Slice of life and death

Seishuu (Handa) from anime Barakamon

I am a person who would die alone.

It seems that in Japan, dying alone is considered a terrible fate. Perhaps it is so here too. I certainly don’t want to die alone, but this is because I don’t want to die at all. Unfortunately avoiding bodily death seems not to be an option. I would certainly like to know that people at least try to keep me alive. But once that is no longer an option, there are actually very few people whose presence I would find better than nothing at my deathbed. By then, there is only one person I desperately want to be with me, and that is the Invisible Friend who has watched over me for all these years, living with me in my heart, or perhaps I live in His.

Even if You take it all away
I’ll wait for You
Even when the light begins to fade
I’ll wait for You…

I heard this song (Ashes Remain: Without You) on YouTube the other day, and wondered if that is how I will feel if my passing is slow and gradual. Also, at the same time, I wondered if this was how my earthly father felt before he passed away Wednesday morning. He had indeed lost many things: Most lately his leg, and before that gradually many of his memories, though not all. Already back in 2001 he lost his wife of many years. From my childhood I remember them as two sides of the same coin, different yet inseparable. And yet they were separated: Death did them part.

As I was about to leave after my mother’s burial, he said that he hoped it would not be until the next burial that I would visit. I did not think so, but that was exactly what happened. Or will happen if all goes according to plan, for tomorrow I have the tickets that should take me there. I really, really hate to impose on people, and I really really hate to travel, so it turned out it takes something of this magnitude to shake me out of my den.

***

Speaking of shaking and den … no, not an earthquake, they are rare and barely noticeable here. Rather, my landlord texted me on Tuesday and told me that there would be an inspection of the apartment on Thursday, and asked if it was tidy and clean? Well, there is a reason my website is called the Chaos Node … I imagined that the house was about to be sold suddenly (I got 3 weeks notice last time) and he was going to take pictures for the prospect, or even show it off to interested buyers. Probably the first, I doubt he has pictures from before I moved in. Now, the apartment does not look like a garbage heap, but there is a huge gap to the stylish, sparse pictures you see in prospects. Frantic tidying began forthwith. Then in the morning my oldest brother called telling me that dad had passed away. So yeah, Wednesday was pretty stressful, by my standards.

The landlord, being helpful, drove off nine big (but not overly heavy) sacks of stuff I had quickly reclassified as garbage, mostly paper and cardboard but ranging all the way to clothes that were too damaged to give away. It turned out that he was just getting a professional value assessment, so it was alright if the place looked lived in, as long as it did not look like a garbage heap. (The kitchen actually was a garbage heap last time he visited: The asylum-seekers living in the other half of the house had filled all the garbage bins, including compostable, for some time. So I had to store the garbage in the kitchen until the bin got emptied. We have gotten new asylum seekers since then, though.)

On the bright side, going through my belongings showed not only that I had things I could throw away (story of my life, literally and metaphorically) but there were also things I found that I did not know I had, mainly clothes. I may as well use them – last time I moved, I also went through my belongings and then the moth had eaten pieces of some of my best clothes. This is indeed a world where moth and rust are active, but then again last time I moved was from a place called Møll (the Norwegian word for Moth), so there is that.

Perhaps I should try to make a habit of going through my stuff and throwing away unnecessary clutter even if I am not about to move. It is not like I can bring any of it with me into eternity, anyway.

***

The plan is for me to travel tomorrow afternoon and the night by train, then in the morning take the boat from Bergen to Askvoll. The alternative is bus, but in my experience trains are better for sleeping. The doctor who had the same heart arrhythmia as I told me that I should avoid staying up all night, but it is kind of hard to get to the place I grew up without sacrificing some sleep. Still, given all the sleep my parents sacrificed for me when I was small and sickly, I really want to try this. And as it is written in the Christian Bible: “Honor your father and your mother, that it may go well with you and you may live long in the land.” As my parents carried me when I was new in this world, so at least I should carry them when they leave it. On Tuesday, that will be the last of them.

And if I have not honored them enough to live as long as they did, then at least I am grateful that I survived them. There was much doubt about that when I grew up (and they were honest about it, too – I grew up knowing that I had only 50% change to make it to adulthood) but in the end, here I am, writing this. And it makes me happy not only for my own sake. I seem to have a surprising number of friends who have survived one or more of their children, even though we live in a time when we act like that does not happen anymore. That, at least, my parents were spared. I hope my brothers also can look forward to many good years. They are all better people than me, I believe, because they manage to bring happiness to people even outside their job. And so did my parents. To me, their lives were windows into a realm of light, to which I believe they return. After all, even if we live well into our 80es (as my earthly father did), in the end, it is nothing more than a thin slice of life.

