a few words from the sad guy, plus some new (old) songs

So I’ve been kinda fucked up lately.  With the news.  Like, really kinda fucked up.  As in, I am really needing to go to therapy on Saturday.  I want to clarify:  I’m not in a dangerous place.  But over the last few weeks, with news shit really starting to get, like, absurd, I’ve been aware of my face having the sort of thousand-yard stare that can accompany the late stages of devastated, turn-out-the-lights-and-listen-to-Disintegration-over-headphones teenaged heartache.  There’s really no other word for it than sad.  But in a really deep, really fucked up, please get me offa this thing sort of way.

We all have different coping mechanisms.  I’ve been too frazzled to play video games lately, which is frustrating.  I’ve been reading very escapist fiction, but only a chapter or two at a time – and I’m also reading two collections of short stories, and alternating between all three or four at any given time.  I can’t focus, is what I’m saying.  I get home, I put Henry to bed, I kiss my wife, and then I get just sad and also perhaps a little or a lot very stoned in my basement while I listen to music or try to think about maybe one day writing lyrics to songs that I haven’t finished recording from three years ago.

SUDDEN TANGENT:  You know what, fuck it.  It’s killing me that I haven’t finished this album after all this time, and so I need to do something about it.  All these tracks have been slowly burning tiny holes in my iPhone since 2015.   So rather than release a B-side of a B-side, I’m gonna throw on one of the stuff that I actually really like and still intend to finish.

So this thing right here is a loop I recorded on a 4-track through my looping pedal in, like, 2001.

 

So that’s a thing I’ve always kinda liked.  I later reworked into a bridge section for a latter-day Good Evening song in 2006-7, and then I kinda just kept it in the back of my mind; when I signed up for the RPM challenge in 2015, and for lack of any better ideas, I decided to revisit it and see if I could fit it into something new.  I never did find a definitive beginning and/or end to it, but the section itself still sounds quite lovely to me:

 

And then this other thing, which is just a fun doodle of an idea that is perhaps too-obviously informed by The Forms, also happens to be the most recent substantial thing I’ve recorded here in Maplewood, (but again, that only means November 2015):

 

OK.  You are now the first people in the world (aside from 3-4 beta listeners from three years ago) to have heard that.  Thank you for indulging me.  I HAVE PLENTY MORE AND WILL PUT THEM UP, PERHAPS LATER IN THIS VERY POST THAT I AM PROCRASTINATING FROM FINISHING.

[END TANGENT]

So I’ve been sad, is the thing, and it’s frustrating as all hell, because it’s a sadness that exists beyond me; it’s not a sadness that I can control.  It is a sadness of the very reality that we are currently living in, more specifically the cruel feeling of hopelessness about it all, and that even with the amazing and surprising and good-heart-feeling election victory of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, it’s immediately driven back by the 1-2 punch of the SCOTUS mess and the mass shooting at a Maryland newspaper (which, I want to make clear, I’m writing this at 9:23 while very stoned and don’t yet know if a motive has been uncovered – the more important issue is that, in the words of @igorvolsky, “any motive + easy access to firearms = death & horror.”

And so anyway, about half an hour ago or so I went upstairs to pee and get some ice cream because I’m sad and binge-eating and munched out and I was looking at Facebook and saw this video.

Now, look.  I think Donald Trump is, perhaps, the most dangerous man in American history.  He is vile and repellant and morally unfit and profoundly unethical and we all know it.  There isn’t a day that goes by lately where I don’t spend my day within a deep and disturbing dread that something truly awful is about to happen.

But the thing I find most loathsome about him – despite his endless blustering and bravado and chest-bumping – is that he’s a fucking coward.  This shooting in Maryland is tragic and horrible and he is so scared about having to deal with a real crisis that he just keeps on walking.  He’s the President of the United States, don’t tell me he didn’t yet know.   He absolutely knew.  And he was too scared to speak to the press to offer any words of condolences.  He has no empathy for other human beings in pain, and so there is nothing for him to gain out of offering solace to the grieving.  So he just walks away.

I was going to get into a whole big rant about it.  I was gonna just vent and spew and vomit all over the internet.  This is a very small and insignificant part of the internet, the whole of which you’d never call pristine, but whatever – now I’ve just covered my little tiny part of it in venom.

