Yes, I am rather easily amused. how about you?
I know I haven’t been that active here lately, and I thought I’d drop a note here on what i have been up to. First come the excuses; work, frozen pipes, bad sickness, work, and aliens kidnapped me.
Okay, I’m glad we got that out of the way.
I have done some writing in the last few months. Most of it just isn’t showing up here. I finished a couple book-length stories this last year and I’ve begun collecting rejection letters. Whoo-hoo! (…I think.) Aside from that I, wrote a guest post on Mark Parker’s Blog, Real Spirituality, and I started a second blog called Hinterlogics for the purpose of collecting interesting texts for argument analysis. That’s pretty technical. By ‘technical’ I probably mean tedious. I’m still trying to work out the details on that one, not the least of them being the question of whether or not I really want to keep it going at all.
Anyway, hi all!
Do you Recall that glorious moment in The Return of the King when Gandalf rides out to save Feramir and the last defenders of Osgiliath! Do you remember when he raised his staff and great light issued forth, driving the ring-wraiths away (along with all the cool kids who happen to be reading these here lines)? Yes, well, I do too. And now that it’s just us nerds here in the blog, let us talk of wondrous things!
What I’m particularly interested in on this dark morning here on the tail end of polar midnight, (aside from hope of a Gandalf-like ray of sun-light soon to come) is the way that some folks (ahem gamers!) often speak of wondrous things in particularly unwondrous ways.
‘Unwondrous’, Yeah, it’s a word now dammit!
One of the amusing meta-games that gamers have been playing ever since those heady-days of the early 80s is the game of “how do you stat that?” You know, the one where you decide that the Arnold version of Conan is a 10th level Ranger with an eighteen double-ought strength, and then your friend says; “hell no, he’s a 12th level fighter and he must have supernatural strength, 20 at least, …probably Chaotic Good alignment.” Then someone says; “You must be nuts! He’s easily true neutral.” …yeah, we geeks do that. Well anyway, the game of “how do you stat that” really comes into its own with magical effects, because stating magic helps to define the fantasy worlds in which the games take place.
In Tolkien’s work, mythic narratives began to flourish in fantasy fiction. Hell, for a time they almost seemed cool, cool enough for the mighty Zep at any rate, and this was a significant part of the cultural background informing the early days of pen&paper RPGs. But here is one moment where the game of stating the worlds around you (real or imagined) always seemed to fall short for me, at least in mainstream games. They fall short really the minute the game of stat this is played.
You see, to stat that magic moment in which Gandalf drives off the wraiths in AD&D one would need to assign his light effect to a designated spell with a designated range, area of effect, and duration, all defined in precise mathematical terms. The effects of light on undead would be clearly defined in this spell, and the sort of power it takes to generate the spell would also be clearly explained. In Dungeons and Dragons and many of the games emulating it, this wondrous moment in the story becomes a function of well-defined principle of mechanics. One might even suggest that it becomes part of the natural laws of the universe in which the games take place.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve enjoyed countless hours of manipulating precisely those very mechanics over the game table. Good times! I wouldn’t part with them for brand new vorpral sword. But one thing is definitely lost in this approach to gaming, the wondrous part of it all. The rules of mainstream fantasy games normalize the features of mythic narratives to such a degree that they become a kind of demi-science. One can often see gamers haggling over the details of some magic effect or trying to plot the precise mathematical formula needed to ensure that all the orcs on the game table fry-up in a fireball without singing the elven maiden. in most cases there is nothing mysterious about it; the game rules tell us exactly how this sort of thing works. It’s how many of these games are played.
What is lost in this approach to gaming is the very fluid nature of the narratives which inspire and inform the genre. The Lord of the Rings doesn’t really present us with a theory of Gandalf’s light, not a complete one at any rate. We might imagine that Gandalf is able to generate that effect because of some arcane set of rules we know nothing about, but what we have in a mythic narrative is simply the fact that he did that, odd as the whole thing may be. Wondering just how such seemingly impossible feats actually happen is an important part of the story. Wondering about it at the game table? Not so much. Not usually anyhow.
In the scientization of mythic narratives, the spell-books of classic fantasy gaming effectively set that wonder aside. Of course there are alternative approaches to the subject, such as those used in story-teller games, but my purpose here isn’t to argue for upping the nerditude of the game table. It’s to comment on something I consider an interesting twist in the culture of fantasy gaming, namely its tendency to frame wondrous things in terms of a well defined rational principles.
If fantasy games presents us with a kind of alternative physics, I don’t think this is entirely unique to modern perspectives on the subject. One sees it in references to The Force of Star Wars, and still more so in the theme-killing notion of Midi-chlorians (microorganisms responsible for the force. …blech)! You can see it in old Theosophical notions of an astral plane through which emotional and psychic powers turn out to follow a kind of physics in their own right, and of course you can see it in sundry New Age efforts to turn Quantum Mechanics into a science of wishful thinking. Folks use these notions and others like them to embed the uncanny moments of a narrative in a theory which makes sense of it. In some cases, that is the total point of the theory; in others it is one of many uses.
