12 November, 2020

Exploreum in the '90s

Pierre Le Moyne D’Iberville

My favorite place to be in Winter 1996 was wherever she was. Like most boys at that age, I was infatuated with someone I found impossible to stay away from, so when she wanted to drive downtown to explore the "big" city of Mobile, I gladly followed along.



Ervin S. Cooper
Mobile, Alabama, was a city of 200k residents back then, and the city was then actively working on making the downtown area a much nicer place. Cooper Riverside Park first opened in December of that year; we would frolic and gaze and rest and vigorously enjoy ourselves there. Nearby was the Adam's Mark Hotel (now known as the Renaissance Riverview Plaza Hotel), the tallest highrise hotel in Alabama at 28 stories. Despite its size, the foyer would be deserted at 3 a.m., save for the person on duty behind the desk, so I could play their grand piano to an audience of just two for forty-five minutes or so. I wasn't terribly good, but that didn't matter; it was wonderful just to have a grand to myself for a few minutes each night, regardless of the quality of my playing. We never went to bars, or interacted with others beyond a word or two. We just walked from park to park, sampling the smells of azaleas and camellias, sitting on benches next to statues, and finding secluded green areas for privacy. We took full advantage of the new downtown developments as they came up. By 1998, the Gulf Coast Exploreum Science Center and IMAX Dome Theater opened across the street; I flashed the news crew as it filmed the Exploreum's grand opening live for the evening news; it was the first (and hopefully last) time I've ever been stark naked on live television.

Renaissance Riverview Plaza Hotel
Later, when I was by myself, I still loved visiting downtown Mobile. I would go well after midnight and stalk the platforms of the Arthur C. Outlaw Convention Center. I would lie on the grass at Cooper Riverside Park and listen to the waves gently crash against the pier. I would gently ask the Adam's Mark receptionist if I could play the grand piano so often that the employees working at 3 a.m. would eventually just immediately gesture to the piano the moment that I would walk in. I would play light jazz, improvising notes with my right hand while holding a basic chord progression on my left. I would (poorly) play songs by Nobuo Uematsu, often slowing down during the hard parts that I hadn't yet learned. I would play more than I would play.

St. Josephs Chapel organ by Heissler
(Even later, in 2003, I would spend two nights each week going up to the Heisler tracker pipe organ at St. Joseph Chapel at 3 a.m. to continue the tradition, though I'd almost always play to an audience of none there, and I'd immediately stop if anyone came into the chapel. No one needs to hear me play Uematsu's Dancing Mad at three in the morning when they've come to the chapel likely for guidance of a very different kind.)

These memories mean little to whomever ends up reading this. But it's not written for you; it's written for me. To me, these memories are precious. They're moments of time frozen in amber back when I was too immature to realize that the world didn't revolve around me. They're memories of a self with so much naiveté that, even now, I cannot fathom how I could possibly think the way that I did. They remind me of happy times, but, also, of the shame that comes with not appreciating it the way that I should have. They help to ground me in the changes that I've made over the years — they cement the surety I feel that the many dividing lines between then and now are worthwhile and good. They make me more fully appreciate the joy I feel in the simple pleasures I take in the here and now.

The deep regrets I have for what my ancestor did may loom large, but these memories help to remind me that no man is pure evil. That the error was in grasping too hard, in assuming that fate had a plan, in tasking myself with making it work instead of letting it go. The error, too, was in my drastically poor choices, but, behind that, it was an error of faith. I stand here ever so grateful that I will never again make that category of error.

11 November, 2020

Taking a Walk

 4:12 a.m. EST

I'm a little late for my walk. It's much better to go at 3:30 or so; that way I don't run into anyone and I can keep my mask in my pocket. Starting this late means by the time I get back I might run into early morning dog walkers. In years past, I would have just canceled. My desire to be alone would have been just too great. But after my health scare earlier this year, I promised myself I'd do these walks at least thrice a week. I have to go.


4:27 a.m. EST

I reach the tunnel. It's dark. I can see only a few feet in front of me if I use the tiny low power LED flashlight on my keychain. Without the light, I can see nothing. The first few steps crunch the fall leaves near the entrance. My heart picks up a beat, even though I know no one is here. It's silent. Each step echoes lightly. It's a strange sound; maybe I should have worn something other than crocs for this walk. I move my phone up to take a short video, illuminating the graffiti on the sides of the tunnel as I walk past. I'm careful to just use the small light on my keychain; if I turn on my phone's flashlight, it will be too bright, and it will break the illusion. Another step echoes, and I catch a reflection from above. It's the covering for fluorescent ceiling lights, but they're all turned off. They're always turned off. I wonder when they are ever turned on. After a few more steps, I reach the center of the short tunnel. Above me is the 'main' road. No cars at this time of night, though. I close my eyes and inhale deeply. It smells of... well, the same as outside, really. The tunnel is too short and too shallow to have its own smell. I smell the trees; the leaves; the breeze. No stale air here. I'm disappointed yet again in how not-scary it is, despite the darkness. Despite the seemingly encroaching walls. It occurs to me that the echo is not weird because of my choice of footwear — it's the accordion fold shape of the metal walls that distort the echo so.



5:10 a.m. EST

I like living in this community. Neighbors live in small houses, big houses, townhouses. There are garages, people parking in the streets, driveways, parking lots. Some places look well tended, with the leaves absent from the ground; others have piles. This one appears dilapidated. Next door is a man-made basin, only half full. The water is green, and signs say to stay away. Yet I know that a half mile behind me is a much larger natural creek, beautiful and full of life. The disparity so close together is what makes me really enjoy this area.


5:26 a.m. EST

I arrive at my doorstep. I feel successful, though I encountered no deer tonight, as I sometimes do. I don't always feel great; times have been tough lately. I'm worried about the country I live in, half of whose voting inhabitants wanted Trump to be reelected. I'm worried about several members of my family, who only recently contracted COVID-19 and aren't yet getting better. I'm worried about life. And death.




But at least I got some exercise today without having to put on a mask.

12 October, 2020

My Interactions on Reddit


"Ew. Why are you celebrating thirteen years on Reddit? What a wretched hive of scum and villainy. Aren't they all chauvinistic red-pillers that post weird Pepe the Frogs?"

Why, yes, Reddit is certainly home to a lot of people with bad ideas, but that's mostly because Reddit is home to a lot of people. I've had a lot of interactions on Reddit that I've found insightful and worthwhile. Here are just a few that I've personally participated in (I'm u/EricHerboso):

The Best Philosophy Podcasts from r/philosophy

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Deathwing Every Turn from r/hearthstone

Star Trek First Frontier (2020) Fan Film from r/startrek

07 October, 2020

Why I Value Sleep

From the now defunct study-hack site.
I've always highly valued sleep. On the EA Forum, I've argued that sleep should be prioritized. I've always enjoyed the dozen or so seconds after I first wake, when my brain continues to filter out all sounds, sleep-paralysis-style. My dream worlds never cease to fascinate me. More than half of the times I go to sleep, I find myself dreaming lucidly, and I almost always enjoy it. I've even taken the time to attempt experiments in my lucid dreams, to see whether I can do meaningful work while asleep.

