It’s been six weeks in lockdown. Except for cashiers at the grocery store and a few curbside pickups of take out food, I haven’t interacted face-to-face in real life with anyone other than family. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t socialized. Like many of us shuttered in at home, I have videoconferenced – both for business and pleasure – using the software that has suddenly taken over our lives: Zoom.
So far I’ve attended a couple of hangouts with old friends, one of which was a surprise birthday party. I’ve been to happy hours with my work colleagues – and yes, we are welcome to have a drink. It’s nice to see the faces of my coworkers after a week of working online from home. I’ve also particicpated in a couple of script-readings for the eldest son’s script analysis class (put together by his attentive mother), including one where we were Zoombombed by professional actors.
Ok, we weren’t really Zoombombed, because the participants were invited. Ok, at work we actually use different software. I just mean to stick a label on this phenomenon where our socializing has abruptly moved into the digital space, as the Internet proceeds to the next phase of its complete takeover of our lives. We’re all Zoomers now.
It’s been fun figuring out the finer points of Zoom. Gallery view is best for a general conversation, but active speaker is good for the script reading. If you have a lot of participants, you can scroll through them to catch late arrivals, and make sure they get welcomed. And don’t forget about the chat option!
I do find that an online video hangout satisfies the need for social interaction. It feels like a change of scenery, and it alleviates the cabin fever. Good thing, because we don’t want this Sim’s mood to drop too low. Now if I could just get my virtual background to work…
I remember back when 2019 was coming to an end, and everyone on social media was posting retrospectives of the 2010s. There was this exciting sense of being there for the end of an era. I even participated by Tweeting a list of my favorite streaming shows, since I saw the rise of streaming on-demand television as the decade’s big story in the media and entertainment space.
When 2020 began, I had plans already lined up to hit the many travel destinations I like to visit periodically. I don’t know why, but I felt this compulsion to do it all as soon as I could. It was like I wanted to start the new decade right.
I went down to North Carolina, where I used to live, and attended a gaming convention with my BFF. That was in January. In February, we went to Washington, D.C. and visited my mother and sister. We also went to New York and saw two shows, as well her best friend from high school days. By then, the novel coronavirus was in the headlines.
At the very end of the month, I went down to Virginia to play Magic: The Gathering with old friends that I have been playing with since the 1990s. It was a fun get together after a year apart. We were making jokes about the coronavirus.
As March began, I looked forward to the high school theater season starting up, since my BFF and I attend performances as part of the Philadelphia Independence Awards. By then, the severity of the novel coronavirus contagion was becoming apparent. There was talk of shutdowns. The company where I work had a WFH day as a drill.
We ended up seeing one Independence Award show, and it was a dress rehearsal because the actual performances were cancelled. The last large gathering we attended was a funeral. We thought about maybe not going, but we wanted to pay our respects to a friend who had died tragically at too young an age. The funeral was attended by hundreds of people.
Since then we’ve been in lockdown, only leaving the house for grocery runs, or to go on walks in the neighborhood. Everyone at my office is working from home. I know that I am very lucky to have that opportunity, because many others are out of work and with no prospects.
All that travel and activity in the recent past seems like it might have been too risky. Especially the trip to New York. We actually came down with colds when we got back from there. Did we have it? I don’t think so, but we can’t be sure.
What now? The future looks ominous. I had all these ideas for blog posts lined up, but now they don’t seem relevant. Everything changed so fast. I’m glad I got all that travelling in at the start of the year, since it looks like that might be the last of it for the year. Personal, private life will be slower for awhile, even as events in the outside world move faster and faster.
I’ve finished another book, a relatively quick read, taking me to 2 out of 20 books completed in my 2020 reading challenge. I just might get it done!
The book was Where Good Ideas Come From, by Steven Johnson, a brief treatise on innovation. I left a short review on Goodreads. but wanted to blog about something interesting I learned during my read.
As part of the history of genius inventors, and of how information is organized and shared among them, Johnson covers the history of the commonplace book. This was a way for private individuals to compile knowledge, particularly popular in the early modern period. It was basically a loosely organized collection of notes. Typically it would be one volume, but it might take a lifetime to fill it, becoming a kind of jumbled encyclopedia with a personal touch.
There were even methods devised for the best way to organize the information, so that it could be found easily, but wasn’t too restrictively compartmentalized. The idea was that a freer arrangement could help reveal connections between different subject matters, allowing new concepts to emerge.
I realized that I have actually been following this practice my whole life. I’ve just been keeping smaller notebooks, to the point that I have piles of them now. Inside there are notes from reading books, as well as ideas for stories and games and world settings, all jumbled together. Sometimes I go back through them to revisit old ideas and ruminate more on them.
