a writer's journal - politics, music, american culture, esoteric aspects of life, and stories

Tuesday

Examing an old cliche: "the present does not exist"

-We view time in linear fashion, you know, the future is a line that stretches on seemingly forever in front, and the past is a line in back, and the present is a dot that creeps forward. The present doesn't have extension in reality, it has no length, it's instantaneous, it is less than a millisecond long, it is infinitely short. Of course there's a growing group of physicists who believe that time can only be reduced to minima, to quanta, the way energy can be; discrete packets of time, like a grid, like the whole universe is information packets plotted on a computer. I don't know about that but I think it's pretty useful to think of the present in terms of a fuzzy area around where you think your dot should be on the time-line. Fuzzy like an electron, or an idea. Anyway... the fuzzy area extends in front of the putative now-point a certain distance depending on your immediate expectations of the next few moments: at least a few milliseconds. Maybe a few seconds. Depends on what my energy state is - the higher the state, the further out the fuzzy area extends.

I mean, if I'm driving, and at a certain moment I detect a skid, my now really starts to stretch. Because a whole series of seemingly inevitable experiences suddenly pile into my moment, some of which are technically in the future by a few ticks of the true clock. The car is moving at a certain rate in an unpleasant way, and suddenly I am into the shoulder of the highway, carried by a smearing of rain; and my now is smeared too, it all happens at once. In retrospect, I can smooth out the picture if I need to, re-establish proper non-fuzziness, through a conscious thought process, a form of work, of re-living. But the true memory is recorded as a smear. The copy memory, which looks more like conventional living time with a very tiny fuzzy area (almost imperceptible), that's like a digital enhancement. I try to keep both in the files but the copy can easily replace the original.

Consider the facts, in terms of fuzzy relativity... when we talk long distance, our nows get gently stretched, as we sync into the very slight delay, and expertly talk over each other's pauses. This is fine and even, like strolling in rhythm with arms linked. My perception of any given point on the chat transcript is either slightly behind yours or slightly in front, depending on whether it was you or I who was then speaking; and If someone were to actually record the talk from a point on the lines, that would certainly be a convenient baseline for comparing our nows. But it would be just a compromise, and "incorrect" about every moment, rather than half the time, as our assessments would be. Or one could say it would be correct but only for itself.

The signals are traveling at light speed, as well, as they course through the phone system. So it's even worse for the signals - the problems of relativity now become huge, because your words imagine that my words have slowed to a crawl, or aged hundreds of years, or something. Whatever happens when things go light speed.

I'm kidding about that, but it does interest me, the messiness of "now". I can sit and track the present, watch the present move like a dot along a line, tracking the changing surroundings, listening to conversation or watching the car skid or just sitting in bed reading, letting the lines I read be the now-dot. But it takes a moment for me to convert sensations to something my brain can use, react to, understand, or question. And if there's more than one thing going on, I can pay closer attention to one thing or another, and the fuzzy now changes shape.

I concentrate on my body as I read, and the now-dot is a very large fuzz ball now: because I know what will happen in each successive moment, and the future of a second or two dissolves into a longer present, maybe the length of half the time it takes for me to breathe in becomes a single now, a thicker moment. Sure I "know" intellectually that the now isn't a half breath long. It creeps forward relentlessly, never stopping, never speeding up; I know that. But when I meditate, I really can change its speed, and not only that, its shape. It changes from a particle to a cloud, or something like that; I'm not sure exactly what happens, but the now expands a bit. It's like jumping, you can't get it to expand very far, unless something catastrophic is happening. Like, I could jump for a tenth of a second or maybe even a half second, but beyond that... the only way to stretch my hang time is to jump off a building. That's like the car skidding.

Which brings me to falling. Time's like that. We all move through time together, falling at the same rate with respect to each other, basically. Maybe someone drifts ahead for a moment, that's the relativity aspect... But one thing we know, as you get old, subjective time speeds up. A baby falls much slower than an old man. It's like, you fall, and fall faster, until you die - bang, you hit the ground, you no longer experience time. Just a metaphor, of course; we all fall the same speed basically. Unless you believe the multiple universes theory, in which case the you I experience falls at the same rate as me, faster as I go faster, then we all crash together, meanwhile in your universe I went at your rate, and when I crashed you just watched me stop moving while you kept falling, and had to leave me behind. But I don't believe that. And the physicists know - the literate ones - that most of what they deal in when it comes to abstract stuff is attaching mathematics to metaphors. They know it's made-up, like poetry; they know black holes are still just a metaphor, the atom and electron are metaphors, the now is a metaphor.

