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Pop Sugar Reading Challenge 2016: Life of the Party – Stories of a Perpetual Man Child

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I Am The Machine

Bert Kreischer is a stand-up comedian and television host who proves living vicariously through someone else can be really damn entertaining. For example, here’s a story of how he robbed a Russian train. It was part of the book, but I think hearing it helps a lot because it is the exact tone I imagined when I read the book.

As becomes apparent in this book, Bert Kreischer is a guy who developed success, solely because he is a put-together train wreck. He is the basis of Van Wilder after Rolling Stone called him the biggest party animal in the US, and he used this bump in status to climb the entertainment industry.

Egotistical Humility

What’s fascinating is that Bert manages to brag about his success, throw it in the face of a real writer (a teacher from school who was pissed Bert got a book contract based on the fact he couldn’t adult at all while the professor had worked for years to get the same), and still comes out as an endearing character. Bert, despite all his massive flaws, ends the book as a likable sweet person. While telling your life in the form of stories, you are essentially creating a detached caricature of yourself with a lot of exaggerations and bombastic qualities that may not be there.

Growing While Partying

The book ends on a really redeeming high note: Bert talking about a surgery with his daughter. It was the most real look into him as a person and father, where he was forced to put his daughter under anesthesia to have her undergo painful jaw surgery. In recovery, he meets a celebrity, casually and emphatically dropping their name, as Bert likes to do, but the story itself was more important. It shows him, despite the mountains of self-deprecating humor, as a person who has grown up and realized he has responsibilities outside of his fun, and he embraces both personas like they are nothing.

Final Rating: 5 out of 5

And that’s where the book of a stand-up party animal ends: as a journey from attention-starved childhood to the balanced responsibility of adulthood. It’s a fascinating and humorous read that flies by.
LifeoftheParty

Movie Review: Suicide Squad, or an exercise in masochism.

Suicide Squad debuted this weekend, and I, despite all logic, went see it.

Suicide Squad is the least enjoyable time I’ve had in a movie in a while. Movies like Warcraft left me bored, and sleeping, but Suicide Squad was like a constant state of pulling me along with the hope that something important and interesting will happen.
Sadly, that never happened.

The “Plot”

The movie starts off with this government type who suggests creating a group of bad people to do good things. Literally a line from the movie. Her need for this is that since Superman is dead, we need a replacement group to prevent the next super man from holding the world hostage. This decision seems super odd since we do live in a world where Batman still exists, and Wonder Woman is now a known thing.
Oddly enough, she picks random villains in prison to do this. The two stars are Deadshot, played by Will Smith, and Harley Quinn, played by Margot Robbie. The two characters get the most attention, and characterization, of the entire film. The film’s main villain the Enchantress is given a short, stilted introduction and used to show the power this group has by stealing weapons plans from Iran. The issue is she’s the only one who has close to the power to do this. Literally no one in the Suicide Squad other the El Diablo is special in the same way she is. It’s never actually made clear what this group of villains would do against another, evil Superman.
Predictably, shit goes awry when Enchantress decides to bolt.

What Characters?

Therein lines the first problem. Everyone in the Suicide Squad is special in terms of comparison to other people, except Harley Quinn. She’s just crazy and in love with the Joker.
We see her transform from Dr. Harleen Quinzel into the Joker’s love interest in the form of flashbacks, which is the majority of the movies exposition: they just show the characters past lives before Batman or someone else arrested them.
The movie is getting renowned criticism, and it definitely isn’t unjustified. I couldn’t not hear it. So, I went in with low expectations, and somehow, the movie still broke them.
The pacing is atrocious, the characterization is a joke other than Harley and Deadshot, and the actual plot is just needless.

Why So Serious?

Jared Leto’s Joker was a crime against art. It felt like he, an Oscar winner, was playing a gangster who admired The Joker instead of the Clown Prince of Crime. He has none of the humor of The Joker, none of the character, and none of the weight of the Joker. He was just a silly looking person with nothing scary or crazy. Worst still, they make him totally separate from the rest of the Squad, only sharing screen time with Harley ever, and he does some really non-Joker stuff. He dives into acid, which bleaches Harley’s skin and hair while doing nothing to him, because he’s utterly in love with her, which isn’t the Joker. The Joker was incapable of emotions like love. He used Harley’s attraction and love to get his ends, and if it bored him, he’d throw her aside.
It was little changes like this, and his shitty laughing face tattoo that he uses often to appear like he is smiling. It dawned on me the Joker actually rarely smiled in this film. He does this really odd, stilted laugh that is totally mirthless, which again, isn’t the Joker. There’s a cameo in the film wherein Batman appears, says nothing, and he feels more Batman than the Joker did despite the fact he was a major driver. The only weird Batman spot was when Bruce Wayne, during the end credits, tells Amanda Waller, played embarrassingly by Viola Davis, to “shut it down,” and his “friends will take care of it.” Ben Affleck could not have been a worse actor if he tried. It was a bizarrely poor scene overall, ending a mess of  a movie in a disappointing way.

