Tell ‘Em, Ishmael

Just a quick quote from Moby Dick (which is fucking great, by the way).  We’ll leave it mostly at that, because there aren’t really words to express how much I like this excerpt anyway:

“Methinks we have hugely mistaken this matter of Life and Death.  Methinks that what they call my shadow here on earth is my true substance.  Methinks that in looking at things spiritual, we are too much like oysters observing the sun through the water, and thinking that thick water the thinnest of air.  Methinks my body is but the less of my better being.  In fact take my body who will, take it I say, it is not me.  And therefore three cheers for Nantucket; and come a stove boat and stove body when they will, for stave my soul, Jove himself cannot.”

Oh, and this, so you’re not going “WTF is a stove boat?” like I was (bolding is mine):

stave  (stv)

v.tr.

1. To break in or puncture the staves of.

2. To break or smash a hole in.

3. To crush or smash inward.

 

Oh, the verbduh.  So, stove in as by a whale.  A big, mean mythically huge white sperm whale.  If that should strike you as unrealistic, read this.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the kind of writing that makes a novel immortal.  Book Report to (II) follow.

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Bulls: They Don’t Care About The Children

So, apparently WordPress has these daily prompt things.  This guy I follow, a Buddhist guy who is doubtlessly far more disciplined in his meditation than I am, took the opportunity to relate an anecdote about a face to face encounter with a berry loving bear that made me recall a similar story from my own youth.

I wanted to make that into a pun so bad.  Also, it was the writing prompt from three days ago (fight or flight experiences), so I’m late.  But then I’m still writing up a story about the bat me and my coworkers rescued back on Halloween, so it could be much worse.

Imagine that I’m nine or ten or so; it’s easy, I’ve changed so little since then.  Myself, my brother and our friend are playing at said friend’s house in a cozy little semi-rural community with a pasture out back containing a few head of cattle.  Such sideline ranches were and are pretty common in such places.  We kinda weren’t supposed to be playing in said pasture, but we did all the time to no ill effect.  There was also a treehouse toward the back of the pasture, so there were mixed messages at play.

As we all also know, children have to urinate every thirty seconds, so I went inside, did so and came back out and found that my friends had moved on elsewhere while I was gone.  Slightly annoyed and figuring they were out in the pasture, I set about looking for them.

I crossed the cattle guardfor those who don’t know, it’s a shallow pit across the gate leading into a pasture with big thick tubing laid in parallel across it; people can walk across it, trucks can drive over it, but cattle won’t traverse it – looked across the pasture, still couldn’t see anyone.  There were a couple of storage sheds on the left a little ways down, but I didn’t figure they were in there.  We weren’t supposed to play in those either, only we actually didn’t, being that the very same implements that are proficient in doing farmey ranchey type things are also proficient in maiming children.  Also, they were locked.  Seeing as how I had a clear view of the entire pasture, and knowing they wouldn’t be in the storage sheds, I concluded that they had to be in the wide alley between them.

So off I went, calling out, and thus when I rounded the corner and entered the alley, the massive, angry bull at the end of it knew I was coming.  Worse, it was a dead-end alley, so I’d inadvertently cornered it.  You can’t really describe what this feels like; in fact, for a few eternal seconds it doesn’t really feel like anything.  My brain seemed to resist accepting that there was a bull looming there, as if it were a trick of the sunlight and it was really my two companions, one standing on the other’s shoulders, making little bull horns atop his head with his fingers.  The one thought I did have was little more than bemusement with the fact that antagonistic bulls really do lower their heads to point their horns at you and snort and stamp at the ground just like in the cartoons.

It stamped again, harder, and shifted its weight as if it were preparing to move, quickly, so my survival instincts decided this impromptu musing was unacceptable, locked me out of my own brain, and then I was running.  I just sort of went along, watching the grass pass behind me and marvelling at how automatic it all was.  Nothing I felt even casually resembled fear in the classical sense until I noticed first the tremors in the ground, then the rumbling behind me and realized it was chasing me.

That sounds bad, but consider:  I was like ten years old.  He obviously just wanted out of that alley when he saw his exit blocked, else I wouldn’t be here typing this.  Bulls can run up to twenty miles per hour, and adult humans tend to do about eight, and short, chubby ten year old legs must be considerably slower.  If not for the fight/flight override, maybe I would have heard it slow down or stop, or maybe I would have recalled that I was tiny and it was huge, and thus, as a threat, it probably didn’t really take me all that seriously.  As such, I’m forced to conclude that it merely wanted to terrify me senseless, a task at which it unquestionably succeeded.  Really, the way the ground shook when he ran was surreal, and I think it helped with the disconnect I experienced despite those tremors being easily the scariest thing about the whole experience.  Feeling that, there was no question how heavy and powerful that animal was.

That said, there was ample reason to assume it meant to trample me.  To those with little experience being around cattle, it’s hard to adequately explain how incredibly bad tempered bulls can be.  Consider that while all the other animals on the ranch are being fattened, milked, shorn, etc., the only thing the bulls are “asked” to do is literally be sex machines, and that’s not so much a question of asking as it is a you-really-don’t-want-to-try-to-dissuade-him sort of thing.  You don’t want to dissuade him because he weighs 2700 pounds on average, most of it muscle and arrogance, and is accustomed to every single entity he comes across being extremely deferent, even its owners.  They are just a soft, hornless little sticks to be broken in its eyes, make no mistake.  A friend of mine owns a bull with particular infamy among the bull riding crowd, and he has to sneak into his own pasture to feed the thing, because despite having owned this bull for years now, it will attempt to run him out if it sees him.  That guy’s an ex-bull rider himself, and you know why?  Because after he was bucked from his last ride, the bull, having successfully divested his rider and calmed himself down, idly stepped on my friend’s head and accidentally fractured his skull.  They are powerful, temperamental, territorial animals not trifled with even by those with much experience handling them.

If I’d had a cape with an anvil hidden behind it, things would have gone down very, very differently.

