Dear Mudge, A mindful youth

Hi Mudge,

How’s your vet-tech pursuit coming along? Save any hamsters or poodles yet? My son and his girlfriend have an African hedgehog as a pet they named “Kitty” (what?). Strange creature. Didn’t the Red Queen play croquet using hedgehogs as balls? Will you be specializing in a subset of species? Curious minds…

I see you’re back at your quantum existential possibility questions. As I mentioned in comments, I prefer simplicity. What’s the most likely scenario as to what we are, why we’re here, is my existence part of a larger whole or a singular occurrence where my so called consciousness manifests all that I see around me? In my mind the simplest answer applies: we’re animated bags of chemicals being the result of emergent behavior stemming from both the vast chaos and fundamental atomic rules that govern the cosmos; that is, happy/traumatic accidents. But, such an answer seems a let down, so humanity contrives more complicated scenarios that provide an elevated basis for existence. Bah! DNA and its core raison d’etre—that of persistence—emerged from chaos, the result being us.

NoPhonesAllowed

This morning I awoke thinking of her. But after she melted away from my subconscious I considered my formative years and how different they were from those of today’s youth. In this letter I’m talking about portable technology. At age 10, I walked out the door, on a warm summer’s morning and didn’t return until hunger or darkness insisted, a pocketknife and a bicycle my only accoutrements. Even up into my 20’s a set of keys, a pocketknife, and a wallet was all I carried. The only technology available at that time being a radio in a car or truck. During those years I was engaged with the world. It filled my senses. And if the world proved dull, my own mind entertained me. I’m certain my best thinking time was had riding a motorcycle hellbent along meandering coastal roads.

Will today’s youth lament that which they never had?

All their thinking is done for them—in the cloud, by strangers.

I consider that society won’t truly know what happens to folks, constantly plugged in, until the ’00’s generation is in their 40’s. Those children, raised with an “i”… in their hands, their eyes and ears immersed in virtual worlds, what will have become of their minds by age forty? Is there any way back from this conversion to a digital consciousness?

I only use a phone as an occasional information tool and annoying alarm system: “Honey, are you coming home yet?” But my kids, I’m certain they would become inconsolably distraught at the loss of their phones. I suspect they would survive, but they enjoyed their early years sans-technology, catching lizards, picking berries, beach combing and whatnot—no insidious technology around.

When the CME finally strikes triggering the End of Electricity, what of the ’00’s who know nothing but the net? Will they descend into catatonic digital-detox?

What endearing youthful stories do you have that personify who you’ve become today?

Your friend,
‘Mole

 

 


Dear Mole, Stupid Questions

receipt

Perhaps pondering unanswerable questions is our version of playing Angry Birds.  It’s certainly no farther up the scale of practicality or importance.

It also serves to alleviate the tedium of the daily grind, though I’m not sure why.

Whether or not those “other beings of the Cosmos” exist to question their own existences might be a moot point and quantum physics, as usual, is the culprit in rendering the query meaningless.  Since over a century’s worth of research and experimentation has shown time and time again that the result of an experiment must take the experimenter and his or her laboratory equipment into account – literally inextricable from the equation – is “why are we here?” even a viable question anymore?

This bizarre and counter-intuitive theory leads me to only one conclusion: we are all mortal gods.  Animals, too.  Any living thing, in fact, that can be said to be “experiencing” is among the pantheon of temporary gods.  We created “all this” with our own perception of it – if there is no one to perceive it, can it be said to exist?  This then leads to an even stranger question: did anything exist before the first being had its first moment of sentience?  All of that background radiation leading astrophysicists to posit the 14 billion year old event called The Big Bang – what if this 14 billion year old shit is actually only as old as the first person who thought about it?