So that was a cool thing to get out of this read, the knowledge that I have been following a time-honored practice shared by scholarly types of centuries past. In fact, nowadays, most of us probably do, if only in the form of bookmarked web pages! So much to know about the world, and yet so much that remains undiscovered.
I’m way behind on my reading challenge so what do I do? I pick up a new book to read, of course. Actually, there is some logic to this decision – I tend to read ponderous works of nonfiction which means it takes a long time to get through a work. So I am adding a short piece of fiction to my list, which should increase my odds of finishing a book soon.
The fictional work is the novel Freedom Road, by Howard Fast. I didn’t know this before, but he is the same author who wrote the novel Spartacus, on which the film was based. And Freedom Road was also made into a TV mini-series, starring Muhammad Ali. So I’m going to look for that on streaming video once I’m done with the book.
I have small paperback edition I can carry with me at work in this odd little bag I bought, to read during my lunch breaks. Now that’s progress!
I have read a lot of books. I have been especially interested in reading history, and one thing I’ve learned over the years is how much there is that I don’t know. Of course, this drives me to read more, so now I have a fairly long reading list of books that I just haven’t gotten to quite yet.
This is not an uncommon thing; there is even a term for collecting unread books – tsundoku. A collection of unread books is called an antilibrary, and supposedly it’s good to have one, to remind oneself of the limits of one’s knowledge. My antilibrary, honestly, is actually not that large. But it’s large enough, possibly, to last me the rest of my life.
Between work, family, and other hobbies, I have not found much time to read lately. So, for 2020, I have decided to read more, and to track what I read on the social website Goodreads. My goal is simple – 20 books completed in 2020. And I plan to post reviews, some of which I may share on this blog.
Let’s see…20 books a year. If I live for 30 more years, which is plausible, that means 600 more books to read before I die. That’s it!?? There’s more than that many books in one aisle at the Barnes & Noble!
When will I have time enough? It almost makes me wish for the fate of Burgess Meredith’s character in the famous Twilight Zone episode. But of course, we know how that turns out. And even if I found time to read 6000 books, I would only scratch the surface of all that humanity has recorded.
Ah well. It’s still a joy to read a good book, despite the limitations of our mere mortal lives. I end with a quote from a great poet.
Knowledge is precious to us, because we shall never have time to complete it. All is done and finished in the eternal Heaven.
So I accepted this challenge on Facebook where you post ten indispensable albums, one a day. Here are the albums I chose, along with the text I posted on FB (with some edits). I consolidated them into one list for the blog format, also figuring I should save the information somewhere that doesn’t belong to the android overlord of social media.
So without further ado, here are my top ten indispensable albums.
1) Jesus Christ Superstar
My first experiences with music were listening to my parents’ record collection. They had a lot of old albums that I remember, but the one that I remember most fondly is the 1970 rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar, by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice. They had the double LP set, with Sides 1 and 4 on one record and sides 2 and 3 on the other, so you could play them on a turntable with a record changer. My sister and I knew all the lyrics and would sing along together. This was actually a concept album before it became a Broadway musical, and as a musical is still produced to this day. It’s a brilliant work that has stood the test of time.
2)We’re An American Band
My generation grew up on rock and roll, and was greatly influenced by the music made by the generation that came before us – the Baby Boomers. We call that music “classic rock” now, and there are a ton of possible choices that might go on a Gen-Xer’s list of indispensable albums. I chose this one: We’re an American Band by Grand Funk (Railroad). It was also in my parents’ collection; they had one of the original gold foil copies, and I listened to it from an early age. I think this album captures perfectly the energy, attitude, and ambition of the young Boomer generation. I still have it on CD and pop it into my car stereo when I need to get my blood flowing.
Here’s where my list of indispensable albums starts to veer away from the ordinary. When I was in high school some friends introduced me to the progressive rock/space rock/acid rock/whatever you want to call them rock band Hawkwind. I was instantly hooked on them. It’s not that they are that impressive musically; I just loved their weird style, their use of electronics, and the psychedelic and science fiction themes in their songs. And I’m telling you, until you’ve listened to Hawkwind’s epic live double album Space Ritual with your headphones on in a dark room in an altered state of mind, you have not truly experienced the mystery and majesty of this Universe.
After being introduced to Hawkwind, I started getting into more alternative rock music, especially what was coming out of Europe. There’s a lot of interesting stuff from this time period (late 60s through 70s), but as for indispensable, I would have to pick the Radio Gnome Invisible trilogy by Gong. This is a three album series that tells a strange mythological tale involving, among other things, magic tea, extraterrestrials and mystical prostitutes. A wonderful expression of the spirit of its age, it is playful, humorous, and – to me at least – has a profound spiritual message. The second album, Angel’s Egg, is the centerpiece and my favorite of the three.
