Midnight Gladiolus, a science fiction novel in progress. Chapter 3.

3

Still twitchy, but he had to go to work. And, now that he’d arrived, swiped in, got his black coveralls on, printed a soy-tuna sandwich in the break room and put it in the mini-fridge, Donny almost felt normal. The pills would prevent the chip from communicating with his body for three or four days, but the inhibitory drug’s side effects would last a whole week. He wouldn’t be able to smell or taste anything and his pounding headache wouldn’t go away no matter how many vending machine painkillers he took. Felt like someone dropped a heavy weight straight down on top of his head. And then there would be the dangerous period when the pills wore off. The lingering side effects prevented Donny from taking more, leaving him completely vulnerable for a few days before he could dose up again.

The code didn’t always run on those unprotected days. There was no telling exactly when it would. But it did once, right in the middle of his shift. He barely survived that night. So he now kept a pair of handcuffs from the equipment locker with him at all times. There was a spot in the sub-basement where Donny could lock himself to a pipe coming out of the wall if he felt the chip coming online. Unlit hallway. Nothing else around. Even Loach, his supervisor, wouldn’t look for him down there. Because if Loach ever found out, that would be the end. And what better job was there for someone in Donny’s situation than as a night guard? Better to pass out down there in the dark and tell Loach he’d gotten drunk, overslept, something.

He made Postum in the ancient tin percolator and poured it into his thermos. The tiny break room had caged red lights in the ceiling to discourage sleeping on the job and it smelled like a rubber tire. Donny spent as little time in there as possible. Tonight, especially since he was feeling on edge, he wanted to get out and do his rounds, just be out there in the dark with the heavy flashlight and the motion detector, where nothing ever moved and the only sound was dripping water. He stepped into the dark and swiped his key card through the magnetic reader, locking the break room down. Old tech, but there wasn’t much of value in the tiny closet apart from the filthy printer. The red light at the bottom of the door faded, and Donny clicked the strong LED flashlight on, did a sweep around what had once been a synthetic play-garden for children. The beam lit up a 300-meter cone, made the distant shop windows flash and the drops coming down through the dome ceiling far above glitter like falling diamonds.

The Shung Building was gigantic, deserted, partly flooded on the ground floor. By the time Donny made his first round through the dark shopping levels with wires hanging from the ceilings and the old silver mannequins still posed in shattered storefronts, he’d be ready for his sandwich and second thermos. He didn’t remember being hired for the job at Bug Security. It, too, was from before. But he supposed it couldn’t have been hard to get. Most people probably didn’t enjoy being all alone in such an enormous dark space. Then again, Donny wasn’t most people. It suited him just fine. Even if he’d never been chipped, he felt he would have sought out a job like this.

As he passed, the smooth chrome eyes of a mannequin stared at him from a shop that used to sell synthetic canaries. He had no idea what use a canary shop would have had with a mannequin, but the whole place was like that. He noticed strange details now and then on his rounds—enough that he no longer questioned why a mannequin head might be staring up out of a broken toilet, why a half-skinned animatronic cat might be hanging from a snare in the one of the vacant bedrooms on the hotel level, or why the steel hatch to the jump pad on the roof might be banging open in the storm when it had been supposedly welded shut. Maybe normal people would be unnerved by things like that, things that didn’t have answers. But not Donny. The world was too much, too broken, too sick and evil for him to ever feel like it owed him an explanation.

The motion detector hummed softly, occasionally making a set of quiet pings when it sent out a pulse. The semi-circular display had a glowing grid he could use to pinpoint exactly how something was moving and how far it was from him. It never picked up anything bigger than a rat. And he’d killed the last rat weeks ago. He hooked the motion detector on his belt and took a sip from the thermos, panning the cone of light over the broken shop windows like jagged translucent fangs and then out across the vast ground floor. Far off in the dark, the constant rain had collected in a stagnant puddle that seemed more like a small lake. Loach said it was draining, but Donny didn’t see how it could. The rain never stopped.

