Monday, August 26, 2013

Weeping skies, breaking glass


It has been an uncharacteristically sunny summer in Seattle. So much so that when I stepped off from the train this morning I was shocked by some drizzle. How soon we forget. Because when fall comes, this is likely to be the norm, not the exception.

It actually rained a bit yesterday as well, but it more of the teasing variety that never really delivered. I was sitting down on the walkway below one of our decks picking up bits of broken glass when the drops descended. The broken glass was from one of the glass panels that line our upper deck. When we woke up on Saturday, one of them had shattered for no apparent reason. At first there was just an elaborate spiderweb of cracks throughout the panel. But later that night when I was getting ready to grill, the glass began popping out.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Freedom's just another word for nothing left to read

Year's ago, when CD's were just starting to hit the scene in the computer world, I imagined a world where books would eventually be replaced by some kind of digital reader. And since I have no way to prove that I had this idea long before Amazon existed and the Kindle hit the scene, you have only my word and faulty memory that this is true.

I recently read a blog post by Seth Godin (self-proclaimed marketing guru) about the death of book stores brought on by the proliferation of digital books. Along with the book stores going out of business, so is the publishing world that dictated for so many years who and what could be published. Because now, everybody and their dog can publish an electronic book. And trust me I've read a few books lately that seemed as though a dog had written them by licking kibbles and bits off from some keyboard in random order.

Don't get me wrong. I love my Kindle Fire and digital books. I am just sad that being a writer just isn't what it used to be. When I was 16 and got my first job shelving books in a public library, I dreamed that some day some pimply faced teenager was going to have to shelf one of my novels. Now, instead of shelving my book, the same pimply faced teenager would simply have to download it off Amazon and then only if he mistakes it for an App that contains nudity and violence.

While digital books are more accessible to a wider audience, they unfortunately cheapen the craft of writing. We used to put a value on writers. Now anyone with a computer can publish. And Godin points out that very few digital books are pirated the way music is. No one puts value on them the way they used to with paper books.

Amazon regularly offers "free" digital books for Kindle. I have found that most of the free books I download are well worth the price I've paid. Many are self-indulgent, loosely veiled memoirs masquerading as novels. Others are the first in a series that the authors are using to hook readers so they will buy the rest of the books in the series. And worst of all are the works of Christian fiction that don't state upfront that they are works of Christian fiction.

Digital books have cured me of the desire to ever write and publish a novel. They have become the vanity press for the masses. There doesn't seem to be a sense of accomplishment in publishing a digital book, especially if it is self published. It it kind of like writing a blog.

Wait a minute. Who am I to be critical of self-indulgent, self-published ramblings? It is my trademark. I wrote the book on it. Well, actually the blog.

Thursday, August 08, 2013

Immortal


If someone gave you the opportunity to be immortal, would you take it? And there are no conditions on this like you have to become a vampire, sleep in a coffin, avoid sunlight and never have sex again (unless you count biting someone's neck and sucking their blood). And you wouldn't have to keep repeating the same day over and over again like Bill Murray in Groundhog's Day. You would simply live forever. Would you do it?

I don't think I would. Forever, after all, is a long, long time.

I boarded this train of thought after reading the cover story in Newsweek called, "You can live forever. Is immortality plausible? Or is it quack science?" The article is basically an interview with two experts on aging, Walter Bortz, an 85-year old doctor who still runs marathons and Aubrey de Grey, a middle aged expert on the biology of aging and co-founder of the Methuselah Foundation.

Bortz thinks the secret to longevity is exercise and still being able to have sex. De Grey thinks the secret is finding a cure for aging that would simply overhaul your body every ten years or so when you start to show signs of slowing down. Neither seems to think immortality lasts for more than a couple of decades past one hundred. The oldest person documented to date was a French woman who lived to be 123.

Okay, I kind of like de Grey's vision of curing aging, not just the ills it brings on. But unfortunately, he is an idea man and is only conjecturing what could be if (an it is a pretty big if) scientists come up with ways to alter cells and restore aging bodies.

I seriously doubt that this will happen in my lifetime. It will likely take place at the same time the medical industry works the bugs out of the billing systems  (which I am convinced is impossible).  Ironically I'll probably be on my death bed when a breakthrough is announced and my last words will be, "That sucks." Timing has never been my forte.

But regardless if they cure aging in my lifetime, I have never really had any desire to live forever, even if they could figure out a way that I wouldn't be a vegetable. I don't want to be one of those poor souls who hit one hundred and look like a carved apple doll, sitting there staring vacantly at the birthday cake muttering, "Who are all you people?"

So say they could keep you relatively young looking and your cheese from slipping off the cracker in the brain area, then would I want to live forever? I still don't think so. For one, you could never retire. And once you'd completed your bucket list, what would you have to do? Boredom would be the biggest challenge. And you'd just run out of things to say. Heck, I'm just over half way to a hundred and I can't think of much new to talk about (or blog about). After a few hundred years I think I would just stop talking (and listening) altogether.

Plus, if no one was dying, wouldn't overpopulation become a stark reality? Anyone who has seen Soylent Green knows what happens when the population exceeds the resources available (spoiler alert, Soylent Green is people). De Grey claims the birthrate would decline to compensate. I assume this means all the immortal people would get bored with sex. But seriously, death is a natural part of life. It's nature's way of recycling to make sure there is always enough resources for everyone.

And being around the same people for eternity would kind of be like having to go to your relative's house for Thanksgiving dinner for the rest of your life. So this may solve the overpopulation dilemma because I imagine the homicide rate would increase exponentially.

I think it would be difficult, too, to pick what age you wanted to stop aging. I'm probably in better shape physically now than I was in my 20s and 30s, but I ached a lot less. I'd hate to go through puberty for eternity.

Not being the religious type, I won't even go into the spiritual implications of curing us of aging. I imagine if there was a god, he or she would have made us immortal in the first place if they thought it was a good idea and would be a bit miffed that we were mucking about in the god business. But then again, if there is a god, why does he or she need online Christian dating sites to hook people up with their soul mate.

But I digress.

So my response to Newsweek's question about whether immortality is plausible or quack science is that I see a duck in the room.