Saturday, December 27, 2014

Rejects of Greek Mythology


One of our most salient human characteristics is our capacity for storytelling. Stories entertain, move, and shape us. They document, explain, and instruct.

Some narratives are so powerful, so thoroughly internalized by a population, they have a greater impact than bombs.  Certainly, many weapons have been discharged in defense of one coveted tale over another.

As much sway as stories hold over us, they're an arbitrary force we manufacture. Accounts become so old and well-known we forget they could have followed a different plot line. 

Imagine if we had access to rough drafts. What if Medusa had a scalp of golden roses and transformed people into pure chi? What if Robert Frost had taken the highway? How about a female Christ? In an alternate version, we may just as easily have spent a childhood leaving quarters under our pillows for the Scab Fairy.

A revised manuscript may well alter the course of an entire culture.

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Friday, December 12, 2014

The Lightning Spike























Sweltering in wait. First hopefully, then patiently, then desperately.

Determined!

Enduring the laser of a burning predicament. (Some of us are better at starting fires than putting them out.)

Hot, punishing stillness.

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Friday, November 28, 2014

ADHD

Thoughts are like light beams. The more concentrated, the more they illuminate. A focused mind can conceive and realize tremendous objectives.  The power of concentration has given us piano sonatas and discipline to practice them, novels and the literacy to read. Consider all that Stephen Hawking grasped about the space-time continuum because he had so much uninterrupted time and space to study it. If not for a rigorous brain, we still wouldn't know how to control fire or raise food, let alone come up with paella, the Sistine Chapel, and quantum theory.

But.

Our attention span.  

Is becoming.  

Byte-sized.

Industrial automation and electronic overstimulation have shattered presence of mind, the very aspect separating us from those erratic squirrels we're increasingly unable to ignore.

A lack of mental stamina threatens everything of substantive worth because a fragmented thought process yields an incoherent conclusion, the way a smashed mirror reflects a splintered face. Deep understanding, sustainable innovation, lasting relationships, the arts, justice... it all depends on patient perseverance.

Multitasking is a euphemism for distraction.

Eventually, by sabotage or exhausted resources, a wholesale collapse of the digital infrastructure will force an analog reboot. In the meantime, we might ready ourselves and maintain some synaptic tenacity by willfully disconnecting from the Network, by safeguarding our precious time for slow, offline engagements like meditation, drawing, fishing, building a deck, reading a book, writing one, having face-to-face conversationsjust sitting with the stereo on, reflecting. 

Should this mass cognitive decline go on unchecked, should we wait too long to reassemble our collective consciousness, some crucial pieces may be lost altogether.

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Friday, November 14, 2014

Pageant


There are beautiful souls living in unsightly containers, and gorgeous vessels with little inside.

Overemphasized beauty is a cover for missing or questionable substance, and it's less attractive besides.

Like glitter on a husk.

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Friday, October 31, 2014

The Fourth Kind



There may be limitless variation on life among the sextillion or so planets, but we're limited by our human schema when envisioning what it might look like. We necessarily conceive of the greater sentient universe in terms of earthly society, as that's our only reference point.

Films, writings, and interviews on the extraterrestrial more often involve encounters with predatory monsters because those vicious aliens are a projected fear that foreign life forms resemble humanity at its worst. It's easiest to imagine astronauts being shot down and vivisected in an outer-space operating chamber since that's just what our institutions would do if the ship were on the other shore.

In here and out there, we pose the most consistent threat to ourselves.

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Saturday, October 18, 2014

Witch Dog


How would we feel if other creatures saw us as amusing mannequins around which to drape, bundle, and tie humiliating apparel made in their image? What if a peacock stuck a flashy accordion fan to your backside without asking? Or if a kangaroo glued a hairy pocket on your stomach? Claustrophobics, be thankful you don't belong to a turtle or a hermit crab.

Put yourself in their scales, feathers, and fur. Pugs already resemble chewed gum, so spare them the tinseled Christmas sweater with matching sleigh-bell cuffs announcing their every googly-eyed entrance. And all those cats persecuted on Easter, enduring the indignity of being dressed and photographed as another animal that is both cuter and lower on the food chain.

