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Self-Distraction

Yesterday was not a great day.

To start with, I was grumpy. Very grumpy.

We’ve been renovating and redecorating for a few months, and yesterday I began to feel a tad overwhelmed not only by what is still left to do, but by the toll it’s taken on my sixty-plus-year-old body. In short, while I’m used to aches and pains, I’m not used to being so tired at the end of the day that I’m thinking about going to bed at 8PM.

So that was my baseline going into things.

Then came work, where I’ve been in a holding pattern for a few days, waiting for analysts to provide answers to specific questions regarding the solutions I’m supposed to be crafting for them. Well, I got some answers, all right. The first answer was to a question I hadn’t asked, but it’s an answer I’ve long suspected. The answer was, “No, we really don’t read your emails.” The second answer was also to a question I hadn’t asked, because (as mentioned), they really don’t read my emails. Ditto, the third answer.

Waiting three days for an answer to a specific question is frustrating enough. Waiting three days and getting answers that are totally irrelevant to the questions posed, well, that pushes my frustration coefficient to 11.

To keep myself from lashing out, I needed a distraction, so I turned to something totally unrelated, something as far from programs and coding and specifications and analysis as possible.

I decided to reorganize my collection of British coins.

I could have chosen any number of other activities—weeding the garden, working a crossword puzzle, rearranging my office (again)—just as long as it engaged my hands and my brain sufficiently to keep me preoccupied and kept me from delivering mayhem to a few certain someones. Reorganizing my coins was the perfect choice.

My collection of British coins is modest and limited. Nothing too old. Nothing made of gold. Just coins that regular folk used in their daily lives, coins I’ve collected over the decades, either on a whim or because my interest was reignited. They range from Victoria (1836) to Elizabeth II (pre-decimal, 1971)—okay, there is one sixpence from the reign of Elizabeth I (1573), but that’s an outlier—in denominations from farthings to crowns (1/4 d to 5s, for you LSD afficionados; you know who you are). 

I won’t pretend otherwise: it is an extremely nerdy activity. On the nerdiness scale, it’s right there next to stamp collecting (though whether it’s on the nerdier or less-nerdy side, I couldn’t possibly say). It’s the kind of thing where you’d expect me to be wearing tweed, smoking a pipe, sitting in a room lit by a single lamp, surrounded by dark wood bookshelves, and holding a massive magnifier. And you wouldn’t be far off.

But it does consume a great deal of brain activity, and yesterday, that’s precisely what I needed: to be distracted.

So, I fiddled and examined, sorted and re-sorted. Should I organize by denomination or by monarch? Ascending or descending? Is this coin really in XF condition, or is it merely VF? 

Pressing, important issues.

Issues so much more important than screaming “Read the damned email, why don’t you!?” or reiterating for the third time the question I’ve been asking for days.

And it worked. My blood pressure went down. No one was injured.

Sure, I was still grumpy (and sore, and tired), but at least I wasn’t making plans to nuke my co-workers anymore.

I’ll take a small victory over none at all.

k

PS. In the end, I went with: by denomination, ascending, and merely VF.

Beyond

———

our eyes spill
waves of notion
across the eternal void
into the depths of time
seeking

intention precedes our questions
of who we are and why and how
but the answers received
are not answers
any more than
we are we

the aeons stare back
drop clues
of intricate detail
tantalizing the ape-minds
that think themselves gods

———

I, Not Robot

Some things I object to on principle. Things that are just . . . wrong. Things that shouldn’t be. Things that cheapen or degrade ourselves or others.

This week’s example hit me—appropriately—as I was scrolling my social media feed, a place where devaluation and degradation are becoming the norm rather than the exception.

Normally, I can shrug off such assaults. Performative outrage, shameless puffery, sycophantic fawning, lickspittle tirades, blatant misinformation, misguided memes: these take up a growing fraction of the non-advert portion of my feed, but it was the advert portion that got my dander up.

