thursday, october 30
words are empty
and nothing else
will fill the silence.
i will let this slide
for a while.
What is it about the internet that causes so many people to make fools of themselves?
For my money, it's the fact that so many of us are already fools and the internet represents a perfect mechanism for expressing our foolishness. I could be wrong about that.
Right, no more mining old piles of paper for semi-readable text. It would be a bad habit to get into.
Reading old notebooks can be fascinating. It is an exercise in rediscovering what I failed to express adequately a year or five ago. Not one thought in a dozen lodged in my head, let alone developed into something real.
My intellectual history is like the Platte River: Wide, shallow, and full of sandbars. Here, one notebook's worth: William James and Varieties of Religious Experience, The Gospel of Thomas, Vannevar Bush, poetry, tobacco smoke, mixtapes, Latin predicates, Simon the Magician, arbitrary tag parsing in pseudo-HTML, Scotch, monasticism, synthesis of knowledge and people who have it all too together, Low, the Dao, Iraq, and the untenability of a political indifference I still haven't renounced in a meaningful fashion.
If I knew much about any of these things, they might add up, but they are little more than references. Little stubs of unexplored knowledge. I'm not turning them into links here for a reason. At the moment, I suspect that we have been learning to use the hyperlink as a clever substitute for internalizing knowledge. Somebody somewhere knows about it, and if I point at them, surely it's as good as telling you myself, isn't it?
there is not going to be a perfect answer
there will not be perfect moments*
you will not achieve stasis 'til the
universe itself has ceased
its chain of motion, string of
explosions, the muffled thud of
vacuum being repeatedly abhorred
until white noise has claimed
the heavens and
all the spheres play is static.
* there will be moments so perfect
that eternity burns holes in causality
sunspots on your jaded retina
you will plummet standing motionless
into places shaped like hope
and absolute knowledge
the words, the wine,
the shutter shaped eternity before you come
escape the place behind your
tongue like torn
the static in the sheets a thousand
miles high don't let it slide
it's here and gone, but zeno
wasn't so far wrong
between here and there, in this place
a prediction of sorts:
americans will continue seeming
viciously ignorant of the world beyond their borders;
many will succumb to the mind numbing rhetoric of a
president who declaims that
free nations do not build weapons of mass destruction.
the majority of people,
the majority of the time,
will be wrong about
matters of public policy,
philosophy, good taste,
morality, and religion
while remaining, in most
of their actions
fairly decent human beings.
this is something of a miracle
and it is a damn shame
that it is seldom focused
the way that bigotry, stupidity,
and ignorance so effectively are;
although it probably still accounts
for the continuing survival of what,
on better days, we call civilization.
The abbot Antony said, 'Who sits in solitude and is quiet hath escaped from three wars: hearing, speaking, seeing: yet against one thing shall he continually battle: that is, his own heart.'
They were all crazy. They hated life and longed to escape it, they lived alone in huts in the desert and competed with one another in self-inflicted misery, they despised everything good in life, or despised themselves for failing to despise it - wine, women, song and sleep. But once in a while they said something that makes sense.
there's nothing that dictates
the universe has to be aesthetically pleasing
nothing says all of this
is supposed to be beautiful
or even especially pleasant
the music of the spheres
might well be kind of
a grating dull roar
or the sound of your
fingernails on an authentic
and if it is,
well then all your trying
to see a world that's not ugly
comes to jack squat
you could believe
everything's in harmony
or god is in his heaven
and this fallen world
will be redeemed
or progresss is inevitable;
that evolution is going
to lift us up by our bootstraps;
or all we've got to do,
really, is be objective
and let a sensawunda
gloss neatly over things
but sooner or later
you might also note the
very real possibility
that it's just ugly
or even worse
that it's not much of anything
knowing you like i do
i'm pretty sure it'll pass.
if you wanted
a philosophy of life
i'll bet i could cobble
you together two or three
in an afternoon
the parts are laying around
all over the place if you look
i keep tripping over them
we throw a disc for a while,
go listen to benjamin barber talk
about democracy and education
which are nice words like 'freedom',
even if busy men are making them
into bad comedy and worse history
october has its own light
people keep writing these things
because they are true
it contains cold, silver, purple
the remaining green, made deeper
and it fills the wind
which falls into waves and vortices
water motion and oceanshine a thousand miles
from any sea
it curves the sky differently,
makes much of streetlamps and plane surfaces
makes shadow less a master
of its own fate
it is a month of eclipse illumination
and maddened insects dying while
pelts thicken and grain rattles,
even in lincoln you
can hear harvest noises if you try
i sojourn for a while in the library,
and walk home through all this
writing these words in my head
wondering if i am numb
or only waiting.
