The Positives of Negative

by Ray, Guest Blogger

The premise of this piece is an oversimplification, but if the scientists will leave the room, I promise not to tell. 

So many aspects of our world, our lives, our minds are neatly divided into yins and yangs. Morning and evening. Youth and age. May and tall.  Happy and sad. And for our purposes, positive and negative. 

Those minusy particles take a beating in popular culture. “Don’t be so negative!” is the cry of the performance evaluation. “Don’t use no double negatives,” says the ironic grammarian. You can make a calculator cranky, or an abstract mathematician all mind-blown, by trying to find the square root of a negative number. (i have no idea what that means.)  Even their positive places in technology are fading, as photographic negatives are quickly joining the Sepia and Daguerreotype families in the George Eastman Graveyard. 

Still, there’s a positive side to those negative particles- and that’s when they flow through wires, seeking their protonic partners, and causing, for those of us attuned enough to be in tune with them, some very positive results.


The pedigree of these particles goes back far before the, um, current series of tubes we now use. From Thales of Miletos, to Franklin, to Morse and Bell and Tesla, but ultimately through Edison, this power of God and these forces of nature began to be harnessed, and largely to enhance communication.  I have special connection to that line: Thomas Edison’s first wife was a sister of one of my grandparents. She died not long after their marriage, and I assure you that none of the family’s fame or fortune ever wound up in our hands (apparently his second wife’s sons Met and Con got everything under the will), but I’ve always had a little extra fascination with things of a technical nature, and maybe that’s a part of why.

Even so, until the 1980s, things hadn’t changed all that much from the 1890s.  Mr. Bell’s descendants still owned that phone on your desk; it was black, it had a dial, and you paid obscene amounts of money to use it. Mr. Morse’s family would still send the occasional telegram until this century, when other forms of technology finally made them STOP

Mr. Gates, meanwhile, had only just begun to make his mark with the power coming out of the wall. He may have been among the most clueless of all about how to take that power, which he’d previously concentrated on disks and desktops, and network it among other users, in other places, who would eventually become not just fellow users but friends in all senses of the word.

For me, it wasn’t until the mid-90s that it began to happen. We’d just moved to Buffalo, and networks were rusty things connected through scary looking “file server” computers. Moving data outside your immediate vicinity was possible, but involved the use of microwave oven-sized modems that cranked along at a radical 1200 bps (2400 if you were really advanced). Then, sometime in 1995 before the advent of the Windows of that name, I heard about a UB-based effort to get the community connected to this new thing called the Internet. It was called the Buffalo Free-Net, and while it was nothing pretty to look at, it brought hundreds of geeky people together in this new, electron-driven sort of way.  Some of them gravitated to a Star Trek discussion group. Soon, some of those folks were talking about some other goofy show called seaQuest, and they were writing something about it called “fan fiction.” First I watched, then I commented, ultimately I edited, and on at least a few frightening occasions, I wrote.  I’ve kept only a few Freenet Friends who’ve followed me over the circuits and through the loops in the almost 15 years since then, but one is enough. We’re in parallel; only one bulb needs to be in the string in order for it to light.


Soon, some of those electrons were beginning to light up inside a new and even stranger “walled garden” called America Online. They’d just changed their marketing to allow unlimited usage for a fixed monthly price, and sometime around ’96 or ’97, I joined that bunch, several of the Freenet people finding me there. The general message boards and chat rooms were pretty damn scary, but something led me to trivia as a safe space within the International House of Porn that late-90s AOL otherwise was. First I watched (only they called it lurking), then I commented (only they called it playing), ultimately I edited (only they called it writing games), and on more than a few frightening occasions after a thorough vetting and orientation process, I ran games, with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal members. I was HOST [Insert This Year’s Model] Ray, and could gag disruptive members, get their antics reported and their privileges pulled, and bend electrons with my bare fingers.  Along the way, I met dozens of kindred souls, most of whom also had HOST status, until AOL, faced with dot-bomb financial pressures and a class-action lawsuit which said we should’ve been paid for all this work, fired the lot of us in 2003.  One of the last hosts to be trained before the purge was a crazy-ass medical school graduate named Karissa, who was my delightful co-host for some of the last official trivia games I ever ran for them.<<this will be important later

My electrons still needed- what else?- an outlet, after many hosts stopped running games because they lost privileges and/or free dialup access to AOL (soon thereafter, it became free to anyone accessing the service through broadband, as we did by then), and others huddled into insular little clique communities of players. I found my niche on yet another new service, that some of the old Freenetters, and one or two of the trivia players, had landed on to do That Thar New Blogging Thang.

