Forgot Again?

I’ve noticed a pattern.  I’ve been posting daily on this blog for over thirteen years now.  During the past two of those, several days (including the day before yesterday) have gone without a post.  It’s not that they haven’t been written—no, I have a surplus of ideas—it’s because of the pattern I mention.  I know that early morning is a bad time to be active on social media.  Few others are awake and by the time they are many, many more posts come on top of my meager efforts.  So in my reptilian brain, I think, “Maybe I should wait until about 6:30 to post—you know, when people are awake.”  My reptilian brain tends to rise between three and four (sometimes earlier) and so I really do believe people are shaking off sleep at around 6:30.  I think this although my family repeatedly assures me it’s just not true.

In any case, I load up my daily post on WordPress before starting work, which I also do early.  The pattern for the days I forget to post is this: something sets off my early morning schedule and I forget to click “publish” before getting engrossed with work.  I guess I need a blog posting alarm clock.  For example, two days ago I had an early author call from someone in Europe.  I don’t mind early calls,  as long as they’re pre-arranged, but that meant I had to jog early so that I could get dressed in time—I don’t like meeting someone for business for the first time wearing sweats.  By the time I’d jogged, changed, and wolfed down breakfast, I’d forgotten to click “publish” for the post already loaded up and ready to go.  Any interruption to my schedule can do this.  Just last month I forgot because election results were coming in.  I need that alarm clock.

Posting daily is a happy part of my routine.  I’ve done in when I have a flight out of the country later in the day.  Or when I’m overseas, I make sure to post ultra early Eastern Time (presuming I’m flying east) to make sure I get one post in each day.  If I fly west I post ultra early local time so that I can keep it about the same time as usual, or else I post later than usual—time zones flummox me.  (So far those western flights haven’t been out of the country, I would note.)  When I forget to post, however, I’m home and something disrupts my morning schedule.  Those who live by the clock, I’m told, die by the clock.  And when that happens, I’ll probably have a post loaded but I hope I’ll be forgiven if I forget to click “publish,” even if my alarm clock does go off.


Natural Wonder

I recently heard a talk about monarch butterflies that left me in awe, once again, of nature.  These remarkable insects have been in the news because of declining numbers—largely because of global warming, it seems.  We’ve only begun, however, to learn how remarkable they are, even with the head-of-a-pin-sized brains.  You might wonder why I’m discussing butterflies in November, but it’s not the first time I’ve done that.  Besides, global warming has made it relevant.  So what about monarchs?  Perhaps the most remarkable thing is that they migrate.  And to do so it takes about four generations.  This deeply embedded behavior shows an intelligence in nature that we’re reluctant to grant.  Still it’s clearly there.  I live in Pennsylvania and we have monarchs around here and they can be found as far north as southern Canada.

Photo credit: Kenneth Dwain Harrelson, via Wikimedia Commons, GNU Free Documentation License

These monarchs around here aren’t the ones who left their overwintering spot in Mexico.  The earliest ones we see up here may have flown in from the Carolinas or the Midwest, where they may’ve been born.  As adults they feed on flower nectar, but to be born they require milkweed plants.  Monarchs only lay their eggs on this one plant family.  The milkweed contains a toxin that they’ve evolved to eat and that toxin gives them a really bad flavor.  That’s why birds tend not to eat monarchs.  So they reproduce in northern locations until environmental cues change the late season eggs.  These late season generation produces the butterflies that will migrate.  Instead of hanging around sipping nectar, they find south (they can tell time and they only fly on days with a south wind) and make their way to one specific area in Mexico to overwinter.  They don’t eat at that stage.

In the spring, hungry, they following blooming desert flowers north.  They follow the food supply, birthing new generations to carry on, until they reach the latitude they prefer.  So some stay around here, eating and reproducing until the cycle begins again in the autumn.  It might seem like a lot of extra work (consider what we do in the office all day and try to criticize) yet it demonstrates the remarkable intelligence of nature.  That migrating generation has to know to fly south and they have to be able to find direction.  Once there, and ready to return, their offspring’s offspring will (we suspect because of other species) know where their great-great-grandparents lived and they head there over three generations.  All of this is being endangered by global warming, however. Because one species thinks of itself alone as remarkable.


