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.
|What, me worry?
PROMPT September 21st
One thing outside of my control that I need to stop worrying about is...
I'm... not really the worrying type.
As the prompt suggests, there are things in my control and things that aren't. If a situation is, at least in part, in my control, then I tend to do something about it. If it's not, then I figure out a way to deal with it -- usually by imagining the worst possible outcome, mentally preparing for that, and then being relieved when it turns out to be not as bad as I expected.
Of course, like everyone else, I have certain concerns. No point worrying about them, though. It's a waste of brain power, when that brain power could be used to play video games or get distracted with booze.
I'm sure there are a lot of things on everyone's mind right now: pandemic, economic struggles, upcoming election in the US, social issues, the impending end of Western civilization, and all the other joy that 2020 has brought us. Hell, I was just reading where archaeologists found a bunch of sarcophagi in Egypt. I mean, I'm a rational guy, but unearthing cursed mummies in 2020 sounds like a Really Bad Idea, and these archaeologists probably should have watched more horror movies before proceeding.
Point is, there's not a damn thing I can do, and if there were, I'd be doing it instead of turning it over and over in my mind. It's not like I can fly to Egypt and ask the archaeologists what the hell they were thinking, and even if I could, it wouldn't do any good.
In case it's not obvious, I'm joking about the mummy curse thing; it's a worn-out horror trope, which makes it ripe for comedy. Jokes are what keep me from worrying. I haven't found many situations yet that I couldn't joke about. Hell, I was getting treated for a heart attack, watching my ticker beat on the screen, millimeters away from possible death, and all I could say was, "Huh... it's not made of stone after all."
If you can't control the situation -- and much of the time, you can't -- you can control your response to it. I recognize that worry is one of those emotions that's really hard to address, but just because I can't control something doesn't mean I'm going to let it control me.
Usually, though, it's not about control, but about just letting go. I don't accept that everything's in some higher being's hands, or has a purpose. Also, there's no telling what the future will bring; could a situation come up where I do start to worry? It's possible. It's just not happening right now, and I'm certainly not going to worry about getting worried.
PROMPT September 20th
Complete this sentence:
The next time I ___________, I will __________.
The temptation is there to plug in random verbs, so I found a random verb generator and cranked it up.
The next time I settle, I will whisper.
The next time I put, I will hope.
The next time I revise, I will award.
The next time I teach, I will travel.
The next time I interpret, I will assist.
Hm. Maybe if there were an option to limit to intransitive verbs. But, you know, I don't build these things; I just wreck 'em.
So I also tried a sentence generator, pulling entire verb phrases out of the randomly generated sentence. For example, my first result was: "She had a difficult time owning up to her own crazy self." Plug in the phrases and:
The next time I have a difficult time, I will own up to my own crazy self.
This is fun, if maybe a little too on the nose. Let's try more:
The next time I should have been a time and a place, I will be it.
The next time I crash on the shore, I will be a lovely sight.
The next time I play with Legos, I will be at camp.
Okay, so not all of them work. Still fun, though.
Oooh, found another one where you can specify more parts of speech.
The next time I abhor Hades, I will disengage mousse. (I changed the verb tenses, but that's about it)
The next time I immobilize medication, I will cache vise.
Nah... maybe not.
The links I used are here:
Be careful with that second one. I don't fully trust it. There's also one I found that didn't quite do what I was looking for, but someone might be able to do something with it:
Anyway, yeah, some of these are nonsense, but nonsense can be fun. Hell, poems -- entire novels -- have been written with nonsense, and people drool all over them looking for meaning (I'm talking about YOU, Ulysses.) Because that's what we do... we look for patterns. Usually this serves us well, especially if we're being stalked by a lioness. Sometimes it leads to impressive accomplishments. Other times, it's just cool -- people looked up at the stars and decided they made little connect-the-dots sketches, and named them, and so we have the constellations.
And then, sometimes, things get weird, like with pareidolia -- seeing a face in a mesa on Mars, or Jesus on a piece of toast. But then, that's also how we get a "man" (or in some cultures, a rabbit) in the moon.
According to Wiki (look, I can't be arsed to check every reference, especially when I'm just playing like I am today), Pareidolia "can be considered a subcategory of apophenia . So of course I had to be reminded what apophenia was, and at that entry I found this:
Apophenia... is the tendency to mistakenly perceive connections and meaning between unrelated things.
In contrast to an epiphany, an apophany (i.e., an instance of apophenia) does not provide insight into the nature of reality nor its interconnectedness, but is a "process of repetitively and monotonously experiencing abnormal meanings in the entire surrounding experiential field". Such meanings are entirely self-referential, solipsistic, and paranoid—"being observed, spoken about, the object of eavesdropping, followed by strangers".
As that article explains, taken to an extreme, it's a disorder or an indication of a disorder. And it can certainly lead to fallacies. But... that's what I do as a writer: I find or imagine connections between disparate things. Hell, a metaphor can be considered an apophany by this definition.
Metaphors are what humans do. It's what we're good at. Like... when airplanes were invented, we called their fixed appendages "wings," even though they're not exactly the same as the flappy wings of the birds which inspired them.
It's important to not take these connections too far, to mistake symbol for referent. This sort of thing is, however, what creativity in writing is all about - at least to me. And I mean, hell, isn't a realistic painting just a case of intentional pareidolia? Take La Gioconda, for example, better known as Mona Lisa -- da Vinci intended it to represent a woman's face, and that's what we see. We don't actually see a person, of course, just a bunch of paint splotches, but our minds are tricked into seeing some long-dead Italian.
Randomness can lead to imagined connections, and imagined connections are the heart of creativity. So...
The next time I write a story or poem, I will be more conscious of apophenia.
|I'm sure some things are worth fighting for.
PROMPT September 19th
Respond to this quote:
“Fight for the things that you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.” -Ruth Bader Ginsburg
I just don't know if I care about a goddamn thing enough to fight for it.
I'm sure I used to care. I have a vague memory about caring, and having that sucked out of me like dirt into a vacuum cleaner.
I mean, sure, there are things I like, such as music, booze, movies, science, reading, writing, games, my cats, a few people. Even some of those abstractions people love to talk about, but can't seem to define, like justice and freedom and all that rot.
But do I care enough to "fight?" What exactly does that mean? Protests? Petitions? Civil disobedience? Dueling pistols? Boxing? Wrestling?
Nah, sorry, can't be arsed. Best I can do is write.
But that's not the real problem, here. I'm sure that if I were in a better mood right now, I could come up with something I'd fight for. It's the other part of the quote that drives me to drink.
I don't have the slightest idea what "do it in a way that will lead others to join you" means.
All my life, I've heard the adage "one person can change the world." Well, that's demonstrably untrue. Sure, one person can kick a pebble down the mountain, but unless it hits other pebbles and loosens bigger rocks until half the mountain disappears in an avalanche, there's been no measurable change.
First, you have to climb that mountain, and, like I said... can't be arsed.
And I wouldn't want the responsibility of getting something started like that. I have a hard enough time convincing myself to do something; how much harder would it be if I tried to convince others? Especially since I'm hardly anyone's role model. And then people would have expectations of me, expectations that will chafe until I slink off and go my own way as I usually do.
Nope. Everyone has their own things they're good at, and this is most definitely not one of mine. Nor do I want it to be.
Let the people who still care do the fighting. At this point, I think it's a lost cause; we've been on a downhill slide since 1969, and it's only recently that this slide has accelerated. The pebbles are shifting, slamming into larger rocks, and before too much longer, it'll all come crashing down.
Me? I'm going to ride the biggest rock I can find just as long as I can, with a determined grin on my face and the hot wind in my hair.
Don't join me.
The avalanche has already started. It is too late for the pebbles to vote. - Ambassador Kosh
|Some prompts, I just have a hard time relating to.
PROMPT September 18th
When you have an unexpected hour of free time, how do you fill it?
At least, that would have been one of my answers back when free time was a precious commodity for me.
The other answer, on those ultra-rare occasions when I wasn't dead tired, was reading.
Seeing this prompt, though, reminded me of how great it feels to not have pressing obligations all the time. It was like my chest was constantly in a vise, and when I retired, those clamps finally loosened up.
I had so much going on, so many things I had to do and things I wanted to do but couldn't bear to go without, so something had to give, and that something was sleep. So when I got a chance, sleep was my preferred recreational and restorative activity.
Still is, really. It's magical: you need to make time pass, so you fall asleep and then suddenly, boom, it's time to do... whatever it is you needed to do.
I've heard some people say that they wish they didn't have to sleep. Think of all the things you could get done! More time to be productive! More opportunity to serve your masters! Don't you want to do more, more, more?!
Anyway, this sort of thing doesn't apply to me now. I do exactly what I want to do most of the time, so as far as I'm concerned, it's all free time -- visits to dentists and whatnot notwithstanding. Though I could argue that while I, like most people, dislike trips to the dentist, I dislike tooth problems more, so I want to do that, too.
I've got one of those coming up in a couple of weeks. Root canal. Not my first root-io, either, so I know the drill. (Yes, that's a pun.) It's not painful like you hear about; it's more... well, they numb you thoroughly and you're sitting in a dentist chair for two hours while they do unspeakable things to the insides of your tooth, and the occasional tiny wisp of smoke drifts from your wide-open mouth across your field of vision. Even that wouldn't be so bad if you didn't occasionally smell it.
