Saturday, April 30, 2016



Sacredness is direct unmediated contact with the universe, not by-passing the senses but a chord, a symphony, a melody.  It is felt holistically.

Religion is produced by cultural evolution, beginning with hunting/gathering people.  Religion is an institution that claims the sacred but is NOT sacred.

Institutions are identified with a social purpose, transcending individuals and intentions by mediating the rules that govern living behavior. The term "institution" commonly applies to a custom or behavior pattern important to a society, and to particular formal organizations of the government and public services.”  (By the secret author at Wikipedia — I always wish I knew who they are so I could read more of their thinking.)

So it begins with a superstition, a lucky hat, a little chant to call the prey but repel the predator.  Connected to the hunting grounds.  Maybe accompanied by a bribe, a sacrifice.

Then comes the beginnings of control: domestication, which means being able to locate and kill animals at will; and gardens or fields.  Swidden agriculture means clearing forest or jungle, growing crops that can’t be stored, like yams, or crops that need extraordinary preparation like sago palm pulp.  But grain agriculture means storage, surplus, value for trade, the necessity of guarding.  Math for defining territories.  The concept of “owning.”  Community/towns.  This is the root of institutional religion.

The social purpose of everything is survival, transcending individuals.  This means that individuals are subsumed, consumed, and even sacrificed physically and horribly for the benefit of the whole.  These are religious institutions, even if today they are thinned and paled, except in some places they are not.  Instead they have reverted to blood sacrifice.

If a religious institution becomes too cruel, too destructive, another institution based on resistance will begin to form.  Now we have “Game of Thrones.”  Except that there is an alternative, which is Asian Evasion. (The art of turning forceful oppression back on the oppressor.)  The appearance of some seemingly un-formed institution that carries the resistance.  (Guerrilla warfare.)  

Saturn eating his children -- Goya

Now we have the arts.  The arts don’t support institutions, but the culture can form institutions that pretend to say that the arts are marked by sacredness and therefore institutions should protect them.  These institutions are only pretending, providing ways to institutionalize free thought.  They are the opposite of sacrifice in their own instititional existence but often sacrifice the artists as a means of control.

Government, like agriculture, is territory-based, in terms of owning which is called “patriotism” which is a form of religion.  It is capable of inventing the equivalent of land, food, shelter, walls and wars and printing it all on paper called money or contracts.  Government is a religious institution.  It is not sacred.

Science is also a religious, community-based, resource-using institution.  Its walls are negotiable, its products are technological, and occasionally it touches the sacred.  Not the sacred as defined by the priests (though scientists can be considered parallel) but as defined by direct contact with the universe.  Awe, wonder, humility, exaltation.

Science tells us that our brains and bodies work according to code that can be perceived and measured as electrochemical pulses and molecular interactions.  They are the sum of evolution that began with eukaryotes, one-celled creatures, who in their hunger and willingness to discard (sacrifice) developed a gastro-intestinal tract capable of passing the environment through them in a self-nurturing way.  Because they were meiotic, that is, capable of code-exchange that produced varied offspring, producing enough variation for winnowing.  They kept morphing over the millennia.  Until now.

Having achieved consciousness and control, humans now institutionalize what is familiar and manageable.  They no longer discard what is not good for them, but try to hoard resources, swelling up their institutions and governments until they are paralyzed.  This will kill them.  Only the few, the nimble, the Asian evasive (turning the force of the oppressors back on them), the autochthonous, the indigenous, the artistic, will survive -- mammals slipping between the toes of the dinosaurs.  Maybe a predator drone has no pilot who is at risk because he or she is far away from deadly fire — but the global corporation fantasists who think they are greater than nations and entitled to all resources are doomed.  They cannot escape their own drones.

I can only wish this were true.  But maybe it is.  I now turn away from institutions except for my small town, which provides the infrastructure of water, fuel, food.  I’m a lousy gardener and don’t want to give up time away from the keyboard, so I need a store.  I’m a gluten glutton, adapted to grain and dairy.  I could easily take to alcohol except that it interferes with my thinking.

