Monthly Archives: September 2008

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A Snowball’s Chance on Mars

Categories: A Day in the Life, Politics (n.): a strife of interests masquerading, Quick Updates, Upcoming Projects, Tags: , , ,

Well, I was wrong. The market didn’t go up 900 points today; only 485. (Third largest point total gain ever.) Even dead cats can only bounce so high. Or maybe it’s just waiting for official October.

I woke up late this morning, but inspired. Not in recognition of the ancient new year so much as yet another new project, another “chapter one” for me. I plunked down my ten ethernet dollars and picked up a domain name that seemed resonant. This may yield, in short order, an incredibly prolific and time-consuming “next big thing”. Or it may pan into nothing, a product of me being realistic, for once, about my time constraints and expenditures. At this point, I’m squarely 50-50.

If I decide not to do it, I’ll at least post some of the prototype stuff somewhere on the BP. And if I decide to do it, you won’t be able to stop hearing about it for a while.

These times have been labeled interesting, trying, unprecedented. Somehow, in the shuffle, we’ve lost sight of the fact that it’s becoming more and more obvious that there’s some sort of life on Mars. I know I’ve already been over this, but snow? Snow?! I feel like the next article will talk about the Martian radio broadcast that some linguist in a lab is working on translating, only to be met with similar lack of fanfare in a world so self-absorbed as to believe it is alone in living at all.

Maybe they’ll have to cart the Mars Rover into their underground lair before we really start to see it.

Maintaining a lasting feeling of relevance is difficult in a period like this. I feel as fickle as the market is volatile, as uncertain as everyone else. What inspires me in the morning seems blasé by the afternoon. What depresses me one day seems almost okay the next. I know I have unstable moods, but this is just getting silly. Is everyone feeling this way? Is everyone’s world this inconsistent, unstable, murky?

This isn’t exactly something people are prone to sharing. Like so many widely held perceptions, people assume that it’s “just me” or “something only I’m going through”. We are trained to be independent, to be scientific, to be immune to larger growing understandings that border on the universal. We are given inoculations of isolation and uncommunicativeness from birth, in the hopes of eradicating the virus of our humanity.

But there is power in the viral, a term the web has started to turn on its head. There is seemingly impossible potential in people, both alone and in groups, working toward common purpose. I would never have believed that the bailout, even if it’s just a first round, could be defeated by a populous united in opposition to their politicians. Couldn’t even conceive of the possibility. And now, in the face of it, it seems like anything is similarly probable. We could be on the verge of something very real.

And yet I have despair, debilitation, almost no energy to get anything done. I want my recreation, rest, distraction. Once more unto a breach of working overtime on top of a day job just seems… sigh.

But what if this is the one? What if the next mountain is the one we have to get over to find the valley below? What if this door is the exit?

Someone show me a sign.

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On Certain Tuesdays in October

Categories: A Day in the Life, Politics (n.): a strife of interests masquerading, Quick Updates, Tags: , ,

Ah, you say, but it’s not October yet.

Sure.

I don’t know of any site that sorts stock market activity by days of the week, but I have a guess that Tuesdays are running at a substantial net loss. Not that Mondays have a great recent record either.

And the crashes of ’29 and ’87 were both October phenomena. And I don’t think the rest of the years’ worth of Octobers have done all that well either. I once read a few things about why October is a witchy month for the markets, stuck between anticipation of the holidays and everything else. All kinds of things seem to come due in October. And I’m hardly just talking about the market.

I guess that it’s not considered good manners to be gleeful on the day of a record stock market drop in America. I could make lots of arguments for you, ranging from the fact that I have enough invested in the market myself to keep me honest and sincere, to the fact that I really believe in my heart of hearts that more good can come from stock market crashes than almost anything I can imagine right now. Really. But I guess I’ll sum up my defense with this: today will probably only be a record for one day.

Yeah. I would, uh, suggest getting your money out.*

*Of course, there’s a decent likelihood that everything will bounce tomorrow, higher than it’s ever been before. October is nothing if not volatile, and the market is a haven of volatility and tumult these days. Could I rule out a 900-point jump tomorrow followed by an 1100-point collapse on Wednesday, perhaps culminating in a flat week? Of course not. In fact, that may be the most probable outcome of all.

But for one day, at the very least, I can say I’m happy and, more than that, hopeful. I remember telling Fish in Chicago in April that there was a big part of me that felt that the United States had a decent chance of collapsing in the next 20 years and that its doing so, and doing so sooner than later, was the best thing that could happen to the planet. Now it’s feeling a little more like 20 minutes. To which I must say: bring it on.

Too harsh? Too cavalier? Yes, people’s lives are at stake. But the more humbled this country gets, the more everyone will have to understand what it is to be a citizen of the world, not just one privileged spoiled nation. The more equalized the playing field gets here, and between here and everywhere else, the more reasonable everyone’s expectations will become.

For too long, the United States has been touting itself as an example, a model, evidence of what innate, unchecked greed and ambition can do for you. Inspiring the worst of hopes in everyone, that they too can get rich quick rather than helping their neighbor.

Kids, you always get what you give. It just might be The End of Capitalism. The snake chomping its tail may have finally swallowed itself whole, never to return.

I’m getting ahead of myself. But hope is, after all, a dangerous thing.

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Thematic

Categories: A Day in the Life, Let's Go M's, Metablogging, Quick Updates, Tags: , , ,

Even though I’ve been feeling Octobery for a full week, culminating in yesterday’s trip to a pumpkin patch in Petaluma for Emily’s 29th birthday, I officially am declaring the October Season open today. (Hit Refresh if you don’t see why.)

It’s also the last day of the baseball season and I’m going to try to bring myself to watch some of the M’s game as they try to avoid losing their 102nd of the year. Meanwhile, I have to admit finding myself more interested in the fate of the Twins and Brewers, the last two teams I’m rooting to get into the playoffs. While I feel a pull toward both the Cubs’ breaking their curse and Lou Piniella, I think I’m cheering for a Twins-Phillies World Series, assuming the former can get there. October baseball always finds a way of drawing me in.

The BP is coming off its two lowest traffic days since I instituted advertising on the site three years ago. It rapidly seems to be forcing the issue of me making a concerted effort to re-bolster traffic effort and content or just letting the site hibernate till I have more time to maintain it.

Many decisions and changes seem to be afoot, taking shape and finding form in the darkness of an uncertain future. For now, I’m just trying to take each hour as it comes, savor the joys of uncertainty and possibility, and hope against hope for decent outcomes.

Finally getting over being sick. Finally thinking about tackling some big stuff. Too jumbled to find real focus; too energized to not comment on almost everything.

Happy October.

