Theatre Thursday: Remembering my real second language

This is a series of reposts while I take care of some medical issues. I don’t know how soon I’ll be back to posting regularly, but I will let you all know!

As this time of lockdown and uncertainty goes on, what does become clear is that large, live events are probably not coming back soon. Live theatre, movies, concerts, and sports may take the rest of this year off, if not longer. Likewise, the fate of amusement parks of all kinds seems uncertain, or at least will be drastically changed.

Right now, we do have certain areas that have insisted on becoming field experiments, and by the time you read this, it may become clear whether the people who ran out to bars without masks last week did the right thing or made a stupid sacrifice.

Concerts may survive on live-streaming pay-per-view events for a while, and movie theaters may rediscover the drive-in, although those take a lot of real estate. Then again, indoor malls may now be officially dead, so look for their parking lots and large, blank walls to be easily converted.

Live sports are another matter because, by their very nature, they often involve full-body contact, and nobody is going to be going all-out on the field while wearing any kind of mask. Without quarantining every player, official, and support staff member, and testing each of them constantly, it’s just not feasible.

Even then, what about the live fans? It might be possible to limit attendance and assign seats so that social distancing is maintained, but that relies on trusting people to stay in the seats they’re put in, and as we all know, if someone is stuck in the outfield nosebleeds but sees plenty of empty space on the other side behind home plate, they’re going to try to get there.

One unexpected outcome is that eSports, like Overwatch League, may become the new sports simply because they absolutely can keep the players and fans apart while they all participate together.

See? The prophecy is true. After the apocalypse wipes out the jocks, the nerds will take over the world!

As for live theatre, it’s hanging on through a combination of streams of previously recorded, pre-shutdown performances, along with live Zoom shows. And, again, this is where the magic of theatre itself is a huge advantage because, throughout its history, it hasn’t relied on realistic special effects, or realism at all, to tell its stories.

Okay, so there have been times when theatre has gone in for the big-budget spectacle, but that goes back a lot further than modern Broadway. In ancient Rome, they were staging Naumachia, mock naval battles, but they were doing them as theatrical shows in flooded amphitheaters, including the Colosseum, and on a large scale.

And they’ve gone on throughout history, including Wild West Shows in the U.S. in the 19th century right up to the modern day, with things like amusement park spectacles, including Universals Waterworld and Terminator attractions, and Disney’s newly minted Star Wars Rise of the Resistance attraction,

But these big-budget spectacles are not necessary for theatre to work. All you need for theatre is one or more performers and the words.

Theatre is one of the earliest art-forms that each of us experiences, probably second only to music. And we experience it the first time, and every time, that someone reads to or tells us a story, no matter how simple or complicated.

Once upon a time…

That is theatre, and that’s why I know that it will survive eventually — but not right now, at least not in a familiar form.

And yes, this is a big blow to me on two fronts. First, I know that I won’t be doing improv or performing for a live audience for a long time. Second, I know that I won’t be seeing any of my plays performed onstage for a live audience for a long time.

This current plague quashed both of those options, shutting down my improv troupe and cancelling a play production that had been scheduled to open in April, then postponed to May, then postponed until… who knows?

But I’m not marching in the streets without a mask and armed to the teeth demanding that theatre reopen because I’m not selfish like that.

First, it’s because I still have a venue in which to tell stories and write and share, and you’re reading it right now, wherever in the world you are — and I see that I do have visitors from all over — in fact, from every continent except Antarctica, but including Australia, most of the Americas and Europe, some of Africa, and just about all of Asia. Greetings, everyone!

Second, I realized quite recently that this whole situation has inadvertently handed me the opportunity to get back into the first art-form that I officially trained in but never pursued as a profession for one reason: I loved it too much to turn it into the drudgery of a career, and always wanted to keep it for my own enjoyment.

Okay, sure, I did use it a few times from middle school through just after college in order to entertain others but, again, I was doing it for my own enjoyment.

That art-form is music, and I consider it my second language, because I started taking piano lessons at seven — and I was the one who cajoled my parents into letting me do so. The end result was that I was never really into playing other people’s stuff because, once all that music theory landed in my head and made sense, I started making my own.

That seems to be a common thing with my brain. Learn the way the modules work, start to stick them together to make them break the rules while still working. This is probably also the reason why I took to programming and coding early, and why I abuse Excel the way that I do.

Dirty little secret: Music is just math that sounds good. However, the great thing about it is that music also takes all of the pain out of math because it turns it into feelings. When I’m playing, improvising, and composing, my brain is absolutely not thinking in terms of what specific chord I’m playing, how it relates to the others, how it’s going to get from Point X to Y to make Z make sense, etc.

The thing about music and me is that its rules are buried so deeply into my subconscious that, well, like I said… I consider it to be my second language. And, when you’re fluent in any language, you don’t need to think. You just speak, whether it’s via your mouth and tongue, or via your heart and fingers.

So… live performance has been taken away from me by this virus for a while but that’s okay — because online research and ordering still exist, and stuff is on the way. So… I’m diving back into the most direct, emotional and, most importantly, non-word-dependent form of communication humans have ever invented.

Watch this space. Or… well, listen.

Closing Day

When you come from a 24/7 city. Christmas Day can be very weird as almost everything shuts down.

One thing that I understand is kind of unique about most big cities in the United States is that things don’t close. Or, rather, companies will close in the evening at various hours and open in the morning, but most of them that serve the public are also open seven days a week, including Sundays.

Some, like grocery stores, pharmacies, convenience stores, and gas stations, are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Smaller businesses, particularly family-owned ones, will often close one or two days a week, but more often than not they will choose to close on Monday and stay open on Sundays.

Traditionally in theatre — although I don’t think this is strictly limited to the U.S. — Monday is “dark night” when the regular show does not go up. Large theatres play six days a week. Most small theatres only have shows up on Thursdays through Sundays.

Unless you live in a “dry” county in a state that set it up that way, you can also buy alcohol any day of the week, provided that you do it during the hours it can be sold. In Los Angeles, “last call” at bars is at 2 a.m. Beer, wine, and liquor are all available at bars, liquor stores and grocery stores. Sales hours are from 6 a.m. to 2 a.m., except in areas with special restrictions, i.e., a store is within a certain distance of a school, in which case the cut-off is 10 p.m.

This does contrast with other places, like New York State, where you can only get beer at grocery stores but have to buy wine and liquor at designated liquor stores, with bars being the exception, of course, where you can get all three. Oddly enough, beer can be sold 24 hours a day any day of the week, while wine and liquor can only be sold 8 a.m. to midnight Monday through Saturday in stores, and noon to 9 p.m. on Sundays. There’s also no alcohol service in New York City before noon on Sunday, although that law may have changed.