When listening to others describe their lives, I have always been surprised that no one seems to value sleep nearly as much as I do. Is it just because they are more focused on earning money? Or accomplishing value in the real world? Maybe it is because they don't have lucid dreams at all. Maybe they can't even remember their dreams. These are all increasingly good explanations, but it was only recently that I realized why I in particular might be overvaluing my dreams in particular.

I have aphantasia, which means I cannot visualize things in my daily waking life. But, in my dreams, I can visualize spectacularly well. I can direct my dreams in all kinds of ways, and I can experience them visually. For me, this is a unique experience that I never have while I am awake. But I only just realized recently that my everyday lived visual experience was radically different from others', and so I never fully understood why, to me, the experience of dream worlds felt so very real. Yet now it is obvious: for others, it is no big deal that they can visualize in their dreams; whereas, for me, it is a uniquely real-feeling experience that I can resume and direct each night on demand.

Of course I value dreams (and therefore sleep) so much more than most people. It feels so obvious now, in retrospect. But this was something that I've thought about for decades and have only just now understood.

25 September, 2020

Thirteen Years on Reddit

Ace cake by MJ Buell.

Today is my cake day. I joined reddit 13 years ago, only a few months after Conde Nast bought it from the original founders.

At the time, I was a webmaster and I joined reddit because I wanted to experiment with how marketing on reddit affected web traffic. I wrote a couple of trash articles that I knew would not be popular on my own and then posted links to them on reddit using a few different accounts. In one, I just posted a link that copied the bland title. In another, I posted the link alongside a catchy title. In the last, I posted the link with a fake (but catchy) title that had nothing to do with the blogpost. As you might expect, the second approach worked best, and I used this completely nonscientific experiment as the basis for chapter 4 in an ebook I wrote back then about Email & Social Marketing.

Although my purpose for joining reddit ended after only a month, I stayed and became a regular redditor, like everyone else. I only ever upvoted the stuff I really liked, so it’s been interesting going back in my own history to see what I liked throughout the years. I feel like I’ve changed as a person so very much in the past 13 years.

Thirteen years ago is a long time ago. 2007 was the year that the iPhone was introduced. Nancy Pelosi became the first female speaker of the house that year. Tumblr was launched. Mauritania became the last country on earth to officially criminalize slavery. Words like “hashtag”, “netbook”, “retweet”, “Latinx”, “coworking”, “crowdfunding”, and “colony collapse disorder” were added to the dictionary. Trump was on Wrestlemania.

Thirteen years is a long time to be doing anything. When I was 13, my first sister was born. For a long time afterward I still considered myself basically an only child because I never had a sibling my age. The group I most identify with, Effective Altruism, is not yet even 13 years old. Thirteen years is longer than most people spend in primary education. I’ve been on reddit for a very long time.

And yet, in all these thirteen years, this is the first time I’ve remembered to post on my cake day.

21 September, 2020

Killer Queen Black

My first KQB (casual) tournament win.
Yesterday, my team, Eezy Beezy KG, won the Killer Queen Black weekend event. It was quite exciting -- although I can't help but to feel as though I was carried through most of the matches. Our queen, Matt "KG28", is among the best queens in the game, and so it isn't hard to see why I may feel this way. The event was a draft; I was, understandably, picked dead last. I really enjoyed the experience. Our run was livestreamed on Twitch.

Katherine's first KQB win.
The KQB community is relatively small. Katherine has said that she thinks she knows at least half of the KQB players that are on discord at the acquaintance level. I don't play enough to know that many, but her claim is easily believable given how many of the same people I keep seeing show up in the discord. (Later, KQB will be launching on Xbox Game Pass, which I expect will dramatically increase the player count. But, until then, it still feels like a manageable playerpool.)

Katherine has played this game significantly more than I have and is rated 200 ELO points above me. She's also won a draft weekend event, but, even more impressively, she won second place in a solo weekend event, repeatedly winning with different teammates in every game. I'm looking forward to seeing what IGL team picks her up for the fall circuit 2020.

It feels really nice to play in a community like this. I haven't enjoyed a truly competitive game like this since StarCraft, and this has the added bonus of being team-based. It's a game of skill and strategy, but unlike most other competitive games, it's also a game of attention. Knowing when and where to put your attention is as important as being able to platform well, dodge opponents, and hold parts of the map.

highly recommend the game to anyone who wants to seriously compete. The only warning I'll give is that it's notoriously difficult to play as the queen, rather than as a worker. If you're a beginner queen, you really need to train with people on discord first before playing in ranked. This was a tough start for me and my friends; when we got the game, we would queue in ranked as a four person beginner team and we would rotate as queen each game. It was a terribly demoralizing way of starting the game, and I almost feel like the game itself should disincentivize you from starting the game by playing in the way that we did.

If you're interested, here're all the links you need. The most important ones are the link to purchase the game and kqbdiscord.com, which lets you interact with the greater community. If one of my friends decides to play KQB, please let me know! I'd be glad to team up with you for some games. (c:

17 September, 2020

Emotions

I laughed and cried when I was young. I have no reason to think that I had any less emotion than other children at that age. But at some point in my young adult life, I got it into my head that I could suppress the outer trappings of emotion -- the frowns or smiles, the laughs or tears -- and over time that outer suppression affected (or at least seemed to affect) my own inner feelings.


There was a period of about fifteen years or so where I'm not sure that I laughed or cried at all. Not just outwardly, but on the inside, too. Sure, I smiled at times, but only, I think, on purpose, to fit in, to seem like I was a part of the group. Did I do this to myself? Maybe. But I can't help but feel, after listening to others talk about their emotional lives, that there had to be some sort of natural low-emotion state that I was in in the first place, if I were able to so dramatically suppress certain emotions so easily for so long.

One of the reasons that I fell in love with My Little Pony (G4 FiM) was that its episodes taught me to feel again. I remember sitting there, deeply depressed, turning on those first few episodes and learning, perhaps despite myself, about what it really meant to be a good friend.

I was lying on the couch when I first watched Arrested Development. I don't know which joke it was, but at some point halfway through the first episode, I laughed. --and it was.... I think I missed the rest of the episode, not really paying attention to it anymore. Instead, I was in my own head, thinking and wondering if this really was the first time I'd spontaneously laughed in the last decade and a half. By the time I watched Community later that year, I found myself perfectly able to enjoy laughing at what I felt was funny, without needing to go through all that self-reflection.

Fiction has been especially impactful for me recently. I've found myself crying during shows, crying after reading reddit posts, crying at story beats in my video games. I don't know what caused the changes. I don't think I'd been intentionally suppressing emotions all those years; it just became unintentional habit. But now I seem to be making up for lost time? Or maybe they're hormonal changes after my recent medical issues. It's hard to say.

