how I just couldn't bear to make the time

It's all about those pesky identity beliefs.

The patterns and fluctuations of which I have not (as recently noted) been regulating in myself with nearly the level of attention they deserve. Especially with individuals. I need to be more aware of, and work harder to sort out, residual identity beliefs that I pick up by mirroring the mental and emotional states of persons with whom I interact.

Identity beliefs come in many layers. Those most easily accessible to conscious attention are also the easiest to change. For example, social roles which can be described in words, membership in a recognizable subculture, and being a fan of things, can all be identity beliefs. Things you hold in your mind and emotional state as self-defining, things which shape the way you interact with the world outside yourself, and the world inside as well.

But the kinds of beliefs that can be named, easily described, are on the uppermost level only. Underneath are those beliefs which govern the movement of emotions and attention within the personality, which determine what kinds of perceptions are permissible for you to acknowledge consciously. Which interactions you may have with the taig and with the time--with the moods and emotions of the places and the social groups in which you find yourself. How far your sense of presence may extend beyond your skin.

A time, the mental and emotional runtime environment generated by a social group, imposes limitations on the identity configurations of persons who move within it. So for every time in which you move, your identity will take on different active characteristics. Thoughts and feelings, ways of reacting, even areas of knowledge which are perfectly comfortable to you in one time, may be all but inaccessible to you when you are present in a different time. This is normal. Unavoidable, even. The best practice, in my view, is to try to be as aware as possible of the kinds of limitations imposed by every time. Thus one is able to consider: is this time good for me? Is the expressed identity I take on when in this subculture, this workplace, this group of friends, an identity which is healthful to my mind and harmonious to the music of my soul? Or is this a time from which I should withdraw my mana--in other words, my attention, emotional commitment, and active effort?

Furthermore. You have a relationship to every time and every taig you've met. And for every thing or person with which you have a relationship, that relationship exists at a particular level of trust. Just as with an individual, a time you hold at a high trust level will alter your identity beliefs more deeply than a time you do not trust very much. And the more of your mana, your capacity to perceive and choose and care, that you extend into the time, the more profoundly its limitations will affect the rest of your identity. If your closest friends see you as a flake, you will feel like a flake all the time. Whereas if the strangers riding on a bus with you think you're obnoxious, you won't necessarily feel like an obnoxious person all the time.

Now we come back around to my blog, and why I have made it so inhospitable. An unconscious choice, especially at first. But still one with the force of many deeply held assumptions behind it, and thus worthy of careful consideration.

There are special characteristics of a time with a contributor-audience paradigm. Being limited to Blogger, in other words, primarily text-based and not real-time, severely limits the types of interactions which can occur. But in personality construction terms this is a cosmetic limitation, a limitation of form only and not substance. It is astonishing how much of one's mana can be invested in an internet social sphere, as I know to my occasional chagrin. Anyway. The contributor has power and influence over what form the group will take and what subject matters predominate, and sets the tone for the style of interpersonal politics which will be practiced. Interpersonal politics are how humans sort out pecking orders, after all, and every social group has them. (Every social group, human or otherwise, as I learned from the books of the mellifluous Robert Ardrey.)

However, the presumption of the authority to judge and to grant legitimacy rests with the audience. In many or even most cases, when a contributor's audience views their efforts favorably, the audience comes to consider themselves "fans" and in so doing, cedes the authority to grant legitimacy back to the contributor. The character of their fandom determines the nature of the authority which is then vested in the contributor. In other words, the parts of the audience members' personalities with which they indicate their approval define the extent and strength of the contributor's influence over them. This process is almost never made explicit. But it affects every person who plugs themselves in to the time--the contributor more than anyone else. To accept a position of social power within a group, it is necessary to hold the group at a high trust level. Failure to do so can destroy the group's social cohesion, or at least transform it in ways that make it less pleasant and less useful to its members.

As long as this blog is my unwieldy diary and virtually nobody reads it, then, I can cling to the illusion of transparency. I can comfort myself with the idea that some imaginary people out there in cyberspace read and approve and think I am clever and interesting. It is an illusionary comfort, but not a terribly dangerous one if used with caution. The mental equivalent of spending hours staring at yourself in a mirror, preening and imagining.

However, as soon as I actually obtain some readers, with whom I share only this time and no other, I will be made vulnerable to their judgment. The mirror will become a window. This blog already gets a lot of my mana, because it is my brainvomit station, and because so much of my understanding of my identity gets hashed out here. Once the audience-contributor reltionship became clearly defined, I'd be stuck with it. If my relationship with my audience were inimical--or worse, if I developed an audience of gormless sycophants--the time built around the social relationships on my blog would be a place I no longer wanted to be. It would turn from a comfy, messy refuge into a psychological bear trap. I'd have to metaphorically hack off a limb if I wanted to escape from it.

And if I didn't have the stones to escape, I'd be stuck with a whole mess of identity beliefs whose structure had been determined by others. By strangers on the internet who for dog-knows-what reason decided to wade through a messy, confusing blog for the pleasure of reading it.

Egads! The scary humans! Must frighten them away with growling and tangly messes!

blogging about my blog

So now I'm putting labels on posts. And in the process I am backreading myself in a more systematic way than I usually do. Something occured to me today, something that occurs to me every couple years or so.

