Writing Practice 6/11/2019

The Good Sonpage 107 – The world spun around me.

I could tell I had been drugged. After so many years of intentionally setting myself in this state of mind, I could tell the different types of after-effects. This felt like an episode of marijuana laced with some PCP. I’d done both individually, before, and knew I was happy high, and paranoid while tripping.

This felt like the combination. I wanted to hold everything that came my way and make love to it, but everything I could see had suddenly sprouted heads, and extra butts, and now the leaves had turned purple and the squirrels were the size of donkeys and their eyes were bigger than my head, and that freaked me out a little bit, too. But still I loved those huge, ridiculous donkey-squirrels, and I wanted to take them inside of me and to blend them with me, I wanted to melt them with my stomach acid and to merge their flesh unto my flesh, to imbue myself with the essence of donkey-squirrel, to merge my soul with the liquified, purified, gelatinous donkey-squirrel-orange-leaf-green-rainbow soul, to become a harmonious being outside of space, inside of time, to become a melded, blended, homogenous thing that had no individual identity but only a one-ness, a universality, a connection to the electric underpinning of the universe tangential path out of the cosmos and into, through, above and below and beyond the ether, to lose myself and to gain the donkey-squirrel, to make our consciousnesses become greater than the sum of our parts, to be absent from the body and to be present with the spirit, the Great Spirit, the Greatest Spirit, the one who guides, who directs, who rules, who controls and yet still allows the freedom, a purpose, a will to guide itself, to explore itself, to see where this uncertain, undefined, infinite future may flow to, to be unceasing and incessant, to permanently and effortlessly turn in circles of being, to love and to want and to live and to be, to exist, to subsume, to control and release, to breathe and to be exhaled, to know and to forget, to live and live and live and live and live forever.

Writing Practice – 6/9/2019

Writer about a log floating in the water…

Can you see it? There! About twenty feet out, it’s longer than your arm – thicker than your leg. Do you see how that branch comes out from the side, and looks like an arm? Can you see how the fingers stretch and reach towards the sky?

I imagine most of it is below the water line. If there is one branch sticking up, how many more must be reaching down? Three, four maybe. Big, hairy, gnarled arms trailing into the water.

Do you think there are fish swimming in and out, like a playground? This is a pretty big lake, after all. I bet there are some bluegill down there, maybe a sunfish, or a bass. Have the Asian Carp made it here yet? They were all over in that last place we went, remember? Such a problem, though I didn’t understand why. Couldn’t we just catch a lot of them? Maybe eat them, too. You know hwy they’re always talking about starving children in Africa? We could catch those Asian Carp and send them over there so they could eat them.

Do you know how deep this lake is? I bet it’s at least like ten feet deep. I dove in off the back of my friend’s boat last summer, and I tried to touch the bottom, you know, like you do when you’re at the pool? I went down and down, reaching with my fingers. I knew I was goin to touch the mud, but I never felt anything. I felt my ears get tighter, you know, with the pressure and all, but it never stopped. I probably kicked five or six times, and when I do that at the pool I only need to kick two or three and I can touch the bottom. That’ about eleven feet deep. So this is probably a lot deeper. Maybe I was going sideways, but then the pressure wouldn’t have been getting stronger and stronger, would it?

I wonder if we could dive off this boat now, what we would see. Would we scare those fish away? Do you think they would let us touch them? I think it would be creepy to touch a fish. Do you think they can feel things through their scales? Do they have nerves out there? Can they move those scales? You know, like birds can ruffle their feathers. That would be cool! Imagine if you saw a fish, just swimming in its tank, and then it ruffled its scales when it got scared, or threatened. That would look pretty exciting.

Oooh! What if you saw a dragon do that? Can you imagine, a forty-foot long dragon ruffling its scales, and breathing fire, and flexing its wings, and clenching its talons? I bet you’d crap your pants, you’d be so scared.

Why?

I need to mow my lawn.

Why?

Because it looks bad like that, the grass is too high.

Why does it “look bad”?

I don’t know, I just know that it would look better if the grass was trimmed.

Why? Why does short grass look better?

It’s just something within me that feels better when the grass is shorter.

Do you remember anyone telling you short grass looks better?

Not especially. Everyone where I lived when I was growing up had short grass in their yard.

Why would that have been?

Because they thought long grass looked bad.

Why do you think that is?

Societal convention? I don’t know.

Do you think short grass looks good?

Yes, of course.

Why?

You asked me that before.

And you didn’t really give an answer. You said other people told you it looks good, because they did it for themselves. Where do you think they learned it?

From their parents and the people around them, probably.

Where might they have learned it?

From the people before them.

How far back should this go?

Maybe back to the castles.

Tell me more.

Well, when there were castles, they kept the grasses beside them trimmed. Made the castles look nice.

How did they keep the grasses trimmed?

