Why I Call Myself a Skeptic (Who Watches the Watchers?…and who watches those watchers? Watchers all the way down!)

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I’ve bounced around the political landscape, often alone and to myself.  Depending on who I discuss or debate with, I can be seen as a radical or one of the sheeple.  Of late, I find that ‘skeptic’ is the best term for describing my life philosophy.  I’ve traveled around from faith and conservatism to political apathy; from trendy anarcho-capitalism to concerned but confused by just about everything.  I’ve tried to put myself in the shoes of political and philosophical believers and I’ve generally discovered that people have real reasons for why they believe as they do.  In most instances people are not evil, bigoted, hateful, even if they do hold some opinions I find detestable.  I remain the kind of skeptic that is concerned but can only be confused (a healthy dose of “I know that I very well can be and will be wrong”).

I read a book titled ‘The Watchman’s Rattle’ that outlines some sobering issues that our society faces.  Things some people completely deny.  Things which other people have completely ridiculous solutions towards solving.  But it’s hard to blame anyone.  Mostly people just want to help.  Most of us DO want the world to be a better place, even if we disagree on how to go about DOING that.  The dilemmas we face, for me, are apparent and stark.  The main take away I got from the book is this idea of the cognitive threshold.

The cognitive threshold is where things become too complex for human understanding.  If we think we’ve pinned down a solution or found a causal relationship, we may very likely have missed or consciously ignored a host of other variables that make our conclusions completely misguided.  I believe many of our problems are past the cognitive threshold.  Which is why I may be coming around to the pluralistic and democratic process.  But not the so called democracy we claim to have here in the States.

When I think of this democratic/pluralistic approach, I think of the free exchange and open challenging of all ideas, beliefs, and systems.  Put them to the test, call them into question.  And even when something appears to be working, be willing to acknowledge when it’s deeply flawed or in need of dismissal.  Reject dogma in all its forms.  Avoid hero worship. Everyone is fallible.  Respect actions and ideas.  Generally, it’s good not to revere people because they will let you down…and that’s okay, we are all freakin’ human.  It’s better to know that our leaders make mistakes like anyone else and holding them up as exceptional is dangerous, as history has shown time and time again.

One thing that has been frustrating about the skeptic community as I’ve explored it is that many people have embraced this label of skepticism that I wouldn’t strictly term skeptics.  It is important to distinguish between skeptical inquiry and naked cynicism.  Many who take on the skeptic tag are skeptical of only certain organizations which they have an obvious and apparent disdain for. The government, religion, western medicine, alternative medicine, psychiatry, etc.  It’s easy enough to have an out there belief and call yourself a free thinking skeptic because it’s in denial of the mainstream.  This is a trendy thing to do.  This is not skepticism.

Skepticism is not a faith, it is an approach to ascertaining the truth with a clear understanding that getting at the truth is messy and sometimes you can never fully have it.  Many people will spout stuff as if it is a priori self evident truth, and it simply isn’t.  A theory is something that has at least some justified reasoning for the possibility of it’s truth…a belief is not a theory, and a theory is not big T truth.  Many people who felt they were getting at the big T truth have become exactly the things they set out to denounce.  Julian Assange eventually had people signing non-disclosure agreements…say WHAT!!!  I really enjoy listening to the Skeptics Guide to the Universe, but even they at times get emotional and outright dismiss people with snide remarks.  People who may very well be kooks.  But there has been enough of choosing sides where loyalty trumps responsibility, us against them, I’m right and they are wrong, we are good and they are evil.

We don’t live in the Star Wars universe.  There are no Jedi or Sith Lords.  If an Empire exists, they aren’t sinister lizard people taking blood oaths in secret rooms.  They’re part of the same collective delusions, prone to the same incompetence.  If a noble cause isn’t so noble anymore, they’ve fallen victim to power and done what people normally do when revered and not questioned.  I suppose my point is, if you feel you are a part of some truth movement, you have to guard against those things which can easily make you the very thing that you detest in the first place.

I think some radical thinking is required if we want to get to the places that so many people are trying to work towards.  But I think where a radical shift hasn’t come is in the area of understanding.  Jesus had something going and I wish he’d expounded more on this idea of “loving our enemies”; if indeed it was Jesus who said that (regardless, the concept is intriguing).  I’m not so sure about love, but accept and understand that there was something that lead people down a path of becoming an oppressor or a bigot or a racist.  If we understand that, we can guard against it.  We can keep others from going that route.  We can radically accept our fundamentally flawed human nature instead of playing right into it as we have predictably done throughout history.  And, for goodness sake, stop calling people “enemies”.  That’s extremification, that’s similar to reverence, just on the other end of the spectrum.

I’ve ran on for some time, I hope this sparked some deep thought.  I hope this is challenging and that it clarifies how I see the world to some degree.  We need to better understand how people come to the beliefs, ideas, and opinions that they hold.  Withhold judgement, and if we go about refuting or challenging one another, it’s not about crushing your competition or destroying your enemies.  It should always come from a place of compassion.   Because right now I see a whole lot of team picking and tribal touting with the irony being that no one is winning.

-Watch the watchers and watch those watchers, watch everybody.  Skeptical, not cynical.

-Free minds does not mean acid addled brains opening the third eye going to the 5th plateau and believing that I can partake in multi-dimensional travel through quantum thought bridges.

-Don’t create grand conspiracies where a lot of incompetence is clearly to blame

-Addressing the many collective delusions that exist starts with self awareness and compassion

-Recent media I’ve partaken in (Bioshock Infinite, True Detective, 2nd viewing of House of Cards, Parks and Rec, Louie)

Goals: take walks, write more, read more, filter and limit my internet browsing

Aside

The 5 Most Unforgettable and Undeniably Great Albums of 2013

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I commiserated greatly over this year end list of albums.  It’s rather ridiculous, but I feel this need to make sure I leave nothing out when it comes to putting together lists like this.  Garden variety perfectionism.  On top of this tendency that I possess, 2013 was a loaded year in music.  There was a lot of unforgettable music.  Eventually I determined that a top 10 list was too difficult, that somebody I didn’t want to leave out was going to be left out.  However, 5 albums stick out to me amidst all the others that I know I couldn’t deny giving the proper recognition.  They will be on heavy rotation from now and into the distant future, I believe.  So here are my 5 most unforgettable and undeniably great albums of 2013.  These are in order, so number 1 is my top pick.

Quick Honorable Mentions:
Portugal. the Man ‘Evil Friends’, Kanye West ‘Yeezus’, Eminem ‘Marshall Mathers LP2′, STRFKR ‘Miracle Mile’, Arctic Monkeys ‘AM’, Drake ‘Nothing was the Same’, Darkside ‘Psychic’, James Blake ‘Overgrown’, Nine Inch Nails ‘Hesitation Marks’, Chelsea Wolfe ‘Pain is Beauty’, Alter Bridge ‘Fortress’, Atoms for Peace ‘AMOK’, Deafheaven ‘Sunbather’, forgive me of my sins for those I forget.

Now on to the LIST!!! (forgive quirks in the formatting, using images made it a real pain with wordpress)

5. Queens of the Stone Age – …Like Clorkwork

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It certainly did not feel like 6 or so years since the last QOTSA album.  Josh Homme has his fingers in so many pies that it never really feels like he’s gone away for very long.  But it has indeed been over 6 years since the last official QOTSA project ‘Era Vulgaris’.  For me, the Queens of the Stone Age are one of the true and consistent rock & roll groups still in existence.  I don’t mind experimental sounds and the cross genre dabbling that seem to be the artistic norm in music nowadays, but sometimes you want that band you can come back to and know what you are going to get.  Not that they are a one note affair, but they have a reliable sound that is distinct and scratches that itch that very few others can.  There are a handful of bands or artists who over the years often lead me to ask “why can’t I find more people that sound like this?…this is what I need” (Tool, El-P, Radiohead, Mastodon, QOTSA, among a few others).  When I really think about it though, it’s probably best that only a select few are capable of giving me that special and unique listening experience.  The latest Queens album ‘…Like Clockwork’ makes a case for being their best and it definitely feels like their most focused.  Guitar, drums, vocals, all present in an aggressive simplicity.  I hadn’t realized that I’d been starving for new QOTSA music but I’m sure glad it came along and it was more than sufficiently satiating.