Not a bit of any of that passed through my head then; it was all running, and then sprinting, and whole bunch of ohgodohgodohgodohgodohgod, so I had no idea what was going on back there.  Here’s how full of adrenalin I was:  I wasn’t fleeing quite in the direction of the cattle guard/gate, but more straight at the barbed wire fencing next to it, and yet there was no room in the reptile brain for course correction, so I could do nothing but sprint straight at it, climb it in like two seconds and leap as far off the other side and into safety as I could, without a single scratch.  If I tried that now as a quasi-athletic adult, I’m fairly sure I would accidentally decapitate myself three or four times.

That’s pretty much it.  I did keep running, all the way into my friend’s house, where his mother was soon quite perplexed upon finding me out of breath in her kitchen after having slammed her back door.  Again thinking quickly, if you can call it that, I only said that I couldn’t find my friends.  She didn’t press the issue any, only chided me gently for slamming the door.  She was nice.  Even now, more than one decade later, she still has no idea about any of this.  And to this day, barbed wire fences still look so fragile.

The moral of this story is obviously that being chased by a bull makes one awesome at parkour as well as temporarily capable of great social chicanery.

Or maybe it’s that when the normal conscious mind is bypassed and instinct takes over, we become hyper-competent superheroes in the vein of Batman, except it only happens in moments of pure terror, you can’t control it, and it only makes you run away, in which case the moral is that life is a cruel and excoriating mockery of our very dreams.

Yet contravening this is the fact that awesome stuff like literature and music and yoga exist, leaving only the possibility that the moral is that when your parents or their temporary proxies tell you not to play in the bull’s pasture, maybe you shouldn’t assume they just want to ruin your pastoral frolics.  Usually, there’s some good intent mixed with the resentment for how you ruined their lives.

And for that we should all be berry, beary grateful.

Book Report I: Indiscriminate, Empty Sex in the Time of Cholera

Spoilers abound y’all, both for Love in the Time of Cholera and Romeo and Juliet…although the latter is a four hundred year old play written by the most famous author of all time and whose main characters are synonymous for love itself.  Despite that, I did try to hold back on the endings for both.  Impossible to do entirely, of course, and do my argument justice, but I tried.

Love in the Time of Cholera is a very, very misunderstood novel.  Now despite the prominence of the ‘misanthropy’ tag in the word cloud to the right, I don’t want to condescend to anyone whose interpretations differ from mine; far from it.  People misunderstand Romeo and Juliet too, thinking it an epic and moving love story despite it’s being ridden with pathological obsession, willful ignorance, youthful recklessness and a love affair whose bloodiness is rendered even more remarkable by its incredibly short duration.  This misunderstanding of both stories is primarily a problem of convention in storytelling in that love stories are maybe THE basic story in the entire history of fiction, and thus readers have been somewhat trained, myself included, to not question its legitimacy.  Real life might play a role in this too, though.  Love is a very confusing thing, and its full scope defies easy definition.  People confuse infatuation, obsession, lust and a million other things with it every day, all day.  Thus, you get two characters, they declare that they love one another, and why shouldn’t we believe them?

Well, why should we?  I’m not saying the characters are willfully lying, but even if they’re telling the truth, it doesn’t mean they’re right.  Consider Romeo, who crashes a masquerade thrown by the Capulet family, who all want him dead, to see some girl he’s lovesick for as the play starts.  Previous to this, Romeo insisted to his friend that none of the other girls at this party would ever get his mind off of Rosaline, and yet Juliet, after about ten seconds, does so.  They only meet briefly, both of them are masked, and all they really say to each other is pretty much goddamn but I would really like to make out with you.  It’s love.  Then comes the famous balcony scene, where there’s already talk of marriageand Romeo expresses mild disappointment that Juliet will offer him no “satisfaction”.  It might be appropriate now to mention that after this, it’s revealed that Rosaline took a vow of chastity, contrasting with Juliet’s immediate desire to make out with a guy whose face she hasn’t even seen yet (it was a masquerade, remember), and suddenly we realize that when it comes to love, Romeo leads with his, you know, head, not his heart.

Then there’s the fact that Romeo is just a very selfish person.  After the above, he gets his buddy Mercutio killed in a duel when he refuses to fight, murders his would-be opponent Tybalt to avenge Mercutio, gets himself exiled, drags his confidante Friar Laurence into this mess by asking him to help Juliet escape town and an impending arranged marriage so she can marry Romeo instead, and murders for no real reason at all his rival suitor Count Paris after the clusterfuck of misunderstanding and suicide that ensues.  Oh, and in the original source that Shakespeare used for the play, Friar Laurence is hanged, what with the hiding of Romeo’s defiance of his exile and plotting to steal away a daughter of the powerful Capulet family and all.  Yes, that Romeo’s a peach.

And on the re-read of the play that I’m currently doing, I’m finding the evidence for my interpretation to be even more obvious than I’d remembered:  the play is full of what must have been incredibly dirty puns for its time (and hell, ours too), and Romeo’s intentions are directly questioned by more than one of the characters, including Juliet herself.  In fact, upon Friar Laurence learning of his affection for Juliet, he tells Romeo:

Is Rosaline, whom thou didst love so dear,
So soon forsaken? young men’s love then lies
Not truly in their hearts, but in their eyes.

You don’t bullshit a bullshitter, Romeo.  And the good Friar was a supreme bullshitter; he tricked Romeo into suicide.  Accidentally.

So, it’s easy to summarize the mistaking of lust for love in Romeo and Juliet, and it’s fairly easy too to explain how lust gets mistaken for love in the first place:  lust is “bad”, while love is good, and the line between the two is far finer than most people will admit.  The difference, to me, can be summed up in another of Shakespeare’s lines: love is not love which alters when it alteration finds.  By Shakespeare’s own definition, Romeo never loved Rosaline, because he altered right damn quick when meeting Juliet, which I can’t help but think had to do with that vow of chastity business.  Also, the characters are teenagers.  For them, lust is an autocrat, and it rules with an iron and oft lubricated fist.  Mistaking it for love, thereby applying extreme devotion to such a capricious and already overwhelming urge, is very volatile.  But don’t take my word for it.  Recall how often and with what fervor you took care of yourself at that age.  Now imagine swearing undying fidelity and devotion to your own hand…the lack of conversation, the two wedding rings, always wondering if the sex is just to humor you.  Hey, at least you wouldn’t be getting anyone killed.

