Remastered Music

Well, I finally got an orchestra upgrade, and it’s a beast. It’s going to take a while to really learn to play it.

My first attempt is up on the music tab — it’s a re-mastering of Autumn Reverie using the new instruments. I think it makes a huge difference. Tell me what you think.


UnknownI’ve seen a lot of posts about “forgiving” pass across my Facebook feed today.

Reading the posts and the comments, I think people make forgiveness a lot harder than it needs to be. Forgiveness is simply “letting it go.” Or you could say, “writing it off.”

I always find the concept of “forgiving a debt” helpful. You forgive a debt when it is no longer worth your while to try to collect on it. It doesn’t mean that you haven’t lost money, and it doesn’t mean you now like the person who violated your trust, or that you will ever, ever lend him money again. It just means that you are going to stop wasting life and energy and legal fees trying to collect on the debt. You write it off on your taxes as a bad loan — there’s a line item for that, right down at the bottom of page one of the 1040 form — and you let it go.

Emotional forgiveness is very much the same. You don’t need to “repair the relationship” to forgive — that’s a whole different thing, much more difficult, and it may or may not be worthwhile. To forgive, you simply need to let go: you decide it isn’t worth your time and energy to try to collect on the emotional debt. You write it off on your karmic 1040 as a bad experience and move on.

Forgiveness is unilateral. You can do it all by yourself, and you need no response from the person who wronged you: no atonement, no apology, no admission of wrongdoing. In fact, the essence of forgiveness is that you expect no response from the person who wronged you. That’s exactly what you are letting go of. They aren’t going to pay back what they owe you: forgiveness is coming to terms with this realization.

Forgiveness is also selfish, not selfless, in the healthy sense of taking care of yourself. All of the benefits of forgiveness are for you, and you alone. Oh, the other person may benefit from the fact that you no longer harp on them every time you meet at a family gathering, but that’s beside the point. The real benefit of forgiving someone who has wronged you is that you no longer need to carry the debt around. You don’t have to rehearse it in your mind late at night. You don’t need to remember exactly what was said, or when, or by whom. You don’t need to justify your own role in the matter. You don’t need to reopen the wounds periodically to make sure they still hurt as much as they always used to.

Forgiveness is not the same as forgetting. If you are sane, you don’t want to forget: fooled me once, shame on you, fooled me twice, shame on me. But forgiving allows the injury to lose its lurid glow of life-shaping importance, and become just a bad experience, like stomach flu or a broken leg or a car accident. You can let it inform your life, appropriately — that’s what learning from experience is all about — but it no longer defines you or shapes your life.

Forgiveness is sufficient. The biggest confusion I’ve seen about forgiveness is when people believe it is the same as “making things right,” which typically means mending a broken relationship. That may not be possible — in fact, the relationship may never have existed in the first place. In many cases, you got played — you were used by the other person. You don’t owe the other person this confused kind of “forgiveness.” You owe yourself the benefits of forgiving them, meaning letting them go as a horrible experience you’d rather have avoided, but didn’t. Claim the tax credit on your karma and move on.

There is a deeper approach to forgiveness, based on empathy. This is the approach that comes of seeing things from the other person’s point of view. Rather than giving up because it’s costing you too much, you stop trying to collect because you understand the other person can’t pay you back. You understand that they hurt you by accident. Or the hurt was completely unavoidable. Or perhaps — and this is a hard truth to accept, if it happens to be true — the whole thing was really your fault.

This doesn’t change the nature of forgiveness, but it can go a long way toward what comes afterward, such as — for example — repairing a good relationship that tripped over human weakness and unfortunate circumstances.

For that reason, empathy is usually a better approach to forgiveness. It leads to better outcomes, and it exercises our capacity for empathy, which enhances human connection and simply feels good.

Sometimes, however, it’s best to forgive and then change your locks and your phone number.

All of this also applies to the more difficult process of forgiving yourself.