Well, that kind of got out of hand.
Actually it's just that I didn't expect to spend so much of today thinking about something that combines triviality so neatly with impracticability. Still, there must be something there that's not fluff, especially if it can drag reasonably bright people in and hold their attention long enough that they actually respond.
A hypothesis about the attractiveness of ideas like handwriting-on-the-web and guerilla marginalia to minds like mine: For all their potential scope, they are usually the kinds of things you can wrap your head around and think furiously about with a certain satisfaction that you are getting somewhere, you are really making hay, even if you are probably never going to speak passable Japanese or shepherd the creation of a sustainable colony on some godforsaken, vacuum-blasted rock in the Belt where you can spend retirement penning wise and measured advice to your contemporaries which will be largely ignored, though eventually ensuring your remembrance as a founding father of interplanetary civilization.
(I believe the essential meaninglessness of "vacuum-blasted" in this context is overwhelmed by its more evocative qualities. Nevertheless, I concede that it may represent writerly excess, and its further unjustified usage will be strictly curtailed on these pages.)
Ok, so let's imagine that you're in some semi-public place - a coffee shop, a cafe, a library of some sort. The kind of place where people come ostensibly to study or write, but mostly just to be around other people and talk. And somewhere, let's say it's on a bookshelf or a table, there is a notebook or binder that is sort of an artifact of its location. It doesn't belong to any one person, but it's not just adrift either. People pick it up and read it, and a lot of them leave something behind. They write down a bad joke or a quote or a poem, or they leave a little sketch in a margin. Maybe it contains kind of an ongoing conversation. People have left stickers on its covers, taped pictures to pages, written phone numbers and addresses.
Assuming that something like this would be a worthwhile object may be optimistic. People are often enough not very articulate in the records they leave behind - see most bathroom walls and nearly all graffiti - but I am going to admit the faint hope that a lot of people do have something to say and would rather say it without trashing the medium of communication.
I think it's a similar, if more purposeful, idea that drives people to develop something on the web like a guestbook (which almost never works) or a wiki (which works under the right conditions, with the right mass of users and a lot of understanding between them). Of course you could make a huge list of the ways wiki is different from that paper notebook, but some of them are probably a lot more important. The one that strikes me most is handwriting.
Between any two writers, most observers are going to notice two kinds of
immediate difference. It doesn't really matter that the contributor of
America, love it or leave it you hippie fag! below a scrawled
NO WAR!!! didn't leave a signature; his lettering is
different and the ink is blue Papermate instead of black Sharpie. Content and
form both scream "I am not the same person!". Any wiki-like system
is going to convey content, but form is limited to the things that a
user can do to the look of their text (which require conscious thought)
and the style of their writing (which is hard to see on a first reading).
Electronic text, compared to what we do with ink and graphite, is usually what my drawing instructor referred to as 'dumb line'. When cheap ballpoints and mechanical pencils replaced nibbed pens, handwriting lost much of its expressiveness and character to lines of uniform width and weight. The transition to keyboards and a limited set of characters fits somewhere on the same continuum1.
There are basic electronic equivalents to handwriting: Punctuation, line and paragraph length, quoting style, characteristic typos, smilies and acronyms and the like. If you spend enough time reading someone's text you learn to recognize it even without much in the way of context. For a thing like Usenet or e-mail, those cues are generally enough, especially since they're built out of discrete messages with (usually) signatures and addresses attached. For a thing like Wikipedia with its 'neutral point of view' (a paradox, but I guess a noble goal), too distinctive a handwriting is probably best avoided. On standard weblogs, the problem scarcely exists because weblog authors are running their own show and usually pay a lot of attention to the way things look.
