Mankind is driven by a quest for meaning.  In modern times that has usually been expressed by choosing a career that allows the individual to realize feelings of self work through the fruits of their labor. Or, in the more mundane case, make enough money to support themselves and provide food and shelter for their families. That has always been the theory any way.

In recent years increases in productivity have been realized through such disruptive developments as artificial intelligence and robotic work forces. But such increases often overlook an important role in the economic process, that of the consumer. As productivity increases and the cost of production goes down, so does the so called barrier to entry that prevents market glut to supply excess goods. If there are not enough people that want these goods, otherwise called consumers, the the value of these goods will quickly fall to slightly more than the cost of production. Often that means that the price of goods trends toward free, as a limit.

This has been called by some the post-scarcity economy. No one really understands exactly how it is going to work. Some postulate a utopia similar to Star Trek where people pursue higher interests with little or no thought of money or salary. Others suggest a tax on robotic labor that will help fund a Universal Basic Income to provide individuals with money with which to buy goods. This is often dismissed as a mere stop gap measure until we get our minds around how a post-scarcity economy should actually work.

I think we should turn our attention back to the fundamental quest for meaning. This is the core issue from which all others derive. If we can only figure out how to help people to find meaning in their lives, whether through artistic expression, service to humankind, or expansion of the boundaries of human knowledge, we will have solved the fundamental core problem with the post-scarcity economy.

The question that remains is, can we overcome our greed and self centeredness in order to allow such a economy to flourish or are we doomed to rampant poverty in the midst of plenty? I don’t know. I barely passed economics in high school and psychology has never been my strong suit. I am a pragmatic optimist. That is to say, I hope for the best and prepare for the worst.

In this case, preparing for the worst primarily means to keep my eyes open for trends in the operation of society and remembering that we must all hang together or we most certainly will hang apart. We could also do with a little bit more respect for objective truth. Things are the way they are for discoverable reasons. We should believe the evidence of our senses and not the moronic assertions of people that believe that things will be the way they want them to be if only they yell long enough and loud enough. And a little basic kindness would go a long way as well.

Sweet dreams, don’t forget to tell the ones you love that you love them, and most important of all, be kind.

First Impressions of Guntown Mountain

By the time I got to Guntown Mountain they were already open for the season. Guntown Mountain was more of a big hill than an actual mountain. It was steep enough that the only way to the top the first season I worked there was a chair lift. The entertainers had put together the shows in rehearsals in Murray before they relocated to the theme park. Most of them were theater students at Murray State University. They had arrived in Cave City a few days before the season began and had used the opportunity to try the shows out without an audience.

I had just graduated from high school and my folks had driven me to Cave City the day after commencement. I was excited and scared. This was my first time out of the nest, totally on my own. I would be paid a small salary and provided a room in one of the buildings in the back of town. I didn’t have a car so I was at the mercy of the other members of the cast for transportation. We worked from ten in the morning until nine at night six days a week so that was less of a problem than it might seem.

The afternoon that I got there I saw all of the shows with my folks. Jerry, the head honcho in charge of the entertainment, was one of my father’s ex-students. He was showing off for dad. I think he hired me as a favor to dad but I soon showed him that I was more than capable of doing the job he hired me for.

Jerry had played Macbeth in my father’s high school production of the Scottish play. After graduation he had joined the Army and been an intelligence analyst in Turkey. When he got out of the Army, he travelled with a carnival for a year or two and then went to college on the GI Bill studying theater. He had struck a deal with the owner of Guntown Mountain to provide all of the live entertainment.

That first night my parents went down the chair lift to a hotel in Cave City. I was on my own at last. I helped the crew as we pushed all of the tables in the saloon against one wall and stacked the chairs on them. We swept the floor and hung a towel over the windows of the doors of the saloon. There would be tourists walking through town for an hour after the last show was over and we wanted them to know that the saloon was closed.

I set up my amplifier on the stage and we proceeded to have a jam session. This was the point at which the cast was feeling me out to see if I would be an asset to the show or a liability. I soon demonstrated that I had a large repertoire of music. We played everything from Jesus Christ Superstar to She’ll Be Coming Around the Mountain. We played until after midnight.

The next day, I started work in earnest. I was playing guitar in the saloon shows immediately. In the gun fights they had me play the kid that runs for the sheriff and gets shot and similar roles. I took to it like a duck to water. I barely noticed when my folks stopped by to say goodbye and head back home.

Sweet dreams, don’t forget to tell the ones you love that you love them, and most important of all, be kind.

Dialectic Deconstructed

So, I’ve been given two conflicting pieces of advice when it comes to writing. One says I should know how a story is going to end before I start to write it. The other says that I should examine a topic from every perspective I can think of and come to a conclusion as a result of that exploration.

Of course the first is advice for writing a story and the second for writing an essay. Most of my blog posts are essays. When I venture into the realm of fiction in this blog it is often in the guise of character sketches or micro fiction. Both of these genres are more forgiving to the writer that ignores the advice to know the ending before you start.

But having given it some thought, maybe the advice isn’t as contradictory as I first thought. If you don’t have a question you are trying to answer, you will never come to the end of an essay. On the other hand, if you are rigidly inflexible about how a story is going to unfold and where it is going to end up you may dismiss the better ending that occurs to you as you write.