When institutions discovered writing, it was as though they had discovered alcohol.  I mean they stopped thinking and started wanting.  They didn’t have to memorize anymore.  (Too bad for Islam schools where the Koran is memorized, now the action is in schools that teach the reading of the Torah.)  Writing is such an aid to preventing change.  Now there can be law books.  But of course a new kind of priest is invented, to interpret what the writing “really” says or decide when it is too old-fashioned to use anymore.  But it’s hard to purge law.  And universities now study advertising.

Imagine an institution without writing.  No by-laws.  No instructions.  No record of boundaries to register down at the court house.  Birth, marriage and death all uncertified.  No diplomas.  No post office.  No texting.  No internet.  No list of in/out or who's in charge.

No treaties, no United Nation accords.  But what does it matter?  Even when they were signed, they were disregarded.  Writing is a tool and it can be a deception.  It’s arbitrary, a matter of social agreement.  Even the alphabet.  It’s a great revelation to some that different languages use different alphabets.  They don’t use different numbers, right?  They DO use different numbers, different bases, different symbols.  Consider zero.  Consider the algorithm.  Think about standard deviations.

To realize that symbols are not realities is to begin to step away from institutions as reality.  They are not sacred.  Even reality is not sacred, no matter how precious the bud, how glorious the sunrise.  Reality is the carrier of the sacred and not all humans can receive it.  

It cannot be defined in writing but only in experience.  It is a “felt” meaning.  Artists work with felt meaning.  A priest is an institutionally identified artist who works in a symbol system that is used by that institution, regardless of the ethics, the social consequences, the attempts to prevent change.  The task is to make people “feel” sacredness in a way that benefits the institution.  

If it crushes the individual, that is called a necessary sacrifice.  They are the animal on the altar with their throats cut before they are burned.  They forget that the sacred moment spared the child.

Abraham's ram

Friday, April 29, 2016

AEON LOST ME TODAY lost me today.  I’ve been slipping away for a while. Now to mix the metaphor.

A python does not squeeze its prey to death.  That’s too much of an effort, which means a waste of calories.  It’s all about calories (money).  So the snake waits until the mammal (us) has made itself a bit smaller, maybe by exhaling or maybe stretching longer.  Then the python fits itself to that smaller diameter.  The same thing repeats and repeats until finally the mammal doesn’t have enough room to take a breath.  Then it dies and the snake can eat it without wasting calories on struggle.

This is what Aeon and other websites are doing.  Like Vivaldi.  Tell us what you like!  As a convenience, we will only present what you like so you don’t have to go exploring or think about alternatives.  Pretty soon, that perimeter of “what-you-like” will be all you can get.  You’ll starve your mind and shrivel to blankness, and then you won’t be much trouble to swallow.

The bait on Aeon was the “high quality” BBC tone and the TIME magazine science.  Lurking in the background was the restrictive right-wing philosophy of Templeton.  When I looked him up — and I’ve known about him for more than thirty years but didn’t ask questions — that was one veil of illusion falling away.  What AEON had in the background was “landed gentry” — the King’s Friends, cleverly disguised as a monastery.  It has nothing to do with religion in the sense of sacredness.  It has everything to do with walls, privilege, elitism — the things Christianity has come to represent.

It’s not really about either Christianity or religion.  It’s about empire, siphoning off all profit to the hoarders.  Empire is the formation of institutions that control, protecting and feeding the snake.  When the pundits and surveyors talk about how religion is dying in America, they mean institutions are collapsing.  Protestant denominations are not and never were a religion.  They were splinter groups of institutions, usually dissenting over some slight or dogma or economic force, protecting their icons, going to court to secure their communion silver.  They have nothing to do with belief, and everything to do with the status quo and solidarity, even when they are a splinter group that has drawn their walls in closer and higher.  It’s “Game of Thrones.”  Game of Altars.

I’m not sure Aeon knows what they’re doing.  I was going along until they hooked up with and immediately went to sequestering:  “My Aeon.”  It’s the same old narcissistic splintering.