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Where Credit is Due

Categories: A Day in the Life, But the Past Isn't Done with Us, Politics (n.): a strife of interests masquerading, Tags: , ,

I don’t believe in credit.

To crib an old line from Nikki Hay, it’s not that I don’t believe it exists or happens, it’s just that I don’t believe it really should. Or in using it myself.

In my last visit to Chicago this spring, I told Fish and his girlfriend that I didn’t have as much of a problem with capitalism holistically as I did with the credit aspect specifically. They gave me the waterfalling laughs of ridicule that can only come from students of the University of Chicago when they’re about to be more conservative than you: “There wouldn’t be any capitalism without credit!” they trilled, almost in unison.

Apparently, Messrs. Bernanke, Paulson, and Bush agree. No wonder I don’t like credit.

At base, the concept of credit is simple and classically American: something for nothing. “Nothing” might be considered too harsh a judgment – it’s “something”, ranging from a handshake to a promise to a statement of income to collateral to a pound of flesh. But really, at the end of the day, it’s nothing. Suddenly you have money to spend that you didn’t have before, all because someone believes that you can make that money back (and possibly more) before they want their money back.

For some reason, or perhaps several, this has always seemed innately inappropriate to me. And not for any mid-millennium European judgments about “moneychangers” or any other such nefarious historical dogma. After all, the one aspect of the credit world that I have delved into is interest-bearing accounts: savings accounts and certificates of deposit, so I clearly haven’t carried over to objecting to banking altogether. Although maybe I should by the time I complete this analysis.

Maybe it was watching my parents cut up their credit cards and throw the pieces in the fire in Visalia, California during my early childhood, pronouncing vague admonitions that I not get trapped in the same web they were now escaping. That sobering mid-eighties scene no doubt had a major influence on how I approached my early adulthood. Maybe it was watching how quickly my friends in high school could accrue debt at the rate of a soda at a time. Whatever my influences, it was pretty clear to me that I never wanted to have monetary credit by the time that credit card companies flooded my Brandeis campus mailbox with promises of unlimited lines of borrowing, with only my pending degree as collateral.

My objection to credit and debt, conceptually and philosophically, is twofold. And the two halves of the fold may seem to contradict each other, as I think about it, so you’ll have to bear with me…

1. Spending money you don’t have.
Conceptually, this just seems obviously wrong. Even leaving aside the fact that the average American has no idea what they’re doing with money or what it’s good for (and no institutions in our society are designed to teach them otherwise), spending someone else’s money just seems unwise. One of the only reasonably decent arguments for capitalistic elements of a society (such as property ownership) is that people take better care of their own things than they do of communal property. I think this trait could be unlearned pretty easily, but if I grant it in the status quo, the credit/debt aspect of capitalism defeats one of its only defensible attributes. The “owned” property is actually someone else’s, or was bought with free money from someone else. To what extent do you really feel you’ve earned this item and have to take care of it if it’s on borrowed cash? No one’s ever done the study, but I bet property bought in cash lasts twice as long and in better condition than property bought on credit.

Of course, modern American capitalism benefits the most when property is trashed. Then people need to go out and buy more. The sustainable, homespun, hand-grown aspects of property ownership are directly in conflict with the credit mentality. You hear that, global warming nuts? Credit is anti-environmental!

Of course, this should be obvious by now in a society that needs to run on planned obsolescence to sustain its “growth”. Your DVD is obsolete now, it’s time for Blu-Ray! Your screen is just a little too small, there’s a bigger one out. Your computer is just a little too slow, there’s a faster one out. Your car is just a little too fuel inefficient, there’s a slightly more efficient one out. Your phone is just a little too crackly, there’s a more connected one out. Incremental technology is the boon of the credit world, forcing the efficiency-minded to grab the next gadget or advance before they’ve even paid off the last one.

But all these objections are mild compared to…

2. Indebtedness = slavery.
This is the larger problem with credit and the thing that really needs to come home to roost in our society. This is the really insidious aspect of debt, the one that’s really ballooned in the last couple decades, the one that makes me want to stand up and cheer at the possible defeat of the credit lifestyle. This, ultimately, is why I personally could never stomach getting a single credit card, never want to buy a house unless I can do so outright, and have never borrowed money that wasn’t from a close friend (and in an amount less than $20).

When one owes money, one has two choices. One can be conscientious about it, and care about paying it back, or one can pretty much not care. The latter leads to the first phenomenon (above), not taking care of things, not being responsible with borrowed items. This, in turn, leads to the foreclosure world that we’re reeling in the midst of now… borrowing money one couldn’t hope to pay back just to enjoy/trash some stuff for a while and have to give it back. Yes, this is a slightly abrasive oversimplification of the foreclosure mentality of this decade, but it’s close enough.

The second choice, the one taken probably by the preponderance of people, despite American values, is to care quite deeply about paying the money back. To want to not be upside-down for the rest of one’s life. This is the road I’m more familiar with, in part because I’m fortunate enough to have fortunate and motivated friends, most of whose first experience with credit/debt is/was student loans. Often, they take out these loans not just for undergrad, but to get a shiny advanced degree, often in a professional school, especially law school. And the old story goes a little like this:

X: I want to go to law school!
S: Why? You’ll just get dragged down into doing something evil with it.
X: No I won’t! I want to do law school to help people and save the world.
S: [sighs] Okay. If you insist. But be careful, because you’ll be surrounded by offers of evil.
X: Uh oh. I can’t pay for law school. Good thing there are student loans available!
S: Oh dear. I know how this one ends.
[a year passes]
X: Law school is really dull. Thank God I get to do something interesting when this is over.
[two years pass]
X: You would never believe how much money I owe for all this law school. You know, I think I’m going to take a high-paying firm job for a few years to pay it off.
S: But they do evil!
X: But just a little evil. And I won’t even be in the most evil department. And it’s just for a few years.
S: Sure.
[a few years pass]
S: So, going to move on from evil yet?
X: Welllll… I’ve gotten three promotions and now that I’ve paid off my debt, I’m really accustomed to this high standard of living.
S: Um.
X: You know, I’ve been thinking that the best way to save the world might be to make a whole pile of cash and then donate it at the end of my life to things I care about?
S: Yeah? Like Carnegie or Gates?
X: Yeah, exactly. They did lots of good for the world, right?

Your script may vary, and there are a couple exceptions here and there, and I’ve probably upset all my friends in law school (which, really, is like 75% of you). Whatever. You know I worry about this anyway, so no surprises. The point is that with or without me nagging them on their shoulder, this is the general progression that an uncanny number of people go through. And while my crowd usually does this with law school, there are plenty of people doing this with undergraduate degrees or business school degrees (although that’s more obviously a lost cause) or other professional pursuits.