5)Liege & Lief
So what makes an album indispensable, I think, is that you’ve listened to it many times, never tire of it, and feel that the world would be a lesser place without it. With that in mind, I have to include Liege & Lief, by Fairport Convention. This folk rock album features adaptations of traditional Celtic music and the enchanting singing voice of Sandy Denny. It is an all-time favorite of mine.
When I was in high school my friend Joe Webb introduced me to my next indispensable album, Extraterrestrial Live by Blue Öyster Cult. It’s the second live album I’ve put on this list. I guess there can be something in a particular concert performance that makes it memorable and unrepeatable and better than a studio album, and this is one example. And of course it has the sci-fi/fantasy appeal that is a staple of heavy metal music. This double LP set has so many great numbers – Black Blade, Godzilla, Don’t Fear the Reaper, Joan Crawford, and my all-time favorite, Veteran of the Psychic Wars.
There is a lot of music from high school days on my list of indispensable albums. It just goes to show how the impressions made in your formative years are the ones that stay with you. And here’s an astounding album that has made a lasting impression on me: The Dreaming by the inimitable Kate Bush. It’s so uniquely creative, and every song is a gem.
This next indispensable album might not appeal to all tastes. Frankly (heh), it’s obnoxious and crass and has lyrics that would get an artist ratioed and hashtagged into oblivion in today’s social climate. But it fit into its time, which was a much more free-wheeling age.
I’m talking about the brilliant satirical rock opera Joe’s Garage, by Frank Zappa. I want to listen to it many more times before I die, and when I do die, you can play this song – which features the greatest guitar solo in history – at my funeral.
Suddenly I’m jumping ahead two decades to 1999. What about all the wondrous varieties of rock music of the 80s and 90s? Well, I can appreciate it and admire it, but none of it made it to…indispensable. Maybe if this was a top 20 list.
Plus, at some point later in life, I started getting heavily into electronic music, so that genre gets the last two of the ten albums.
Now, for electronic music, I actually have an indispensable band, and that band would be Underworld. They are just freaking amazing in their mixing skills and their composition and tempo – and what’s even better is they’re still active and producing as much as ever. Just follow them on Spotify for endless fresh tracks. They’ve had a lot of great stuff since the early 90s, but if I had to live with just one of their albums, then that album would be Beacuoup Fish.
10)Nothing Lasts… But Nothing Is Lost
My number 10 indispensable album is a probably obscure psychedelic trance masterpiece by electronic musical project Shpongle. It’s title is Nothing Lasts… But Nothing Is Lost, which is taken from William Blake and speaks to the ineffable mysteries of time and consciousness. It’s a work of genius, a dream journey in an electronic and world music soundscape that is utterly entrancing and profound. That’s my opinion, anyway; I think it’s one of the best albums in its genre. It is best listened to in its entirety as one continuous piece, which you can only approximate on YouTube.
That’s right, my top ten list goes to eleven.
Most of the albums were from the way back, when I was first developing my attachment to music. But I really do appreciate the more recent waves of artists as well, so here is one more. My eleventh and final indispensable album of this list is Illinoise, by the quirky, creative indie musician Sufjan Stevens. He is a multi-talented virtuoso, and while his albums can be hit or miss as he genre-hops, this is one that I never tire of hearing.
Last weekend I went to Manhattan to catch up with my BFF, who was already there for a conference. It’s the greatest city in the world, and I love to go there and feel the energy of the teeming masses and all the things there are to see and do. But mainly the plan was to see a show. You know what I mean: a Broadway show.
We saw two, one on Saturday and one on Sunday. What we do is go to Times Square where there is a booth to get discount tickets. You won’t get to see a show that is selling out this way, but there are enough options to find something you are interested in, and the tickets will be about 50% off. I got to pick the shows this time, because my BFF was so busy.
Saturday’s show was Waitress, a reliably fun and romantic romp through the life of a working girl whose dreams are grander than her circumstances. These productions know how to tug on your heart strings, and take you on an emotional ride – up and down like a roller coaster. TV and movies can do the same thing, but live theater is much more powerful. The experience leaves me enervated, but during the show I feel my whole being expanding with joy, from the center.
What I’m feeling is my heart chakra blossoming open. That’s the central of the seven chakras – there are three below it and three above. Theater, done right, connects you to the emotional core of your being. It makes you care. Yes, about something fictional, but in doing so it has healing power. Mushy romance to stir up your heart is vital to living a long and healthy life. I highly recommend it.