Dangers of Bookmarks

So you’re a busy person and you don’t always have time to act on something immediately.  Or you have to wait until the next billing cycle to afford something.  Daily life comes at you like a Russian missile, so you need to leave reminders around so that you don’t forget.  For me, those reminders often take the form of tabs.  On my browser I leave at least a dozen tabs open to remind me of things—I’ve got to get those cartons ready for mailing to recycle; thanks for reminding me.  I actually look forward to being able to click a tab closed because that means I accomplished something.  There are so many things to do and time is so rare.  Then the inevitable happened.

I was leading a Zoom meeting and I had to keep track of attendance.  Since I was leading I didn’t want to stop in the middle and write a bunch of names down, so I took a screenshot.  My poor laptop got confused and kept the screenshot on top.  Since the screen shot showed all the open windows (it’s not just the browser that’s open, but all the writing projects in the two different programs I use as well, all in various stages of completion), I couldn’t tell how to click out of the screenshot.  I couldn’t see the actual Zoom meeting or if someone was raising her or his hand.  I tried to keep the discussion going while trying to get Zoom back to the front.  I began clicking any window shut that I could.  Finally Zoom reemerged.

After the meeting I had to examine the carnage.  My browser had been closed and when I reopened it, the option to restore all closed tabs from the last session was grayed out.  I would have to rebuild my tabs from memory.  It was because of my overwrought memory that I’d kept those tabs open in the first place!  Before going corporate, when I could take my time and pay attention, I had a very good memory for things like this.  (As a professor I had time to act on things during the day instead of constantly thinking “I’ve got to get back to work.”)  Now too much is happening all the time.  I’m having Zoom meetings after work when I normally get my day to day business done.  So I’ve added a new task to all the others—trying to reconstruct my lost tabs.  Yes, it’s a classic “first world problem.”  At least that’s what I think it’s called—let me open a new tab and check.

A different kind of bookmark

Deep Life

I have a list, you know.  It grows frequently and changes with my moods.  It’s a list of movies I want to watch.  While I never trained as a movie critic, there comes a time when you’ve watched enough, and written about them, that you can’t help but feel you have something valuable, perhaps, to say.  Movies are modern mythology.  At least if they’re done right.  Being a critic of limited means, I often paw through Amazon Prime’s list of freebies for subscribers.  Seldom is anything on my list there, so I try to find interesting offerings for free.  Sometimes they’re lousy (but at least free) and other times they’re provocative and perhaps profound.  Vivarium is a European film that slots somewhere between horror and sci-fi.  It’s like The Truman Show meets Village of the Damned while at a party thrown by the Stepford home owner’s association.  It’s one of the profound ones.

Tom and Gemma, a young couple, agree to see a house that an odd realtor insists they look at.  In a planned community of identical houses, the couple find themselves abandoned and unable to escape.  The house can’t be destroyed and food mysteriously appears.  Then a baby is delivered to be raised by the couple.  The child grows quickly, aging about 10 years in 100 days.  Tom decides to try to dig out while Gemma tries to care for the strange boy.  He mimics them and screams if he wants something.  Tom digs until he sickens.  He finds a body at the bottom of the hole and shortly thereafter dies at Gemma’s side.  The boy, now in his twenties, puts Tom in the hole he dug.  When Gemma attacks him he crawls under the pavement and she follows, only to discover other houses with other trapped parents.  She dies and the boy throws her into the hole and buries her with Tom.  He then replaces the realtor, waiting for other couples to come looking for a house.

The film is full of both existentialism and social commentary.  The boy tells Gemma as she’s dying that mothers raise their children then die.  We learn about two thirds of the way through that the boy is not human.  What he is is never explained.  This is the kind of film I would’ve found mind-blowing in high school.  It’s still very intriguing and will require some thought.  It’s well made, with high production values, unlike much of what I find scrolling through Amazon Prime.  It’s a film worth talking about.  And profound.


Life in the Woods

Early influences are often the strongest.  “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all.”  Thumper was the dispenser of this particular wisdom, as prompted by his mother, upon noticing how shaky newborn Bambi is on his long legs.  Now I recall having seen Bambi only once, at an age so early that it’s buried in my personal ancient history, but I’ve tried to live by those words ever since.  I don’t like to hurt anyone’s feelings if I can help it.  When I do, I feel awful myself, often for a prolonged period.  Add that to the fact that I read a lot and review the books, in some fashion, here, and I sometimes face a dilemma.  Particularly when it comes to self-published books.  Most of them just aren’t that good.