If I were a pet with a festive, childless owner, I'd be under the bed waiting the holidays out like a passing storm.

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Friday, October 3, 2014

PG-13




Nothing against adolescenceit's a bridge to adulthood we all must crossbut tweens and teens are not fully-developed beings.  By simple fact of a shorter life, they find novelty in cliché, depth in shallowness. They're forgivably whim over wisdom and are entitled to a learning curve. 

The trouble is that their demographic has the most disposable income, and companies have seized on this.

So the airwaves ring with formulaic edginess around impotent anthems of pseudo-revolution. Movie screens burst with explosions and costumes in place of plot and character development. Supermarkets teem with highlighter-colored drinks and snacks engineered to nourish cartoon characters.

With so much censored for substance, where are the casual opportunities for personal betterment?  How do you bring about a society of healthy, whole people when the majority are reared on sugar and emptiness?  In part, our cultural collapse will come from gauging the success of industry by how well it appeases the impulses of those who can barely grow pubic hair.

It's time for a grown-up rating system.

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Friday, September 19, 2014

Soloft


No matter how great the liftoff, we eventually have to land on the ground of our own lives.

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Friday, September 5, 2014

Down in the Bog



Apparently, the farther into the earth a creature resides, the less aesthetically appealing it is to us, as if the clouds were made of beauty cream and the dirt were made of... dirt.

Birds are typically associated with gorgeous gracefulness and freedom. When asked, most surveyed would choose to be a bird. Koalas, squirrel monkeys, and their other tree-perched counterparts?  High up in the canopy and generally adorable.

At sea level, things can go either way. Depending where you tread, the terrain holds everything from bunnies to boars, ponies to porcupines. (The giraffe is an interesting case: half airborne, half grounded. Certainly, the head is cuter than the tail.)

The subterranean realm is the place to go if you wanna churn up some ugly. No shortage of worms, cicadas, and star-nosed moles down there. The ocean yields the same effect; it's those critters way at the bottomarctic, soulless gourd-fish with spindly spotlights, jagged razor teeth, and murder brainsthat are creepiest.

The sky and surface of the planet have been considerably more explored than the spaces far below our feet. Imagine the as-yet-uncovered horror show of buried species ready to freak us out if we'd only dig further! Somewhere deep in the green, oatmeal nastiness of a secluded swamp lurks a revolting, blind, snaggletoothed slime blob awaiting its terrible debut.

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Friday, August 22, 2014

Horrible Hell




Damn. Why is it downright effortless to be negative? Easy as flopping onto a sagging, old couch.  At times I have to consciously will myself to maintain an optimistic outlooklike holding a mental plank positionwhereas pessimism comes as freely as diarrhea. The wrong notes seem to ring loudest. A persistent pebble in a hiking boot spoils the majestic rockiness of the mountain. 

In truth, things usually work out, and a statistically significant number of people perform inspiring acts, so this default gloominess perplexes me.  Undoubtedly, life is a gorgeous light that I mean to burn brilliantly for as long as the filament lasts (perhaps I should switch to an LED). Nonetheless, my brain bends toward darkness.

Curvature of the mind.

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Friday, August 8, 2014

Minions



Decision makers who set the most destructive self-serving policies rarely face the millions they impact. When we're denied, disenfranchised, outsourced, and outraged, we don’t get to look our antagonist in the eye. We’re left instead to condemn the marionettes in lieu of their puppeteer.

After the expensive printer you ordered arrives made of cardboard and malfunctions accordingly, you don't get to chew out the executive who opted for cheaper parts and labor while charging the same price. A battered customer service rep will absorb that hostility. As you get word that your medical procedure isn't covered by insurancedespite the thousands you've bled in premiums and the thousands more the company's made investing themthe loathsome messenger will be another working stiff with the same insufficient coverage. When elected representatives stop representing us, our complaints are handled by staffers, our protests met by police.