Decisions: Do Not See in Theaters

It’s a movie that will likely be forgotten in years. It was boring, pointless, and insulting to the audience. There isn’t anything rewarding for the audience in any way, and it isn’t even so bad it’s good. It’s just bad. Maybe at home the movie would be a lot more fun, where you can walk around and get a break from the nearly constant mediocrity, but it’s an experience I have no interest in testing. Fans of the characters and people who already wanted to like this movie will. The reactions show that there is a small group who love it. Power to them. I am not in that group. I was just disappointed.

1/5

Technology Dependency

Preface

The isolation tank/flotation tank is a powerful tool, but it isn’t one that is required for any sort of psychonautical exploration. It just helps you get there with a greater sense of ease. Through this essay, I plan to show how isolating myself reduced my technology dependency and move towards a much more symbiotic relationship with all the tools I have. Feel free to explore with whatever makes you comfortable.

Technology and Infinite Sadness

Louis CK said it best: “Everything’s amazing, and nobodies happy.”

And his point isn’t wrong. Despite having everything that is amazing and makes our lives beyond anything imaginable in the past few decades, we are producing the most depressed generation. There’s a myriad of reasons why Millennials have it pretty bad. We could look at the generations that came before them and consumed at unrestrained rates that left us with very little to even work with, and then, they expect us to take jobs, they would never take. All while doing this, we are saddled with debt that they said we had to take in order to take jobs we either don’t want or have no concept of.

Despite all that, I think the issues we face as a society can be rooted in our reliance on technology. Go back 20 years ago when Internet was rudimentary. We didn’t use it much, if we even had access to it, and it was used as a tool of suspect. Now, try to do your day job without Internet. Try to go to school without it.

Bottling the Genie

This is the nature of technology, whether it was fire, the wheel, Internet, or Smart phones. These objects represent singularities in technology where, once they are known and used, they cannot be unknown. Once they are leveraged, you can’t go back on that knowledge.

I am not a nostalgic person. I think anyone who finds fondness in a lack of broad communication, digital books, and a gaggle of other things that makes our days go well are rather silly; that stuff is important to increase our standing as a society.

Where I start to become suspicious of technology is when we have gaps without it. Take a vacation where Internet isn’t available. The first day may be annoying and frustrating. Depending on the trip, be it the woods or a beach, you adapt pretty fast. By the third or fourth day, you don’t really miss it. By the time you go back to your old life, it feels… a little weird.

This is the experience I had in an isolation tank. For those who haven’t, or can’t, here’s a pretty good video that explains the tank.

After the first 20 minutes or so of unwinding, I was able to completely relax and let my thoughts take over. It was odd as I would slowly relax more and more and lose my sense of the self and my connection with the world.

Refusing to Let Go

At first, I wondered if people whom I was speaking with, had messaged me or called me. This is utterly silly; it’s only a 90-minute session! As I come out of it, insanely well rested and relaxed, I found myself disinterested in using my phone. I popped on a Psychedelic Salon podcast, particularly one on TechnoShamanism as it were, and Michael Garfield, a speaker on the topic, mentioned “we traded [the] Amazon [rainforest] for Amazon[.com].” In my relaxed and detached state, this hit me quite hard.

In that one instance, I found the path that technology allowed us to distract and detach ourselves from the immediate world. In doing this, in trying to show ourselves having experiences rather than having experiences, we are training ourselves to not address issues directly. Instead, we look at it with a detached scope, which allows us to take the position of “what is happening to make me like this,” rather than “what am I doing wrong in my thought process to approach situations with this lens?”

And, unfortunately for us, I don’t think it is totally our fault. We really had no idea what was unleashed on us.

Considering Prometheus

Prometheus was punished by the gods because he gave man fire, which he stole from Mount Olympus.

His act wasn’t one of simple benevolence; he was giving humanity a tool far more powerful than anything they could fully understand. This is why the gods punished him. As gods, they understood the full scope of his deed: fire enabled humans to discover the dark and explore. It enabled us to cook and expand our diets, and it ultimately enabled us to kill.

While Prometheus may have meant well, by introducing this technology without any limitations, he has started the descent of humanity to become reliant on technology.

And maybe that’s the meaning of this parable. That we are unable, as a finite, limited species, to fully understand the ramifications of our actions.

This is where IBM, DAARPA, Apple, Ford, Edward Jenner, Albert Einstein, Robert Oppenheimer, Bill Gates, and Elon Musk, among many others have found themselves. They have given us power and technology that we still don’t fully understand what it does to us.

When Power is Unfettered

Technology, at its core, is awesome. It enables us to do things we couldn’t do previously. We can travel the entire world in under a day. We can experience any triumph or cataclysm, live. We can experience every book, movie, or song on a single device that fits in our hands.

This is the best time to live from that front.

However, as Huxley feared in Brave New World and Bradbury cautioned in Fahrenheit 451 we are losing traction as culture takes over our lives. No longer are we living in the moment; we are capturing the moment for others to experience later. We sacrifice our experiences so others can know we experienced something. We have lost discourse and critical thought in favor of meme culture for shareability so others can pat us on the back with our wittiness.

