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Sunday, April 26, 2020

An idea: "Revital Sunday"

This morning one of the local churches had a broadcast of their service from last Sunday morning.  They have adapted well to the coronavirus-engendered shutdown.  Several dozen choir members sang hymns together via Zoom and a father baptized his daughter in the family's bathroom tub.  The sermon - delivered to an empty sanctuary - was no less potent and encouraging.

I imagine that much the same is happening across America and in other places also: churches holding virtual worship services across the Intertubes.  But really, it doesn't matter where a church meets.  As Jesus said, "where two or three are gathered in My name...", there is the body of Christ also.

Along those lines, there's an idea I had a few days ago and I'll pass it along to this blog's readers and anyone else...

Churches should have a "Revital Sunday" service (or "Revital Sabbath" for our friends among the Seventh-Day Adventist congregations).  Yes, I know: "revital" isn't an actual word.  But "revival" isn't the point.  It's about a group of believers coming together to revitalize themselves and their church after such a long absence from each other.  Revital Sunday could be a time of dedication and re-dedication as nothing quite has presented itself as an opportunity before.  It could be a time of thanksgiving, for being delivered through some very trying circumstances.  It could be a time for prayer, as so many are attempting to get their lives back on track, particularly after the enormous loss of jobs across the private and public sectors.

Revital Sunday could be a time of reflection and appreciation, and gratitude for what God has given already and what we must never take for granted, ever.

Like I said, just an idea...

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

What's my reaction to playing EVE Online for the first time?

In a word: "intimidated".

Let's back up a bit.  The last time I bought a new computer was almost a decade ago.  It's not that I'm a luddite or anything like that.  Mainly it's that I like to get my money's worth out of something before upgrading.  And also the little matter of spending a lot of that time driving across America, looking for a new place to hang my hat.  With that done a new computer seemed "just right" to further stake my claim on what has become a new shot at life.

So yeah... I took the twelve hundred bucks of "coronavirus stimulus money" and plunged a chunk of it into a new rig.  Completely built in the U-S-of A.  Doing my part to help the domestic economy and all that.  It's a super nice setup too.  I should be good to go for the next five years of writing, blogging, graphics work, video editing (hint: something new may be coming sooner than later), whatever good-natured mischief that all two of this blog's readers have come to expect.

And of course, gaming.

Yesterday a copy of Fallout 4 arrived.  It takes almost an hour to go through the character creation in that!  But now that my 'toon is out of the vault and back on home turf (or the ruins thereof) the game proper should be about to commence.  I also have been having some fun with Diablo III: a game that I once swore never to play because of the "always on" requirement.  Call me a liar but, that one is also a lot of fun.  And four years after getting in on its Kickstarter, I'm finally playing BattleTech: the tactical adaptation of the beloved miniatures game.

All of this in between working from home of course.  Which incidentally is nowhere as enjoyable as one might imagine.  This is now the third week of having to be at my... emphasis on "my"... desk every morning at 9 so that I can call patients from my living room.  COVID-19 cannot burn itself out fast enough.  But anyhoo...

With the firepower to handle it now in my possession, there was one item of computer gaming that I've wanted to investigate for awhile: EVE Online.  That massive multiplayer thingy from the good people at Iceland's CCP Games.  The one that has everyone playing on a single server and has become notorious for betrayal, backstabbing, Ponzi scheming, outright theft...

... and CCP practically encourages it.  EVE Online is like a Randian dystopia writ large across the cosmos of its setting New Eden.  Almost anything and everything goes.  And sometimes it goes bigly.  A few years ago the so-called "Bloodbath of B-R5RB" snagged major headlines for costing more than $300,000 worth of real-world money (it's based on how EVE's economy has a real fiscal correlation through it's PLEX and just roll with me here okay?).

The B-R5RB or BR-549 or whatever massacre is what piqued my curiosity.  I knew: as soon as I could, I would jump into EVE and experience it for myself.