Limits of book-happiness

Screenshot anime Hackadolls

We came here to advance you… with books!

Looking back on my entries from around 2010-2012, I can’t help but notice how upbeat and optimistic and confident they (and I) seem to be. A number of things came together to cause that emotional boom. And those things were not of a very personal nature, either.

For some years earlier, I had felt very unique. I was sensing in a shadowy way a great outline of a spiritual reality, or at least a reality of the soul, a pattern beyond the static of everyday flailing and busy-ness. It baffled me that nobody else was seeing this. I felt like when I am passing through town and suddenly see a bright rainbow in the sky. I stop and look at its beauty but at the same time I am aware of the hundreds of people around me who just hurry to their next destination or watch their smartphone or for any other reason never lift their eyes. I guess when they come home, if they were asked about their day, they will say: “I made progress on the contract”, “I had a difficult customer”, “I missed you”; while I would say: “I saw a beautiful rainbow”. So it is not either of us is lying, but we are looking at different things.

But then I found some people who were looking in the same general direction. First only New Age people, and … well, they did not strike me as the brightest candles on the menorah. Kind of positive in a Golden Retriever way, so not bad company but not like me. But then I found One Cosmos, the blog (and the book, which is pretty good actually) and this psychiatrist trying to look at spiritual experiences with fresh eyes, taking them as a primary experience of reality rather than trying to explain them away as being some kind of side effect of something else. But most interesting to me, he was a voracious reader and recommended a number of books on the topic. The books were kind of hard to read, although the more I read his blog, the easier it became to read the books he read. But something else happened at the same time.

I discovered the Japanese new religion Happy Science, founded by the remarkable genius Ryuho Okawa. At the time he had already read thousands of books and also experimented with various forms of contact with the spirit world, and synthesized this into a new religion. Eventually he kind of came the conclusion that he was God, something I found deeply disappointing. (I’ve seen people come to the same conclusion over in the New Age society, and it generally doesn’t end well. As I have said before: I have seen a number of guys say “I am God”, but I have never seen a woman say “My husband is God”. Sure enough, Okawa divorced a while later.) But before then he had written a number of very interesting books, and I was rather shocked to see that he described very clearly many of the things I had seen as if through frosted glass.  There were so many things I recognized when reading about them.

After having read the luminous prose of Mr Okawa, it became easier to read the heavier books by various saints and sages and the people who love them, and I was building myself a “Bookshelf of Happiness”. I had this grand dream that simply by reading enough books, I would become transformed to a higher being. Well, it felt like this process had begun at the time. Nor was it my first experience of that sort. When I met the Christian Church of Brunstad, popularly known as “Smith’s Friends”, I had my first and most important influx of spiritual understanding, in which the Bible came alive to me. (This kind of faded once my income grew, as the Bible had foretold.)

There were a lot of good books, some of which are referenced in my writing during those years, but eventually this phase of my life began to fade. Gradually I started to suspect that reading Books of Timeless Truth and doing Brainwave Entrainment was not enough to transform me into a weakly godlike superintelligence, as I had hoped. There is still this small, dark, noisy, seething little ball of selfishness, the ego or small self, which self-identifies as me and does not want to give me up.

It could certainly be worse. I live a decent life by human standards, but that is not what I was hoping to live and die as. As long as I remain at this stage, I am at great risk of disruption and unraveling, like any mortal. I am protected day to day from great calamity by the undeserved kindness of the Light, like a village idiot being gently but sometimes firmly turned away from danger. Well, that is pretty much the best possible human condition, but I had not expected to end my days as a human.

“I said: You are gods, all of you are children of the Most High. Nevertheless you will die like men, and fall like one of the princes.” -Psalm 82, verse 6-7.

More MOOCs

Screenshot anime

Let us build ourselves a place of learning! On the Internet! Actually, some people already did that, so I’m just mooching on their MOOC. ^_^

Last year I started taking a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course – a course of study made available over the Internet without charge to a very large number of people.) It was about information technology in the society, the impact the technology had, and I was quite active at first. But then I found a part that was actively misleading (the “search bubble” was presented as a fact, whereas it has been disproved shortly after it made headlines). When I found that neither students nor professor did basic fact checking or reacted to being directed to correct information, my interest in the course quickly faded to zero.

At the time, the MOOC concept was still fairly new in Norway. Besides NTNU, I think only the college in Molde had started, and it was mainly a work by pioneers with little formal support from faculty staff, much less inter-college organization. In America, MOOCs had already been around a year or two (possibly more, but not in the public eye). So that was where I cast my gaze next.