The Obfuscation of Experience

By allowing technology to dominate the experience instead of proliferating or enhancing the experience, we have lost the reason for experience. For example, augmented reality is a very fascinating tool. It allows you to expand content without harming the story or meaning, and providing fuller context. In a pure sense, this is using technology to expand culture and art and experience. For example, the Kindle reader allows you to define every single word as you go. Previously, you’d have to read a tougher book with a dictionary or Google. This would break the experience. With having a dictionary (and even Wikipedia) on a single touch, you can understand and appreciate more without breaking your immersion. This also enables you to engage in tougher texts without fear of missing the meanings of the content.

The alternative to this is Snapchat and Instagram. Go to any concert, and you’ll see people filming individual songs and posting it to the different platforms. However, they are concerned with framing, stability, and ensuring the audio is good. They are losing the meaning of the concert venue: to celebrate the artist who created something. They are sharing it with the world for people who may never go to a concert in real life, and they are experiencing this real life event through the small, LED screen.

The reason is they want to keep their social currency in the black, and the only way to do that is to share experiences and let people appreciate the life they pretend to lead.

In this case, technology is using them to proliferate. Just like how a virus does.

Technology as a Virus

Artificial Intelligence aside, technology is stupid. It can only do a finite amount of things, and it must be designed. Just like a virus. A virus is a simple organism that isn’t considered to be a living thing. It simply proliferates itself through other mechanisms. An infection of a virus will use the host body to reproduce and spread.

Humanity is the host body in this case, and technology, through our perceived love and desire of it, rides these rails with ferocity. Moore’s Law states states “that, over the history of computing hardware, the number of transistors in a dense integrated circuit has doubled approximately every two years.” In essence, technology is growing exponentially, and this can be observed in consumer culture.

A Look Back

A decade ago, the iPhone wasn’t out. It was officially announced in January 2007, and it hit the stores in June 2007 (Today is the 9th anniversary). During its announcement, it was met with positive reactions though a lot of hesitance(http://www.charleshudson.net/initial-reaction-to-the-iphone-mildly-skeptical-but-impressed). I recall a lot of people just saw no value, and they often joked that it couldn’t make calls.

Here we are in 2016, text messaging, usually via social networks, are more prevalent than phone calls, and our devices are more powerful that computers were a few years ago. I recall buying a laptop with blazing fast 4GB of ram, and now, there’s a phone with 6GB.

This is just in the consumer electronics space too. In the government sector, we are light years ahead of this capability.

We Reproduce for Technology

This line of thinking reminds of when Kevin Kelly stated that “Humans are the reproductive organs of technology.” This phrase is so perfectly apt that it actually makes really good visual sense.

We push the boundaries of technology to keep growing, and according to Moore’s Law, we will keep growing exponentially. What this means is eventually, just by rate of growth, technology could reach sentience, or at the very least, keep us bound to it.

Right now, I challenge everyone to smash all their electronic devices without a second’s thought.

You cannot because your life is spread out through all of them. My writings are saved on hard drives and cloud storages. My games are on a computer. I don’t actually know a single phone number, other than the ones I learned before the advent of smart devices that never changed.

In a very real sense, we need technology to survive and be productive. But do we need technology to survive?

I fear the answer may be yes.

Symbiosis

Since the 90s, cell phones went from a thing no one really needed to something we cannot survive without.

Try navigating to a new place. In fact, try to find the address of that place. Your first bet will be to use Google to find the business, then switch over to Maps. Or to straight up ask Siri, if you are young enough.

This isn’t a bad thing necessarily. Humans are creatures of adaptation and evolution. We have have adapted to mutations throughout our existence. Technology, though synthetic, could be the next thing we adapt to our beings.

Technology as Boon

As technology increases, and our reliance on it does too, we could see a world where medical needs are filled by technology. My first novel actually addresses this really ham-fisted and directly by saying such technology would be leveraged to cure all illnesses, injury, hunger, thirst, and all other needs. The cool thing is this isn’t totally made up science fiction, but it’s something that is coming.

So, does my society have a parasitic relationship with technology or is it more symbiotic relationship where technology advances with humanity?

Technology is a Tool-a dumb, immensely useful tool

Therein lies the crux of all of this discourse: technology, whether as a construct itself or a virus replicating through humanity, isn’t good or bad; it is simply a tool. However, if we become a slave to this tool without rational thought or consideration, then we lose the point of technology itself: to enable us to be more productive.

Take the Kindle device. My Kindle has over 100 books on it. I can without question read every day for the rest of my life using just that device and the easy/free to get books, thanks to Amazon, the library, and other sites. As a tool to encourage children in poorer areas to read, the Kindle cannot be touched. As a device, it doesn’t offer a lot either; you simply read on it.

Convertible tablets function the same way. You achieve a great deal of productivity in a manner that was only dreamt up in science fiction. However, with the power of these devices, distractions are prevalent and powerful. Facebook and other social networks load in a full web view, allowing mobility to mix with maximum exposure. And that’s where I believe we’ll see a demarcation. Devices that get TOO powerful will enable us to do too much, and they will end up wiping out rival technology.

