The Strange Order of Things — A Book Review

Posted November 25, 2019 by fencer
Categories: Awareness, Book Review, Culture, mystery, Science

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

The Strange Order of Things: Life, Feeling, and the Making of Cultures, by Antonio Damasio, Pantheon Books, 2018.
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I was initially attracted to this book, coming upon it in a bookstore, just by the title.

The strange order of things well describes my own sense of the world, and experiences in it.  I’m not sure whether this book necessarily reinforces my perception of the strangeness and mystery of our lives, but it does provide another way to approach looking at life on Earth.

Strange OrderThe author, Antonio Damasio, is a professor of neuroscience, psychology and philosophy at the University of Southern California.  As that background might hint, this book is more of a work of scholarship than what would typically qualify as popular science reading material.  It is heavy going, at least for me, in many places, and seems intent on establishing the academic worth of the author’s ideas.

Homeostasis is all

The premise for all the book’s thought is the concept of “homeostasis.”  Most of us, if we remember high school biology, have a vague notion of what the term means.  Homeostasis, we were told, is about the ability of the body to maintain a stable internal environment despite changes in external, and internal, conditions.

A good example might be the actions our body takes to maintain our internal temperature of around 98.6 degrees F/37.0 degrees C.  Others could include glucose concentrations or calcium levels in the blood.  There is a narrow band of best fitness, and our body works towards those.  All of this is completely unconscious.  All animals keep themselves alive with the same mechanism.

Damasio takes the meaning and concept of homeostasis and broadens, deepens and heightens it a hundredfold on the basis of much recent scientific and philosophical work.

He then takes that omnipresent base of homeostasis and extends it eventually to human feelings, subjectivity and our consciousness, and the nature of cultures.

Damasio’s understanding of homeostasis is that it has “guided, without prior design, the selection of biological structures and mechanisms capable of not only maintaining life but also advancing the evolution of species….”

He goes on: “This conception of homeostasis, which conforms most closely to the physical, chemical, and biological evidence, is remarkably different from the conventional and impoverished conception of homeostasis that confines itself to the ‘balanced’ regulation of life’s operations.”  Our high school view of homeostasis is a narrow subset of the homeostasis Damasio is driving at.

So what exactly is Damasio’s concept?  In his view, homeostasis operated in ancient unicellular life forms back to the dawn of time, and in all the many intermediate life forms up to the present.  A nervous system, in the earliest creatures, was not necessary.  But it did require sensing and responding abilities, even down to the activity of chemical molecules in their membranes.  All in action to maintain the organism’s survival.

The homeostatic imperative

Damasio does not want to talk about maintaining the organism’s equilibrium or balance.  He wants to define homeostasis not as a neutral state but as a “homeostatic imperative” which projects and searches into the future as a basis for the organism’s well being today even on the chemical or molecular level.  Where is the best place to be to receive nutrients for that organism, for example.

Of course, for unicellular bacteria, there is no nervous system, but the evolution of life from those ancient beginnings depends, as we do, on homeostasis continuously casting about in time and space to increase the opportunities for survival of the organism. And not just bare survival, but:

“…Life is regulated within a range that is not just compatible with survival, but also conducive to flourishing, to a projection of life into the future of an organism or a species.”

In fact, for Damasio, how genes, nervous systems, consciousness, mind, feelings and culture come to exist at all is the result of the restless, unceasing activity of this homeostatic principle.  Homeostasis and life in all its forms are inseparable.

Damasio’s description of the development of the necessary nervous systems for animals to begin directly sensing and mapping their environment put me into a bemused state.

The mysterious stuff of the universe

It is as if the mysterious stuff of the universe (like the old-fashioned aether or the new-fashioned dark matter, dark energy and the little bit we know*) draws towards it the homeostatic seeking of life.  Nervous systems begin to form. They stretch out their tendrils of vision, hearing, touch, taste, smell for what that specific modality is capable of perceiving (while leaving out a vast universe of what is for the moment unknowable through those senses).