4. Arcade Fire – Reflektor

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This is going to be a rant, I forewarn thee.  Often the complaint levied against Arcade Fire is that they are pretentious.  Let’s examine that definition “attempting to impress by affecting greater importance, talent, culture, etc, than is actually possessed.”  So are people trying to say that Arcade does not actually possess the importance, talent, and culture…that they aren’t one of the most acclaimed rock bands in recent memory???  Okay, now that we’ve cleared that up.  With Reflektor’s release it seemed destined to be something people just wanted to figure out a way to delegitimize.  I may have just made that word up, I’m not sure.  Even people giving the album pretty high marks felt the need to call it disjointed, bloated, or some kind of mixed bag.  Certainly, there were more experimental aspects to this album than any of their previous output.  New sounds were toyed with, a dancier feel is present, songs are longer, and Supersymmetry may have been unnecessary.  But that track comes at the end of the album, so I’m not going to allow that to overshadow the many transcendent moments that Reflektor presents.  And make no mistake, this is still a very Arcade Fire album in all the ways that I’ve come to love and enjoy listening to them.  Arena filling sound, self aware lyrics and themes, call it snobbish if you’d like, but it’s all backed up with pure artistry.  I can’t believe that being a hater and the negative tenor of the internet has gotten so popular that I’m having to be an Arcade Fire apologist…5 years ago the concept of this would have been ridiculous.  ‘Normal Person’ one of the best straight guitar rock songs I’ve heard in quite some time also provides the simplest of profound lyrics: “is any one as strange as a normal person…I can’t tell if I’m a normal person, it’s true.  I think I’m cool enough but am I cruel enough….if that’s what’s normal now, I don’t want to know.”  Many bands/artists in the past have been applauded for not sticking only to what made them popular, but in the age of social media and the internet, the outrage of fans not getting exactly what they expect seems to crowd out the more reasonable consideration of whether it’s still good music.  The same reaction has come from many of the hip hop purists in relation to Kanye West’s polarizing album ‘Yeezus’.  In his case, at least he’s not likable.  The derision that’s building up for Arcade Fire is just nonsensical, warranted success turns people off I guess.  Reflektor isn’t good, it’s freaking great.

3.  El-P & Killer Mike are ‘Run the Jewels’

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Something beyond fortuitous happened when Jamie Meline (the rapper/producer known as EL-P) and Michael Render (known as rapper Killer Mike) met to record a song for Killer Mike’s 2012 project in progress, ‘R.A.P. Music’.  If I was a proponent of something like destiny, that might be how I’d describe what resulted form this gathering.  It was a clashing of rap worlds that in many ways were diametrically different from one another.  Killer Mike with southern hip hop, El-P with dense, left field, sci fi themed, underground rap.  It all worked though, resulting in a fully El produced and critically lauded album.  From there El-P did his own project ‘Cancer 4 Cure’ and they hit the road touring together.  A ridiculous fire had started from teaming up and it was apparent that they had redeveloped a deep connection with the essence of hip hop music.  I was able to see them live in Portland, summer 2012, and this energy was readily apparent.

They moved straight into a 2013 collaborative effort with ‘Run the Jewels’.  On both Cancer 4 Cure and with this latest project, something seems to have kicked El-P out of the dark cynical tone he had stuck to for so long and turned him towards straight biting, sarcastic, wit filled braggadocio.  Killer Mike met him halfway, still being able to lay down some razor sharp social commentary but knowing that he couldn’t complain much while they were having this much fun.  Wanting this passion to be on full display, they released the album for free.  The production on ‘Run the Jewels’ still has El’s experimental flare and darkness, but a black humor and a wry smile underscore it all.  The exception being the epic closing track ‘A Christmas F****** Miracle’, and regardless of its seriousness it may be the best track.  However, the track ’36 Chain’, along with the music video, perfectly demonstrate just how much these dudes have started living again in their post-40s.  El spits:

We could double dutch in a minefieldhell gets
Just the right temperature,
 break beat minister
Riverdance cleats on your face for the finisher

He also states “you don’t wanna look inside my big crystal ball” but that seems to be exactly what we’ve been permitted to do.  ‘Run the Jewel’s brings back the concept of a powerful rap duo and made it loud and clear that these veterans more than hold their own.  For me, they make a curious but convincing case for being on top of the crowded heap of talented rappers in the game right now.  

2.  Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of the City

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I’ve never had a problem with Vampire Weekend, I could even say I had a fair amount of respect for how utterly different and interesting they were.  But on their first 2 albums, I could only give a passing listen to maybe a handful of tracks, and even then they’d never get any kind of heavy rotation.  This was more an issue of taste than anything else, they just weren’t my thing.  Although, I’ve always felt the range of what I could enjoy was wide.  So, I couldn’t exactly put my finger on what wasn’t doing it for me when it came to Vampire Weekend.  They just felt…too cute.  With ‘Modern Vampires of the City’, I feel like the talent and unique aesthetic are honed much more maturely.  That probably sounds a bit condescending, especially since its always been clear this band is intelligent.  But I come back to that “too cute” thought, I think I just don’t like having as much fun as Vampire Weekend seemed to be trying to make its listeners have on their earlier efforts.  MVOTC still has its occasional bubbly sentiment and feel, but this time around they added a layer of melancholy and seriousness that makes it all work.  Instead of being annoyed, I could appreciate the unmistakable sound they’ve created for themselves while still being rewarded with some emotional depth.  There is a wealth of beauty present on MVOTC, complemented by a most awesome album cover.  “Don’t Lie” showcases this yin and yang blend I speak of (bubbly+melancholy) and it’s pretty fabulous stuff.  I knew the first time I listened through that VW had finally made me a believer, but I was even more surprised and impressed at the staying power the music had over the course of the year.  Stellar stuff.

1.  Danny Brown – Old

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There are probably people who would read this and think “who the what?”  When I saw Danny Brown’s 2011 mixtape (basically a legitimate album) ‘XXX’ atop many year end lists in rap music, I also uttered “who the what?”  But, yes, a wild haired, gap-toothed, seemingly crass rapper made my favorite album this year.  He may have become more well known to the mainstream when he and A$ap Rocky waxed philosophical on a Noisey interview about wanting to sleep with Kathy Griffin (she immediately had them on her show, hilarity ensued) but his flamboyance is just one dimension of his artistry.  At first I wasn’t sure ‘Old’ would land here at #1 as much of what Danny Brown lays down can take time before its evil genius sinks in.  One form of his delivery can be high pitched and nasally and if someone only lent a passing ear, it might seem he was just humor music like Lonely Island.  The humor and the punch lines are in rich supply, but so is the depth.  Two of my favorite tracks this year, “Clean Up” and “Float On”, are layered with street philosophy and melancholy.  There are attempts at glamorizing the life, yet Danny knows as much as the rap music naysayers that he’s not always doing what’s best for him.  But he is making great music.

And to beat your enemy, you gotta think like them

So I was up late breaking day with the gremlins

Music in my heart but my thoughts wouldn’t listen

Often he discusses the paradoxes and dissonance that street and music life creates.  The temptation to sell drugs in order to make money to buy Wonder Bread ultimately leading to misery, or turning to drugs to help write better rhymes ending in the cycle of addiction.  This isn’t necessarily a new concept in rap but Danny Brown somehow makes it feel fresh, sad, fun, triumphant, ignorant, ridiculous, awesome, and brilliant all at the same time.  He catches lightning in a bottle with ‘Old’ in a similar fashion to Eminem on the MMLP or Lil’ Wayne on the Carter III.  What feels refreshing about Danny Brown, however, is that his success still remains somewhat underground.  This has given him some leeway to shirk some genre cliches and blend different sounds together.  He’s a festival hit and at times he’s been labeled a hipster and a novelty act for some of his genre blending and strange fashion.  As a fan though, I can deal with him being misrepresented or misunderstood if that means he gets to continue doing things on his own terms.  The more I listen the more sure I am that ‘Old’ is the most creative and unforgettable musical effort I heard throughout 2013.

Diagnosable as Myself (Contemplations on Doubt)

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I have a dream to one day author a brilliant book.  I am still unsure what the genre or subject matter of this book could be, but I have a hope that the talent necessary to reach this achievement exists within me.  That word dream is used for a precise reason, that reason being a doubt in the possibility of this ever being reality.  It is a dream, and dreams are never reality.  My random musings and thoughts concerning this project have a similar effect that a vivid or powerful dream can have.  Intense ideas and profundity crop up in my mind and I try to cling to these and make them a part of a greater whole.  We all know what happens on waking, however.  Like any dream narrative, time and daily distraction cause any cogency to deteriorate swiftly, or you realize that what seemed so clear was actually completely absurd.  This often becomes apparent when trying to relate the dream/thoughts back to another person   What’s left are scraps of my intrigue and a memory that the dream/thoughts I felt were really cool, but I can’t recreate the moment with any confidence.  This results in a considerable amount of disappointment and I become complacent, letting these dreams and deep thoughts drift into my minds eye and then float away.  I wave hello and toy with them briefly but never get too excited because the dejection of being unable to bring it all into sharp focus so many times has left me without the resolve or motivation.  I doubt and come to believe falsely that I just do not have what it takes.

