Think, Part 1.

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“Black Mirror”, Season 3 Episode 1, “Nosedive”. 2016 publicity photo.
Looking for inspiration to write software today, I did a search for “future technology”. Usually I watch Corning’s “Day of Glass” presentations or what Microsoft envisions 2020 will look like in the world of Surface and Office, but today some other suggestions were presented. One of those suggestions was the video from Korean Telecom featured in the blog entry earlier today. The other was a link to the first episode of the third season of “Black Mirror”. The episode is simply titled “Nosedive”. I’ve seen ads for “Black Mirror”; as I understand it, the episodes are standalone affairs, many based on future technology and how society reacts and implements it. Cursory research shows that the episodes can be quite dark. Some describe them as “nightmare inducing”. I have enough going on in my mind at any given time to fuel my own nightmares; I don’t need any exterior help to further the cause. However, the description of this episode was intriguing. Starring Bryce Dallas Howard (I remembered her from “The Help”) as Lacie Pound, the episode focused on a society that was completely dependent on Social Networking status. Everyone was rated on a score from one to five. Contact lenses allowed you to identify anyone around you and their current score or rating. People, strangers, co-workers, and friends alike, rated you on your interaction. Was that conversation worth five stars? Did the waitress deserve three stars? Perks in society were based on your ranking, for example, Lacie wanted to move into an apartment that required a certain ranking and she was only able to afford it if she ranked higher than a 4.5; the higher ranking would bring her a 20% discount on her weekly rent. Airline tickets and amenities were based on the same ranking system. Clubs were restricted to a minimum ranking. Your ranking was your collateral. The driver for this implementation was to keep society calm and friendly. If you swore or screamed or did not “behave as expected”, your peers would rank you down and you would be ostracized. The more stars you had, the more impact your opinion impacted another’s rating. They were the Social Influencers. They even had counseling services to help you find a way to boost your rating. How perilously close is our society to this scenario? I am too busy on Social Media. I often say I use Twitter to keep up with current events, follow friends, and share my opinion on the state of the world. Some of the third party apps I use show a graph of how much of an impact I am making through my Twitter account. How many “hearts” did I get? How many people retweeted me? How many followers do I have at any given moment? I will admit right here and now that I was elated when my follower count first went over 500 a few years ago. It recently climbed over a grand. That made me smile. It made me feel something. After watching this episode of “Black Mirror”, I can’t help but think a little hollow. For all my life I have wanted to be one of the cool kids. I remember sitting in Room 220 in Lura Sharp Elementary School in sixth grade. Are desks were arranged in clusters; my desk was part of a cluster of four of us. We had greasy hair, we talked about geeky stuff, and we sat together in the cafeteria. Near the door was a group of six desks. In later years they would be the popular kids; the senior class president, the star quarterback, the girl with the parents that could afford to buy her a miniature Pong game. I was invited to join their group when one of their peers left for another school. I moved my desk and was welcomed into their club. I felt like I had some sort of status. It was nearly 40 years ago but I can remember it like it was almost yesterday. It’s pretty much documented that “Likes” on Social Media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc) triggers a bit of a Dopamine high. This past weekend I was telling my friend Jeff how I felt when Earl and I walked into a restaurant on the 70th floor of a skyscraper overlooking the city. Admittedly, and I know this is quite shallow of me, I feel a ping of acceptance when an Instagram photo is liked by one of the cool IGers. When I muster up the courage to “Friend” someone on Facebook that I haven’t met in person yet (but we obviously have same interests, like both belong to the National Gay Pilots Association or something), I feel like I’m climbing some sort of social ladder. Years ago, back in the heyday of personal blogging, Earl and I ran into a fellow blogger in Manhattan. He recognized us and was pleasant. That meant a lot to me. Not too long after that, I attended a happy hour where a man, a very hot man, introduced himself to me. I said, “um, we are friends on Facebook.” His reply? “We are? Wow, I don’t remember you.” I remember feeling a little crushed. I have to admit that I try to keep my social media feeds pretty honest. I don’t have an online persona, I’m pretty much “what you read is what you get”. And I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve sought out validation for nearly every one of the almost 50 years I’ve been on this planet. But how real is any sense of validation one would find on Social Media? How real are the timelines we see? How true are the photos we see? How good is the person with so many Facebook friends that they can’t accept any more requests? A few years ago, I was remarking to Jamie the drop in the number of “likes” I was getting on Instagram after I shaved off that enormous mustache I had. I’ve often said that Jamie is a very old soul because he said, “Fuck ’em”. Screen Shot 2018-01-16 at 8.38.57 PM My rating hasn’t been the same every since. And you know what? That’s OK. I love television shows that make us think. If you want to think about your Social Media existence and what it really means to you, I highly suggest you watch “Black Mirror” Season 3, Episode 1, “Nosedive”. It’s a solid 5 stars.  