All my posts are essentially the same.

When I was a kid I liked to keep my room messy, in part so that nobody else could find anything. A maze, whose hidden treasures were for my hands alone. When I make a new friend, it's my reflex to try and tell them my entire life story, right off the bat, just to see how they react to various things in it. A whole battery of tests, to see which mental contagions they already possess and to which they may be immune. So, too, when I keep a blog, I just dump everything out in no particular order. A smashed pinata, once full of ideas.

Never Cry Over Spilled Guts isn't just the title of my blog. It's part of my philosophy of life. My ideal would be total transparency. To be able to telepathically transmit everything I know, remember, think and feel to anyone I met who was interested. And yes, to be able to receive similar transmissions in return, if people were willing to send them. I want to be able to have total and perfect trust, or to be in such a place where I am comfortable being totally transparent even without trust.

In real life this is impracticable. For example, I can't show this blog to my mom. In posts made in the past, or even ones in the more recent present, I've said things about her which would hurt her deeply to read. Things I don't know if she would be willing to understand or forgive even with a telepathic infodump. And I couldn't have shown it to Dad, either, while he was alive. While he was alive I spent my blogtime complaining about him, and said all my nice things to his face. Now I can't say nice things to his face anymore, and the only thing I can be annoyed at him for is being dead. And I have a couple of ex-friends, or acquaintances with whom I've lost touch over the years, who would probably say I was a self-centered bastard for still coming on here and ranting about myself and my favorite random crap every day.

So with very few exceptions, I actually would want the whole world to know this much about me.

But! I have made the information much more trouble to access than it's worth by making my blog user-unfriendly. This is not just self-deprecation. I've devoted enough of my time and attention and sacred honor to various internet pursuits to know what is and is not likely to get, and keep, people's attention. This blog is the polar opposite of that. It is carefully constructed to be ugly to the eye, clunky and frustrating to navigate, and lacking in any narrative direction or topical cohesion. It is self-referential in the extreme, but without internal links, FAQ, or any other resource to guide the potentially interested passerby.

Now, why would I do this, this contradictory pattern of actions? I'm still not sure. But I have clearly been doing it for a long time, with more things than my blog, and I ought to try to understand why.

Recently I've been pondering this thought: Most people get into poetry as a way to express themselves. I got into it as a way to control myself. To impose order and structure and shape onto parts of myself I didn't recognize, trust, or like. Not much order, you understand. Just enough that I knew more or less where I was, what I was doing. Not enough to be easily explained to someone else. Not enough to turn the hedge maze into a flower garden, turn the nice-but-weirdo chick into a real cool babe who happens to know things about weird stuff.

I have to go home from work now, but I am quite sure I'll have time at work tomorrow to blog more about blogging about my blog. Or write about myself. Either way, I'll enjoy doing it. Which is as good a reason to continue as any.

the story, and who owns it

One of the things Dad did by ending his own life was to give us, his children and foster children, control of the narrative.

Let me backtrack and explain that a bit.

Social units are very fluid today. Most people will have at least three social spheres in which they move--work, family, and friends. And in many cases these three spheres will involve totally different individuals, have different standards and accepted codes of conduct, and expect different things from their members. Each person will usually have each social sphere at a different trust level, of course. For example, a person might feel totally comfortable (at gold) in their circle of friends, but still be careful to remain polite distance (steel) or even refrain from any emotional connection (glass) at work.

Two things bind together any social sphere, and I will speak of the second at greater length. The first is the actions people carry out together, and second is the narrative which gives context to those actions. The narrative may find physical form in things like the family Christmas letter, videotapes of gatherings, or in the reports and task tracking that happens in the workplace. But all of these are merely representations of the narrative to which I refer. This narrative is the shared understanding between people of what it means that they are together. The story that forms inside a person's mind, to give shape and emotional weight to the fact that they and their friends, family or co-workers share space and time and tasks. Each person carries these "stories of us" inside their personality, whether such are outwardly expressed or not--how being a member of this group defines their identity, what pride they can take on or what shame they must bear which reflects their understanding of the group as a whole.

In my earlier post I took pains to point out that self comprises two things: the ability to relate and the power to choose. I believe, further, that the personality is constructed by the use of many overlapping narratives, in the same way that buildings are made of metal and stone and wood and plastic and plaster and fiberboard. There are the stories the child tells herself, of being a daughter and sister and BFF and secret princess, the stories the young man tells himself of being a son and student and hanging-out buddy and future secret agent/president/rockstar. Every person has at least as many narratives of self as they have social spheres--plus one, the internal narrative. Which cannot be shared, unless you believe in telepathy or communication through dreams. In which case it can still only be shared for very brief moments and is usually kinda disturbing, even to people who were expecting it. We are so used to loneliness that we are startled by our own spiritual nudity when even a friend stops by.