Over the years I have self diagnosed myself with a handful of psychological disorders or conditions to make sense of why I struggle with making something out of what I perceive to be an extraordinary skill at thinking outside of the box.  A cliche, I know, and not very specific.  But I truly feel as though I have a unique ability that allows me to shift and see topics from varying angles.  Of course I bounce around with frenetic urgency from topic to topic, argument to counter argument.  Yes, that’s it, I must have adult ADD (attention deficit disorder).  Disorder being a terrible word that’s been tagged onto these perfectly useful ways of thinking differently.  Or is it depression creating an unusual self obsession with my existential angst.  I have all the ideas I need but it must just be this depressive state that is sapping me of any sort of push to channel my creativity.  Wait, no, it could be bipolar.  But if that’s the case why do I not get this shot of manic intensity that for periods of time could allow me to imagine and succeed.  Ahh, I see, I’m one of those bipolar’s, the kind who tends towards low grade ever pervasive depression and any hint of mania is the problematic kind.  What if I am just completely deluded and really am nothing special? Just an average person with an irrational complex that causes me to think I’m bright.  None or all of this could be true, and with time I’ve come to understand the ridiculousness of psychological hypochondriasis, a truly modern epidemic.  I know one thing is for sure, I’m diagnosable as a complicated and colorful human being.  And that’s the best I can do.  All these possible disorders of the mind lie on a spectrum, in reality, and like almost everything in life the truth is probably somewhere in the middle.  It’s a conglomeration and collision of all the theories I’ve considered.  The stock tri-fold “biopsychosocial” phenomenon.  Something that we all happen to be.  I am diagnosable with Michael V Unusualness, bound to eventually be in the DSM-LVII which will have 7 billion “disorders” of the mind so as to encompass every single permutation of human being.

I’ve written about genius and insanity, the blurred lines between them.  I believe I am preoccupied with this thought of being something great.  Leaving the world in some way changed because I existed.  Wow, is that sentence as self absorbed as I think it sounds?  I’ve entertained this “dream” and have hardly allowed it to become an actual aspiration, self sabotaging and running away from it at the same time wanting it so badly.  Really this is nothing unique, most of us have a dissonance between solipsistic contemplation and rational consideration of our actual place in the world.  Because fear lies at the heart of avoiding success and avoiding being good at something, I often convince myself that I am wired for eternal ambivalence.  Does the word paradox apply?  I sure hope so because I freakin’ love that word.

I want to write a brilliant book and maybe I will some day.  It could just end up being a compilation of these absurd ramblings.  Never solving anything, but brimming with delight at trying to figure myself, other people, and the universe out.  Maybe I’ll catch lightning in a bottle, have a lunar moon landing moment where it seems inexplicable but nevertheless there they were, not on Earth but staring back at it from over two-hundred thousand miles away.  Do you think they thought to themselves “How the hell did we get here?  This shouldn’t have been possible.”  How is this preoccupation with my own self importance aspirations of any interest to people who may read this?  I could try to give an answer to that but I’d be full of it by suggesting that I actually knew.  I will simply leave off with a quote by John Gray, who wrote a brilliant book himself in the form of ‘Straw Dogs: thoughts on humans and other animals’

“Anyone who truly wants to escape human solipsism should not seek out empty places. Instead of fleeing to desert, where they will be thrown back into their own thoughts, they will do better to seek out the company of other animals.”

John Gray, Straw Dogs: Thoughts on Humans and Other Animals

-Favorite albums of 2013, in consideration for #1 (Arcade Fire ‘Reflektor’, STRFKR ‘Miracle Mile, Danny Brown ‘Old’, Vampire Weekend ‘Modern Vampires of the City’)

-TV show I think we are all tortured to be ambivalent about as we wait and see if it can become the great show it think it is:   The Walking Dead

-TV show pleasant surprise: Masters of Sex

-TV show I’m part way through that is already in the category of sublime: Six Feet Under

-Issues I’m waffling on

1.  Foreign films being remade for American audiences

2.  Films dramatizing reality and saying they are based on a true story (while the phrase doesn’t suggest it’s completely true, the use of real names, places and events, seems to prime an audience to believe that what they are seeing actually occurred, often times without question)

Love…PEACE!

Television Drama and the Sublime (6 moments that demonstrate how TV can be as good as or better than the movies)

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Recently I dove into watching The Walking Dead after having been unnecessarily stubborn about doing so.  I watched the pilot of this ambitious AMC television drama when it first aired.  I was impressed with the production value and the acting overall and looked forward to the story unfolding.  For whatever reason I didn’t keep up after season 1 and while I was removed this show became a ratings giant for AMC.  The buzz surrounding each episode and season became a serious pop culture phenomenon, almost annoyingly so.  My feed was always blowin’ up with Walking Dead stuff.  I had stepped in on a few episode over season 2 and 3 and things seemed somewhat slow to me.  I invented silly reasons not to take the time with it.  In the back of my mind I knew I wasn’t giving it a fair shake.  But I had this troubling suspicion that the show wasn’t going to be as good as the hype.  Yet, I could not make this assertion without really sitting down and giving WD the proper attention.  I wanted to be informed in my criticism and so I am now 4 episodes into the 3rd season and can fully admit that the show is top notch in the drama department and, for the most part, the characters are worth investing in.

There was a moment in season 2 that powerfully reminded me how television has in the last 10-15 years been able to achieve what was once only possible through the cinematic experience.  Production value plays a huge factor in that; the more believable things are in look and feel the more we are experiencing the emotional ambiance that is desired rather than being removed by what feels cheap or just not quite real.  High definition and seeing television drama in the widescreen format to me was the main turning point.  Also, as television gradually improved better writers, actors, and overall talent were being drawn to the “small screen” medium.  The season 2 moment I spoke of on The Walking Dead is when Shane pries open the barn full of walkers and lets them spill out; forcing the small community of survivors to face a stark reality of life in the zombie apocalypse that they had been unwilling to fully do up til’ that point.  As a viewer, in that moment, I experienced something that can only be provided by the elongated storytelling process of television drama.  Through that concentrated intensity, you feel the emotional impact of what was built over two seasons and you feel it for almost every single character in a different way.

I could speak to the finer plot details, however, this moment highlights more broadly a viewing experience that I have started calling “sublime”.  A particular definition describes it as such: Of high spiritual, moral, or intellectual worth.  Moments like this still exist in film, but the emotional investment that television requires has created something very unique to the format.  I’ve decided, with that in mind, to present a list of 6 moments from television dramas in the last decade or so that highlight distinctly this kind of epic and heightened artistry.  If you haven’t seen one of the shows feel free to skip the example or read if you think you’ll never watch the show.  I will attempt to detail them in such a way that doesn’t completely give away any big plot spoilers.  These are in no particular order and there could very well be TV moments I have forgotten or never seen that equally qualify as “sublime”.  Also, some of these shows may have flamed out in tremendous fashion, this is not a list of greatest shows just times where I believe sublimity (word of the day) was achieved.

1.Dexter Season 5 Episode 1: “My Bad”  Warning, Dexter clip not for the feint of heart

I can hear some people saying “dude this should totally be a trinity killer moment” and essentially it is.  For those who will understand what goes down in this scene, it follows the season 4 finale that we weren’t sure we would ever recover from.  I was SUPER skeptical that the writers could figure out a way to have the death of you know who not completely derail the show.  The move was incredibly bold and it could be argued that it did, in fact, derail the show but it took a season for that derailment to become gut punchingly apparent.  Season 5 was still pretty damn good and in episode 1 we see Dexter, still to this point being masterfully played by Michael C Hall, finally absorb the reality of what has occurred.  He got his kill from Season 4, but not without a devastating cost.  This is where we the viewers finally clue into the reality that it’s not okay to root for this “serial killer with a code” anymore and it never really was.  His drive to not only kill but explore the nature of his “dark passenger” was always completely selfish, we just hadn’t seen it impact anything drastically enough for us to say “no bueno”.  The bathroom scene is all of Season 4 coming down to bare on Dexter, and the only way he knows how to cope is to kill.  This, for me, might be the ultimate demonstration of why Michael C Hall garnered endless praise for his depiction of this complicated and dark character.  It wasn’t easy to watch, but it was, in terms of art, sublime.

2.  Lost Season 1 Episode 4 “Walkabout”

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The first few episodes of Lost were riveting but perplexing.  Not perplexing in a bad way, but as the viewer you are wondering what the hell you are actually watching.  What does this show want to be?  I remember I didn’t touch this show for awhile and saw my parents watching some season 2 episodes and my mom described to me nonsense about a hatch, these numbers they had to punch in for some reason but didn’t know why, polar bears mozying around, the list goes on.  Prior to that I had been away for 14 months and hadn’t kept up on any television shows.  Lost for me was one of the first times I saw how effecting and epic TV shows were starting to become.  While the mysteries of Lost ended up being its eventual undoing, the first 2 seasons let the weirdness simmer in our minds while causing us to fall in love with the characters.  The moment that this show smacked me upside the head with a big dose of “awwww I get it now, but not really, but still I think I’m starting to get it” was the 4th episode “Walkabout”.  Up to that point John Locke, the most intriguing character by far that totally fizzled out most disappointingly in Season 5ish 6ish, hardly had any dialogue when then the famous flashbacks gave us a focus on his past life.  We discover in a jaw dropping reveal that John was paralyzed prior to the island and he now has his ability to walk back.  The emotional weight I felt with that revelation is the kind of stuff that makes you watch a show despite it slowly declining into metaphysical pseudo spiritual wannabe sci-fi stupidity.  If writers can achieve just that kind of sublime once, you can keep your hooks in people for, hmmm, 6 seasons maybe.  And they sure did.

