Thursday, May 23, 2024

Unexpected Bounty

I just wanted to make a quick note about the happy coincidence that some new books from my favorite writers have been coming out in recent days.

First, the dearly departed Harlan Ellison continues to publish, with the help of his literary executor -- and top-notch scribbler himself --  J. Michael Straczynski (see my paean to the latter's TV masterwork here).  I now have my copy of the "Greatest Hits," and I'm waiting until this fall for The Last Dangerous Visions.

However, I'm not sure what was more surprising to me: that TLDV is actually coming out, or that another favorite author of mine, David Zindell, has put out a new novel in the Neverness universe!  There's no need for me to summarize it here, since I've posted again and again about my enduring love for this setting.  I anticipate updating my "Travel Guide to Neverness" (a kind of spoiler-free FAQ) after a 13-year hiatus, too.

Now, what am I waiting for?  Off to read!

Thursday, December 21, 2023

Dark Days?

Where has the year gone?  Today is the winter solstice, and I thought I'd revamp a quote-post with some wise words (not mine!) from the first year of this blog:

On this darkest day of the year (at least for those of us north of the equator), I thought a few inspirational words may be in order.  This was written by someone named "Knight Monk" in a LiveJournal group a few [2023 update: so so many] years ago.  I'm not omitting any intro; what follows is the entire post:

I am writing about more than sunlight, you know... although the swift-passing window of the Winter Day is no small matter either. These are the shortest days. And for many they are filled with hectic activity. For others they are cold and barren desert of Depression. Lao Tzu writes: "Movement overcomes cold."

Translating this into one's own practice means that during darkest days of Winter, instead of hiding under a comforter and napping all day, one should keep active. Do many things even if you feel like sitting still - this is how one makes it through the worst Winters, even the most terrible Winters of the mind.

 The converse also holds true. During the hot days of Summer, or even the most hectic and anxious times of any season, one should seek to still the mind and body. "Keeping still overcomes heat."

The words hold not just literal truth for the thermostat of the human body. Properly applied, the words can govern our moods. They put into the hands the reigns of the intellect. Anxiety and panic are also ruled by the still Player.

I wish everyone actively contemplative Dark Days and a fantastic New Year!  I'll try my best to finish that solo GBG, honest!  ;-)

Sunday, February 12, 2023

Dinners with Erik and Andre

At some point, I'm really hoping to surprise everyone by bringing this ol' blog back to vibrant activity again.  We'll see if 2023 is the year for that.  Soon, I definitely plan to complete the "New" Glass Bead Game that I started in... um... December 2021.

For now, I've got two parallel quasi-reviews to share in this post.  I feel like the two things I'm discussing -- the 1981 movie My Dinner with Andre and Erik Hoel's 2021 novel The Revelations -- sort of rhyme with one another in some abstract analogical way.  I'm definitely recalling the late Charles Cameron's concept of "Double-Quotes" here.  After both, I'll muse about the why and how of this pairing.  But first, let's get to them:

Dinner #1: Andre and Wally

A few months ago, I recommended this iconic 1981 movie to a friend.  I'm forgetting the key detail of why I thought this particular movie was the ideal thing to recommend at the time, but I haven't forgotten her response: it was a strong dislike of, and visceral aversion to, the guy who did most of the talking: Andre Gregory.

Okay, that meant I had to rewatch the whole thing, then.  I idolized this movie when I first saw it in my mid-20s.  I remember being kind of envious of the life Andre led.  Spiritual experiences that make you feel truly alive?  Hey, I want that.  Seeing through the hypocrisy and shallowness of the world?  Yeah, man.

But now, in my mid-50s, I definitely saw it with new eyes.  I got the feeling Andre was leaving out some key details -- like, how okay was his wife with all this spiritual gallivanting?  It really looked like he was describing a combination mid-life crisis and nervous breakdown.  Despite the guy trying to get away from it all, it still really seemed like he retained many of his upper-class NYC pretensions.  "40 Jewish women?"  The suckling teddy bear?  Blech.  If you don't know what these phrases mean, please don't feel the need to find out.