Then I decided to not do that.  Maybe I’d write about not writing.  Because even though I’m hurting, I don’t know that throwing my hurt onto you is the right thing.  I’m not saying I should be keeping this to myself – like I said above, I’m really looking forward to Saturday morning’s therapy session.  And so I worry about having my only contribution to this shrieking nightmare to simply be another lonely howl at the moon.

I think what I really needed to do is just tell you guys that I love you.  Times are fucking terrible right now, man, and it fucking sucks.  But you’re not alone.  I’m not alone.  We’re not alone.  I love you guys.  I need to remember to love you guys more.  I need to remember to keep love in my heart.

(And then, after some cleansing breaths, I say:  if they go low, continue to kick them in the face.)

Spooky Validation: Disc Theory and the Akashic Records

(deep breath)

OK.  I’m going to re-write a thing I’ve talked about in various other, older blogs, about one of the most pivotal events of my life.  It is a weird thing, and if you were to read this and say “I think you’ve smoked too much pot”, I wouldn’t necessarily disagree.  But it’s still true.

However, to paraphrase the narrator of the Captain Underpants books:  before I tell you that thing, I have to tell you this thing.


I have always been fascinated by, for lack of a better term, “weird stuff”.  ESP, astral projection, UFOs, Freemasonry, the secret wisdom of the ancients.  This goes back to when I was a little kid, too – I remember having conversations with friends in my neighborhood about spooky psychic stuff and really, really believing it.  I was a devoted fan of In Search Of…, and when I was in junior high I begged my mom to get me the Time-Life Mysteries of the Unknown books (which she then got rid of when I was in college, and I’ll always be ever-so-slightly bitter about that).   You may remember those books from the ridiculous commercials:

This was more than just catnip for my easily-distracted pubescent brain; this was the good stuff.  I didn’t necessarily know what to do with it, but I absorbed it anyway.  As I got older I started reading more advanced versions of these things; in retrospect it’s easy to understand why I gravitated towards conspiracy-minded books like Foucault’s Pendulum and The Illuminatus! Trilogy, both of which are explicitly fictional – which is to say, the fictional characters in these books of fiction are creating these fictions within the books themselves – and yet resonate with the weight of ancient truths.

The irony in all this is that I have not a single psychic bone in my body.  In fact, I have, like, negative psychic ability. And not for lack of trying.  If I flip a coin, I will pick the wrong side nearly every time, even if I change my mind mid-flip.  I remember playing with Zener cards in my bedroom for hours and I always and consistently struck out every time.

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There is psychic ability around me, for sure.  My wife claims to have a bit of it, and she says it runs in her family.   My uncle, who is… um… troubled, used to tell me about his experiences in the astral plane.  I dated girls in college who read my tarot, and while they didn’t know each other at all, they were all fairly consistent in their readings; one girl in particular gave me one of the most detailed and accurate palm readings I’ll ever get in my life.

More recently, as you know if you’ve been reading this blog for a while, a few months ago our basement flooded, and on the day that we received the repair estimates (which were in the thousands of dollars), I went to get the mail and saw that I’d received a rather sizable check from my aunt, completely out of the blue.  And when I called her to thank her, she just said “Jeremy, I just had a flash and I knew you needed this, and I wanted you to have it.”  The thing is, the check was sent via regular mail, which means she sent it before the flood had even happened.

I am, by nature, a skeptical person.  I am agnostic, at best, in terms of religion; I do not have to believe in science, because science is not something you believe in.  But when it comes to this kind of stuff, well…

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I went to my one and only Grateful Dead show when I was in college; me and my bandmates went to MSG and ate a whole bunch of mushrooms and had a really good time for about an hour.  (I should also mention that this was my first time eating mushrooms.)  During the break between the first and second sets, though, I started feeling very weird.  The hallucinations were coming on pretty furiously, and for the most part I could handle them; but things started to go south when I realized that I’d been having the same conversation over and over in a loop for about 15 minutes.  Suddenly, time was not linear, and that freaked me the fuck out.  My friend saw I was having a bad time, and he walked me back to my dorm room – which was a good hour-long walk.  I felt like nothing was real; I had no way of discerning whether I was actually walking downtown or if I was a disembodied brain in a jar imagining that I was walking downtown.  With the benefit of hindsight, I suppose it doesn’t really matter, but at the time it meant everything.  I felt like I was going insane.

