Sunday, March 31, 2013

Re-membering Me on Easter, as always, anon

I do wish I knew how to tell a good story. I don't. I fail in its elements.

My own life's story seems interesting, apparently, sometimes to some people, but then I'm not much better at living it than I am at spinning a good yarn. Imagine a protagonist dogged by hard luck and no resolution beyond simple finality. There would be no moral to it, and no reason to turn the dull pages.

And what if the bulk of the actual narrative as trued to the normative history outside it consisted of the man turning pages in books? Or staring at screens?

In ways that show up in the life as lived, and beyond the simple aging which we still honor sometimes? Would that change him? I have a very hard time remember the books I've read, what they were and when I read them. I always have, but still it may or may not relate to age.

I have a hard time with history too, though at least that's out there to be reconstructed, improved with age sometimes as scholars sift through the predations of previous generations of motivated researchers privileging their local slant. Our time finally is without agendas other than for truth. And utter science-mediated technological annihilation. Ommmmmmm.

Yet I do live on. I know that my consciousness excludes most of the facts of my life, perhaps especially to myself. I know this first-hand from various near death or after death or return from death experiences (depending on ones point of view), but I also know it from glancing reads of  neurological studies. I know it sometimes from the way that others seem to see me.

Death is a catalytic happening. At once it collapses all the things you might have been and puts an end to all that you were. (drowning once I really was present in the replete presentation of all that I had lived until then, it's true!) To the extent that there remains consciousness, it becomes summative, and  present to the you that might yet be gone are seemingly all the memories; the facts about what had happened to the you which until that moment was still conjectural.

I know from travel into the geography of my own past, including collections I've made of things of words of petty accomplishments that my memories reside outside of myself, or at least of that self on which I can assert conscious control. Meaning that I can't remember these things until I quite literally find them, seemingly attached in my mind as triggered by the artifact, but as much therefore in the artifact as in my mind.

All that I can do is to direct not my attention which seems to have insufficient power, but my actual physical meanderings, even if and when these involve motions of my eyes only. I seem able to decide which way to turn, but as often in remembering of myself as in forgetting and moving on to something new.

There is a toward and from in love with oneself, and yet the pages, sorry, of my life do keep turning or have so far. The book randomly composed, although - more apologies - it does become me.

These memories must recompose themselves each time I sleep for there are also inward motions confirmed by direct readings of the brain, I hear. These are only as-if motions, what is now termed virtual. And don't we all worry about the self that we might have been or become once the tracings themselves require the as-if-alive energizing of some circuits. I mean electricity is all. In constant motion, or the facts stay dormant. Reassuring just to be there. Eventually waxy bloated and no different from a carved statue, cinnabar infused. Worship the baby, Jesus it's Easter and I forgot!

Who keeps albums of pictures anymore, themselves virtual enough from about the time of our civil war when war was first brought home to roost. The cost of their taking is so reduced that we compile indecipherable troves and neglect, perhaps forever, to organize them into albums. Indexed only by dates and more recently places if you use a phone which enables GPS meta-data. Isn't it all meta, really?

But the meaning captured therein or thereupon is buried in the noise of just too many un-culled images and so I don't really take pictures anymore.

I suppose I once did start memorializing them on Facebook, as I did my reads on Goodeads (which now returns to the jungle of Amazon, and perhaps darekest oblivion of another sort). And yet my attenuated-by-migration bookshelves by their actual presence provide more solace. Though as often as I scour them for that book I thought I'd remarked as valuable I find a gap and it troubles me the way that memory loss must. (I did find a book on memory - No, I mean the book is about memory - which was listed on Amazon for almost the price of this laptop, which I've been fretting about paying for. Hmmmmmmm. I don't always know how to balance those values.)

As money is evermore the scorecard, my worth, on balance, is depleting. I have nothing to show for myself, although I could now cash in some of that life-insurance which was required by children now grown. I hate to rob the grave that way though; the discount for actual life so severe!

When I said valuable, there above, I meant as books to me for reading. I was shocked to find a gap filled by a book worth actual money. Those collectibles I've had over the years seem always to disappear when they're worth money. Or I give them away in squander. Neglect. I forget about them.

There is no geography of virtual space yet, Neil Stephenson. There are file-names and computer names and archival excursions which would require more intrepid resolve than mounting Everest or travelling again to the South Pole. The landscape along the way would be as bleak.