Whenever Dad was part of a group, he bent the story. As though his very presence was so heavy that your thoughts curved around and ran back to him, even when he wasn't physically there. Everybody perceived this about him. Dog only knows how he perceived the phenomenon. I suspect that was the form his magic took. He'd studied and practiced more magic than me for longer, and I think focused more on what I call the sorcery side (evoking story-changing experiences in and for people) than on the divination side (being able to recognize what it is that's actually happening while it's happening). Though when he put his mind to divining he was no slouch, either, he had to be reminded to use it--the "put your head down and plow through the obstacles!" attitude came much more easily to him.

But I digress. Everybody wants to bend the story. (Note to self: Yes. You, too, who want to be invisible, yours is the sneakiest ambition, because you want to change the way everybody thinks and feels about everything without anyone being able to point their finger and say, "you, it was you who did that.") Everybody wanted a piece of what Dad had, or wanted him to use it a little differently than he did.

And if he'd been incapacitated, there would have been many who would come to us and say, Well, this is what the story is really all about. This is what's happening to him and what's happening to you and what it means. This is what he meant by it. There would be many who would come to us and tug at the stories we have with Dad in them, tug and pull with the best intentions they owned, to make our stories fit their stories, to make our worlds and theirs a little more alike. And if such people believed they understood Dad better than we did, understood our relationship to him better than we did, they would want us to reconsider. To redefine, to shade our perspectives with a little bit of theirs, to see Dad and all his works a little more as they saw him.

Which is not a necessarily bad thing for people to do. Hell, we all have to bring our narratives and the personalities they build into some form of congruence if we're going to live together as allies, or even friennemies.

But many things change when a person is dead. When a big fish thrashes up out of our ocean into the dog-knows-what beyond, you cannot ride in his wake anymore. Even if someone would love to say to you, "Reconsider, shade your perspective with mine, see him as I want you to see him, and all the things he said, think of them as I think of them"--now they will hesitate. People will hesitate to imply about a dead man things they would imply quite glibly about a sick man. People will not pull and tug on your perspectives of a dead man the way they would your perspectives of a man they don't see or have seen and don't approve of. They would say to themselves, if they thought of such things consciously, "He is dead; he no longer weighs on the story. I do not need to compete with him for control of the narrative, for, dying, he reliquished it. And I have all the time in the world."

In our bereavement people are especially hesitant to interpret. Hard enough to face a death that surprises--there are platitudes for that. Oh, God willed it. Oh, what a terrible accident, gone before his time. Oh, I'm sure that's not how he would have wanted it. But for a death chosen, there are no soothing platitudes to say. There is no recourse to God or randomness or the unfairness of it all. There are only the horns of a dilemma: condemn the dead, or imply one's condemnation of the living by condoning the dead?

Oh, I'm angry with him. As I would have been for him doing any stupid reckless thing while living. But I forgive him for it, too. Because I know him and I know the astonishing levels of pain of all kinds he could withstand. And if he reached a point where it was enough, well. It was beyond a point I myself could have reached, little doubt of that. And if there'd been anything any of us could have done that would actually have helped, even that proud man was desperate enough to have asked. Dayenu, as another dead man I know would have said. It is enough, let it be enough.

Odd thing is, I couldn't even think of names to name if you asked me which people I'm referring to above. But one day soon, maybe you'll have a conversation and feel a tug on a story you treasure--and if you do, remember reading this. Remember, and laugh, and say to yourself, "The more fool they, for this story belongs to me."

how to trick yourself into telling the truth, part 4: it's all about distrust

Dreamed last night.
Most parts of the action are gone. But I remember locations, indoor/outdoor shifts, relative levels of aloneness/togetherness. How bright it was, where there was vegetation, where architecture, where dinge. There are certain types of location which I've come to recognize; upper floors represent conscious mind structures, lower floors unconscious. Indoor locations tend to have to do with how my personality relates to itself; outdoor locations with how my personality relates to others. Patterns like that emerge after writing down, talking about, or otherwise being sure to remember the contents of dreams over a period of years. The longer the baseline, the more information can be gleaned. Just like with science. And other people's symbols are different. You can't use your baseline to interpret someone else's dreams. But you can use your own dream symbol set to understand your reactions to things that happen while you're awake, sometimes.

Maybe my ultimate goal on that score is to develop a map, or at least a legend, of my unconscious mind. So that upon waking or passing into lucidity, whichever comes first, I'll know exactly which parts of myself I've been visiting, and be able to deduce why. Of course this being a personality things are bound to shift; symbols change their emotional weighting, or come to refer to different aspects of reality. But when you have once mapped the structural aspects of a symbol, a change in its content is easier to detect, to track.

It occurs to me that my attitude here is not, and maybe never was, one of joyful exploration. Dreaming is not a retreat to a place of refuge, but a foray into enemy territory. A campaign of self-defense against myself, carried out in the most logical location.

I have always wrestled with my personality, as far as I remember. When I was little and would never have been able to phrase it that way, I was only aware that there were bad feelings I didn't want to feel and was afraid of. Having been taught as a child that these feelings were demons which were evil, came from outside of me, and wanted to make sure my soul went to hell made the struggle that much more grim and unrelenting. (And panicky. Though not so much of that, in recent years.) Of course plenty of the personality structures with which I wrestle did come from outside of me, but only in the sense that they were learned from or imposed by the actions and beliefs of other human beings. Once I figured this out, it seemed to confirm my attitude.