So even if you wanted to, you couldn't actually sleep through it. But it's incredibly, mind-twistingly boring. (You can consider that a pun, too, if you want.)
That's the worst part of it. You're sitting still for a couple of hours and you can't do anything, not sleep, not talk, not read, not watch a movie, not play a game... just stare at the ceiling and try not to think of what's really happening to the once-living tissue inside of your tooth. I mean, I'm sure it's no picnic for the dentist or her assistants, but at least they can think about the BMW they can buy with what you're paying them.
I expect they don't put you completely out because there's no real reason to, and there's always a risk with general anesthetic. But you'd think at least, by now, they'd have it so you could put on some kind of VR headset and watch Little Shop of Horrors during the whole ordeal. Okay, maybe that's a bad choice of movie. Still.
Afterward, I won't be able to eat or drink anything for a while, so I'll do the one thing that I know will make the time pass until the anesthetic wears off:
|Sometimes I wonder if I've learned any life lessons at all.
PROMPT September 17th
What life lessons have you had to learn the hard way?
Wait... there's an easy way? Dammit, I've been doing it wrong!
I have a bit of a stubborn streak. While I'm flexible enough to change when new data comes in, I want to discover the information for myself.
That is to say, hypothetically here, if I'd spent my childhood in an underground bunker, and people kept telling me the sky was blue, I'd only believe them provisionally -- better if I could escape and see it for myself.
This has benefits as well as downsides. As a benefit, it keeps me curious, always wanting to know more. For instance, you might ask, as kids do, why said sky is blue. Turns out it's from preferential scattering of light in the atmosphere, the same effect that gives a rising or setting sun a more reddish hue. The details are important, but no need to get into them; the point is, I had to figure this out for myself by reading and learning about physics.
But what's especially bad for me is that this means that some of life's unwritten rules, those social forces that guide behavior, don't really sit well with me. I prefer my rules to be written. To take a simple example, it turns out that when you're visiting someone, you bring a gift. There, now it's written down, and I can follow it. But it took me a while to figure that one out.
All my life, I've wanted to know "why." When it comes to science, like the blue sky thing, that's actually pretty easy to figure out (and it was even B.I., before internet). But when it comes to social situations, the "why" almost always escapes me.
This is probably why I don't get invited to parties. Well, this, and the puns. But mostly this.
Like, in the Before Times, a handshake was considered a proper greeting. I thought I knew the rules: firm grip, eye contact, whatever. Not that eye contact is easy for me, but I fake it by looking at the person's nose. But then I went to shake someone's hand (as a teenager), and got corrected, "No, you wait for the female to invite the handshake." Okay, so it's different with men and women. Why? I don't get it.
I try to follow the rules anyway, most of the time, to try to make a good impression. I just don't know all of them.
There are science textbooks. There are no "being part of polite society" textbooks. Oh, sure, Miss Manners and all that, but most of what's in those texts makes no sense to me.
Don't get me wrong; I try to be considerate of others' feelings. But subtle cues always seem to escape me.
Anyway, some minor life lessons I've picked up the hard way:
Never go grocery shopping hungry.
Money can't buy happiness, but it can buy just about everything else.
Any internet argument that goes on long enough devolves into a discussion of epistemology.
It's okay to suck. You get better.
Making one's bed is a gigantic waste of time.
Never choose lodging solely on the basis of proximity to the brewpub.
Always carry a backup of essential items. Especially maps/GPS.
When a cat displays the soft fur of its belly? It's a trap.
I'm sure there are dozens more, if not hundreds, but that sampling should at least give you an idea of my mindset. I'm sure some people know some of these things intuitively, but like I said, I have to work on it.
And I'll probably be working on it until the day I croak.
|This is going to be a tough one. I don't do "happy."
PROMPT September 16th
What is your happiest memory? Describe it in vivid detail!
It should surprise no one that all of my happy memories involve drinking.
Oh, I'm sure that there were some from my childhood floating around in there somewhere, but that was so long ago that the memories can't be trusted.
So I'll tell you about the second time I managed to drink a shot of Pappy Van Winkle.
Pappy is a bourbon. But to simply call it bourbon is like calling Eta Carinae a star.
...that's not very helpful, is it? If you're going to use a simile, it should be one that most people are familiar with. "A wolf is like a dog" can work, but "E. coli is similar to salmonella" probably doesn't help a reader very much at all. Let's try this again.
Pappy is a bourbon the way the Bikini Atoll hydrogen bomb was an explosion.
It's not easy to find. Rumor has it that small quantities appear in the liquor stores around here at whatever time they get their deliveries, and it sells out within seconds. I've never managed to show up at just the right time. It's also, as you might imagine, not cheap.
The first time I tried it, I found it in -- and keep in mind here that like most (but certainly not all) bourbon, it's made in Kentucky, a state that borders my own -- a bar in Livermore, a town in central California. I tried it, and the sky opened up and an angelic choir sang Hallelujah. The Handel one, not the Cohen one. That's a good memory.
But a better memory for me is actually the second time I tried it, because when drinking, it's not always about the beverage itself, but the other things going on in time and space proximity. To clarify, that first time, in Livermore, I'd already been having a good day, so it was just another great thing to happen on a great day.
The second time, I was staying at the Ritz-Carlton in Washington, DC. I've mentioned that visit before. I was attending a conference -- the details of which are entirely irrelevant -- and that evening, an optional part of the agenda was to go see a Nationals game.
I'm not a fan of baseball; I'm a fan of beer, so that evening I did what I usually do when traveling, which is to visit local breweries and sample their wares. Three of them were kind of within walking distance, so that's what I did.
Now, understand that while I like beer, part of the process for me involves trying beer I don't like. This provides contrast and context. As a great philosopher once said, "If everything was cool, and nothing sucked, how would we know what was cool?" Still, usually, on these visits, I can find one or two beers that I really like, a bunch that are okay, and a couple of dogs.
These breweries were a barking kennel.
By the time I was done, the sun was setting, so, to avoid walking past the White House after dark (bad neighborhood, you know), I took an Uber back to the hotel. Once I got there, I sat down at the bar. After that disappointment, I needed a positive drinking experience.
"What can I get you?" These timeless words, uttered by bartenders everywhere (at least ones who speak English), are like music to me. I started to feel better already.
I looked over the fancy drinks menu. Pricey, as you'd expect, but not too out of line considering it's the goddamn Ritz-Carlton. I settled on an Islay malt scotch. Smoky, peaty, reminiscent of fine leather, oak, and perfectly toasted bread.
Whilst savoring this sweet nectar of the Gaelic gods, I struck up a conversation with a nice lady who happened to be sitting at the bar near me. No, it wasn't like that. I'm done with that crap. Just another whisky drinker to talk to. But old habits die hard, and lizard brain went, "pRetTy lAdy aT bAr. mUst imPreSs prEttY laDy." So I ordered another scotch, this one a wee bit pricier.
When the bartender served that to me, I noted, "You know, I was expecting a place like the Ritz-Carlton to have Pappy Van Winkle."
Bartender goes, "Oh, we do. It's in the safe."
Yes. This bar has a safe to hold all their really good stuff. Lady and I followed him as he opened an honest-to-gods metal safe with one of those spoked wheels like in the movies.
Opening it was like opening the Ark of the Covenant in Indiana Jones, but not from the Nazis' point of view. No face-melting, that is, just bright light streaming out, backlighting a collection of green and amber bottles. I blinked, taking in the beautiful sight.
The price list, located on the inside of the open door to the safe, was where my gaze went next. Already regretting that annoying primal urge to show off, I steeled myself to be shocked at the numbers.
But you know? They weren't all that bad. I've seen more expensive collections in Vegas. I guess DC can't count on people celebrating their poker winnings by buying the good stuff.
The only thing that surprised me was that Pappy was not the most expensive nectar listed. Fortunately, Pappy was the one I'd mentioned, so that was the one I felt obligated to purchase.
And I did, and savored that couple of precious ounces of golden dew over the next half hour, continuing to talk to whatever her name was (she was waiting for her husband to come back from the baseball game, another reason why I was only interested in conversation).
The point is, I guess, that the reason I'm calling this my happiest memory -- ask me tomorrow and I'll probably come up with a different one -- is the contrast. From drinking decidedly mediocre beer and walking around muggy, hazy DC in the summer heat, wiping sweat from my face at every third step, to sitting in an air-conditioned bar sipping some of the best whisky in the world, unexpectedly, and having a pleasant chat with a fellow drinker of the good stuff.
So yeah, that was a good day: avoiding baseball, discovering beers I didn't like, and then capping it all off with the good stuff. And forever being able to brag about having stayed, once, at the Ritz-Carlton.
|Wait, September's halfway over already?
PROMPT September 15th
Have you picked up any new hobbies or interests since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in March?
Short answer: No.
Long answer: Nope.