Ultimately, you need only ask the question:  What about Juliet caused Romeo to fall in love with her?  You can’t answer it.

Florentino Ariza and Fermina Daza, the protagonists of Love in the Time of Cholera, are harder to sniff out.  Take the basic gist of Romeo and Juliet, make it epic in a literary sense, and you have everything in place to make women the world over swoon over a nerdy, homely, philandering pedophilic piece of shit, as well as to make men not really understand Florentino’s whole deal with Fermina.  But while the virulence of their “love” is far more subtle, it runs much deeper:  the lies span decades, the chaos aroused reaches much further, and the flimsy basis upon which their eventual elderly dalliance is predicated makes it seem downright pathetic.

Florentino’s first sighting of Fermina was textbook love at first sight.  Now I have no doubt that when Florentino first saw Fermina, he felt the earth quake beneath his feet, the blood rushed to his head – we know which one – and angels of the Lord sang their inevitable love to all the world, their heavenly faces far eclipsed by Fermina’s beauty.  He surely did.  It happens sometimes.  It’s not love, though.  The important thing to note here is that at first sight, for Florentino and for all of us, only one reaction is logically possible:  attraction.  Love of the sort Florentino professes for Fermina throughout the rest of the novel cannot have taken root at a glance, much less bloomed.

Not that I can absolutely rule out that there can’t be a higher form of connection, an automatic knowing that can enable true and full love at first sight.  I can’t rule it out entirely because there’s a certain someone in my life who fell for me in such a manner.  She looked at me, and she just knew somehow that I was for her.  Me being my normal thick-headed self, it took a little more time for me to realize why I was spending all day thinking about her, looking forward to talking to her, being so affected by her joys and sorrows that they became my own joys and sorrows, and quickly finding nobody else to be nearly as attractive as I found and still find her to be.  I’d just been left by another girl, and I swear I was so thick that I would even walk around asking myself why I couldn’t be in love with her instead of the ex, and of course I was.  For almost fifteen years I’ve seen everything she felt in that first moment pan out, so it’s hard to believe there isn’t some kind of mojo involved.  Yes, mojo.  Still, after the parallel paths of pain, betrayal and blood left in the wakes of Romeo and Florentino, I don’t think that’s what was being portrayed.  I also think it’s a testament to the skill of Shakespeare and Garcia Marquez that their tales bear up two such diametrically opposed interpretations.

Just a brief caveat there.  Onward.

What follows is a protracted flurry of letter exchanges, violin serenades and borderline stalking that is further definable by the near-entire lack of anything that would help them actually know one another, as emphasized in the book by the narration outright stating that Florentino ascribed all manner of improbable and lofty attributes onto Fermina, who served as a pretty blank slate that he was enamored with.  The content of the letters is never quoted directly, but it’s insinuated that Florentino plagiarized the purple sea of love poetry he read constantly, while Fermina reciprocated with mundane daily itineraries.  There was next to no actual contact between them:  in fact, when there is substantial contact between the two after a long absence (Fermina’s father Lorenzo discovers the pen pal affair, threatens to kill Florentino, and packs his daughter away to live with faraway relatives for a while), Fermina sees that he doesn’t resemble the ideal she loves, and brusquely ends it with a wave of her hand.  When it happens, you feel sorry for him, but not later.  Oh, not later.

It’s not even the lack of face-t0-face contact that makes me skeptical; if I’d gotten the impression that the letters were written and read by two people baring their souls to one another to any extent at all, so that when they did meet it might feel like they knew each other, I’d feel differently, but as is it feels like Garcia Marquez specifically wanted them to seem pretty yet vapid on the one hand, and utterly banal on the other.

Up to this point it’s subtle; you get everything from Florentino’s desperately skewed perspective, though he’s not the actual narrator.  Once Fermina marries the improbably accomplished Dr. Urbino, whose parrot can recite the Latin Mass, and once Florentino gets wind of it, all subtlety goes out the window as Florentino Ariza embarks upon a decades long fuck spree, the likes of which would scandalize even Don Draper.  He chases widows, married women, random girls encountered in the street, the mistresses of his friends, anyone – anyone.  Those who view the novel as a true love story would no doubt argue that his pain at losing Fermina drove him to desperately flee his heartbreak via sex, but I’d argue that’s not the case at all.

It’s all about conquest for Florentino, that much is very clear.  He refers to his “lovers” as little birds, and himself as a falconer.  There’s little consideration for anything about them beyond sex, and cheap sex devoid of any emotional infrastructure at that, which he bafflingly confuses with love.  Tellingly, there’s also little consideration for Fermina herself throughout this part, which comprises the bulk of the novel, and when he does think about her, it’s most often in a she-can-never-know-I-am-such-a-fucking-manwhore context.  When he does deign to talk to any of them, rather than simply leave after the act, they basically talk about sex.  And lest you think this is a matter of interpretation, the simple fact is that with the sheer number of fuck-buddies he had during this period essentially makes it impossible chronologically for him to do anything more than fuck them and run.

Worse, he takes a very imperial mentality into his carnality.  As I said, he sees the mistress of his friend, causing said friend to have his crew steal everything in her house.  Florentino not only regards this with breathtaking insouciance, but afterward decides not to see her anymore.  That’s bad, but this is even worse: with one of his many married women, he takes some red paint and a brush and paints the words This pussy is mine on her belly.  At no point does he even begin to consider the ramifications of this with her husband, who of course finds Florentino’s frat boy masterwork and proceeds to slit his wife’s throat.  Naturally, Florentino’s first thought isn’t remorse – and it never was either – but merely that his throat would be slit next.  He does plant roses on her grave, but it’s just a pretty gesture that comes off empty as hell.  At best, he does it more for the romance of it than any sincere atonement.  At worst, it’s a way to brag about his conquest right out in public without having to expose himself.  To people other than his little birds, I mean.  Tellingly, again, the roses grow unchecked over the years, slowly taking over the cemetery, until its eventual caretaker has them ripped out.  This is not subtle symbolism.