This feeling of anxiety ebbed on and off for about 2-3 weeks.  And when I felt like I’d finally come through the other side, I realized that I would never be able to return to the mindset I had before that night.  I had been changed, utterly and profoundly, and it took quite a bit longer for me to accept that.

Around this time, I had a motley group of friends – filmmakers, actors, musicians, writers, directors – that would go to a diner near our dorm late at night, and order coffee and smoke cigarettes and write poetry and song lyrics and such in our journals, and we’d talk for hours about stuff.  We’d talk about theater, we’d talk about Capital-A Art, we’d talk about life.

One night my friend and I came up with something called Disc Theory.  Disc Theory was a way of reconciling Fate and Freewill.  The idea went something like this:

Imagine your life is a compact disc.  (The metaphor immediately breaks here, because (a) some of you grew up without CDs, and (b) if Blu-Rays existed at the time I might’ve used that instead.  But this was the mid-90s, and so you’re going to imagine your life is a CD.)  You are born:  the universe has pressed “play” on your CD in the cosmic jukebox.  You die:  the CD is finished.  Your life, as you experience it, is the music.  When you meet someone you’ve never met before and you immediately hit it off, it’s because your music is in harmony with each other; likewise, if you immediately get a bad vibe from a stranger and you can’t explain why, it’s because your music is dissonant.

The Fate and Freewill parts go something like this:  the music on the CD was already recorded (fate), but you’re hearing it for the first time, so you don’t know what to expect (freewill).  You are allowed to make choices in your life; even if the choice was already made, it doesn’t affect your ability to make the choice in the first place.  Even if you choose to not choose.

It’s clumsy, in retrospect, but at the time it made an astounding amount of sense.  And even if it’s silly, I do like the idea of the cosmic jukebox.

Which is why I feel like I just got punched in my third eye.

I am currently reading Phenomena: The Secret History of the U.S. Government’s Investigations into Extrasensory Perception and Psychokinesis, and holy shit is it messed up.  This book purports to be the true story behind the US Military’s dalliances with ESP, astral projection, remote viewing, etc., and even if only half of what’s in this book is true, it’s mindblowing.

Anyway, Chapter 19 in Phenomena mentions something called the Akashic Records – which is a way of viewing what one participant called The Matrix. (One presumes this name was devised well before the movie.)  What are the Akashic Records?  Well, according to this site:

The Akashic Records are the energetic records of all souls about their past lives, the present lives, and possible future lives. Each soul has its Akashic Records, like a series of books with each book representing one lifetime. The Hall (or Library) of the Akashic Records is where all souls’ Akashic Records are stored energetically. In other words, the information is stored in the Akashic field (also called zero point field). The Akashic Records, however, are not a dry compilation of events. They also contain our collective wisdom.

Holy shit, is what I’m saying.

How The Hell Is It June Already

There are any number of reasons why it’s taken me so long to get back here; none of them are terribly interesting.  Suffice it to day that sometimes there simply aren’t enough hours in the day; and sometimes, when there are, those hours are best spent taking a nap.

I will say this, even if it sounds corny:  I am trying very hard to only put positive stuff out into the world.  And sometimes that means not saying anything at all.  I know I’d said not too long ago that this blog might turn into something a bit more LiveJournal-y, but to be honest I think I’d rather keep that stuff between me and my therapist.  I don’t want to use this space to whine or complain; it’s not fun to write, and I’m sure it’s not interesting to read.  So I’m gonna try to… um… not do that.

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It’s been almost a month since I’ve been here, so let’s dust off the cobwebs and get up to speed.

BOOKS:

In my last substantive entry I wrote that I was halfway through volume 3 of Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight Archive.  I finished it shortly thereafter, and I’ll say this for it:  the series is great, but it’s also exhausting, and I’m probably not going to re-read anything before volume 4 comes out.