This summer I took a MOOC from University of California San Diego, “Climate Change in Four Dimensions”. This is not something I need for my job, it was just interesting (it is a big topic and gets a lot of interest these days, often from people who have opinions but little knowledge.) To no small degree it was also a test of Coursera, the platform delivering the course. Each of the major MOOC platforms has courses from a number of universities, but they vary in which universities and how they present the courses, probably also in what type of courses, although there is clearly some overlap there at least. If I could complete a fairly long single course (10 weeks) that interested me, I knew that the MOOC model was not broken despite my failure to complete the one last year.

I completed the course, had fun and got a good grade, although I did not purchase the official certificate track to get the faux sheepskin certificate or whatever you use these days. As I say, it is not a thing I need for my work, and it is not like it gives me any authority elsewhere either. If people don’t listen to actual scientists, they sure won’t listen to me. But the course was a success as far as I was concerned. (Not that I was overly concerned.) (English is a funny language.)

I followed up the success with a course this fall from the main competing platform, edX. This was the “Science of Happiness” course I mentioned. edX seems to have a clearer line between us freeloaders and the serious students, although you can still take part in pretty much all activities even if you are not on the paid track. But it seems a little easier to slink away. I have not quite done that yet, but I am slipping behind.

Then started the course “Learning how to Learn” on Coursera, which I had signed up for before I started the edX course. You’d think I would be able to handle two fairly small courses like this – they require only a few hours a week each – but I am finding it harder than I expected. Admittedly, this is in part because I have started this huge Sims 2 project, which runs on my second computer during much of my free time. Well, when I am not outdoors playing Ingress, which I am 2-3 hours a day typically, if you include the ingressing on my way to and from work. I am trying to keep it under 10% of my time, but it is rarely much below at least. Anyway, the Sims 2 thing should theoretically take very little time, as it runs mostly on its own on the upgraded Vista computer. But somehow I keep getting sucked in and end up guiding my sims to maximize their life satisfaction rather than my own. That’s just the kind of wannabe guiding spirit I am. ^_^

Of the two courses, I give priority to Learning how to Learn. Both because I find it more agreeable (the incessant invocation of Darwin in a study of happiness really starts grating on me, BerkeleyX) and because the learning course is a tool for all my future courses. If I can optimize my learning even a little bit, this will pay off in all future courses. Of course we don’t know how much future I have, but I haven’t found an expiration date yet, so for the time being I intend to keep learning and stick to my plan of working till I am 75 or until I can’t work any longer. The “can’t work” part tends to depend a lot on your education level here in Norway, with intellectuals often working well past 70 and laborers typically quitting at 62. So, if I can upgrade my intellectual status for free, I improve my chances to keep contributing to civilization, which it could certainly need!

The world also needs my novel (or at least NaNoWriMo says so), but that is a story for some future day, if at all. At least I am having vacation all November, so perhaps the chaos will settle down enough that I actually can think of something to write. The Learning How to Learn course should be finished around then, and the other one by the middle of the month.

 

No visible friends

Screenshot anime Baby Steps

“It’s like they’re not even in the same dimension…” That’s why my friends are invisible friends, even when they are not imaginary friends.

The “Science of Happiness” MOOC (online course) from Berkeley continues to presuppose that its students are humans. This is by and large a reasonable assumption. But I just finished the second week on Tuesday and it still does not apply to me.

The new “happiness exercise” this week was Active Listening. In this, you sit down with a friend or loved one and “invite him or her to share what’s on his or her mind. As he or she does so, try to follow the steps below. You don’t need to cover every step, but the more you do cover, the more effective this practice is likely to be.”
1. Paraphrase.
2. Ask questions.
3. Express empathy.
4. Use engaged body language.
5. Avoid judgment.
6. Avoid giving advice.

Somehow I think my coworkers would freak out if I tried any of that. While one of them occasionally rants about colleagues, our relationship is not quite such that we sit down and go through his problems. More’s the pity, since I am a great listener, except for the body language which is more detached than you might want.

Coworkers is as close as I come these days. I only know a few who I work with regularly over a long time. I don’t have any other visible friends. I do have relatives, but we don’t see each other every year. All the rest of my friends are invisible friends, even those who happen to have a body at this time. In most cases, those bodies are in foreign countries and I have never seen them except in photos, sometimes not in photos either. I have had comrades of whom I did not know their fleshworld gender, age, skin color or citizenship. Some presented themselves as characters in an online roleplaying game. Some took on the features of vaguely humanoid animals (anthropomorphs). I haven’t really seen this as a problem.

I guess it makes sense for materialists to focus on the body, which is after all made of matter. But as for me, I cannot clearly remember a time when I mistook my body for my true self. I probably did when I was a toddler, but we are not supposed to remain toddlers. By the same tokens, it does not make sense for me to mistake my friends for bodies, which is one reason why I felt at home on the Internet pretty much from the start.