It is clear that a writer needs boundaries in order to give structure to their writing. The types of boundaries and how many there are will vary from writer to writer and project to project. But they are necessary for any piece to have cohesion and movement toward the finish.

Along the way, there should be some kind of tension, either conflict or contradictory points of view that are explored and eventually resolved. There should be a sense of flow. Each idea is examined, compared to other ideas, and a place for it is found, either in the discard heap or in a niche where it relates to the other ideas that you decide to keep.

Ideas evolve by being challenged and examined in many different contexts and compared with many competing ideas. Thus what seems obviously true today may seem utter nonsense in light of new developments in the future. But that is exactly why it is good to write essays, and fiction for that matter.

Fiction gives us a context within which we allow ourselves to ask what if outside the boundaries of supposedly known facts. It has often lead authors to postulate new theories that were later embraced by the more conservative scientific community as new evidence was discovered which cast doubt on earlier assertions of fact.

A scientist must have an open mind. It seems there are a number of scientists who reject new ideas simply because it threatens their authority. They have asserted things as facts that if found to be false would embarrass them and call into question their abilities.

I say good. They need to be challenged. They should objectively analyze all evidence, even if it contradicts their sacred cows. There should be a class in humility required before you are awarded an advanced degree.

Sweet dreams, don’t forget to tell the ones you love that you love them, and most important of all, be kind.

Early Memories of the Beatles

I remember the first time I ever heard the Beatles. It was sometime in 1966 I think.  It was on the last night of a play that my dad had directed at Paducah Tilghman High School. I’m not exactly sure which play it was but I think it may have been Ondine, a retelling of the little mermaid story of Hans Christian Anderson.

My dad was very disciplined about how he ran his plays. Everyone, cast and crew, had to help strike the set before anyone went home after the last performance. And striking the set was a very disciplined endeavor. There was no wild tearing apart of the set. It was carefully disassembled. The nails were hammered out of the lumber and the flats were carefully stored for the next production. Since he always had a relatively large cast and crew, this process rarely took more than an hour.

Then, he always had a cast party on the stage. Having been a teenager himself not that long before, he knew that the cast would have a party whether he sanctioned it or not. Unsanctioned parties were liable to be disreputable affairs with alcohol and all sorts of unsavory behavior. Instead, he held a party, my mom catered it, and he provided the soft drinks. The cast and crew brought records and many of them danced.

It was at such a cast party that I first heard the Beatles. They were just starting to gain popularity in the US. I was a violin student and liked all kinds of music. I liked the Beatles enough to find out who they were. This was in the era of I Want to Hold Your Hand and Twist and Shout. 

I looked up to the high school kids. I had had my taste of the limelight and I was anxious to get back on the boards. I also related more to them than my schoolmates my own age. They were doing the things that I wanted to do. There was no outlet for the theatrically inclined in elementary school in Paducah Kentucky in 1966.

I was also interested in girls. Most of the boys my age hadn’t noticed girls yet. Most of the girls my age were paying more attention to older boys, largely because of the immaturity of the average fifth grade boy. So I turned my attention to the high school girls in dad’s plays. I had enormous crushes on some of them and they were, for the most part kind to me.

One time, my dad took a group from the play he was producing at the time to St. Louis to see a production of Camelot. I sat in the back of our station wagon and brushed one of my crush’s hair all the way from Paducah to St. Louis. She seemed to enjoy the attention.

I am thankful to my parents for who they were and the way they raised me. I had a magical childhood. I got to do so many things that none of my other friends even dreamed of.

Sweet dreams, don’t forget to tell the ones you love that you love them, and most important of all, be kind.

Behavioral Norms

A wise woman named Anne Lamott said, “Every single thing that happened to you is yours and you get to tell it.” At this point in life, I have plenty to tell. A lot of what I have to tell is about people at their most vulnerable. I have often been the quiet observer on the edge of dramatic situations. Having said that, I would expect that I would understand people better. But that is far from the case.

I grew up around actors. Stage actors are good at figuring out why people do the things they do and feel the way they feel. Film or TV actors are good at remembering their lines, keeping a neutral expression on their face, and hitting their mark. In both case they are presenting the characters as written by the playwright.

I started life in a bassinet back stage every night. My mother was the lighting operator for a summer theater production. My father was away in the Army at the time. I don’t have any conscious memories of that summer but I expect it had some effect on my early development.

When I was seven, my mother and father and I were members of the cast and crew of another semi-professional theatrical company. The production was a play called Stars in My Crown and it told the story of the taming of the Tennessee river by the TVA. It was actually much more entertaining than it sounds. There were songs and dancing and an interesting story line.

I was much too young to understand the backstage intrigue that went on nightly among the adult members of the company. Actors are often vain, emotional, and self centered. It was fairly confusing for me. But I soaked it up like a sponge.

By the time I moved into my teenage years, I had internalized all of the archetypical artistic behavior. I participated in orchestra, choir, plays, debate, and speech competitions. I knew how to act like a tortured artistic soul. So much so that I sometimes wonder if there was any relationship between the way I acted and who I really was.

