Thursday, April 24, 2014

Rejection and Harry Potter

I'm recieving job and ms. rejections at the rate of about 2/day. When I've told other writers that I submitted BA they all reminded me not to get down about rejections. It a funny thing because I said 'Yeah, no rejection isn't a problem' and you always hear about these great authors who had their novels rejected by fifty or a hundred presses before hitting one and then getting it big. Rejection is an insidious thing though. I get the e-mail, log the rejection, shrug it off, look at how many more active submissions I have but it takes a deeper toll. A thing that lasts sort of a long time. And it compounds too in a way that is really really hard to shake.

After getting two ms. rejections and a job rejection yesterday I watched Harry Potter three in the afternoon. The weather is shit here so we just stayed inside and watched Harry Potter. I laughed my ass off. The movie was great. Plus J. K. Rowling's plotting is so tight. Obviously this was filmed off of the screenplay but still... I haven't read one of the HP books in years but she has this subtle genius. Her names are brilliant: Muggle, Dumbledore, Hagrid. There are so perfect, like this mix of British/Scottish but also something else (the magical culture there). She has this perfect imagination that straddles that incredibly thin line between the familiar world and this other world that is something like mythologies that we are familiar with but also totally new. It's like she is somehow forging ahead with new material while jumping off of these mythologies and tropes and ideas that have been present in western culture for centuries. One thing that really struck me was having the hippogriff bow. I guess I'm not totally sure that this has never been done before but honestly: I know nothing about hippogriffs--I think I've seen drawings of hippogriffs two or three times in my life--and yet having this trait, this sort of pride, this mix of animalistic fear with the need for respect seemed to fit so perfectly as to be invisible. It's like J.K. Rowling is able to tap into the soruce material of these minor tropes and extract the heart of them, lift the idea up by its bootstraps, expand it out from its own heart. It is really pretty amazing.

I'm reading Wittgenstien's Philosophical Investigations right now. I haven't read too much philosophy, a little Nietzsche, a little Schopenhauer this primer on Metaphysics. Honestly more often than not I got bored or confused to the point of finding it unreadable. The insights were generally pretty sparse and rarely made up for the sheer confusion. PI on the other hand in confusing but engaging. I can just sort of scan page after page and feel okay not getting everything 100% percent. Witt. sort of restates things over and over again at different levels of depth or from slightly different angles so that you can get a general idea of what he is talking about on the first go without worrying about all the facets and details. Really his basic ideas are so simply and intuitive too. Plus he rarely if ever relies on obscure or unusual words or phrasings (obviously...). I'm already looking forward to reading it again. It definitely seems like the sort of work that you get more and more form each time you read it. He seems like he would have been a cool guy too. Unpretentious. Kind of kindly calling bullshit on everyone else. Kind of pointing at the moon, as it were.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

About MH370

This lost plane enjoyed a particularly long stay on the news cycle. Even if it had been found off the coast of Australia a day or two after it had been lost the speculation as to why it had gone so far off course would have only lasted a week at most and then only on the dusty and seldom trodden 'southeast asian news' pages of the major news sites. While it is certainly a thought provoking and tragic story there seems to be something deep lurking here. While civil unrest in Venezuela went almost unreported and the action in the Ukraine took a back seat the world was gripped for a time in a frenzy over this lost plane. And perhaps sadly not because of the loss of two hundred lives, or the strange political dynamics. At least on the news I read the stories shied away from too much theorizing or analysis and relied heavily on the story of the technology used to track and locate the plane. Particularly the failure of these technologies. One long running headline on the BBC was something along the lines of 'How can a plane just disappear?'

I think the beautiful thing about this whole story, about the whole event really, including all of the people watching and the wonks working overtime and the analysis of signals to the end of the world is that it represents sort of the first major scale event where the steady, stochastic machinations of reality have punctured a significant whole in the web of technology that we have been weaving around ourselves. For the past ten, twenty, fifty, hundred years the international consciousness has been so caught up in the increasing abilities and reach of technology (people were outraged, yes, but not particularly surprised at the revelation a year ago that the NSA was having a hard time finding information it couldn't track and store) the weave of networks and connections that grow tighter and tighter by the day, that catch more and finer events in its electric claws that this event, the apparent disappearance of an entire everbeeping, radio-reflective airliner, seemed impossible. True there was sadness from the families of those lost on the place but you saw more shock and disbelief from the world at large. The confusion of 'How could something that big, something that well connected just disappear?' We have been steadily shrinking the world and placing our markers on more and more objects that this one has seemingly fallen into the last furious blackhole of the world. The last empty space left in our world of absolute connection.

Friday, April 11, 2014

The Problem

The problem with the future is that it is uncertain. I find it nearly impossible to confidently choose a path because there is no way to tell whether it will be fruitful or a bust, enjoyable or a drag. One can work incredibly hard to achieve something, hate the work, live out dozens of years in turmoil and angst and frustration then 'achieve' their goal and find themselves no further than they started. Life is so axiomatically full of failure that ambivalence (and I say this partly joking, partly serious) seems to be the best possible course. At least one can hope that the world will lead them to a decent place (I like to think of it was the lowest energy spot, like a round rock resting carefully at the bottom of a pit) and that personal interests and half-formed ideas and naive notions won't push one off into some terrible and bizarre place. Plus if you leave things up to chance you can at least blame fate and not just yourself.

