Quick Answers to Random Ask.FM Questions

Almost all of these seemed random and not particularly directed at me (and some I just ignored), but here are very brief answers to the oodles of these things that have been piling up for some time. (Also, I find it highly irritating that just logging in to ask.fm will cause it to throw a question at you immediately afterwards, to… keep you engaged, I guess? It annoys the heck out of me.)

How often do you read stage plays? Virtually never.

How much of a mess is your room? Not too bad, lately. Definitely dusty but otherwise pretty orderly.

Is it possible to break down programming a game on the scale of Fallout or Skyrim? For example 70% coding the game,25% rectifying problems,5% fixing bugs. It’s possible in theory, I suppose, but difficult in practice. You could look at the core team in the credits and get a percentage by headcount that way.

Mind sharing what’s going through your mind right now? Meow meow meow meow, meow meow meow meow, meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow.

Can you sum up your day so far in just one word? No.

If you had the opportunity to go somewhere and start a new life, where would you go? What job would you have? And how do you imagine your house there? Always wanted to be a writer, likely in the Pacific Northwest, with a house spare in everything but books.

If someone wants to talk to you , what are the steps they should proceed to reach your acceptance of giving them a portion of your time to listen to ? I answer non-spam email from virtually anyone, on the topics of game development and programming therefor.

What do you like in life? To see my enemies driven before me.

Are you happy with the amount of information in your head? No.

Would you rather be a philosopher, an astrophysicist, or a psychologist? Why? The questions of philosophy tend to interest me most.

Do you believe in super natural powers? Nope, I’m a materialist.

If you had one word to describe yourself, what word would it be? Unsimplifiable.

Do you prefer to ask questions or answer them? Asking questions without making an attempt to answer them seems pointless.

If you could replace anything from your body, what would it be? The joints.

If you could travel the world with only one person who would you take? I have a high school friend whose conversation never flags and often fascinates.

Are cats or dogs smarter? Essentialist arguments are b.s.

Do Moorcock’s novels age well for you? The Elric novels mostly did, though they have the sexism problems of the age, but having read a couple Hawkmoon books I probably won’t read any more of him.

Why Quit Twitter?

I’ve left Twitter, deleting as much of my history¹ as I could as I went out the door. Why?

There’s a million reasons, I think, but fundamentally it’s this: I need more space in my life. I find that I often fill the empty space in my life with dopamine-seeking ephemeral activity, and I think that’s unhealthy for me. One of the biggest things I’ve spent idle time on in the last decade or so² has been social media, and since I left Facebook some time ago, that’s meant Twitter³.

It’s this itch I can scratch all day long. Heading up to the bathroom? Why not check Twitter before I head back to the basement office? Done the crossword but water still boiling for coffee? How about a few minutes on Twitter? Walking by where the phone is charging? Why not check Twitter? Reading, watching a movie/baseball game/TV show/cutscene? How about Twitter?

And the minutes just add up. I find I’ll look up from my phone and ten or fifteen minutes have just disappeared. Just gone, forever. It’s the unthoughtful way this happens that bothers me — I know I’m always going to lose some time in my life to just being idle in one form or another, but Twitter takes me out of the world in a way that I find really not good for my self. I spend that time and I might find a link to an article (that I’ll probably skim) or get enraged over something (that I’ll not do anything useful about) or go down a rabbit hole of looking at the account of someone who’s just followed me or who has been retweeted or “liked” into my timeline and it just… never ends, and nearly all of it is entirely forgettable to me. I can’t really remember much of anything that happens on Twitter, and that might be argument enough for me.

I don’t know, maybe I’m just running out of minutes to spend this way. This has been coming for a long time but I’ve noticed I just feel lighter without my phone in the last few months. I went to a film festival this past June with a friend and decided that although I was certainly going to bring my phone, I’d just leave it in the safe and use it when I was in my room. Part of that was that I’d be in screenings mostly anyway, of course, but part of it was that I just didn’t want to miss out on time with my friend, who I see far too infrequently4. On occasion she’d dip into a store and I’d just take a break from shopping and wait outside, and little moments would happen in my life that wouldn’t have happened if I was looking at my phone, little things I’d notice or moments of small connection with another person, just eyes meeting or a friendly word exchanged, even a nod.