It’s a little like the fable of the elephant and the blind men, if the elephant is n-dimensional and we blindly imagine that what we see and hear, and the ideas that derive from that, must be the entire nature of things.

But I digress….  Damasio develops his line of thought about what homeostasis has wrought as follows:

— Development of the genetic apparatus is not conceivable without homeostasis
— Genetic selection is guided by homeostasis
— The first cells develop
— Multicellular organisms arrive
— Nervous systems take form which enable better sensing of the “surround”
— Mapping of the environment through the senses occurs
— The creation of “images” based on that mapping allow refined homeostasis
— The activity of feelings connect to the homeostatic regime
— Subjectivity and mind become prominent
— Social and cultural interaction become another layer

This is a list I drew up with large gaps in its sequence (some may be simultaneous) and description, but this is the drift of what I glean from the book.

The function of feelings

Damasio’s description of the function of feelings I found quite interesting, although in the book I thought it was a bit jumbled, with discussion here, and then over there.  He does devote two chapters to it, however, called Affect and The Construction of Feelings.

I find this interesting because I “feel” (there’s that word) that my life is governed more by feelings (including sensations in my body) as a mode of discernment rather than by intellectual or purely rational processes.  (It could be that’s just me though….)

“Feelings portray the organism’s interior – the state of internal organs and of internal operations – and as we have indicated, the conditions under which images of the interior get to be made set them apart from the images that portray the exterior world.”

The experience of feeling translates the condition of underlying life directly into mental terms, as bad, good or unremarkable in the background.

“Spontaneous feelings signify the overall state of life regulation as good, bad or in between.  Such feelings apprise their respective minds of the ongoing state of homeostasis.”

And such feelings eventually result in social and cultural consequences in one direction, and influence endocrine, immune and nervous systems going inward.

Damasio asks the question, why should feelings feel like anything at all, pleasant or unpleasant?  Because, he says, they make a difference. They prolong and save lives.  “Feelings conformed to the goals of the homeostatic imperative and helped implement them by making them matter mentally to their owner….”

Am I conscious?

For Damasio, evidence of consciousness (if we really need to have that) is that we each have our own perspective.  Subjectivity and integrated experience make up consciousness.  The process of subjectivity relies on the building of a perspective for images (from all the senses) and the accompaniment of the images by feelings.  There is no one place in the brain where all this occurs.

“Mental states naturally feel like something because it is advantageous for organisms to have mental states qualified by feeling.”

Moving on to homeostasis and the nature of culture, we run into a major difficulty for the success of homeostasis at that level.  Homeostasis is inherently based in the individual organism, and culture is really about how to accommodate the competing, or at least different, wants and (homeostatic) needs of each individual.

We could take look at the social insects, though, as Damasio points out.  “Their seemingly responsible, socially successful behavior is not guided by a sense of responsibility to themselves or others, or by a corpus of philosophical reflections on the condition of being an insect.  It is guided by the gravitational pull of their life regulation needs….”

But on the more human, conscious level, I can see an obvious role for the mechanisms of homeostasis in at least those arenas where “distributed cognition” might hold sway.  (The concept of distributed cognition rethinks the basic unit of cognition, expanding it beyond the skull to include the whole body, useful physical artifacts and technologies, and ultimately, groups of people.  Think of a team of people navigating a large ship.)

As is usual with my reviews, especially of books on complex subjects, I have barely skimmed the surface here of what Damasio describes, and may occasionally have simplified it beyond recognition.  There is much more to the book especially on feelings, consciousness and the nature of culture.  Those ideas and the book as a whole is well worth the time it takes to wade through the density of the text.

But let me leave it here with this final quote from Damasio from an early chapter on the human condition:

“Cultural homeostasis is merely a work in progress often undermined by periods of adversity. We might venture that the ultimate success of cultural homeostasis depends on a fragile civilizational effort aimed at reconciling different regulation goals.  This is why the calm desperation of F. Scott Fitzgerald — ‘so we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past’ — remains a prescient and appropriate way of describing the human condition.”