I was often counseled or encouraged based on the assumption that I had low self-esteem. While this was true, it was not complete. I've since met and talked to a lot of people with self-esteem issues, even in my short lifespan. (Birds of a feather, eh?) There is an pattern which occurs in a lot of people, which can be rendered in text as something like,
-> (shh! don't tell!) I want to like myself
-> but I want other people to like me
-> other people don't like me, they hate me
-> maybe they'll like me if I agree with them by hating myself
-> I'll show them I hate myself much more than they do
-> then they'll REALLY like me!

While I definitely contended with the above structure as well, my more central thought process ran something like:
1. My thoughts and emotions cannot be trusted; I find myself thinking and feeling things with which I do not want to agree and of which I do not want to approve.
2. Others do not approve of my thoughts and feelings either--but they object to different things than I do. Some of the things I fear, they want me to feel. And some of the things I want to feel, they fear.
3. When I act as I secretly wish to act, I am punished. When I act as I have been taught and believe I ought to act, I cause and experience shame and suffering.
4. Therefore, the judgments of others cannot be trusted, and my judgment has been molded by others to the point where it also cannot be trusted.

Whether the others involved were human beings or non-physical spiritual enemies was, as far as I was concerned, moot. Who cares if you were poisoned by a rattlesnake or by a spider? You're freaking poisoned! Who cares if Satan or your own unconscious mind that makes you feel as though you're surrounded by invisible bugs which laugh and crawl and try to panic you into rash actions? Whichever is responsible, the invisible-bug-feelings are your problem, and no one is going to help you with them.

Of course the invisible bug feelings are long gone. In my case at least, in practice, it was the very slow process of sifting through my emotional responses and accurately sourcing them which wore away the experiences, robbed them of their power to terrify, until they were only regrettable memories. The secret to success was not to pray to Jesus and have a magical light shine on me which burned away all the nasties and made me happy again forever. Never worked that way. Not once. Speaking in tongues, anointing with oil, fasting, being prayed over--you name it, it didn't work.

The few experiences I've had which approached something like that were not sought out by me, did not occur in a religious context, and provided me with a little perspective and some temporary relief. Just enough to shake myself off and get back to the hard work of hammering my personality into a shape I feel safer inside. Whoever or whatever was responsible for those experiences has earned my thanks. But they/it always seemed pretty task-oriented. Not into groveling or micromanaging, nor much interested in thanks. Like a driver in a hurry who gets out to pull aside a branch blocking the roadway: "c'mon, let's get this crap outta the way so we can get moving again!"

What worked for me, day to day, was to still my rational mind in the teeth of the fear and ask: What is this panic? To which beliefs is it bound? How did I come by this belief? To what extent could it have been accurate when I came to hold it? To what extent is it accurate now? Is it missing important parts of the truth? Then what is the rest of it?

To be fair my method has not worked as well for anyone else I've talked to as it did for me. I don't go around desiring earnestly to share my awesome advice with people anymore. True, imitating me has helped a few people a little bit, which does make me feel pretty good. And sometimes I'm able to put a new perspective on an experience for somebody, a perspective which wouldn't have been apparent to me unless I'd followed my own advice for so long. Which makes me feel great, when it happens.

But it occurs to me now, as it has before, that really my entire quest is based on this attitude of enmity. I didn't get into poetry, for example, to express myself. I did it in order to more effectively subjugate myself. To take things inside me that would otherwise be a real pain to hunt down and skewer on a sentence, and instead net them whole and kicking with a cleverly woven series of metaphors.

Which is a perfectly good reason why my method of self-change doesn't work well as a comprehensive program for other people, only as a supplement to their own personality maintenance strategies. And I could probably benefit from expanding my personality maintenance suite a bit, putting more energy into other things and less into a hunt-and-capture self-analysis based on distrust.

Now the aspect of the quest I'm working on is to overcome the habits of a lifetime and figure out in what these other things consist. And then develop enough trust in the process to actually do them!

efficient belief (or, how to trick yourself into telling the truth part 3)

The practical distinction between universal conditional suspension of disbelief (which I attempt to practice) and universal skepticism (which I reject without prejudice) is very small. In principle, as can be easily described, they are pretty much opposite:

Universal conditional suspension of disbelief is being willing to believe in anything provided you have not been personally confronted with a good reason not to believe it. The disbelief is always available, waiting in the wings so to speak. But you will not call it out unless you feel it is needed.

Universal skepticism is refraining from belief in anything unless you have been personally confronted with a reason to believe in it. Here the belief is what waits in the wings, arriving only when called for.

It all depends on the location of the burden of proof. You can think of the burden of proof like a boulder which must be rolled aside before a thing can enter. Do you put it in the path of belief, or of disbelief? Which is more conducive to mental health, which is a more efficient use of your spiritual resources--and of course, which is more fun? Making it very hard to let yourself accept, or making it very hard to let yourself reject?