Still, Loach was the man. You didn’t argue with him. Donny climbed the dead escalator, listening to the motion detector ping and then answer itself. Somewhere, on the other side of the dome, in an area where the subcrete floor had partly fallen into the basement level, there was the rubble of an old-fashioned 20th century glass elevator. Loach showed it to him on his first day, shining the flashlight at the shards of chemically treated glass, lighting them up like rainbows. Loach chomped on his cigar and said, “Look at them lights, man. You ever see anything like that?” Donny said he hadn’t. But, to be honest, maybe he had.

The mezzanine level was mostly broken equipment and piles of garbage. It overlooked the ground floor and was the real reason whoever owned the property still paid for Bug Security. There wasn’t much to steal, but if people wanted a quiet place to squat or smoke sand, this was it. Through Loach said he’d caught some junkies once, there was never anybody when Donny did his rounds. The motion detector pinged as he shined the light between piles of broken furniture, shredded paper, packing cartons, useless machinery brought down from the hotel level and dumped here long ago, the burned torso of a mannequin protruding from the side of a junk pile like it would crawl away if it only had arms.

There were 32 empty levels, part of a corporate arcology that never took off, and Donny’s job was to check them all three times during his shift. The Shung Corporation disappeared 30 years ago. Loach had told him all about its history, how the entire workforce lived at the top. When the company went bankrupt, everyone got chipped for a one year lifespan. The big tech corporations did things like that back then. And though it was still legal to contractually agree to a post-termination death date, technology had improved. Now an employer could reliably erase a worker’s memories without having to cause a fatal aneurysm, rendering corporate espionage and data insecurity a non-issue. The Shung Corporation had been notorious for a number of things. But they were long gone, just another ghost in a city of ghosts.

Still, someone was paying for the power. The whole building was jacked into the greater metropolitan grid and could be turned on from a control room in the basement. Donny found the access hall to the freight elevator. The two-meter-wide hallway was totally hidden unless you knew to turn right at an enormous urn that must have once held an equally large plant, maybe a shrub genetically engineered to grow as large as a tree and emit relaxing pheromones whenever anyone stood close to it. Now the urn was full to the brim with rain water. It was directly under one of the holes in the dome, which sat like a five story high blister at the base of the tower block. If you took a drone from LAX to Griffith Admin Center, the Shung Building resembled nothing if not an erect cock and ball. At least, that’s what Loach called it and now Donny couldn’t look at it any other way.

He reached the end of the access hall and swiped his key card on the elevator’s call panel. A distorted male voice said, “Thank you. The elevator is approaching.” It had an antique AI. Donny could talk to it, but what was the use? Its firmware hadn’t been updated in three decades. It never said anything interesting, though it might spontaneously offer inaccurate weather reports and the incorrect time. If he asked it a human question, like “Do you like it here?,” it would respond with “The Shung Corporation is on the cutting edge of biotechnological innovation.”

Donny stepped onto the elevator, pulled the steel doors shut, and told it to go to level three. Then he glanced, as he always did, between the safety bars that crisscrossed the top of the elevator car. Tiny points of light set in the dome twinkled like stars, some of them caught in an endless cycle of sputtering and flaring, and there was something beautiful about that—unintended beauty, like the shards of the old glass elevator or the silver eyes of the mannequins in the shops staring into the dark.

Do you like it here?” he said to the elevator.

The Shung Corporation is on the cutting edge of biotechnological innovation,” the elevator said.

Donny nodded and looked back up at the artificial stars.

< Read Ch. 4 here: http://wp.me/p2mP19-Iw >

< Read Ch 2 here: http://wp.me/p2mP19-Ir >


Midnight Gladiolus, a science fiction novel in progress. Chapter 2.

2

Donny clicked open the door to his apartment. Graciela was asleep in his bed. One of many good things about the apartment: you could look straight from the bedroom, through the kitchen area, through the living room, to the door. You could sit up in bed and put a bullet through an intruder—if you were fast like Moss and you could shoot straight. But Donny had never fired a gun at another human being, even though there were more than 34 handguns currently in his apartment. He’d fired about half of them at himself. That was the Damocles Algorithm. That was part of his wreckage, but not all of it.