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*A footnote!

For some interesting articles on the current limits of what science knows about the universe:

We May Have to Wait for Post-Humans to Understand the Universe
The 18 Biggest Unsolved Mysteries in Physics
Top 10 Unsolved Mysteries of the Strange Universe

Rock Music I Play At 68 – Oct. 20, 2019

Posted October 20, 2019 by fencer
Categories: Art, CD Review, Guitar, Music, Remembering

Tags: , , , ,

Now that I’m retired, I play more music and actually listen to it.

We have a 5-CD player that shuffles the CDs and the tracks.  I dig through my collection and find five that I think I’ll want to listen to for awhile.

Then I sit back and listen to the random gifts from the player, and think why I like them.

(This may be an occasional, if I feel like it, series of blog posts.)

This time we have:

1) “Southern Accents” by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
2) “House of Ill Fame” by The Trews
3) “Action Pact” by Sloan
4) “The Singles Collection” by The Kinks
5) “The Very Best of the Electric Light Orchestra”

1) Southern Accents

This is a CD that I hadn’t heard much about, and just got recently.  Recorded 1985.

From the first track Rebels on through It Ain’t Nothing to Me to The Best of Everything, to me it’s the sound of a band creating and playing music for themselves, most of all.  That is, there is no second-guessing about what they’re playing.

Southern AccentsIn It Ain’t Nothing to Me I think we find Tom Petty’s operational philosophy.  It’s about “spare me the bullshit.”

He’s not impressed, dazzled, enthused, thrilled, chilled or chuffed by what you say.  “Might mean something to you. It ain’t nothing to me.”  It’s the sound of a necessary self-defence, making his way in the music business.

I like the Best of Everything, the last song of lost love, about a girl he knew so well and whatever happened to her:

“Yeah and it’s over before you know it / it all goes by so fast.”

The best known song on the album of course is Don’t Come Around Here No More.

2) House of Ill Fame

TrewsThis was the first album by the Trews, recorded in 2003.  They were so ambitious, so fired-up, this Canadian rock band.  Some might call them hard rock, I just hear them as an incredibly talented rock quartet.

Not Ready to Go is a favorite.  Nothing too deep in the lyrics, just going-for-it rock ‘n’ roll.  More often than not I’ll start boppin’ around when it comes on.

Likewise with When You Leave and Black Halo, catchy tunes with a lot of energy behind them make me glad the band is still around.  They’ve just released a new album, “Civilianaires.”  I’ve listened to some tracks on YouTube.  More sedate, and mature probably, after 15-16 years.

3) Action Pact

To me, Sloan is the Canadian rock band.  Based in eastern Canada, we don’t hear them as much on the west coast as we should.  They are as tuneful, hard-rocking, melodic and often thoughtful as the Beatles, the Kinks or even Cheap Trick.  One reviewer in 2004 wrote,  “Sloan has written better songs than anything The Rolling Stones have put out in 20 years.”

SloanThe band was only formed in 1991, and to date they’ve put out 12 albums.  With the same personnel!

According to Wikipedia, this 2003 album was a serious effort by the band to break into the US market, which apparently it didn’t do, although it was well-received in Canada.  The band is well-known for vowing to keep Canada as their home base.

Usually all four members share at least some of the writing. On this album the primary drummer’s input was lacking, and some reviewers claim this hurt it.  Others cite the album’s “incredibly tight vocals” and “arena-rocking songs.”

Not necessarily my favorite Sloan album, it’s a pleasure to listen to (as are all the other Sloan albums I’ve accumulated).  The tracks Gimme That, The Rest of My Life, and False Alarm stand out for me.

4) The Singles Collection

The Kinks have to be one of the most versatile sounding bands in rock history.  They moved from covering Little Richard classics and getting Motown influence from Earl Van Dyke’s band, to gritty singles like You Really Got Me to melodic pop songs like Set Me Free.