And in the intervening time I’ve also read:

  • Agents of Dreamland, Caitlin Kiernan
  • Black Helicopters, Caitlin Kiernan – I’d read Agents last year, and remembered loving it, and wanted more of it because it was so short.  Black Helicopters has nearly the same cover art, and so I thought it was a sequel; it’s not, and the two books are only very tenuously related.  You can read them in a few hours, for whatever it’s worth.
  • The Dark Dark, Samantha Hunt – I thought this was going to be a collection of horror stories; it’s not.  But it’s still very good, and certainly there’s more than a few stories that got under my skin.
  • The Outsider, Stephen King – Tangentially related to his Bill Hodges trilogy, this is more of a supernatural mystery novel than anything else; it’s also much better than the Hodges books, and largely devoid of his usual tics and mannerisms.
  • Dead On Arrival, Matt Ritchel – Great premise, super-shitty writing.
  • Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro – I don’t know why it took me so long to get to this, but I did, and it’s great.  It didn’t necessarily knock me over the way it has for friends of mine, but it’s still a marvel.
  • The Thief, Fuminori Nakamura – A very short philosophical meditation on pickpocketing, power, and fate.  Illuminating, though slight.
  • Clockwork Boys / The Wonder Engine, T. Kingfisher – I’m not sure what prompted me to pick these up; I’m not sure I’m going to finish them.  It’s almost as if the author conjured up an unlikely band of misfits based on standard fantasy tropes and then decided to write fan fiction about them.

MUSIC:

My last post made a loose promise that I’d start livestreaming from my basement the next time I started writing music.  Ha ha ha ha ha, no, that didn’t happen, and it’s probably not going to until I re-learn how to use all my software.

I am listening a lot, though, which is usually a good sign that I’m going to start working again.  Spotify’s Neo-Psychedelic Rock playlist is really, really good.  The new Neko Case is also really good, as is Oneohtrix Point Never, Wooden Shjips, Ryley Walker, and Stephen Malkmus.  However, I’ve mostly been listening to Peter Gabriel, now that most of his catalog is back on Spotify.  I’ve been wanting to do a cover of “Digging in the Dirt” for 25 years, and I’m only now starting to get an idea of how to approach it.


GAMES:

I’m gonna be honest – I’m a mess right now, game-wise.  I have a backlog that is too intimidating for me to deal with, and an attention span that can only handle about 30-45 minutes at a time, and shooters are starting to feel distasteful again.  I picked up OnRush and Vampyr, and they’re both very conceptually interesting, though somewhat rough around the edges… and I’ve been dabbling in DLC for Assassin’s Creed Origins and Far Cry 5, and I’m not necessarily feeling those…

The one thing that I have been playing – and enjoying quite more than I ever expected to – is Yoku’s Island Express, which is a 2D platformer that uses pinball mechanics.  It is lovely and charming and gorgeous and totally the sort of whimsical escapist adventure that I need right now, and I cannot recommend it enough.  I liked it so much that I bought it for both my X and my Switch – it’s a perfect handheld game, and it’s also beautiful on a big TV.

I don’t have any E3 predictions to offer up, and there’s only a few things that I’d like to hear are coming:

  • release date for Psychonauts 2;
  • the existence of Portal 3;
  • any news whatsoever on whatever Rocksteady Studios is working on; rumors point to a Superman game, which, meh.  But I’m willing to check out anything they’re working on, if only because their Batman games are so phenomenally good;
  • and also Diablo 3 on Switch.

a plan, of sorts

Lots of good new music out today.  Lots of good music from all over the place in my head.

I’ve been thinking that I need some sort of external motivation in order to finish this recording project.  When I’m left to my own devices, I tend to get sidetracked.  So I’m contemplating setting up some sort of livestream – probably on Facebook – and putting on a sort-of impromptu songwriting / jam session / performance / workshopping thing.  Even if nobody watches it, it’s something that could hold me accountable.  And if someone does watch it, then, hey, you get a world premiere of whatever it is I come up with.

This may happen as early as next week, so, look out.

Old and In The Way

1. I took my much-needed mental health day yesterday, although as it turns out I was also legitimately sick with bad allergies and a worse stomach, and so most of my day was spent sleeping.  This is not a bad way to spend one’s time, especially since I don’t get much of an opportunity to indulge in it.  But it wasn’t the ideal “batteries-recharged” sort of break I was hoping for.  Still, I take what I can get.  At the very least, it was a break from News.

