The Other End of Sunset

Monday, December 24, 2007

In the dark, wearing sunglasses

You got to catch me
if you want me to hang

Hello, again, my OtherEnders. And a warm welcome to a (potential) set of new skimmers who found me via a consumer magazine, with some funny pictures of me. Nice to meet you. Just in case you are wondering, there is nothing organized here on the Other End of Sunset, just a stream of consciousness and occasionally conscience. The lint that accumulated around the dryer vent of my brain over the past few decades gets cleaned off here, reducing the danger of mental fire.

A quick reminder of the ground rules might be in order-- there are always rules, aren't there? I don't talk about work here, ever. I rarely talk about technology, and when I do, it's mostly to whine about eBook readers.

// Side note: Speaking of electronic book readers, I bought a Kindle, did I tell you already? I don't think so. I'll talk about it in a while. //

Continuing on with the ground rules, I often insert side notes. I have no idea why. They tend to pop up in the middle of stories, disrupting the flow, and are typically syntactically incorrect. I quote song lyrics, and sometimes book or movie lyrics, a lot. They are connected in my mind, but I rarely connect them explicitly in the text. I think that your connections to the lyrics, and to the stories, might be different from mine, and you have the right to form the thread on your own. In fact, I often quote a bit of a lyric or two in the body of the prose as well. It's a game I play.

I refer to people by their initials -- or, sometimes, the initials of a nickname for them. One exception -- Jeanne Michele Russell. I use her name, most of the time.

There are some recurring themes. Love and loss. Past and present, and how my mind flits between them.

Anyway, I don't talk about surfing, I don't tend to use phrases like "totally jazzed", and I rarely link to other blogs. (But David Cowan's post on hospital corners and insomnia is hilarious...)

And the titles of the posts have relatively little to do with their content, usually.

But enough of the rules -- who cares anyway? Where I am, at the moment, it's cloudy and windy, and I can hear the waves breaking against the rocky shore, and I don't care about the rules.

Sometimes, it helps to externalize things. Even if you talk to someone else about it, you're usually talking to yourself. The other guy's just providing a sounding board.
-- Richard Morgan

BF pointed me at Morgan's books. He's a fun science fiction writer, although he seems to employ a few cheap writer's tricks that I find annoying. I have liked reading his books so far, but he cheats, fairly blatantly. He takes the characters off stage to plan the major attacks. He elides key details, hiding this fact in free-form pseudo-prose. And he has a few too many plot twists (and towards the end, he seems to decide not to explain them sometimes.) But, nonetheless, BF is right -- the books are worth reading. She's got good taste in books, but she's smarter than me, and is probably better at keeping track of the twists.

And, at the moment, I'm doing a lot of reading. I'm on vacation. As I told my friends a couple of weeks ago, before I left, I went on vacation to figure out where I left my temper. I've been a bit testy lately.

Whilst able, allow me to apologize, profusely, to those that have felt the rough side of my tongue over the past few weeks.

On vacation, I tend to try and sit in one place for long periods of time, without talking. Often, these places are colocated with seas. I love beaches and sun.

Next to the sea, I feel free, and easy, and simple, and small. The sea keeps our secrets, and doesn't care about what we did wrong, or right. To her, we ... barely even are.

Nice perspective on things.

And I read a lot. So far on this trip, I've read Alan Dershowitz' book America on Trial, and a book on the 2004 election ("Was the 2004 Presidential Election Stolen"). I've read a few issues of TIME magazine. I've read a couple of Isaac Asimov books, and Richard Morgan books. And a (really bad) book called "The Hunters" by W. E. B. Griffin.

SL and I are reading (out loud, together), a fantasy novel called "The Golden Compass").

I don't like to carry heavy bags. I'm sort of lazy that way, so I carry an e-book reader. Instead of pounds and pounds of books, carry a few ounces of silicon and plastic. For a long time, I carried the SONY one. Nice physical design, but terrible software and not a lot of content available for it. Then I bought the Amazon Kindle product. Exactly opposite experience. Great content -- to wit, all the stuff I've read so far on this vacation -- but really quite poor physical design.

The screen is smaller than the SONY screen, and there is a little keyboard on the bottom. On the right hand side, the entire edge is a one-inch wide rocker switch to move to the next page. On the left hand side, the edge is split into two rocker switches -- previous page and next page. The switches abut the screen. Below the screen there is about a 3/4 inch gap above the keyboard.

If you are visualizing the device in your head, you have likely already identified the problem. How do you hold the device? If you hold it like a book, you'd wrap your thumb around the edge to balance it and hold it where you can see it. Except on the Kindle, if you do that, you flip the pages. To hold it, you have to put your thumb carefully into the gap between screen and keyboard. And that's uncomfortable.

Seriously, it took me all of about 5 minutes to figure this flaw out -- didn't they do any user testing?

But it has loads of great content, so it has displaced the SONY from my bag.