And I’m not saying we should go back to the time where education was a privilege only of the rich. However, the insidious move that America has seamlessly made to draft the most intelligent and caring of the poor and middle class into indentured servitude to the institutions that keep the poor poor… this I object to.

And while this is the most glaring example of credit’s insidious ability to corrupt and enslave, it’s by no means the only one. Every day, debt and credit keep people from quitting jobs they despise because of obligations they’ve committed to that are over their head. And the society that takes debt and credit for granted, that naturally pushes everyone toward new cars and houses and gadgets they can’t afford, ensures that everyone will continue to be indebted and enslaved, compromising their free time, free will, and the morality and creativity of the pursuits of their life and labor, all to keep the machine that crushes them going.

So, uh, forgive me if I’m rooting with all my might for all of this to fail. Forgive me if I want the bail-out to fail and the dire warnings of the end of credit and thus capitalism to come true. Forgive me if I think a little pain is worth the ultimate outcome of letting go of this mentality where leveraged greed ate itself until there was nothing left to consume.

And in the meantime, whatever they end up deciding, make your own choice. Burn your credit cards. Walk away from the system. Spend only the money you actually have. Own less. Buy less. Opt out. Don’t participate in the institutions that are trying to destroy you. You’ll be happier, humbler, more secure. And you can quit your job when you want.

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Under Same Management

Categories: A Day in the Life, Blue Pyramid News, Quick Updates, Tags: , ,

This Blue Pyramid has not been sold.

“Established in 2006, Blue Pyramid brings to ABS three core competencies within IT support…” Hm. I wonder where they got the idea for the name “Blue Pyramid”. Or that it would somehow be associated with quality web output. Serves me right for not tying up the .com and .net extensions when I registered bluepyramid.org in July 2001.

Sure, they could’ve come up with it on their own. After all, the Gone Jackals might raise their eyebrows in my direction after their 1998 album by the same name. And of course, it’s not my name anyway. As I freely admit, I stole this concept from Ray Bradbury, who had dibs on it in 1948.

At least Google knows what’s up.

It calls into question a lot of things. Can you own a concept? Where does copyright end and fair use begin? What is the nature of intellectual property? I had a few discussions of this with people this weekend – it seems to be a burgeoning realm of law that does some good in some areas and “keeps the price of AIDS drugs high” in others. My friend Russ recently fought the law and the Russ won, reinstating a video tribute to Major League Baseball after MLB asked him to stop promoting their products. Then, of course, they gobbled up his promotion as soon as he convinced them to reinstate it. People, even (especially?) managers, often have no idea what they’re doing or what’s in their best interests. Too often, like my recent former boss’ boss, they just want to keep their head down, not get in trouble, and not have to think too closely about anything (see also today’s D&C).

It could be argued that I haven’t done much for the BP’s best interests lately, either, given the static nature of the front page, much of the content, and so on. I wouldn’t protest at this point, except to whisper Civilization-like promises of a future rebirth. Like my workplace and my self-perception itself, there’s plenty of limitless potential hot and bubbling underneath the cooled, flaky crust of day-to-day operations. When the volcanoes start popping and the earth starts moving, things are going to get good. Or at least exciting.

In the meantime, we’re plowing toward an October that has made up its mind. I argued that the October season this year really started at the top of last week, but it’ll be firmly entrenched by the end of this one. Still fighting off a coldish thing that I acquired just before traveling to Nuevo and I am desperately trying to keep out of my ears and sinuses. So far, I’m towing the line.

Good luck on same today.

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High School Never Ends

Categories: A Day in the Life, But the Past Isn't Done with Us, From the Road, Tags: , ,

“Then when you graduate
You take a look around and you say “Hey wait!”
This is the same as where I just came from
I thought it was over, aw that’s just great.

Seen it all before
I want my money back!”
-Bowling for Soup, “High School Never Ends”

Early in our senior year of high school, my friends and I designed a T-shirt as part of the contest to design the official class shirt for the Class of ‘98. We were not the “in” crowd; we were the guys who played chess in the commons. In the style of a popular series of T-shirts of the day, our design submission theme was “Co-Ed Naked Albuquerque Academy: We Have to Pay for It”.

It is thus not surprising, perhaps, that I am just hours from paying $35 for appetizers and access to a cash bar with a collection of my high school classmates.

The T-shirts never got printed. Not because our design didn’t win the contest, but because the Academy wouldn’t allow such a controversial design to carry the noble school’s official sanction. We actually won the contest vote twice – first in a primary landslide, and then in a secondary run-off with the Academy faculty making it very clear that our design was still eligible to win, but would not be printed or sold by the school if it did win. It won anyway, and no one got a class shirt that year because we didn’t want to finance our lark of a design.

I often describe Albuquerque Academy as a school in the middle of the West trying desperately hard to be an elite New England prep school, without the boarding and the uniforms. There is no dearth of ridiculous description of the Academy – we called the cafeteria a “dining hall” and had assigned seating with ten students and a faculty “table head” (to facilitate appropriate mealtime discussion) per table, plus assigned student “waiters” on a half-quarterly rotating basis who brought out the family style meals. We were dominant in every realm of pretension and pomposity, garnering sour looks from any non-Academites who we gulpingly admitted our alma mater to. My time at the Academy was single-handedly responsible for my flat refusal to apply to any Ivy League colleges, weary as I was of wealth, class, and elitism.

And yet my years at the Academy were predominantly fabulous. I made most of my most enduring lifelong friends there. I learned how to debate. I wrote and read and even felt academically challenged once in a while. I started dating. I became a vegetarian, started growing my hair out, became outspoken and dramatic. I spent five years there, a personal record by more than double at a single school to that point. I attended until the end of the prescribed term, a first in fifteen years of attending educational institutions.

There were horrors there too. One in particular comes to mind, but there were others. The antagonism that only adolescents can offer other human beings. Unmotivated teachers whose only offered challenge was to see how much one could get away with on their watch. Ultimate frisbee.

Tonight, I revisit ten years of history, or really sixteen since that day in August 1993 when I was one of two new kids in an eighth-grade class pushing 150 students. My parents, full of hope that I had finally found an academic home, exchanged looks of grave concern as I broke out into open weeping in the restaurant where we dined after they picked me up. Sobbing in the aftermath, I wasn’t sure that I could face returning for even a second day to this foreboding brick wall of insular classism.

I wish I could tell that near-hyperventilating young man about the ten-year reunion he would voluntarily attend 193 months thereafter.

The question seems to have arisen of late as to why I am going. My parents took it for granted that I would go; most others assumed just as strongly that I would not. Far too much of my willingness to attend hinged on the prisoner’s-dilemma reservation tracking website and how a few particular battleships navigated the seas of Yes, Maybe, and No. An early perception that many of my old crew, my lifelong friends, would be attending was erased after I had locked in a ticket. In the end, there were too many people I wanted to see to pass up the chance. It was really as simple as that.

