Feral Atlas 04/16/21

Today I’d like to bring attention to one of the coolest projects I’ve seen in quite some time. It’s called Feral Atlas, and it is the brainchild of Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing, the author of one of the most important works of anthropology in recent memory, The Mushroom at the End of the World.

“Every event in human history has been a more-than-human event. When hunter-gatherers burn the land, they cooperate with herbs that seed quickly and grasses that sprout after fires, attracting game. Inside us, intestinal bacteria make it possible for us to digest our food. Other things, living and nonliving, make it possible to be human. Yet powerful habits of thought over the last centuries have made this statement less than obvious. With the arrival of the idea of the Anthropocene, we move away from such thinking to reconsider how human and nonhuman histories are inextricably intertwined.

Convening over one hundred researchers to trace a whole range of such intertwinements, Feral Atlas offers an original and playful approach to studying the Anthropocene. Focused on the world’s feral reactions to human intervention, the editors explore the structures and qualities that lie at the heart of the feral and make the phenomenon possible. This publication features original contributions by high-profile artists, humanists and scientists such as Amitav Ghosh, Elizabeth Fenn, Simon Lewis, Mark Maslin, and many others.”

https://www.sup.org/books/title/?id=30693

Feral Atlas is one of the most unusual book projects that I have seen or been a part of (it includes my “field report” about colonial era sewer rats in Hanoi). It is a digital book published by Stanford University Press in 2020 and can be accessed for free here

Exploring Feral Atlas is like taking a walk on the wild side as there is no structured or required way to enter into its various conversations. Instead, you are invited to explore at your own risk. There are luminary essays by Sven Beckert, Amitav Ghosh, Gabrielle Hecht, Karen Ho, Simon L. Lewis and Mark A. Maslin, David M. Richardson, and Will Steffen; field reports by dozens of scholars from the humanities and sciences; and art ranging from video to poetry to music. Informative and thought-provoking, alternately humorous and emotionally gut wrenching, and provocative in both form and content, Feral Atlas invites you to go wild.”

https://newbooksnetwork.com/feral-atlas

Here’s the introductory video:

This project, a curious, searching combination of academic rigor, aesthetic beauty, and troubling contradictions is exactly the kind of attitude necessary to confront the future of ecology. The alternative, of course, is the incoming CNN news cycle. They’re gearing up to scare the piss out of you 24/7, same as they did with the virus:

I’m not really concerned with large news organizations’ ability to influence who gets elected to the presidency, which is obviously the focus of this very obviously conservative Boomer video. Instead, I want to focus on their ability to create a completely unproductive aura of fear around climate change that leads to large government interference, instead of cultivate a personal, local curiosity.

In the video, CNN’s Technical Director (who seems to really believe in what he’s doing, for what that’s worth) says that CNN’s next “target” after the COVID coverage (which he says people are becoming “fatigued” by) will be climate change. This means 24/7 coverage of ice caps melting, every possible disaster you can think of blared across the screen constantly. This will undoubtedly lead to a populace so fully terrified that we’ll be through to the other side, the technocratic boot will fully stamp down and we’ll be in the panopticon, etc. etc. Doesn’t seem to be much we can do about it at this point.

However, a good preparation for this, I think, is to spend some time here with Tsing et al’s website. To really cultivate a healthy, generative relationship to ecological disaster. It is looming, and it is a big issue, but we’re not going to do anything about it by applying the same response that we did to COVID, ie “I’m going to hide in my home while poor people deliver me food.”

Now isn’t the time to hide from this stuff. It’s time to engage with it. And I think Feral Atlas is a great first step, a uniquely designed website packed with information that can help us understand the interconnectedness of things, our response-ability within those connections, and how to think with climate change, and how to approach more-than-human interaction.

Have fun!

Censorship is Good, Actually 04/15/21

Let’s look at the case of Whitney Webb’s Patreon account. Webb is a journalist. An actual journalist, someone who researches her subjects deeply. She tends to focus on high-level corporate conspiracy, everything from Big Pharma to Jeffrey Epstein. It’s fascinating reading, and she’s one of the few journalists out there bold enough to write stories that aren’t shit like “10 Ways I Am Exactly Like This Box Turtle” or “Parking Tickets are Racist.”

