wax banks

second-best since Cantor

Category: freewrite

Why the villain?

Villains are free.

Villains are unbound by social constraint, that’s how you know they’re villains.

That’s the fun of it all.

Heroes are boring.

Until the hero crosses the threshold to the magical world — the world-in-itself — she’s bound by convention, expectation, tradition.

In the magical world, she experiences true freedom for the first time. The Campbellian road of trials is a series of opportunities, not to Do Hard Work or to Learn Valuable Lessons, but to experience meaningful freedom, which is responsibility, connectedness, a fullness of engagement. Acting freely in a world unveiled.

(Inaction isn’t freedom.)

Until the hero comes into her power, she is reactive. She takes orders — not least from the villain.

The villain acts, the hero reacts. Until hero and villain square up, the villain represents a problem whose parameters aren’t yet known. The hero can’t imagine how to beat the villain because she can’t imagine being so free.

Out in the magical world, she begins to fully inhabit her actions — she comes, not into power, but into will.

Now her mind is free, her actions are entirely hers. She sees that she is responsible only to herself, and freely chooses to be part of life for reasons other than accumulation and aggrandizement (i.e. she chooses ‘good’).

She returns to the mundane world and acts according to her own will rather than the villain’s. In service.

The villain is revealed in this, the final act, as pitiable or pathetic — because we see hero and villain granted the same power, the same opportunity, but only the hero choosing something larger than herself. The big ‘Let me tell you my evil plan’ speech functions precisely to deflate the villain as character (mad, needy, craven, vengeful, hubristic, etc.) just at his moment of maximum threat to the hero/world/order. In the final act, as the villain grows desperate to stop the hero’s resurgence, he shrinks as she grows. He ends up a solved problem.

The villain is the hero as she might have been, which is to say, hero and villain together constitute a personality. Without a good villain, a hero has (is) no personality at all; she’s inevitable, entitled. A legacy admit.

(One modern convention depicts the villain as a literal element of the hero’s psychology — a personality at war with itself. ‘Clever,’ but one difficulty with such stories is: why is anyone else even in the story?)


The morning bath.

Wake up, open the laptop, and if Twitter is open (or the compulsion to open it kicks in as usual before good sense takes over) you get your daily reminder that the current president of the USA is the stupidest man ever to hold that office — and strongly favoured to be, by the end of his disastrous time in office, the worst president in our nation’s history.

Every morning.

Today we find that he made this claim in an interview with pretend-journalist Sean Hannity:

The country, we took it over, the last eight years they borrowed more than it did in the whole history of our country. So they borrowed More than $10 trillion. Right? We picked up $5.2 trillion just in the stock market. Possibly picked up the whole thing in terms of the first nine months. In terms of value. You can say in one sense, we are really increasing values and may be in the sense, we are reducing debt. We are very honored by it and very, very happy by what’s happening in Wall Street.

He can’t help but lie — and make elementary mistakes. He makes the mistakes because he’s catastrophically stupid, stupider than George W Bush; he lies because unlike Bush he has no moral compass, no sense of responsibility or service.

People don’t talk enough about his stupidity. I go on about it because it will matter long after he’s gone: he is conditioning tens of millions of gullible, scared people — many of them idiots themselves, but not all — to expect nothing from the office of the president but a kind of ongoing pro-wrestling schtick, devoid of higher thought (systemic thought, rational inquiry, self-correction). I believe this is in no small measure a resentful reaction to Obama, one of the great models of the ‘life of the mind’ in our lifetime, who for all his failings as a chief executive demonstrated the enormous moral value of debate, dialectic, curiosity.

Our current idiot president doesn’t believe in any of those things; he doesn’t think they’re possible. But while he seems to be devoid of empathy, and he’s too stupid to have any kind of rich inner life himself, he could understand his predecessor — he could understand those of us who love to think — if he had even a shred of imagination, moral or otherwise.

Have you seen the pictures of the bedroom he shared with his first wife, whom he betrayed with his second-wife-to-be? With all the money in the world, the best this idiot real-estate heir could come up with was to drape every square inch of the room in gold. That’s not a failure of taste, but of imagination: in this idiot’s mind, the best use of all that money was to see gold when he woke up, went to bed, and (according to her own sworn deposition) raped his wife.

