Sunday, November 9, 2014

Persistence of Memory

Persistence of Memory
Inspired by the 1931 painting by artist Salvador Dalí, The Persistence of Memory

Persistence of Memory
James M M Baldwin

Surreal melting pocket watches
Unconscious relativity
Time space
Cosmic order met collapse
Like soft cheese in the sun
Lacking order
Time has passed away
Its persistence at its end
A dream of ants on sleeps decay
A landscape barren, cut by shadow
Arrow of time no more
Pocket watches drooping losing time
Irrelevant in a summer slumber
Distorted entropy
Backward spinning
Time does not persist in the dream
Only memories

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Do Ants Have Souls?

Do Ants Have Souls?

I love art and design, and I ride my bicycle a lot. While riding, it gives me time to observe things, more than if driving in my car. It also affords a view not available from the roads. Humans are amazing creatures.
Some structures we build are magnificent. Even old, rundown warehouses present a character combination of functionality and personality. The façade of each building reflects the individuals it houses.

Humans aren't the only animals that build things. An example is bird nests. Swallows build unique nests, using layer after layer of mud to build little adobe structures. Some birds take it to a new level.
Eagles get an award for nests six to nine feet wide and just as tall.

Weaver birds, or weaver finches, get their name from elaborate nests they weave from fresh grasses.
Bower birds, perhaps, win the award for most elaborate. They weave detailed structures on the ground, then proceed to decorate the surrounding area with colorful objects gathered and arranged in interesting patterns.

The other day, I was riding my bike and noticed something small on the trail. As I passed over it, I realized the object was an unusual anthill. It stood a couple of inches tall and about the same across its base. But what made it unique was that it got wider as it rose from the ground.
Sort of a curved mushroom, or a branching out tree shape. As it reached its full width, its sides rose straight up, perhaps a half and inch before reaching the top. Across the top, it sloped gracefully down toward the middle, toward the hole, the entrance to the underground labyrinth. The ants had used the thousands of tiny excavated pieces in the construction of the splendid entrance. It's hard to describe, but it was a remarkable structure. I had never seen one like it.

I often see ants swarming on the trail. You've probably seen this yourself. From a distance, it's a dark patch, seeming somewhat out of place. Upon closer examination, you see that it's hundreds or thousands of swarming ants. Writhing and pulsing in some unknown ceremonial dance. I'm not sure what the ritual is behind the swarm. Whether it's movement of the hive, a division of the community, or perhaps a war between two rival colonies. Whatever it is, it's interesting and eye-catching.

I once heard a description of what indigenous North Americans thought of the onslaught of incoming European settlers, comparing them to ants that just keep coming. Coming and coming in unstoppable numbers. The indigenous people could not slow the invasion of this seemingly inexhaustible supply of newcomers.

When riding, I usually recognize the swarming ants from a distance away. I can maneuver around the activity so as not to disturb it. I often adjust my path to avoid a sunning grasshopper or wriggling caterpillar. Sometimes I can avoid them, other times I cannot. I hear the telltale crunch as the creature meets its demise. Surmising from the numerous carcasses strewn across the path, many insects fall prey to bicycles. The bikers probably rarely notice.

Back to the ants: Sometimes it's too late to avoid the swarm. After riding through the dark patch of teaming workers, I imagine what it would be like to be at their level. A giant black object rolls through their community, killing hundreds of their sisters. Ant bodies fly into the air, tossed aside, and smashed flat in a wide swath. In the aftermath, writhing and kicking wounded lay among the corpses. Do they make a noise? Are there thousands of minute screams? Do ants even have ears? Do the other ants care? Do they even notice? Can ants even think? Do ants have souls?

The other day, a local paranormal investigator asked, "Where is the soul located in the body." Most people said either the heart or in the brain. I always assumed our souls were shaped like us; our entire bodies- head, torso, arms, and legs. After all, God made us in his own image. So what else would our soul look like? Whatever the soul looks like, I think it would be made of energy. Our souls contain our life force. It is who we are. With or without our caporal body. If God made us in His likeness, maybe He is energy and made us from energy.