As far as I understand it, Webb got in trouble for linking to an article (on her personal website, not Patreon) that detailed some of the issues involved with the AstraZeneca vaccine, namely that its safety trials were less than above-board, and that AZ has ties to the Galton Institute, an organization that until 1989 actually called itself a “eugenics research” organization.

This is all true. It’s all documented. And, more importantly, it’s not on Patreon itself. So the dorks at their Ministry of Information send Webb a warning. Take the article down from her personal website, or they’ll shut down her account.

When she asks them to point out where the “disinformation” can be located in the linked article, they tell her there isn’t any. They tell her it’s not that the article is wrong or inaccurate, but that it might lead some people to get cold feet around receiving a vaccine.

We are now at a point where you can’t even post factual information if that information does not lead to a desired outcome.

This leads me back to what I was talking about yesterday, almost as if the universe was confirming my suspicion when I said, “[My smarter friends] understand the importance of narrative, and they are completely fine with truths being stifled and lies being made true if the ends justify the means.”

Which really is its own kind of conspiracy, isn’t it?

We’re seeing this same playbook being used about the vaccine passports. Information that could lead to people not liking them will be outright shut down if you can’t shout it down. Because if you’re against them, well, don’t you understand that we already have to get vaccinated to travel to different countries? Don’t you understand that children have to be vaccinated for things like rubella? You fucking rube!

Never for a second considering that a vaccine passport miiiight be just a little different than that. Apples and oranges, one might say.

It doesn’t matter that there is currently a council of the rich, headed by the actual Pope, that (in conjunction with fucking Mastercard) is attempting to “reshape capitalism” using the vaccine passport as a launchpad. Alison McDowell has done some great work studying the white papers of the think tanks involved in pushing vaccine passports, and her conclusion is that the goal is to eventually have a database of biometric information that can be speculated on by hedge funds. “Stakeholder capitalism” is what it’s called, and it entails the harvesting of all of our children’s biometric and behavioral data from the age of four. The same cabal of companies that push VPs are connected to companies that develop SmartPlay tables (basically big iPad tables with learning games) that monitor children to see how sociable or problematic they are. They keep that data for life. This allows large groups of people to be lumped into portfolios that the stock market can bet on. It’s not interdimensional vampires doing 9/11. It’s banal, but it has wildly dangerous implications.

Because, look, if someone is betting on a group of marginalized people’s health, that means there are groups of people hedging against them ever being healthy. This is a real-world bad thing for poor people across the entire country, of every skin color.

Please, for a second, consider what the US was able to push through thanks to the terror campaign (I’m talking about the media, here) in the wake of 9/11. We invaded countries, we allowed ourselves to be poked and prodded on our ways to flights, we set up black site torture chambers where we waterboarded people who’d had no due process hundreds and hundreds of times, threatened to murder their families, until they “gave up the info.” We allowed the Patriot Act to get through, we allowed the increase in constant surveillance, we gave up so fucking much because we were scared. I watched all of this happen and I had my friends at my back because we all knew these things were wrong, but those same friends got scared of the virus and now it’s “increase the security apparatus of the state, censor information, completely fuck up the mental health of our children, let the old die alone, let cancer screenings be canceled, let people kill themselves, let the food supply chain to the third world fall into ruin, let opioid use skyrocket, let the vaccine passports happen, who fucking cares what the (un?)intended consequences are, do whatever you have to fucking do, but please, please keep me safe.”

It’s exhausting.

No one cares whether or not what’s being shown to the public is true. Makes you think there doesn’t even need to be a conspiracy. People don’t want the info. Oh well.

That’s enough for today. See you tomorrow!

Misinformation 04/14/21

My surviving grandmother refers to Dinosaur World as “Lieland.” This is because, according to her, according to the Bible, dinosaurs and humans walked the earth at the same time. You can’t convince her that this shit isn’t true. You can’t tell her about the science. The Bible is infallible. It’s honestly a frustrating thing to discuss anything at all with her, as she’ll eventually turn to the Bible as a source. You have to be kind of rude about it, stop her from getting going, or you’ll hear about End Times for fifteen minutes, sometimes longer.