Which is terrible — the raped-his-wife bit, I mean, I don’t care about the gold — but it all speaks to a deeper failure of imagination. He can’t comprehend systems: witness his ludicrous misunderstanding in the Hannity quote. He can’t imagine that the center of a system could be anywhere but the spot where he stands, and he definitely can’t imagine that a system might lack a center, that lawmaking in the USA might involve a public/private/secret apparatus vastly more complex than any he’s had to deal with in private life. He can’t conceive of decisions except in terms of their ‘optics,’ can’t understand history except as a just-so story about how he came to feel as he does today. His myopia is absolute, crippling, because he’s unable to know anything but what’s in front of him. Comey hurt my feelings, fire him. But that would have terrible cost. But that cost is in the future, which does not matter. (And why would it? Nothing I’ve done has ever mattered, really mattered, before.)

His moral failings, his intellectual failings, would be less crippling if he had any imagination at all — if, say, he could imagine Barack Obama as having had his own life with its own compromises and challenges and strokes of good fortune, having arrived at his position(s) honestly. Our idiot president doesn’t seem to have any principles at all; he sees the world as full of (1) people like him and (2) subjects because he can’t imagine any other world. He doesn’t read, he doesn’t study, might never have studied anything in any depth in his entire life. He just stares at the television waiting for them to talk about him, and now there’s an entire ‘news’ channel devoted not only to talking about his every utterance but to glorifying him as a world-historical agent of change, which he manifestly doesn’t understand but it must be pretty great because he keeps hearing his name over and over and over…

The USA is too vast (geographically, demographically, conceptually) for anyone to know all of it, so those charged with its care need vivid imaginations. He has none. For many reasons, this included, he is unfit to hold the office of the president.

morning morning morning morning morning

Epistemological status: Nonsense.

freewrite to start the day. can’t be bothered with proper capitalization and punctuation. ok cheating: i’m allowed to delete a word or sentence.

science fiction is afflicted, not surprisingly, by the same disease as ‘the humanities’ in academia: pathologically lazy metaphors deployed by writers pig-ignorant of even basic math and science. sokal and bricmont had blades out for the french critique-of-power dweebs years ago. i think this is why ‘speculative fiction’ has become the label of choice: science is hard, scoring political points is easy. coming-of-age ‘genre’ stories are (comparatively) easy. partly this is a specific instance of the ‘ignorant people can’t write good literature’ complaint, but it goes deeper: SF claimed its role as the essential late-20C literature not least because great SF writers could imagine and translate and articulate complex concepts in terms other than the popular — they could talk about their time in a language that wasn’t simply of their time, if that makes sense. Tolkien the same: estrangement at the level of language yes but also conceptually, in terms of worldview. ‘heroism’ meaning something fundamentally different to Tolkien than to modern readers. i think of Ancillary Justice, which disappointed me last year, and its too-familiar handling of ‘identity’ and ‘gender.’ it needed more philosophy, more science, more alienness. ursula le guin could have worked wonders with that material.

SF’s aliens are most interesting as alien modes of thought — but writers bound to the present, to fashion, have a hard time generating that generative alienation. ‘the present’ is a metaphor-field. think too of Deadwood and its astonishing imagined language, the way David Milch’s multiply inverted verses could represent streams of self-modifying consciousness. think of Westworld‘s replicants, the depth with which that story’s writers explored specific theories of consciousness in technical language. compare those great achievements to the embarrassingly shitty ‘worldbuilding’ in Ready Player One, barely qualifying as an act of the imagination: naked contemporary wish-fulfillment without a moment’s thought for a world beyond our own. think of clarke’s Ramans, who ‘do everything in threes’ for reasons that remained inscrutable even to clarke himself (the haunting closing line was added as an afterthought), or of Roy Batty storming across the rooftops of LA after rick deckard, or of the thousand and one meanings which attach to pynchon’s Rocket. (this is one reason pynchon is our best writer: he sees his conceptual material through. allows it to flower.)

if Robert Anton Wilson’s schtick has value, it’s his combination of at times intense alienation and attraction: sex for its own sake, puns for their own sake, and then a grinding assault on pious certainty. of course RAW was a great dilettante, he was just smart and fun enough to get away with it.

china miéville deep in his political theory to write books full of SF/fantasy political theory. and then how thin his stuff gets when he’s talking on memes and squids in Kraken. i liked what i could be bothered to read of it, but Admirably Strange Images Embodying Concepts Familiar Even to Neil Gaiman’s Readers doesn’t get my dollar.

michael swanwick. john crowley. delany, man.

don’t bother writing science fiction (or criticism) unless you care about the systems that your metaphors are drawing on. please, please, please. the details are the form. it’s all details.

