Friday, August 12, 2016

Apocalypse by Frederick Turner

The SciFi epic poet (and new formalist/expansive poet and universal genius), Frederick Turner, has a new epic poem: Apocalypse. It's being serialized for free. Enjoy!!!

Thursday, August 04, 2016

Hear the Screams of the Butterfly

My novella Hear the Screams of the Butterfly has been published by Transcendent Zero Press and can be purchased at Amazon and here.

Be sure to go buy your copy now! It makes a great birthday or Christmas gift!

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Tolerance vs. Acceptance

For the longest time we have sought to ensure greater tolerance for our fellow human beings. We are told we should tolerate other races, other ethnicities, other genders, other sexual orientations, other ways of living and of thinking. And this was important once upon a time (and still is for some people), when the knee-jerk response to difference was to burn the person at the stake. When that's the natural response, then getting people to simply be willing to tolerate other people's existence is a move in the right direction.

But we should not be satisfied with tolerance.

I don't want to be tolerated. To be tolerated means to be put up with. You live over there and let me pretend you don't exist.

I want to be accepted. I want "be yourself" to be meant literally, and when I am myself, that self is appreciated. I want to be enjoyed and loved and I want people to be excited by my presence.

And so do you.

My parents always tolerated the things I (and my brother) wanted to do. They tolerated my interests, but never really encouraged any of them (and discouraged others, such as music). They tolerated my choice of what to major in in college (recombinant gene technology) when they really thought I ought to major in pre-med or pre-law to become a doctor or a lawyer. They were hardly supportive of my deciding to get a Master's in English, and even when I graduated with my Ph.D. in the humanities, my father asked me if I regretted not finishing my Master's in biology (by then he had come around to majoring in biology).

I did the things I did despite the direct lack of support. They never stood in my way, but my parents never quite supported me, either.

I get the same thing with everyone's attitude toward autism, though to be honest, it's only just barely tolerated at all. And nobody wants to understand it, let along appreciate it.

I've had a few along the way who did encourage me. Those were the people who made the difference. There was a biology/chemistry teacher in high school and a biology teacher at the Governor's Scholars Program I did one summer who both encouraged my interests in genetics. There was a poet at WKU who encouraged my poetry. I was eventually encouraged (after some pretty harsh criticism) in my fiction writing at USM. And I was encouraged in my scholarly work at UTD by my dissertation committee. I was encouraged by a theater owner when it came to my plays (too bad the theater went out of business before we could stage my first full length play). This summer my wife has been incredibly encouraging as I have had to go through six weeks of training, which included 5 weeks of  teaching summer school.

Each gave me the strength to go on.

That's the difference between tolerance and acceptance. Those who accept actively participate in our success through encouragement to be who we are. Those who tolerate simply get out of the way. Sometimes that's necessary, but isn't it much better to have a helping hand through life? It's it better to have people love you for who you deeply, truly are?

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Fiction for Empathy in Bibliotherapy

It's wonderful to see there are people out there making a living and a career out of the very insights and understandings of literature as developing empathy I've been developing for several years now. I've written about these things here and here and here And now it's even made it to CNN.

The flight from fiction in our culture means reduced empathy creation. Yes, certain movies and even TV shows can contribute to empathy-creation, but I think that books allow us to more deeply investigate and understand the complex motives of people, and thus learn to understand and therefore empathize with them.

What we need is the kind of bibliotherapy being practiced in the CNN article. We need to read fiction that deals with different races, men and women, different sexual orientations and genders, different cultures, and different socioeconomic levels. In doing so, we would stop discriminating against people just because they are members of different groups.

We shouldn't hate people because they are black or white, men or women, gay or straight, rich or poor, etc., etc., etc. The socialists are just as evil for hating a group of people because of their socioeconomic status as are the racists for hating a group of people because of their race. Literature allows us to understand different groups through examples of particular individuals we get to know well, and thus literature breaks down collectivist (and therefore evil) ways of thinking.

