Welcome Home

Remember, it is the ubiquitous things we seldom notice, even when they are fundamental to our life. Every day we travel to another world through a radical transition of our consciousness, where the real and the unreal intermix, creating who we are.

Each morning we pass through a transition, ancient as our species, when our mind, and our body, leaves its sleep, coalescing into wakefulness. This is, nearly always, the most radical occurrence of our day, yet we pay it no heed. For eight hours we live a life of pure imagination. For eight hours our body relaxes its form, completely. For eight hours we lay, trusting and vulnerable to all things. And then we wake, where the imagined life is closed.

Academics will tell you, the three greatest minds shaping the modern canon are Darwin, Freud and Marx. Darwin gives us our position in the world and defines for us many of our struggles within it, as a natural evolution. Freud creates a vocabulary for our mind, so that it might make sense, of itself, and other minds. And Marx lays bare our participation within the societies we inhabit.

If we are alive, then our lives are always in transition. Darwin’s ideas have, mostly, settled into our collective psyche; even into those people who rail against “Darwinism”. That apple has been eaten, and we create what gardens we can. Freud, also, is absorbed into our lives, if only “subconsciously”. Despite our ego. And Marx lit the fire that fuels our ongoing struggle for social justice and equality, against a tyranny of the few.

We see religions evolving, fighting to survive truths. We begin allowing ourselves to believe that caring for our sick and injured is more important than monetary profit, and that an injured Earth must also have care. We become aware that an incessant struggle to obtain money only creates more wealth for those who already have it, and the disparity becomes apparent. We wage a war of uncertainty, discontent, and a promise of hope within ourselves. We begin learning the lessons we already knew, were true. We begin to inhabit that disassociation, to resolve it. We evolve.

Through the scary things, and the confusing things. Through what we care about, and what we hate. Through our obsessions and our distractions, and our enjoyment. We evolve through our shame and guilt. Our obligations to each other. Our attention and expression. Hard and soft. And that which does not evolve, dies many slow deaths, one after the other. While here, it is our nature to become. Some would say, to be. We are, each of us, in this together.

The other day, I was listening to Grace Lee Boggs, a 92 year old woman who devoted her life to improving everyone’s life. She was nearly ecstatic about the urban community gardens she helped create in a decaying Detroit so many years ago; a movement that spread to other cities. Not for herself, but for the gardens; growing fresh food within communities on land reclaimed from the fall of misguided edifice. It was people, neighbors, shaping their own destiny independently. It was people, looking to each other, instead of waiting for direction from on-high. These gardens represented the cornerstone of what we are becoming. Excruciatingly slowly.

wecomehomeThe world is rising, outside our borders. It has smacked us hard, saying, that is enough. We, beyond your borders, are not you. And the West, staring aloof, even amongst themselves, ratchets up its machinery. The grim countenance of bankers staring down upon these unruly children, who must be taught.

And the other day I watched Africans dancing, and singing in that rhythm which grips inside the gut, lifting up through the heart and skull, then bursts into a primal happiness. Children climbed the stage to dance, and fat women in wildly colored clothing, young and old, joined in the spell. This outpouring dwarfed the reach of our machines. But before this, I heard a story, of the mother, carrying her baby across a land, for so long, so tired. The vulture arriving through the air with its great wings, offering to lift her child home so she might rest, then join them at home. The vulture, who fulfilled his promise by returning her child with his heart pulled from his chest, consumed, and his eyes plucked out, explained himself: stupid woman, you deserve your grief, for trusting a stranger with your child.

Even our own stories, within our borders, tell of the bearers of the rings of Power, wielding them in the name of good. The great lady, who, when freely offered the One Ring that rules and binds them all, admits her desire to take it, using it only for good. But in her wisdom and restraint, she refuses. I pass the test, she says. I will diminish, and go into the West, and remain Galadriel.