Actually, the present is the future a few milliseconds in front of you that you are anticipating as inevitable and the few milliseconds behind you that you are still processing, yes? The point is, there's no fine line separating it all. And things happening that close together I can't tease out onto different spots on the mental timeline anyway; it's a local jumble.

So try flexing your awareness of the present. Can you make it bigger? It's rather like trying to be aware at once of everything from one peripheral edge of the vision field to the other. But not really, I think it's deeper than that. It's more to do with how you are processing time, than how much you process at once. How aware you are of your processing of your immediate past-moments, and how aware you are of the edge of your future as it touches your present, blends with it.

Newsblogging... or, talking to myself

Don't think too hard about this article. Don't ask how partisan HRW is; don't ask who they want to win the election, whether they love or hate America, whether they work day and night to bring liberals to power and stifle the actions of our military and state departments. Don't think about how it happened, how it can be happening in our enlightened nation as we speak; don't try to reconstruct in your mind the actual events, how denigration became abuse, how torture was justified in the prevention of further attacks or further arrests, how far up the chain of command responsibility for this lies. Don't think about what it says regarding the brute power of certain elements in our government - don't wonder what else is happening inside the prison walls that you don't know about, can't know about for your own good.

Don't feel sorrow for the victims, don't feel sorrow for the routine prison employees who are manipulated into taking part in such misdeeds, don't feel sorrow for yourself in having such things done in your name, done through the power you grant your government, done on your watch.

Just go numb

Numb

Here we are,
We are Americans,
We are children of genocide, slavery, religion, capitalism, freedom, pleasure.
Do you deserve what you have, while 95% of the world makes do on dollars or pennies a day? That is your pleasure.
Do you make the most of your opportunities, to read what you like, move and dress how you like, find almost anything you need? While most of the world has such circumscribed options...
That is your freedom.
Is your wage appropriate to the suffering your work imposes on you? On your time, your body, your talents? And do you get sufficient value for the money you make?
That is your capitalism at work.
Do you live by your beliefs? Or should I say, look at how you live, look at how your existence affects the earth and the people around you. From that looking, try and reconstruct what your true beliefs are.
That is your religion.
Do you know how you benefit from the slave wages paid to the laborers who make your shoes, your food, your plastic toys?
Oh! you can reply. That's not real slavery. I've read about real slavery, we don't do that anymore. And you don't understand my religious beliefs, you don't understand how hard I work every damn day, what price my ancestors paid for my freedoms, and what I really live for.

And the policy of the United States towards Islamic peoples isn't anything at all like genocide, you'll add, pre-emptively. You can't compare such things, it's despicable to talk that way.

But it's true, I'll mutter, numbly: we ARE children of genocide, and people don't change much. The day is rapidly approaching when U.S. policies in the middle east will exactly replicate Israeli policies, on a much grander scale.

No. Stop thinking about it all. Worried, worried. Fears and facts swirling in my head, getting jumbled, the machine grinds to a halt, cools, goes numb.

Our government kidnaps Muslims, tortures them, kills them, denies everything, covers it up. As far as I'm concerned, we can forget about worrying about the Patriot Act - that's peanuts, a propaganda stunt, mostly intended to win votes by creating the illusion of decisive action and steely resolve. Don't complain about the Patriot Act anymore; complain about our government disappearing its prisoners.

Ok, I'm back to normal, now. I can function again, I'm no longer numb, that was just a brief moment of shock, like a piece of a mourning process.

Sunday

Belatedly, a farewell

Jerzy the doorman for the high-rise was going on vacation for the whole month of October, so we had pitched in to get him a replacement. He thought it was great, and comes in all the time to see us (he spent a weekend in Dallas with his brother, and I think they spent all his vacation money at a couple of strip clubs) and more importantly, change the batteries. He also fixed its jaw when it got stuck too far open - someone must have been pretending (?) to make out with it, or making it drink (to see the liquor spill through its ribs).

Anyway at first I was quite repelled by the fact that one of the songs it sang as you walked past it was "Superfreak" but after all, Rick James probably appreciated the crassness of it. In life, in death. The fans don't seem to mind either. We got it at the Wal-Mart, after we saw they had one their by their entrance. It's Wal-Mart who made famous the geriatric door greeter whose ostensible purpose is to brighten your day, and perhaps employ one of society's castoffs who probably once owned a mom & pop store that couldn't keep up with the times, but whose real job is to peskily check suspicious looking people's receipts as they leave the store. Now there's a truly morbid skeleton paying ironic tribute to a recently deceased disco singer (people insist on dignifying Rick by calling him a funk musician, although he really wasn't; and why should funk be more impressive than disco?) to keep the greeter company, or lighten the work load perhaps.