My wife once asked me whether I was concerned about my own critical reputation by not pointing out the problems in self-published books.  I had to ponder that a bit.  Just when the keystrokes start to point out the issues, Thumper hops into my mind and I think how I wish my own reviewers would be nicer at times.  You see, we’re all the victims of circumstance.  I’ve read self-published books where the author was clearly trying to make a living and honestly believed that s/he could write.  Ham-fisted keyboarding clearly stood behind some of these books and I realized that an editor serves a vital role in the literary ecosystem.  It’s also why I’ve resisted self publishing.  Before Holy Horror, I’d been compiling a book on monsters that I was ready to take to CreateSpace.  I’m glad I didn’t.  Books need editors just as surely as sparks fly upward.

The problem is the review.  I don’t mind saying critical things about books published in the standard way.  I’m still petting Thumper, though, and keeping it nice.  When it comes to self-published material I realize just about every time why the authors really should pursue a different line of work.  Many of us who write books do so while holding down full-time jobs.  Writing productivity suffers, yes.  I could write a lot more books if I didn’t spend nine hours at work most days.  As much as the criticism of editors (or peer reviewers) always stings, the resulting book is better for it.  You have to convince an editor, first off, that a book is worth doing.  If you can’t, perhaps there’s a hint to be taken.  I’ve never read the story behind Bambi to know if Thumper’s line came from Felix Salten or not, but I know the book was published by the prestigious German publisher Ullstein Verlag.  And self-publishing is, in many ways, a life in the woods.

Bambi: Eine Lebensgeschichte aus dem Walde by Salten, Felix

Monster Gods

“I would go to Catholic Church and the saints made no sense.  But Frankenstein made sense, The Wolfman made sense, The Creature from the Black Lagoon made sense.  So I chose that as my religion.”  Famed writer/director Guillermo del Toro said these words.  They’re not exactly gospel but they do demonstrate the connection between religion and horror that is only now beginning to be explored.  Del Toro and I are of the same generation, and some of us in that time frame found meaning in the monsters we saw as kids.  They were coping techniques for living in an uncertain and difficult world.  A world with hellfire on Sundays and often hell for the rest of the week.  Fears of bullies and alcoholic fathers and lack of money.  Fears of an unknown infraction sending you to eternal torment, even if you didn’t know or mean it.

Image credit: Manuel Bartual, Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license, via Wikimedia Commons

I didn’t choose horror as my religion.  I didn’t grow up Catholic like del Toro either.  I haven’t seen all of his movies, but he does evince a kind of religious devotion to his monsters.  Pan’s Labyrinth was distinctly disturbing.  Pacific Rim was intense.  Crimson Peak is one it’s about time I watched again.  The Shape of Water offered a lovable monster.  Many of these films don’t follow standard horror tropes.  They’re thoughtful, emotive, and often wrenching.  These are, of course, traits shared in common with religion.  I suspect my own attempts to articulate this would benefit from conversation with someone like del Toro.  There’s no doubt that monsters give me the sense of Rudolf Otto’s mysterium tremendum et fascinans.

Religion and horror share a common ancestor.  Fear is an emotion that we apparently share with all sentient beings.  How we deal with it differs.  While a bunny will run away a rattlesnake will strike.  Horror is a way of dealing with fear.  So is religion.  We can’t avoid fear because, honestly, there’s much to be afraid of.  Many choose to believe their clergy, taught by people like me, and assume religion has all the answers.  Others, like del Toro, seek wisdom elsewhere.  When the credits roll at the end, you know it was all just a show.  When you walk out of the church, synagogue, or mosque, you know daily life awaits with its peaks and valleys.  Some may substitute one for the other, while others require the support of both.  And both, as odd as it may seem, can be addressed with conviction.  If you don’t believe me, just ask Guillermo del Toro.


Shatner’s Space

We constantly underestimate the power of fiction.  It’s difficult to break into getting fiction published.  It wasn’t always that way.  When the pulps were still a thing often it took a thimble of talent and a handful of persistence.  Publishers were looking for content and those with typewriters were clacking away as fast as they could.  Ding!  Carriage return.  These days it’s harder.  This came to mind in thinking about William Shatner’s trip to space and his subsequent reaction.  As several news outlets said in anticipation of Shatner’s new book, the experience made him feel profoundly sad and not a little cold.  So much empty space and we still haven’t figured out how to travel fast enough to reach our nearest neighbors.  We don’t even know if we’ll like them when we meet them.

