Wednesday, January 5, 2022

Retro-Blog: 2014.01.03 (Originally posted elsewhere online.) My Father The Zombie

So I just woke from a strange dream.  

In it, my Father resides in a small house not too far away which I do not recognize from my waking life.  Both of my Sisters and my Mother were visiting him on the occasion of him being "awake".  In both my waking life and this dream, my father died in 2010, but in this dream he is somehow preserved, not buried, but just lying in bed in this simple little house.  

He becomes "awake" and interactive at unpredictable times, but always during daylight, and I had the sense that one of us is always there just in case, and to inform the others.  He doesn't eat or drink or go to the bathroom like a living person, but he carries on unfocused conversations and slowly putters about his little house, very much like he did in his final years when he was having one of those days when he wasn't entirely sure who was named what. 

The strangest thing about this dream is my Sisters and my Mother and I (Me?) being all in the same place at the same time with no tension or big drama going on.  The only drama was an in-dream memory of arguments with my Son who is convinced we are making this whole thing up and are all insane.  

This is just one of many dreams I have had when I have awoken with a strong sense that I had just returned from an actual place which I can only visit when I am asleep, and to which I have been going infrequently for years.  A place not part of the reality in which I am awake now, but a different reality which is simultaneously familiar and impossibly different from this one.  At this point, I've only had about two hours of sleep, so I'm going to go back to bed soon.

 

[2022 Self-Editor's Notes: Much context from my personal history would illuminate just how much stranger this dream was for me than may be otherwise evident.  However, much of that history is visited in various chambers of this labyrinthine, yet somehow monotonous blog, so I won't go into much depth here.  

I don't know of any time when being in the same room with my Mother and Sisters, particularly my older Sister, did not result in varying magnitudes of drama, but it all came to a hideous crescendo during the time leading up to and shortly after the death of my Father.  To be incisively fair, my Mother was not actually present for any of that, as she had him locked in a box of hate ever since their separation and divorce decades earlier.  

During the declining time of my Father's life, through multiple hospitalizations and incarcerations in hellish "care" facilities, I endeavored to be by his side and advocating for the quality of his care as much as possible, and my Son was there with me for most of it, helping me endure it all.

There, that's more context than content, as it is so often with me.}

Monday, January 3, 2022

Newly unearthed micro-autobiography from 10 or more years ago

[Self-Editor's Note: The headings are not mine, but from a template on a website having something to do with connecting high school classmates. I have no memory of creating a profile on this site and can't imagine what would have motivated me to be there. I found it tonight because I am trying to remember the name of a friend I actually liked, a fellow oddball outcast, and maybe even find out how and what he is doing. Maybe this is the same motive that had brought me to the site some 10 or so years ago.]

Life:

Born "James Milton Wood", legally "Michael Anthony Kepler" since 1983. Since around 1997, many have come to know me only as "Mookie". If asked for my name when ordering a blended fruit beverage or other such thing, I usually say "Elmer". There you go, full disclosure of my personal nomenclature.

Not much else to say. I "have" a wife, three kids, two cats and two dogs, and they are all much more honorable and interesting creatures than I am.

I was a mildly interesting person from about 1979 through 1984, but very few people noticed.

Since then I have been mostly boring, except for a period of being a conspicuous embarrassment to my family and all else that is decent from about 1999 through 2003. I may have even managed to become moderately notorious in a few specific bars. I have since spared my family, myself, and those bars from much further embarrassment. I don't really have to keep being boring just because I have almost 3000 characters remaining in my limit for this profile, but I will.

School:

Classrooms and I don't mix well. Usually, regardless of current age, I become an annoying prepubescent class clown. Everything I know I learned from TV, encyclopedias, and trial-and-error. Recently, I have come to realize that there are two subjects which I find interesting enough to sit down and shut up and pay attention: music theory, and history. At least I think so. I haven't actually put this to any practical test.

College:

Since I never went to college, per-se, I childishly scorn college and "college boys".

Workplace:

Jeez. For the whole sad story dig around and find my resume somewhere at tygerstudios.com [Defunct] or kepler.net [in a slow process or resurrection].