Miss Sheila on the third floor says it all the time how it scares people (her?), I could see how it could, with its sinister eyes and muffled ventriloquism, unpleasant tarantula dance moves and smart black suit. I tacked a post-it on its lapel that says "Rick James RIP, Bustin' Out" and then someone stole its legs, now it's a funky midget. Jerzy's pissed at that, says "that shows how much I'm needed back on the job... all these vandalisms."

Future historians will often begin the story of our times with, "Americans were a crass people." It's a highly refined crudeness, though. Born of an almost instinctive appreciation for stupid and garish ironies. A highly developed love of profound inversions displayed through cheapness, trivial desecrations of (for example) a man's death. A man who sang about sleaze, sex, and clumsy pleas for reconciliation. Who then came to embody those songs and the destructive drives implicit in their glamor. And pretended to dig his way out, pretended to clean himself up, in order to be granted another shot at the big time; although he probably didn't believe it was honestly given to him. It wasn't. He was returning to pop culture cachet as the butt of a series of lampoons by a cable comedian who wasn't even out of diapers when Rick made his first recordings, then he died with a dozen drugs in his veins including more than one popular antidepressant, and then some fucker stole the legs off Jerzy's skeleton doll that memorialized him for us. It's just so tragic. It's not grand tragedy, but it's more affecting because it's trivial, pathetic tragedy. Why, god? Why did you have to take the skeleton doll's legs away from us??? Just when Jerzy had refreshed the doll, changed his batteries and fixed his jaw? You saw fit to call to you the legs of your faithful servant, can they do more good with you in heaven?

Tuesday

I hear you, I see you, I love you, shut up, go away

Music is so casual. Books are so uptight, they say, "start at the beginning please," they don't make any sense unless you give them some time. Books are squareish, records are round - and doesn't that say it all?

Throwing on an old friend record like a sweater, you don't have to think about her, she's just there with you, filling that cool space with warm gentle memory-thrum. Or go to the store and pick up someone new, judge her by her cover: you can do that with records. A casual contact. Once in a while it breeds something deeper. Hard to express to other people in your life just what get from her.

Books you might come back to again and again, too. But them you less party with than revere. You spin records, books you cradle. And it's so rare anyway, to connect like that with a book. The worst is when you go looking for a book you loved once and realize she's idiotic. Fills you with disgust - "what did I ever see in you?" You want it out of sight. But a record you once had fun with, no matter how naive or goofy, or just plain dumb, you can go back to. That's so casual.

You treat books casual and you'll regret it. Leave'm splayed on the floor and they'll pretty soon go to pieces on you, making a mess. You might find a lost dusty page that belonged to her under your dresser when you move, and it won't make any sense on its own but it's a scathing reproach for that very senselessness. And don't let them get wet, their words run together when they're full of tears, they get sticky, heavy, moldy, ugh... Best to put them back on the shelf carefully. Keep the writings on the wall. Titles out so others, visitors, can see. How should you stack them? By size I suppose.

Records too though, you mistreat them more. You dump shit all over them without hardly realizing you're doing it. You give them scars, make them jumpy. They might even refuse to play with you. You've got more though. "Fine" you think, "I'll play one of the others." You toss her to your left, on a chair or bed or table or floor, out of the way, turn away.

Actually, you think, you should throw her out completely.

And sometimes you look at 'em all, and think, "I wish I didn't have any of you anymore, I wish I had a completely different horde. How, in God's name, did I end up with you all?" (Like they're your children. Running around, giving you no peace. But they're not your kids, where do they come from? From love made somewhere else. The ones much younger than you are especially baffling.) Whichever one's making noise at that moment, you start mocking it, mimicking it with a screechy voice.

Records, you listen to though. You listen without even thinking about it. You don't really listen to books. You just sit there with them, quietly. Aw, you know you love to listen to them make that same old noise. Peel the shirt off one more time and give it a go. Ok, now, back in the stack - you blow some dust off, wipe with your cuff. We like that damage on the records if it isn't too serious, after all, it's personal; we caused it, we can live with it.