(Deadwood is in part a story about magic and John from Cincinnati is its direct sequel, but i’ll tell you about that some other time.)

this is why you shouldn’t post your freewrites, folks.

Ritual and control (systems): freewrite.

The word ‘ritual’ is overloaded w/judgment because the 20th century was horrible. We have a screwy notion of what time is — the body’s relationship to time, and the mind’s.

Neonates’ hearts have to be taught to beat in time. Ever wonder why they respond so well to bouncing at ~80bpm? Their hearts are learning how to keep a beat. They’re learning how to live.

Technologies collapse space and time, can we agree? One major effect of the Internet is that all libraries are local. My car lets me be 60 miles away in an hour; traveling five miles takes ‘no time at all,’ a unit of time so small I don’t notice it unless I’m in a hurry. Benedict Anderson wrote about this already — the psychic effects of 19C mass media. James Scott as well, in another register. Manovich, Kittler — yr Media Studies 101 reading list, basically.

(The Language of New Media put me off when I read it in grad school; I wonder how I’d feel about it today, where my almost unreadably marked-up copy is…)

What’s ritual? Programmatic action to imbue a moment with meaning: to change the relationship of the mind/body to spacetime. Ritual differs from habit by intention. It differs from ‘process’ in its metaphoricity — rituals aren’t always representational but the action/effect mapping passes through metaphor, which isn’t true of a functional process. How do you make scrambled eggs? Crack, whisk, milk, heat, scramble, no need to pour a ring of salt around yourself in the kitchen. Each step of the process accomplishes something physical, obvious; each step in the ritual (the crimson shawl, the ring of salt, the prayer to Pelor) accomplishes psychotropism.

Psycho+tropism: mind+changing. ‘Learning.’ I’ve been making this point (well it’s not a ‘point’ exactly) in writing for 15 years now.

Science — or no not ‘science’ but whatever hip idiots mean when they say ‘Yay, let’s do science!‘ — is supposed by now to’ve freed us from the Terrible Shackles of ritual. We no longer evoke or imbue or incant or call down the ______ but rather we ‘boot up’ and ‘lifehack’ and oh God it’s too stupid to write down. Point being we’ve replaced magical metaphors with technological ones and have failed to register the implied insult, i.e. that you and I are the same kinds of machines as the ones we serve all day. (On the other hand, given this subservience, maybe calling ourselves ‘computers’ is meant as a compliment? Well: I don’t take it as one.) The idea that you can pop a nootropic or microdose and unlock the awesome power of the human mind isn’t even wrong, it’s a betrayal on another conceptual register altogether — of dignity. The idea, I mean, that there’s nothing else to be gained by taking human time: time at a biological scale.

What am I angry about now. What am I going on about. Please, please look: Western minds have shifted over the last few decades toward a resentment/rejection of ritual, languor, symbol, secret, time as pleasure, mind as space — magic, basically. Magical thought. I mean even the phrase ‘magical thinking’ is a denigration now, as if magic hasn’t been a way of working (in) the world since the dawn of the species, as if ‘magic’ referred simply to the incorrect belief that a fingersnap can make a hated enemy feel pain and not to, oh, the years-long process of careful ego-thinning and -reshaping by which minds open up to an ecstatically imaginative (sur)reality.

Or from another angle: if you drink your stupid burnt Dunkin Donuts coffee-sludge in a hurry on the drive into work, the caffeine will make you somewhat more productive for a short time. There are better habits and worse ones. But you should know that in another world, that drink was part of an inexpressibly more potent behavioural psychotropic, a (don’t tell the boss) ritual of movement from hanging-at-home mode to whatever mode you need to get into to work for those predators at the top of the org chart — and billions of dollars are spent every year to convince you that you don’t need it, that there’s no time for that sort of New Age frippery. For those five minutes of generative peace and wonder and focused consciousness.