Military: I have neither the courage nor the self-discipline for military service. I suppose the military could have turned me into a man if they got their hands on me when I was younger. Now it is far too late for that.

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

As bad as anything I wrote as a teenager

 Look upon the face of death and know

It comes for you too soon

As sure as birth

As sure as love and loss

Look upon the face of death and forget

For life is yours for now


[Author's note: this is distilled from more lengthy thoughts and there are many ways it could be stretched and kneaded to fit a form such as a song, but these are the bones of it, and enough.]

Thursday, November 25, 2021

Retro-Blog 2009 (age 46): Comparative Review: The Prisoner 1968 vs. 2009

 Regarding potential "spoilers" here, it all depends on what you consider a spoiler.  I give virtually no detail of the actual events of the plot, concentrating more on the broader themes explored by these programs.  Still, some who have not seen one or both programs may wish to skip the final paragraph, even though it, too, is only very broadly descriptive and cannot begin to convey the experience of watching either show.  If you simply want to form your own opinions before reading mine, that would be reason enough to put this aside until you have seen both programs in full.

Both series involve a main character who resigns from employment involving some manner of espionage and is subsequently abducted to a self-contained community called "The Village", which is in an undisclosed location, where every person is assigned a number rather than a name, and from which escape is seemingly impossible.  In both cases, the main character is assigned the number "6", and his primary antagonist is assigned the number "2".  "6" is subjected to an escalating series of psychological tortures at direction of "2", ostensibly to extract information regarding the reason "6" resigned, and presumably whatever other valuable and sensitive information he may have learned in the course of his work.  It is obvious, however, that the information itself is secondary to the battle between individualistic freedom and a monolithic authoritarian regime, which may make claims at some form of collectivism. Beyond that, the two programs have very little in common, yet each relate to their differing contemporary cultural contexts in surprisingly similar ways, and are both, of course, hyperbolic paranoid fantasy.

There are many sources available online for descriptive details which may be omitted from my analysis.  I recommend imdb.com and wikipedia.org as good starting points.

The original series (17 episodes 1967-1968, starring Patrick McGoohan as Number 6) is set in the context of The Cold War, although it relates to this context in a very unique way.  Which "side" might be behind The Village is deliberately left undefined in the series.  While the show had many superficial similarities to espionage thrillers of the Cold War period, the refusal to "take sides" virtually turned the genre on it's head, and was arguably a brave choice at the time on the part of all involved.  As a point of trivia, this program is the direct descendant of McGoohan's previous Danger Man series, which was a much more conventional spy vs. spy drama.  Essentially, McGoohan grew bored of the formula and wanted to give it a new twist, and the other production people were kind enough to indulge him.

The new series (6 episodes, 2009, starring Jim Caviezel as 6) is set in the context of the current global cultural conflicts, sometimes referred to as "The War on Terror", although I'm sure there are parties to these conflicts who describe it in differing terms.  Beyond the coincidence of being produced while these conflicts are in progress, the show reflects and places itself within that context in a number of ways.  Instead of resigning from the espionage agency of a national government, this 6 resigns from a corporate contractor of services including surveillance, analysis, and probably much more.  The Village is set in the midst of a vast desert,  ridged by jagged rocky mountains, very reminiscent of the current primary battlefields involving western forces.  

In a very un-subtle visual metaphor, twin crystalline towers rise impossibly high in the seemingly unreachable distance as seen from The Village.   Much as the mushroom cloud and expanding sphere of devastation became virtually omnipresent in Japanese Anime and Manga, as an expression of the deep wound in the collective consciousness of the Japanese people, it seems that this Prisoner cowers under the ever-present shadow of the twin towers which haunt the collective consciousness of the western world.

While the original Prisoner program refused to take sides, this new Prisoner subtly highlights, through it's visual vocabulary rather than any overt dialog or action,  the pervasive fear and confusion regarding how the current conflicts cannot be simplified into such traditional terms.  

What remains consistent in both is the conflict between the individualist and what can broadly be called "the powers that be".   While the original 6 didn't know which Nation held him captive, the new 6 has far more to worry about than national governments, in today's world where international corporations, with loyalty to no nation, exercise more real power at every level.