We cannot conceive of nothingness, though it’s the (non) state in which we were(n’t) prior to being born.  We go through hours of it every night in dreamless sleep.  It’s a pretty safe bet that it’s precisely where we’re headed after our century or so of melodrama comes to an end.  So…if I, Desert Curmudgeon, were to die in my sleep, would anyone else wake up to experience another morning?  I mean, everything I’ve ever perceived has necessitated my observation to manifest, according to the aforementioned quantum theory.  So is this like a Truman Show situation for just one of us or are all of us simultaneously conjuring different experiences of reality?  Does it matter?  Would our ultimate destiny of eternal non-existence be changed one iota by either answer?

A recently trendy phrasing of the same existential conundrum goes like this: “Why is there something instead of nothing?”  Think about nothing again, but this time extricate yourself from the equation and just think of the physical, inanimate universe.  No living beings, no intelligence whatsoever to observe the phenomenon of cosmic flotsam and jetsam colliding and exploding and disintegrating and reintegrating in perpetuity.  Is this possible?  Obviously, I’m excluding “god” from this question, too.  Lifeless, chaotically moving stuff having no living stuff to observe it and with which to interact.  To my mind, this could not have been the case nor could it ever become the case.  “Stuff” without an observer isn’t stuff – it’s nothing.  “Nothing” with an observer isn’t nothing – it’s empty space or blackness or silence.

This is why I envy my dog.

I’ve no questions, as such, with which to leave you today.  I’m just interested in hearing your thoughts about…all of the above.

Try not to hurt yourself.

Intangibly,

‘Mudge


Dear Mudge, Life Beyond the Oosik

Dear Mudge,

For the most part, we all have work-a-day minds. Hearing of yours, at the outset of your endeavor, engendered fellowship, and was therefore not tedious.

The enthusiasm of your associates at your big step back into the grind hallmarks either their alleviating concern for your well-being, or selfish intent due to you sharing the agony of their daily slog. I know what you’d say, but I’d wager on the former.

Per “The lie we live to live” (— Anonymole), survival in this day and age, I believe, is just a string of diversions. If you get stuck on one, so be it. Else you blunder ’till the next one. Fortunately, the offering is exhaustive. And if blogs, books, or Amazon’s cornucopia of distractions doesn’t meet your needs, the world has infinite room for new ones.

I recall some Inuit classmates of mine, when I went to UA Fairbanks, who owned oosiks, scrimshawed until they resembled tubular cities. Such things were often massive and painfully long. One fellow, Jack Derenoff, half Russian, half “Eskimo”, owned many. I doubt collecting baculums remained a lifelong passion.

oosik

Teaching? Just another diversion. Our brains are much too big (those here, reading these words at least), for our own good. Idle or active pastimes are a must. Codifying and organizing the writing process, though looked on with derision by some, allows me some pleasure. Another distraction of mine is, as I’ve often mentioned here, collecting evidence for life/no life in the Universe. I wandered upon this video. I share it as I found the production top-notch.

Pondering such things, as philosophers are wont to do, does give perspective on the pointlessness of existence. Have other beings of the Cosmos examined the Absurd Universe? If they exist, which I doubt, then perhaps they have. And their realization of the quandary may be our answer to Fermi’s Paradox.

Ever wondering,
‘Mole


Writer’s Log: 2170 Workshop Review

My Writing Workshop was a success.

Two hours, the first one with me power-driving through the strategic and tactical slides. Then an hour of presenting some of the participant’s work and walking through edits I’d made.

No one wanted to go home despite the late hour. Writers, sheesh. They don’t know when to quit.

I solicited some feedback and here was a comprehensive reply:

“Honestly, was very interesting and easy for me to follow. I left the meeting feeling a little burned out because I felt like I learned quite a few really very useful and interesting things. Your expertise on the subject matter was apparent. To me one of the most important aspects was you listed a number of meaningful calls to action to improve our work.

I left the meeting feeling encouraged by the fact that if I work at it, I will continue to improve. providing the calls to action is a really important part of that. It will be important to maintain the progression I think. I wouldn’t have guessed that it was your first time leading a instruction and critique session.