But this is boring now.

What choice is there, really, about which way I might turn, which path I might take? And when I do make those choices now there is that much uncertainly to accomplish whatever objective I set for myself as there might be going backwards.

I cannot recover myself any longer, for I have been and the being was never so bright!

For me the turning forward proves the moral equivalent of turning back. Once again, my love, I would plant a tree though it be the end of the world because how would one know? Were planting a tree worthwhile in the first place.

No, I mean really, I'm heading back to school to complete a Ph.D. which can not possibly be worth anything to me at my highly advanced age if not accomplishement, and still I'm confident that the directed actual study will bring me - my boring un-narrative mind, doncha know - into some actual resolution. Some catalysis not yet death.

And I am sure, gentle reader, that you are just dying for that! Some conclusion, finally to endless ramblings on increasing nothingness without time, especially, to edit. Without narrative shape - a story - it is just random troves of meaningless words; the swirl of memories in my brain without likelihood of conscious retrieval. Of ordering into something worth following!

And so I wander and meander seeming random in the paths I take. Is there choice in them or remembering, because sometimes I do remember myself where I'd thought I might be breaking new ground. And if remembering can also lead toward the future then what is it or who? it I could remember but the one I love, or left in his true season?

There is a terrible discomfort with paradox, I discover, among almost everyone with a scientific bent. As though it is the burden of science to remove such things. I know for a fact that there is not room in my mind at once for even two competing thoughts, let alone two incommensurate ones, but that thing which I call my mind is never just one thing either. It scintillates, the way you can when gazing at some gestaltish shifting shape which might be a woman young or old, but never both at once. You hold them in your mind as it were as promise that the shifting can be accomplished near at will.

Each time I coalesce from the seeming swirling mass of facts competing for my attention (as if the facts themselves might have compulsion?!) I collapse the myriad other narratives which would construe them. Those might-have-beens move, rather, to my peripheral attention. Not gone, perhaps, but attenuated and eventually lost to a geography which may or may not persist beyond the geography of my own mind.

The world will end along with me surely if I don't do something about it. That would be the moral of any story well-writ.

I do know that if I don't do it myself, there will be nothing left of me among the digital repositories of those words and pictures I have taken. Which matters not a whit but that they compose me and therefore I must be letting myself be subsumed into someone else's data whose prominence will render my presence, well, peripheral.

Unless I make connection, which is why the story counts.

And so it begins.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Memory and Memories

Do I have Barbara Streisand going in my head? I think it  was Sinatra in the shower, where my mind goes into fugue and I make all these brilliant connections I'm going to write about.

But the actual writing slows them down, or at least takes them over in a different direction, and so the seeming thoughts I had while showering are no more real than other phantasms; ghosts of thoughts I once thought I actually did have.

As you may have noticed, I've had blessed little time to write for quite a while. While I could and might and probably will blame it on my workload, it also represents a kind of choice. I have canned quite a few drafts, and never quite muster either the courage or the necessary editing time to move from draft to commit.

Then there has been the pure friction of the technology I've been stuck with. As you may have seen yesterday, I took a plunge to buy a new computer. I think I've also gotten a kind of courage infusion from a couple of different directions: the first is a bid to go back to graduate school. I'd previously written off that possibility, since there would be little benefit in it at my advanced age. The second has been a kind of muscling beyond my limit at work.

The work is plenty hard, but that's not the limit I'm writing about. As do many of you, I'm sure, I work in an environment characterized by bullying. In simple terms, this means that the workplace tolerates behaviors which couldn't and wouldn't be tolerated elsewhere. Oppression breeds oppression downward as Master Freire would tell you. Without enlightenment.

Since I'm not - by far - a member of any "protected class" there is no recourse in law for this condition. Certainly nobody's victim myself, the problem is that I'm surrounded by people who are victims. Many of them don't know it, and wouldn't admit it if they did, but plenty do. Some have power.

Sure, one has to follow the boss's dictates anywhere, and it's always less comfortable than you might wish. But there is also a point beyond which the organization as a whole suffers by the destruction or restriction of creative and productive capacities which are repressed beneath dysfunctional structures for bullying. Pushed beyond my edge, I must protest. If not me, who? If not now, when?

So here I am back in my little blogosphere, frequented largely by bots as far as I can tell. It's never been a comfortable realm for me, but just as I don't have the time to edit when I choose to be oppressed by work, I surely don't have the time to compose writing for publication, so this is a kind of liminal realm between.