Everything people in America know about religion they learned at the movies.  It’s all sci-fi written by a tableful of writers in LA, usually mostly Jewish and bearded.  Maybe some seculars flirting with Zen.  Maybe a few brash and accommodating women.  Their game is the python game:  make a movie that makes money, remake the same movie on a smaller scale (budget), then another a little smaller, until the audience is so conditioned that they never realize there is anything else out there because they can’t get their breath.

Maybe one or two of the people at the table stand up and invent some kind of wall-smasher —Netflix?   And then Netflix becomes the squeezer.  And now the squeeze is on George RR Martin to do more, better, nakeder, bloodier. . . but the “show runners” get antsy and start by-passing the original author, doing the python on him.  Amazon, Amazon.

In past years we’ve seemed to free ourselves from the squeeze by keyboarding past the institutions, but here we are again — lonesome for the Seventies when the “free” weekly newspapers really were “free” — really alternatives instead of just another cartel.  Now I watch one broad institution after another go down, only existing at all on the reputations of the earlier years.  PBS and NPR now charge for a “passport.”  “Sesame Street” has been diverted to profit.

At first TED talks and AEON and all the other trademarked shows had a backlog of rich surprising material that hadn’t had an outlet.  By now we’re down to the reruns and imitations.  Everyone went to business schools or became a techie.  They have nothing in particular to use for content.  Just a Rolodex database and an agenda.

Montana was once dominated by a big squeezer snake: the Anaconda company, based on copper.  We didn’t get rid of them, they just squeezed out all the profit and left.  Missoula was once our literary treasure and moral center but now it’s notorious for rapist athletes and selling its public water. That’s only the local version of a national — no, an extra-national -- phenomenon.  The planet has been Trumped.  Nations are obsolete.

First the corporations convinced the courts they were a “person,” a Christian concept derived from the fantasy that God was flesh, carnal, incarnated, one of us.  Then they convinced the courts that they weren’t here, so therefore needn’t pay taxes.  We’re a nation unfinanced by ghosts.  

What blood was left drained off in the pretense of “contracting out” torture and wars not even waged by people — rather by zombie predator drone machines guided by gullible young people sitting in a trailer in Indiana and developing PTSD when they finally realize what they are doing.  Any citizen who made trouble was criminalized and incarcerated where, for lack of anything better to do, they all infected each other with AIDS: don’t-blame-me capital punishment when there are no drugs or condoms.

The cloud of viruses coming out of the African jungle aren’t teaching us what we should have learned when the sub-saharan people began to die of famine.  Today the newsfeed is saying that young women are having much fewer — like 40% fewer — pregnancies out of wedlock.  The explanation proposed is that they are taking care of their health.  The reality might be more like the sci-fi stories based on near-universal sterility due to environmental pollution.  There is a flood coming.  Not a biblical flood to wipe out the wicked, but a coastal flood around the planet that will wipe out Johnny Depp’s cherished island paradise, along with the sodden peasants of Bangladesh who barely survive, the glass-walled fancy beach houses, and downtown Manhattan.

We see now that our illusory march of progress from blob to fish to gladiator to programmer was wrong all along.  We are a sheet, a web, a vast varying continuum of relationships.  And we’re torn, worn thin.

The anonymous writer on Wikipedia says:  “The word aeon /ˈiːɒn/, also spelled eon and æon (in American English), originally meant "life", "vital force" or "being", "generation" or "a period of time", though it tended to be translated as "age" in the sense of "ages", "forever", "timeless" or "for eternity”.

Nothing is forever.  The website called “Aeon” is not “my aeon.”  It’s a constrictor.  But I grieve.  I thought they were real.

Thursday, April 28, 2016


The aquarium tank for the big octopus was twenty feet on a side, very big for a little seaside establishment but not really big enough for a Giant Pacific Octopus.  At least it might not offer enough growing room since they’ve been known to go to thirty feet.  He was floating at the moment, spread out and almost touching all sides like a big pink silk parachute or parasol, except for the blob of a head with its two eyes and pumping gill slits.  He had three hearts: one for each gill slit and one for his head.  They weren’t working hard now, because he was just listening.  Funny that humans had finally figured out that the whales were singing opera to each other, but still didn’t know about the wave lengths the octopuses used.  