Perhaps something that could add value is to find specific examples of some of the areas of improvement within the our work and talk through some of the edits that you suggest. Of course that would be easier if people didn’t submit 20 minutes before the session started haha.

Overall, very educational, and encouraging. Will look forward to participating in the future.”

Although I didn’t record it (sorry Goldie, George) I’m pretty sure it happened.

Another:

“I thought the workshop was excellent. I appreciated that you tackled the basics. I like the idea of moving on to higher level information, but i think it would be great to do more of a deep dive on some of the basics like dialogue and scenes before we move into strategy. It was nice that you gave feedback to everyone. Maybe next time we could also do a deep dive on one person’s work and have a discussion about it? This might help people to start thinking critically. “

Initially, my nervousness showed. But after I moved through the Takeaways slide, I got into explaining my ideas on each of the big pieces. I noticed that, rather that read the slides, I ignored them, and spoke around the material, providing a parallel take on the bullet points I’d provided. I personally hate when speakers just read the frickin’ slides. (The folks get to access the presentation at their leisure.)

I did use the material I’d created for the basic skills—the tactical. Reading a sentence and assessing why it either works or doesn’t (given all the factors that make up a good sentence: dialog-tags, active/passive, show-v-tell, adverbs, story essential) helps drive home what ‘writing well’ truly means. To me, internalizing these sentence tactics is both the hardest yet critical aspect to good writing. You can have the most fantastical plot, the strongest characters, and the greatest setting, but without having mastered the basics, your story will suck.


Dear Mole: Misanthropy 101

dog

Busy, yes, but in my case, only comparatively so in relation to my recent year of shirking all responsibility.  After receiving my textbook in the mail about a week and a half ago, I awoke at 5:00 a.m. the next day and hit the ground running.  I learned the correct directional terms on an animal’s body used in veterinary clinics, the names of all the bones in the canine and feline skeletal systems, the proper operation of a radiograph and ECG machine, the roles of the circulatory, endocrine, digestive and respiratory systems of domesticated animals, and the signs and symptoms of common diseases.  I continued this pace for another few days, acing the quizzes for each lesson, until it dawned on me that I had to slow my roll.  I mean, of course I was getting 100% on these quizzes – I was taking them literally two seconds after sitting through the corresponding lesson.  Perhaps this signifies a better short-term memory than I thought I possessed, but it doesn’t mean I retained the information.  So now, I’m taking a lesson a day and saving the quiz for the following morning after I’ve slept on it.

I’m surprised I didn’t nod off while typing that tedious opening paragraph.  Does that imply disinterest in the details of this new career I’m so impetuously pursuing?  Yes.  Yes, it does.  For instance, when I think about the woman in my past with whom I was most in love, I can’t ever remember taking even the most cursory interest in the function and structure of her spleen.  Ditto for Jesse.  I love dogs, but the individual parts and systems that compose and animate them have nothing to do with that fondness.  I guess I view veterinary medicine similarly to human medicine: it’s awesome when you have a broken leg or a rash on your naughty bits, but is the human animal really meant to survive for nearly a fucking century?  The precarious state of the planet on which all 7.8 billion of us live and its (naturally) ever-depleting resources is all the answer anyone should need for that one.