Others, in defense of space exploration, were quick to counter Shatner.  He’s not a real astronaut, after all, having spent nine decades earth-bound.  Or so they said.  But I think I understand, as a fellow land-lubber, where he’s coming from.  We’ve only really got one chance on this planet, being the only creatures evolved enough to type, to capture our thoughts—our essence—in words that can be preserved.  And wildlife statistics are showing an alarming decrease in other animals since the 1970s.  If we’re all that’s left and we can do no better than to elect fascists, well, stand me with Captain Kirk.  We look to the skies and see, well, empty space.  And besides, we need to get home because it’s supper time.

Image credit: NBC Television, public domain via Wikimedia Commons

The reason Shatner got a free ride to space was, of course, fiction.  Star Trek captured the imagination of my generation and those with actual science ability started to put that kind of future together.  Today we can talk to computers and they still mishear us, often with laughable results.  But if writers of fiction hadn’t been available the show would never have succeeded and what would a Canadian actor have had to do?  Maybe a crime drama or two?  And even those require writers.  It seems to me that we should be encouraging fiction writers with talent.  Believe me, I’ve read plenty who really haven’t got it (often in the self-published aisle) but I know firsthand how difficult it is to get fiction noticed.  It’s like, to borrow an image, being blasted off into a dark, cold, empty space and looking at the blue orb below and wanting to be home for supper.


Reading Algorithm

I appreciate help.  I really do.  It’s easy to feel overwhelmed in this world and others offering to help out are welcome.  But you do have to wonder about algorithms.  They seem to lack human sympathy.  And perhaps the ability to count.  Every year I enter the Goodreads Reading Challenge.  I would read without it, of course, but having that extra pressure doesn’t hurt.  Because of my convoluted mental makeup, I try to get things I have to do done early.  That means I want to finish my reading challenge before I have to.  In my commuting days I read about 100 books per year.  When I stopped commuting I had to bring that number down by about half—frankly, I don’t know where the time went, but I do spend more awake time with my family, which is good.

So I’ve settled on setting my Goodreads goals at about 50-60 books per year.  I often exceed it, depending on how many big books, or ponderous academic tomes I read.  Lately I’ve set the goal at 55, which is just over a book a week.  That seems doable to me.  This year I achieved that goal in September, but that doesn’t stop me from reading, nosiree!  I’m currently somewhere near the 60 book mark and I’ll keep going.  Now the help I was referring to is this: Goodreads typically sends an encouraging email in October suggesting how to meet your goal.  My message showed, via tracker, that I’d already met my goal, but telling me I could still meet it with these suggested books.

The books suggested are fine, I’m sure.  And that this message was sent via some formula that I have no hope of being able to comprehend, I’m also sure.  An algorithm, however, doesn’t feel for you.  I’m relieved to have the goal behind me and to continue pressing on regardless.  I could use some help in getting the lawn mowed, should an algorithm like to apply.  I particularly resent having to do so while wearing a jacket and stocking cap.  It’s time for the grass to be settling down for its year-end nap, isn’t it?  Or maybe an algorithm could do my job for me.  I guess that’s not funny, because that fate has befallen many humans, I suppose.  Maybe the solution is simply to read more.  That’s not a bad thing, but I don’t need an algorithm to get me to do it.


Forbidden Things

I owe Douglas Cowan a debt of gratitude.  Spending evenings at the American Academy of Religion and Society of Biblical Literature annual meeting curled up with his then new book, Sacred Terror, I was amazed.  Vaguely in the back of my mind I knew that film scholars were writing about horror, but I didn’t know that religion scholars even could.  Of course, later I discovered that Cowan had predecessors, as do we all, but that still didn’t change the fact that he opened my eyes to possibilities.  Being a slow reader with an unrelenting 925, I can’t keep up with any one author’s total output but I knew I’d need to read The Forbidden Body as soon as it was announced.  Subtitled Sex, Horror, and the Religious Imagination, it covers many aspects of what’s being called embodiment studies.  And there are, of course, monsters.