Overwhelming.

I walk through the streets, trying to get a little bit of exercise during the pre-dawn hours, before the madness of my workday kicks in. As I walk by the darkened buildings, apartments, condos, and houses, once in a while the reflection of a large television will catch my eye. As I maintain my pace of 3.5 MPH, I’ll catch a glimpse of a large television screen with various news stations shouting into the room. This morning my brain moved fast enough to catch snippets of 24 hour news station crawls: “Salvadorians denied…”, “Immigrants removed from…”, “Chaos in the White House…”. Someday I’d like to see something happy like, “Democrats and Republicans agree to work together on hunger and homeless crises”, but we know that will never happen. Since Trump took office we have swung into this societal trend of having no empathy. I find this era of indifference to be overwhelming. The inexplicable public support of “I’ve got mine, I don’t care that you don’t have yours” just boggles my mind. I try to step into the world of ignorance, where my only concerns are those of my own, but I can’t help but think doing so would be socially irresponsible and negligent. I was hoping the border wall had been forgotten. I still read and hear chants of “Lock her up”, even though the only reason Hillary Clinton is relevant in politics today is because those against her won’t let her have her life in peace. There is a crazy amount of vengeance permeating the populace today. People have turned real life into a poorly scripted reality show. Quite frankly, anyone that thinks the United States is in a good place right now is either incredibly stupid or willfully ignorant. The issue is the noise is overpowering but the only way to fix things is to make more noise. But I’m tired. 2018 has felt exhausting and it’s only the 9th of January.

Queer.

It was autumn of 1986 and I was a freshman in college. When my parents dropped me off at school for that first semester I promised myself that I would be true to who I was and not deny to anyone that asked that I was a gay man. It was fairly easy to exercise the gaydar, I went to school for Music Education. There were a good number of “us” at that school. We were sitting around the student union, a bunch of us aspiring musicians, talking about life in some sort of collegy way when a friend of mine, Tracy from Long Island, asked how I referred to myself as a gay man. Did I prefer to be called “gay” or “homosexual”? Now, I’ve known I was “different” since second grade. I was OK with the word gay, but I never really liked it, probably because of the stereotypes we’d see in the 1970s and mid 1980s: men running around screaming, doing hair, painting nails, that sort of thing. While my pilot light probably burned higher than it should have at that point of my life, in my head I had negative connotations to the word “gay”. I’d been called worse, much worse, in my high school years. So when Tracy asked how I thought of myself, I replied honestly: “I’m homosexual”. “That sounds so scientific”, she replied. “Well, it is scientific. I’m attracted to the same sex so that makes me homosexual.” “Do you go to gay bars?”, she asked. “I never have. And no, I’ve never been with anyone.” I was such a partier in college. Naturally I’ve used the term ‘gay’ to label myself lots of times in my life, and I really don’t know why I responded with “homosexual” back in the autumn of 1986, other than an internal fear of the word ‘gay’. The AIDS epidemic was really ramped up at the time and being gay made me uncomfortable, I guess. The younger generation, and many of my own generation, have embraced the word ‘queer’. As a kid I heard that word a lot, almost always directed at me. I could never understand why a couple of other classmates, who pinged my budding radar at the time (and confirmed at a later age) didn’t garner the attention of being called queer as they walked through the halls of the Junior-Senior High School, but as I said before, my pilot light was bright. Later in life I couldn’t embrace the word ‘queer’. I struggled with that; too many bad memories about the use of the word. Tonight, as Earl and I waited for the train to take us a couple stops up so we could find a restaurant for dinner, I said to him, “You know, I’m queer.” Earl looked at me in surprise. “I’ve always been queer. I am a queer man.” In the back of my head, a memory of my girlfriend from high school playing “Johnny Are You Queer?” by Josie Cotton on the record player echoed in my head. “I’m different. I have my own thing going on. Most of it is because I’m a gay, but even in the gay community I’m rather queer. “One of my New Year’s resolutions is to embrace the word ‘queer’ because it’s the truth. I’m going to be 50 years old this year, why should I care what people think?” So, there you have it. Johnny is a queer boy after all.