This period is notable for having removed, not added, things to my life. These removals include, but are not limited to:
Movies (but see below)
Barstools (as per the entry from 12 September)
Visits with friends
A few of the hobbies/interests I had before the beginning of 2020 continue, though. The most recent one is Duolingo, started last August, and I suppose I can credit the pandemic for my not missing a day of French lessons in over a year. I've learned quite a bit, but still consider myself a novice. J'apprends le français lentement, et j'espère continuer.
Obviously, I'm still writing. And watching shows and movies online, and playing the occasional video game. Oh, and drinking, of course -- the only thing I can say has increased in frequency during this shitstorm of a year, as detailed in an earlier entry.
Movies -- other than streamed ones -- are kind of a sore point for me, as with travel. The closest thing to a New Year's resolution I made was I decided that 2020 was going to be the year I was to branch out and see more, and more varied, movies in the theater, because there's one convenient to my house that also serves beer. And I started out doing just that, but then... well, you know. The theater itself was shuttered completely for a good five months, and has only recently reopened, with severe restrictions for safety. I've been going about once a week since it reopened.
The moral of this story is, as always, don't make resolutions. Even if it's something you like to do. Especially if it's something you like to do. I'm not saying that a global pandemic hit, sickening millions and killing hundreds of thousands of people, just to fuck with my weekly cinema visits, but it sure feels that way sometimes.
I've also mentioned before that I didn't drive for six months. As in, I didn't even start my car. This, predictably, led to a service call. But on Sunday, I picked a random destination (I mean that literally; it was a randomly chosen spot within a 30-mile radius) and drove there and back. Not that I didn't go anywhere for six months, but between walking and Uber, I didn't really need to drive. Even doctor appointments are within walking distance. One time I went to a dentist that was really too far away for me to walk, but again, that's where rideshare comes in. Besides, there are breweries near the dentist, and they were open.
Oh, if you're still with me, you're probably wondering about groceries if I didn't drive. My preferred grocery store is near the theater, definitely walkable -- but not on the return trip while schlepping cases of Crack Zero and bags full of groceries. But I've been getting groceries delivered since before the pandemic, for various reasons, and that's continued, too.
One good thing to come out of all of this: used to be I'd get the occasional craving for fast food, and run out to indulge it. After six months without Taco Bell, though, I might have -- might have -- kicked that habit for good. I certainly have other unhealthy habits, but that one always bugged me.
My father used to say, "It's an ill wind that nobody blows good," but he was referring to the oboe. I think the point of the original saying is that something good can come out of even the worst of times. I guess he was familiar with the original because he survived the Great Depression, a world war, and the last major pandemic. Yes, the 1918 one. He was just an infant then, but still. (Obviously he's not around anymore, in case you didn't know that from earlier entries.)
So, no, I haven't picked up anything new during this. I'm just biding my time until I can travel again.
|Waking up to find it was all just a dream is the cheapest ever way to end a story.
PROMPT September 14th
You just woke up to discover you had dozed off in your 3rd grade class... how would you react realizing your entire life since then was just a dream?
I mean, I guess it worked for Lewis Carroll. But it's not the kind of thing the rest of us can get away with.
I have trouble sleeping when I know I have an alarm set. I've been known to sleep right through alarms. I'm not on a regular work schedule, so I no longer wake up at the same time every weekday, and that compounds the issue. If I have, say, a doctor appointment at 9:30 then I have the alarm set for 8:00 or whatever, even if I go to bed at midnight (way too early for me), when it goes off, I get up and slog to the shower. Along the way, I notice something: the light is dim, or some of the clutter on my nightstand is missing. That's when I realize I'm dreaming. To prove to myself that it's a dream, I will myself to rise up through the ceiling. Once I do that, I wake up for real and check the time. Whew - only 6 am. Still plenty of time to catch some more Zs before I have to wake up. I wake up again, and it's 9:45. Oh shit, I've missed the appointment! Wait... no. It's dark. I'm still dreaming. Levitate. Yep, dreaming. Then the alarm goes off, and there's someone in the room with me who's not a cat. Sigh. Dreaming.
Finally I wake up and it's 7:55, and I haven't gotten any decent sleep and I can't levitate so I know I'm not dreaming. Five minutes isn't anywhere near enough, so I get up and take a shower -- during which the alarm goes off because like an idiot I forgot to turn the blasted thing off.
I say "alarm" but I just use my phone these days.
The point of all of this is to relate that the whole "butterfly dreaming I'm a man" conundrum never made sense to me. Even if my mind starts out thinking a dream is reality, eventually there's some discontinuity that makes me realize I'm dreaming. Rarely, I can use that to my advantage and have a lucid dream, like my own personal holodeck. Usually, I just wake up, or at least I think I do.
Reality is persistent. That's how we know it's reality.
So if I woke up one day from a nap in a classroom and I'm eight years old, my first reaction would probably be that this is just another nightmare, and pretty soon I'll wake up for real, safely NOT in Miss Martin's classroom.
Miss Martin was one of those bachelor teachers of the old mold, with the pointy glasses and seventeen cats at home. Think Dolores Umbridge, but in green instead of pink. Possibly she was gay, but more likely she spent her adult life teaching assholes like Kid Me and decided that having children was not for her. Her like will never be seen again in our time, and that's a shame, but I have no good memories of that school year.
This whole thing kind of reminds me of the great ST:TNG episode "The Inner Light." In it, Picard falls into a deep coma on the bridge, and wakes up to find he's living a life on a pastoral planet. He lives the rest of a very long life on that planet, with a wife and kids, and the show expertly compresses something like fifty Earth years into less than an hour of runtime. I mean, really, if you watch no other Trek, that one's worth it by itself. Point is, spoiler alert, he finally wakes up back on the Enterprise and he's in his whatever decade Picard was supposed to be on TNG. Forties, I'd guess. But he's retained all the memories of this other life, even though it was, for all intents and purposes, a dream. The exact mechanics of this involves hand-waving some alien technology, which is kind of a specialty of Trek, but the salient character point here is that to him, it was not a dream.
And so I would hope it would be for me in the purely hypothetical situation outlined in the prompt above: that I would have memories of this life, know what was coming. I mean, in the episode it turned out that everything he experienced in his mind were based on things that happened long ago, but the parallels remain. That is, assuming that this new reality turned out to be persistent and not, in fact, a nightmare.
Consequently, as soon as Apple became publicly traded, I'd dump every last meager dollar fourteen-year-old me had into it.
And then with my luck, it would go bankrupt in that timeline.
|Today's 30DBC prompt is delayed, and I would like to get back to what I do best (drinking), so I'm just going to rant a bit until I see the prompt.
So my thing these days has been going back through episodes of Star Trek that, in some cases, I haven't seen in decades. Right now, that means the Animated Series. I did this sort of thing a few years ago with Doctor Who, which has been around slightly longer, so some of my observations still apply.
This is not just for funsies, either. A writer needs to... well, write, first and foremost, but also read and watch what other writers have done. Trek has lasted as long as it has for reasons, and I'm trying to tease out what these reasons are.
It certainly wasn't consistent quality. I mean, yes, absolutely, some of the episodes of the original series, and even some of the animated episodes, were excellent.
Most were not.
And yet, it's still around.
What I can figure from this so far is: character matters. That is, maybe you have crap stories, but as long as you keep your characters true to themselves, those can be sort of forgotten.
Also, worldbuilding matters. In the case of Trek, it's not just one world but an entire galaxy's worth. DW, on the other hand, spans "all of time and space," and hoo boy I can't imagine trying to plan all of that, or even keep it consistent over nearly 60 years.
The writers solve this by not worrying too much about consistency. After all, when you indulge in time fuckery, continuity can go right out the window.
Anyway. Just some random thoughts until the prompt shows up. Which just happened.
PROMPT September 13th
Write about friendships that are more like family. What makes a great friend?
Okay, this is one of my hot-button topics. I'd tell you to buckle your seatbelts, but neither the Enterprise nor the TARDIS has those.
You've heard the expression "blood is thicker than water." Most people, I think, take that to mean something equivalent to "family first." Specifically, "genetic relatives first."
This is bullshit.
First of all, the full expression, as noted by this site and others, is: “The blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb.” That particular link goes on to explain: "This actually means that blood shed in battle bonds soldiers more strongly than simple genetics. Although we commonly use it to suggest the strength of family ties, it doesn’t refer to family at all."
I'll leave it to more religious readers to specify chapter and verse. I can't be arsed. Somewhere in the NT. But whatever the source, the point is, we get it wrong.
The site I linked gets it wrong, too. "It doesn't refer to family at all" is patently untrue. It does refer to family - and rejects family in favor of those with whom we share other bonds.
So, when it comes to "friendships that are more like family," I take exception -- friendships, those relationships that we choose, are far more important, in my opinion, than accidents of birth. This is especially true when one's family is poisonous. I'm not saying mine was, but I see so many people with not just issues, but entire collections of National Geographic, who refuse to break ties with their relatives because "but they're family."
Which is not to say that you should only hang out with people who agree with you. No, you should only hang out with people who genuinely care about you -- and for that, DNA is irrelevant. A good friend won't always agree with you, nor should they -- and vice versa. A good friend will stick with you when times are bad, do stuff with you when times are good, and, most importantly, accept you for who you are while at the same time supporting you should you want to change.
Family can do all that too, sure, but they don't always.