If God created the entire universe and everything in it, He must be energy. If God is everywhere at all times, He must be energy. Without God, there is nothing, we are nothing. Physics tells us, energy can never be created, nor can it be destroyed. It can be transferred and stored, but never created or destroyed. If God always was and always will be, He must be pure energy. Science tells us that our entire universe was created in one giant burst of energy; The Big Bang. In the beginning, darkness filled the great abyss. God said "Let there be light" and created the first day. What is light? Energy.

What about Jesus? Accounts vary on the number of miracles He performed. Somewhere between 34 and 41 documented in the Bible, but according to John, many others undocumented. Of these, I categorize them into five types. First, there are 6 food/fish miracles; changing water to wine, twice multiplying small amounts of food to feed many, two miraculous catches of fish, and a tax in a fishes mouth. I'll bet those took a lot of energy. Secondly, there is what I call the three nature miracles. Jesus calmed a storm, walked on water, and withered a fig tree. Energy, energy, and the removal energy. Thirdly, on nineteen occasions Jesus healed people of various ailments and afflictions. Sometimes He healed one person at a time and other times many in one day. In one incident, a woman was healed when she touched Jesus as he walked by. He sensed the "power" go out from Him. The fourth type of miracle often crosses over into the healing category. Seven times, Jesus cast out evil or demonic spirits. The most spectacular of which, caused a heard of pigs to stampede over a cliff to their death. What is a spirit? Good or evil. Energy. The fifth type of miracle I find the most powerful. On three occasions, Jesus raised people from the dead. These resurrection miracles return the living energy to a body that has lost its life force. Beyond these five categories, we have the transfiguration, the consecration at the last supper, I might add the image on the clothe when Veronica wiped the face of Jesus, and finally, the resurrection. I'm intrigued by the story of the Shroud of Turin. Whether or not this is the actual burial shroud of Jesus, scientists and archaeologists have examined it many times and have been unable to determine how the image on the fabric was made. I've read that it was burned there by a flash of radiation or high energy. Interesting.

Getting back to the laws of physics concerning energy. If our life force is energy, if our souls are energy, then our souls can never be destroyed. Depending on where that energy is transferred to upon our death is the basis of some religious beliefs. In reincarnation our energy is recycled into other living things. In other beliefs, our energy can go to a harmonious place in the sky where our life force can mingle harmoniously with God in everlasting bliss. Possibly, our energy could be transferred to the inner reaches of our planet where it will be tormented forever in the fiery pressure of Earths molten core. Can we choose where your energy goes after we die? I hope so.

So, do ants have souls? They obviously have energy. Ants can lift fifty times their body weight. That's a lot of strength. Is strength energy? Comparatively, that would be the equivalence of a human lifting ten-thousand pounds. Do you know how much energy it would take to lift that much weight? I don't. But I know it would be a lot. Comparing again, ants are packed with a lot of energy. But do ants have souls. All animals are alive because of energy. Do all animals have souls? Even a sloth has energy. Do sloths have souls?
All living things have energy. So do all living things have souls? Does every tree have a soul? Does every blade of grass have a soul? What about microscopic creatures? What about inanimate stored energy? The largest sources of energy in our universe are stars and planets. Does a planet have a soul? In C.S. Lewis' "Out of the Silent Planet," it seemed the planets did have souls.
Does a star have a soul? Does our own Earth have a soul?

These things may not have a sentient soul as we imagine it, but all of these things are a part of God. What about theories of a multiverse, where universe upon universe structured together create something even larger. What might that large something be? There is only one answer. God.