Then, with some of my friends dropping out in every direction, Emily and I saw the film “American Teen”. While not the most brilliant movie of any kind, it captured most viscerally and profoundly the essence of being high-school aged in America in my generation. While I admittedly didn’t recognize the abundant text-messaging from my own days, everything else was the same. The raw emotional force of each day, each interaction, each second of life, unmatched before or since, is so well portrayed in this movie that it actually makes one feel 17 upon exit. When one comes to one’s senses, the only remaining feeling is a crisp, pristine relief that one is not only not 17, but never has to live through being so again in this lifetime.

Thus, I’m still riding out the excitement of that movie, of a handful of people about whom I am genuinely interested and curious (yes, both), of a few long-term friends who it will be good to see in our old hometown outside of winter. I feel certain that I will have changed less than almost anyone. I still think of myself as approximately 20… and now I even look like I did back then (perhaps with longer hair). I’m sure at least one person will call me out for having stayed in the United States despite promising my junior year history class that I would leave in disgust shortly after graduating college. I’m sure at least one person will ask me where the old ‘51 Buick is. I’m sure at least one person will fail to believe that I still don’t drink, do drugs, or eat meat.

I’ll see you out there soon. I’ll be the one in the Mariners jacket.

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But I Can Feel, I Can Feel: A Counting Crows Show on the Verge of Everything

Categories: A Day in the Life, All the Poets Became Rock Stars, But the Past Isn't Done with Us, Just Add Photo, Pre-Trip Posts, Tags: , , , ,

It must be observed that this has been a week beyond the average.

To attempt to capture it all in some sort of laundry list seems to trivialize it (as, indeed, the very nature of the phrase “laundry list” captures). Besides, I sort of gave a preview in this post just 12 days ago. To think of a time when I was “searching for direction” seems almost laughable now in the face of directions very much found (chosen?) by the collective perspective.

If nothing else, the turmoil and heightened activity is certainly well captured by my recent prolificity in this very format of communication. It is surely oversimplification to say that when one is writing more, it is a reflection of more events worth living through – but no doubt the volatility in my own mind (or perhaps “mind at large” as my Dad would put it) has manifest in an outpouring of understanding. Like I said, I need to process everything and I get there too.

I imagine Adam Duritz to be somewhat like myself. This is quite an understatement – I have spent much of my life believing Adam to be somehow a kindred spirit, and no doubt a fostering of this perspective through highly empathetic lyrics is at the core of Counting Crows’ success over the years. I was not even the first person to describe a CC show as a “religious experience” to myself – I had heard many others say this was so before I even particularly new many Crows songs. And yet the discovery of the truth of the statement was in no way contrived or unduly advertised when I saw them for the first time in New York in 1999. I dubbed it “the perfect show” and am still unsure if it’s ever been eclipsed.

Trying to describe a Counting Crows show to the uninitiated (or those who, heaven forbid, don’t like or know the band) is a little like Plato struggling with the forms. Yes, we’re still talking about chairs and rooms and people, but you’ve never really seen any of these things in your life until you’ve been to a CC concert. I realize that I’m sounding hyperbolic to the point of undermining what I’m trying to express, but really. For emotional sponges like me, a CC show is like an oxygen tank for asthmatics. Suddenly, for the first time, there’s enough of everything I need.

Last night’s show was no exception to any of these rules, though there are a few cautionary notes. It was both a summer show and a double-headliner, both slight drawbacks from maximal emotional flood. They’re on tour with Maroon 5 of all people, a band that is perhaps the least like them of anyone they’ve ever toured with and seems to combine vapid, repetitive sound with lyrics that sound like a kindergartener regurgitating the most average pop songs they’ve ever heard in staccato. It occurred to me early in the show that they selected this matchup to heighten the contrast between the opener and closing act to pack an even tighter, more profound emotional punch.

But the summer shows (yes, it’s September, but it was an outdoor concert with summer-type billing) tend to be shorter, slightly less focused, and a little more crowd-pleasing. It’s important to stress that these are all questions of degree – the lamest Crows show ever is still probably the best concert experience you’ll ever have this side of Simon & Garfunkel.

But it’s worth noting because I feel that even Adam got in too deep too quickly in last night’s show and had to back off a little bit. Which both heightened and flattened the effect of the message, making me wonder if there isn’t something even larger and less grapplable going on that we’re just scratching the surface of.

The stage featured an almost pyramidal array of stair-steps toward the drums, keyboards, and then a massive fake-brick wall peppered with a large screen and several smaller ones. The most striking component of the set-up, though the clustered sodium lights were notable, was a huge clock in the center of the wall, set to 11:00. It’s the eleventh hour, and Adam’s letting you know. Already, the chills were underway.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen Adam in such a mess as a show began as last night. Emily leaned in and remarked something to this effect, implying he was somehow intoxicated, but it looked much more to me like he was grappling with some kind of emotional chasm that was entirely unchartered. He couldn’t get some words out through teary bleary overwhelm. He changed everything about every song, peppering the opening “Round Here” with plaintive cries of hope against hope. The only thing familiar were strands of “Have You Seen Me Lately?” intermingled with new riffs into the song, made all the more stunning when the second song of the act was the original “Have You Seen Me Lately?”.

But before I even knew that was happening, the screen filled with upraised arm silhouettes clawing for some sort of solace or retribution, all aiming at 11:00 on the wall. It was the most viscerally moving and distressing thing I’ve ever seen at a concert in my life. This was on display for the whole final third of a “Round Here” rendition that must have taken ten minutes. I was openly weeping, not even knowing how to take this and being altogether sure that I was not ready for the depth and breadth of the show I was about to witness.

It was thus at once disappointing and relieving that the rest of the concert never reached the tremors of that level of expression. It’s exceedingly rare for a CC show to peak on the first song, but it felt like peering over the abyss, building up as though to jump, and then thinking better of it and dancing on the edge instead. Enough Maroon 5 fans were walking out as the show went on anyway that we have ended up with a concert for a thousand people had he pushed it. And that’s not what summer shows are about, no matter how close they fall to October.

While the show had many obvious and more surficial themes, including a concerted effort to include every song with any sort of reference to California (there are many), key threads of desperation and hope against hope in the face of overwhelming odds seemed to carry throughout. You could argue that these themes are constants for Duritz and company (company probably including me), and you might be right, but it doesn’t make it any less relevant. Those may be the themes of the last decade or so, after all, and the coming few years. If indeed we have years to come.

