Saturday, August 29, 2015

Secret of Mana & memory

Back in Jersey, but only for a little while. Off to Philadelphia next month. Don't ask me what my plans are. I have no idea. I've got a place to live, and for now, that's it. All this moving around is wearisome, but I'd like to hope it keeps me, to some degree, from going stale.

I've been taking advantage of this layover in my natural habitat to visit the woods I've wandered through for my entire ambulatory life. In spite of its reputation as America's grease trap, New Jersey has some very nice public parks, and these places are probably the leading factor towards the retention of my sanity through adolescence and beyond.

Having spent most of this year in the Caribbean, a setting where the term "season" is employed almost exclusively in reference to cyclical variations in tourist traffic, it is wonderful (in the literal sense of the word) to be in an environment where the declination of the sun in the sky exerts such a profound influence on everything beneath it. Much has changed since my brief visit in June. The skunk cabbage is withering—first to come, first to go. The wood thrushes have turned in for the summer, but the cicadas are still going strong. I listen to the tinkling ground crickets in the afternoon and the katydids at night. The ragweed has begun to bloom in just the last few days, and I expect to spend a small fortune on antihistamines in the coming weeks. Even in the last ten days, I've noticed the air cooling somewhat. Sweating balls is a way of life in the Caribbean, and I can't say I mind going outside for half an hour or more and returning with dry clothes—but we'll see how much I'll be missing the subtropical kiln come January.

The other day I went for a walk in Hidden Valley, a park I've visited as regularly as possible since 2008, when I went on that fateful hike with my sister and her adorable reprobate friends. I forget what was on my mind: I was just letting my thoughts drift. Seeing my brains' refusal to pursue any one line for any length of time, my legs didn't see any reason why they should go on following a straight path, and when the gravel trail veered right, my feet carried me left, stepping over fallen trees and mud, swerving around briars and clumps of poison ivy. Eventually I found myself stumbling into a scrubby meadow, nearly invisible from the trail.

In all these years, I never had any idea it was there. I swear to god I heard this chime in my brain when I pushed into it.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

News and Narrative

No person on Earth is capable of simultaneously observing, for any duration, every individual event (if there is indeed such a thing as a discrete occurrence). We know only what the locality of our own perceptions and our personal histories permit us to know.

Even if an omnipath did exist, the deluge of information would probably sweep him or her into a terminal state of epileptic confusion—unless the power of seeing all events as they happen was conjoined with the ability to understand how they occur in relation to one another. To witness something doesn't necessarily imply an understanding of its antecedents or repercussions.

Our understanding of the past and present consists largely of a small number of events and entities separated by wide blank spaces. Arranging objects and occurrences in terms of an overarching narrative—inducing the nature of the whole by examining how the known particulars fit into one another—is how we're able to function in the world in spite of our ignorance regarding most of its contents.

Two parties may agree on the veracity of a sequence (or more appropriately, an assortment) of events; both will grant that certain things did occur, and they might even agree on the chronological arrangement of said things, but can differ fiercely with regards to how the events fit into each each other, their implications vis-à-vis other events, and which events are most significant.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

St Thomas Slide Show


On Monday, after living on St Thomas for seven months, I caught a one-way flight back to the mainland.

I gave it an earnest shot. But in the final analysis, it's just not my scene. That's not to say there isn't a lot I'm going to miss about the island, though.

Over the last day or two I've been trawling my cameras and inbox for snapshots from the last seven months. I've compiled a small photo album to serve as an overview (not remotely comprehensive) of the stuff that caught my fancy during my life in the tropics. For a few years now I've fallen out of the habit of carrying my little hand-me-down Canon with me (and I lost access to it for a good three-and-a-half months during my stay), so most of the pictures were taken with my flip phone. Do please cut me a little slack for the poor image quality.

The view towards the top of the hill where I stayed with Hannah (ex-girlfriend) for the first three months of my residence on St Thomas. I never, never got sick of the view, of walking to the bus stop at dawn and listening to the coquí frogs peeping in the brush. Can't say the same about the walk back up. Fair to say it's about a mile, all uphill, and the farther you go, the steeper it gets. On good days I was able to hitch rides with Rasta dudes. On bad days I'd march half the distance cursing the blistering heat, and then make the rest of the trudge in the rain.

The front steps of Hannah's place, plus a golden orb weaver. I remember finding these guys all over the place when I was living on the east end, but after moving to the west in June I don't recall seeing even one. The perspective of the photograph obscures the critter's size: this thing is definitely a BBW (big beautiful weaver). We're not talking tarantula size or anything—but I'm not sure I'd be able to keep my cool if one crawled up my face, and I'm certainly not squeamish about bugs.

A tetrio sphinx moth in its larval form: the most terrifying caterpillar I've ever met. Again, the photograph doesn't really convey a sense of scale, but this bugger was bigger than my finger. (Here's a better picture.) I was a little disappointed to learn that it eventually matures into a somewhat ordinary-looking (albeit very large) moth. At the time I was convinced this thing would emerge from its cocoon as some kind of world-devouring antichrist.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Dismal Science

People involved in the humanities (whether by vocation or pathology) sometimes look wistfully towards mathematics, where numbers and symbols mean precisely what they mean and a right or wrong answer is exactly that. This is probably true where Pure Mathematics is concerned—"a refuge from the goading urgency of contingent circumstances," as Dr. Whitehead put it. As far as the layman can guess, it might also be true for physics and engineering: where questions of mass, voltage, tensile strength, etc. are concerned, there are solutions (or at least optimal values) to be found, and provided we're not dealing with an overly complex system, finding those values is as simple of knowing what to measure, how to measure it, and which numbers to crunch (and having the care to crunch them accurately).

But the areas where mathematics intersect with human affairs is another matter entirely. The obscurities of human activity lead to mathematical formulas, models, and projections that are tenuous at best, unreliable at worst, and deliberately obfuscatory at even worse than worst (which is sometimes why economics is called "the dismal science"); while the clarity of mathematics expresses the insolubility of certain human problems with such consternating clarity as to make a pessimist of anyone hopeful enough of a solution to conduct an investigation (which is why denial remains the best-selling coping mechanism for 10,000 years and counting).

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Rite of Passage: Online Dating Blog Post

It's not easy moving on in your thirties.

From the ages of eighteen to twenty-nine, the assessment of your situation after a breakup (once the initial shock subsides) is invariably: "fuck 'em! I'm still young, and there's plenty of other people out there!" From thirty onwards, it becomes: "fuck 'em! I'm still...and, well, there's plenty of...huh."

I'm not young enough to hook up with girls at college parties or goth clubs anymore. (Not that I ever really did, but for a while it was possible.) All of the women in whom I had an inchoate interest during my twenties now have husbands, children, and/or homesteads they guard with shotguns. When I visit bars, the only thing I can comfortably talk about is the music and how much I hate it. Basically, I have no idea how to meet people at this point in my life.

So I signed up for OkCupid. It's funny how the most reasonable solution to a problem can sometimes also be the most harebrained.