The last affair, however, is truly repugnant even by his own standards:  Florentino by now is a prominent member of the city, running a riverboat freight business, and in this capacity he gains the trust of the parents of a 14 year old girl who is sent to the city to attend school, serving as the girl’s official guardian.  You don’t want to see where this is going, but you can’t really help it by this point.  Yes, he not only abuses the trust of the parents as well as the trust of the girl whose care was entrusted to him, but as she begins to realize she’s a sex toy to him despite his creepy, fatherly method of talking dirty to her, her grades fall victim to depression and she eventually commits suicide when news of Dr. Urbino’s death reaches Florentino, giving him his big second chance at Fermina.  He does at least cry over it – which is a first – but then he won’t even give Fermina time to reconcile herself to the loss of her husband before he shows up to declare his “love” again, so his tears are worth very little.

And this is really the crux of my argument:  decades later, when he does actually maneuver himself into a relationship with Fermina Daza, it feels more like a fuck buddy arrangement than love.  There is a legitimate fondness between them, as they do enjoy each others’ company even when they aren’t naked, but the fireworks that romance novel fans no doubt expected when they first made love must have been duds.  He goes after her like an overeager teenager and runs out of juice quick, while she just sort of takes it all, and the whole thing comes off very limp.  Still, after being pumped full of love for so long, their will stayed hard and firm, and they thrust themselves right back into it.  It’s typical of Florentino; they finally get around to knowing each other, and it’s only in the Biblical sense.

Florentino was a hollow creature, and he stuffed his empty chest with plagiarized love poetry and passed it off as a heart to both Fermina and himself.  At one point he even divides humanity into two types,  paraphrasing: “those who screw, and those who do not”, and then insists that those “who do not” can’t be trusted, thereby projecting and legitimizing his own abject promiscuity by telling himself that everyone wants to do what he does, but are all in denial.  So you see, it’s not that he’s simply a cock with a man attached who puts on a front of romanticism so that he doesn’t have to even attempt to control his urges and can justify ignoring and not caring about the extensive damage his rampant fucking causes; it’s everyone else who are wrong!  In addition to keeping it from himself, he keeps from her the one thing that has defined him in the time that she’s been unavailable, the thing that drove him to use and discard a vulnerable young girl, to speak to her as a father while he was undressing her, to abuse the trust placed in him by both her and her parents, which was so reprehensible that even such a depraved, amoral creature as him was struck – though not near hard enough – by the sheer evil of it.  He was so dedicated to keeping it from her that he practiced the strictest secrecy with literally every other sexual liaison he ever had throughout his entire life with anyone but Fermina, and not for the sake and safety of either his “little birds” or himself, but so that Fermina would never know.  He spent decades plotting to lie to her.

Fermina, in turn, was an aloof, haughty creature who showed no warmth until she was reeling both from the loss of her long-held husband and the fact that he’d had an affair in the latter years of their marriage.  So while she’d late realized that she never truly had the eminent Dr. Juvenal Urbino, that nothing more than an exotic face coinciding with opportunity was able to lure him away, here was Florentino, returned from her childhood, her first love, who had never married, had opted to wait for her for decades, who loved her so that he didn’t want anyone if he couldn’t have her.  With the memory of her husband’s infidelity fresh in her mind, as well as his death, it’s no wonder that she, finally, would see Florentino to be exactly the thing to heal her, not realizing that he is infidelity incarnate.  She was the ultimate conquest for Florentino, nothing more to him, and by the time he wins her in the latter pages of the book, it turned my stomach.

Interpret it however you like, but one thing, I believe, is inarguable:  there was never any truth between the two, and without that, love as we conventionally idealize it and as Florentino and Fermina believed they had could not have been between them.  Less inarguable but to me just as convincing are the constant parallels between love and cholera itself, present even in the title.  Urbino “fights” Florentino’s “love” of Fermina for decades just as he fights to modernize the measures taken against cholera outbreak and prevention.  Just as Florentino mistakes his lust for love to the point of becoming lovesick, other maladies – including one of Florentino’s – are misdiagnosed as cholera. The ending, too, revolves entirely around it, with our two lovers trapped on the riverboat because of the yellow flag it flies, warning of a cholera outbreak on the boat.  No one will let them disembark to protect the public from it; if only Florentino’s little birds – and Fermina too – had taken similar measures, much misery would have been avoided.  Of course, there was no cholera aboard, just as there wasn’t any love; it was a lie concocted by Florentino to get himself alone with Fermina.  It’s really the only way it could have ended, all things considered.

Finally, consider the very beginning, in which Dr. Urbino, who for decades thwarted Florentino’s ADD riddled cock, tends to the suicide of a man named Jeremiah Saint-Amour.  That’s Saint, and then Amour.  Love dies – takes its own life, even – before we even meet either Ariza or Daza, and is laid to rest by the novel’s embodiment of rationality and logic, Dr. Urbino.  Further, in the course of seeing to the arrangements, he comes across Jeremiah’s secret lover, and finds to be unsavory both her complicity in Jeremiah’s suicide and her refusal to enter the mausoleum of formal widowhood.  Urbino saw it as evidence that their romance was cheap, while she, better understanding the true nature of love better than anyone else besides our dead Saint of Love, implicitly understood that because Jeremiah loved her, he wouldn’t want that for her.  Couple this with Garcia Marquez’ own warning to “not fall into my trap”, and really this whole post could have been much shorter.

So why do we all want to read this as a swoony epic love story?  Well, because it’s nice to believe in that kind of love, that outlasts most human lifespans, much less typical relationships; that drives its celebrants to any ends, to endure any heartache or suffer any interval of loneliness in the hope, however faint, of getting to be with us again.  Garcia Marquez is simply pointing out that there’s a fine line between that and obsession, and that it’s dangerous:  Fermina’s rejection of Florentino in their youth drove Florentino to walk a long, dark road paved with blood and semen in order to replace his flimsy self-respect with facile sexual conquest, and its awful cost was entirely paid by other people.  Garcia Marquez is pointing out that it takes a loving and selfless heart to love so absolutely as Florentino imagined he loved Fermina, yet for all his grandiloquent posturing, for all the poems, for all the violin serenades, he saw fit to only put forth the illusion of selflessness while he carnally, prolifically, selfishly indulged, committing the same wrong a thousandfold that had so grievously wounded Fermina when her husband once lost his struggle to avoid committing that same wrong.

