lost time incident 13
This week, I’m getting a head start on the newsletter because tomorrow I turn 40. I’ve taken this week off from work and have already successfully frittered away most of my time. I’ve streamed myself playing video games and had friends join virtually. I’ve looked at recordings of those games and edited out video highlights I thought were entertaining. I’ve learned how to add closed captioning via YouTube’s interface. Took macro photos of interesting comic book panels like the one above. I watched Tarantino’s most recent film while my wife slept. Cleaned out a closet. Pruned the ol’ CD collection.
Drank lots of coffee. Wore socks and sandals.
The transition to old man is coming along smoothly.
I still find myself petting my moustache as if surprised my face can support such a thing. So many years were spent as a smooth faced softboy. Don’t get me wrong. I’m still soft. Just slightly more hairy now. A few of these beard hairs look suspiciously gray as well.
Every birthday I’ve muttered about growing old, worried in the abstract about how little time is left, and there have always been folks around telling me not to worry about it. This time around, it’s folks who are 20 years older than me who’ve been telling me that 40 is significant, sure, but it’s 60 that’s really tricky.
Do I find it hard to believe that I’m old enough to have held down the same job for almost a decade? That I’ve been partnered up with my wife for almost two decades? The distance between who I am today and who I was a decade or two back seems small. It doesn’t feel like that long ago. Which makes me suspect the next two decades that may bring me to 60 could feel as brief as 20 paired inhalations and exhalations of breath, if and when they happen.
Or we won’t.
Ignore what that 39 year old idiot wrote. 40 is the worst. Coffee’s not working anymore. I’m just eating AA batteries by the fistful as my heart turns somersaults, trying to get free of its ribcage prison. My memory is shot full of holes. No one was ever meant to live this long. If I close my eyes, I can hear the songs of stars, screaming out matter and energy into a giant cold universe as fast as they can to just get it over with and it gets harder and harder not to scream along.
My bones creak and I have to soak in a mineral bath just to lure the minerals back into me, to shore up the cell walls of the bones that are barely holding my marrow in and keeping this wobbly frame upright.
Oh, you 60 year olds. You could have warned me. What are you still hiding? What trap am I running into, full tilt, merely by waking up every morning?
the future, but for kids
Amanda and I tried watching an old television show from the late 70s called “Jason of Star Command.” After STAR WARS made a ton of money, some goofs pooled the change from their sofa cushions and decided to make a TV show set in space to capitalize on the trend. They picked their starring actor for his haircut, not for his ability to react to anything around him. Jason’s space-sidekick is a guy with Larry Fine hair and eyebrows that might indicate that he’s an alien, but who knows. He’s supposed to be comic relief, but is walking into a dangling mobile in your lab several times in the same scene funny? Maybe in the distant future of Star Command. It’s not funny for us yet, because we’re still here in the past.
Because all kids’ TV is about selling toys, Jason— our not-Han Solo-hero— is given a fist-sized robot companion that he can carry in his belt pouch. The robot is called W.1.K.1 (pronounced “wiki”). This robot has, for real, the same feet you’ve seen all your life on cheap wind-up toys. The kind with the rods that stick out front and back for balance, like this one has:
Here’s Jason talking to the robot, probably in a condescending fashion:
W.1.K.1, like R2D2, spoke in a series of bleeps and bloops, which left me free to imagine that everything he said was screamed invective at his fellow crew members for not being able to do things as well as a robot. Sometimes shouting at the TV, pretending to be a robot, is a valid defense mechanism against substandard entertainment.
HUMAN! SHIELD YOUR STUPID LIQUID EYES! I’M GOING TO USE MY LASER TO FUSE THE DOOR CLOSED TO SAVE YOUR LIFE, AS— FOR SOME REASON— YOU’VE DECIDED TO LIVE IN SPACE, AN ENVIRONMENT THAT WILL KILL YOU INSTANTLY. NOT ME, THOUGH. I’D BE ABLE TO LIVE HERE JUST FINE, AMONG YOUR HUMAN CORPSES.
DO NOT LOOK INTO THE LASER! GO STAND IN A CORNER AND LOOK AT THE CORNER UNTIL I’M DONE!
IF YOUR EYES MELT IT WILL NOT BE MY FAULT!
Anyway. Don’t watch that show. It’s awful. And it doesn’t actually have a furious robot.
enter: the expert | exit: the expert
Jordan realized that his new home had issues when a skeleton-handed creature lifted him out of bed, bounced him off several walls of the main hallway, then rolled him down a flight of stairs towards the front door.
He remained on the ground, waiting for all quadrants of his body to check in. He had to wait to see if the overwhelming body-wide ache was going to sharpen anywhere and highlight a broken bone in addition to what he assumed was going to be a record-breaking amount of bruising. Then the front door opened.
