A Class of Fancies

A part of this letter is spoken by Orson Wells at the beginning of the Alan Parsons Project album Tales of Mystery & Imagination which is a musical take on Poe’s stories. I got the album from my wife for Father’s Day, and it enjoying it lead me down this rabbit hole of discovery.

Graham’s Magazine, March, 1846

Some Frenchman–possibly Montaigne–says: “People talk about thinking, but for my part I never think except when I sit down to write.” It is this never thinking, unless when we sit down to write, which is the cause of so much indifferent composition. But perhaps there is something more involved in the Frenchman’s observation than meets the eye. It is certain that the mere act of inditing tends, in a great degree, to the logicalisation of thought. Whenever, on account of its vagueness, I am dissatisfied with a conception of the brain, I resort forthwith to the pen, for the purpose of obtaining, through its aid, the necessary form, consequence, and precision.

How very commonly we hear it remarked that such and such thoughts are beyond the compass of words! I do not believe that any thought, properly so called, is out of the reach of language. I fancy, rather, that where difficulty in expression is experienced, there is, in the intellect which experiences it, a want either of deliberateness or of method. For my own part, I have never had a thought which I could not set down in words, with even more distinctness than that with which I conceived it:–as I have before observed, the thought is logicalised by the effort at (written) expression.

There is, however, a class of fancies, of exquisite delicacy, which are not thoughts, and to which, as yet, I have found it absolutely impossible to adapt language. I use the word fancies at random, and merely because I must use some word; but the idea commonly attached to the term is not even remotely applicable to the shadows of shadows in question. They seem to me rather psychal than intellectual. They arise in the soul (alas, how rarely!) only at its epochs of most intense tranquillity–when the bodily and mental health are in perfection–and at those mere points of time where the confines of the waking world blend with those of the world of dreams. I am aware of these “fancies” only when I am upon the very brink of sleep, with the consciousness that I am so. I have satisfied myself that this condition exists but for an inappreciable point of time–yet it is crowded with these “shadows of shadows”; and for absolute thought there is demanded time’s endurance.

These “fancies” have in them a pleasurable ecstasy, as far beyond the most pleasurable of the world of wakefulness, or of dreams, as the Heaven of the Northman theology is beyond its Hell. I regard the visions, even as they arise, with an awe which, in some measure moderates or tranquillises the ecstasy–I so regard them, through a conviction (which seems a portion of the ecstasy itself) that this ecstasy, in itself, is of a character supernal to the Human Nature–is a glimpse of the spirit’s outer world; and I arrive at this conclusion–if this term is at all applicable to instantaneous intuition–by a perception that the delight experienced has, as its element, but the absoluteness of novelty. I say the absoluteness- for in the fancies–let me now term them psychal impressions–there is really nothing even approximate in character to impressions ordinarily received. It is as if the five senses were supplanted by five myriad others alien to mortality.

Now, so entire is my faith in the power of words, that at times I have believed it possible to embody even the evanescence of fancies such as I have attempted to describe. In experiments with this end in view, I have proceeded so far as, first, to control (when the bodily and mental health are good), the existence of the condition:- that is to say, I can now (unless when ill), be sure that the condition will supervene, if I so wish it, at the point of time already described: of its supervention until lately I could never be certain even under the most favorable circumstances. I mean to say, merely, that now I can be sure, when all circumstances are favorable, of the supervention of the condition, and feel even the capacity of inducing or compelling it:–the favorable circumstances, however, are not the less rare–else had I compelled already the Heaven into the Earth.

I have proceeded so far, secondly, as to prevent the lapse from the Point of which I speak–the point of blending between wakefulness and sleep–as to prevent at will, I say, the lapse from this border–ground into the dominion of sleep. Not that I can continue the condition–not that I can render the point more than a point–but that I can startle myself from the point into wakefulness; and thus transfer the point itself into the realm of Memory–convey its impressions, or more properly their recollections, to a situation where (although still for a very brief period) I can survey them with the eye of analysis.

For these reasons–that is to say, because I have been enabled to accomplish thus much–I do not altogether despair of embodying in words at least enough of the fancies in question to convey to certain classes of intellect, a shadowy conception of their character.

In saying this I am not to be understood as supposing that the fancies or psychal impressions to which I allude are confined to my individual self–are not, in a word, common to all mankind–for on this point it is quite impossible that I should form an opinion–but nothing can be more certain than that even a partial record of the impressions would startle the universal intellect of mankind, by the supremeness of the novelty of the material employed, and of its consequent suggestions. In a word–should I ever write a paper on this topic, the world will be compelled to acknowledge that, at last, I have done an original thing.