Where he finds the time to read so much and watch so much I can only guess.  This book covers a lot of territory that I can’t even begin to summarize here, but it goes without saying that Cowan’s many observations are worth paying attention to.  If I were to try to find a main theme I think it would be bodies out of place.  At least that what it seems to me.  Bodies out of place can mean many, many things.  Horror isn’t shy, of course, about showing you many of these.  As always, the unexpected part is religion.  Better, religious imagination.  I’ve been trying for years to articulate how religion and horror are related, and this is obviously something I haven’t been the only one pondering.  Cowan offers trenchant thoughts on this and even gives you some glimpses of unexpected monsters along the way.

Horror is often considered puerile, I know.  You get an image of a bunch of guys in business suits or military uniforms shaking your shoulders and saying “grow up!”  But what is it we’re growing up for?  To feed the monster.  So that those who are the monster can pamper their bodies with the luxuries everyone else works to provide.  Religion often serves to motivate those who are on the production end of this scale, but there is a truly Ottoian fear that compels us, lying not so very far beneath the surface.  Religion reaches out to those who encounter the monster.  And those people have bodies.  Cowan touches on many aspects of horror here from Corman to Lovecraft to Sade.  My response, perhaps appropriately, is that my head feels like it’s exploding.  I have so much yet to learn.


Eclecticism

Eclectic.  An eclectic approach is experiential.  I don’t mean to be obscure here, but I was once an academic.  Let me try to spell this out a little more clearly.  You’re reading along in your academic study—perhaps it was assigned to you for a class, or perhaps you have unusual interests, or maybe you want a deeper treatment than you find in Barnes and Noble or on the internet.  In any case, what you’ll often find is academics like to glom onto a theoretician that they follow.  Applying Derrida to this, Lacan to that, and Bakhtin to the other.  In doing so they establish their mastery over complex theory, and earn their ticket into the academy.  You, the poor, curious reader, are left wading through explanations of the theory when what you really want is the content—the actual subject of the book.

My own work has been rightly accused of lacking theory.  Or, more precisely, not following a consistent theory.  It’s eclectic.  That’s because I believe in an experiential approach to research.  I trust my own experience.  Your experience is different, I know.  Trust it.  We learn things through experience.  Perhaps others were raised by parents who read and thought deeply and introduced their children to Deleuze (and perhaps Guattari as well), but most of us weren’t.  And some of us came to trust both raw logic and intense feeling.  We call it instinct in animals, but in people we expect more.  What’s wrong with being eclectic?  It seems to make sense.  If Foucault had it right, shouldn’t it be obvious to all of us?

What’s always amused me about this is that such theoreticians—and I don’t know how you become one without basing your work on your own experience—come and go like fashions.  Ricoeur was the big name a few years back and now I haven’t seen anybody writing about him for a couple of decades, at least in the fields I’m reading.  I tend to read primary material and think as deeply as I can on it.  Yes, I read others who write on the topic and sometimes I’m even quite taken by someone else’s approach.  Still, my experience tends, alas, toward the Baconian—an embarrassment for a vegan, I suppose—that of gathering information and seeing what makes sense of it.  I read the theoreticians from time-to-time and then I read those not classically considered experts.  We’re all in this knowledge game together.  Even Lévi-Strauss and his school.


Subconscious Humor

It’s good to know your subconscious has a sense of humor.  What with all that’s going on in the world these days, God knows we could use a laugh or two.  At least a smirk now and then.  One of the less-anticipated aspects of becoming old and wise is disrupted sleep.  Our bodies did not evolve for the 925 schedule, and the “eight hours a night” trope is more naturally along a pattern of sleep for maybe four hours, get up for a while and get things done, then sleep for a few more hours, until dawn.  That doesn’t fit well at the office, so we try to cram all of our sleep into one unbroken stint.  When you’re young that’s often not a problem, at least in my experience.

Then you reach a certain age when, with no discernible change in habits, you have to visit the restroom in the middle of the night.  Modern people, of course, have a lot on their minds, so after that mid-night pee it’s difficult to get back to sleep.  For those of us who can’t break the long-term commuting habit, any waking after midnight is likely to be the end of a night’s sleep.  Once you get tired enough, however, you tend to overpower the full bladder and snooze on to the usual rising time.  (For some of us that’s earlier than it is for others, but that’s immaterial.)  This is where the subconscious starts to play its role as the comedian.

