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When I decided to take some time off of social media I had some grand plans. I was going to blog, read, and yes listen to music. It was a deliberate choice in order to recharge and take shelter from the unrelenting bad news and constant anger.
Yes, great plans… In reality all I’ve done is listen to music, a good 6 to 7 hours of it a day. This is something that I have done for all of my adult life in lieu of watching TV or movies. I haven’t done much of it in the last 3 or 4 years for a variety of reasons. Now I’m back to listening and wow did I miss it. I feel like my psyche/soul/whatever is being refilled. Maybe I was becoming a savage beast?
The choice of music has been all over the place. Punk, funk, soul, rock, hip hop, classical, jazz, you name it I’ve listened to it. A lot of it comes from random neural firings in my head but some of it is from suggestions by Apple Music.
One of those suggestions was the album From Elvis in Memphis. I’m a fan of The King but I’ll admit that I have always been a purist/snob. Give me 50s Elvis or get out! This particular album was released in 69. Think about what was going on in 69. Woodstock, moon landing, Vietnam. What about Elvis? What was his cultural contribution? In 1969 Elvis released his final films, Change of Habit and The Trouble with Girls along with this album. So um, not exactly capturing the zeitgeist of the times.
Suspicious Minds and In the Ghetto are the hits off of this album. Let’s be clear, they don’t hold a candle to his early hits. They are also emblematic of the quality of the rest of the album. It’s a little schmaltzy, maybe even maudlin at times. It is irrelevant culturally and a pale imitation of Elvis in his heyday. So why am I so enamored with it?
There is a qualitative difference between live and recorded music. Plenty of music is enjoyable live and boring during playback. This album isn’t live but it is recorded incredibly well. Elvis in your room will get your attention. I’m only kind of joking when I say that regular systems let me hear what music sounds like. Good recordings on good systems are enthralling. I can not only hear the music but experience it.
So yeah, I’ve been caught in Elvis’s trap, I can’t get out cause I love it too much (baby)…
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In the last post I recounted my first memorable and disconcerting Ambien influenced dream. I cannot stress enough just how life like and vivid these dreams are. This one stars Elizabeth, a classmate of mine in high school. We were certainly friendly in high school but not close. The only family members of hers I have ever met is her sister and aside from one fairly long Facebook chat around 20008 or so we haven’t really kept up. I do see a lot of her posts on Facebook so I’m familiar with her daughter Josephine. I had this dream 6 or 7 years ago I think, it is still very clear in my mind now.
Elizabeth and I are hanging out and she is eager to introduce me to her daughter. Her various Facebook posts over the years have gushed over how proud she is of her. We see her across the yard and as we get closer a state trooper steps in front of us and says, “Sorry ma’am, but your daughter is under arrest.”
Elizabeth goes apeshit. I manage to, if not calm her down, at least convince her that assaulting a cop isn’t going to help anyone. We’re both stunned, not knowing what’s going and we start speculating. As we walk away, someone in a group of people points at us and says, “That’s her mother, GET THEM!”
We start running. Luckily we are close to my mother’s house and get in before they catch up to us. I’m able to lock the door before they try the knob. Dream logic dictates that once a door is locked it is inpenatrable so I feel safe. Even thought there’s no chance of them getting in, they attempt to shoot out the lock. Holy crap, they brought guns! I then realize there is another door at the back of the garage I have to lock before they get in.
I grab one of the portable phones (remember them?) and call 911 as I go into the garage to check the back door. I am immediately put on hold. On hold? What the hell?
As I open the inside door, I can’t believe that I forgot that the 911 dispatch office is in my mother’s garage. The dispatcher is on another call of course but he notices me. I manage to pantomime the fact that people with guns are trying to kill us. He looks suitably alarmed and makes it known that help is on its way.
The back door was locked. I wave to the dispatcher as I go back inside but something isn’t quite right… Oh wait, what was in the garage? The 911 dispatcher has never been in mom’s garage, that doesn’t even make any sense. It then hits me, I am actually dreaming. What a relief!