Scenery.

My love of road trips and roads in general goes back to my elementary school days. I’ve always been fascinated with the view from a roadway. I vividly remember riding in the back seat of my parents’ vehicles. The first one I remember was a VW Beetle. I don’t remember where we went in it, as I was just a toddler, but I remember riding in it and watching the scenery whizz by.  Earl and I are currently on the Indiana Toll Road headed for Chicago. We’ve passed a couple of cars with video monitors installed in the backseat, movies or cartoons playing. I peer in the windows as we go by and see kids fixated on the electronic gizmo. The world is literally passing them by as they’re being entertained by electronics.  I find the surrounding world so entertaining. I am so happy these electronic gadgets weren’t around when I was a kid. I love discovering the world from the road just as much as I love discovering the world from the air.  Earl handles the drives to Chicago and back because he has more of a lead foot than I do, plus I worked from the passenger seat for the first 4 1/2 hours. Once we were out of New York and Pennsylvania I put the work computer away and started watching the world go by.  I nod to truck drivers. I smile to kids and parents. I see all the different types of utility poles and high tension wire towers. I spot difference in road signs, I compare fuel prices, I wave to cattle and I smirk at horse and sheep.  The world is out there waiting for us to explore it. Take the opportunity to see it whenever you can.  You might appreciate your surroundings much more when you’re in their presence. 

Words.

The lyrics, melody,instrumentation and vocalization of this track touch me in a way that is impossible for me to describe with mere words. Ethereal. Transcendent. Grounding. Fleeting. The proper way to listen to this track is with a pair of quality noise canceling headphones. Don’t miss a beat. Don’t miss the depth of the harmonies. Let your thoughts soar with the angelic vocals. Be breathless with the vocalist. I wish I could paint the thoughts that come forth in a giant three dimensional watercolor full of motion. Pulsating colors of joy dancing around with soaring bursts of brilliance. My painting would be an incredibly beautiful picture with moving swirls of gold and silver and purple and blue. The color green is frolicking amongst the movement of the other hues. The vibrance is one of joy. The movement is fueled by passion. The destination is unknown for the journey is never ending. The motion is forward and upward. Dreams soar amongst these beautiful colors dancing on my canvas. It’s the canvas of my life. It’s my canvas of 2017. No darkness. No doom. Gold, silver, purple, blue and green. Take a leap of faith. It’s time to paint the next part of my journey. A moment of clarity. Brilliant clarity as it dances in colors within my view. “Illuminating” by Haley from the album “All This Love”.
If I’m awake, then I can’t tell I’m in a daze, like I’m someone else A familiar place that I don’t recall It’s an empty space and I watch me fall The time is now but I don’t know when I close my eyes and I start to spin I start to spin The more I look around The more the walls come down And something comes to light Something comes to light The more I look around The more the walls come down And something comes to light Something comes to light Illuminating And suddenly within my view Images of something new I’m reaching out but there’s no end All explained in messages
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Future?