By working with the tools that enable us to do what we want in a manner that is conducive to the truest self, we are able to face ourselves without much distractions.

Conclusions and Moving Forward

I am not the first nor the last to write about the concept of cultural ensnarement. The beautiful thing about “truth” is that it is universal, and anyone can rediscover it with their own interpretation.

I encourage everyone to approach topics with new lenses. When something makes you innately comfortable, question that, and try to find a new perspective. I am a technophile and a tech advocate, but by taking a step back, I have a better understanding of how technology has hampered me from exploring my mind and surroundings in honest ways.

I don’t say all this to dissuade the use of technology. I believe this is the error of cultural creation. We can create our own podcasts, TV networks, book platforms, and other things that strongly interest us, and we should. Terence McKenna said it best, as I often quote, “We have to stop consuming our culture. We have to create culture.”

And while that’s important, I think consuming art and experiences is important to humanity, but the crux of it all is to actually experience it in real time. Share ideas with your friends and family that interest you. Stop allowing the architects of culture to have a free monologue with you. Make everything a dialog. Find something that’ll inspire you to create. Several of my writing projects started simply because I was so excited by something else, I had to channel it into a creative outlet.

Once you own your experience and boot out everything that tries to live rent free in your head, then you are ready to take control of what is really yours:

Yourself

Further Consumption

  1. Psychedelic Salon: Episode 508 – Technoshamanism – https://psychedelicsalon.com/podcast-508-techno-shamanism/
  2. /r/Psychonaut – http://www.reddit.com/r/psychonaut
  3. Branded – https://play.google.com/store/movies/details/Branded_2010?id=vGZ8F_t7XxY
  4. Dreamviews – http://www.dreamviews.com

Sources

  • https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/392909-humans-are-the-reproductive-organs-of-technology
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edward_Jenner
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prometheus#Myths_and_legends
  • http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/are-viruses-alive-2004/
  • https://www.google.com/search?q=moore%27s+law&oq=moore%27s+law&aqs=chrome..69i57j0l5.1329j0j7&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IPhone

Pop Sugar Reading Challenge 2016: Graveyard of Empires

Graveyard of Empires by Lincoln Cole

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As an indie writer, it would be really selfish of me to not check out my peers’ work. I was gifted this book in exchange for an honest review.

To preface, indie ranges across many concepts. One thing that is just not easy is editing. I’ll address this super briefly because my book is as guilty of it. This book has a lot of editing issues. Missing commas, misspelled names (Jayson as Jason), misused words, etc. are pretty common. Those don’t bother me too much because I understand the cost to get an editor, and the likelihood of a return on that value is very small. For some readers, this needs to be noted because there are some rough sentences every now and then. The most glaring instance of this is actually in the epilogue, where Jayson, a character that appears in a few chapters is mysteriously renamed Jason. Also, in the final chapter, a few dialogue tags are off, so the wrong character says thing. Minor but jarring.

Other issues do exist. Some plots are very half-baked, either in terms of plotting or characterization or details. So, you’ll read a lot of action without much anchoring to the world. I think it’s the nature of the genre of space opera that requires many story lines to come up and connect. As such, the action is very fast, the characters are very shallow, and the dialogue is very terse.

My final issue is the jumping around. First person is used randomly, to indicate thoughts, with no typography changes. It’d be nice to see italics or something like that. Also, I think rather than having each chapter for a story line, the story lines should be lumped together and resolved separately, like a collection of novellas. If there is any cross over, that’s fine, but don’t make it so jarring in jumps. Jayson’s story line, for example, is only about 3 or 4 chapters, but they are meaty ones with a lot of space between. The result? You lose details between the breaks. Same with Darius’ story line. Had all these been collated, with a solid beginning, middle, and end, I think it would have read a lot easier.

The biggest issue that knocked my score down was the ending. While I understand this is setting up for a series, as a writer of a series, I know that no matter what, each episode must be self-contained experiences. In the end of this book… not much happens overall: the civil war is still, mostly a cold war, a pawn of the empire has been used, and soldiers are starting to be positioned for the maximum gain, but none of that feels really worthy of telling. I think this is where a short story anthology approach would have been more worth while. Giving vignettes instead of a novel of ideas would have let ideas breathe and try their own thing.

All that negativity aside, the world built here is fun and exciting. Lincoln does an excellent job giving life to planets, space stations, and characters. His characters are, when fully baked, very fun and unique. Abdullah and Vivian in particular are really solid, real feeling characters. Maven, not so much, appearing like a shade of Darth Vader rather than some sort of homage. The action is fascinating, especially when students are brought to the academy, and I think Lincoln could do a full-fledged battle scene with a lot of deftness.

For a story with so many story lines that are developing separately, I think Lincoln has a great grasp of trying to say something of value. Too often writers get stuck with the neat story or something like that, forgetting that a story should be the transmission of a message.