How this plays out in practice is the Theory Stack. You may sometimes have heard me referring to this in conversation or here on the blog. Things like Solar Integrationism and the sock puppet theory of god are high on the stack; things like the Saurian conspiracy and King Arthur's literal return to save England from unspecified disaster are very low. The Theory Stack is in part about what I would prefer to believe, based on the emotional and mental states I can enter into when believing them. But it is also a true measure of what I believe about reality, what kind of a place I think the universe actually is. As I see it, since there are considerably more true things than can ever be known, more illuminating perspectives on a thing than anyone can possibly visit, it is better to err on the side of caution. To err by too much belief, rather than not enough.

Thus on the spectrum between those two possible endpoints, I choose to place the burden of proof more often in front of disbelief by a substantial proportion. Now, I've been pretty sure I understood the implications of this in my interactions with other sapients. On the down side, I often end up behaving in a naive way or finding it difficult to express my true feelings. I take people and situations at face value, fail to realize that someone is kidding until the joke has ceased to be funny. Or I'll find that someone's opinions are so different from my own that I can only discuss a tiny proportion of my own preferred opinions, because anything more would provoke the kind of disagreement in which they would perceive me to disbelieve things in which I'm perfectly happy to not disbelieve. On the up side, I make people comfortable, very comfortable interacting with me. Because whatever they believe, I can believe it; whatever they say, I don't doubt it; whatever they do, I think it's cool--within very wide limits. So I am perceived as trustworthy and friendly and kind and stuff. (At least, I think so. Hard to be 100% or even 80% sure vis-a-vis how others perceive onself, no?)

However, there is another downside that occurs to me now. Has probably occurred to me before, but I will talk about it now. Nyah.

Definition intermission!

I have previously (not sure if it was here, though) made the distinction between identity beliefs and reality beliefs. Yes yes, one's identity and the identities of others are a part of reality. But I think they should be categorically separated because they serve such different functions in the personality.

For purposes of personality construction the following definitions apply:
Reality is all things which in any characteristic or mode exist independent of the self.
Identity is the sum potential within the self to form relationships with beings (especially persons, groups, and valued ideas) which exist in reality, and to choose to act based upon those relationships.

YEAH. I went there.
The only essential qualities of self are the capacity to form relationships and the power to choose. All else is predicated on a relationship: the relationship to one's body, one's physical environment, one's family, one's nation. All action takes place in context--and all context is provided by relationships.

So. I have been thinking of my belief/disbelief/proof situation only in terms of reality beliefs. NOT in terms of identity beliefs. I have not been consciously attending to their transmission in the same way that I attend to the transmission of reality beliefs. At least, not as systematically and not to the same extent.

Do you see how monumentally stupid this is?

At the top of my theory stack for some time has stood the assertion I made in the Anatomy of Trust: that at silver or above operating assumptions and beliefs can be absorbed between people with little or no conscious oversight. So if my anti-unbelief strategy is causing me to treat everyone I interact with (howsoever briefly, publicly, or virtually) as silver with an asterisk, I have been absorbing identity assumptions from everyone. Like asking everyone you meet to sneeze on you in case they're sick. Or if every website in the universe had a big music file that you let upload into your temporary internet files, then closed the webpage before it started playing and never cleared the cache.

The protocols I currently have in place help me to be advertent about absorbing or not absorbing beliefs which have to do with the world outside the self. However I have been far less attentive to absorbing beliefs which relate to the interior of the self. The thing is, when you're mirroring somebody (which is how all beliefs are absorbed), your unconscious mind does all the grunt work. Waaay too much data for consciousness to be able to process and perform higher functions at the same time. So my unconscious mind (maybe yours too, who knows) generally seems not to distinguish targets of identity beliefs. If someone has fears and doubts about me or fears and doubts about themselves which they don't manifest in an obvious enough way to get my conscious mind's attention, my unconscious mind will absorb them and just mix them right in there with my own fear-and-doubt level beliefs. And once the beliefs or assumptions are in my mind, I apply them to my fears and doubts about myself, regardless who or what the original fear was pointed at. Double the negativity, double the fun!

Lately, I walk around all day having beliefs and assumptions in my mind jump up and smack me in the face and say "you suck!" Usually they come along with a recent memory of me and another person interacting, and the emotion-laden memory/impulse will be pushing an interpretation of the interaction which I know to be false and irrational. Happens to me every so often. I get in a condition where mean, nasty, self-critical thoughts like those bubble up continuously in my brain and I make myself miserable. I end up, usually, doing something crazy and self- or other-destructive to hit the reset button in my personality and clear everything out of there.

But what if these thoughts are not the results of insanity or evil, but instead of poor mental hygiene? What if I strove to be as conscious of the beliefs I temporarily adopt for the sake of interest or diplomacy on the identity side as I am on the reality side? That could mean one less thing in my brain to make me sad! I would be able to believe and emote and interact at a much higher level of emotional efficiency!