I've mentioned before that I was adopted as an infant. My parents -- the people who raised me -- did the best they could, supported me almost to a fault. As a result, I've never had more than passing curiosity about my birth parents. No need; one set of family drama is more than enough, thank you.
Ironically, the latest incarnation of Doctor Who, which I mentioned above, carries this idea. I say ironically, because I mentioned it before I got the prompt, but it ended up fitting so well. And Trek? Well, Trek has always been about the bonds between people who found themselves on a starship together, family notwithstanding.
To put family on a pedestal, to buy into that myth that "blood is thicker than water," is to hold the wide range of diversity of culture, expression, ability, and opinion as a lower priority than the accidental bonds of close kinship, and I think that might be one of the things wrong with the world today.
As the Vulcans say, "infinite diversity in infinite combinations." Sure, it's a fictional alien race in a fictional SF series that was sometimes really, really cringeworthy, but what is fiction if not aspirational? An actual, living human being came up with that idea, and I assert that it's a good one.
Your opinion, of course, may be different. But that's part of diversity.
|Today's prompt is kinda what journaling is supposed to be all about, right?
PROMPT September 12th
Write about something you need to get off your chest. What’s pressing on your mind?
Other than the bloody obvious, stare-in-your-mask-wearing-face bullshit that's consumed us all since somewhere around the beginning of the year, I'm drawing blanks.
I guess that's a good thing. Life, for me, could be -- and inevitably, at some point, will be -- so much worse.
Don't you just love realism? Oh, sure, some may call it pessimism, but I know better.
Yes, I miss being able to travel, but I'm pretty sure that's going to happen at some point (provided, of course, the aforementioned turn for the worse delays itself for just another year or two).
What I miss even more is being able to sit at a bar.
I don't mean just being able to go to a place that sells drinks, sit at a socially-distanced table, and have a few. I've had opportunity to do that. I mean sitting on one of a row of barstools, contemplating the neat lines of fine beverages behind the bartender, and slowly consuming one of them.
Fun fact: Virginia doesn't have bars.
I mean, sure, there are places like what I've just described, but thanks to arcane Prohibition-era laws that have not changed, we have no establishments whose sole purpose is to provide a variety of adult beverages. What we have are:
Restaurants with a bar inside.
Craft breweries / cideries selling their own product exclusively.
Wineries also selling their own product.
State-run liquor stores (fermented beverages can be sold in supermarkets and convenience stores, but not distilled ones).
Of course, this doesn't stop me from going in to a restaurant and pretending it's a bar. They've got the barstools and the liquor lineup, which is more than I can say for Utah. Or... they did before the pandemic; right now, no one's letting anyone sit at a bar. They do try to push food on you, though; the law I mentioned before says something like at least half of an establishment's revenue must come from food service, or they lose their license.
Somehow, though, we get by. Things always change, and even in the past 20 years a lot of the more restrictive rules have been relaxed. Like, I can now order beer for delivery. This was mostly a pandemic-related innovation, and we'll see if it continues. I mean, one of the main purposes of liquor laws is ostensibly to discourage drunk driving, and what better way to do that than by delivering the product to one's own house?
That said, I'm not sure they really want to discourage drunk driving; it's too much of a revenue generator.
So, like I said, I get by. I'm really not looking forward to the colder weather, and not being able to sit outside to order drinks at a restaurant, but I'll muddle through somehow.
Surprise! Everyone's a winner today. Because yesterday was my account anniversary, I'm handing out gifts in the form of Merit Badges to everyone who commented yesterday. I won't be making this a regular event, though; this was a special occasion. And it'll probably be at least two weeks before I do another Mini-Contest, to avoid having to deal with CR time restrictions. But I suspect I'll do another "normal" one towards the end of the month.
The following commenters will get their MBs later because I've given them one recently: ⭐Princette♥Pengthulu , Apondia , and WakeUpAndLive~No cig for me! . Everyone else who commented yesterday will get theirs soon. Thanks for reading!
|Whew. I feared today's prompt would be about... well, something else.
Mini-Contest below! You could win a Merit Badge.
PROMPT September 11th
Write about your favorite childhood game or toy.
Teen years count as childhood, right? At least some of them do. I don't remember much about my pre-teen toys or games, though I do know my parents taught me important games like chess, checkers, and poker.
I think I was maybe 12 or 13 when I got my first rocket, a gift from an aunt. It was a cardboard and plastic thing with a Star Trek theme (I told you I've always been a fan), and, most importantly for Kid Me, you could put a solid-fuel engine into the thing and launch the sucker into the trees.
Sure, the tree thing was inadvertent. We had about a ten-acre field, plenty of room for launch and recovery, but somehow, something like 1 out of every 3 launches ended up with me climbing a goddamned tree. This is why I'm not Elon Musk.
The Star Trek-themed rocket was only the first of many. The basic design of most of them was similar: a long cardboard tube, nose cone, fins. Some were even multi-stage. Some had clear plastic payload chambers, and I should raise a memorial to all the beetles, worms, and mice that underwent several Gs of acceleration in the name of science. One even had a camera built into the nose cone -- a 110 mm film camera, as this was long before the days of digital photography. At perigee, the thing would automatically snap a blurry picture of the launch field and use it to determine which tree it would land in.
Most model rockets take some time and various degrees of skill to build. Glue (several types), sandpaper, balsa sealer for the fins, different color paints, decals, that sort of thing. Some were easier to build than others; hell, some of them were extraordinarily complex. Once built and dry, you could shove in an engine, install an electric igniter, hook it up to a battery, and launch it.
I didn't have much else to do in those days, what with living out in the sticks and it being a few years yet before home computers became a thing, so I built well over a hundred rockets.
Some of them are probably still in the trees.
In those several years, though, there was one model that was forever beyond my reach, both in terms of price and, I was sure, complexity of build, and that was the scaled-down Saturn V.
But I have never really lost my love for rocketry, even though, these days, I don't have a place to launch them. It's the building part that intrigues me. Every once in a while, I'll get it in my head to put a rocket together just for the craft of it.
And a few years ago, I finally got my hands on a Saturn V.
Unfortunately, the paint scheme foiled me. The thing's completely built, but for half the paint and the decals. I keep thinking one of these days I'll revisit it, touch up the parts that got fucked up because I'm not so great at masking, and put the decals on. Hell, I wanted to do it for the Apollo 11 50th anniversary, but never seemed to get around to it.
Still sitting there, though. Waiting. One day...
Merit Badge Mini-Contest!
Today is an important day. No, not just because of that, but because it happens to be my 16th anniversary here on Writing.com.
So no prompt for comments today -- just comment below and you might get a badge tomorrow. As usual, deadline is the end of the day today, September 11, WDC time. If you must have a prompt, you could talk about model rockets or how awesome I am, or how awesome my model rockets are even though I don't have any pictures of them up. But really, I just want to encourage comments, so anything goes, today. That's right - it's my birthday, but I'm the one giving a present. (Don't worry if I've given you a Merit Badge in the last couple of weeks; if applicable, I'll remind myself to send it out later for CR credit.)
|There's an old riddle: Name me and so you will break me.
PROMPT September 10th
In your entry today, write about silence. Consider silence in both your personal life and in your writing. What messages can be conveyed through silence? Is there power in a person being silent? When is it appropriate to be silent and when is it not?
Yeah, yeah, I know - the Disturbed version is awesome. But BrandiCarlile will always be my favorite, even if that particular song only features her backup singers.
Yesterday, I tried to drive my car for the first time in six months. It's been sitting on the street directly in front of my house, unmoving, silent. You know what I wish wasn't silent? When, sometime in the last six months, some asshole broke into it, opened the glovebox, and thus turned on a light that drained my battery. Might have been nice to actually have a working car alarm, then; I was probably in my house and I would have heard it. Instead, it was silent.
No need for shock or sympathy, there -- for some unknown reason, they broke in but didn't steal anything. My GPS is still there. The petty change that litters pretty much every central console of every car in the universe is still there. My personal Breathalyzer is still there, as is my mascot, a plush Dogmeat from Fallout 4. Hell, the big honkin' knife I keep in the back for emergencies is still there, and that sucker wasn't cheap. Even everything that had been in the glovebox - mostly the manual and some CDs -- was relocated but not stolen. It's more puzzling than anything else. I mean, if you're going to break into someone's car, fucking at least steal something. I mean, okay, it's possible something is missing; I don't exactly keep a pristine car interior. But if so, it's nothing I'll miss.
So I'm out $150 for a new battery, but big deal. If I'd gone on driving as usual, I'd have spent more than that in gas and maintenance.
Only thing I can figure is maybe they were specifically looking for a handgun. This is America, after all. Never kept one in the car, though.
Segué to the most obvious carriers of handguns: cops. I always wondered if I'd stick to my guns (pun intended) if I was ever arrested (I haven't been). I always imagined the cop would read me my Miranda rights like they do on TV. "You have the right to remain silent." At which point I'd clam up and say not even one word until I, somehow, hooked up with an attorney. The exact method of contacting an attorney when one isn't speaking a single word has always been a mystery to me.
Knowing me, I'd fail. But that's one time when silence is absolutely appropriate: when one is arrested and "anything you say can and will be used against you."