A few days ago I finally installed EVE Online's client, created a character, and proceeded with the tutorial.  And from the first moments the reality came crashing down that I'm in waaaaay over my head.  EVE's learning curve is legendary for being steep, almost completely unforgiving.  Now I have witnessed how that reputation is well deserved.  The appellation this game has earned in being called "Spreadsheets in Space" is just as merited.  I've played MMOs before, beginning with Star Wars Galaxies (was THAT an awesome experience or what, at least before the "new game enhancements" turned it into "Star Wars Costume Party").  MMOs aren't the typical computer game, but they're not unapproachable either.

EVE Online is a looming dark monolith of mystery and frustration.  I'm looking at it and wondering if I should proceed further after eventually completing the tutorial.  I can't even pilot the ship as I "normally" always have with a starcraft simulator (going old-skool with fond memories of X-Wing and Wing Commander... and didn't we have fun taunting those pesky Kilrathi back in the day).  There are like 27 different windows all open at the same time demanding that I orbit or warp or swap out turrets or get a message from someone called CONCORD... who in blazes can keep up with this stuff?!?

Yet my client reported that over 23,000 people were logged in on the server when I was doing my second session of EVE tonight.  More than twenty-three thousand people, all in the same sandbox.  See that ship off in the distance?  That's a real person flying it.  It could be a guy or a woman.  They could be anywhere from thirty miles away to somewhere in eastern Europe.  Everything in game, apart from tutorial assets and other things of that sort, representing a player and their handiwork.

It's... fascinating.  And complex.  Just as real life.  In that regard, EVE Online might be the most accurate depiction of human nature ever engendered by online gaming.

Intimidating.  Very intimidating.  But it's also oddly gripping.  And, it must be said, exceptionally beautiful.  The graphics are pure loveliness to behold and the background soundtrack is so peaceful that I could see using it for periods of relaxation and stress relief.  EVE Online is a masterpiece in almost every way.

And it's been around for closing in on seventeen years now.  That's quite a lot of other people who seem to readily defend it, despite the nature of the game.

I'm probably going to try it out some more, and maybe begin a small-ish in-game career as an explorer, or maybe a miner.  Dad worked for a long time in a granite quarry, so maybe there are some asteroids out there that I can drill into and sell on the market.  In the meantime, even if I don't pursue it any further, EVE Online is going to still be something that I'm glad exists.  It's a testament to human ingenuity and a monument to human nature.

Sunday, April 12, 2020

EMDR, Part 2

A little over a month ago I wrote about beginning Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, or EMDR for short.  It's a therapy technique that, with the aid of a trained and experienced facilitator, I am employing to address the matter of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD and I promise that's the last acronym) that I was diagnosed with two years ago.

We are now well into the treatment, and it has begun to bloom forth some enormously positive results.  That, despite the unusual circumstances that have sent this procedure onto a wildly parallel tangent.  This past week was the third session that we had to conduct via video conferencing as a result of the coronavirus outbreak.  COVID-19 has affected pretty much every aspect of health care in our area.  The building I work in  - a mental health facility - has five entrances.  Right now passage is only allowed through one, and you have to answer a series of questions ("Have you been out of state in the past fourteen days?") and have your temperature taken before entry.  Even then the place is eerie quiet, absent the usual presence of our patients and most of the staff: all appointments are being conducted via telephone.  And then this past week the order came down that cloth masks were to be worn at ALL times apart from individual offices.

The location of my treatment is something of a "sister site" to ours.  It's having the same lockdown.  Hence, having to use tele-therapy, with the facilitator and I in our respective homes and working over the Internet.

How has that been working?  Surprisingly well, believe it or not.  Fortunately we were able to lay down most of the basic groundwork for everything that has come since, but we are still not at the real heart of EMDR: the use of light and motion to "rewire" the brain to steer away from traumatic memories.  I don't know how or when it's going to work when that part of the process sis entered into.

But still, a number of tools have come about that are already helping me to aggressively counter the trauma.  For example, there are two places that I can "retreat" to when things become almost overwhelming.   They needed to be places that have some kind of special significance.

For my second place, I chose this:

The desert of New Mexico near Socorro,
home of the Very Large Array

I spent over a month in Albuquerque around the end of summer in 2016.  Had things gone the way I had hoped, I would have been able to settle down there.  New Mexico is one of the most beautiful places I have ever discovered, and it was beckoning my heart the closer we got (my dog Tammy and I).  The scenery, the people, the opportunities there... well, the timing didn't quite work so well on that last one.  Maybe someday I will get to return there to stay.  It would definitely be a sweet place to have a family.

