Beatniks & Super Powers

Earlier today, due to my reading of A Blue Hand: The Beats in India, Deborah Baker, I began wondering what it might be like if the Beats had super powers. As one does when one is bored at work on a Tuesday afternoon.

HEROES

Beatman Beatman, costumed in the requisite turtleneck, beret, and sandals, chafes against postwar conformity. He urges 9-to-5ers to quit their soul-numbing jobs and engage in artistic expression. Beatman can often be found crashing suburban barbecues and breaking up rotary club meetings.

The (ab)Original Wild Child Wild Child is a pre-Columbian spirit of the land. She defends nature against the expanding interstate highway system and tract housing. Wild Child is accompanied by Janice, a mute Beat who expresses herself solely through the medium of interpretive dance.

The HOWLer Unshaven, and clad only in his underwear, the HOWLer speaks out against censorship everywhere. His Bongos of Hallucinatory Transcendence cause fits in his enemies. Often teams up with Beatman.

Bodhisattva & Kid Karma Disturbed by the emergence of the Atomic Age and the possibility of global destruction, Bodhisattva turned to Buddhism and preaches the path of peace. Bodhisattva rarely ceases meditating. Flight is his main mode of locomotion; he hovers several feet above the ground in the lotus position. Bodhisattva stuns his enemies by reciting koans. Kid Karma, Bodhisattva’s ward, keeps sacred scraps of Yeti hair that emit rays with which he blasts his opponents.

VILLAINS

The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit Nameless, faceless, The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit is a doppelganger who steals his victim’s identities in order to ensure that they and their loved ones remain mired in the mundane.

The Company Men A team of slick baddies bent on extending corporate capitalism around the globe. They communicate telepathically and are fueled by liquor. Often in cahoots with The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit.

Ms. Hollywood A blond sex kitten who seduces men, encouraging them to stray from their wives. Hollywood is extremely persuasive; she mesmerizes her victims with eye contact.

Sgt. Scuttlebutt Sgt. Scuttlebutt is an anti-communist crusader in league with the FBI, the CIA, and the John Birch Society. The sergeant believes knows that war is the only truly human activity, and the only thing that can purge the world of godless communism. Can be distracted by long hair.

Any additions/revisions/suggestions?

February Recap

February 2015: I quit. Then I didn’t.

Tl;dr: I overreacted to the feeling that blogging was (is?) an obligation, and, more generally, “information overload.” It turns out my blogsbuddies have experienced similar feelings and have devised a variety of coping mechanisms. Lessons learned:

  1. I should be less dramatic.
  2. I’m not alone in feeling overwhelmed at times by my digital experiences, which is heartening.

Am I back? Not quite. I’m figuring out how to manage my online experiences in a way (or ways) that minimizes anxiety and stress. Blogging is secondary to that. But I won’t rule out the possibility of continuing to blog if and when the muse strikes. (I quite admire From Couch to Moon’s schedule, consisting as it does of weekly posts, with occasional increased frequency, usually dependent upon awards schedules.)

I haven’t posted a review for some time, but I have been reading. I plan on writing longer reviews of Signal to Noise and Half the World, but I’m listing here some “flash reviews” of the books I’ve finished over the past few weeks.

Yellow Blue Tibia, Adam Roberts. I knew after reading Jack Glass that I needed to read something else by Adam Roberts. Yellow Blue Tibia begins in the USSR, 1947. Stalin calls leading Soviet sci-fi authors together to imagine an alien threat that might unite humanity. The project is canceled without explanation, and, decades later…the narrative imagined by Stalin’s writers appears to be coming true. I quite liked Yellow Blue Tibia, and would recommend it over Jack Glass. See Catherynne M. Valente’s blog for a very different reaction.