He let the door shut behind him, then walked over to the foot of the bed and looked down at Graciela. When they had sex, she’d sweat. She liked to cuss. She liked to smoke his cigarettes in bed. She liked to drink. When she used his bathroom, sometimes the smell of shit lingered through the toilet’s deodorant spray. It made Donny feel good, calm. Graciela was real, as organic as any woman born the old-fashioned way in a hospital. Not in a lab.

Sometimes a synthetic person came to believe it was organic. And every now and then, organic people like Donny, who’d been involuntarily chipped by a family member or a spouse or an employer, discovered their hardware or coding during a routine physical or because of a triggering event or in some other more dramatic way. In most cases, forced implantation was legal in California, whether it was court ordered or whether the subject contractually agreed to it. The problem was remembering your life before the implant, even remembering you’d agreed to it in the first place. A certain degree of memory loss was inevitable. It protected the people who’d done it to you. At least, it added another layer of difficulty if you tried to find out. But sometimes people got their memories back. And sometimes they took revenge.

Graciela didn’t know about any of this. She knew, in a general way, things like forced implantation took place. But she didn’t know about Donny’s coding or the few fragments he remembered from his past. She thought all the guns were some weird macho thing. That was good, too. But Donny didn’t like it when she spent the whole night at his place, because that’s when it usually happened. He had some pills. They were supposed to help him block the algorithm that made him build guns in a feverish agony-filled trance and then try to use them on himself. The pills worked about half the time—if he remembered to take them. The side effects were horrible. Donny only took them when he felt the code kicking in, the strobe of pain in the center of his forehead. When it started, he had to move fast. He didn’t always make it.

Graciela sighed in her sleep. Donny took off his shirt, shoes, chinos, and lay down beside her, resting his right hand on the small of her back. She was wearing one of his white T-shirts and her warmth felt nice through the cotton. Real cotton. A luxury item, hardly in his budget as a night guard. But synthetic clothing gave you skin cancer and Donny felt he had enough on his plate. He smiled at the thought: enough on my plate, imagining an antique china dinner plate, gold scroll-work around the edge, a gold spoon beside it, and a Steyr Mannlicher L-D12 with an extended clip resting in the middle like a charred T-bone. Black steel. Tactical sights. Very similar to the first gun he could remember finding hidden in his apartment.

Donny panicked that night, not knowing that he’d ordered it online six days earlier. That was before the assembly subroutine activated. Now he had guns made from PVC piping, cardboard tubes, a disassembled fire nozzle he’d brought home from the Shung building and hacksawed in a trance with bloodshot unfocused eyes, his nose bleeding down to his belt. He’d gotten rid of his 3D printer, but he was still finding polymer firing mechanisms sunk in the toilet tank, piled on top of each other in a forgotten bowl in the kitchen cupboard, stuffed into a rip in the side of his mattress. He dreamed about guns almost every night, had encyclopedic knowledge of their specifications, materials, assembly. It was part of the code.

There was a VR channel where you could learn about objects from the past, examine them from all angles, experience what they might have been like sitting in your hand. Donny felt that in his previous life—the life before the implant—he must have spent a lot of time in VR, especially on the learning feeds. Most people had never seen an astrolabe, van Gogh’s Starry Night, a 16th century Koran in green leather fitted in brass. But he could remember such things and they had nothing to do with the Damocles Algorithm.

He’d heard of a similar channel for extinct animals. Some liked to spend all their free time playing with otters in high-def mountain streams. But somehow virtual animals didn’t have the same appeal for Donny. The archaeology of the past was more real because it had been artificial from the beginning—then an astrolabe, now a pixilated astrolabe. That was more honest, more organic, than a pixilated otter.

Donny listened to the rain patter on the big circular window to the right of the bed. The window depolarized at night. Unless he raised the auto-blind, the enormous ECO-TANGENT marquee on the apartment block across the skyway lit up the bedroom. Graciela apparently didn’t know where to find the controls. So the blind was still only half-raised, the way he’d left it that morning. A red-orange bar of light twisted on the ceiling whenever the enormous ECO-TANGENT logo flashed passing drones.