Between this and my Invisible Friend and family from Heaven, there hasn’t really been much motivation for me to seek out and try to befriend neighbors and random townies. But my sims do this. They also have a lot of options for conversation, although not quite the same list as above. Too bad, or I could have tested it on them. It would certainly be easier than testing them on myself. But you are probably a more normal human, perhaps you want to give it a try, if you don’t do this already?

Things don’t just happen

Screenshot Sims 4. Romance and family aspirations collide.

Babies don’t just happen. Well, for Don they do, but for Carola they are a life aspiration. Sometimes life happens to us, other times we happen to it. (Don’t worry, no babies happened at the Chaos Node! The picture is from Sims 4, where the imaginary people are more normal than me.)

The “Science of Happiness” course from Berkeley is not all theory: Each week they introduce an exercise that is known to increase happiness in most people. The first week we were told to write down, each day, three good things that happened to us, or that went well for us, that day.

I managed to get three such things the first day, with a little imagination, and for the next two days I was on the lookout for them through the day. But my conclusion was that this was counterproductive and meaningless to me. (It is probably a great idea for most people, and I don’t see any reason not to recommend it for my readers.)

In my case, however, I don’t often see the world as happening to me. Rather, I see myself as happening to the world. This is certainly not without exception, but it is usually what I focus on. There are of course a great many things that I have no influence on, but which have some degree of influence on me, such as weather or traffic. But they usually don’t influence my happiness. They don’t register as “good” or “bad”. If it rains, it is probably not direct sunshine at the same time, and I can read on my way to and from work. On the other hand, it means I get wet to some degree – my walk to get to work and back is half an hour each way, not counting the bus ride where I read (or not). Conversely if the sun shines, I am unlikely to get soaking wet, but also unlikely to get any reading done. So I do something else instead.

In other words: I simply alter my micro-behavior according to the circumstance. This is not really something that registers as “good” or “bad”, but as “action” on my part. It is part of my self-view that I am the subject rather than the object, I am the one that acts. I don’t usually assign responsibility to the world. I am responsible, where possible (although I may not always act like a responsible adult). The world is the canvas on which I paint my life.

It is only when the canvas is badly frayed that I assign it some part in the outcome. When something happens that threatens my ability to maneuver around it, like a potentially life-threatening or disabling illness, or if I ever experience serious crime or accident. These have not happened so far, by the unusual and extraordinary grace of the Light, despite my 55 years on this planet, which certainly is a good thing, but not usually something you write down every day. I mean, “Did not die today either, was not shot or stabbed today either, house did not burn down today either” are certainly a list of good things; but it does not really have the flavor that the exercise was aiming at.

When the road gets so bumpy that I can’t hold on, such as being rushed to hospital, I am unlikely to write it down the same day as a good thing. Years later, perhaps. But it takes about as much as that for me to notice the world happening to me, rather than I to it.

I explain this in the uncouth but memorable term that “shitting is part of eating”. When I choose to do something that has a range of likely outcomes, then any of those outcomes is a part of the original choice, even if their exact time and form is not known in advance. So you can’t eat and not expect a toilet visit at some future point. You can’t borrow and not expect to pay back with interest. You can’t go to bed late and not expect to be tired the next day. You can’t eat whatever you want and just sit still and expect to be in great shape for the foreseeable future.

Life has some randomness but it also has a lot of causality. There is little I can do about the randomness, so I leave that in the hands of Heaven for the most part (with the occasional request) and concentrate on the causal part, especially the part where I am the cause. When other people cause things, I tend to lump it with the “random” part, since everything I have learned implies that most humans have even less control of what they do than I have. And I certainly have my limitations, not just of the body but also of the mind. Make no mistake, the mind or personality (the psyche in psychology) is limited much as the body is. You can train them both and force them to some degree, but often you have to plan around their limitations or else accept them. Such is the life I live, it is focused on myself — yet not quite in the same way that most self-centered people are.

So how about you?

Not your kind of people

Screenshot Sims 4 - happy young sim using computer

Introverts won’t be cast as demons, creatures you despise. Except when trolling forums.

Today’s title is of course from the awesome song by Garbage. (Here on YouTube, although I have bought it on Google Music.) I have sometimes wondered if this would not be a good “national anthem” for Aspies (people with Aspergers syndrome, or more generally on the high-functioning part of autism spectrum). It certainly sound like it, although it is probably unintentional – it is hard to imagine Aspies going into the popular music career willingly. Anyway, I am only half Aspie. There is also religion, which I also clearly experience differently from most humans.