I wish I loved books like I love records. Hell, I wish I loved womankind like I love records and even books. Squareish women, round women. Racy or enigmatic in appearance. Casual ones, serious ones. Splayed on the floor, or up on the shelf, or spinning in place. Pleasure, pleasure, life is about pleasure, isn't it? A record won't tell you, a book will; but you won't listen. A women might tell me, a bookish woman. I need a musical companion, I think. I want to hear someone new tonight, I want to get lost tonight for hours on end inside a good one, actually I want one of my old favorites tickling my ear while I get lost inside a new one, experience both at the same time; I think I want to go all the way through three of 'em, one right after the other, until I can hardly see straight and my body aches and my head's practically spinning, and all the while I want that old favorite I've had around for years, just tickling my ear gently, not distracting me, but keeping things lively.

Do they creak when you open them up? Or make a whooshing noise when you pop them out of their packaging? How long has it been..? Oh, I know what satisfies me. Macking on a few interesting ones at the Goodwill, walking out to the car with an armful, blowing all my money on them. It's art, hey; I'm a cultured dude. I've had so many, though. Some of my friends think I'm obsessed, or it's a crutch, a way of avoiding real contact, they think I think just in terms of quantity too. It isn't like that, they're all special to me. Ok, well, some are more special than others.

I might pass some on to my little brother or even my parents. I love it when my friends like the ones I'm really into, to. I let everyone borrow. I pick and choose through my friends', see what they got.

I wish I could remember the first ones, recall that feeling. It was pretty pedestrian, actually. In my twenties it was the most important thing, it was all-consuming. It was all I talked about, too. Discussing the complicated ones with my friends, pointing out serious flaws maybe. That queasy cheated feeling of I loved that one before she was everyone else's darling. Cherishing those laugh-out-loud moments when you're alone with one in your bedroom. Up all night, every night.

Nowadays I'm not so driven. It's still important, sure, but I don't let them interfere with my life. They don't change me as much, I don't so often imagine there's a deep affinity where there isn't - and there almost never is - and I definitely have trouble warming up to the new ones, and devoting enough time to them; I almost never bother to let them finish.

Sunday

Recent News

She: You need to start listening again.
He: Look at this, that volcano up north is active again.
She: You need to start listening again.
He: I am listening to you. I was also listening to the news.
She: You can't do both at once.
He: But you aren't listening to me either; there's a volcano, earthquakes, etc.
She: Yes I was, but I refused to acknowledge it. Until you registered hearing me first.
He: Uh, perhaps we should forget that, about acknowledging. Maybe we should both just talk.
She: Actually, the funny thing is, I told you about the volcano five minutes ago.
He: ...They say it's not too serious.
She: [pause] No, it isn't.
He: How can they ignore a volcano, though? It's pretty serious for the people around there, anyway.
She: Yeah, ignore at your peril.
He: Not that they can do anything about it.
She: Yeah, that's what I was saying, five minutes ago.

Friday

"You can't send mixed messages to the troops"

This line of Bush's (heard several times during the display last night) seems to confuse some people. They think it's an ultimate underhanded argument, to impugn the challenger's patriotism, imply that he is treasonous, because he discusses what's going wrong in the war.

If you notice, one of the president's major attacks on Kerry through the dabeate was his claim that Kerry's criticism of the president's own war policy made him unfit to be president. That's extraordinary - certainly a set of rules that would put Kerry in something of a bind if he followed them, no?

Well, first of all, we assume that Bush is referring to the guerilla insurgency in Iraq, but what if he means the War on Terror itself? Wouldn't that be interesting? It's not such a stretch, given what we have observed so far of the President's penchant for gravitating his thinking to the broadest of terms when dealing with any issue.

But more importantly, I think everyone's missing the deeper reading of this charge of Bush's. It is a continuation of his most fruitful line of attack, the inversion of Kerry's Vietnam credentials. Bush hasn't yet come out and explained the charge in full detail, but I'm sure he or Cheney will, and the gist of it will be: it was the criticism of the war effort in Vietnam by men such as Kerry that lost us the war, and now it the criticism of the war effort in Iraq (or against Islamic fundamentalism more broadly) by men such as Kerry that is costing us this war. This is clearly a genius move on Rove's part, and I enjoy hearing this attack because deep down, I agree with it: personally, I do think we should and will lose the war in Iraq... but that's neither here nor there, I am not an expert on the subject.

Let me just say instead that the conceptual basis for such an attack rests on the unshakeable belief of Americans that America is all-powerful, and can only lose a war by its own lack of resolve. It can only experience economic depression when its consumers lose heart and fail to purchase enough, you can only wind up a poor American if you don't exert yourself enough, democracy and capitalism American-style are the bride and groom of the prosperous world of the future, etc.

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