While I was away the confrontation had escalated into a full on firefight. Elizabeth and her parents are returning fire with a variety of long guns. I start waving my arms and yelling, “IT’S OK, THIS IS JUST A DREAM!”
The shooting stops and her mother turns to me and says, “We thought that might be the case.” They then start to jostle and shake Elizabeth, “Wake up! WAKE UP!”
Confused, I yell out, “No, I’m dreaming!” Her mother gives me a strange look of annoyance and pity, and goes back to wrestling with her daughter. “This is my dream!”
Realization of the consequences of it being Elizabeth’s dream dawned on me. I looked around my mother’s house and my hands. “I’m dreaming!… Aren’t I?”
I then open my eyes and find myself in my room.
Yes, I think we have all seen those episodes of TV where characters realize that they are imaginary characters in dreams, holodecks, or whatever. The first one you see is interesting, the rest feel a bit hackneyed. Let me tell you, thinking that you are the imaginary character about to wink out of existence is a much different experience than watching it on TV. I have never felt anything like it before and hope to never again.
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I have always had vivid dreams. Dreams that have created memories that feel as real as any other experience. That has had some long term consequences on how reliable I consider memories. I’ll talk about that later on, right now I just want to share some of the dreams that have stuck with me. This is the first one I remember after having started using Ambien to help with a wicked case of insomnia. Needless to say that kicked things up a notch.
I get an infusion at a doctor’s office every 4–6 weeks. I’m sitting in the chair waiting for my infusion nurse Mary to stick the IV in my arm. Instead, she complains about being tired, curls up in a chair next to me and falls asleep. That makes me a little upset, but then again, I’m feeling rather drowsy myself so maybe I should drift off too…
As I wake up, groggy, I notice my father and stepmother in the room with me. They’re talking excitedly but hushed, “He’s waking up! Here, take it easy…” I don’t recognize the room. I get the distinct feeling that the fact I woke up is exciting means I was in a coma or something. My stepmother takes my arm and leads me out of the room.
We walk out into an absolutely palatial building. We’re talking castle or resort hotel level of sprawl. As we move from one enormous room to another we settle in front of a huge, floor to ceiling window. Outside I can see that we are high up on a bluff overlooking the ocean. We’re on a cove and the land sweeps along to my left and just out into the ocean. Enormous waves are crashing against the rocky coast and sheer cliffs.
All of this is disorienting, I finally ask where we are. My stepmother says, “This is our Nova Scotia house.” Huh? That only adds to my confusion. “How could possibly afford this, did you win the lottery?” She looks at me funny, cocks her head to the side and says, “Isaac, you’re sleepwalking, go back to bed.” Oh thank God!
As she escorts me back to the room I tell her I knew that Ambien can do things like this. “I’ve never sleepwalked before but now everything makes sense, wow, what a relief!” As she fiddles with the doorknob I open my eyes and stare at the ceiling. I’m in my normal room.
I want to make it explicitly clear, I did not “wake up,” I just opened my eyes. What I was looking at was no more or less real feeling than that house in Nova Scotia or the infusion clinic. Sure, I was in my regular room, nowhere near my dad and stepmother’s place and that was a relief but…
I must have laid in bed for 20 minutes just getting my bearings. I have told this story before and some people have said, “That’s so cool!” No, questioning your grasp of reality is not cool. It is disquieting and eerie. My memory of this “dream” is no different than any other event that happened in my life. It was the first of many experiences like this. Having these extra, surreal experiences has on occasion given me lots to think about. I’ll post more about some of them later.
My last post was a reaction to my perusal of my Twitter timeline. Alas, it doesn’t seem to have gotten any traction which is too bad. Going through my Facebook feed all that came to mind was this:
I have never understood the west coast punk music that Black Flag came out of. New York punk seemed to be about rebellion and/or having fun. It reminded me of the way rock was originally. UK punk had a much more political/cultural rebellion vibe to it. West coast punk? Just anger if not outright rage. I never understood what they were so angry about.