KinksMy favorites though tend to be the satirical songs like Dedicated Follower of Fashion and A Well Respected Man.  The songs in this collection date from 1964 to 1970.  They of course went on to more success after that period.

They had so many good songs, but my favorite, strangely enough, is Victoria.  When I first heard it, I was attending the University of Victoria, here in British Columbia.  The song is all about Queen Victoria, I guess, but the wonderful rhythm, singing and driving down tree-lined streets in my old red MGA convertible conflated it into the memorable tune it is for me.

The 1960s and 1970s really do seem like a different era and the Kinks exemplify that in many ways.

5) The Very Best of Electric Light Orchestra

Jeff Lynne is an underrated (in some quarters) musical genius, and the Electric Light Orchestra has been his vehicle.  Formed in 1970, Lynne became the band leader in 1972, and he and ELO are still making music until the present day.  However, ELO did disband for a time in the eighties.

ELOUntil you listen to a collection like this (on Playlist from the Epic/Legacy label in 2008), you don’t fully realize how many hits ELO have had.  (And add to that Lynne’s participation in the Travelling Wilburys, his solo albums, and all his producing credits.)

Many of the songs on this CD are nostalgic reminders of the seventies and eighties.  There are often classically influenced strings present, and rock ‘n’ roll rings out in every song.  There is often a sense of elegance and musical creativity.  Some of my favorites are Do Ya, Can’t Get It Out of My Head, Mr. Blue Sky, Hold On Tight, and of course Roll Over Beethoven.

If I ever go to an elderly sock hop, this would be the music I’d like to hear….

I always feel better after listening to ELO.

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Wonder and Otherness

Posted July 17, 2019 by fencer
Categories: Awareness, Culture, Novel, Politics, Science Fiction, Writing

Tags: , , , , , ,

This is a meditation on science fiction, on what it means to me.

Science fiction makes me think of my father. The association is among my fondest memories of him.  He would avidly bring home science fiction magazines:  Analog Science Fiction and Fact, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Galaxy Science Fiction, and If.  I think he wanted to write for them.

analog_6312

I was reading science fiction novels like a twelve-year-old house on fire anyway.  As a reader who was susceptible to the beauty of all kinds of tales, especially tall ones, I developed a keen interest in sci-fi.  Science fiction opened the world up, and not just the world, the universe.  It showed me wonder and otherness,  in different ways than I could imagine as a reasonably bright boy growing up in rural/wild British Columbia.

So my father and I came together there.

When you’re a young reader obsessed with any kind of subject, reading non-stop at every opportunity to the irritation of all around is de rigueur.

From time to time I would get so enthused I would try to write a science-fiction story myself.  I couldn’t understand why the experience of trying to write a story felt so lacklustre and unfulfilling.  Yet there was that urge to write.  Where does that come from?  And what’s it for?

I went back to reading for enjoyment, admiring the prodigious talents of Ursula Le Guin, Robert Silverberg, John Brunner, Clifford Simak, Theodore Sturgeon, Philip K. Dick, James Blish and so many others.

By the time I got to university, the decline but not yet the fall of my science fiction obsession rolled on.  Then I got more interested in non-fiction subjects. Once I got back to enjoyment reading, I preferred to read modern thrillers and detective stories.

And the culture changed too.  Eventually, the really cool science fiction was on the big screen. A book needed to inspire a movie.

But novels like Stranger In A Strange Land by Robert Heinlein, and dipping a toe (maybe more like a whole leg) in fantasy, Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings still stirred me as I entered my twenties.

If-low-resWe are all strangers in a strange land, are we not?  Heinlein’s book described a human named Valentine Michael Smith raised on Mars by Martians.  He must adapt to the culture he finds here on Earth.  In a way it reminds me of the book and movie, The Man Who Fell to Earth, of an extraterrestrial corrupted by the earth-bound existence he drops into.