(not that I would be capable of 'writing for publication' but I do know the work which would be required, and I simply don't have and haven't had the means)

What interests me here is whether there is any room for any kind of real "creativity" by which I think I mean that there should be the possibility for me myself to return to what I write and find there things to surprise me; evidence of a muse among the controlling impulses of my own bullying mind.

But here's the thing: How am I to tell the workings of a muse apart from the deterioration of my memory?

Quite often actually, I do run across something I've written and find that I need to invest nearly as much effort as you might to discern what it was I thought I was getting at. I have no clear or distinct memory of having written the thing and even sometimes it's pretty hard to discern myself in what I'd written.

To put it another way, if someone were to forge the provenance of what I'd written I might never claim it as my own. Plus there's that uncomfortable border between the self you cringe at and the one of which you might be proud. After all, reaching for something difficult to accomplish will surely expose foolishness faster than many other activities.

Among the things I haven't done for a while is to post the books I've read on Goodreads. Now I don't know where that compulsion ever came from, but somehow there is a mix of obligation to some phantasmagorical "public" and an obligation to myself.

You see, I am the type who rather embarrassingly often starts watching a movie only to realize I've actually seen it before. That can happen a distressing distance into the film, and even with films which I then remember I'd thought at the original time had had some significant impact on my soul.

Same thing with books. So Goodreads is a way to keep myself honest. I know I dropped off at some progressive rate as this job I do kept getting harder and more stressful (even as to the extent I don't show the stress at work, they seem to think I'm not working hard enough - I have no idea how 'never let them see you sweat' became a mantra of mine . . . well, I do , but I won't waste your time about that here just yet). But let's say I've left off for just a year - I have almost no confidence in my ability to reconstruct my reading across that time. And that's despite the fact that I've had blessed little time even to read, much less to write about it.

But I do know I've read a few things at least. One, ahem, memorable book has been Moonwalking with Einstein. You'd think I'd remember it because while I was reading it I kept talking about it as though it were the most important book I'd read.

It was about memory, and how we no longer teach the necessary techniques for remembering. It touched on the ways that various communications technologies, starting with writing and paper, mitigated the need to work on memory. Just now, for instance - and I'm pretty sure I've blogged about this - I depend utterly on some kind of smartphone (now just as likely to be the built-in web capacity of my up-capable Kindle) to make my references and definitions on the spot.

I even convince myself that this is improving my mind; and that the mitigation of my need to remember is minor compared against the vastly expanded scope in context for my reading. (I do remember the physical hassle of reading next to Websters, and then cataloguing mentally how many times I'd looked up that word I still couldn't quite place) But I'm not always so sure!

By the end of the Moonwalking book, I'd gotten jaded I must say. It was yet another callow Yalie presenting to the world his brilliance. He had provenance in parentage, worth at least the million dollar advance he'd gotten for the writing he would do.

Sure he presented and represented himself just the way I do, as someone challenged in the memory department. Making it all the more amazing that he became a champion in the memory Olympics. Or not. For sure, just as I lack confidence in my ability to craft publishable writing, I lack whatever work-ethic he must have to accomplish so much so early in life. Right?

But wait! I work damn hard. I guess I'm just not smart enough. But wait! I'm a Yalie too! OK, so I don't have the provenance. But wait! Among the books I've read is one I retrieved from Buffalo while there over Christmas depersonalizing the old space I'd lived in (It still looks like me, so I guess I'm not very good at that either). It's a genealogy compiled by my now severely memory-challenged Dad (he's housed in a "memory unit") about one branch of my illustrious family, twice-connected I remind myself, to those who came over on the Mayflower. Among those I descend from is the fellow who coined the term "Freeway" which somehow makes me feel more at home here in SoCal.

And he's by no means the most illustrious of the bunch. Lots of Harvard, lots of invention, lots of smart engineering, all things I claim - sometimes when I'm feeling feisty - as my heritage. But nobody giving me a boost when I need it. No current coat-tails. Well, plus a positive ethic against them.

Dad truly enjoyed telling about the $500 plus "good luck" he got when he turned 18 or so. A good academic record plus the bad eyesight to keep him away from frontlines in war and the GI bill got him through college and Harvard Law. Where he had the better record compared with famous classmates, dontchaknow?