My war! You’re one of THEM
You say that you’re my friend
But you’re one of them
Them Them Them THEM!
I’m starting to understand where this music came from now. My entire Facebook feed can be summarized as:
Tell me that I’m wrong
Try to sing me your ego song
You’re one of them
A few posts were about specific people but most were addressing the generic them. Of course most of those will never be seen by the people they are against. Like I mentioned in my last post, there is so much general anger out there and it is now feeding on itself. Think I’ll make some non-topical posts in the near future just to make sure I’m not throwing gas on the fire.
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I’m trying to get a handle on what’s going on and getting lost in the emotions. Let me see if I’ve got this straight.
A police officer shoots a man in the back a bunch of times. Lots of people assume that happened because the victim is black and so this is an example of, at a minimum, of institutional racism if not outright deliberate racism. Racism is a kind of hatred/anger.
Many people in the town of the shooting protest, some go on to do really destructive things causing lots of damage. That damage is a direct result of the anger the people feel about the shooting.
Other people are angry about the destructive reaction caused by anger. They bring guns to the situation, people get killed.
Professional athletes decide to cancel/sit out of games in solidarity with the protesters and anger over the original shooting.
Commenters on various social platforms get angry over the injection of “politics” into the sports they like and complain about it.
People on social media get angry that other people are angry about athletes being angry about an angry/hateful police officer.
So we’re dealing with what, the third or fourth derivative of anger? It feels like a never ending cycle. I’m both sick of trying to trace its origins and amazed at the sheer amount of anger floating around. I’m exhausted.
I think that noticing the anger cycle is the first step of realizing how wasteful it is. It also makes it that much easier to get out of it. Being angry about a specific thing can be used to effect change. Being angry about everything is paralyzing. It’s also dangerous. Since official leadership doesn’t seem to be interested in dissipating the anger it’s up to us as individuals to deescalate. Let’s try to stop both the literal and virtual mobs from forming so we can concentrate on making a real difference.
In addition to seriously listening to stereo music, vacuum tubes, and film cameras I also really enjoy another, even more obscure retro hobby.
That, in case you don’t recognize it, and how could you really, is a dice based baseball simulation game. What you see here is the final scoresheet of the 2016 Chicago Cubs thumping the 1953 Brooklyn Dodgers 10-2. The Cubs went on to win that series four games to two.
APBA has been making dice based baseball games since 1951. The goal of the game is to have an accurate simulation of players’ performances while allowing you to be the manager. Your can get all of the complete seasons from the late 1800s through 2019 plus variety of special teams from the past.
Here’s how you play the game:
Make a lineup.
Roll the dice.
Match the rolled number to a result number on the player’s card.
Look up the result on the right table in the game.
Every base situation (man on fist, second, first and second, etc.) has its own lookup table. It is essentially the same thing as a computer program but it’s all written out and you have to look it up yourself. Obviously no one could use a computer to play baseball games back in 1951 but why do it now?
Why play board games at all? Any board game could just as easily be played on the computer. I can’t quite put my finger on it but there is something about board games that make them feel completely different than a computer game. APBA has whatever that thing is in spades. Board games are just fun.
There are actually other baseball board games out there but one of the best things about APBA is that it manages to capture the feel of an actual baseball game really well in my opinion. The quality of a dice roll is constant across players. With just a little experience you get a feeling of what a good roll is and then have the anticipation of looking up the result. I think this feels very much like watching a game and knowing when they get a good swing in the ball but having to wait to see what happens. Yes, this takes more time than a computer version but the game manages to “feel” more like baseball and less like a computer game.
The biggest reason I’m playing APBA is nostalgia of course. I played this game when I was a kid. It’s where I learned all the ins and outs of the game. Lineup construction, hit and run, base stealing, holding runner at first, playing in or back with a runner on third, etc. It was also how I learned about teams and players of the past. It’s one thing to read about them, it is quite another to “see” them play and manage them.