A Scanner Darkly, Philip K. Dick

A Scanner Darkly, Philip K. Dick

A Scanner Darkly, Philip K. Dick. The first PKD I ever read! A dark vision of the future (really the 1990s, imagined in the 1970s) illuminated by PKD’s incandescent prose. PKD questions the nature of identity, and, ultimately, the realities in which we perceive ourselves, via Bob Arctor, an inveterate drug user who also happens to be an undercover police officer keeping tabs on…Bob Arctor. Arctor’s brain is fried by Substance D, and nothing is quite what it seems. Bottom line: I thoroughly enjoyed this PKD, and look forward to reading more in future.

The Gallows Curse, Karen Maitland. A historical mystery with just a dash of the supernatural. I enjoyed Maitland’s previous novels, A Company of Liars and The Owl Killers, both in the same vein, e.g., murder mysteries set in the darkness of thirteenth and fourteenth century England. There are some interesting elements here–for instance, the narrator is a mandrake (!!!)–but, overall, The Gallows Curse is dull. The plot, or plots, involving a villager falsely accused of murdering her child and a French plan to overthrow King John, didn’t quite add up, and the ending was unsatisfying. I don’t know anyone who enjoys this (sub)genre the way I do, but, if you do, you might want to steer clear of this entry.

Hollow City: The Second Novel of Miss Peregrine’s Children, Ransom Riggs. (Young adult.) The follow up to Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar ChildrenHollow City is even darker in tone, with Jacob, Emma, and the other peculiars trekking across England and Wales, 1940, in search of a way to save Miss Peregrine. Riggs’s story is effective, if not particularly compelling, and moves forward at a steady clip. Although narrated by Jacob, a fifteen year old, it reads like someone twenty years older, an effect that is jarring and inauthentic. An entry in an ongoing series, Hollow City, predictably, involves a twist and a cliffhanger ending.

Signal to Noise and Half the World are both for the young adult crowd. Signal to Noise has received quite a lot of buzz, due perhaps to its unique setting, 1980s Mexico City. I found it a sweet if not particularly affecting story, and recommend Abercrombie’s book over it. Reviews forthcoming…when I get around to it.

Update/Forgot to mention: I’ve decided that, for every novel or short story collection I read by a male author, the next I read will be by a female author. (This doesn’t apply to nonfiction, which I handle differently.)

Ssh! On Information Overload

*peeks out from behind blog* He…hello? (Projection: Drunken Dragon Reviews will be the first blogger to point out the irony of my writing a post several days after saying, “I quit.”)

But it’s my space, damn it, and I’ll be inconsistent if I want! As Walt Whitman might say, “Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself.” Or, to quote someone more on my intellectual plane, Popeye, “I yam what I yam.”

It occurred to me, in the days (hours?) following my decision to cease blogging that my problem might be identified as one of “input versus output.” In other words, the output was this blog and the variety of interactions I engage in on social media. The input was the variety of information I receive daily, not merely through sensory experience, i.e., walking down the street, but also via the Interwebz. When I’m talking to someone on Twitter, I am by virtue of the medium receiving a stream of information from other people, much of it peripheral, to be sure, but still there nonetheless. I would come home after staring at a screen all day, more and more often at spreadsheets and databases that are (tens of) thousands of rows long, open up WordPress, and…there were 42 new blog posts to sift through. To me–but not necessarily to you–that’s exhausting.

Social scientists, and, in their wake, journalists, have begun to comment on the daily flood of information people confront. Anxiety is the most common result. In my personal experience, I recall logging into Twitter the first time and thinking, “Oh my God, what is this, it doesn’t stop!” And it did cause me anxiety. Yet I couldn’t look away. Still can’t. Favorite. Favorite. Retweet. Researchers have identified Facebook as a source of anxiety and depression in some users, possibly due to the large number of cat videos in their news feeds. (Just kidding. Everyone loves cat videos.)

The analog version.

The analog version.

In summary, then, individuals must absorb larger and larger amounts of information, much of it of varying quality. Sociologists have long noted the affect media consumption has on our ways of thought–during the 1990s, we feared gang violence, a relatively rare phenomenon, far more than we did the negative health consequences of pollution, which is rampant–but the quantity of information presented to us daily is simply overwhelming. You may filter it, of course, but then you’re exacerbating the selection bias you practice without even realizing it. You end up with blind spots bigger than a house.