Early on, it formulated in my mind that the show felt a bit like Adam’s suicide note. And then again, perhaps just a love note. Isn’t every suicide note a love note? And of course, I’m sure I mostly just have suicide on the brain in the wake of David Foster Wallace’s recent action. Then again, it’s worth noting some stark similarities between DFW (born in 1962) and AD (born in 1964). After all, they look like they have something in common:

I’m not the only one that sees a resemblance, right? Then again, for that matter:

Perhaps I’m pushing things a bit far, but this is how CC gets its fans to relate to what’s going on. The intro to the show featured a tribute to the late Isaac Hayes and I was practically expecting something similar for DFW at the show’s end. But DFW didn’t make music, and for all I know Adam Duritz didn’t even read him.

Still, the thread of self-destruction was prevalent in the show and it was hard not to see it as a possible farewell. The unbelievable stripped-bare vulnerability of “Colorblind”, the dramatic trauma of “Cowboys”, the mostly seemingly ad-libbed earnest regret of “Miami”. Every song seemed to have some tie-in to the entire question of deciding whether to exist, though once one starts looking for something in a CC set, it’s hard not to find it. By the time the “feathered by the moonlight” line from “A Murder of One” was folded into “A Long December”, I was just about ready to lose it again.

And then, a sudden retraction, almost as though he was scared of what he was saying to himself, let alone the fans. “Come Around” closed the set, after a brief explanation that the song was about coming back to cities on tour, no matter what else was going on. A song, for the first time, about constancy and a lack of change. And then, after the briefest encore departure in history and only one more song, just four words, each a sentence, loudly into the microphone: “We. Will. Be. Back.”

There was the briefest of hopes that he meant tonight as he walked off stage, but the first strands of “California Dreamin'” over the stereo indicated that he was making a promise for the future. Or maybe trying to convince himself. It’s a weird thing to say to your hometown crowd when half the show chatter was about staying at home with the parents and doing laundry, seeing old familiar places, how much he loves Berkeley, which he sees as the town where he grew up. It’s the kind of thing you say to Pittsburgh or Cleveland or the Philippines when you’re not from there, when those places are remote and perhaps vaguely undesirable, but you’re convincing people to tough it out and wait for you.

And maybe he just means that about the planet. It would certainly be understandable, if so. It’s not an easy place to be, sometimes, and not looking much easier. Me, I have reason for personal hope right now. I haven’t even begun to engage the 10-year reunion homecoming implications of this weekend’s trip for which I depart tonight. I almost wrote a post called “High School Never Ends” a month ago and it still needs to be declared. I joked with Fish about offering live updates on the blog after each interaction with classmates.

But I think, for now, I’d rather feel things in the moment. Live each second as it comes, no matter how packed and overwhelming. There is anticipation, excitement, dread. Reason to believe there’s no idea what to expect. I am ready, I am ready, I am ready, I am fine.

Round Here
Have You Seen Me Lately?
Los Angeles
Richard Manuel is Dead
Colorblind
Ghost Train
Cowboys
Miami
Washington Square
A Long December
Come Around

Rain King (with Augustana, Mr. Jones alt)

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Suicide in the Sort of Present: Thoughts on the Passing of David Foster Wallace (1962-2008)

Categories: A Day in the Life, But the Past Isn't Done with Us, Read it and Weep, Tags: , ,

David Foster Wallace was whirled into my life by my eighth girlfriend (if she can quite be called that), the one I’ve lovingly dubbed “Try Before You Buy” in the nomenclature of retrospect. It was my sophomore year in college, an absolute disaster of an annum if I’ve ever lived one, but one that birthed a good deal of long-term positivity despite its torments. It was the age in which Introspection was born and Steve-o and I won three straight tournaments and I was trying to fall for this crazy smoker who dervished words together at will and chopped off all her beautiful hair the week before we started dating.

The nickname comes from the fact that she introduced me to the concept of dating multiple people at once as a deliberate medium-term approach to life (as opposed to a brief but unfortunate transition, or the infamous “overlap” phenomenon). This has apparently become a standard way of being in contemporary America for those unmarried in their mid-twenties and above, but I sure wasn’t ready for it at 20 in the year 2000. I don’t think she was either, frankly, but like so many people she felt that circumstances were dictating her fate and it was time for her to learn about open relationships. This didn’t require her telling each of us about the other without revealing identities, having us discover each other’s identity almost immediately, and making it clear when she was spending time with one or the other of us to the other, though. But she did that.

As those of you familiar with the story (or who’ve read the earliest entries of Introspection) know, she broke up with the other guy to be with me exclusively after some weeks of torturous sharing. And then the guy, during the breakup conversation, told her some mangled misinterpreted third-hand half-truths about me that caused her to freak out and break up with me too (enter the Even-Number Principle). A tornado of misinterpretation and bad blood emerged, briefly costing me my friendship with Mesco (long since repaired), and leading to a couple months where the girl and I IM’ed for multiple hours a night, every night, but I wasn’t permitted to see her in person till the last week of school.

It’s probably not surprising that this sounds like the plot of a David Foster Wallace short story, both because the girl revered the man as her favorite author and because her head was such a constant wondrous jumble of verbiage that her life had no choice but to follow suit. I admired her spinning blender of verbosity, perhaps as her most shining attribute. As I came to read Wallace, initially at her behest and later of my own interest, I came to see the source and even understand my past a little better.

I think I first started reading Girl With Curious Hair after she and I were no longer together, but were arguably more emotionally attached via constant IM contact than we had been during our relationship. (She was one of the few people in my life with whom I had meaningful and/or extensive IM conversations.) Actually, it may not have even been till the next year, when I was working at Goldfarb Library and had ample free time to read books of my interest since I sure wasn’t reading my unpurchased textbooks. My reading tends to form as a sort of queue and it takes a while for me to get to hot recommendations. As I’m remembering this, it might not’ve been till my senior year, since I wasn’t at the desk the first semester of junior year. This recollection is rapidly losing traction.

Regardless of when it was, I recall being struck by the fearlessness of Wallace’s writing, how he seemed a perfect parallel on paper to my way of being in the world. He legitimately didn’t seem to care whether anyone read a given story or not, much less whether they enjoyed it or wanted to keep reading. He wrote exactly what he was going to write, in exactly the language he chose, regardless of accessibility or interest level. This struck me as a remarkable trait in a writer and just as admirable as I find it in human interaction. Above all, it was honest experimentation. It was like witnessing a writing test zone, with all the similar risks of getting shelled by live fire.

Everything that had ever occurred to me to try or to one day aspire to try, Wallace seemed to be up for the challenge. Writing entirely in dialogue or second person or with words that start only with vowels. I don’t think he did any of these things per se, maybe not in any of his works, but he was exactly the kind of author who would do them. And there seemed to be a breadth of forethought and intelligence behind such efforts that was often breathtaking and certainly worth reading.