But here’s the point. If I have the sudden urge to go out and get comfort food at a diner at 3 a.m., then I can probably find one open within a few miles of home. If I need emergency medication or run out of TP at midnight, same thing. If I suddenly wake up in a panic and realize I need gas at 4 a.m., I can drive out and get it

Not everything is open at those hours, of course, but not all of them need to be. I’m unlikely to need to get a suit cleaned in the middle of the night; it can wait until morning.

The real life-saver, though, is most places being open on Sundays as well. I’ve been in towns where everything shuts down on that day, and it’s a royal pain in the ass because there’s nothing to do. These are places where they expect people to spend all day in church, so no distractions, dammit! But I couldn’t think of a bigger waste of time if I tried.

There are a few larger cities in the U.S., many of them which originally had a very strong Catholic influence in local government, that do have local “blue laws,” which do say that most businesses cannot open on Sunday. Fortunately, L.A. isn’t one of them.

And this is why Christmas is always so surreal to me, because it’s the one day of the year that almost everything does shut down. The roads are deserted, and even most of the 24/7 places are shuttered. You can still get to an open E.R. (that’s A&E in the UK) and both Chinese restaurants and 7-Elevens are still open.

You may not have heard of 7-Eleven if you’re not in the right region, but it’s basically a convenience store that got its name when its hours were 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. Those hours eventually expanded to 24, but the original name stuck. It was the major inspiration for the Kwik-E-Mart in the Simpsons, and in 2007, eleven 7-Elevens in the U.S. and Canada were turned into real-life Kwik-E-Marts for a brief time as a tie-in to the Simpsons movie.

I was lucky enough to visit the one near me in Burbank, and it was a trip. Since then, Universal Studios in both Hollywood and Florida have permanent Kwik-E-Marts within their parks, and there’s a stand-alone faux (but licensed) Kwik-E-Mart in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

As for the Chinese restaurants, since they’re the only places serving on Christmas, they have become very popular places over the years with Jewish residents of the city, who take their families out to dinner every Christmas, or order take-out.

This one isn’t limited to just L.A. — it’s pretty common in any large city with a substantial Jewish population.

One other thing you can always do on Christmas Day? Go see a movie! Theatres are open because they’ve grown savvy to the idea that once all the gifts are open and the family has hung out together for too long, the big treat they can share is getting the hell out of the house and enjoying the latest film together.

I have a friend who, pre-COVID, used to host an annual Christmas event in which a group of us would gather at the local multiplex, and then spend the entire day watching as many of the newer releases as possible.

People could come to see all of the films, which was usually about six or seven, unless there were a couple of shorter family flicks in the mix, or they could pick the films they wanted to see and join up with the group then. I think the whole group would meet for breakfast before the first show, which would literally be the first show, and then everything was timed out to go from theater to theater with minimal time in between except for a quick dinner beak.

Lunch would be handled via theatre nachos, hot dogs, and the like some time during the first early-afternoon movie. Although I never did the full experience — mainly because there were a lot of films I didn’t want to see — I made it to a couple, and it really was a great way to spend Christmas.

Note: Studios do not actually release Christmas movies on Christmas because it’s too late. Those come out in November and usually get yanked right after Christmas. A lot of new releases actually tend to be horror, action, or Oscar bait, especially because one of the qualifying rules for nomination used to be at least one week’s theatrical run in Los Angeles County (or one of six other qualifying metro areas).

Technically, a film has to show in a theater in Los Angeles before it shows on any streaming, video on demand, or other broadcast service in order to be eligible, and while it seems like that rule may have gone out the window, the non-theatrical exhibition is limited to “on or after” the first day it plays in L.A.

So schedule the first showing as a midnight screening, release it on digital as that screening ends, and you’re safe.

The important qualifier is that the film has to air during the calendar year ending on December 31st, so by premiering on Christmas, they get the exact number of screening days that they need. And a lot of prestige releases get pushed into December anyway, before Christmas or on it. This year saw films like West Side Story, The Matrix Resurrections, Spider-Man: No Way Home, and Being the Ricardos all pop out in December, with American Underdog, The Tragedy of MacBeth, and Licorice Pizza coming out on Christmas.

But this is all the long way around of me saying how weird I find Christmas Day in Los Angeles to be — more so if it’s a weekday and not a Saturday or Sunday — but I can pretty much only go to a couple of stores for urgent necessities, get fresh Chinese food, or see lots of movies.

I think I’ll just stay in, instead, and stream lots of movies at home. Or write stuff. Or both.

Merry Christmas Day — or whatever you do or don’t celebrate! And, as always, greetings to all of my international followers. Don’t be shy. Say “hello” in the comments!

Image source: Artaxerxes, (CC BY-SA 3.0), via Wikimedia Commons

Friday Free-for-All #75: New thing, tests, easy come, three jobs

Here’s the next in an ongoing series in which I answer random questions generated by a website. Here are this week’s questions. Feel free to give your own answers or ask your own questions in the comments.

What’s the last new thing you tried?

I wrote about the overall experience on Sunday a couple of weeks ago, after I had gone to see Free Guy at a Regal Cinema that had just opened in a still under-development mixed-use complex under construction not far from me.

Now, I’ve seen lots of movies in theaters, and in various iterations of 3D, but the totally new part of this experience was seeing a movie in 3D with 4DX technology

Yes, I’ve been on motion capture rides before. Star Tours at Disneyland and Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey at Universal, the latter having been in 3D for a few months until too many lightweights were having issues with motion sickness. (I was fortunate enough to catch it during its preview week — a perc of being a local — so experienced it 3D and all.)

Universal City Walk also used to have a small motion-control theater that showed very short films — maybe twenty minutes max — designed around the technology.

So, what is the technology? Basically, the seats your sitting in are designed to move with a lot of degrees of freedom. On the Harry Potter ride, you’re basically dangling from a moving crane that can raise, lower, tilt, and turn the bench you’re strapped into. You can’t see it because the ride is normally dark and the assembly is above and behind you.

In the case of Star Tours, as well as the motion control theater and the Universal attraction that started out as Back to the Future to ultimately become The Simpsons, you don’t actually move through a ride building. Instead, the mini-theater you’re sitting in, which generally as four rows, is designed to move via hydraulics to simulate the motions you see on screen.

4DX in a movie theater is similar to this, except that it operates on a single bank of four seats at a time, which can twist, turn, tilt, vibrate, blow air or mist past you and even tickle selective parts of your anatomy.