“Okay okay,” said the individual walking uninvited into Jordan’s home. “Let’s see what we’ve got.” The man was dressed in sneakers, sweats, and a hoodie, his hands holding a UV flashlight and a wristlet composed of string, prayer beads and a small bell.
“Can I help you?” croaked Jordan from the floor.
The hoodie-wearing man looked down and jumped. “Whoah! I didn’t see you there, man. No, I’m good. Just wanted to poke my head in to check out this haunted house, you know? Lots of bad energy here. Probably at least a few Type S apparitions, maybe a haint barrow or something. Hard to tell out on the front lawn, so I figured I’d come take a look.”
“I live here,” said Jordan. “The front door was locked.”
“That’s not important. You should probably leave. I’ll be leaving shortly. We should leave together.”
[I’m too lazy to actually write this scene out. It doesn’t interest me, this conversation, this slow establishment of characters. The seed of the idea was this: It’s a very common trope that one character in a story will get into a mess and they’re ignorant about its source. Then, along comes an expert character who knows all about everything. Sometimes they take on the ignorant character as a mentor, and sometimes they want nothing to do with the trouble, but eventually realize they’re the only person who can help the ignorant character. It’s boring. I wanted to imagine an expert character for a supernatural setting who has studied the dark arts, but only for the express purpose of avoiding them. He wants nothing to do with the main character’s problems and has enough wisdom to actually leave. He shows up, identifies the supernatural obstacles, and then declares it’s none of his business and sticks to it.]
“Here, put this charm on. Perfect. Now it can’t enter the foyer. You’re safe so long as you don’t— you just smudged the writing off. Don’t worry, I have a second charm. Put it on, quick-quick-quick!”
“You want my advice? Sell the house. Move to another state. It’s not going to follow you. It’s stuck in that house. You’re not.”
“Well, according to the bank, I’m stuck there for a few decades until it’s paid off.”
[Our occult expert, Lemaine, just wants to get on with his day and have nothing more to do with spirits that might endanger life and limb. Jordan, our ignorant character, follows him back to his car.]
“Look, man,” said Lemaine. “Like I said, I just wanted to get a look at the house. Now I gotta go pick up my daughter at my ex-wife’s house.”
“Let me come with you,” said Jordan. “I need to know why that thing grabbed me… where it comes from, what it means…”
“My car’s only got two seats,” said Lemaine, as Jordan followed him to the street. “You can come along, but once I reach my ex’s place, you’re getting out because my daughter is going to sit there.”
“I’m not interested in exorcising your house. Why would I do that? You said you got thrown down stairs. Do you think I’m immune to stairs?”
[The problem, I suppose, is that the narrative is stuck with the ignorant character if the expert character refuses to be involved. What’s the ignorant character to do? Go off and study the occult themselves? Find a rival occultist who can help?]
Lemaine sighed. “Look. It’s none of my business. But I don’t know of any successful exorcists who use scented candles. I saw them in your guy’s bag. Vanilla scented. Said “Yankee Candle Company” right on the label. I’m going to watch from this side of the street, but … those guys were not a good investment. One of ’em’s probably going to die. Anyway, good luck!”
[This was much funnier in my head.]
[image courtesy of AJ Summers]
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ending theme song
Earlier today, before settling down to write, I read a science article about a new theory of mind. In it, our subconscious mind is constantly doing a lot of data-crunching to interpret the world around us, then translating all the input we take into an experience for the conscious mind that feels uninterrupted and directly connected to the world around us, but there’s a delay of maybe 400 milliseconds while that data is interpreted.
Yet we can catch a tennis ball thrown at us, despite being on a tiny tape delay from reality. Perhaps in part because it’s the subconscious mind that’s managing all the math involved in tracing the ball’s arc, getting our hand to the right spot, and then allowing our conscious mind to take credit for the catch after the fact.
I’ve always found this a fascinating metaphor. That the “self” we think of as “us,” our personality, our primal experience of the world… is a fiction. This meat ship we’re in for the most part gets on just fine without our help. The heart beats. Lungs breathe. Food is digested. If an unseen dog lunges at us, catching us by surprise, we find ourselves leaping out of the way before our conscious mind is even aware of what’s happening.
I don’t know. I think it can be comforting, to realize that what you’re experiencing is a fiction. That what you think of as “you” is possibly a side effect of what your body wants to accomplish. At some point, the conscious mind came into existence because it’s good at puzzles. It can think about the future. It can use language and technology and build civilizations. But it’s a hitchhiker. All the maintenance stuff happens without us.
I should have bookmarked that article. No idea where it was from. Came and went.
Just like these words.
Here we go…
–Michael Van Vleet