25 April 2019

The Red Angel and Symbolic Compression

We finished season 2 of Star Trek: Discovery this weekend and in discussing the episode with my wife a lot of things popped up, secondary to the show itself. The finale itself, as an episode of television, was quite good. We got one of the more clean and interesting looking space battles I've ever seen, certainly the most interesting of any Trek battle sequence. It tidied the show itself up quite nicely, putting a bow on this season and the various discrepancies the series has posed between itself and canon. A lot of the relational subplots were equally completed and the entire series is now positioned for a fun and weird third season. The plot points the show brought to close, however, did not and do not often make a lot of sense, but is that the important bit?

What I first thought of in reflecting on the DISCO finale was the series finale of LOST. I gave my own thoughts on that bit of television almost ten years ago, and I think it's a fine parallel for our friends out there on the U.S.S. Discovery. Because, I refer now to another quote I included in my LOST review, Discovery isn't really about space ships or Klingons or the end of all sentient life; it's about people. It's about the characters, the crew of the ship and their relation to one another.
Image result for disco red angel

I can't imagine having to split my time in the writers' room in creating careful character pieces interwoven with interesting scifi. It seems too much. It is, indeed, too much as any critic of the show will tell you; Discovery does not hit the balance perfectly at all. They veer heavily on the relationship side as is evidenced in just about every. single. episode. Because each episode has at least one tearful intercharacter moment. The finale had several. And none of them made sense in context.

"We have two minutes to save all sentient life! Let me spend all of it telling how you've changed me and are my family!"

A lot of criticism was spent pointing this out and shouting it down. Those same dissenters employed the same tactics with LOST, because who cares about how characters are connected on an existential level when their are polar bears to account for? What's the use of Spock and his sister reconciling on a deep relational plateau when the glass on the blast door of the Enterprise withstands a nuclear-level explosion?

As we discussed this further, it hit me: we're not just talking about two views on how to watch science fiction; we're edging close to two views on looking at the world.

One view sees the bigger picture, the interrelationships, the connection, the oneness of the message. The other view is focused on "facts" and forensics. The contemporary world, living in the wake of the scientific revolution, has gotten very good at caring about the facts, the physical actuality of things, possibly at the cost of the former (of course I mean this in a larger, societal way; not in a complete sense, that would be stupid).

This brings us round to something Jonathan Pageau refers to as "compressed symbolism". I don't know if he's the first, but he's the first I've found to talk about the Bible as compressing narratives and stories. This makes sense. As stories get passed around the big themes are the things that should stay apparent, that are still poking out, when the forensic details get lost. He talks about the creation story in this fashion and refers to the story of the Magi in this way. The Creation story may not literally be completely true, in fact it's probably not. But in it's symbolism and poetry and "compression" it's trying to tell us something. The same can be said about the Icon of Pentecost.

Pentecost Icon, Kirillo-Belozersk Monastery (c.1497)

The Icon of Pentecost has two immediate glares that should alarm anyone looking at the world forensically: St. Paul is there, as is some dude we call Kosmos. The inclusion of St. Paul is alarming enough -- this image is not depicting a historical event, as the Holy Apostle Paul, at the time of Pentecost, had not yet had his revelation and had not yet begun serving the Lord. Seeing a bearded figure representing all peoples (in the figure of the cosmos) is then the red flag; we're not talking about "literal" scientific facts.

So what are we to do about this? Get all huffy that this image isn't lining up with reality as we see it? Perhaps we can take it on the same terms the author created it by. And perhaps we can do the same for fiction.

Now this is tricky with something like Star Trek. Trek has, at once, a well-established scientific background that all its subsets must adhere to. Simultaneously that background is only "scientific." Some of it is more factual than the rest, especially as series have spanned generations of advancement in our knowledge of how the universe works. So it's all loosey-goosey anyway. The rule by which we measure how flimsy Trek science can be varies from person to person and series to series.

So if we see Discovery more about the people and less about the science...well then, more's the better for us viewers. Because then we can actually enjoy the ride and find the message, rather than getting hung up on our own inconsistent needs for consistency.

26 February 2019

Beatsie Boys Book

I recently finished the Beastie Boys Book (thanks, Justin) and was struck by a number of things that I choose now to share with you.

Foremost in my brain is just how lucky these dudes were. The entirety of the Beatsie career, almost, was predicated on right place-right time: growing up in the birthplace of hip-hop? Check! Being born into permissive families so you can roam NYC clubs at a young age? Check! Finding and befriending the biggest and best early hip-hop group, and their manager? Check! Finding a label during the age of record labels that would give you creative control and a bunch of money? Done deal!

There are more examples, but these guys seriously got a lot of breaks. They were basically just music nerds with the audacity to find and use the resources and talent to make a career out of this nerdery. And that's not a dig; all the breaks and opportunities don't mean a whole lot if you don't latch on to them with both fangs, or have the musicianship to make something worthwhile, which brings me to another observation: MCA.

Even though I consider myself a (quite literally) life-long fan of the Beasties, I had no idea just how important Yauch was to the process. It should've clicked with me after he died, as all of their projects basically stopped with him. But MCA was the dreamer and the doer of the band. He was always pushing them on to the next thing, finding a crazy idea and then actually following through. All three of them wrote a lot of music (Adrock especially, it seems) but in terms of direction and momentum, it was all Yauch. As Adrock and Mike D emphasize time and again, he was the type of person who found wild notions and then actually followed through on them.