I'm just glad that I'm experiencing these emotions more fully now. Maybe I'm not nearly as far on the sociopathic spectrum as the PCL-R would have me believe.

(Writing this post reminds me of The Drought, except I think I'm being more honest here than I was there. If I had to rewrite that piece, I'm not sure that it would even make sense to publish it after all the corrections.)

09 September, 2020

Donning a Mask

When I go walking, I bring a mask with me, but I don't actually put it on. My walks generally take place around 3:30 a.m. and the only beings I tend to meet during these walks are the occasional deer or rabbit. But I keep it at hand in case I do run into another human.

Gogo, mimic.

At home, I'm always maskless. When I visit family, I wear a face shield when people are close and nothing when people are further away. (It's a pretty weak face shield, but it just feels too cumbersome to wear a full mask around family members who've promised me that they've been careful due to my recent health problems.)

I never spend time in public anymore. I haven't gone to a store of any kind since March. The only exceptions would be the drive through pharmacy runs that I've done occasionally. All our groceries are delivered. I've been buying anything that needs to be bought almost entirely through Amazon.

So far, our household has remained COVID-19 free.

But when it comes to my online presence, I haven't worn a mask in nearly thirty years. When I was young, I was a serial liar. I lied for the fun of it, just to see what people would believe. I'm not proud of how I acted in those days. It was especially bad in my online life. To strangers, to friends I met online, even to an at-the-time minor celebrity (Anthony Bourdain, who hadn't yet become an executive chef and was known then only as a minor author), I lied successfully enough to maintain a variety of relationships indefinitely. Eventually, when I had had enough of these antics, I made a promise to myself that, from then on, anything I did or wrote online would be under my real name. I figured this would help me to act more appropriately.

It helped.

I used "EricHerboso" or "Eric Herboso" almost everywhere, except on dating sites, where I used "EricJHerboso" instead to deter them from showing up too high in the search results. (At the time, Google wouldn't return a page with "EricJHerboso" if you searched for "Eric Herboso". This is no longer the case.) I still lied from time to time -- it was a tough habit to break -- but eventually I was able to be proud of the things I said online.

However, after decades of going solely by own name online, I've reached a point where I'm okay with having a small nom de plume. I'm going to restrict its use to writing fiction online, so I won't be tempted to use it in places where I actually participate in open discourse online, like on reddit, wikipedia, or on the effective altruism forum. But I've been wanting to publish some light rational fiction, and I think using a pen name for that purpose (and that purpose alone) will be fine.

I guess saying that I'm doing this on my public blog is my way of justifying breaking that initial promise I made to myself more than twenty-five years ago.

01 September, 2020

Cognitive Dissonance

It is perhaps the worst feeling I have ever felt. Constantly reviewing my own thoughts, balancing the requirements of those I call friends against the tenets of the enlightenment spirit that I have so long held dear. I feel...so wrong. I have cognitive dissonance.

Yesterday I experienced the most embarrassing moment of my life thus far. It was during a board meeting, where we were discussing the medium- to long-term strategic plan of the organization. I was already feeling uneasy due to both personal and medical issues preceding the call. Suddenly, right when I was in the middle of explaining something, my mind went blank. I faltered, mid-explanation, and just couldn't go on. It was horribly embarrassing.

And yet it isn't the most horrible feeling I've ever had. As embarrassing as breaking down mid-explanation in the middle of an important board meeting was, it is nothing when compared to the cognitive dissonance that constantly barrages my inner self. I loathe feeling this way. Yet it isn't going away.

On the one hand, we have a terrible miscarriage of justice. People of the global majority are held back in so many ways, and we must do something to stop it. This is completely and utterly true; I have no doubt on this issue.

However, it is not enough to say that something is wrong, that something is unfair, that something is a travesty, and that it should be changed. There is also the issue of triage.


One of the tenets of effective altruism is the concept of not just doing good whenever possible, but discriminating which actions should be taken so that we accomplish the most good. Sometimes, this means that we consciously choose to allow some to be hurt, so long as it helps substantively more in the long term. Sometimes it means that we sacrifice some good now in order to create far more good in the long term. Sometimes it means staying in Omelas, not because we are callous, but because Omelas is not a minor village, but instead a collection of individuals so large that it perpetually overwhelms any considerations of what is going on in the village center.

I believe that the benefit of better taste from a burger is not worth the harm done to a cow by harming it. Yet when Burger King, a fast food restaurant who is responsible for harming many, many cows decided to sell non-meat patties several years ago, I was ecstatic. I gave them patronage many times, and I encouraged others to try out their veggie patty. I did this knowing full well that they still harmed many, many cows -- but I was nonetheless outrageously happy that they were making it easier for people to abstain from meat and still be able to eat fast food. They were making it easier for people to eat less meat, which I felt would, in the long term, help to reduce overall suffering. When impossible burgers came out, I went even more gung-ho, taking many friends and family to Red Robin and to Founding Farmers, so that they could see it become even more normalized. It's been fifteen years since I stopped eating meat, and these outreach efforts have caused at least three others to go vegan and many, many more to eat substantially less meat.

I suppose that if I knew the cow hurt by Burger King, I might not make this decision to be happy with Burger King so easily. There's something about the fact that I don't really empathize with such an individual cow that makes it easier for me to say: I care about reducing suffering in the long term, and so I'm happy with Burger King introducing a veggie patty, since it accomplishes this, even while they still are directly responsible for killing many, many cows. I can know what the right thing to do is, even while I may feel not that great about supporting what amounts to a murderous company in my eyes. But this cognitive dissonance is very light. No matter the emotion involved, I know that it is worth it in the end, and so the dissonance does not bother me very much.


Then I read White Fragility, and I just feel wrong. The author even predicts that we will feel wrong, and points out that this is the titular situation itself: they claim that because I feel this way, it proves the thesis. And I don't think this is wrong, exactly. It's true that racism is everywhere, including in me. I can even cite specific racist situations in my own life where I've taken conscious action to ensure that my actions didn't unfairly prejudice others. It takes active, concerted effort to be antiracist.

But... it feels very weird to take a just-so explanation so seriously. It feels extraordinarily improper to take what amounts to be an unfalsifiable thesis as though it had to be true. It really, really bothers me that one of the main tenets of this movement is that intent is not as important as effect, and so it is improper to use the principle of charity when interpreting others' comments. Sure, it remains obvious that effect matters more when people take action. But my feelings about the core ideas of the enlightenment spirit -- open discussion, free speech, believing ideas based on evidence -- clash so strongly with the precepts held by so many advocates today. A part of me feels like I know that we have to have fair, open discussion, and so that means we have to have spaces where it is not improper to look at ideas that make us uncomfortable. And so I think, perhaps mistakenly (hence the cognitive dissonance), that we should allow space for this kind of thinking within the effective altruism movement. I don't want ideas to be verboten there; I'd much rather stomp out the racism by proving its worthlessness with open debate.