Conversely, if we travel to the subatomic level, we reach the same conclusion. The atom is the basis of energy. It is made up of even smaller parts; electrons, neutrons, protons. The electrons and neurons are where the atoms positive and negative charges are stored. By charges, I mean energy. Those parts of an atom are made up of even smaller parts, fermions, quarks, baryons, mesons. In turn, those minute particles are made up of even smaller parts. Through the work at the Large Hadron Collider, the smallest known particle currently is the elusive Higgs boson; often referred to as the God particle. Are those infinitesimal particles made up of even smaller and smaller infinitely small particles? Currently, God only knows.

So, do ants have souls? God only knows. But maybe, just maybe, if we live our lives in such a way to eventually become harmoniously united with God, we will know also. Hopefully I'll see you on the other side.

What do you think? Do ants have souls?

Monday, September 22, 2014

The Lost Seventh Sapphic Stanza of the Song of Sappho Restored

The Restored Lost Seventh Sapphic Stanza of the Song of Sappho
James M M Baldwin

In July, in the honor of Sapphic history and Sapphic study, I posted a fragmented lost seventh Sapphic stanza from the Song of Sappho. Here is the restored stanza.

The Lost Seventh Sapphic Stanza

Sappho's lamentations lost antiquities
Descendant from Grecian Island of Lesbos
Reputation enduring fragmented parchment
Lamentations lost

Should I have left it lost?

Friday, September 12, 2014

Holed Up In the Bat Cave (Writing)

Yes, it's true. I've been absent. But trust me. it'll all be worth it. I'm holed up in the bat cave working on the next Spencer Murdoch novel tentatively titled "The Island of Magic." Stay tuned.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Lost Seventh Sapphic Stanza of the Song of Sappho

The Lost Seventh Sapphic Stanza of the Song of Sappho
James M M Baldwin

In June I published The Song of Sappho, my study on the ancient Greek poet Sappho, in the form of six Sapphic stanzas. In the honor of Sapphic history and Sapphic study, I present this lost seventh Sapphic stanza of the Song of Sappho. Although referred to here as the seventh, it was originally intended as the first stanza of the poem. Meant as an historical introduction, it seemed antiseptic, so I deleted it. In imitation of the lost poetry of Sappho herself, I present this seventh stanza in fragmented form. In the tradition of the multitudes of scholars that have work on deciphering the ancient fragments of Sappho's poetry, see if you can figure out the following fragmented lost seventh stanza.

The Lost Seventh Sapphic Stanza

Sapp……mentations lost antiq…ies
Desc……ant from Grecian Islan…of Lesb…
Repu…….on enduring fragm……ed parc….ent
Lamen…….ons lost

Are you the forensic poetry scholar that can decipher the fragments?

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Hey! Facebook! Why do you hate me?

Oh Facebook. How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.

Like most relationships, everything started off just peaches. So where did things go wrong? It wasn't when you let me see all those pictures of my crazy uncle's long haired dachshunds. No, that was a joy. It wasn't when you let me post memes of myself in photo-shopped Star Trek selfies. No. That was all fun and games. What? You'll let me make a page to promote my writing. You'll even help me connect to my friends. Many of them obliged. What fun! I'll post updates on my current work in progress. Publish some reading and book jokes. Announce milestones in my writing career. What could go wrong?

With 300 likes, my posts regularly reached a hundred people or more. If people commented and liked them, sometimes my funny pictures or words of wit would reach 400 or more. That's more than liked the page. Awesome.

This when things started to go awry. First you offered to let me advertise my page to get more likes. I tried it. I spent about fifteen dollars and gained thirty likes. Is that worth it? At fifty cents a like, I decided no, it was not. Fine. Then I found some author groups on the Facebook groups and started exchanging likes. Soon I had more than 500 likes. There was only one problem. My reach was not climbing along with my likes. In fact, it had decreased. Huh? How could that be?

Anyway, I continued to discuss writing on the boards and slowly increased my likes to over 800. This is when Facebook initiated the fateful algorithm program, which limits the reach of page posts. I realize my measly page is peanuts compared to many. Some people have thousands of followers. Some pages "purchased" thousands of likes. They had a reason to be angry. The grumblings sprang up all over the net. You can imagine their resentment. After spending hundreds or thousands of dollars to reach people, they find the same company they paid was now limiting their access to their fans.