As I promised in my previous entry, I am going to say something about the MOOC (online university course) “The Science of Happiness” from Berkeley and the Greater Good Science Center. Ironically the title is the same as a book by Ryuho Okawa, the Japanese author who gradually has begun to think of himself as “God or Buddha”. I guess that is an occupational risk. Anyway, the book was better, at least in the regard that it did not bombastically declare that people need a lot of friends to be happy. Rather the record-breaking author and would-be god from Venus holds the same view that me, that happiness comes from within, or from Heaven, which isn’t really two different things in this regard.

In contrast, let us look at this semi-mandatory quiz that appears in week 2 of the university course. It starts with this “what the hell” inducing question:

When I feel lonely, there are several people offline that I can talk to.
I clicked “Strongly disagree”, but it is more than that. The whole question is off. When I feel lonely? Uhm, yeah, that’s been about 5 minutes, perhaps 10, over the years since I left my birth home at the age of 15, a bit over 40 years ago now. I won’t say categorically that I can’t be lonely if I am without human company (online of offline or simulated). Just that it is not a “when” in my life. To me the question reads approximately like “When I miss having a raccoon in my living room, there are several raccoons outside that I can let in.” Not that there is anything wrong with raccoons, some of my best friends (online) self-identify as raccoons. And there is Rocket Raccoon … but back to our narrative.

The rest of the quiz is not quite as bad, but it certainly seems to presuppose that much of your “self” does not reside in your own head but is distributed across a wide range of other humans, who help you make decisions, solve your problems and influence what you are interested in. Unfortunately this seems to be an apt description of humans. Obviously when you are small, this must necessarily and literally be true. As a toddler you cannot understand yourself. But we aren’t supposed to remain toddlers.

The course goes into the idea that our evolutionary history explains the “hypersocial” nature of humans. The helpless infants and long childhood made it necessary to have strong family ties, close friendships and many connections to the rest of the tribe in order to successfully bring children up to become adults in their own right. We are not like sheep, who only need to eat and hide in the pack in order to grow up and make more sheep who grow up and make more sheep. Making a human is a whole adventure and it takes a village, as socialists like to say. (Conservatives think that it takes a family, which in my experience certainly doesn’t hurt. Well, I suppose if is a really evil family, the village is preferable.)

It is weird how people say the appendix is a relic of our evolutionary past and want to remove it, but when hypersociality (hypersocialism?) is a relic of our evolutionary past, they want to make it mandatory. At least the appendix doesn’t hurt unless it is inflamed. Loneliness hurts day and night, from what I heard. Shouldn’t they funnel research into how to make people more autistic? For now, the only known method is to make the next generation more autistic by having kids with an autist. Not that I am volunteering or anything, I am only half Aspie after all.

But as I said, this is not simply a matter of genes. It would be cool if Aspies are the new breed of man, Homo Superior, which is set to replace the primitive Homo Sapiens the way these replaced their grunting ancestors. A beautiful narrative. But it seems far-fetched that the Buddha, Lao-Tzu, and the innumerable saints and sages of the great world religions were all Aspies. They were filled with happiness even during prolonged solitude, and even in adversity where those around them resisted their message and responded with anger, threats and outright violence. Clearly it was not their friendships and social network that carried them through these times, unless you count their Invisible Friends.

It takes a lot of friends on Earth to substitute for one Friend in Heaven.

So being surrounded by family and friends can make people happy, but being alone can also make people happy. I sometimes say that “Evolutionary Psychology is the science of explaining why whatever is popular in the USA this decade is the natural state of humans and the rest of the world has got it wrong”, or words to that effect. And Americans are extraordinarily extroverted by most measures. It is not a country known for its monasteries, exactly. And not really for its happiness either. I mean, sure, compared to the developing world. But on a “happiness per dollar” scale, they fare very poorly indeed. Perhaps a little more peace and quiet would do them good.

Sims 4: More human than me?

Screenshot sims 4, two sims playing chess and talking

I wouldn’t normally do this kind of thing.

Since the original “The Sims” game in 2000, the little computer people have become more and more like normal humans. With me, however, it seems to be the other way around. This fall it seems that they have become more human than I, in some ways.

Obviously I don’t mean the body. Mine is still flesh and blood, while theirs is pixels on the screen. What I talk about is how well they emulate human behavior, whereas I have my own style that is pretty unusual in some ways where the sims are not.

Specifically, this is about social interactions, social needs, even social wants. As mentioned before, the sims now have a lot of social interactions and they love to use them. Even a sim with the Loner trait rolls around a fourth of his wants about social interactions, like talk to someone, tell a joke, compliment someone, practice talking, use a pick-up line (!) and more. Strangely, these wants cannot be satisfied over the Internet, so the sims need to actually go out (or have others come over) to fulfill their wants.