But silence can speak volumes. Fifth Amendment aside, spouses, for example, can and do use your silence against you. Her: "Do you think she's prettier than I am?" Me: *clams up while deciding whether to lie or tell the truth* Her: "I KNEW IT!" And then five or six days of the silent treatment.
There's an old, well-known Zen koan: if a tree falls in the forest and there's no one around to hear it, does it make a sound? Well, a sound is the vibration of air molecules; an ear isn't required. So... yes.
And yes, I'm well aware of the related joke: If a man speaks in the forest and there's no woman around to hear him, is he still wrong?
These days, silence is vastly underrated. I've mentioned before that I despise television with its blaring, constant noises. Here on the internet, though, there's never silence: everyone has a voice and seems determined to use it (metaphorically, at least; it's no accident that the second-most-popular social medium is called Twitter). And there's a lot of chatter about refusing to "be silenced."
This makes sense, though. It's one thing to choose silence for oneself. It's quite another to have it imposed upon one.
Which reminds me of an old joke.
A monk joins an order that requires a vow of silence. Upon joining, he's told he can speak only two words every five years. So, after being there for five years, he gets summoned to the head monk's office. "You may speak two words now." So he says, "Bed hard." They promise to switch out his mattress for a softer one. Five years later, he's summoned again. "Food cold," he says. I don't remember if they do anything about that or not; it's irrelevant. After another five years, he gets summoned a third time, and this time says, "I quit."
"I'm not surprised," says the head monk. "Since you got here, all you've done is complain."
Still. Not every silence is uncomfortable. I often wish we'd learn to live with the stillness and not fill it with meaningless twitter.
Today is my dad's birthday, and he is now forever silent. As will be the fate of us all. We should learn to get used to it.
The answer to the riddle way up at the top, if you haven't figured it out, is of course "silence." It's like a hole, I think: not an object in and of itself, but defined by what's around it. An interesting concept when you really think about it.
Preferably in silence.
"Fools, " said I, "You do not know
Silence, like a cancer, grows
Hear my words that I might teach you
Take my arms that I might reach you"
But my words, like silent raindrops fell
And echoed in the wells, of silence
|What "future self?" This is entirely too optimistic.
PROMPT September 9th
Write a letter to your future self. Write the date you would want to read the letter again at the top of your entry (you can choose how far in the future this date is; One year, five years, twenty years, etc.) What would you want to tell your future self? What would you want to know from them?
To: Me. Date: September 9, 2021.
Hey, asshole. Got that flying car yet? No? Still alive, at least? Well, I'm going to assume that you are and go from there.
Please at least tell me 2021 has been better than 2020 was. Somehow I think I'm going to be disappointed.
But hey, you're starting to get the senior discounts. So at least the movie theater is cheaper. Assuming it's still around; it wasn't looking good as of last week.
Most importantly, though, I trust you've discovered more new and interesting beers. Preferably in Belgium. No, don't tell me you didn't make it to Belgium because the EU is still closed to us plague rats in the US. I don't want to know.
I hope you've at least done some traveling; I shall be quite disappointed if you still haven't moved from this spot except to go to the local purveyors of fine malt beverages, including said movie theater.
I'm guessing Elder Scrolls 6 is still "sometime in the future."
But, you know, I suppose if nothing much changes in the next 365 days, things could be worse. Zombies. Alien invasion. Giant Meteor. The inevitable return of the Old Gods, squamous and rugose.
They could also be better, but I'd rather not think about that. Hope only leads to disappointment; only pessimism can bring happiness. Well, pessimism and beer. Well, pessimism, beer, and some of the movies that are supposed to come out in the next year.
Or, alternatively, maybe you'll come across this entry and have a nice chuckle about just how wrong I was. That would actually please me. As you know, that's the great thing about being a pessimist: you can only be pleasantly surprised.
Crack open a cold one for me. And write back soon.
Waltz (from one year ago)
|Confidence is overrated.
PROMPT September 8th
What does confidence mean to you? Describe the traits of a confident person. Looking at the traits you listed, would you consider yourself a confident person?
It's interesting that this prompt is for September 8. Because September 8 is Star Trek Day -- the anniversary (54th this year) of the date of the airing of the first episode of Star Trek ("The Man Trap," an unforunately titled episode that was later serialized as "The Unreal McCoy.")
The reason it's interesting is that, as I have been a lifelong Trek fan, and having just binge-watched the entire Original Series, I can think of no better icon of "confidence" than Captain James T. Kirk.
Oh, sure, Picard. Fair enough. I'm not going to get into a debate over which one's a better captain of the Enterprise (besides, it's totally Christopher Pike, fight me). Why, I might as well debate who would win in a fair fight: The Hulk, or Superman (but it would depend on whether we're talking pre- or post-Crisis on Infinite Earths).
Ahem. Anyway. As I was saying, confidence is overrated.
See, in TV shows and movies, or books or plays or whatever, it's easy to write confidence, just like it's easier to write funny dialogue than it is to blast witty banter back and forth if the writer has days or weeks to plan out exactly what's going to be said. Similarly, if you're plotting a story, you know what's going to happen. You're writing it, after all. It's easy to portray your character as confident, or timid, or funny, or whatever attribute you choose for the character. Well. Not "easy," per se; most of us spend our entire lives trying to master the art of characterization.
But compared to being all confident and shit in real life? Cakewalk.
So, Kirk. Level-headed, first and foremost. Can contemplate imminent death without flinching. Calm. Competent - he knows how the Enterprise works, but, more importantly, he trusts and is trusted by his crew because he knows them at least as well as he knows his starship. Patient. Contemplative, but decisive once a decision point is reached.
All of those things are realistic enough, from what I've experienced. What sets Kirk apart from real-life people is that he almost always makes a decision that turns out to be the correct one -- and when he doesn't, it's an important plot point.
We schlubs toiling away in the Real World™ don't have that luxury.
There is, in life, a really remarkably blurry line between confidence and arrogance. I've heard it said that it usually doesn't matter what decision one makes, so long as one makes a decision. This is arrant nonsense. It's entirely possible to make an utterly disastrous decision with complete confidence. That doesn't stop the decision from being disastrous. But it does get you laid, at least, so there's that.
I mean, I'm sure that if you think hard enough, you can come up with a real-world example of a leader who is supremely confident... and almost always a disaster.
No, confidence is a trap. Just like everything else about movies and TV, the portrayal we see is idealized. You come to a decision point and you're like "What would Kirk do" or whatever, even if you don't have phasers, warp drive, or deflector shields. But you're working from incomplete information. You're always working from incomplete information, whereas a fictional character only has the appearance of working from incomplete information.
The important thing in a real-life situation isn't confidence. The important thing is being ready, able and willing to accept responsibility if things don't work out well after you've made the decision.
So... am I a confident person?
I sure as fuck hope not.
Anytime I'm supremely confident about something, that's when I find out I'm most misinformed. Hell, if you asked me "Do you think the sun will rise tomorrow," I'd have to answer, "Maybe. Probably. Might not. Small but nonzero chance it wont, in which case we're boned."
I don't trust confident people. Almost without exception, they're so full of themselves they don't have room for other opinions.
Speaking of Star Trek, in honor of Star Trek Day, I decided to confidently whip up a batch of Romulan Ale. This is the result:
I had some guidance, but I mostly went my own way on it. Obviously, blue curacao figures prominently. The other ingredients will remain a strategic Empire secret, but suffice it to say there's a reason why this stuff is illegal in the Federation.
Maybe next year, I'll try to create some Saurian Brandy, or perhaps Klingon Bloodwine. Because if there's anything I have unearned confidence about, it's my mixological prowess.
|What is this "productive and happy" of which you speak?"
PROMPT September 7th
I completely rearranged my desk space yesterday! It was a much-needed change and has helped with my motivation. What does your desk space / writing space look like? What sorts of things do you need (or not need) in your work space to be productive and happy?
Here's the thing: I like being in a clean, organized space.
Here's the other thing: I despise cleaning and organizing with every fiber of my being.
These two urges tug constantly at my psyche, just like "eating that whole pizza" vs. "not having another heart attack." Sometimes one wins. Sometimes the other does. Most of the time I just distract myself with something else.
Anyway, I don't have dedicated desk space right now. My office has gathered too much crap, and I can't be arsed to straighten it all out. I write on a laptop, because a) I travel, or I used to in the Before Time, and b) I like to sit outside on my deck whenever it's not too cold. Too hot, I can deal with. Drop below about 70F / 21C, though, and I start to freeze to death.
I'm not looking forward to fall and winter.
Anyway. it's a honkin' big laptop, because I also use it for gaming. Not light, and I've seen cinderblocks smaller than the size of the power converter. Still, it's portable enough to fit into my backpack for travel, if that ever becomes an option again, and no one wants to steal the backpack because it's heavier than a box of rocks.
One of the things I like most about traveling is hotel rooms.
I know this is probably just as unrelatable to most people as my desire for heat over cold. Hotel rooms freak a lot of people out. Me? Love 'em. Even the dingy, faded ones. I've been in those, and I've also stayed at the actual Ritz-Carlton. And everything in between. Because I walk into one, and it's sparse: A bed or two. Bathroom. A nightstand with a lamp. A dresser. A desk and chair. A TV which I utterly ignore. One of the reasons I don't usually travel with people is every time I do, they seem to have this need to walk into a hotel room and immediately turn the TV on. It's annoying as hell and I don't understand it. All TV can do is provide us with commercials and other chaotic noises.