3. Game of Thrones Season 3 Episode 5 “Kissed By Fire”

It’s truly difficult to choose one moment from Game of Thrones to represent the sublime experience, but I’ve chosen a less obvious one.  Honorable mentions to the beheading at the Sept of Baelor, Littlefingers “Chaos is a Ladder” speech, and, well of course, the Red Wedding.  The scene I chose that’s in the video above is probably one of the more impressive feats I’ve read in fiction that has with equal impressiveness been translated to screen on HBO’s GOT.  This is Jaime Lannister detailing to Brienne of Tarth what happened that led to him being titled as “the Kingslayer”.  We always liked Jaime for being an awesomely foul mouthed, unapologetic, snarky jerk wad but George RR, and the writers of GOT the tv show turn the tables on us and have us starting to sympathize with an incestuous, spoiled, unashamed killer.  Why?  How?  The viewer begins to understand the emotional scars that he has buried deep down from his years being known as the man who would betray his oath and kill a king.  “By what right does the wolf judge the lion?”  The show, and book, build up medieval and fantasy tropes only to tear them down or show how gray things actually are, taking a fantastical setting and presenting it as a metaphor for reality.  Was Ned really noble or just a fool?  Has Jaime played the villain for years simply because people wouldn’t believe anything else of him?  Who’s good, who’s evil?  Go watch Star Wars if you want that kind of parable.  That’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to how GOT will turn genre cliche’s and moral tales completely upside down.

4.  Mad Men Season 6 Episode 13 “In Care of”

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I probably chose this moment from Mad Men because it gave us a little sprinkling of hope for Don Draper in the sea of despair that this show usually is.  I don’t feel all that great when I watch Mad Men.  I ask myself often why I enjoy watching such miserable people.  Enjoy would be the wrong word in describing what it’s like to sit through episode after episode of people in the midst of having an existential crisis.  Everything is so well done though.  The sets, the acting, the subtlety and the slow boil.  But, I won’t lie, there often feels like little payoff for the pain.  This hasn’t been a very happy tale.  The ‘Hershey Pitch’ however, was awesome.  The beauty of this scene comes in seeing the contrast between full of shit Don and honest Don.  And in reality, the honest heartbreaking story he describes of growing up in a whorehouse is actually the better pitch.  But you can’t talk about whorehouses in your advertisement, can you?  This moment really captures the dissonance that the advertising world of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce (or whatever it’s named now) deals with.  Everyone sits there feeling uncomfortable for having heard the truth, it really is a powerful sell for a Hershey bar, but you can’t sell them that way right?  The greatness of it is Don finally not giving a crap whether that’s the best way to sell the candy bar, it’s that he bared his soul and was completely authentic.  This was the slight glimmer of possible redemption for Don Draper that was getting farther and farther away as this show progressed.  This was a moment the viewers deserved and earned.

5.  Battlestar Galactica Season 3 Episode 20 “Crossroads (Part 2)

The more I reminisce on the 4 season run of Battlestar Galactica the more I begin to think “this show shouldn’t have been this good, this show in a lot of ways was a crap storm of too many ideas”.  It’s very comparable to Lost in that way.  But it’s mysteries were accompanied by truly powerful character moments from beginning to end.  The season 3 finale if I were to hear the many details of it without any context would seem rather silly.  The writers had to explain why only 7 Cylon models had been seen for the first 3 seasons of the show when we knew there was supposed to be 12.  I felt this was rather clumsily handled and became obvious as a big reveal plot point to string us along.  Somehow they made this work rather well.  But there it is, we have: mysterious tune that turns out to be “All Along the Watchtower” that switches on the awareness of the final Cylon models, they are characters we know and love, a main character comes back from the dead, and a fairly ho hum verdict being passed on Gaius Baltar that was rather weak courtroom drama in retrospect.  What was building to be a let down of a finale ended up being actually pretty freaking awesome.  Bear McCreary created a ballsy remake of the Jimi Hendrix classic song and somehow the writers made that a compelling, even if silly, part of what led to the series finale.  Honorable Mention to James Callis who played Gaius Baltar who’s sublime acting led to one of the most intriguing characters in TV drama history.  Above is the Bear McCreary version of “All Along the Watchtower”.

6.   Breaking Bad Season 3 Episode 10 “Fly”

How could this list not have a Breaking Bad moment?  Truth be told, Breaking Bad from start to finish is sublimity personified.  Those who haven’t seen the show are probably sick of this gushing, and I don’t like to gush, but there is just no avoiding it here.  I have trouble really saying any other show I’ve ever watched meets this level of consistency.  The Wire is very respectable but for me never achieves the same poetry in motion that Breaking Bad feels like almost all the time.  And I will have to admit my ignorance when it comes to the holy grail that is The Sopranos.  So, I openly admit there may be shows on par, I just haven’t witnessed them for myself just yet.  The scene I pasted above is one among hundreds that could demonstrate the near dramatic perfection that was presented in BB.  The dialogue exchanged between Jesse and Walt in “Fly” takes place in a fairly low drama scenario but encapsulates the chemistry that Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul created with these most unique of characters.  The episode starts out light enough and showcases some of the wit and humor that stuck out amidst the darker decay we witnessed throughout the shows 5 seasons.  Here the writers step back, having written a simple bottle episode premise, and simply let the actors act, and its hard to believe these people don’t actually occupy reality.

And these are just 6 moments, many more exist that show how television drama has truly reached the artistic sublime.  Some only have glimpses of this quality, others are able to demonstrate it on a more consistent basis.  I was inspired to discuss a few instances here as a tribute to how television drama has become one of if not the most impressive storytelling forms.

Mood while writing-  Intense

Others shows considered for the list- Sons of Anarchy, The Wire, Firefly, Justified, Six Feet Under amongst many others

Currently Reading- ‘Notes From the Underground’ by Fyodor Dosoevsky and ‘The Mote In God’s Eye’ by Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle

Movie to see- Gravity (preferably IMAX 3D)

Recently heard super solid albums- ‘Psychic’ by Darkside and ‘A Color Map of the Sun’ by Pretty Lights

Remaining Sane While Consuming Live Music

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A small bout of self doubt has delayed me from getting on top of a new blog post.  Considering it’s not even been 2 weeks I don’t think that’s all that shabby seeing as I’ve let writing funks go for over a year before.  It’s never an issue of feeling as though I don’t have something to say, with me that has never been a problem.  I suppose it always comes back to that self consciousness factor with a pinch of perfectionism that makes me feel relatively unsatisfied with a lot of my creative pursuits.  I can understand the evolutionary purpose for delusional confidence but I still scratch my head at how feelings of inadequacy are of much use.  I suppose it’s all some kind of balancing act, and for me there is no question that craving the feeling of invincibility can easily get me in trouble.  Maybe I’m just not mentally stable :P.

Anyhow, what’s going on in the world of me.  I recently survived the experience of attending 2 days of the Bumbershoot Festival in downtown Seattle.  Music, arts, food and stuff.  Earlier this year I recall reading a variety of things about the Coachella Music Festival and thinking “why would I ever want to be a part of that?”  Yes, I know some very good acts come through and that seems to be the draw, but so many others aspects of it seemed straight animalistic.  While I know Bumbershoot is not really comparable to Coachella in scope, I think there are indeed some similarities.  However, the fact that it took place in the city and is considerably smaller may be the things that allowed me to feel that attending was a worthwhile endeavor.  I got to see Nacho Picasso (a deliciously dark underground rapper) Kendrick Lamar (riding high off of a critically lauded debut album and an epic verse calling out his rivals) Crystal Castles (which took the cake for the weekend easily) Alt-J and MGMT (both intensely respectable in their performances).  Oh, and not to forget Gary Numan, a dude I had never heard of but apparently has been around and is some kind of pioneer in electronic music.  His Nine Inch Nails-like set was quite the sonic punch to the face.  It was nice to participate without having to go primal in order to feel like I was soaking in the music and talent sufficiently.

But there is certainly a yin and yang aspect to the whole thing.  I mean, I’m only 28, but being there definitely made me feel old.  I know others might roll there eyes at such a statement, but this appeared to be the place for the youth that weekend.  At this point in my existence, I think I’ve gotten over the need for clamoring about while snaking my way towards the front of the crowds.  I attempted during Kendrick Lamar and it literally turned into human sardines before his set started so I peaced out.  Furthermore, while not hating on peoples desire to experience music through a chemically induced haze, I certainly get the feeling some people are there for the drugs first, the grinding bodies second, and somewhere on their list falls the music.   When it comes to the lines and waiting, common courtesy generally goes out the window.  One couple was rather insistent during the Deerhunter set on doing a little reversal and trying to get the boyfriend on the girlfriends shoulders….so he could get a better view I guess.  I can understand how it sounds fun after a few beers, but there are people around and if you fail miserably it might not just be his head that takes the brunt of this hubris.

Having said some of that, I still don’t consider myself the type for pooping on the party.  Mostly it was all good.  There is truly something to say about hearing the music at insanely high volumes, my intellect tickled by the technical aspects of the music while my body is viscerally assaulted by sound and bass.  The back to back experience of Gary Numan and Crystal Castles had a definite transcendent element to it.  In the right setting, with light, sound, people, and performance mixing together in the proper way, something occurs that can only be described as spiritual.  It isn’t otherwordly or supernatural, but it invokes that sort of sensation, the kind I would get much more frequently as a child.  I couldn’t properly describe the experience of seeing/feeling/hearing the light mix with the swirls from the foggers as the music poured over the crowd, the same crowd Alice Glass fearlessly surfed on top of while belting her vocals.  That’s when whatever might deter me from these surroundings becomes irrelevant because I know this is a place where the mundane is forgotten, where worry, tomorrow, and future can be set aside for a moment without having to accept nihilism as a life philosophy.