Forgiving yourself is complicated by a natural pair of psychological processes that Carl Jung wrote about as “individuation” and “integration.”

Individuation takes roughly the first half of life. It starts with the infant figuring out the difference between self and other, ball and bowl, blue and green. As the child grows, he or she learns more subtle distinctions, such as lazy or industrious, ugly or beautiful. Society says some things are valued, such as industry and beauty; others are not, such as laziness, or ugliness. The child starts to identify with various things, and make choices: I conform, I rebel, I am beautiful, I am ugly, I am kind, I am ambitious. In truth, every person is all of these things, and their opposite, to varying degrees. But in the process of individuation, every person chooses, not what they are, but what they want to be. All of the stuff that they are, but do not want to be, or don’t believe they can be, is stuffed into what Jung calls the Shadow.

Later in life there is (usually) a sea-change, and a person starts to re-integrate this Shadow. The kind person discovers a capacity for cruelty. The tone-deaf person discovers a passion for singing. All the stuff they spent the first half of life denying, returns.

It’s very, very difficult to forgive yourself when you are young and individuating. You don’t generally feel guilty about pursuing the things you want and believe yourself to be, so there is literally nothing to forgive — it’s always the other person’s fault when they slam face-first into your virtues and get hurt. You only need to forgive yourself for the things you do that are contrary to what you believe of yourself. But because you are still individuating, you can’t just “let go” of such things. You believe yourself honest, and then you lie. You believe yourself loyal, then you have an affair. You believe yourself kind, then you hit your child. You can’t just let these things go, but you also can’t accept them, so you bury them in layers of denial and rationalization.

It’s easier when you get older and start to integrate Shadow. You realize that you are (mostly) honest, but there are times to lie, and times to tell the truth that you aren’t strong enough to face. You recognize that you are loyal (mostly), but there are times and situations where you’ll betray any promise, however sincerely made. You realize that not only are you corruptible, your price isn’t really very high. You regret things you’ve done, sometimes even before you do them, and you certainly have to live with the consequences. But you can also recognize that you truly are not perfect, never have been, nor is the world a simple place, and this makes it easier to forgive yourself and simply let it go.

Easier. Not easy.

So is there anything truly unforgivable?

If something is unforgivable, it means you have no choice but to pursue payment of the debt until it is paid in full, regardless of cost. We generally call this “vengeance.” It exacts a terrible price: they say of vengeance that you should dig two graves, one for your enemy, and one for yourself. I’ve never been betrayed in a way that cried out for vengeance, and I hope I never will be.

While I’ve not experienced vengeance, I have seen grudge-holding. This is not a matter of facing the unforgivable, but merely a stubborn refusal to forgive what is forgivable. Like worry, a grudge accomplishes nothing: it does not really even inconvenience the person against whom you hold the grudge. But it does drain away life and joy — yet another reminder that to forgive is to release your own burden.

As I’ve grown older, I’ve grown swifter to forgive, and less likely to try to repair a damaged relationship. Even so, a deep betrayal may take me months or years to forgive. It’s appropriate to give yourself that time: like grief, it takes as long as it takes. But in the end, you forgive — you let go — and move forward with a light step.

A Walk in the Park

Since we moved here, people have been raving about the Sunday In The Park concert series. Marta and I missed the first one, because we were exhausted with the day’s unpacking labors. But this last Sunday we went, and it was one of the sweetest times we’ve had together since moving here.

The music itself was very good: these aren’t garage bands. Nor are they oversold hype machines. They are practiced and talented musicians, doing what they love and what they do best.

But the real magic was the gathering itself. I don’t know how many people go to these — I’ve heard numbers like a thousand or so, and that doesn’t seem unreasonable. It’s a big crowd, but not crowded. There’s plenty of room for the children — and there are lots of children — to run around, throw beach balls, fall down and cry, then run around some more. People bring a bottle of wine, blankets, folding chairs. The event starts at 6:00, which is just as the edge is coming off the heat of the afternoon, yet with hours to go before sunset. Vendors from some of the local restaurants set up to sell everything from burgers to burritos, saag to samosas, ice cream to rice wine. Yes, they sell wine in the park. It’s California. Temperature in the mid- to upper-80’s, no wind, no mosquitos….