In short:  Florentino was a motherfucker.  The end.

 

After-the-fact edit:  I hope it’s clear that I don’t attack Florentino from a prudish perspective; it’s not the sex that’s wrong, it’s the hypocrisy of it.  It’s not that he prefers multiple partners, it’s the addict-like abject desperateness with which he seeks them out.  It’s not that he doesn’t seek a deeper commitment with them, it’s that he manipulates and discards them, sometimes to bloody effect, all while claiming to be true to Fermina.  If Romeo was a capricious prick, then Florentino is, like, the cosmic essence of prickness distilled into a human shape.  Not everyone’s cut out for monogamy and being married with children, but nobody gets a pass on being dishonest, whatever their predilections may be, and particularly when their dishonesty is so damaging.

Apologies, a picture and a great song.

Well, so much for striking while the iron was hot.

My goofy Fuzzball thing gets Freshly Pressed and true to my nature, I become afflicted with shyness AND writer’s block.  Not that I can’t understand; this is really the first time that anybody who might not feel obligated has read anything I’ve written, and that it was not only accepted but spotlighted pretty well threw me.  Ordinarily I keep my work in a dark, menacing corner of the hard drive and nobody who hasn’t known me for like fifteen years has ever gotten even a peek.  My parents don’t even know I write, and I’ve actually lied to keep it that way.

That said, I have been writing.  One thing in particular is kinda kicking my ass, but I think it’s on track now.  There’s at least two other drafts working too, and a whole little pocket spiral notepad full of notes, so I’m hoping for a massive burst of posting over this three day weekend.

On a more relevant note, I did do some research into looked up string theory on Wikipedia in the interim between Fuzzballs and now and learned why they use the term “branes”.  It should really be ‘branes, as in membranes, as in string theory posits the existence of more than the four dimensions (x, y, z and time) we experience in the course of our existence.  It seemed to start as a method of making the math work, and I believe the two main opinions are that there are either 10 or 27 total dimensions, but I assume that the membrane terminology is that these branes serve to limit us to the three dimensional space and the linear time we’re all familiar with.  And goddamn, but I love that science is getting so advanced that it’s a struggle to wrap everyday minds around what they’re unearthing now.

Lastly, since I’m among fellow writers here, I thought you might appreciate the lyrics to this song.  The band is called Mischief Brew, the album is called Smash the Windows and the song is written by a fine young firebrand named Eric Peterson.  I highly doubt that most people would like the music, but it does have that really badass sing-alongable part at the end.  I’ve been walking around singing it when nobody’s listening for days and days now.

Picture related  —->

Fuzzballs: A Softer, Fuzzier Way to Destroy the Space-Time Continuum

yet another bar joke

Contrary to popular opinion, a neutrino is a subatomic particle, not a jocular Italian nickname.

I distinctly remember when I did the math as a small child:  black holes are formed from the gravitational collapse of a dying star + the Sun is a star = FUCK.  Thankfully the book I’d read that in anticipated this, so the visions of Earth being devoured by cold blackness only lasted like maybe one second.  Later I’d discover less dramatic but more relevant astronomical terrors, such as the myriad asteroids that narrowly miss smashing into Earth every now and then, but nothing would ever arouse that same sense of dread and futility that a black hole’s gravitational pull could evoke.  It would at least be somewhat feasible to deflect or destroy an incoming asteroid, of course.  Difficult, yes.  Plus we’d probably fuck it up and some poor hapless physicist would briefly be the most hated man in the world until we all died.  Still doable though.

A black hole is another matter entirely, however.  It has an infinitely intense gravity emanating from a zero dimensional, zero volume core; the human mind can’t even truly comprehend its nature in any way beyond the abstract.  Even light – completely massless and literally the fastest thing in existence – can’t escape it.  As you might know, gravity acts upon an object’s mass, so the fact that a black hole can ensnare light is one of those holy fuck kind of things.  There’s also something vaguely poetic, even spiritual, about the only sources of light in the universe collapsing into themselves and becoming a dark and ravening void that is literally impossible to see because light can never reach you from it.  It’s like in death stars begin to steal back the light they once freely gave.  Of course, not all stars become black holes, only really big ones, so that pretty much ruins my romantic rendition of it.  Thanks science.  Either way, though, contemplating black holes is some pretty (infinitely) heavy shit.

There’s a problem in those infinities, though.  The zeroes too.  Nevermind the fact that black holes are by their nature literally impossible to see; nevermind the fact that beyond a bunch of mindbending math and the observation of the effects of their immense gravity that there’s no evidence that they exist (to the point where Hawking relates that it’s as though the universe actively “censors” any singularity so that they can never be directly witnessed), it’s those zeroes and sidelong eights.  They’ve both come up before in prior physics models, and traditionally they’ve always indicated a gap in knowledge.  When those gaps are filled, the infinities and zeroes go away.  Perhaps I’m just a gigantic nerd, but I find that profoundly disappointing.  Then again, physicists can be a bit of a killjoy; when they all but confirmed the existence of Higg’s boson a little while back, Stephen Hawking publicly stated that he was kind of disappointed and was hoping something really weird and unexpected would have happened instead.  Not that my feelings about the implausibility of current black hole theory is much different; I appreciated the mystery of an invisible, zero dimensional, zero volume non-object hiding out in space and inexorably drawing even galaxies toward them.  Yes, the possibility exists that black holes so powerful that they can pull entire galaxies is quite likely.  They just (probably) work in a much more mundane way than is presented now.  Besides, if regular black holes worried me a little back in my childhood, I’m actually pretty glad I wasn’t aware of the existence of supermassive black holes until much later.