The above statement seems to contradict some of what I say here. Indeed, certain kinds of empathizing do in fact make us more tribalist/collectivist in our thinking. But there is something else at work when we learn to empathize with other groups, and other groups, and other groups. If our empathy breaks down the Us-Them, Self-Other dichotomy, then empathy contributes to moral growth. If it only reinforces group cohesiveness such that there is necessarily a hated other against which one compares one's group, then empathy contributes to moral decay.

Literature can thus contribute to virtue-creating empathy if we are open to reading works presenting and representing peoples from other cultures, etc. This can and should be done in our classrooms. But we should not make the mistake of thinking that any work by someone from another culture, etc. than our own is worth reading. The works have to be complex, high-value literary works, regardless of who wrote them where or when. After all, boring garbage is hardly going to create any sort of empathy for anyone.


Saturday, July 02, 2016

My Name's Blurryface -- a cultural-textual analysis

For those who don't keep up with contemporary music, the band Twenty One Pilots has a song titled "Stressed Out" that is well worth analyzing and understanding.

Here are the lyrics:
I wish I found some better sounds no one’s ever heard
I wish I had a better voice that sang some better words
I wish I found some chords in an order that is new
I wish I didn't have to rhyme every time I sang

I was told when I get older all my fears would shrink
But now I’m insecure and I care what people think
My name's Blurryface and I care what you think
My name's Blurryface and I care what you think

Wish we could turn back time, to the good old days
When our momma sang us to sleep but now we’re stressed out
Wish we could turn back time, to the good old days
When our momma sang us to sleep but now we’re stressed out
We're stressed out

Sometimes a certain smell will take me back to when I was young
How come I’m never able to identify where it’s coming from
I’d make a candle out of it if I ever found it
Try to sell it, never sell out of it, I’d probably only sell one

It’d be to my brother, 'cause we have the same nose
Same clothes homegrown a stone’s throw from a creek we used to roam
But it would remind us of when nothing really mattered
Out of student loans and tree-house homes we all would take the latter

My name's Blurryface and I care what you think
My name's Blurryface and I care what you think

Wish we could turn back time, to the good old days
When our momma sang us to sleep but now we’re stressed out
Wish we could turn back time, to the good old days
When our momma sang us to sleep but now we’re stressed out

We used to play pretend, give each other different names
We would build a rocket ship and then we’d fly it far away
Used to dream of outer space but now they’re laughing at our face
Saying, "Wake up, you need to make money"

Yeah

We used to play pretend, give each other different names
We would build a rocket ship and then we'd fly it far away
Used to dream of outer space but now they're laughing at our face
Saying, "Wake up, you need to make money"

Yeah

Wish we could turn back time, to the good old days
When our momma sang us to sleep but now we’re stressed out
Wish we could turn back time, to the good old days
When our momma sang us to sleep but now we’re stressed out

Used to play pretend, used to play pretend, bunny
We used to play pretend, wake up, you need the money
Used to play pretend, used to play pretend, bunny
We used to play pretend, wake up, you need the money

We used to play pretend, give each other different names
We would build a rocket ship and then we’d fly it far away
Used to dream of outer space but now they’re laughing at our face
Saying, "Wake up, you need to make money"

Yeah
The song, overall, is not simply about adults missing the simplicity of childhood; no, it's more about adults missing their childhood dreams of adulthood. This is emphasized in the repeated refrain:
We would build a rocket ship and then we’d fly it far away
Used to dream of outer space but now they’re laughing at our face
Saying, "Wake up, you need to make money"
 The dream of being an astronaut is much like, say, my dream of being a fiction writer I have had since I was at least 12, when I penned (literally) my first novel manuscript. I abandoned the idea to major in something sensible in college (recombinant gene technology), only to return to it my senior year and truly follow it after dropping out of my Master's program in molecular biology. Yet, after graduating with my Ph.D. in the humanities from UTD (which I attended for the creative writing program), I was faced with the reality of student loans.