It's time the disgruntled correct this nearsightedness and hold the right characters accountable. If a mass wrong is perpetrated, go after the mastermind before his minions. 

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Saturday, July 26, 2014

Vague Viking



There are conflicting accounts of ninth-to-eleventh-century Norse people. One story characterizes them as intelligent craftsmen and traders with progressive ideas on gender equality.  In the alternate version, they're a berserk whirlwind of theft, rape, and murder.

So which is it?

Eventually, every narrative becomes false as time and interpretation filter it into an oversimplified distillate.  Only firsthand experience can reveal what history obscures.

Not that I'd like to find out, in this case.

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Friday, June 27, 2014

The League


The intensity of the soccer fan is unmatched, at times escalating into literal mania. There's less chance of getting stampeded to death at a Slayer show.

Why the rabid enthusiasm?  Why revere such an impractical skill?  Unless you're a penguin, you can just pick up the damn thing and run it to the other end!

Hmm. Maybe that's precisely the draw: for many, making it through the mined landscape of daily circumstance is a rugged challenge, so staying balanced and nimble while hands-free becomes a metaphor for navigating adversity.

Or everyone just really likes football.

The appeal aside, if sports fanatics focused as incessantly on issues that most threaten us all as they do those flying hexagons, this might be one sweet world. Besides―if it all gets used up, wiped out, squandered with reckless abandon―there'll be no games left to play.

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Friday, June 13, 2014

Caste System



Despite isolated pockets of upward mobility, society is hierarchical. The sacrifices of those below enable the surplus of those above them. The slope of the triangle may be more or less steep at a given time, but the overall socioeconomic pyramid holds, immovable as the ancient Egyptian structures.

How did it start? Which savage, monobrowed mouth-breather was the first to subordinate a fellow cave dweller?

It's been so long, this disparity, that it will take a global catastrophe to level the field.

And then so very little to spur the next shoving match.

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Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Sígnatéur


Animals make their mark by rubbing, digging, and/or relieving themselves on it. We sign our name.

Though abstract, a written name carries material power. It can be the difference between financial liberation and hindering debt, between getting a promotion and getting fired, going free or serving time, fact versus legend.

How we write our name is as unique as the fingerprints holding the pen, and it reveals something about us. If the prescriptions I've gotten filled are an indication, physicians are too busy to write carefully or feel that legibility is beneath them, while a slave's "X" on a pre-Abolition document is a tragic symbol of his captive illiteracy. 

Because inscription is so individual, it's also very emotional. It's why forgery feels like such a deep violation, and why collectors pay big money for autographs at auction: to feel closer to celebrities by acquiring their essence in ink.

More than fluent scribbling, the signature is the face of our penmanship, the insignia of ourselves.

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Friday, May 9, 2014

Editing Room C


Revision isn't always advisable.

Coca-Cola, for instance. It remained the quintessential, Platonic ideal of a soft drink for ninety-nine years. Then in 1985 they rolled out New Coke for no good reason, and it became an unpalatable affront to soda enthusiasts everywhere, who preferred the recipe before it tasted like hairspray.

Similarly, 2005 didn't need a remake of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory because the 1971 Gene Wilder version is scrumdiddlyumptious.

Cosmetic enhancements are said to enhance, but images of plastic surgery addicts illustrate how most of us don't need remaking either. Perfectly good faces edited into eggshell; unwanted marks erased until the doctor's pencil tears through the page.

Hi-tech videogame fitness? Good ol' lap swimming or sex will always be a better workout than a Wii.

And all that texting. Has it really enhanced communication? Hasn't it instead diluted our language and thought into a thin broth of acronyms and emoticons? Digital grunts have replaced conversation.

Finally, how much more capable of blowing up everyone do the world's superpowers need to be?  I thought we had that covered by the mid-20th Century.

"New and improved" is the oxymoron of our time.

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Monday, April 21, 2014

Crab Detector


Though our surroundings are bannered with slogans of freedom and choice, it's the American way to conform.  Starting in grade school, being hard to predict and categorize brings suspicion, teasing, and incorrect answers on standardized assessments. As adults, recess and bubble tests are replaced with other settings and measures equally intolerant of our idiosyncrasies. 