Graveyard of Empires is a really fun read overall. The beginning is slow, but once you meet the real cast of characters it starts to speed up a lot. For its value, I’d recommend it as a good weekend read.

3/5 – Graveyard of Empires is a fun space opera that has a lot of clever ideas. I think the approach was a bit too much of a wide net to deliver perfectly, but what is there is pretty solid overall. At $4, you’ll get more than your entertainment’s worth.

Graveyard

Pop Sugar Reading Challenge 2016: Ghost Story

 

Ghost Story by Jim Butcher

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This book review may be a bit of a softball. Amazon lists the book at 608 pages, which is just over the requirement for my Pop Sugar Reading Challenge for 2016. This worked out super well because I left Changes, book 12 of The Dresden Files, craving the next part.

Here we go; there will be spoilers.

Book 13 in The Dresden Files proves something I assumed since the very beginning – Jim Butcher HATES Harry Dresden. Like a lot. Like he fucking kills him at the end of Book 12 a lot.

Book 12, once again named Changes, is filled with a lot of twists. It opens with Harry learning he has a daughter. His ex/half-vampire was hiding his eight-year-old daughter from him. She’s kidnapped by other vampires as a revenge plot. Harry, through story stuff, takes a deal that utterly screws him in with the ever-present Sidhe. Those are big changes.

But the book ends with Harry getting sniped and dying.

Ghost Story picks up right after all that. Dresden is dead, and he is now a shade of his former self without magic to help him out. Knowing what we know of Dresden, he thinks he needs magic a lot, though this book seems to work hard to show he is more than that.

Other than some well-bread crumbed Deus Ex Machina, the book is a solid romp in a magicless world of ghosts. Because he’s a ghost, we get to see more of Dresden’s past under his psychotic tutor, and because he’s been dead for a few months, we get to see a world that has to deal without a Harry Dresden.

This book seems like a long asked question: Was Harry special or were all his enemies just really weak? In his flashback battle with He Who Walks Behind as well as his ability to resurrect, we learn very quickly that Dresden is a special mold with a lot of innate power. In his absence, several new players have entered Chicago with the sole goal of destroying as much as possible and seizing as much power as they can.

We see one instance of this in microcosm when Dresden finds a gang of teenagers, crippled under the power of a cult leader. The homeless leader isn’t that powerful overall, but when someone has ANY power and abuses it, he can make the weak, especially children, tools of his machinations.

Dresden, with his mortal friends, beat the cult leader, and together, they begin to learn of the greater plots at play here. Throughout the developing story, Harry, normally a headstrong charging bull, is a shown to mature significantly. Because he cannot help his friends with anything but his brain, a tool shown often as more powerful than any of his magic, we see a far more clever and visceral approach to problems.

The end though, we get a painful revelation: Harry, paralyzed in Changes, makes a deal with Queen Mab of the Sidhe Court to become her Winter Knight. She heals him to fight the Red Court. However, before he does that, Harry hires a hitman to kill him, knowing that Mab would use his daughter to control him.  This self-assassination is orchestrated with the aid of his protégé, Molly. After he dies (and she removes all memory of the plot), Molly spirals into self-guilt.

This is where Jim Butcher’s plotting and characterization shine. Harry has been on a long trek towards oblivion. Starting around Book 4, Harry began playing with powers far greater than he understood in the name of defending people he cared about. While honorable, he was quite literally burning himself out. Whether it was the use of the Shade of a Fallen Angel or the gift of soulfire, which was burning away his own life, Dresden did it without much thought. He had to save the people he cared about first, and he’d fix himself afterwards.

Dying was the only thing left for Dresden to do, especially after becoming Mab’s servant. His entire persona is defined by his desire to help others even at his own expense. In this book, Dresden manifests himself, using his own waning power to do so at great personal risk, just so he can save the people he said he would.

Herein lies my love of Harry Dresden and the Dresden Files: In 13 books, the character has changed drastically. The most important thing though is his change towards something organic. As he pushes himself to kill these insurmountable enemies, learning new things along the way, he does it in ways that make sense and don’t feel like we are being cheated as readers.

The closest we came to that in this book was in the final chapter where Harry agrees to finally die and move on. However, he is quickly resurrected. It turns out Queen Mab and Demonsreach, a entity introduced in Book 10, Simple Favor, have combined their needs to resurrect Harry, needing him to let go of his spirit so they could summon it.

The book ends with Harry totally at Mab’s mercy, which is going to create a heavy, compelling ride.

If you are curious about reading this book that means you’ve read the last 12. That’s a lot of time to give up now, and if you are still reading, you know what you like. This book pushes the Dresden story even further, and I couldn’t be happier. Thanks to the work of Jim Butcher, he made this book review nothing too complicated.

5/5 – The mark of a good series is when each book adds more to the overall story while satisfying long term readers. This book does that in spades.

GhostStory

Pop Sugar Reading Challenge 2016: Transcendental Studies ( + HOWL)

Poetry is one of those pretentious things we like to pretend we enjoy until we actually engage in it. Some is very good. Some… we pretend it is. I present two poetry books, which incidentally fit into two categories on my reading list. Let’s knock these bitches out.