A few days after we arrived I went looking for something I had always wanted to see with my own eyes: the Very Large Array radio telescope near Socorro.  I knew what it looked like - it's been featured in many movies, particularly Contact - but to gaze upon it just from afar... that thing covers almost as much area as most counties in the United States!

It was the desert in all its wild natural beauty, magnificently married to that system of modern science.  Perhaps the largest research facility of any discipline on the surface of the Earth.  It was all one painting, and I was walking through it.  In those moments, I felt more alive than the vast majority of times throughout the span of my lifetime.

When asked for a place of peaceful retreat within my mind, during our third session, that is what I thought of immediately: the New Mexico desert.

And other tools have come about also, including the knowledge of certain people in my life who are something like "avatars" of aspects of character: the nurturer, the spiritual side, a few others.  There are more tools than I could convey about in a blog post, but you get the idea.

As I said, we still haven't gotten into the part of EMDR that many people consider to be the "real" course of treatment.  But this is all still of tremendous importance.  This is the foundation upon which all of that work will be built upon.  And so far we've been building a strong foundation indeed, according to the facilitator.

That's how things stand now.  What happens next will be impacted in one way or another by the coronavirus situation, and it's conceivable that we may have to delay the "lights-on" part of the protocol until the lockdown is alleviated.  But even so, I'm feeling very upbeat by what has come so far.  They are tools that can be used in the meantime and who knows, it might even strengthen the effects of the next phase of treatment.

Will write again soon.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

"The Honeybunnies", or: What if George Lucas had REALLY socked it to the fans?

An independent-minded scribe of stories wants nothing more than to produce the works that mean most to him.  And then one of his minor creations becomes a raging monster that takes control over almost every aspect of his life.  The fans won't leave him alone, they won't let him be free to find his own happiness.  And it's driving him insane...

Sound familiar?  Perhaps the tale of a certain plaid-flanneled filmmaker who made a small movie once upon a time but saw it instead become a franchise upon which fans pinned their hopes, their dreams, sometimes their entire meaning of life.  But alas!  It isn't George Lucas we're talking about here.  But it could be.

Way, waaaaay back in 1985 there was a new series on CBS called George Burns Comedy Week.  It didn't last very long and George Burns himself had very little to do with it apart from providing the intro to the show and lend his name.  It was something that had never been done before and to the best of my knowledge hasn't been attempted since: a humor anthology series.  Each episode was basically a short film by a different director, and they tended to have pretty good casts to them.  John Landis directed "Disaster at Buzz Creek" starring Don Knotts and Don Rickles.  Another memorable entry was "Christmas Carol II: The Sequel".  But the series only lasted thirteen weeks.  I dunno, maybe it was too ahead of its time or something.

So what does this have to do with George Lucas, and Star Wars?

One of the episodes of George Burns Comedy Weeek was "The Honeybunnies", starring Howard Hesseman a few years after his run on WKRP in Cincinnati.  Hesseman portrays a struggling playwright who only wants to see his work given a proper Broadway opening.  But that's not what is interesting the people around him.  They instead want his characters the Honeybunnies: a warren of pink anthropomorphic rabbits with cutsie names and dripping with saccharine sweetness.

He gives them the Honeybunnies.  And the Honeybunnies become a mega franchise spiraling out of control and derailing his own life and aspirations.  But the fans won't let him quit: they want their Honeybunnies and they don't care about anything else.

So what does our hero do?  He gives them the Honeybunnies in as big a way as possible, with their own motion picture.  And he freakin' MURDERS them before the fans' horrified eyes.

Can you imagine that being George Lucas, just finally sick and tired of Star Wars and then in the middle of Episode I the camera cuts to him telling everyone "Sorry folks, the franchise is over, get a life"?