So: life gets faster and worse. And the other world, which was only ever within you, a metaphor of unspeakable power, gets smaller and emptier and harder to find.

Very top of the very morning.

In the middle of my 60th or 70th jumping jack, after the ‘core-blasting’ planks and some cat/camel back stretches and the shoulder rolls — which I narrated here alone in our living room, ‘You see the shoulder roll and the arm circle actually serve very different functions,’ to audience nodding and later applause — in the middle of the jackjumping stretch where I decided that the right thing to do was to try with each jumped jack to touch my hands together overhead arms extended (to ‘reach for the sky’ as movie-Al Capone or Dick Tracy’s own Flathead might’ve said) I started smiling so big that I started laughing aloud (audience applause and later the throwing of roses, panties, wadded-up $billion bills), thank Christ there were no children neighbours spouses or other authority figures nearby to be weirded out.

Exercising completely changes who I am in the short, medium, and long term. The obvious immediate result is that I’m happier and feel more attractive. In the medium term I’m less irritable, sleep better, and am more inclined to opt into physically active stuff. In the long term, I die later (statistically speaking).

The difference in my mood from yes- to no-exercise days is absolute. And while it’s been hard to accept this fact, I’m beginning to understand it: I’m in a position to set the mood of the house. This isn’t an inappropriate (‘masculine’) arrogation of power, it’s a (masculine) service.

This has been your semidaily unedited first draft update on yr humble author’s state of mind. Now back to the eggs and b., Reader(s), and good luck.


Two nights in a row now of bad trouble sleeping — capped w/an early morning courtesy of our son. Up & at them. The kind of sleep deficit you think might kill you. Homeostatic sleep pressure is real, I think; should I nap? Must I sleep in order to want to sleep? To want properly — I really really wanna sleep of course, just can’t translate that desire into action, if ‘action’ is the right word.

My wife bought him a cactus, which for various reasons has taken up residence on the kitchen counter. She bought it at IKEA. As one does. The whole store is a giant greenhouse, if you’ve never been. All the carefully packed KILBY bookshelves are badly water damaged. MAZE OF THE BLACK SVØLBØRG.

At lunch yesterday over veggie sushi (warm sweet potato sushi yes yes) I read Maze of the Blue Medusa awhile.

Now it’s too early. I’m on the couch. Head lolling back, eyes closed, typing fingertipwise only while hoping not to sleep exactly but to drift off. Mind halfconnected. In Strunk & White they say to avoid using hyphens when compound words are available, which finewithme. Humorous anecdote about two newspapers merging & foolishly taking a hyphen into their bed to become the News-Free Press. Oh strunkwhite, you scamp.

Apparently ‘Phish Twitter’ is up in arms about something. But I don’t seem to be connected to the right people anymore, because I didn’t see any of it — only people giving thanks for one another and for the good times they had at the show. Plus maybe a little (gentle) sarcasm about recent Trey butchery of the writtens. Do I need angrier acquaintances?

I’m not alone in my preoccupations, which paradoxically makes me less inclined to write about them. I needed that feeling of isolation to have something to push against.

Or but then maybe not.

I’m now aware of dozens of people (or anyway usernames) who share my reading interests and who indeed read more widely in the ‘eliptonic’ and the Weird than I do. Suggesting there are of course thousands of them. I mean ‘us.’ What I could do is join the world and talk to them. That seems like so much work, though.


freewrite to start my reign as lord of all catan. cutthroat game last night at rugs’s house. the game’s only fully compelling when everyone lets their guard down for the first 1/3 or so and actively trades. i’m usually too tight-fisted early on, refusing to give anyone else even a marginal advantage, which has the twofold effect of (1) slowing my development and (2) doing the same to everyone else. actively trading with everyone at the beginning accelerates the opening and midgame but leaves plenty of room for screw-tightening in the endgame.

i won after a couple of huge two-city resource pulls — i had two cities on a 3-wood space, which paid off something unlikely like twice during the game overall, one of those coming at the last possible moment for me to steal Longest Road from krevice, who was within a couple of turns of winning, i think. those four woods lemme build four roads at a stroke. suddenly we’re in the endgame! one turn later i shored up my Longest Road title and it was just a matter of turning out a city and a settlement to close it out. which took an improbably long time but wasn’t, at that point, really in doubt.