Perhaps the most potentially controversial message I get from both programs is the suggestion that the international conflicts in which which these dramas are framed are, while real, a distraction from the true motives of "the powers that be".  Perhaps these conflicts are more a means to control the general population through fear, nationalism and religion.  Perhaps these conflicts are an excuse to abridge personal liberty in the interest of "the greater good".  It is somewhat ironic that the great experiment of representative government has been so closely tied to unbridled capitalism, yet it appears that as capitalist enterprises grow larger, they function internally more as authoritarian states, with a lot of quasi-communistic "teamwork" window dressing to motivate the rank-and-file towards that greater good of profit.  These are not new insights, but they are certainly surprisingly subversive messages to find barely hidden behind the surreal facade of these programs.

I count myself very fortunate to have seen the original series in the 1970's, not on CBS, but repeated later on Oregon Public Broadcasting, with opening and closing analytical commentary by a psychology professor from one of the state Universities.  In fact, I believe that watching the show in this form was part of a course that earned actual credit towards a degree.  I wonder if any tapes of those bumper segments still exist somewhere at OPB.  That sounds like an investigation I should pursue.

While both productions intentionally play with the audience's perception of what is real and unreal within the context of the program, the newer incarnation is by far more confusing and inconclusive.  Whether this is a success or a failure is a function of the intentions of the producers vs. the expectations of the audience.  While both programs leave me feeling I might understand them better with repeated viewing and further analysis, I regard the original series, while superficially more simplistic and formulaic,  to have more underlying complexity to uncover than the new production, which leaves the impression of being merely muddled and vague, style over substance.

Frankly, in the last couple of episodes of the new series, they could easily have let the continuity person go home, as the composition and editing is so disjointed, an actual continuity error would be virtually impossible to prove. I had the unique challenge of describing the action of this program to my blind wife, and often had to pause the show to try to catch up, only to eventually admit that I wasn't entirely sure what was going on, or even which characters were actually in the scene, and which were imagined, and by whom.

Regarding the character of 6, they could hardly be more different.  Few actors have embodied stubborn individualism and unbreakable resilience more thoroughly than did Patrick McGoohan as Number 6.  Further, in the plots of the original series episodes, while Number 6 did not defeat The Village itself, he almost invariably defeated and humiliated each Number 2 to the point that they resigned or were discharged and replaced by a new Number 2 for the next episode.

To be fair, I don't think the new series was attempting to re-produce the original Number 6 character, for which, despite his many skills and sympathetic characteristics, Jim Caveizel would be a very poor choice.   The new production, I believe, wanted 6 to be more of an "everyman", to whom the audience could directly relate, rather than a hero or super-man, to whom the audience could only aspire.  

If a more McGoohan-like Number 6 were to be desired for future re-imaginings, my short list would include Damian Lewis (also a shoe-in for a remake of "Bullit"), Tim Roth and Hugh Laurie.  Any number of fine action actors could carry the toughness, but would fail to convey the cleverness, of Number 6, although Gerard Butler might be worth an audition for the role.  If we expand our imagination beyond white males of the British Isles, Charlize Theron, Storm Large and Lawrence Fishburne are among those who could convey the spirit of the original Number 6 convincingly, and build on it in potentially interesting ways.

Looking over my list of potential actors for Number 6, I realize that any of them would also serve well as a Number 2.  While Ian McKellen is certainly a fine choice for a Number 2, one of the things I most miss from the original series is the variety of actors who successively tried their hand at the position of Number 2, each portraying a unique character with a unique approach towards breaking down Number 6.

I believe the most important function of both versions of the series is to challenge it's contemporary audience to find any meaningful difference between The Village and the real world in which they (we) live.  How much real freedom do we have?  How do we define what "freedom" means to ourselves?  How often, how casually, do we trade freedom for transitory convenience or comfort?  That's just a few for a start. The real danger we each face is not the focused personal persecution depicted in these programs, but rather the ever growing indifference of increasingly impersonal powers to the lives of entire populations, and our own apathy and cowardice.