Time and again, folks seem to want to find a theory in stories made wonderful precisely because they defy our theories, or more importantly, because they defy our normal strategies for making sense of the world. What makes the moment Gandalf creates his light effect compelling is precisely our inability to fully make sense of it. It is likewise with more traditional epic narratives such as the role of missletoe in the killing of Baldur in Norse mythology, the origin of sea mammals in the in Sedna’s severed fingers, or the forceful eviction of the Gambler in Navajo legends (he was fired up into the skies from a great bow). What all of these and so many more narratives share is not conformity to an arcane set of natural laws so much as a momentary in-your-face violation of expectations which people are most familiar.
What I am suggesting here is that the notion of magic isn’t really a part of these narratives, or at least that it is not the key to understanding the momentary occurrence of irrational events. Such stories may relate information about a natural order (such as a world in which the availability game-animals are in some sense part of an active relationship to Sedna), but that order does not itself explain the moment in which something odd springs forth from her severed fingers.One doesn’t really need a theory to explain why such an event would occur, nor need one assume that someone telling that story entertains such a theory to explain the event they describe. One needs only to understand that the outcome of the narrative will be meaningful. In the interim, the shear absurdity of moments in that story is a thing to be savored, not to be explained away.
The notion of magic along with its specific variations come into such stories in efforts to square them with more familiar realities. Where the uncanny can be a feature of such stories, it becomes a bug when one imposes an expectation of literal truth upon it. So, people sometimes concoct a theory to explain the matter. Some of those theories provide an ad hoc defense of the uncanny, and sometimes they damn it as in the more pejorative uses of terms like ‘magic’ or ‘myth’, but the explanations remain ad hoc in either event, providing us with no real insight into the stories.
Magic, resides in the secondary and even tertiary rationalization of mythic narratives, but there is no reason to believe it resides in the narratives themselves. We needn’t imagine Tolkien plotting an area of effect for Gandalf’s wraith-baffling light ray, nor do we need to ascribe a theory of mythic-evolution to Inuit story-tellers relating the story of Sedna. Hell, we don’t even need to imagine that the Book of Genesis constitutes an attempt to explain the cosmos, though a world touched by the hand of Thomas Aquinas can hardly seem to imagine otherwise.
There is something in the effort to find a theory behind wondrous narratives that does violence to those narratives themselves. Such theories always end up falling short of their source material. It is the same whether we are talking about the hackneyed apologetics of fundamentalist Christians looking to read a consistent theory into all the traditions crammed into the Bible; an anthropologist trying to find such a theory in the oral traditions of some exotic people, or yes; something as simple as a gam designer trying to fit a wondrous theme into a rule system. The explanation never quite lives up to the promise of its inspiration.
Sometimes that failure matters more than others, but for me at any rate, the disappointment is a fairly common reaction. What concerns me most nowadays is the ease with which people seem to accept that mythic narratives ought to have a theory behind them, a set of principles that will explain them, even if only in terms of an error. That just isn’t the case. Sometimes this expectation gives us bad story-telling, sometimes it steers a whole generation of fantasy-gamers right past the fantastic part of fantasy, and sometimes it leads people to genuinely misunderstand great texts and brilliant oral traditions. Either way the variety of magics are never quite as brilliant as the stories which inspire them.
Magic itself just isn’t all that compelling, but a man playing chess with a fish or a cat that sings itself into a dragon? No explanations required.
We’d see the horror in the heart of farce,
If only we could act instead of talking,
We wouldn’t always end up on our arse.
This was the thing that nearly has us mastered;
Don’t rejoice in his defeat, you men!
Although the world stood up and stopped the bastard,
The bitch that bore him is in heat again.
– Bertolt Brecht, The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui
Linda’s art may be found on http://www.originalartonline.com/buyers/index/content/artwork/ArtistID/677. I asked her to tell me a little about these pieces, what she was doing, and what she was thinking when she made them. She has the following to say…
You may click to embiggen. (No, seriously, do it!)
“Do you want them or not?”
This was the nurse talking to the patient next to me earlier this morning. Her words struck me as about the most cruel thing I had heard anyone say in a very long time. To be fair, I wasn’t privy to the whole story, and the occasional dose of percoset could not have done much to improve my own perception of events happening on the other side of a curtain. Still, I think I took in enough of what was going on to understand the poor sobbing man who had to answer this question.
My own stay at the hospital was rather uneventful. Three minor procedures and an overnight stay. It was painful, but hardly beyond my own (less than impressive) tolerance levels. I found the staff pleasant and helpful. The story of my brief encounter with the medical world this weekend has thus far been a rather boring story of a plan coming together nicely. The drama last night was unfolded just beyond the curtain beside me.