i don’t normally think of Settlers in terms of ‘building an engine,’ the way i/you think of Dominion, but last night it really clicked for me. i normally play a development card-heavy strategy in one or two small board regions, which gives me the mild thrill of bluffing and sneaking up on everyone to get Largest Army (no one else in our crew is as crazy about cards as i am), but this time i played a diversified Longest Road strategy that let me build my ‘engine’ steadily without it getting too taxing or boring. this pushed Krevice into a late-game card-buying binge, which nearly won it all for him — he had two VP in hand and was a turn away from Largest Army. Rugs was never really in the running after being throttled early by bad dice luck and awkward opening placement.

now that there are so many great German-style board games at every rules weight, it’s easy to forget that the reason Catan is so popular is that it’s an absolutely gorgeous design — for most groups, a near-perfect ‘starter’ game.

(freebate dewrite)

Freewrite to start the day. Eyes closed. It’s cold outside but I literally walked out to the car (to collect hat, glasses) singing ‘Oh What a Beautiful Morning,’ just to give you a sense of how grand a man can be.

My voice has returned to normal. For a couple of weeks after we returned from Disneyworld it was ragged — an octave lower than normal when I was quiet. All the ladies loved it. All the Skywalkers instinctively perked up their ears when I spoke. But that’s all over now, I think. When I speak in a low voice now I hear what I used to: the auditory remnants of undiagnosed childhood asthma. The lungs aren’t regenerative. I’ll never be a true tenor again but probably only cancer will turn me into a baritone.

And then only for a short time.

Well this got morbid dinnit. Eyes closed again. Word count. It becomes important to a man to maintain ‘word count.’ I haven’t worried about sperm count in a few years but so it’s nice to have a quantifiable measure of some sort.

My son is up. This doesn’t concern me. ‘Daddy! Come!’ he yells downstairs, but I say I’m writing and he decides to pester my wife for a while instead. One of my resolutions for the new year: play with my son undistractedly more often. I was doing superbly at first but the last few days have been, for reasons I can no longer recall, trying. Pendulum swings.

Been listening to NewToMe old music. Camel case, see? That’s how you know I once studied computer science, though a man — a real man — would have lowercased that first letter. And verbed the word ‘lowercase.’ Thank god this text editor has the dignity and taste to mark the word ‘verbed’ as a typo.

I couldn’t watch the debate last night. I often find it hard to watch those things. I don’t derive pleasure from seeing stupid people behave stupidly, nor do I particularly enjoy watching sociopaths insult each other, nor am I able to keep a cool head while wealthy predators lie outright about their victims. The Dem debates are harder than the GOP clownshow. I still haven’t decided which candidate I’ll back (I’m a registered independent and likely won’t vote in the primary), but while Sanders is the only candidate driven by principle — not counting Trump’s devotion to Likes and Faves, which I don’t think are technically principles — his answers to foreign policy questions have been oddly weak, and in a perverse way he’s too ideologically focused for me to be confident about his ability to balance governing priorities.

Milt Jackson playing, beautiful. Discovered yesterday an amazing jazz/funk fusion project called Cortex — a French band. Never heard of them. Later today, some John Klemmer, Paul Bley, and another try at Skip Spence’s Oar, which comes highly recommended but which I haven’t made it through yet.

In the new year I’ve listened to entire albums by Fleetwood Mac and David Bowie for the first time. Of course you’ve heard all the music before. Everyone has. But listening hard over a day I finally started to hear what everyone else did. I still find Bowie convincing only part of the time, but that part’s divine, anyway.

Time to get up for realsies.

Apple blogtivism.

(This began as a morning freewrite a month or more ago. I haven’t edited or indeed thought deeply about it.)

I use Apple tech products almost exclusively. They’re well made and the price is generally reasonable. We use Mac laptops, so integrating with Apple handhelds and phones is easy — and worth something to us. I still get good use out of my first-generation iPad, actually, though it’s been ‘superseded’ in every way by later models. Other than my wife’s pedometer and a Nintendo 3DS I was given a few years ago, that’s about it for non-Apple electronic gadgets. It’s a combination of preference and habit.