In a few minutes, he’d go into the kitchen and make a strong cup of Postum to keep him awake. Then he could go somewhere else and let Graciela sleep. The apartment was oblong, actually a very small capsule model. 72 floors up the megablock. The block generated a new capsule whenever a tenant moved in, incinerating the old capsule in its slot for hygiene purposes. Donny felt lucky to live there. It was hard to find a place in the city with decent filtration and radiation shielding. He didn’t know how he’d managed it. All he knew was that his name was on the lease. So he must have lived there before.

Somewhere Moss, Teague, Friendly, Jackson Filter and the rest were also going to sleep, however they managed to live, in whatever holes they called home. Well, he thought, they probably weren’t actually sleeping. They, as a group, didn’t seem to sleep all that much. And who could blame them? They’d gone to sleep one night as a relatively normal people only to wake up to nightmares they couldn’t escape.

Donny didn’t realize he’d dozed off until the subroutine had already begun. He gasped, sitting up beside Graciela. She was still on her chest, still breathing deeply, sleeping like a normal human being, whatever that was. He didn’t know anymore. The cramps had already started, aching nausea, his left hand trembling as if being jiggled at the end of an invisible string. His hand was separate from him now, coming online, connecting to the thing in his brain that wanted him dead.

He slid off the bed, dry heaving, his right arm hugging his stomach. Nothing to vomit. Just pain. A drop of blood fell out of his nose, black and glistening on the capsule’s blue polyamide carpet like a tiny jewel. Then his left arm started flopping at his side like a fish struggling to breathe.

There was still time. The spasms always started in one of his hands, then moved across his body like a seizure. There was time to get the pills, to get to the sink. He needed to take four of them. They were big. Donny had to put them in his mouth and then get some water in there. And he had to do it fast. He could already feel his heart starting to race. He focused on his breathing. If he started to hyperventilate, it was all over. He’d pass out and then the chip would only wake up the psycho-motor areas of his brain—the parts necessary for locating or building a firearm, loading it, and firing it point-blank at the side of his head.

The little ceramic duck on the edge of the sink. Something Graciela wouldn’t notice. Donny knocked it over with his right hand, trying to stay upright with his left arm spasming, his left leg starting to vibrate, his throat muscles getting rigid. Underneath the duck was a little cellophane packet full of the yellow pills. He tore the packet open with his teeth and they went everywhere. Focus. Count four lying on the counter. Starting to hyperventilate. His entire body trembling. Just as Donny’s right fingers started to pulse, he got the pills in, cut his mouth on the sink faucet, but got the water flowing. Swallowed. Fell to the kitchen floor and didn’t think, didn’t move, until the convulsions slowed, then faded and he lay there surrounded by triangular yellow pills that didn’t have a name. Donny listened to the rain. Graciela hadn’t woken up. One good thing. One small good thing.

 

< Read Ch. 1 here: http://wp.me/p2mP19-In >

< Read Ch. 3 here: http://wp.me/p2mP19-Iw >


Midnight Gladiolus, a science fiction novel in progress. Chapter 1.

As touching the terrors of the night, they are as many as our sins.”

– Thomas Nashe, 1594

1

They wanted Donny to talk about the algorithm running in his brain, as if talking about it again would change something.

He stood and knocked over his folding chair. “Stop recording. I’m not gonna tell you twice.”

Sorry. I wanted to—review it—later.” Moss’ irises pulsed faint blue, then rotated as he erased the file.

The group stared. Donny lit a cigarette with a paper match. “Yeah, well, I shouldn’t have to say it.” He didn’t take his eyes off Moss.