However! I believe in my grandmother’s right to believe that dinosaurs walked the earth with human beings. Who cares? What if it’s true? I don’t know, I’m not a scientist. I’m pretty sure I have a grasp on how carbon dating works, but fuck…who knows? The point is that it’s not important at all. My frustration around her being wrong about this is pure petty annoyance. Is my grandmother kind to people? Yes, I’d say so.

Piggybacking off of yesterday’s rant about induced schizophrenia, I’m sorry to report that my grandmother believes a lot of shit that isn’t true. She doesn’t watch FOX News anymore, she watches YouTube. A lot of our conversations will begin like this: “Baby, you know Bill Gates? The billionaire? Yep, he’s a pedophile.” Well, that’s a bad example, because that probably is true.

Most of the “not true” stuff is Bible/End Times related. Because, I mean, come on. If you’re reading this, I don’t need to get into it.

My father believes a lot of that shit, too, but he and I really click/bond over conspiracy theories, mostly because I think the gist of what he’s talking about is correct, although I find his attachment to the idea of China as the Big Bad to be not a little sinophobic, and of course his belief that Demons Walk Among Us to be completely off-base. Although, damn. Actually, maybe those things are true, too! Who knows/cares?

I give these examples because it’s important to keep in mind exactly who people think they’re talking about when they talk about conspiracy theorists. It’s people like my family, who truly believe that getting a vaccine equals the Mark of the Beast. I just think it’s good to sit back for a bit and wait it out through the 2021-22 flu season, juuuust to make sure this brand spanking new technology doesn’t have any unintended side effects. I’ve seen Jurassic Park. Life finds a way, but so does Death.

I’d like to point you to this great podcast with the great James Corbett, who recently (of course) had his entire YouTube archive yanked out from under him. Years and years of work gone because (of course) he’s “spreading misinformation.” The interview covers the very open nature of conspiracy theories, and the history of progressivism (lots of eugenics!). Corbett has always been abundantly careful to cite his sources, and compiles his documentaries from actual things that actual organizations put on their actual websites. Nevertheless!

That’s what I’m talking about when I talk about conspiracy theories. Of course, not all of these are created equally. The earth isn’t flat, for example (that one I’m 100% on).

The idea of “spreading misinformation” is the most dystopian shit I’ve ever heard of in my life, because, and think long and hard about this: who is determining what is and isn’t disinformation??? You mean to tell me that there are completely objective “fact checkers” out there who have no investment in certain narratives winning out over others? Do you really believe that? For even a second?

Or do you just not care? I’m beginning to think that some of my smarter acquaintances actually don’t, which I respect a bit more. They understand the importance of narrative, and they are completely fine with truths being stifled and lies being made true if the ends justify the means.

I’m not sure about the ends, and I sure as fuck don’t agree with the means.

I don’t want to live in a world where you’re not allowed to say things, not because they’re nasty, hurtful, libelous, whatever, but simply because a massive, powerful complex bent on controlling the world deigns it to be so.

It just doesn’t seem very free to me. I like saying and thinking the things that I want to say and think. It’s built into me, deeply. I don’t just get along to get along. Never have, never will.

I won’t be made to feel schizophrenic. I will simply be able to shrug and say, “well, that’s a bunch of bullshit” and move through life, maintaining my curiosity, my ability to be wrong, but holding fast to some core truths, the major one being that people like my grandmother are allowed to believe wild shit, so long as they don’t act in such a way as to hurt others. And in the meantime, I’m going to have fun.

It’s a beautiful day outside.

Ad for Schizophrenia 04/13/21

It’s a beautiful April morning. Unseasonably cold, which makes sense, considering we had two “once every hundred years” weather events over the winter. The first one actually technically happened in the fall, the ice storm that broke all the trees. That was one of the creepiest experiences of my life. Just a steady, almost pretty rain of ice, slowly, methodically, gradually bending the trees until they snapped. Gunshot branch breaks all throughout the gray neighborhood.

Yesterday I began receiving ads on YouTube for schizophrenia treatment. It’s an ad with a guy just living a normal life, shopping for records, hanging out with friends. He’s got his bullshit under control! I’m sure, as with all ads, this has an element of “targeting” to it, as I’ve posted about my completely undiagnosed schizoid tendencies.

