Sunday, December 10, 2017

"I have every excuse to just stay shut in and play video games on my computer all day, at least while I'm not out raking snow."
It turns out I used my snow-bound shut-in time exactly as I had intended, and managed to complete The Wild Hunt storyline in Witcher 3.  No spoilers here, but we defeated the foes that needed defeating, resolved the mysteries surrounding key characters, mastered a new card game, and even had energy left over for a few romantic side adventures.  

I have to admit The Witcher lived up to its reputation as one of all-time best video games. The plot was as sophisticated and nuanced as a novel, the characters were satisfyingly complex, the gameplay was exciting, and the whole thing ran flawlessly on my HP Envy laptop.  Really can't find anything to complain about, and recommend the game without reservation to any and all.

What with side quests, exploration, and time spent just wandering around like a dumb-ass, it took me 130 hours of gameplay to complete the storyline.  I purchased the two DLC Expansion Packs for the game, so I still have plenty of gameplay left before I play the whole thing through again from the start.

Meanwhile, snow's still on the ground outside but my strategy of raking the snow-covered wet leaves away from the car succeeded and I finally got my automobile to the top of the hill and the end of my driveway.  Frankly, I wasn't sure that plan would work, but it did.  I even quit playing Witcher long enough to venture out and do some grocery shopping today.  The ordeal even made me grateful and appreciative once again of having a car (belated Thanksgiving, anyone?).   

An unusual weekend by any account, and I'll actually be glad to get back to my usual routine on Monday.  Can't say that at the end of too many weekends.

Saturday, December 09, 2017

Winter In Georgia

Forget the Los Angeles wildfires and the Iranian earthquake.  Puerto Rico's recovering just fine, at least according to our so-called President.  But in a real catastrophe of near Biblical proportions, it snowed yesterday in Georgia.

Many parts of Atlanta received at least 6 inches of snow, according to the National Weather Service.  Some parts of Atlanta’s western and northern suburbs had up to a foot of snow Friday and Saturday.

Atlanta famously shuts down when even a half-inch of snow falls.  Six inches of snow nearly equals the total accumulation of the last decade.

I left work at noon yesterday in the middle of the storm.  The commute, which should take only about 20 minutes, actually takes 30 to 45 minutes with Atlanta's rush-hour traffic, and as many as 60 minutes on a really bad day.  Yesterday, the drive took me about 75 minutes, so I was actually relieved that I didn't wind up in one of those infamous six- to eight-hour debacles of snowstorms past.

I couldn't make it any further up my driveway than shown in the picture above.  The storm hit right at the peak of the autumn leaf fall (it occurs late in the year here in Georgia), and my driveway was due to get leaf blown that day.  The crew didn't make it due to the inclement weather, so I had about an inch of wet leaves on my driveway beneath the six inches of wet, slushy snow.  Traction was impossible.

The car's still there.  I can't drive it further up the hill, and I'm too close to the side retaining wall to let it slide back down and park on the street.  Today, I raked the wet leaves and loose show away from the car (have you ever raked snow before?  first time for me), so that tomorrow's sun will warm the blacktop drive and melt away the remaining ice and snow.  Perhaps that will be enough to gain the traction needed to free up the car and move it out of the driveway, one way or the other.  

 Thousands are still without power, some poor guy got electrocuted by a fallen power line, and I'm sure there were many, many accidents on Atlanta's streets and highways, so I don't have it too bad.  I have power, food, a meditation pillow, internet access, and alcohol, so I have every excuse to just stay shut in and play video games on my computer all day, at least while I'm not out raking snow.

Friday, December 08, 2017

Old School Friday

After posting Pharoah Sanders last week, the obvious direction to go from there is to play something from Alice Coltrane's collaboration with Pharoah, and I can't think of a better thing to post (or music to listen to on this cold, wintery night in Georgia) than the incredibly beautiful Journey in Satchinananda.

After John Coltrane's untimely death, his wife Alice continued the spiritual journey she had started with her late husband.  Indian spirituality and mysticism played a very important role in the couple's life and on the musical side, it manifested in a new type of music where ragas, harp and chants blended seamlessly with avant-garde jazz notions. Alice's spiritual path eventually led her to lead an ashram in California.  Alice passed in 2007, but next March we'll be hearing members of her ashram perform some of her devotional music in Knoxville, Tennessee.

We have infinite respect for any musician, much less a woman, who manages to find her own unique voice and style while surrounded by the legendary jazz figures of her time.  John Coltrane was obviously a towering figure in the world of jazz, and it must have taken a lot of courage and self assurance for his wife not to be just a curator of John's music, preserving the tradition and protecting his reputation, but instead to be so true to her own  muse or muses and boldly go where no one had gone before. 

We don't normally post entire albums in this Old School Friday series, but it would be almost criminal to leave any portion of this magnificent recording out of the mix.

Thursday, December 07, 2017

Writing in today's New York Times, at least in the on-line version, novelist Ben Dolnick notes:
"At the core of Buddhism is the concept of non-self. The idea, basically, is that the thing you think of as you — the entity whose well-being occupies your every waking thought — is an illusion. This doesn’t mean that your body is a hologram . . . What non-self refers to, rather, is the thing that you think of as your true self — the little captain who lives somewhere behind your forehead and looks out through your eyes. The thing that says, 'I hope people like me' or 'I can’t stand another minute on this train' — that, Buddhists believe, is what needs to be seen through and rooted out.
This teaching, Buddhists insist, has the potential to eliminate your suffering entirely. But it is destined to remain so much inert philosophy, no more life-changing than the quadratic equation, until you’re able to actually glimpse your little impostor, to fix him in your mental cross hairs." 
Amusingly, Dolnick notes that Donald Trump seems to be doing exactly that, as his constant references to himself in the third person suggests a sort of detachment from the ego-self.  When Paul Manafort was indicted, Trump remarked, "There’s not a mention of Trump in there.” When discussing potential Russian interference during the election, he asked, “Perhaps Trump just ran a great campaign?” Back in 2009, he tweeted, “Be sure to tune in and watch Donald Trump on Late Night with David Letterman ….”

Referring to oneself in the third person is usually seen as abnormal, almost pathological. When the writers of a drama wish to signal that someone suffers from a terminal case of self-regard, they have him refer to himself in the third person.  But when we refer to ourselves in the third person, Dolnick says, the very thing that we're used to thinking of as ourselves appears separate from the one doing the speaking. Which means that shifting into the speech patterns of a narcissistic lunatic can be a means of realizing a life-altering truth - you are not your thoughts; you are not your feelings. 

No one thinks, even for a minute, that Donald Trump is an enlightened bodhisattva, or that when he refers to himself in the third person, he is expressing not a personality disorder but an intuitive grasp of the subtlest of Buddhist teachings. But thinking along Dolnick's lines makes Trump's bombastic, braggadocios speech seem somehow humorous, which in turn relieves some of our suffering.  And since the end of suffering was the goal of  the Buddha, Dolnick is doing the work of a bodhisattva by teaching us how to laugh at the oppressor.

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Cordoba's Paco Acedo, who's best known for his diving expeditions in the Arctic and beneath frozen Russian lakes, has apparently decided to warm it up a bit and recently trekked through remote parts of Papua New Guinea, taking time to dive among some World War II-era wrecks at Guadalcanal in the Soloman Islands. 

His video summary of the trip is fascinating and simultaneously informative and hypnotically mesmerizing. The world, apparently, is a most interesting place.