I did actually travel Back East over the holidays in some conscious appreciation of that Einstein book, which recalls the techniques once taught alongside rhetoric to keep things precisely in mind. In brief, these involve a mental architecture and landscape which you populate with memorable things relating according to some code to the words you must remember.

My older daughter's now at Yale law (see, I can't really help myself) and I hadn't been back there since leaving in ignominy well longer ago than she is old (as Dad would always let people know upon his presentation of me, I did leave in ignominy rather more than once). So we took a little time, and she gave me well more than a little indulgence, to review and revisit those places I'd once inhabited.

Some tiny details were out of place, and some places were now shut off by the ubiquitous electronic barriers of our age, but it all came back. The boatyard where I'd rebuilt my now departed sailboat. Bits of carpentry miraculously still intact (I'm plenty proud of that piece!). We even got ourselves into the stacks at Sterling, by a kind of persistence I'm known for, after being rejected by the first officious minder (there I was only a little bit distressed by how many of my secret precious finds had been removed to offsite storage, perhaps for their preservation).

We rode this memory lane all the way back to Buffalo, where I continued across the much-delayed process of cleaning out files and bookshelves (I haven't the means in either time or money to travel back there, and so these things just sat). I've been through this all a distressing number of times, and feel as though I've written about it (you tell ME - I'm guessing it's sitting in some unpublished "draft" here in the blogosphere). I've moved rather a lot as I try to recalibrate my life without children to keep me focused.

But each little piece - some persist across serial and increasingly frequent cullings - does retain its memory. These provide some reassurance that I still persist to some greater extent than Dad does. I finally did have to enlist my younger daughter to throw stuff out, looking the other way and only butting in when the pain became too great. Little things, like the clay pipe issued when I finally did graduate from Yale. In a box somewhere in Mom's attic now while she still has one.

Now I'm reassured by an old friend who came to visit - the place I live in among old-folks because it's all I can afford - manages to "look like me." Yeah, well, I sometimes try to change and sometimes not. I have neither attic nor basement, and so the cullings have been as severe as the Southwest Airlines two-free-bag limit, which is a different blessing of sorts (cheaper to ship me than my stuff, haven't I already told you?).

So back to the point, assuming I still have one. I'm never sure if the writing I do is to keep my mind or to lose it. To build it or recall it.

I do know that without some sort of constructive thinking, most of the reading I do won't "go" anywhere. In the end, that's why I want to go back to school. And if I do write, maybe I can bring something to it that must go wanting when younger and more callow minds do their thing.

I mean it could be true that there is such a thing as just so very much brilliance that it's worth Zuckerberg-sized amounts of money. But it could also be that the rewards we give reflect a kind of compulsive systemic need to hold onto the structural components of our lives that we need most strongly to believe in. And who can tell the charlatans from the real deal? Better have some provenance.

(At some point one might hope that Zuckerberg would look in the mirror and gasp 'my god am I worth that much' and know the absurdity and injustice of it. But I guess he's no more likely than a prince is, or a Mafia chief or some one of China's politburo. I mean who elected you, right?)

Pay me and I can do good work too, if we could just get dumb luck out of the way. And so could you.

But well, here's the thing. My words are not the sum of me. They also cut me off from things that are or were. And those things which can be preserved digitally would never even instigate any recollection of myself.

You know, just now this morning I do ponder what I should and must do to move over the profile from my old PC. It carries in its belly those files that I had retrieved from computers which had held other living archives, and I never could muster the energy to go through them. It's not the same as the shoeboxes full of photos. Hell, now that my digital camera is long-stolen and I can rely on the work iPhone, every damn time I synchronize it, I get a different and differently redundant set of photos than the ones I got some other time across some other OS or iOS update, and who could possibly have the time to de-duplicate (or trust the software that I once investigated?)?

What parts of me are floating around Facebook or Goodreads or in some file-cabinet I forgot about or neglected or trashed? Does it matter? Will it go up in the smoke of my various passwords as I forget those? Does it matter?

See I cannot finish. It's more work than I can afford. But I can tell you that love is the secret (not to my password!). It's the only thing which gives me any coherence, and you know without my daughter there, I might never have paid a visit to myself either.

And so I will muster the courage to resist what they would have me do for money, or against the pain to live without it. I will recall my mission in life, and be glad I have one. And I will do my very best to be sure you here (???) about it. And I will do my very even better to be sure that it's worth hearing about and not some self-aggrandizement for the sake of my private castle in the sky or elsewhere.