Enough technology, back to life. I read, because it engages my brain, and requires little social interaction. Truth be told, I'm an introvert. I need quiet time every so often, but my work and life require me to be socially engaged most of the time. So part of my vacation plan is to be warm and comfortable and carrying a book and silent.

In a pinch, for solo animals, it's sometimes easier to hang out with a herd of impala, relying on their super-heightened sense of fear to warn you of danger. Impala, for those of you that don't watch Animal Planet enough, are antelopes; they are born to die. Everything eats Impala. Everything with teeth, that is; I don't think grass eats impala, but it would be a close-run fight if it came down to it.

Basically, impala are beautiful fast food. And so they have learned to be amazingly good at fear and alarm. Which is kind of like shock and awe, except it works, unlike our Iraq plans. But I digress.

Impala, like nerds everywhere, are pretty accepting. You don't have to be like them to hang out there. You just have to be willing to accept their natural impala-ness. So, you will see a wildebeest or a zebra hanging out with a herd of impala at various times in their lives. Not clear what the impala get out of it. The zebra gets a gang of nerds with good ears who are afraid of everything dangerous, and so the zebra gets warned of danger, simply by watching what's going on around. The zebra can't do it, alone, but doesn't have more of its kind around, so it hangs out, different, not fitting in, but allowed to remain.

My emotions are often silent, and alone, as well. I think that's part of what makes me watch other people. I am, sometimes, that zebra.

SL and I spent about a week at a game preserve, on safari. Upon the wings of Range Rover, we were delivered to nature in its finest. Lions, leopards, cheetah, cape buffalo, elephant, warthog, hippo. We saw dazzles of zebra and creches of rhino. We saw birds and snakes and ... at the end... we rode in a little teeny aeroplane.

We rode a small, twin-engine propeller plane from the private strip at the game reserve to several other strips at other private reserves. At each stop, we picked up a handful of people, like us, returning from safari. Each flight was about 5 minutes long, and very bumpy. Before each landing, we had to circle the landing strip at a low altitude, to ensure there were no animals in the landing path.

Although Lenny Bruce was not afraid, I was. SL was super motion sick, so she was trying to sleep. Me? I was being the zebra in the pack of impala. I was watching everyone else. At first, the people would get on, and all make a joke about how small the plane was. Gallows humor, perhaps.

They would sit down, and buckle their seat belts, and pull them low and tight across their laps. You know, all that stuff you ignore on "real" planes. Then the plane would take off, and shimmy and bump its way across the sky like a skilled rhumba dancer.

Most people on safari, it seams, are on honeymoon. Couples come aboard, touching each other constantly, as if not quite convinced that the vision of perfection with them is actually real, and actually theirs.

But when the plane started bumping, slowly, all that contact ceased. People grew rigid in their seats, and started to stare, fixedly, forward. The cabin became silent, except for the angry howling of the engines. When we landed, and began to taxi down the runway, couples would hesitantly reach out for each other, and the buzz of conversation would begin again, much in the way frogs in a pond at night are silent when they perceive a predator passing, and then begin to call out again after the danger (real or imaginary) passes them by.

It was interesting -- fear is a solo emotion. When afraid, people withdraw into themselves.

Doesn't that seem strange? Why wouldn't the adversity draw us together? Why face the void devoid of contact?

And even more interesting is the contrast between terror and sadness. Fear is a lonely, solo emotion. Sadness? That we all want to share, like a good book, or a virus.

Sad songs say so much
--Elton John

Yeah, yeah, I guess they do, Sir Elton. And lord knows, this blog has had more than a few sad postings. And our culture says that a burden shared is a burden halved.

I sometimes feel that sharing sadness with others is like taking allergy shots for your own future pain. You feel a bit of their pain, a shadow of it, and you are better able to handle feeling yours, later. In the same way that I get shots, in both arms, full of stuff to which I'm allergic, so that when I see the stuff in the real world, my body can deal with it better.

But why do we cling together in groups to be sad, AFTER something awful has happened, and not group together beforehand, as well?

Perhaps we are alone during fear because we are hoping that the bad thing happens to someone else. We are hiding from the finger of fate. If so, then after it happens, we would experience sadness, but have no need to be hiding -- the finger has written its imprint on someone already, we have nothing left to fear. Thus, fear is alone -- we are hiding -- and sadness is communal -- we are in the open.

I don't believe this, but it's compelling. Got any other explanations, oh my fellow travelers?

I'm no different. My iPod was on the entire time we were flying around the bush. I share my sadness with all of you.

I guess it all gets back to those dying days. Or my dying days. I am not yet dead, and have a chance to continue living – with all of life’s challenges – until I get a few of these left over lessons right.
--Jeanne Russell (from her blog, before she died, here)

I may be a funny-looking wildebeest amongst lovely impala, but I appreciate the impala for allowing me to share their grass, their fear and alarm, and to comment on their horns.

Just remember, silly Impala, Trix are for kids!