The social need is borked, if I may say so. In The Sims 3, Loner sims would experience their social need meter go down fairly slowly. Eventually it would go in the red, but it would take its sweet time. This may be simply lazy coding, but in The Sims 4 the meter goes down seemingly as fast as for everyone else, it is just that they don’t suffer any negative effects of it, quite the opposite. But the meter still takes on the orange and eventually red color of impending desperation, and a quick look at the screen will make it seem like the Sim is in danger. Only when you look more closely you see that it is just the social need that is bottoming out.

Of course, I have had this problem with my journal too. When I innocently mention that I don’t have any friends except invisible friends, people get worried as if I was about to jump from the nearest bridge, while I feel quite happy this way. Even when I mention that my last kiss was some 30 years ago (and even that was rather a surprise) people worry about me. Now if they were just worrying about my genes, I would understand it, for they are overall pretty amazing genes. It would almost be too bad to dilute them. Someone should deep freeze some of my blood so I can be cloned when that becomes more trivial. Unfortunately, genes don’t guarantee the same personality, as you can see with identical twins:  Identical twins that grow up together are more different than identical twins that grow up apart. (In the real world, that is. I haven’t tried that in the game yet.)

There is another reason this is on my mind: A MOOC (massive open online course) from BerkeleyX, the electronic arm of Berkeley University, distributed through the EdX platform. Yes, I am MOOCing this year again, and more successfully. But anyway, The Science of Happiness spends an inordinate amount of time elaborating and belaboring how absolutely necessary a rich social life is for human happiness. And I am like WTH you people, but then I think to myself: At least this may be useful for playing The Sims 4, if nothing else.  Actually I guess both the course and The Sims 4 may be useful for understanding ordinary humans, of which I am clearly not one. More about that next time, probably.

Only of myself

 (Screenshot anime Chuu-Ren

The foe I face is inside of me…

I grew up in the age of the gramophone (also called phonograph, in America perhaps). Kids today may not know exactly what that was, but it was the thing before the audio CD, which I think most people in 2014 remember, even though music is now a download or streaming thing from the Internet. The music cassette also came (and went) during my lifetime, but this too was crushed by the Internet. Everything is crushed by the Internet, is it not? Even television now merges with the Internet the way the lamb merges with the wolf. In the case of television, good riddance. In the case of the gramophone…

There was a vinyl disc with literal physical grooves etched into it in a spiral pattern. A motor made the disc spin at a constant speed. A tiny needle, called a pickup needle, picked up the vibrations from the bottom of the groove which varied marginally in height. These vibrations were basically sound, it only needed to be amplified. (The grooves were made in the reverse process, etching the pattern into a soft master disk with a needle that vibrated with sound.) It was a fairly robust technology, in that it did not really need electronics at all to work, although the sound would be rather weak without an amplifier.

The gramophone was almost exclusively used for music, but only almost. We also had one or two disks with fairy tales for children. (I was not a fan of fairy tales, generally. My mother told me that when I was little, she tried to tell me fairy tales and I looked at her and asked: Is this true? And when she admitted it was not literally true, I asked her to tell me something from her childhood instead. Evidently I was a lot more mature as a toddler than I am now! ^_^) I liked technology, though, so I would listen to the fairy tales on the gramophone. And one in particular, about Snow White.

We kids replayed the Snow White story so often that eventually the cheap plastic disk got a scratch in it. This scratch, as sometimes happened with gramophones, made the needle jump back. Remember that the sound groove followed a spiral pattern inwards, so a strategically placed scratch could let the needle slip back out one or two rounds. As it happened, this took place at the exact spot where the narrator intoned:
The evil queen thought only of herself
and the needle then jumped back:
only of herself
only of herself
only of herself
infinitely until we gave the pickup a push to get it past the damaged part.

My earthly father – a much better man than I – had the insight to point out to us kids that this was exactly how it worked in real life as well. Evil people are stuck in the same groove of thinking only of themselves, only of themselves, only of themselves, only of themselves, without limit. That is what makes them evil in the first place.

I still found it hilarious though, and would put on the record just to sit and listen to the evil queen thinking only of herself, only of herself while I laughed my little ass off. Little did I know that I was the same type of person myself.

Decades have passed. I am 55 years now, and looking back on a life where I have, for the most part, been thinking only of myself, only of myself, only of myself, except for the few times when someone or something briefly pushed me through. But I would soon return to concentrating on the one person in my life that I have truly loved: Myself! I love me so much, I cannot imagine a life without me. ^_^

Some day however, that’s what’s going to happen – life will go on without me. The record of my life will grind to a halt, having never been able to tell the story it could have told, because of the scratch that made me stuck in this groove – thinking only of myself
only of myself
only of myself

But I hope there’s someone out there who has been entertained, at least!

