December 26, 2009

Resonant Amplification

This from a list I frequent:
"Resonant amplification is a powerful thing. For example, did you know that "ghost" sightings are generally an effect of the eye's resonance being a harmonic of half the resonant wavelength of one of the dimensions of the room the witness is in (typically 19 hz)? The resonance causes the fluid in the eye to refract light unevenly creating a gray patch which the mind then fills with its own imagination. This effect can be triggered by extremely low levels of infrasound, particularly when the wavelength of a chimney cavity is resonant to the dimensions of the room, a breeze supplies the needed energy."
I've been interested in the increased frequency of my own sightings, of cats especially, now that I'm in strange surroundings and tend even more to make recognizable patterns from the shaded chaos of a thousand things in my new apartment not yet put away. The movement of a large floater (in my eye) in a poorly lighted room can induce "cat" instantly, even when and regardless of the fact that I "know" better. The part of my mind that recognizes things is necessarily free of higher functioning filters, and because I'm much more curious than bothered by such apparitions I'm in no rush to suppress their memory. Happily, there's no accounting for the patterns one's brain comes up with.

I have yet to experience one of the "resonant amplification" sightings noted at the top. But it seems perfectly possible and reminded me of a recent lecture on antennae lengths.

Well, maybe one sighting some 50 years ago, in my first apartment: a long, narrow attic room. But that turned out to be mold under the wallpaper, I think, unless it wasn't. Then as now I'm more interested in my own experience in the face of my firm convictions that they ain't no sich thangs. I was less sure then than now, and half-accepted the possibility of powers, gods, and ghosts unknown. It was a great time to be a science fiction/fantasy fan.

Being so near several small lakes and parks, I occasionally get a line of ducks flying at head-height down the street outside my bedroom. Late last night one such group began honking just as they passed my window and startled me from a sound sleep so that I sprang up in bed, ready to defend against whomever was using that longsword so cruelly against helpless flesh, making it cry out so loudly and in such pain. Had that image sustained for another second I would have been searching about for my own blade, ready to run naked into the fray, fighting for the right and the good.

I don't have a sword, and that's probably a good thing. In dreams I've often carried and even used one, and on waking for a moment I sometimes think I really have one, somewhere.

Such moments make passage between worlds and timelines seem almost possible. I find those thoughts, frightening, dangerous, and delightful!

December 23, 2009

Stuff and More Stuff

We seem now to be much more swayed to acquire things than, say, in the 1950s. Certainly than in the 19th century. We think we are very ad-sophisticated, but we also seem to have so much more stuff than people did in previous times.

This subject has been brought forcefully to my attention in the last few years. My real estate agent tells me stories of houses she's sold where you had to clear a trail to get from room to room. More than one friend has been unable to sell his house because it is filled with his deceased spouse's possessions and he can't bring himself to either sort them or dump it all.

I knew we had a lot of stuff I didn't care about, but having to sort and dispose of 40 years of collecting was a shock. Several hundred skin and bath lotions, in duplicates of 5 to 10 each; four stacks of wicker baskets, each over seven feet high. Enough dish cloths to dry a small army. Thirty rolls of wrapping paper and enough seasonal, occasion and note cards from museum collections to fill a small museum; twelve baskets of clippings from The New Yorker magazine, despite the fact that we also had the complete CD collection of back issues.

And then there's my stuff: the remaining detritus, tools, and inventory from seven different businesses that had their day and died. Juggling and circus equipment from 20 years of teaching and performing,and of reviewing props for several magazines. Hundreds of psychological, perceptual, and psycholinguistic tests, all now obsolete, plus all the trial versions for the dozen tests I helped design or edit, most of which never got out of beta phase. Several hundred art prints, sketches, serigraphs, and oils, all moderately pleasing but few of any value.

And so it goes.

And to think I once was able to pack all my possessions (except the books and LPs, of course) into my 1960 MGA.

While much of this stuff was functional or professional, a great deal of it was simply consumer goods that seemed too good not to get. Had she lived another 74 years I'm sure my wife would have used up her cosmetics and cleansers. But she probably would have acquired as many more new ones, too. My own collecting is poorly excused by professional interest: no matter how good I get, I'll never be able to juggle, spin, balance, or roll 400 balls. No matter how accomplished a rope magician I become, no one will ever want to see all twenty-odd variations of the cut and restored rope (with a running narrative of the progression of stolen ideas and done-to-death patter).

So almost all of it has gone, but not without a wrench to the psyche. How can I even be the same person if I don't have all my stuff? (George Carlin has a routine exactly on this What am I really if my library of eight-thousand books have been sold to Powells bookstore? Now no one will ever ask again, "have your read all these?"

Yet somehow it's not just me -- this applies to everyone I know. We have taken up acquiring stuff as the business of our lives. Perhaps this is what "not being poor" means. I don't recall that this was the case with earlier periods, 50+ years ago, but maybe I wasn't paying attention then. Once I thought this might just be a way of acquiring immortality, and while that's somewhat true, there's more going on here.

I know people who spend all of their disposable income on gourmet food in high-end restaurants, and others who spend everything on travel or packaged vacations. Perhaps we're simply like wolves or lions which given the opportunity will eat until immobilized, or pack rats who compulsively acquire every movable shiny thing they see.

Saving more for retirement? Not in this lifetime we don't. Our savings are over-depleted paying for the life we think we deserve and the stuff we want now.

We weren't always like this, and it's not just that there are more things to have. Perhaps there's a reason companies will spend so many millions on 30-second ads in a Superbowl game. Perhaps we truly are those storied suckers, one born every minute.

November 10, 2009

The Elephant

"To see the elephant" is a 19th century American expression, no longer in use, having to do with an elephant as the most remarkable thing one could see at a traveling circus, which was itself the most remarkable thing ordinary Americans of that day could experience. The first recorded definition was in 1835: "to see or experience all that one can endure; to see enough." Also, "to lose one's innocence." In the American Civil War and after, a related usage was "to see combat or to face death, especially for the first time."

The ElephantWe have seen the elephant.
We have gone and by pure blind luck, returned,
Heroes, larger, no longer the same.
We are back, and we know the elephant.

We came back mad, in shells
Of gray flannel and three or maybe four martinis,
Encrusted with invisible filth that never washed away.
The filth we'd seen, and done, when we saw the elephant.

Some still cannot speak of it, the elephant:
Larger than anything. Larger than everything,
Its gray horror reflected, always, in our eyes
And twisted bodies, standing alone at freeway on-ramps.

Some of us identify with it, and woo the elephant, as if
To win its favor, speaking of its glory (and of our part),
Teaching our children to seek their manhood
In the elephant, as we did. And then we try to sleep.

Some of us tell our children there are better ways to die,
And better things to die for. That luck is not grace,
And surviving isn't all that great either, after the elephant.
But children rarely listen. They say:

"Take us! Use us! Make us more than we are!"
Instead it took the ones who had our backs,
It took the ones we would have died for,
And made them dead, and made us veterans.

So, yes. We've seen the elephant.
We've gone, and served, and somehow made it back.
Heroes? No. Just lucky, I guess.
But not the same. We've seen the elephant.

Eric Bagai
Portland, Oregon.
March, 2006.