But in Heinlein’s work, the stranger begins to demonstrate psychic abilities and unusual intelligence, coupled with a childlike naïveté. He understands, believes that “all that groks is God.”

And what is “grok?”  In the 1991 uncut version (released by Heinlein’s widow), ‘grok’ wasn’t explained for much of the book.  It seems to mean an understanding so thorough that the observer becomes a part of the observed.  For the counterculture of the day, a word was welcomed that captured breakdown of the subject-object distinction.  Although “breakdown” implies something falling apart.

The word takes on more the meaning of a coming together of subject and object that can’t always be articulated.

In any case, along with the overwhelming quest story of the Lord of the Rings with its ethical and moral themes, these two books (I read the Rings in the first single combined volume) symbolized the true interest of my mental life more than my course of studies in university about psychology.  As understood by watching white rats very closely.

What about otherness?  I just learned a new word for that: alterity.  (We may not be any further ahead in our understanding, but at least we have a more intellectually acceptable term.)

An  interesting academic article by Isabella Herman, Boundaries and Otherness in Science Fiction: We Cannot Escape the Human Condition, concludes that “we always were and always will be concerned about the other beyond the known border.”  She looks at four modern dystopian science-fiction films, asserting that science fiction is inherently political. Science fiction is engaged in thought experiments about our current human situations.  Politics necessarily applies.

For example, although Herman does describe the movie District 9 in terms of alien otherness, which is what I’m most interested in, she restricts her discussion more to the depicted extreme image of the aliens and associated political dimensions in an alternative South Africa.

To be honest, I’m not quite sure what this “otherness” is that I’m trying to get at.  It’s not only about “aliens” but encounters with a mysterious universe while confined to a tiny, tiny corner of it.

Writer Gregory Benford says: “Rendering the alien, making the reader experience it, is the crucial contribution of SF.”

alien

In an intriguing article (despite its academic jargon) by Carl Malmgren, Self and Other in SF: Alien Encounters , the author mentions two directions for critics of portrayed ideas of alien encounter.  One is that whatever form the alien takes in sci-fi, it can never be really alien (or other).  However such writers as Benford distinguish between “anthropocentric” and “unknowable” aliens: the former consist of “exaggerations of human traits”; the latter, alien at the “most basic level,” partake of an “essential strangeness.”

(The second direction of criticism is about the relationship between the human and the alien.  The article cites the SF writer Stanislaw Lem criticizing the common simplistic portrayal of this relationship as Us vs. Them.)

The core of what attracts me to science fiction is the portrayal of essential strangeness.  It can really only occur through a sense of wonder, rooted in our world here today.  And projected through the kaleidoscope of whatever imagination the writer can bring to bear.

As I prepare the final draft of the science fiction novel I’ve worked on for a long time, I think on these things.

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Links to articles about sci-fi otherness, and other posts here bearing on science fiction.

There are online a number of articles (often academic criticism) about the notion of otherness in science fiction.  Here are a few:

Science Fiction and Alterity

A New Science Fiction to Understand What is Coming     This one is especially interesting.

The Transcultural Site: Interpersonal Encounters with Otherness in Lessing, Le Guin and Battlestar Galactica

Some of my posts related to science fiction (especially trying to write the darn stuff):

Why Science Fiction?

Hunting For A Science Fiction Story

Subversive Fiction

An Imaginary Song About Running

Posted June 11, 2019 by fencer
Categories: Art, Culture, Music, Writing

Tags: , , , , , , ,

At 68, I’m in a slightly Dadaist or surrealist frame of mind.

I tried to help a friend with creative fuel for some song lyrics.  As part of that I ended up listing phrases about the subject at hand: running.  Later I had the mischievous thought that the list itself could be lyrical.  I’ve read a lot of song lyrics over the years.  I don’t think it’s so farfetched, compared to some.  So, for an imaginary song about running:

Running wild
Running crazy
Running on fumes
Running for joy
Long run

Run out, something has…
Run for cover
Run a tight ship

Running around
Like a headless chicken
Run amok
Learn to walk before you run

Dry run
Run out of steam
On your mark
Run neck and neck
Pass the baton

Rat race
A run on the bank

Running with scissors
Run DMC

Home run
Run the bases
Run around (Run Around Sue!)