Transcendental Studies by Keith Waldrop

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Keith Waldrop is considered a brilliant avant-garde poet of the modern era. Reading his stuff and understanding how he writes, it’s easy to see he has skills with words and imagery. Unfortunately, the book Transcendental Studies is a complete waste of time.

Finishing the first part, I. Shipwreck in Haven, I had no clue what was going on. It was just words to me, and it didn’t really make sense. I studied poetry in school, I’ve written some that has received some good response. So, to a degree, I get poetry. But, I just didn’t get this. Why?

I took to Google, and I learned why: Because there is absolutely no God damn point. In his own words, Keith Waldrop says:

What I write down is a kind of script for something that sounds. I find people often don’t read it that way. They have a hard time translating from lines on a page to. . .part of this is the way poetry is taught in schools and such. You get a poem and you’re supposed to figure out what it means. Once you know what it means, you throw the poem away because you have the meaning. That is the destruction of poetry. I want the words to remain and if people don’t know the meaning of them I don’t think that’s as bad as losing the sound.

– Keith Waldrop, March 2010

Okay… so the words don’t mean anything per se, but their sounds are what matters. Creating a tapestry of linguistics. Sure. I buy that. It is a bit annoying, I guess, but it is experimental poetry. Let’s roll with that.

Then, in that same article, Keith Waldrop proves he really doesn’t give a shit about art; he just wants to make things, no matter their value.

I put three books in front of me, all prose, a novel, then something psychological, then whatever I happened to have around. I would take phrases from these three books and make some stanzas, four, five six lines. Once I had that I’d make more stanzas of the same number of lines, and when that gave out, after a page or two, I’d say alright I have this poem now and I would take it to the typewriter and type it up and in doing so I would rearrange the stanzas alphabetically.

This is where I lost any semblance of respect for Waldrop as an author. Later in the article, he notes that he instructs translators to do the same thing. If you know a thing or two about other languages, you can understand and appreciate how much this fucks up the concept of a poem. “With” in English is “Avec” in French, “Con” in Spanish, and “Mit” in German. In all three translations, the placing of a stanza starting with “With” moves dramatically across the poem.

This is where I become extremely bothered by the non-art movement. I may come off as a classicist, but I respect contributions that move art beyond the old contrivances. I think ABAB poetry has probably been fully explored and realized, and I find value in free verse, but this – this is spray painting random dots on a wall and calling it art. Quite literally, anyone can do this. Computers do this now. When I was unemployed, I had to write articles that were clearly defined paragraphs, all self-contained. I was paid to write these articles, generic as can be, and then, they went into a machine where they paragraphs were re-arranged as many times as possible. A 5-paragraph article I wrote would generate dozens of articles with the same content, re-arranged. Look around the web, and you will see these.

What irks me about this style of poetry is it takes out the effort of creation and art. Today, there is so much content that can entertain us. Like to read? Check out Kindle Unlimited, Smashwords, your local library, and a myriad of other smaller sites. You’ll have more cheap or free books than you can understand. Like music? TONS of services exist to stream them to you for cheap. Same with movies. Same with TV.

We are no longer at a drought of content; we are in a massive surplus. But that shouldn’t ever stop new writers, painters, musicians, speakers, and animators from creating more. If anything it should inspire you to find new avenues. My novel, for example, isn’t a new concept or anything. I’ve even seen books come out that are far successful than my own that are scary close to my own ideas. And that doesn’t matter. Every voice will be different. It used to be that we hoped for a book that would answer everything for us; like Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Since Douglas Adams and Terry Prachett have died, we have been longing to fill those gaps. Now, there are tons of people like those in other genres and examples.

Transcendental Studies takes all the pride artists should have. By making something so utterly devoid of artist merit, by his own words at least, Waldrop has devalued the power and value of poetry. This is not how to contribute to the culture; this is how you retain the old system of publishers saying what has merit rather than letting the consumers enjoy everything and filter things out themselves.

Maybe it just isn’t my thing.

0/5 – This book has no merit and nothing was really gained from this experience.

Transcend

Fortunately, I had another poetry book that worked out a lot better for me.

HOWL – Allen Ginsberg and Eric Drooker

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Howl is a ground-breaking poem by American Beat poet Allen Ginsberg. I am not using the term ground-breaking lightly; the guy straight up changed how obscenity laws work in terms of art. Ginsberg was ballsy as Hell. He wrote a poem that covered sexual acts, many of which were illegal due to sodomy laws, and ousted himself as a homosexual in a time when that was grounds to blacklist him.

He didn’t care; he proved through his experiences and life that he was just really into pushing away the concept of censorship in favor of artistic freedom. That’s a rare act for a literary figure, and he stuck to his guns despite threats of losing his job and livelihood and possibly freedom.

