So much for happy endings

“Nothing is more dispiriting than ‘And they all lived happily ever after,’ which means, in information entropy terms, ‘And then nothing interesting or noteworthy ever happened to them again for the rest of their lives.’” — Brian Christian, The Most Human Human

What’s your excuse?

The Weekly Alibi is an alternative newspaper published in Albuquerque, New Mexico.  From 1996 to 2000, it published a baker’s dozen of my poems in its annual Valentine’s Day poetry contest.  It also published one of my haiku in its 2000 haiku contest.  This week I’m posting those poems here on my blog.  I’m not all that wild about them–in fact, some of them are at least a little embarrassing–but I’m not going to try to hide them.

Next week I’ll probably post my earliest published poetry, the stuff from the mid-1970s to the mid-1990s.  There’s not as much of that, and there’s probably not any that may be as embarrassing as “Capitano’s Romance” or “Personals: I Saw U” or “Invitation to the Ball,” the last two of which were winners in the Alibi contests’ “Why I’m a Pathetic, Dateless Loser” category.

May it please the court

“Our legal system is adversarial, founded, like capitalism, on the idea that a bunch of people trying to tear each other apart, plus certain laws and procedures preventing things from getting too out of hand, will yield, in one, justice, and in the other, prosperity, for all.  Sometimes this does happen; other times, it doesn’t.  At any rate, it’s a terrible metaphor for the rest of life.”– Brian Christian, The Most Human Human

Hold that shaking shimmy against me

“We hear communications experts telling us time and again about things like the ‘7-38-55 rule,’ first posited in 1971 by UCLA psychology professor Albert Mehrabian: 55 percent of what you convey when you speak comes from your body language, 38 percent from the tone of your voice, and a paltry 7 percent from the words you choose.  Yet it’s that 7 percent that can and will be held against you in a court of law.” — Brian Christian, The Most Human Human

Tabula rasa rides again

“A great deal of fairly recent developmental psychology and a great deal of research in psychiatry and psychoanalysis and so forth has suggested, at least, that the idea that there would be a true ‘you’ that comes into the world unaffected, unadulterated by the influence of the social environment in which you develop, is a myth.  That in fact you are, as it were, socialized from the get-go.  So that if you were to peel away the layers of socialization, it’s not as if what would be left over would be the true you.  What would be left over would be nothing.” — Bernard Reginster (from The Most Human Human, by Brian Christian)

Signs that point the way block the way

“You question the assumptions of physics and you end up in metaphysics–a branch of philosophy.  You question the assumptions of history and you end up in epistemology–a branch of philosophy.  You try to take any other discipline out at the foundations and you end up in philosophy; you try to take philosophy out at the foundations and you only end up in meta-philosophy: even deeper in than when you started.” — Brian Christian, The Most Human Human

The agony of victory, the thrill of defeat

“Games have a goal; life doesn’t.  Life has no objective.  This is what the existentialists call ‘the anxiety of freedom.’  Thus we have an alternate definition of what a game is–anything that provides temporary relief from existential anxiety.  This is why games are such a popular form of procrastination.  And this is why, on reaching one’s goals, the risk is that the reentry of existential anxiety hits you even before the thrill of victory–you’re thrown immediately back on the uncomfortable question of what to do with your life.” — Brian Christian, The Most Human Human

Today a koi, tomorrow a catfish

“We must choose a standard to hold ourselves to.  Perhaps we’re influenced to pick some particular standard; perhaps we pick it at random.  Neither seems particularly ‘authentic,’ but we swerve around paradox here because it’s not clear that this matters.  It’s the commitment to the choice that makes behavior authentic.” — Brian Christian, The Most Human Human (emphasis in original)

Same old same old

“The Usual Story” is another of the stories I initially wrote about a dozen years ago and which was published early this year in Mad Hatters’ Review.  It’s the last previously-published story I have in my inventory.  Next week I’ll have to post something else.  Probably poetry.  There was a call some weeks back from one of my three readers for some poetry.