Some of this is a matter of personality, personal preference. Perhaps I simply have a low tolerance for much of this social media tomfoolery. (Although it doesn’t really stop at “social media.”) I suspect that some of it is the way I’m constructed. We’re all familiar with the notion of introverts and extroverts, although, as I understand it, and perhaps From Couch to Moon will be kind enough to correct me if I’m wrong, there really is no such thing as an introvert or an extrovert; rather, we all exist somewhere along an introversion/extroversion “spectrum.” Those who tend toward introversion, though, are “low energy” and are more quickly wearied by external stimuli. That’s why introverts don’t do well at parties; there’s simply too much going on. (Note: Shyness and introversion aren’t the same thing, although they can coexist. I suffer from introversion and grumpiness.)

I wasn’t able to describe any of this until a few years ago, after reading Susan Cain’s 2012 book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. It was only after reading Quiet that I realized that I didn’t like parties because they provide me too much sensory stimulation. Plainly: They’re loud. And I have to talk to people. With whom I’m minimally familiar. For hours at a time. Prior to Quiet, I didn’t have the vocabulary to describe my experience. So I mumbled my way through many a shindig, suffering in begrudging silence, only to retreat to my lair at the earliest opportunity. (Quiet is a very accessible and easy book to read. Readers without children can skip several chapters near the middle that deal exclusively with the ways in which various settings, for instance, schools, are stacked against child introverts. Readers with children will likely find those chapters of interest.)

My struggle over the past few weeks has been “How do I sift the digital wheat from the electronic chaff?” as much as it has been “Do I hate blogging?” Characteristically, my response has been retreat. Fall back, fall back, dig in. But even that is only a stopgap. I might feel secure behind my Maginot Line, but the digital blitzkrieg rushes on. To put it another way: If I have limited cognitive bandwidth, how do I maximize its usage in terms of the variety of inputs demanding my attention?

Closed for Business

Indefinitely

Indefinitely

After long and (perhaps) careful deliberation, I have decided to cease blogging. Although I still love reading and discussing books and, to the degree that I am capable of it, writing, I find the “management” of blogging–e.g., planning posts, the sense that one is obligated to post about rather than merely enjoy every book–exhausting. What was supposed to be a diversion ended up feeling like a job, and, of course, I already work full time. Suffice it to say that I have a limited store of energy on which to draw, and blogging taxes rather than recharges what is a precious resource.

I’m not going to cancel my account or remove my blog. Keeping the blog means I will be able to return to it some day, or post intermittently, should the muse strike. More importantly, having my account will permit me to continue to follow those friends and “colleagues” I made while blogging. Some of you follow me through Twitter and Goodreads, to which I am linked here; if you don’t already, feel free to follow me there. I look forward to continuing the conversation.

To the West.

I'm finished.

I’m finished.

From the Archives: Review: Eerie America

Is there a creepier month than…FEBRUARY?

“Uh, yeah,” you’re thinking. “How about October? With the ghosts ‘n’ the goblins ‘n’ the pumpkins that are carved with the candles inside Jell-O puddin’ pop!” You’re channeling Bill Cosby, but you’re calling me out? You better take a long, hard look at yourself, pal.

Think about it, though. February has all kinds of creepy things. Exposed hearts everywhere. Weird little winged dudes in diapers. The commodification of romance. And Presidents’ Day. Seriously, who knew Washington and Lincoln were so into selling furniture and cars? Shouldn’t they have been running the country? Creepy.

Eerie America, Eric R. Vernor & Kevin Eads

Eerie America, Eric R. Vernor & Kevin Eads

So it only made sense for me to review Eerie America by Eric R. Vernor and Kevin Eads last February, during the spookiest month of all. Eerie America is a guidebook to the creepiest locations in each of the 50 states. And the District of Columbia. (But who cares about DC, amirite?)

One year ago today: I reviewed Eerie America: Travel Guide of the Macabre (Schiffer Publishing, 2014).