The big difference, of course, is that I experienced this for the entire runtime of a feature film, not just the duration of a dark ride or short-subject cinema. I supposed you have to pick the right film, but it certainly worked with Free Guy.

One thing I did notice, though. They showed a couple of trailers that used the technology, as well as a promo for 4DX itself — the latter most likely a latter-day This Is Cinerama created to get the audience used to experiencing the tech, although in under five minutes instead of an hour and fifty-five.

Also note that there were no existing Cinerama theaters at the time — the Cinerama Dome in Los Angeles wouldn’t open until late 1963, while This Is Cinerama premiered in New York in late 1952 and in L.A. in early 1953. In order to show it, one theater in each city was selected to be temporarily fitted with a three-projector system in order to show the 2.65:1 aspect ratio movie.

But what I did notice with the trailers was this: Since they were for action/superhero films and were cut to highlight that, each trailer was nothing but non-stop 4DX effects, and that got tiring fast. In the feature film, during quiet, talky scenes, the seats calmed down. At the most, they might gently rock back and forth if the actors were talking and walking.

Anyway, I can get used to this.

What do you think of standardized tests?

There’s exactly one thing that standardized tests are good for. Well, okay, two.

Number one: They measure how good you are at taking a standardized test, which is a huge problem, because if all you’ve learned how to do is take a standardized test, then you haven’t really learned anything about the subject.

Number two: They perpetuate institutionalized racism and inherent classism in that they are designed by and for the elites in society — so if you’re a POC, a recent immigrant or first-generation child of immigrants, or from an economically disadvantaged class, you’re going to have a lot harder time with a standardized test.

Well, at least as long as that “standard” is “affluent white kids.” Then again, that was their entire purpose in the first place when these tests designed to winnow down the pool of college-bounds kids was created nearly a century ago — they were absolutely intended as passive gatekeepers to keep POC out.

By the way, IQ tests arose about the same time, and for similar reasons. Due to a recent, huge influx of immigrants to America, certain factions had a vested interest in proving that White, Anglo-Saxon Protestants (WASPs) were the superior intellects, and therefore the “Great White Hope” meant to save the not-quite-so white people from themselves.

At the time, “not-quite-so white” not only included people from Asia, Africa, the Middle East, Latin America and any indigenous group, but it also covered a lot of Europeans, like the Irish, Italians, Spanish, Portuguese, Scandinavians, Slavs, people from the Balkans, and Jews whether they were Sephardic or Ashkenazi. Catholics also need not apply.

A huge notable exception to this? The Germans, who put the “Saxon” in Anglo-Saxon and put the still ruling British House of Monarchs on the throne way back at the time of George I, great-grandfather of George III, famous for going mad and letting the colonies escape.

Germany double-down on the British monarch thing with Queen Victoria, and the current Royals, the Windsors, are as German as you can get, except that they don’t speak the language. Of course, along the way, there was that whole mess with Edward VIII, who abdicated ostensibly so that he could marry a divorced American commoner, but it was more like that he did so because his Nazi sympathies and being all palsy-walsy with Herr Hitler wouldn’t have gone over very well during WW II. He abdicated in 1936, conveniently just before Hitler started getting all belligerent in Europe.

It was less than two years later that Neville Chamberlain rolled over for the Nazis and basically handed them Czechoslovakia and, later, Poland.

So that’s what I think of standardized tests.

What’s your best example of easy come, easy go?

Lottery tickets. Sure, I do play, but I limit it to about $10 a week — two entries in the Super Lotto on Wednesday and Saturday, and the daily Fantasy 5 drawing, bought in blocks of three draws in advance.

Occasionally, I will buy a $1 or $2 scratcher, but that’s it.

I’ve participated in probably two office pools when one of the jackpots got ridiculously huge and we all kicked in enough money to buy several hundred dollars-worth of tickets. End results? After all of the winnings were tallied and calculated evenly, I think that the biggest return any of us ever saw was about $1.25 based on a contribution of $10.

In other words, a loss. But that’s how games of chance work — they always favor the house.

I live about a city block away from a liquor store that has become something of a Lottery mecca. In fact, I don’t think they make most of their income by selling liquor or cigarettes or any of the basic bodega groceries and whatnot in stock.

It’s a small store, but it has six full-size lottery scratcher and ticket machines, a café table and some chairs for gamers, and a dedicated LCD screen to display the constantly ongoing Keno games and Pick 3, or whatever the other multiple times a day game there is.

Like I said, I spend very little on only two games because I know that the odds of winning are astronomical. But when I go into that liquor store, I see the saddest example of “easy come, easy go” that there is. Somebody might buy a $20 scratcher and actually win just under a hundred bucks with it — a C-note being the max that a retailer can pay out in cash.

So, what do they do? If they were smart, they’d take the money and run, but they aren’t. They will immediately buy more scratchers, and then proceed to win… nothing. I’ve seen it a bunch of times going in and out of the place — forlorn looking people scratching off the last in a stack of tickets, faces falling as they win not a cent.

If I’m lucky, they’ll just toss those tickets on the ground or in the cardboard box in front of the store, and I’ll scoop them up on my way out. Hey, every one of them is worth an entry in the weekly Second Chance Drawing, so if they’re just going to throw potential money away, I’m quite willing to take it.

What are three occupations that machines will soon replace?

Note that I’m not saying it like these are good things. They are actually very bad things, but then again, if I’d lived just over a century ago, I might have lamented the fact that automobiles were going to put horses out of jobs.

I would never have bothered to ask the horse, though.

Anyway, what three occupations are in the most danger? Let me start with the ones that are not.

I’ve seen a lot of ads lately on social media trying to hype AI designed to do voiceover acting, copywriting, and creating art. And in no way whatsoever is AI ready to take any of this over from humans.

Okay, I’ll admit that I do use an AI voice for my weekly podcast, which is based on this blog, but that’s only because I don’t have the time or resources to hire a voiceover performer or do it all myself. I do record the intros to each episode and any necessary interstitial narration, and then do all of the editing and post production.

But here’s the thing: While the AI voice is quite capable of reading a blog post, it still has its unavoidable glitches that make it decidedly not human. These range from really funky cadences in the reading that I will have to edit gaps from to strange pronunciations or inflections — for example, always pronouncing words like read or lead as past-tense verbs instead of present tense.

As for art, just plain no. AI can only futz around by taking a bunch of pictures and spitting out patterns, but there’s not mind or meaning behind it. And, finally, when it comes to copywriting — with this heinous entry aimed at marketing execs more interested in saving money than actually, well, you know, creating effective marketing — every last example of AI written copy I’ve ever seen is pure and boring shit.

Of course, this is the particular app that hits really close to home for me, because it’s the one that would love to put me out of a job. Fortunately, it’s not going to do that any time soon.