2. I’m roughly halfway through “Oathbringer“, Brandon Sanderson’s massive 3rd volume in the Stormlight Archives.  I re-read the first two massive volumes (because it had been a while, and I’d forgotten quite a lot), and then I had to read the little novella that he specifically asks you to read before starting Oathbringer properly, and so here I am.  I think I’d be enjoying it more if I hadn’t read so much of it already, if that makes any sense.  Or, rather – I’m very much ready to read something else.

3. So:  I think I’m at a point in God of War where all the stuff that’s left requires me to be really good at the game (i.e., the volcano trials), or really patient and also really good (i.e., the endless farming grind for Mist Echoes), and I’m not sure I’m ever going to be that good.  This is not necessarily a bad thing – I definitely got my money’s worth, and for the most part that game is extraordinary – but I suppose there’s a part of me that’s sad that I’m not going to ever 100% it, especially since there’s not that much left to do.  This is less a criticism of the game and more just a reflection of the reality that I’m not as good at games as I thought I was.  This is a bitter pill to swallow, though I suppose it was inevitable; I’ve been gravitating towards playing things on lower difficulty levels for a while now because my time is limited and I like to see as much as I can, and anyone who goes out of their way to taunt a 42-year-old dad for playing single-player games on easy has too much spare time on their hands anyway.

4. On the flip side, this also means that I’m free to dip into my backlog again.  Ni No Kuni 2, I am all yours for the time being.  And also Yakuza 6, of course.  But I’m probably done with Far Cry 5, I think.  I’m at the point in that game where there’s not enough side stuff to do because I’ve done most of it already, which means I sorta have to engage with the narrative, and the narrative is soooooooo bad.  It’s rare that I come across a game where the story is just profoundly and offensively stupid, but here we are.  Oh well.

Anything exciting happening out there?  Tell me some stories.

The First Many Hours: God of War

Current status:  Any and all synonyms for exhausted.  Mentally, physically.  Resources depleted.  Running purely on caffeine vapors and anxiety.  Trying to keep it together.  In desperate need of a mental health day, while knowing that such a day probably can’t happen until at least next week at the earliest.

Look: I’ve read and watched my fair share of dystopian fiction, and the thing that never gets mentioned in those works is the unceasing exhaustion and overwhelming despair that comes of perpetual outrage.  Or the near-constant stress-eating and resultant GI distress.

This latest fallout from the WHCD this past weekend is just the icing on the cake.  I cannot come up with a witty retort, so I’m gonna let Burneko handle it:

…As you’ve surely read by now, Wolf joked that [Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee] Sanders’s makeup—her “perfect smoky eye”—is made of the ashes of the facts she burns.

That’s about as gentle a way as anyone could come up with to lampoon the single most relevant fact about Sanders and what brought her to a station in life that would make her a reasonable subject of lines in a White House Correspondents’ Dinner monologue in the first place. A frank and honest description of who she is and what she does would be much more harsh: Every day, Sarah Huckabee Sanders plants herself, by choice, between the public and the facts of what’s being done at the very highest levels of American executive power, and does her damnedest to break and delegitimize the means by which the two are brought together. She is one of the most visible and powerful people in American civic life, and she uses her visibility and power—she chooses to use her visibility and power—to confuse the public and degrade its grasp on the truth, rather than to inform or empower or serve it. Her willingness to do this on behalf of Donald Trump, day after day, and the unmistakable teeth-gnashing relish with which she does it, are the substance of her power, and the reason why anybody knows who the fuck she is at all. What history will remember about Sanders is that she is the scum of the fucking earth, and not the jokey means by which one comedian pointed out this inarguable fact—and that’s only if the senile rageaholic pissbaby moron on whose behalf she shames herself on television every day doesn’t annihilate the human race, first.

I take solace where I can, folks, and right now it’s listening to good music, snuggling with my family*, and, after my family has gone to bed, obsessively playing God of War.

Speaking of which.  I’m at least 30 hours into it.  Currently doing a tricky side quest in Niflheim, newly unlocked.  Can’t stop thinking about it.