It’s so weird how excited everyone but me seems to be about the fact that I’m going to school.  I appreciate the enthusiastic votes of confidence, but I also think they’re somewhat misguided.  “You’ll do great, Paul!”; “How perfect!  You love animals!”; “Wow, a new chapter in your life!”  That last one’s the real kicker.  I’ve recently realized that my mind is in an obsolescent, nearly geriatric state.  I’m cool with hanging around for as long as my body holds out, observing things with varying degrees of interest and filling my head with silly frivolities, but I have zero interest in starting any “new chapters”.  In a recent post, I chalked this up to a short attention span, but that’s an oversimplification.  What I seem to be lacking is the ability to form an extended, long-term (i.e. lifelong) interest in any subject, discipline, activity or person.  I absorb most information that I take in, assuming I’m at least moderately curious about it.  For example, all of that Buddhist reading and practice into which I delved for five or six years left many lasting impressions on me, some of which inform most of my thoughts and behaviors in positive ways and will probably continue to do so since they’ve become habitual.  But the terminology?  The history?  The unpronounceable names of countless Tibetan and Indian “masters”?  The endless ritual and mantras and meditation practices?  What I found fascinating just a few short years ago bores the crap out of me now.  It’s the fact that I no longer seek out an image, you see.  If I had kept going with this and reached the point where I walked around wearing monks robes and greeting everyone with the word “Namaste”, that would indicate I’d deliberately decided to adopt the image of a “guru”, astoundingly inaccurate as that may be.  It’s also a pretty safe bet that many people would justifiably find me pathetic and laughable, just like I view anyone whose obsession is of the religious or spiritual variety.

Survival is incredibly overrated.  In the novel Breakfast of Champions, Kurt Vonnegut expressed this opinion thusly (as the godlike narrative voice describing hapless protagonist Kilgore Trout): “I had given him a life not worth living, but I had also given him an iron will to live.  This was a common combination on the Planet Earth.”  The thing is, most people seem able to fool themselves into believing they’re still passionate about the same stale old things, whether it’s a career, religion, football, romance, politics or whatever else people utilize to fill the time while they’re in the process of surviving.  What’s that you say?  What about Notes From The Avalon?  Hey, Eastern philosophy held my interest for a half dozen years; it only took me 6 months to finish that admirable online crap-fest and if you’ll recall, I nearly threw in the towel more than once before its completion.  In other words, I would have reached the end of my Fifteen rope sooner or later had the series not conveniently ended before I got bored.  I don’t know how anyone can spend the better part of 100 years forcing themselves to keep sounding passionate about their childhood religion or the high school sweetheart to whom they’ve been betrothed for decades.  How exhausting!  What if we just allowed ourselves more honesty and less ego-stroking by admitting that sometimes, sparks fade and interests die?  Would society collapse?  Maybe it would.  Some professions do indeed require an inextinguishable passion for the work.  I don’t know how the hell people do it.

So we survive for the sake of surviving.  So do tapeworms.

Learning for me is always better when it’s spontaneous.  School doesn’t provide that type of learning, so I go by rote.  Cram, memorize, hope to hell I never have to apply the knowledge in a real-world setting.

Regardless, I think you made a great list of the major components of learning.  I know that it’s great because it is the lack of ability or willingness to engage in these processes that makes humanity as odious and hopeless as it is.  The one that really struck me was “Holistic lessons are useless…sweeping statements provide no guidance”.  This should be self-evident, but obviously it isn’t.  The best illustrative example I can think of is that of the alcoholic or drug addict who, in the interest of survival, turns to A.A. or N.A. for help.  Tangible help might be expected but sweeping statements and holistic lessons are all they receive.  “Fake it ‘til you make it!”  “One day at a time.”  “Let go and let God!”  What an industrial sized vat of hogwash.  12 step programs are so popular, in fact, because they provide so little pragmatic instruction – most folks just replace the liquor entering their mouths with stupid, trite slogans exiting them.  And this is the method of “recovery” that’s still fully endorsed by the AMA.  Those dedicating themselves to the spurious views espoused by Bill Wilson in the 1930s have essentially two choices: go back to being a drunk or become the ultimate buzzkill that only other recovery automatons can tolerate.  The vital thing missing from 12 step programs, of course, is an exit strategy, and that’s why, in the absence of anything else, many people embrace it as a lifelong passion.

ryan

So we fill the time however we choose while we wait on our survival instinct as it fulfills its curious, often century-long purpose.  Those who still see “importance” in this (i.e. a divine plan or lofty visions of human destiny) are obviously too frightened to look at the foundational facts.  And those facts, once again, can be summed up very simply: we live until we don’t because that’s the way it is.  Everything else is just window dressing, usually of the gaudiest variety.