But I digress. A hotel room looks clean and neat. It may not actually be clean, but I don't give a damn. Best of all, I'm not the one who cleaned it. I pay for that privilege gladly. So then I can set up my excessively-sized laptop on the desk, plug it in, and game, or write, or look at cat videos, or whatever.
Now, look, I don't want to give anyone the idea that I'm a lazy bum who expects other people to do his housework for him. No, I'm a lazy bum who hates to do housework, and hates even more if someone does it for me -- except in the aforementioned hotel rooms. I neaten up when I have to at home, but not before. Usually I just take the laptop outside, as I said, where I can't leave a lot of shit lying around because sometimes it rains, snows, or winds.
Productive and happy, though? Pipe dreams.
Final Birthday Week MB goes to WakeUpAndLive~No cig for me! as a fellow Trekker, but please know that I appreciated all of the comments. Yes, all of them. Thank you. Some things coming up this week: Tomorrow is Star Trek Day, which commemorates the anniversary of the first airing of the first Original Series episode on September 8, 1966; September 10 would have been my father's 103rd birthday; and then September 11 is, among other things, my account anniversary. Hopefully I'll remember to give out more Merit Badges for my account anniversary, if I don't drink too much rum the day before (Dad was a sailor).
|Holy shit, it's Sunday already?
PROMPT September 6th
Reflect on the last week. Write about something you did really well last week and something you could have done better.
Warning: I'm going to wallow in self-pity here. Skip this one if you're just going to roll your eyes and tell me to get over it already. I know everyone else has it worse than me. I know I should count myself lucky. I know I have no "right" to complain, but goddammit, this is my blog and I'll fucking complain if I want to.
The answer to both sections of the prompt is "drinking."
In the Before Time, I talked about drinking way more than I actually drank. Hell, I managed to drink so little in 2019 that, in conjunction with changing my eating and exercise habits, I lost 100 pounds. But shit, it's a big part of my brand, so I had to talk about it anyway. I make that sound so corporate, I know, but I really do enjoy the experience - just not enough to have made it a daily thing. Occasionally, I'd go to a brewery and sample a small amount of several of their beers. Once in a while, I'd pour myself a scotch, or mix a margarita, or go to a wine tasting. Then I'd go days, sometimes weeks, without touching a drop (I do have an unmitigated addiction to Coke Zero, but that hardly counts).
And once in a blue moon (callback to a previous blog entry here), I'd get drunk and pass out. Sometimes I just needed that. I don't get violent or nasty or neglectful when I do that. Usually I just listen to BrandiCarlile or Leonard Cohen to enhance the emotion, and then pass out. And for the gods' sake, don't give me shit about driving drunk, because I never do that. Somehow we've conflated drinking and driving as a society, perhaps because everyone drives everywhere, but even when I'm completely cabbaged, I have enough sense to summon an Uber if I'm out -- but usually I do this at home.
My... temperance, if you want to call it that; the term originally referred to moderation, not teetotaling -- it wasn't a hardship for me; my other great love in life is video games, and I can't do those if I'm wasted. It requires coordination, thought, and concentration, none of which is compatible with being drunk.
I also like to drive. As I've mentioned before, I've driven myself across the goddamn continent three or four times now -- yes, I've lost count. And again, I'm very, very careful about being sober when I drive. Not for my own sake, but for everyone else's; same reason I wear a face mask in public these days.
Which brings me to how things have changed this year.
The thing I most love to do when I travel is visit breweries. I wish I'd kept better track, but I've had beers from close to a thousand craft breweries all over the country. As I said, I'm careful about it; I've been known to choose lodging based on it being in stumbling distance of a brewpub -- much to the detriment of the quality of said lodging. Thing is, I wanted to -- I still want to -- visit every brewery in the US and Canada. As of January 1, there were nearly 10,000 of them in my country alone; I suspect that number is substantially lower now, but I haven't looked into it because the last thing I need right now is to get more depressed.
I'm well aware that this is probably an unattainable goal. Every week in the Before Time, on average, we gained two and lost one. By the time I've swept the country, a hundred more will have popped up and I'd have to go back. But everyone needs a goal, and this one is mine.
Then the pandemic happened, and my world shrank to a pinpoint.
Now, as I said, I'm aware that I'm a fortunate, privileged individual. I have time because I'm retired. I'm financially stable; though far from filthy rich, I'm not exactly dirt poor (I always had it in my head that I'd write a personal finance guide titled "Dirt Rich" as a play on these clichés; can't be arsed to actually do it because I don't really have the credentials for it.) Most fortunate of all, I live within walking distance (just barely) of my second-favorite brewery in the US. (My first-favorite brewery is on the other gods-be-damned coast.) And I have a good, reliable Subaru to take me where I want to go.
The last time I moved that car was six months ago. It's been sitting, neglected, on the street in front of my house.
Which is not to say I haven't gone anywhere. I walk to the local taphouse. I walk to the aforementioned second-favorite brewery. I had a dentist appointment on the other side of the city a couple of weeks ago, for a toothache that I had developed precisely 15 seconds after my state shut everything down, and I took an Uber -- because the dentist office was near a brewery I hadn't been to, and I wanted to sample their wares.
Doing that, though, just made me more depressed. I got my usual sampler, just small portions of several beers, and they were good enough, but all it did was remind me of the thousand or so times I'd done the same thing in New York, New Jersey, Maine, Massachusetts, California, Nevada, Illinois, Texas, North Carolina, Iowa, Colorado, Florida, motherhumping Hawai'i... every state in the US, in fact, except for Michigan, Alaska, and Nebraska.
Technically, sure, I can travel. In practice, it's a bad idea.
So... getting back to the point here, finally... I drink. A lot. Every day. Well, almost every day; I skipped last Sunday so I could finally get some decent sleep.
Couple of weeks ago, the movie theater reopened, with precautions. More importantly, the taphouse in the movie theater reopened. By "the movie theater," I mean the Alamo that's a mile from my house. I walked there and staggered back. The movies -- Unhinged, New Mutants, and Tenet -- all kinda sucked, but it didn't matter; it made me feel halfway normal again, even though I was the only one in the theater for all of them. Well, except for New Mutants, where a couple of douchebags had seats way up in front while I was in the back. Anyway, I could have seen gods-be-damned Manos: The Hands of Fate (without the MST3K commentary) and it wouldn't have mattered, because the important thing was I was able to get cooked in the taphouse first.
And I discovered that I have forgotten how to interact with people.
Not that I was ever very good at it, but, like everything else, it's a skill that fades away if it's not used. I mean, yes, I have a housemate and we talk occasionally, and another way I'm fortunate is that we're still friends even though we're in close proximity, but in the last six months I've seen one other friend once, and an old friend and her husband... also once. My interactions with people have been limited, is what I'm saying. And so I forget how to be polite to bartenders and such. It's important to be polite to bartenders. They're a lifeline. It's not that I didn't try; I just feel like I failed at being sociable. Don't worry; I ameliorated any bad feelings with enormous tips. I still feel bad about it. It wasn't anything in particular that I could explain; it's just I was probably not as affable as I usually am.
So of course that means I'm even more inclined to drink at home. I've been ordering wine online. Near the movie theater is a liquor store, and I've staggered home carrying scotch, gin, tequila, and ingredients for my creation, the American Election (it's a twist on the White Russian; an American thing with Russian influence, hence the name). My second-favorite brewery (see above) delivers beer. The grocery store delivers beer and wine. I'm set. Who needs to travel, anyway, right?
Now, I've heard that the first step is admitting that you have a problem. So okay, I admit I have a problem.
You know what?
I don't give a shit.
In fact, I like it.
After I've posted this I'm going to use the last of my vodka to make another American Election, and I'm going to watch the last two original series Trek episodes.
First, though: once again, I'll have a free MB to give away tomorrow, I think the last one for Birthday Week, and it'll go to someone who makes a comment here below that I like. And yeah, if you've gotten one from me already this week, feel free to comment anyway, but the point is to give away the free one so it's not like I can wait two weeks for CR credit. Remember, though, I do this about once a week or so anyway, so there will be other chances. My account anniversary is coming up soon, and I'm sure I'll give out presents for that.
Today's MB goes to *drumroll* Elisa, Bunny Stik , because her comment about omniscience reminded me that it's one superpower that I definitely don't want. I mean, yeah, I love to know things... but there are some things about which even I prefer to remain ignorant.
|Maybe I already have a superpower. How would you know?
PROMPT September 5th
Imagine you have a superpower of your choice. However, no one knows about it! What does your superpower enable you to do? Do you confide in anyone? What happens?
If I confide in someone, that violates the "no one knows about it" requirement. Just saying.
Here's the thing about actual comic-book style superpowers: you'd better hope you have an extremely powerful one, or once somebody finds out about it, you're going to disappear for a very long time while they run tests on you.
So you just have to make sure that nobody finds out.