Sitting, Moss was still taller than Donny. Standing, he was easily over eight feet. He weighed close to 400 lbs., all synthetic fast-twitch muscle fiber and chemical emulsifier. Hairless and scarred, Moss looked like someone who’d grown up in an industrial ghetto or who’d been sent to the gulags. But he had perfect balance. Was ambidextrous. Said he could see 20/20 in the dark and could bend a steel railing with his hands. Donny believed it. Moss was obviously enhanced. And code like that was open source these days. Outpatient. Anyone could chip you in—or have you chipped against your will. There was no telling who Moss had been or what he’d done or what his skeletal structure looked like. He was the same as everyone who came to these meetings. His memory was salad.

I said I was sorry. I’m—really sorry, man.” Moss looked away, folded his hands in his lap.

You know the rules.” Friendly raised his eyebrows and nodded to himself, wrote something in his notebook. “We don’t record. We keep it all in-group.”

I could care less about the rules. I just don’t like the thought of him watching playback of me in his head. It’s sick.” Donny righted his chair and sat back down, exhaling twin jets of smoke out his nose like punctuation.

I accept the rules,” Moss said. “But the reason we’re here is because—because maybe we’re not so good at following rules.”

Friendly grinned, nodded again. “That’s the truth, brother. The absolute truth. That’s what we mean by self-acceptance.” Friendly had big white teeth, a wooden ankh on a bead necklace, thin dreads tied in a perfect bun. He was definitely synthetic. He didn’t sweat. He smiled way too much. Donny wondered, again, what Friendly had done to wind up running a support group that met on the production floor of an abandoned foundry. Who’d built him? Why? Was it for this or something else?

Let’s just get on with it,” Donny flicked ash onto the subcrete and Friendly’s glance snapped down at the nub of ash the way a mongoose fixates on the head of a snake. The snake’s head jerks, the mongoose follows it so fast it seems like they’re moving as one. Yeah, sure, nothing unnatural about Friendly.

Friendly’s gaze slowly unfocused, softened, he looked up at Donny and nodded. Then smiling, he looked around the circle. “It’s Teague’s turn to share this evening. Isn’t it?”

Teague peered at Friendly with his good eye. The other was a dead milky orb with only the faintest outline of an iris. Someone had done that to him, among other things. He had pockmarked cheeks. Had someone done that as well—for realism? Or was it natural? He probably didn’t know.

There’s a burning question, thought Donny. Can synthetics get chicken pox? Is that the new thing?

I shared before,” Teague said. “I told you—you know who I am. I’m chipped. You know this. Right?” Teague looked at Friendly, who nodded.

Yes. But we need to hear your story.” Friendly would be smiling even if he’d had to tell a mother her kid had been torn apart by wild dogs. Donny stared until Friendly noticed and winked.

Teague sounded nervous, but telling your story was part of the therapy. In your first meeting, you were expected to share the nature of your coding as far as you understood it. You did a fearless and searching inventory of all the people you’d hurt as a result of your involuntary actions. You confessed. But there wasn’t supposed to be any judgment, just understanding, acceptance, compassion. Only then could healing begin. That’s what The Book of Synthesis said, anyway. Friendly gave everyone a copy. Donny read half of chapter one before throwing it in the trash. He didn’t expect to be healed. Talking couldn’t remove a chipset from your cerebral cortex or the software that had become integrated with your brain functions, your wetware. Donny didn’t know why he came back week after week, but he was pretty sure it wasn’t because of The Book.

Teague crossed his arms, cleared his throat. “Well, okay, so you all know me from last time, right? You know my name. It’s Teague. It’s my last name. I don’t know my first name.”

Moss stared intently at Teague with those dull blue filaments in his eyes that pulsed whenever one of his subroutines kicked in. Moss said his eyes weren’t supposed to do that. They had their own battery power and it was failing. Soon he’d probably go blind. Or worse. There was no way for him to know without contacting the company that made his eyes. But, of course, he couldn’t remember.

But what’s your wreckage?” Donny flicked another bit of ash from his cigarette to see if Friendly would react the same way.

Friendly smirked and wagged his finger as if Donny had been a naughty boy. “We don’t call it wreckage, Donny. You know that.”