Part of the reason I got the game was because I wanted to get to know the 1935 Chicago Cubs. They were a really good team that made it to the World Series but lost to the Tigers. The first thing I did when I got the game was to replay that World Series. Alas, as in real life, the Cubs lost 4 games to 2. I am reading a book on that 1935 Cubs team to get a feel for how they played back then. Once I feel I have enough background I’ll try to play at least a good part of the 1935 season. What can I say? I’m a big baseball/Cubs/retro geek and this is my idea of fun.
Anti-racist arguments are Tearing People Apart by Conor Friedersdorf at The Atlantic is a perfect summation of how we can lose our way while trying to contribute to an important movement. The situation in this article “went viral” on Twitter. The thing that got people’s attention was the assertion that a white man bouncing a black baby on their knee “hurt” POC (People of Color).
Conor, like myself, assumed there was some context missing and he was right. Unfortunately, adding that context didn’t make things any better. At the heart of the disagreement was the clash between someone who is merely non-racist versus an anti-racist.
You offered to collaborate with me on drafting resolutions. I have no interest collaborating with you on policy positions until you exhibit your commitment to anti-racism work … I am committed to anti-racism work and will not compromise to create a resolution that makes you comfortable and I must protect myself from harm caused by Non-racists.”
Keep in mind that both people involved want to work towards better integration in NYC schools. It seems like the further left you go the more infighting there is. Purity tests are the death of progress, of any movement really. If the world was full of non-racists it would be unequivocally better.
Since making some time away from social media I’ve jumped back into my listening habits of old. While some binge TV or movies, I listen to music. And of course I am serious about my system and that always makes it much easier to connect with the music. Upon hearing my system for the first time my cousin said, “It’s like you can watch music!” It really is a different experience than what people usually get out of music there days.
Anyways, I’ve been binging, big time. Started with some old favorites from Dylan’s first couple of albums. Then I decided to tackle an album of his I had always meant to get to, Nashville Skyline.
Lord help me but the worst track on the whole album is the first one, and it’s a duet with Johnny Cash! Seriously though, it’s a mess. The only song I had heard before was “Lay Lady Lay” and the rest seemed to fall in line with that song. Like all Dylan I’ll have to listen a few more times before coming to any solid conclusion.
From there I went on to Phil Ochs, Woodie Guthrie, and then on to to “Mermaid Avenue” which has Woodie Guthrie lyrics put to music by Billy Bragg and Wilco. “Tapestry” by Carol king was next, then “Dusty in Memphis” and on and on and on. It’s fair to say I’ve been missing this a lot.
I’ll leave this post with what I’m listening to right now. I’ve always loved the song “Down and Out in New York City” by James Brown so I decided to check out the album it came from, The Soundtrack to Black Caesar. I have no doubt that it was a terrible film but wow! This sound track is classic 70s JB! Funk and soul for the soul. Plus it was recorded incredibly well. I need to check out more of his albums instead of single songs. Click the picture to hear one of my favorites from the album.
I need to go on a social media diet. Much has been written about how toxic and depressing social media is but that’s not my problem. My issue is that I have a voracious appetite for information. Social media provides a nonstop stream of it and I’ve realized I have wasted incredible amounts of time living on Reddit and Twitter. I also pop onto Facebook in between my sessions on the other platforms.
Reddit and Twitter can be really useful. Reddit is great for finding communities that share your interests. Twitter can give you real time breaking stories and reactions. You can spend all day in either one of them, I was doing it in both. I am quitting reddit cold turkey, it is the most engaging, informative, diabolical time sink you can imagine. I follow a fairly serious group of people on Twitter that specialize in Apple, the Middle East, meta cultural issues, the first amendment, and a smattering of others. I have been exposed to some amazing people and links to amazing works on Twitter so I am loath to give it up completely. It is also often the best way to get a hold of companies for help or addressing issues. My approach to using Twitter and not getting sucked back in is TBD but I am going to work on that.
What about Facebook? Like Twitter, I have maintained a good list of people to follow, I appreciate all of you! Because of that I’ve mostly been able to avoid the nuttiness and stress that so many people hate Facebook for. I do think Facebook is at its best when it is used to keep tabs on friends and family. I still want to use Facebook for that and I think I have a strategy for trimming my use but not abandoning it.