Howl shows what true art can do: it contributes to the cultural vocabulary and arms us all with the ability to combat attacks on our freedom, thoughts, and beliefs. I am a strong advocate doing whatever you want as long as you don’t trod on someone else’s freedom. Language is just a vocalization of thoughts. As George Carlin said, there’s no bad words. We need to not fear the concepts that other people enjoy. A late trend is people posting endless memes of “I wish everyone would stop being offended all the time.” These vapid repostings are as insipid as censorship because they simply mean they wish you wouldn’t talk about something that they happen to value, or are neutral too, but I guarantee that if they have any spine or conviction on any topic, you could offend them.

As you should, offending someone is butting against a core tenet of their lives. I am an advocate for mental health awareness and treating people openly, and I take a lot of offense to the handwaving and eye rolling towards mental illness because it is a very important topic. If I lack these, then I am just a husk that parrots whatever the drivers of my beliefs tell me to.

Howl, way back in the 50s, fought that. And here we are.

The actual book I read was fantastic. Eric Drooker illustrated Howl, which contains 4 parts – Who, Moloch, Rockland, and a Footnote to Howl. The overarching theme of the poems is the lament of the lost youth, who are disaffected by the crushing drudgery of life, industrialization, pharmacology (or medicine in general), and their attempts to break free, though not without scars. Despite being completed in 1957, the series creates a perfect summary of the world today and tomorrow, and every generation.

This book is phenomenal in art and the words are still fascinating and shocking. It’s a great book that needs to be read by everyone at least once.

5/5 – It was a game-changer in the 50s, and now, it resonates with no signs of aging.

Howl

References

  1. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/john-lundberg/a-big-win-for-experimenta_b_365671.html
  2. http://www.firstamendmentcenter.org/%E2%80%98howl%E2%80%99-obscenity-prosecution-still-echoes-50-years-later
  3. http://www.wired.com/2015/03/future-news-robots-writing-audiences-one/

Pop Sugar Reading Challenge 2016: Darker Shade of Magic

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As a writer, I know story ideas are hard. So much of literature has already been covered by other writers, that it is hard to pave new arenas. Enter: A Darker Shade of Magic.

The concept of the novel is very fascinating: There are 4 worlds: Red, White, Grey, and Black, though Black is dead now. A magician named Kell is a powerful sorcerer capable of traversing these three worlds. Because of his unique ability, he likes to smuggle things between worlds, which creates the premise of this story when he accidentally smuggles more than he intended.

Right out the gate, the world building is excellent. The first few sections kept me hooked with how detailed the world was and how the operate like little separate machines.

The problem with this book is the characters. None of them really feel alive, and most of the time, their fortune seems rushed rather than based on character and plot considerations. The climax of the story has Kell basically rushing through the motions as if they author knew where she wanted to start, and sorta how she wanted to end, but had no idea or concern of the middle stuff. It took me a LONG time to read this, simply because it never found its rhythm until section 10 of 14. By then, I was finally engaged enough to keep pushing through, but the story always felt like it was in second gear.

Worst of all, the book takes very few risks in building a cogent universe. Kell and Lila basically lose very little throughout the story, and it gives them little motivation to act other than not to die. Also, Kell’s masters feel like cardboard cut-outs whereas his prince, Rhy, feels like a real character.

Overall, the book isn’t really bad. It has a lot of potential with world building, and I hope the inevitable sequel takes more risks. While I hate to compare books, I think someone like Jim Butcher with his Dresden Files, a series I feel like he thoroughly hates because of how much turmoil he puts Dresden under, would have done far better at making this book stick. In the end, nothing felt of much consequence despite the far-reaching story line built up.

Give it a read, but don’t expect to be wowed.

3/5 – Good but not great or groundbreaking. Don’t rush or break the bank to read this book.

I started this book before 2016, but since it all takes place inside of many London’s, it fits my “A Book on an Island” challenge.

Darker

App Review: Lucidity for Android

Lucidity by Christopher Benz

Lucidity is a Dream journaling mobile app by X. The purpose of the app is rather simple: provide an easy, clean way to document your dreams. In addition to that functionality, Lucidity also allows for tagging your dreams as well.

Why would anyone want to record their dreams? Dreams are usually silly randomness that rarely have much value, right?

Historically, no. In many cultures before the proliferation and spread of Catholicism, dreams were considered an integral part of every day life. They provided insight into the psyche, ideas for problems, solutions for health issues, and even, in some circles, visions of the future.

Lucidity, as the name implies, is all about achieving lucid dreaming states and re-established the trust and respect in dreams by showing interest in them. As you record dreams, or even just attempt to record them, you’ll remember more. At periods of practice, I remember anywhere between 5 to 7 dreams a night.