More Poe quotes can be found here.

My take on this is Poe attempting to describe the creative process before the language of modern psychological analysis brought to us the term the subconscious. His attempts at his own mental and physical “perfection” are interesting. What do you think?

Father’s Day

Over on Facebook, a lot of people I know are replacing their photo with one of their father, in honor of Father’s Day. Its a wonderful conceit, sort of like putting up a flag on flag day (which we did btw), but it is not one I feel like doing. This post is about why.

My father was an interesting man. Strong, handsome, sharp as a tack, and oftentimes quite funny. He grew up a honest-to-goodness real cowboy, like the rest of his family. A tough independent bunch of hombres if you ever saw ’em. Unlike the rest of the family, however he also looked the part. His looks and his manner branded him the quintessential cowboy, the hero of every western. Had he grown up is Southern California, there’s a good chance he would have ended up in the movies. Unlike the popular cowboys of radio and the silver screen, Dad was also a “real” cowboy. He knew how to ride, knew how to manage cattle, he competed in rodeo events, and he won a gold medal in the FFA nationals his senior year in high school.

Growing up, he cast a big shadow.

Dad was a good father in terms of making sure there was meat on the table. He worked hard so I could go to college, and do well in school. I never lacked for much materially as a child, thanks to a large part by his efforts. I never went hungry, never lacked for shoes, clothes, coats, that sort of thing. Now mom worked too, so it wasn’t all him, but he did provide for his family.

He also was happy to lead us on summer vacations, whether it was sailing in the Lido 14, or fishing in a creek. Dad was always game for taking us to the great outdoors.

This, and many other things made my father a great father. I respect him for his efforts, and I wish he were still alive today so I could thank him for them.

When Trevor was born, and it was my turn to be a father, I had to really think about what I wanted to be as a father. Since that day (a bit over 10 years ago) I have tried to follow my father’s footsteps in terms of leadership, in terms of visiting the great outdoors, and in terms of making sure my son does not want for anything materially. But I have also been careful to not be like my father in some ways.

My son will know he is loved by his father. It will never be a question for him. Sure he will think me an ass at times (I am an ass at times), but he will always know my love. Likewise he will always know when I fail. When I have done wrong, especially when I have caused him pain, he will hear my heartfelt apology. I need him to know that being a man is not about being right all the time, but about owning your successes, and your failures, for surely there is no man alive who does not carry both. Finally, my son will always know my support. Mind you he will always know my criticism too. If he pisses off a gang of hoodlums, and they are right outside our door demanding his blood, I will call him a stupid ass, but I will do this while I am loading up my rifle. There is no direction he can go I will not back him, as long as he is not harming himself or others. Even if I think it is a damn stupid thing to do, I will support him. Why? Because no man can see the future. If Lady Gaga had approached her father 5 years ago and said, “Dad. I want to dress up in freaky outfits, and sing bizarre pop songs,” I’m quite sure his response would have been WTF??!!! Now because of her dream, he gets to choose which house he will live in this month.

My father (and my mother) taught me a lot, and gifted me greatly, but when it came down to how I wanted to parent, I needed to toss some of their ideas out the window. I can only hope that my own son, when he becomes a father, will have the wisdom to do the same.

On why I hate television news, and why being ignorant about math is stoopid

I was having a discussion with an e-buddy of mine on the great depression the other day, and I challenged him to find a measure in which the current economic climate was worst than back then. He almost immediately provided me with this link from CBS news: Chronic unemployment worst then Great Depression. There are several things in the article of note, but the key finding is right here:

About 6.2 million Americans, 45.1 percent of all unemployed workers in this country, have been jobless for more than six months – a higher percentage than during the Great Depression.

(note: CBS has actually chaged their page. Look here to see what the older version said)

Well somewhere back in my dim past, I actually received a degree in History, and while I am no expert on the history of the Great Depression, I can do me a bit of research. So first off, lets see what the unemployment numbers are like for then and now:

Great Depression Unemployment

Today’s Unemployment

As you can see, they are not even close. Unemployment topped out at 24.75% in 1933, while it was 10.6% in January of 2010 (the actual yearly average for 2010 is lower, in the 9.5% range). But rather than going with peak unemployment numbers, lets even them out a bit. To make the argument fair for CBS I’ll use 9% as the current unemployment, while using 17.5% for the depression era unemployment (the average of all of the 1930s).

So lets see here, the current chronic unemployment rate is 45% of those unemployed. That is 45% of 9%, or 4.05% of the total population. That roughly means 4% of the Americans are chronically unemployed, and 5% or Americans are now unemployed, but will likely find work in the by next year.