A muted huzzah, with reservations and quid pro quos. But a huzzah nonetheless.

not important

i don't have a project to distract me from these malfunctioning mental machines, to use up the bandwidth in my brain on something positive. is not an album a project? but i am not working on it as much as i feel i should be. last night dave encouraged me to play guitar, but i didn't play. i didn't. didn't feel like it or something. felt like my bad mood would make the music bad instead of the music making my bad mood better, felt stupid and embarrassed. which is totally irrational considering dave likes my music and wanted me to play. and i would have been competing with what? a house episode we'd already seen the best parts of? just didn't have enough oomph to get out of my chair and say, hey pause the tv, let's go.

so angry at myself. so angry i can't even type the word angry multiple times in a row like is sometimes therapeutic. i feel sleepy all the time even when i get a good seven hours and food and a vitamin. not excited or interested. not important.

dave said last night that i was saying things, but none of them really seemed connected to each other. a bunch of non sequitur one-liners. this was true, and here's why it was that way. because whatever i was watching or doing, inside my head there was the "greatest hits of recent embarrassment and shame" collection. i would keep thinking of every situation where i made someone uncomfortable or embarrassed, every person i could have reached out and cheered up that i failed to, every person in my life with whom i've lost contact or not contacted enough. each of which means to my emotion-reflexes that i've disappointed and failed them. so each memory is accompanied by a guilt pang the psychic equivalent of getting whacked in the face with a rolled-up newspaper, or poked in the stomach with the end of one. not a terrible or overwhelming pain, but one nearly continuous. like emotional chinese water torture.

when this happens, i will often argue with it, in the same way i argue with commercials. of course my comments would only make contextual sense if i could display the memory i was arguing with on some sort of screen, so i cut myself off after the first word. first word always seems to slip out before i can stop it. when i was a child, it was the whole first paragraph. but now i'll be sitting there, get the twitch-thwap of a bad memory self blame thing, blurt out a word, realize i've said it out loud, then convert the word into a quip or quote or reference to something.

and i've been like that for a few days. i'm tired and listless. eye contact with me becomes unnerving very quickly unless i expend effort to emote in pleasant tones. whatever is good in me, i denigrate. whatever is bad in me, i magnify. what the hell? i am running dave ragged trying to encourage me. this is not cool or fair. i should be running myself ragged trying to encourage him, dammit.

this is something i seem to do often when dave has experienced a setback or, conversely, seems about to make progress. i freak out and hog the crazy spotlight. make myself the craziest one so we can pay attention to my problems instead of his.

the things are correlated. the extent of causation is indeterminate enough where motive should not be definitively ascribed. the nature of self-hate paranoia is that any action taken or refrained from can be interpreted negatively. if i do something, such paranoia spins, it is because i was selfishly desiring to hog all the power and glory for having done it. if i refrain from doing something else, it was so i could hurt others or disappoint them by not having done it.

i need to do something. clearly. i would ask other people for help, but what can they do? what indeed is right or appropriate help to ask of others if the thing that's making me sad is inside me?

it's like my brain is an awesome college on a boat, right. and the boat sails the high seas of everything, and below decks everyone's working on crazy art and inventions and new forms of brain-weaponry and armor. but before anyone can come out on deck and bask in the sun and swim in the pool and show off their new invention or creation, they have to get past Agnes Skinner from the Simpsons.

"Seymour, I'm tired! Make them move us to the front of the line!"
"I'm not principal of the line, mother."
"And you never will be."

"Where's your restroom? Seymour needs the toilet. His bladder's full. Full of urine!"

"No driving through tunnels! You know what that symbolizes!"
"But it cuts 90 minutes off my trip--"

the stupid crow

Technology-related issues have made this my most boring day at work ever and my brain feels like a dry sponge. Bleah. At least I got a poem out of it. I'll need to sit on this one for awhile before I know if it's done. Weird that I always revise verse pieces and never edit the prose beyond grammar and spelling. Maybe I just don't take prose writing seriously. That's probably it.

you, girl! you saw a crow today.
he balanced on a lamppost arm
and screamed, "no! look the other way!"
you turned and saw the blue, the day,
clouds harrowed like a planted farm

then clambered in the bus and sat
in back. your eyes, like window glass
smoked on both sides, made dim and flat
what ever you were staring at
brow furrowed as the bus rolled past

I know what gears were grinding then
inside that mess you call a brain
you weighed your hours against your friends
they would not stretch to meet the ends
you'd link into some grand tow chain

as if we're axle-deep in snow
one big machine, stuck in a ditch
with somewhere far away to go.
you think your own two arms can tow
this thing? are you its queen? its bitch?

hell no! and no one says so here
except that constant secret shame
which whispers sweetly in your ear:
"you should, you should have made it clear--
made them all use your rules, your game."

the road's the only game in town.
you've no idea where it will go,
what bastards ran your crew aground.
so roll your smoky windows down
and listen to the stupid crow!

videogame life lessons: The Sphere Grid, or you can take it with you.

My internet at home is still out. Even though I paid AT&T on the 17th (in other words, Friday), the DSL has yet to respawn. The customer service guy told me on the phone Friday afternoon that the delete account order and my payment crossed in their computer system like ships in the night (metaphor mine), and that he'd untangle it and get me my internet back asap.


In part because of non-webness, I finished Final Fantasy X yesterday. And the ending was exactly what I had deduced it would be after having played roughly nine-tenths of the game and then quit only to start over from the beginning nearly a year later, thank you very much. Nyah. I won't spoil it on the off-chance that someone reading this might eventually have the desire to play Final Fantasy X for the PS2 themselves. I beat it with relative ease after about 108 hours of play time. I think I've read elsewhere that it is possible to beat with around 70-80hrs of play. I know I goofed around a lot amusing myself, did a few things long way around instead of taking the game-provided fast ways, and only left one side-quest incomplete. (The one on Bikanel Island.) Oh, and I refused to play blitzball, period, with the exception of having to sit through the mandatory tutorial.