I'm at this place in my life right now where I have worked fairly hard to get to a 'desirable place', where I can theoretically get a well paying and probably stable job in challenging area but I could also get one of these jobs and end up way over my head, totally miserable and laid off within six months or a year. This is the thing. I just have no way to tell. I could, too, take a radical tack: pursue writing unremittingly and end up in an unheated shack somewhere, alone and destitute and--more likely than not--not even producing any work. This might come off as dramatic but it seems like the two most likely positions for me. There is, of course, a path in the middle but this is more like a greyscale of possible paths, a range or area of gradations that are generally unsavory.

The problem with the future is its possibilities. Knowing that the future will have a definite outcome and yet this outcome is impossible to perceive or even guess accurately. It's like this hidden box with a million possible ants and a million possible butterflies and you are supposed to stick your hand in and just grab one.

Who knows.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Enemy

Enemy is a new film starring Jake Gyllenhaal as Jake Gyllenhaal and JakeGyllenhaal as Ryan Gosling (co starring a giant tarantula as Jake Gyllenhaal.

 No but seriously this movie is fucking sweet.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Astrology is a huge load of bullshit

      I always assumed that the only people who were actually into astrology were teenage girls reading through teenage girl magazines and old ladies with vastly too much time on my hands. Within the last couple of years I have had a number of friends who have gotten into astrology at a range of depths from the sort of easy confirmations like "of course X did Y, they are a Saggitarius" to making pretty big life decisions based on their or other's signs. I've never been very interested in astrology and I feel like it has only been withing the last four or five years that I have even heard people mention it seriously.
       I cannot fucking stand it.
       There have been a few times that friends have had long, one sided conversations with me about astrology. I usually just listened to them and nodded. As far as I know people are just making these sorts of statements up as they go along (things like 'first X did Y because mercury was in retrograde but then did Z because Jupiter was in the house of cancer) and these baldfaced proclamations meant absolutely nothing to me. The friendships meant more to me than stating my case and I figure there are plenty of times where I ramble on about topics that someone else finds totally boring and pointless. Once or twice I have tried to have a conversation about astrology but usually just end up giving a winding lecture on the basics of empirical thinking that confuse even me.
       I decided then to write this out, three points as to why I think astrology is a totally useless system that-in the end-probably does more harm than good. I'm trained as a scientist and will take a decidedly scientific tack. If this turns someone off I simply want to point to the observation that essentially every discovery that has occurred and every new understanding that has been reached withing the last two to three hundred years has been via the scientific method (and luck) and, when used appropriately the tenets of scientific thought are the single most useful way to understand the natural world of which we currently know.
      I am going to go from what I think are the least important to the most important reasons reasons astrology is flawed:

        There is no widely agreed upon method by which the movement of the plants influences human behavior. I'm unsure how this could be made any more simple. I have seen some mention of vibrations, while others stick to the nominally more believable phenomenon of 'long term cycles', but still there must be some steadfast and falsifiable way or reason as to why the planets interact with us on such an intimate level. I have seen evidence that certain biological patterns adhere to the cycles of the moon and I can take these as true, but beyond this any mechanism (this mechanism which would be central to astrology, I should think) is simply ignored or vaguely described.

       Astrology differs widely between cultures. While most people that I know now follow the standard twelve sign method of astrology throughout time there have been dozens of forms of astrology, most of them mutually exclusive in their methods, systems and findings. If astrology offered some sort of objective method of examining the world, or of gaining insight into human nature there would have to have been some similarities between the egyptian and the incan and the chinese and the modern systems. As far as I am aware the differences greatly outweigh the similaries.
 
      Most destructively: astrology causes us to make assumptions and judgements about ourselves and others which are unjustified. The majority of friends I have who adhere to astrology use it as a way to put people into categories. As a method to discern character traits and behaviors. This is, I think, no different than  making broad character judgments based off of skin color or religion or nationality. We are inborn with a tendency to make frameworks based off the information we have about all things, especially people. When these assumptions are confirmed (when we see a black person being inarticulate or a white person who is wealthy or a rude Israeli or a leo acting like a leo) we strengthen out belief in our system. When our assumptions are broken (we see a black person become president or a white person being inarticulate or a compassionate israeli or a leo acting like a Sagittarius) we ignore these behaviors or compartmentalize them as minor exclusions to the framework. Astrology is simply another form of this behavior and one with absolutely no basis in reality. It allows one to focus on the similarities (a very easy thing to do) and ignore the differences and complexities between people (a more difficult but vastly more accurate way of considering people). Not to mention that human personality is very dependent on context, surroundings and situation. Someone who is forceful in one situation may very well be timid in another, one relationship may work at one age while not at another. Astrology glosses over these key differences, attempting to make the world a more palatable and easy place to understand while simply providing facile and general observations.

      I'd love someone to refute these points.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

A piece from a new novel

Maybe not part of the novel itself but more of a credo or thesis.


Is it not wrong to say that we are forever in a deep winter of desire?
            All any of us want is someone to love us, to truly love us in spite of anything.
            And yet it is as if the world is, at all points, dragging us apart and constructing obstacles in front of love.

            There is no original thought.
            This is a hard realization for me to make, that nothing I create is truly original.
            Perhaps it is better said: that all truly great things are spoken from the mouths of millions.
            In fact mundane works all too often seem relegated to be understood by only the person that created it.
But this is comforting somewhat. It is like by striving toward greatness I strive toward joining a chorus, joining a corpus in a dramatic and spiritual sense, of great thinking, and great thinkers. It is like striving toward your true family.

Striving toward a great love.