I ended up feeling more present than I have felt in some time. On the drive up there I had started getting myself ready for this lack of phone time, and when I stopped in a diner for lunch I had left it in my pocket. While I waited for my sandwich, I listened to5 an old woman who related a story from when she was a waitress probably fifty years earlier. It was a delightful story that I won’t repeat here because I’m going to use it somewhere else some day. If I had been looking at my phone, I’d have missed it entirely… and it has stuck with me in a way that nothing on Twitter ever seems to. I go into the Twitter fugue, and I come out of the Twitter fugue, and I don’t know that I am enriched by that.

That week started me thinking about my relationship with my phone and being online generally, which was not the first time I’d thought about it. Someone had said to me on Twitter a little bit ago that being on Twitter was itself conversation, when I mentioned that I hadn’t talked to anyone for days. That really struck me, because I feel like Twitter is not remotely like conversation at all. There’s so much missing! Tone of voice, all those subtle facial queues, the rhythm, the gaps. That’s so much richer. Twitter is not conversation, and please do not impoverish conversation by saying that it is.

So, I’m leaving Twitter. There are things I’m sure I’ll miss, and there are other reasons I’m leaving, but this is probably the root of it all. Mostly what I think I’ll miss hasn’t been there for quite a while, and that was the smaller sense of community from when I started out on it. But that hasn’t been there for a long time, and no amount of curation of my experience will get that back. I like blogging better, and my early Twitter experience really just grew out of blogging. I don’t know if anyone will be reading, but you can find me here.

Here’s a quote from T. S. Eliot that I jotted down in my notebook earlier this year. It seems somehow apropos. It’s from Choruses from the Rock:

Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?

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¹Turns out, I deleted about nine thousand tweets, but apparently it won’t retrieve them back beyond a certain point. I used TweetDelete and it was kind of fun to watch 3200 disappear at a time. (back)

²Eleven years, according to Twitter, which notified me while I was on the break during which I considered this change that I’d had my “Twitterversary,” which is not a real thing. This is kind of an insidious thing that corporations do, to adopt the trappings of richer relationships or events. Twitterversary. Egads. Reason enough to leave, really. (back)

³I gave Instagram a brief trial period of maybe six weeks or so earlier this year, then remembered it had been acquired by Facebook, and struggled for a bit with that. Facebook has been shown to be damaging to a free society, and so I won’t be a part of it. I also had a mastodon account I used for about ten minutes, and Peach? Remember Peach? I never did figure out what that one was for. (back)

4There was actually another thing that happened while I was at the film festival. I had seen a movie star on the street outside my hotel on the way in and had tweeted it. And I learned that people have Twitter searches on movie stars, which makes sense in retrospect but was not something I had previously considered, as I’ve literally never used Twitter that way myself. And so there was suddenly a bit of a kerfuffle in my mentions about it and I deleted the tweet to stop the madness as quickly as I could. What a weird world we live in. What a strange world we decided to build. (back)

5Okay, okay, I was eavesdropping. But eavesdropping is a total pleasure sometimes, and one I will not deny myself and you can’t make me. (back)

Solaris and Solaris

I had the great fortune this past weekend to be able to watch both versions of Solaris on the big screen, in the main theater of the AFI Silver. Tarkovsky’s 1971 version has recently been restored in a 2K digital version, and the 2002 Soderbergh print was also very clean¹.

Both tell roughly the same story, but in very different ways, and so I’ll give a very high-level plot description. There is a space station orbiting a planet whose oceans seem to be alive with thought. A psychologist named Kelvin is sent to investigate the station, and soon after his arrival and first sleep, he is visited by his dead wife, a suicide. He is shocked; he tricks her and sends her to her death. When he sleeps again, she returns, and he this time attempts to protect her, even against herself, when she tries to kill herself again but miraculously heals. There are slight variations in how the film reaches its end, but in both, Kelvin is shown apparently on the planet’s surface, perhaps a recreation himself.