Now, lets compare that to the Great Depression. The article says the chronic unemployment rate is worst now, than back then. For this to be true, the older chronic rate must be lower then 45% of those unemployed. (Note: the revised article now says the chronic rate was about 31%, so I’ll use that figure). So 31% of 17% were chronically unemployed, which works out to be 5.425% of the population were chronically unemployed. This also means a little over 12% of the population were unemployed but likely to find work in the next year.

So stacking them up we have:

The current situation:
9% unemployed, 4% chronically unemployed.

Great Depression:
17.5% unemployed, 5.4% chronically unemployed.

In what universe is 4% worse than 5.4%? In what universe is 17.5% preferable to 9%? Do you see the problem I have with this? Yes it is true that a chronic unemployment rate of 45% of those unemployed is worse then one of 31%, but as soon as those number are put in the proper context, any claim of being “worse” is flat out ludicrous.

What is “worse” than the initial report, was the fallout from it. The initial report came out on 6/6/11. The very next day websites from all over the political spectrum had linked to the CBS page, and were citing this statistic as fact. (do a google search for “unemployment worse than great depression” and see what I mean) I could find no page saying, “Hey! Wait a minute here,” even though it should be obvious at a glance.

Dumb, dumb, dumb.

Now there are all kinds of issues with my analysis.  Unemployment data from the 1930s is sketchy, as the government did not start keeping good records for a lot of things until the 1950s. I have no idea how CBS determined that the chronic unemployment rate was at 31% when the government did not collect such data back then. And obviously I’m greatly simplifying a complex problem just to make it easier to show. The fact that I’m even close is pretty obvious as CBS has subsequently changed their article, but there are lots of websites out there repeating the same wrong data, as if it were fact.


Today, a little tool that looks like this saved my life.

Well, not really my life, but it did save my shoes.

You see, I have me a bit of shoes. About 10 pair or so. The problem is they all reside in a vary narrow closet space, stored in sort of an amorphous pile. This was starting to annoy me as some of them would fall out every time I opened my closet door, so I thought I would build some shelves to corral those suckers (maybe it was from reading This Old House Magazine on my lunch break). Anyway, I went out to the garage to look though the spare lumber pile, picked a likely piece, and prepared to start cutting. Seeing this, Teri came over and casually mentioned, “what about your old shoe rack? You know, the one collecting dust in the garage?”

“Oh yea,” I said intelligently as I went to go look for it. “The shoe rack.”

Now this shoe rack was a hold-over from our old house. It was sitting in the garage because it could not fit in the narrow (23.5″ wide) closets of the new place. I intended to sell it off at the next garage sale. That was 10 years ago when we moved here. So I pulled the rack out, and looked it over. Besides it’s width, it was perfect. The problem was that the darn thing is made of metal tubes with plastic interlocking end pieces. Somehow, the metal tubes had to be cut.

I don’t know if you know anything about cutting metal tubes, but they can be a right pain in the ass. Put too much pressure on them, and they deform (meaning compress). After that, they are a ring-tailed bitch to get the ends round again. The problem is, the ends needs to be round so they can be pressure fitted (read jammed) into the plastic end pieces.

Enter the tool: The Superior Tool model # 35030 Mini Tubing Cutter. I bought my Superior Tool tubing cutter to cut the small brass tubes used for converting the motors on CD-ROM drives into model airplane motors. That was about 8 years ago, and the darn thing has been spending all its free time hanging out with the other model airplane tools. So I dusted it off, attached it to one of the metal tubes for my shoe rack, and gave it a go. Sure enough the darn thing worked flawlessly. Not only did it cut the tube without deforming it, but it also rolled the ends of the tube inwards so they would be easier to fit in the plastic end pieces.  Within an hour I had cut all 8 tubes, filed and sanded their edges, and reconfigured the new thinner shoe rack in my closet.

Boy my shoes are happy right now. And I feel like a manly man. The best part is there is one less thing in our garage I have to deal with. Until we move again, that is.

I’ve been reading David Mamet…

…from his book, Three Uses of the Knife, and I have to say the man does have a way with words. Some memorable quotes:

The avant-garde is to the left what jingoism is to the right. Both are a refuge in nonsense.

Las Vegas doesn’t offer fortune (though it purports to) or thrills (unless one finds degradation thrilling). It offers the opportunity to exercise one’s compulsion.

The book is good stuff for leaning about story structure and writing drama. The quotes simply help to make it easier to grasp.

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