*

Of course, I forget to list as a phrase the title of perhaps the greatest song about running ever, Born to Run: “Strap your hands ‘cross my engines….”

Well, maybe this effort is not so great, but I still like the hint of rhythm at the end.

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Presentation of Self Using Text Generated by “The Generator Blog”

Posted May 1, 2019 by fencer
Categories: Art, Culture, Internet, Martial arts, Music, Writing

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

I went back to The Generator Blog linked to in one of my posts, Hunting for A Science Fiction Story, to see if it was still there.  It is, but last updated in 2013.  Which is a shame, but the site still has links to many working and amusing textual and imagistic “generators”.

I thought it would be fun and absurdist to make a post out of the site’s output.  I won’t always put the name of each generator, but you’d be able to figure it out if you took a look at the website.

Let us begin:

Artist’s Statement:  My work explores the relationship between multiculturalism and life as performance. With influences as diverse as Derrida and John Cage, new synergies are manufactured from both mundane and transcendant narratives.

Ever since I was a pre-adolescent I have been fascinated by the unrelenting divergence of the zeitgeist. What starts out as vision soon becomes finessed into a carnival of temptation, leaving only a sense of failing and the dawn of a new reality.

As shimmering derivatives become clarified through frantic and diverse practice, the viewer is left with an insight into the outposts of our existence.

*          *          *
A song dedicated to the song writer in all of us:

Soul Wolves

Verse 1:

Game is in your hands.
He led my mother
The ceiling is invisible
Yeah, I’m gonna take you for a feel good meal

Chorus:

Have you got a fine place to slip to
Let’s go moon some cars
Looking through a broken diamond
Never pawned my watch and chain

Verse 2:

Acid casualty with a repossessed car
Hairy fairies spinning the golden looms
Reap the reward
Who’s gonna answer

Chorus:

Have you got a fine place to slip to
Let’s go moon some cars
Looking through a broken diamond
Never pawned my watch and chain

Bridge:

And I am not a bone
Like a voodoo curse in an old lady’s purse
One by one
The demons just came through the window

Verse 3:

[repeated]
A thousand miles away from home
Dead right
Make notes, burn like broken equipment

Chorus:

Have you got a fine place to slip to
Let’s go moon some cars
Looking through a broken diamond
Never pawned my watch and chain

Have you got a fine place to slip to
Let’s go moon some cars
Looking through a broken diamond
Never pawned my watch and chain

Please, let us go moon some cars.  I like that line.

*          *          *

Anthropomorphic Personification Plot Generator

Truth finds himself stranded in a bird sanctuary in the form of a man. The experience is changing him.

Can he escape before the transformation is irreversible, and will he even want to?

*          *          *

Kung Fu Movie Script – Scene One

SCENE ONE – STUDENT MEETS MASTER

INSIDE MASTER PONG’S ONE-ROOM COTTAGE – EARLY MORNING

Master Pong stands in the center of the room, facing Student. Student stands shyly in the corner near the door.

MASTER
You are the new student. Come closer.

Student walks to master, does a double-take as he notices that master has no elbow.

STUDENT
You cannot see!

MASTER
You think I cannot see.

STUDENT
I cannot imagine living in such darkness.

MASTER
Ah, but fear is the only darkness. Also, you forget, I live in North Vancouver. Now… take your octopus and strike me with it.
Student hesitates.

MASTER
Do as I tell you – strike!
Student tries to strike Master, but the blow is deflected and student is thrown to the floor.

MASTER
Never assume because a man has no elbow that he cannot see. Close your eyes. What do you hear?
Student closes his eyes, pauses with concentration before answering.

STUDENT
I hear English Bay, I hear firecrackers.

MASTER
Do you hear your own nose?