And then I turn my head behind me, and I see my friends of the global majority. They appear deflated. Beaten down. Just reading a facebook discussion where people question these things takes the energy completely out of them. They are tired. They are exhausted from dealing with uncharitable racists so often that they can no longer give people the benefit of the doubt. They continually have to take up the burden, and it hurts them. And I realize: these speech acts hurt. My beliefs in free speech, in open discussion of alternative ideals, in debate and the presentation of evidence being the ultimate arbiter of what we should agree to as truth... These things hurt my friends. And I am torn.

Because on the one side, I still really do believe in the ideals of the enlightenment. Yet I also simultaneously cannot deny that allowing free open debate unambiguously causes extreme harm to my friends. And thus the cognitive dissonance.

I don't know if the Burger King analogy holds here. In a way, it is like knowing that their introducing a veggie patty is good, and simultaneously turning to see my cow friend get brutally slaughtered by an agent of Burger King. Is this what I am feeling? Do I know that open discussion of ideas is best, and yet I falter just because I happen to know these cows? Is it because I have friends that are black, and pakistani, and native, and hispanic? Is it just that I can turn my head and see their faces that I have this feeling of cognitive dissonance?

Or is it the opposite? The position taken in White Fragility is unfalsifiable. But it is also true. I know it. You know it. All educated people know it. You can't stay neutral on a moving train. It's undeniable. And so maybe it is my faith in logic itself that is being shaken here. The author of How to be an Antiracist says that these actions we are all taking are either racist or they are antiracist. The author of White Fragility says that even if we rail against their conclusions, this just proves them correct. Anyone well versed in philosophical argument will know that these arguments are by no means fool-proof. They don't have rigor. And yet: they are nevertheless convincing because they are right.

I know that my friends are hurt by the open discussion of ideas. So where does that leave my strong belief in free speech? So far, neither side of me has toppled the other. And so I have extreme cognitive dissonance. It hurts. When I speak up in favor of free speech, I feel horrible. Because the people hurt by it are my true and genuine friends. And when I speak up in favor of limiting free speech, I feel horrible. Because I can't help but to feel like the best way to stop hatred in the long term is to openly show how utterly stupid it is. But then I look at social media. I look at Chapelle canceling his show because actual racists weren't taking his humor as enlightening, but as evidence that their inner racist feelings are correct. I look at a police chief stating that we need to warehouse black people to stop them from breeding, who claims that he's tired of hiding the feelings that he thinks all true americans have inside but which aren't openly said because everyone feels they have to be politically correct. Free speech ain't working. These people are not being shamed into being less racist. They only hid their racism to fit in -- up until Trump was elected, and now they're coming out of the woodwork. The enlightenment ideals I have held so dear for so long... is it possible that the pendulum has swung so far into the direction of hatred that it actually would make sense to ban open discussion of these ideas in EA spaces?

This is, by far, the worst feeling I have ever had. It is far, far worse than the feeling of embarrassment I had yesterday when I froze mid-explanation during a board meeting and had to just abandon the floor. And that was the most embarrassing incident of my entire life.

30 June, 2020

Aphantasia Realizations

From Anwinity.
Sad realizations. When people talk about undressing with one's eyes, they actually mean it. When people suffer from ptsd, they actually see it. Having only just realized that not everyone has aphantasia like me, these are newly sad realizations to me. Mindfulness tactics. Counting sheep. Memory palace techniques. Even rotating objects drawn on paper. Mental chess. Police sketch artists. Movie tropes that show characters' active imaginations. Spank bank. Seeing more than a few moves ahead in strategy games. Floor is lava. Spatial IQ tests. Seeing monsters in the dark.

My understanding of all of these things has had to be reevaluated in the past week. There are so many things that I thought I understood which, it turns out, I've hardly understood at all. Flashbacks of Wittgenstein's Tractatus. How did I not realize? How can I have read so much philosophy about qualia and yet miss such a basic thing? Fish noticing water.

Tomorrow I have yet another surgery. I saw a doctor earlier today. I have appointments for next week, for next month, for even the month after. I hear of people getting a reality check on their mortality and rethinking their life choices. Who they are romantically attached to; whether they've visited places they care about; when is the last time they spoke to their various family members. But, to me, this feeling is definitively and uniquely in the category of what else have I taken for granted?

What kinds of mental experiences have I missed out on, whether through disability or through inaction? How many more misunderstandings of mine might overturn so many ideas that I previously thought I had a handle on?

It feels good to fantasize about these things before I hit another dividing line tomorrow. It is, most of all, what I love about life.

Be well.

22 June, 2020

Blind Invidia

Recently, I learned that I have had a lifelong disability that I never previously realized that I had: aphantasia.

Aphantasia (meaning "without imagination") is a condition characterized by being unable to literally see objects when one's eyes are closed. People with aphantasia cannot visualize things.

Image is from Bebeflapula.
This relatively rare condition affects between 1–3% of the population, of which I am one. Yet despite writing a description of the condition in the preceding paragraph, I can't help but to strongly feel like my description is wrong. Of course I can visualize things; I've visualized things my entire life. Of course I can see objects in my mind's eye. How else am I able to enjoy fiction and dream so vividly and mentally rotate objects?

Yet I am definitely aphantasiac. The problem lies in my misunderstanding of how others have used words for my entire life. Every time someone has said "envision yourself relaxing on a beach," I've diligently closed my eyes and "imagined" myself on a beach. Except I put "imagine" in quotes here because I don't actually see anything at all; rather, I have a rough understanding of what it would be like if I really were relaxing on a beach. If you said to me: "are there any umbrellas on the beach?", I would respond with confusion, wondering if I'm being asked to "imagine" umbrellas on the beach or not. To me, I could say there was an umbrella there, or not, depending on what I might want. Either way, it would not be literally visual. Yet most people can apparently inspect the image in their brain to see whether an umbrella is there. If asked: "is there a cloud in the sky?", these people can just look, and then answer whether a cloud is there. But, for me, none of this is actually visible. I see only darkness when I close my eyes. When I perform what I have called "visualization" my entire life, apparently what I have actually been doing is not visualization at all, but just the listing of properties of things in relation to each other.

If you ask me to imagine a rainbow, I will close my eyes and see nothing. But I can tell you the basic shape. I can draw a curve, whether it is with my hand or by "drawing" in my "mind's eye". (But again I must use quotation marks, for what I mean when I say these things is apparently not what most people mean when they say these things.) I can list the colors of each band in order. I can say that it appears in the sky. But none of those features are inspectable. They're just lists of properties. Not written in text that I can see when my eyes are closed, just... knowledge of what a rainbow would look like, if one happened to be in front of me.