But here are the three jobs at the biggest risk of being automated away — and why we need to prepare to supply a Universal Basic Income (UBI) to anybody automated out of a job. Actually, it’s two-fold: UBI plus re-education benefits in the form of a full-ride scholarship to learn a trade that hasn’t been automated out of existence.

So who are the most vulnerable right now?

I’ll start with the obvious: Checkers. Whether they work in grocery stores, big box retail, or even smaller outlets, the powers that be are trying to force customers into the self-check lanes. Now, I wouldn’t object to this if I got a discount for my time spent doing other people’s work. But I do resent it when only one or two human-operated check stands are open and, in these days of COVID, the lines stretch down the aisles.

You know what? I’d rather go with a human checker any day. Why? The conversation is better, they do it much faster and more efficiently than I ever could and, considering that I’ve been going to the same grocery store for over thirteen years and my parents went to the same (but different one) the entire time I was growing up, people wind up forming relationships with their regular checkers.

When I was a kid, my parents were on a first-name basis with our regular checker (Donna), the liquor department guy (Don), and the butcher, whose name I don’t remember. That was a Vons about a mile from home. Now, I go to a Ralph’s about a mile from home, but I’ve gotten to know a couple of the checkers in a professional way and am now on a nodding basis with the regular guard skulking behind the sticky-fingers scanner at the entrance.

Occupation number two will probably be ride-share drivers, at least if Bond Villain Elon Musk has his way and figures out how to stop killing people. Amazon may also have a hand in this if it moves to driverless delivery trucks.

Especially given that the California Supreme Court just overturned (and rightly) the so-called “gig workers’ initiative” which was sponsored by major ride-share companies and basically turned said workers into low-paid serfs, these corporate a-holes are going to look for ways to get rid of human drivers entirely.

Not that things are exactly going smoothly for Elon and his self-driving cars right now, but someone is going to fill in the slack.

Occupation number three: Cue the autonomous robots, and warehouse workers are going to become a thing of the past, at least in giant warehouses that ship a lot of different things in great volume every day.

Or, in other words, Amazon.

This one actually kind of makes sense because the job is way too mindless for humans — Amazon’s employee turnover per year is ridiculous. But robots that can follow painted markings on the floor, scan and match QR codes, pull and package products, and so much more.

They also never need bathroom breaks, aren’t going to want to unionize, and won’t quit due to stress. And, if they break down, they won’t require expensive healthcare; rather, send in the in-house (and still quite human) mechanics, or just order a replacement.

Out of all of these, I really don’t want to see checkers and cashiers go, and I’d much prefer that ride-share companies go tits up and we bring back union taxi drivers with predictable rates and fair pay for the drivers. As for the warehouse workers (and, for that matter, Amazon delivery drivers) they are just being abused for Jeff Bezos’ benefit, and a lot of the ones that actually work in Amazon’s hub city can’t actually afford to live there.

So, if they get automated out of a job then give them a UBI that covers more than the cost of living in whatever overpriced city they’re in, give them a full-ride scholarship to whatever college or trade school they want to go in order to learn a new profession, and remind them that they are free of ever being a serf again for a greedy billionaire who doesn’t know the meaning of the word empathy.

Now there’s an occupation I would love to see eliminated altogether: Greedy billionaire. And managing that is simple. Tax the hell out of them, the way we did in the 1950s, under a Republican president, Eisenhower, when the top marginal tax rate was above 90% and it kicked in above an income level of $200,000.

This was the equivalent of around $2,000,000 in current dollars when Eisenhower took office, but by the time he left, it was below $1,800,000. Or, in other words, deflation had increased buying power by 10% in eight years.

Now imagine that one. Somebody makes a billion dollars, and we tax everything above two million at 91%. This means that they pay that rate on $ 998,000,000, or $ 908,180,000.

This leaves them with “only” $ 89,820,000 on top of their two million.

Or, guess what? Let’s give them the same deal Eisenhower gave the super-wealthy back then. If you put that money into employee salaries and benefits, capital development, charitable work in the community (particularly arts and education) or otherwise spend it in ways that benefit everyone and not you or your shareholders, then you get a tax break.

Or you can just send the government a fat check, and we’ll figure out how to spend it.

Kind of a no-brainer, really.

Next up: How to figure out how to replace elected officials with AI, who would most likely be much better and less stupid at it.

Sunday Nibble #75: A little bit free

The last time I went to a movie theater was in February, 2020. I don’t remember the exact date. Just that the movie was Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker at the Pacific Theaters in Sherman Oaks, right across from the Best Buy.

I think it was a 4:30 show on a weekday — I want to say Thursday, and pretty late in the run of the film, so there were all of three of us in the theatre, which was fine with me. I sat in the front row of the balcony — perfect seats — and enjoyed the show.

Not long after on March 9, 2020, my improv company, ComedySportz L.A., shut down temporarily, although they still really haven’t started back up. Less than two weeks after that, Los Angeles and the rest of California shut down and everything changed, but I don’t think I have to recap that history here.

I year and a half later, I’m fully vaccinated and have been since late May, and things had just opened up at the beginning of July when they came to a screeching halt again two weeks later thanks to the Delta variant.

I knew more than a few fully vaccinated people who nonetheless got infected and, while their symptoms were mild, they were persistent, plus they still had to quarantine.

Of course, I went to a good friend’s engagement party in the gap between opening and re-closing. I was there for five hours with a huge group of strangers, and we were all unmasked. It’s been long enough that I would know it if I’d been infected by now, but it was one of those “Oh shit” moments when we shut down six days after that event.

So I’m back to being cautious. I skipped returning for the newly resumed summer camp that was the impetus for this entire site in the first place way back in 2017. Despite the requirements for everyone to show proof of vaccination and be tested, and with masks optional if people wanted to wear them, I just couldn’t bring myself to stay for an entire weekend with a bunch of strangers in shared cabins and communal meals.

Likewise, I really don’t think I’ll be able to go to my friend’s wedding in October, mainly because it’s so far away, and current thinking puts long distance travel and weddings very high up on the list of high-risk activities, even if you are vaccinated. The wedding is far away.

But there was a new movie opening that I really wanted to see, it was only rolling out on big screens, and then I found this newly opened and very close to home theater and also found that for the first showing, at 6 p.m. on a Thursday night, barely any seats were sold.

It was a Real 3D and 4DX theater, so I picked my seat in a row that I thought was behind the aisle separating the last two rows from the rest of the seating. This was fine, because the seats that had sold were all across the middle of that section.