Most impressive of all, to me anyways, was the relationship they had with creativity. They always seemed very comfortable with their creativity, with taking risks and running with whatever insane notion came to them (I recall, quite distinctly, after Hello Nasty came out, seeing an ACTUAL infomercial on the ACTUAL paid access channel that they produced to promote the album). I'd say this comes from: (1) starting on a path of professional creative output at an early age and (2) having each other as editors from the beginning. The three of them, along with the rest of the crew that came and went over the years, was like a petri dish of cool ideas and musical freedom and it didn't go wrong because they didn't allow it to go wrong. Because there were three of them. When others got famous and surrounded themselves with enablers, the Beastie Boys had a trinity, a triumvirate, that kept them each grounded and doing what they were supposed to be doing.

Final point: while I don't think Mr. Adam Horovitzt or Michael "Sweet Lou" Diamond are done making things, this book feels like the logical conclusion, the capstone, to the Beatsie Boy legend. As a product in the marketplace it's beautiful and Beastie-ish, full of funny essays, excellent and rare photos, playlists, gear list, and sundry else. As a bit of writing, it's heartfelt and touching, most of all for us nerds who grew up alongside these guys as the cool older brothers we never actually had.

If anything it stands as a monument to a different time and to a different people in a different stage of life when things were simpler.

09 January 2019

Truth Solution

Hey, it's me! I wrote this post in the middle of 2018 as part of a trove of posts I'm sitting on and not releasing (hence the slump this blog has seen). Said posts are in the stasis chamber because I don't want this blog to become a place for political or ecumenical debate; and yet I can't help writing about this stuff as it is where I am these days. This post seemed innocuous enough so I'm posting it now. Hopefully 2019 will mean more writing and publishing projects, maybe even some fiction to post here. Or not. Either way, the train keeps moving. I've no less than a dozen games and stories in the cooker so we'll see if time and energy allow me to complete anything, or publish some long-dormant completed works.


04 September 2018

A Prayer for Writers in the Morning

So what have I been up to? Not a whole lot of writing! Most of what I've written here has been about my faith journey, which I'm not totally comfortable sharing yet. But I'm easing my way back in the saddle and deciding what to focus on and finish next, now that things have slowed down for Heavy Metal Thunder Mouse (we won and ENnie!). Part of that is going through old stuff and sifting what's worth picking back up. In that process I found this "prayer" I wrote several years ago and found amusing. May it encourage those of you who also get up too early to try and do something.

a cup of... by carmine-voleme
a cup of... by carmine-voleme
Awake, o spirit!
Awake, O creative heart!
Let not the devil tempt you back to sloth,
but let the Lord free you for to make fun things.

As such is in the coffee, so let such be with you

Awake, O sleeper, for you believe in the creative process
and, foolishly, that it is best done early in the morning
So, awake, young sloth, and make fun things and write stories no one will read
Let thine fingers fly with the speed of eagles
Eagles who are still half-asleep and on their first cup

Awake and let not the internet send thee into distraction
for cats are cute and Facebook is irritating, but in a fun way.
Let good things come from your hands
and not stupid

07 February 2018

Flash Fiction

She walked the same road every day.

No matter the season, no matter the noises, no matter the weather, she made the same, long loop of road every day. Suit up in appropriate clothing, shorts, skirt, sunhat, winter coat, snow shoes, whatever was necessary to complete the day's road. It was automation, it was catharsis.

She walked the same road every day.

Like all great journeys, it started one day with a simple decision: to walk. And so she did. The air was crisp with the newness of fall and refreshed her lungs and trickled into her soul. She kept walking, even when she was tried, wandering into spaces she'd seen a thousand times but never bothered to investigate. She found nothing. Next day, she did it again. Soon it was her daily bread. Something was being exorcised, though she could not say what it was. Whether it would end or not was unclear and immaterial; only the road mattered.

30 January 2018

Pharisees and Publicans

The liturgical calendar recognizes this past weekend as that of the Pharisee and the Publican. This comes from a story Christ told us that is recorded in the book of Luke, chapter 18. In short, two men enter the temple -- one a pious pharisee, the other a tax collector. The Pharisee boasts, saying, "Thank God I'm not like them." The Publican says, "God, have mercy on me." (Coincidentally, this is where we get the Jesus Prayer) Christ ends this tale with a call to humility, saying the tax-collector went home justified.

I noticed this on the calendar a few weeks ago and it's been on my mind since. It seems especially pertinent in my theological pursuits, as all Christians (Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox, probably even Oriental Orthodox and other, smaller communions) suffer from what Seraphim of Patina called the "correctness disease." We want to get this Christian thing right, not because it benefits our souls and the ones around us, but because we don't want to be like them. Anyone suffering from "convertitis" is immediately tempted by this.

"I've got this Reform theology sorted out," says one, "so let me tell you why you're wrong and probably going to hell."

"I'm a catechumen now," says the other, "so let me tell you why your Protestant belief system is heresy."

Suddenly the understanding God has granted us becomes a step that puts us over our neighbors. Suddenly we're not like them.

I hope, no matter where I land theologically, that I can be like the publican, recognizing my need for God no matter what. Pray for me!

09 January 2018


Last year I spent some time working on a heavy metal demo with my good buddy @CapedSam. We got the thing done, got it mastered by the inimitable Joey Jones, and I was able to release it just yesterday. I hope you like it and I hope it is the first of many musical fruits to come.

I've also had writing on the brain majorly of late. HMTM is progressing, as are my theological pursuits, but really I want to write some fiction this year.