After getting through Girl With Curious Hair, I think some vague bitterness about the girl or the fact that none of his other collections at the time were of short stories dissuaded me from going on a DFW kick. But the stories therein haunted me for a long time and certain scenes still came to mind out of nowhere, with a visceral reality that was oft overwhelming. His story about LBJ (“Lyndon”), particularly, seemed so unbelievably real as to be a historical account transcribed.

Thus a few years later, when bored and depressed at a PIRG party, my eye was particularly caught by the word “stories” next to “David Foster Wallace” on a book cover. And so I picked up Oblivion, tearing through much of the first story before leaving the party. Isaac Bloom, the book’s owner and a friend, tried to insist several times that I take the book home, but I refused when finding out that he hadn’t yet read it himself. I would pick up a copy at some point, I assured him.

And then, late last year, came the torrent. I read it all, sometimes reading DFW books back-to-back or nearly so, which I tend to try to avoid. I hauled Infinite Jest to India over the protests of all my traveling companions, who insisted that such a move was surely asking for trouble. I pointed out that I was far too invested in the book to quit now (over halfway through), and besides it was easier than taking the equivalent number of books needed to replace the lengthy tome. I finished the book on a train in the middle of India and while I wasn’t all that impressed with the ending (most DFW books seem to die rather than end), it was a momentous, moving night.

I’ve still yet to read his two nonfiction works, but I completed all of DFW’s fiction early this summer. I was especially impressed by Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, especially dark and the most seemingly relevant to the events that transpired to end Wallace’s life. For one, the jaw-droppingly brilliant micro-short story “Suicide as a Sort of Present” immediately merited inclusion among my favorite short stories of all time, coming in at #10. The thread stories of the titular brief interviews are almost universally stunning. And a line that struck me as powerful and bizarre at the time, read in a memorable bleary fog of plane-switching downtime in the Phoenix airport, has taken on a whole new meaning. Addressed to someone trying to relate to himself, he wrote: “You are, unfortunately, a fiction writer.”

It shouldn’t take much explaining to demonstrate why this line impacted me so. I mean, David Foster Wallace was not just any fiction writer, he was a fiction writer who could literally get anything published to the reading and adoration of the masses. The story from which that line was taken (“Octet”) is perhaps the greatest proof of this fact, an absurdly rambly meta-meta-meta-fiction piece that pulverizes the comprehensible limits of any sort of fourth wall with the audience. It is immensely entertaining, but perhaps only because I aspire to be a groundbreaking fiction writer myself. Aspire. Desire. Want. Would love to. Would in no way, ever, consider the condition “unfortunate”.

And so we arrive at the heart of the matter, it would seem. In the face of the success, the adulation, the reverential readers and students and literary crowd, in the face of having feasibly decades of writing opportunity ahead, as discretionarily unmitigated in time constraints as he would possibly want to be (yes, I focus on this as the blockade against writing success since this is what hampers me almost entirely at the moment), he chooses to walk away. And not just from the shining light of it all, like J.D. Salinger, but from the potential to even write for oneself and burn the results. To take the ability and hard-earned position to influence others, the profound compulsion to make them think and think hard… and crumple it up irreparably.

It would be easy to have my next line be something about the unforgivable nature of this act. The truth is, of course, that I could never fail to forgive someone their suicide. I am hardly prone to forgiveness in any capacity, but I am prone to suicidalism and as such find it to be infinitely understandable. Unfortunate and perhaps mired in an extreme lack of ultimate creativity, but understandable all the way. And while I happen to be on the upside of my lifelong battle with suicidal ideation, I am hardly naïve enough to conceive that I would never be on the down-swinging pendulum while simultaneously a successful, acknowledged, and influential writer of fiction. Especially if somehow I felt that the essential angst of the era were laden in being misunderstood or unable to continue to create at the level to which I had become accustomed or even expected.

But we are not given the details of Wallace’s suicide. Surely a hanging seems rather dull for such an expansive and explosive creator. I had to read it three times before I even believed that aspect. It’s almost enough to make one wonder if he really did do it himself, a la the old Elliott Smith rumors from back in the day. Talk about two people who have something to say to each other at the next water cooler. No doubt they would hate each other in person despite having begrudging admiration and ultimate high respect, not to mention so very much in common.

Perhaps there will be books on it in the future, perhaps a note published. The media seems all to eager to conceal details of a suicide, likely equal parts respect for family and some sort of extremely passive campaign against any alleged glorification of the act. We can be told how many times the murdered were shot, but those who chose to stage their own departure and arrange the details are denied the spreading of that statement. Of course, it must mostly be those closest to the suicide who aid in the concealment – we would surely never learn if his final note, discovered by his wife, blamed her for all his troubles. The resentment and horrifying insult of loving a suicide must ultimately take over in the immediate wake.

And so we are left to imagine the details, to fill in our own perspectives and wonder how we relate, how there but for the grace of God go we. It is not a planned, constructed, or well thought-out suicide that I fear for myself so much as an impulsive one. My incredibly unstable moods and widest imaginable range of highs and lows make me caution myself at approaching trains and over high ledges, but I have no concern at something so elaborate as a noose. By the time I had put that much thought into it, I would have realized I still had one more thing to try to write or express, or that I could spend a whole life doing nothing but playing video games or poker until I got sick of that and wanted to be more productive again, or that I could just disappear and start over. All of these things, of course, unless I did something which I regretted to the point of being unable to live with it. Which is why I spend so much of my time and effort trying to make sure that doesn’t happen.

David, I don’t know the details of your life (maybe I should read your nonfiction, huh?) nor what brought you to this point. But I’m disappointed. Not in you or with you or even by you, but by the fact that there won’t be anything (or much) left to read from you. It was good. I would have done some of it differently, but generally very good. I hope you can find a way of communicating more urgent messages next time around.

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Hurtling Towards Resolution/October

Categories: A Day in the Life, Quick Updates, Tags: ,

The lack of Duck & Cover today is dedicated in silence to the memories of David Foster Wallace (1962-2008) and Peter Camejo (1939-2008).

Truth be told, of course, I just didn’t have the time or energy (or inclination to wake our sleeping guest) to write and scan this morning. Work has shown me just how much I’ll be playing catch-up all week, just prior to another crazy round of travel to the Mountain Time Zone.

I have about seven posts percolating on my mind’s stove, most in anticipation of my ten-year high school reunion this weekend or in reaction to DFW’s suicide. As you’ll know if you’ve engaged with the world in the last 24 hours, things are popping all over the place. As someone who needs to process everything as he goes, it’s a challenge to keep up. But I’ll get there and you’ll see it here first.

In the meantime, back to a workplace where I’m, like many parts of Texas, or like NY financial firms, underwater.