Mildly thalassophobic, I tend not to go out on very deep water, especially in small craft.  To be fair, I don’t live too close to the ocean and I don’t own a boat of any kind, so this often isn’t an issue.  One of my biggest traumas in college was meeting the “swim a length of the pool” requirement for graduation—I understand that’s now been abolished.  I nearly didn’t make it, but the last semester as a senior I had a private show—which must’ve been funny—for the swim coach.  So when I need to pee and I sleep through the middle of the night, I have deep water dreams.  I’m on a small boat in an ocean.  Sometimes I see paranormal geysers bursting from the surface and wonder what they are.  Then I wake up and dash for the bathroom.  Hey, it could be worse—my subconscious could find a humorless way of waking me.  Meanwhile, it probably wouldn’t hurt to take some adult swimming lessons.

All that water…

Lost Day

There’s a continuity of life and we’re used to it with only small, regular interruptions, such as a night’s sleep.  Each day builds on the previous one with plans being fulfilled, projects attempted, and yes, work.  Then something happens to disrupt that and it’s like starting over again.  I imagine (and feel for), for instance, those who’ve lost everything to Hurricane Ian are going through it.  They are reassessing and rebuilding, even as around here we’re beginning to get some of its rain.  A break in continuity may be smaller, however, and on an individual scale.  I had, for example, my first Shingrix vaccine in January.  Never having reacted to any vaccine before I was completely caught off guard when the next day I couldn’t get out of bed.  But more than that, I knew this was a two-part vaccine, and I was going to face this again.

I kept putting it off.  I needed to have a day when continuity could be broken so that I could recover.  That’s always tricky because I’m busy all the time.  I’ve got a book manuscript under a December deadline and I have to work every weekday.  Yesterday I took a personal day and had Shingrix 2 after work on Thursday.  Yesterday was a lost day.  Although I knew this was an important vaccine, like the various Covid vaccines I’ve had, I wasn’t ready for the consequences.  With short periods of wakefulness, I slept until 1:30 in the afternoon, unable to do anything.  Feverish, I couldn’t read without falling back asleep.  Working on my book was out of the question.  Meanwhile, emails kept coming in, asking for this or that.

The lost day takes some time for recovery.  It’s not nearly so bad as those who’ve lost their homes and communities because of this massive storm that’s tapping its outer fringes on my windows right now.  Still, I have to try to remember where I left off.  Amazingly, after sleeping for some seventeen hours, I was nevertheless ready for bed at the usual time last night.  The nurse who gave me the vaccine assured me that it was better than having the actual disease.  I don’t doubt that.  Those I know who’ve had shingles warn that it’s nothing to mess with.  Still, I sit here slightly stunned this early Saturday morning, wondering where I left off before all of this began.  The continuity has been temporarily broken, and I lost a day in there.  I’d forgotten what it’s like to sit in a chilly room before sunrise with a tabula rasa before me.  But I do recall that I have a final manuscript due in a couple months.

Photo by Estée Janssens on Unsplash

Misremembered

There may be a name for it, but if there is I don’t know it.  Like the more well-known Mandela Effect, it’s a strange memory issue, only it affects the individual.  The Mandela Effect is a collective false memory, often involving the death of someone famous.  Many people—sometime very many—think, for example, that someone famous has died.  The death, or other false memory, is posted in the past and people who don’t know each other all agree that it happened, only it hasn’t.  Instead, what I’m talking about happens to me once in a while and perhaps it happens to others.  Most recently I was listening to The Proclaimers’ song “I’m Gonna Be,” also known as “500 Miles.”  It’s got a catchy chorus and I was thinking it was an oldie, so I looked it up.

First of all, I didn’t know The Proclaimers were a set of twins from Edinburgh.  Second of all, I didn’t know they were (only) my age.  Third of all, I was sure I knew and heard the song from when I was growing up, but it came out in 1988, the year my wife and I moved to Scotland.  I was just stunned by this.  I was sure I’d heard the song, for instance, when I was in college and that it was an oldie even then.  I didn’t and it wasn’t.  In fact, the very year I could’ve first heard it I was busy making plans for an international move, getting married, and starting a doctorate.  This kind of time distortion can be very disorienting, and it says something about memory.

1988

Our lives are the stories we tell about ourselves.  Memory, in an evolutionary way, serves some basic functions such as recalling which other people you can trust, where good food sources are, and where the saber-tooths tend to hang out.  Those with better memories survive longer and procreate more and over time the trait becomes common.  Memory isn’t intended to recall specific dates.  I often wonder if something like the Mandela Effect isn’t behind Trump’s unaccountable popularity.  A kind of memory that refuses to believe the song came out in 1988 although clearly it did.  Believing false memories is the stuff of drama, of course.  That drama can take in whole societies because we misremember that we knew all about propaganda because we learned that in high school, but now we fall for it.  Or it may be a lonely moment when a song comes to mind and we think we’ve known it far longer than we have.