The only flaw in my plan: Since the seating chart didn’t indicate where the screen was and I’m used to reading plans with the back wall at the top, it turned out that I was actually in the back row of the orchestra, basically, or a lot closer than I had planned for.

No big deal, though. Not really.

The film was Free Guy, a 20th Century Studios release, aka a Disney film. What drew me in was the premise — especially since it was not part of yet another franchise — plus Ryan Reynolds, who is always amusing and appealing. Of course the trailer helped. If you’d like to take a look, here it is:

https://www.youtube-nocookie.com/embed/cttnRmcr_ME

Having seen the film, it’s really amusing to see how things have been cut up and moved around, so don’t take this as the literal plot. That’s refreshing for a Disney trailer. For once, they don’t just tell you the entire story. I’d seen this trailer and the previous ones from last year before COVID delayed the film’s release, and I was still surprised all the way through.

Full disclosure: I am receiving absolutely nothing for hyping this film so much. I just really, really enjoyed it. Maybe it was all those years of playing Sim City, where the player is sort of the ultimate NPC. (That’s non-playable character for you non-gamer types — all of the background players who are just there, doing their pre-programmed thing.)

As for the overall experience… thanks to the time of day, COVID, and the newness of the entire venue, the place was practically deserted when I arrived, which was fine with me. The parking lot was mostly empty, so I parked right in front of the elevator.

These were marked with signs indicating that maximum occupancy was one group from the same household or one person. Again, just fine with me.

The theater lobby was also deserted and so quiet that I actually wound up in the theater and in what I thought was my seat before I realized that I didn’t have my 3D glasses and hadn’t actually checked in. I went back and found the ticket checker, who was very blasé about it. She scanned my ticket in from my phone and give me my glasses — hermetically sealed in plastic.

Gotta love buying your ticket on your phone, picking your seat, and that’s it. My biggest movie theater anxiety was always getting the tickets and then printing them out and not forgetting them when that was a thing, or making it to the box office in time and standing in line, hoping to get good seats before the show started way back when that was a thing.

I also definitely would never, ever see a film opening weekend. That was just too much of a crapshoot. Not this time, though. I was actually at the first showing on the first day.

So taking my time and doing it all on my phone is just amazing for so many reasons.

This was not my first experience with Real 3D. I definitely saw Star Wars: The Last Jedi that way, and I think I saw Solo: A Star Wars Story in that format as well. I can’t remember what other films, if any, I saw between the two, although I am sensing a theme here. I think I saw the most recent James Bond Film — Spectre — in a theatre, and was that almost six years ago already? Wow.

Or did I watch Spectre online? Yeah, really hard to remember.

But, anyway… I was very impressed by all of my experiences with Real 3D. Bright images, no ghosting, the glasses work with or without eyeglasses under them, and the film doesn’t look muddy or blurred without them.

This was my first time at the rodeo with 4DX, which is an apt description, but I actually really like it. The very short version is that the technology turns each block of four seats into its own mini motion-control ride synced up to behave in coordination with the movie, and it adds an entirely new level to everything.

The seats can simulate just about any motion, and they are also capable of blasting warm air past your ears, blowing mist in your face, or tickling your legs. Apparently, it can also simulate rain, storms, rushing winds and other such phenomena — although we didn’t get anything quite that extreme in Free Guy.

All in all, it made for a nice, safe break from being basically locked in for most of eighteen months other than grocery shopping, and it was nice. If you’re vaccinated, don’t live in a state with a crazy governor, and have a movie theater near you that practices social distancing and requires masks, give it a shot.

I know the whole experience made me feel a whole lot better. Give it a try.

Friday Free-for-All #59: Multiple viewings, theater or home, hobby time, techsplosion

The next in an ongoing series in which I answer random questions generated by a website. Here are this week’s questions. Feel free to give your own answers or ask your own questions in the comments.

What movie have you seen more than seven times?

For starters, I know that I’ve watched Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey way more than seven times. Once home video and DVD happened, watching 2001 on New Year’s Day instead of a certain parade became a long-standing tradition with me.

The more than seven viewings is also true of several of his films, including Dr. Strangelove, or How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb and A Clockwork Orange.

I can’t leave off The Rocky Horror Picture Show. I’m pretty sure I saw that more than seven times in high school alone, and The Wizard of Oz, It’s a Wonderful Life, and The Ten Commandments also make the list because they are still being rerun at least once a year on TV.

I can’t forget the Star Wars Original Trilogy and most of the Prequel Trilogy. The Sequel Trilogy hasn’t been around long enough yet. As for Star Trek, The Wrath of Khan and The Voyage Home are the only ones I’ve definitely seen that often.

There are a few James Bond films — definitely Goldfinger, Live and Let Die, and Moonraker (one good, one okay, and one cheesy as hell) again because of the TV return thing.

I’m not sure, but I think that Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (that’s the amazing Gene Wilder-starring version and not the Tim Burton travesty) probably also makes the list. Oh. Also, Cabaret, All that Jazz, and Westside Story.

There are probably others, but these are the ones that I can definitely put in the more than seven list.

Do you prefer to watch movies in the theater or in the comfort of your own home?

This is an answer that’s changed enormously. Once upon a time, my reply would have been absolutely in a theater, because that’s where they were made to be seen.

But then as my interest in seeing all the latest MCU/DCEU franchise films fell to zero, waiting for home video or streaming became enough mostly — although I would still go out for the big event films that interested me, mainly Star Wars installments and Bladerunner 2049.

The last film I did see in an actual theatre was Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, back in February 2020. It was a mid-weekday thing and there were about four of us in the place.

So already having discovered the joys and convenience of streaming, not to mention the lower cost if it’s something on a service you already have, by the time the theaters shut down it was a no-brainer, and I’m not really inclined to go back anytime soon.

Honestly, seeing a Marvel movie on a big screen doesn’t really add much to it, not compared to the quality I can get at home. Plus I also don’t have to put up with other people, sticky floors, or an endless parade of pre-show trailers and adverts.

What hobby would you get into if time and money weren’t an issue?

I would become a total model train geek, although it would be about more than just the trains. I’d want to create an entire miniature city in a dedicated room, like a full basement, and build it in something like N Scale, which is ¾” to 1 foot, or 1:160 scale.

This would make a model of the Empire State building just over 9 feet tall at the tip of its mast, although it would take 33 linear feet of model to make up one mile of street, so it wouldn’t be a very big city. (Z scale would cut this down to 24 feet per mile, but definitely sacrifice some realism.)

To get a scale model of all of San Francisco into an area 33 feet on a side, you’d wind up with city buses being just under half an inch long and a tenth of an inch wide. You’d only need to cut the N scale in half to model two square miles of Midtown Manhattan.