All this talk of zero dimensionality and volume might make you think the term size is irrelevant here, and you’d be right:  it’s that the singularity isn’t what gives them their “size”, but rather the event horizon, which is the furthest point from the center that light begins to be unable to escape its gravity.  It’s referred to as an event horizon because of a model in physics called a light cone.  It’s complex, and I’ll just hit the points relevant to the event horizon.  A light cone is a model that takes a point in space and depicts the spread of light from that point.  Sounds simple; it’s not, but for our purposes here it’s not so bad.  Recall that light is the fastest thing in existence, so literally anything that happens at our reference point cannot ever leave the light cone because it would have to outrun light.  Thusly, relative to anything outside the light cone, no events that occur at our reference point exist in any way because our fastest way to perceive them would be light hitting our eyes, and we’re outside the light cone, so it hasn’t reached us to carry the witness of those events to us.  Now light can’t escape the event horizon, meaning for all intents and purposes, things that take place within it are basically happening in a entirely different reality that we will never directly see, hence the term horizon; they can’t cross it anymore than we can cross earthly horizons, because they just move as you approach them.  Even if this wasn’t true, light is the only perceptual medium available in outer space.  We certainly can’t touch or taste, say, Jupiter.  There’s no air to carry sound or smell.  This is what makes black holes so interesting:  light normally reigns over the universe like a fleet yet iron-fisted Minister of Propaganda/dictator, yet black holes are able to overpower and restrain it.  And if this is half as fascinating to you as it is to me, go read Hawking’s A Brief History of Time right now.  This is the least of light’s seemingly magical and supernatural quirks.

And before you militant internet atheists have a psychotic break:  I said seemingly.  Calm down.  There are a variety of relaxation techniques just a Google search away.

Another brief aside:  much like the Higg’s boson, there is another hypothesized particle that is thought to be the force carrier of the otherwise mysterious force known as gravity, which is termed the graviton.  Scientists have long had ideas on how to eventually detect and confirm the existence of both, but unlike Higg’s Goddamn particle, physicists also deem it potentially impossible that we’ll ever actually “see” a graviton.  Of course, these people are capable of making such educated guesses that they routinely confirm their stabs in the dark to be nearly perfectly accurate, but this does mean we may never fully understand gravity works, or that if we do, we’ll never have confirmation of it.  To give you some perspective, it’s thought that a graviton detector the size of Jupiter operating at 100% efficiency would detect one (1) graviton every 10 years.  Couple this uncertainty with the fact that gravity seems to be the only thing that can reach out past an event horizon, and can do so powerfully, and you’re looking at a pretty cryptic force of nature right there, as well as another rebel against light’s unrelenting tyranny.

So whatever, this is all bullshit, right?  You just want your sons and daughters to grow up and invent flying cars and pills that instantly cure cancer and all that whatnot, and in the meantime it’d be nice if they didn’t keep you up all night crying about how Earth will be swallowed up into an unknowable void, right?  It’s a dilemma seemingly without an answer…until now.

Frustrated parents of the world, I give you the fuzzball, the infinity-free and far more soothing answer to particle theory’s black hole, brought to you courtesy of the renegade of physics: string theory.  The fuzzball has all of the black hole’s godlike power to bat around solar systems like a gigantic bored cat, a pleasing kid-friendly name and no troublesome mathematical anomalies whatsoever.  What’s more, the math concerning fuzzballs calculates event horizons at a value very close to the Schwarzschild Radius, which gives you the event horizon of a non-rotating black hole, so there’s “concrete” evidence that string theorists may be onto something with this.  Just tell your children that instead of the horrific and incomprehensible mutilation of space and time that occurs within the event horizon of a black hole, being pulled into a fuzzball takes you to a place full of puppies that you can pet forever and ever, and that’s why it’s called a fuzzball.  They won’t know, the little idiots.

yo momma

You can’t even understand his Your Momma jokes.

I’ll not try to explain fuzzballs like I did black holes for two reasons:  firstly, they pretty much match up uncannily with the characteristics of black holes, and secondly, I am fairly convinced that string theory is only for psychotically brilliant geniuses who are losing touch with their humanity/sanity because they are on the verge of transcending their disgusting meat bodies and becoming pure energy.  Really, don’t even try.  You know why they call them d-branes?  It stands for dumb-branes because string theory itself is calling you stupid.  You know why they misspell the word brain?  Because fuck you, that’s why.  It’s the same for p-branes as well.  I’ll let your pea-sized monkey minds work that one out.

So anyway, the fuzzball:  helping your kids to realize the immense scope of the universe and thusly our futile and worthless place within it as well as ensuring that they don’t have all those goddamn nightmares about it since 2002.  I mean come on, it’s just a wittle fuzzball!  Don’t you just want to pet it?  Go on, it’s okay!  Who’s my wittle devourer of light and space and time??  You are!  Yes, you!  Look, he likes it when you pet his wittle ears!

D’awww.

At least until you realize it won’t afford you even the slight mercy of ripping off what was once your hand before it distends its very form and the spacetime it once occupied into a gory atrocity of meaninglessness before your soon-to-burst eyes, which will spare you from witnessing the blasphemous perversion of light and time itself in the grip of the mighty fuzzball, in which hope cannot exist.

And by the way, I write these little science essays as much to help myself understand the concepts as much as I do to make people laugh; at no point am I trying to actually teach people anything, I entirely lack the expertise for it.  That said, take from my work what you will, knowing it’s the work of an utter layman.

EDIT:  Changed the title to match up with Freshly Pressed; it’s not mine, but I wish it were.  Thanks again, Michelle, for that and FP.  I’m truly grateful.  Thanks also to everyone who’s taken the time to comment and recommend books and give me so many other blogs to check out.  Today’s been crazy, but I’ll take the time too as soon as I can find some.