It’s quite illustrative to see these films back to back. The first is a nearly three-hour meditation, paced almost glacially, with a great deal of running time devoted to Kelvin’s introduction, to nature photography, to a sense of his place on Earth, to the bureaucracy of the study of “Solaristics,” which is in crisis due to what were potentially hallucinations by a pilot. There’s an extended sequence that is simply the filming of traffic, more or less from the perspective of a car in it. We are perhaps an hour in before we have arrived on the station itself, where everything is clutter and disaster, wires pulled out of walls, not the clean lines we would come to see in many versions of the future. The second film dispenses with much of this introduction to Kelvin’s life on Earth, and gets him to the station much more quickly, only to find it in similar but more dire disarray: there are trails of blood leading away from the docking port where he arrives.

The central difference in which the films operate is in the treatment of the relationship between Kelvin and his wife, who confusingly have different names in the films, one Hari and one Rheya². In the original film, we don’t really fully understand the relationship between Hari and Kelvin; she’s quite unknowable, and although we come to know that she killed herself, we don’t see anything of the relationship between Kelvin and her. However there’s at least one telling detail, which I particularly love: she wears a dress that while in theory fastened in the back, actually doesn’t function like clothing should, and he has to cut the dress from her so that she can get into bed with him (and he does so twice). In 2002, we get the relationship between Chris and Rheya in a series of flashbacks, mostly in dreams, some simply in memories. We see them meet, become attracted to one another, we deepen our understanding of each of their characters, we see her suicide, we see him discover the body. We get their relationship in glimpses³.

Each uses these details to underline what these recreations of the women are: echoes of the men’s mental representations of them, and not the women themselves. If the film weren’t so strange, we would even take the dress in the first film as a sort of joke about the fact that men have little understanding of how women’s clothing works. It was perhaps his favorite dress of hers, but he had no idea how she got into it.

Both films end with their protagonists themselves recreated in the great seas of Solaris, though this is revealed in different ways. Both end with these Kelvins seeking connections, though with different people4. Both are in some sense adrift, and the tone of one is very Russian and the tone of the other is very American. 🙂

In both cases, what I think appeals to me so much about these films is the underlying sense of loneliness, the meditation on the essential unknowability of another person. In the second film, this is made explicit as Rheya is very upset at the fact that while she has memories of the events of their relationship that we’ve been seeing, including her suicide, she has no memory of actually being in them, the memory of what it would have felt to be the person acting and not being seen to be acting. This provokes an attempt at another suicide, via drinking liquid oxygen, though as an unreal person she survives and is healed. The original is braver, I think, in simply making her unknowable; we only have the sense of her through how Kelvin behaves towards her, and we know nothing of this inner turmoil when she also tries to kill herself with liquid oxygen. Being bred from Kelvin’s memories, which include discovering the original’s corpse, each simulacrum has as a central characteristic the drive towards self-destruction.

I say that the loneliness appeals to me, and that might seem strange. It’s a fact of the human condition that no matter how much time we spend with another, we will never fully understand what it’s like to be inside the other’s mind. We can never know everything about the others around us, even the ones we love the most. There is a bridge of connection we can never fully cross. We can only stand on our side of the bridge and trust that there’s someone standing on the other side, too.

I try to look at this as a comfort; at least I’m not alone in this loneliness. And that’s what these films do for me, in such very different ways.

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¹Sadly, the projection on the 2002 version was not as expert, which was very out of character for the theater. The picture was at one point slightly and maddeningly out of focus, and at another point switching reels was not properly synced. Highly unusual, but there it is. (back)

²I had to look up her name in the novel by Stanislaw Lem. Although I’ve read the book, it was around thirty years ago and the films have erased my memory of it entirely, which is a whole ‘nother discussion to be had some day. That said, apparently the original has her as Harey, and the English translation had her as Rheya, which is an anagram of Harey. (back)

³And this is the shorter film! It’s very efficient. (back)

4This is another essential difference in the films, and one that adds to the running time of the original. 1971’s Kelvin also imagines up his mother, and this underlines a sense of loss of connection, because that’s the one time in our lives where we are truly connected to another person, and we can’t even consciously remember it! (back)