It is HILARIOUS television and if "The Honeybunnies" wasn't produced with Lucas at least a little in mind, it will genuinely astonish me.  This seems to be a story tailor-made about his being the creator of a zillion-dollar franchise when he just wants to be an artist.  In fact, switch out the characters' names in this for those of Lucas and other real-life individuals and it practically DOES become the story of Star Wars if its creator decided he was going to honk off the fans once and for all in order to reclaim his life.

So without further ado, here in two parts found on YouTube is "The Honeybunnies":

Tuesday, April 07, 2020

Coronavirus: Our generation's paradigm shift

Something that's been twirling around my gray matter since last night:

The coronavirus situation is bringing about the first real paradigm shift since the fall of communism thirty years ago.

We are not going to come out of this the same that we were before, just as life in the civilized world - or anywhere in the world for that matter - did not proceed as it had been before the Soviet Union lost control of its satellites before itself imploding.  That chain of events precipitated an entirely new sphere of being and now for these current generations, COVID-19 is doing much the same.  Albeit, on a vastly larger scale.  It's one thing to watch the Berlin Wall coming down from thousands of miles away.  It's something else entirely more drastic when it's the President of the United States telling you... yes you... to wear a mask when going out in public.

Solidarity Party march in Poland
circa 1980s
"But Chris, what about Nine-Eleven?  Didn't that cause a paradigm shift??"  No, not really.  And I say that not in disparagement of the memories of those who perished that day, or who have perished in the wars that came about because of our trying to end terrorism.  The September 11 attacks, through the lens of an objective observer, were still part of that previous paradigm.  Some might even say that Osama Bin Laden was an element resulting from the collapse of communism, in that he rose to power during the waning of Russia's involvement in Afghanistan.  In the broader sense, September 11 was one act of a larger drama, but it did not remarkably alter the drama itself.

The coronavirus pandemic however has that potential.  And right now it's more than living up to it.

American industry will not be the same.  American law will not be the same.  American constitutional rights are already not the same (whatever happened to freedom of worship, now that some governors have declared wholesale that churches and synagogues are not "essential services"?).  American government will not be the same and indeed some are calling for the November elections to be cancelled across the board.

America has endured its petty would-be tyrants who would have altered or outlawed these areas of our society and for the most part it has come out of it unscathed.  That can not be said for what is now transpiring.  For no matter how much we may recover - and I pray that we will do so mightily - the damage is done and there will be those who will try their damndest to exploit it.

The paradigm is shifting, ladies and gentlemen.  It is mutating into something we could not foresee and can not extrapolate the end result of being.  It is, for lack of a polite way to put it, as scary as hell a time as any in living memory.

I do not write this to arouse terror.  But I do write this to arouse awareness of the situation.  And maybe, do my best to instill a little hope for the best.

Monday, April 06, 2020

The blogger in a time of coronavirus

Just me in my office today:

Everybody had to wear a mask inside the place.  That was after being admitted inside following temperature being taken and making sure we hadn't traveled outside the state in the past 14 days.  Less than a quarter of the normal staff was in the actual building.  Starting tomorrow I'll be almost strictly working from my house for Lord only knows how long.

And one of my cousins thinks that my eyes in this pic makes me look like a meth addict.  I think I was trying more to channel Bane from The Dark Knight Rises.

Wednesday, April 01, 2020

COVID-19 Test Results: NEGATIVE

That word has never sounded so sweet.

The call came about thirty minutes ago.  The test indicated that I was negative for the COVID-19 virus.  Although the nurse emphasized that a "negative" now doesn't mean that a "positive" later is out of the question.

But for now, I'm choosing to  be elated.  Like I haven't been in a heap long time.

Self-isolation is not a fun thing.  Not at all.  Driving out to get tested two days ago was the only time since Sunday night that I've dared venture from the confines of my home (okay yeah well there was also taking Tammy on walks so she could "do her business" but you know what I mean).  Especially with yesterday being my birthday.  But some friends figured out some stuff and we were able to do something with a gimmick called Zoom.  Ever heard of Zoom?  All the cool kids are doing it now, I've heard.

Negative.  Nada.  No infection.

It's back to work in the morning and I think I've driven my poor supervisor crazy about wanting to return to the office.  In the meantime, I'm going to tempt fate and get a real meal - including chocolate milkshake - from the Chick-Fil-A drive-through.