I don’t really care for music

Screenshot anime ChuuRen

Growing older brings many changes. Some quite unexpected, even at my age, it seems?

I’ve heard there was a secret chord
that David played, and it pleased the Lord
-but you don’t really care for music, do ya?

-Leonard Cohen, Hallelujah.

When Opera Software introduced a built in server feature in their web browser, I was one of the early adopters, ripping the music from my several shopping bags of CDs to put it on my hard disk, so I could listen to any of my songs from work or wherever else I had Internet access. This is some years ago, and the feature became less and less reliable and was eventually abandoned. I got a home server (NAS – Network Attached Storage) which also promised to let me access my music, photos and video via the Internet. It is usually able to stream music without downloading it, although it does take a little time to buffer it in advance.

Then last month Google Music opened in Norway, and among its more attractive features was the ability to upload my entire music collection to their “cloud” of servers. There is a limit of 20 000 tracks, but I was never that much of a collector. After discarding a few albums I feel sure I never want to listen to again, I uploaded 2644 tracks. That seems kind of paltry compared to the limit. I get the same feeling as when rolling a huge cart through the supermarket with four boxes of yogurt and two bottles of soda. ^_^

Up until that point, I have felt like I actually bought a lot of music. After I got my first CD player, I bought CDs regularly for a while. Sometimes I just passed a shop and heard some likable music so I stopped and bought it. This was how I came across Chris de Burgh for instance, whose lyrics have featured heavily on these pages. Leonard Cohen, however, has been with me longer: I happened to record his song “If It Be Your Will” from radio back in the age of cassette tape, although this was the only song by him I knew for many years. The age of the CD fixed this as well.

Despite the crazy prices (even higher here in Norway than elsewhere), I continued to buy CDs for many years. Sometimes I guess I just took a chance. Often there was only one or two good tracks on a whole CD, but I did not give it much thought. I did not have much money back then – not that I have now, by Norwegian standards, but it was rather pitiful back then and I did not know how to manage it – so the CDs made a noticeable drain on my budget. After the turn of the century, I have almost exclusively bought Japanese pop, and less and less of that too. I don’t download music unless I have already bought it (the mail from Japan takes weeks). But a quiet dislike for the major recording companies and their behavior has grown to the point that I sincerely want them all dismantled and outlawed, so there is that too.

In any case, I uploaded these 2644 tracks eagerly. Now I can listen to them all, anywhere, and in any order. I set about testing the “radio” feature at Google Play Music. Basically I start with a song I like, and the software tries to find other songs that follow naturally. It was during these experiments, which lasted for several days, that I realized something I would not have believed if you told me:  I don’t really care for music.

I kind of knew already that most of the songs I had paid good money for, were just noise. There used to only be a couple good songs on each CD, unless it was Irish. Well, Cohen also had a higher rate, but I still only liked perhaps half his songs. But now I notice that many of the songs I used to like, no longer appeal to me. And those which do, that is not necessarily a good thing either.

The voices in my head, as I playfully call it, in this case the earworms, have a tendency to sing catchy tunes ALL DAY LONG. I am sure you are familiar with this phenomenon, of songs playing and replaying in your head and probably also trying to make you sing along. (That is certainly how it works for me.) It disturbs my other mental processes. I want an off switch. Well, unlike untrained minds, I do have a pause button, but it always comes back on. This is not a bug, it is a feature. After all, I am the one who feeds my soul this music, so it is perfectly natural that the soul takes it and runs with it. But when it does this with songs that are just catchy, without any depth, I kind of regret having listened to them in the first place.

I also rarely, if ever, feel the intense joy from some music like I used to. I am not sure if this is some spiritual development on my part (and if so, whether it is progress or backslide), or just my brain losing capabilities as I slowly transition into old age. I guess it is natural with the path I take that I can not lose myself in beauty the way I did? But given how easily I get distracted in daily life, how easily my thoughts stray, it seems a bit preposterous to think that I have become deeper than the music or some such.

***

Google Music is quite impressive, by the way. It took a few days for it to get used to me, and in the beginning it fed me some songs that really disagreed with me. But after a while it got quite good. For instance I use a Japanese song called “Coloring” as seed for a “radio” function, a random playlist of related tracks. At first it was quite random, but after a while it found out that it could give me Japanese songs with English titles (something that is quite popular in J-pop) and I would accept that. That is further than Spotify came, and I’ve had that since it was fairly new, long before it came to America.

I guess they deserve a better customer than me. Who would have thought I would ever say that. But I don’t really care for music, do I?

Like a light that grows

Screenshot anime The Golden Laws

I made a trip back to 1986, aided by the mysterious powers of my diary (which at that time was printed on paper). It was kind of embarrassing, partly because back then it was less of a day-ary and more of a night-ary, kind of dark and angsty even compared to how I felt at the time. I remember that much. But also, I turned 28 at the end of that year, and I was still painfully stupid.  Probably still am, but I mean compared to now.