To the extent of which I am capable, I have turned off ad-tracking. This doesn’t stop me from seeing adverts, but at least it eliminates (okay, reduces) the creepy, Big Brother-esque, “we’re watching you” feeling I get when I ask my wife where the hammer is and then see an advert for ball-peens on Facebook. Sometimes, though, just sometimes, I’m presented with an advert that is somewhat relevant.

This time it was an advert for Jasper. “Artificial intelligence makes it fast & easy to create content!” I was informed. This software has “read 10% of the internet” and would help me create blog posts, social media interaction, and marketing copy up to “10x faster.” It would even help me write a novel that is “original and plagiarism free [sic].” 

—[shudder]—

Usually I do not engage with adverts (except by mistake, via clumsily executed clicks) as this only provides fodder for the tracking I try to avoid. In this case, though, I was overcome by a looky-loo train-wreck revulsion/attraction impulse to investigate some of the literally thousands of comments appended to the post. 

Let me pause for a moment, as my state of mind, whilst preparing for a dive down this rabbit hole, is pertinent.

I appreciate a well-crafted phrase or sentence, revel in a paragraph that takes me on a little journey, and marvel at novels filled with allusions, metaphors, contextual layers, and well-orchestrated plotlines. Conversely, whenever I read poorly written prose—be it long form or in a short news article—prose that cries out for an editor (“An editor! An editor! My kingdom for an editor!”), I die a little inside.

Yet there I was, faced not only with the prospect novels published without the benefit of an editor, but without the benefit of a writer. 

With the burgeoning of algorithms and “artificial intelligence” (quoted here, because it’s not a true intelligence, artificial or otherwise), there are dozens of products and services like Jasper, all of which tout the same credibility-stretching boasts. Write a novel! In the style of your favorite author! In a language you do not know! In mere hours!

To be honest, this kind of algorithmic assist can only help some of the novels I’ve read, but in general, it’s the end-state of our own dumbing-down. Quality no longer carries currency, if this becomes the norm. All we need now is another service that will read this dreck for us (because I sure don’t want to suffer that way).

Eventually, I perused a few hundred of the comments that people (I’m assuming they were actual people) made on the Jasper advert, and I was shocked. All of the comments I read—and I mean all of them—were derisive, often with replies to comments that piled the ridicule higher and higher. 

So, there is hope for us. We may not have the collective gumption to oust autocrats, defend democracy, treat women as fully actualized humans, or deal with a planet that’s on fucking fire, but at least I know that a large portion of us think that reading a book written by an algorithm is a stupid, laughable idea.

k

Home, Sweet Home

H*(Rα/Υ)=ς

Or, in other words,
A Home, when multiplied by a Renovation raised to the power of the Affected Area and divided by the Unity factor, equals the perceived level of Serenity.

As I sit down here in my basement, above my head Thor is wielding Mjölnir in a fierce battle against giant angry wasps.

Or so it seems.

And yet, I am at peace.

We are having new windows installed, replacing our old 1960 single-pane aluminum frame rattletraps (emphasis on “rattle”) with updated double-glazed, gas-filled, smooth-sliding jobs. Three windows, two sliding glass doors, and the pièce de résistance, a bay window in the bedroom, overlooking the gardens. It is a huge job, by our standards, and the saws—reciprocating, circular, oscillating/elliptical—plus hammers from small to monstrous and compressors and sundry other tools of destruction/construction are creating an acoustical landscape that makes one think of banshees, murder hornets, and alien warfare.

It’s the kind of chaos that would stress me out, worry my wife, and send Portia (the cat) running for her panic room (my closet).

And yet, my wife is happily alternating between watching her reality TV and napping, Portia is comfortably settled up beside her, and I am taking a break from my workday to compose this blog post.

It’s our being together, an island of mutual strength, that allows us to weather the storm that rages above-stairs. Though planets are being torn asunder, down here the clock ticks, the walls remain firm, and though the lights flicker each time the massive chop saw kicks in, we are surrounded by warm and comforting light.