It used to be that sailors thought octopuses would come with their giant tentacles and rip up their ships, devour their crews, so that they were called Devilfish.  But now one scientist said they ought to be called “primates of the sea” because of their brains.  The fact that octos have blue blood, based on copper instead of iron (but then why does copper in their water kill them?) and that they have 500 million neurons, distributed throughout head and body, compared to the 100 billion neurons in human brains, just doesn’t compute to humans.  

Dexterous as their tentacles are, suction cups made them alien; and they didn’t live long enough to evolve.  At most they had a half-dozen years and some species only a year. They simply don’t have enough time to build experience and are too solitary to share a culture from one generation to another.

It was a small seaside town, but had an excellent small aquarium run by a old retired biologist.  She saved her allowance to buy tickets and lingered at each tank of small fish, typical hobby fish except that they were salt water species since the establishment was on the board walk, close enough to pump in water from the sea.  The tanks were actually in a back room with the pumps and supplies, but the front glass wall of each was a window.  In the middle of the darkened space was an open pool full of sea anemones and for a while the octopus was living there, until it learned how to climb out, how to open the door to the back warehouse, climb the stairs and plunder the tanks.

Now he lived in a tall custom tank, bigger than a clothes closet and under a metal mesh lid.  Rather fine mesh since an octopus can slip through anything the size of cyclone fence, but he was very strong and they had to check the edges of the lid often to make sure he wasn’t prying it up.

She had loved him from the first moment she had seen him in that pool of fabulous anemones in all the colors and beckoning-finger allure of chorus girls.  They didn’t sting him — nor did he ink them as he drifted among them.  But she couldn’t get very close until he was in the tall custom tank.

But then the girl showed up, in that apparitional way humans had, appearing white-faced out of the gloom, and somehow he was able to make mind contact with her.  She knew things and she knew he could access them.  She even offered her mind to him.  And she could hear his.  He folded up and roman candled down to the bottom of the tank to confront her.

The first time she walked up to the glass, he was so startled that he changed color, turning mustard covered with red polka dots.  She couldn’t help but laugh, which made him slip to the bank of the tank where a little cave had been arranged for him.  It looked too small, but he handily shrank down until he fitted.  After that, she came to the tank slowly and spoke to him, which he seemed to hear through the glass.

This girl, about twelve or thirteen, was a great reader.  At home she got out the encyclopedia (this was before computers) to begin studying cephalopods, so she would understand her friend.  She learned that his first amazing color change had been meant to scare her, so he must have been a little disgusted that she laughed.  It’s called “deimatic behavior", she informed him, though he didn’t care at all.  That was the first time she felt him in her mind . . . and her belly.

When she’d been coming for quite a while — in fact, so often that the owner biologist stopped charging her admission — the octopus would come down to the glass to meet her.  He still changed color, but not so dramatically, — rather like someone with fair skin blushing and blanching.  Once she thought he had escaped but he was only practicing his camouflage.  His eyes were big; they gazed across at each other.  She often felt that they were attuned enough to hear thoughts, though his were rather — well, floaty.  Their very difference seemed to be part of their relationship, with the main aspect that they were so interested in each other.  Then there was more.

She longed to touch him, to stroke him.  She was sure that those suction cups on his tentacles would feel on her skin like kisses, little smooches.  But she was aware that the tentacles themselves were quite brawny and could squeeze her as though they were pythons.  Plus she had read about the beak and the poison.  

He finally took her hydrosailing with him — in their minds — through the Pacific and into the tropics where the fish were bright as candies.  He warned her about the blue-ring octopus, so pretty but carrying bacteria that secreted a poison so intense that it would paralyze her, prevent her from breathing.  He himself could breathe air for short periods of time.  But this was a mind trip, so both were safe, of one mind, a shared virtuality.