Wreckage?” Teague’s mouth twitched. His good eye darted around the circle. Then he stood and spread his arms, and sang out in lyric tenor: “By the River Jordan, I sat down and wept! By the river! Le delizie dell’ amor, mi dei sempre rammentar! Sono io! Sono io! Ecco chi sono!

That’s who you are? You’re a river?” Dangler tilted his head to the side, considering the possibility.

Four score and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal!

Friendly stood and put his arm around Teague, helping him down into his folding chair. “Firewall. It’s okay, brother. Just sit back down.”

Teague had begun to shake, spittle foaming at the corners of his mouth. He tried to keep talking but could now only utter incoherent syllables, his good eye turned down toward the tip of his nose while his hands writhed in his lap.

Wow,” Dangler said. “How is that anything like a river?”

Let’s go easy on Teague tonight.” Friendly sighed, sat down, and smiled warmly at the group. “Evidently, this is a protective aspect of his coding. But that’s why were here, right? That’s part of the work.”

Dangler shook his head. “That must feel strange.”

How do you know what strange feels like?” asked Jackson Filter, who always seemed to be sitting next to Dangler even though Jackson despised him.

You’re right. I don’t actually know what strange feels like. What does strange feel like, Jackson Filter?”

Talking to you. That feels strange,” Jackson said and turned his folding chair slightly so he wouldn’t have to look at Dangler.

Donny smoked, took it all in. These men were broken, miserable. And the group meetings were a special kind of hell. What good did they do? Every week Donny swore that was the last time. But when the next meeting came around, he found himself on a drone texting Friendly that he was on his way. Could coming to the meetings also be part of his coding? Someone wanting to program him to attend group therapy for being programmed was absurd, at least as absurd as anything else in Donny’s life.

The old foundry’s enormous pressure injectors, iron crucibles, plungers, chamber machines, and die cavities towered around them like the discarded toys of a giant race. Everything had rusted horribly from the moisture, even the walls and the roof. It was always raining in Los Angeles and you could smell the acid tang of the rust. Hundreds of feet above them, rain clattered on the foundry’s corrugated roof and filled the air with mist, muting the glare of Friendly’s arc lamp. One day, the roof would come crashing down. Then they’d finally see who had physical enhancements to go along with the code.

Dangler, for example, looked completely normal. No scarring. No obvious synthetic characteristics. That is, if you overlooked the fact that he was 62 but appeared 22. He had bushy blond hair, a perfect even tan, and a vacant stare. He’d been coded against emotion. Sometime, he claimed, maybe 20 years ago, someone had done it to him. And for the last two decades, he’d felt no happiness, joy, fear, or anxiety. Higher levels of creativity were forever closed to him. Dangler was very good at imitating the behavior of others, but original thought or action was beyond him. He once said a middle-aged woman occasionally stopped by his room at the YMCA to ask how he was feeling. But he didn’t know who she was or why she came. She refused to explain why Dangler had been tattooed in the center of his chest. But that was his name. She said that had always been his name.

I’m sorry.” Teague pulled up the collar of his white T-shirt and mopped his face. “I don’t know what came over me.”

You were speaking Italian,” said Jackson Filter.

I don’t know Italian.”

Well, I guess you do.”

Friendly raised his hand. “Guys, we all know what a firewall is. It’s the code protecting itself. Sometimes, it’s hard. That’s intentional. But what do we say to those who have harmed us?”

Everyone but Teague and Donny called out in unison: “WE FORGIVE AND PRAY NOT TO FORGET!”

Yes,” Friendly said. “And, as it says in The Book, self-remembering is the basis of love, which is the greatest power in the universe.”

Amen,” said Moss.

Amen,” said Dangler.

Amen,” said Jackson Filter.

Amen,” said Rupert Two-Gears.

Amen,” said John Desmond Frame, Jr.

Teague covered his face with his hands and started to weep. “Amen,” he said.

Everyone looked at Donny. He blew a line of smoke at the arc lamp. Then he smiled at Friendly and flicked a nub of ash onto the subcrete.