But wait… it does say that time and money aren’t an issue, right? So instead of building a single square mile of city in a basement, why not go for a warehouse or buy an abandoned big box store? Aim for something that would fit fifty or a hundred square miles of city, and if it had multiple floors, go for various layouts — urban mega-city, suburban smaller town, historical city — with a scale ten mile footprint, you could easily build two separate 19th century Main Street towns surrounded by countryside and connected by railroad and telegraph.

And I wouldn’t need to go it alone. Hell, it could become an entire project that would employ model and miniature makers, urban planners, painters, designers, builders, electricians, programmers, and more. Give the big city a working harbor and airport, also have miniature cars and people moving around, design it to not only have a night and day cycle but seasons and weather as well, and it could be quite a thing.

It could even become a tourist attraction. Hell, they already did it in Hamburg, Germany.

And why does the idea fascinate me so much? Maybe because I was into model trains as a kid, although never had a neat, permanent layout. But this also led to me becoming a big fan of games like Sim City, in which I could indulge my curiosity about building and creating things and see where they led — especially urban landscapes.

Hm. Give me all the resources, and I just might make TinyTowns a major tourist destination.

Why did technology progress more slowly in the past than it does now?

I believe that this is because technological development is exponential, not algebraic. The latter is a very slow, additive process. You go from 1 to 1+1, or 2, then to 2+1 for 3 and so and so on. Repeat the process 100 times, and you land on 101.

Take the simplest exponential progression, though, in which each subsequent step is double the one before it. That is, go from 1 to 1×2, or 2, then 2 to 2×2 for 4, and so on. After a hundred steps, your result is 1.25×10^30, or roughly 1 followed by 30 zeros, which is one nonillion.

For perspective, a yottabyte — currently the largest digital storage standard yet set — is equal to one trillion terabytes, the latter currently being a very common hard drive size on a home computer.  The number noted above is ten thousand times that.

It’s exactly how we wound up with terabyte drives being so common when, not very long ago, a 30 megabyte drive was a big deal. That was really only within a generation or so. This relates to Moore’s Law, stated in 1965 as “the number of transistors in a computer chip doubles every 18 to 24 months.”

What wasn’t stated with the law was that this doubling didn’t just affect the number of transistors, and therefore the number of simultaneous operations, that a chip could perform. It extended to every other aspect of computers. More operations meant more data, so you could either speed up your clocks or widen your data buses (i.e. length of allowable piece of information in bits) or both.

And this is why we’ve seen things like computers going from 8 to 64 and 128 bit operating systems, and memory size ballooning from a few kilobytes to multiple gigabytes, and storage likewise exploding from a handful of kilobytes to terabytes and soon to be commercial petabyte drives.

Perspective: A petabyte drive would hold the entire Library of Congress print archive ten times over. If would probably also hold a single print archive and all the film, audio, and photographic content comfortably as well.

Now, all of this exploding computer technology fuels everything else. A couple of interesting examples: Humans went from the first ever manned flight of an airplane to walking on the moon in under 66 years. We discovered radioactivity in 1895 and tested the first atomic bomb 50 years later. The transistor was invented in 1947. The silicon chip integrating multiple transistors was devised in 1959, twelve years later.

And so on. Note, too, that a transistor’s big trick is that it turns old mathematical logic into something that can be achieved by differences in voltage. a transistor has two inputs and an output, and depending how it’s programmed, it can be set up to do various things, depending upon how the inputs compare and what the circuit has been designed to do.

The beauty of the system comes in stringing multiple transistors together, so that one set may determine whether digits from two different inputs are the same or not, and pass that info on to a third transistor, which may be set to either increment of leave unchanged the value of another transistor, depending on the info it receives.

Or, in other words, a series of transistors can be set up to perform addition, subtraction, multiplication, or division. It’s something that mechanical engineers had figured out ages previously using cogs and levers and gears, and adding machines and the like were a very  19th century technology. But the innovation that changed it all was converting decimal numbers into binary, realizing that the 0 and 1 of binary corresponded perfect to the “off” and “on” of electrical circuits, then creating transistors that did the same thing those cogs and levers did.

Ta-da! You’ve now turned analog math into digital magic. And once that system was in place and working, every other connected bit developed incredibly over time. Some people focused on making the human interfaces easier, moving from coding in obscure and strictly mathematical languages, often written via punch cards or paper tape, into not much improved but still infinitely better low level languages that still involved a lot of obscure code words and direct entry of numbers (this is where Hex, or Base 16 came into computing) but which was at least much more intelligible than square holes a card.

At the same time, there had to be better outputs than another set of punched cards, or a series of lights on a readout. And the size of data really needed to be upped, too., With only four binary digits, 1111, the highest decimal number you could represent was 15. Jump it to eight digits, 1111 1111, and you got… 255. Don’t forget that 0 is also included in that set, so you really have 256 values, and voila! The reason for that being such an important number in computing is revealed.

Each innovation fueled the need for the next, and so the ways to input and readout data kept improving until we had so-called high-level programming languages, meaning that on a properly equipped computer, a programmer could type in a command in fairly intelligible language, like,

10 X = “Hello world.”

20 PRINT X

30 END

Okay, stupid example, but you can probably figure out what it does. You could also vary it by starting with INPUT X, in which case the user would get a question mark on screen and the display would return whatever they typed.

Oh yeah… at around the same time, video displays had become common, replacing actual paper printouts that had a refresh rate slower than a naughty JPG download on 1200 baud modem. (There’s one for the 90s kids!) Not to mention a resolution of maybe… well, double digits lower than 80 in either direction, anyway.

Surprisingly, the better things got, the better the next versions seemed to get, and faster. Memory exploded. Computer speeds increased. Operating systems became more intuitive and responsive.

And then things that relied on computers took off as well. Car manufacturers started integrating them slowly, at first. Present day, your car is run more by computer than physical control, whether you realize it or not. Cell phones and then smart phones are another beneficiary — and it was the need to keep shrinking transistors and circuits to fit more of them onto chips in the first place that finally made it possible to stick a pretty amazing computer into a device that will fit in your pocket.

Oh yeah… first telephone, 1875. Landline phones were ubiquitous in less than a hundred years, and began to be taken over by cell phones, with the first one being demonstrated in 1973 (with a 4.4 lb handset, exclusive of all the other equipment required), and affordable phones themselves not really coming along until the late 1990s.

But, then, they never went away, and then they only just exploded in intelligence. Your smart phone now has more computing power than NASA and the Pentagon combined did at the time of the Moon landings.

Hell, that $5 “solar” (but probably not) calculator you grabbed in the grocery checkout probably has more computing power than the Lunar Lander that made Neil Armstrong the first human on the Moon.