But what if it’s not? What if this is a random ad? That’s worse. Because what that implies is that there is a recent uptick in schizophrenic tendencies across the entire country. This is not hard for me to believe, considering that our world has devolved into a complete state of hypernormalization.

As I understand the term (from the Adam Curtis doc of the same name), “hypernormalization” occurs when the masses become used to their direct experience of reality being contradicted by state propaganda apparatuses. Think of a couple old Soviet-era Russian folks reading Pravda, which is telling them that 99% of Russians approve of the job the government is doing. Across the hall, someone is starving. The lights stay on most of the time, but they flicker. The old folks read that headline and smile with no mirth.

We’re pretty much completely through the looking glass when it comes to contradictory messages we’re receiving from the media. It’s almost become a meme that what was conspiracy theory a few weeks ago is now real, and not only is it real, but it’s good. Newsweek recently had an article on how the blood of the young might be the key to reversing aging. The Alex Jones memes came out in force. The idea that rich people, who pay scientists to work on stuff like this for them (Epstein comes to mind, remember how he was both tight with popular figures in tech/science and trying to seed the earth with a race of superbeings?), didn’t already know that the blood of the young reverses aging, and that they might, just might kidnap orphans for the explicit purpose of harvesting their blood, well…

Maybe I do need those schizo meds. Haha, jk.

Think about how schiz-inducing it must be to watch mass media and influencers completely shut down dissident voices, alternative opinions, and then have those massively powerful oligarchs come out and say, “yes, you’re not crazy, that’s exactly what we did…and it’s good.”

Lol if you care about who became president, but still, if the idea that opposing opinions can be shut down at the whim of powerful people doesn’t chill you to the bone, well, you’ve simply not yet had an opinion that contradicts the powers that be. But you will, one day, when it’s too late, and then you too will be forced to watch as reality is contradicted right in front of your eyes. You’ll watch as the mouthpieces for your dissident opinions get discredited and fired, their life’s work dragged through the mud. You’ll get shunned, people will wonder “what happened to you, you used to be so cool.” Then they’ll say “well yeah, we fudged all of that a bit…but it was for your own good.” Then everyone who called you everything in the book can say “yeah, what are you, stupid? We knew the whole time, but we were doing the best thing for the world at the moment.”

It’s all quite difficult to deal with. It leads to a feeling of dissociation. You no longer understand the people around you.

You might feel like you’re going crazy.

And a large medical company might notice an uptick for the demand for SSRIs. Good thing, too! They’ve got a bunch of them. Then you start to see ads for it on YouTube. We’ve gone from a generation of clinically depressed people to a generation of literal schizophrenics.

I’ll write more on this tomorrow. Til next time!

Kenning Novels 04/12/21

Just in case you thought I was exaggerating about “I recognize that!” art, well, this popped up in the ol’ Twitter feed today, as per some psychological torture operation, I’m sure.

Fucking awful.

Anyway. Now that I’ve gotten that out of my system, we can return to the very interesting question of “what do books look like if there’s no storytelling involved?” I suggested yesterday that it might have something to do with kennings, which I’ll elaborate on here.

But before I do that, I’m not sure what I’m about to propose is a complete lack of storytelling. I’m not even sure that’s what you’d want out of a piece of art. Depending on how loose you want to get with your definition of “storytelling,” it may in fact be completely unescapable.

Almost every experimental book that I’ve read in the past few years that has attempted to free itself from the confines of traditional storytelling (with the exception of Gary Shipley’s WAREWOLF!!! and Blake Butler’s Alice Knott and Cassandra Troyan’s Throne of Blood) has been an incredibly boring, frustrating experience. Random words mushed together don’t induce a hypnotic state within me, or take me places I want to go (it’s also worth noting that’s not what any of the three books listed above are doing, either). Word salad books are just boring, and while I think boredom can be a useful tool, it’s not what you want the sum total of your work to be. There’s plenty of boredom in real life as it is, and you can be bored in more beautiful and helpful ways (like meditating or watching nature or some shit).