After talking through those weird experiences, Andre pivots onto a tangent that could only be described as self-loathing and resentment.  THEN it's all the fault of a shadowy dystopian government or something?  Our man Vizzini eventually gets up the gumption to poke some holes in the most excessiest of Andre's excesses, but it still doesn't shift away from the overall feel that the audience is supposed to end up nodding along with Andre anyway.

Now, I'll say, starting around 1:22:40, there's a bit that still enthralls me.  Andre gets optimistic about rebuilding the human spirit on a small scale.  Repairing the world through art and constructing a new language of the heart.  His focus on movements like Findhorn pointed me in some inspiring directions, back in the day.  But I think one can work to build these kinds of things without all that other self-indulgent crap.  :-)

Dinner #2: A Neuroscientist's Paean

Right around this time, I was in the middle of reading Erik Hoel's newest novel.  I admit to being suckered in by the author's Substack post about the publishing process... which maybe was his secret plan all along to boost readership.  I'm still not 100% sure about whether I can actually recommend this novel to others, but I can try to say some spoiler-free things about it.

There were things that definitely weren't my cup of tea.  The main character was unlikable, somewhat by design for sure... but the author was also going for some undiagnosed mental illness that made it a bit hard to step into his P.O.V.  The main female character seemed to be a bit of authorial wish fulfillment (brilliant scientist... but with a history as a fashion model...)  There was ample discussion of the animal research done in the neuroscience lab, which carried definite squick factor.

However!  Hoel's choice of narratorial voice was nothing short of fascinating.  I don't think I've seen "omniscient third person" done so... omnisciently!  We spend a lot of time in the main characters' heads, but we randomly bop into the heads of a dozen others, and also into the "heads" of some animals, plants, and inanimate objects.  And those unannounced "bops" go deep, even if they're brief.  All befitting for a novel about consciousneess, I guess.  At one singular place in the book, the narrator pivots briefly -- but hard -- to second person.  That kind of floored me.

Hoel also drops adjective non-sequiturs, about once per page, which often had me scratching my head.  Why that word in that place?  Again, because everyone's thinking about consciouness and the mind, these often feel inexplicably right.

About the actual content of the characters' discussions about consciousness... interesting to say the least.  I prefer the times when they're just talking to one another about these ideas, rather than when the main character is just thinking about them.  (The Joycean stream of consciousness has a bit of an undertow.)  For a few months after finishing the novel, I was continuing to follow up on various bread crumbs of theories and ideas on the internet.  The author based some of it on his own experience as a neuroscientist, and he knows academia, for sure!  So, while it maybe wasn't everything I hoped it would be, I'm still glad I read it.

- - - - - - -

So, why this pairing?  Both the movie and the novel are about people who think deeply about what it means to be human in this modern age.  They both ask tough questions about how we can better understand our inner natures to figure out how to live better.  But they also both show (maybe unintentionally?) how we can never fully purge ourselves of the full range of foibles and rough-edged imperfections that make us human in the first place.

Friday, April 1, 2022

Ten Years of Weird

I'm interrupting our regularly scheduled programming for a quick anniversary acknowledgment.  This blog passed its official ten-year anniversary more than a year ago (the first post was on January 2, 2011), but I assert that today is an even more special day.  Exactly ten years ago today, I began my first April A-Z challenge.

Even though that wasn't even my first month-long blog challenge, I still see it as the birth of the true voice of this blog.  Prior to that, I had been focused much more narrowly on the two original topics of the blog: old-school D&D and Hermann Hesse's Glass Bead Game.  I think I even tried to always "pay the Joesky tax" (does anyone even remember what that means?!) on RPG posts, too.  But on April 1, 2012, I began to mentally remove those fetters.  That's when things really started to bloom.

To be clear, there's nothing at all wrong with my original topics.  I keep pondering & writing about them quite a bit.  But I think I really needed the freedom to more completely follow my weird, as they say.  (Note this internal blog link is from December 2011, so I think these juices were stewing prior to that fateful day exactly a decade ago.)