Thankfullynecessarilythere remain boldly unusual characters who maintain and unapologetically celebrate their difference. Standout souls too rare to care about the heckler's ridicule. Defiers of the status quo. 

If not for our imagination, what makes us human?

I'm not sure what this arbitrary image from my headspace is, but that's the purpose of a blank canvas: to invite originality. Sometimes a new idea gains meaningful traction and becomes usable. Other times it turns out an impractical novelty and just fades away like a contrail to nowhere.  Regardless, the creative act has value because it's a thrill in itself, and propels further creativity and eventual change.  Without it, we lap a tired, redundant track.

Damn it!

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Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Benson


A particular sense of humor, or lack thereof, reveals much about an individual and your odds of getting along.  Has anyone ever had a humorless best friendship?

It's especially unfortunate when procreational fate pairs one with an unsympathetic sibling. A childhood desaturated by petty conflict and underappreciated punch lines.

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Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Archeological


The past is underground. Digging through the soil sometimes surprises us with alternatives to established narratives we thought we knew.

Take dinosaurs. As paleontologists unearth more evidence, we realize that most were not meat-eating Godzillas, but were often smaller, scampering critters with an appetite for vegetation. Some even had feathers versus the stereotypical scales. 

Similarly, The Dead Sea Scrolls revealed that the Old Testament is an even older testament than previously believed.

James Cook may not have discovered Australia after all, according to some thousand-year-old African coins found Down Under.

And, apparently, early Homo sapiens possessed crude milkshake-making technology, as evidenced by the remains of certain scavenging creatures from the period.

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Sunday, March 9, 2014

Priming His Thugs


Tyrants and enforcers enjoy a symbiotic relationship because the dictator needs cruel muscle as much as violent meatheads need an outlet for their hostility.

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Saturday, February 22, 2014

OCD


Lists. Piles. Columns. Rows. Routines. Right angles. Highs. Lows.

So hard to escape such perpetual force.  Again, and again, and again, and more...

Organization and rumination.

My autobiography.

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Thursday, February 13, 2014

Girl Scout Troop No. 465


They came to earn their badges.

What they got was a one-way hike to Hell.

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Saturday, January 25, 2014

Here Goes Nothing


Before humankind, matter generally lay around unless weather or giant reptiles stirred it up.  Then we arrived, began thinking about our relationship to the environment, put a few rocks together, and before you know it the planet's got jungle gyms, Rubix cubes, and computers.

Between athletics and the military, it seems the bulk of our ingenuity goes into making stuff fly and collide. Playing sports is basically controlling the trajectory of things. Wars amount to nations hurling volatile material at one another. 

All those impartial atoms caught in the middle.

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Saturday, January 11, 2014

Secrets


Is there any such thing as a secret in the twenty-first century?  Try as we may, we're bound to leave an electronic trail when so many of our transactions and interactions are mediated by gadgetry. In the end, even the careful technophile can't dodge the most determined, resourced extractors of information. If the Man wants to know, he will.

I guess the last place left to hide is our dreams.

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Saturday, January 4, 2014

Big Earl


Some souls are misguided, make bad decisions, and endure a social, physical, or emotional consequence. They balance their moral debt sheet with sacrifice, discomfort, and (hopefully) remorse. They aren't necessarily bad at heart and may have turned out differently under other conditions.

Frustratingly, there are others―real bastards―who never pay for the destructive, self-serving choices that they make, at least not in this lifetime.

What about those who get away with it? Assuming an afterlife, does some sort of metaphysical justice await in a cosmic court on the other side? Does it even matter considering that the sentence wouldn't prevent the harm already done? (Futile or not, part of me can't help wishing flames upon them.)

If such a spiritual penal system does exist, there are particular beings among us who surely have or will serve time there: serial killers, ruthless dictators, human traffickers, rapists, swindlers, Vikings, persistent telemarketers, the inventor of Styrofoam packing peanuts...

And this character.

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