There is a mandatory tutorial for virtually every aspect of the game. Most of them are necessary, to be sure. Blitzball is a completely optional mini-game after the initial introduction, so on my second attempt at the game I felt that that time was absolutely wasted. However, the tutorials on the use of the Sphere Grid, weapon customization, and the menu in general could have been even more extensive and not done a disservice. (For example, I did not know that the party's inventory of weapons can be automatically sorted via the "Sort" option under the "Items" subscreen until my second attempt. One of the major reasons I actually completed the game this time, in fact.) The Sphere Grid is a massive, labyrinthine chart on which upgrades to every attribute, skill and ability are laid out like beads on a string. Each character starts at a different location on the grid. As the characters participate in battles, their experience points earn them "sphere levels", which you, the player, can spend to advance them along various pathways. Take a character in one direction, and they will eventually become a powerful spellcaster. Take them in another direction, and they will eventually gain powerful physical attacks instead.

The key word there, as anywhere in this game, is eventually. FFX is an extremely slow game. You do not sit down to play without at least forty minutes to an hour to spend on it. Ironically, this is especially true of the first half to a third of the game, where the cut scenes are numerous, unskippable, and lengthy. But even leaving cut scenes out of consideration, save points are generally set at opposite ends of large terrains within which you will be randomly attacked by enemies every few steps. (There are a couple of ways to ease this situation, but one is very clunky to use and the other doesn't become available until near the halfway point of the game.) However, if you do have that hour, and the patience to sit through the cut scenes, I believe you will come to appreciate something about the game that I find very interesting.

The Sphere Grid, rather than the actual battles, is the central arena of gameplay in FFX. I walked through every game area to the save point at the other end, walked back to the beginning, then walked forward again, fighting monsters all the way. I did this at least once in every area except for the Omega Dungeon and Inside Sin, where I did it in smaller chunks to avoid accientally Game Over-ing and ruining all my hard work since last save. For fun? Yes, partially. For stealing? That helped break up the monotony, yes. But really, it was for the sphere levels. The most exciting parts of the game for me were calling up that enormous chart of potential powers and attributes, plotting out which ones each character was going to acquire, and figuring out how I was going to get them there. When I opened up the Level 4 Locks around the Ultima ability and "just happened" to have my two best spellcasters within a few spheres of it at the time, it gave me a bigger feeling of accomplishment than when I defeated a major area boss.

By the time I beat the game, every character had all the basic skills of at least two other characters, and some had passed all the way through another character's area and gone on to the basic skills of a third. Which was lucky for me, since it made the last couple of bosses seem like pushovers. Everybody could do pretty much everything, so no one was left in the lurch just because someone else was temporarily incapacitated.

I'm like that with any game which gives me the option. Defeating successively more impressive baddie sprites is fun, sure enough. Having a large, shiny game-world to explore and at least partially tame is a must in its own right. But a game will lose me very quickly if it can't answer me this: How can I make my people more awesome?

I think this is a universal characteristic of games. Every main character of every game is far more badass at the end than at the beginning. Perhaps, like MegaMan, they merely gain the option of using different types of guns, trampolines, and/ or sleds. Or perhaps their very appearance can radically change as they shift from one type of skills and abilities to another. Can't think of a specific example, but I'm willing to bet there are games out there where that happens. Sometimes, as in Heroes of Might and Magic, the synergy of the abilities you choose for your heroes can unlock other abilities which would otherwise not have been possible for them to learn. Even the ancient and venerable Mario can rack up an impressive collection of coins, point and lives.

There is an element, I would say, of this self-improvement theme in any videogame you can mention. I will make a further assertion, which I am going to ask my more videogame-knowledgeable friends about as well. I think that as a game's plot becomes more ambitious and its characters more complex, there is an increasing tendency for success-related upgrades to take place inside the characters, in addition to the changes taking place outside them. In other words, a more complex character will change themselves; a less complex character will only change their equipment. Carl Johnson, for example, is still formidable at the various points in the game where he is stripped of all weapons, or everything but a knife. This is because his strength, driving skill, and other attributes have increased to the point where he can re-acquire the guns and ammo more easily on his own and use them more effectively when he has them.

I think there is a life lesson in this. The universe, the most complex and deeply formulated gaming environment ever conceived, is the model which all our invented worlds strive to outdo. But artifice can only overcome one aspect of nature by incorporating others--in this case, the nature of what draws humans into a quest. We do things, and get pleasure in doing them, for the warm glow of self-mastery as much as the heady tang of just victory.

I keep wishing, I kept wishing all through the game, that there was a Sphere Grid for real people. And that if there were, I wish I could see it.

all honor to the tiny, tiny rockshitters of old

In the midst of the gruelingest week of work this place can provide. Heehee. Still not all that bad; just long hours. Like I said to Dave on the phone last night, Hey, nobody's yelling at me. Plus, what needs to be done never changes. I don't have to switch from paper wrangling to something else to something else again and then back. This is a cakewalk. Though our entire team will, it turns out, be working both Saturday and Sunday. Early and late, most likely.