I recently stumbled across the short film from last summer. It’s a graduation project from two art academy students. I love the technology demonstrated in this film and it’s impact on society, and society’s impact on the direction of the technology demonstrated. Do you think we are headed in this direction?
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Politics.

The air is getting thick with the impending Presidential elections in November. I’m starting to overhear conversations at work and they are heated. A keep hearing and seeing the word “united” in the “United States of America” but the people don’t seem united. There are united factions, but the people as a whole seem split right down the middle. Everything is 50/50. One extreme or another. No shades of gray, it’s either black or white. Negative or positive. No compromise. I wonder if the media cooks it up to be a tight race so that there will be more ratings, which ends up with the sheep following their lead. Kind of heavy stuff to be thinking about on a sunny Friday afternoon. I sometimes wonder what the world would be like today had Hillary been the nominee in 2008 instead of Obama. I guess I’ll have to find a way to an alternative universe to find that out.

The Social Commentary Realisation.

I remember it like it was just a few days ago. It was third period of a typical freshman day back when I was in high school. I was sitting in Room 208, ready for English class. I was feeling particularly good because I had read the assigned short story the night before. I adored reading back then, just as I do today, but I despised being told what to read. For me, part of the joy of reading is discovering on my own as to what I want to read. Being told to read something with empty promises of literary escape just rubs me the wrong way. But I felt pretty good because I had read the short story that was assigned to us and I was ready for the quiz that I was sure Miss Whalen was about to pop.

Miss Whalen entered the room carrying all of her necessary teaching equipment, she was one of the few teachers that didn’t have her own room because the school wasn’t big enough for the temporary population explosion going on in our tiny village. This was her usual way of entering the room, book bags and gear in tow; what was unusual on this day was that she was pushing a cart with a TV and one of those newfangled VCRs.  We were going to watch a movie.

So much for the pop quiz.

Now when I completed my assignment and read “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson the night before, I kind of envisioned it taking place in some sort of nebulous time that wasn’t the present. They were talking about lotteries and crops and stonings and the like, so I figured it must have taken place in some medieval time. People didn’t act that way anymore.  Why would a community want to stone people to death in the 20th century? Stoning a person to death was something that happened in the Middle Ages.

Miss Whalen made a few remarks and then started up the VCR. I was immediately surprised by the setting as soon as I saw the pickup truck: it was taking place in a small farming community that could have been any community not far from the little town I went to school in. While the film felt ‘old’ (it was made in 1969 and the year was 1982), it still felt far more contemporary than the scenes I had played in my head the night before as I was doing my assignment. The clothes were familiar. The vehicles were familiar. The attitudes were familiar.

As the short film progressed, almost word for word with what I had read the night before, I realized that something was wrong with those people on the screen. Why didn’t they think about what they were doing? They were just blindly following a tradition that no one really understood anymore other than the saying “Lottery in June, corn be heavy soon”.  These people paid no attention to the fact that they were about to stone a woman to death. And she was such a nice woman. She wasn’t some medieval woman who wore big dresses that I envisioned in my head thing night before. The woman they were about to stone could have been the mother of any of my classmates.

Screen Shot 2012 04 22 at 6 49 55 PM

My young heart cried out as the first stone hit Tessie Hutchinson as she cried out “it’s not fair.”  Terrified for Tessie and terrified that I would be teased for the remainder of the day, I hid the tears that were welling up in my eyes. I shoved the lump in my throat back down where it belonged. I wasn’t going to gasp out loud and I wasn’t going to cry for this fictional character. No one would see me do that. But something struck a chord within my soul that day in Room 208.  Luckily, the film wasn’t horribly graphic but the audio was another matter. Her cries freaked me out and rattled me immensely. Watching that film was a life changer for me.

Heavy stuff for a naive high school freshman.