To me, this is what the word "imagination" has always meant. I never took seriously the idea that anyone could actually visualize things in their mind's eye. I never thought people were being literal when they said they could imagine a scene in their head. To me, it is just emptiness. I cannot trace the outline of my friend's body because I do not see their body when I "imagine" them. But I can quite easily draw the outline of their body at will. If given a blank sheet of paper, I cannot trace an outline, but I can move my pencil deliberately in a way that will cause an outline to appear. I am creating this outline, not tracing it. And, in the same way, I can draw a limited hazy outline of a picture in my head. When I close my eyes, it starts black and empty; but I can draw a square -- and it is still black and empty, but I nevertheless can know where its side would be if I had been able to make any marks on the blank sheet of my mind. It is like the pencil in my head does not leave marks, and yet I can still know the not-quite-drawn object's properties. I know how many sides it has, not because I can inspect it, not because I can count edges, but because I can trace where each edge would be.

It is fascinating to me that I could live so many years continuously thinking that people were speaking figuratively every time they talked about imagining things. But it is not just fascinating; it also feels...bad. It wouldn't feel this way if this lack weren't something that everyone else seems to have. After all, I don't have "incredibly stereoscopic" vision, like those 9% who absolutely love 3D media do; nor am I a super recognizer, like the 1% who recognize faces way too easily are; but I don't feel a lack with these in the way that I do with aphantasia, when 98% can imagine visually. This seems irrational to me. If I'm to feel bad about not being phantasiac, shouldn't I also feel bad about not having senses that post-singularity humans might one day have?

...Aaand this is where I start to feel really bad: after all, I've come to feel mudita in so many other areas, whether it's the compersion I've learned through being polyamorous, or the caring I've trained through watching My Little Pony, or even the attachment of fuzzies to utilons that I've painstakingly created through association over the course of my experience with effective altruism¹.

My blind mind's eye has become a source of envy. Jealousy washes over me, even when I no longer feel jealousy in other contexts. I feel bad about feeling bad, and then I start to feel bad about feeling bad about feeling bad, at which point I manually stop the cycle and try to figure out how I can come back to feeling mudita here. But it is just not natural for me. There's something about knowing that 98% of people have the good thing that I lack that makes me unable to intrinsically feel good about their having it. I don't have this problem in other contexts because, I think, it is a much smaller percentage of people who are privileged. Which makes me think: would I also feel this way for other disabilities? If I lost the ability to walk, or the capacity to talk, would I also feel these feelings that are verging on bitterness?

I don't like this aspect of myself. I'm not happy about this at all. I want -- no, I need to be a better person. Now I just need to figure out how to fix this new problem of mine.



¹ Fuzzies are separate from utilons. But if you want to pay more attention to utilons in a specific setting, you can train yourself pavlov style to feel the fuzzies when you do the utilon stuff. In my case, I wanted to feel good when I donated to EA charities. So I used the metric of how much it cost to save a life from GiveWell's figures, decided to donate in chunks of that amount to EA charities, and then mentally "imagined" myself saving someone from a burning building each time I donated that amount. I have an uncle who did this once, and I clearly recall the feeling I had when the story was told around the family dinner table decades after the fact. He was walking down the street, saw a burning building, heard someone call out from inside, and instinctively dropped everything to go in and save that person's life. Even though the story was only told to me decades after the event had occurred, I remember the mix of feelings I had: pride, strength, determination. I wanted to be able to be a hero like that. And so each time I donated a chunk of the appropriate size, I would sit and "visualize" just that. Eventually, I came to associate donating in these chunks with those imagined feelings of saving a life, and the fuzzies had become attached to the utilons.

15 June, 2020

Spine Recovery

After more than three months, my health ordeal may come to an end tomorrow. My final surgery is scheduled for 7:30 am, and it seems to all appearances that within a week I should be well enough to once again live life as I did before.

It feels a little weird to think that the world around me might share in this prognosis. COVID-19 has caused my friends and family to self-isolate for the past three months, and while they get to come out of their shells due to what our governor is calling phase one of the recovery, I will be doing the same in terms of being able to move around and be myself.

It was only last week that I received the good news that my doctor would not need to remove my damaged organ. Up until then there was the distinct possibility that I would be heading toward a major surgery, and most of my fretting had to do with what I would write in my last journal entry before the day came. But then the imaging turned out to be positive, and I learned that instead the surgery would be relatively minor. This relieved a great deal of stress, yet I nevertheless continued to oddly feel that considering what I would write in this last journal entry before the surgery should take precedence. After all, no one reads these blog entries. I write them fully with the expectation that, at best, some future person might one day be interested in genealogy and end up browsing one or two entries on this blog -- and even then I suspect this wouldn't actually come to pass for decades upon decades hence. Yet this blog, and, in general, the rest of my various journals, all seem to be a very real part of me. They hold me together like the headband and footband holds together the spine of a book.

I can't help but to continue to feel as though the phases of my life are demarcated much more strongly than how other people seem to feel. Each chapter of my life buzzes with life in its own moment, but appears (from my perspective) to be but a past self to the me of today. Even each individual page from day to day has a more tenuous connection, though it does cling somewhat. It takes special effort to visualize these divisions as illusory, just as the book spine keeps the book together. And so it is through the writing down of these stories of my life that I am able to help fortify that spine. My journal entries are, for me, the bands that support the spine that holds together my very life.

I'm not a solipsist. I care about others, even when those others are myself of yore (or sometimes the myself to be). Yet I can't help but to feel terror at the idea of losing my own existence over time. Events like this upcoming surgery compound these feelings -- though it does so somewhat less now that I've learned that it will not be major surgery after all. Still, a risk remains. That risk continues to occupy my mind as I watch videos of EAGxVirtual 2020 from this past weekend. As Toby Ord speaks of the precipice, surprisingly arguing that you don't have to care for the welfare of future beings to care about what we contribute to the greater entity that is the universe coming to know itself, I keep hearkening back to the series of mes that consist of my own greater entity, and how I should act for those who come after. How much more true is this idea if, [I] forbid, my personal greater being's line dies, and all that is left are the connections to those I love and care for most?

To those beings, whether it is myself or my friends or family or even that far-off future student of history who haphazardly came across this scrap from the dawn of the internet age, I say this: we have a kinship. Whether through the happenstance of a friendship grown upon being thrown randomly together in school, or through my having sought you out specifically due to your answers on okcupid, or through the vagaries of birth, or through the common ideals we found by mutually committing ourselves to a cause, or even, so to speak, through the common goal that unites us by virtue of us just being persons, I want you to know that I care about you. Some of you I love. Some of you I enjoy the company of. Some of you I maybe have not even seen for a very long time, or even maybe I have yet to meet. But all of you, all to a one, all that could have the capacity to read these words at all (yes, even you): you mean something to me.

Thank you for taking the time to read my words here.

And if it happens that no one ever comes to read this, perhaps because I die in surgery tomorrow and no one who mourns me thinks to read a journal that they probably don't even know is there, then that's okay, too. Because I'm writing this for me. Or, rather, for the greater entity that is me. I'm writing this to keep my metaphorical soul threaded through the thoughts of my life. To attach the who I am of today to the silly, deplorable bastard that held sway here over two decades ago. Yes, he feels separate, but he is my kin more than any others who would read this save one, and as I write this entry for him, I do so knowing that he no longer exists and has no capacity to read any of it. So if it is not read, then that is okay, for that was sufficient reason for it to be written in the first place.