So I think shows are still something I can do.  I don’t have to become a wild man to enjoy and I still think a very worthy memory can be gained so long as I stick to seeing the artists I truly admire and want to see.  Worthwhile to consume with no wicked comedown.

Music listened to during writing:  How to Destroy Angels

Last Movie Watched: Dr. Strangelove

Great album just discovered: Mondo by Electric Guest

Nagging gripe that seems to be increasing in how utterly annoying it is:  Totally craptastic iPhone battery life (it’s borderline criminal)

An observation: Sometimes there is shirking the conventions of music with brilliant results and sometimes there is just making noise

Recommendation:  Werner Herzog’s ‘Encounters at the End of the World’ and Eugene Jarecki’s ‘This House I Live In’…both on Netflix, check em out.

Who’s the GOAT?! (Philosophical Ideas Argued Using Hip-Hop and Basketball)

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It’s probably one of the most tiring and old debates in a variety of areas.  Music, literature, sports, art, history.  We are always asking who the greatest of all time is (Who is the GOAT?).  Where I land on the debate is that really there is no greatest ever at anything.  There are far too many subjective elements involved in deciding and bestowing such a title.  Where I can say I am rather opinionated though is in the area of people overemphasizing cultural/historical impact and not actually considering the actual quality of a certain individuals body of work as much as they should.  I believe there are certain talents or great minds that came along with a perfect storm of cultural events that lend to an inflated and distorted view of how great they actually were.  I could drop a few names and I’m almost positive people would think me blasphemous.  And that’s probably why the debate is so frustrating and ultimately not that interesting, because people are somewhat delusional or biased when it comes to the formation of their opinion.  An opinion which they will often give as fact.

We get in a frenzy when a decade comes to an end, or even a century, and major publications create lists of “most influential”, “greatest album of…”, “best athletes”, and so forth.  Unfortunately people take certain media entities so seriously that these lists often shape the discourse going into the future and if you make your own list or someone else does further down the line, you almost feel like you have to reference or use a Rolling Stone, Time Magazine, or New York Times something or other to be sure you don’t miss leave anything out.  But in that case, the debate seems a bit tainted.  I myself have used these references to refresh my memory on things I may have forgotten, but to what degree are we missing something and just piggy backing off of what we were told to consider great. And I believe as time goes on this becomes more and more problematic, particularly when looking back at pre-internet culture where almost certainly our perceptions are shaped by a considerable amount of revisionist history.

This could lead me into discussing our obsession with creating heroes and the need to place them on pedestals, but this is a much heavier issue.  To keep it a tad lighter, I think a good microcosm of the human obsession for bestowing greatness to individuals can be seen in Hip Hop and Basketball.  I don’t think there is anywhere else that the debate is rehashed more.  Ego plays such a huge part in the culture and it’s rare to go a month, let alone a year, before some new kind of argument is being raised about who the best rappers and basketball players are.  It can be a lot of fun but the rhetoric and bloviation is often outrageous as well.

Certain purists are so wrapped up in memories of a golden age that existed in their youth they will often ignore a new golden age happening right in front of them.  There is a desire to downplay the new and remember the “good old days”.  As basketball and rap personalities have become more mainstream, people complain how it’s just not “street” enough anymore.  People complain about hip hop being demasculinized and hoop stars are now softy prima donnas that the bad boy Pistons could teach a good lesson.

But ask some of these people who the GOAT is in these respective areas and often the names given are the reason the art forms have been completely altered.  The heroes of a culture are often the destroyers.  Dr Dre gave you Eminem…rap was never the same.  Jay-Z, once a street king and many peoples GOAT, is the harbinger of corporatized hip hop music and his protege Kanye West has created the link to things purists likely abhor (high fashion, visual arts, Kardashians, consumerism, sensitivity and self consciousness).  Michael Jordan is largely the reason basketball has become a global phenomenon and is why big personalities are what is marketed heavily in the NBA.  But people complain ad nauseum about cocky Kobe, unloyal Lebron, etc.  We are in a constant search for who the new greats are that we prematurely crown an Allen Iverson, Gilbert Arenas, and a Vince Carter only to see them sputter out, in terms of rap we have Lil’ Wayne, The Game, and 50 Cent among others.  So some of us contemplate who the new greats are but are easily not impressed because it always seems like they can never live up to how awesome someone or something was when we were younger.

I think a few lessons can be learned from acknowledging humans love of lionizing.  First, when we see it present in areas of art and sport we can, in a less contentious fashion, discuss the delusional elements of declaring greats.  Then we can guard against it in arenas where it might be more problematic (politics, media, science, academia).  Secondly, we can reexamine history.  Not that I think we should destroy our idols, but maybe we should destroy our idols.  I think we would be better off with an appropriately humanized perception of the people who changed the world.  A disparaging term like “overrated” can be changed to “they were human like everyone else”.  And lastly, by knowing better who these people were, we can be more willing to acknowledge greatness in ourselves and other people living today instead of living in the past.

Music listened to while writing this:  Oddly enough Bjork

Last Movie Watched:  Oblivion….definitely a pass

People on GOAT watch:  Kendrick Lamar, Steph Curry (barring injury issues), James Franco, Louis C.K., George R.R. Martin, Kathryn Bigelow, Shane Smith, Tina Fey, Arcade Fire, Mastodon

Prematurely being or been called GOAT’s/Misplaced GOAT worship:  Lena Dunham, M. Night Shyamalan, Bill Maher, Malcolm Gladwell, Glenn Beck

GOAT’s we don’t like to call GOAT’s:  James Cameron, Oprah, Mark Zuckerberg

GOAT meltdowns: Alex Rodriguez, George Lucas, Johnny Depp

Names I’m purposefully ignoring for GOAT categories:  Political figures/World leaders

Note: there are certainly more names that could go in these GOAT categories, if I’ve made egregious oversights please mention them in the comments

Overdue Music Discovery: Spoon (Divine Fits is to thank for that)

Current Gripes: Edited rap music on Spotify, articles that begin with “in defense of” and go on defending unpopular/indefensible things because that’s the hipster thing to do, and moral outrage that oversimplifies the complicated and affords to much significance to trivial things.

Metablogging Self Absorbed Confessions; this I doth partake in

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I started a new entry 4 days ago or so.  It is something I intend to finish and post here, but the subject is pretty intense.  There are many directions my message could go in but I definitely am struggling on how to keep the whole thing focused.  The working title on this particular article is “Belligerent Opposition and Scatter Shot Angst”.  After getting some really great ideas down and flowing pretty well I put it aside for two days with every intent on digging right back in.  But I knew it was going to be a project.

 So yesterday I determined to write something else, maybe a bit lighter in tone…maybe not.  I just wanted to get something down and be sure I was staying on task with my blog resurgence.  This has happened in the past 2 or 3 times where I got a pretty heady and philosophical entry going and I linger on it and essentially don’t get anything posted for weeks, months, even a year.  I don’t want to say that I’m now going to have “filler entries” between the significant stuff, I am just adamant that I won’t allow overly ambitious ideas and desires for an essay torpedo simply writing stuff and speaking my mind.

I’ve kept myself pretty sharp I think by continuing to post consistently on Facebook about events, stories, and news that I think actually matters.  I’ve also noticed how a good number of websites are now using this Disqus commenting apparatus and I speak my mind on there quite a bit.  Although comment boards are a quick place to lose your faith in humanity, you can find a handful of people willing to have reasoned debate and discussion.  I wouldn’t say I’m trying to convince anybody in these forums but the back and forth helps me see perspectives on issues that I might be missing. I look at these activities as sharpening my intellectual knife so that when I come around to sharing with the people who are nice enough to parooze my blog or engage me in conversation I can be sure that I’m presenting my best thoughts, or at least thoughts that are well informed.

So basically this is turning into a confessional of how much I over think this process.  And lately I’ve just been writing about writing.  But those who love to share their ideas I think can relate and connect with the struggle.  I am without question living up inside of my own head, seeing and thinking too much at times without specific action.  But who isn’t living in their head?  That’s totally a cliche.

I’ve had a very strange and incredible last few years of existing and I’ve met at wide range of people.  One of the settings involved me being with people for 2 months who were basically encouraged, poked, and prodded to open up even if they didn’t like it or want to.  People of every stripe, color, and walk of life.  Doctors, fishermen, musicians, lawyers, police officers, you name it. Conclusion:  we do not talk enough to each other in regular life, particularly about inner strife.  People you would never expect are actually very deep and insightful.  Very accomplished and highly educated people are still self conscious, still trying to prove themselves, and being highly skilled and successful doesn’t mean you don’t have very intense human struggles.  I don’t believe that should seem new to anybody, but I hadn’t experienced it on quite as intimate a level as I was able to during this period. And what does that say about me, well because I open my mouth and talk more then other people doesn’t mean I’m more intelligent or insightful.  In fact, in some ways it’s exactly the opposite.