Do you enjoy teaching?  If so, how do you manage to nurture enough optimism about the future of our species to consider the transfer of knowledge a worthwhile endeavor?  Would creative writing even be publicly applicable in the oppressive authoritarian world we’re clearly determined to bring about?

Dogs have a bone in their penis called, appropriately enough, the os penis.

I retained that one.

Higgledy-Piggledy,

‘Mudge


Apocalyptic Scenario 8.a

“You’re doing it again.”

I’d been staring at Leo’s hands, their wrinkled backs, as he worked the numbers. Dozens of printed negatives lay scattered across the sandalwood table, the stars reversed to black, fuzzy dots. We’d been at it for hours, photographing the night sky, focusing on one narrow quadrant of the cosmos high above the island of Kauai.

“Yeah, I know,” I said. “Have you figured its diameter?”

“I need one more image printed. The one at three-oh-seven.” Leo maintained that being an astrophysicist had little to do with observing celestial bodies and more to do with grinding out the math.

I tapped the laptop’s keys, printed and slipped the fresh page next to the others. “Stuffy in here,” I said as I levered out the awnings that let the sweet smell of the Nā Pali Coast drift in. Our observation shack, high above the Waimea Canyon, remained in the sunrise shadow of the mountains, but the glow at the horizon promised another lovely day.

Continued here…


Dear Mudge, How to learn?

Hey ‘Mudge,

Busy times. I suspect we’ve both had our hands full. Me, exhausted from learning a new software platform (Microsoft D365) and you, starting a new career with a whole universe of knowledge to master.

I hope there’s time, here and there, for you to share your experiences. Does such a grand adventure deserve its own venue? (Of course, you’re always welcome here.)

Regarding these latest endeavors, I’ve taken pause to reconsider the process of learning. I say ‘reconsider’ as I’ve (and perhaps we’ve) examined the aspects of changing one’s mind here in these posts. And learning, to me, is the epitome of “changing your mind.”

How do you learn? I mean you, specifically. Have you considered it in abstract form? Learning something new, both mentally and physically, seems straightforward. Take the new material, read it. Read it again. Discuss it. Use it in practice, bit by bit until it sticks. The same for physical skills: condition your body, muscle by muscle, motion by motion, until you no longer have to think to move—you just flow.

Muscle memory.

My pastime endeavor, learning to write well, is more problematic. Not only do I have to learn new skills, I also have to unlearn old ones. Break bad habits and replace them with good ones.

And so, as I’m wont to do, I analyze the process and communicate my findings here.

  • The most permanent lessons learned are those that caused pain. This is one of the reasons why, by the end of our lives, most of our memories are of traumatic incidents. Happy memories? Wiped away by age. Painful memories? Burned into our minds by our innate need to survive.
  • Holistic lessons are useless. “Be the ball.” “Be who you want to become.” “Fake it ’till you make it.” How? How does one specifically accomplish such things? Details. I need finite details to apply, in repetition, to alter my behavior, that is, change my mind.
    Sweeping statements provide no guidance. They only serve to obfuscate the process.
  • The mind’s storage ability must be taken into account: short term vs long term memory. Painful memories becomes permanent due to the fact that we dwell on the situation of the trauma. How did this happen? Can I prevent it in the future?
    Skillful memories become permanent through repetition. We must transfer our short term instruction into long term knowledge through practice.
    But such abilities must be discrete, singularly identifiable such that one can consider them in reflection. And, by reflecting upon them, commit them to permanent memory.
  • So, how can we learn a vast, complex skill like “writing well” or “vet-tech”? We must deconstruct the whole into its learnable components, pieces small enough to be practiced and mastered individually.

It is with such analysis that I am assembling this writer’s workshop. And indeed, how I continue to apply myself to this 10,000 hour, 1 million words endeavor.

I’m anxious to hear of your progress,
‘Mole

HardWork