After I graduated from high school I worked in the summers at a western theme park, with gunfights, saloon shows, magic shows, and Kentucky long rifle demonstrations. The cast and crew were mostly college students working there during the summer. The typical actor behavior was the norm there as well.

I was consequently at somewhat of a disadvantage when it came to knowing what normal human relationships were like. My parents were both school teachers and lead rather Bohemian lifestyles, or so I thought. It turns out they were actually fairly normal.

I haven’t associated much with theater people the last half of my life. I find that sad. I enjoyed their company. I have often thought about getting involved with local theater productions but I have the disadvantage of knowing what hard work that is and can’t bring myself to commit to that level of effort on top of a full time day job.

Sweet dreams, don’t forget to tell the ones you love that you love them, and most important of all, be kind.

Teaching an Old Dog New Tricks

I’ve always been a fan of simple text editors when it comes to writing. Word processors have too many knobs. It is too tempting to get distracted by how something looks and spend your writing time messing around with how something looks instead of doing what you set out to do, write.

But as I get better and better at maintaining my focus on writing I find that there are other tools available to writers than just traditional word processors. These tools are designed to help writers manage the mass of words that they create and easily view them in different ways.

One such tool is a program called Scrivener. It is the Cadillac of such tools in many writers’ opinions. Among its features are support for outlining, a cork board view of the elements of a piece, a version management facility, and tools to help collect references and organize them outside of the main flow of the work in progress. There are many more features, so many that learning to use them effectively is overwhelming in its own right.

I got a copy of Scrivener for Christmas last year. I’ve used it off and on since then but as with many power tools it isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when I have a fast approaching deadline. I usually don’t want to spend a lot of time rediscovering how to do simple things with it. Until tonight.

Tonight I was reading my email and various articles that caught my attention in some of the newsletters to which I subscribe. One of the articles described a process for writing a novel by the seat of your pants using Scrivener.

The idea was to write lots of scenes of approximately five hundred words apiece. Each scene is stored in a scene element that has an associated synopsis card. As you collect more and more completed scenes you assemble them into a story using the cork board. When you have ideas for scenes, you create a synopsis card for it. When you sit down to write, you scan the cork board for unwritten scenes and choose one to work on next.

I can see how this would make writing something like a novel easier. Then as I thought about it some more I realized that it would be a good way to collect ideas for blog posts. It would help me tackle ideas that I wanted to spend time researching and polishing for maximum effect.

So here is the first attempt at teaching this old dog a new trick or two. I have high hopes for using it to take this blog to the next level. I may even achieve my long time goal of having several finished posts in the wings ready to publish on days when I am otherwise pressed for time.

Sweet dreams, don’t forget to tell the ones you love that you love them, and most important of all, be kind.

Dreams Do Come True

I used to dream of owning a computer. Starting when Popular Electronics ran the article on the Altair 8800 I yearned for my own computer. As it turned out, the Altair 8800 was pretty much a hangar queen (aviation talk for a plane that seldom makes it off the runway). As it was originally configured, the only input devices were the toggle switches on the front panel and the only output devices were the lights that corresponded with the switches.

It didn’t take long for MITS to offer a serial card that allowed the 8800 to talk to a teletype machine. That gave it a keyboard and a printer and, on fancy teletype models, a paper tape punch/reader. Bill Gates and Paul Allen wrote the first version of Microsoft Basic for that machine.

I followed the blossoming of the personal computer hobby, largely by reading magazines like Byte, Kilobaud, and Compute. As time passed, the market grew and there were multiple ready made personal computers available. They always exceeded my budget by a considerable sum. Each year the capabilities of the latest models grew by factors of two or three while the cost remained essentially constant. For many years, the machine that I wanted cost approximately $1000. It was a different, more capable machine each year, but the cost was constant.

The first computer that I owned was itself somewhat of a hangar queen. It was an Ohio Scientific CIP. This was a 6502 based computer, as was the Apple II and the Commodore Pet. The particular machine I owned was given to me by a former employer in lieu of back wages that he owed me. It had been sitting in the shop for years with hardware bugs in it that none of us had been able to totally exterminate. It was better than no computer at all, but just barely.

Soon after that, I got my first real computer system. It was a Kaypro II. It was euphemistically called a luggable computer. It was too bulky and heavy to really be considered portable. It had two floppy drives, a z80 processor, a keyboard, an 80 character by 25 line display, and it ran CP/M. I was ecstatic.

I’ve owned many computers since then, some of them expensive, some of them incredibly inexpensive. I have several Arduinos that cost less than $20. I own several Raspberry Pis that are in the same general price range. Cell phones are more powerful computers than corporate data center mainframe computers were in the sixties. I can only imagine what people will think of our computers in twenty years.

But when it comes right down to it, I use my current fancy Apple laptop for the same thing I used that Kaypro II for, to write programs and to write prose. I occasionally use the graphics or sound capability that the Mac has and the Kaypro didn’t. But mostly, I write. Oh, and I surf the web. But that’s a story for another blog.

Sweet dreams, don’t forget to tell the ones you love that you love them, and most important of all, be kind.