< Read Ch. 2 here: http://wp.me/p2mP19-Ir >


Here’s Why Denis Johnson Was the Last Truly Great Gonzo War Correspondent — by Jeremy Kryt

Johnson was “willing to place his lonesome ass in the way of seriously bad and scary stuff and then bring back the tale, told better than it’s ever been told before.”

Source: Here’s Why Denis Johnson Was the Last Truly Great Gonzo War Correspondent


Tiredness, Truth, and Mockery: the American Way

...

Early rendition of Alfred E. Neuman, 1908.

Today, I wonder whether I should re-think some of my ultra-liberal biases and attendant leftist news consumption.  This is good.  But, man, I’m beat.

The alt-right (and the radical religious right) to me seems like a uniquely American expression of deep stupidity but, of course, I would say that. Look at my demographic: college educated, democrat, fiction writer, from Southern California, who’s been an expat for almost a decade. Of course, I think Trump is the worst thing that could have possibly happened to the world. Of course, I wanted Bernie but voted Hillary. Of course, I want net neutrality. Of course, I support many (but not all) positions taken by the ACLU. Of course, I believe that, in an earlier era, Obama would have been considered a moderate republican. Of course, I have a problem with drones, civilian casualties, the terrific scope creep of the Patriot Act, and the “war on drugs.” Of course, I care about my country.

If I didn’t think the Green Party was run by bumblers, I would probably join. I’m pro-choice, pro-Planned Parenthood, and I support gay marriage. I think many of these things should not even have to be controversial in a liberal democracy. I dream of a day when there will be universal healthcare and free college tuition. I think climate change is one of the most, if not the most, serious issues we face today. But the truth is that most of these biases and beliefs can be (and are) predicted by an algorithm. The even sadder truth is that I only have so much energy I can devote to fact checking and being outraged. This is a problem. Tiredness is a problem.

The problem is not that there is a right answer we have to find. The problem is that uncertainty and complexity are exhausting over time, especially when you’re necessarily engaged in other things. Most Americans are not, actually, stupid. They’re invested in certain areas–mostly job and family–and in most other respects have a general (superficial) understanding of the world, including political issues and identifying yellow journalism, confirmation bias, and what passes for fear mongering click-bait. I have also seen this in European and Asian countries, relative to various cultural differences and levels of education. The USA doesn’t own “stupid.” Every country with a powerful media has a horse as a proconsul somewhere. The difference is that the States likes to put its toga-wearing horses on display, whereas other countries have not. But this is changing.

In an enormous post-industrial society, you will have many levels of political, historical, and economic awareness and many opinions emerging constantly in the news media. You will also have crackpot theories; secessionism; separatism based on race, religion, and / or gender biases; conspiracy paranoia; multi-directional shaming; late night talk show infotainment; social justice fanatics; religious absolutists; new age hucksters; ambulance chasers; a continuous horde of cynics; doom-saying historians looking for their 15 minutes; the resurgence of failed orthodoxies (like Nazism, ethno-nationalism, and whatever Steve Bannon happens to be reading); and the all-encompassing opportunism that feeds off these things. What you won’t have is a simple black-and-white truth. You will have truthiness.

To live in an information society infected with truthiness is extremely taxing. But just as there is no black-and-white truth, there is no easy solution. A friend of mine has suggested “slow news” as opposed to internet news feeds. It seems like there are some merits there. But slow news does not necessarily safeguard against yellow journalism, which has been around since newspapers could fold. In many ways, the 24-hour news cycle and its problematic presence on social media makes it harder for governments and corporations to spin interpretations in their favor. We should be grateful for the ineptitude of Sean Spicer and the alacrity with which he and his boss are covered by the press corps.

I don’t have answers. I don’t think there is a single version of what is true—at least not one that can be had through the media. But I also don’t think the cross-eyed chants of “burn it down” and “fuck your feelings” have done any good. They helped Trump get elected as president, and he has thus far made a mockery of America. The left understandably wants him gone. The GOP wants him to calm down and let them get on with the kleptocracy. His base supporters are currently upset because he bowed 5 inches to receive an award in Saudi. Some of his supporters are no doubt upset that the Reich hasn’t yet emerged in all its glory. I suspect they will still be upset when he gets impeached.