I’ll probably post all my previously-published poetry over a three-week period.  Unless I chicken out.  Some of it’s pretty embarrassing.  No sense hiding, though.  I thought it was good enough to submit in the first place, and it got published.  Not in American Poetry Review or Poetry or The New Yorker or anything like that.  I should be so lucky.  It all showed up in little mags, some of which have long since passed away.

Solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short

“What defines us is that we don’t know what to do and there aren’t any revelations out there for us waiting to be found.  Profoundly disoriented and lacking any real mooring, we must make it all up from scratch ourselves, each one of us, individually.  We arrive in a bright room, wet, bloody, bewildered, some stranger smacking us and cutting what had been, up to that point, our only source of oxygen and food. We have no idea what is going on.  We don’t know what we’re supposed to do, where we’re supposed to go, who we are, where we are, or what in the world, after all this trauma, comes next.  We wail.” — Brian Christian, The Most Human Human (emphasis in original)

It’s a glass show case for displaying fine wares, specimens, etc.

“Vitrine” is another story I wrote about a dozen years ago that finally found a publisher, being one of the four stories of mine Mad Hatters’ Review published early this year.

Faces, books, spaces, and links

“Cobbled-together bits of human interaction do not a human relationship make.  Not fifty one-night stands, not fifty speed dates, not fifty transfers through the bureaucratic pachinko.  No more than sapling tied to sapling, oak though they may be, makes an oak.  Fragmentary humanity isn’t humanity.” — Brian Christian, The Most Human Human

A pull, a strain, a cramp

“For most people will power is a limited resource; if we spend lots of energy controlling our impulses in one area, it becomes harder to control our impulses in others.  Or, as the psychologist Roy Baumeister puts it, will power is like a muscle: overuse temporarily exhausts it.” — James Suroweicki, “In Praise of Distraction”

Prisons as deterrents

“In punishing wrongdoers, no one concentrates on the fact that a man has done wrong in the past, or punishes him on that account, unless taking blind vengeance like a beast.  No, punishment is not inflicted by a rational man for the sake of the crime that has been committed–after all one cannot undo what is past–but for the sake of the future, to prevent either the same man or, by the spectacle of his punishment, someone else, from doing wrong again.  But to hold such a view amounts to holding that virtue can be instilled by education; at all events the punishment is inflicted as a deterrent.  This then is the view held by all who inflict it whether privately or publicly.” — Plato, Protagoras (trans. Guthrie)

This will be on the test

“No one is angered by the thoughts which are believed to be due to nature or chance, nor do people rebuke or teach or punish those who exhibit them, in the hope of curing them; they simply pity them.  Who would be so foolish as to treat in that way the ugly or dwarfish or weak?  Everyone knows that it is nature or chance which gives this kind of characteristics to a man, both the good and the bad.  But it is otherwise with the good qualities which are thought to be acquired through care and practice and instruction.  It is the absence of these, surely, and the presence of the corresponding vices, that call forth indignation and punishment and admonition.  Among these faults are to be put injustice and irreligion and in general everything that is contrary to civic virtue.  In this field indignation and admonition are universal, evidently because of a belief that such virtue can be acquired by taking thought or by instruction.” — Plato, Protagoras (trans. Guthrie)

Hurtled screaming into the void

The voice in “the talking french cat” came to me in a dream.  I thought of writing an entire book in that voice, but I couldn’t sustain it, then it was gone.  And would a reader really want to spend an entire book, even a slim volume, with that person and that voice?  Madness and despair grow so quickly tiresome.

I wrote the first draft of “the talking french cat” ten or eleven years ago.  It took me several more years to hammer it into shape, then Mad Hatters’ Review published it earlier this year.

Equality, entropy, and justice

“We mold the best and strongest among ourselves, catching them young like lion cubs, and by spells and incantations we make slaves of them, saying that they must be content with equality and that this is what is right and fair.  But if a man arises endowed with a nature sufficiently strong, he will, I believe, shake off all these controls, burst his fetters, and break loose.  And trampling upon our scraps of paper, our spells and incantations, and all our unnatural conventions, he rises up and reveals himself our master who was once our slave, and there shines forth nature’s true justice.” — Plato, Gorgias (trans. Woodhead)