I believe it is very human to want to believe in yourself, it’s part of what drives survival.  We want to be good at something and over confidence at times is the very thing we need to push us forward.  But that innate desire to feel that I am special somehow can turn into a very selfish and narrow perception of other human beings.  And so as I write I constantly am at odds with myself, wanting to impress or say something profound and believe that I’ve achieved something of value while the little critic inside me antagonizes with thoughts like: “you think you’re the only person who thinks about these things, get real dude.”  So I guess this is me getting real to an extent.  Openly admitting I have deep thoughts and they are worth reading and sharing….but so do plenty of other people.

This is metablogging.

Last movie seen:  Life of Pi (a solid 8.5/10)

Music while writing this:  My starred playlist on Spotify  (check it out, it’s good)
Starred

New album suggestion:  Earl Sweatshirt ‘Doris’

Looking forward to:  Camp out near Mt St Helens, Bumbershoot Festival

Advice:  If you stopped watching Dexter around season 4 or 5, you haven’t missed much and probably could go the rest of your life without ever needing to finish it.

New concept:  Hate-watching TV shows.  Girls on HBO is a great example of what I hate watch.  I can’t say the writing or acting is bad, but there are things I very much dislike about what I am viewing when watching it

Recent epiphany: that I have a lot of epiphanies due to the fact that I underestimate people…crap, am I an elitist?  am I just a jerk?  I’m learning!

Which leads to a quote:

“My imagination makes me human and makes me a fool; it gives me all the world and exiles me from it.”
― Ursula K. Le Guin

Speak your mind in the comments

Sometimes You Just Got To…

ImageYou just got to write sometime, right?  I mean if writing is something you like to do and not in the journaling mind dump for personal therapy kind of writing.  But the kind of writing where you feel like you enjoy it and have some level of talent for it.  That’s the kind of writing I speak of and sometimes you just got to do it despite the initial discomfort.  When I have ideas spinning in my head and want to write about it, the immediate feeling of getting to that point for some reason induces anxiety.  Thoughts like “who cares what you think anyway” pop up.  Or I’ll think “oh this one thing is really important but it leads to other things that make a wider web of things and all of a sudden you’re trying to deconstruct all of reality and meaning.”  An entry on a brief hike or walk that inspired something gets way to existential really fast.  I also get rather self conscious.  Will this be understood how I meant it?  Is this too rationally cold and unfeeling?  Or, am I just a huge nerd and do people not really find interest in this topic?

I don’t know if anyone has noticed lately but I’ve been particularly more vocal on Facebook of late and I think I was using that as a testing ground of getting back to writing more substantial stuff.  It has been nice because a lot of information I’ve been browsing and studying has been stimulating all kinds of ideas in my head and I haven’t been overwhelmed by it or scared to speak my mind about it.  Recently I moved to the Tacoma area, Lakewood being more precise.  Something about being with the person I care very much about and love and being in a new place seems to have provided quite the muse for me.  But, nevertheless, I remained hesitant to start writing blogs or essays or articles again.

Really there are just a lot of excuses for not cultivating and letting loose my creative and artistic side.  And that’s just not good enough anymore to stop me.  Shielding myself from possibly feeling vulnerable or misunderstood cannot be allowed to be the reason why I don’t put effort towards my creative outlets anymore.  I want to share my ideas, be heard, and maybe even influence or intrigue another human being with something I have to say.  In the process I can also learn more about what I’m thinking, allow it to become more coherent rather than just being intangible stuff stirring around my brain.

At my most cynical moments I often just feel like sharing ideas in the way people do through blogs and social media is incredibly narcissistic.  I mean we just put it out there in the interwebs, floating around as data in the sky or on some super secret mega server owned by Facebook, or Google, or Microsoft.  Who am I even talking to?  Why should I think what I have to say is even important?  But these are my cynical moments.  Sometimes these last awhile and I don’t touch facebook for weeks or only dabble with it sparingly.  Even scrolling the feed will cause anxiety, or I’ll start writing a status that gets long winded and just go “blahhhhhh this is self righteous crap”.  Highlight all and delete.  If you’ve been lucky enough you’ve spotted a status from me that within seconds or minutes was deleted because I thought twice about it.  Some of them were self righteous, some of them were asshole-ish, some too personal, and others were probably perfectly legitimate and I was just being sensitive and self conscious about what people would think.

If anyone knows me well enough to say they are familiar with how my personality is they very well know I am not short on opinions.  I deconstruct everything around me ad naseum.  Some have even had the distinct pleasure of knowing me at my most intense and manic moments.  Those periods of time where I behaved and spoke as if I had it ALL figured out.  And even though I do indeed know the answer to life’s most fundamental questions ;)…life humbled me.  It’s given me many a beatdown.  So much so that I became numb to them, even despondent.  I swiftly got over the initial euphoria of feeling like I’d learned my lesson and now I can conquer my demons.  I had probably 5 or 6 come to Jesus moments that showcased my selfishness and delusion and led me to thinking I was now the better for it and can help inspire people as a comeback story. But than 5 or 6 turned to 10-12 wake up calls and I just wanted to crawl up and be insignificant.  I wanted my ego to stop telling me I was unique, that I saw the world differently, and that I was aware of something that 99% of people weren’t.  I just wanted things to be quiet and simple.  No coincidence this process has led to nothing being posted on my blog in over a year.

But now, at this time, I seem to be feeling an inertia that is bringing me out from underneath my rock of humility and urging me to be less shy, I think I’m taking it much slower.  I’m not numb but I’m avoiding overconfidence…I think.  Always good to check yourself if you are telling yourself that you’re not being overly confident.  I’m reading books, my Chrome window always has like 5-10 tabs open.  I ‘like’ all sorts of pages on Facebook to turn my feed into a plethora of information and ideas, many of which conflict with one another.  And though I’ve come to feel that knowledge and truth are a very illusive thing, I still make an attempt at having a stance on issues lately.  I’m reading books again as well.  And naturally it’s books that are subtitled with things like “How to Think Our Way Out of Extinction”.

As I find this room and level of comfort for my opinions, I have had on my mind recently the importance of compassion and forgiveness.  When I read a comments section for an article I try to see through the lense in which people might be looking through that causes them to react and say the things that they do.  When a tweet or a status kind of irks me I try to understand why people I know and indeed care about see things that way.  And of course, I am only too aware of my own missteps and many shortcomings and find compassion and forgiveness being essential in giving myself a chance to be heard again.  I do have concern that to some degree my opinion might be seen and debated in a readers or listeners mind on the basis of how I have behaved in the past.  So in order to share I first need to be kind to myself so that I can feel like I’m still okay to share what is in my mind, and then I hope that some level of compassion and forgiveness is levied towards me from my friends and acquaintances or even strangers so that the essence of what I’m saying can be appreciated despite my many flaws.

The world freaks me out, fascinates me, and inspires me.  I find it beautiful, absurd, worth living in while also contemplating how trivial and random my very existence is.  See what I mean about my stuff drifting towards the existential.  Always.  Too much Heidegger and Nietszche.  Lost, Breaking Bad, Mad Men, and countless indie movies that have those fantastic wide camera shots of a flawed human being in the world that makes them seem so small have ruined me.  Thankfully Fight Club and Atlas Shrugged didn’t take advantage of my youthful trauma and angst and become my bibles.  But there is plenty of literature in that vein that has influenced me.  I enjoy the tortuous process of watching complicated, ambiguous, often depressing and difficult things.  But I’m not taking it all hook line and sinker.  I remain uncertain all the time but am starting to perhaps find an optimism in a single humans ability to establish meaning and purpose and building around it.  Something that uplifts them and still respects the beliefs and purposes other people are partaking in, even blending with them.

I’ll conclude by referencing an awesome discussion my brother Dan and I had.  It dealt with the ever pesky issue of uncertainty that exists in an incredibly complex society we live in and how that makes truth so hard to find and creates the dilemma of really knowing what the right decisions are.  Even if a decision seems morally and ethically sound, there are variables that exist that make it impossible to know what the long term consequences are that could make that right decision in fact be…much more complicated.  But if life is this unforgiving, vast and endless ocean we are drifting in, somewhere we’ve got to make a platform on which we want to build our lives upon.  I cannot endlessly deconstruct to the point of paralysis.  We’ve had several discussions since then that will bounce back and forth for a bit, Dan often being the more optimistic and me being the pessimist, and on occasion one of us in futility will cry out “DECONSTRUCTION!”

And so this comes back to how I began.  Sometimes you just got to write, right?  I needed to.  I wanted to.  So I finally did.  Feels pretty damn good.

Music listened to while writing: Avett Brothers via DJ Caitlin

Mood:  Anxious/excited/grateful

Last movie seen: ‘The Place Beyond the Pines’

Last Book Read and Current Reading:  ‘The Watchman’s Rattle: thinking our way out of extinction’  by Rebecca D. Costa

‘Iconoclast: A neuroscientist reveals how to think differently’ by Gregory Burns

Current obsession and uncontainable curiousity: How Breaking Bad is going to end

Place of Writing for this post: Vaughn, WA with view of Vaughn Bay.

Fueling my efforts: A morning coffee and lunchtime ham and cheese sandwich on a pretzel hoagie bun.