Indeed, the song mentions student loans:
Out of student loans and tree-house homes we all would take the latter
 Little did we know that by going to college to achieve our dreams, we would rack up so many student loans that we would have to settle for some job well outside our dreams just to pay off the loans. The songwriter recognizes the trap that's been set, the (inadvertent) lies we've been told about adulthood. We were told that student loans were an investment in our future, yet what they in fact turn into is a weight that discourages us from taking risks and living our dreams. With debt, we are too afraid to live the dream life we imagined for ourselves, instead settling for a safe corporate reality to pay off those debts. And after so many years doing just that, how many of us just settle in and continue that life, even after those loans are paid off? How many end up with credit card debt, car payments, and mortgages to replace them? Debt piles up, we get safe jobs with safe incomes to pay those debts, and we never live those dreams.

That is, fundamentally, what the song is about.

 We can see this even in the opening lyrics:
I wish I found some better sounds no one’s ever heard
I wish I had a better voice that sang some better words
I wish I found some chords in an order that is new
I wish I didn't have to rhyme every time I sang

I was told when I get older all my fears would shrink
But now I’m insecure and I care what people think
 Modernism was founded on the cult of the new. We are told even now that everything has to be original. It's one of the lies we're told, and the songwriter calls us out on it. Our brains are structures to only like certain sounds, chords, etc. We are restricted in our vocabularies, and people prefer rhymes in their songs (though the violation in that very line is an ironic reference to the fact that rhyming is a convention that has in fact been violated in popular songs just as it has been in much poetry).

Why does he care? Well. caring what other people think is human all too human. As children we don't care what too many people think---our parents, primarily, but certainly not too many others--but as adults, we care more and more about what more and more people think of us. We care what our neighbors think of us, what our co-workers think of us, certainly what our bosses think of us. As he points out, it matters for success. If he came up with sounds no one's ever heard, chords in a new order, and unrhymed songs, how popular  would the band be?

Indeed, we are bolder when we are younger. We take more risks. We become less risky as we get older. Our fears and insecurities multiply. We find ourselves responsible to more and more people (those to whom we owe debts, which only multiply as we get older, and include far more than the lending companies).

What does this do to us?
My name's Blurryface and I care what you think
My name's Blurryface and I care what you think
What is a "Blurryface"? A face that's out of focus and becomes indistinguishable from other faces. That is, a Blurryface is someone who is perfectly interchangeable with just about anyone else. Those who care what others think and live their lives according to what others think. Those who live their lives in response to all of those people who say "Wake up, you need to make money!" Your dreams must die, you have to wake up and be responsible and live the corporate/bureaucratic reality. You cannot be what you once dreamed, whether it be an astronaut or an artist. Because those aren't responsible aspirations.

The rest of the song emphasizes this "going back in time" to the dreams of childhood. There was a safety there, of course, but there was also a realm of possibilities that we seem to go out of our ways to destroy. Perhaps it's a romanticization of the Modernist period (and the Romantic period before that) where artists seemed able to live their dreams, but at the same time, there were people clearly doing that, where it's less clear that those possibilities are as available now as then.

The songwriter here has thus identified a pervasive feeling in our culture. Many of us feel that there is something not quite right. And Twenty One Pilots has given that feeling a voice. Growing up, we were told many things that have turned out to not be true. They were perhaps believed by our parents and the other adults who sold those things to us, but the fact of the matter is that perhaps most of us are terribly disappointed that the reality has completely failed to live up to the hype. There are those who will use facts to point out that we are living in the best of times materially, but we simply cannot dismiss the pervasive feeling that something's just not quite right.

And what happens when an entire culture feels this level of discontent? Can that culture long survive?