For the purposes of this blog post, however, let’s assume that “storytelling” in terms of a novel suggests a sequence of things happening, either in chronological order or slightly skewed (flashbacks, flashforwards), that suggest a change within a character or a plot device. How do you get away from that?

This is where the kenning comes in.

Agustín Fernández Mallo’s Nocilla Dream (and its sequel, but not its sequel’s sequel) does something like this. Composed of about 115 chapters, we are treated to images and characters doing things and also short essays or factoids. It reads like a collage, something pieced together from different novels. It’s wonderfully refreshing to read, because as you go through the book, you’re thinking about how these different sequences work pushed up against each other. No real answers are given (or maybe they are, I don’t remember), but you begin to generate story and theme around the text itself. There’s a lot of white space in the book, and that white space suggests a perimeter in which to do your own creating, to fill in the blanks.

Less than Nocilla, but along the same lines, Brian Allen Carr’s The Last Horror Novel in the History of the World is comprised of similarly small chapters, things happening. There’s kind of a plot, but there’s also that kenning effect of letting events sit next to each other within a lot of white space, and work itself out in your mind.

If On a Winter’s Night, A Traveler also comes to mind. A lot of Calvino’s books, actually.

And, finally, we come to David’s Current Pet Interest, Dark Souls. It is a game with very little plot to speak of. When you begin the game, you know you have to ring two bells. You don’t know why. Then, once you ring those bells, you have to do some shit in Anor Londo…I’m not 100% on any of this.

But you wander through environments, you read item descriptions that slowly begin to flesh out the world. It’s a virtual reality kenning experience, in which you are a participant in constructing the narrative of the world. The different stages loop back into each other, sit on top of each other, and it’s those relationships that begin to put a cohesive picture together within your brain. If a plot or a story is along the lines of a metaphor, something that is clearly supposed to mean an exact thing, then the collage or open world experience is the kenning, in which it’s supposed to mean whatever you decide it means.

There are going to be people who say, “No thanks. I like plot, I like story.” And I have good news for you: 99.9% of art is now currently tailor-made for that. So you’re free to go enjoy it and leave us weirdos in peace. For the rest of us, there’s something exciting about the prospect of making books into something closer to music. When you listen to a piece of music, there aren’t words that can describe how you feel when you listen to it (although there’s a few great music journalists out there who’d disagree). It’s a feeling, and you put your own life experience and taste into it, and then boom, the song has a meaning. There isn’t a plot to a song, just different instruments pressed up against each other, different movements pressed up against each other, presented to the audience largely (hopefully) without comment.

That’s what a kenning-novel might look like. Books that are intentionally mysterious, ephemeral, collage-like and abstract. These already exist of course, as I gave examples above. Not suggesting this is anything new. But it’s fun to think about, and fun to think that maybe one day there could be many, many more of them.

Rethink what a novel can do, and people will start to read again. It’s that simple.

Kennings 04/11/21

Jay’s new episode of “301” is worth a listen. Every episode is, in fact. The structure of the show is brilliant: each podcast is exactly 301 seconds in length. He packs big ideas into that span of time, but gives himself the space to have quieter, more reflective episodes.

In this episode, “Kennings & Orbit Words,” Jay says:

The closest thing in modern English to Kenning is perhaps the portmanteau. Its literal meaning in french in ‘carry-cloak’. But translates from the English usages as Luggage. A Portmanteau inherently has an understanding that two words are packed inside.

Brony, Mockumentary, Sitcom, Pokémon, all come to mind.

As do shepherd (sheep herder) squander, (scatter and wander), podcast, (iPod + broadcast) or the humble cronut.

Some old Kennings hold complex concepts and powerful meaning inside. For example a “weather of weapons” means a war. Or for the Game of Thrones Fans “A Storm of Swords” is an Anglo Saxon Kenning for Battle.

You think there metaphors but they aren’t – they’re kennings.

The coherence of the words in orbit of one another produce more meaning by their dance than using a single one. I have never been a war, or a battle. But Weather of Weapons gives me a better emotional understanding of what it might be like, than the single word alone.

I’ve written here before that metaphors are a requirement for many prospective manuscripts at Big Five publishers. It’s often necessary to have a minimum amount per page (at least one, sometimes three), the idea being that people like metaphors because they enjoy recognizing things that are like other things.