Genius and Insanity: We walkin’ that fine line

Am I a genius because I can admit, understand, and know certain levels of insanity I possess?  Or am I insane because I’d even suggest that I have my own brand of genius?  On a side note, I despise puzzle and logic games because I get stumped and realize that someone was smart enough to create these brainteasers and that means someone is smart enough to solve it, and thus, my limitations become glaring.  We cannot be perfect, which is a bummer.  But perfection was never intended, whether you think of it metaphysically or in the evolutionary sense.
There is a curse aspect to genius.  Genius often comes with shades of insanity which makes having a gift incredibly REAL?  Reality check kind of real.  I love the ridiculous honesty of Aubrey Drake Graham when he raps “what am i doin?…what am I doin?”  when explaining the price of his genius and the confusion his prodigious capabilities can and will create.  He quickly responds in the same song and the same hook, with surety, but as though he had to be reminded, “oh that’s right…I’m doin ME!”  If you want to be aware of the gifts you possess, the things that make you a genius, you have to be willing to live with and give voice to that small or large narcissist, exploiter, depressive realist, or all out monster that is inside of you.  How about a rock reference courtesy of Portugal The Man “there’s a madness in us all.”  If you wish for a non-music reference…one from an “intellectual”, then, Albert Camus:  “Forever I shall be a stranger to myself”.

Art is the way a genius creates and expresses what they feel.  Art takes a different route than what some system would prefer.  At its purest the effort gives no mind to the monetary gain that comes from the creative process.  Genius may be aware that money is a potential  byproduct, but that matters less and less when tasting the satisfaction of seeing a vision enacted.  Oddly enough, as art and genius become less and less motivated by greed, success and happiness follow.  This is not to say that profit does not result or that such is immoral.   What is more important is the message an artist wishes to convey or the experience and emotion they wish to evoke.  Artistic genius creates something more than a product for consumers.  Art communicates a raw human experience and a fulfills a more fundamental need.

At times a  guitarist on stage closes his eyes and is aware of nothing but  the strings at his fingertips and the sweat on his brow from the stage lights.  I stand in the crowd and have no quarrel with the fact that I am gone  to him.  I hear the  music he creates and can sense what it means to him.  I participate in the process as his music has new meaning for me.  Entertainment is cheap…art, musicianship, a pure form of his genius channeled through a performance is what I want to experience.

“Art is the supreme task and the truly metaphysical activity in this life.” -Friedrich Nietzsche

(Let art not be constrained to painting, drawing, sculpture, and the like…it goes much further)

Genius is not all about the art that is possible as a result of it.   Life’s complicated cognitions, never ending connections, and infinite ways in which neurons fire, become exhausting and for some lead to loneliness.  Genius has a lonely vision.  Genius sees the world for the sham that it can be and wonders how they have become participants.  The collective mind, while capable of ridiculous complexity and innovation, also demonstrates sheer stupidity, ignorance, and atrocity.  It is only on the backs of the greatest minds that humanities fragile systems are perpetuated, whether good or evil.  Genius refuses to be swept away but wonders how bring to enact change.   A form of paradox is evident here.  The system and the many lies created by it…the system and the many insults towards true freedom instituted by it…the system and the unacknowledged ill effects proliferated by it, are often obvious to the genius.  However, it is because of unchecked, delusional, irrational, selfish,  ignorantly and consciously evil  genius that the lies and constraints continue and the system goes on.

While the actual neurological components of genius are often coupled with flights of insanity, there are external forces to consider.  The aforementioned paradox is one of them.  The constructs of society and their interplay with the freedom of the individual have become so complex that the genius has been driven to further corners of insanity when trying to consider the solutions and possibilities for fundamental change (whether for good or for ill).  Complacence and loneliness plague those who possess exceptional gifts.  There is a special level of resilience and acceptance that is required of those who persevere  amidst the uncertainty.  Often existential angst and despair along with mental health struggles occur.

-”What is the ideal for mental health, then? A lived, compelling illusion that does not lie about, death, and reality…” – Ernest Becker

Genius can become evil and exploitative. A deeper, darker curse becomes evident.  Brilliance notices the fundamental flaws within the order of things and cannot help but see pregnant opportunities.  Loopholes abound and personal gain entices.  Bernie Madoff was a genius.  Adolf Hitler was a genius.   The evil genius sees the moral obedience of the blind  and uninformed as weakness.  Deeper and more satisfying, more artistic reasoning for an ethical life should then be explored. But instead a genius can rationalize a transformation into villainy.  One can easily be fooled by ones own intelligence into feeling conviction and purpose from even the most heinous of actions.

And herein lies a difficult question.  Genius being a mind made so complex that it could create such beauty and such atrocity: has it really done us good?  We have highways and the internet, blow dryers and microwaves.  But we also  have  North Korea’s brand of  oppression, tunnels underneath the USA’s southern border,  a  drug market  resulting in what is essentially warfare without flags, the fast good generation, Wal-Mart SuperCenters driving down prices and fooling the public into thinking they are buying cheap when the long term impact on the economy is devastation. Examples of unchecked genius abound and continue increasing in scope and heinousness. Deeper scrutiny reveals that we live with the dark side of genius even as we prosper from it.

So where does my post go from here.  I think a more important question is: where does the world go from here?  Where does “society” go?  I know I’m crazy to a degree but I also  have the spark for innovation and insight.  Recognition by the individual is crucial.   We see the madness that goes on around us, the scary implications of humanity’s genius in a global society.  More than ever before humanity has the power of said recognition.   Yet we seem  more intent on proliferating and profiting from our handiwork.  The question of where to go from here is greater than simply saying “I’m an American and trust in those values” or “I have Jesus in my heart and know there is a plan” or “I’m vegan and I volunteer so I’m doing my part” etc etc.  The answer could be one of earlier said existential angst and despair: that it doesn’t matter.  Another can be one of skepticism: that we cannot know.  Or we can have thoughts of hope: that it is all part of a grand plan for our benefit or that the democratic governmental process is the pinnacle of decision making and will lead us to the ideal human experience.  Hope and resolve seem fundamental to a desire  to exist but are any of these answers to the “where do we go question” actually correct?  Not even the greatest genius among us alone could inform, decide, or choose.

Let’s take some time to write (create) for the unseen witnesses; amidst the swirling questions do art for art’s sake.  It’s not the only useful pursuit of genius but often the only one that seems to make sense.  We humans walk a fine line and in spite of a stiff wind the balance seems to be kept.  I wonder to myself what it would take for me to pass completely into my madness and similarly wonder the same concerning our global community.   I sweat the problems and the issues and then I put my fingers to the keyboard and create something satisfying, no thought for gain I put forward what artistic qualities I claim to possess.  Does it give any profound answers?  There is a message, an emotion I wish to evoke, but I write this mostly for my mind to escape rumination upon the unanswerable questions, those things that genius could not even grasp.

“Where the world ceases to be the scene of our personal hopes and wishes, where we face it as free beings admiring, asking and observing, there we enter the realm of Art and Science”
-Albert Einstein

My Life as Eternally Being the Self that is Me

We all have to live with ourselves.  We will only ever be one self, that is if the self truly exists.  My ‘self’ will never be any other collection of memories or cognitive processes and will be some other individuals objective experience.  That is, never will I be any of those things separate from the developing brain/mind/body biological machine that I am housed in.  But it could be debated whether my self is ever the same or is something different from moment to moment, as I experience outer reality, my brain/body is in constantly shifting states that are never chemically and biologically identical to the ones previous.  It is not that I go from one self to another self to another self from second to second.  It is more like an ice cube or a candle.  When they melt into a differing state are they the same object as they were before?  While I do not melt or re-solidify, the analogy can be crudely applied.  You could say that I change even more than a candle or ice cube as they do not have a continuous intake of nutrients that is changing the very constitution of my physical properties day to day.  Muscles, fats, bones, cells, etc.  Even while this occurs, however, it cannot be denied that there is some constant perception of one self.  That I am still the same “person” (being a loose and abstract concept) from day to day.

Whether I like this idea or not, some days yes and other days no, the fact is inescapable.  I am responsible for this self aware gathering of organic materials and its accompanying actions.  I answer for it as it is my power that manages this entities properties.  There is endless philosophical debate as to the level of responsibility we truly have.  Or are we just subject to whims, moods, and mind states that come like the tides, weather, and the shifting earth.  This illustration does not suffice for the intricate nature of conscious beings.  A planet is subject to gravity, solar winds, and tectonic processes, but has no thought of these things actually happening.  We, as well as other organic lifeforms, have organs which regulate, compute, and subconsciously operate the whole of our body.  And while this happens, we have the capacity to stop and recognize the process.  The sensations inherent with it.  Consciousness is nothing but the interruption of life’s automatic processes, an awareness of this happening in an actual time and place.  For many other creatures, the instincts of a regulating body is so automatic that they merely survive and multiply, little else defining their existence.  For us there comes the complication of knowing and being aware of the instant that these biological processes are taking place.