Probably by having sheep, and horses, and cattle around.

What did that do for the castle people?

They always had milk and meat from the cattle, and wool for clothes from the sheep, and transport from the horses.

So that means…

They were always well-prepared for anything.

It’s more than that.

Okay, having a castle and short grass meant that they had a lot of money. And power. So, short grass was an indicator of status.

That’s good.

Thank you.

Question…

Oh no.

How did the high-status people in the castles know that short grass would be an indicator of status?

Damn it!

There were people before castles, right?

Yeah, sure.

And aren’t there whole societies now who’ve grown up without ever having castles in their history?

Probably.

And don’t they also feel that short grass on the lawn “looks better”?

Probably.

So why do you think that is?

Look, I can see that you think you know better than me what the final answer is. Why don’t you just come out and say it?

Because this way is more fun!

Why?

Because I get to see the exasperation on your face. It’s enjoyable to make you squirm.

Why?

It touches something within me that I can’t quite explain.

Why not?

Damn it!

Writing Practice 5/17/2019

Describe a mosquito plant…

A mosquito plant is the place where, like an automobile plant, they manufacture mosquitoes. They have these huge, industrial-strength machines with levers and widgets and carburetors and assembly lines, to stamp out millions of bodies, and abdomens and thoraxes and eyes and wings per minute, but in these tiny, microscopic details. These are the places where those minute particles then feed over to another automatic assembly line, half a dozen conveyor belts all converging on various spots, like rivers flowing tributaries flowing into one big collector. The legs get on first, because they’re the hardest to do. They come in six different varieties, right front, right middle, right back, and they are attached one at a time to the body as it moves. Well – the body thorax does not move. It is held in a firm grip of a miniature pincers 1.2 millimeters wide, and this process of this whole assembly is moving, because that’s the only way to make sure the plane moves fast enough.

The arm swings down, picks up a thorax off the belt; it is guided by laser-sights, just like everything here. Precision is a must – there’s no room for error when you are dealing with trillions of transactions / actions each day. The laser-guided pincer swings down, grasps with a pressure precise to the one 1/10,000th of a kilo pascal, and then lifts the body. This happens 7,427,323 times a second, as this massive assembly swings and clangs and bonks and spits out exhaust from the other side. Once the thorax is secure, the legs approach. Again, these are held in micro pincers, and the connection process is laser-guided to the 1/100th of a millimeter. There is only so much we can get. We’d go to the 10,000th of that as well, but it would cost God far more in energy and resources (natural) to develop the technology, and we don’t have significant wastage to make that [illegible], anyway.

Legs approach. Thorax waits. In less than a second, all six legs are slotted into their receptacles, click-click-click-click-click-click. But, being only exoskeleton of biological material, and not anything metal, they don’t actually click – I just imagine they do.

After the legs are in, the head, and the wings slide in in a similar manner. Last stop is to animate the heart, which is done with a 0.000317 ampere shock delivered via two tungsten-coated diodes that are, yes, laser-guided to the opposite sides of the animal, and the wings start flapping, beating, pulsing (we’ve not yet landed on an agreeable terminology), then we release the pincer and out flies another mosquito. Success!

At least, until it finds its way to your backyard. But don’t worry – we have plenty more where that came from.

How To Write A Book Review

I recently finished reading 12 Rules for Life by Jordan Petersen. If you’re not familiar with the man, his book does provide a little history of his rise to recent prominence. I only found out about him in the last 6 months, from seeing some YouTube lectures on the nature of humanity, psychology, and various other subjects. Millions of others are like me in that they didn’t know about this former Harvard professor and clinical psychologist until he garnered quite a bit of attention for a political position about compelled speech, for the fact that the alt-right has commandeered some of his arguments to bolster their position, and for the fact that he’s quite solidly against some of the feel-good trends of the day.

Not getting into those here.

Instead, I’m going to write a little rant about book reviews.

It’s weird. Many book reviews are often not reviews, but summaries. I blame 11th Grade English teachers.

In their insistence that we answer exactly the question they’ve asked, with exactly the facts they wish to hear, but written “in your own words”, they’ve trained us less to think critically and more to paraphrase. This comes out when you look at the multitude of reviews on Amazon.com (or any other review platform). Most of the time, these are simply restatements of fact about the book, rather than their own impressions of the book’s content, how it made them feel, or what they take away from it.

And let’s not confuse a “rating” (1 star, 2 stars, etc.) with a “review”. A rating is an objective ranking. This is better than that. Those over there are worse than these here. A review is a subjective evaluation. This spoke to me. I appreciated parts here and there. Generally they’re correlated, but not equal. That is, most of the time you have a positive rating you also have a positive review. But sometimes not. I think it is entirely possible to have a 1-star rating with a “positive” review. That is, someone could find the format absolutely terrible (1-star) and disagree with the conclusions, yet still respect the arguments laid out within(“positive” review).