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Complexity Theory and the Study of History: Overproduction of Elites, Food Shortages, and Power Laws

I have written quite a bit about cliodynamics, the scientific approach to studying history, in the past. Peter Turchin has done quite a bit of work in this area, writing most recently about the inevitable collapse of the European Union.

Turchin's overall thesis is that an overproduction of elites results in inequalities that lead to the collapse of empires. And, as Egypt suggests, not just empires. However, one of the leading complexity theorists, Yaneer Bar-Yam, has developed a complexity model that suggests societal collapse comes about due to food prices increasing. More, network theory predicts power law distributions of revolutions/political collapse.

These are not necessarily conflicting views. Certainly the argument that there is a power law distribution of historical events like revolutions could easily complement the models of Turchin's and Bar-Yam's. It is also not impossible that the same dynamics that result in food prices increasing could result in the overproduction of elites and inequalities to increase.

Bar-Yam's thesis is particularly interesting, though one does wish he understood economics a bit better, especially around "speculation," which actually helps to smooth out prices and make them less volatile. At the same time he's right about the complete idiocy behind turning food directly into fuel, which unnecessarily drives up food prices, especially around anything involving corn (not just for direct consumption, but as feed for chickens, pigs, and cows, driving up meat prices). And he leaves out various farm subsidies, which politicians argue keeps prices down, but which in fact drive prices up (when New Zealand eliminated its subsidies for sheep farmers, wool and mutton prices dropped even as farmer incomes increased).

It would be interesting to map the food price-driven patterns of unrest with Turchin's patterns to see what overlaps there are and to see if one could find similar causes resulting in these two effects. I also don't know that Turchin has looked for power law distributions, but he certainly should. I would certainly be surprised if Bar-Yam's version didn't result in power law distributions. 

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

My New Journey

I've begun a new journey, and while I'm on that journey I will be absent from the internet in many ways, including from posting on this blog, my other blogs, and Facebook.

I'm currently getting the training required to get alternative certification to teach elementary special education in Dallas ISD. Now you may wonder why it is that I'm not getting it in English. The reasons are many, and involve such things as DISD isn't offering this program I'm in for English teachers, because they don't have a shortage of English teachers, and my own personal arrogance surrounding my refusal to get certified in anything in which I have a Ph.D. because that requirement is incredibly insulting and ridiculous and is the most egregious example of protectionism imaginable.

The reason I chose elementary special education is itself multifaceted. Part of the reason involves my having an autistic child. Part of it involves my brother having dyslexia. Part of it involves my experiences as a substitute teacher taking special education assignments. I took high school and middle school assignments and saw that many of those students had not received the help they needed to mainstream them early on. I saw some overlooked entirely. At the same time, I enjoyed working with the elementary SpEd kids, and I seemed able to reach them. All of those contributed to this decision.

So I'm spending the summer getting alternative certification. I'll spend a year as an "intern," and after that I'll be hired full time.

So the next year promises to be busy. And something has to go.

Economics will be going. Indeed, pretty much all of my scholarly work, including book reviews. I've enjoyed doing those things, but they have not otherwise benefited me. They brought me nothing but personal satisfaction. And that doesn't pay the bills.

Poetry and plays will be the primary focus. They also bring me personal satisfaction, but poems are less burdensome, and the plays are the reason I will be doing everything I can over the next several years to save up to get and run a theatre. (Donations and volunteers are welcome!)

And of course I'll continue learning about autism and posting on it. After all, it will benefit me in my job and in my home life and on my blog. And you never know---one of these days someone may want to hear what I have to say on the topic. My expertise is, after all, both personal and professional, both subjective and objective.

And politics sucks. All it does is divide everyone. That's its great evil. Of course, sometimes we have to differentiate ourselves from injustice, and that too requires politics. There are some people and some things from whom we should divide ourselves. But I'm going through a phase of relative indifference to everyone arguing about which sinking ship to jump onto.

I'm going to focus on beauty, family, and money. That is, things of value.