Once again, I progressed from the lurk to the wetting-of-feet to the all-in effort that’s lasted there for 2,500-plus posts on my main blog, several hundred more on a specialty journal, and literally thousands of comments to and from hundreds of other fellow readers and even fellower writers. 

One of them was Karissa- khuckie to the LiveJournal world. And she brought some not-quite-as-kooky friends with her. One was a one-time clarinetist from Middleburg, now living and working at the other end of this crazy state of mine. Would I like to read her stuff?

::moments after reading her stuff:: Do fish have lips? They do. And she, it turns out, has yet another level of friendships, which have concentricized with circles of my own and become as dear to me as May became, and Karissa before that, and Mel before that, and so on, and so on, and so on.


More recently, my own beloved bride, and my own amazing daughter, have begun blogs of their own. Their photos, their artwork, their words and their dreams, are now part of the signal. Which, as all Serenity fans know, can’t be stopped.

To plagiarize (and slightly bowlderize) an old hymn:
Will the circuit be unbroken?
By and by lord, by and by,
Theres a better home a-waitin
In the sky lord, in the sky

Not that there’s anything wrong with the one we’re in right here. As long as we’re all connected through what we say, and how we feel, and who we are.

More than a Formality

Today’s guest blogger is my friend, Ray.

I feel inadequate introducing him. I’ve read his post. His piece provides a strong impression. A great impression.

I met him virtually before we met for the first time in real life, one 70-degree Thanksgiving day in New York City. 2004. His daughter was with him. We stopped in a Starbucks for a cookie and hot chocolate.

Thanks, Karissa, for introducing us. Crazy triviots.

Thanks, Ray, for following my life and checking in and making time to meet up whenever you’re in town. You’re kind and generous and a devoted friend, father, and husband. Your writing dazzles, your stories touch. You always have more to give. Keep on keeping on.

Earworm of the Day: Patty Griffin, “Rain”

It rained nearly all day yesterday. Thunder, lightning, darkness at midday; falling, steady, splashing sheets veiling the windows and everyone’s vision; soaking everyone to the bone. It got this song stuck in my head. Sometimes it really captures how I feel, especially the chorus. Patty and her songs. Man.

Today? Gorgeous.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about “Patty Griffin – Rain“, posted with vodpod


It’s hard to listen to a hard hard heart
Beating close to mine
Pounding up against the stone and steel
Walls that I won’t climb

Sometimes a hurt is so deep deep deep
You think that you’re gonna drown
Sometimes all I can do is weep weep weep
With all this rain falling down

Strange how hard it rains now
Rows and rows of big dark clouds
But I’m holding on underneath this shroud

Its hard to know when to give up the fight
Two things you want will just never be right
Its never rained like it has to night before

Now I don’t wanna beg you baby
For something maybe you could never give
I’m not looking for the rest of your life
I just want another chance to live

Strange how hard it rains now
Rows and rows of big dark clouds
But I’m holding on underneath this shroud

Movie List in the Past Four Days

Movies I have watched lately:

Ratatouille – Rewatch. Interpersonal relationships. And Inter-rat relationships. And food. In France. This made me hungry and repulsed me at the same time. Because of the rats. I cried.

Pucker Up – Rewatch. I love whistling. It’s so happy! You can even whistle Elliott Smith and feel cheerful afterward. This documentary has a bunch of good whistlers under one roof competing for international whistling champion. So much fun. I clapped, but did not cry.

WALL-E – Rewatch, first time in the theater. Some people didn’t like this. I did. The story is solid. Pixar always delivers for me. The animation is great. I cried.

The Color of Paradise – Iranian film about blindness. Or sight. Depends on how you look at it. Pun intended. I cried.