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Take Me Away, Country Roads (or: If On a September Eleventh a Traveler)

Categories: A Day in the Life, From the Road, Politics (n.): a strife of interests masquerading, Tags: , ,

It is morning in America. Early morning here, just past six on a Friday morning. I’d normally be just stirring, an hour’s timezone west, wondering what the last day of the week was about to bring at work, wondering if yet another gloomy looking Friday for the country was going to pan out that way. Duck and Cover would be a toss-up between a failing financial institution and the impending doom of another poised hurricane, and likely end up with a nod to both as those punny animals mixed their disasters once more.

Instead, I’m wide awake in the wilds of Colorado. This is Sarah Palin country, they would tell me, where free-spirited mavericks who believe in war without end run around in cowboy boots. Never mind that a woman Sarah Palin’s age in a Target parking lot in a tiny town was on her cell phone talking about trying to see Barack Obama. Never mind the details. We are supposed to be in a house divided along clearly definable boundaries and I am on the “other” side. Never mind that I probably won’t be voting for Obama either and am tempted to write in Mickey Mouse when I fulfill my obligation at the polls in less than 60 days. With many in the far left clamoring behind a ridiculed ex-Democrat, with Ralph Nader well over any sort of hill of reasonability, and with Obama once again on the waffle-train to a platform of bombing Afghanistan into the 6th century BC, I’m probably okay. Once again, shockingly, no one on the ballot really speaks for me. And don’t talk to me about lessers of evils. You could go blind trying to parse out distinctions between evil in this country.

But I’m not here to talk about my own consternation in a few short weeks. I’m here to talk about getting to rural Colorado, about flying to Denver and driving to Steamboat Springs. The flags were not only at half-mast yesterday, they were at this bizarre-seeming quarter-mast, as though someone hadn’t quite finished the job of taking them down. As though the thunderstorms rolling across the Rockies had just set in as the flags were coming down (or going up) and those next to the lightning rods had run for the hills or cover and forgetting all about Old Glory tacking in the breeze. In mid-morning, sometime between the breakfast burrito devoid of green chile (which always contains pork in Colorado) and the Target for Obama, I had to inquire why the flags were all at half-mast.

“Who died?” I asked my traveling companions.

Trying to restrain a look of emergent horror, Em’s Dad offered in the plainest tone possible, “It’s September eleventh.”

“Oh, right.” Feeling sheepish, I wanted the subject disappeared. The whole interaction indicated that I represented the worst fears of God-fearing Americans: I had already forgotten. Not that anyone aware of such a date on this continent could ever truly forget, but somehow in bumbling through security to board a sleepy empty plane (I mean, really, 25-30 people on a plane that can hold 250) I hadn’t thought of the date. It was a day off of work, after all. The date matters a lot less on the first day of vacation. I hadn’t even written a Duck and Cover, with no time in the extremely early morning to make scanning noises while our guest slept next to the computer (I was still steaming from my lost half-post on Em’s laptop). So many chances to remember, but I had slipped all of them. So much for never forget, just 7 years later.

But seven years? What’s in seven years? 9/11 was “The New Pearl Harbor”, after all, which puts us at December 7, 1948. My Dad had been born, Brandeis founded, WWII three full years in the rear-view. No doubt 12/7 was marked as a somber occasion and the flags were probably at half-mast (are they still? they must be…). But the country was ready to move up and move on, already eying the fifties and recovery and an era not entirely defined by the past. And there had been further horrors and atrocities after 1941… surely on both sides, and more from the USA (Dresden, Hiroshima, etc.), but at least there had been give and take. The promised continued terrorism and antagonism hasn’t really followed against our brave nation this time around.

And yet it’s hard to imagine 2008 not being continually defined as the whole decade has been, hijacked by an obsession with terrorism. It may not matter how long we go without a renewal of the blood of patriots, so long as we keep shipping our good boys off to fight their evil boys. Never mind that our boys are often twice the age and education of their boys. If you oppose the war but support our troops, then you must doubly support their troops. They’ve been hoodwinked just as much, if not more. Read Bel Canto (thanks Fish). They’re even younger, even more impressionable, even more convinced that what they’re doing is right. And to boot, they’re actually “defending” their homeland, or at least fighting in it. They’re not still punishing foreigners for some esoteric and unrelated battle seven years old; they’re actually fending off invaders.

By every standard we have of justifying war, you have to support the “terrorists”.

Not that I advocate this. Let me underline this, everyone, I am not advocating support of the terrorists. For the same reason I don’t “support the troops”. No matter how young and manipulated, you should know better. God and your conscience are not dead to you and you should never kill for any reason. Never point a gun and threaten. Never train for battle. You just know better, no matter how little you are attributed to know.

So back to Colorado, with the special super-half-mast for September eleventh, me steaming at myself in the van for being so clumsy as to admit violation of “never forget” in the presence of people who will vote for Sarah Palin. The signs of foreclosure and failure are more subtle in the wide-open spaces than they were in the close-clustered communities outside Sacramento in the summer. People may be hurting, but it’s harder to see under the big sky. No matter how much lightning may be descending, how many storms on the horizon, how much distant events may be conspiring against one.

The raindrops pound the window, trickle down the side, fly away in the artificial machine-winds. Before the day’s end, there will be Mexican food and bowling and laughter and good discussion of the day’s events. What can be more hopeful than a wedding and the surrounding activities? What can represent more investment in the future?

It’s still September. And I am undecided.

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An Hour After the End

Categories: A Day in the Life, From the Road, Pre-Trip Posts, Tags: , ,

“I suppose you are wondering why you are here.”

Seven billion souls shuffling their feet, which many at once notice are not exactly feet while somehow failing to not be feet. Even those who did not have feet just moments before now have these quasi not-feet feet. They at once seem to be in perfect health and yet be a collection of mid-size blue bubbles, slightly suspended off the floor.

“I’m sure you have many questions, and it is our work here and now to answer them. We will try to, ah, anticipate them. That is something you will find us very good at.”

A good-natured half-chuckling from the seemingly endless company of bubble-people entities behind the speaker. They are at once bubbles and highly reassuring, trustworthy people. The half-nature of everything is less unsettling than one seconds ago seemed to suspect it was.

“For example, many of you are wondering where you are and what this is and what this has to do with anything from, ah, before. I both appear to be speaking and yet not using language and yet you understand perfectly well. Yes?”

Seven billion souls murmuring, each to themselves, to the speaker, a general sense of affirmation.

“I think if you search your inner perception, you will understand exactly where you are and what this is.” The microscopically briefest of pregnant pauses to let this sink in. “Now then, this is a very unusual and special circumstance. Normally, this is a very private and intimate matter. We would normally spend a great deal of what you think of as time with you individually first before ever bringing you into this type of experience.”