10 June, 2020

Review: Permutation City

Permutation City (Subjective Cosmology #2)Permutation City by Greg Egan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I see a lot of myself in this book.

(Light spoilers follow; I think you can read this review and still enjoy the book, but if you want to go in blind, don't read this review.)

I've never killed a person, but, if I had, I wonder if I would act in a similarly perverse way as one of the characters in this book.

A character ends up breaking their life apart by rigid dividing lines, considering each section to be independent.

Dust theory is horrifying to contemplate, and it seems to be contradicted in reality by the arrow of time, but it otherwise fits so well with many assumptions I have about consciousness.

The story grips me not just because it fascinates me but because it hits upon some of the themes in my own life that nag at me from time to time.

I've never killed a person (that I know of), but, like most people, I have regrets from past lives that still affect me today.

A character ends up breaking their life apart by rigid dividing lines, as though past moments were more like past lives than an earlier self.

Dust theory is fascinating to contemplate, with threads of thoughts merging and dividing in ways that seem to not be contradicted by anything we've observed in reality.

The story grips me.

(The light spoilers above shouldn't scare you away from reading the book, and this review might even make more sense after you read the text.)

I see that the author did a great job with this book. I give it five out of five stars.

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05 June, 2020

Review: The Erogamer

The ErogamerThe Erogamer by Groon the Walker
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Let's get the obvious stuff out of the way.

First, this is porn; if you aren't okay with reading porn, then you won't be able to enjoy this story. Yet I'm asexual, I don't generally read that much pornography, and while many of the porn scenes in The Erogamer did squick me out, I'm still giving the book 4 out of 5 stars overall.

Second, I tagged this book as both hard and soft fantasy. Yes, this seems to be impossible for me to honestly do on its face. But I would maintain that both tags are warranted, and I honestly like the combination. (You'll understand after you read it.)

Third, this is not really a traditionally written book. It's written as a series of posts on a forum, and in between each post you can see other real-world readers like you talking about the story. The author holds polls, including ones where readers can write-in their own options, and then the next part of the story will respect those votes. Apparently this is an actual genre that I don't have much experience with; regardless, I am convinced without even doing more than just skimming others in this genre that The Erogamer may very well be the best written story in its genre. I know it seems that I can't possibly be so sure of this without being more familiar with "questing" stories, and yet here I am, publicly maintaining just that, and feeling assured that if you read The Erogamer too, you may very well come to agree with my assertion.

The Erogamer is about a young protagonist girl who finds herself suddenly as a character in an erotic video game. She's still the same person, in the same house she grew up in, except now she can see a status screen at will, and her quests inevitably push her toward sex scenes where she gains experience and can level up. Being genre-savvy, she tries to munchkin her way through things, except she also has very human flaws that cause her to only stumble through at first. Without spoiling anything major, I will say that when she finally reaches the point where she can really start minmaxing, she suddenly finds that the eroge itself is also genre-savvy, and its goals aren't the same as hers.

I don't want to give away too much here, as the surprises you encounter when reading this story are all worth experiencing this on your own. Suffice it to say that if you have an interest in philosophy, or at least are into rationality (any story that includes a pun on the "ominous agreement theorem" gets bonus points from me), then so long as you're okay with reading porn, you may very well get as into this story as I have.

With that said, I have a couple of spoiler-lite things to say. If you want to go in blind, stop reading this review and just get started on The Erogamer yourself.

The first spoiler-lite thing I should mention is that it may be worthwhile for you to not only read the story posts that the author, Groon the Walker, posts on the thread, but also to read the thread posts written by others. None of them is an alt of the author; that would be against forum rules. Yet the story itself is dependent not just on the author writing the main story, but also the discussion generated by the readers as each new post goes up. At the time of writing this review, the story is not yet finished; ordinarily I would recommend that new readers wait until it is finished. But because this story revolves so much upon audience participation, I actually think it would be more worthwhile to start reading now.

The second spoiler-lite thing I want to mention is something that I'm a little uncomfortable about: trigger-warning-adjacent stuff. Obviously, explicit sex is in the story. As is heavily nonconsensual stuff, torture scenes, body negativity, etc. We all know that trigger warnings should occur first, before anyone reads the text, which the author does: certain sections of the story are actually only visible if you click after reading a trigger warning for the scene within. But I'm writing the following in a spoiler-lite section because I have something _meta_ to say about the trigger warnings.

There's some pretty bad ethical ideas presented in this story. The body negativity is especially bad. And it's not just written so that a character has bad ideas on body positivity, but also the narrator's voice and ways of describing scenes is really bad about body positivity. You might think that this means the author thus has bad views on it, and that the story is promoting something bad. But (and I really don't want to spoil too much here, so I do recommend you read the story before reading this full review) I believe that this is actually a story beat. There are some weird meta-things going on in this story that go pretty deep into metaphysics and other philosophy, and some of those things happen due to the frisson occuring when what the reader (aka YOU) experiences a dissonance with what you're reading (aka the TEXT). This gets deeper when you start to consider that what the author writes depends on what the readers vote on in polls, including write-in options. So YOU affect the TEXT which sometimes disagrees with you in a way that produces frisson.

For example, a character at one point describes a person as getting "more beautiful" and does gives as evidence that her breasts are bigger. At first you may think this is just that character's view, but it doesn't get challenged and then the story itself then completely legitimizes it by having the BOD stat of the video game positively correspond with breast size. Which kind of means that the author himself is legitimizing this point of view, by making the main system of the story they are writing have this be actualized. Yet at the same time, it becomes clear that this is _not_ what the author actually thinks is true, when you later see scenes outside the view of the main protagonist playing the erogame. The body negative view of equating larger breast sizes with having a better body is then shown to not being played straight, even though from the text itself at the time it looks quite a bit like the author is holding these views either explicitly or implicitly.

The same kind of thing happens when you see a character thinking that fat is bad. Followed by other characters thinking fat is bad. Followed by the world of the story itself thinking fat is bad. After reading all this, you the reader might then rush into a conclusion that the author himself is thinking fat is bad, and is actively pushing that view onto his readers. But I suspect that this is more of a modest-proposal-type situation than the author actually espousing those views. The point of the story is that you are being pushed further and further into situations that you get less and less comfortable with until you realize that the earlier things you just went along with in chapter one were also things that you should have felt uncomfortable about, too.