To be alive is to live transition. I heard President Obama’s speech to the United Nations General Assembly. It was a beautifully-shaped formula, pompous and condescending to the nations of the world, yet laced with some truly good things. He spoke as if the United States was always the peaceful negotiator in a world whose nations held intractable positions. And now we, the United States, will bring the world together in the name of good.

The few of the Security Council, donning their rings of power, to bend the world toward good. But no good can come from them, nor any nation’s leaders. Good will only arise from those crazy children who walked onto the stage, simply to dance, and the large women who joined them, flowing across the field of view in bright, colorful boubous, simply for the joy of life’s rhythm.

Such a power in their dance, of raw life. Of a good, that is more than Good. This cannot be injected into people’s arms from points on-high. Good rises from the earth to gather in the chest, traveling out, only through our eyes. To each other. The world knows where we must go. We are in transition, in the garden. And our opportunity for good is to diminish, into each other’s midst.

The Glitch

Everybody likes computers. Everybody hates computers, too. Who knows how many computers, computed upon this message, that you are are reading now? Quite a few, for various reasons. And none of them understand it. They just do what they do.

Computers don’t understand what they do. They don’t know what a letter is, let alone a word. They don’t know where your monitor is, what a web browser is, or even what a picture is. They have no concept of sound, to play music, or hear another voice. All they know is how to measure a voltage of a tiny little thing, and lots of them, very quickly. Really, they don’t even know that. They just do that. And that’s how you’re reading this, or how you speak with another on the phone, or watch a show on tv.

Not long ago, people whose job was adding large tables of numbers were called “computers”. They worked in a sort of sweat-shop of the mind, fraught with error. And error irritated Charles Babbage (and others) who, back in the mid 1800’s, designed a “difference engine”, powered by steam, that could, in theory, add numbers, but never worked. His later design did work, however, after his death, when his son uncovered the designs and built it.

Before he died, however, and further irritated by his own failure, Babbage designed an “analytical engine” that might read instructions from holes punched into cards. The daughter of the poet Lord Byron even wrote a program for this non-real machine to calculate a sequence of Bernoulli numbers. As such, Augusta Ada Byron, Countess of Lovelace, is often considered the world’s first computer programmer.

But how can steam and gears translate into the occulted computing machines we use today? If we leave the physical world behind and enter into mathematics, abstracting ourselves away, we’ll find the work of Alan Turing. This is the man who set the groundwork for a mathematically sound representation of computation itself, defining its process and limits. Turing created a machine built of pure mathematics that laid the foundation for computer science. After all, we don’t want some machine, in whatever physical form it takes, to add numbers wrongly under certain conditions.

Turing’s model went much further than any previous attempts in many ways, most notably by proving that a machine could handle any possible mathematical computation, as long as that computation was expressible as an algorithm. Basically this means, if you can write down the rules, a machine can do it. The Turning Machine is, to this day, the most fundamental focus of computer theory.

Alan TuringIf this weren’t enough, Alan Turning also is generally attributed with being the force who broke the Nazi’s Enigma Cypher, without which the Second World War might have turned out quite differently. But, being a gay man, and after the code was broken, Alan was convicted of homosexuality and chemically castrated, then soon afterward, took his own life (apparently). Earlier this year, the British Prime Minister apologised for it, citing the different ways people view things over time. That’s for another piece…

But the Turning machine is worth looking at, even for non-computer scientists. You must use your imagination. Imagine a long piece of tape — infinitely long, in fact. This tape is bounded by lines, making squares all along it. In each square there is a symbol, or a “0”. The tape is on rollers that allows the tape to move left and right, bringing a different square underneath a head that can read or write to each square, one at a time. That head is designed to take certain actions based upon the symbol upon the tape underneath it. These actions can include moving the tape to another square, or changing what is on the square, or just reading it. The last, and most difficult to understand, is the “state register”, which basically can store the states of various symbols and actions performed along the tape, in defined ways.