Not so much confusion among seven billion souls as utter lack of recognition of what is being discussed. Yet not with the frustration of misunderstanding so much as the best-natured curiosity regarding what this could all possibly be about.

“In terms that you are used to perceiving, I would say we don’t have room for you all individually. You all came in such a rush. We couldn’t possibly accommodate you all with so little notice. Of course, that has nothing to do with the truth of operations here. We could, in fact, seamlessly accommodate the normal circumstances without the slightest of inconvenience or difficulty. But there is, no doubt, something to be said for making this transition gradual. And where you come from, there is no question that we would be beset by such practical challenges.”

Some acknowledgment or general sense that this all must be about to make sense in a minute, so there’s no use fighting over the details now. A collectively unuttered “fair enough”, if you will.

“Now then, a moment ago. An hour ago? Time is another concept that we will be weaning you off of here, but for now let us communicate as though bound by the temporal. An hour ago, something happened. A very significant something. And it brings us to this, this moment, this collective gathering.”

Seven billion wracking heads (minds? bubbles?), peppered with just the slightest handful of knowing staring at the floor. As though one could sink through a floor one isn’t even making contact with that isn’t quite a floor. The concept of universal paradox, of reality simultaneously being impossibly unreal and yet feeling more real than any prior memory or experience, is starting to sink in. They are becoming acclimated to it, like breathing underwater or at very high altitude. Each moment, the impossible is becoming easier and everything is innately what it is not and it is okay.

“Perhaps you have heard of the Large Hadron Collider? An ambitious project of your species, designed to simulate what leading scientists declared to be the origins of your universe. Using principles much akin to those of, ah, your greatest weapons of self-destruction.”

Those who’d been feeling the faintest glimmers of the desire to hide now are thankful that these blue bubbles appear impossibly alike. And yet they seem to radiate varying levels of familiarity and communication, as though other identical blue bubbles are somehow just like they still perceive themselves, encasing fully identifiable bodies that somehow seem aligned with the prime of one’s life. It is all infinitely processed and reprocessed each moment. There is the sense of the progression of time simultaneous with a great universal all-time at once. And all this is distracting from efforts to blend in, to hide, to shield.

Meanwhile, of course, there are others who have only the vaguest idea what is being discussed and have never heard of Colliders nor scientists nor weapons of self-destruction. And they have only the slimmest clench in their stomach-bottoms that they are about to be informed of something terrible, a death in the family or an attack on the community. This feels like all the bad news of before, rolled up at once, and the apprehension is rippling across seven billion bubbles.

“There are some of you, a scant few, who predicted this might happen. You should not feel wronged or cheated, saddened that you were not heeded. You shall come to understand that it is perhaps for the best that your cries were met with derision and, ultimately, silence.”

Only a very few of the souls can follow this chain of logic, but they float rapt. Can any others be truly said to be less attentive? Even when incomprehensible, there is a sense that these are most essential matters that are coming to pass.

“You see, while this Collider proved, in some absolute sense, to be the most destructive force in your history, it was relatively painless. It was instant. It was immediate, here and gone, a snap of the fingers, a blink of the eyes. And the alternatives, well. They were not so simple. Which is not to say, of course, that there needed be alternatives with the same ultimate outcome. Nothing is inevitable, nothing at all. There were, however, likelihoods. Probabilities. Actions create other likelihoods of actions, in a prevailing course that leads to a great deal of suffering.”

A dull ache of remorse and concern is now welling, like a crick in the back of most necks of the souls. Not, of course, that they have necks so much as a ball of uncanny sensations.

“Perhaps a metaphor would be more fitting. It seems your species is fond of examples.” The slightest acknowledging motion toward the row behind the speaker. “After all, you will come to learn that your entire time just before has been a metaphor. It is one of the great realities of life that life itself is modeled as an unending cascade of examples. Most fitting indeed, then.

“So, it is, perhaps, the pulling of an electrical cord. A plug. The plug has been pulled, and the power gone out. One instant, one burst, everything gone. Which is unfortunate, of course, for power. However, as compared to a slow draining of power, where one first must give up one appliance, and then another, and then a third, constantly struggling on the way down to maintain control. How shall they be compared?

“Or another view, perhaps, that of the disappearance of the crops. This is perhaps more accurate. Is it better to be beset by a drought over vast time, with death and suffering in each day, as the losing battle of survival is fought on and on? Or would, perhaps, it be better to experience a single tsunami, an instant flood that wiped out everyone, crops and people and animals alike, in a single apocalyptic day?”

The penultimate word sends shockwaves that are immediately calmed, in the same manner that everything here is profound and then gone, replaced by its opposite. There is a sudden torrent of understanding. The crowded hall, seven billion incomprehensibly strong, now suddenly feels a closeness, an intimacy, as though each were in their regular living space, perhaps where they slept, with only a few friends as though gathered at their deathbed. It has all become terribly clear, stark and frightening and yet somehow relieving.

“And thus, you are here. And it is not so bad, yes? It is perhaps, acceptable. Fair enough. A fitting end. It cannot be said that you were treated unfairly?”

Here this seems utterly ridiculous and then immediately obvious over the course of the few short sentences. They have gone, almost instantly, from being wronged to being set right. And come to it of their own volition.

“Thus, what we’d most like you to focus on, to consider, ponder, discuss amongst yourselves, is this. With the recognition of life as metaphor, with your experience just upended as a series of exemplary lessons… what can you see in this incredible reality? What do you take from being gathered here, just an hour after scientists who had delivered so much knowledge and understanding promised yet more with the touch of a button, with their simulation of the creation of all things? Is there anything to be learned from this?”

The question at first seems rhetorical, then hangs on the air as truly thought-provoking. Slowly, without yet turning directly to other bubbles to engage in the alluded discussion, there is a sense of understanding overriding the relief. Of the childlike joy of putting together a puzzle that initially seemed complicated, far too intricate. The feeling of a concept snapping together like it was obvious from the beginning. There is the sense, if not the reality, of nodding one’s head vigorously eighteen or twenty times with increasing speed, letting out a little whoop, and then almost crying from sheer exhilaration and exhaustion. No one seems immune to this tidal wave of emotion as it ripples up, down, and around, washing the seven billion souls in a deeper sense of depth than they have ever felt before.


[This post was written in its entirety before I left for Colorado, but more than half was lost due to an uncaught internet disconnection and lack of sufficient backup. I think I liked the original version slightly better and I was despondent in my inability to post it before leaving. I have just now, in Steamboat Springs, completed the post a second time. So it goes. This is why the post is categorized as both Pre-Trip and From the Road. But at least, God willing, it is up for the reading.]

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