It took almost a year of him searching her mind and character before he got to his goal.  He wanted back into the sea.  He’d been born in the jumbled and sharp-edged debris under the long pier out from town, where the dark timbers under the walkway were coated with algae and festooned with kelp.  That’s where he wanted to go, not to the wide open miles of water beyond.  Home is what we know.

At the beginning of every day he used the tips of his tentacles to feel around every edge and corner of his enclosure, looking for a way to get out.  He’d heard all the stories about octos slipping out when drain covers were loose or a pump hose was a little wider than it should be.  They were his hope.  

But now he saw that humans had imprisoned him here and so he should look for the crevices in humans.  This girl had just such a point of entry.  She called it love.  He told her about the early days when he was the size of her hand and she seemed to understand.  It made her maternal and protective.

People liked the old biologist and brought him things to explain, so he was not surprised that the girl brought him crabs to feed the octo.  In fact, he showed her how to unpadlock the lid above and behind the tank, so she could toss them in.  After a few months he began to let her sell tickets out front while he went home to grab a nap, and then he made her a key of her own.  The octo was careful not to let her know how interested he was in all this, because he began to realize that she would interpret freeing him as losing him.  Human beings, with all their warm-blooded hugginess didn’t like to be separated.  But if she didn’t love him enough, she might not set him free.

He searched through her mind for clues to human attachment and pair-bonds.  He asked her things and found intimate places, little crevices for the small ends of tentacles where even human fingers couldn’t go.  Indeed, his suction-cupped arms learned to kiss except for one that balked.  He threatened to tear it off and leave it behind.  

As for the girl, she was not a fool.  She knew he was alone because octos are cannibals and it was not unusual for males to be eaten by females they had just fertilized because the females would linger to defend the eggs, starving, and they could use the protein.  But this octo didn’t give her eggs; he gave her powerful dreams that stained her nightgown in ways new to her.

Freeing an octopus was neither kind nor idealistic.  Taking it back to its birthplace, even though the pier wasn’t far away, would be a logistic nightmare because he weighed a LOT.  But she thought, “I guess maybe I could use a shopping cart,” and the octopus knew he had her.  They both understood that he was about out of time.  He was nearly at the limit of his growth and would have maybe only months or weeks to be under the pier.  

They just did it.  It might have been a more dramatic story if they had used a bit of poison from a blue-ringed octopus to put the old man to sleep forever, but that was too complicated.  She was no killer.  She just came one night with her key, unpadlocked the feeding hatch, lugged the octo out to the cart, and pushed him down the walkway to the long pier.  

The only glitch was that about a fourth of the way down, a wheel came off the cart.  The tide was way out, which at Seaside means a mile of sand.  She carried the octo as far as she could, then sprawled, dumping him out of her arms.  He set off to get there on his own, which was difficult on sand, a crawling glob of Jello thrashing his arms side-to-side with nothing solid to grab.  She hated to see him that way.  It was the cruelest part of the adventure and it haunted her later.  He was far from the tall bright swimmer she was used to in his tank.

Finally he came to an outcrop of rock and then a backwash of tidewater that took him under the pier so he could grab the pilings under it.  There was no goodbye.  But there was love and remembrance.  She never saw the octo again and was grateful, because he would not have been alive.


So I’m writing this story about a girl who falls in love with an octopus.  Partly it’s prompted by recent articles about the characteristics of octopuses, for instance that their eight arms may have separate “selves” that are only partly integrated with the main head.  Partly I have strong memories of a little Seaside, OR, aquarium I've known since childhood to draw on.  Partly it’s the idea of a glass wall that allows us to see but not to touch, to relate but not to express physical relationship, and how it is that totally different sensibilities with different goals can persist in being intensely drawn to each other.