The patient showed up well into the evening, obviously in great distress. I could hear the man explain that he had walked out of another hospital because they wouldn’t give him enough pain killers. He didn’t seem to be capable of repeating that move again. Shortly after being left to his own devices, the man began to vomit. He seemed to vomit until he had nothing left, and he just kept on going.
Granted, there were moments of respite, but they were few and far in between. I could hardly imagine the pain he must have experienced, but listening to him cry just like a child was enough to drive the point home for me. The physical suffering of the patient next to me was but the kicker for the real story. Over the course of the evening, the staff slowly seemed to disengage themselves from the struggle to control his pain, replacing the effort to help him with explanations for their own inability to do so. The response time for his requests grew longer and longer over the course of the evening. At least one time I could hear people joking and laughing just outside the door as his bell rang, and the man struggled to expel whatever it was that wanted out of his belly so badly.
Was I missing something? Perhaps the staff believed him to be a problem patient of sorts, contributing to his own misery in one way or another, or perhaps they simply felt they were unable to help him. Either way, their increasing reluctance to try seemed to grow more obvious over the course of the night. I suppose it would make sense in that perverse way that the human mind actually seems to work that a nurse unable to help a patient in any substantive manner would withdraw from him emotionally, but this seemed to be an exceptionally striking loss of compassion. By morning, it seemed the staff could hardly pretend to care anymore just what happened to this patient.
One particularly sad chapter in the drama came when my neighbor asked for pain medication. He was given a pill and some water, all of which stayed down less than a few minutes. As the patient pointed out that his pain medication was now in the bucket, the hospital staff argued that some of it must be making its way into his system. How much was in the bucket and how much was in his system, no-one could tell, and that unanswered question had serious consequences. The man continued to complain of pain all night, and having given him pain medications, the staff explained that they could not risk giving him anything more. Despite any evidence to the contrary, they had to assume the medication they had given him was still in his system. He would simply have to tough it out.
At some point in the evening, I heard somebody take them man into the bathroom where they left him. About ten minutes later I heard a crash. Do, I know that he fell? Not quite. Something else could have gone wrong, but I continue to believe that is what I heard. By this point in the evening, I was getting a slow response to my own requests for help. Perhaps the staff was just that busy, and perhaps my own efforts to get help for the neighbor had earned me too a skeptical ear. Either way, no-one came to help for several minutes as I pressed buttons and talked into speakers. The man begged me to find him some help. Finally, I decided to get up and make for the hallway.
Someone finally entered the room as I grunted and groaned my way out of bed. After asking them to help my neighbor I was told he was just lying on the floor. It was only after I insisted several times that he had fallen, and after I added that I had heard a crash, that anyone turned their attention to him. After sometime they got him back into his bed and listened as he added a very sore shoulder to his list of complaints. Convinced that it had popped out of place, my neighbor asked for help pushing it back into its socket. This request was of course denied, and rightly so, I imagine, but I couldn’t help thinking that to this person it was just one more refusal to help him.
Things were relatively quiet for awhile after that. When asked, the man always said he was in pain. Finally, someone brought him a couple pain pills and a glass of water. The man patiently explained that he would vomit them back up just as they had the first time. His nurse interrupted with terse question; “Do you want them or not?”
After a long silence, I could hear the man taking the pills. It had to be a difficult decision. The previous botched attempt at such medication was the very reason he spent the night in so much pain, and now this was the only option the nurse could (or would) offer him. She left immediately after giving him the pills, and the room fell silent. As it happens, he did keep this batch down, and things were okay for awhile (less than an hour). Who knows, maybe there was a trace of wisdom in her cruelty.
I keep thinking about this, wondering how accurate my sense of the events may be, what details may fill the gaps in my own sense of the story, and just how much I should be angry over the story unfolding beside me. If I’ve gauged the bathroom incident correctly, then I think that argues for an angry-as-hell verdict, but I am on very uncertain ground there. Most of the story takes place in more grey areas, a patient in great pain, and staff well beyond their ability to help him. I wonder if people may have overlooked some options that were available to them all along, but I don’t know what those would be. Perhaps there are lessons here about the way bureaucracies allocate authority for decisions and the way people deal with those policies in real life. Far more likely, I suspect there is a lesson here about the way that people respond to their own limitations, and the short trip from inability to help to utter lack of compassion. These weren’t uncaring people, at least I don’t believe they were, but by the end of the evening you’d have been hard-pressed to see it in their actions toward that patient.
Ah well, I now have a date with some percoset.
…which I am apparently unable to spell.
This is going to be one of those this-is-what’s-happening-in-my-life posts. I generally don’t do those. I figure a blog is a sufficiently self-indulgent exercise in itself when I am at least trying to talk about other things, but life has gotten far eough ahead of the me and my blog that a commet or two about my present state would seem to be in order.