All computers, no matter how modern, can be represented and work perfectly as Turing machines. In fact, if you’re designing new computer hardware, you will want to make certain your design works as a Turing machine first. If it doesn’t, it is far more likely you have designed something wrongly than discovered something a Turing machine cannot do. Actually, that’s a bit of a lie. Quantum computing, which does not yet exist, may not follow Turing’s models, and, in fact, may be hindered by trying to do so. This is a very gray area. We would like our machines to give sensible, meta-world results, even from the chaotic nature of the quantum world. As such, abstract quantum Turing machines are being developed. Although some results look promising, who knows where this will lead. If quantum computing does work, it may represent a spectacular revolution.

Some of you are glazing over. Others are scandalized by my reckless generalizations. It’s all in your head, which is not a computer, organic, quantum, or otherwise. Logic and reason is in the realm of the mind, not the computer. We tend to consider our machines during any period of history, as representations of the human mind. But the human mind is not a steam engine, nor is it a phone switchboard. The human mind is not a computer. Our mind is as much like a computer as it is a steam engine. Computers do not have logic, even in so-called “logic” circuits. They can only measure a thing, and pass a current. Dispassionately, with no real sense of logic.

Our memory is not separate from whatever process gives us awareness. They are intertwined, and are literally sitting above our passions. If we try to separate ourselves from passions, to “think” like a computer, what we will find is that our passions are not so easily quenched, but instead influence our decision making invisibly, because we assume we are acting dispassionately. We can look at raw data and make what we want of it, perfectly logically — perfectly reasonable. We can justify nearly anything.

Here is the letter ‘X’. It is not an ‘X’. Inside your computer, on its Turing tape of memory, we have a sequence of high and low voltages I have put there, all in a row: 0101100.  It traveled through many other computers to reach yours, in many different ways. Caught up in the great system, it enters your web browser or email program’s domain. It is passed through rules to a committee that hands it off to another. And this committee hands it away to another wholly distinct domain which acts upon it, turning lights and colors on or off upon a screen, in a shape you alone recognize as an ‘X’.

There are records of it everywhere along the way. Traces. Systems are always being refined, and not only in the interest of efficiency. Systems have transformed our lifestyles, our businesses, our societies, and the world. We all know the word “glitch”. It’s a new word.

Lately we have experienced many glitches. Glitches in our political system, glitches in our economic system, glitches in Capitalism and Democracy itself. Glitches in the methodology of war. Glitches in religions. Glitches in what it means to be a healer, or even just a good person. Glitches in how we relate to our fellow human beings. Who are not just objects.

Glitches always reveal the inner workings, or the underbelly. Glitches cause the magical structure we take as given, and for granted, to become revealed in its gross, complex and patently un-magical and irrational form. And then, what is left? A quick patch to raise the circus wheel back into life? A redesign? Or toss the whole menagerie onto junk heap of history?

One thing is clear. Systems can help people. But for us to become the subject of systems, for us to become the fuel that keeps a system operational where some purpose of its aggrandizement outshines our own humanity, is a failure through short-sightedness, of that same humanity.

It is we who are the creators of worlds. It is we who are the destroyers. It is we who are sharing this brief time, here, together. And with this infinite tape of symbols and actions, what is it we create for each other, in the noble ascendancy of our aspirations? What universal language might we find that does not eventually cost our soul?

Dimmer

It took a man dying, but I joined Facebook. His memorial stuff was there. I’m in no condition to write. I received a message back from his wife after the last piece, saying Chris had died.

We all have friends. We all have lovers, both past and present. We have family. Yet even with friends, lovers and family members, some jagged bits of the universe conspire somehow to remind us, we are each of us, alone within our most personal experience.

For those of us unafraid to plumb the depths of the implications, or those of us who, perhaps by our very nature, are unable to quell the fierce drive to reach into those lonely and so common places, simply to say, “hello!”… For those of us, well, it is a difficult time right now.