In April 2012, and over the next few years, I met quite a few fascinating people, one of which I count as one of the most important people in my life despite having never met in person.  I've gone through a lot in the last decade -- a new job, moving across the country, loss of a parent, hitting my 50s -- and this blog & its people have been lifelines at times.

I can't promise a return to super-active blogging over the next decade, but I still value this place and the chance it gives me to, well, be Cygnus!

Wednesday, March 23, 2022

Orienting us to Move 4 of the New Game

The Glass Bead Game that I've been constructing on the blog now plays on.  With the pacing of these posts, it may keep playing on through all of 2022 and into 2023... but no matter!  Ideas are eternal.  Today we see a new one posted into the foundational circle at the bottom of the board.  There's a stylized picture of a rising sun that, to me, evokes the Latin phrase AD ORIENTEM.

There are quite a few religious (and other) traditions in which the participants all face themselves in a particular direction as they pray or do other important things. In Christianity, that direction has traditionally been the East.  The original reasons for this choice are probably lost, but there are many possible explanations having to do with the past (the direction of Eden) or the future (how Jesus will approach Jerusalem in the second coming).  There are also modern-day controversies about whether the priest in the mass should face the people (ad populum) or join with them so everyone faces the east as one Body of Christ (ad orientem).

I'm sure many of you already know that in Islam, there are daily prayers that must be said while facing the direction of the Kaaba in Mecca.  There have been times in the past when the exact direction of this Qibla was not known precisely, and in some parts of the Muslim world they used other estimates like the closest of the four compass directions (i.e., facing due East isn't a bad guess if you're in Egypt), or the direction of the rising/setting of the bright star Canopus.

In Judaism, some pray facing the direction of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.  In the Baháʼí faith, some pray facing the shrine of Baháʼu'lláh in the north of Israel.  In the much more recent tradition of Thelema, there are ceremonies in which one must face Aleister Crowley's former manor Boleskine House in the Scottish highlands.  (Fans of Led Zeppelin sometimes treat that place as a kind of Mecca, too, since Jimmy Page owned it from 1970 to 1992.)

For some reason, there's one other piece of trivia that sits in the same corner of my brain as the above:  In Major League Baseball, there's a rule that says baseball fields should be oriented towards the east/northeast, so as to avoid the glare of the setting sun interfering with the players' vision.  Not all parks obey that rule, but they trend around the recommended value as a statistical average.  There may be no direct supernatural questions of faith involved, but the Field of Dreams can be a sacred space, too.

How do these bits of worshipful wayfinding relate to the interconnected cells on our GBG board?  Hozier's Take Me To Church is certainly an exhortation to reorient one's soul to face the divine beloved.  As mentioned in the previous post, one cannot mention The Gift of the Magi without thinking of "his star in the east."

We'll continue to see where this all leads, but it's clear that we must always pivot to face what life throws at us.

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Myrrh, uh, Move 3 in the New Game

The Great Big Glass Bead Game (GBGBG) plays on.  Please see the first two moves here and here, and apologies for being a bit tardy with my anticipated posting schedule of one move per week.  I also feel a tinge of regret for not starting this whole schmegegge a few weeks earlier, so I could've synchronized this move more closely with the Christmas season...

The new image, placed in the lower-right corner and connected to the previous two moves, represents the 1905 short story The Gift of the Magi, by O. Henry.  Even if you've never read it (which I hadn't before now), you've probably seen its core plot played out in other books, movies, or TV shows.  There's a poor couple who love each other more than anything.  The husband sells his gold pocketwatch to buy his wife some stylish hair combs.  The wife cuts her long hair and sells it to buy him a special chain for his watch.  Irony -- especially the kind that tiptoed over the tightrope between comedy and tragedy -- was what paid the bills for Ol' Henry.