A big part of what’s motivating me is that I’m finding every day that the Internet that so enabled me to participate in the world, a kind of freedom to know what’s out there and to escape local bullying and exploitation of gate-keepers, editors, and fellow writers who want to attach me to them with labels in order to pimp me out for money and their reputation.  I want to get back to the splendid cyber-freedom that kicked up so many ideas and emotions between me and one writer who only wanted to know what I know.  (Almost in the Biblical sense.)  Part of it was that it was secret.  Mostly.  Now anything can be hacked and is.  And morality has become increasingly narrow and punitive, not just in small towns but across the world.

What was once a scaffold that allowed achievement has now become a cage, an aquarium, where all the predators and parasites have easy access.  No sooner does a “writers” platform show up, a place where someone can engage other thinking people, than it starts requiring labels, lists, likes and “my” relationships, building silos that are really marketing devices that make it easier to find the lowest common denominator.  “What do you want?” they say.  “Give us your feedback.  We really want to know how to please you.”  What they really mean is “what will addict you?  What will make you forget everything else?”  "What will make money for US?"  Usually an aquarium built of mirrors.

So the “theme” is what?  Steven Pressfield says all good writing has a theme.  I quite agree.  And the theme emerges when you write the story.  Yes.  Here’s his discussion.

In the meantime, after I said on my blog that I was writing a story about a girl who falls in love with an octopus, here comes a story from a Crossing Genres writer (on that is about himself (naturally) being freaked out in an aquarium, confronting the death side of “love” which many people feel is the same as sex.  He emphasizes the insectoid aspect of Otherness.

Already I’ve got too much stuff going on for a decent short story.  Here’s another one: the onset of adolescence in a female when an intense physiological drive merges with a romantic/spiritual storm of longing for fusion with the Other, a yearning to save them with self-sacrifice.  (Preparation for motherhood?)  Whatever the male (usually) wants becomes a demand that cannot be refused.  So suppose that this girl in this story refuses to meet that demand — insists on her separation behind that glass wall?  Who is in the aquarium now?

In the reciprocity of the arts, research and inspiration are reinforced by video.
The splendidness of the Giant Pacific Octopus.
Gender dynamics between octopuses.

Girl submerging

There are a lot of maternal and cultural demands in such a story — what my friend calls the “MomFreud,” always trying to make things “right” and “clear” and “obedient.”  SAFE.  I’m sorting tear-outs, very old ones that I’m mostly discarding, but I found one that comes from Vogue, I think, before Vogue began pandering to teenagers.  It was three forms your MomFreud thinks sex takes:  one was prone on an altar in a white gown with candleabra, pure as death.  The second was clinical: feet in stirrups, nurses in attendance with the in vitro embryo at hand in its petri dish.  The third was wild, ecstatic tentacle porn with an octopus.  OMFG

I don’t think that even the Greeks had a myth for this last Otherness.  (One of the things I’ve learned recently is that the plural of octopus is Octopuses rather than Octopi, because the root word is Greek and the “i” ending belongs to Latin and Steven Jobs.)

The octopus looks so unearthly genital because its whole system is based on a different set of forces than bone and voluntary muscle.  It has no skeleton — though its precursors had one, now reduced only to a couple of little plates to be central points of attachment and a hard poisonous beak.  

Humans have two body areas that operate on the same hydrostatic principles as an octopus.  Both are holes guarded by sphincters and lips.  One is the mouth and the other is the anus.  These were present in the original eukaryotes with one cell — a place to take in food and a place to throw out the leftovers.  That was way back in the day when cells had sex by fusing and/or cloning.

The tongue works like an octopus tentacle.

The sexual organs are also hydrostatic — there’s no muscle in a penis — but they operate by being a cluster of cells that can each pull in water, not by being a kind of unified bladder that inflates with water or lungs that inflate with air.  The penis swells and stiffens outside, but the same tissue that would have been a penis in the presence of a different set of molecules is in a woman wrapped around the vagina, like a fist that grips harder when the cells are full.  

Since these hydrostatic responses are controlled by the unconscious autonomic/hormonal collaboration and connections, system-wide when the hydrostatic swelling is turned on, the mouth and nose also swell.  It’s a giveaway.  Maybe that’s why the lower faces of Arab women are veiled.  But even then their eyes will dilate.