Let me back up a second.  I’ve recently been doing a thought experiment at work; I keep a Google Doc in a tab and any time a game pops into my head, for whatever reason, I’ll write it down.  I’ve been doing this for a few reasons, not the least of which is that it happens quite a lot, and I’m wondering what triggers it.  As a weird example:  for the longest time, any time I gave my son a bath, I’d start thinking about a certain sequence (the dockyard shootout)  in Max Payne 3.  (I have no idea why, and I don’t know if I want to know why.)   More to the point, I’ve been trying this out because sometimes I’ll be in my basement, utterly paralyzed by my backlog and not knowing what I’d want to play first; the log reminds me what I’ve been thinking about, and perhaps the paralysis can end.

I’m in no such paralysis at the moment, of course, because every free waking moment I have is spent being thoroughly absorbed by the aforementioned God of War, which is, thus far, probably one of the best games I’ve ever played in my life.  It’s probably fair to say that part of my above-mentioned exhaustion is that I spent the bulk of this weekend’s evenings playing far past my usual bedtime.  Like, 3-4 hours past my usual bedtime.

Because this is not a traditional review, I’m not particularly compelled to tell you about mechanics, though they are wonderful – like a lot of actual, professional critics, I found myself spending a lot of the early hours just throwing my axe into things and then summoning it back, and even 30 hours later it never gets old.  It is, indeed, one of the most satisfying weapons I’ve ever used in a game.

Nor am I technologically savvy enough to describe the graphics in any sort of meaningful way.  Let me simply say that, while I don’t know if it’s the best looking game I’ve ever seen, it’s certainly among the very top.  I can’t give it full marks if only because this is the first game I’ve really spent any time playing on my PS4 Pro / 4K HDR TV setup, and having seen what the X can do in that setup, I can see that the Pro isn’t quite as powerful.  (If I’m splitting hairs, I’d say that the X port of Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice is better-looking than the PS4’s version, and is also probably better-looking than God of War on a pixel-by-pixel basis, though it’s fair to acknowledge that each game is doing wildly different things.)

And I don’t want to discuss the story, because it should be experienced first-hand.  I accidentally spoiled myself on a mid-game plot point and almost immediately regretted it.  What I can say, though, is that the relationship between Kratos and his son, Atreus, is far better written than I’d ever give this franchise credit for.  There’s a thoughtfulness behind every line of dialogue, and the voice acting is marvelous.

Here’s what I can say, and I know this is going to sound weird – this game feels like it was built for me, specifically; the 40-something tired father with not a lot of free time.   It is paced exactly the way I’d want it to be paced – much like Uncharted 4, the combat is exciting and dynamic but is also spaced out evenly, and there’s just as much emphasis on exploration and puzzle solving as there is on beating the hell out of demons.   The game is beautiful, and it knows it, and it knows you’ll want to explore every nook and cranny, and more often than not there’s a useful treasure hidden away in those places, and so you’re encouraged to go off the beaten paths.  Indeed, sometimes those paths go to rather unexpected places, and the rewards are generally always worth it.

More interestingly, I feel like the game understands how I’m interacting with it and responds accordingly.  The interstitial dialogue as you’re travelling from place to place does a wonderful, effortless job of world-building and character development, and it does it through subtlety (inasmuch as a character like Kratos can be subtle).  If I need a break from killing things, there are always tons of non-violent things to do.  Hell, even just pausing before a combat section so that I can re-outfit my weapons is satisfying; there’s a hint of puzzle-solving that goes along with each encounter, and you can see the results of your decision-making immediately.  It’s wonderful.

As much as I was enjoying Yakuza 6 and Ni No Kuni 2, and also kinda diddling around in Far Cry 5, this is the game that I’m gonna want to keep coming back to.  The new Tomb Raider and Red Dead Redemption games don’t come out until the fall; this will more than suffice in the meantime.


* I just wanted to mention that my current favorite thing is the way my son plays with the back of my hair when I’m carrying him downstairs in the morning.  He is half-awake, floppy-limbed, and can barely keep his eyes open; but when I pick him up, he puts his arms around me and runs his fingers gently through the very short hair on the back of my neck.  It is the sweetest thing – I have no idea if he even knows that he does it – and it makes my day.