Sunday’s show was King Kong. Which we absolutely love, and in fact we were seeing it for the second time. It is not as emotional a show as Waitress, but it is wondrous because of the skillful puppetry. It also has a standout performance from the lead, whose acting brings the great beast to life. I believe you have about a week to go see it before it closes.
But even if you miss it, at least get out there somewhere and see something romantic. Or even just watch it on TV. Your heart and soul will be grateful. Namaste.
This past weekend I traveled to Washington D.C. to celebrate my sister’s birthday. I stayed at my mother’s house. It was comforting to walk up the stairs to her familiar front door, a door which has welcomed me for nearly three decades of visits. A fixture in my life, anchoring my wandering soul.
I slept in the basement, which Mom uses as an art studio. The furnishings in there are older ones, including some that I remember from growing up. Again there was a sense of comfort from seeing these things; their material fixity reassuring me of the constancy and immutability of the past. For all the changes over the years, these things remind me that the past experience which made me who I am today is definite. It cannot be erased.
As William Blake put it: nothing lasts, but nothing is lost.
Of course the fixity of these material things is an illusion; they will all crumble away into nothingness in the due course of time. What is important to us in life is not stuff but our loved ones, and the relationships we have with them. That is why in all my wanderings, I keep circling back to the family in which I was born and raised.
We gathered for the celebration in a cheery restaurant – siblings and friends and relations all together again for the first time in a few years. There have been many changes in that short time – moves from one state to another, jobs lost and gained, marriages, divorces – but still we remain a family. So happy birthday again to my sister, and may we never forget our true and perfect home, in our hearts.
I joined Facebook in 2008, the first year of the current Crisis Era. I was really just jumping on a bandwagon – everyone around me was joining and I wanted to be a part of it. It was an early example of FOMO, I suppose. I soon found myself reconnecting with people from my past – from high school and college – distant in time and place from where my life was then. Facebook became a place of gathering. It also became a place to assess my life, as I saw how the careers and family lives of my peers had progressed compared to mine.
Eventually I reconnected in physical space with some friends, and renewed relationships. It was as though – assisted by social media – my life folded back on itself and began again from a past point. I wonder if others of my generation have had the same experience – a chance to revisit the past and reorient oneself towards the future. Like social media is our hot tub time machine.
I wonder if the experience of social media has been different for other generations. Some Boomers I know have embraced social media wholeheartedly, and post far more than I do. For them the smartphone age represents an even greater technological leap from their childhood than my generation experienced. Millennials, on the other hand, have joined social media at a younger age than Generation X – in young adulthood rather than midlife – but they still remember a time when it did not exist.
The one generation that stands out as fully immersed in “the social” is the Homeland generation, the first of whom were born in 2005. Their entire lives are documented on social media, from the first ultrasound images in the womb to the latest back to school snapshot standing outside of the family home. They are the true superstars of social media.
I still post regularly on Facebook, using it as a kind of diary to keep track of my life. It is fun to revisit the year and see all the places I have checked in, and my patterns of work and play. It’s also a joy to watch people I know from different times and places in my life come together in a discussion in the comments section of one of my posts.
We’ve been in the age of the social for a good decade now. I’m curious about how the experience has been different for people encountering it at different stages of their lives. If you’d care to share your experience in the comments below, please do.
My vision has been steadily and slowly deteriorating over the years, hence the need for the updated prescription lenses for nearsightedness that I am wearing in my recent profile picture. As my field of vision shrinks, it feels like a bubble is enclosing me, collapsing on me, isolating me and rendering me irrelevant. It’s like there is a timer in my eyes ticking down to a point when they will no longer be useful; when I will no longer be useful. Planned obsolescence – not an unfitting analogy for the limited lifespan of biological organisms, who must always make way for the next generations.
Vision is governed by the third-eye chakra, where life energy is involved with the intellect and with intuition – the higher functions of the human soul, as it were. Since I am very brain-oriented, as our species tends to be, spending most of my time mentally processing symbols at work or at play, I wonder if I am overworking it. After all, my favorite hobby – board gaming – is heavily intellectual. All this analysis in the mind – and how much of it is really fruitful?
Even in this reflection I am surely overthinking things. I’m probably not overstimulating my ajna chakra to a point where I am so caught up in the whirl of internal thought processes that my portal to the external world is closing down. My eyeballs are simply warping over time, entropy taking its inevitable toll as it does on all things physical. But if I am overintellectualizing or overinternalizing, that would fit with patterns in my past. So I’m hoping a little meditating might help. I need to clear my mind, to open up my soul.