This justifies my using the hydrostatic octopus as a stand-in for sexuality.  What about the eight arms, each thinking for themselves?  Are they the arguing Sons of Octopus?  Are they more than ambivalence, a kind of octovalence?  The research suggests that the animal (they say animal, not fish or insect) has favorite tentacles that they use more than the others, so does that mean that their brains are assigned by halves or eighths to creating preferences and habits?  

Does an octopus’s eyes dilate when they’re thinking erotic thoughts?  The octopus's eye is the only part of it that cannot be compressed.  It is the limit on the size of hole it can squeeze through.

I hope I will come across the tear-out from “Heavy Metal” magazine that was a graphic (drawn) depiction of a narcissistic octopus that separates into two, makes love to itself, then merges again into one.  Is it about the fusion of two people making love in the merger way (there is also a way that tears people apart) or is it just about masturbation? 

That word always echoes “perturbation” to me, with a shadow of “perversion.”  

First definition of perturbation on Google:  Anxiety; mental uneasiness. 

Second definition:  a deviation of a system, moving object, or process from its regular or normal state of path, caused by an outside influence.

Third definition:  Perturbation theory, mathematical methods that give approximate solutions to problems that cannot be solved exactly.

Fourth (physics): a secondary influence on a system that modifies simple behaviour, such as the effect of the other electrons on one electron in an atom.  

The fifth is related:  a disturbance of motion, course, arrangement, or state of equilibrium; especially : a disturbance of the regular and usually elliptical course of motion of a celestial body that is produced by some force additional to that which causes its regular motion.

So is it a good thing to fall in love with an octopus?  If so, is it a good thing there’s a glass wall (internet) in between?  And behind it all is the knowledge that even the Giant Pacific Octopus, which can grow to be fifteen feet long, only lives five years or so.  I’ve found them dead on the beach, gray, deflated, discarded by the sea.  But the sea remains and as long as it does, the octopuses will be there.

Is the theme about not being consumed by sex?  About surrendering to sex as a form of renewal?  About a longing for fusion that has been part of us since one-celled eukaryotes?  Will she save the octopus?  Or will it destroy her? 

Wednesday, April 27, 2016




Tuesday, April 26, 2016



Monday, April 25, 2016


The little communicating iPhone

I write about movies a lot because on the one hand in this so-called retirement I’ve re-created my undergrad life as a theatre/film student at NU and on the other (17 years later) my grad life at the U of Chicago Div School.  As one friend puts it, other women had families and I had Chicago.   

I spend the first half of the day writing and reading on the “South” side and the evening watching whatever I can find on Netflix, which does not understand anything but popularity.  Overnight my brain (they say this is quite literal) washes all the debris out from between my neurons and drains into my body where it gives me dreams.  I’m sure dreams come from the autonomic nervous system that is connected to viscera — not from those conscious muscle neurons unless there’s a short circuit that makes you jerk in your sleep.

So let’s talk about “Her” which endows an entity, an OS (computer Operating System), with a visceral achievement of empathy which her operator (Theo) lacks.  That is, this is one of those romantic movies where heartbreak improves someone, wakes them up, connects them.  But this time there is no body so we don’t have to sit through either stereotypical coitus or someone’s idea of brilliant innovation.

Spike Jonze

To me the most interesting thing about “Her” is the story of the development of the film, the result of Spike Jonze’ extended, intelligent and collaborative preparation.  I stumbled into a wealth of material simply because I loved the little computer the protagonist carried around, almost small enough to be a locket or photo folder but equipped with a camera eye, and because it folded, easy to stand on a convenient flat surface as well as slip into a pocket.  Surely someone is preparing a replica in real life!  

I don’t carry a smart phone, don’t want to because I don’t want to be accessible or for everyone to know where I am every minute.  I live in a very small village so those features would be redundant.  Anyway, around here the infrastructure is so full of holes and distances that most of time iPhones — meant for an urban setting — are simply useless.  But this elegant little interface with the world in the movie was so appealing that I wondered who figured it out.  Turns out it was an invention for the film.  KK Barrett devised it.