Unity, reaffirming familial bonds, is a powerful tool. When we separate, we are weak, but when we join together, that makes us mighty. In a crisis, unity is crucial, but our ability to join forces against the world is made even stronger when we practice it, be it in running errands, making decisions, sharing a meal, or planning an event. Sharing the little agonies improves our technique and readies us for when the big agonies come along.

To be sure, this isn’t a big one, but it isn’t a small one, either. Seeing us here, though, calm and unruffled, gives me confidence that when a big one does land on our doorstep, we’ll be better prepared.

k

07Jul22

lazy bumblebees 
ride from bloom to fragrant bloom 
in yellow jodhpurs

Well, that was quite the week.

I took last Thursday off for my wife’s birthday. I didn’t get her a present—I long ago stopped trying to surprise her with a gift and now merely provide her with whatever she desires—but if I had, it certainly wouldn’t have been what she got, courtesy of SCOTUS. Thanks to them, everyone’s packing heat, women are chattel of the state, prayer is back in schools, voting rights have been further eroded, native sovereignty is diminished, and the government is hamstrung in its battle against climate change.

This all got plopped down on top of plates already over-filled by the war in Ukraine (served with a side dish of “Why so serious?” courtesy of Russia), the onion-peeling revelations from the January 6 Select Committee, and the smoldering root fire of pandemic, inflation, and civil unrest.

Good times, eh?

I think we can all be forgiven if we find ourselves a tad out of sorts, short on patience, or (in my case) fighting a persistent long-term, low-level depression. To combat the latter, I generally try to “accentuate the positive” by focusing on the good bits. It isn’t easy, but thankfully, in the midst of last week’s maelstrom of sewage, I did find an island of serenity.

Last Saturday, I married two young people. This was my second opportunity to officiate a marriage, and even though I don’t enjoy public speaking (an understatement), being asked to perform a wedding is an honor I’m not sure I could ever turn down.

The bride is the daughter of my adoptive family, and the ceremony was at the groom’s family home, a lovely Craftsman-style house nestled in a dell, deep in a birch forest. We arrived Friday for the rehearsal, and were met with the expected combination of almost-too-late preparations, near-to-breaking nerves, and brink-of-tears composure. My job on Friday was easy: radiate calm and stay out of the way.

Saturday . . . different story.

To complete the picture, I should mention that this was the weekend the Puget Sound region decided to turn the heat up to eleven. We went from a Thursday high in the mid-60s (20°C) to a Saturday with temps in the low- to mid-90s (35°C). And we were outside. And my spot was in the sun. And I was wearing black. Including my blazer.

At a wedding, it’s easy to interpret a profusely sweating minister as an ill omen, but I was able to maintain a cool appearance via sheer will. It wasn’t until the exchange of rings that I felt the first trickle of sweat on my sunward temple, and I didn’t have to mop my brow until the recessional was complete. Whew!

The thing I love about weddings—and I’ve been in more than my fair share—is that everyone wants them to go off well. Participants, family, friends, guests, even the caterers and photographers and musicians, everyone wants it to be beautiful and happy and glitch-free. But while beautiful and happy are do-able, I’ve never known one to be glitch-free. At mine, the judge arrived on crutches; she’d torn a ligament sliding into second base, and since we our wedding was in a forest, she had the devil’s own time negotiating the terrain (at one point the entire wedding party had to take one step backward so she could get her foot out of a hole). At another, the bride forgot the rings at home and had also locked her keys inside; we had to break in through a window. Weather is always a crap-shoot for outdoor venues. Hangovers often throw sabots into the machinery. And let’s not forget the gremlins of technology; unintentionally hot mics, recalcitrant PA systems, looping cables and wires stretched across traffic paths, they’re all just glitches waiting to happen.

But even with these myriad disasters waiting in ambush, I’ve never known a wedding to go completely off the rails. The glitches happen, to be sure, but they get handled, and they become part of the story, the one thing that makes this wedding unique, the thing we all laugh about afterward.

Weddings are built, from bottom to top, of hope.

And for me, that was definitely a bright spot in a week otherwise filled with drear and dread.

Fraught

sure we are like gods
we created a machine 
that fears its own death

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