STUDENT
No.

MASTER
Do you hear the balloon which is at your feet?
Student opens his eyes and sees the balloon on the floor.

STUDENT
Old man, how is it that you hear these things?

MASTER
Young man, how is it that you do not?
Student looks pensive.

MASTER
Now, we will commence your battle training. Go to the weapons closet and choose an item.
Student walks to the closet, grabs the cutting board and rejoins master. Master holds a kitchen whisk.

MASTER
Ah ha… you’ve chosen the cutting board. Excellent choice.

They bow and begin to fight. Master easily defeats student several times. Student is thrown to the floor and injures his chin. He rubs it to ease the pain. Master laughs while student has a look of hope.

MASTER
Arise slightly, young frog, and brush the indignity off of your vest.
Student does so.

MASTER
You fought blindly, frog. A geezer nerd could’ve beaten you.

STUDENT
Yes, Master Pong, forgive me.

MASTER
Forgive yourself, you have suffered for it. What is the cause of your anger?

STUDENT
It is anger at Stephen Colbert.

MASTER
Yes, but what is the reason?

STUDENT
For being nasty.

MASTER
Ah. And when did you discover this?

STUDENT
About 1 hour ago when Stephen Colbert and I were attacked by 11 big bullies at Walmart. I was struck first. And Stephen Colbert, out of fear, did nothing to help me.

MASTER
You were only two against 11 larger than yourself. What do you think Stephen Colbert should’ve done?

STUDENT
Fought back and tried to help me.

MASTER
Yes, frog, that would’ve been heroic.

STUDENT
You agree, then, that Stephen Colbert was nasty.

MASTER
The body is nasty when it understands its weakness. The body is remarkable when it understands its strength. The cheetah and the squirrel march together within every man. So to call one man nasty and another remarkable merely serves to indicate the possibilities of their achieving the opposite.

Student looks confused as scene fades to black.

You may now imagine the rest of the movie.

*          *          *

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Making Some Music With Guitar

Posted March 28, 2019 by fencer
Categories: Art, Guitar, Internet, Music, Writing

Tags: , , , , , , ,

This follows on the same path of trying to learn electric guitar as chronicled in previous posts like The Aging Learning Guitarist Keeps On, The Impatience of Learning Guitar, and On the Need to Make Music.

I can now link to a YouTube playlist of guitar music I’ve recorded.  (All due to the guy who I take lessons from and who puts the tracks together – Eddy Bugnut, music producer extraordinaire, at Bugnut Records: Mixing – Production – Songwriting.)

There’s four music videos there now, with some more to come.  I’m not quite sure what to make of them.  A great opportunity to show off to friends and relatives, I guess, as well as to hapless blog readers.  I like them, which is better than the opposite.

The one I’m happiest about right now is Take the High Road.  I’m flabbergasted that it rocks. It actually rocks. That I played it is totally amazing to me.  (Well, with the aid of some skillful editing here and there.)

I’m really interested in hearing how one of the next — Watching the Watchtower — turns out.  It’s not up yet.  That’s the title we’ve put on a shortened version of Jimi Hendrix’s All Along the Watchtower.  Sacrilege, I know.  It’s shortened because I couldn’t quite manage some of the more difficult speedy finger-twisting lead parts.  It’s different enough from the original to have a related name.  Anyway, it still is powerful to me what we’ve done, how Eddy’s put it together.  He’s making the rhythm guitar sound so good, along with the sound in general.

Besides that, another video is an actual original tune, if you can imagine, and a couple more videos of cover tunes after that.  It’s fun to participate in helping them come together.

OK, enough fun.  Time to get back to work on the writing….

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A Few Notes On Getting Creative With Writing

Posted March 16, 2019 by fencer
Categories: Art, Awareness, mystery, Novel, Science Fiction, Writing

Tags: , , , , ,

Here are a few notes to myself about creative writing.  Gathered from many places!