Which is why we need to have more critical reviews out in the public sector. But, ironically, not too many. Currently, Amazon.com has 4,878 reviews of 12 Rules for Life. I imagine B&N.com has thousands more, not to mention Goodreads and an uncountable number of independent opinions hosted on blogs or other smaller sites. If I read even a small fraction of all of those, I would easily spend longer on that task than the 15 or 16 hours I spent reading the text. Would that be worth my time? Probably not. I’d do much better to read a few and make a decision based on that information and spend the majority of my time with the actual book.

But where to start?

I’m sure that’s why Amazon introduce the [HELPFUL] button. This allows me to see whether other readers of this review have found value from the review. A meta-review, as it were. But doesn’t this also contribute to the problem of social conditioning and trending and social signaling? As more people find a particular review “helpful”, Amazon drives that review upward in the feed, creating a feedback loop in which I as a user don’t get the chance to experience the whole range of reviews, only the lucky leaders which came in to the process early, and have been promoted not necessarily because of quality, but simply because of quantity (of “helpful” ratings earlier than those which came later and are, unfortunately, buried too far back in the queue to ever get a chance at visibility).

Back to the review vs. summary discussion, what ends up happening is that many of those summaries are not helpful. They are not rated as such by readers. Good reviews, though, as actual reviews which provide insights, now take prominence because we, as readers, don’t want to waste our time reading unhelpful summaries. So we want to read the most helpful reviews, often of the value which we believe we’ll end up holding after we read the text! That is, if I think I’ll like it, I’m mostly going to spend time reading 5-star reviews. If I think I’ll hate it, I’m probably going to be waist-deep in 1-stars.

Ironically, and unfortunately, this confirmation bias problem drives a narrowing of the perspectives we are likely to see when considering a book. How many people read the 5 “most helpful” of each of the 5-star reviews, 4-star reviews, 3-star reviews, 2-star reviews, and 1-star reviews? Not many. We often read a couple of 5-stars, and validate our own internal prejudiced decisions we’ve already emotionally made with reference to these “independent” observers.

I think that’s a bad way to go about it. I don’t think this gives us a broad base of knowledge on which to base a conclusion. Instead, it feeds the brain’s energy-saving decision shortcuts

So. I there a way to fix this? I don’t know. Limit the # of reviews? Create an algorithm within Amazon’s display that forces a random review to be shown, rather than the “most helpful”? Cycle through on a first-written-first-shown basis so that each has a chance to be seen in equal measure? I don’t know the right answer.

Right now we’re getting the same sort of ineffective (destructive?) virtue-signaling and trend-whoring that we all complain about in social media. For the information industry (book publishing, lectures, blogging, etc.), which is so critical to the healthy function of a society, we may be running dangerously low on healthy debate, dissent, and critical thinking. Because we all want “the best” (again for a multitude of reasons), yet we’re not willing to go through the difficult process of evaluating for ourselves what the best might be.

Perhaps having a conversation around what it is we seek to accomplish through reviews, ratings, and the entire feedback process is warranted. I’ll leave that to someone else to organize.

SJ

P.S. I realize this essay doesn’t make much sense. Probably because I’m thinking as I write. I reserve the right to review and revise later.

P.P.S. I guess the least I could do is give you my review. Link here:

See below for text. You’re welcome.

P.P.P.S. I gave the book a 5-star rating and a positive review. It’s unlikely anyone will ever see that review and make a decision because of it, because now this review is buried a hundred pages back.

I don’t write many reviews on Amazon. They’re often overwhelmed by the sheer volume of everything else, so it feels as if I’m simply shouting into the void. Because…

This book needs no additional 5-star review. There are plenty of them already. This book needs no additional commentary – there is plenty of that already. This book, this author, needs no additional puffing up of his reputation – there’s plenty of that done by the Patreon subscribers and the purchasers of his other books. And yet…

In keeping with the rules that say “Tell the truth – or at least, don’t lie” and “Be precise in your speech,” I offer this rating and review in order to be consistent with the pull in my innermost Being, to respond to what I have just read and to share my thoughts, regardless of their receipt.

Thank you, Mr. Peterson. Thank you for saying, eloquently, what many of us have felt within our own spirit for years now. That this life is not easy. That there are hard things to do, and hard ways of doing them. That we’re not all badasses, that we’re not all going to win. That we must work, because of reasons outside our control, but despite that work and those obstacles we can still create within ourselves a life that is meaningful, that reaches for higher values. A life that represents better, a better Being, and strives agains the Chaos around us.

All should read this book. Not all will. And even of those who do, some shall be put off by the many references to God and Christianity and the Bible as authoritative. That’s a disappointment. For, even if one does not hold that same philosophy (as I do not), one should admit that, in accord with one of the rules, that this other person, this author (who has striven to bring your life additional Order) has something to say. Not just something for the sake of saying something, just to be heard and followed mindlessly in order to inflate an ego out of selfish desires, but something important and, ultimately, valuable as you strive to create a life you can be proud to leave behind.