Lucidity does this by not only allowing you to record your dreams, but it also has tools to achieve lucidity, including All Day Awareness prompts, analytics on your dreams, and the ability to record dream signs based on an analysis of your dreams, culling all the key words. Lucidity is an example of an app that does things well. I have used a lot of lucid dreaming apps, and they all just seem to miss the mark. Either they’ll go too far or not far enough. The app even includes a wiki to explain some of the concepts it offers (like All Day Awareness). The one improvement I’d like is integration with Pebble to send random triggers for reality checks and possibly use the Pebble Time to record your dreams too with the pretty good microphone, or if the app could integrate with Sleep As Android or the Pebble sleep tracking to help record your sleep patterns on nights of the best dreams. I purchased the Premium unlock for $4.20 from the Google Play Store. It’s well worth it.

en-play-badge

Pop Sugar Reading Challenge 2016: Broodhollow

I like to read. A lot.

However, I am very easily distracted, and if I feel like I am hitting a wall, I will stop a book and do something else. I also read painfully slow.

In the past few years, I wanted to increase my reading speeds, and this year, I found the best way to do that: Pop Sugar’s Annual Reading Challenge.

For 2016, there are about 40 categories of books to read from. Some are pretty easy, such as the graphic novel, books under 150 pages, or something you can read in a day, but others are rough. My goal is to do as many as I can before December 31st.

In order to make this even more interesting, I plan to do a detailed review of each book. I have no expectation of finishing all forty books, but I hope I can at least give the authors I do manage to read some review points. Here’s the first one.

Broodhollow

A Graphic Novel: Broodhollow

Broodhollow is a web comic by Kris Straus. It’s drawn like the classic comics of Peanuts, Beetle Bailey, and Dilbert only to cross into Lovecraftian horrors. This book is titled Broodhollow: A Curious Little Thing, and it is a collection of the first chapter in the web series.

The story follows Wadsworth Zane, a failed encyclopedia salesman during the depression. Zane is a nervous fellow who has severe OCD in order to preserve “The Pattern,” a construct that he believes keeps bad things out of his life. All of his luck seems to change when he receives a letter telling him his great uncle has died, and he is to claim an inheritance. However, the inheritance is in the town of Broodhollow, a town with a thousand holidays.

Wadsworth starts experiencing paranormal encounters before he gets to Broodhollow, but once he does, everything intensifies.

The book is fantastic. Period. I paid about $8 for it, and I am craving more from the author. I wish book 2 was already in digital format as well as book 3, but until then, I’ll wait patiently. The designs are really well done, the plot line is easy to follow, and the story is extremely compelling. You feel yourself falling into Wadsworth paranoid thinking very quickly.

Buy this book now at http://shop.chainsawsuit.com/collections/broodhollow/products/broodhollow-curious-little-thing-digital-edition.

One down.

Broodhollow

On Christmas

Christmas is that weird time of the year where everyone suddenly becomes super focused on family despite ignoring them. To this point, so few people are traveling outside of the US, most sites will recommend going abroad (http://www.priceoftravel.com/1702/18-cheap-destinations-with-great-weather-in-december/).

It’s no wonder that Christmas is a stressful time. While a persistent myth exists that suicides are more common during the holidays, it cannot be denied that stress it at an all time high as people figure out gifts, end their year of work, work on trips, and deal with family (http://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/suicide/holiday.html). So, what is a secular person with no material desire to do? The simple answer is to live.

In the past few years, we have seen an interesting trend towards minimalistic living. Single-use devices are on the rise, like the Kindle, which allows you just to read a book. The franchises are failing in favor of local businesses. Even McDonald’s, a megalithic fast food giant, is starting to see a downturn where dozens of restaurants are closing. This is in contrast to the stark rise in local businesses booming.

So, what is the correlation between Christmas and this minimalized living? Consumerism is on the decline. For me, I learn that I am less about getting gifts for various holidays, and more about spending that time to do stuff I couldn’t with the stuff I already have. It helps too that many of products today are moving towards a digital layout. Books are readily available for cheap or free. What use to take some time to figure out where to go next, can literally be “Oh, this sounds nice,” and it is added to your device, and you can start reading. Thanks to sites like reddit.com/r/freeebooks and Amazon sales, I have over 100 books on my Kindle, not even including library books for which I am in queue. Even if each book took me only a week to read (and I read slow), I am looking at nearly two years of straight reading, and it is all contained on one device. That’s awesome!

I’m sure this mentality all comes from my growing age. As I exit my twenties, possessions are less valuable. However, it cannot be ignored that this is culturally growing trend. We have unlimited content for low prices. We can watch thousands of hours of movies and TV shows, as we want, for about $10 a month on Netflix. We can listen to really high quality content via podcasts for free. All this creates a devaluation of buying new things.

I don’t mean to dismiss the needs for gift-giving and receiving. A lot of people like to pretend they don’t care about that and just want family time for Christmas, but everyone who isn’t lying to themselves know that to be untrue.

For the holidays, enjoy yourself however feels natural, but most importantly, try to enjoy life. Your kids will love whatever they get, and if you use it with them, they’ll love it more. You’ll appreciate whatever you get but only if you use it. Scale down your lists, and try to just find time to enjoy other people.

And, grab a Starbucks, because while they are a corporation I don’t feel much for, their stance of showing no holiday imagery, while probably just a benign cost saving thing, is kinda cool because you can do whatever you want with the blank canvas.

And that’s a really cool gift.

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