Doctor, Please — Some More of These

Getting old is a messy, messy business. This is the dark side of modern medical science. People who would once have expired after a few days or weeks of misery can now live on for years. At a certain point, what’s being extended is pretty much just the misery. You always hope for the best, but the best becomes more and more elusive.

Since bringing my mom home from the hospital on Sunday, I’ve been staying at her house to take care of various things — food, oxygen, assorted appointments, and making sure the medication regimen is set up. Mom is taking nine or ten different kinds of pills. She has a very nice day-by-day pill dispenser box with four separate compartments for each day, but we have now reached the point where four compartments are not enough. She takes pills at 7:00 AM, after breakfast, at 1:00 PM, after dinner, and at bedtime. And of course the eyedrops.

Mom is 88. Up until last week, she was able to live independently in her own home. She did her own shopping. Not only did she drive to the weekly card games with her friends, she provided taxi service to friends who are no longer able to drive.

Those days are over now. She’s still mentally alert (when she’s awake), but she’s not going to be driving any more. She’s getting up and down the hall to the bathroom with a walker, and moving very slowly indeed.

She’d like to continue living in her own home. Nobody likes the idea of moving to assisted living. It means loss of privacy, loss of control over your own schedule, loss of control over Read more

Those Darn Ivories

Normally I avoid making fun of the writing of non-native speakers of English. But this is so good I had to share it. I was googling around, looking at posts on piano playing as a hobby, and I found this extraordinary paragraph:

“The sound of the piano is actually some kind of a therapy specifically for unfortunate musical pieces. Picture yourself being over your head towards the seems or ticking melodies one after the other. Picture yourself participated within the sensation of grief, of pain, as well as discomfort as represented through notes. There’s much more in order to music compared to terms can communicate. This is a lot more than fulfills the human ear. Do you notice many people becoming carried away by the feeling piano music is actually giving them? Have to count lots of crying kisses inside a piano concert?”

There’s more, but that’s the gem. The sound of the piano is therapy for unfortunate musical pieces — what a world that observation evokes! What would make a piece unfortunate? And how would the sound of the piano act as therapy for an unfortunate piece, I wonder. And discomfort as represented through notes! I’m not sure even Thelonious Monk ever represented discomfort through notes, and who ever came closer than Monk? Ah, and then the crying kisses — the coup de grace, the final nail in the coffin of this astonishing prose poem.

After They’ve Seen Paree

I’ve been working on a new interactive fiction story/game for a few weeks, but I’m starting to lose interest in going on with it. It’s a contemporary dark fantasy on a theme from Greek mythology, and it’s not without points of interest. The concept might make a decent game. But I made the mistake of reading a few great short stories by Margaret Atwood, and a couple by Peter S. Beagle. Now I’m seeing that my characters are one-dimensional and my narrative is wooden.

What’s more, I don’t think my skills (such as they are) are the source of the problem. I think the narrative devices available in IF are simply deficient.

The narrative in IF is sabotaged at every turn by the command prompt. Long cut-scenes in IF are … well, they’re not interactive, are they? When the narrative is cut short in order to stick in a command prompt, the narrative voice has no room to open up.

The topics in IF are too concrete and physical. Atwood’s narratives meander from Read more

Playing the Piano for Pleasure

Most days, I spend an hour or so playing the piano. I started learning as an adult, so my technique is fairly limited, but I’m accomplished enough to enjoy playing a variety of music — Bach preludes and fugues, sonatas by Haydn and Clementi, easy Chopin (the pieces marked “Largo”).

I have exactly one friend who is in a similar situation musically, and he lives in Seattle and/or North Dakota, somewhere up there. Yesterday it occurred to me that I might be able to find people with whom I share this interest using the Great God Google.

No luck yet. A search for “amateur pianist” yielded several competitions for amateur pianists, a group in Boston, a teacher on YouTube who loves to r-r-r-roll her ar-r-r-r’s, and not much else. I think it’s great that amateurs can enter competitions, but I’m not playing at anywhere near that level — nor am I interested in competing. Competing for awards in musical excellence strikes me as a bone-stupid waste of time.

Given the frantic pace of modern life, maybe it’s understandable that there are not a lot of adults sitting around playing Bach for fun. Still, it’s kind of sad.

Notes vs. Process

As a hobbyist-level computer programmer, I find Csound very attractive. As a composer, I find Csound almost impossibly balky and difficult to use.

The key difference is, I’m an old-school composer. My music is made of notes, which are deployed in phrases, measures, and chord progressions. If you want to write notes, other programs (FL Studio, Reason, Cubase, and so on) are much, much easier to use than Csound. Or you could use pencil and paper, there’s an idea.