Writing Practice 5/5/2019 – Purple dragon

Purple dragon…

Purple Dragon is the psychedelic punk-rock album of 1975, released to much acclaim and fanfare as the third project of much-applauded Canadian trio Head In My Hole. This Junior project (freshman, sophomore, junior) effortlessly combines twisted guitar rhythms, bursting drum solos in almost every track, wicked lyrics tha trepresent the banality of life at every turn, and a series of song titles an themes which take the listener on an epic journey through an acid trip like no other.

The opening number, “set Aside Your Expectations,” is not just the introduction to the album, it sets the stage for the nearly mind-tripped experience to come. Hugh Laurie, vocalist and lead guitar, sets a pulsating, pounding harmony on his g-string, matched with his lyrics delivered in a raspy, sexy, smolders voice that seems a combination of Bob Dylan and Annie Lennox – mature, yet still naive enough to hope for a better future. “Set Aside…” tells of the advice given to our narrator by his older, wiser, more-stoned college roommate, upon his first foray into experiencing the magic and wonder of LSD. “Prepare for a purple dragon,” the narrator says. “It’ll show up when you least expect it.” And that sets the stage for the rest of the lyrics, music, and, in truth, experience of listening to – or, rather, immersing yourself in, Purple Dragon.

Over the next forty-seven minutes, Head In My Hole explores alternative rhythms and fantastical stories as our narrator recounts the multitude of new horizons pursued at the guidance of his leader. Drugs, sex, rebellion, even hard work.

I won’t spoil the ending. I won’t even give away how irrational it seems to say that it has an ending, for, as with much of the drug-rock of that era, Purple Dragon could easily be played on one continuous loop without losing any kind of continuity whatsoever. Start at track 5, go to 9, back to 1-4, and you would have a completely new, completely different, yet utterly coherent and enjoyable experience nonetheless. Thus the beauty of this album. Much more than a conglomeration of unrelated ideas, whatever happened to bubble up to the surface of the stew pot on the day Hugh and band mates were practicing and writing new songs, Purple Dragon is clearly a nuanced, planned, integrative album worthy of a listen. Find it in your local used Vinyl store. If not there, check eBay. I bet you’ll hatred that it’s certainly worth the effort.

Writing Practice – 4/19/19

Snoring loudly over there…

It’s okay that you snore. I wasn’t really sleeping anyway. I’ve had a lot on my mind, and tonight is no exception. I’m really worried about your brother. He’s been so depressed and down lately. Have you thought of taking him out for a guys’ night? I think it could be good for him. I’ll try to remember to tell you when you wake up.

I won’t wake up. I’d have to sleep first. I haven’t really slept in six months. Did you know? Do you notice how I am exhausted during the day? Oh, I snooze, I rest a bit. But sleep? Actual, physical, Deep sleep, the kind where you feel as if you’ve just sunk three feet deep into the comforter,the kind where you body recharges and supercharges like one of those ridiculous mad scientist lightning-bolt creations things, have you ever noticed that I haven’t had that in soo, so long?

I don’t remember when it started. Certainly before you started snoring, so I know I can’t blame you. Not that I would, of course. How can you be blamed for what your body does while unconscious? I’ve had a lot on my mind. And that’s making it so I can’t sleep.

Sometimes I will lie here and count your snores, every five minutes, or ten, or fifteen, to see how regular you are. I stare at the neon-blue bars indicating 2:20 then 2:25 then 2:30 then 2:35, and I wonder when the time ends. Not where it goes – I know it goes into the past, into the “there“, the “beyond.” But where does time end? When do we get to that last moment on the clock. We try to review, to account for it, and we for some reason also like to reset often. It’s like we don’t know how to count to more than sixty. I wonder why not.

Are you dreaming? Your cadence has decreased. Slightly. Ten minutes ago you were at seven per minute. Now it’s down to five. Does that mean you’re deep down, into the REM, into the dreams of purple walruses and flying cars, and sexual fantasies about e-girlfriends. I know they exist, it’s not a problem. Back when I dreamed, I dreamt of your ex-girlfriends, too. They were very attractive. And, again, I can’t blame you for your body’s unconscious rebellion of the conscious rules you have established.

I wish I could dream again. I would dream us on a vacation or maybe having an adventure. Perhaps we are detectives in old London, traipsing across the Bowery and into Big Ben and the Tower of London searching for clues. Maybe we are not together, but we are searching for one another. Maybe we, rather than being lovers as now, are simply friends, and each is attached to someone even more specially suited to such romanticism. Do you dream of us together? Do you run again? Do you walk? Do you relive the accident, which took your mobility and our relationship? I do.