Dear WordPress:

Please stop changing the statuses of my posts from Draft/Pending Review to Published.  Nobody needs to see that.  I am aware that it’s partly my fault due to my login habits, or lack thereof, and that the auto-logout seems to make your client act a bit funny, but there is no need to expose your readers to the liminal and maddening void that lies sleeping just beneath reality itself, one day to awaken and devour space and star and man.  On that incomprehensible day, no amount of begging, no prostration, no benediction will preserve our sanity from the horror of even the merest stirrings of those vast and tenebrous things that exist beyond form, for whom our highest gods are beneath notice, but until then we should probably just chill and try not to think about it too much.

It’s a good thing nobody actually reads this, and that this is only a motivator to finish writing the things I start, because this way I don’t have to explain those duplicated paragraphs to anyone who saw them.  I will, though:  I am incredibly, psychotically picky about the wordings with which I say things, and commonly write paragraphs multiple times to see which one I like best.  I firmly believe that with the proper wording, a reader could be moved to tears by a description of how to make pancakes.  It’s probably an unrealistic standard to hold oneself to, but when you get right down to it, it’s not actually all that important to actually meet that standard at all.  The thing is to keep improving toward it, to never think “okay, this is as good as I wanted to be, now I’ll just maintain.”

A thing is only an amalgamation of circumstance, and circumstance alway changes.  Time always moves forward.  The you that began to read this isn’t the you that just read this line, and it’ll be another you still that reads my last sentence.  You are constantly being created and destroyed in every moment.  Maintenance, then, as well as anything that appears to neither proceed or degrade, is just a trick of perception.  It’s a pretty word for stagnation.

And you know, I don’t even like Lovecraft that much.  Or rather I like his ideas far more than the way in which he wrote about them.  Huh.

How Eating a Little Bit of Paper Made My Previous Post Possible

Let’s pretend you read my previous post, for the dual purposes of boosting my ego and because making that assumption will make for a cleaner essay.  You know you didn’t; I know you didn’t.  Let’s just pretend.  Let’s also get out of the way that hoary old American social tradition known as a disclaimer:  I’m not advocating that anybody do a fucking thing here.  If you’re so unfathomably lazy that you’d use information on a blog post without verifying it elsewhere, you are destined for hard lessons, and LSD has the potential to mercilessly and irrevocably administer them straight to your brain.

As I combed through my previous post this morning days ago in order to ensure that it read like the humorous recounting of a string of mild bad luck that it was meant to be, it occurred to me that there was a point in my life many years ago when those very same events would have been documented in a very, very emo fashion.  Then, as if by kismet and as I was beginning to write an entirely different essay, Amarok played me some Hendrix.  Are You Experienced, to be specific.  It all brought to mind the catalyst that sparked my eventual emergence from the depression, self-loathing and crippling shyness that marked my childhood:  lysergic acid diethylamide.  LSD, if you’re not a nerd.

I know, I know, just hear me out.  Although if you’re one of those people who think it’s bad just because, then you may as well stop reading it now.  I could tell you that LSD, as well as basically any entheogen ever, are unabusable and impossible to become addicted to.  I could recount how my single experience with it was a defining moment and one of the best things that ever happened to me.  I could even mention that I’m not some psychonaut neo-hippie (unless you consider being somewhat leftist to qualify one as such; I have a left and a right wing, but I suppose you’d say I veer quite a bit to the left in flight) who’s trying to justify his bad habits, but rather simply a regular guy who had a chance to try it, did so, and legitimately benefited far more than anyone would expect.  There’s also the fact that psychiatrists have flirted with studying its ability to treat various mental problems for decades now, but have been discouraged by a preponderance of people who heard about this one guy, he took some one time, and then he like jumped off his dorm roof or some shit because he thought he could fly.  Lastly, I could question the wisdom behind allowing politicians to make decisions that would more properly fall into the domains of physicians and chemists.  You wouldn’t care about all that, though.

There’s a lot of misinformation on LSD, as opposed to something like methamphetamine, which if anything is actually worse than the public perceives it to be.  For one, the hallucinations are far milder at a reasonable dose than commonly presented; you won’t pet dead relatives, you won’t talk to fantastical animals, you won’t traverse alien worlds, none of that crazyness; you are far more likely to gleefully laugh at bad movies, be awestruck by sunrises and intensely love your fellow human beings, and I say this as a self-avowed and unrepentant amiable misanthrope.  Things do tend to “breathe”, and it’s common to see patterns overlaid across your field of vision, though.  There are hallucinogens that can have you being chased by extradimensional lizard aliens, but acid isn’t one of them.  Or maybe it is if you take a massive dose.  Mine was quite small, which is entirely incommensurate with the magnitude, longevity and positivity of the end result.  Massive doses might also bring on the infamous acid flashbacks too, because neither me nor a single one of the friends that took it too had any.  Judging from my research, a flashback isn’t really that bad in most cases anyway, but merely a recollection of how one felt during the trip.  One can also spontaneously and unwillingly recall how one’s first kiss made one feel too,  so I guess we better make kissing illegal as well.  They can be more severe, but again, it almost certainly involves much bigger doses, similar to how intaking too much oxygen can kill you, or drinking too much water.

Everything – every single thing that exists – will hurt you if indulged improperly or to excess.

Not that acid is without danger.  My young-man-emo-phase came with a good deal of self-loathing, as emo phases often do.  When you hate yourself, things such as a string of mildly bad luck similar to that depicted in my last post tend to validate that hatred; oh look, the world hates me too, I guess I’m right to feel the way I do.  Like a great deal of conscious and unconscious thought, it’s a loop that feeds back into itself, becoming stronger and stronger with each cycle.  This isn’t really a new concept: religions and spiritual traditions that emphasize the analysis of the human experience have documented the mind’s incessant tendency to run in circles for thousands of years, such as the Buddhist concept of vāsanā or, roughly, the Shaivist concept of the rāga tattva.  They also generally agree that these loops are incredibly difficult to entirely break, as they are all permutations of desire:  wanting, seeking, obtaining.  When a thing is obtained, another want surfaces.  The more often the loop cycles, the more it perpetuates itself, and it becomes harder and harder to break.