Last night as we left the movie theatre, having just thoroughly enjoyed “The Hunger Games”, my thoughts drifted back to “The Lottery” and Tessie Hutchinson.  I did a quick search on the Internet when I got home and found it available on YouTube. I watched it again from beginning to end. No fast forward. No skipping. No rewinding. Beginning to end, just like the day in Room 208. I cringed and teared up and honestly, I’m not afraid to admit that I had to go upstairs and cuddle with my husband for a few moments. It’s been 30 years since I last saw that movie but it hit home just as hard, if not harder than it did back in high school. The folks in the story were doing what tradition told them to do, without even thinking about the ramifications. They did something just because “that’s the way it’s done”. The old man that keeps grumbling about new thought and the young people in neighboring towns ending the tradition of the Lottery even though we don’t really know why they’re doing the Lottery, other than the brief mention about “Lottery in June, corn heavy soon”, how different is that from the talk about “traditional marriage” today? How many people blindly follow tradition without providing any thought to what they’re doing? I have little against folks that follow the teachings of the Bible, as long as they’re using their brains when they’re studying the words that they’re following. Today, how many elders cast stones and then hand more stones to their youngsters so they’ll blindly cast stones as well? How many teenagers brutally attack their classmates that are different simply because they’ve seen their parents act the same way? How many people today follow tradition simply because they’re following tradition? How whacked out is that?

Olive Dunbar plays Tessie Hutchinson in the 1969 version of the movie and she does it well. The changes in her expression with each realization as the lottery progresses hits me hard. Like I said, she could easily be the mom of any of my contemporaries. She goes from a housewife who is late to the ritual because she didn’t want to leave dirty dishes in the sink to a woman who is forced to realize her own mortality in minutes, all in the name of tradition. The cinematography is subtle. Most would find it bland, boring and amateurish. I find it moving. It steps out of the way and makes the viewer think.

Just as the assigned reading did back in 1982.

These Dreams.

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So last night I spent the night at the Holiday Inn closest to work. I didn’t get the best of night’s sleep, but I did manage to get enough to keep me productive throughout the day. Worried that I was going to sleep through my alarm, I woke up several times during the night. Because of this, I had quite a selection of dreams peppered through my slumber to keep things interesting. For the first time in quite a few nights, I didn’t dream about tornadoes (thanks for taking over that duty, Erik) but instead I had one of my “performance frustration dreams”. These dreams usually come up when I’m worried about not doing well at something and they frequently manifest themselves as something music or radio related; for example, I can’t get CDs into the players fast enough to avoid dead air on the radio or I can’t beat match a mix while DJing at a club, no matter how many times I have been able to mix the two records in question in the past.

Last night’s spin on my performance frustration dreams involved a live performance of the group Heart. In my dream I was one of their sound engineers for this comeback concert, and I was in charge of making sure the recorded music augmented their live performances perfectly. Because I had to make sure the tracks matched the instruments, I was challenged with playing vinyl records that had been recorded at home. And because it was a rowdy crowd, I had to spin the record on top of a beer bottle while holding the needle in place. I couldn’t let the record wobble in any way or else Nancy and Ann would sound all warped, and that would be bad. The record ended up falling off the top of the beer bottle and the whole show slowed down into a warbling, draggy sound. Just as everyone was looking at me for messing up this comeback tour, my dream morphed into something more interesting that didn’t involve frustration at all.

That all being said, because of last night’s dream, this track has been my ear bug, playing over and over. If you follow me on Rdio, you’ll notice that I have played this track several times today trying to get it to move back into my enjoyment category and out of my repetitive category.

So, out of respect for the Wilson sisters of Heart, and with my apologizes for wobbling the record that was spinning on top of the beer bottle, here they are with their 1987 hit, “There’s The Girl.”

Great track, by the way. I LOVE the backup vocals on this. Interesting, melodic backup vocals do a lot more for me than lead vocal acrobatics.

Purple. (Repost)

Show your support of LGBT teens that are struggling by wearing purple today, if you’re not already. Too many teens are committing suicide because of being bullied simply for being different. Suicide is not the answer. Remember, it gets better. I promise.