LauraLittle murder mystery with a few fun twists. Black and white. And shades of grey. Vincent Price was very handsome when he was younger. Also, Gene Tierney is gorgeous. I didn’t cry.

La Vie En RoseLong biopic about Edith Piaf, French singer. Depressing. Marion Cotillard definitely earns her Oscar. I wanted to cry, but I also felt a little sick.

Spirited AwayLovely anime with a captivating story and some truly funny moments. Nice morals to the story, too. A lot of vomiting, though. Didn’t seem like cartoon vomit. And, pigs. Lesson: stay out of fantastical Japanese bath houses. I did not cry.

Who Killed the Electric Car?Informative documentary on the history of electric vehicles and maybe a slightly heavy slant on how petroleum-dependent our world is. Also? It would be awesome if we all plugged in our cars. Like toasters. I did not cry.

84 Charing Cross RoadDelightful film. Anthony Hopkins, Anne Bancroft. I was surprised how I fell in love with it from the very beginning. I cried. Jenny the Librarian has since encouraged me to read the book. I can’t wait.

Tonight’s film:

A Man for All Seasons – this will be a rewatch. I really liked it the first time. Goodness is the main character, and I remember how inspired I felt four or so years ago when I watched this movie. I cried. I’ll probably cry again.

Next in the queue:

Tron – Yes, I’m feeling very nostalgic and old-school nerdy. Doesn’t everybody? Make me want to cry.

The Dish – See comment just above. Also, we recently celebrated the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. For those of us who think it actually happened. I might cry.

Princess Mononoke – I like Miyazake. According to some, his work is fanciful. I probably won’t cry.

The Straight Story – I’ve been very interested in seeing this for a while. It’s a drama. I’ll probably cry.

The List, Part 2

Toss a ball
Fly a kite
Paddle a canoe (kayak)
Drive to Palmyra AND Niagara Falls – Canada!
Ride a bike (need to do again)
Explore a Governor’s Island (need to explore more)
Chillax on a beach
Enjoy Shakespeare in the Park
Enjoy more live music (ongoing)
Experience all the kinds of NYC hot dogs
Attend the circus and boardwalk at Coney Island
Camp in the woods
Hike on a trail
Sit and read in a park (could be ongoing)
Don’t get mad whenever my roommate’s half of the room explodes onto my half
Et cetera – what else should I do?

Summer is almost over.



The bob sits perfectly in a dimple it made for itself. I just cast my line and reeled in the slack. My eyes have adjusted to dusk. The sky glows orangey-pink just above the horizon, silhouettes the treetops across the way. The water mimics the sky. I realize it’s not the other way around: I don’t see a bob floating where the stars will soon appear.

Two evenings before, the scenario is similar, except we’re not fishing. At exit 72 on Interstate 540 in Arkansas, we head west on Route 412. We enter Oklahoma and head north on Route 59/10. This road gently winds and rolls and climbs, and about 90 minutes south of our destination of Miami, Oklahoma, is Lake Eucha State Park. A bridge splits the lake, which is a decent size, and at the right moment at sunset, it offers a breathtaking scape – open, expansive – of a significantly big enough body of water (the first we’ve seen since the Mississippi) that forces me to pull the car over so that I can take a few pictures.

Nothing’s biting. I’ve moved about 50 feet away from the truck where my mom and aunt and my aunt’s husband are, and I’ve found a spot to stand in the tall grass surrounding the pond. We may have started a bit on the early side, but this time of day, this is when the fish are hungry. This is when I find out how patient I am. I squint to see that the bob is still. To either side of it, little vortexes appear and vanish, creating subtle ripples, as fish feed on insects resting on the water’s surface. I consider casting my line again, but I decide against it. Disturbing the water might mess up the sky.

Many people – which means close to everybody – think my mom and I look very much alike. Many people mistake us for sisters or confuse one for the other. We’re about the same height; I’m a smidge taller. We have the same color hair and similar complexions. Our faces don’t look very much the same, though a friend of mine finally made the distinction that I inherited the top half of my mother’s face. So, if you were to look only at our eyes and foreheads, it would be harder to tell us apart. Maybe that’s what many people do. Our builds are somewhat different; we’re girthier in opposite halves of our bodies, which is to say she’s got broader shoulders while I have the bigger rear end. But I guess that’s not what people notice.