It's kind of like winning the lottery jackpot. I mean, being rich is kind of a superpower by itself (one I wouldn't mind having). But the point is, if you go public with your lottery win and stand up there grinning and holding that gigantic fake check in front of cameras, it will be approximately 15 microseconds before your mobile starts lighting up with scammers, long-lost relatives, and long-lost scammers. And then there's the IRS.
So, you know, you discover you can fly, and you swoop around for a while and people see you, and then next time you land you'll find yourself netted, tagged, and rushed off to Area 52 for observation, tests, and vivisection. Yes, Area 52. Area 51 is too public.
Or say you can Jedi Mind Trick people into thinking these aren't the droids they're looking for, and as soon as it wears off, they'll come for you wearing earplugs so you can't convince them of anything.
Super-strength is another obvious and popular one. Also very useful. And maybe you could pass it off once or twice as adrenaline or whatever, but eventually they'll catch on and boom - underground in a vault made of 6-foot-thick titanium walls.
Then there's invisibility. You might think, "well, they can't Gitmo me if they can't see me," but really, invisibility is trivially easy to get around. Blow some flour into the room, and then your outline becomes powdery-visible. Also, you're naked. Seriously, though, invisibility wouldn't be all that great - in order to see, light has to get focused by your eye lens and absorbed by your retina, and if those aren't visible, you're blind, which effectively makes everyone and everything else invisible to you. Better would be if, instead of actual invisibility, you have the power to make people not notice you at all. This happens naturally when you hit about 50 years old, though, so you could just wait.
Worst of all are the powers that rely on external objects, like Green Lantern's ring or Ant-Man's suit. (I'll spare you the science of why Ant-Man could never be an actual thing.) Someone steals it and poof, no more powers.
So if I could choose a superpower, it would be one that would be useful in multiple situations, easy to conceal, and has a chance of getting me out of Area 52 should I slip up and get captured by dudes wearing dark suits and sunglasses. Telekinesis, say. Being able to move objects with mere thought is more useful than most people give it credit for. Especially since I wouldn't have to, you know, get up from my chair to get a beer. Or hold it in my hand to drink it.
What, you were expecting me to use it to fight crime? Or commit it? Nah. Too much work. Can't be arsed.
(Edited to add) oh yeah, Merit Badge.
Today's goes to Lilli ☕ because I want to see a video of this:
Might be a good night to dance in the street wearing my witchy apparel, while sipping cabernet from my crystal skull goblet.
Still in Birthday Week, so another one of my free MBs will go to a commenter of my choice tomorrow!
|I've done this before but I continue to see misinformation out there.
PROMPT September 4th
Write about a weird, cool, unbelievable, or interesting fact you know, but don’t think many other people do.
There is going to be a full moon on October 31.
That's not the salient fact for the prompt, though. The relevant fact is that this full moon will not, contrary to widespread reportage, be a Blue Moon.
The calendar we use, the Gregorian, is purely arbitrary, like most of our measurements of time. It's achieved worldwide acceptance, but it's not connected to anything real. Not the solstices, not the equinoxes, and certainly not the phases of the Moon. All it does is attempt to start at (nearly) the same point in the Earth's orbit every time, which is functional enough for a calendar.
Other calendars are in use, ranging from purely lunar (months based on actual Moon cycles) through lunisolar (a lunar calendar that occasionally adjusts to align with the solar calendar, like the Hebrew calendar). There are other proposed calendars, but I won't go into them here; the only relevant thing is that all of our dates are simply social constructs.
The lunar phase cycle is approximately 29.5 days -- that's how long it takes for our satellite to return to a particular phase. Our solar year, in contrast, is roughly 365.25 days. Divide the one by the other, and you get about 12.4; consequently, there are usually 12 full moons in a solar year, but sometimes the number is 13.
I use full moons because that's the most obvious (and awesome-looking) phase, but also because pre-technological humans were inclined to use full moons to subdivide time. Another thing they measured, as seen at sites such as Stonehenge, were the solar quarters: the solstices and equinoxes. Due to fuckery involving us having an elliptical orbit, the time between solstice and equinox, or vice versa, is not exactly the same for each quarter, but I'm going to call it a quarter of a year, or roughly 91 to 92 days.
So our ancestors, who were more inclined (and more able) to actually watch the sky because things like electric lights, Downton Abbey, and the internet had yet to be invented. And they cared deeply enough about the celestial clockwork to give all of these occasions -- full moons and quarterly solar transitions -- names.
The names themselves varied from culture to culture. Perhaps the most well-known full moon name is the Harvest Moon, but there were also things like Cold Moon, Wolf Moon, and so on. And all of these names were tied to the seasons; that is, solstices and equinoxes.
Now, look up these names online and what you generally find is misinformation. They'll tell you that the Wolf Moon occurs in January, the Flower Moon is in May, and so on.
These names, whatever they were in different cultures, predated the Gregorian or even the Julian calendar. They have roots deep in natural cycles and folklore, not mechanical timekeeping devices or arbitrarily designated dates. Because, as I said, a season lasts around 91 days or so, and a moon cycle is 29.5, there are usually three full moons between solstice and equinox, another three between equinox and solstice, and so on around the annual cycle. And each one of those moons had a name, because the essential purpose of naming them was to mark the seasons with something more obvious to the farmers and herders than the zenith position of the sun.
But if you've been following along, you can see what the problem is: sometimes there are four full moons between solar quarters, which would throw off the naming conventions. This would happen, if I recall correctly (I'm writing this without references), approximately once every 2.5 years or so; in other words, relatively rarely.
And so, in a season containing four full moons, they inserted what we'd think of as a "leap moon," but was known as...
... the Blue Moon.
Technically, the Blue Moon is the third full moon in any season containing four full moons. All of the other full moons keep their original names.
Hopefully you can see the logic behind this: it is not tied to any human-made calendar; it's completely independent of January, February, etc., or the numbers of the days therein.
An old issue of, again if I recall correctly, Sky and Telescope magazine from the late 1940s created our error in nomenclature: misinterpreting some information in the Farmer's Almanac or something, that magazine confidently asserted that a Blue Moon was the second full moon in any given calendar month.
Again. Lies. I mean, not deliberate lies, but falsehood, at any rate. But somehow, like many falsehoods are wont to do, it stuck. And so we get what we're inevitably going to see over the next eight weeks: "The full moon on Halloween is a Blue Moon!" No. No, it vehemently is not. (As an aside, a full moon on Halloween is a rare coincidence that's pretty cool for other reasons.) There are no Blue Moons for the rest of this calendar year. There's the Harvest Moon after the equinox in early October, the one on October 31, and one in late November... and then comes the winter solstice. Three. Not four. No Blue Moon.
Why does this matter?
Well, for one thing, I hate seeing mistakes perpetuated and then treated as fact. Bad enough in politics, but now you're messing with folklore and natural cycles.
For another, this leads to what we had a few years ago: two full moons in January, none in February, and then two in March. And anything that happens twice in the span of three calendar months should never be associated with the phrase "once in a Blue Moon."
And, finally, it's disrespectful to cultures that don't use the Gregorian calendar.
Okay, that last one might be a bit of a stretch, but the point is, the false definition of Blue Moon could only happen in a purely solar calendar such as the Gregorian. It can never happen in, say, the Hebrew calendar (which uses leap months every so often so, say, Pesach doesn't get observed in the Northern Hemisphere fall or Hanukkah in the spring). And the true definition of Blue Moon is tied to actual things happening in the sky, the relative positions and orientations of the Earth, Sun, and Moon -- which will be the same for the foreseeable future, whereas human-created calendars change.
Is the false definition easier to compute for the average person? Sure. But that's no excuse.
And, believe me, I've heard counterarguments. "But Waltz, definitions change. Language itself changes over time." True, but irrelevant; the great calendar in the sky hasn't changed appreciably in all of human history, and will continue to not change appreciably well past human and civilization time scales. "But Waltz, I first heard the twice-in-a-calendar-month definition, and any contradictory information just makes me double down on that." Yeah, I heard that one first, too, but when I hear something that's later contradicted by the truth, I change my knowledge to fit the data. "But aren't the full moon names themselves arbitrary?" Yes, but their positions in time, relative to solstices and equinoxes, are not.
So this is my crusade. This is the hill I have chosen to die on. Like I said, I've explained all of this before, maybe even right here in this blog. Certainly in a newsletter a while back. Definitely in my travel blog.
Respect our shared human heritage, and embrace the true definition of Blue Moon.
Just... don't drink that beer. It's pisswater.
Oh, and I appreciated all of the comments from yesterday, but especially Apondia 's:
The interesting thing I found when studying math in a college setting was that I love writing words. I can express things no one ever bothered to listen to about me before. I love reading because I found myself in so many horrible situations in stories I read. Then, when I took math from an older teacher who wanted me to be able to learn, what she was teaching we discussed math vocabulary. I got really happy reading a math dictionary!! And, lo and behold numbers began to fall into equations like they belonged there because I understood that words and numbers are part of each other. I'm not the smartest mathematician but, at least now I get it.
Because it acknowledges that math is mostly just another kind of language (alternatively, language is actually a really complicated form of mathematics), and because -- relevant to today's discussion and that of a couple of days ago -- a person can change their beliefs, and thence succeed. So one MB coming your way -- and since we're still in Birthday Week, I'll give out another one tomorrow, to someone who comments here today.
|Does getting a failing grade on an elementary school art project count?