—  If you want a creative scene, dialog or description, put two or more disparate elements (characters, scenery, moods) together.  Make them as unlikely and interesting as possible. Beware ridiculousness.  Have it make sense.

— People often belie their names or labels or concepts about themselves.  They’re not quite what they’ve been categorized as.  It’s fun to try to show that.

— Describing one thing vividly can be more effective than describing an entire room.  Or civilization.

— Try to look at the world, and especially your loved ones, with wonder.  And then at yourself.

— Story as change, not just conflict.  Thank you, Ursula Le Guin.

Our interest’s on the dangerous edge of things
The honest thief, the tender murderer,
The superstitious atheist, demirep*
That loves and saves her soul in new French books —
We watch while these in equilibrium keep
The giddy line midway: one step aside
They’re classed and done with.
— Robert Browning

* a woman whose chastity is considered doubtful; an adventuress.  I think these are elegant ways to put it.

— But you may be sitting at your computer, or dipping your quill into the inkwell, and yet even with that sneezable amount of writing to do, you’re still feeling a little stuck or fretful.  You lack faith.  Having an inspirational book on writing beside you to browse for a minute or two is good then.

It is the writer’s openness to the ambiguity and uncertainty of any experience (even the experience of determination and certainty) which gives clarity, and thus a kind of certitude, to his writing. — John Bergen

— At the end, our hero is sunk so low in his voyage of revenge — a change of heart is his only possible way forward.

— There are aliens, or at least alien artifacts, in this story. How can one portray the really alien? I haven’t figured that one out yet — or I should say, I haven’t discovered what it might be. Giant ants or robots with laser eyes are so… human.

Springsteen sings like a man intent on opening his heart.  In this way he is an inspiring figure.

— Every character has some kind of armor, perhaps manifested in physical form that the character feels safe inside — a role or symbol or self-presentation that the character relies on, like say a doctor’s white coat or a stripper’s lack of clothes.  This becomes highly limiting.  And then to make it more complicated, occasionally putting the armor on is the right thing to do.

We live immersed in narrative, recounting and reassessing the meaning of our past actions, anticipating the outcome of our future projects, situating ourselves at the intersection of several stories not yet completed.
— Peter Brooks

— The tasks of this second draft I think will be to carefully remove the indistinct and to sharpen turns of the characters and to tighten the chains of causation between them. Make the future world more interesting and strange, yet plausible. Make the story better. Don’t die before it gets published….

— Thwarted needs turn into neediness, even if only on a subliminal or subconscious level.

— Texture of air.

— Emotions can often be more effectively described by showing the restraint of them.

— Each character’s little vanities about themselves or what they do, little prideful things.

— “Kenning.”  A kenning is a different name for a thing — so the sun becomes a day-star.

Clifton Fadiman on a book by Hemingway:
It is written with only one prejudice — a prejudice in favor of the common human being.  But that is a prejudice not easy to arrive at and which only major writers can movingly express.

— Write just enough setting detail to get in the scene with the character.

— It really requires getting in the scene with characters, as if in some battle arena where you, incorporeal, closely observe the goings on without fear of a knife in the ribs. One or two, or more, specific sensual descriptions in the scene can do so much. Being in the scene imaginatively with the characters facilitates that.

— I’ve realized that a lot of what makes satisfactory writing is developing emotional resonances for the characters and for the meaning of the story. I have a long way to go with this.

— I’ve come to understand how obsessed with story I am, just like everyone else in the world as we distract ourselves through film and music and books. Occasionally we discover real meaning through story. For us who want to write creatively, this obsession becomes more conscious, and in its compelling way, comes to capture our thoughts. We want to make stories that can speak in the same way that others have moved us, at the height of the best story-telling.

Being certain about any aspect of our story limits us. Let’s trust that the story lives fully within us, and that something valid wants to be expressed. There’s an experience far more empowering than certainty, and that is a faith in the fundamental truth of our story, a growing belief that it is not necessary to force anything, but rather to inquire into the nature of what we want to express.
— Alan Watt

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