I was already recognizable myself, and I was rather more pious than now, it seems, at least emotionally. But somehow I continued to rack up consumer debt. Credit cards, shop loans, that kind of stuff. It may be argued that at the time, I earned rather less than I do now. We’ve had a phenomenal economic growth here in Norway over the last 20 years, not just the rich but common people, unlike in America and parts of Europe. But it was not dire need that mired me in debt. Although I didn’t write much details about how I got the debt (only about how bad it was), I remember buying various stuff that was not survival-related, to put it mildly. A big electronic organ (which admittedly brought me quite a bit of joy for some years, but which cost me several months’ pay). And then later (or was it first? I think later) an electronic accordion. Because I could, seeing how I got shop credit and all. Various computer related stuff (computers were invented back then, actually, just not the Internet as we know it). I bought the cutting edge stuff, of course. Buy now, pay later!

Taking that trip back to the past, I realize that I wasn’t really that different from ordinary humans. Lots of them still do this. I think most outgrow it, but I am not sure. As I said, here in Norway people have a lot more money now so any debt they have acquired is steadily erased by their rising affluence. But in America, debt still seems to be a big problem.

There were other typical human behaviors too, like in interpersonal relationships. (Not intimate relationships, I had my last kiss in 1984 after all, and even that was pretty accidental as such things go.) But what strikes me is how poorly I understood not just others, but also my own emotions. It probably seemed perfectly normal at the time, though. I don’t recall going around constantly thinking to myself: “You’re an idiot, you don’t know what you’re doing, you don’t understand other people and you don’t understand yourself.” Well, I did think that, but mostly late at night when writing my diary, reflecting on myself. But I did not think it in advance, preventing or at least mitigating the dumbness.

Observing myself at half my current age, I am more convinced than ever that the current me is not simply a result of my half-Aspie heritage or Neanderthal genes or some such. I mean, yes, I was never entirely neurotypical, but that didn’t really make me who I am today. Rather it is the light of timeless wisdom that has kept shining relentlessly on me, showing me a little more now and a little more then. I may close my eyes and pretend that I did not see, but in the long run it cannot be unseen as long as the light remains on. Whenever I open my eyes, there it is again.

For me, this light is a religious thing. After all, this experience is foretold in Proverbs 4, verse 18: “But the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, which shines brighter and brighter until full day.” The Norwegian translation, which was often quoted in the Church when I was young, translates it slightly differently (as is often the case with poetic elements of the ancient language): “The path of the righteous is like a radiant light, that becomes clearer and clearer until the full light of day.”

Now, “righteous” may not quite be the best description of me, if I must say so myself. And that is one reason why I think I am probably still an idiot, just less so than I used to be. But I’ve learned some lessons. Like “consumer credit really is a gift – from you, to them”. Or “don’t mix girls and money unless you are ready to lose both”. ^_^ Both of these are prefigured in Ecclesiastes and  the Proverbs of Solomon, by the way, although I should probably leave that as an exercise for the reader.

Although I am a Christian of sorts, I’ll readily admit that I have found timeless wisdom in the Scriptures of other religions and a few works that are not generally considered religious as well. That is great, I think, and perhaps Frithjof Schuon and friends are right about the transcendental unity of religions. But also over time I have found that although I have found wisdom in other religions, I had not really needed to. There is in the religion of my youth a spirit that keeps unpacking the deeper meanings of the Scriptures, so that they would be more than adequate for whatever one were to run into. I won’t deny that the same may well be true for the other great world religions. Those who have dedicated themselves to them would know, I guess. I can only speak for myself. And even then I haven’t earned this. It was given to me, for some reason.

But this is at the core of things, that this Light is alive. It grows, given the chance, becoming brighter and brighter as we admit it is right. Perhaps it is in that sense that “righteousness” is meant in the text I cited. When we admit that the judgment of the Light is right and we were wrong, the judgment turns to brightness. As long as we stand against it, it is like walking along a dark road where the headlights of the meeting cars shining in our face is more blinding than the darkness. But when we turn around and accepts its judgment, the same light brightly lights up the road. Well, that’s just an illustration, but one I know from experience.

So there it is. Looking back across half my life so far, that is the image that comes to mind: A radiant light, starting as the faint light heralding dawn, shining more and more brightly into wonderful daylight, where an entire world opens up around me. Well, it is not full daylight yet,  but so much brighter than in 1986! I wish I could show even one of you this brilliant road to tomorrow.  But judging from my results so far, it may be safer for y’all if I keep writing about The Sims…