Now I realize that not everyone can handle this kind of fiction. Maybe you can't handle reading about rape. But even if you can, can you handle characters arguing intelligently (and perhaps somewhat convincingly) that some forms of rape are actually good? Maybe you're okay with that, too, but then do you continue to be okay with it when the description turns especially graphic? Maybe you're okay with even that, but then what about when you reach the end of one of the author's posts and see the next post by a reader who apparently viciously enjoyed reading that description? You _will_ reach a point where you feel uncomfortable in this story, especially when you truly realize that the story itself is propelled by the readers voting on what happens next in the story. It is the desires of those reading that cause the story itself to be written as it is. You cannot just scapegoat the author, because YOU are also the author. Even if you don't post in the forum thread, you _could_. Your non-participation makes the votes of those you disagree with even stronger. YOU are a part of this story in a way that you probably won't realize until _after_ you read the story yourself.

This is not to say that the author is blameless; Groon the Walker has cleverly taken a page from how John Marshall dealt with Marbury vs. Madison, granting himself power by negating votes in ways that follow from the rules of the 'questing' genre itself, acting like an evil genie monkey's-paw-style.

And there do seem to be some legitimate blind spots in the ethics of the author that bother me, though they aren't dealbreakers. He uses the word "harem" positively; I'm polyamorous, and I realize that this is legitimately the name of a specific eroge genre, but that word has too many negative connotations in today's non-eroge world to be acceptable to an outside audience (like the non-protagonists' world in The Erogamer). (This is unacceptable in the same way that the n-word isn't acceptable in a story about non-blacks participating in black culture by appropriating that word, but to a much lesser degree.) And while there is a difference between rape-with-physical-force and rape-where-the-rapist-was-using-deceit, that difference might not include a local human-scope-comparable moral difference in the same way that destroying just the Milky Way isn’t locally human-scope-comparably good compared to destroying the Virgo Supercluster. (This will make more sense after having read the text.) These are not modest-proposal-style disconnects. They seem to genuinely be a difference between how I and how Groon view the world.

Finally, the biggest issue I have is one of shame. This is a major negative trait of the protagonist that MUST be resolved by the end of this story or else it will feel unsatisfying to me. In a pretend world where a character can jump higher than physics might otherwise dictate, you can have characters be fat and/or old and yet have no drawbacks. If you can erase the health drawbacks, the speed drawbacks, the endurance drawbacks, etc., then the only reason left to look down on them is to say that they aren't desirable aesthetically. But if an erogame wants variety among hair color, freckles, race, etc., shouldn't it also include variety among body sizes and ages? This is a lesson that the protagonist should be made to learn, and so far I see only the smallest steps toward learning that type of lesson in-story.

However, even if these small flaws don't get resolved, I'll still maintain that this is among the best books I've ever read and it is very likely to be near the best in its own 'questing' genre. If I can enjoy The Fountainhead and Ender's Game despite objectivism and gay-bashing being present within them, then I can enjoy The Erogamer despite it taking a few ethical positions that I'm not okay with in real life.

Some of the math systems aren't that great, and if I were an editor, I'd suggest several changes before recommending its publication, but overall I've found The Erogamer to be an excellent example of philosophical fiction that anyone into philosophy or rationality should at least consider reading. It's the best sex-oriented fiction I've read. It’s the best choose-your-own-adventure style story I’ve ever read. It’s among the best meta-meta-stories I’ve ever read. It’s among the best weird metaphysics stories I’ve ever read. And while I disagree with the philosophies of many of the characters, the author, and even the reader-voters, I truly enjoyed the various philosophies described within. I also appreciated the unexpected ace-representation in an eroge story.

Very well done.

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01 June, 2020

Review: Nyssa in the Realm of Possibility

Nyssa in the Realm of PossibilityNyssa in the Realm of Possibility by Alicorn
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

You might at first expect that a rational retelling of Norton Justen's The Phantom Tollbooth would require at least that the reader be familiar with the source material. But just such an unwarranted assumption is exactly the kind of thing that this fantasy tale may cause you to reconsider.

Nyssa is a young girl who doesn't quite grasp what knowledge truly is, but who is already at the level of being able to guess her teachers' passwords. By walking through a portal into the Realm of Possibility, she goes on an adventure Wonderland-style that takes her on a journey full of references and lessons common in the rationality community. Whether it's the robin who blocks her hansom to lecture on why she's really doing what she's doing, or her half-hour friend Pomodoro who yells with a voice like an alarm bell whenever she wastes too much time, there's always something around the corner that will hearken back to the kinds of things that rationalists might find generally amusing.

Yet this is not just a case of the author making a reference-laden story that doesn't actually speak to the plot. You won't find Cory Doctorow-style references that serve just to make the reader feel good if they get the hidden reference. Yet you also won't find deep conceptually important references in the style of James Joyce that are the actual story behind the surface level text. Instead, the references that Alicorn uses in Nyssa in the Realm of Possibility are the story itself. Nyssa learns to like real learning through seeing the examples of each reference used in the story themselves. It's not just a reference to Flow; the Flow literally propels her forward. It's not just a reference to akrasia; the demon Akrasia literally shows her power by making Nyssa overcome her in the story. This is a story full of references, yes, but the references are a part of the story itself, and thus integral to the plot.

I was enamored by Nyssa in the Realm of Possibility, even though I had never read nor even heard of The Phantom Tollbooth before reading. Alicorn has done an exemplary job of bringing the reader into the world she created without needing any foreknowledge of the source text nor even (I think) the rationality concepts that she puts on display throughout the story.

I would heartily recommend this relatively short story to both children and adults, so long as they are receptive to Alice's Adventures in Wonderland-style lessons on how (and why) we might think better. This is not the best "go learning!" book I've read (that title still remains with Hal Clement's Mission of Gravity), but it is definitely within the top few. Thank you, Alicorn, for writing such an entertaining and enlightening short story.

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11 May, 2020

Perspective

It's been nearly two months since I checked into the hospital, and though I've thankfully been able to spend recuperation time at home for the last four weeks, it's been a constant struggle, with home health nurses and nurse practitioners coming thrice each week, having to infuse antibiotics for over an hour every eight hours (and having to prepare 45 minutes in advance for each infusion, meaning I could only get five hours of uninterrupted sleep each night), and the constant reminder of tubes coming out of my body, with staples and stitches in various places.

So it was with great pleasure when I learned that my peripherally inserted central catheter would be removed. I dreamed of finally being able to take showers again (though, as it turns out, continuing to have a nephrostomy tube means that dream hasn't quite matured yet), and the thought of being able to roll over onto my right side at night made me downright giddy. And, if that were not enough to celebrate, I'd finally be able to remove those sutures!

Ah, but the plague that comes in the form of these mysterious sutures has driven me mad for over a month. Supposedly, you only have to cut under a knot and then pull, and they'll come right out. But first one nurse, then two, then a nurse practitioner all claimed to be unable to get it out. They didn't want to pull too hard. They couldn't see the suture properly. They were afraid that my skin had grown over it. The excuses seemed to have no end. So, for the first time since I left the hospital, I traveled to a doctor's office for the sole purpose of removing a single stitch.