It’s only going to keep getting more advanced and faster, but that’s a good thing, and this doesn’t even account for how explosions in computing have benefited medicine, communications, entertainment, urban planning, banking, epidemiology, cryptography, engineering, climate science, material design, genetics, architecture, and probably any other field you can think of — scientific, artistic, financial, or otherwise.

We only just began to escape the confines of Analog Ville less than 40 years ago, probably during the mid to late 80s, when Millennials were just kids. By the time the oldest of them were second semester sophomores in college, we had made a pretty good leap out into Digital World, and then just started doubling down, so that two decades into this century, the tech of the turn of the century (that’d be 2000) looks absolutely quaint.

Remember — we had flip phones then, with amazing (cough) 640×480 potato-grade cameras.

Compare that to 1920 vs 1900. A few advances, but not a lot. The only real groundbreaker was that women could now vote in the U.S., but that wasn’t really a technological advance, just a social one. And if you look at 1820 vs. 1800, or any twenty-year gap previously, things would not have changed much at all except maybe in terms of fashion, who current world monarch were, or which countries you were currently at war with.

And that, dear readers, is how exponential change works, and why technology will continue to grow in this manner. It’s because every new innovation in technology sews the seeds for both the need and inevitability of its next round of advancement and acceleration.

We pulled the genie out of the bottle in 1947. It’s never going back in.

Friday Free-for-All #58: Movie love, movie hate, major useless, and “normal”

The next in an ongoing series in which I answer random questions generated by a website. Here are this week’s questions. Feel free to give your own answers in the comments.

What terrible movie do you love?

This one is easy. A lot of critics and others think that the movies Caligula is total crap, despite the all-star cast. But the thing is this — it is actually a really faithful retelling of Suetonius’ The lives of the Twelve Caesers.

Sure, Suetonius may have been totally full of shit and he may have libeled the fuck out of Caligula for the sake of kissing up to later Emperors. Still, ignore that part of it, and the film’s story follows the source pretty closely.

In fact, if anything, the producers actually held back on the sex and violence. But, come on. What’s not to love about this flick? Malcolm McDowell, Helen Mirren, Peter O’Toole, and John Gielgud, plenty of eye candy for all genders and preferences in the supporting cast, and script by Gore Vidal – even though he disowned it — but he shouldn’t have.

Seriously, ignore the scissor sisters BS that Guccione snuck into it because he could just before he had to smuggle the footage out of Italy to avoid obscenity charges, boom, done.

One really interesting aspect of the anniversary edition I own is that one of the features on the DVD is raw footage from a scene set in Tiberius’ (infamous) grotto on Capri, where it looks like all kinds of bizarre sex acts are going on in the background – but unedited and from angles not used in the film, it’s quite clear that what you thought you saw was far more graphic and nasty than what was really happening. The magic of film!

What is the most overrated movie?

Oh, there are many, but two stand out because they won Best Picture and had absolutely no goddamn business doing so.

Exhibit A: Forrest Gump.

Exhibit B: Gladiator.

I mean, come on. In the case of the first movie, it’s the glorification of stupid, and I did not ever for one second connect with or empathize with Gump. Why would I? He obviously has mental problems and, given the era, if his Mama wasn’t able to help, he would have been put into an institution, preventing the rest of the movie, period.

Still… Forrest’s character through the rest of the film is an object lesson in this: The mentally ill, despite their condition, are still quite capable of being total assholes.

Second film, Gladiator… as a Roman History buff, this stack of shit just loses from the get-go. And it only gets worse from there, for ten thousand reasons. One big one beyond the rape of history at the end?

Well, true Gladiators were not slaves. They were celebrities. Think MMA fighters now, or social media influencers. So if they got tossed into the ring, it was not to die. It was to play up a high-profile slap fight at the most.

But don’t even get me started on the whole “Pissed off Gladiator killed Commodus in the ring, in public” bullshit.

Anyway, long story short: No way in hell that Gladiator deserved a single accolade, much less “Best Picture.” Nope. It was a steaming pile of crap then, and it still is now.

What is the most useless major in college?

I’m going to have to go with Philosophy – and not that I’m pegging it as a major, not a course of study. I absolutely think that everyone should have to take two philosophy courses in college, one general and the other more specific – but beyond that, majoring in it is pretty pointless.

You learn that when you take your lower division general philosophy course and realize that quite a lot of these philosophers were basically talking out of their asses, and most of them were stuck in the same error that wasn’t even discussed in philosophy until the 20th century.

That is, they forget to include themselves and their own experiences in seeing how their philosophies formed, and instead tried to create these grand mystical rules for what is “reality.”

And it all started with the worst of them, Plato, and his “ideal” forms. This meant that for every object, there was an ideal version of it that existed in some invisible ethereal realm, and that version was the one invoked every time an earthly imitation was created.

Carpenter makes a chair? He’s just copying from that ideal. Singer creates a song – echo of the ideal, and so on. Of course, he never talked about whether that dump your kid just took was a copy of the ideal ethereal shit. What he implied, though, was that everything ever yet to be invented was just floating out there somewhere, waiting to be invoked down here.

He did have one good bit though, his parable of the “slave in a cave.” In it, a slave is chained to a rock in a cave, constrained so that he’s facing the back wall with the entrance behind him. Way beyond the entrance is a bright fire. All the slave can see of the outside world are the shadows on the wall, created by people and animals and the like passing between the fire and the entrance.

In other words, he was saying, we could not perceive the real world of these ideal forms because our perception was limited. And that’s a kind of yes, kind of no, although I’d think of it more in terms of things like we couldn’t conceive of germ theory until we’d made the microscopes to see them, or couldn’t fathom the skies above until we had telescopes and math. Lots and lots of math.

There is, though, a great parody of Plato’s Cave that I first heard from the late, self-proclaimed “guerrilla ontologist,” Robert Anton Wilson. In that version, a slave and a Buddhist are chained up in the cave, just watching the shadows. Then, the Buddhist suddenly slips his chains off and walks outside, staying there for a while.

The Buddhist finally returns to the cave calmly, sits down and puts his chains back on.

“What did you see out there?” the slave asks, excitedly.

The Buddhist replies, “Nothing.”

Anyway, don’t major in Philosophy. It’s not worth it and doesn’t translate to anything marketable.

What seemed normal in your family when you were growing up, but seems weird now?

How rarely my parents had any kind of dinners or parties or invited guests, to the extent that the few times we did host something really stand out in my mind. And the lack of invited guests growing up extended to my friends. I was expected to go play elsewhere, and god forbid that I invite one of my friends into my Mother’s Holy of Holies.