Csound is dragging me (whimpering gently) toward a different kind of composing — toward a music based on process. A Csound piece lasting five minutes might have only a single “note,” or maybe eight or ten of them, in its event list. Each of those note events, however, would or could have Read more

In Search of Meaning

As we get older, the prospect that we will accomplish great things in the future begins to recede.

Because I have no family, much of my enjoyment in life comes from accomplishing things. I long ago gave up my plans for great things, but the hope of accomplishing medium-sized things still lures me.

Yet even the medium-sized things are starting to seem much ado about very little.

I wish I was happy puttering in my garden, watching movies, playing the piano. But I’m not. I get restless. I keep wanting to do something. Something meaningful, that is.

And not just an activity — a project. An activity is something you can pick up and put down again whenever you feel like it. Since my impulses generally scamper off in a dozen directions, my activities tend to lack continuity, and therefore to lack emotional staying power. The landscape is littered Read more

Shall We Tense?

I’m thinking about recasting the IF story I’m working on, switching from second person, present tense to third person, past tense. I wish I was sure what would be best. The story is less than half written, but even so, it’s a big job. (If I wait until the story is all laid out and then decide to switch, the job will be far bigger!)

Eric Eve’s game “Shelter from the Storm” lets the player choose tense and person freely … although future tense and plural person settings are not included. That might be fun to try sometime — a hive-mind (or simply royal) narrator. Here’s an actual output from “Shelter from the Storm” as it might appear in first person plural, future tense:

   We will be carrying a theatrical magazine, a piece of paper, and a long
   wooden pole, and we will be wearing a beret and khaki battledress.

That has a kind of eerie charm. More to the point, though, Eric’s experiment seems, from what I can see, to have extended no further than Read more

Random Summer Reading

After inhaling five or six Discworld novels, which are great fun but sort of the literary equivalent of a big tub of flavored popcorn, I needed a change of pace. On my literature shelves I found a paperback (picked up at a library used book sale, no doubt) of essays by George Orwell. Orwell is consistently insightful and articulate. Not all of the topics in the collection were of interest to me — I skipped the essay on the English national character — but his reflections on the Spanish Civil War, on Gandhi, and on his years as a boy at a boarding school are fascinating.

After finishing the essays, I browsed around on the shelves and opened up my yellowing copy of Understanding Media, by Marshall MacLuhan. Fifty years on, MacLuhan’s basic incoherence is laid bare. He had a few good ideas, granted — but today it’s easy to see his eyes spinning around like mad little pinwheels. Ideas cannon off the walls with no more than an occasional nod in the direction of reality. The book is unreadable.

Tonight a friend on Facebook mentioned an article in the NY Times about the re-emergence (in a heavily modified and less extravagant form) of the Whorf hypothesis. The article makes a pretty good case, or so it would appear. But then, Whorf made what looked like a pretty good case too, except that it turned out the gears were stripped on his research data and his deductions were leaking motor oil all over the driveway. Like MacLuhan, Whorf was Read more

Can Interactive Fiction Be Literature?

I don’t often think about literature as such; I only think about whether I like a given book. But there is such a thing as literary fiction, and it’s not the same thing as commercial fiction. Some literature is commercially successful, of course. I don’t mean to imply that if it sells well, it can’t be literature. But there are differences.

Before we can look at the question of whether a work of interactive fiction could ever qualify as literature, we need to have some sort of working definition of how a conventional novel qualifies as literature.

I’m aware that there are people who find this sort of question insulting. The idea that anything might be inherently superior to the stuff they happen to like is, in their view, profoundly Read more

Religion in the Schools

It occurred to me, after I clicked the Publish button on “Lurching & Staggering” this morning, that my point about conservatives preferring ignorance while liberals prefer education was open to counter-attack from a certain species of misguided person. They might say something like this: “You claim to favor education, but I’m sure you want to keep religion out of the schools. So you’re in favor of ignorance too!”

Not at all. I heartily approve of teaching about religion in the public schools. But I do think most of us can agree that the public schools shouldn’t favor one religion over another. I mean, if you’re a Baptist, you really don’t want your kids being indoctrinated with Mormonism, do you? I didn’t think so. So let’s not play favorites. If the schools teach about Christianity, they should also teach about Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, the 19th century Spiritualism vogue, and the neo-Pagan movement. Also about Mormonism and Scientology. Fair is fair — if we’re going to teach it, let’s teach it all.

Somehow I don’t think this is quite what religious conservatives have in mind.

And of course, if we’re going to teach kids about religion, we should teach them all about religion, not just the moral guidance part or the miracles part. We should teach them about how the Catholic Church once burned people at the stake for daring to propose basic scientific theories. We should teach about Read more