I recently read an article in The Atlantic on how Facebook showed random users only happy, positive posts while showing others only negative or sad content. It's being called a "mood manipulation experiment." They did this without the users' knowledge to evaluate how it affected their experience. Of course, they've apologized but only after they were caught. You can bet that this is not the only experiment they've conducted on us. To Facebook we're all just a bunch of Guinea pigs with dollar signs painted on our backs.

Here is my dilemma. As my Facebook page inches slowly toward 900 likes, my posts are lucky to reach 20 people. If fans like and comment on a post it might reach fifty people. Hey! Facebook! Why don't you let the fans decide what they want to see? Let them like and unlike pages to control the content on their news feed. As a page creator, is it worth the nightly work of creating content? I've determined it is not. So, when the scheduled posts I have in queue are exhausted, I will not be going out of my way to create content for my page. I guess everyone will have to go back to enjoying their crazy uncle's dog pictures. Or maybe Facebook won't allow you to see that anymore.

What do you think? Did you know Facebook controls what they allow you to see? How does that make you feel about your Facebook experience? What would you think if you found out you were part of one of Facebook's tests? What if you found out you were only being shown negative material?

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Song of Sappho

Song of Sappho
Six Sapphic Stanzas
James M M Baldwin

Waning lavender daylight colors your hair
Bluish purple locks envy of the violets
Purple curls charm Lydia’s renowned dyers
Lavender tresses

Petite Olive skinned loveliness unrivaled
Lips of gathered nectar from golden roses
Hypnotic umber eyes captivating gaze
Olive skinned beauty

Originator of celestial songs
Honored among the greatest lyric poets
Odes divine oh Sappho's songs from the tenth muse
Celestial songs

Poetic passion for all things beautiful
Love's infatuations unrequited
Aristocratic art of Socratic love
Poetic passion

Lyrics of the wind-shaken olive tree branches
Fair words produce unwakable comatose sleep
Poetic choruses awaken the dead
Lyrics of the wind

Sing a song of Sappho so that I may die
Athens' Solon desired her song more than life
Lyrics worthy of sacred admiration
So that I may die

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Dialogue Excerpt from Chapter 2 of Spencer Murdoch and the Portals of Erzandor

In this excerpt from Spencer Murdoch and the Portals of Erzandor, Spencer is explaining to his friend and coworker Jack. Spencer notices a couple of strangers working in the field across from his house. I walks over to investigate and notices one of them has a gun. When Spencer sneaks away, something under an unusual bush by his house distracts him. Jack, who always has some wild theory, keeps throwing in his two cents worth.

(Jack asks.) “What do you mean ‘something under the bushes’?”

(Spenser replies. ) “Remember the flash I told you about. Well, there was this reflection, or a flicker of light, like somebody shined a flashlight in the corner of my eye. I don’t know what it was, and I’m not even sure why I care. I suppose it could’ve just been a trick of the light, but you should’ve seen it! I swear it had a direct connection to my thoughts. Like it was telling me everything will be all right.”

Jack stayed uncharacteristically quiet for a minute, before he offered his opinion. “I know what it was.”

“Okay genius, what was it?” Spencer knew one of Jack’s extraordinary explanations would follow.

“The two guys in the woods were probably aliens from another planet! And they didn’t have a regular gun; they had a mind control gun. They must have shot you with a thought ray and that’s what flashed. I bet you’re under their control right now. Yeah, if those two guys are as big as you say, and one of them had a name like Gustav, they have to be from another planet.”

Spencer grabbed his chin and looked down, pretending to consider the out-of-this-world theory. He went back to work without responding.

Jack continued to nudge him from his catatonic state. “They could have been ghosts! Yeah, that’s more likely than aliens. I bet they were ghosts. You’re probably under the influence of some supernatural force from a fourth dimension.”