“Nothing is an absolute reality; all is permitted” – Hassan-i Sabbah


The Writing Life Ain’t Easy, Kid

Today I’m thinking about how most people locate the center of meaning in their lives in their social identity, which is synonymous either with their career role or some caretaking role or both.  But the artist finds the center of meaning in the act of making art.  This is an important distinction to keep in mind, especially for me when I’m not writing.

When I don’t feel capable of producing writing, I nearly always get depressed to some degree.  My insecurities get stronger.  I start wondering whether I’ve wasted my life following insubstantial dreams.  Nevermind that I’ve already accomplished things my younger self could have never imagined possible.  It’s as if none of that ever existed.  It’s failure, failure, failure, failure, failure on repeat in my head.  And it never relents.

Of course, this doesn’t happen in productive times because, when I’m actually involved with my work, I’m not even considering other things.  At most those old insecurities are tiny thoughts, easily dismissed by the reality of the page filling up with words.  Writing is all-consuming when it’s happening.  When it isn’t, when I’m unable to move my mind into focus, I feel incredibly empty and worthless, which reminds me of something my first creative writing instructor once said: “Writers drink and use drugs probably because when they can’t write, they think they don’t exist.  And they will do anything to escape that pain.”  It took me years to fully understand what he meant.  But I don’t try to escape the pain that way.  I just suffer. 

No matter how much I publish, no matter how many stories and chapters and essays and posts I write, it’s never enough to make me feel satisfied like I’ve arrived in a secure, content, stable place in my life and work.  As soon as I write the last word of something, I’m already thinking about the next thing.  Only during those moments of actual work, when I can forget myself fully do I feel any respite.  

When I’m like a clear pane of glass and the light of my work is shining through me, I experience a kind of bliss, a satori.  Nothing is ever that good.  Drugs or alcohol can’t come remotely close because they shut down or at least reconfigure thought processes.  Writing, when I’m immersed in it, enhances all processes, all existing configurations of thought—even the critical and analytical routines that consider form and technique—and precipitates insights, perspectives, realizations.  This is far better than taking drugs.  These are the drugs of the mind.  And the only thing I live for is to be in that place, putting words on the page.  The rest of my life, actually 90% of what I do that isn’t writing, is preparing to write or recovering from having written so I can do it again.

This way of life emphasizes introspection and subjectivity.  It is not contingent on the opinions of others, permission from authorities or institutions, or any other sort of social frameworks external to my inward experience.  That is a wonderful thing, sometimes.  But sometimes the alienation I feel can be terrible: from friends, family, society, culture, what passes for normal life.  The constant pain of living in my own subjective universe and knowing that, while others may do the same, they can never truly share this experience with me, is very subtle but very tangible, especially when I’m depressed about not writing.  When there is no bliss, there is only emptiness and doubt, an inner stage devoid of actors, props, and background, all too easily filled with regret, self-criticism, worry, and the memory of past failures.  But that’s the life.  That’s its hard interior, even when it looks soft on the outside.  

It means I have to make a living somehow as well, whether though freelance work, teaching, or something else.  When I’m producing, that’s fine.  It’s easy to accept when you’re high on life.  But these needs, these ups and downs, having to be a responsible adult while also being this other thing, a writer, an artist, can make life quite difficult when the words aren’t there.  The thing that society labels “artist” the way people label “happiness” or “love” or “god”—using the term in an offhand way, while not truly knowing what it is or truly caring that they don’t—is the life of Persephone, half on the earth, half in that other place.

All jobs are hard.  All lives are challenging for the people living them.  This one, too.  Even those days when I manage to get it right.  Why do I do it?  Maybe I’m obsessed.  And I guess it’s something at which I’m reasonably competent.  And I like it better than mowing lawns.


Fatal Vision: the Precipitous Exile of James Comey

Trump thinks he has eliminated the problem. || Michael Davis

Source: Fatal Vision: the Precipitous Exile of James Comey