It's a little like a fancy cigarette case.

I have to pause for a moment to talk about emergence, self-unfolding —growth simply through experience instead of someone’s idea of a curriculum sequence.  I was surprised that on the website called “Aeon” an essay about this by Jamie Davies, a professor at the U of Edinburgh, provoked vehement responses from a certain sort of commenter, the status quo people.  

Davies, as a result of trying to understand how a kidney forms a tree of tubules, using a few kinds of molecules and maybe four “if-then” rules — strategies familiar to computer people, I think— used those insights to see that the double helix of genes and chromosomes do NOT dictate the characteristics of persons, one on one (this one for eyes, this one for teeth) but rather offer a mix of rules (bodies must be bilateral) and variables that respond to contingencies (the amount of skin needed for the size of the person).

Jamie Davies speaking at the Sherlock Holmes lecture series.

I have a hunch that the people who hated this idea, almost willfully misunderstanding, were Republicans and it makes me worry about the future.  Alas for their personal relationships.  If they have wives and children who do not conform to this style, they will suffer.  “My way or the highway.”

“Her” has to be futuristic because it is so idealistic.  We watch both a real developing person (Theo) and an abstract developing relationship that doesn’t have to eat or earn a living or adapt to outside systems — until as the logical interactions proceed, they DO mean relating to other people and even other OS systems of this kind. was one of the provocative articles, but there seem to be quite a few out there.  By the way, I was pretty disappointed that the great climax of Theo’s “nice” empathetic letters is simply a book, an aggregation, another way to live someone else’s life, made up and imposed by cultural expectation like birthdays, Christmas, babies, etc.  Theo’s great at that Hallmark meta-script stuff.  But not in real life.  No amount of fabulous nighttime views of the city can compensate either, though as a CSI nut, I appreciate the reference to clue-searching/the million stories in the Naked City.
Double phony letter  This nasty little potty-mouthed big-headed creature was devised by David O’Reilly.  Even with all its rudeness, the little Sisyphus is a slightly more dignified version than the usual rat race image.  The tech people like to point out that they designed it to be a holograph, without a screen, room-filling.

The Potty Mouth Sisyphus

We are in a time that mistakes velocity for experience.  A young woman reports she is sophisticated because she travels — through an agency, not setting out on a bicycle with a backpack.  Old people sit on a deck just outside their luxury ship room, watching the world go by and assuming that this is the pinnacle of luxury.  My mother traveled in retirement and it was her heaven before her death.  But Theo and his OS stop and talk.  They take time.

I have a friend who has to constantly remind me of Barry Stevens’ 1970 book, “Don’t Push the River.”  You can buy it on Amazon (not the river) for a penny.  We are so used to fast-forwarding through the hard parts, the stupid parts, the cliché parts.  Why have we forgotten all those splendid understandings we developed in the Seventies?  Why weren’t the Millennials taught that stuff at birth?  I love it that Alan Watts turns up in this film, though it’s only his voice.  He would miss his body, the way a lot of people miss his San Francisco world of the Seventies.  This OS has no sensual or limbic life, but never did and never will.  This is not "The Velveteen Operating System."  But every little bit helps.

The nighttime city is full of stories.

Of course, in the end of “Her” the OS person goes off with another OS person and the human person, now wiser and warmer, ends up with another human, the way we used to color-code race or the costumes of Shakespeare's lovers — like-with-like.  Forget all that.  The real issue, as Jamie Davies knows, is how to develop what you’ve got into a way forward.  Points of attachment, growth through clear paths, in a physical world always need oxygen.  Standing on a rooftop at night would do it if we didn’t know from the daytime shots that the air is far from clear.

But while I fuss with my metaphors, the yard is self-developing to suit itself — not its goals since plants don’t have goals — but rather the potential and opportunity presented by sun, rain and gumbo.  I intend to intervene; even Zen people work on their gardens.