The Persistence of Streaming

I’ve had to start keeping a list.  If I don’t I’ll forget which movies I’ve streamed.  I suspect I’m not alone in this.  Electronic information is vapid and eminently forgettable.  If you go see a movie in a theater, you’re likely to remember it.  Memory of place and occasion aid the memory of plot and effects, I suspect.  To my knowledge I’ve never had anyone ask if I’ve seen a movie that I didn’t remember, if I saw it in a theater.  Streaming—maybe yes, maybe no.  A few weeks back I found myself streaming a film and thinking “this looks awfully familiar.”  The longer I watched the more convinced I was that I’d seen it before.  When it was over I checked.  I had watched it only a few months earlier.

When you buy a DVD or Blu-ray (or even a VHS tape), the physicality of it serves as a reminder.  Unwrapping the package, handling the case, loading it into your player—these are all keys, hooks upon which memories hang.  As I’ve intimated before, movies are, I believe, our modern mythology.  The idea’s not original with me, but think about how movies are often our frame of reference around the water cooler or with friends.  What did you think of Nope?  It’s a safe way to express our beliefs and aspirations.  Even if it’s not great, it’s helpful to be able to remember it when you want to.  Streaming, it seems, often lacks commitment.  Particularly if it’s from a free site.  (I use such only when the media are otherwise unavailable.)  Maybe there’s a reason it’s free.

Streaming asks little by way of investment, financially or psychologically.  It costs time, of course, and perhaps that’s the greatest siphon of all.  If you’re a busy person time is a commodity.  Spending some of it watching a movie—depending on who you are—isn’t simply entertainment.  Mythology gives us meaning.  I suspect that’s why we value those auteurs who break through the noise and manage to stand out in our minds.  Those who know what it is to captivate an audience.  Those who are really invested in their projects.  Like most books I read, the movies I watch come from a list.  I have a reason for watching them, often related to research.  And if you put the time into it, you want to remember it.  For that, I recommend keeping a list. (Have a written a post like this before?)


Gorilla Thinking

We don’t understand consciousness, but we want to keep it all to ourselves.  That’s the human way.  Or at least the biblically defined human way.  Animals, however, delight in defying our expectations because they too share in consciousness.  Take gorillas, for example.  Or maybe start with cats and work our way up to gorillas.  We all know that cats “meow.”  Many of us don’t realize that this sound is generally reserved for getting human attention.  Cats tend not to meow to get each others’ attention.  According to Science Alert, gorillas in captivity have come up with a unique vocalization to get zookeepers’ attention.  Not exactly a word, more like a sneeze-cough, this sound is used by gorillas at multiple zoos for getting human attention.  Even if the gorillas have never met in person.

Photo by Joshua J. Cotten on Unsplash

This is a pretty remarkable demonstration of consciousness.  What’s more, it’s an example of shared consciousness.  The same vocalization shared over hundreds of miles without a chance to tell each other about it.  We’re very protective of consciousness.  As a species we like to think that consciousness is uniquely human and that it’s limited to our brains.  Moments of shared consciousness we chalk up to coincidence or laugh off as “ESP.”  Funny things happen, however, when you start to keep track of how often such things occur.  It might make more sense to attribute this to moments of shared consciousness.  In our materialist paradigm, however, that’s not possible so we just shake our heads and claim it’s “one of those things.”

Animals share in consciousness.  We don’t always know what their experience of it is—indeed, we have no way to test it—but it’s clear they think.  I live in a town, so my experience of observing wild animals is limited to birds, squirrels, and rabbits, for the most part.  I often see deer while jogging, and the occasional fox or coyote, but not long enough to watch them interact much.  But interact they do.  Constantly.  These are not automatons going through the motions—they are thinking creatures who have sophisticated ways of communicating with each other.  Ours includes vocalization, so far uniquely so in the form of spoken language.  The great apes—chimpanzees and orangutans, according to Tessa Koumoundouros—also vocalize and do so with humans.  Now we know that gorillas do too.  And we all know that a barking dog is trying to tell us something.  If we took consciousness seriously, and were willing to share it a bit more, we might learn a thing or two.