We have pretty deviating personalities. In some aspects, I’m definitely my mother’s daughter. We’re people-pleasers, which sometimes makes us indecisive. We’re also very good at blaming ourselves for things that aren’t our fault. We both have strong, stubborn tendencies. My hard-headedness might be more resistant  – a mutant strain – to humbling experiences, which I acknowledge as more hubris than a desirable quality. We worry differently; our thought processes aren’t the same. Our temperaments, our prejudices, and our perspectives can be, have been, and are quite disparate.

We disagree about a lot of things. But we somehow understand each other.

The crickets are loud. I’m not being very social, but that isn’t news. Mom is talking with my aunt and my aunt’s relatively new husband. They’re catching up on old times; they haven’t seen each other in at least 10 years, maybe 15 or more. Mom keeps reeling and casting. I have my camera around my neck and am holding the fishing pole with both hands. I shift the pole to my left hand to take some pictures; it’s something to do while waiting for the bob to move.

This doesn’t mean I’m more patient by any means. Mom may have just been practicing her cast; I may have just exhibited an attention deficit. We came to an agreement on the road that she would drive during the day, and I would get the twilight shifts. Since the days are longer in the summer she clearly volunteered to do the majority of the driving. It’s 100 degrees in the Plains and the deep South. Factor in humidity and be grateful the rental car has a decent air conditioner. Still, the heat manages to pierce the windshield, and it drowses this passenger, even with all my picture taking and tweeting and text messaging.

Mom lets me DJ and sings the catchy parts of some of the songs. I don’t see how she stays awake. Well, energy drinks. But even they can only do so much.

When it is my turn to drive, the only thing I don’t do is take pictures, except when I have to pull over because the sunset demands it, but then I’m not actually driving. But it’s like a big joke, because capturing those moments on camera during a road trip is impossible. Mom notices the sunset first and points at the water. I turn to one side of the road, then I turn around and cross the road onto a path, hoping the sun doesn’t disappear before I can park.


Some parts of the lake are glassy, polished smooth. A slight breeze gently wakes other parts of the lake, adding texture to its reflection of the sky. The sun went down a little too quickly. I admit my defeat but heartily welcome the break from the car. Mom and I walk around the campground for a while, taking in the fresh air. We’re both a little paranoid about leaving the car alone for too long. When we get back to the car, we take a deep breath, and we brace ourselves for the next couple of hours. During the final stretch, I send a few more tweets and texts, and I check my voicemail and return some calls. I give Mom background on the friends who are communicating with me. She listens attentively.

The pond continues to darken as the sky. I see my bob dip underwater, and I feel a tug on my line. I quickly yank back while reeling. Whatever’s dragging through the water on my hook excites me. The friction, the fight. The end of the pole bows and I wind up the rest of my line, which brings up a floppy fish.

I don’t know whether I’m part of the sky or the pond. They look so much alike, but their contrasting properties create that very illusion. There’s just enough to discern the reflecting images aren’t identical: stars, brush, pole, bob. The mirror isn’t entirely true.

Are my mother and I purely individual, or are we products of each other, even though we’re not exact images, visual echoes?

Maybe we’re both.

Not five minutes later, Mom catches a fish, too.

I Found “Pablo Honey”!

Incidentally, it was while trying to look for a tank top I wanted to wear for kayaking this morning.

Coincidentally, it was while “High and Dry” was playing.

I’ve needed to hear a few songs from Pablo Honey. Ones that weren’t “Creep.”

Not that I don’t like “Creep.”

I found the CD in a crate of books and CD liner notes.

The tank top was not there.

I’m such a doofus.

One of the Days It WASN’T Raining This Summer in NYC

IMG_8570 by you.

IMG_8536 by you.

I’m not connected to the hard drive with all my pictures, and I’m not in the mood to tackle the drafts sitting on backburners (even though one is extremely close to being ready, which really means I’m actually starting to think about its format and style and pulse without feeling intimidated), so I went to flickr instead and looked up some photos I took while wandering northeast Central Park, particularly the Harlem Meers and Conservatory Gardens, and I found these pretty flowers.

They’re for you.