What am I going to do with all this extra time I have freed up? Well, the first thing I want to do is get back to this blog. I’ve threatened this in the past so we’ll see how it goes but right now I’m feeling confident. My plan is to put something up here at least once a week. I’ll post it to Facebook and that’s when I will allow myself to spend a little time there. I won’t read any reactions on Facebook though, I am going to do that through my blog.
I also hope to get back to things I’ve loved doing but have gotten away from, listening to music and reading in particular. My attention span has been whittled down to nothing due to my endless scrolling of info. I want to get back to thinking about… Actually, I just want to get back to thinking. Social media encourages reaction. My new plan is to ingest more complete information and then rest and share more slowly.
I’ll still be available on Facebook Messenger if you want/need to get a hold of me. I’ll still drop in from time to time but I will no longer check Facebook multiple times a day. I’m looking forward to getting my thoughts and time back.
I sold high end audio and home theater equipment for my first job out of college. I loved music and was a true gear head, the equipment itself was fascinating to me. By 1998 I had moved up to Northern Virginia and was working selling camera gear. Again, I loved photography and the gear so it was a good fit for me. I still loved audio equipment though.
I spent a lot of time at a high end audio store in McLean, a super posh suburb of DC in northern Virginia. The equipment they sold was on a level I could only dream of owning. Sublime sound, gorgeous equipment, and stratospheric prices were the hallmarks of the store. Vu, the owner, let me hang around and listen to my heart’s content. We got along really well and he wanted me to work there. I was tempted but I liked the job I had. I did take advantage of his courting though and spent a lot of time at his shop when I could.
The store had two levels. The basement had the really good stuff and that’s usually where I would hang out. One particular Sunday I went to the store. Vu was busy with a customer. He acknowledged me as I came in but I didn’t want to disturb him so I went downstairs. That night I was listening to an especially wonderful system. It was in the neighborhood of 40k worth of equipment. I had been listening for a long time by myself and realized he was bound to be closing soon. I went upstairs and found all the lights off and nobody home.
I had stayed late at my first audio job a few times to help with inventory and whatnot. What we would do is lock up the store without setting the alarm and walk across the street to eat dinner. After that we would come back, do what we needed to do, and then set the alarm when we left. When I found myself locked in the store in 98 I tried to remember the ins and outs of the alarm system. I realized that I hadn’t set off the alarm as I was walking around so I figured he hadn’t armed it. He must be coming right back, I’ll just let myself out and give him a hard time about it later on. As soon as I touched the doorknob the alarm went off.
Now my mind was racing. I could just leave but if anyone saw me it would look really bad. The phone rang. I knew it was the alarm company calling to see if the alarm had been set off by accident. Vu would have a code word to assure them things were fine. I decided to tell them what was happening. “He locked me in!” I said, “Hang on, we’ll send someone right over,” they responded. I had hoped that meant Vu but I knew better.
The police show up and I greet them through the main window at the front. I tell them that I was locked in and they motion for me to come out. Both officers were white. I only remember the one that stayed with me, he was young, maybe younger than my 27 years. As I explained the situation (downstairs, the owner knows me, etc.) my officer tells me he is now going to cuff me. “You’re going to cuff me?” He responded, “Well, we could do them behind your back if you want instead.” I nodded that I understood my situation. He patted me down and then put his cuffs on my wrists. Once I was in the back of the Crown Vic (there isn’t any leg room at all in those things!) his partner went in and looked around.
As I sat in the back of the cruiser a series of thoughts raced through my head. I knew things would eventually be OK but it wasn’t looking good in the meantime. I thought to myself, “Man, I’m glad I’m in McLean and not DC. I’m glad I don’t have a record.”
“I’m glad I’m not black.”