PROMPT September 3rd
Describe a time when your work was criticized. How did you react?
Well, of course my work gets criticized on a regular basis. I'm a writer on a peer review website. We all are, and it's part of the deal here. In fact, sometimes I wish for more criticism. "I love this!" is great to hear, yes, tell me that, don't stop, oh! But the only part of me that grows from it is my... ego. (What were you expecting me to say?)
But oodles of reviewing articles abound on this site, including one in my own port, so there's no need to belabor the point. I'm going to talk about my previous life as a professional.
Don't worry. I'm not going to go into details. The details of civil engineering, especially on the small scale that I practiced it, are incredibly boring. (That's a civil engineering pun. Boring? Because we sometimes bore to install.. oh, never mind.) So I'll write in broad generalities.
I worked on the design of a subdivision. Roads, lots, sewer, water and -- the important part for this discussion -- storm drainage.
Used to be you could design a subdivision and put in a pond downstream that caught all the runoff and released it slowly. But then there came issues with wetlands disturbance, and that sort of thing was frowned upon. So instead of one big pond that disturbed a natural stream, I needed to put in dozens of little ones to catch the runoff before it got to the existing streams. Again, I'm oversimplifying here, but I can already sense you nodding off. Bear with me just a little longer.
Well, this method was not only time- and math- intensive, but it was new to me and, more importantly, it was new to the people whose job it was to review the plans for compliance with local, state, and federal regulations.
Said reviewers tore me a new one for overcomplicating things.
How did I react? Well, my first reaction -- a private one -- was anger. What the hell was I supposed to do? I had to put in stormwater management, and couldn't do it in the traditional way, so I basically invented a new paradigm. Don't give me too much credit for that, though; I found out later that other people were already doing similar stuff, and I didn't know about it because, honestly, civil engineering advances on that small a scale aren't exactly fast-paced, so we didn't keep up with the literature like, say, computer scientists are supposed to.
So yeah, anger -- but it was short lived and, like I said, private. After taking a few deep breaths, I arranged a meeting with the reviewers and we hashed it all out like the professionals we all were.
Sorry there's no big denouement here; like I said, the details are ennui-inducing, and far in the past now. Hell, I don't know if the subdivision ever got built. The developer handled things after the plans were eventually approved, and this was just before the Bush recession.
I guess the point is that this is not the sort of thing I take personally -- provided it's not a personal attack in the first place. Getting back to writing, if I get a review that essentially says "this story sucks and here's why," I take it seriously. If I read, "you suck and here's why," well, that's another issue entirely. Fortunately, I don't recall any of that on this site.
On a related note, I went to see Tenet yesterday; Alamo had early access screenings. Once again, it turned out to be a private viewing. I was the only one in the theater. Great for avoiding the 'rona, probably not so great for Alamo's bottom line. Anyway, the movie was not nearly as clever as its makers thought it was. Now, I can't say "Christopher Nolan is a hack," because I've seen his other stuff and a lot of it is very good. But I, personally, would hate to put that much work, that much of my heart and soul into a movie, only to have someone (like me) with absolutely no talent for moviemaking say that it sucked. I suppose you have to develop a thick skin, like a politician.
I'm not sure I could do that, which is one reason I haven't aggressively pursued publishing. I mean, what if I succeed and some idiot calls me a no-talent hack?
I guess that ties into yesterday's entry, too.
Speaking of which, thanks for all the comments. I appreciate all of them, even the ones that disagree with me... because I can accept other points of view besides my own. I'm going to give today's MB to Charlie 🌈 , though, because of the math thing:
Math is probably one of the best examples of not people not believing in themselves. I don't know how many times in school I heard people say that math "just wasn't their thing" or "better you than me" when they found out my majors. I'll concede that some people have a natural aptitude for math, but it's absolutely learnable, just like any other language.
I think a lot of that falls on teachers though because the teachers in my formative years did not instill a lot of self confidence in us when it came to learning math. I do think you have to have a special understanding of mathematics to actually be able to present it in an understandable way. It seemed like my teachers gave up pretty quickly on students and allowed them to just go with the "I don't do math" mentality.
I mean, after all, math is the central metaphor for this blog. But also it got me thinking: the way other people are about math is the same way I am about art and music. I've tried both, with lousy results... but I love to look at art and listen to music. It's very frustrating to me that I can't create them the way other people seem to do so effortlessly.
Perhaps I just haven't tried hard enough. Or maybe I've just had it instilled in me from a very early age that I just don't have the aptitude for these things. So even though I (and Charlie) spoke about math blockage, I understand because I'm blocked in other areas.
Please keep the comments coming; I'll award another one of my free Birthday Week Merit Badges tomorrow, but mostly I just like feedback - positive or otherwise.
|Sometimes I probably take things too literally.
PROMPT September 2nd
Be inspired by this quote: "Man often becomes what he believes himself to be. If I keep on saying to myself that I cannot do a certain thing, it is possible that I may end by really becoming incapable of doing it. On the contrary, if I have the belief that I can do it, I shall surely acquire the capacity to do it even if I may not have it at the beginning." - Mahatma Gandhi
I assert that I cannot fly without special equipment. Granted that I could fall, and possibly have some amount of control over the fall, but I could not take off, fly, and land where I desire like, say, Superman.
Neither can anyone else. Not even Gandhi. No matter how much you think you can, no matter how motivated you are, no matter what you convince yourself of, there's these persnickety things called the laws of physics that absolutely prevent it. I have seen exactly zero evidence to contradict me on this, and I'm certain that people have tried. I know I have.
I also assert that I cannot physically live forever, or tunnel through a mountain without tools, or move a thing with telekinesis. No amount of belief, no deep well of self-confidence, no pleading with the universe to make it so, can change this.
So on the face of it, Gandhi was, in this instance, absolutely wrong.
"Oh, but Waltz, that just means that no one has tried hard enough, or that we're so convinced of natural laws that we limit ourselves accordingly. We say to ourselves, these things are impossible, and so they are impossible."
Nope. They're just physically impossible.
Now, we can get around these things, depending on what your actual objective is. For a long time, powered flight was considered impossible, until it wasn't. If the purpose of tunneling through a mountain is to lay train tracks, we've done that -- with tools. If I need to move something, and it's light enough or I have the right equipment, I can move it - no need for telekinesis. As for living forever, well, I covered that in my last two newsletters; no need to belabor it. The point being that while no, I can't personally fly like Superman, I can get on a jet and go to Belgium. Well. I could if there weren't a fucking pandemic going on.
Having covered that we need to accept that there are limitations, though, I will concede that, if a thing is possible at all, belief in oneself is a good beginning to get it done. So many people are bad at math, for example. "I'm so bad at math! I could never understand physics." That's self-limitation. They have a mental block, convinced that there's something they can never understand, and so it is. But if you approach it going, "My teachers sucked. I know I can learn math. I'll get a book and watch videos," then maybe, just maybe, you can learn something new.
Neither of these observations -- that the possible is possible and the impossible is impossible -- is particularly new or meaningful. What interests me is not the possible made manifest by belief in oneself, or the impossible that can never happen, but the cognitive space in between the two.
One of the marvelous things about humanity is that we can conceive of the impossible, or even the improbable. Because I'm still rewatching old episodes of Star Trek, I'll use warp drive as an example. The speed of light is a known limitation on acceleration: nothing -- no matter, no energy, no information of any kind -- can accelerate in space past the speed of light.
Humans, who despise limitations of any sort (except, apparently, when they impose them on other humans), upon learning of this, immediately started imagining ways around it. One such imagined method is the aforementioned warp drive. Another is wormholes - folding space between two distant points like you're folding a piece of paper to bring the opposite edges together. One guy even managed to come up with a... possibly... plausible workaround: The Alcubierre Drive. . All we'd apparently need is to be able to create negative mass and effectively limitless energy, which... well, we don't know if that's impossible or not. I'm certain we'll try, if we aren't already. Because that's what humans do.
All of this shows is that while we certainly have physical limitations, it is possible to imagine the impossible. And, as a result of imagining it, sometimes we can even do it. In fact, I'd argue that without being able to imagine things beyond the realm of possibility, we certainly do limit ourselves. As Commander Swanbeck (Anthony Hopkins) in Mission:Impossible II said to Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise): "Mr. Hunt, this isn't mission difficult, it's mission impossible. "Difficult" should be a walk in the park for you."
We can't all be Tom Cruise. At least, not without that franchise's mask-creation technology. Let's get to work on that.
Now, look, I've been doing Merit Badge Mini-Contests about once a week. I can't usually do it more often than that because, well, 10,000 gps is 10,000 gps, and I'd eventually run out of funds. But this week, we get a free Merit Badge to give away every day for Birthday Week. I can't think of any better use for such a boon than to use it to bribereward people for commenting in my blog. So go ahead and comment below; I'll pick one to receive a badge.
I'm also going to give today's free one to one of yesterday's commenters... let's see... I liked LostGhost: Seeking & Learning 's comment, and I'm fairly sure she hasn't commented in here in a while, if at all, so she gets today's.