This was the surgeon who put in my chest tube in the first place. It was another who stitched me up afterward. I felt so bad for wasting his time when supposedly a nurse was intended to do it. He asked: "They didn't want to pull too hard? Does it hurt?" I said no, so he pulled out a pair of tweezers, grasped the end of the string, and before a single second had passed, my suture was out. "What was wrong with those nurses," he sighed idly.

But it was what happened before this that really caught my attention.

I could hear, through the door, as he took a phone call. It was another doctor, asking for a consult. He was already familiar with the patient: positive for COVID-19, older, currently intubated, but stable. There's a good chance that they could recover -- except when they took an x-ray before removing the intubation tube, the metal object that they had seen previously had moved. "We assumed it was shrapnel embedded in tissue; but now it seems to be loose. If we remove the intubation tube, it could cause severe damage." A slight pause allowed me to hear my heartbeat ever so much more loudly.

"You'll need to inflate the tube slightly, then take it out. We have to just hope for the best."

"But that's too dangerous; couldn't we --"

"We could, but it would be --"

"I know, I know; that would be heroic --"

"No, suicidal. There's not enough capacity with COVID-19. You're thinking he could get better, and yes, he could, but he is DNI/DNR. It would be different if he had long healthy years ahead of him, but he's coming off the intubation so that he can talk to family."

"I can't…"

"Get them to do it. … I'm sorry. I really am very sorry."

"I know."

There's another pause after the phone is hung up. In a few moments, he will enter the patient room I am sitting in, and we will both pretend he didn't just have this conversation. But just then, in that moment, I recognize just how lucky I am.

06 April, 2020

What Star Trek Means to Me

Some of my favorite memories of my mother are of when we'd sit on the couch together watching Star Trek: The Next Generation. I don't generally have a good relationship with my mother. The last time I saw her, she called the police to kick me out of the house, even though we had already previously planned for me to leave the next day. The officer drew a gun on me, nearly shooting me because I didn't know enough not to reach for my shoes before walking outside. (Had my skin been a bit darker, I wonder if I might have died that night.) I ended up having to leave half of my possessions there because I had yet to pack them. Today, when I watch TNG, I remember the better moments; mother and I curled up in blankets, patient with the commercials and engrossed in the story.

Star Trek: Voyager aired just as my life collapsed for the first time. I had been young, thinking my life was destined for great things, when everything stopped as my girlfriend became pregnant. I didn't know how to proceed. We tried to get an abortion; but I lived in Alabama, and the nearest place to do so was in Atlanta, which wouldn't help us. She thought to leave the state, give birth, and then put the child up for adoption, but I felt this was too burdensome for her. We were out of options. I knew nothing to get us out of this. That's when my family suggested that I marry her. I took the suggestion seriously, bought a ring, and asked her to marry me soon after. I dropped out of school, married soon after my 15th birthday, enrolled in college, and tried to make the best of it. I failed. I was too immature for college, dropping out less than a semester later. I was too immature for parenthood, failing to properly care for the infant, doing little better than the motions required to keep her alive. I was too immature for matrimony, putting the majority of the responsibility on my then wife, and relegating my own time to mostly feeling sorry for myself. I remember thinking: This cannot go on. Something must happen that will change this situation. But I was too "honorable" to end the relationship, and too stupid to change my behavior to make it work better. Thankfully, my partner at the time was extremely intelligent and insightful; she was able to see that nothing was working and that life would be better for all three of us if she left. So, in the middle of the night, she did. I was distraught at the time, not realizing the gift she had given all three of us. The narrative of our lives had changed so drastically, but all I could do was wallow. This took the form of watching VHS videos of the first few seasons of Voyager at a friend's house. They left the door open for me. I'd walk inside, put on VOY, and veg out through entire seasons as numerous cats surrounded me. It was all that I could do to get a semblance of reality back into my life.

I had watched DS9 and ENT on my own, without any significant life events occurring at the time. They helped me to enjoy the time. But it wasn't until decades later that I first properly watched the series as a whole. Star Trek: Discovery had been announced, though we didn't know the title yet at te time, and I decided to watch all of Star Trek. It took months. I started with TOS, moved to TAS, then all the original movies, followed by a rewatch of all of TNG. To say that this made me emotional is an understatement. I watched DS9, VOY, and ENT, and then all the TNG movies. By the end, I felt ready for whatever came next. I was working 20 hour weeks throughout this time, allowing me a great deal of time to really consume so much Trek.

DIS was watched with my partner, Katherine, as it aired. It reminded me of curling up on the couch with my mother back when I was a child. DIS was filled with a sense of wonder, but also of familial love for me. I felt loved. I felt secure. I felt happy.

PIC aired as I was sick in the hospital. I would have surgery, then lay helpless in bed for days, only to later realize that the latest episode had aired. I'd wait until 3 am so that the internet wouldn't be as spotty, and then attempt to stream PIC as I lay somewhat in pain. It was a transformative experience.

Other sci-fi series are better, in terms of writing, suspense, etc. Babylon 5 back in the day; the Expanse more recently. But Star Trek still occupies an important space in my heart, giving optimism when it is needed most, and connecting back to a history of my life that I never want to forget.

Thank you, Star Trek, for being such an integral part of my life over the decades.

29 March, 2020

in hospitium

I've been in the hospital now for nearly two weeks. I've had four surgeries, several operations, and way too much bedrest. I don't have COVID-19, but its existence affects me greatly; I'm not allowed to have any visitors, I have to take several precautions so that the coronavirus patients upstairs don't infect me, and I can't look at any media at all without constantly seeing the depressing state of things just outside my hospital room window.

I have a tube from inside my kidney draining outside. I have another draining the dregs from an abscess on the same. I have a chest tube connecting the inside of my chest cavity (next to my lung) to a machine outside my body. I have a pic line in my arm that is threaded through to the base of my neck. I even have a foley catheter. Getting around is extraordinarily difficult due to the plethora of tubes and connected devices and bags, though otherwise I still have enough energy and strength in my legs and arms to move about as much as I would want.

I'm grateful to have a laptop available, alongside a fan that helps keep me cool. I truly appreciate the immensely comfortable purple cushion that's on the chair in my room. I love my Nintendo Switch, alongside the relaxing Animal Crossing, which has dominated my playtime. I adore the posters Katherine drew for the cabinet in front of me; they show Jasper, my feline housemate, telling me to get better in various ways. I even feel good about the two stuffed animals I have here: a large Fluttershy and a slightly smaller Kapp'n.

What I'm not as happy about is how long it may take for me to get out of this. No one is sure how much longer I will have to have the JP and chest tubes, but eventually they must be removed. Once that happens, I can go home (finally!), but I will still have the other tubes and will need to inject antibiotics for six weeks or so. Afterward, I need to come back into the hospital for yet another surgical procedure, followed by the removal of the rest of my tubes. At that point, they check on me, and it has to be determined whether I will need a kidney removed entirely.

I have never before experienced the levels of pain, discomfort, boredom, inability to think straight, etc., in all of my life. I will forever better appreciate the benefits of health, mobility, and capacity for rational thought.