It is possible, no matter who, or where you are, that you might be fortunate enough to find a soul mate. This is not friendship. It is not being lovers. It is when you can see another fully, and they, in turn, can see you. Time or space or matter in between you effects nothing. For when you know the soul of another, any change is insignificant. Our core always remains us; who we truly are.

But right now, I’m find that the death of a soul mate, who I am so lucky to have encountered, may be a distance that is too far away. It’s no longer just another shore. Now, it may not be a shore at all. I hope it is a lack of faith.

The last time I prayed was when Jeff’s aunt was having surgery, and I said that I would. Last night, I decided to on my own. I wanted him to be okay. And I wanted him to be happy. But he was dead, and I didn’t know what else to do.

I had a hard time even concentrating enough to pray. But eventually I managed. It turned out to be a threat: “you better let him in”.

Some petty god. Chris’ enormous heart and spirit. Wanting there to be a spirit, so that he might not truly be gone. I suppose I won’t know with certainty for a while.

This is what Chris would want me to tell you. Be good to each other. Pay the closest attention you can to each other, listen, even past what is being said, to what their heart is saying. Put yourself there. Let them pound on you for it. And only pound back when you should.

Don’t be afraid, question and explore everything. Be suspicious of the easy path. Take off your shoes, and wander into the woods. Stop. And listen. Feel what’s really there. Live the stories that you would tell! And even the ones you wouldn’t… Sacrifice anything, if it is the right thing to do.

Call people out on their bullshit, for the good of us all. Stand your ground, only when you know, without a doubt, that you are right. And if so, be willing to fight. He would not want you to be happy, unless you were happy. Or sad. He would give you a hug in your foolishness, and laugh, and soon you would be laughing, too. He would accept the same, and be honored, and embarrassed that you cared enough.

I can’t write any more of this. Everything is only half there and feeble right now. But if you are lucky enough to have a soul mate, from whatever time or place, call them up and say hi, and just that it’s good knowing they are there.

Chris at the Pool Table

A Meditation at Night

It is not the heart, raising towers people clamor to scale, and from which, wage the wars of all distinctions.

It is the shared illusion of what is real; not what is important.

Just as it is known, night time is best to remember, that which is forgotten. Awake while people sleep, awash in dreams so soon forgotten. Dreams, though forgotten, that still remain, as if they might have been. The slow ending of the day, lived, wrapped in chosen sheets of warmth and comfort. To begin again.

Many nights, since the summer came, were clear. Late, far past the waking hours, outside. Their breath quietly filling dreams, beneath a sky dense with distant lights. In their homes, spread wide through the darkness all around, for a time, the peaceful breath of sleep.

At night, in deep sleep, the yard smells sweet, fresh, though it is unseen. The trickle of water, distant, carries through the night. The porch light shut off so all can be felt. Even tiny sounds from unexpected places.

Standing there each night, dumb in the grass, with only hints of objects in the black, I look up.  Into that vast array I could never speak: all that deserves words most — and it is too much. It fills me to the point of disappearance.

For even asleep, we ride, flung upon our sphere, through the majesty of all that is beyond us — of what we are. A beauty so impossible, the heart breaks.

Only a short while, the near reflective Moon, that washes out the light, has surrendered, hiding its glare behind an horizon. Jupiter, as they sleep, has stealthily visited during dreams, like a star rising in the south sky through the jagged silhouettes of evergreens, gliding through their tops, across the West.

And as they sleep, currents of pale light writhe overhead, stretched across a boundless dome. Where beyond, the dizzying angle of our earth’s tilt is revealed.

Showers of the fallen burst in quick bright streaks.

Even sometimes, the house we built, sent into the sky, glides by, where thirteen people now live.

Until morning, when the great beast of fire returns, blotting out the stars, and people wake. As if to say, what is not seen, did not exist.

In their dreams, under this starry arc, in the light of day.