I think we did host a couple of extended family Thanksgiving dinners, as well as my Mom’s older brother when he was in town with his college debate team (he was the professor/coach, who came with his two students, and I can still remember their names to this day: Vinnie and Tim.) Mom’s mom came and stayed with us twice, and one of my cousins (my mom’s niece) came and stayed with us once.

My mom did plan to host my 4th birthday party, but that happened to be the year that we had a bit of a flu epidemic, the end result being that the only guest who finally was well enough to make it was a kid down the street named Scott, whom I didn’t really know. Yeah, awkward!

When I was in Kindergarten, my parents did invite my teacher, Miss Jones, over for dinner and it wasn’t until I became an adult that I wondered. Jones was my father’s mother’s maiden name. Any relation? Although it’s such a common name, who knows.

Anyway, this all seemed normal until I grew up, and then saw friends who were constantly hosting parties of get-togethers, or frequently had relatives or distant friends visiting for a few days, and it blew my mind.

People did this? How weird. How… intrusive. And, unfortunately, I think I wound up inheriting the “No guests!” gene (definitely from my mother), and I cannot come up with more than maybe one time I hosted an overnight guest – an old friend and former roommate – and I’ve never hosted a party. Keep in mind, I’m only counting the times when I’ve lived alone. I’ve had plenty of roommates who were really into the parties and weekend visitors and the like.

And I don’t mind that. I think I was just not programmed on how to do this shit. Of course, I used to live along in a two-bedroom apartment back when that was affordable, but nowadays, it’s a one bedroom, so unless I’m really intimate with an overnight guest, there’s really nowhere to put them.

Theatre Thursday: Remembering my real second language

As this time of lockdown and uncertainty goes on, what does become clear is that large, live events are probably not coming back soon. Live theatre, movies, concerts, and sports may take the rest of this year off, if not longer. Likewise, the fate of amusement parks of all kinds seems uncertain, or at least will be drastically changed.

Right now, we do have certain areas that have insisted on becoming field experiments, and by the time you read this, it may become clear whether the people who ran out to bars without masks last week did the right thing or made a stupid sacrifice.

Concerts may survive on live-streaming pay-per-view events for a while, and movie theaters may rediscover the drive-in, although those take a lot of real estate. Then again, indoor malls may now be officially dead, so look for their parking lots and large, blank walls to be easily converted.

Live sports are another matter because, by their very nature, they often involve full-body contact, and nobody is going to be going all-out on the field while wearing any kind of mask. Without quarantining every player, official, and support staff member, and testing each of them constantly, it’s just not feasible.

Even then, what about the live fans? It might be possible to limit attendance and assign seats so that social distancing is maintained, but that relies on trusting people to stay in the seats they’re put in, and as we all know, if someone is stuck in the outfield nosebleeds but sees plenty of empty space on the other side behind home plate, they’re going to try to get there.

One unexpected outcome is that eSports, like Overwatch League, may become the new sports simply because they absolutely can keep the players and fans apart while they all participate together.

See? The prophecy is true. After the apocalypse wipes out the jocks, the nerds will take over the world!

As for live theatre, it’s hanging on through a combination of streams of previously recorded, pre-shutdown performances, along with live Zoom shows. And, again, this is where the magic of theatre itself is a huge advantage because, throughout its history, it hasn’t relied on realistic special effects, or realism at all, to tell its stories.

Okay, so there have been times when theatre has gone in for the big-budget spectacle, but that goes back a lot further than modern Broadway. In ancient Rome, they were staging Naumachia, mock naval battles, but they were doing them as theatrical shows in flooded amphitheaters, including the Colosseum, and on a large scale.

And they’ve gone on throughout history, including Wild West Shows in the U.S. in the 19th century right up to the modern day, with things like amusement park spectacles, including Universals Waterworld and Terminator attractions, and Disney’s newly minted Star Wars Rise of the Resistance attraction,

But these big-budget spectacles are not necessary for theatre to work. All you need for theatre is one or more performers and the words.

Theatre is one of the earliest art-forms that each of us experiences, probably second only to music. And we experience it the first time, and every time, that someone reads to or tells us a story, no matter how simple or complicated.

Once upon a time…

That is theatre, and that’s why I know that it will survive eventually — but not right now, at least not in a familiar form.

And yes, this is a big blow to me on two fronts. First, I know that I won’t be doing improv or performing for a live audience for a long time. Second, I know that I won’t be seeing any of my plays performed onstage for a live audience for a long time.

This current plague quashed both of those options, shutting down my improv troupe and cancelling a play production that had been scheduled to open in April, then postponed to May, then postponed until… who knows?

But I’m not marching in the streets without a mask and armed to the teeth demanding that theatre reopen because I’m not selfish like that.

First, it’s because I still have a venue in which to tell stories and write and share, and you’re reading it right now, wherever in the world you are — and I see that I do have visitors from all over — in fact, from every continent except Antarctica, but including Australia, most of the Americas and Europe, some of Africa, and just about all of Asia. Greetings, everyone!

Second, I realized quite recently that this whole situation has inadvertently handed me the opportunity to get back into the first art-form that I officially trained in but never pursued as a profession for one reason: I loved it too much to turn it into the drudgery of a career, and always wanted to keep it for my own enjoyment.

Okay, sure, I did use it a few times from middle school through just after college in order to entertain others but, again, I was doing it for my own enjoyment.

That art-form is music, and I consider it my second language, because I started taking piano lessons at seven — and I was the one who cajoled my parents into letting me do so. The end result was that I was never really into playing other people’s stuff because, once all that music theory landed in my head and made sense, I started making my own.

That seems to be a common thing with my brain. Learn the way the modules work, start to stick them together to make them break the rules while still working. This is probably also the reason why I took to programming and coding early, and why I abuse Excel the way that I do.

Dirty little secret: Music is just math that sounds good. However, the great thing about it is that music also takes all of the pain out of math because it turns it into feelings. When I’m playing, improvising, and composing, my brain is absolutely not thinking in terms of what specific chord I’m playing, how it relates to the others, how it’s going to get from Point X to Y to make Z make sense, etc.

The thing about music and me is that its rules are buried so deeply into my subconscious that, well, like I said… I consider it to be my second language. And, when you’re fluent in any language, you don’t need to think. You just speak, whether it’s via your mouth and tongue, or via your heart and fingers.

So… live performance has been taken away from me by this virus for a while but that’s okay — because online research and ordering still exist, and stuff is on the way. So… I’m diving back into the most direct, emotional and, most importantly, non-word-dependent form of communication humans have ever invented.

Watch this space. Or… well, listen.

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