going?), was to describe my spirit animal, the turkey vulture. Majestic creatures they are, embodying the ideal of maximum gain from minimum effort, an efficiency that appeals to me as an engineer and a lazy person.
But objectively, those birds are ugly as hell.
Okay, not "objectively." There's no such thing as objective beauty or ugliness, and that's even before you get into the "beauty is only skin deep" cliché. But really, I don't know if even I would hang a photograph of a close-up of a turkey vulture's head in my living room.
There are, of course, certain things that are generally agreed upon to be aesthetically pleasing, such as the Venus de Milo, the Mona Lisa, or, well, pretty much everything else in France with the possible exception of this apartment complex in Paris , and that's still more attractive than anything I've ever seen in New Jersey except maybe the Statue of Liberty, which... oh, right, that's from France too.
You know what's pretty, though? Well, no, you probably won't agree with me, because that's the whole point of the prompt. But I think spiders are kinda elegant.
Not at first, of course. When I see a big damn spider, my reaction is the same as most peoples': aaaah get it away GET IT AWAY. But then my rational mind takes over (provided, of course, that the arachnid isn't preparing to chomp on me) and I can see their beauty: eight symmetric, articulated legs; multiple jeweled eyes; delicate mandibles that I definitely do not want to get too close to.
And then there's their webs. Not all spiders spin webs, of course, but I marvel at the evolutionary process, whatever it might have been, that led some spiders to be able to instinctively create those works of art. Yeah, I know, I'd think differently about them if I were a fly, and I really, really hate walking into one unexpectedly (because that's a good way to get munched on by a spider), but they captivate the eye just as effectively as they snare insects.
Not that I want to live with one or anything. But when they're outside, where they belong, and they don't sneak up on me, I'm fine with them; they spin their webs and eat the bugs and gleam in the sunlight.
|I suspect I'm going to be an outlier here.
PROMPT November 6th
Would you ever take a trip to a place "off the grid?" Where would you go?
Short answer: No.
Long answer: HELL no.
Even longer answer with philosophy and life experience thrown in:
First of all, let's work out some underlying assumptions. I've driven through the stark deserts of Nevada and the sequestered mountains of Colorado, Washington State, and West Virginia. With Nevada in particular, it's possible to drive for hours without encountering civilization at all, or even mobile phone service. So I'm assuming, here, that by "trip" we mean something longer than a few hours, or even overnight. Also, by "off the grid," my mind jumps to those polar opposites: hippies and libertarians, each seeking a reprieve from what we call civilization for their own disparate purposes; there might be electricity, self-generated, or perhaps something even more primitive: survival in a pre-technological mode.
It's as if you've built yourself a mansion, and when you look at it, you decide, "nah, I'mma go live in a mud hut."
I mean, hey, you do you. Obviously no one reading this is "off the grid" in any meaningful way, because to do so you had to access the internet, but I'm sure you've heard of the type of person I'm talking about: an acolyte of Thoreau, perhaps, or of some Eastern guru. It's not my intention, though, to disparage their way of life, or to insult the Amish, or rag on the Inuit; only to say that such a lifestyle is absolutely not for me.
But we're not talking about spending one's life cut off from the rest of the world, here; just "taking a trip." Even there, I have my limits.
I'm only alive right now because of technology. If not for medical science in particular, I'd be dead at least thrice over: once from complications of bronchitis when I was sixteen years old (resolved with a course of antibiotics), once from some weird infection of the optic nerve whose name escapes me right now but could have spread to my brain (again, antibiotics), and once from a heart attack (angioplasty and stents). At the same time, I'm perfectly aware that technology has its dark side: pollution, microplastics, toxic waste dumps, auto accidents, Justin Bieber. Still, on balance, I've already lived longer than I would have in a pre-technological era. I'll take that trade-off.
Now, again, don't get me wrong; I understand full well that some people feel the need to escape civilization for a time, going camping or whatever. I understand, yes, but it's not for me. I could probably spend one night without my CPAP machine, for example (and, last night, I was forced to do so because my nose was doing its Snotagara Falls impression), but after one night without it, I'm boned. But even absent that technological marvel, I've never enjoyed nor sought out camping for the sake of camping. I mean, sure, I did it some when I was younger, but I can't say I ever enjoyed it; I always wanted to get back to electric lights and books and my computer (this was even before the internet was a thing) and, primarily, heated rooms and showers.
Hell. I spent a shitload of money on a whole-house generator because I can't be arsed to go without electricity for extended periods of time, and we get power outages here. I excuse it by saying I need it for my CPAP and a foundation drain sump pump (it occurred to me one day that power outages usually coincide with the times when I desperately need the foundation drain to work), but it also keeps my internet connection on.
And now? Now I have personal goals that require me being connected to the internet on a daily basis. This blog, for one. I have written in it every day so far this year; in eight more weeks, absent a serious illness and/or the coming collapse of Western society, I will have written a blog entry every single day. Though... it's worth noting that, had this year gone as originally planned, there would have been gaps -- a trip to Europe and a trip to a dude ranch in Colorado; in both cases, I still wouldn't have been "off the grid," but I probably couldn't have been arsed to worry about blogging.
For another, I've got a good streak going on Duolingo -- 435 days as of yesterday. For those unfamiliar with the platform, that means I've done language lessons every day for well over a year. Now, a streak isn't really all that important; what's important is that I keep learning the language, but I'm obsessive enough to want to keep the streak going as long as possible. Doing lessons daily helps me learn and retain more of the language than if I only did it sporadically.
And yes, the internet can be poisonous. I think I avoid the worst of it, like Twitbook. But I have a thirst for knowledge and learning, and an insatiable curiosity, and the greatest marvel the world has ever created is the ability for us to learn about pretty much whatever I want, whenever I want. YouTube videos on quantum mechanics. Treatises on ethics. Where we stand on figuring out our universe. Chemistry, biology, physics, mathematics, cosmology, music, astronomy, psychology, history, philosophy, comedy, geology, art, literature... sure, sometimes I have to weed out the falsehoods and be critical about things, but like any skill, one gets better at it over time (at least I hope so). I trust that my blog entries when I'm not doing the 30DBC reflect this curiosity.
I wouldn't trade all that for time in the wilderness, not even for a single week. Okay, maybe for a day or two, because that too would satisfy my curiosity, but that's my limit.
All of this, of course, means that I will be utterly useless in our impending civil war and subsequent breakdown of society. I have only rudimentary survival skills outside of a technological milieu. I'm okay with that; like I said, I've been living on borrowed time since I was 16 years old. There are worse things than dying, in my view, and being stuck without technology is one of them.
So enjoy your camping trip or your sojourn in Antarctica or visit to Siberia or whatever. No, really, if that's your thing, go for it; I look forward to reading about it and seeing the pictures and/or videos (as long as the videos aren't vertical) on the internet. I'll watch the mansion for you while you're away.