If you had asked me about Harvey Weinstein 5 years ago I would have said, “Who?” If you had instead told me that a super powerful Hollywood producer was systematically assaulting and possibly raping women that wanted to work for him I would have said, “Duh.” Everyone knew about the casting couch. It was widely understood that was how Hollywood worked. It was also understood that being able to do that sort of thing was a big reason why those men wanted that position. It was a perk of the job.
So in 1998 when I thought to myself, “I’m glad I’m not black.” I wasn’t filled with a seething anger about systematic racism or the disproportionate rate of violence and arrests that black people were subjected to by the police. No, it was a plain statement of fact. Everyone knew the police didn’t like black people. Everyone knew that black folks got carted off to jail for any reason at all. And so I was happy I wasn’t black. That was as far as my thought process went at the time.
The officer’s buddy came out of the shop. They had been in contact with the alarm company and had the alarm shut off but they couldn’t get a hold of Vu. He also said it doesn’t look like anything was amiss. I have no idea how he could know that, the place wasn’t exactly neat and there was, unbeknownst to him, a lot of small, crazy expensive stuff laying around. In any case, they decided to let me go. I don’t even think they checked my car. At the time I figured that they thought I was either telling the truth or I was the world’s worst burglar.
Fast forward about 15 years and I have had several black housemates, one of which had done time for selling drugs. Talking with them I got a better feel of what their experiences with law enforcement were like. A very troubling series of alternative scenarios came to me as I thought about what happened on that night in 98.
Normally you consider how you talk to be normal and other people have accents. I remember the first time I ever noticed an American accent. Jean Luc Goddard’s film “Breathless” is a classic French New Wave film. Unsurprisingly the entire cast is French. The lone exception played an American expat. Hearing Jean Seberg yelling, “New York Herald Tribune!” grated on the ears after hearing nothing but French native speakers. Is that what I sound like? Yikes.
As I thought about that night in 1998 I realized my whiteness was yelling “New York Herald Tribune!” How? We’ll start with the fact that the police let me go. I was a little surprised even when it happened. It was a ridiculous situation and I had nothing to offer the police as way of proof of what I said. If I were black I’m pretty sure I would have been booked.
But going a little deeper I realized that my reactions would have been completely different if I were black. When I answered the phone and talked to the alarm company I did so under the belief that since it was all a silly mistake everything would work out in the end. There isn’t any way I would have thought that if I were black. At best I would expect to be face down on the ground being read my rights and then spending a night in jail. At worst? Well…. No, if I were black and the alarm went off I would have gotten the hell out of there as quickly as I could. Of course if someone saw me leave I’m sure the police would have tracked down my car and greeted me with guns drawn when they found me.
So I had a glimmer of what white privilege was in 1998 but it was a shallow and entitled view. It took 15 years and living with people that had experienced being black while dealing with police for me to really comprehend how privileged I was. It isn’t enough to know that you have it better with the police because you are white. You need to understand that you have options when it comes to actions to take and the assumptions you make when it comes to the police that black folks do not. And with just a little bit more thought (just a little) you’ll start to comprehend that goes well beyond just dealing with the police. If you are black there is another level of stuff that you will have to deal with all the time that whites can’t understand because it doesn’t exist for us. That stuff complicates everything, no matter who or what you are dealing with. It is a reactive force thrust upon you and impacts every thought you have and therefore every action you take. White privilege is living without that extra layer of history and personal experiences complicating everything including what you think of yourself and what a lot of people expect out of you just because of The color of your skin. I can point to a singular moment in 1998 when I undoubtedly benefitted because of my race. What I can’t point to is the vague complexity of all of the things in my life that would have been different if I were black. Most white people don’t have the former but all have the latter and are oblivious.
I’m thankful to have had not only that moment in 1998 but also the exposure to black experiences needed to put it into perspective. While I don’t think it’s a good idea for everyone to be suspected of robbery I think that being exposed to the black experience is something we should all be expected to do. Sit down and talk with black folks, it’s literally the least you can do.
*While I am completely on board with the concept, I find the term white privilege can be counterproductive at times. I think it works in this context but I hope to write more about that in the future.