Consciousness and the subsequent contemplation of our existence likely develops slowly and therefore does not have a definitive moment where we go “here is me”.  A moment of self identification.  But, maybe there was a time, when after consciousness developed and at first was such an automatic phenomenon that no thought was given to the act of thinking, that we stopped and realized the power we possessed.  Was this when I was an infant, a toddler.  When I asked myself what I am and why I was here?  When I had the thought of me being something that could choose my actions and behaviors.  And paradoxically could choose not to act, that the forward motion of regulating my bodily components and surviving could be interrupted by merely thinking, and furthermore by action or inaction this existence could be ended.  Likely, I was too crude a thinking animal to really understand that my life could be ended by me.  I was probably only aware of the fascinating fact that I could, as a choice, stick my hands in my mouth, blink my eyes, turn my head, moan and pout, grab a toy.

Early on in our development we are told certain things that alleviate the anxiety of existential angst that inevitably we all end up facing.  But we put it off.  Families, cultures, and societies raise their children with ideas of purpose and answers to why we do all the things we do.  Why we continue surviving.  Should we be shielded from such questions in our early years?  This would be something interesting to discuss, indeed.  Philosophy, self reflection, skepticism, these are things we do not teach before reading,  and math.  Even in our science classes, we learn more of the physical elements of the universe and their interactions.  The scientific method is taught in more depth with time, but only later do we develop a framework of questioning and gaining objective knowledge.  Most times our belief system and general ideas about reality have been firmly entrenched in our psyche and then spill over into the various areas of our lives.  The big questions creep up at times, the why’s and the how’s, but we often have stock responses and easy explanations that quell any dissonance.

But inevitably we will see our very naked selves, having stripped away the elements of our personality that are merely functions of social interaction and maintaining appearances.  Eventually a self is recognized free of words and physical appearances.  This being the very core of consciousness, a chemical and electric soup that has achieved a certain constancy that this neurological process recognizes itself as me.  We wonder who we are and why we move on, why we care.  For some this process is slow, for some it happens all at once.  No question it is necessary to reevaluate these questions often following the inception of their paramount importance in our lives.  Unfortunately for many these questions are never asked, the layers of false selves and portrayals of their personality never peeled away.  Often these types develop into very mentally unstable or very self absorbed shallow individuals.  Narcissists, borderline personalities, the low in self esteem, and many other examples.  We can feel sorrow, we can feel a measure of sadness for those who deny that naked core of being who is free of accepting any other drive to exist other than its own.  As we explore this center, these fundamental parts of who we are, we come to know what our desires truly are.  What we value, what our emotions are really telling us, and we cast away the false and irrational thoughts and beliefs that were our reasons for being so long.  This is not something discovered like buried artifacts, but rather something that is developed with time.

If someone chooses to be a father, they now do so because they wish to share new life coming into the world with someone they respect as equally as themselves and they wish to help develop a new being into someone who will be afforded the freedom of self that said father never had.  If someone chooses to be a writer or teacher, they do so because they feel serenity in the expression and sharing of words and wish to have their words be a source of inspiration, knowledge, and artistic creativity as well as be a catalyst for and component of the common good.

No matter the place we are at in exploring our selves and our motivations, we cannot deny that we are here.  The die has been cast, the cards dealt, and I exist in a day and age where the roots and very physical properties of my consciousness may some day be explored.  Technology and modern lifestyle contradicts so much of what I seemingly was wired for in the evolutionary sense.  No choice was given me in this matter, but I am here, have questioned why, and continue interacting through behavior and thought with the outside world for the time being.  I have very little say in how the world operates and how societies direct their course.  I am an observer.

And I have to live with myself.  Back to the original statement that I can only be this one self.  I was given and developed other elements of personality that to a large degree were beyond my control.  Nothing can change most of my predispositions, I wrestle with the natural tendency for selfishness, laziness, and distraction.  The world has largely made up its mind on what we as humans should be, we unknowingly raise our young to be consumers and workers.  Moral conscious weighs on our mind and through guilt, fear, and expectation we half-heartedly and out of obligation pay our taxes, go to college, get the job, pay the bills.  After which, very little time is left for leisure.  Sure we have yachts, four-wheelers, convertibles, swimming pools.  All physical representations of what we hope and assume are our hobbies and the things we enjoy.  Are we completely fooled?  Are we all on this one-track existence and have set the controls to a steady auto pilot pace through until death?  Have we lived with a self that never was given the chance to do the things it desired, or even develop desires, likes, dislikes, and appetites that came of freedom and not coercion?  Is this the plight of the average individual?  To live the life expected of us while repeating mantra’s that reinforce in us a want to achieve some unknown entities ends and dreams, achieving such for the social validation it provides which soothes and quiets any dissonance, subdues and dissent.  I can see nods of approval while I can also hear groans of disagreement and disgust that I could even suggest that most of us have the wool pulled over our eyes.

This self I have been given has many flaws.  He is incompatible with many of the norms and expectations surrounding him.  He does not like many of the tendencies which road block his path to “success” and “security”.  I live with someone I intensely dislike as well as passionately care for.  I am my biggest critic, I cringe at my past mistakes while realistically no one else has taken a second thought.  No matter how deeply flawed I am or unlikely my hopes seem to be at times, I can never escape into some other consciousness, one more s0und of character, ambition, and motivation.  This is the brain/body I have and the only one I will ever have.  To take part in frustration, despair, and disappointment over the abilities and drive I seemingly do not possess is fruitless.  Ruminating over the missed opportunities is equally unproductive.  Though it often seems that this is all I am capable of doing.  This mind which never ceases to think.  So obsessed with this concept of the self, endlessly preoccupied with authentic living that I am prone to inaction so that I do not act contrary to my core desires.

Herein lies a paradox.  Are my wants fundamental to my makeup, or do they develop while interacting with the outside world?  To know my authentic self must I first take a leap, make a guess as to what will fulfill me?  The blank slate of the mind has been debated, and the concept has seemingly dissolved and reappeared as a much more intricate nature-nurture paradigm.  There is no divide between nature and nurture, they are continually intertwined processes, or even the same process all together.  It seems to be that my authentic self is not static, that it is not something to be discovered, but rather cultivated and developed.  I cannot act contrary to my core wants and desires because there are infinite ways in which they can be satisfied.  The self does not have wants it simply wants.  We must recognize, however, that this wanting can be hijacked and misused by others.  We can be trained to think that our wanting is fulfilled by the achievement of some other individual or entities ends.  Often we know nothing else but the approval and validation of a mother and father, and furthermore our peers and society.  This becomes a drug and an addiction.  Do we turn to a the pill to alleviate our symptoms (the whispers of our wanting) or do we turn our thoughts inward, feel our naked self, and choose to develop our own path and method of satisfying the ever wanting of our self, the vibrations of instinct (what we inherently know and feel lying beneath conscious thought), appetite (what the physical body craves), lust (what the body/mind wants but does not require), hope (what the self sees as attainable) understanding (what the self accepts as realistic) and temperament (how the self chooses to portray itself to the world ).  When these vibrations harmoniously hum, they are self sustaining and require little effort to satisfy.  The experience of being becomes like the object in continuous motion.  There is no force required to continue such motion, and life decisions and course corrections become elements of the object itself rather than exterior influences disruptive of its course.  The course having no destination, the course being the object of action in and of itself.

I am eternally the same self, while ever changing in my physical constitution and shifting in my psychological temperament.  What remains constant is the object by which all these things are identified.  This object is very much abstract, like an emotion, having no other physical properties than that of the body it is housed in.  So if one thing were to be the object of self, it would be the human body that I am.  However, how can I remain constant if this body changes with time.  That is why the self must remain an abstraction.  An idea.  Corporeal like love.  We can say it and contemplate on it, but self cannot be tangible just as love could not be packaged in a box.  There is a bioneurological process that creates the sense of self, but that implies that self begins and ends.  Indeed it likely does, and self is merely a message being broadcast throughout bone, blood and sinew.  And here we find the only adequate, albeit contrary, crude and insufficient analogy.  Just as you cannot bottle up a message, you know the message still exists.  The matter that makes it up is mere data, entirely useless when the value of its physical components are considered.  A song has its audible representation, but Stairway to Heaven is not on display in some walk through museum.  It remains an idea, and so similarly does the self.

The sound that is heard and interpreted to be a particular song can be replicated.  This sound is a vibration, an excitation of particles which oscillate through matter in various ways.  Could the same explanation for the occurrence of sound be comparable to how the idea of self is transmitted through my physical body?  If the code that is disseminated through the neurons, synapses, and receptors could be isolated, could it be replicated?  When we eventually make synthetic biological components, could my self be retransmitted throughout?  Every copy of a song experiences some measure of deterioration.  Thus, the replication would not be me.  Only a copy.  And still yet, the idea, the abstraction that was the original self remains free of time and space in the soup of my thoughts.

I live with myself, I experience reality in a completely subjective matter.  One which no one else will ever experience the same as I do.  This is the only self I will ever feel so I learn to be content with the sensation.  I am wanting, and so I seek out that which will cull this unrest.  But I become fulfilled in the process, calming the unrest because I learn to realize this unrest is fundamental to existing.  This is the motion of the object.  The journey becomes the destination.  And any other number of cliche’s which apply.

End philosophical mumbo jumbo.  I am an idea!