Artistic metaphor reached its nadir about five years ago. It felt like every piece of art I saw on Instagram was something like “what if the alien from Aliens was popping out of Super Mario’s chest?” Jokey fan art led to hybrids of pop icons, famous IP reimagined as 8-bit Final Fantasy characters, or sometimes literally just putting two superheroes in the same picture together. Aquaman and The Fly? Sure, fuck it, why not.

This trend is downstream from the larger creative waterfall of big IP. These artists were picking up on a trend that you could see plain as day from the big books, games, and movies being produced: take things that already work, mash them together, and point out the ways in which those things are similar. It became “I recognize that” art.

Which is why you end up with novels describing a young girl falling into her father’s arms as being “like a glass of water tipping over in slow motion.” It’s an instantly recognizable analogy, people can immediately see it in their heads.

But what if there was a problem with that exactness?

Think about it in terms of Twitter. The ideas that have the most traction there are the ones that punch the hardest in the fewest words. That leads to analogy out the ass, an arms race to see who can best describe the ways in which a complex issue is exactly like a much less complex issue. You’re not going to get very popular by skirting around a hot topic, which is what Jay (and I) am suggesting is the better way to do things.

Kennings and orbit words instead suggest an entire world of concepts by placing words in relation to each other. A metaphor is cutting down something to be digestible, a kenning is using something very small to suggest something very big.

A way of kenning-thinking leads us to be able to “think with” ideas, to let the mind wander, to create scenarios.

Take the “storm of swords” example given in Jay’s post. You first start to think about a storm gathering, maybe heavy clouds, the ominous feeling you get before the weather really starts. Then the storm itself comes, and you need to hide away inside, because if you’re outside, it’s relentless, and you’re going to get soaked through or blown away. Now think about swords: sharp, imposing, implying security and safety, protection, a fight for something, or maybe it’s murderous bandits on the road stealing your shit, maybe it’s something you use to pick your teeth, maybe it’s something that stays up on the mantle and never ever comes down. It’s not saying “war is like a storm,” it’s saying “think about a storm and think about swords and you’ll find your way to an infinitely complex set of associations, emotions, and images, and that may or may not be what I meant when I typed it, but now you’ve done a bit of work, and you’ve generated around the idea.” No clarity in the woods, just more paths to ever denser thickets.

That makes writing a collaborative effort. That turns writing into an idea generator, which is its real future function, if it’s going to have one at all.

Axel posted this about Deleuze and Guattari’s work, and I had to QT, because I feel as though it’s relevant:

And this tweet:

In the spirit of the kenning, I’ll leave those two tweets there and elaborate no further. Until tomorrow at least. How do they interact with each other? What do they mean for how writing can become truly interesting again?

Til next time!

DMX 04/10/21

The Dark Souls podcast I listened to was recorded in 2013. At the start of it, the guys are chatting back and forth, and one of them says, “I guess they’re calling these things ‘podcasts?'”

Simpler times.

I thought I’d have more to say about that, but mostly I’ve been thinking about DMX. Privately, I was pulling for him to make it out of his coma, even going so far as to assure friends on the phone that the recent reports showed signs of life. Then he suffered organ failure, brain death, and that’s it.

I was genuinely upset about this one. I’m not someone who eulogizes celebrities often, but this one messed me up.

I remember being thirteen or so and watching Belly with my friend B and his mother. In retrospect, considering the state of his home at the time, I think his mom was struggling with addiction, but the three of us all watched the movie, and it was a memory that sticks with me when a lot of seemingly “more important” memories don’t. There’s a scene in the movie where the leads are talking to their drug connect, who is white. B expressed surprise at this character being white, and his mom got pissed off at him, made him apologize to me for “being racist.” It was extremely awkward. I remember this feeling of wanting to back up. I just wanted everything to be cool. I didn’t want them to be black and me to be white. But what can you do? Maybe the memories that stick with you are the uncomfortable ones, or the ones where you start to recognize that there are these divisions in the world and there’s nothing you can do about it. Belly will always make me think of that. I wonder how B and his mom are doing now.