I suppose I'd never really wondered why this story had this particular name, but in the final paragraph, it's made clear.  One can attribute the invention of the Christmas present to those three Wise Men of the East.  Henry layed it on a bit thick, but his last few sentences do deserve to be better known:

And here I have lamely related to you the uneventful chronicle of two foolish children in a flat who most unwisely sacrificed for each other the greatest treasures of their house. But in a last word to the wise of these days let it be said that of all who give gifts these two were the wisest. Of all who give and receive gifts, such as they are wisest. Everywhere they are wisest. They are the magi.

Okay, so how does this relate to the other ideas placed on the board earlier? Linking Henry to Hozier is pretty straightforward, I think... self-abnegation for the beloved is a clear and common thread.  Likewise Rory the Roman.  He sacrificed 2000 years for Amy, and it should be noted that she sacrificed a lot for him, too (see: The Girl Who Waited).

There's one other tenuous, but sparkly, link.  Those two millennia in which Rory waited took place in an alternate timeline.  One key difference with our own was that there were no stars in the night sky, because the universe was in kind of a slow-motion collapse.  But the collective unconscious of humanity held on to some shred of memory of the stars, since the existence of underground "Star Cults" was mentioned briefly in hushed tones.  I can't help but think of the Magi's 

Star of wonder, star of night,
Star with royal beauty bright

which symbolized so much about this underground cult that started growing, right around the time Rory began standing guard.

Friday, December 31, 2021

Move 2 in the New Game

Here we are, on the last day of 2021.  I'd like to play the next move in the Hipbone-style GBG that I started in the previous post.  Since I'm using these games to explore the bounds of what makes sense (and what doesn't), I'll make a weird choice and put down an idea in a spot that's not connected at all to the first idea.  We'll fill in many links, I promise.

Thus, in the fourth spot down from the top (if you follow one tradition's "lightning flash" zigzag path), I place Rory Williams, the Last Centurion.

For readers who don't watch Doctor Who, Rory was one of the best characters from the 2010-2012 Matt Smith (11th Doctor) era.  I've waxed on about this Doctor, but not much about his human companions.  Rory started out as someone who got left behind, when his fiancee Amy Pond began traveling with the Doctor.  Then he turned into a bit of a joke about dying (and being brought back) multiple times.  But his shining moment was in the Season 5 episodes "The Pandorica Opens" and "The Big Bang," when he came back as an immortal (?) plastic (??) Roman centurion (?!?!) in the year 102 AD.  When Amy got trapped inside an impregnable cube called the Pandorica, which wouldn't open again until the year 2010, Rory realized that the only way to protect his one true love was to stand guard, and not waver, for the next two millennia.

The Doctor: Two thousand years, Rory. You won’t even sleep. You’ll be conscious every second. It would drive you mad.
Rory: Will she be safer if I stay? Look me in the eye and tell me she wouldn’t be safer.
The Doctor: Rory, you...
Rory: Answer me!
The Doctor: Yes. Obviously.
Rory: Then how could I leave her?
The Doctor: Why do you have to be so... human?
Rory: Because right now I’m not.
So, he waited.  And waited.  And became so much of a legend that museums had exhibits devoted to him.  I'll add another quote from one of those exhibits:

According to legend, wherever the Pandorica was taken, throughout its long history, the Centurion would be there guarding it. He appears as an iconic image in the artwork of many cultures. And there are several documented accounts of his appearances. And his warnings to the many who attempted to open the box before its time. His last recorded appearance was during the London Blitz in 1941. The warehouse where the Pandorica was stored was destroyed by incendiary bombs. But the box itself was found the next morning a safe distance from the blaze. There are eyewitness accounts from the night of the fire of a figure in Roman dress carrying the box from the flames.

My icon on the game board combines Rory's centurion helmet with the whirly circly pattern from the face of the giant cubical Pandorica.

I've always loved the trope of taking the goofiest of goofball characters and having them be the ones who choose to do the noblest, the most honorable, and the most difficult things for the sake of love.  Maybe we'll see more of this as the game progresses.  :-)