I do declare . . . . what a mess!

Saturday, March 2, 2013

What Hath God Wrought

I think it may be true that the only times I've found to post for quite a while have been holidays. I might have thought that I was inspired by the holiday, but more likely it was simply that I had the time.

This time I'm posting because I took a rare day off from work due to illness. Not the dread flu, which was all over the airwaves, if not in the air, but an ordinary cold which was compounded by the peculiar overwork I suffer.

It's not that I'm taking sick time to write. What I actually did was to take time at the end of being unable to move this past Friday to buy a new computer. And hence the occasion to write, maybe just a little bit like a holiday. Whee, a computer which actually works!

I'm more than a little bit embarrassed about how much time I've spent on this purchase. It started with a desperate attempt to find a way to keep using the old and even originally very cheap little laptop which has been my only such tool for maybe four years. You may recall, gentle reader, that I did hang on to my old VW until it had at least 330 thousand American miles (and my sister still drives it). I still regret letting go, although praise be to the gods of technology, the new one was cheaper and slicker and had all the bells and whistles (plus bluetooth!!) for no extra trim-package!

Bizarrely, since Microsoft was offering an upgrade for a price I couldn't resist, an installation of Windows 8 gave the old machine a new-ish lease on life. This is perverse in the arena of technology, but true for reasons I could but won't bore you about just now. Anyhow, something about the attractive nuisance of a touch screen, combined with inevitable thrashing-hangups on the old one and the fact that I have new plans to return to school rationalized a new computer. Passive voice.

And of course I want excuse to try it out! [sic]

Meantime, being sick, I also started reading What Hath God Wrought as recommended by a friend. Typically for me I have a few books open (virtually, since they are largely on Kindles these days) at the same time; the other one being Visions of Technology (come to think of it, this is a paper book, literally open) which is a great reminder that all the things technological that we obsess about these days have been obsessed about throughout most of the previous - that's the twentieth - century.

So I'm just beginning the book about the period between the Spanish-American war and the Civil War, which focuses on the communications revolution which characterizes that time-frame. Together with the other book, it makes a pretty good reminder that as excited as we might be about the supposed technological revolutions we currently enjoy or suffer - depending on point of view - there isn't much very revolutionary about them. At least not on the scale of the truly revolutionary new technologies of the nineteenth century.

We are, you know, still stuck in the old metaphors of speed and action at a distance and bulk transfer of text. Only the speed and volume have changed, which is a very bad thing if you are, as I am, concerned about global warming.

Somewhere recently I was reminded - I truly don't think I'd learned if for the first time, though there was apparently something new about it - that insects and birds and even cats find their way across the globe in unfamiliar territory by means of the stars and the earth's magnetic field-profile. So that this is programmed in, as we like to say, to the DNA.

Well sure, right? Somehow these critters must learn to migrate with the seasons, and there are enough of them and they breed quickly enough that they can internalize the patterns of survival right into their collective being, given that the patterns in the world about don't fluctuate too awfully fast. (One must wonder, for the stars, what happens with light and other forms of pollution, and with the magnetic field, about the grid)

We once were better wired-in to the environment ourselves, I'm sure. But that the written word detached us. Downloaded into consciousness those things we once knew with certainty because we didn't have to - nay (!!) couldn't - think of them.

There is nothing now we can't (and won't) think of!

Which is precisely how we're blinded. The revolution taking place now, beneath our consciousness as it were, is the dawning realization that we are not discreet thinking entities at all, but rather participants in a global consciousness of written records. We will, we shall, submerge, and once again align ourselves with stars and magnetic fields. Collectively, you know?

 . . . because the barriers of identity between us will and must and have already started to dissolve. We have forgotten how to remember, we have no need to calculate, we can consult our smartphones to keep our dates and revive our references.

But these technologies upon which we so very much depend are the last gasp of the nineteenth century revolution. The one about to envelop us (I almost said 'descend upon us!') is about identity or its absence. We are as one, no matter how hard we try to distinguish ourselves. No matter how hard we try to preserve that sense of freedom embodied by the automobile (or absurdly in California, the lane-splitting motorcycle) and that sense of individual isolation. It's gone.

I do declare!

Well, back to my reading. It looks as though this new communications device is a keeper.