After another make-believe thoughtful pause, Spencer still did not reply.

A few minutes later, Jack followed with yet another theory. “I know. I know what it was… Bigfoot! It must have been Bigfoot. You know Yeti. Sasquatch! The Abominable Snowman! Those two guys must have been Bigfoot hunters, and they didn’t want you moving in on their catch.”

Another short moment of silence followed before they both broke into laughter.

Spencer shook his head. “I’m glad you have it all figured out. Let me get this straight. You think the flash came from the ghost of an alien Sasquatch named Gustav, right?”

Jack raised his eyebrows. “It could happen.”

Read the entire scene and learn what it is Spencer saw under the bush in Spencer Murdoch and the Portals of Erzandor.

Get the book at these stores.
James M M Baldwin
And wherever books and ebooks are sold

Take a look at the scripted version in the video below. It shows the whole scene, so it starts a little before this dialogue. You can skip ahead to 2:04 or just watch the whole thing. The characters and setting are not accurate, but it captures the mood of the dialogue rather well.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Observing Jackson Pollock

Observing Jackson Pollock
James M M Baldwin

Swirling, dripping, drizzled color
Looming, high and wide
Lost within your intricacies
Overlapping blues and greens
Stepping close you fill my vision
Stepping closer I feel your process
Closer still, I smell the oils,
Turpentine, canvass
Texture, color, curves, spots
Within inches now, fingers twitch,
longing to touch
Over my shoulder
A security guard watches,
intently scrutinizing
I back away
Standing, gazing
Drinking in your wonder

Jackson Pollock Convergence
Albright–Knox Art Gallery
Buffalo, New York

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Judging a Book by its Cover -or- Knowing a Good Nut from Bad

You've heard the saying, "You can't judge a book by its cover."
It's a metaphor about prejudice. Not concerning race but strictly appearance. My dad used to say, "You can tell what a book is about by its cover. You can tell if it's a romance or science fiction, a mystery or horror. That's what a cover is for." So, can you judge a book by its cover? Not quite. You can't tell whether the book is good or not.

I originally wanted to write this post concerning peanuts. I love peanuts in the shell. I can't go to a baseball game without having a bag. Anyway, I noticed that you couldn't tell what the nut inside was going to taste like by the way the shell looked. Sometimes you can, but not always. Sometimes the prettiest, perfectly colored, flawlessly shaped shell contains a bad fruit. Other times, an ugly discolored shell holds the most enjoyable nut. After a lifetime of eating peanuts, I am better at finding the good and bad peanuts. However, even with my experience, I can still be wrong. I really hate it when the nut I save for last, thinking it would be the most delicious, turns out to be the bad nut. I misjudged and now I'm left with a sour taste in my mouth.

Then I realized the metaphor I wanted to create was already contained in the judging a book by its cover saying.

With books, you can sort of tell what it's about from the cover, but can you tell if it's any good. Does a poorly crafted cover mean a poorly written book? Does a beautiful cover mean the writing inside is just as elegant or enticing. Not necessarily. My dad was right. You can judge a book by its cover, but the saying was wrong. It's been said different ways. It's not that you "can't" judge a book by its cover, it's that you "shouldn't."

It's the same with people. Sometimes the nice looking, impeccably groomed person can be the most deceitful. And the oddest person, the one you might avoid eye contact with, might just be the one that would do anything to help others. Maybe. Maybe not.

But what about books. How can you tell? I guess you'll just have to open it up and see if the first words compel you on to sentences, then paragraphs, and eventually chapters. So next time you're in your local book store, (or church, or wherever) take a look at the person you might ordinarily avoid. Give 'em a smile and see what happens.

Have you ever judged a book by its cover, only to find out you were wrong? What book was it? Or who was it? What misled you?

And while you’re here, go ahead and throw the peanut shells on the floor. I'll sweep 'em up later.