I didn’t spend a whole lot of time with my dad growing up. He took me to soccer practice, but overall we had a distance between us. One memory I have is of going to watch Romeo Must Die with him. It was pretty cool (I dug the X-ray bone breaking), but it’s a largely forgettable movie. But I didn’t forget it. I remember the way the theater looked, I remember eating the popcorn. I remember that whole time with my dad, and how the movie felt so alien, grown up, like I was in the world.

There are all these little moments that you don’t expect will stick with you, but they do. I’d watch the “Party Up” video on TRL, listen to my dad’s copies of Flesh of My Flesh and Hell is Hot. One of my favorite songs back then was Limp Bizkit’s “Rollin'” posse cut with Method Man, Redman, and DMX. He’s in my past, in a lot of memories. Always kind of there.

His life story is tough to read. Abused by his mother, hooked on crack from a young age, the man always fought his demons. I watched his life play out in fragments on the internet, and it seemed like he was getting better. That’s what makes his death so painful: he seemed like a person. He struggled, he got arrested, he did the wrong things. He had a larger than life personality, and he ripped through life with a kind of ferocity that I found admirable. Of course, I didn’t know him, but I felt a parasocial bond all the same.

Here are some of my favorite DMX moments, compiled from tributes around the web. Rest in peace.

Ornstein & Smough 04/09/21

I stayed up a bit too late last night playing Dark Souls. I tend to put the controller down and turn the machine off when I suffer a particularly bad loss, which means I have a style of play that’s maybe a bit different from marathon gamers: chunks of about 30 minutes at a time, then I do something else for an hour, then 30 minutes on. Once I hit Ornstein and Smough, however, I played for about three hours straight. Fuck these guys.

This is the halfway point of the game by most accounts I’ve read online, and many fans call O&S the hardest boss of the game. I can see why.

You are in Anor Londo, a massive, desolate, marble clear city. Precipitous drops, skinny pink demons and massive golem sentinels patrol the area. Rococo style bedrooms with oil paintings of stern oligarchs and carpets with the texture of dryer lint. You are running through, wrecking shop on Silver Knights (which, I mean, one of them gave me trouble at the start of the game). Fight your way through to the fog wall, and then these two assholes come at you.

A normal game might have each character trading off, one backing away to do ranged attacks while the other moves in for the kill. Not these motherfuckers. They just kind of come at you at the same time, each one in 100% kill mode. They’re not fucking around.

In Dark Souls, when you die, you’re resurrected without your humanity. You can get it back by using an item (“Humanity”), and when you have your humanity, you can summon this guy to help you with the fight:

Here’s the problem: the spot where you summon him is patrolled by two enormous golems that, again, come at you at the same time. Many of my tries had to do with dispatching these two before summoning Solaire. Because if I summon him before going into the boss fight proper, the golems would cut his health in half. No bueno.

I took to the internet: “the crystal halberd knocks those golems out quick.” Fuck. I had to go back and kill another monster to get the crystal halberd. Once I did that, it was game time. The pressure was enormous to kill the boss(es). I was running out of Humanity, and if I ran out, I’d be forced to either go farm more, or take them on at the same time. At this point, I’d tried running straight for the boss solo, and even managed to kill the big boy on my own, at which point I was down to nearly no health. During his death animation, knowing what was coming my way, I simply sighed.

But with the golems out of the way, all 10 of my Estus flasks, AND Solaire, I managed to finally vanquish my foes. Here’s the ending video that I recorded:

My palms were sweaty, I was mumbling swears under my breath. When Ornstein hits me with that lightning bolt that nearly ends my game right there, I thought to myself, If I die at this point, I’m going to have to go to sleep.

Knowing that I’m lying to myself, honestly.

And then…I got him. I knew I had him. He was gearing up for an attack. No health left. I jogged up, stuck him with the halberd, and that was that.

Absolute elation! It’s only been surpassed by how I felt when I finally beat Isshin the Sword Saint in Sekiro. Which, to be fair, took me about a week, rather than a three-hour, red-eyed slur session.

I started listening to an old Dark Souls podcast today, which I’ll have more thoughts on tomorrow.

Have a great Friday!

Technocratic Control 04/08/21

Today I went to the gym. A woman in a purple wig yelled at people for help in the parking lot. A homeless dude walked very, very carefully along the strip mall sidewalk. One foot in front of the other. Heel to toe.