Maybe this is what ‘brand loyalty’ means. I wouldn’t switch to an Android tablet, say, because it’d damage our ecosystem of instantly synchronized services and devices, with little compensating gain in freedom and much additional hassle (organizationally and culturally, Android is a clusterfuck). I wouldn’t switch to a Windows laptop because my current Mac workflow is solid.

But I find the public’s interest in Apple-the-company embarrassing, and (worse, from my perspective) predictable. Mostly people are interested in Apple’s fortunes for the same reasons they’re interested in, of all things, box office receipts for expensive Hollywood movies: people with no money like to look at money, and to ascribe it magical powers. Relative to Apple, we all have no money.

The subtype of tech/gadget punditry (already one of the least interesting ‘journalistic’ fields there is) known as Apple punditry, derisively but not inaccurately known as ‘the Apple fanboy blogs,’ retains a weird fascination for me after all these years for a couple of reasons:

  • fake technical sophistication
  • style fetishism that boils down to ‘if it’s Apple-like, it’s “elegant” design’
  • the related idea that proximity to Apple’s style imparts it to the blogger
  • wonkish dilettantism and narrowness
  • naked advocacy, well and subtly compensated with free gadgets and microfame, in the guise of ‘journalism’
  • regular anti-Google/anti-Amazon childishness
  • their incredible ability to cheer for Apple as if it were (still) the scrappy underdog rather than one of the largest corporations in human history
  • (oh, and their bizarre need to cheer for Apple)

The common reason given by Apple bloggers for that last bullet point is disingenuous, not to mention nonsensical: ‘They make the best products.’ This inevitably comes off as an analogue of ‘This is the best bottle of wine’ rather than ‘This car handles best on wet roads.’ Challenge that claim on any grounds, not least the psychological, and you’ll hear that Apple (like Disney) actually ‘cares’ about ‘experiences,’ not products, and Apple’s products provide the best experience. Play another couple rounds of that game and it’s into the ad hominems about Larry Page and Jeff Bezos, or rants about the ‘correct’ proportions of system icons, or how everyone steals Apple’s designs, etc., etc., etc.

The Apple fanboy blogs (and online ‘columns’ that’re just blogs) do share one saving grace: they don’t play the asinine minutely-comparing-tech-specs game that stands in for analysis in the wider gadget-writing sector. This isn’t noble, mind you; Apple’s just conditioned its fans over the last decade not to care about tech specs. The outcome is, I think, better than the alternative, though the psychology isn’t.

If I have a wider point (I don’t), it’s this: Apple’s little volunteer blogger army isn’t visible at all to the average human being, but in subtle ways, they shape the discourse around Apple Inc. and computers in general. They help write the Silicon Valley (hero-)narrative. So it’s useful to defocus a little, to look at the longer contour being revealed — because you see the same phenomenon all over the mediasphere, as participation in what one blogger (jokingly?) calls the ‘Cult of Mac’ (or Marvel, or Hillary, or Brooklyn) is deemed sufficient reward for hours of otherwise uncompensated labour on behalf of what is, for all its organizational virtues, a great engine of capitalism.

Also it’s useful to air my resentment of hackish dilettantes making plenty of money by providing free advertising to a tech-lifestyle company. Indeed: that seems essential.

daystart freewake upwrite

having awoken at 4am, fought my way back down into a shallow sleeptrough until just after 6, and then bounced back up to deal with this ongoing GI bug and what we around here call ‘racing thoughts,’ and having discovered that there is a world of interesting comics-art blogs, and having found out that the addams family set was originally garish pink and gold (all the better for shooting in black and white, i assume?), and having wondered not aloud whether i should go ahead and write that long thing about Can’s Future Days i’d been thinking about — the one where i talk about ‘ambient’ music not as a genre but as an attitude toward the aesthetic value of information density, then head deep into a comparison of Can and (other) ‘jam bands,’ do a thing about prog rock and the loss of faith in the squeal of the electric guitar as a signifier of liberation, and wind up talking about boredom and the sublime — and but plus also my wife having just come downstairs already shaking her head at all there is to do today, and then but what with me having read the first 60+ pages of david simon’s Homicide last night before bed (it’s very good, but as i said to my wife at bedtime, simon is at his best or at least most-preferable-to-me in mixed company, so to speak, when dialing down his street-talkin’ tough guy routine), let’s get on with the show