Which leaves the systems that really are something like that notebook on a table. How would we go about implementing a kind of handwriting on a wiki?2
1 I want to emphasize that our mechanical means of expression have become more uniform and less obviously displayed in our creative output. (You could argue that point in the analog world; the variety of writing utensils for sale anywhere you look is kind of staggering, even if most of them suck.) I don't mean to say that electronic displays aren't capable of an incredible range of expression, or that all of the fonts and graphical elements on a computer screen are literally rendered with dumb line, although now that I think about it, a lot of them are.
The differences between writing with vim in a terminal window on a Macintosh and with Internet Explorer's text editing controls on Intel hardware may affect what we produce (how can they not?), but they aren't likely to leave much visual residue in the resulting text. This is only one part of a larger phenomenon than the whole handwriting kick I got off on here to begin with, and it's hardly the kind of thing you can make any easy value statements about.
2 Just to make this harder, I mean something mostly independent of deliberate user choices and somehow reflective of physical reality. See today's wiki page.
Thursday night I reduced four of my surviving tomatoes, a bunch of carrots, five potatoes, two onions, a green pepper, and a tip steak to chunk form. Then I put them in a crockpot with a bottle's worth of Honey Brown, some salt, and tap water to just over the top of everything, and let them cook for 14 hours.
I have been told that imprecision in cooking, as opposed to in baking and formal logic, is generally acceptable. This is well, because imprecise is the only kind of cooking I ever do.
Anyway, I am sure you can buy prepared food this good, but it isn't easy to find.
i'm in a coffee shop eating 25 cents worth
of reese's pieces for supper;
they're playing the pixies
and i just set my mug on the table,
full of the knowledge that otherwise
it would be sure to spill all over this keyboard
i just watched whale rider
and it was pretty good - a better movie than
i have seen in a while
mythos without the cornball bs
acting as transparent as breathing
unless you have a monumental ego
it can be pretty hard to see your own life
in mythic terms
lord knows i have tried often enough
raised on a steady diet of fantasies reaching
for the shape and weight of destiny, or at least
a sense of significance in all things
you could envy the conquered, colonized, partitioned
and displaced peoples of the world - the ones who
came late to the gunpowder party and got fucked
by their own biology - that much, at least.
binding tradition has got all kinds of downsides
it probably killed a lot of the ones who made it through everything else
but at least they felt like it all meant something
before it came crashing down in ugly slow motion
maybe even then
the ones who survived, they might be closer to that still
you can tell we would like to think they are
whole modern species of tourism and advertising
are based on the notion
'authenticity' is the most marketable construct
in the known universe
the conquerors and real-estate agents had their own
sweeping sense of the fates of nations and whatnot
or at least they were proxies for men who did;
someone always has to do the dirty work
i don't doubt they were sincere, often enough
but it looks awfully pale these days
you start to realize it was bankrupt from the moment
it was somebody's position statement;
christianity ceded christ
the moment it signed on the dotted line.
I never knew they did this, but there are hundreds of thousands of ladybugs swarming around out there, looking all pale yellow and hot pink in the sun, bouncing off screens, getting in my hair. There's one crawling up my leg and I just heard another bounce off a glass lampshade.
Anyway, I'm going back out to stand on rickety scaffolding and drive a few nails.
If you happen to be looking for a way to fake the
directive in Internet Explorer, look no further. I
also messed around (see p1k3.css) and got the
text on this page to center the way it ought to; I will not speculate as to
whether it will actually work in an environment besides the one I tested it
(For the curious: A Pentium 4 running IE 6.0.2800.1106 on Windows 2000 Professional 4.00.2195, Service Pack 3, on a moderately pleasant October day in Nebraska, while wearing dirty blue jeans, sandals, a nice black and gray sweatshirt and approximately a week's worth of facial hair.)
The Daemonsong discussion pages are driven by Brent's new "Wala" engine; basically a simple wiki with IRC-style nicknames and an edit box on every page for adding text. Things could be tightened up here and there, but I think this is going the right direction.
and a year ago things were very different.
There is continuity of course; there are cycles
at work here and I suppose I am not
much more than a variation on some theme
— but life is always pretty damn subjective,
and mine isn't what it was, or I suppose
what it's going to be.
Anyway, I like October. I like the weather
and the texture of the air and the angle of
the sun. I like the food, and the chance to
wear warm, heavy things again.
More than anything I guess I like the way
you can tell things are changing. Even if
you know it's been this way before.