Right now our house phone / internet service is cut off. Me and Dave talked it over on Monday or Tuesday (I forget which) and decided groceries were more important than internet in the short term. This evening after work I'm'a check the ATM and see if my direct deposit from last week has gone through. Thank dog for the insurance money not being gone yet. This month's rent, I mailed on Wednesday. Shoulda done it closer to the first of the month, but we'd run out of stamps and I took awhile getting around to buying more.

Last night Dave sat with me and watched most of the rest of "How the Earth Was Made", the History Channel special I'd DVR'd more than a week ago. Man, that was good. I got so excited about granite and strombolites I was dancing in my chair. The cores of the continents are granite, which is lighter than other types of rock and tended to stick up near the surface more. Then the strombolites (not sure if I'm spelling it right) coated the granite and photosynthesized like their asses were afire. They absorbed light and shat oxygen and more rock. Layer after layer, countless ages of them. They spent a billion years building the hearts of continents, cell by cell, life by life, like coral reefs building their crazy spires on the skeletons of their forebears. Dave's favorite part was the massive fifty-million-year ice age, when the continental mass (the one before Pangaea, I forget its name--started with a D) blocked the warm ocean currents and the planet froze. First the poles, then everything. "It was so shiny it froze over and got even more shiny," he said. Either my giggliness was infectious or Earth really is that cool. (Hehe. Cool, get it?) For fifty million years! Then the lava roiling underneath cracked the supercontinent apart, and the massive magma outflows melted everything again, paving the way for the Cambrian explosion of life. The graphics of the magma breaking open the crust under the ice reminded me of that awesome line from The Left Hand of Darkness:
" 'There is nothing,' says the Ice, 'but Ice.'
But that young volcano to the north has another word it thinks of saying."
Then it was all like slowed-down "Do the Evolution" footage and they started explaining stuff like how people figured out what happened to the dinosaurs and where the Grand Canyon came from. Which to us was a bit less exciting than the cataclysmic changes the early Earth went through back in deep time.

Ah, Chaos. Beautiful to a distance. Lovely to form in the mind, this vision of the manifest world as an ittybitty fingertip poking out from the mighty stream of chaos, always just emerged breathless from a fluid roil beyond order and disorder, only lightly coiled in the slippery grip of time.

But I bet it wasn't all that much fun for our distant predecessors (ancestors, whatev), doing the unicellular fighty dance for space on a rock in the hot, hot UV-rich sunshine. For me, too, there is only so much rockspace and only so much light. And to god (or gods or God or dog) what matters most is that whatever it is gets done. Not by whom, or even especially when. Just that it happens. If you are born a strombolite and decide not to spew out oxygen and shit rock, then some other strombolite does it. If you are born a door into summer and choose to stay firmly shut, then the cat will go out another door and have its nap in the pretty, kindly, ozone-protected sunshine without your help.

I'm rambling. 'S what I get for interspersing the occasional sentence with piles and piles of paper-assembling. Nuff for now.

teeth of the storm

you took a look at the wall
when you read what was written there
a slow smile turned your
white face to a skull
you'd be good, you'd be safe, you'd be hidden
you could stay warm

why hold a gun to our head
string a net cross the gate
sound the panic watch the little people
strangle themselves instead
hear the choked little whimper, the only sound
our throats can form

you only bended the rules
you only lied to the fools
you only stole from the mass
you only covered your ass
it ain't so hard to discern
just what you're willing to burn
it ain't your feet to the fire
it ain't my place to desire

the teeth of the storm, the teeth of the storm,
the teeth of the storm, ah
until the teeth of the storm, the teeth of the storm,
the teeth of the storm, ah
bite down

it ain't political to watch a debate
between the puppets of fear and the puppets of hate
ain't hypocritical to weep for the flag
what a dump, what a shame, what a waste, what a drag
I'd go for violence if you had an address
if we all knew your face, if you talked to the press
you hide behind a pile of consummate turds
who stutter every time they reach for your words

and with no hesitation they loaded your ass
with praise, adulation and cold, hard cash
and you slipped out of town in advance of the crash

the teeth of the storm, the teeth of the storm,
the teeth of the storm, ah
until the teeth of the storm, the teeth of the storm,
the teeth of the storm, ah
bite down, ah
bite down, ah
bite down


Oh, thank dog. Finally.
The chorus for that I've had for a couple of years now. Edits are certain to follow. I doubt I know enough guitar chords yet to do this bad boy justice, but I will essay it.

Many prayers of thanks go from my heart to the place the songs come from. And all those nice kitties I saw in my dream which I believe represent unwritten song-creatures. Prayers of affection to them as well and thanks for the encouragement. Thanks especially to Dave for the phrase "praise, adulation and cold, hard cash" which is what broke the dam holding this one back. Also for being way more encouraging than the kitties. When I was bummed about not having gotten the rest of this right away when that three-line thing showed up, he was like, "hey, it's something. You wrote something. Don't bitch about not having written anything, because you totally did." :D