…My keyboard has a sticky ‘n’ …dammit!
Anyway, It’s been a Hell of a summer. I won’t say its been a particularly good one, but it certainly did have its moments. The first feature quality of this summer would seem to be travel. First I flew down to Denver, then I flew to Vegas, then to Orange Couty, then back to Vegas, then up to Barrow, down to Santa Fe as part of a summer camp I ran for high school kids, then back to Barrow, down to Anchorage, and back to Barrow once again. …and I’m headed back to Anchorage in a few days.
That’s a bit much.
Extra travel (always by plane) is part of life i barrow, but this is a bit much. I worry that my cats will soon disown me. Seriously, all I have to do now is touch my socks and they are all over me. That aloe makes me feel bad.
This summer has also been a bit too medical for my tastes. I entered Jue with two teeth on the left side of my mouth making a good argument against ordering a steak dinner. They have had me chewing on the right side for awhile now, and I’m getting pretty good at it. Mid you, both of these teeth have had work doe on them, ostensibly complete work. So, an endodontist tore into one perfectly good cap i search of problems with a root canal and my regular dentist tore into a nice filling to investigate the other tooth. Turns out the first was a lateral channel near the bottom of the root, ad the secod also had an extra root. The doc took what nerves she could outta the tooth, but lucky me, I get to visit another endodontist soon. …and I get to pay some hefty bills on accounta my dental plan is already maxed out for the year.
I the interim, I have a steak i my fridge, and I wouldn’t bet on it still being there tomorrow night.
The funny thig about doctors is that if you avoid them for a long time (say about a decade) they tend to find things when you come back. Everythig on me is more or less fixible, or live-with-able, but damn! I am relieved to learn that the general sense of fatigue that has bee creeping up o me for years may have a specific (and perfectly treatable) cause. That’s a good thing. I’m also happy that this doc found the source of recurrent pai i my side. Let me just say that a certain kidney stone has a date with destiny. …soon, you bastard! I do wonder why previous doctors missed it, but K-Sarah, or something like that! Also, I am hoping the outtie which became my belly button a few years back will one day soon be a innie again. Three small procedures in one day; I wonder if that adds up to at least a medium-ish procedure?
Also, I guess I eed to eat more bananas. At least I’m told my heart will stop skipping around so much if I do. And of course it’s time to start thinking about my cholesterol, …well past time actually.
…and once again money! My bank account was healthy a few weeks ago. It’s taking a hell of a hit now, and I can’t help but wonder what I would have done without work-related insurance.
Then I realize the answer is obvious. I would have done exactly what I did do when I didn’t have insurance, which is nothing. Without insurance I still wouldn’t know what that pain was in my side, why I am so damned tired all the time, or why the slightest exercise makes me want crawl directly into the grave. And since a couple of those things are ticking time bombs, I guess my story would be a tragedy unfolding it’s way toward the climax chapter.
So, I guess things are shaking out okay, but I definitely have to rethink my perspective on doctors. Time was when I simply couldn’t afford any of this care, but I was awful slow to take advantage of it when my circumstances changed. Ah well, I shall kick myself over this three or four more times before moving on.
We are already seeing snow here in Barrow, though it isn’t sticking yet. I am oe week ito a ew semester, which usually means a more stable schedule, and more time with the cats. I ca only hope my students don’t pick up any bad spelling habits from yours truly. …and maybe I can fid some compressed air i Anchorage.
The blog looks like a bit of a train wreck at the moment. My topics are a bit more scattered than usual, and my efforts to catch up on summer comments ended with many good people unanswered. As of now, I eve have a badly misspelled title i one of my posts.
I have plas for several posts. Most of those plans have been in place since Jue, but I suppose that’s better to be behid than to have nothing to say. Hopefully I will soon begin knockig out new material soon.
Could someone please eat these donuts for me? The doc says they will kill me, so naturally I bought a whole firing squad.
My friend Sarah, from “A Knitty Society” has finished her own critique of the Erotic Heritage Museum. Her thoughts on the subject can be found in this post.
Ok!! I finally stole some free time to finish up my review of the Erotic Heritage Museum in Las Vegas. Thank you readers for being so patient! :D Oh and, before I begin, let me just say that as a person who studies sex and gender is multicultural contexts, I am very sensitive to human sexuality and to the controversy of sex work and its hotly debated legitimacy. My intention with this post is the critical analysis of the Erotic Heritage Museum and its themes -which deserves it- not about the legitimacy of sex work or the porn industry.
Recently, I went with my husband and a friend (Northy) to the Erotic Heritage Museum here in Las Vegas (check out his article here!!). Yeah, I know…the last place you may expect to find a museum about sex, right? Well, that’s one part of the joke; it was actually located…
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