Inside the gym, people walked on treadmills, a few of them with plastic partitions between the machines. Kettlebells on the floor, a rope coiled in the corner. David Bowie on the overhead radio, “China Girl,” a weird choice, I thought.

I felt like I was done relatively early. Frustrated by everything. These past few weeks have held a lot of jaw-clenching anger, and I’m not even sure what I’m mad about. I’m not sure where to let it out if not at the gym, and even that, at this point, doesn’t seem to be working.

I left the parking lot slowly, taking my new car over deep, deep potholes, listening to nothing on the radio at all. Just the car and the wind outside. It’s spring now, the sun is out a lot, should be up to 80 degrees today, but I’m not in a spring mood. I feel like an angry dog.

Again, no idea really where it’s coming from. I’ve been checking out Russell Brand’s YouTube page. His short vlogs are pretty great. He’s an articulate dude. Here’s one that I found particularly relevant:

I’m nervous about where everything is heading. I don’t think that people are paying enough attention to the slow creep of total corporate domination. I’m nervous that people aren’t considering that the cure may be worse than the disease, that eventually (if not already) the virus will become endemic, a part of daily life to such a minor extent that it’s all but background noise, but this kind of technocratic control has the potential to become hugely influential and oppressive, for the rest of our lives. For the rest of our children’s lives.

The fluctuation between sorrow, determination, and helplessness has been quite taxing this year. I’m sure that everyone has felt this, to some extent. Like I said though, one day this pandemic will be over. Linking your biometric data will lead to social credit scores and ever greater arbitrary restrictions, and I’m afraid that no one cares.

We’ll get back to positivity soon. I promise. I’m not sure what exactly is wrong with me at the moment. I might just work out from home for a bit. I’m not sure if I want to look at people for the time being.

Speed Reading 04/06/21

Everybody who reads has a stack of books to get through. They pile up higher and higher, and we tell ourselves “I will get through these, by god,” but we never really do. I mean, look at me. This year, I wanted to read through all of Stephen Graham Jones’ books. But then I wanted to go through James Ellroy’s L.A. Quartet again. And then there are a few new books, one by Agustín Fernandez Mallo (got my ARC today), a new one by the aforementioned Ellroy (although it’s an “Otash-in-hell” book, which I’m not super stoked about, but I have my ARC)…the list goes on and on.

What if there was a way to get through those books just a little bit quicker?

Yesterday, I googled “speed reading” and came upon this man Howard Berg. He looks and sounds like Barney Frank. Seems like a sweet guy, and he also holds the Guinness World Record for speed reading.

I was curious, so I took a reading test. Turns out I get through text at about 250 words per minute, which is standard. At that rate, finishing your average 75k-word novel would take me 5 hours, which sounds about right.

That’s fuckin’ slow.

Reading through the tips and tricks to read faster, they seem to be broken down into these simple rules:

  1. Don’t re-read. I do this all the time. And usually, I know that I know what I just read, but there’s a little itch in the brain that says Are you sure you got that? Just keep it moving.
  2. Skim first, then focus. If you have an idea of what a page is trying to do, you get a framework for the reading, and then you get through the page quicker.
  3. Quiet the inner voice. When we read, we translate that into sounds that we hear in our minds. The trick is to actually turn that off, to get a direct laser beam of information.
  4. Read in chunks. Start learning to see entire sentences instead of individual words. We can see and comprehend nine at a time.

The way Mr. Berg reads doesn’t seem like a whole lot of fun. Sometimes it’s sinking down into the prose that creates the major pleasures of reading. The hope that I have, anyway, is that I can read faster, get through more books, but then consciously choose to go back to “sink in” to passages that strike me as particularly beautiful. It’s a more focused, agented way of approaching a text, rather than slavishly taking my time through filler paragraphs, and even necessary filler paragraphs.

I’ve started using some of these tips, and they do work. You get “The Information,” and after a while you’re actually “Feeling the Prose” as well. I’m sure there’s an upper limit to this, where you’re just getting the info, which is great if you’re a student or a lawyer or something.

Maybe I will make a dent in this TBR stack.

Who am I kidding?