One avid fan of the original series was disappointed that my first draft of this article failed to mention, and this might be considered a "spoiler", that the familiar Rover makes a few appearances in the new series.  This makes it all the more perplexing that the fugitive we see escaping in the first scene is being chased by men with guns and dogs, rather than a Rover.  I would need to go back to the original series to confirm this, but I do believe that there were situations when people, rather than Rover, were employed to apprehend 6 or other attempted escapees, if for no other reason, to give McGoohan a chance to indulge in some "Danger Man" hand-to-hand combat.

Finally, how each series ends is, while different, complete nonsense.  Pretty much by definition, there can be no satisfactory resolution to how the show is set-up, so this can hardly be considered a flaw in either case.  I can, however, fault the 2009 series for trying too hard to make it make sense, which is just embarrassing, and applaud the original series for successfully making it's final episode an avant-garde Dadaist celebration; the maddest of mad tea parties.  I'm pretty sure McGoohan was drunk and severely sleep-deprived as he wrote it.  At a future date I hope to contradict myself with a detailed analysis of the many layers of message and meaning in "Fall Out".

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

A 'Crazy' Story

 A short story cherry-picked from a long visit to a doctor's office.

While scheduling me for a fasting blood draw the nurse gave me the usual instructions of 12 hours of nothing but water or black coffee before the draw.

For reasons I consider reasonable, I ask a clarifying question.

"Are there any of my regular medications I should avoid taking before the blood draw?"

I found the answer so astounding I was almost at a loss for words.

"You can take your regular medications.  Just don't go crazy."

That is a verbatim quote.  The mental scenario that would warrant such a warning gnaws at my imagination even now.

It has taken me far too long to learn not to take the bait when I am handed a setup line by a medical professional.   My punchlines seldom land at all, and are almost never appreciated.  Ultimately, the quality of care I receive is at risk of being degraded.

In this case I could not resist and thoughtlessly blurted the first thing that sprouted.

"I take my medications as prescribed.  To do otherwise would be 'crazy'"

See?  Not really funny and not worth the potential ill will, and as it was, it just hit the floor, inciting no perceptible response at all.

After further rumination, I think some variation on the following would have been more fun:

"Some of my medications are for 'crazy', so should I at least take those?"

Other more snippy responses that occur need not be mentioned, and could easily be imagined.

In closing, that was just one of many absurd interactions from one visit to one doctor's office, chosen because a faint hint of whimsy could be extracted from it, unlike the others which were just repetitive and soul-crushing.

Tuesday, October 5, 2021

Awkward Sadness in a Dentist's Chair

 This same ritual, over and over again. Every time I see anyone medical about anything medical.  Answering the same questions over and over, lists of conditions and medications only get longer.  I usually manage to sneak in a few jokes.  The gallows humor of simple honesty. At least I think it's funny.

This time, something broke.  Not a snap.  Not anger or impatience.  Sadness.  A broken pipe of sadness inside me, filling me, filling the room, drowning me.  I had to work so hard to keep it hidden.

It reminded me oddly of my wide awake heart procedure earlier this year. Alternating waves of ice and fire radiating out from my chest. Fighting not to shiver.  Fighting not to scream. Dying over and over again.  The commonality between these otherwise disparate experiences was a feeling of total helplessness. [Editorial note: A long overdue more complete treatment of my wide awake heart procedure is in the works, "not that anyone asked"*.]

When I was finally allowed to leave, the feeling came with me, has stayed with me all day and all night.  I am drowning in despair and I cannot even articulate why. 

*the quoted portion is excerpted dialog from the sidekick goth girl Sarah in S3E3 of The Big Bang Theory, "The Gothowitz Deviation".

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

Why the font is so big

 I changed the font from 14 to 24 because I am getting eyestrain headaches.  Whenever I manage to get better glasses and/or adjust the size/distance of my monitor appropriately, I will put it back to a more reasonable size.  As it is now, although I have not checked, it probably is unreasonably large when viewed on a phone.  I generally interact with my blog on my computer, not my phone.