I caught a few pictures while we were there. The videos are nicer, but I haven’t yet figured out how to get them up here….

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The Gentle Embrace of the Hot Oven

California — cali-forno, a reasonable sixteenth-century Spanish cognate for “hot oven.” Here’s the forecast for the coming week:

WeatherYou can see that on Thursday, the high is predicted to be 105°F, which is — well, pretty damn hot.

There are a couple of interesting things about the weather.

The first is visible on the temperature chart: it cools off in the evening. Every. Single. Day. Last night it got into the mid-50’s. Toward the end of this scorcher of a week, it will be in the high 60’s at night. The evening spells R-E-L-I-E-F.

But the thing you can’t see from the chart is how the heat feels.

Marta lived in Texas for many years, and I’ve visited there in the summer, when the heat is brutal. You get out of the car and limp to the nearest air conditioning, trying not to actually let your foot touch the baked ground, cringing against the oppressive blaze from above. I’ve been to Phoenix only once, and I thought I would die of heat stroke walking from the airport to the rental car shuttle. In North Carolina, you have trouble breathing on a hot day: I once opened a car that had been sitting in the sun, and steam poured out the door and fogged my glasses; and good luck wiping off the fog. I remember living on Long Island, when summers sometimes got so hot and humid that it was impossible to eat.

I’m not going to pretend that 105º here is pleasant. But it feels different from any other place I’ve been.

The chart above says that the high today was 82º, but it actually reached the low 90’s. The morning was cool, with birds singing in a very light breeze. By noon it had warmed up, and Marta and I had lunch on the deck in the shade of the neighbor’s big oak tree: absolutely perfect picnic weather. I spent the afternoon in my office, window and door shut, and the air conditioner kicked on a few times. Now, the sun has set, a cool breeze blows the length of the valley, and my office is cool with the door open. Some fool bird — I’m guessing a fledgeling — is making a racket in the back yard. The sky is a perfect cotton-candy blue, and apart from the bird, it’s so very quiet….

I can’t say for certain if I’ve come Home, or if this is just the honeymoon: only time will make that distinction. But at this point, I love it here….

The Bracelet

inside_green_colorsAn article in the Siberian Times describes in detail a 40,000 year old bracelet found in a cave in the Altai Mountains of Central Asia. Archaeologists believe the bracelet was crafted by the Denisovans, members of an extinct branch of the hominid tree parallel to both Neanderthals and modern humans.

There are a couple of details about this bracelet that I was ruminating on while in the shower this morning, specifically the hole drilled for what archaeologists think was a leather strap, which held an additional ornament that swung freely and caused the strap to wear away some of the stone below the hole. The tool marks in the hole indicate it was made by a constant-velocity drill.

There are lots of ways to make a constant-velocity drill: today we use an electric motor, and for something like a drill-press, we use a rubber belt and pulleys of different sizes to connect the motor to the drill to provide different speeds. You can easily use leather straps instead of rubber belts (you have to replace them more often) and drive it with, for instance, a water wheel. The simplest method, of course, is a jig in the center of a foot-spun potter’s wheel to hold a drill bit — or a jig to hold the part while you hold the sharp tool, using the wheel like a lathe.

The point I was pondering this morning was not so much the technology, but the existence of the technology 40,000 years ago.

I am a toolmaker by trade. They’re all software tools, but they hold a few things in common with all tools.

For instance, we don’t normally craft a subroutine in a piece of software unless we need to do the same thing at least twice. A subroutine is a piece of code that can be reused: we refer to the act of separating it out from the overall flow of operations as modularization. By drawing a line around a set of actions and calling it a separate “module,” or subroutine, we’ve created a reusable tool.