Brief aside before I continue:  before starting this essay I searched ‘lsd tolerance’ on Google to refresh my memory on whether or not it could become a habit.  The first result was a site called Above the Influence, a site which ironically immediately tries to influence you into taking up that tried and true American tradition of bashing shit without having tried it or indirectly experienced it in any way.  One thing of value that it does say is that LSD disrupts the normal functioning of the brain.  Hang onto that.

Now back to the hybrid tornado/train wreck/feedback loop that is the human brain.  Psychological disorders such as the aforementioned depression, narcissistic personality disorder, etc. tend to act as a filter through which everything else is passed.  To put it another way, if your thoughts/desires/longings are the planets of our solar system, then depression is the sun around which they orbit, and which itself is spinning in the center.  This would mean that most all the functions of your brain are subservient to a central dysfunction of ever-increasing power.  It’s doesn’t take a great leap of logic to conclude that disrupting this “normal” functioning of the brain could be good for a person, does it?

There are a few caveats, though.  For one, you need to be on speaking terms with all of your demons.  That’s at the very least, and intimate familiarity would be ideal.  You feel on this stuff, and your mind revels in itself.  It will not respect boundaries.  With a meditative practice, you can go to those cordoned places in yourself as tentatively as you like; with a chemical, those places come to you as they will, and amplified just as your senses are.  If your self-control collapses when those demons make themselves known, they will outright traumatize you on this stuff.  Knowing yourself is a great thing in any circumstance, but here it’s mandatory.

For two, you need to know yourself.  You need to really know yourself.  Nobody ever thinks they’re repressing anything without some hellish introspection; that happens to be one of my specialties, so that well was dry long before I took anything.  I realize I already said this, but it bears saying a hundred more times.  Under no circumstance is it good to be a unknown and foreign country to yourself.

For three, it amplifies what’s already there.  If you’re in a good, calm mood, then your entire body will feel amazing and all of your usual stressors will seem the way those spiritual traditions I keep mentioning describe them:  small, fleeting, ephemeral, like smoke in the air.  You’ll see your own complicity in the pain they cause you, and you’ll realize that without that complicity, they and nothing else can hurt you at all.  It’s like standing up and realizing you’ve been sitting your whole life letting things loom over you.  If you’re in a bad mood, invert everything I just said, imagine how incomprehensibly hard that would most likely suck, and learn the twin virtues of patience/not moping about shit.

So what’s the point of all this?  Who the fuck knows.  It could be that I vehemently believe that a unilateral and indiscriminate war on drugs is proof that we in the country are fucking incapable of learning the lessons of Prohibition and still govern via fear and ignorance, justifying it with some vague doom-mongering about social cost.  It certainly isn’t to encourage anyone to either abstain or indulge.  It’s illegal and potentially dangerous in a subtle, potent and possibly long term way.  Think, be honest with yourself and decide.  I guess it’s not to recount the acid-fueled all-nighter we pulled either.  I’d intended to, but this is way long as it is.  It’s among a number of things I’ve touched on that deserve their own essays, so some other time, hopefully.  Plus, honestly, calling it an “acid fueled all-nighter” makes it sound far more interesting a story than it actually is.  Suffice to say that I saw my stressors for what they really were:  small, fleeting, ephemeral, like smoke in the air.  I saw my own complicity in the pain they cause me, and I realized that without that complicity, they and nothing else can hurt you at all.  It was a hell of a lot of fun too, lest all this spirituality I’m spouting make it sound like myself and my friend were playing monks for the evening.  It’s impossible to say if it was so much fun because I experienced the much-vaunted detachment that is the goal of any worthwhile spiritual practice or if it was just because I was on fucking awesome drugs.

I can say with certainty what the point isn’t:  to try to convince anyone that LSD will cure one’s mental ills.  To me, it’s fairly evident that I was “ready” to learn what my depression was trying to teach me, and “God”/the universe/dumb fucking luck used LSD as a catalyst to bring about that eureka! moment that invariably accompanies any true apprehension of the nature of any abstraction.

In fact, I think the sort of mentality that would seek out a figurative magic pill that would sort their brain out for them is exactly the sort of mentality that would fare very poorly on this stuff.  It’s just not how it works.  It’s not how anything works.  There’s been bad days in the years since I took it.  Some very bad ones, actually, and all flanked with good ones, as it’s always been.  It has to be that way, because it’s the bad days that define the good days.  Nobody wants to believe that, including myself; we all have some thing in our hopes and daydreams that we just know will come along and sweep away the drudgery of quotidian existence, and thereafter all the days will be happy ones.  We wait for true love, plan to have children, gun alongside coworkers for that promotion as if we all wouldn’t just end up adjusting our lifestyles until we were just as tight financially as we are now.  Gamblers wait for the big win.  Artists of all stripes await their big break, and it’s folly, all of it is, every single bit.  True achievement is finding the joy in that drudgery.  It’s there.

Even after my experience, I can’t always find it.  But I compared acid flashbacks to a kiss earlier, and it still applies here.  You can’t recall a kiss unless you’ve kissed someone.  Once you have, with a little time and space and just enough peace to imagine, it’ll come back to you.  The way your lips tentatively and hesitantly met comes back.  The moment when all tentativeness and hesitation fell away and you melted into each other comes back.  That feeling of blissful panic, that knowing that if she were somehow snatched away from you now that you’d just fucking die comes back.  What doesn’t come back is the nervousness itself, the uncertainty; there’s only the recollection that they were once there, which brings with it nothing but laughter at how silly and unnecessary they were.  Whatever else happens, whatever else is lost or stolen or destroyed, whatever godawful cataclysms and depredations shake your ground, rain down from the skies or kick in your door, you can always bring it back to you.  It’s true for wives, husbands, boyfriends and girlfriends and lovers, and it’s true for life itself too.  In fact, I coulda just said it was like kissing life itself and saved us all a lot of trouble.

My apologies for using the word quotidian; I am well aware that that sounds pretentious as all hell, thank you.  Apologies as well for taking so long between my last post and this one, should anyone actually care about the length of the interval.  Lastly, introspect.  A lot.  You can leave a strange place, quit a job you don’t understand and you can leave a lover rather than take the time to understand them, but if you are foreign to yourself, then you’ll be lost for every second of your life.