Think about opening a bottle of beer. There are lots of ways to get the beer out of the bottle, one being to break off the neck of the bottle against a rock. If you’ve never seen a bottle or bottle cap before, and you’ll never see one again, this is probably as good a way as any to discover what’s inside. But if you’re going to be opening beers every night, and cleaning up the mess every night, you’re going to think about this process, and will eventually come up with some kind of bottle opening tool that removes the cap without breaking the bottle. This idea of “removing the cap” is modularization, and once you’ve modularized the problem, it’s fairly easy to build a tool to help you perform that modularized procedure.

So someone, 40,000 years ago, built a constant velocity drill. Someone, 40,000 years ago, had the need to make more than one hole in a piece of rock; the time to think through how this differed from cutting stone, or polishing stone, and thus, of modularizing the drilling process; the time and resources to build a drill; the time and incentive to perfect their skill to the level of making this bracelet, which is quite elegant even to the modern eye. It’s all-but-certain that they made more than one such bracelet; it’s not unlikely they made dozens, or hundreds, or even thousands, using stone quarried at least 200 km away from where the bracelet ended up.

That, in turn, speaks of a complex society with physical stability (making or moving a potter’s wheel is not a small task), differentiated labor, a food surplus, a local economy, and some system of long-distance trade; a society made up of a race of hominids who were no more human than the Neanderthals.

I grew up when human history was divided neatly into Stone Age, Bronze Age, Iron Age, Civilization (Greece and Rome), an unfortunate Dark Age caused by religion, Science (which resumed Civilization), and then the pinnacle of everything, the Modern Age. The so-called March of Progress was both natural and inevitable, and all that had come before us was merely blind cave-dwellers seeking the light of enlightenment we now live in. In particular, Stone Age people grunted instead of speaking, feared fire and lightning, and barely had the sense to live in caves, out of the rain. This is our Modernist mythology.

This is very different from the mythology of the Abrahamic religions, which declare that everything started in perfection and has been running downhill into death and corruption ever since.

Only the fringe has ever talked about intelligent races prior to modern humans: the Atlanteans, the Lemurians, and various other fanciful folk said to have lived in the ancient past, about whom we know nothing but “channeled” information from psychics.

So it always comes as a slight shock to me to see hard evidence that we weren’t the first species on the planet to invent civilization.

What were the Denisovans like? Warlike, or peaceful? Religious, or secular? Why did they become extinct? Were they wiped out by our warlike strain of modern humans? Were they pigheaded and so set in their ways that they got run down by glaciers? Did they “breed out” into the modern human line, or did they just stop reproducing fast enough? Did some nasty disease that only afflicted Denisovans take them? Did they perhaps choose to die out, as the fictional aborigines in Mutant Message Down Under?

If they were around as a distinct genotype for 600,000 years, when did they form their first civilization?

Modern humans showed up only about 100,000 years ago, just as the previous interglacial warming ended and the last ice age began. Our own story of civilization only goes back 10,000 years, to the end of the Great Melt and the beginning of the current interglacial warming period, and our written history is no more than 4,000 years old. We have no idea our ancestors did for 90,000 years.

The Denisovans lived, as a species, through at least six ice ages and warming interglacials. Could they have formed entire civilizations as much as a half million years ago, long since erased by ice and wind and water and long spans of time? We know they didn’t use fossil fuels, because those were still around for us to find and burn. But they could have built wooden ships and circumnavigated the earth. They could have farmed on every continent. They could have built stone temples that crumbled to dust two hundred millennia ago. They could have mapped the stars, measured the precession of the equinox, computed the circumference of the earth, learned the workings of the Denisovan (not human) body, developed medicines and surgery.

All we really know is that in the twilight of their species as the last ice age started dipping into its deepest freeze, high in the mountains of central Asia, they were using a sophisticated constant-velocity drill to make beautiful jewelry.